This story is not a mere moral; by drawing an analogy it teaches us that the law of cause and effect which governs life is totally immutable. The last president said: "In this saha world it is our physical existences and situations which constitute the Mirror of Karma. The karma we created in our past existences causes us to feel karmic retribution, both physically and spiritually, in this world."
This is the real nature of human life, from which no one can escape. Any attempt to avoid it is fruitless. That is why Shakyamuni Buddha preached the importance of dedicating ourselves to Buddhist practice, lifetime after lifetime, in order to expiate all the sins and vices we committed.
So far, our discussion has been focused on the literal meaning of the passage of the Gosho text. Let us take the same passage and apply it to Nichiren Daishonin. We know from The One Hundred and Six Comparisons that he is the eternal Buddha who originally possesses boundless benefits including all the virtues which result from the practices of all Buddhas as "the master of the True Cause and True Effect." When Nichikan Shonin explains that Shakyamuni, as he appears in the Gosho text, stands for all Buddhas and the virtues they attained, he is telling us that Nichiren Daishonin possesses the endowments of all Buddhas. The Daishonin combined all the benefits of his virtuous deeds into the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws. He declares in the Gosho, "I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart. The Buddha's will is the Lotus Sutra, but the soul of Nichiren is nothing other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." The declaration substantiates the Gohonzon, identifying it with his life itself. As he ushered in the rising sun of a new Buddhism, the moonlight of Shakyamuni's Buddhism faded, giving way to an epoch-making event in both the history of Buddhism and the history of mankind.
I would like to talk about the law of causality working within life, in terms of the True Cause and the True Effect, which, as I pointed out in my lecture on The One Hundred and Six Comparisons, provides a valuable vantage point from which to expand on the profound significance of the Gohonzon. I will not go into the original meaning of the True Cause and the True Effect now, but elaborate on them as two different ways to view human life.
Life exists in a moment. The moment flashes by like an arrow and becomes the past. The future becomes the present in the same moment. Thus, life exists only in succession of moments, and even eternity is no more than the continuation of moments. In any given moment we can feel happiness, misery, hope or despair.
The law of cause and effect governs life at each moment, and the karma created by all deeds up to the present is the total accumulation of the past; it defines the present which is manifested in a single moment. The workings of life in that moment form a cause for the future effect. Neither past nor future can exist apart from the present.
Life at present contains life which has continued since time without beginning. It also defines life which continues from the present moment on to eternity. The major difference between the Buddhism of the True Cause and that of the True Effect hinges upon the interpretation of the true nature of the moment, which, endlessly succeeding itself, is the manifestation of what we call life. Buddhism of the True Effect refers to the past-oriented attitude which defines the present only as the result of the past, adhering to the results, whereas Buddhism of the True Cause is the belief that the present changes into a cause for the future.
The law of cause and effect governs life, and one's present existence is always the effect of the past. Nichiren Daishonin says in the Letter from Sado:
One who climbs a high mountain must eventually descend. One who slights another will in turn be despised. One who deprecates those of handsome appearance will be born ugly. One who robs another of food and clothing is sure to fall into the world of Hunger. One who mocks noble men or anyone who observes the precepts will be born to a poor family. One who slanders a family that embraces the True Law will be born to a heretical family. One who laughs at those who cherish the precepts will be born a commoner and meet with persecution from his sovereign. This is the general law of cause and effect.
The original passage quoted appears in the Hatsunaion Sutra, but the Daishonin expressed it in his own words to exemplify the continual transmigration of cause and effect. As he says, "the general law of cause and effect" is always actually working in the realities of life. That is why we must live now, embodying karmic retribution both physically and spiritually. As long as we remain chained by this cycle of cause and effect, we have only a slim possibility of rechanneling our present karma-bound life into a bright new path.
Think of someone in the world of Hunger. Even if he traces the cause of his present agony to his past life and discovers that he robbed others of clothing and food, he can only feel a deep sense of regret. He will not know why he did such a thing, nor will he be able to recover his past life to change the cause. To fulfill his dream for a happy life in the future he must sever the chains of his karma one by one in this life, and the next, and the next. Even though he tries to make good causes, he will find it very difficult to do so because his past is such a heavy burden. Out of despair some people live a life of self-abandonment or even commit suicide in despair.
To illustrate the past-oriented attitude, let me quote from a famous Japanese novel written by Soseki Natsume (1867 - 1916). Entitled Kokoro (Heart), the story centers around a man called "Sensei" who struggles with egoism as he regrets what he has done to his friend K when they were both university students in the same boarding house. Quietly, Sensei came to love the pretty girl in the family. Much to his surprise, his friend K suddenly confides his own agonized love for the girl. Sensei is startled, since K seemed to have been completely immersed in study, and to have no time for love. From that time on Sensei has mixed emotions, but he deceives his friend and continues to court the girl until he secures informal consent for marriage. When K learns of this development he is so desperate that he commits suicide. All he leaves behind is a simple note to Sensei saying that he was too weak a person to have any hope for the future, and there was no other way out.
Soseki describes how Sensei felt that night when he discovered that his friend K had committed suicide:
I experienced almost the same sensation then as I did when K first told me of his love for Ojosan (the daughter). I stood still, transfixed by the scene I beheld. My eyes stared unbelievingly, as though they were made of glass. But the initial shock was like a sudden gust of wind, and was gone in a moment. My first thought was, "It's too late !" It was then that the great shadow that would for ever darken the course of my life spread before my mind's eye. And from somewhere in the shadow a voice seemed to be whispering: "It's too late. . . It's too late . . ." My whole body began to tremble. [Soseki Natsume, Kokoro (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1969), p. 229.]
From that moment on Sensei's mind became slave to guilt. Shortly after graduation Sensei married the daughter, but even in their newly married life he could not drive "the dark shadow" away from him. His attempt to mitigate his guilt with liquor failed and the shadow loomed larger than ever. Finally, Sensei decided to live as if he were dead. He described his state of mind as follows:
Though I had resolved to live as if I were dead, my heart would at times respond to the activity of the outside world, and seem almost to dance with pent-up energy. But as soon as I tried to break my way through the cloud that surrounded me, a frighteningly powerful force would rush upon me from I know not where, and grip my heart tight, until I could not move. A voice would say to me: "You have no right to do anything. stay where you are." Whatever desire I might have had for action would suddenly leave me. After a moment, the desire would come back, and I would once more try to break through. Again, I would be restrained. In fury and grief I would cry out: "Why do you stop me?" With a cruel laugh, the voice would answer: "You know very well why." Then I would bow in hopeless surrender.* [Ibid., p. 243]
Sensei finally takes his own life, leaving his wife to live on alone. The story vividly depicts how heavy a burden it is for a human being to go on living with a sense of sinfulness. Though Soseki makes no mention of Buddhism in the story, the life Sensei had to live is reminiscent of the life of True Effect. In his case, however, he was bound by the chain of causality which he himself could clearly perceive. Even causality in this life is grave enough to drive man into death. The burden of karma we have accumulated from time without beginning is heavy beyond imagination. If people have to obliterate such karmic retributions one by one, they will mostly be driven into despair.
This type of action, centering on True Effect, underlies the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. The law of cause and effect in this case defines the present life-condition only as the result of the past karmic cause. Naturally, belief based on that kind of Buddhism fails to inspire hope and joy for the future. Though Shakyamuni's Buddhism gives ideas on how life has transmigrated so far and how it continues on into the future, it never clarifies the source of power for developing life in the future. In other words, it preaches what will become of life but never defines the self-motivating, positive force capable of reforming life. That is why Shakyamuni's Buddhism is called the Buddhism of the True Effect.
Breaking the Chain of Karma
Only through the Buddhism of the True Cause, which probes the depths of the momentary existence of life and discovers the Mystic Law there --- the origin of everything --- can people find the means of lightening their troubled lives. This is because the Buddhism of the True Cause is rooted in the depths of life, whereas the Buddhism of the True Effect is based on the ever-changing phenomena of life. The difference between the two is directly stated in the following quote referring to the law of cause and effect from the same Letter from Sado: "Nichiren's sufferings, however, are not ascribable to this causal law."
Nichiren Daishonin breaks through the realm of immediate cause and effect and enters into the depths of the life-moment, the entity of the fundamental causality which penetrates eternity. This entity is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo which has neither beginning nor end. It is the entity of life which flows on, interweaving with the causality of the Ten Worlds, and it is also the fundamental force that governs the entire universe. That is what "Shakyamuni's practices and the virtues he consequently attained" means according to Buddhism of the seed inherent in the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
Putting his own life as the Buddha who embodies Nam-myoho-renge-kyo into the inscription of the Mystic Law, he endows it upon the people of the Latter Day, just as he said in the Gosho: "If we believe in that phrase, we shall naturally be granted the same benefits as he was." I can see unequaled compassion in his words "be granted." Life without beginning is more than ordinary people can fathom because it is the ultimate state of life, most difficult to believe and most difficult to understand. Even then, the advent of Nichiren Daishonin seven centuries ago made it possible for us to perceive it. He himself assumed the appearance of an ordinary person as he said in the Gosho, "Nichiren, who in this life was born poor and lowly to a chandala* family," and through his behavior showed us the meaning of "Shakyamuni's practices and the virtues." What is more, he has left us the great power and boundless benefits in the form of the Gohonzon so that all future generations can prosper.
*The lowest class, lower than the caste system, in India, comprised of those whose profession required them to kill living creatures. The Daishonin was born to a family of fishermen.
President Toda said about the Gohonzon's beneficial power in his lecture, "The Causality throughout Three Existences":
Devoting oneself to the Gohonzon and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the way to change one's destiny for the better. All the causes and effects in between disappear, and a common mortal since time without beginning emerges.
These words convey his profound insight. Awe-inspiring as it may sound, the life of Nichiren Daishonin, who is the absolutely free, eternal Buddha, dwells within our strong spirit to dedicate ourselves to the Gohonzon. When we sit upright facing the Gohonzon, a common mortal since time without beginning and the Buddha since time without beginning sit facing one another. That moment of relation provides a sublime seat where you join your palms together to become one with the true entity of all phenomena. It contains the overflowing power to embrace, integrate and motivate all existences. This is what is meant by "all the causes and effects in between disappear, and a common mortal since time without beginning emerges." The emergence of the common mortal in itself forms the cause to produce the effect of benefits for all eternity.
Shakyamuni Buddha preached concepts of unimaginably long spans of time --- sanzen-jintengo and gokyaku-jintengo. In contrast, Nichiren Daishonin expounds the most profound concept of time called kuon ganjo, with neither beginning nor end. He has established the original law of the universe which breaks all the chains of causality in Shakyamuni's Buddhism, probing into life so deeply as to identify man with the universe. "All the causes and effects in between disappear" is like the stars and the moon illuminating in the heavens which disappear once the sun rises. But the heavenly bodies have not actually disappeared; they are simply outshone by the radiant beams of the sun. In like manner, the Buddhism of the True Cause, which embraces all the lights of the Buddhas throughout space and time, including Shakyamuni, casts its glorious light universally. The advent of true Buddhism lets people think of Shakyamuni's Buddhism in a totally new perspective.
"A common mortal since time without beginning emerges" is a monumental idea in the life philosophy --- the present moment is all that counts. If we try to interpret Shakyamuni's Buddhism in terms of the Daishonin's Buddhism, we may be able to redefine it as the culmination of wisdom great enough to approach the original law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. At the very moment we chant to the Gohonzon, however, we manifest the original law, and by so doing we manifest the power of Myoho-renge-kyo in society, embodying it both physically and spiritually in ourselves. Shakyamuni's Buddhism exhorts us to strenuous practices to reach the Mystic Law, just as hundreds and thousands of leaves and branches are traced to one root. In contrast, Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism reveals the Mystic Law itself, which enables one who embraces it to expand it through our activities onto hundreds and thousands of leaves and branches of society. The bright light of the Mystic Law has now begun to illuminate the world.
All kinds of institutions, ideologies and religions tower before us as an inevitable result, and they continue to bind people tight with their chains. Mankind is forced into subservience to heavy pressures he himself has created, suffocating under their weight. The Buddhism of the True Cause corrects the distorted relation between master and subject and gives direction to what it should be. This philosophy sends its hopeful light into the century to come as it restores supremacy to the dignity of life --- the idea that a single life-entity is heavier than the earth. Our movement for fundamental reformation will encounter hardships, and rough waves are certain to rise against it. No matter what may happen to you in the course of your life and on the way to worldwide propagation, I ask all of you to endure the trials and proudly live up to the words of the Daishonin: "Indubitably, as the three obstacles and four devils* arise, the wise will rejoice, yet the foolish will cower."
Every person has his own troubles and dreams for the future. The sick wish to be in good health; one who has no house to live in wants to have a home and peaceful family life; one tries desperately to subdue the instinctive urge toward anger and greed which can take over and dominate, both physically and spiritually. Having hopes but knowing no way or means to attain them, people often end up in frustration. Once he embraces the Buddhism of the True Cause, however, any individual can create a bright future, for the very moment the individual's desire becomes one with his eternal being, the desire is simultaneously achieved in the depths of his life. At that very moment karma changes and an immeasurable eternal treasure gathers to become manifest in the future, just as a totally dark room is illuminated the moment you turn on the light.
This is solely because the Gohonzon contains the practices of all Buddhas throughout space and time and their resulting virtues, and because the power of the Buddha and the power of the Law within the Gohonzon are vast and boundless. Then you no longer have to continue your practice lifetime after lifetime to eliminate your past evil karma, as is thought in the Buddhism of the True Effect. Even if you have accumulated tattle good fortune in the past, all the Buddha's practices are contained in devoted faith in the Gohonzon and the resulting virtues flow naturally into a bright course for the future.
That is why the Daishonin said on Sado Island where he was an exile: "At this moment I, Nichiren, am the richest man in all of Japan," and "I feel immeasurable delight even though I am now an exile."
All in all, the inscription of the Gohonzon gives all people in the Latter Day a direct link with the life of the original Buddha and a way to become one with it. The purpose of the original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, was to allow all people to become as exalted as the Buddha of the "beginningless time." He said in his oral teachings, the Ongi Kuden, "The Juryo chapter states that we common mortals are endowed with the three enlightened properties of the Buddha. This indicates Nichiren and his disciples who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." Elsewhere in the same Gosho he also said, "The Nam-myoho-renge-kyo I, Nichiren, now chant enables people to attain Buddhahood for as long as the ten thousand years of the Latter Day. This is what is meant by 'I have now fulfilled the pledge I made in the past.' "
Indisputably, what matters is faith in the Gohonzon. What is more, the key to enlightenment is how long you will continue your faith and how much you will deepen your faith. As the Daishonin says, "To accept is easy; to continue is difficult. But continuing faith will lead to Buddhahood." He also urges us to sustain our faith, saying, "Arouse deep faith and polish your mirror night and day. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." I ask you to do gongyo in the morning and evening regularly so that you can carry your faith onward like the never ending flow of a stream.
Supreme Jewel beyond Imagination
With full understanding of Shakyamuni's teachings, the four great men of Learning said: "We have gained the supreme cluster of jewels when we least expected it." They represent the world of Learning that is within ourselves.
The sentence quoted occurs in the fourth chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Here four great men of Learning --- Mahakashyapa, Katyayana, Subhuti and Maudgalyayana --- express their joy at having understood the Buddha's intent after hearing the Parable of the Three Carts and the Burning House. They have gained something they least expected --- the all-embracing Mystic Law, the core of the Buddha's teachings that contains all the deeds and resulting virtues of Shakyamuni Buddha. Here they are thanking the Buddha for preaching the Mystic Law to them. Usually one attains the Law only when he sincerely seeks it. The Buddha's profound compassion, however, enabled the men of Learning to attain the Law without seeking it. That is why they rejoiced with such profound gratitude.
It was not that these disciples of Learning did not seek after anything. As the Parable of the Three Carts and the Burning House explains, they had been seeking something. The parable goes like this. There was once a millionaire who had dozens of children. They had always wanted three kinds of carts: carts pulled by sheep, by deer and by oxen. One day the millionaire's mansion caught fire, and he desperately shouted for his children to come out of the house, but to no avail. Then, remembering their wish, he called to them, saying that the carts they wanted so badly were right outside the gate. The children raced out of the house to get the carts. When they ran out of the mansion, however, the millionaire instead gave each of them a huge cart pulled by a magnificent white ox, which was far better than the carts they had desired.
The three carts indicate the teachings of the three vehicles --- Learning, Realization and Bodhisattva --- and the children's desire for them was so strong that they immediately came out of the house. The white ox cart the father actually gave his children means the supreme vehicle of the Mystic Law.
The teaching of the supreme vehicle concerns the state of Buddhahood, a state too lofty for the disciples of Learning to imagine. It is therefore no wonder that they did not actively seek it. The disciples pursued far less valuable jewels --- the teachings of the three vehicles. But the Buddha gave them the supreme treasure of the Mystic Law by finally preaching the Lotus Sutra, something far greater than they had ever expected to obtain.
The parable can also be applied to those who believe in the Gohonzon now, in the Latter Day of the Law. The immediate motives which led us to receive the Gohonzon were, in most cases, probably minor, trifling desires arising out of daily life. There are very few of us who took faith in the Gohonzon because we envisioned and yearned for the ideal state of Buddhahood. But as we take faith in the Gohonzon and study Buddhism more and more deeply, we come to understand that a Buddha means an entity of human life filled with wisdom, good fortune and vital force. Further we finally realize that the Gohonzon is not something merely to fulfill our trifling desires, but that it embodies the life of the Buddha. It is a priceless treasure that enables common individuals to become as noble as the Buddha. The jubilant life force the four great men of Learning manifested when they gained the supreme vehicle also dwells within the lives of us who embrace the Gohonzon.
Let me expand on jitoku (self attained). The verse portion of the Juryo chapter begins with ji ga toku butsu rai (since I attained Buddhahood), which refers to Shakyamuni's attainment of Buddhahood at gohyaku-jintengo. According to the Daishonin's Buddhism, there is an even deeper meaning here. The Daishonin explains that Buddhahood is not attained at a certain point in time, like gokyaku-jintengo, but is indwelling for all eternity. According to the Daishonin's Buddhism, the sentence quoted above is shown to mean, "Obtaining ga butsu rai by oneself." Nichiren Daishonin explains this in the Ongi Kuden: "Ga (self) indicates the property of the Law, butsu (the Buddha) the property of wisdom, and rai (becoming) means the property of action. These three properties of the Buddha, who has neither beginning nor end, become one's own. From this, consider the meaning of gaining the supreme cluster of jewels without seeking it."
Ga is the Buddha's life existing throughout past, present and future, which is the enlightened property of the Law. Butsu signifies the wisdom that develops out of the great life force of the original Buddha, and enables one to fathom past, present and future existences, and to expound Buddhism freely among all people to save them and to create value at every moment. This is the function of the enlightened property of wisdom. Rai indicates the totally unrestricted activities of the original Buddha to save troubled people. It is therefore the enlightened property of action. Nichiren Daishonin is the original Buddha who holds all three enlightened properties of life, and the Gohonzon embodies his life. Ji ga toku butsu rai means that the three enlightened properties are obtained from oneself; they are not given by anyone or anything else.