Nichiren teaches about Eagle Peak much more often and comprehensively after his exile to Sado Island. (1274 -1282) It is only natural that one’s thoughts turn to the afterlife as one approaches their end and Nichiren must have known that his exhaustive efforts and hardships would soon take their toll. It is a wonder that Nichiren lived as long as he did.
“Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was a practitioner at the initial stage of rejoicing; Nichiren is an ordinary practitioner at the stage of hearing the name and words of the truth 11*.”
Nichiren, like we ourselves, had just received the seed of Buddhahood after many kalpas from the Original Buddha (Honbutsu). For countless asamkhiya kalpas, we have neither heard the Law nor practiced the Buddha’s teachings and, for all intents and purposes, our Buddha seeds have dried up. This is not to say that our Buddha-field (Buddha-nature) is not fertile soil but we have not encountered the seeds of Myoho renge kyo, for a very long time. Being common mortals like Nichiren at the stage of Myoji Soku (first hearing the name and the words of the Truth or Myoho renge kyo) we, of course, have various worries, and doubts, especially about the afterlife. These doubts and uncertainties come to the fore when we have a near death experience, lose a loved one, or are coming to the end of our lives. I am sure that Nichiren too experienced these feelings and was acutely aware of the even more intense uncertainties experienced by his disciples and believers. For this reason, Nichiren made the afterlife an important part of his teachings after 1274.
Every “advanced” religion and most primitive religions address the question of an afterlife. Most of Nichiren’s followers had the mistaken idea of an Eternal Paradise ingrained due to the influence of the pervasive Pure Land teachings. This is akin to those of us in the western world who have the Christian idea of heaven established in their psyche. Even Chapter twenty-three of the Lotus Sutra takes into account the teaching of the Eternal Pure Land. The compassion and mercy of the Buddha and Nichiren was not to destroy the belief in this hopeful place but rather to utilize it so that one could believe ever more fervently in the Supreme Law.
“This is the place we live to enjoy happiness”. This is the place where we and our loved ones will be reborn to again experience the Joy of the Law. Whenever the Buddha in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, let alone the Lotus Sutra, talks about “assurance of no rebirth”, or Nichiren talks about going to Eagle Peak, they mean no rebirth in the Lower Six Realms.
Nichiren's prayers for the deceased petitions the Gohonzon for the deceased to be free of sufferings and that they wake up from the delusion of life and death and attain Enlightenment (the Great Bodhi).
Eagle Peak, in one sense, is the intermediate state, the Land of actual reward, a place of joy. quietude, and rest where, in death, we meet our teachers Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Daishonin before returning to this Saha World to once again sow the seeds of Buddhahood in the wasteland of the peoples' lives. In another sense, the land of actual reward or Eagle Peak is the Gohonzon where, every day, we refresh ourselves and again meet with our teachers Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Daishonin. Lastly, where ever we preach and propagate Namu Myoho renge kyo, at work, in school, "in a garden, a forest, beneath a tree, in monks’ quarters, in the lodgings of white-robed laymen, in palaces, in mountain valleys or in the wide wilderness,"** is the Buddha's Land. “There can be no discontinuity between the three existences of past, present, and future.”
*Please ignore footnote 11 [which is in error] of the SGI commentary and go to Nichiren's writng, The Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice for a correct explanation of these stages.
**Lotus Sutra Chapter 21