ON REPAYING DEBTS OF GRATITUDE

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“The old fox never forgets the hillock where he was born; the white turtle repaid the kindness he had received from Mao Pao. If even lowly creatures know enough to do this, then how much more should human beings! . . . What can we say, then, of persons who are devoting themselves to Buddhism? Surely they should not forget the debts of gratitude they owe to their parents, their teachers, and their country”

 


 

This lengthy treatise is one of Nichiren Daishonin’s five major writings. It was prompted by the news of the death of Dōzen-bō, a priest of Seichō-ji temple in Awa Province, who had been the Daishonin’s teacher when he first entered the temple as a boy of twelve. Nichiren Daishonin wrote this treatise to express his gratitude to Dōzen-bō.

Nichiren Daishonin begins this treatise by emphasizing the need to repay one’s obligations to one’s parents, teacher, the three treasures of Buddhism, and one’s sovereign. He teaches the importance of repaying debts of gratitude as a fundamental aspect of human behavior. Of these four debts of gratitude, this work stresses specifically repaying the debt owed to one’s teacher. Next, the Daishonin states that to repay such debts one must master the truth of Buddhism and attain enlightenment. To accomplish this goal, one must dedicate oneself single-mindedly to the Buddhist practice. However, to attain enlightenment, one must also practice the correct Buddhist teaching.

He refers to the story of when the young Mao Pao was walking along the Yangtze River when he saw a fisherman about to kill a white turtle. Out of pity, Mao Pao exchanged his clothing for the white turtle and then set it free. It is said that, later in life, Mao Pao rushed to the banks of the Yangtze to evade enemy capture. The white turtle appeared and ferried him safely to the opposite shore.

He then goes on to explain that, as people who devote themselves to Buddhism, we should extend our sense of gratitude to our parents, our mentor, society and all living beings. Buddhism emphasizes that through expressing gratitude, we reveal and develop our humanity. SGI President Ikeda emphasizes that recognizing and repaying our debts of gratitude is the highest good, while neglecting to show appreciation reflects a life heavily influenced by fundamental darkness—the inability to recognize the enlightened nature in ourselves and others. He elaborates: “As we each deepen our faith in the Mystic Law, break through our fundamental darkness and live true to our greater self, we will come to feel boundless appreciation for all those around us, and for all who have nurtured us and helped us become who we are. And we will confidently make our way along the invigorating path of recognizing and repaying our debts of gratitude. Ultimately, President Ikeda stresses, the direction our lives take depends on whether we choose to live based on our lesser self or our greater self.

Practicing Buddhism—a teaching that honors all life and challenges its practitioners to overcome selfishness and replace it with compassion and appreciation—and sharing it with others is in itself the ultimate way of repaying debts of gratitude. What’s more, it becomes the power source to break through all limitations.

 

 

Source: World Tribune, March 30 2012

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ON THE BUDDHA’S PROPHECY

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The moon appears in the west1 and sheds its light eastward, but the sun rises in the east and casts its rays to the west. The same is true of Buddhism. It spread from west to east in the Former and Middle Days of the Law, but will travel from east to west in the Latter Day. The Great Teacher Miao-lo says, “Does this not mean that Buddhism has been lost in India, the country of its origin, and must now be sought in the surrounding regions?”2 Thus, no Buddhism is found in India anymore. During the 150 years or so since barbarians from the north invaded the Eastern Capital in the time of Emperor Kao-tsung,3 both Buddhism and imperial authority became extinct in China. Concerning the collection of scriptures kept in China, not one Hinayanasutra remains, and most Mahayana sutras have also been lost. Even when Jakushō and other priests set out from Japan to take some sutras to China,4 no one was found there who could embrace these sutras and teach them to others. It was as though there were only wooden or stone statues garbed in priests’ robes and carrying begging bowls. That is why Tsun-shih said, “It [Buddhism] came first from the west, like the moon appearing. Now it is returning from the east, like the sun rising.”5 These remarks make it clear that Buddhism is lost in both India and China.

 


 

Nichiren Daishonin was fifty-two years old when he wrote this letter during his exile at Ichinosawa on the island of Sado in 1273. It is addressed to his disciples and lay supporters in general.

The title, On the Buddha’s Prophecy, points to two prophecies: One is Shakyamuni Buddha’s prediction that the votary of the Lotus Sutra will appear at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law and spread the sutra’s teachings despite great persecutions. The other is the Daishonin’s own prophecy that in the Latter Day and on into the eternal future his teachings will spread throughout the world to benefit humankind.

The Buddhism of the Former and Middle Days of the Law essentially had personal peace of mind as an objective. By the time of the Latter Day of the Law, Buddhism had developed into a self-absorbed practice in which individuals simply sought peace of their minds. Nichiren struggled to establish a religion with the power to bring security and peace of mind to all people and to accomplish world peace based on the philosophy of inner transformation. In this passage, he compares Buddhism that spread eastward from the west in the Former and Middle Days of the Law as the moon, and likens the spread of Buddhism in the Latter Day of the Law, from east to west, as the sun.

 

Source: Living Buddhism, Sept, 2012

ON ESTABLISHING THE CORRECT TEACHING FOR THE PEACE OF THE LAND

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When we examine this wide variety of sutras, we find that they all stress how grave a matter it is to slander the correct teaching. How pitiful that people should all go out of the gate of the correct teaching and enter so deep into the prison of these distorted doctrines! How stupid that they should fall one after another into the snares of these evil doctrines and remain for so long entangled in this net of slanderous teachings! They lose their way in these mists and miasmas, and sink down amid the raging flames of hell. How could one not grieve? How could one not suffer?

Therefore, you must quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart and embrace the one true vehicle, the single good doctrine [of the Lotus Sutra]. If you do so, then the threefold world will become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land ever decline? The regions in the ten directions will all become treasure realms, and how could a treasure realm ever suffer harm? If you live in a country that knows no decline or diminution, in a land that suffers no harm or disruption, then your body will find peace and security, and your mind will be calm and untroubled. You must believe my words; heed what I say!

 


 

This work was originally written in classical Chinese and submitted to Hōjō Tokiyori through the offices of high-ranking government official Yadoya Mitsunori on the sixteenth day of the seventh month in the first year of Bunnō (1260). Tokiyori was then living in retirement, but was still the most influential member of the ruling Hōjō clan. The work occasioned no immediate reaction, and no official response was made to the Daishonin. But the members of the government were incensed at the rational but unrelenting attack that the work made on the Pure Land teachings of Hōnen and his followers. Government officials who were Pure Land followers apparently encouraged an attack made on the Daishonin’s dwelling at Nagoe in Kamakura on the twenty-seventh day of the eighth month. The Daishonin narrowly escaped and made his way to the province of Shimōsa to stay at the home of a follower. He returned to Kamakura early in the following year, 1261. He remained continually under the threat of persecution and was summarily banished to Izu on the twelfth day of the fifth month of the same year.

The work consists of a dialogue between a host and a visitor. The host represents Nichiren Daishonin, and the visitor, it is thought, represents Hōjō Tokiyori. At the outset, the host lays the blame for the disasters that have befallen the country on the belief in an erroneous religion, the Pure Land teachings of Hōnen. Presented are numerous scriptural references to disasters that will befall a nation that follows false teachings.

The Daishonin’s efforts to establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land was a struggle against fundamental evils that rejected fundamental good. Speaking as a host, in this section, he admonishes the guest to prevent him from falling prey to the evil doctrines that entangle people in slandering the law. He teaches that by transforming the tenets we hold in our hearts- a fundamental revolution of our innermost state of mind- we can free ourselves from the chains of misfortune and bring peace and security to the society. What we have faith in indicates what we hold precious. Thus, the focus of the transformation is of our mind, heart and values, without which the correct teaching for the peace of the land cannot be achieved.

The Daishonin speaks of the “single good doctrine” referring to the good taught by the Lotus Sutra- the principle that all people can bring forth their Buddha nature and attain enlightenment. Dedicating to the single good doctrine of the Lotus Sutra is the sure way to transform the karma of all humankind.

 

ON PRACTICING THE BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS

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Understand then that the votary who practices the Lotus Sutra exactly as the Buddha teaches will without fail be attacked by the three powerful enemies.

… …

What a great pity it is that all the Japanese people are delighted to see Nichiren and his disciples and lay believers suffer at the hands of the three powerful enemies!  What befell another yesterday may befall oneself today. Nichiren and his followers have but a short time to endure—merely the time it takes for frost or dew to vanish in the morning sun. When our prayers for Buddhahood are answered and we are dwelling in the true land of Tranquil Light where we will experience the boundless joy of the Law, what pity we will feel for those who sink to the bottom of the great citadel of the Avīchi hell and meet extreme suffering there! How they will envy us then!

Life flashes by in but a moment. No matter how many terrible enemies you may encounter, banish all fears and never think of backsliding. 

 


 

Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter to all his followers in the fifth month of 1273, while he was still enduring the severe privations of exile on Sado Island. The title, On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings, indicates practicing in exact accordance with what the Buddha taught.

In this letter the question is raised: Why must believers experience hardships when the Lotus Sutra promises “peace and security in their present existence”? Nichiren Daishonin answers that those who practice the Lotus Sutra exactly according to the Buddha’s teachings are bound to face the three powerful enemies, whose appearance was predicted in the “Encouraging Devotion” chapter of the sutra. In other words, one proves oneself to be a true votary only by facing and overcoming great obstacles for the sake of the Buddha’s teachings. In essence, this means to forthrightly make clear what is the correct teaching of Buddhism and to mercifully transmit the teaching to others.

The three powerful enemies refers to the types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra In the sutra text, the first type is described as follows: “There will be many ignorant people / who will curse and speak ill of us / and will attack us with swords and staves.”

The second type: “In that evil age there will be monks / with perverse wisdom and hearts that are fawning and crooked / who will suppose they have attained what they have not attained, / being proud and boastful in heart.”

And the third type: “Or there will be forest-dwelling monks / wearing clothing of patched rags and living in retirement, / who will claim they are practicing the true way, / despising and looking down on all humankind. / Greedy for profit and support, / they will preach the Law to white-robed laymen / and will be respected and revered by the world / as though they were arhats who possess the six transcendental powers. . . .”

It is explained that of these three, the first can be endured. The second exceeds the first, and the third is the most formidable of all. This is because the second and third ones are increasingly harder to recognize for what they really are.

THE PROOF OF THE LOTUS SUTRA

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” Since you now appear certain to attain Buddhahood, perhaps the heavenly devil and evil spirits1 are using illness to try to intimidate you. Life in this world is limited. Never be even the least bit afraid!

And you demons, by making this man suffer, are you trying to swallow a sword point first, or embrace a raging fire, or become the archenemy of the Buddhas of the ten directions in the three existences? How terrible this will be for you! Should you not cure this man’s illness immediately, act rather as his protectors, and escape from the grievous sufferings that are the lot of demons? If you fail to do so, will you not have your heads broken into seven pieces in this life2 and fall into the great hell of incessant suffering in your next life! Consider it deeply. Consider it. If you ignore my words, you will certainly regret it later.”

 


 

This letter was written at Minobu to Nanjō Shichirō Jirō, commonly known as Nanjō Tokimitsu, in the second month, 1282, when he was gravely unwell. At the time of writing this letter Nichiren Daishonin himself was seriously ill. The letter is traditionally called The Proof of the Lotus Sutra because it points out that all the Buddhas gave credence to the truth of the Lotus Sutra. However, it is also known as Prayer for a Return to Life from Fatal Illness because Tokimitsu was then battling a serious illness.

Nichiren explains to his disciple that as he, following his mentor, steadily moves on the path of enlightenment, devilish functions are bound to put obstacles on his way. He encourages Tokimitsu to not be afraid and continue on his path. The Daishonin then directly addresses the so-called demons, or negative workings in life. He sternly admonishes them for inflicting suffering on the disciple of a votary of the Lotus Sutra, warning that in doing so they risk making enemies of all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions and three existences. His words deeply and powerfully convey his towering spirit and conviction as a votary who has triumphed over great obstacles in his efforts to widely propagate the Mystic Law in the Latter Day. When the disciple strives with the same spirit as the mentor, there is no obstacle or devilish function that cannot be surmounted, and there is no illness that cannot be positively transformed in accord with the principle of “changing poison into medicine”. “The Proof of the Lotus Sutra” highlights the key to good health and long life and conveys the victory of mentor and disciple.

LETTER FROM SADO

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The persecutions Nichiren has faced are the result of karma formed in previous lifetimes. The “Never Disparaging” chapter reads, “when his offenses had been wiped out,” indicating that Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was vilified and beaten by countless slanderers of the correct teaching because of his past karma. How much more true this is of Nichiren, who in this life was born poor and lowly to a chandāla family. In my heart I cherish some faith in the Lotus Sutra, but my body, while outwardly human, is fundamentally that of an animal. It was conceived of the two fluids, one white and one red, of a father and mother who subsisted on fish and fowl. My spirit dwells in this body as the moon is reflected in muddy water, or as gold is wrapped in a filthy bag. Since my heart believes in the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear even Brahmā or Shakra, but my body is still that of an animal. With such disparity between my body and my mind, no wonder the foolish despise me. Without doubt, when compared to my body, my mind shines like the moon or like gold. Who knows what slander I may have committed in the past? I may possess the soul of the monk Superior Intent or the spirit of Mahādeva. Perhaps I am descended from those who contemptuously persecuted Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, or am among those who forgot the seeds of enlightenment sown in their lives.9I may even be related to the five thousand arrogant people,10 or belong to the third group [who failed to take faith in the Lotus Sutra] in the days of the Buddha Great Universal Wisdom Excellence.11 It is impossible to fathom one’s karma.

Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword. Worthies and sages are tested by abuse. My present exile is not because of any secular crime. It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past grave offenses and be freed in the next from the three evil paths.


This letter was written on the twentieth day of the third month, 1272, some five months after Nichiren Daishonin had arrived on the island of Sado to begin his exile there. He addressed it to Toki Jōnin, a samurai serving as a leading retainer to Lord Chiba, the constable of Shimōsa Province, to Saburō Saemon (Shijō Kingo) in Kamakura, and to other staunch followers.

In this letter, he gives an elaborate explanation of karma or destiny, stating that his present difficulties arise from the fact that he slandered the Lotus Sutra in a past existence. Using himself as an example, he elucidates to his disciples the kind of spirit and practice by which they can alter their karma. He adds that persons who try to propagate the correct teaching of Buddhism vigorously will invariably face opposition, and that such opposition in reality presents an opportunity for them to change their karma. Those who have given up their faith and instead criticize are admonished that their actions bear the heaviest consequences. He compares their lack of vision to fireflies who laugh at the sun.

REPLY TO YASABURO

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You must be firmly resolved. Do not begrudge your fief; do not think of your wife and children. And do not depend on others. You must simply make up your mind. Look at the world this year as a mirror. The reason that you have survived until now when so many have died was so that you would meet with this affair. This is where you will cross the Uji River. This is where you will ford the Seta.6 This will determine whether you win honor or disgrace your name. This is what is meant when it is said that it is difficult to be born as a human being, and that it is difficult to believe in the Lotus Sutra. You should pray intently that Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the Buddhas of the ten directions will all gather and take possession of your body to assist you. If you happen to be summoned before the steward, you should first explain all this thoroughly.


 

This letter was written at Minobu to the believer Yasaburō who had evidently sought the Daishonin’s advice in preparation for an upcoming debate with a priest of the Pure Land school. The Daishonin tells Yasaburo “You must make up your mind”. Once we decie to take up a challenge, we must be determined to win. When faced with an opponent, it is easy to be defeated y our own weakness of spirit. The first step is to overcome the negativity workings within. But at the same time, courage is different from being reckless. True courage is to face reality head-on. That’s the way to see clearly what needs to be done.

Sensei says that our hearts blaze with courage, as we realise that all our efforts up to now had been for the sake of achieving a decisive victory in the present challenge. We are extremely fortunate to take part in a struggle to which we can devote ourselves wholeheartedly, holding nothing back. As individuals, we also face challenges in our daily lives. The effort to carry out our human revolution is by no means separate from our struggle for kosen rufu. As we strive to win in each of the struggles, these struggles help us to develop a life state of unshakable happiness for ourselves and help others to do the same, and to dedicate our lives to creating a peaceful world through the humanistic principles of Nichiren Buddhism.

 

Source: Living Buddhism, March 2017

THE PROOF OF THE LOTUS SUTRA

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How does the mirror of the Lotus Sutra portray the people who, in the evil world of the latter age, believe in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra just as they are set forth in the sutra? Shakyamuni Buddha has left us words from his golden mouth revealing that such people have already made offerings to a hundred thousand million Buddhas in their past existences.1 But ordinary people in the latter age might well doubt the words spoken by just one Buddha. With this in mind, Many Treasures Buddha came expressly all the way from his World of Treasure Purity, many lands to the east. Facing Shakyamuni Buddha, he gave his words of testimony about the Lotus Sutra, saying, “All that you have expounded is the truth!”2 If this is so, then there can be no room for doubt about the matter. Nevertheless, Shakyamuni Buddha may have felt that ordinary people in the latter age would still be skeptical. Hence he summoned the Buddhas of the ten directions to come and join him in the magnificent act of extending their long broad tongues, which had told nothing but the truth for countless kalpas, until they projected into the sky as high as Mount Sumeru.

Since this is the case, when ordinary people in the latter age believe in even one or two words of the Lotus Sutra, they are embracing the teaching to which the Buddhas of the ten directions have given credence. I wonder what karma we created in the past to have been born as such persons, and I am filled with joy. The words of Shakyamuni that I referred to above indicate that the blessings that come from having made offerings to a hundred thousand million Buddhas are so great that, even if one has believed in teachings other than the Lotus Sutra and as a result of this slander been born poor and lowly, one is still able to believe in this sutra in this lifetime. A T’ien-t’ai [school’s] commentary states, “It is like the case of a person who falls to the ground, but who then pushes himself up from the ground and rises to his feet again.”3 One who has fallen to the ground recovers and rises up from the ground. Those who slander the Lotus Sutra will fall to the ground of the three evil paths, or of the human and heavenly realms, but in the end, through the help of the Lotus Sutra, they will attain Buddhahood.


This letter was written at Minobu to Nanjō Shichirō Jirō, commonly known as Nanjō Tokimitsu, in the second month, 1282. The letter is traditionally called The Proof of the Lotus Sutra because it points out that all the Buddhas gave credence to the truth of the Lotus Sutra. However, it is also known as Prayer for a Return to Life from Fatal Illness because Tokimitsu was then battling a serious illness.

In this letter, the Daishonin explains that those who believe in the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law have extremely profound karmic connection with the Buddha reaching back to previous existence. He states that they are people who have made offerings to the hundred thousand million Buddhas in the past. We are able to uphold the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day because our lives are endowed with great good fortune and benefit beyond imagination. The Daishonin teaches that if we practice the Lotus Sutra with this conviction, we will definitely be able to overcome any hardship and attain the life state of absolute happiness that is Buddhahood.

Nichiren explains that inspite of having vast good fortune to be able to uphold the law, we are born in an evil age and experience sufferings and hardships because of the slander to the Law in the past existences. However, the benefit of making offerings to the untold Buddhas brings the good fortune to be able to uphold the Law in this lifetime.

The Daishonin quotes T’ien-t’ai’s commentary and states “It is like the case of a person who falls to the ground, but who then pushes himself up from the ground and rises to his feet again”implying that people, who though fall as a result of slander, form a connecting with the correct teaching that will ultimately enable them to find their way to enlightenment. He expalins that those who fall to the ground get back up on their feet using the same ground. Similarly, those who slander the Mystic Law will gain enlightenment through the Lostus Sutra. The Mystic Law embraces even those who form a reverse relationship with it, enabling all to attain Buddhahood. Such is the unfathomale “poison-drum relationship” in Buddhism.

 

 

Source: Living Buddhism, May 2011

REPLY TO A BELIEVER

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If you continue living as you are now, there can be no doubt that you will be practicing the Lotus Sutra twenty-four hours1 a day. Regard your service to your lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra. This is what is meant by “No worldly affairs of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality.”2


 

This letter is thought to have been written at Minobu in 1278. The year and recipient of the letter are not certain. Judging from its content, it is probable that it was addressed to Shijō Kingo, one of the Daishonin’s staunch followers in Kamakura. Shijō Kingo, who was then in a precarious situation, must have wished to abandon the secular world to escape from his trouble with his lord and fellow warriors. However, the Daishonin teaches him to regard his service to his lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra. As a ranking samurai, Shijō Kingo’s service to his lord was his vocation and occupation. In modern terms, therefore, “service to one’s lord” would equate to one’s job.

In this passage, Nichiren Daishonin cites the words of the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai explaining the meaning of a Lotus Sutra passage that elucidates the benefits enjoyed by those who embrace that sutra: “No worldly affairs of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality” (WND-1, 905). In other writings, Nichiren states: “All phenomena are manifestations of the Buddhist Law” (The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas,”WND-2, 841); and “A person of wisdom is not one who practices Buddhism apart from worldly affairs but, rather, one who thoroughly understands the principles by which the world is governed” (The Kalpa of Decrease,” WND-1, 1121). He is saying that the ideals of Buddhism are the same as the proper aims of government and commerce

The welfare of human beings should be the purpose of both government and business. Human happiness must be the highest and ultimate aim of all social activities.In other writings, Nichiren states: “All phenomena are manifestations of the Buddhist Law” (The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas,”WND-2, 841); and “A person of wisdom is not one who practices Buddhism apart from worldly affairs but, rather, one who thoroughly understands the principles by which the world is governed” (The Kalpa of Decrease,” WND-1, 1121). He is saying that the ideals of Buddhism are the same as the proper aims of government and commerce.

The Mystic Law unlocks and draws forth the inner fortitude and strength each person needs to build that happiness. Everyone possesses within them the infinite power of the Buddha. The Mystic Law enables us to manifest that power.

Faith in the Mystic Law is the fundamental source of courage, wisdom and perseverance needed for facing life’s obstacles.

That is why our actions based on faith, all of which are illuminated by the Mystic Law, enable us to create value leading to hope and happiness.

Whatever your job or your workplace, I hope you will strive for the welfare of others and the betterment of society in your own unique way, and earn the praise of those around you for being positive, trustworthy and dependable. This is the epitome of putting faith into practice in daily life and Buddhism into action in society.

 

Source: Living Buddhism, Septemer, 2016

HOW THOSE INITIALLY ASPIRING TO THE WAY CAN ATTAIN BUDDHAHOOD THROUGH THE LOTUS SUTRA

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When we revere Myoho-rengekyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion, the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myohorengekyo. This is what is meant by “Buddha.” To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our Buddha nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge. The Buddha nature of Brahma and Shakra, being called, will protect us, and the Buddha nature of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, being summoned, will rejoice. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, “If one can uphold it [the Mystic Law] even for a short while I will surely rejoice and so will the other Buddhas.”


This letter is generally thought to have been written in the third year of Kenji (1277), though differing opinions assign it to as early as 1271 or even as late as 1282. Its recipient was a woman called the lay nun Myōhō who lived at Okamiya in Suruga Province. Little is known about her, other than that she was widowed in 1278 and also lost an elder brother. She appears to have maintained steadfast faith throughout her life. She is the same lay nun who received The One Essential Phrase from Nichiren Daishonin in 1278.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “When we revere Myohorenge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion [Gohonzon], the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is what is meant by ‘Buddha’” (WND-1, 887). He then proceeds to explain the process by which this great life state of Buddhahood manifests, employing the very accessible metaphor of a bird in a cage: “When a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out” (WND-1, 887). The “bird in the cage” represents the Buddha nature of us ordinary people. The cage represents a state of being shackled by fundamental darkness or ignorance, various deluded impulses or earthly desires, and all kinds of suffering. The “caged bird sings” refers to ordinary people rousing faith in the Mystic Law and chanting Nam-myohorenge-kyo. The “birds who are flying in the sky,” meanwhile, represent the Buddha nature of all living beings. We call forth our Buddha nature—that is, the Myoho-renge-kyo within us—by chanting with our own voices. At the same time, however, the sound of our chanting in fact also calls forth the Buddha nature of diverse living beings. This is because—as we saw in the earlier passage—Myoho-renge-kyo is also the name of the Buddha nature of all Buddhas, bodhi sattvas and other living beings in the Ten Worlds. Once we chant the Mystic Law, therefore, its power is such that it can call forth the Buddha nature of all of them. In other words, our voice chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the powerful sound that awakens and summons forth the Buddha nature of all living beings throughout the universe.

The Daishonin describes the great benefits of chanting Nam-myoho- renge-kyo, the single sound with which we can summon forth the Buddha nature of all living beings. He begins by speaking of revering “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion”.  The Daishonin revealed the Mystic Law inherent in his own life and manifested it in the concrete form of the Gohonzon, the object of devotion or fundamental respect. Only when our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is based on faith in the Gohonzon does it become a practice for attaining Buddhahood. We revere the Gohonzon bestowed on humanity by Nichiren, taking it as a mirror and guide for our life, and believe that we possess and can manifest within us the same supremely noble state of life as the Daishonin. By doing so, we are revering “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion”. The Daishonin—embodying the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent— strove with boundless compassion in a dark and evil age to protect and teach people, and help them reveal their highest potential. The way for us to show true reverence and respect for the Gohonzon is to venerate the Daishonin as our fundamental mentor or teacher in faith, learn from his selfless dedication, and carry on his efforts for the happiness and welfare of all people. In other words, to revere the Gohonzon essentially means that, no matter how troubled the times, we strive to make our mentor’s spirit our own, take personal action for kosen-rufu, and become a source of hope, courage and peace of mind for others.

We are not truly revering “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion” if we seek the assistance of, or put our faith in, some supernatural being or Buddha outside of our own lives to attain salvation—for example, like one of the Buddhas taught in the provisional, pre-Lotus Sutra teachings,3 as is the case in the Nembutsu faith. In “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” Nichiren writes: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”. When the Daishonin embodied his own Buddhahood, “the soul of Nichiren”, in the form of the mandala that is the Gohonzon, his purpose was to enable each of us to reveal the Gohonzon that exists within us. The Gohonzon is the clear mirror that enables us to manifest the Gohonzon in our own life. Chanting with faith in the Gohonzon is the key to manifesting the Gohonzon within us and activating the “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life” (WND-1, 887). If we were to lose sight of this important point, our Buddhist practice runs the risk of lapsing into the subservient worship of some absolute being outside of us. My mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, often said: “You yourself are Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”; and “How can a Buddha be defeated by illness or economic hardship?”

Once we awaken to our enormous potential, we can face any adversity. The purpose of faith in Nichiren Buddhism is to develop such inner strength. Out of a spirit of profound compassion, Mr. Toda often gave strict guidance to members who lacked conviction in faith and displayed a resigned or defeatist attitude. When those same members later came back to share with him their experiences of overcoming difficulties and achieving victory in their lives, he would smile happily and rejoice together with them on their success. He constantly urged people to awaken to their greater self and to reveal their true potential. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is for each of us to bring forth the “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life” and establish an inner state of everlasting and indestructible happiness.

 

Source: February 2012 Living Buddhism, pp. 25–28