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Monday, August 12, 2019

Medieval Original Enlightenment thought versus the Lotus Sutra's and Nichiren's Three Bodied Buddha thought

"Here is a passage from the "Ongi Kuden" upheld by Josei Toda as equivalent to the "Final Teachings" a term usually reserved for the Lotus Sutra itself. Here is a passage that preaches Medieval Tendai Hongaku [Original Enlightenment]: "Twenty Three: "The Remotest past" [STN 3:2671]"

"The Ongi Kuden states: The meaning of this (Fathoming the Lifespan") chapter lies in the Buddha’s actual attainment of enlightenment in the remotest past (kuon jitsujo). "Remotest past" has the meaning of "not setting in motion," "unadorned," and "being just as it is originally." Because this is the Buddha endowed with the uncreated three bodies, he does not attain enlightenment for the first time; this is "not setting in motion." He is not endowed with the thirty-two marks or eighty character characteristics; thus he is "unadorned." Because he is the originally inherent Buddha who constantly abides, this is "being just as it is originally." This is the meaning of the "remotest past." "Remotest past" (kuon) indicates Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. "Actual attainment" (jitsujo) means "truly opened," that is, opened [and revealed] as being uncreated." -- from "Some Disputed Writings in the Nichiren Corpus.. by J. Stone Ph.D., pages 526-527 }

Toda interprets this passage:

"In this passage, the text interprets the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment in the remotest past, described in the "Fathoming the Lifespan" chapter, not as a past occurrence at some finite point in time, but as the revelation that Buddhahood is inherent originally. Hence the characters ‘jitsujo’—"actual attainment"—are accompanied by ‘furigana’ indicating that they are to be read ‘makoto ni hiraketari’ or "truly opened." 

This is a reasonably good example of Medieval Hongaku Thought being falsely represented as the idea of Nichiren Shonin. In it, the Buddha is no longer a real Buddha, sharing his limitless and timeless enlightenment by his compassion but is rather seen as the substance of the universe itself which is originally pure and enlightened and nothing past that. The Buddha is seen as an "originally inherent Buddha" who constantly abides and therefore has no beginning, explaining the limitless Lifespan of the Buddha. 

In Original Enlightenment thought, the Universal Body of the Buddha, sometimes called the "Dharma Body" becomes central. The Buddha is "things just as they are", inherent in the fabric of the Universe and all things and beings contained in it. So we can understand how, by this view, proponents of this theology eventually have declared the common person as the ‘real’ Buddha, or ‘all life’ as the Buddha. We have all seen SGI members say things like "I am the Buddha" or "The Buddha is me !"

So this is very a popular idea in the SGI because they understand that a philosophy that absolutely affirms ‘the self’ is attractive to people who are looking to feel better about themselves personally and who, at the same time, have rejected any sort of transcendent spiritual religious belief system, often due to a poor experience with the religion of their birth, (Christianity or Judaism) and who are now working that poor experience out on Buddhism. 

The question is whether or not this is "Koshogi", "the right old teachings of Nichiren Shonin" or something different and at odds with it. It is clear to me and many other people who are careful students of what Nichiren wrote, that Nichiren Shonin’s original teachings did not employ this formulation of Original Enlightenment as its basic premise.

An Eternal Universal Buddha (often called the Buddha’s "Dharma Body") is found in many of the Sutras and is nothing at all special. This Universal Buddha is the aspect of the Buddha that is identical with all things and beings in the Universe, perfect and inherently enlightened simply ‘as they are’, manifesting only an ‘unadorned’ (pure) existence. If this was all the Lotus Sutra preached, as it would have to for Original Enlightenment to be valid, it would just be more of the same, equal to other Sutras. But the Lotus Sutra stands apart from all of the prior teachings precisely because in it we find a Buddha whose wisdom and compassion is also eternal, an Eternal Reward Body (enlightened wisdom and conduct is the ‘reward’ of practice) which is really the central principle of Buddha, according Nichiren. The Manifest Body of Shakyamuni Buddha too is eternal according to the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin

This Three Bodied Buddha is found in only one place, the Honmon section of the Lotus Sutra, which is the ‘Original Gate’ to enlightenment from which all enlightenment arises and whose merits and insight are squeezed down into the Object of Worship, for us to ‘receive and keep’ . It is this ‘Honmon Buddha’ (Essential Buddha, Central Buddha, or Original Buddha), that Nichiren Shonin believed in, not this "Kanjin Buddha" of Original Enlightenment theology, a metaphorical Buddha that is a reflection of your own life. The Original Enlightenment ‘Kanjin Buddha’ is "Ji-Butsu", an idealized conception of a Buddha, not actually real but only a bag of meritorious conceptions that people shoot for as a goal . Substituting this "Kanjin |Buddha" for the Original and Eternal Buddha of the Honmon (R--Butsu) is "Hobo", a serious blasphemy, according to Nichiren Daishonin.. 

Nichiren rarely describes this Buddha in his authentic writings as "uncreate triple body" as we see in the above passage but instead constantly describes the Buddha as "Lord, Teacher, and Parent" , and the "Good Physician" who is ever watchful and dispensing the cure for our spiritual illness .

Nichiren is not simply using flowery language when he repeats over and over that the Buddha is ‘Lord, Teacher and Parent’ but rather it is indicative of a religious principle that upholds a real Buddha .."Ri-Butsu", an Actual Buddha, who lifts all beings to their enlightenment by inconceivable powers and via the grace of faith. 

When Nichiren writes that "it is hard to believe that the world of Buddha can exist in the world of Humans" in the Kanjin Honzon Sho, it does not indicate the sort of Dharma Body oriented inherency of Medieval Hongaku thought. 

The Buddha and Humans share the same reality but the human does not fathom the entirety of the universe and cannot attain enlightenment by his own meager powers in the age of Mappo. That is why true Nichiren Buddhists do not rely on meditation or undergo hard Tendai/Shingon like esoteric rituals to attempt to gain enlightenment by their own personal insight. Instead, the seed of Buddhahood must be planted within us. 

This occurs when we hear ‘Namu Myoho renge kyo.’ The enlightenment of the Buddha is thereby ‘taken in’ and then exists in our own mind , as hard as that is to believe. So we receive the Daimoku when we hear it, which plants the seed of enlightenment and then we keep it via strong faith which provides a fertile field for the seed of enlightenment to grow. 

The universe does not simply just exist, it is also simultaneously cognized perfectly. It is what Myoraku Daishi called an "Inconceivable Field of Cognition" that the faithful can enter (as we all have a Buddha Nature) and which enters us (as the Buddha has full Enlightenment) both coming together bringing the ordinary person to enlightenment. That is something different than Hongaku idea’s of the common person being the Buddha inherently." --MS

****Slightly edited

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