In the present time, word of the sacred title of the Lotus Sutra (Myoho Renge Kyo), is spreading throughout the western world under the banner of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. However, this propagation has illuminated and intensified a controversy that hasexisted in Japan for hundreds of years. The controversy finds itscenter in differing opinions about what status should be afforded toNichiren Daishonin in the record of Buddhist history. The Nichiren Shoshu sect (NST) and their prior lay organization (SGI) have taken the position that Nichiren Daishonin is the "true" (original and eternal) Buddha.
Although, the issue is multifaceted in its complexity, their assertion appears to fundamentally rest on the assumption that because of Nichiren Daishonin's crystallization of doctrine and practice and object of worship, and his greater proximity in historical time, he is both the successor to and superior of Shakymuni. This thinking runs counter to the more orthodox view that Nichiren Daishonin was the patriarchal author of a landmark doctrine for practicing the Lotus Sutra in the latter day of the law.
This orthodox view further holds that Shakyamuni is the father of Buddhism and his essential teachings are the inspiration behind the Buddha Dharma expounded in the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, from this point of view, Shakyamuni is legitimately the original and eternal Buddha regardless of the age in question.
The emergence of several different Nichiren based sects around the world has caused a resurfacing of this controversy. The issuessurrounding this controversy are worth considering for several reasons. First, consideration is warranted in the service of insuring that Nichiren Daishonin's orthodox Buddhism establish roots in this country that are strong, correct, and lasting. Second, because the SGI-NST belief is an apparent heterodoxy relative to the other Nichiren based sects. The cultural issues and political events that spawned this heterodoxy in Japan several hundred years ago, are unquestionably complex.(1)
Nevertheless, because of the rather exclusive initial influence of SGI-NST, many of us lived with their view of things from the beginning of our practice. Hundreds of years and a half a planet removed, we were oblivious to the historical splintering that had occurred in Japan in the centuries after Nichiren Daishonin's death. With no accurate historical information or alternative point of view to reflect upon, believing that Nichiren Daishonin is the true Buddha could eventually became as natural as chanting Daimoku (Namu Myoho Renge Kyo). Considering these things, the belief itself is unquestionably a learned habit of thought and
understanding. The central issue of concern pertains to how correct or incorrect this understanding actually is with regard to the true orthodoxy of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.
The chanting of Daimoku alone is very strong medicine. Taking faith in the Daimoku, although ignorant of its meaning, can still produce very substantial benefit. In turn, Nichiren Daishonin's philosophy and doctrine is also very strong and compelling stuff. What emanates throughout his writings (gosho), is the spirit of an extraordinarily dedicated, couragous vibrant, and very human person. A person who was great in compassion and practical wisdom, totally dedicated to his mission, the welfare of his followers, the people of his country, and the world. Many of us first encountered the Daimoku and Nichiren Daishonin's teachings during times of great personal trouble and need. The Daimoku, as Nichiren Daishonin taught, had the effect of liberating us from much of the suffering imposed by our karma laden life problems.
Thus, encountering the Daimoku and Nichiren Daishonin's teachings had the effect of setting our lives straighter on course then they had ever been before. In those dark hours of despair and uncertainty, the wisdom of his teachings were like the steadying hand of a loving parent. He gave us the courage to endure and press on with certainty and purpose where nothing else had. For this, he has our admiration, our reverence, and enduring gratitude. Yet, herein lies the potential crux of understanding with regard to original causes. For many, the understanding may have been something like this, "It was the wisdom of Nichiren Daishonin and his prescription to chant the Daimoku that liberated me, not Shakyamuni. It was Nichiren Daishonin's teachings that I followed, not the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, Nichiren Daishonin is the true Buddha, not Shakyamuni." In simple terms, the magnitude of Nichiren Daishonin's enlightenment, relative to our own, can itself give rise to misleading views. In turn, these misleading views can exploit thought and understanding in many subtle ways.
Overcoming this kind of exploitation, I believe, entails a process of apprehending the true import of Nichiren Daishonen's Buddhism in both its historical and transcendent aspects. This is an important issue regardless of whether one's interest in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism originated with the SGI movement or not. It is important because correctly understanding Nichiren Daishonin's historical and doctrinal role is essential to the state of one's own belief and understanding as a follower and practitioner of his Buddhism. The series of three discourses that follow are dedicated to this end. In Nichiren Daishonin's time, some two thousand years after Lord Shakyamuni's passing, the cumulative documented record of Sutras, supporting commentaries, and alternative meditation on Buddhas and deities had grown to huge proportions. Indeed, the Buddhist cannon had grown so large and complex that even accomplished scholars risked getting hopelessly confused beneath the load. The reason for this, is that many of the sutras and commentaries emphasize some specialized aspect of the Buddha Dharma or otherwise conflict with one another in terms of the doctrines, artifacts, and practices they prescribe.
Consequently, it can be very difficult to discern which among the various teachings are authentic or counterfeit, which among the authentic are only provisional (temporary or expedient teaching, a partial truth), and which are true (a complete or essential teaching, suited to the needs of all people). Nichiren Daishonin's life work was dedicated to sorting out the differences among the various teachings and making the central (true, pure) Buddha Dharma again accessible to the people. His success in this difficult endeavor was the product of the reasonableness, clarity, and decisiveness of what he taught. His success can also be measured by the fact that even after hundreds of years, his teachings continue to grow in popularity. However, his revelations about the true pure teachings of Buddhism caused a perturbation throughout the entire sphere of popular religion as it existed in Japan during his time. Seven hundred years later the more universal importance of these revelations has not diminished.
In the Lotus Sutra, which is the essential sutra of Nichiren Daishonin's faith, Shakyamuni repeatedly instructs us that, "this sutra is difficult to understand and difficult to accept". Nichiren Daishonin's insight and literary skills were such that he could expound on matters of doctrine and practice with clarity and simplicity. This made it possible for a broad spectrum of people from grass roots voice hearers to dedicated scholars to gain benefit from his teachings. Moreover, his gosho writings possess a timeless wisdom of encouragement that we common people can comprehend and relate to in spite of being weighted down by the gravity of our own needs, desires, and the demands of worldly life. He advocated the essential practice of the Lotus Sutra in a way that could be embraced with regularity, thus giving us a tangible device to cultivate our faith in spite of the worldly nature of our lives.
In contrast, the practice of Buddhism expounded in the text of the Lotus Sutra reflects a very impeccable and demanding ideal of personal volition, life style, conduct, and selflessness. Indeed, some people might become, intimidated by the commitment entailed. Because of this, the Lotus Sutra might seem at first to be cold, distant, and impersonal when contrasted with the warm, earthy, humanistic exposition embodied in Nichiren Daishonin's gosho. Compared to the Lotus Sutra's highly ascetic description of the enlightened life, Nichiren Daishonin's treatment of the matter seems so much more attainable. Having provided this very accessible and beneficial prescription, how could Nichiren Daishonin possibly be other than the true Buddha? This is indeed a profound question and therefore one deserving of careful consideration.
In accordance with the central philosophy of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin taught that Buddhahood (enlightenment) is an inherent potentiality in each one of us. Further, the Buddhist record suggests that many people throughout history have attained enlightenment in greater or lesser degrees. Therefore, enlightenment is an event that can occur in varying amounts from small to great, and from momentary to non-regressive. In the light of these distinctions, how then should the notion of "original" or "eternal" Buddhahood be understood? By historical definition, the original Buddha is the actual founder of the Buddhist faith, or Shakyamuni of ancient India. By transcendent definition, the original and eternal Buddha is the one who has been fully enlightened or fully awakened since time without beginning. According to the liturgy of the Lotus Sutra, that person was no other than the Shakyamuni revealed in the 16th or Juryo chapter. From this perspective, Shakyamuni is the true Buddha in both the historical and the transcendent sense of the word. Buddhahood is further characterized as being perfectly awakened to and perfectly one with the great mystic Dharma. As a votary of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin's position was that the Buddha Dharma expounded in the Lotus Sutra (Myoho Renge Kyo), is the true pure teaching and the essential medicine that Shakyamuni ultimately prescribed to guide all people to enlightenment. According to conventions identified in Nichiren Daishonin's gosho, Buddhahood is characterized as manifesting itself in two forms: provisional and true. A provisional Buddha is one who reveals only some specific aspect or function of the Dharma, whereas a true Buddha is one who reveals the Dharma in its entirety. In the "theoretical" chapters of the Lotus Sutra, personages such as Shakyamuni and Taho are presented as provisional Buddhas. However, in the 16th Juryo chapter, Shakyamuni clearly and unquestionably identifies his life and teachings with the original Buddha, the illuminated one who has been active in the universe and world since time without beginning. In regard to this, Nichiren Daishonin wrote:
"The Juryo chapter reads: 'The time is limitless and boundless -- a
hundred, thousand, ten thousand, hundred thousand nayuta aeons --
since I in fact attained Buddhahood.' Present within our lives is
the Lord Shakyamuni who obtained the three enlightened properties of
life before gohyaku-jintengo, the original Buddha since time without
The Great Teacher Miao-lo declares: 'You should realize that our life
and its environment are the entity of ichinen sanzen. When we attain
Buddhahood, according to this principle, our life pervades the entire
universe both physically and spiritually. '" (2)
Clearly, Nichiren Daishonin viewed Shakyamuni of the 16th chapter as the eternal Tathagata, the original benefactor and votary of the Buddha Dharma. Therefore, from the orthodox standpoint of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, Shakyamuni of the 16th chapter is also the true object of worship. In regard to this, Nichiren Daishonin stated:
"Had an object of worship of Lord Shakyamuni who attained
enlightenment countless aeons before and his attendants ever been
made during the Former and Middle Days, it would have been like the
sun appearing at night or the moon shining by day...... Now that we
have entered the Latter Day, an object of worship should be made of
the true Buddha flanked by his original attendants, since this is
the most appropriate time according to the Buddha's golden words.
Because this age corresponds to the predicted time, the Bodhisattvas
of the Earth will soon appear and establish an object of worship of
the four bodhisattvas. " (3)
Still, someone unconvinced may suggest, "Your thesis may be correct so far as it goes. hakyamuni was unquestionably the true Buddha for his place in historical time. But, this is some three thousand years later and only seven hundred years ago Nichiren Daishonin emerged to expound the essential practice of Daimoku. As you have quoted, the true object of worship is comprised of the four bodhisattvas and didn't Nichiren Daishonin declare himself to be a reincarnation of Jogyo who was the leader among these bodhisattvas? Also, you said it yourself, the Lotus Sutra is difficult reading while Nichiren Daishonin's Gosho is more accommodating. Furthermore, Nichiren prominently inscribed his seal on the Gohonzon and therefore linked himself to the Buddha Dharma. Don't these things suggest that Nichiren Daishonin is the true Buddha of the latter day of the law?"
Nichiren Daishonin often used the method of creating imaginary dialogues to address critical issues when he could not directly face his audience on the floor of debate. So, in borrowing from this, the questions above might be answered in the following way. "I can see that your sense of respect for Nichiren Daishonin and his great accomplishment is very deep and I share that with you. However, I believe, it would be more correct to say that seven hundred years ago Nichiren Daishonin emerged to further expound and elucidate the essential practice of Myoho Renge Kyo. The process of translating Lord Shakyamuni's essential Dharma teachings down to the central practice of Daimoku, took over two thousand years and involved the life work of all votaries of the Lotus Sutra that preceded Nichiren Daishonin. Nichiren Daishonin did not invent the Daimoku. (4) However, he was the first to broadly advocate its use as the essential practice of the Lotus Sutra. Like all votaries before him, Nichiren Daishonin revered the Lotus Sutra above all other scriptures and made it the basis of his doctrine and dedicated his life to fulfilling both its prophecy and dispensing its prescription. Therefore, it would seem that any fair sense of respect or indebtedness to him should include careful examination of what the text of Lotus Sutra contains, what Nichiren Daishonin had to say
about the Lotus Sutra, about Shakyamuni, and what Nichiren Daishonin had to say about himself."
It is true that Nichiren Daishonin declared his life to be closely aligned with the predicted mission of bodhisattva Jogyo. Bodhisattva Jogyo was one of Shakyamuni's principle bodhisattva attendants. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that Shakyamuni had four principle bodhisattva attendants, not just one. The four bodhisattvas of the earth who take a place with Shakyamuni, are considered to 'signify the four virtues of the Buddha's life: true self, eternity, purity, and happiness'.( 5)
However, because each of these bodhisattvas represents only one of the virtues (aspect or function) of the Buddha's life, anyone of them alone is provisional by definition. Nevertheless, Daishonin's frequent references to Jogyo and his landmark inscription of Gohonzon are decisive characteristics of his Buddhism. In regard to this, Nichiren Daishonin wrote:
"Then how can there be any doubt that I, Nichiren, am the teacher of
the Lotus Sutra? In other words, I almost resemble "the envoy of the
Thus Come One"; I am carrying out "the Thus Come One's work." I have
propagated the five characters of the daimoku which were entrusted to
Bodhisattva Jogyo when the two Buddhas [Shakyamuni and Taho] were
seated together within the jeweled stupa.(6) Does this not indicate
that I am an envoy of Bodhisattva Jogyo?"(7)
In the gosho, "The Selection of the Time", which Nichiren Daishonin subtitled as "Nichiren, disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha", the following statement is found.
"......Shakyamuni Buddha also extended his tongue, which is incapable
of telling falsehoods, until it reached the Akanishtha Heaven, saying
that in the fifth five-hundred- year period after his passing, when
the entire body of Buddhist doctrine would be about to disappear,
Bodhisattva Jogyo would come forward with the five characters of
Myoho-renge- kyo and administer them as good medicine to those
afflicted with white leprosy -- those persons of incorrigible
disbelief and those who slander the Law. And he charged Bonten,
Taishaku, the gods of the sun and moon, the Four Heavenly Kings and
the dragon deities to act as that bodhisattva' s protectors." (8)
"The text of the sutra clearly states that at this time, Bodhisattva
Jogyo will make his advent and bestow the five characters of Nam-
myoho-renge- kyo upon all the people of Japan. It also makes clear
that he will face exile and execution. I, Nichiren, am like the
emissary of Bodhisattva Jogyo, because I am spreading this
doctrine.... ..The Jinriki chapter states: "Just as the light of the
sun and moon illuminates all obscurity, this person will practice
among the people and dispel the darkness of all beings." In this
passage, in the statement, "this person will practice among the
people," to whom do you think "this person" refers? I believe that it
must indicate the person who is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva
Judging from the literal import of these and other quotations, Nichiren Daishonin clearly defined himself as a follower of the Tathagata, but more specifically, the metaphorical if not literal reincarnation of bodhisattva Jogyo. The most notable thing about this, is that the rather explicit association with bodhisattva Jogyo, unambiguously classified Nichiren Daishonin as a disciple of the true Buddha rather than the true Buddha himself.
To further clarify, the whole issue needs to be considered in light of the doctrine of the three treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The term "Sangha" refers to the order of disciples and followers of the Buddha. In Chapter 15 of the Lotus Sutra, the bodhisattvas of the earth are described as Shakyamuni's most ancient disciples, who had been under his training since the indescribably remote past .(10) Therefore, the four bodhisattvas of the earth metaphorically constitute the original sangha of the original Buddha.(11) Considering these things, what significance should or shouldn't be ascribed to Nichiren Daishonin's prominent seal at the bottom of Gohonzon?
In the "The True Object of Worship", Nichiren Daishonin describes Gohonzon as follows:
"In the air above the saha world [which the Buddha of the essential
teaching identified as the pure and eternal land], Namu-myoho-renge-
kyo appears in the center of the Jeweled Stupa (5) with Shakyamuni
and Taho Buddhas seated to the right and left, and the Four
Bodhisattvas of the Earth, led by Jogyo, flank them. Around them are
Monju, Miroku and the other followers of the Four Bodhisattvas. All
the other bodhisattvas, whether they are disciples of the Buddha of
the theoretical teaching or of the Buddhas of the other worlds, take
their seats further below, like commoners kneeling on the ground in
the presence of nobles and high ministers. The Buddhas who gathered
from the other worlds in the ten directions of the universe all
remain on the ground, showing that they are only manifestations of
the eternal Buddha and that their lands are transient, not eternal
and unchanging." (3)
Given this description and the position of Nichiren Daishonin's seal at the very bottom of the Gohonzon [beneath the lowest and most provisional of the followers of Shakyamuni and his four principle bodhisattva attendants, below the votaries prior to and during the Middle Day of the Law, and even below the representatives of the six lower worlds] one might equally and erroneously attribute to Nichiren a position wholly unworthy of the Supreme Votary of the Lotus Sutra.
Therefore, to define Nichiren Daishonin as true Buddha is like calling the moon's reflection on the water the moon itself or believing that the heavens rotate around the earth rather than the earth upon its axis. Undoubtedly, the issues of function are complex and everything inscribed on Gohonzon is rich and many sided in meaning. This notwithstanding, the position of Nichiren Daishonin's seal at the bottom of Gohonzon could be seen as symbolically representing the perennial bodhisattva of the earth, the sangha leader preaching the Buddha Dharma in the saha world; or variously, the embodiment of the latter day disciple kneeling on the ground, chanting Daimoku in veneration and observance of the Dharmabody of the eternal Buddha Shakyamuni. Therefore the essential relationship of Nichiren Daishonin to Lord Shakyamuni, is originally and eternally one of disciple to master. Even in Nichiren Daishonin's transcendent aspect as bodhisattva Jogyo, Nichiren Daishonin's relationship to Lord Shakyamuni is still one of disciple to master.
Even so, our protagonist might respond, "I must admit I have little defense against Nichiren Daishonin's own words or the evidence of Gohonzon. Again, however, the Lotus Sutra is difficult to understand and accept and therefore also Shakyamuni. If there are people that can be liberated by the belief that Nichiren Daishonin is the true Buddha, then haven't the true intentions of Shakyamuni been well served? In other words, isn't it possible that because of their past karma, that some people are unable to take faith in Shakyamuni and the Lotus Sutra but can take faith in Nichiren Daishonin and the Daimoku?"
Your question is searching and has some broad implications that need to be considered. As Nichiren Daishonin taught, propagation of the Dharma must be in accordance with the time, the teaching, and the country (8). Of course, the essential problem of having the Buddha's true Dharma confused with inferior doctrines and philosophies is the same throughout the world. Nevertheless, because of differences in cultural circumstances, the confusion is masked behind a different composition of philosophies, and ideologies in each country. Therefore, we must attempt to understand what is best for the growth of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism in this country. With this in mind, I would answer your question by asking you to consider the matter in the following way. In the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the Tathagata employs the parable of the excellent physician who attempts to administer medicine to his children after they were infected with poison.
"Those among the various children who have not lost their minds see
that this excellent medicine is good in both color and fragrance and
at once swallow this, their illness is completely eliminated and they
are cured. As to the remainder who have lost their minds, although
on seeing their father coming they also rejoice and make inquiries
and request him to heal their illness, yet when he gives them the
medicine, they are unwilling to swallow it. What is the reason? It
was because since the influence of poison has penetrated deeply and
has made them lose their original minds they said to themselves about
thismedicine with good color and fragrance that it is not beautiful."
"I ever know the masses of beings proceeding on the way and not
proceeding on the way; according to what will save them, I preach for
them all kinds of Dharmas. I myself ever form this thought: by what
shall I cause the masses of beings to be able to enter the supreme
way and rapidly achieve the Buddha body?" (12)
In accordance with this, Nichiren Daishonin's ultimate aim was to bring all people to direct faith in the pure Buddha Dharma of Lotus Sutra itself. Any expedient that does not ultimately lead to this end is not in accordance with what he taught. The notion that Nichiren Daishonin is the true Buddha, is a heterodoxy that originated in Japan several centuries ago among a small faction of his followers long after his passing. (1) This fact should be taken into careful consideration. A prevalent theme throughout Nichiren Daishonin's writings is that eventual enlightenment can be assured by the invocation of Daimoku alone. Undoubtedly, some benefit can be gained by accepting Nichiren Daishonin as the true Buddha, provided that this investment in faith leads to the actual chanting of Daimoku. However, what of those people who cannot be won to the Daimoku by such a subterfuge? This latter kind of people may very well be the majority in this country. Shakyamuni of India, the historical Buddha, also called Gautama, is rather commonly known throughout the literate world as the original Buddha. This prior information is the original cause that motivates many people to beattracted to and seek out the devices of Buddhist practice. So,what of these people, having a-priori cultivated respect for Lord Shakyamuni, only to have that respect crushed off by the SGI sentiment? Because of this, how many people have rejected the Daimoku and Nichiren Daishonin before they hardly begin or never attempted at all? And what of those people who after years of practice realize the truth when examining the literal meaning of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin's major writings un-corrupted by the agenda laden interpretations of the SGI movement? What potential difficulties can ensue after having become deeply bonded to the subterfuge by years of community affiliation, friendship, and even family? In other words, among those who were taught from the beginning that Nichiren Daishonin is the true Buddha, how many of them would have been better off believing from the onset that Shakyamuni is the true Buddha? In turn, how many people were driven away from the onset because no respect for the Buddha land of Shakyamuni could be found?
The protagonist replies, "........ these questions raise difficult issues and consequently do not lend themselves to easy answers. It may not be very satisfying, but no one ever said it would always be easy, certainly not Nichiren Daishonin. Earthly desires and delusions are nirvana and the sufferings of life and death are enlightenment. Matters of belief and understanding reside there as well. Regardless, your answers have not yet adequately satisfied some of my deeper concerns. As we have discussed, the Lotus Sutra is difficult to understand and difficult to accept. How can the majority of people be expected to directly read and study the Lotus Sutra and usefully gain benefit from it? Further, we can both agree that Nichiren Daishonin's contribution to doctrine and practice is great indeed. As a matter of strategic concern, don't you fear that the benefits of his contribution will be lost to posterity and the spread of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo blunted if Nichiren Daishonin is not endowed with the status of true Buddha?"
In response to the last part of your question, please consider the following things. The latter day of the law (mappo), is defined as the age of decline when the true Dharma is confused with inferior teachings and consequently lost. For this reason, sowing the seed of the true Buddha Dharma (Myoho Renge Kyo) has particular emphasis in the practice of Nichiren Daishonen's faith. The term "shakubuku" has been inextricably linked to the propagation movement. The term shakubuku has multiple meanings. I understand that in one sense it means, 'to crush or subdue', but in another sense it means 'to refute heretical views'. It is sometimes hard to see the forest when standing close to the trees. Considering this, I may ask in return, isn't it actually possible that the successful propagation of Myoho Renge Kyo has been compromised by the lack of universality of theb expedient you employ? Representing Nichiren Daishonin as the true Buddha can easily cause some people to see him as just another radical cult hero, a subversive fad, rather than as a legitimate Buddhist master. If we are going to confuse the status of key personages like Shakyamuni and Nichiren Daishonin, then how much easier is it to misrepresent the status of others, thus leaving Nichiren Daishonin's orthodox Buddhism and the propagation movement open to exploitation and corruption? It is difficult to estimate just how much damage this kind of phenomena has done to the credibility of both Nichiren Daishonen and Namu Myoho Renge Kyo itself. In any event, I think you must admit that the stand you take creates very substantial limitations regarding to who among >the populace that the seed of Daimoku can successfully be propagated. As to the issue of the majority of people benefiting from direct study of the Lotus Sutra, I must answer at considerable length.
First, I suspect that most of those who claim that the Lotus Sutra is too difficult to study, also carry a similar attitude towards Nichiren Daishonin's gosho. These are the kind of people who would rather depend on what their leaders prescribe than bend to the effort of studying the source documents themselves. With little exception, basic literacy is rather universal condition in this country. There is also a clear difference between what is difficult and what is truly impossible. The Lotus Sutra admonishes us that in the age of mappo we should depend upon the Buddha Dharma (the written sutra) rather than on the words of others. And Nichiren Daishonin himself admonished that we should "listen to the golden words of the Buddha, not what others have to say". (13) Undoubtedly, Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism opens and closes with the Daimoku, it is the soul and essence of the practice that he expounded. Without assiduous return to Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, the rest of the elements of faith, practice, and study are like the different parts of the lotus plant severed from its root. Even so, Nichiren Daishonin wouldn't have stressed the assiduous recitation of the Hoben and Juryo chapters had he wanted us to chant Daimoku only. That is, he intended that we become well acquainted with the heart of the Lotus Sutra, both in sound-rhythm and in literal meaning.
There is very substantial practical justification for being attendant upon literal meaning. As most of us first experienced, substantial benefit can be achieved just by taking faith in the chanting of Daimoku. However, to continue without study, is to base Daimoku on the devices of one's karma laden past experience and insight alone, rather than having that insight mediated by the written guidance of the Buddha Dharma itself. After a certain point, progress in faith and understanding is much slower without study into the literal meaning of the Buddha Dharma. The lack of such study also makes people vulnerable to the misleading views and guidance of others. Nichiren Daishonin undeniably believed that the Lotus Sutra did fit the capacities of the people of the latter day. The whole theorem of the thing was that some two thousand years after the Buddha's passing, the people were indeed ready for the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Daishonin, wouldn't have advocated the sacred title of the Lotus Sutra as the central practice if he hadn't believed this. In so doing, he strictly defined what was the essence, what was the heart, and what was the body of the text of the Lotus Sutra. Now, some three thousand years after the Buddha's passing, the Lotus Sutra fits the capacities of the people just as well if not better. To venture an analogy, when Albert Einstein first published his theory of relativity, there wasn't anyone else on the planet that could understand what he was talking about. Then, after a while, two or three other physicists of his time got it figured out and then after a while a few more caught on. Now, even less than a century after his startling revelations, it would be difficult to earn a degree in the physical sciences without having a basic handle on Einstein's theory. Although, few people on the street (including myself) could tell you much, there is hardly anyone in the modern world who hasn't at least heard of Einstein and his revolutionary theory of relativity. The technological and industrial edifice of modern civilization is predominantly based on the older Newtonian physics (14). However, the seed of relativity theory has been planted and is inexorably working its way into the depths of the collective and thus gradually altering our practical understanding of the physical universe. It would be safe to predict that civilization of one or two thousand years from now will be incalculably different as a consequence. It is difficult to significantly change the consciousness of an entire species of living being. As a species, we have resided on the plateau of civilization for only five or ten thousand years at best. In the life of the planet and our race, a few thousand years can hardly be counted as a period of huge extent. The true pure Buddha Dharma shares something in common with relativity theory insofar as human kind as a whole has been a long time in preparation to receive it. The predicted ten thousand years of the latter age of the law marks a time when both the widespread need and the capacity for the Buddha Dharma enjoys an extraordinary convergence.
The Daimoku is the seed practice, but knowledge of the heart and eventually the body of the Lotus Sutra is necessary in order that the seed develop good roots and produce a well formed plant. In the "Opening of the Eyes", Nichiren Daishonin quoted Miao-lo as having concluded, 'if one fails to become acquainted with the Buddha of the Juryo chapter, one is no more than a talented animal who does not even know what lands his father presides over.' (13) Yes, the Lotus Sutra it is difficult to understand, but so are many classical works when read for the first time. Those who suggest that the Lotus Sutra is too difficult to be worth the reading are seriously in error.
I can anticipate your next question, "not all people are bookworms, just how much reading and study must be done do to satisfy the practice?" Of course, the essential answer is, "just one phrase, 'Namu Myoho Renge Kyo'". However, this one phrase is very deep in meaning and the study of it, is consequentlya life long journey. This journey can be greatly aided if time is taken to consult the written Buddha Dharma of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin's gosho. Nichiren Daishonin expressed a very focused and economical stand on the prescribed scope of study when he wrote:
"'In all the Buddha's lands of the universe there is but one supreme
vehicle, not two or three, and it excludes the provisional teachings
of the Buddha,' and 'Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I
will expound the Supreme Law,' and 'Never accept even a single phrase
from the other sutras.' Thus, ever since that time, the supreme
vehicle of the Mystic Law has been the only teaching profound enough
to enable all people to attain Buddhahood.' " (15)
Judging from this passage, it should be clear that Nichiren Daishonin did not expect us to master the entire Buddhist cannon in order to do justice to his faith. Study of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin's supporting gosho, are the central liturgical articles of faith. Undoubtedly, first readings are difficult because there are many unfamiliar terms and unusual styles of literary expression. However, with repeated effort, the task of comprehension eventually becomes easier. Although, huge in substance of meaning, the Lotus Sutra is not a particularly long book. In turn, the entire collection of Nichiren Daishonin's writings is a rather modest holding, and his major writings constitute only a fraction of this (16). Therefore, it is not an unreasonable expectation that the majority of people gain direct familiarity with the contents of both. As familiarity deepens, the Lotus Sutra is almost certain to show itself to actually have excellent "color and fragrance". The Lotus Sutra is the master plan that Nichiren Daishonin's faith rests upon. One would be remiss in claiming to be his follower if he or she didn't endeavor to build studied acquaintance with its content. Unquestionably, it is the same imperative with the study of Nichiren Daishonin's gosho, which serves as doctrinal guide for interpreting and practicing the Lotus Sutra in the latter day. However, this is only part of an answer to the complex question that is at the heart of this discussion.
It is said that one of the sacred titles of the Buddha is "the world honored one". In the present age, there is hardly anywhere in the literate hemisphere that one or another of the Buddha's titles is not known. If he is not known as Shakyamuni, then he is known as Gautama, or the "awakened one", or the historical Buddha, or simply the Buddha. Moreover, there is no historical personage in the larger Buddhist world culture that is more universally acknowledged than Shakyamuni or any Mahayana sutra more highly revered than the Lotus. Although, relatively few western people know much about the essentials, it would be difficult to have any knowledge of world religions and philosophies and not have heard of the middle way doctrine.
The severe austerities that Gautama underwent in his quest to discover, understand, and elucidate the fundamental causes and cures of suffering, were an unprecedented display of courage, discipline, and dedication. Moreover, after enlightenment, the social and cultural austerities he endured to ensure the integrity of his ministry and the purity of his teachings were a profound testament to the strength of his faith (17). The diamond hard body of practical and philosophical wisdom he fashioned in ancient India, left an extraordinarily influential imprint on the very record of civilization. Three thousand years later, the impact of his historical turning of the wheel of the law, still reverberates across the waters of human consciousness. His essential teachings have inspired and guided seekers of the way ever since. His teachings inspired his immediate disciples, his life and teachings were the inspiration behind the Lotus Sutra, he inspired all the bodhisattvas of the former and middle days of the law, he inspired Nagajuna, T'ien-t'ai, Miao-lo, Dengyo and Nichiren Daishonin. Without the seed of Shakyamuni's original enlightenment, the accomplishments of all these others, including Nichiren Daishonin, would be practically less than dust. How could anyone reasonably doubt that Shakyamuni is the Tathagata, the original parent, teacher, and sovereign of the Buddha land, the world honored one? To deny this is to literally cut oneself off from the life blood of the Buddhist faith.
The life and legend of Shakyamuni reflects a very high ideal of human existence. It reflects a standard of successful altruistic living which is of history changing impact. This ideal speaks to both the individual and the collective, even though embracing its full measure seems far beyond either the desire or the capacity of us ordinary people. However, that is not a bad thing, we need not turn away in fear because it is neither our capacity nor our personal role in the scheme of things to duplicate the details of Shakyamuni's personal life or otherwise match his historical fame. The Lotus Sutra teaches that we are all equal in our potentiality for enlightenment. However, in matters of faith and wisdom, it is a very rare that anyone succeeds in coming even near the historical and legendary stature that Shakyamuni obtained. Indeed, Shakyamuni lived the life that he did in order to produce a decisive legacy for the ages. The wonderful thing, is that Shakyamuni's life was one that was lived long for the standard of his time, and one lived with extraordinarily impeccable intent and success. As a testimony to the most profound teachings of Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutra expounds the essential causes and effects that lead to the universal eradication of suffering. From this standpoint, it is an absolute certainty that anyone can find something within its pages that is worth study and reflection. If we have no ideals to regularly observe that are clearly beyond our measure, than no possibility of beneficial advancement in our own lives or in the life of the race is conceivable. Such is the Lotus Sutra, the quintessential Buddhist masterpiece of philosophical and cosmological writing, the crown jewel of the Mahayana.
You say that you fear that Nichiren Daishonin's great contribution will be lost if he is not endowed with the status of the true Buddha. The sages tell us that, "those who do not learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat them." I therefore suggest that you should fear the loss of Shakyamuni's legacy every bit as much. This is sometimes the hardest thing to understand, but the essential diamond hard nature of Shakyamuni's original enlightenment cannot be improved upon, it can only be studied and emulated. Nichiren Daishonin's orthodox Buddhism and his own faith rests upon the legacy of Shakyamuni's original enlightenment. What a shame it would be to have the original antecedents of the Buddhist faith annihilated from the memory of the race. To loose the jewel of wisdom and insight that Shakyamuni crafted, would be on a par with loosing the gifts of tool making and written language, like being relegated to the status of wild animals in the wilderness who never learned who their own parents were. If anything, the world suffers from lack of sufficient knowledge about the life and teachings of Lord Shakyamuni. It should therefore be clear that Nichiren Daishonin had very deep and far reaching justification for defining the true object of worship as he did. As followers of Nichiren Daishonin, we should endeavor to cultivate respect in the manner that he prescribed.
Nevertheless, we are still left with the central issue of this discussion. That is, "if Nichiren Daishonin is not the true Buddha, then who indeed is he and how should we represent him?"
Historically, we know that Nichiren Daishonin was a Buddhist priest, a disciple of Shakyamuni, a Daimoku master, a mandala maker of extraordinary accomplishment, and the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in the latter age of the law. The unique character of his accomplishment was punctuated by the prescription of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo as the essential practice, clarification of the true object of worship, inscription of Gohonzon, and the formulation of landmark doctrinal standard for interpreting and practicing the Lotus Sutra. At the heart of it, he distilled the most essential teachings of Buddhism down into a formula of faith, practice, and study that common people like ourselves could regularly embrace while continuing to build and live ordinary lives. This was indeed an accomplishment of extraordinarily great insight, wisdom, and compassion. The product of an enlightened life lived in the service of the Eternal Buddha and the people of the earth. As a votary of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin's life vow was to practice, expound, and propagate its teachings as the essential prescription to overcome the karmic effects of slander and to extinguish suffering.
By historical precedent, a Buddha is a sage who has achieved a state of perfect illumination from practicing the teachings of the original Buddha Shakyamuni. In regard to the matter, Nichiren Daishonin wrote:
"Although not worthy of the honor, Nichiren was nevertheless the
first to spread the Mystic Law entrusted to Bodhisattva Jogyo for
propagation in the Latter Day of the Law. I Nichiren was also
the first to inscribe the Gohonzon, which is the embodiment of the
Buddha from the remote past as revealed in the Juryo chapter of the
essential teaching, of Taho Buddha who appeared when the Hoto chapter
of the theoretical teaching was preached, and the Bodhisattvas of the
Earth who emerged with the Yujutsu chapter. No matter how people ma
hate Nichiren, they cannot possibly alter the fact of his enlightenment. "(2)
In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni vowed to make everyone equal to himself in terms of the benefits of the enlightenment that he himself obtained. Unquestionably, Nichiren Daishonin's own enlightenment is an historically decisive instance of the fulfillment of Lord Shakyamuni's promise. As the Buddha's disciple, Nichiren Daishonin's enlightenment was the product of the original Buddha's most profound teachings as they had been preserved and illuminated through the succession of votaries of the Lotus Sutra to the time of Nichiren Daishonin's appearance at the beginning of the latter age. Nichiren Daishonen's Buddhism is orthodox Mahayana Buddhism refined and expounded in accordance with the essential prescription of that lineage.
The labor of successfully establishing Nichiren Daishonin's orthodox Buddhism in this country, is a process of correctly establishing its status relative to the original teachings of Lord Shakyamuni. Many of us in this country began our journey as followers and practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism based on the belief that he is the true Buddha. As an expedient for centering on the essential practice, this initial shaping of belief and understanding was not really so incorrect as it could have been. This is particularly so considering the myriad of less worthy personages and teachings that one's faith could be invested in. It is also true that because of this investment in Nichiren as True Buddha, ironically, more people have ended up ascribing less significance to Nichiren Daishonin than would be expected. Despite elevating Nichiren to true Buddha status fewer and fewer people seem to have respect for the Nichiren Lotus Sutra Buddhism. *Imagine, there are a group of vociferous supporters of the vice president who claim that Joe Biden and not Barack Obama is the true head of state. Through no fault of his own, joe biden being a loyal follower of president Obama, in the mind of the vast majority of the people, his status has become that of usurper. The people will in the end, turn away from Joe Biden, his power and influence to support the president will be diminished and people may even begin to harbor doubts about the programs of the president and the Law of the land.*
The issue can also be looked at from the standpoint of the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent. The true orthodox stand of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism specifies that the only personage that legitimately possesses all three virtues is Lord Shakyamuni the master of teachings. (18)(19) Nevertheless, anyone who takes Nichiren's Daishonin's orthodox Buddhism seriously, will have some functional tendency to ascribe these virtues to him. (2) However, such an ascription can only hold orthodox validity when it is understood that Lord Shakyamuni is Nichiren Daishonin's sovereign lord and therefore the true sovereign, parent, and teacher of our faith. The term "Daishonin" means "great teacher". Therefore, the correct orthodox endowment of Nichiren Daishonin is with the virtue of teacher of Lord Shakyamuni's Buddha Dharma. Failure to be observant of this relationship between Lord Shakyamuni and Nichiren Daishonin is tantamount to denying the true cause underlying Nichiren Daishonin's own enlightenment. The original vow to bring all people to enlightenment was Lord Shakyamuni's. In turn, all the Buddha's, bodhisattvas, and guardian deities that attended the ceremony in the sky, made their vows to Lord Shakyamuni. It was also to Lord Shakyamuni that Nichiren Daishonin made his vow to propagate the Lotus Sutra in the latter age. In Nichiren Daishonin's true orthodox Buddhism, Lord Shakyamuni of the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra is the original and eternal Buddha and therefore the original benefactor of the Buddha Dharma, Myoho Renge Kyo.
As Lord Shakyamuni's disciple and emissary, Nichiren Daishonin's life work was in the service of guiding all people to enlightenment through the profound teachings of Myoho Renge Kyo. The most fundamental linguistic identity of "Myoho Renge Kyo", is the actual title of the written scripture of Lotus Sutra itself. Consequently, the phrase "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo" should clearly imply being attendant upon both the Daimoku and the Dharma teachings expounded within. In the final analysis, the very essence of Nichiren Daishonin's faith, is the Buddha Dharma originally expounded by the eternal Buddha Lord Shakyamuni. This Dharma is mirrored in the depths of Gohonzon and in the depths of the written scripture of the Lotus Sutra itself. A new Daimoku movement is emerging in this country that is anchored in this original and eternal Buddhism of Lord Shakyamuni. This movement is based on the true meaning of Nichiren Daishonin's faith as it has been restored, preserved, and taught by the succession of true followers since Nichiren Daishonin's own time. The lineage of this succession is exemplified by Nichiju Shonin, who founded the Original Kempon Hokke sect of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism many centuries ago in Japan. (1) It is through the vehicle of this movement that the people of this country now have both the alternative and the opportunity to learn and practice the Buddhism of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo as Nichiren Daishonin truly intended.
So now, the present discourse has gone full circle to where it began. Who then is Nichiren Daishonin? Of course, in the final analysis, I can only speak for myself as Nichiren Daishonin's gosho is the true doctrinal authority, not what I have to say.
Nevertheless, at least for me, under the original and eternal sovereignty and parenthood of Lord Shakyamuni, Nichiren Daishonin is my historical teacher and sangha leader in this latter day of the law. He is the founder and patriarchal elder of the orthodox Mahayana Buddhism that I practice. His gosho teachings are most excellent. As Daishonin he is the authority on how the Lotus Sutra should be interpreted and how the essential practices of Buddhism should be performed in this latter age. As lay follower and practitioner of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, I endeavor to be attendant upon the oneness of the true Buddha and true Dharma revealed in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra of Shakyamuni as Nichiren Daishonin prescribed.
"A passage from the Lotus Sutra reads, '...as though one had found a
ship to make the crossing.' This 'ship' might be described as
follows: The Lord Buddha, a shipbuilder of infinitely profound
wisdom, gathered the lumber of the four tastes and eight teachings,
planed it by honestly discarding the provisional teachings, cut and
assembled the planks, using both right and wrong, and completed the
craft by driving home the spikes of the one, supreme teaching. Thus
he launched the ship upon the sea of suffering. Unfurling the sails
of the three thousand conditions on the mast of the Middle Way
doctrine, driven by the fair wind of 'all phenomena reveal the true
entity,' the vessel surges ahead, carrying all believers who can
enter Buddhahood by their pure faith. Shakyamuni Buddha is the
helmsman, Taho Buddha mans the sails, and the four Bodhisattvas led
by Jogyo strain in unison at the creaking oars. This is the ship
in 'a ship to make the crossing,' the vessel of Myoho-renge- kyo.
Those who board it are the disciples and followers of Nichiren.
Believe this wholeheartedly. " (20)
NAMU MYOHO RENGE KYO
References and Notes:
(1) Kempon Hokke Bukkokukai Manual For New Believers, Hokke Kai
International, Eugene, OR, 1997.
(2) Nichiren Daishonin, "The True Entity of Life", Volume I, NSIC,
(3) Nichiren Daishonin, "The True Object of Worship - Kanjin no
Honzon Sho", Volume I, NSIC, 1979.
(4) Note: The term "Daimoku" means "title of a Sutra". The Hokke
Gengi, which is one of major works of Tien-T'ai, is said to have
expounded the premise that the essence of the entire Lotus Sutra is
expressed in the title. The Hokke Gengi is further said to provide
exhaustive interpretation of each of the five characters of Myo-ho-
ren-ge-kyo. It is unfortunate that no English translations of the
major works of Tien-T'ai have yet been made available.
(5) Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, NSIC, 1983.
(6) Note: the actual wording of this translation had it as
the "treasure tower" in reference to the apparition in the sky
described in the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. However, various
other English translations of the Lotus Sutra have this chapter
titled as the, "Jeweled Stupa", or "Precious Stupa", or
just "Stupa" or "Shrine". Therefore, the term "Stupa" was
considered more faithful to the original meaning.
(7) Nichiren Daishonin, "Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment" , Volume
(8) Nichiren Daishonin, "The Selection of the Time", Volume III,
(9) Nichiren Daishonin, "This Person Will Practice Among The
Volume VI, 1993.
(10) Hurvitz, Leon. "Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine
Dharma", Translated from the Chinese of Kummarajiva, Columbia
New York, 1979.
(11) Kubota, Rev, Tetsujo; H.G. Lamont (translator) , "A Talk on
Daishonin Shonin's Object of Worship", Sankibo Buddhist Book Store
LTD. Tokyo, Japan1994.
(12) Kubota, Rev. Tetsujo; H.G. Lamont (translator) , "The Essential
Services of the Kempon Hokke Sect", Kempon Hokke Bukkoku Kai,
(13) Nichiren Daishonin Daishonin, "The Opening of the Eyes, Part
II", Volume II, NSIC,1984.
(14) Note: It is interesting to observe that the older "Newtonian"
physics is viewed as a special instance of general relativity. This
is somewhat analogous to the Buddhist concept of a provisional
teaching, which is characterized as an expedient understanding or
partial truth. It would be incorrect to define the
physics of Einstein as a complete truth. Nevertheless, it
constitutes a more
complete truth about physical reality than Newtonian physics alone.
(15) Nichiren Daishonin, "On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings" -
Shugyo Sho", Volume I, NSIC, 1979.
(16 ) Note: Parallel to the division between true and provisional
teachings, Nichiren Daishonin's gosho is made up of both major and
minor writings. His major writings are characterized as those that
elucidate the foundation of his orthodox Buddhism and were written
for general dissemination. In contrast, his "minor" writings are
characterized as those that were specifically written for a
particular person, an expedient medicine to deal with a unique
> problem and therefore not necessarily applicable to all people.
(17) Lotus Sutra, Chapter 14, or Chapter 13 in the Kern Translation.
(18) Nichiren Daishonin, "The Teaching in Accordance with the
Buddha's Own Mind", Volume 7, NSIC, 1994.
(19) Nichiren Daishonin, "On Prayer", Volume 7, NSIC, 1994.
(20) Nichiren Daishonin, "A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering,"
Quotation extracted from "Kempon Hokke Bukkokukai Manual for new
Believers", October, 1997.
*Added by me*