What is meant by this “wisdom”? It is the entity of the true aspect of all phenomena, and of the ten factors of life that lead all beings to Buddhahood. What then is that entity? It is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A commentary states that the profound principle of the true aspect is the originally inherent Myoho-renge-kyo.3 We learn that that true aspect of all phenomena is also the two Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures[seated together in the treasure tower]. “All phenomena” corresponds to Many Treasures, and “the true aspect” corresponds to Shakyamuni. These are also the two elements of reality and wisdom. Many Treasures is reality; Shakyamuni is wisdom. It is the enlightenment that reality and wisdom are two, and yet they are not two.
These are teachings of prime importance. These are also what is called “earthly desires are enlightenment,” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo during the physical union of man and woman is indeed what is called “earthly desires are enlightenment,” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” “The sufferings of birth and death are nirvana” exists only in realizing that the entity of life throughout its cycle of birth and death is neither born nor destroyed. The Universal Worthy Sutra states, “Without either cutting off earthly desires or separating themselves from the five desires, they can purify all their senses and wipe away all their offenses.”Great Concentration and Insight says, “The ignorance and dust of desires are enlightenment, and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” The “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra says, “At all times I think to myself: How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?” The “Expedient Means” chapter says, “The characteristics of the world are constantly abiding.” Surely such statements refer to these principles. Thus what is called the entity is none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
In the letter, the Daishonin explains the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in terms of such profound Buddhist principles as the fusion of reality and wisdom, and earthly desires are enlightenment. Although Hinayana Buddhism teaches that earthly desires must be eliminated to attain enlightenment, Mahayana, and particularly the Lotus Sutra, teaches that earthly desires are one with and inseparable from enlightenment. The reason is that both are the workings, or expression, of life itself, and thus are the same in their source. A Mahayana principle based on the view that earthly desires cannot exist independently on their own; therefore one can attain enlightenment without eliminating earthly desires. This contrasts with the Hinayana view that extinguishing earthly desires is a prerequisite for enlightenment. According to the Hinayana teachings, earthly desires and enlightenment are two independent and opposing factors, and the two cannot coexist; while the Mahayana teachings reveal that earthly desires are one with and inseparable from enlightenment. This is because all things, even earthly desires and enlightenment, are manifestations of the unchanging reality or truth—and thus are non-dual at their source.
The Universal Worthy Sutra, an epilogue to the Lotus Sutra, states, “Without either cutting off earthly desires or separating themselves from the five desires, they can purify all their senses and wipe away all their offenses.” T’ien-t’ai (538–597) says in Great Concentration and Insight, “The ignorance and dust of desires are enlightenment, and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren (1222–1282) states: “The idea of gradually overcoming delusions is not the ultimate meaning of the ‘Life Span’ chapter [of the Lotus Sutra]. You should understand that the ultimate meaning of this chapter is that ordinary mortals, just as they are in their original state of being, are Buddhas,” and, “Today, when Nichiren and his followers recite the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, they are burning the firewood of earthly desires, summoning up the wisdom-fire of enlightenment.”
Nichiren Daishonin teaches that, when one bases one’s life on Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, earthly desires work naturally for one’s own and others’ happiness. The great power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is inherently positive and creative, directs the great energy of one’s earthly desires toward happiness and value for all. Thus, when one chants the daimoku, “earthly desires are enlightenment.”
Early Buddhist teachings regard earthly desires, or deluded impulses, as sources of suffering and impediments to enlightenment. In contrast, the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life reveals that the potential for Buddhahood exists even within states of delusion and desire. Nichiren writes that when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we are “burning the firewood of earthly desires, summoning up the wisdom fire of Bodhi or enlightenment” (OTT, p. 11). Desires and suffering fuel our Buddhist practice and enable us to bring forth enlightened wisdom.