Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life


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Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life
- Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho -

Lecture 1 of 3 from Selected Lectures on the Gosho, vol. 1.

Mirror for Believers

The Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho (Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life) brings back fond memories of my master, Josei Toda, for he lectured on it many times. "Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho is one of the most difficult letters of all the Gosho," he used to say over and over again. "Whenever I read it, it seems so clear at first, but then I find myself wondering again what it means. The higher my state of life becomes, the more fully I understand this Gosho." Mr. Toda also said it contains the essence of faith for disciples of Nichiren Daishonin. In fact, he said, without the spirit of this Gosho we cannot accomplish kosen-rufu nor can we achieve the essence of faith and the ultimate in Buddhism. "Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho," he added, "is a spotless mirror of the practice of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth."

I am convinced that what he said is true, for it can be proven --- there is documentary, theoretical and actual proof. I myself have often lectured on this Gosho and have pondered deeply on it. Each time I am astonished and again impressed by all that is condensed into each sentence, each phrase. I can only call it a mystic work. Without my even being aware of it, this Gosho has come to bear a decisive influence on my life. Here I want to share with you the thoughts I have developed after many years of study and reflection on the Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho. I would like to think of this as a commemoration of the seventeenth anniversary of my inauguration as president, and also of this year, 1977, the Year of Study. I have only one goal: knowing that the movement toward kosen-rufu will continue far into the future, I want us to delve deeply into the basic point of faith of the Soka Gakkai through this Gosho. I want to confirm the fundamental spirit of our faith, the lifeblood of faith.

This is a very short Gosho, but the doctrine it contains is profound, for it probes directly into life and death, the ultimate question of Buddhist philosophy. It is that question to which Shakyamuni Buddha and all the others who lived for Buddhism devoted their wisdom and passion in the search for a solution. All of the so-called eighty-four thousand teachings and all the innumerable theses and commentaries on them, without exception, focus on one theme: life and death. Sairenbo was a scholar of the Tendai sect which was regarded as the highest school of Buddhist philosophy in those days. Eager to break through the mystery of life and death, he asked Nichiren Daishonin for illumination. The Daishonin's reply is the Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho. There he presents the conclusions he has reached, based on his enlightenment as the Buddha of the Latter Day, and at the same time he explains how all mankind can actually attain Buddhahood.

In Shoho Jisso Sho (The True Entity of Life), the Daishonin discusses general themes, such as universal phenomena and the true entity, the Ten Worlds and the Mystic Law, the common mortal and the Buddha. Then he reminds us of our mission to propagate the Mystic Law as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, people "of the same mind as Nichiren." In contrast, the Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life deals specifically with the ultimate purpose of Buddhist practice --- attaining Buddhahood --- and tells us clearly the type of practice which leads directly to that objective.

The True Entity of Life, it will be recalled, contains the main points of two of the Daishonin's major theses: The Opening of the Eyes, which explains the object of worship from the viewpoint of the Person, and The True Object of Worship, which discusses it from the viewpoint of the Law. The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life is no less important, for it contains the teaching based on Nichiren Daishonin's own enlightenment as the original Buddha. It is the place where the Daishonin reveals the state of his Buddhahood. Since this Gosho is so important to Buddhist teaching, it should be read and reread, until it becomes a part of your life.

This Gosho was written on February II, 1272, at Tsukahara on Sado Island. As in the case of The True Entity of Life, it was written to Sairenbo Nichijo, whose background I have described elsewhere.* Of course the original was a personal letter, and the title it now has was affixed later. However, because it begins with a discussion of shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku, I will begin by examining this phrase.

*[ Sairenbo Nichijo, who received the letter containing that passage, is said to have been a priest of the Tendai sect before he became a follower of Nichiren Daishonin. We can presume, therefore, that he knew about "the true entity of all phenomena" as the basic teaching of the Tendai school. He could not, however, thoroughly understand it through T'ien-t'ai's theory, and so he asked the Daishonin to explain the exact meaning of the passage.]

Shoji is life destined to repeat the endless cycle of birth and death. Ichidaiji may be rendered as "the most fundamental essence." Ichi, literally "one," here means not "one of many," but "the one and only." Ichidaiji, then, is "the one and only fundamental essence." Shoji ichidaiji, as a result, denotes the most important thing in our lives --- the ultimate law of life. Kechimyaku is the "pulse" of the flow of life, which continues on, unchanged, beneath the superficial passages of life and death. The master-disciple relationship is vital in Buddhism, for through this relationship the Buddha, as teacher, transmits the law of life --- which he has fully realized --- to the lives of his disciples. The transmission of the law is also called kechimyaku.

Shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku conveys, in effect, the way the Buddha endows people undergoing the endless cycle of birth and death with the ultimate law so they can manifest it in their lives. That is the crux of Buddhism, the quality that makes Buddhism a practical philosophy involving living relationships, carrying it far beyond the reach of mere ideas.

The Ultimate Law of Life

Having roughly explained shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku, I would like to elaborate now on the meaning of shoji and ichidaiji. I will speak about kechimyaku in detail later. Shoji has basically two meanings. One is its significance as an abbreviation of sho-ro-byo-shi (ji of shoji is a phonetic change of shi) --- birth, old age, sickness and death --- including all human suffering. The other meaning is derived from belief in eternal life and signifies the entity that repeats the endless cycle of birth and death. Shoji, as used in this Gosho, denotes the latter.

Life and death are the two phases that all living beings must pass through. Conversely, a living being can exist only in the state of life or death. The ordinary person can see his life only as it begins with birth and ends with death. The Buddhist perspective goes beyond this limited view, however, extending its horizon to life as a changeless entity that exists eternally, sometimes in the manifest phase called life, and at other times in the latent phase called death. What is the Buddhist view of the two phases of life and death? The Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra says, "There is no ebb and flow of birth and death, . . ." Since "ebb and flow" indicate death and birth, the Juryo chapter, based on belief in eternal life, denies the ebb and flow of life, that beings are born and die. In the Ongi Kuden (his oral teachings of the Lotus Sutra), however, Nichiren Daishonin says that the denial of birth and death originates in delusion. We should instead regard birth and death --- the ebb and flow --- as essential phases in the ultimate entity of life. This, he says, is the only valid view of life. Life is the state in which its ultimate entity is manifest, and death the state in which it lies dormant. The ultimate entity remains unchanged, repeating the endless cycle of birth and death.

Buddhism also teaches us that life and death are one and the same. What allows life to continue is the mystic energy accumulated in its latent state. When the latent form is aroused by some external influence, it becomes manifest once again, giving full expression to its individuality. Eventually, it quietly recedes into the state of death. However, during this latent state, that being stores up fresh energy in preparation for its coming rebirth.

Life is like the explosion and combustion of a force stored up during its rest period. When it has completed its lifetime, it passes away, merging into the universe. During this latent state it refuels itself with cosmic force, awaiting the time when it can spring to life once again. Thus birth and death are intrinsic to the ultimate entity of life. The source of its rhythm that accords perfectly with the rhythm of the universe is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A deformed life, out of step with the intrinsic rhythm, must go through a cycle of birth and death burdened by a limiting destiny, and it is usually in the state of Hell, Hunger or Animality. This is what we call evil karma. One possessing such a karma is born, lives and dies constrained by bonds as heavy as any iron chains. There is only one way to transform such a misdirected cycle of birth and death and bring it into step with the cosmic rhythm, and that is to return to, and start anew from, the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

That is a macroscopic view of life, seen in terms of one lifetime within the eternity of past, present and future. We must also look at life microscopically, seeing the births and deaths that occur within each of us at every passing moment. A lifetime is made up of the repetition of this process, for births and deaths of smaller lives combine to ensure the continuation of a greater life.

First, consider birth and death in terms of space. Galaxies wax and wane in size as stars within them are born and perish. In the existence of each star are the births and deaths of myriad living beings, as well as the appearance and disappearance of mountains, rivers and valleys. What about our own lifetime? We do not maintain the same matter we were born with from beginning to end. Most of our body cells continually die, to be replaced by new ones. Their births and deaths --- metabolism --- keep the body constantly provided with fresh life force and enable it to live on.

Life and death coexist in our bodies. Fingernails and hair are "lifeless," insentient things, but they originate from living material. They move from a living to a dead state in a smooth, unruffled change, followed by new fingernails and hair. The births and deaths of these and other parts of the body all combine to form a greater life. Thus life is neither a single-unit entity nor a mere assembly of parts that work independently of each other. It is something that consists of multiple components functioning in perfect unity, smaller lives combining to form a greater life. Tiny streams of births and deaths flow into broader rivers of births and deaths, which in turn pour into the vast ocean of cosmic life. The mystic nature of life is truly incredible in its working.

Now let us look at life in terms of time. We experience life and death at every moment. If our life at the present moment is in Hell, the state of Hell is "alive," and the other nine worlds are "dead." Suppose you are finally cured of a long, drawn-out disease. You dance with joy in the state of Rapture. The agony of Hell you felt a moment ago is gone; it has died. Hell and the other worlds have passed away, replaced by the vigorous life of Rapture. You want to tell other people of the joy of your recovery and attribute it to your Buddhist practice so they can possibly benefit from your experience. Then Rapture vanishes and your life changes to the state of Bodhisattva. Each moment one of the Ten Worlds is alive and the others dead, and the next moment another state takes over. Our lifetime is an accumulation of momentary lives and deaths. Even if Rapture is alive now, the other nine worlds have not in the least ceased to exist; they have merely become dormant. Since they are latent, any one of them can come to life in the next moment.

Since our lifetime is an accumulation of moments, the most important thing is the state of life we assume at each moment. Eternity consists of moments, and each moment has a lifetime condensed in it. Hence our state of life from moment to moment determines the overall course of our life. This, more broadly, is the key to changing one's karma. When we value each moment and live actively, enthusiastically, ready to greet the next moment, we go through a state of life and death free from suffering and directed toward enlightenment. If not, we will have to go through lifetime after lifetime in the six paths (from Hell to Rapture), passing from one dark state to another. That is why we must embrace Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Law which penetrates the ultimate in life and death. Only this Law will enable us to attain the state of life in which it is possible to live eternity in a single moment.

Next, consider ichidaiji. It signifies "ultimate." Shoji ichidaiji, therefore, means that the ultimate in Buddhism lies only in the question of life. What then is the ultimate law of life? Nichiren Daishonin gives a clear answer in the Ongi Kuden, in the section on the purpose of the Buddha's advent. Here let me enlarge on this question, relying on his explanation. Ichi of ichidaiji, as we have seen, indicates "the most fundamental essence." Ichi, literally "one," is not just a number like three, five or seven; it means "the absolute one and only," something that has no equivalent. All human affairs originate from, and return to, the one and only fundamental question --- life and death. This is what ichi signifies. No matter what grand system of thought a scholar may develop, should he overlook or evade the question of life and death, his achievement will be nothing but a castle built on sand.

Dai, literally "great," here is used to mean that the ultimate law of life is the fundamental force which penetrates and pervades not only humanity but all things in the universe. It denotes the universality of life. All phenomena from the tiniest particle of dust to the galaxies move in rhythm to the law of life. There is nothing in the entire universe which is not touched by it.

Ji literally means "fact." That the ultimate law of life is constantly present and working in man and in the universe is not a mere idea; real phenomena are themselves the law. We live from day to day, the seasons come and go --- all of this is part of the law of life and death, and ji expresses this incontrovertible fact.

Ichidaiji also symbolizes en'yu-santai or the perfect union of the three truths: kutai (potential), ketai (form) and chutai (entity or source). In the Ongi Kuden we read, "Ichi refers to chutai, dai to kutai, and ji to ketai. What is meant by the 'perfect union of the three truths'? It is that which is called Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." Ichi here is the ultimate entity that embraces everything; it therefore corresponds to chutai, or the Middle Road. Dai tells us that the ultimate law of life and the universe is as extensive and all-inclusive as space; it therefore corresponds to kutai. Ji implies that this law manifests itself in the kaleidoscopic changes of all actual phenomena; it therefore corresponds to ketai. In the final analysis, ichidaiji is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Law which perfectly incorporates the three truths. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the ultimate law of life and the universe. At the same time it contains all things in the entire cosmos. It is not just an idea or something abstract and vague; it manifests itself in actual phenomena. The true entity of life completely free and unobstructed --- this is ichidaiji.

In the Ongi Kuden, Nichiren Daishonin also says: "Ichi represents the life-moment (ichinen), and dai indicates conditions of life (sanzen). What creates the conditions of life are the internal and external causes of reality (ji)." "Reality" is the fundamental power that makes each life-moment actually work within all phenomena in the universe. Ichidaiji therefore means the same thing as manifestation of ichinen sanzen. In the final analysis, Nichiren Daishonin is saying that ichidaiji is the Gohonzon, the power house of the Mystic Law.

The Eternal Heritage

I have just carefully read your letter.

Nichiren Daishonin wrote this Gosho during his exile on Sado Island. In an environment filled with almost indescribable hardships, he carefully read every letter from his disciples and devoted himself heart and soul to giving them guidance. For him, even that desolate island was a field for his battle, a field of his Buddhist practice. His simple statement, "I have just carefully read your letter," makes me realize that nothing could destroy or obstruct the sublime state of life of the original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin.

To reply, the ultimate law of life and death as transmitted from the Buddha to all living beings is Myoho-renge-kyo.

He gives his conclusion first: shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku --- the ultimate law of life and death as transmitted from the Buddha to the people --- is Myoho-renge-kyo, which is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself. The doctrine of shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku was originally developed by the Tendai school. Sairenbo, formerly of that school, apparently asked in his letter what this doctrine was all about. The Daishonin's words, "I have just carefully read your letter," suggest that Sairenbo's letter described in detail what he, as a priest of the Tendai sect, had learned about that teaching and how in the end he had become confused as to its true meaning. In his reply to the lengthy and complicated inquiry, Nichiren Daishonin revealed the ultimate law in a single sentence, and dispelled the priest's delusion completely. The conclusion seems to be simple enough, but a profound philosophical process took place before it would be reached, as we will see by studying the sentences which follow.

The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo were transferred from the two Buddhas inside the Treasure Tower, Shakyamuni and Taho, to Bodhisattva Jogyo, carrying on a heritage unbroken since the infinite past.

Why does the Daishonin regard Myoho-renge-kyo as the entity of shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku, the heritage of the ultimate law of life? His first reason is as follows. Myoho-renge-kyo was expounded during the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra as the law to be propagated in the Latter Day. Bodhisattva Jogyo was entrusted with that task because, the Daishonin states, the true entity of his life, which has continued on since the infinite past, is Myoho-renge-kyo. It follows, therefore, that the above sentence is written from a double viewpoint. The statement, "The five characters . . . to Bodhisattva Jogyo," is made from the standpoint of Shakyamuni Buddha's Lotus Sutra, while the phrase, "carrying on a heritage unbroken since the infinite past," is stated from Nichiren Daishonin's position.

According to Shakyamuni's teaching, Bodhisattva Jogyo inherited Myoho-renge-kyo from Shakyamuni and Taho during the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra in the air. From the standpoint of the Daishonin's Buddhism, however, his true identity is jijuyushin nyorai of kuon ganjo --- the original Buddha who simultaneously embodies the Person and the Law, and who has dwelt in the world of the Mystic Law since the infinite past. Therefore he "carries on a heritage unbroken since the infinite past." The powerful life in the original Buddha since the infinite past is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself.

Life Itself Is the Mystic Law

Myo represents death, and ho represents life. Life and death are the two phases passed through by the entities of the Ten Worlds, the entities of all sentient beings which embody the law of cause and effect (renge).

Nichiren Daishonin next reveals that the ultimate entity of life in all sentient beings --- in all people --- is also shoji ichidaiji kechimyaku, or Myoho-renge-kyo. "Myo represents death, and ho represents life" is another way to say that the law of life and death is in itself myoho, the Mystic Law. The two phases of life and death, which are manifested in the ultimate entity of life, are together the Mystic Law. The law does not exist outside the realities of living and dying; our life itself is the Mystic Law. Then again, our lives in their repetition of the cycle of birth and death are also the entities of the Ten Worlds. Earlier I explained how birth and death occur in a moment of life by referring to the Ten Worlds. They do not mean types of environments or surrounding situations; the Ten Worlds are to be found in the life of everyone --- in its rise and fall, ebb and flow.

Some people are harassed by bill collectors. Some students go through agony as they cram for examinations. There are many more examples of life in the state of Hell, but basically the tortures of Hell always come back to the question of life and death. The intense desire to live on and the desperate attempt to escape death give rise to the anguish and agonies of Hell, which are, then, nothing but the results of such desires. The state of Hunger revolves around greed, and so that, too, is related to life and death. In this way everyday life, in its depths, always involves life and death. Patients groan with and fear the pain of illness because they do not want to die. Some seek fame and status; others set their minds on learning. All derive from their attitudes toward life.

As long as we take the occurrences of every day lightly, we will not understand life's true meaning. Joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure may seem trivial, but they are ultimately related to the question of life and death. Because we are human, we may consciously or unconsciously evade relating our feelings and activities to life and death, but in the depths of the changing phenomena of the Ten Worlds, this problem of life and death is the most serious question of all. Only when we squarely confront it, recognize it, and reflect our recognition in the way we live, can we improve the state of our life. The human revolution is the process of transition from the six paths to the four noble worlds, from the two vehicles (Learning and Realization) to Bodhisattva to Buddhahood. It is a revolution that can only take place when we seek the ultimate law and root our attitude toward life and death firmly within it.

Let us next consider why the Daishonin says, "Myo represents death, and ho represents life." It is impossible to imagine anything about the state of death. Where does it exist, and how? Even if told that it continues to exist as part of universal life, we remain unconvinced. Death, therefore, is myo, a mystic phenomenon. In contrast to death, manifest life appears in many ways, shapes and forms. Like a law, it manifests one or another of the Ten Worlds in accordance with the workings of the Ten Factors of Life. [The True Entity of Life, section "Buddha is Not and Abstract Being] When you do not eat for a long time, you crave food --- the state of Hunger. When ridiculed, you are upset or angry --- the world of Anger. This is the natural law of life. Life, therefore, is ho, or law.

The Chinese character for ho consists of the ideographs for "water" and "passing away" combined. Together they mean "flow of water." Water represents the even, eternal and impartial, that which pervades the universe. "Passing away" symbolizes the flow of time from the infinite past to the infinite future. In some ancient literature we read that the radical "passing away" also indicates "an existence that banishes evils." All streams, be they rapids rushing down mountainsides or large rivers meandering through plains, flow on and on, never stopping, until they finally empty their waters into the ocean. The Buddhist sees the rise and fall of all phenomena, sometimes manifest and at other times latent, in terms of causality. He observes law within the movements of everything, not in a still, abstract form. It is probably for this reason that Buddhism regards the flow of water as symbolic of law. Buddhist law exists in the realities of everyday life, in the actual feelings of being alive. Hence shoho (literally, all laws) of shoho jisso is translated as "all phenomena."

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