Now more than two hundred years have passed since we entered the Latter Day of the Law, a time of which, as the Great Collection Sutra records, the Buddha predicted that “quarrels and disputes will arise among the adherents to my teachings, and the pure Law will become obscured and lost.” If these words of the Buddha are true, it is a time when the whole land of Jambudvīpa will without doubt be embroiled in quarrels and disputes.
Reports reaching us say that the entire land of China, with its 360 states and 260 or more provinces, has already been conquered by the kingdom of the Mongols. The Chinese capital was conquered some time ago, and the two rulers Emperor Hui-tsung and Emperor Ch’in-tsung56were taken captive by the northern barbarians and ended their days in the region of Tartary. Meanwhile, Hui-tsung’s grandson, Emperor Kao-tsung,57 driven out of the capital K’ai-feng, established his residence in the countryside at the temporary palace at Lin-an, and for many years he did not see the capital.
In addition, the six hundred or more states of Koryŏ and the states of Silla and Paekche have all been conquered by the great kingdom of the Mongols, and in like manner the Mongols have even attacked the Japanese territories of Iki, Tsushima, and Kyushu.58 Thus the Buddha’s prediction concerning the occurrence of quarrels and disputes has proved anything but false. It is like the tides of the ocean that never failto come when the time arrives.
In view of the accuracy of his prediction, can there be any doubt that, after this period described in the Great Collection Sutra when “the pure Law will become obscured and lost,” the great pure Law of the Lotus Sutra will be spread far and wide throughout Japan and all the other countries of Jambudvīpa?
Among the Buddha’s various teachings, the Great Collection Sutra represents no more than an exposition of provisional Mahayana doctrine. In terms of teaching the way to escape from the sufferings of birth and death, it belongs to the period when the Buddha had “not yet revealed the truth,”59 and so cannot lead to enlightenment those who have not yet formed any connection with the Lotus Sutra. And yet in what it states concerning the six paths, the four forms of birth, and the three existences of life, it does not display the slightest error.
How, then, could there be any error in the Lotus Sutra, of whichShakyamuni Buddha said that he “now must reveal the truth”?60 Many Treasures Buddha likewise testified to its truth, and the Buddhas of theten directions put forth their long broad tongues until they reached theBrahmā heaven as a sign of testimony. Shakyamuni Buddha also extended his tongue, which is incapable of telling falsehoods, until it reached the highest heaven in the world of form, saying that in the last five-hundred-year period after his passing, when the entire body of Buddhist doctrine would be about to disappear, Bodhisattva Superior Practices would come forward with the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo and administer them as good medicine to those afflicted with white leprosy—that is, persons of incorrigible disbelief and those who slander the Law. And he charged Brahmā, Shakra, the gods of the sun and moon, the four heavenly kings, and the dragon deities to act as thatbodhisattva’s protectors. How could these golden words of his be false? Even if the great earth were to turn upside down, a high mountain crumble and fall, summer not follow spring, the sun move eastward, or the moon fall to earth, this prediction could never fail to come true!
If that is so, then, in this time of “quarrels and disputes,” how can the ruler, the ministers, and the common people of Japan hope to escape harm when they vilify and abuse the envoy of the Buddha who is attempting to spread the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, send him into exile, and attack and beat him, or inflict all kinds of trouble upon his disciples and followers? Ignorant people must surely think when I say this that I am merely calling down curses upon the people.
A person who spreads the Lotus Sutra is father and mother to all the living beings in Japan. For, as the Great Teacher Chang-an says, “One who rids the offender of evil is acting as his parent.”61 If so, then I, Nichiren, am the father and mother of the present emperor of Japan, and the teacher and lord of the Nembutsu believers, the Zen followers, and the True Word priests.
Nichiren composed this treatise at Minobu in Kai Province, Japan, in 1275 and sent it to a believer named Yui who lived in Nishiyama of Suruga Province. It takes the form of a dialogue between the author and a hypothetical questioner. “Time” in the title refers to the Latter Day of the Law, when the “pure Law” of Shakyamuni’s teaching is destined to become obscured and lost, and the “great pure Law” of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to be spread.
One important focus of Nichiren Buddhism is how to view the Latter Day of the Law. The Latter Day is one of the three consecutive periods or stages—together with the Former and Middle Days of the Law— into which the time after the Buddha’s passing is divided. It refers to an age when Buddhism falls into decline and is in danger of perishing. These three periods are described in many sutras, but their characteristics are probably most easily understood in terms of three aspects—teaching, practice and proof—in other words, the Buddha’s teaching, the practice of that teaching and the actual proof or benefit resulting from the practice of that teaching. First comes the Former Day of the Law, when the teaching, practice and proof of Buddhism remain sound. This is followed by the Middle Day of the Law, an age when the teaching and practice of Buddhism continue but there is no longer any proof. It is a period when Buddhism becomes increasingly formalized. And finally we come to the Latter Day of the Law, an age when, though the teaching remains, there is neither practice nor proof. It marks a time when Buddhism has fallen into serious decline.
In the treatise, Nichiren discusses the five five-hundred-year periods following the death of Shakyamuni, which are described in the Great Collection Sutra. He outlines the events pertaining to Buddhism during each period, as Buddhism spread from India to China and then to Japan, and the age shifted from the Former Day to the Middle Day and finally to the Latter Day of the Law. Nichiren then proclaims that during the last of the five five-hundred-year periods, or the first five hundred years of the Latter Day, the great pure Law will spread far and wide throughout the world. He describes the great pure Law as “a correct Law that is supremely profound and secret, one that, though expounded in full by the Buddha, in the time since his passing has never yet been propagated by Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Asanga, or Vasubandhu, nor even by T’ient’ai or Dengyo”.
Nichiren sees himself in this context as the votary of the Lotus Sutra destined to propagate this Law. In this regard, he writes: “A person who spreads the Lotus Sutra is father and mother to all the living beings in Japan. For, as the Great Teacher Chang-an says, ‘One who rids the offender of evil is acting as his parent.’ If so, then I, Nichiren, am the father and mother of the present emperor of Japan, and the teacher and lord of the Nembutsu believers, the Zen followers, and the True Word priests”.
The most important thing in the evil Latter Day, when the Law falls into decline, is to expound the highest and most crucial teaching that directly reveals the Buddha’s true intent. The different schools of Buddhism in Nichiren’s day, however, were preoccupied with people’s diminished capacity for understanding various sutras. It was generally believed that those of adverse or inferior capacity, people unable to understand even simple Buddhist doctrines—which categorized the people of the Latter Day— couldn’t possibly practice the difficult Lotus Sutra teaching. For example, Honen, the founder of Japan’s Pure Land school, placing disproportionate emphasis on people’s capacity, had established the practice of exclusive devotion to the Nembutsu—reciting the name of Amida Buddha—as the sole means for salvation. He maintained that the people of the Latter Day, with their adverse and inferior capacity, were not suited to a practice of relying on their own efforts to attain enlightenment. He insisted instead that their sole route to salvation lay in gaining rebirth in the paradise of the Pure Land of Perfect Bliss in the west by relying on the power or benevolence of Amida Buddha.
Nichiren places highest importance on the true intent of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings. He therefore prizes the Lotus Sutra, which was expounded “in accordance with the Buddha’s mind” (revealing Shakyamuni’s ultimate and true intent), and not the expedient or provisional pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, which were expounded “in accordance with others’ minds” (taking people’s capacity into account). He declares that the teaching that should be imparted to people of the Latter Day is the fundamental Law that, from the enlightened perspective of the Buddha, is truly vital and essential, and not the various expedient Buddhist teachings sought by those clouded by delusion. When considering the crucial question of the “time” of the Latter Day of the Law, Nichiren, instead of weighing the people’s capacity, devoted himself to investigating which teaching actually had the power to help people solve their problems and overcome their sufferings. And he concluded that this teaching was none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren, therefore, regards the Latter Day as the time for the widespread propagation of the Lotus Sutra, or worldwide kosen-rufu, that Shakyamuni envisaged and predicted in the sutra.
Because the Lotus Sutra teaches that all people are originally bodhisattvas and have the potential to attain Buddhahood, it has the power to lead to enlightenment even the people of the Latter Day who are of adverse and inferior capacity. When viewed based on the correct teaching of the Mystic Law, the Latter Day signifies an age of human triumph, an age of true victory for the people. Consequently, the Latter Day expounded by the Lotus Sutra is not a degenerate age of darkness and despair but a positive age of hope-filled change.