Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life


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Perhaps one of the best-known stories about a seeking spirit is that of Sessen Doji and the particular process by which he attained enlightenment. Sessen Doji was practicing austerities in search of the Law when he heard a voice say, "All is changeable; nothing is constant. This is the law of birth and death." Certain that the verse contained the law for enlightenment he had so seriously been seeking, he beseeched the demon which appeared in front of him to tell him the rest of the verse. The demon --- actually Taishaku in disguise --- looked horrible and lowly. Why did Shakyamuni, in telling this story, have such an abominable creature enter the scene? It may have symbolized the many crimes and evils widespread in Shakyamuni's day. Shakyamuni may also have wanted to teach that we must seek the law on the basis of its philosophy, not on the appearance or station of the person who preaches it.

We can look still deeper into the significance of the story. The demon demanded warm human flesh as the price for its teaching. Sessen Doji, by offering his own body to the demon, was finally able to hear the rest of the verse. This lesson could not be clearer: seekers of Buddhism should be prepared to offer even their own lives for the sake of the law. But why was it that the price was human flesh? Why did Taishaku, disguised as the demon, demand it? To find the answer, recall the latter half of the verse the demon told Sessen Doji. It reads, "Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one enters the joy of nirvana." This represents extinguishing the suffering of birth and death in the phenomenal world and entering the unshakably happy state of nirvana in which there is neither birth nor death. This is a Hinayana doctrine, and it does not come anywhere near the highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra, much less Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. However, the verse contains an eternal truth in teaching us not to be blinded by births and deaths in the world, but instead to seek nirvana in the depths of those phenomena.

In order to truly understand the teaching, therefore, Sessen Doji first had to rid himself of the tendency to cling to his physical self. This was where the demon came in. The demon appeared and demanded that Sessen Doji give him human flesh. That demand was itself the answer to his quest. When he resolved to offer himself to meet the demon's request, he became qualified to hear the latter half of the verse or, right then and there, he attained enlightenment.

Some who heard the Buddha explain this were incapable of comprehending it. For them Sessen Doji's act of offering his body was the substance of that teaching. The abundance of parables in the sutras reflects an attempt to make the philosophy comprehensible to all people. To go a step further, the fact that the demon would not preach the law until Sessen Doji vowed to offer his body is saying that enlightenment lies only in practice. Aside from the degree of Sessen Doji's enlightenment, his act tells us that Buddhism exists only within human behavior. Had he not offered his body for the sake of the law, he would not have been able to attain enlightenment, no matter how profound a teaching he came across. Without practice, no one can acquire the law of Buddhism. For Buddhism is a philosophy that was systematized only to reveal the enlightenment the Buddha attained after many long years of practice.

While it is true that Buddhism embodies a profound philosophy of life, and we must not depreciate the intellectual side, in its essence Buddhist doctrines enlarge on the Buddha's own enlightenment --- enlightenment which can be acquired only through practice. Buddhism is not just a compilation of abstract, theoretical teachings. It is a dynamic guide to a better life, the way to live most humanely, and how to reform ourselves. Since Buddhism is the true way of life, we can naturally find a profound philosophy behind it. Therefore, the heritage of the ultimate law of life exists only within our own lives. The spirit of this Gosho lives only within a life that continues to grow from day to day and month to month.

"Nam-myoho-renge-kyo . . . was transferred from Shakyamuni and Taho" tells us that the entity of the Lotus Sutra manifested by the two Buddhas in the Treasure Tower is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Nichiren Daishonin was aware that Sairenbo, a former scholar of the Tendai school, tended to see only the literal interpretation of the Lotus Sutra. He reiterates here, therefore, that the ultimate of the Lotus Sutra is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

"The very lifeblood which was transferred . . . to Bodhisattva Jogyo." Here again the Daishonin emphasizes the same point. Bodhisattva Jogyo, who was entrusted with the mission of spreading the Law during the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra, is the supreme leader of propagation in the Latter Day. It follows therefore that the teaching he spreads is the one and only True Law for that age.

The Functions of the Mystic Law

The function of fire is to burn and give light. The function of water is to wash away filth. The winds blow away dust and breathe life into plants, animals and human beings. The earth nourishes the grasses and trees, and heaven provides nourishing moisture. Myoho-renge-kyo too works in all these ways. It is the cluster of blessings brought by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

In this passage the Daishonin explains that the functions of earth, water, fire, wind and ku are themselves the workings of Myoho-renge-kyo --- the blessings brought by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Earth, water, fire, wind and ku are the basic constituents of all things in the universe. They are called the five elements, which by inference are represented by the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. On the Ultimate Teaching Affirmed by All Buddhas states, "When Shakyamuni Buddha was still a common mortal, at a time more distant than gohyaku-jintengo, he perceived that his body consisted of earth, water, fire, wind and ku, and he immediately attained enlightenment." "His body consisted of earth, water, fire, wind and ku" is another way of saying that "his body consisted of Myoho-renge-kyo."

Buddhism is in part the declaration to mankind that Myoho-renge-kyo --- the ultimate law of all things --- does not exist outside the phenomenal world, and the five elements that make up the physical world are themselves Myoho-renge-kyo. The Lotus Sutra teaches that this world is itself the land of eternal enlightenment, that a common mortal can attain Buddhahood just as he is, that the nine worlds and Buddhahood are mutually inclusive, and that suffering leads to nirvana. All of these are revolutionary philosophical concepts, and they all originate in this single insight that is so basic to Buddhism.

Buddhism does not exist apart from this world; any system of religious thought that evades the realities of life and concentrates on fleeting pleasures or escapism, or ends up with dreams of heavenly pastures, is powerless to help the plight of man. How should we deal with our constant, and often agonizing, reality? How should we live in the tumult of society? What can we do to open the path from chaos to a bright future? It is by seeking out answers to these questions that we can discover the revitalizing power of Buddhism. Religions that teach escapism or resignation, or religions that exist only in ceremony, are not religions in the true sense of the word.

Our movement has, from the beginning, advanced together with the masses, and today, it continues to be borne forward by a broad section of the populace. It lives among them and supports them in their sorrows and joys, sharing their sufferings and pleasures. Maintain this constant path for the Soka Gakkai, and always be proud in following it. It is the road Presidents Makiguchi and Toda built for us and led us to. No matter what others may say, let us proceed without fear along the Soka Gakkai's noble path and live the most precious life of all.

To go back to the text, the above passage enumerates the functions of the five elements. Their physical workings are exactly as the passage describes, but I feel that we must also study them in the light of the phrase, "Myoho-renge-kyo too works in all these ways. It is the cluster of blessings brought by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth."

First, consider fire. The text says, "The function of fire is to burn and give light." What does this mean for the life philosophy? A careful answer is given in the section of the Ongi Kuden concerning the first chapter, Jo-hon, of the Lotus Sutra. It states that "fire" means the fire of enlightened wisdom. "Giving light" is what wisdom does as it adapts to each new circumstance, and "burning" relates to the unchanging law of the universe. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself possesses both the virtue of burning and of giving light. The Ongi Kuden goes on to say that we who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo "can illuminate the darkness of suffering in life and death and can eventually see clearly the fire of nirvana's wisdom." It also says that we "can burn the firewood of desires and reveal the fire of enlightened wisdom." Since flames burn upward, fire represents Bodhisattva Jogyo, as jo means "upward."

"The function of water is to wash away filth." This is the function of washing away evil karma and eliminating the five impurities of life.* It symbolizes life's innate power --- coming from the Mystic Law --- to purify itself. Water represents Bodhisattva Jyogyo, jyo meaning to purify. The many evil deeds we committed in past existences destine us to suffer for countless lifetimes in succession. When we take faith in the Gohonzon, however, all that cumulative suffering comes to us all at once here in the present, but with far less intensity. This is the principle of lessening karmic retribution. When you flush water through an old hose, all the dirt in it is washed out the end. You may have to undergo hardship after hardship during this lifetime, but after the last dregs are purged, you will be able to live in comfort for the rest of your life and accumulate great good fortune.

*[They are: I) impurity of the age caused by war, natural disasters, etc.; 2) impurity of thought, or illusion, caused by confusion in philosophy and religion; 3) impurity of desires, or ugly tendencies such as greed, anger and stupidity; 4) impurity of the people, weak, both physically and spiritually, and 5) impurity of life itself.]

Third, "The winds blow away dust" means to sweep away the difficulties that occur during our lifetime and the obstacles that try to block our path of faith. Just as the winds blow away dust and dirt, so can we clear away obstacles and difficulties by chanting powerful and resounding daimoku. The winds represent Bodhisattva Muhengyo, muhen meaning "without bounds." The Daishonin says that the winds also "breathe life into plants, animals and human beings." From old, wind has symbolized the vitality of nature and the universe, blowing the breath of life into all things.

Fourth, "The earth nourishes the grasses and trees" indicates the stabilizing factor of life. Just think of how life works. Nothing is more complicated or delicate. Our body, for instance, maintains a temperature that averages about 36.5¿C. A fever, even if only two or three degrees above normal, feels uncomfortable. It is a wondrous system that maintains our temperature at the same level, except in times of illness, when it changes to tell us that something is wrong. The thoughts and feelings in our mind change from moment to moment, but always with well-coordinated balance. The stability-maintaining function of our mind and body represents Bodhisattva Anryugyo, anryu meaning harmonious support.

Finally, "heaven provides nourishing moisture." "Heaven" here corresponds to ku, the fifth element. Rather than any of the Four Bodhisattvas, it symbolizes Myoho-renge-kyo itself. Just as heaven lets life-giving rain fall upon all things, so Myoho-renge-kyo bestows its benefits on all phenomena and is the fundamental force by which they work.

A passage similar to the one above appears in the Ongi Kuden:

Now Nichiren and his disciples who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth. The benefits of the Four Bodhisattvas are as follows: The natural function of fire is to burn things [Jogyo], that of water to purify [Jyogyo], that of wind to blow away dust and dirt [Muhengyo], and that of earth to nourish plants and trees [Anryugyo]. The roles of the Four Bodhisattvas are not the same, but all of them are derived from Myoho-renge-kyo. The Four Bodhisattvas dwell underneath, and T'ien-t'ai's interpretation in the Hokke Mongu speaks of "underneath" as "the ultimate depth of life, that being the absolute reality." That the Bodhisattvas of the Earth dwell underneath means that they dwell in the truth.

Fire burns; water cleanses; wind blows away dust and dirt, and the earth supports plants-all these natural functions correspond to the functions of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

What is the significance of the functions of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in terms of our daily life? To fight for happiness, consuming our own life force; to carry on the movement to purify others' lives as well as our own; to clear away the ugliness in society just as the wind blows away dust; to become an indestructible pillar in which anyone can place full confidence --- all of these are the natural functions of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth need never to be told to do anything by anyone. They work spontaneously for the benefit of the people and society, upholding the philosophy of the Mystic Law. It is a natural duty, which they sense within their own lives. Where does that sense of mission come from? Where in our hearts do the Bodhisattvas of the Earth dwell? Nichiren Daishonin explains this by quoting T'ien-t'ai's words-that they dwell in "the ultimate depth of life, that being the absolute reality." In other words, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth dwell in Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the entity which reigns over all the spiritual functions in man. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we bring its life force from within ourselves. We manifest the ultimate entity of our life and use our inner life force to improve our lives and society as we carry out our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth. In the final analysis, the functions of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are those of Myoho-renge-kyo. So, when we manifest ourselves as the entities of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we become by our actions Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and we join the ranks of people who continue this unparalleled odyssey in the eternal current of life.

Mission as a Great Bodhisattva

This discussion reminds me of two episodes which Josei Toda personally experienced in prison, especially the second. On New Year's Day, 1944, he began alternately to chant daimoku and read the Lotus Sutra, visualizing the Dai-Gohonzon enshrined at the Head Temple, Taisekiji. At the beginning of March, he was reading the first chapter, Toku-gyo-hon, of the Sutra of Infinite Meaning, the sutra introductory to the Lotus Sutra itself. When he came to a twelve-line verse consisting of thirty-four negative descriptions of the Buddha's entity, he suddenly became enlightened to the truth that the Buddha is life itself. He could not repress the profound emotion which kept welling up within him. This was the first episode.

Spring went by, then the summer, and autumn was turning into winter. In the freezing cell, emaciated and weak, my master was a bag of skin and bones, but he continued his intense meditation. One day in mid-November he was going over a passage in the fifteenth chapter, Yujuppon, of the Lotus Sutra: ". . . All these bodhisattvas, hearing the voice of Shakyamuni Buddha preaching, sprang forth from below. Each one of these bodhisattvas was the commander of a great host, leading a retinue as numerous as the sands in sixty thousand Ganges Rivers; moreover, others led retinues as numerous as the sands in fifty thousand, forty thousand, thirty thousand, twenty thousand, ten thousand Ganges; moreover....

Before he knew what had happened, he was floating in the air. He found himself among a multitude, his palms joined together, praying to the magnificent Dai-Gohonzon. He clearly witnessed the solemn ceremony which revealed the eternity of life, and he himself was a participant. In the light of the morning sun streaming through the window into the small, wretched cell, he sat stupefied with utmost joy, oblivious of the hot tears rolling down his cheeks. "I am a Bodhisattva of the Earth!" No words could have expressed the profound and intense joy he experienced then. He had awakened to his mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. "Now I know the objective of my life," he thought resolutely to himself. "I will never forget this day. I will dedicate the rest of my life to propagating the Supreme Law."

About the same time, Mr. Toda's master, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, breathed his last in another cell in the same prison. He was seventy-three. In spite of his advanced age, Mr. Makiguchi had never ceased fighting the suppression by the military authorities, never yielding an inch. Finally, on November 18, 1944, he died a martyr to his belief. Mr. Makiguchi died at the same time that Mr. Toda awakened to his lifelong mission.

In some cases the awakening is called the second president Toda's enlightenment. It means, however, that he attained a great awakening to his mission as Nichiren Daishonin's disciple. The prewar Soka Gakkai could also conceive of some movement for kosen-rufu, but its awakening to the mission of kosen-rufu was so weak that it collapsed in the face of suppression by the military authorities. Visualizing the Gohonzon in the most severe circumstances of prison, Mr. Toda chanted daimoku and awakened to his mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. With joy, gratitude and realization, he cried out from prison for the attainment of kosen-rufu. Herein lies the profound significance of his declaration. His awakening was a single-minded devotion to kosen-rufu, which would never waver in any of the storms of life. Whatever the case, this was the starting point for the Soka Gakkai's remarkable development as the organization for the propagation of true Buddhism.

In his essay, "The History and Conviction of the Soka Gakkai," my master wrote: "About the time of Mr. Makiguchi's death the number of my daimoku was approaching two million. It was then, with the mercy of the original Buddha, that I experienced a mystic state of life. From that time on I spent every day being interrogated and chanting daimoku, overjoyed that now I could understand the Lotus Sutra, whereas I had been unable to before."

It was this single, decisive moment which destined the Soka Gakkai to become the center of a multitude of bodhisattvas who would spring forth, filled with energy and potential, one after another. Mr. Toda was then forty-five. Confucius once said, "At the age of forty I was free of delusion. At the age of fifty I knew heaven's will." My master exclaimed, "It took me five years longer to dispel my delusion, but five years shorter to know heaven's will." Mr. Toda's awakening to his mission was what destined the Soka Gakkai to become the great organization of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

In the following year, standing among the ruins of war-ravaged Tokyo, Mr. Toda took his first step in the reconstruction of the Soka Gakkai. His master had left the prison in death; the disciple left it alive. Life and death-these are the mysterious workings of life essence. President Toda's heart must have been filled with a thousand emotions, but the profundity and abundance of those feelings became the source for the growth which the Soka Gakkai has now achieved. On July 3, 1945, the day he was released from prison, the single disciple, Josei Toda, firmly pledged to his master, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: "Our lives are really eternal, without beginning or end. I now know that we were born in this world with the great mission of spreading the seven-character Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. What are we, then? In the final analysis, we are bodhisattvas of the essential teaching, Bodhisattvas of the Earth."

Mr. Toda's awakening that he, and his master, were Bodhisattvas of the Earth gradually found its way into the lives of individual Soka Gakkai members until they, too, awakened to the fact that they were also. However, it had not yet caused the rebirth of the organization as a whole. It was not until May 3, 1951, when Mr. Toda was inaugurated as second president, that the great awakening spread through the whole Soka Gakkai. The declaration he made in his inaugural speech was what became the core principle of the organization:

From a superficial understanding or from our outward appearance, we are Bodhisattvas of the Earth. However, from the inner viewpoint of our faith, we are kindred souls and disciples of Nichiren Daishonin. Whether we stand in the presence of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas or in the depths of hell, we chant the Lotus Sutra of seven characters to the Dai-Gohonzon and have one thing we can be proud of --- the Dai-Gohonzon within our hearts.

With that declaration Nichiren Shoshu Soka Gakkai's march began, carrying it toward its subsequent development, a growth that has been unprecedented in the annals of Buddhism.

Life-to-Life Communication

The Lotus Sutra says that Bodhisattva Jogyo should now appear to propagate this teaching in the Latter Day of the Law, but has this actually happened? Whether or not Bodhisattva Jogyo has already appeared in this world, Nichiren has at least made a start in propagating this teaching.

Nichiren Daishonin knew that outwardly his behavior and practice were those of the incarnation of Bodhisattva Jogyo. However, his inner enlightenment and his ultimate identity were those of the original Buddha. In the majority of his writings he speaks in a very roundabout way even of his outward appearance as Bodhisattva Jogyo. He says that he was "the first to propagate," "the first to spread," and so on, without specifically identifying himself as Bodhisattva Jogyo. According to the Lotus Sutra, the multitude of bodhisattvas of the essential teaching, who sprang forth from the earth, were so magnificent in appearance that they even eclipsed the Buddha, who was preaching the essential teaching. Among them, the leader, Bodhisattva Jogyo, looked the most dignified of all. The Daishonin, in contrast, looked no better than a common priest. If he had claimed to be Jogyo, the people might have become unnecessarily suspicious and create the evil cause of slandering him. This probably made him avoid a straightforward statement.

However, "Nichiren has at least made a start in propagating this teaching" clearly states that he is Bodhisattva Jogyo himself. Consider the purposes for which Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra. One of them was to summon the bodhisattvas of the essential teaching from underneath the earth and entrust them with propagation in the Latter Day after his passing. Therefore, as soon as the transfer was completed with the Jinriki and Zokurui chapters, all the Buddhas returned to their respective lands, the Treasure Tower vanished, and the solemn assembly returned from the air to Eagle Peak.

Thus we are made to understand the extent Shakyamuni went to in order to entrust the Law to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, especially to their leader, Jogyo. In the Latter Day, Nichiren Daishonin was spreading the Law which Jogyo should propagate. If the Daishonin were not Jogyo but some other person, then the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra would have been entirely meaningless. The appearance of Taho Buddha and all the other Buddhas throughout the universe would have lost its significance. First, that is impossible. Neither would the Daishonin have allowed such a situation. It is evident, therefore, that outwardly he was acting as Bodhisattva Jogyo but his inner enlightenment was that of the Buddha who established a Law powerful enough to illuminate darkness on into eternity.

Be resolved to summon forth the great power of your faith, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of your death. Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate law and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of life and death are nirvana. Without the lifeblood of faith, it would be useless to embrace the Lotus Sutra.

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