The ultimate teaching of Shakyamuni's Buddhism was the revelation of the unimaginably long span of the Buddha's life, called gohyaku-jintengo. But even that is not infinite. It has a particular referent in the past. As long as the concept of Buddhahood remains within a finite, temporal framework, it is something to be attained, and that leads to a fundamental distinction between the Buddha and people. Actually, Shakyamuni himself attained Buddhahood in gohyaku-jintengo only after he had practiced bodhisattva austerities in an even more distant past.
In Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, however, kuon --- which is often interpreted to mean the infinite past --- actually does not mean the past at all. It means eternity, or the aggregate of every single moment of time. Once you realize that kuon exists in every moment, it is no longer correct to say that one becomes a Buddha, but that one awakens to the fact of being a Buddha to begin with. Because it means to manifest what is inherent in human life, it is called jitoku or "self-attained." Nichiren Daishonin is the completely unrestricted, original Buddha with the three enlightened properties of life. In general, however, believers in the Mystic Law also naturally possess the three enlightened properties of life. "Obtaining the supreme cluster of jewels without seeking it" applies not only to the men of Learning but to everyone else as well. That is why Nichiren Daishonin said in the Ongi Kuden: "Nichiren and his disciples who now chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are the votaries of self attained Buddhahood."
Treasure Too Close to See
The quote says, "We have gained the supreme cluster of jewels when we least expected it." Let us think about the idea of "something coming into one's possession unsought" in context of our daily life. "Unsought" means that ordinary people can hardly know something as sublime as the Mystic Law. We possess the Gohonzon before we know that it is the supreme cluster of jewels. Some people receive the Gohonzon without prior knowledge of faith, and others accept faith in the Gohonzon at the encouragement of their friends or upon being awakened by their bad karma, even though they may have scorned religious faith. Once you embrace the Gohonzon, however, you honestly realize that it is the very thing you have been most wanting to find. Many priceless things exist around us, but they are usually hard to recognize. The air around us, for example, goes unnoticed; it is often used as a metaphor for amorphousness or insignificance, as in the phrase, "vanishing into thin air." Though we rarely think about it, when traveling in a spaceship or submarine nothing is more vital than air.
In the same way, we are so accustomed to life and living that we rarely contemplate its deep meaning. Since one can live without ever having to think about it, he may get lost in daily routine. Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, however, teaches us that an incomparably valuable jewel is hidden in our daily life. We are shown the supreme value in human life --- something which we are in intimate contact with every day. Therefore, when people come to know true Buddhism, they finally understand how far they neglected this supreme jewel, and they find invaluable joy in their discovery.
Let me go over jitoku once again. It means to realize something in oneself, by oneself and to do so according to one's own will. The great life force of Buddhahood becomes manifest only in the strenuous, dedicated efforts to fuse oneself with the Gohonzon, and therefore jitoku, in a word, means faith. Ga butsu rai means the Buddha of the three enlightened properties of life or the Gohonzon, whereas jitoku equals kanjin (to observe one's own mind and find the three enlightened properties in it). Ji ga toku butsu rai as a unified concept means that to embrace the Gohonzon is to attain enlightenment. The Gohonzon is an absolute objective reality, without which there can be neither enlightenment nor human revolution. Simultaneously, the Gohonzon's power does not become manifest unless one carries out the assiduous practice of one's faith.
Since the jewel one seeks is the Buddhahood within one's life, it is impossible to manifest it without achieving oneness with the Gohonzon. Were Buddhahood a jewel existing outside oneself, one could simply receive it from someone. But because Buddhahood exists within oneself, only the courageous practice of faith can call it forth. Essentially, man acquires power through his own training. Machines, facilities and advice from others are all only external aids, which help him develop his potential. A world record in sports is made with the help of excellent facilities, scientific research and well-trained, experienced coaches. But the athlete himself has to achieve the record. This is much more true in faith. One can never gain the great life force of Buddhahood from the outside, and science and technology are no help at all. In this sense Buddhism teaches the strictness of a cause-and-effect relationship and lets us understand the three thousand conditions in every entity of life.
Conversely, when one develops his life from within, he opens up a brand-new world. Unless we lay the foundation by developing our life, any castle we make will be built upon sand. If a tree has shallow roots, it will topple over in a gale. The treasure tower of life rooted in the ground of eternity stands in all its nobility, unperturbed by the winds and waves of life. An environment, no matter how nice, can only grow worse unless it is built with one's own strenuous efforts. Even people in the world of Rapture are subject to the five types of decay.* On the other hand, the world we construct with our own efforts to achieve our human revolution is indestructible. Living in this way, we can perceive a vast, promising future stretching before us.
*The five signs of decline which appear when the life of a heavenly being comes to an end. (1) His clothes become dirty. (2) The flowers on his head wither. (This implies that he gradually loses his mental faculties.) (3) His body becomes dirty. (4) He sweats under the arms. (This implies that he worries, fears or suffers.) (5) He cannot feel happy anywhere. (This means that he loses his conviction.) These five indicate that pleasure in the state of Rapture fades away very easily.
When we establish a firm inner self by courageously challenging ourselves and changing our earthly desires into the great wish to save mankind, we can develop a truly humanistic civilization and usher in the "century of life." Incidentally, shomon (men of Learning) can literally be translated as "those who hear," i.e., those with seeking minds to hear the Buddha's teachings, for a seeking mind always pushes on to development and growth, and never allows satisfaction with the present situation. Only when you actively strive to grow and progress can you truly comprehend the greatness of Buddhism.
Strive among the People
Concerning the people of Learning, the fourth chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads, "We have gained the supreme cluster of jewels when we least expected it." The shomon, understanding what the Buddha meant, changed themselves into true shomon by breaking through their inherent egoism. The chapter describes the scene: "We now are true shomon, listening to the voice of the Buddha's Way and causing all to hear it. We now are true arhats, and are entitled to receive offerings from the heavens, men, demons, and deities in every world."
The men of Learning, who had listened to Shakyamuni Buddha only for their own enlightenment, changed radically into people who led others to listen to the Buddha's teachings. In other words, shomon here means not only to hear the (Buddha's) voice, but to let all others hear it. Yet these people, who so reformed their lives, are the same who were refuted by the Buddha in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, as the Daishonin describes in The Opening of the Eyes: "The men of Learning and Realization, who thought that they had understood Buddhism and attained Buddhahood . . . were instead ingrates since they guided their fathers and mothers to a path which would never lead to Buddhahood."
Trapped in a world of solitude and encrusted with arrogance and egocentricity, the men of Learning were not only severely refuted by the Buddha in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, they were even despised by the commoners they themselves had looked down on. The Buddha rebuked the shomon with the intention of training them as the true disciples who would propagate Buddhism unrestrictedly, and in order to propagate Buddhism they could not be arrogant and egocentric. In the Lotus Sutra, however, they unexpectedly gained the supreme jewel of Buddhahood, and from then on struck out bravely among the common people to let them hear the Buddha's teachings. That is why they were finally able to attain Buddhahood.
The men of Learning had endured the Buddha's rebukes for a long period, so they were more than overjoyed when they heard the Lotus Sutra which allowed them to attain Buddhahood, and they pledged to devote themselves to its propagation. The fourth chapter describes how they "danced for joy !" The true mission of the men of Learning was revealed for the first time, and without it, their aeons long austerities would have been to no avail. Indeed, their attainment of Buddhahood in the Lotus Sutra is the supreme principle. Talking about those who became true shomon, Nichiren Daishonin said, "They represent the world of Learning that is within ourselves." He urges us also to develop the same benevolence so that we can lead others to listen to the Buddha's teachings, just as they did.
In the Ongi Kuden, Nichiren Daishonin amplifies the above-quoted chapter of the Lotus Sutra, "... listening to the voice of the Buddha's Way and causing all to hear it":
Thus, Shariputra expressed his understanding of the Law by saying in this [third] chapter, "listening to this voice." "Listening" means to take faith in the Lotus Sutra, and "the voice" indicates the voice and sound (i.e., the rhythm) of all phenomena, which signifies the Mystic Law.... Regarding this voice, the fourth chapter says, "listening to the voice of the Buddha's way and causing all to hear it." "All" means human beings living in the phenomenal world, and "the voice" means Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
"The voice of the Buddha's Way," therefore, means Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and "all" indicates all human beings. The Mystic Law is the force which causes Buddhahood to become manifest from within the lives of all people. Elsewhere in the Ongi Kuden Nichiren Daishonin says, ". . . voices do the Buddha's work." Indeed, the voice derived from the Mystic Law penetrates human hearts.
You become true disciples and men of Learning when, while you yourself listen to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and live it, you cause people wandering through the three evil paths or the six lower worlds to hear Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The Bodhisattvas of the Earth who devotedly propagate the Mystic Law as common mortals in this polluted world are the true men of Learning.
A Japanese scholar once made a profound statement: "Voice is life. It is emitted from the depths of life. It resonates throughout the universe." The sonorous voice we utter while doing gongyo and chanting daimoku is just such a voice, and it causes the universe and the life within it to resonate more profoundly than any great music. Sent with a spirit of altruism to all fields of human endeavor, the voice of profound sincerity can break through the shells of greed, anger and stupidity that smother human hearts. That is the meaning of the statement of the Nirvana Sutra, "If he takes the slanderer severely to task, drives him off or punishes him, then he is my disciple and one who truly understands my teachings."
The True Object of Worship
- Kanjin no Honzon Sho -
Lecture 3 of 3 from Selected Lectures on the Gosho, vol. 1.
The Buddha's Life Is Our Own Body
The Hoben chapter states: "At the start I pledged to make all people perfectly equal to me, without any distinction between us. By now the original vows that I made have already been fulfilled. I have led all the people on the path to Buddhahood." The enlightened life of Shakyamuni Buddha is our own flesh and blood. His practices and resulting virtues are our bones and marrow.
The subject in this passage from the Lotus Sutra is Shakyamuni, who attained Buddhahood in this life. In terms of his in-depth interpretation, however, Nichiren Daishonin uses the quote to indicate the original Buddha. Nichikan Shonin therefore takes this passage to imply the Buddha of absolute freedom since time without beginning. Nichiren Daishonin himself explains this passage from the Hoben chapter in the Ongi Kuden: " 'I' means Shakyamuni who is the Buddha since time without beginning. He is the teacher of true Buddhism, which is actually we, common mortals.... The Juryo chapter says that we are the Buddha with the three enlightened properties of life."
In a nutshell, the subject of the sentence is Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. He states that when an ordinary person embraces the Gohonzon and sincerely chants daimoku, he becomes the Buddha with the three enlightened properties of life just like Nichiren Daishonin. That is also why he wrote, "The enlightened life of Shakyamuni Buddha is our own flesh and blood." This means that the enlightened life of the Buddha, the three properties inherent in it, exists within the lives of common mortals. Thus, the Daishonin shows again that anyone can become a Buddha just as he is.
The last sentence in the passage relates to something I have discussed many times --- that the practices and resulting virtues of the Buddha are all contained in our lives. Let me expand on the "practices and resulting virtues" in terms of cause and effect. The practices are the cause --- the nine worlds of life in which common people enjoy all kinds of happiness. However, the happiness of the nine worlds is all relative happiness. The resulting virtues are the effect --- Buddhahood. That is the world of absolute happiness in the depths of enlightened life.
When we embrace the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws, we see that "the enlightened life of Shakyamuni Buddha is our own flesh and blood." In his own words, Nichikan Shonin says, "If we believe and embrace this Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, our flesh and blood is the Gohonzon of ichinen sanzen, the life of the original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin." Since the Gohonzon embodies the life of Nichiren Daishonin who is the original Buddha, we manifest the same entity when we believe and embrace the Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Then, Nichiren Daishonin as our master is the Buddha, and as his disciples we are also Buddhas-that is, we realize the oneness of master and disciple. That is why Nichikan Shonin interprets this passage as a statement of the oneness of master and disciple.
Religions in all ages have systematized theologies that center on some kind of absolute being transcending human existence. The Judeo-Christian religions create such a gap between God and human beings that all their believers can do is to throw themselves up to God's grace. Buddhism, however, assures us that all people are essentially Buddhas, and as such, the most sublime possible existence. The Daishonin's egalitarian declaration, therefore, completely departs from religions that place human beings in a position inferior to the deity. At the same time, his lofty, humanistic declaration fundamentally supports modern declarations of human rights which have tried to restore human dignity and take absolute power out of the hands of authorities supposedly representing the absolute being.
There is profound significance in the fact that Nichiren Daishonin compares "the enlightened life of Shakyamuni Buddha" to "flesh and blood," and "practices and resulting virtues" to "bones and marrow." Talking about himself, the Daishonin said in the Letter from Sado:
In my heart I cherish some faith in the Lotus Sutra, but my body, while outwardly human, is fundamentally that of an animal, which once subsisted on fish and fowl and was conceived of the male and female fluids. My spirit dwells in this body like the moon reflected in a muddy pond or gold wrapped in a filthy bag.
The physical and spiritual entity of a human being is more elevated than any other existence --- it reflects the "moon" of Buddhahood and encloses the "gold" of Buddhahood. It is easy to think of the deep compassion Nichiren Daishonin gave each individual desperately struggling to survive through the three calamities and seven disasters.* My heart resounds to his voice in The True Entity of Life, "I, Nichiren, do not cry, but my tears flow ceaselessly," as if I were actually hearing it.
*Calamities described in various sutras. There are two categories of three calamities --- minor and major. The minor ones are inflation (especially when caused by famine), war, and pestilence. The major ones are disasters caused by fire, wind and water. The seven disasters differ according to the sutras. The Yakushi Sutra defines them as pestilence, foreign invasion, internal strife, extraordinary changes in the heavens, solar and lunar eclipses, unseasonable storms and typhoons, and unseasonable droughts.
All in all, the significance of our activities lies in how well we can attune ourselves to the vibrant life of the original Buddha. One person opens the treasure tower of another, who, in turn, opens the treasure tower of a third, thus extending the reach of our activities. Our steady work to bring human life in tune with the vibrant chords of the Gohonzon will extend to more and more people as it continues. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) once said:
The meaning of the living words that come out of the experiences of great hearts can never be exhausted by any one system of logical interpretation. They have to be endlessly explained by the commentaries of individual lives, and they gain an added mystery in each new revelation.*
*Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana (Madras: The Macmillan Co. of India Limited, 1972), p. viii.
We do not study the Gosho merely to understand its literal meaning. Rather, we etch each word into our lives. Buddhism actually exists in the heart of each individual, just as Nichiren Daishonin teaches, "The eighty-four thousand teachings are the diary of my own being." The teachings of the Gosho draw from the depths of our own being an indestructible will to live, as opposed to the use of the power of authority to teach and instruct human beings from above. This is why those teachings vibrate in our daily actions and why they are called the Buddhism for real life, not just theorizing.
One human heart moves another. Nichiren Daishonin teaches us this as a living principle. In order to save all ordinary people, he himself was born as one of us and shared our human joys and sorrows. He united himself indivisibly with our hearts. His life-condition is that of absolute happiness, which is described in the Gosho as the "treasures of the heart." Because it contains an indomitable sense of fulfillment, it far surpasses any "treasures of the coffer" or "treasures of the body," which fall into the category of relative happiness. In this regard, President Toda once said, "Belief in this great faith keeps the rhythm of life in tune with the universe, so that one can feel the joy of living to his heart's content. A life force filled with joy is the very source of happiness." To take the goal of attaining Buddhahood in this life means to attain the joy of living. Be firmly convinced that this is the only way we can become enveloped by the great compassion of the original Buddha, who "pledged to make all people perfectly equal to me, without any distinction," and advance together unperturbed by any obstacles.
The Spirit to Protect
Chapter Eleven of the Lotus Sutra says: "Those who choose to protect this sutra serve Taho Buddha and me.... They also serve all the other Buddhas present who dignify and glorify all the worlds." Shakyamuni, Taho, and all the other Buddhas in the ten directions represent the world of Buddhahood within ourselves. By searching them out within us, we can receive the benefits of Shakyamuni, Taho, and all the other Buddhas. This is what is meant by the following passage in Chapter Ten: "If one hears the Law for even a single moment, he will be able to attain perfect enlightenment."
This passage discusses the oneness of parent and child in terms of the three enlightened properties of life. "Me" in the quotation refers to Shakyamuni and means the enlightened property of wisdom. "Taho" stands for the enlightened property of the Law, and "all the other Buddhas" are the Buddhas who came to participate in the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra from the worlds in the ten directions of the universe. Since they appeared in those worlds as emanations of Shakyamuni Buddha, they collectively mean the enlightened property of action. Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas symbolize the three enlightened properties of life. "Those who choose to protect this sutra (the Gohonzon)" succeed those Buddhas and manifest the three enlightened properties of life, just as children succeed their parents. By protecting the Gohonzon they receive the same benefits as they would receive for serving the Buddha with the three enlightened properties of life. That is why Shakyamuni, Taho and other Buddhas represent the world of Buddhahood within ourselves.
The point I would like to make here is the meaning of "protect." In various sutras, the Buddha urged people to protect his teachings. "Protect" may sound conservative, but it is not a passive act. In order to let the flow of Buddhism continue, one must positively transmit it to others and make it prosper. The true spirit of Buddhism flows within the actions of propagation to save those who are unhappy. Let me also draw your attention to the word "choose" in the above quotation. Clearly, it suggests not a passive but a positive attitude; it means to practice Buddhism with your thoughts, words and actions.
Protection is to maintain one's faith in the Gohonzon from beginning to end. By doing so, one guards the supreme life-condition of Buddhahood within oneself To protect the Gohonzon is to protect one's own life, as the Daishonin teaches us in the Gosho, On the Treasure Tower: "You may think you offered gifts to the Treasure Tower of Taho Buddha, but that is not so. You offered them to yourself" As is inscribed on the Gohonzon, the condition of Buddhahood within us exists in the midst of the three thousand constantly shifting conditions of life. Such life-conditions as Hell, Hunger, Animality and Anger are all inherent in practical life, as are Learning, Realization and Bodhisattva, and all the other life-conditions.
If you slacken in your efforts even a moment, the life-condition of Buddhahood goes behind the thick clouds of the nine worlds. We must always embrace and protect the Gohonzon to the limits of our power so that the Mystic Law within us, which always shines brilliantly, may not be covered by the cloud of obstacles and devils. Water becomes foul unless it flows ceaselessly, and so does human life. Carry out your morning and evening gongyo and challenge a new goal every day, as Nichiren Daishonin urges us in the Gosho: "Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken even a bit, demons will take advantage."
Next, I ask you to protect the children of the Buddha just as you protect the Gohonzon. To protect the children of the Buddha is to protect the sutra and teachings. The Daishonin stresses in On the Buddha's Prophecy, ". . . there was no one there to whom these sutras could be taught. Their efforts were as meaningless as trying to teach Buddhism to wooden or stone statues garbed in priests' robes and carrying mendicants' bowls." He also said in On Taking Faith in the Lotus Sutra, "If the Law is supreme, so is the person who embraces it. To slander that person, therefore, is to slander the Law. To disrespect the child is to disrespect the parents." Therefore we must protect the children of the Buddha. They are your brothers and sisters unified in the profound bond of Buddhism. They are Bodhisattvas of the Earth, endowed with an irreplaceable mission. I ask you to "arise and greet him from afar, and respect him in the same way as you do the Buddha," just as the Lotus Sutra describes.