Nichiren Daishonin talks about the hell of incessant suffering throughout the Gosho. But his almost too frequent reference to it, I believe, comes from his boundless mercy to do everything possible to keep people from falling into that hell. But what is the hell of incessant suffering really like? On Slanderous Acts states:
The eighth hell is avichi, the hell of incessant suffering.... Ringing it are seven great iron fortifications.... To the prisoners in this hell, those in the hell of scorching heat are like people enjoying themselves in the sixth heaven. The stench of this hell is so noxious that the heavenly beings and people on the entire earth and in the six heavens of the world of desire would all die should they ever chance to smell it.... If the Buddha should but describe all of the sufferings in this hell, those listening to him would cough up blood and die. That is why the Buddha refrains from giving a detailed description.
Those passages, showing how deep life goes and how strict the retribution for slander is, really make us sit up and take notice. There is also the parable of the one-eyed turtle and a floating piece of sandalwood, a parable which is as profound as it is well known. The Reply to Widow Matsuno reads:
The turtle symbolizes ordinary people like us. Its lack of limbs signifies our lack of endowment with causes for good fortune. Its burning stomach denotes the eight hot hells of anger, and its freezing back the eight cold hells of greed. That the turtle has to stay at the bottom of the ocean for one thousand years represents the difficulty of extricating ourselves from the three evil paths. Every thousand years it comes to the surface, which signifies how rare it is to escape from the three evil paths and be born as human beings --- perhaps once in countless aeons --- and how rare it is to be born in Shakyamuni Buddha's lifetime.
We are told here how difficult it is to escape the three evil paths of Hell, Hunger and Animality and be born in the human world. Having been fortunate enough to live as human beings now, we have all the more motive to take seriously what this passage says.
In the Face of Death
The other day I read an article by Jun'ichi Watanabe, a physician-turned writer, describing the behavior of an eminent surgeon when faced with his own death. An expert in abdominal surgery, the doctor had treated thousands of cancer cases. Then, ironically, he was found to have cancer himself. The discovery came too late, and he could do nothing but await his own death. He remained calm and composed at first, but as his condition declined he began to change.
At midnight a low growl would come from his room; then suddenly a scream would shatter the dead silence of the ward.
"No! No, I don't want to die!"
"Help me! Help me!"
The nurses would rush into his room and find the doctor in tears, kicking his legs and beating his fists against the bed like a child. Sometimes he would take things off the bed-stand and throw them across the room. At other times, his eyes filled with hatred, he would just lie and glare at his elderly wife, who stayed with him to look after him, and at the nurses who treated him.
"You hypocrites!" he would shout angrily at them. "You're thinking what fun you can have by yourself after I go. You're all just waiting around like vultures, glad that I'm going to die." Once on the rampage, no one could control him. It took the combined power of all the nurses and his wife just to pin him down and give him an injection to put him to sleep.
The next day the doctor would wake up and look around with eyes hollow and gaunt as if he had just escaped from hell. When an occasional visitor came, he would hardly say anything at all. At such times he seemed like a man who was looking death calmly in the face. When night came, however, he would again lose all control and become as violent as another Mr. Hyde. It seemed as if he was being alternately tormented by his daytime exhaustion and nightly hell. The physicians were completely taken aback --- they had never seen anyone struggle with such desperate fear of death as this doctor. Unable to remain indifferent, someone suggested that religion might give him some consolation. But he was in no state to accept any kind of religious faith. He simply continued to writhe in agony.
Was the doctor more frightened or cowardly than other people? No; there was no one who believed that. But there was no hope of his being cured. Death would definitely take him in a few more weeks and he knew it better than anyone else. The problem was that he was all too clearly aware of the fact.
He was like a criminal in death row; in a way, even worse. Even a condemned criminal still has that one chance in a thousand for reprieve, some slight hope that somehow his sentence might not be carried out. For the doctor, however there wasn't the tiniest glimmer of hope that he would live. He knew too much about medicine to expect any such thing.
He had devoted himself to medicine and for several decades had studied and accumulated professional knowledge But all his knowledge was now completely worthless. All it did was make him more acutely aware of his own death. He had diagnosed and operated on thousands of cancer cases. All this experience only told him that he would soon breathe his last. There was not the slightest possibility for survival in which he could believe. His precious learning had turned into a demon that did nothing but torture him.
In despair even more intense than that of a condemned criminal, the doctor continued to writhe and cry in anguish until he finally breathed his last, as if exhausted of all his abusive language. There was no longer the slightest vestige of the lofty-minded scholar. Here was but an ordinary old man, egotistic and suspicious of everything, thrashing about in the horror of death. [Mainichi Shinbun (Tokyo: The Mainichi Newspapers, February 13, 1977)]
This fairly lengthy quotation brings into bold relief human frailty when faced with the final hurdle of death, a frailty which is part of our pitiful karma. Reading the article, I realized afresh how wonderful it is to be able to live aware of the philosophy of eternal life expounded by Nichiren Daishonin. Learning, genius, power, wealth, reputation, science, technology --- all become nothing when one is confronted by death. Faced with his end, man finds himself hopelessly overpowered, and there is nothing able to salve his conscience. That article and numerous other similar stories make us realize all the more clearly the significance of the phrase, "My sole wish has therefore been to solve this eternal mystery. All else has been secondary." Buddhism holds the answers to the questions man has struggled with since his beginning, the questions of death and the last moment of life. Buddhism is the philosophy of how to live, and every one of us, being human and existing as "beings-unto-death," should study it with equal zeal.
In his Exegesis on The True Object of Worship, Nichikan Shonin quotes the Great Teacher Dengyo as saying, "The unified perception of the three truths of life* at the moment of death is entirely different from that during ordinary practice at ceremonies. For, at the last moment, death's agony comes quickly and grips the body with ever-increasing strength, and the mind becomes so confused that one can no longer distinguish between right and wrong." Here is something we must think of in our own lives. Nichikan Shonin continues, "Unless you master the essential practice that will free yourself from illusion and suffering at the moment of death, all ordinary learning is completely useless. ... At the last moment of your life you should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." This phrase indicates that "the essential practice" is the practice of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Only a life devoted to the Mystic Law will lead to the state of true peace and security that is described as "happiness in this life and good circumstances in the next."
*[To perceive the three truths as an indivisible entity --- ku (the spiritual or qualitative aspects of life), ke (all phenomena of life) and chu (essential, unchangeable entity of life) --- in a momentary state of life. T'ien-t'ai defined this unified perception of life as stemming from the correct practice of concentration and meditation.]
Just imagine that those thousand Buddhas extending their hands to all Nichiren's disciples who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are like so many melons or moon-flowers extending their slender vines.
Earlier we discussed the sentence in the Kambotsu (28th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra which states, "After his death, a thousand Buddhas will extend their hands...." Here the Daishonin says that this sentence was written for those who would believe and practice the Great Pure Law in the future, which meant all his disciples and believers. Just as melons or moon-flowers extend their "slender vines," the thousand Buddhas will extend their hands to support us, who embrace the Gohonzon, with all their might. We are, as it were, traveling aboard a ship as huge as the macrocosm, the ship of the Gohonzon. No other ship is as secure and powerful, for the blessings of the Gohonzon are as vast as the universe.
The quoted passage also says a great deal about the attitude leaders should have. The Buddhas extend their hands to prevent people from falling into hell or suffering from unbearable fear. This is the spirit we need when dealing with friends both inside and outside of our Buddhist organization. We should be constantly thinking of ways to let them enjoy their lives and to keep them from misery. To do that is to carry out the spirit of the Buddha, "to free him from all fear and keep him from falling into the evil paths." As we extend our hands to help others and encourage them, we are the "thousand Buddhas extending their hands." Just as melons or moon-flowers extend their vines, so must we extend our helping hands to our friends, always watching them with special care, and thinking of their problems as our own. This is the spirit of the leader, filled with love for other members and for our neighbors and for all mankind.
Life always has its ups and downs. Everyone meets with times of failure and defeat. But it is at exactly such times that the people around should go to help and encourage. In doing so, they perform the work of the thousand Buddhas, the work which I believe causes a change in individual karma and, in the long run, growth in our respective communities. I always think of this whenever I meet with members or non-members.
This Moment Decides the Future
My disciples have been able to receive and embrace the Lotus Sutra by virtue of the strong ties they formed with this teaching in their past existences. They are certain to attain Buddhahood in the future.
The Shinjikan Sutra states, "If you want to know the cause you formed in the past, observe the effect in the present. If you want to know the effect in the future, observe the cause you are forming now." Thus, we have been able to take faith in true Buddhism because of the strong ties we formed with the Gohonzon in our past existences --- the cause in the past. The fact that we have been able to receive and embrace the Gohonzon is the effect in the present, and at the same time it is the cause we are forming now. This cause makes it certain that we will attain Buddhahood --- the effect in the future.
It is truly mysterious that we have been able to receive and embrace the Gohonzon and are now practicing true Buddhism for kosen-rufu and to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. It is possible only because we accumulated good causes in our past existences. The seventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads, "In lifetime after lifetime they were always born together with their masters in the Buddha's lands throughout the universe." It is saying that we must have formed the cause by unbroken dedication to propagating the Mystic Law. That has enabled us to encounter the Gohonzon in this life --- the effect in the present.
Although you have been able to take faith in the Gohonzon, if you regard this only as the effect and nothing more, you are severing all the ties you once formed and cutting yourself off from the good fortune you have accumulated. It is important to understand that you must instead make that effect a cause for the future, a springboard for further growth. Only then can you cause your life to blossom in the future.
"My disciples have been able to receive and embrace the Lotus Sutra . . ." In this phrase, "receive" can be considered the effect received from the past. On the other hand, "embrace" is the cause aimed toward the future. To "embrace" means ceaseless effort and devotion, the continuous, unwavering practice of faith. Nichiren Daishonin means precisely that when he says, "To accept is easy; to continue is difficult. But continuing faith will lead to Buddhahood."
The passage, "My disciples...," teaches us that the ties we formed in the past have led us to receive and embrace the Gohonzon, and that our acts to do so now guarantee that we will attain Buddhahood in the future. Here we see the processes of planting, nurturing and reaping the seeds of Buddhahood-processes which span all eternity. Some of you may wonder, "Some people cannot bring themselves to take faith in true Buddhism. Is it because they did not form ties in the past? Must we abandon all hope of saving them?" No, we should not. If one is able to hear Buddhism in this life, that is equal to having formed ties in the past. Man is not an entity inescapably bound and controlled by past karma. He is an independent being whose present state of mind can change his future in any way he pleases. Actually it is beyond anyone's capacity to know whether or not he formed strong ties with Buddhism in the past. The essential thing is the fact that we embrace the Gohonzon now. This is what The True Entity of Life means by: "Were they not Bodhisattvas of the Earth, they could not chant the daimoku." We do not chant daimoku because we are Bodhisattvas of the Earth. But we are Bodhisattvas of the Earth because we chant daimoku.
Be convinced, therefore, that you formed strong ties with Nichiren Daishonin as his true disciples in the past, and that you were born in this age with the pledge to spread the Mystic Law throughout the world. Live earnestly each and every moment with this conviction, so that you will be able to forge a path through life-a life which is an accumulation of moments of good fortune. This is fundamental to the spirit of Buddhism. Be firmly resolved that when you strive to attain kosen-rufu, you will prove yourselves as noble Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Keep this resolution as you devote yourselves wholeheartedly to your daily activities.
Upholding the Eternal Heritage
The heritage of the Lotus Sutra flows within the lives of those who never forsake it in any lifetime whatsoever --- whether in the past, the present or the future.
Earlier in this Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin explained that the ultimate law in life is Myoho-renge-kyo and that to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to bring forth the law. In the passage above he is saying that this heritage is only transmitted through the continuous practice of faith. Just as parents blood is by nature transmitted to their children, it is equally certain that the heritage of the ultimate law flowing within the life of the original Buddha from the infinite past is transmitted to the lives of us, his true disciples. Thus the passage assures us that the heritage of the ultimate law also flows within our lives eternally. Because we embrace the Gohonzon and chant daimoku, our lives are entities of the ultimate law. The heritage of the ultimate law is never interrupted in the lives of those who continue to embrace the Gohonzon throughout the past, present and future.
Sairenbo had only recently become Nichiren Daishonin's disciple, and the Daishonin sensed a tendency in him to place greater emphasis on theory than on practice. It was probably for these reasons that the Daishonin wrote in this particular way, to remind Sairenbo that the continuous practice of faith is most important of all. The heritage of the ultimate law is passed on to lives elevated through faith to a level where perception and communication with the Buddha's life is not only possible, but assured. But to fully receive that heritage requires practice continuing not just throughout a single lifetime but throughout the three existences of life. It is difficult, of course, to maintain one's belief even for a single lifetime. Since past, present and future are contained in a single moment --- the present moment --- we must sustain our faith without interruption through a succession of moments, now and into the future. Although it may seem easy, there is actually nothing more difficult, or more important.
For us, the transmission of the ultimate law should be the solemn ceremony taking place in the depths of our lives --- a ceremony in which we perceive our own Buddhahood and bring it to the surface. Is there anything concrete about the way we inherit the ultimate law flowing within Nichiren Daishonin's life? The Daishonin passed away long ago. But he left behind the Gohonzon, the object of worship that combines the Person and the Law. We inherit the ultimate law from the Gohonzon, but we require no special ceremony. We only need to have a firm faith and chant daimoku to transfer the Gohonzon's life into our own. Or, putting it another way, we need only to bring forth the Daishonin's life --- Buddhahood --- from within ourselves.
Let me repeat this: Inheriting the Daishonin's life means bringing forth Buddhahood from within our own lives. The Gohonzon may be compared to a bird in the sky, while the Buddhahood in our own lives is like a bird in a cage. Bringing forth our own Buddhahood is like the caged bird responding to the song of the bird in the sky. The heritage of faith flows entirely within our own lives. Only through our own faith can we realize this.
There is no reality other than the life we have, which continues throughout past, present and future. Reality is not something someone else gives you. The only thing there is, is our wonderful life which, though changing from moment to moment, continues to exist eternally. The heritage of the ultimate law flows here and nowhere else.
But those who disbelieve and slander the Lotus Sutra will "destroy the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world." Because they cut themselves off from the potential to attain enlightenment, they do not share the ultimate heritage of faith.
All in all, then, there is no way for those who disbelieve or condemn true Buddhism to possess the heritage of the ultimate law. No matter how severe our situation may be, as long as we maintain strong life force through faith in the Gohonzon, we will someday be able to make the seed of enlightenment grow, ripen and bear fruit. You probably remember a news report not so long ago that a lotus seed that was found to be more than three thousand years old still retained enough life force to bloom and bear fruit. However, if one prevents the seed of his own Buddhahood from sprouting, he cannot expect it to bear fruit. Hence the Daishonin's statement that disbelievers and slanderers cut themselves off from enlightenment. "Destroy the seeds . . . in this world" means that no matter where they go they can never be saved. For them there is no place to escape. The only course open to them is hell.
The line, "destroy the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world," appears in the third chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Look again at the phrase, "in this world." It tells us that we can attain Buddhahood only in the world we are living in. Proof of enlightenment becomes manifest as we try to live sincerely and humanely. You will never, never attain enlightenment if you run away from society to some quiet place to meditate. Buddhahood exists within us as we live from day to day. The seed for Buddhahood inherent in all people is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Those who derogate or refuse to believe in the Mystic Law will destroy the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world.
All disciples and believers of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with one mind (itai doshin), transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate law of life and death. Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren's propagation. When you are so united, even the great hope for kosen-rufu can be fulfilled without fail.
Here we learn that the heritage of the ultimate law flows within the group of believers who maintain perfect unity (itai doshin) among themselves. The passage is a concrete lesson in the way of practice to follow and thereby inherit the lifeblood which enables any and all people to attain enlightenment.
Then where in particular does the heritage of the ultimate law flow? The answer is given at the beginning of this Gosho, in which the Daishonin states, "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." In a literal sense, the heritage exists in the life of Jogyo, leader of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, whom Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas entrusted with the propagation of the Lotus Sutra. From the standpoint of true Buddhism, the entity of the ultimate law is the life of Nichiren Daishonin himself, the reincarnation of the original Buddha from the infinite past who appeared as Bodhisattva Jogyo when Shakyamuni taught the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, the above passage concludes that the heritage, which in particular dwells within the Daishonin's life, flows in general within the group of his disciples who maintain perfect unity among themselves.
The quoted passage also makes it clear that the Buddha's lifeblood flows in the actions of people --- not those who act divisively or egotistically, but within the lives of those who chant daimoku and advance together toward the common goal of kosen-rufu. It is an important passage, for it shows a practical way for common people of little understanding to attain Buddhahood in the Latter Day.
"Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren's propagation." What is the objective that Nichiren Daishonin strove for as he propagated the Mystic Law? He did not intend to keep the heritage of true Buddhism to himself or just to transmit it to a limited number of people. He wanted to open the way to Buddhahood and pass the heritage on to all people --- those in his own country and throughout the world. He wanted to pass it on to mankind, and for all eternity. This was the spirit that underlay everything he did, and it shows us the fundamental difference between shoju and shakubuku. Shoju was the method used during the Former and Middle Days to transmit the True Law for all generations, but shakububu in the Latter Day aims at enabling all people to attain Buddhahood.
With infinite mercy for all, Nichiren Daishonin established the Dai-Gohonzon as the ultimate entity of enlightenment. He taught us itai doshin (literally, many in body, one in mind) as the spirit in which to carry on the practice and the movement. In the light of this teaching, the noblest aspect of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism lies in faith based on the spirit of itai doshin. Today in the Soka Gakkai we are firmly joined to the Gohonzon and dedicate ourselves to propagating the Mystic Law. The training and study we do is always undertaken within a fine, harmonious web of human relationships. The Soka Gakkai's very existence becomes extremely important in the light of this teaching of the Daishonin. Our organization carries out the lofty mission to achieve "the true goal of Nichiren's propagation."
Josei Toda used to say, "The organization of the Soka Gakkai is more important than my own life." Soka Gakkai members maintain perfect human harmony and transcend all differences between them. Ours is an organization which has unmistakably inherited the ultimate law of life --- the key to enabling all people to attain Buddhahood. I am certain Mr. Toda made his remark because he knew this all too well.