The True Entity of Life Shoho Jisso Sho

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The True Entity of Life
- Shoho Jisso Sho -

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

Spirit of Buddhist Study

Seeing the sun of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism rise among each of us, I would like to speak to you about Shoho Jisso Sho (The True Entity of Life) with prayers for the good health of each of you. First, let me recount a story that relates to the Soka Gakkai's study movement as it opens the way for the "religion of man."

It concerns Kumarajiva (344-409 AD.) of Kucha in Central Asia. He was responsible for great waves of Buddhist thought which flowed across China over a thousand years ago. As you know, he was a priest who completed the unexcelled translation of the Lotus Sutra from Sanskrit into Chinese, and he rendered the sutra's title and essence as Myoho-renge-kyo. However, what moves me more than his work is the passion with which he went to China and dedicated his entire life to the transmission of the true spirit of Buddhism. It is said that Kumarajiva was over fifty when he entered Ch'angan, after long years of hardship. That was the starting point of his struggle to fulfill the purpose he had long cherished. From then on, the hard work of passing on the Buddhist teachings started. He carried out his translation work at a great pace, as if all the power pent up within him were released all at once. Hearing of his arrival, priests came from every district in China to form a great religious order under him.

It is said that he ended his days eight or twelve years later, and that during this period more than three hundred volumes of sutras were translated at the tremendous speed of two or three a month. His enterprise was a vivid movement of Buddhist study that went far beyond translation. According to the prefaces of various scriptures he translated, a large number of capable people --- eight hundred on one occasion and two thousand on another --- gathered around him to engage in the translation effort. Carrying the translated sutras with him, Kumarajiva unfolded his interpretation of Buddhism before these audiences. He elucidated each teaching clearly and thoroughly, explaining why the wording of a sutra had been rendered in such a way and wherein the true meaning lay. He patiently answered many questions from the people assembled under him until they truly understood the meaning of each sutra. One would think he had devoted decades to these difficult translations, confined to his study with nothing but dictionaries around him, but that was not the way he worked. He worked with the people, acutely sensing their innermost feelings as he carried on discussions about Buddhism with them. His translation of the Lotus Sutra was the fruit of this broad and sensitive approach. I am convinced this is why Kumarajiva was able to produce such a smooth and still accurate rendition of the sutra's original meaning . No matter how important or valuable the teachings of Buddhism may be, if they cannot be correctly understood, they will never become part of the lives of the people. Philosophy's true value can only shine through communication between people and in their daily experience. Without the work of Kumarajiva and his group to propagate the sutras, the development of Buddhism and its flowering with T'ien-t'ai in China and Dengyo in Japan could never have taken place.

I do not want simply to praise the greatness of Kumarajiva and his mission, but to suggest what we can learn from the way he approached his mission and apply it to our own study of Buddhism. He devoted himself to dialogue with the people, always remaining among them. In a sense we are the Kumarajivas of today. He helped introduce the Buddhist scriptures from India to China through translation, and the Kumarajivas of this day must bring to life the seven-hundred year-old scripture of the Latter Day of the Law by introducing it and propagating it to people of modern times. Our study movement follows the same pattern as Kumarajiva's. With the Gosho as our sutra, we use the forms each occasion requires --- lectures, questions and answers, and personal guidance. And we unfold Buddhism through dialogue, keeping in direct touch with the hearts of the people.

Shakyamuni Buddha also expounded his teachings among the people, sharing their joys and sorrows until he passed away. The teachings he left still shine, filled with the understanding that comes from direct confrontation with the suffering that is an inseparable part of every man's existence. One extremist Buddhist scholar goes so far as to say that Shakyamuni did not expound Buddhism. Of course there can be no question that Shakyamuni gave birth to Buddhism, but there is something significant in what that scholar said. When someone speaks of the many sutras taught by Shakyamuni or their classification by T'ien-t'ai into five periods and eight teachings, (Note)[T'ien-t'ai's classification of Shakyamuni's teachings according to the order and content of their preaching. The five periods are the Kegon, Agon, Hodo, Hannya and Hokke-Nehan periods. During the last period Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra, fully revealing his enlightenment. The eight teachings are subdivided into two groups: four teachings of keho (doctrine) and four teachings of kegi (method). The first are: 1) zokyo, Hinayana teachings; 2) tsugyo, lower provisional Mahayana teachings; 3) bekkyo, higher provisional Mahayana teachings; and 4) engyo, or true Mahayana, that is, the Lotus Sutra. The second, a division by method of teaching, are: 1) tonkyo, to reveal the teaching of enlightenment directly; 2) zenkyo, to reveal the teaching gradually; 3) himitsutyo, to reveal the teaching to some and keep it secret to others at the same time; and 4) fujokyo, to reveal the teaching to make it understood at various levels.] it sounds as though Shakyamuni preached according to some detailed, prearranged system. The truth is that Shakyamuni taught in the form of encouragement to poverty-stricken people --- to an old woman afflicted with illness, as if he felt her pain as his own and carried her on his back, or warm encouragement to a youth in the grip of deep spiritual suffering. All his sutras were the natural result of his lifelong devotion to the people, the accumulation of every compassionate word he spoke to alleviate the pain of people oppressed by the cruel caste system. That is why the sutras consist of questions and answers throughout. The teachings of Shakyamuni sprang from his disciples' memories and records of his talks with the people and his behavior among them. These are what were finally compiled in the form of the sutras we have today.

The same is true with Nichiren Daishonin. He carried on in the same spirit as Shakyamuni. The voluminous Gosho we study is the crystallization of the Daishonin's continuous struggle to save the people through hundreds of letters and thousands of dialogues. He did not confine himself to a library to write the Gosho but talked and wrote right at the site of his battle --- among the people. He fought for the people, talking with them and writing them individual letters of encouragement. To think of Buddhism as a placid teaching expounded in a bucolic setting under the shade of a tree is a totally false image. Buddhism is intensely practical, not escapist. It lives in human society and has been handed down among the people --- this is the true flow of Buddhism.

The True Entity of Life is a comparatively short Gosho, but it contains important elements of the Daishonin's Buddhism. In the postscript Nichiren Daishonin wrote, "Those I have revealed to you in this letter are especially important.... By all means keep these matters to yourself. Nichiren has herein committed to writing the teachings of his own enlightenment." Nichiren Daishonin wrote this Gosho on May 17, 1273, a month after he wrote The True Object of Worship (April 25). In the latter, he revealed the core of Buddhist practice in the Latter Day of the Law by explaining the Dai-Gohonzon, the supreme object of worship, in terms of the Law (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), and the way for all people to attain enlightenment. The True Entity of Life begins with a passage from the Hoben chapter --- the heart of the theoretical teaching (shakumon) of the Lotus Sutra --- which reads, "The true entity of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature, . . . and their consistency from beginning to end." It then reveals the essence of the Lotus Sutra --- Myoho-renge-kyo and its embodiment, the Gohonzon. Nichiren Daishonin, in other words, clarified the significance of ho-honzon, explaining the Gohonzon from the viewpoint of the Law. After elucidating the ultimate teaching of the Lotus Sutra the Daishonin declares that only Bodhisattva Jogyo, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, can propagate it, and that the Daishonin himself was carrying out the mission entrusted to Bodhisattva Jogyo. Superficially, Nichiren Daishonin suggests that he is the incarnation of Bodhisattva Jogyo. But a deeper understanding lets us know that the Daishonin is the Buddha who is to establish the Dai-Gohonzon for the salvation of the people of the Latter Day and the original Buddha of kuon ganjo. Thus, in this Gosho the Daishonin also reveals nin-honzon, explaining the Gohonzon in terms of the Person. In terms of both the Person and Law, Nichiren Daishonin reveals the prime object of reverence to the people of the Latter Day. Thus, this Gosho contains the main points expounded in The Opening of the Eyes (nin-honzon) and elaborated on in The True Object of Worship (ho-honzon).

In the latter half of this Gosho, moreover, the Daishonin predicts that kosen-rufu will be attained in the future, and concludes by setting down the core of Buddhist practice throughout the Latter Day on into eternity --- the way of faith, practice and study. In the final analysis, this Gosho reveals clearly and concisely the profound essence and practice of Buddhism for the Latter Day of the Law.

Because we in the Soka Gakkai stress the need for people to return to the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin as the prime point in their lives, this Gosho has continued to have special importance in deepening the members' faith, giving them guidance and working as the guideline for our activities. I have heard that our first president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, constantly gave guidance to people by referring to this Gosho. Then too, apart from his lectures on the Lotus Sutra, the first Gosho on which President Josei Toda lectured before a small group of disciples was The True Entity of Life . I was one of those present at that time.

I myself have given frequent lectures on The True Entity of Life to the high school division and selected members of the headquarters staff. But every time I read this Gosho, I am always impressed and moved anew at the strength and depth of Nichiren Daishonin's conviction. In commemoration of the 46th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai's founding, I revised my many lectures on this Gosho and set them in context of our era. With these comments as a brief introduction, let us go on to explore The True Entity of Life in greater depth.

All Phenomena Manifest True Entity

Question: In the Hoben chapter of Volume One of the Lotus Sutra is the passage: "The true entity of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature, . . . and their consistency from beginning to end." What does this passage mean?

The passage, "The true entity of all phenomena. . . ," is the essence of the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra, and in T'ien-t'ai's Buddhism it is the core of all of Shakyamuni's teachings as well as the foundation on which to expound the principle of ichinen sanzen (three thousand conditions in a momentary existence of life). 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.

Answer: It means that all beings and their environments in any of the Ten Worlds, from Hell at the lowest to Buddhahood at the highest, are, without exception, the manifestations of Myoho-renge-kyo.

Through this passage Nichiren Daishonin gives a clear-cut explanation of "the true entity of all phenomena," saying that, of all phenomena (shoho), none is any different from the true entity of life (jisso). In other words, the innumerable forms and appearances in the great universe are all manifestations of Myoho-renge-kyo, and both the environment (eho) of the world of Hell and the people (shoho) who suffer in Hell are ultimately Myoho-renge-kyo. Both eho and shoho of the world of Hunger are also Myoho-renge-kyo. This holds true with the rest of the Ten Worlds including Bodhisattva and Buddhahood.

"The true entity" (jisso) of "all phenomena" (shoho) does not, however, mean that the true entity is contained within all phenomena or vice versa, nor does it assume the existence of some being that exists beyond all universal phenomena and governs them. Western philosophers and other non-Buddhist thinkers and systems of thought have long sought some truth or essence either beyond or behind phenomena. The Christian idea of an absolute God as the creator of the world is a good example of how these other philosophies removed the ultimate truth from all real phenomena. The inevitable result was a split between God and man or between Creator and creature. Churches and priests took over as the "authorized" intermediaries between the two, and they grew so powerful that the people were treated like vassals.

Buddhism is totally different. The Buddhist finds truth in reality itself; he discovers the underlying truth by steadily and carefully observing man and the things around him. "The true entity of all phenomena" is, therefore, a philosophy that sees into the real aspect of every reality in the universe, especially human life. All phenomena and the true entity are "two but not two," for one cannot exist without the other. This is what binds the true entity and all phenomena together, making them one and the same, even though they may seem to be different. All phenomena --- the sun and the moon as they rise and set, the ebb and flow of the seas, the bending of trees before the wind --- in the eye of Buddhism all appear as the action of Myoho-renge-kyo. Unlike the Lotus Sutra, which gives careful, deep treatment of this principle, all the other sutras deal solely with the phenomena themselves and point out only differences among them. The Lotus Sutra sees beyond the superficial differences and discovers the Mystic Law equally permeating the depths of all. This is what sets the "perfect and all-embracing Lotus Sutra" above the "provisional teachings of discrimination." The principle of equality meant by "the true entity of all phenomena" is an expression of the Buddha's great and impartial wisdom, which recognizes the potential for Buddhahood in all people alike. Nonetheless, the first half of the Lotus Sutra (theoretical teaching) only explains this theoretically, while the second half (essential teaching) gives practical meaning to the theory.

Take for instance Newton's law of gravitation. It is a law of physics and, even if it is not directly parallel to this Buddhist principle, we know that it operates throughout the universe. Regardless of who discovered it or whether it was "discovered" at all, the law of gravitation has always existed, and all things move according to it. To the eye of physics, the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, the changes in the tides, an apple falling from a tree --- all these are understood in terms of the law of physics. Without understanding gravity, people merely see an apple ripening and falling to the earth, yet a physicist recognizes the law behind this phenomenon, that gravity is working between two objects, the earth and the apple. This law keeps on working whether one is aware of it or not, but he cannot apply it to anything if he cannot first identify and analyze it. Then again, to know about gravity and not do anything with that knowledge may be a serious waste. Only when we translate this knowledge into some practical use by creating an airplane, spaceship or something else of value to man, can we enjoy the benefits of the knowledge we have gained from the law of gravity.

In Buddhism, the true entity of all the movements of the universe is Myoho-renge-kyo. Common mortals see nothing but the trees waving in the wind, yet the Buddha sees the mystic rhythm of Myoho-renge-kyo pulsing within. To him the sun's radiance is the harmonious manifestation of the Mystic Law that fosters all kinds of life on earth. Every aspect of our life is made up according to the Mystic Law, and we always act in rhythm with it. Merely to realize this fact is, however, still a theoretical understanding. Anyone who does not know how to bring his life into oneness with the Mystic Law would be like someone falling in an attempt to fly, ignorant of the law of gravitation. He would fall into one suffering and then another, only getting more and more deeply confused.

Likewise, if we grasp the principle of "the true entity of all phenomena" only philosophically, we are none the better for it. Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon to enable us to apply its principle to the creation of happy and hopeful lives. The principle was embodied in the Gohonzon by the Daishonin when he put his life and soul into it. By inscribing the Gohonzon, he gave us the entity of value creation. It is not mere philosophy any more. It is the true entity --- the very life of Nichiren Daishonin, his life of ichinen sanzen. This is why the Gohonzon is called the entity of ichinen sanzen.

"The true entity of all phenomena" is a philosophy that sees all universal phenomena as manifestations of Myoho-renge-kyo. Yet, in its essential meaning, it points to the Gohonzon as the ultimate crystallization of all phenomena in the universe. In the Daishonin's Buddhism, "the true entity of all phenomena" therefore means the Gohonzon.

Life and the Environment

Where there is an environment, there is life within it. Miao-lo states, "Both life (shoho) and its environment (eho) always manifest Myoho-renge-kyo."

Does the order of these words puzzle you? "Where there is an environment, there is life within it." We learned, after all, from the Lotus Sutra that life is like the body, and the environment like the shadow. Should it not read, "Where there is life, there is an environment surrounding it," reversing it completely?

To explain this briefly, all the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings expounded the Ten Worlds as ten different places. As you may already know, the world of Hell (jigoku) was said to be one thousand yujun underground; the world of Hunger (gaki) five hundred yujun underground; the world of Animality (chikusho) in the water, on land, and in the sky; the world of Anger (shura) on the coast and in the depths of the sea; the world of Humanity or Tranquillity (nin) on the earth; and the world of Heaven or Rapture (ten) in a palace or from the middle of Mount Sumeru upward. The four noble worlds were explained similarly: the world of two vehicles (Learning and Realization) was one of transience (hoben-do); the world of Bodhisattva (bosatsu) was one of actual rewards (jippo-do); and the world of Buddhahood (butsu) was the Buddha's land (jakko-do). Since these environments were thought to exist in different places, it naturally followed that the people dwelling in them were also different. The truth is, however, that the people (shoho) and their environments (eho) are inseparable. This is the way life exists. The Lotus Sutra, the true philosophy of life, was the first to state that an environment can only be explained in relationship with the living things in it.

Miao-lo of China states in his Hokke Mongu Ki (Annotations on the Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra) that all of the ten states of environment and life manifest Myoho-renge-kyo. He explains that the essence of environment and that of life are in perfect oneness. An environment is the entity of Myoho-renge-kyo and life is also. Both are aspects of the Law of Myoho-renge-kyo, for the original Law, Myoho-renge-kyo, manifests itself simultaneously as living things and their environments. They are united on the level of life. Thus we can see the powerful principle in Buddhism that a revolution within life (shoho) always leads to one in the environment (eho).

I want to mention an article by Dr. Hisayuki Omodaka, in which he writes: "Men tend to think in terms of one large environment in which all living things exist. However, human beings, fish, birds, etc., each have their own particular environments. For each individual the environment differs. Hence there are actually countless environments. No environment exists apart from living things. Just as living things gradually reproduce themselves and develop specific features and qualities, the environment also gradually departs from living things and develops into the form that corresponds with each unique being." Dr. Omodaka insists that living things and their environments adapt to each other and that the origin of both is "primitive existence." His observation of the world of living things conforms with the principle of esho funi (oneness of life and the environment).

Buddha Is Not an Abstract Being

He also states, "The true entity is invariably revealed in all phenomena, and all phenomena invariably possess the Ten Factors. The Ten Factors invariably function within the Ten Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably entail both life and its environment."

This is a passage from the Kompeiron, Miao-lo's thesis on the Buddha nature inherent in all things, living and non-living. It explains the structure of ichinen sanzen. As mentioned earlier, the true entity refers to Myoho-renge-kyo and represents ichinen (the life-moment) of ichinen sanzen. "The true entity is invariably revealed in all phenomena" means that the ichinen or Myoho-renge-kyo is eternally manifested in phenomena. In the following passage, Miao-lo states the true entity by analyzing all phenomena into the Ten Factors, the Ten Worlds, and life and its environment.

First of all, the Ten Factors represent the ten aspects common to all phenomena. They are appearance (nyoze-so), nature (nyoze-sho), entity (nyoze-tai), power (nyoze-riki), influence (nyoze-sa), inherent cause (nyoze-in), relation (nyoze-en), latent effect (nyoze-ka), manifest effect (nyoze-ho), and consistency from beginning to end (nyoze-honmatsu-kukyo-to). All phenomena have these Ten Factors and all of them manifest one or another of the Ten Worlds. The Ten Factors are inherent in each of the Ten Worlds --- even in Hell and Buddhahood. This is what is meant by the reality of all phenomena.

"The Ten Worlds invariably entail both life and its environment," means that each of the Ten Worlds is certainly seen in both a living thing and its surroundings. This is the working of the principle of esho funi, the oneness of life and its environment.

Concretely, Myoho-renge-kyo exists nowhere outside our daily activities. That is what Miao-lo meant by, "The true entity is invariably revealed in all phenomena."

"All phenomena invariably possess the Ten Factors" is another way of saying that life as it changes moment by moment never loses its Ten Factors. No one can say, "I have no nyoze-so (appearance)." Everyone has a face and figure. He has also nyoze-sho (mind or nature). Could he exist as a stone? Even that is impossible, for a stone, too, has its own nature. The same is true for nyoze-tai (entity).

Also, everyone has his own specific power, influence, inherent cause, relation, latent effect, and manifest effect. A person's life-condition, whatever it is, as it is, is reflected simultaneously in all the nine factors, from the first, "appearance," to the last, "manifest effect." This is "their consistency from beginning to end," of the Hoben chapter.

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