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QUESTION: The “Expedient Means” chapter in the first volume of the Lotus Sutra states, “The true aspect of all phenomena [can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature . . . and] their consistency from beginning to end.” What does this passage mean?

Answer: It means that all beings and environments in the Ten Worlds, from hell, the lowest, to Buddhahood, the highest, are without exception manifestations of Myoho-renge-kyo. If there is an environment, living beings are bound to dwell there. A commentary states, “Living beings and their environments always manifest Myoho-renge-kyo.”1 Another says: “The true aspect invariably manifests in all phenomena, and all phenomena invariably manifest in the ten factors. The ten factors invariably manifest in the Ten Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably manifest in life and its environment.”2 And “Both the beings and the environment of the Avīchi hell exist entirely within the life of the highest sage [Buddha], and what is more, the life and the environment of Vairochana [Buddha] never transcend the lives of common mortals.”3 These explanations are precise and clear. Who could have doubts? Thus, the entire realm of phenomena is no different than the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo.

Even the two Buddhas, Shakyamuni and Many Treasures, in performing the functions of the benefit of the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, manifested themselves as the two Buddhas, and seated together in the treasure tower, nodded in mutual agreement.

No one but Nichiren has ever revealed teachings like these. Though T’ien-t’ai, Miao-lo, and Dengyō knew about them in their hearts, they never put them into words. They went about their lives keeping this knowledge to themselves. And there was good reason for this. The Buddha had not entrusted them with the task, the time had not yet come, and they had not been the Buddha’s disciples from the distant past. Only Superior Practices, Boundless Practices, and the other foremost leaders and guiding teachers among the Bodhisattvas of the Earth cannot only appear during the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law and spread the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of all phenomena, but also give concrete form to the ceremony of the two Buddhas seated side by side in the treasure tower. The reason is that what they are to spread and give concrete form to is none other than the teaching of the actual three thousand realms in a single moment of life in the “Life Span” chapter of the essential teaching.

Therefore, the two Buddhas, Shakyamuni and Many Treasures, are Buddhas who are functions [of Myoho-renge-kyo]. It is Myoho-renge-kyo that is the true Buddha.4 This is what is described in the sutra as “the Thus Come One’s secret and his transcendental powers.”5 The “Thus Come One’s secret” refers to the entity of the Buddha’s three bodies, and it refers to the true Buddha. “His transcendental powers” refers to the functions of the three bodies, and it refers to provisional Buddhas. A common mortal is an entity of the three bodies, and a true Buddha. A Buddha is a function of the three bodies, and a provisional Buddha. In that case, though it is thought that Shakyamuni Buddha possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent for the sake of all of us living beings, that is not so. On the contrary, it is common mortals who endow him with the three virtues.

The “Thus Come One” is explained clearly in T’ien-t’ai’s commentary as follows: “The Thus Come One is a general designation for the Buddhas of the ten directions and the three existences, for the two Buddhas, the three Buddhas,6 the true Buddha, and provisional Buddhas.”7 The “true Buddha” here means common mortals, whereas “provisional Buddhas” means Buddhas. However, because of the difference between ordinary people and Buddhas that stems from the disparity between delusion and enlightenment, ordinary people are unaware that they are endowed with both the entity and the functions of the three bodies.

“All phenomena” in the sutra refers to the Ten Worlds, and the “true aspect,” to what they actually are. The “true aspect” is another name for Myoho-renge-kyo; hence all phenomena are Myoho-renge-kyo. Hell’s displaying the form of hell is its true aspect. When hell changes into the realm of hungry spirits, that is no longer the true form of hell. A Buddha displays the form of a Buddha, and a common mortal, that of a common mortal. The entities of all phenomena are entities of Myoho-renge-kyo. That is the meaning of “the true aspect of all phenomena.” T’ien-t’aistates that the profound principle of the true aspect is the originally inherent Myoho-renge-kyo.8 This interpretation identifies the phrase “true aspect” with the theoretical teaching and “the originally inherent Myoho-renge-kyo” with the essential teaching. You should ponder this interpretation deep in your heart.

Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter to Sairen-bō Nichijō while at Ichinosawa on Sado Island in the fifth month of the tenth year of Bun’ei (1273). A former Tendai priest, he already knew something about “the true aspect of all phenomena”; it was a fundamental concept in the Tendai school of Buddhism. He could not, however, satisfactorily come to grips with this concept through T’ien-t’ai’s theory alone, so he asked the Daishonin for an explanation. The True Aspect of All Phenomena is the Daishonin’s reply.

This Gosho  begins with a passage from the “Expedient Means” chapter—the heart of the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra—that implies that no phenomenon is in any way different from the true aspect, or Myoho-renge-kyo. It also implies that all the innumerable forms and realities that exist, both concrete and abstract, are manifestations of Myoho-renge-kyo. The Daishonin then explains the essence of the Lotus Sutra, Myoho-renge-kyo, and its embodiment, the Gohonzon. This is the first element—the object of devotion in terms of the Law.

After clarifying the ultimate teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the Daishonin states that Bodhisattva Superior Practices, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, will propagate that teaching, and that he himself is carrying out the mission entrusted to that bodhisattva. In light of his own behavior and his fulfillment of the predictions in the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin suggests that he himself is Bodhisattva Superior Practices. A more profound interpretation, however, identifies him as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, whose purpose was to establish the Gohonzon for the enlightenment of all people in the Latter Day. Thus True Aspect of All Phenomena also explains the object of devotion in terms of the Person. This is the second element. Referring to both the Person and the Law, the Daishonin clarifies the fundamental object of devotion for the people of the Latter Day.

“All phenomena” indicates life in the ten worlds and its environment, or all living beings and the realms in which they dwell. In other words, it refers to all nature, to all things and phenomena.

“True aspect,” just as it sounds, means the true reality just as it is. The true aspect of all phenomena might be thought of as the undisguised truth of all things.

The ultimate truth or reality that permeates all phenomena and is in no way separate from them. A principle expressed in the “Expedient Means” (second) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The chapter states: “The true aspect of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect, manifest effect, and their consistency from beginning to end.” The “Expedient Means” chapter defines the true aspect of all phenomena as the ten factors of life from “appearance” through “their consistency from beginning to end,” which describe the unchanging aspect of life common to all phenomena. Since the ten factors exist in any being of the Ten Worlds, there can be no fundamental distinction between a Buddha and an ordinary person. This revelation of the ten factors of life thus establishes a theoretical basis for the universal attainment of Buddhahood. Based on this passage of the “Expedient Means” chapter, T’ient’ai (538-597) established the philosophical system of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. In his 1273 work titled The True Aspect of All Phenomena, Nichiren defined “all phenomena” as all living beings and their environments in the Ten Worlds, and “the true aspect” as the Law of Myoho-renge-kyo, the ultimate reality permeating all living beings and their environments in any of the Ten Worlds.All phenomena, he stated, are manifestations of this universal Law; phenomena and the ultimate truth are inseparable and non-dual.

On a deeper level, Nichiren explains that the ten factors are in fact a manifestation of the underlying creative and compassionate life of the cosmos. He expressed this as the Mystic Law or Myoho-renge-kyo. To view all things as the manifestations of the Mystic Law of life is thus to perceive what the Lotus Sutra refers to as the “true aspect of all phenomena.”

But this truth does not justify a “laissez-faire” attitude to life. It is not correct to say that someone is a Buddha just as they are, even if they make no effort or carry out no practice. Simply saying that reality, full of suffering and problems, is itself the true entity, manifesting the enlightened life of the cosmos, cannot lead to improvement in people’s lives or society. Rather, the true aspect should be understood as a potential to be realized. Nichiren taught that it is not enough to be aware on a theoretical level of the true aspect of our lives. Rather, he urged his followers to commit themselves to their Buddhist practice in the midst of the realities that confronted them. It is by transforming ourselves and our surroundings, making them shine with the positive potentials they hold, that we reveal the true aspect of all phenomena—the state of Buddhahood—in our own lives.



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How wondrous it is that, around two hundred years and more into the Latter Day of the Law, I was the first to reveal as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra this great mandala that even those such as Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu, T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo were unable to express. This mandala is in no way my invention. It is the object of devotion that depicts Shakyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One, seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha, and the Buddhas who were Shakyamuni’s emanations as perfectly as a print matches its woodblock. Thus the five characters of the Lotus Sutra’s title are suspended in the center, while the four heavenly kings are seated at the four corners of the treasure tower. Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are side by side at the top. Seated below them are the bodhisattvas, including Universal Worthy and Manjushrī, and the voice-hearers, including Shāriputra and Maudgalyāyana. [Beside them are] the gods of the sun and moon, the devil king of the sixth heaven, the dragon king, and an asura. In addition,the wisdom kings Immovable and Craving-Filled take up their stations to the south and north. The evil and treacherous Devadatta and the ignorant dragon king’s daughter form a group. Not only the Mother of Demon Children and the ten demon daughters, who are evil demonsthat sap the lives of people throughout the major world system, but also the Sun Goddess, Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, and the seven reigns of the heavenly gods and five reigns of the earthly gods, who are the guardian deities of Japan—all the various great and small gods, that is,the main gods, are ranged in rows. How then could the remaining subordinate gods be left out? The “Treasure Tower” chapter states, “[Shakyamuni Buddha used his transcendental powers to] lift all the members of the great assembly up into the air.”

Without exception, all these Buddhas, bodhisattvas, great sages, and, in general, all the various beings of the two worlds and the eight groups2 who appear in the “Introduction” chapter of the Lotus Sutra dwell in this Gohonzon. Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess. This is the object of devotion.

This is what is meant when the sutra says “the true aspect of all phenomena.”3 Miao-lo stated: “The true aspect invariably manifests in all phenomena, and all phenomena invariably manifest in the ten factors. The ten factors invariably manifest in the Ten Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably manifest in life and its environment.”4 It is also stated that the profound principle of the true aspect is the originally inherentMyoho-renge-kyo.5 The Great Teacher Dengyō said, “A single moment of life comprising the three thousand realms is itself the Buddha of limitless joy; this Buddha has forsaken august appearances.”6 Therefore, this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known; it did not appear until more than 2,220 years after the Buddha’s passing.

In this reply to Nichinyo, Nichiren Daishonin expresses his gratitude for her offerings to the Gohonzon and explains the significance of the object of devotion. The exact identity of Nichinyo is unclear. She is thought tohave been either the wife of Ikegami Munenaka, the older of the Ikegami brothers, or a daughter of the lay priest Matsuno Rokurō Saemon, an earnest believer in Suruga Province. Judging from two letters theDaishonin sent her, she seems to have been a woman of good education and considerable affluence. Moreover, as the recipient of a Gohonzon, or object of devotion, she was evidently a sincere believer. This letter contains a description of the Gohonzon that details the figures represented therein and their significance. The Daishonin also underscores the importance of faith in the Gohonzon.

In the first half of the letter, the Daishonin points out the rarity and importance of the Gohonzon. He cites the Lotus Sutra and other worksto show that the Gohonzon is the embodiment of “the true aspect of all phenomena” and “the three thousand realms in a single moment of life.”

Nichiren Daishonin [states]: “This mandala is in no way my invention”. The Gohonzon, he assures us, is not his arbitrary creation. It is the object of devotion depicting the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo —the Law for manifesting Buddhahood, which is inherent within our own life—embodied by Shakyamuni Buddha, seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha, and all the Buddhas who were his emanations. In other words, the Gohonzon is a perfect representation of the “true aspect of all phenomena,” and the foundation principles of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds”  and “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” all of which were elucidated during the Ceremony in the Air of the Lotus Sutra.

When we look at the layout of the Gohonzon, we see that Nam-myoho-rengekyo—referred to in this letter as “the five characters of the Lotus Sutra’s title”—is written down the center, flanked by representatives of each of the Ten Worlds. This indicates that all living beings of the Ten Worlds, from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas on down, are without exception embodied in the Gohonzon. This accords with the passage from “Treasure Tower,” the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, cited by Nichiren in this letter: “[Shakyamuni Buddha used his transcendental powers to] lift all the members of the great assembly up into the air”. The Gohonzon, therefore, includes without exception “all the various beings” of the Ten Worlds. It is a representation of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,” the principle that all living beings, when illuminated by the light of the Mystic Law, can display the “dignified attributes that they inherently possess”. In short, when all of the functions of the Ten Worlds within our lives are enveloped in the light of the wisdom and compassion of the world of Buddhahood, we can give expression to the power of supreme goodness and create enduring value. It also means that each unique individual comes to shine as an entity of the Mystic Law and manifest their inherently dignified nature. The Gohonzon enables us to build what Mr. Toda described as “a joyful, pure and sunny realm of friends living together in harmony and peace.” In such a realm, everyone—irrespective of their circumstances or whether they are still in the process of transforming their karma— shines with the “dignified attributes that they inherently possess.” Those in the world of hell, for instance, manifest the world of hell contained within the world of Buddhahood, and though there may still be suffering, it is not the hopeless suffering of wandering lost in eternal darkness. They can bring forth the courage to face difficult realities head-on, the wisdom to surmount the obstacles and barriers arising from within and from without, and the powerful life force to make new strides forward. Sufferings become challenges that aid one’s personal transformation and growth, becoming springboards to great development. Illuminated by the light of the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the noble state of life that is one with the Mystic Law functions vibrantly even in the world of hell. The meaning of the sufferings of hell is thereby turned around completely. While in prison, founding Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi serenely wrote: “Concentrating intently on my faith is my work right now. If I can do that, I am not the least bit anxious . . . Depending on one’s frame of mind, even hell can be enjoyable.”6 Mr. Toda also said that if we base ourselves on the Gohonzon, we can gain a state of being in which we are filled with boundless joy wherever we go. Every person’s life is an entity that inherently embodies the principles of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds and the three thousand realms in a single moment of life. In essence, it is perfect and complete—there is nothing extraneous to be subtracted and nothing lacking that needs to be added. No existence is without its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs. And no matter how we might try, we cannot avoid the universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. The mutual possession of the Ten Worlds is the true aspect of life, and each of the mutually inclusive Ten Worlds is a manifestation of the Mystic Law. The Gohonzon and faith in the Mystic Law enable us to draw out the supreme life state of Buddhahood and firmly establish it in our being. The layout of the Gohonzon is based on the true aspect of all phenomena elucidated in the Lotus Sutra, clarifying that we as ordinary people can manifest the boundless life state of Buddhahood in our present form. No such object of devotion ever existed in Buddhism prior to this. Though there were many magnificent depictions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas in paintings and sculptures, there was no mandala embodying the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds that enabled ordinary people to attain enlightenment. Nichiren Daishonin was the first to reveal the Gohonzon that illuminates the dignified attributes that we inherently possess, in other words, an object of devotion for the enlightenment of all humanity. This Gohonzon was truly the “great mandala never before known”, depicting the realm of a truly humanistic Buddhism.



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It is said that, if a teacher has a good disciple, both will gain the fruit of Buddhahood, but if a teacher fosters a bad disciple, both will fall into hell. If teacher and disciple are of different minds, they will never accomplish anything. I will elaborate on this point later.



Nichiren Daishonin sent this message from Minobu in the fourth month of 1278 for the second memorial service for Dōzen-bō. Dōzen-bō had been a senior priest at Seichō-ji temple, where the Daishonin entered the priesthood. The Daishonin studied under him from the age of twelve. The letter was addressed to his former seniors at Seichō-ji, Jōken-bō and Gijō-bō.

Although Nichiren Daishonin’s teacher, Dozen-bo, had attempted to return to his faith in the Lotus Sutra after Nichiren had rebuked his slander of the Law, he died without completely giving up his attachment to the Nembutsu practice. But if a disciple such as the Daishonin were to attain Buddhahood through practicing the correct teaching, then through that benefit, it would also be possible for Dozen-bo to attain enlightenment, as well. This is what Nichiren is describing when he writes, “If a teacher has a good disciple, both will gain the fruit of Buddhahood.”

By the same token, however, a “bad disciple,” one who has been led astray by erroneous teachings, will not be able to attain Buddhahood, nor lead the teacher to enlightenment. As a result, as the Daishonin writes, both the disciple and the teacher “will fall into hell” .

In another writing, he also states, “If lay believers and their teacher pray with differing minds, their prayers will be as futile as trying to kindle a fire on water” (“The Eight Winds,”). The unchanging rule for victory in Nichiren Buddhism is for mentor and disciple to unite in spirit and align in purpose, like two interlocking gears. Above all, Nichiren followed the path of a genuine disciple, of a “good disciple” who was also able to guide his teacher to Buddhahood. The victory of the disciple is the victory of the teacher. The disciple is critical in determining the result. In the writing “Flowering and Bearing Grain,” the Daishonin not only describes his own spirit as a disciple, but also seeks to encourage his seniors Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, who shared Dozen-bo as their teacher, to also be good disciples able to lead their teacher to Buddhahood.

As long as he lived, Josei Toda remained a true disciple of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. When he spoke of Mr. Makiguchi, a grave expression came over Mr. Toda’s face. “Disciples have to follow the path of disciples,” he said, stressing that disciples need to put their mentor’s teachings into action in their own lives. He was also uncompromising toward those who tried to destroy this infinitely precious realm of mentor and disciple in Buddhism. He strictly emphasized that we must never allow anyone to harm the pure realm of faith of those dedicated to kosen-rufu. It was his solemn injunction that we protect the realm of mentor and disciple.

The mentor-disciple relationship is the core foundation of Nichiren Buddhism. This is because the profound, powerful and beautiful life-to-life interaction that takes place within the mentor-disciple relationship enables us to break free from our attachments to our small lesser selves and realize a state of life based on our boundless greater selves. When mentor and disciple are united, they can achieve anything and always be victorious. The path of mentor and disciple is the great path for absolute victory.

The Buddha is a teacher who has realized a profound inner transformation. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says, “At the start I took a vow, / hoping to make all persons / equal to me, without any distinction between us”. This, in other words, is the great vow to enable all people to attain Buddhahood. The unfolding drama of disciples standing up to realize this vow of the Buddha is indeed the central theme of the Lotus Sutra. The widespread propagation of the Law—the movement for kosen-rufu—is an unceasing, momentous struggle to elevate all humanity to the same life state as the Buddha.

Throughout his writings, Nichiren Daishonin frequently uses the expressions “Nichiren’s disciples” or “my disciples.” The path of kosen-rufu entails standing up with a profound sense of mission as a disciple of the Daishonin. It is the noble spiritual struggle to bring about an inner transformation in the lives of all humanity through the process of human revolution in an age steeped in the three poisons, and racked by endless conflict and tragedy. This struggle will eventually bring about a change in the life state of humanity as a whole and, with it, also a change in the destiny of the world.



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Single-mindedly desiring to see the Buddha” may be read as follows: single-mindedly observing the Buddha, concentrating one’s mind on seeing the Buddha, and when looking at one’s own mind, perceiving that it is the Buddha. Having attained the fruit of Buddhahood, the eternally inherent three bodies, I may surpass even T’ien-t’ai and Dengyō, and excel even Nāgārjuna and Mahākāshyapa. The Buddha wrote that one should become the master of one’s mind rather than let one’s mind master oneself.4 This is what I mean when I emphatically urge you to give up even your body, and never begrudge even your life for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.


This letter was written at Ichinosawa on Sado Island in the fifth month, 1273, to Gijō-bō, who had been the Daishonin’s senior at Seichō-ji templein Awa Province. Nearly a month earlier, Nichiren Daishonin had written The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind, in which he had explained both the object of devotion in terms of the Law and the correct practice for attaining enlightenment in the Latter Day. This letter briefly restates the profound contents of The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind.

Nichiren Daishonin says that, of all the chapters of the Lotus Sutra, the “Life Span” chapter is particularly important to him. He quotes a passage, “ . . . single-mindedly desiring to see the Buddha . . . ,” and notes, “As a result of this passage, I have revealed the Buddhahood in my own life.” He declares that in his capacity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law he has realized and embodied Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws, which is implied in the depths of the “Life Span” chapter.

This is one of the earliest references in his writings to the Three Great Secret Laws: the invocation (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), the object of devotion (the Gohonzon), and the place of worship (the sanctuary).



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THERE are six kinds of flavors. The first is subtle, the second, salty, the third, pungent, the fourth, sour, the fifth, sweet, and the sixth, bitter. Even if one were to prepare a feast of a hundred flavors, if the single flavor of salt were missing, it would be no feast for a great king. Without salt, even the delicacies of land and sea are tasteless.

The ocean has eight mysterious qualities. First, it gradually becomes deeper. Second, being deep, its bottom is hard to fathom. Third, its salty taste is the same everywhere. Fourth, its ebb and flow follows certain rules. Fifth, it contains various treasure storehouses. Sixth, creatures of great size exist and dwell in it. Seventh, it refuses to house corpses. Eighth, it takes in all rivers and heavy rainfall without either increasing or decreasing.

[The Nirvana Sutra] compares “it gradually becomes deeper” to the Lotus Sutra leading everyone, from ordinary people who lack understanding to sages who possess it, to attain the Buddha way. The reason [the sutra uses the metaphor] “being deep, its bottom is hard to fathom” is that the realm of the Lotus Sutra can only be understood and shared between Buddhas, while those at the stage of near-perfect enlightenment or below are unable to master it. “Its salty taste is the same everywhere” compares all rivers, which contain no salt, to all sutras other than the Lotus, which offer no way to attain enlightenment. [TheNirvana Sutra] compares the water of all the rivers flowing into the sea and becoming salty to the people of different capacities instructed through the various provisional teachings who attain the Buddha way when they take faith in the Lotus Sutra. It compares “its ebb and flow follows certain rules” to upholders of the Mystic Law who even though they were to lose their lives would attain the stage of non-regression. It compares “it contains various treasure storehouses” to the countless practices and good deeds of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the blessings of the various pāramitās being contained in the Mystic Law. The reason for “creatures of great size exist and dwell in it” is that, because the Buddhas and bodhisattvas possess great wisdom, they are called “creatures of great size,” and that their great bodies, great aspiring minds, great distinguishing features, great evil-conquering force, great preaching, great authority, great transcendental powers, great compassion, and great pity all arise naturally from the Lotus Sutra. The reason for “it refuses to house corpses” is that with the Lotus Sutra one can free oneself for all eternity from slander and incorrigible disbelief. The reason for “without either increasing or decreasing” is that the heart of the Lotus Sutra is the universality of the Buddha nature in all living beings.

The brine in a tub or jar of pickled vines ebbs and flows in accordance with the brine of the sea.1 One who upholds the Lotus Sutra and is subjected to imprisonment is like the salt in a tub or jar, while the Thus Come One Shakyamuni who freed himself from the burning house2 is like the salt of the sea. To condemn one who upholds the Lotus is to condemn the Thus Come One Shakyamuni. How astonished BrahmāShakra, and the four heavenly kings must be! If not now, when will the ten demon daughters’ vow to split the head of one who persecutes a follower of the Lotus into seven pieces3 be carried out?


The date and recipient of this letter are unknown, as are the reasons for its writing. The statements “One who upholds the Lotus Sutra and is subjected to imprisonment” and “To condemn one who upholds the Lotus” indicate that Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at a time when he or his disciples were undergoing persecution. Several views exist concerning the year of its writing. One is that it was written in 1261 when the Daishonin was in exile in Izu; another, in 1271 when he was in exile on Sado Island; and a third, in 1279, during the worst period of the Atsuhara Persecution. Of these, 1261 seems most likely.

In this letter, the Daishonin says that there are six kinds of flavors, of which salt is the most important. Without salt, any food will be bland. In employing this simile, the Daishonin is indicating that none of the sutras assume their true significance unless they are based on the truth revealed in the Lotus Sutra. Then he cites the eight mystic qualities of the ocean enumerated in the Nirvana Sutra. But while the Nirvana Sutra actually applies these qualities to itself, the Daishonin asserts that it is using them to praise the superiority of the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren then goes on to use the above passages to explain how the Lotus Sutra leads all people to Budhahood, and is thus superior to all other Sutras. He compares the Lotus Sutra and the Niravana Sutra drawing a simile with the ocean. He states

  • Gradually becomes deeper:

He states that like the ocean, the Lotus Sutra  “gradually becomes deeper” as compared to the older Sutras leading everyone to enlightenment regardless of their capacity for understanding.

  • Being deep, its bottom is hard to fathom

The realm of the Lotus Sutra can only be understood and shared between Buddhas, while those at the stage of near-perfect enlightenment or below are unable to master it. This explains one of the essential aspects of the Lotus Sutra in that it cannot be fully understood by our wakeful consciousness. That is to say, that to believe the Lotus Sutra is not so much an act of studying, consciously assimilating, and benefiting from practices – but one of faith.

  • Its salty taste is the same everywhere

Here, Nichiren compares all rivers, which contain no salt, to all sutras other than the Lotus, which offer no way to attain enlightenment. However, the Nirvana Sutra only refers to the salty taste of the ocean as being uniform – All beings possess the Buddha Nature and ride in one vehicle. That is to say, that there is one Emancipation. It doesn’t come in different flavours. The Nirvana Sutra is not saying that all other teachings are worthless – just that there is only one state of Buddhahood. This vexes me. Also, it is the function of the rivers to carry minerals, including salt, into the oceans. So, without them, there could be no ocean.

  • Its ebb and flow follows certain rules

It compares “its ebb and flow follows certain rules” to upholders of the Mystic Law who even though they were to lose their lives would attain the stage of non-regression. Just as the ocean follows its set pattern and does not come to any person, Buddhahood  too is eternal and unchanging – it does not come to those who do not carry out the practices.

  • It contains various treasure storehouses

 Nichiren cites countless practices and good deeds of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and the blessings of the various paramitas being contained in the Mystic Law. Again, the Nirvana Sutra contains a somewhat more verbose list of benefits including the Eightfold Path.

  • Creatures of great size exist and dwell in it

Just as the ocean holds creatures of great size that  dwell in it, the Lotus Sutra too goves rise to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas possess great wisdom, and all great acts of Buddha nature manifest naturally from the Lotus Sutra.

  • It refuses to house corpses

Again, just as the ocean refuses to house corpses, with the Lotus Sutra one can free oneself for all eternity from slander and incorrigible disbelief. The Daishonin implies the Lotus Sutra doesn’t simply remain pure of dead bodies, but also offers one the facility to free oneself from the practices that would otherwise prevent emancipation.

  • Without either increasing or decreasing

The ocean takes within itself all the rivers and rain without changing itself. Similarly, the heart of the Lotus Sutra is the universality of the Buddha nature in all living beings. Buddhahood is boundless. It is this essentially empty nature of Buddhahood that makes it infinite in its reach – thus Universal in nature, encompassing within itself all of the universe without being affected by it.

In the final section, the Daishonin compares the salt in a jar or tub of pickled vines to a follower of the Lotus Sutra, and the salt of the ocean, to Shakyamuni Buddha. The brine in a jar or tub ebbs and flows exactly as the ocean does, and by analogy, to imprison a votary of the Lotus Sutra is to imprison Shakyamuni Buddha.



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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.



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Objection: Water does not come from fire, and grass does not grow from a stone. Evil causes produce evil effects, good causes call forth good responses—such is the fixed principle in the Buddhist teaching. If we inquire into our beginnings, we find that the seminal fluid and blood of the father and mother, the two fluids, one white, one red, come together to produce a single being. And this is the root of evil, the source of impurity. Though the great ocean itself should wash over us, it could not wash away this impurity.

And if we inquire into the root of the suffering that is inflicted upon our persons, we find that it derives from the three poisons of greed, anger, and foolishness. Through the two paths of earthly desires and suffering, karma is created. And this path of karma is none other than what binds us to the realm of birth and death. We are like birds shut up in a cage. How can these three paths of earthly desires, karma, and suffering be called three causes leading to Buddhahood? You may gather together turds and try to make sandalwood of them, but they will never have the aroma of sandalwood!

Answer: Your objection is quite reasonable. And rather than try to address it, I would like simply to quote the words of Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna, the thirteenth of the Buddha’s successors and founder of the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai’s line, who in explaining the word myō, or “wonderful,” in the term myōhō says it is “like a great physician who can change poison into medicine.”8

What is the poison? It is the three paths of earthly desires, karma, and suffering that are our lot. What is the medicine? It is the Dharma body, wisdom, and emancipation. And what does it mean to change poison into medicine? It means to transform the three paths into the three virtues: the Dharma body, wisdom, and emancipation. T’ien-t’ai says, “The character myō is defined as being beyond ordinary comprehension.”9 And he also says, “Life at each moment . . . This is what we mean when we speak of the ‘region of the unfathomable.’”10

This is what the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form means. In recent times the Flower Garland and True Word schools, having stolen this doctrine, treat it as their own. They are outrageous thieves, the most outrageous in the world!


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter on the twenty-eighth day of the second month in 1278 to thank Toki Jōnin for his offering of seven strings of coins. The Daishonin confirms that the coins are to be used for memorial services commemorating the anniversary of the passing of Toki’s mother.

The “region of the unfathomable” means that the principle of changing poison into medicine is truly wonderful, mystic and unfathomable. The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, attributed to Nagarjuna, compares the Lotus Sutra to “a great physician who changes poison into medicine”. This is because the Lotus Sutra opens the possibility of enlightenment to people whose arrogance and complacency had caused them to “scorch the seeds of Buddhahood.” In earlier sutras such people had been condemned as being incapable of becoming Buddhas. An important implication of this principle, thus, is that there is no one who is beyond redemption. Nagarjuna expressed “myo” in Myoho-renge-kyo as changing poison into medicine. This metaphor signifies that the Mystic Law is endowed with the power to transform “poison” into extreme opposite, “medicine”.

The word “poison” here refers to the three evil paths of:

  • Earthly desires: Delusions in out life that come out of our greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance.
  • Karma: Means the negative effects manifested in our life because of the thoughts, and deeds driven by earthly desires
  • Suffering: A form of retribution we experience because of our earthly desires and karma.

Thus the three parts represent the vicious cycle of earthly desires, karma, and suffering that will spin us deeper into evil darkness and misery.

“Medicine”, on the other hand, refers to the three virtues of:

  • Dharma body: It implies the eternal life or embodying the eternal truth
  • Wisdom:  It is the wisdom of the Buddha’s enlightenment that enables us to perceive ourselves holistically and helps us walk the correct path
  • Emancipation: It is the state of Buddhahood, a boundless state of life in which we are utterly free from all shackles of ego, attachment and other restrictions.

Changing poison into medicine the transformation of a common mortal’s life which is controlled by the cycle of the three paths of earthly desire, karma and suffering into an indestructible state of happiness imbued with the three virtues of the Dharma body, wisdom and emancipation through the power of the mystic law. The process of changing poison into medicine begins when we approach difficult experiences as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and to strengthen and develop our courage and compassion. The more we are able to do this, the more we are able to grow in vitality and wisdom and realize a truly expansive state of life.

Suffering can thus serve as a springboard for a deeper experience of happiness. From the perspective of Buddhism, inherent in all negative experiences is this profound positive potential. However, if we are defeated by suffering or respond to challenging circumstances in negative and destructive ways, the original “poison” is not transformed but remains poison.

Buddhism teaches that suffering derives from karma, the causes that we ourselves have created. The Buddhist teaching of karma is one of personal responsibility. It is therefore our responsibility to transform sufferings into value-creating experiences. The Buddhist view of karma is not fixed or fatalistic—even the most deeply entrenched karmic patterns can be transformed.

By taking a difficult situation—illness, unemployment, bereavement, betrayal—and using it as an opportunity to deepen our sense of personal responsibility, we can gain and develop the kind of self-knowledge from which benefit flows. Buddhism teaches that self-knowledge ultimately is awareness of our own infinite potential, our capacity for inner strength, wisdom and compassion. This infinite potential is referred to as our “Buddha nature.”

The original meaning of the phrase “to turn poison into medicine” relates to this level of self-knowledge.

In the “Belief and Understanding” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Subhuti and others of the Buddha’s long-time disciples respond to the prophecy that another disciple, Shariputra, will attain the ultimate enlightenment. The disciples admit that they had long ago given up on becoming Buddhas themselves, but that on hearing the teaching of the Lotus Sutra they renounced their earlier stance of resignation and spiritual laziness: “[T]heir minds were moved as seldom before and danced for joy.” Nagarjuna and T’ien-t’ai (538–597) therefore compare the Buddha to a good doctor capable of turning poison (the laziness and resignation of the aged disciples) into medicine (a sincere aspiration for the ultimate enlightenment of Buddhahood).

This teaching of the possibility of profound transformation makes Buddhism a deeply optimistic philosophy. This optimism propels Buddhists as they seek to transform the negative and destructive tendencies within their lives as well as those in society and the world at large.

The Daishonin demonstrated with his life the meaning of “changing poison into medicine” by actually confronting the three obstacles and four devils and overcome several attacks by the three powerful enemies, in particular by tenji-ma, or the devil of the sixth heaven.

Nichiren Daishonin established the true object of devotion, the Gohonzon, based on the proof he demonstrated of the of the validity  of the principle of “actual ichinen sanzen“. The Gohonzon is the manifestation of the principle of actual ichinen sanzen which he himself proved with  his life.

To have faith in the Gohonzon means to believe in the power of myoho, the Mystic Law, to “transform the three evil paths into the three virtues”. No matter how severe the cycle of earthly desire, karma and suffering may be, we must bring forth string, unwavering faith in the power of myoho, or the Mystic Law. In order to enable us to overcome the vicious cycle, the Daishonin established the object of devotion.




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The doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life revealed in the fifth volume of Great Concentration and Insight is especially profound. If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching. One passage from the same volume reads: “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere . . . One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching.” This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations.

The three obstacles in this passage are the obstacle of earthly desires, the obstacle of karma, and the obstacle of retribution. The obstacle of earthly desires is the impediments to one’s practice that arise from greed, anger, foolishness, and the like; the obstacle of karma is the hindrances presented by one’s wife or children; and the obstacle of retribution is the hindrances caused by one’s sovereign or parents. Of the four devils, the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven are of this last kind.



In this passage, Nichiren Daishonin emphasizes that those who practice and propagate the correct teaching of Buddhism will invariably encounter obstacles, and that the appearance of such obstacles serves to confirm the validity of their practice. This is a fundamental principle of Buddhism and a major point of this letter.

The “doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life” mentioned in the first sentence is the supreme philosophical achievement of the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai (533-97) of China. It is set forth in Great Concentration and Insight, a compilation of T’ien-t’ai’s profound lectures recorded by his immediate disciple, Chang-an. Based on the Lotus Sutra, the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life clarifies the ultimate oneness of absolute reality (Buddhahood) and the phenomenal world (environment).

A life-moment refers to the reality or true state of an individual’s life at any given moment; and 3,000 refers to the diversity of potential states or conditions it can assume at that moment. T’ien-t’ai explained that a life-moment contains within it the Ten Worlds, their mutual possession (making 100 worlds), the ten factors (making 1,000 factors) and the three realms (making 3,000 realms). With this theory, T’ien-t’ai demonstrated that all phenomena-body and mind, self and environment, sentient and insentient, cause and effect-are integrated in the life-moment of the common mortal. One’s life at each moment actually contains the whole of reality and pervades the entire universe. However, T’ien-t’ai’s three thousand realms in a single moment of life refers in theory to the life of Buddhahood latent within all people. Therefore it is called the theoretical three thousand realms. In contrast, three thousand realms in a single moment of life, as set forth in the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, refers to the means to manifest Buddhahood as a reality within the lives of all people.It is therefore called the actual three thousand realms.

Nichiren refers to three thousand realms in a single moment of life revealed in the fifth volume of Great Concentration and Insight because he wishes to stress the principle of the three obstacles and four devils set forth in that same volume. However, in terms of our own practice, we should understand it as referring to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws, and not to the theoretical three thousand realms in a single moment of life of T’ien-t’ai.

“The doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life” is the teaching that enables ordinary, unenlightened people to become Buddhas. Therefore it is only natural that great obstacles attend its practice and propagation.

Overcoming the three obstacles and four devils through practicing and propagating the Law is the means to end the suffering that originates in our fundamental darkness. President Ikeda explains that “lessening karmic retribution means putting an end in this lifetime to the cycle of misery and misfortune that has continued in our lives from the distant past up to the present. Persecutions and obstacles present us with a golden opportunity to attain enlightenment. They are a springboard for greatly expanding our state of life. That transform the source of our suffering and bring forth the power to overcome it. When this transformation of our fundamental darkness takes place in the context of propagating the Law, our Buddha nature is strengthened to the utmost and we are assured of victory.

By overcoming unbelievable persecution and hardship, Nichiren proved to all of us that an ordinary person can attain Buddhahood through dedicated practice and propagation. He states “Here, a single individual has been used as an example, but the same thing applies equally to all living beings” (“The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas,” WND-2, 844). By using Nichiren as a model, however, does not mean we must experience the same persecution and hardship that he did.


December 2005, Living Buddhism



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The three realms of existence are as follows: (1) The realm of the five components. (Great Concentration and Insight says: “Since the five components and the eighteen elements of perception differ in each of the Ten Worlds, we speak of the realm of the five components.”)

(2) The realm of living beings. (Great Concentration and Insight says: “How can the living beings in each of the Ten Worlds fail to show differences? Hence we speak of the realm of living beings.”)

(3) The realm of the environment. (Great Concentration and Insightsays: “The surroundings in which the living beings of the Ten Worldsexist are referred to as the realm of the environment.”)

In the new translations of the sutras the five components are called the five aggregates. The word on of go’on, or p.74five components, means collection or accumulation.

The first of the five components is form. This refers to the five types of form or color.2

The second of the five components is perception. This refers to the taking in [of one’s surroundings].

The third component is conception. Dharma Analysis Treasury says: “Conception is the function that forms mental images.”

The fourth component is volition. Volition is what creates or motivates action.

The fifth component is consciousness. Consciousness is what carries out the process of discernment or discrimination.

Volume five of Great Concentration and Insight, quoting a doctrinal commentary, states: “Consciousness first carries out the process of discernment or discrimination. Then perception takes in a thing, conception forms an image of the thing, volition decides whether to go along with or reject the thing, and form responds to the decision of volition.”

Nichiren Daishonin wrote On the Principle of Three Thousand Realms in a Single Moment of Life in 1258. There is no known recipient or addressee; rather, it appears to be notes recorded in preparation for subsequent works.

the Daishonin explains the ten factorsof life and the three realms of existence, the two components of that principle, and how they relate to the Ten Worlds. Because of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, these constituents form the hundred worlds, the thousand factors, and the three thousand realms. All of them exist in a single moment of life. He explains that the three realms of existence are:

  • The realm of self (the five components),
  • the realm of living beings, and
  • the realm of the environment.

This concept originally appeared in The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, and T’ient’ai (538-597) adopted it as a component of his doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. The concept of three realms of existence views life from three different standpoints and explains the existence of individual lives in the real world. The five components, a living being as their temporary combination, and that being’s environment all manifest the same one of the Ten Worlds at any given point in time.

  • The realm of self (the five components):

Buddhism traditionally defines living beings as made up of five components, a theory which explains how each person’s idea of reality is formed and therefore how it is that each person’s response to this reality is unique. The five components of life explain individual uniqueness and they are:

  • Form

This is our physical self – our body and the five sensory organs through which we perceive the outer world (sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. The mind is added as the sixth organ as it integrates the five senses).

  • Perception

The function of organising and co-ordinating the information received from the outer world through our six sensory organs. For example if you pick up an orange, it is perception that enables you to distinguish it from an orange ball and if say the front door-bell rings while you are peeling this orange, perception enables you to realise that the ‘peels’ of the bell are coming from the front door and not the orange! No two people’s perceptions are the same. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “People of hunger regard the Ganges river as fire, people of tranquillity regard it as water and people of Rapture regard it as nectar. Water is water, but it changes according to the karmic capacity of each individual.”(WND1p486)

  • Conception

The function by which we form an idea or concept about what has been perceived. This includes value judgements – what we each perceive to be right or wrong – good or bad. With regards to the example of the orange, above, with conception you want to eat the orange, knowing it is thirst quenching and has vitamin C which is good for us!

  • Volition

The will to act based on the conception or judgement we have made upon what we have perceived. So, therefore, with volition you can then eat that orange! The fact is that no action we take in life can be separated from the belief we hold at the time. As President Makiguchi once said, “the entirety of daily life is a process of putting beliefs into action… therefore the question in life is what to have faith in.”

  • Consciousness

Functions to support and integrate the other four components as well as the discerning function of life through which one can make value judgements. It is the mind as a whole including the vast realm of the unconscious. Consciousness gives rise to and integrates the other spiritual functions of perception, conception, and volition. Buddhism teaches that our deepest consciousness is identical to the life of the cosmos, itself. In order for a human life to exist, there must be a “temporary harmonising of the five components”, or in other words, “a single human life is viewed as a merging and harmonising of the physical and spiritual potentials of life.”7 Form is very much the physical aspect of life, whereas the other four comprise of the spiritual aspect. Buddhism holds that the physical and spiritual aspects of life are inseparable, so there is no form without perception, conception, volition and consciousness and there is no consciousness without form, perception, conception and volition. These five components must be understood as a whole and grasped in terms of their interaction. Every person on earth differs from others by their unique expression of the five components. How the five components are expressed also depends on the life state we are in. This determines how we perceive reality and therefore how we respond at any given moment. As we separate out all these functions, manifestions and realms it is hard to believe this is all happening at once – in a life instant! The interactions of life become our experience which influences our causes at each moment. And our cause at this moment becomes our experience. The five components differ from one individual to another. For instance, suppose John loves dogs, but his friend George dislikes them because he was bitten by one when he was younger. When John and George walk up the street and see a dog in front of them, John immediately feels compassion and wants to pat the dog, whereas George is scared and wants to run away. It is the same dog, but their perception of the dog is different because of their past experiences. In a low life condition, the five components of the Self tend to prolong suffering and obscure the Buddha nature. When our life condition is manifesting Buddhahood these work to enable us to accumulate good fortune based on wisdom and compassion. This is the purpose of our chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to polish these five components so that we live brilliant lives. Where, then, does the individual perform their actions, derived from the five components? In the realms of Living Beings and the realm of the Environment.

  • The realm of living beings:

This realm includes all living beings with whom any given individual interacts: people, animals, birds, insects etc. Living beings cannot live in complete isolation from each other. As there is a perpetual interrelation and mutual dependence with other living beings, all expressions arise from this relationship. This is the importance of practising Buddhism in the society in which one lives and why dialogue is central to the practice of Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism, as President Ikeda often stresses, is not escapist. It is practised among the people in the realities of the society in which we live. This is why the practical application of Buddhism to the struggles in our daily lives is emphasised, rather than a focus on formality or theoretical understanding. It is a practice that allows us to thrive on challenge and experience the benefit of struggling in society. In this way, our own transformation is a cause for the transformation of humanity. It is the realm of the society where we are able to reveal our potential by challenging to encompass more and more individuals in our lives through dialogue. This is a most practical way to build happiness as we transform our relationships directly through concern for the happiness of others. The significance of this contemporary expression of Buddhism is that each person can transform their suffering whilst working simultaneously for the happiness of others without competition or sacrifice. Every action based on this mission will reveal profound benefit for those who engage in this dynamic way of living. By grappling with the realities of life where we are, in the midst of society, we reveal the potential of Buddhahood to give hope to others. Whereas with an escapist attitude we ignore the suffering existing in contemporary society. When we limit ourselves to seeking comfort we do not give ourselves the opportunity to courageously face our inner weaknesses. However, engaging in dialogue with an open heart continuously opens up the possibility for transforming ourselves and is the surest means to work towards a more harmonious society.

  • The realm of the environment:

All living beings function in some sort of environment that supports their existence and where they carry out their activities. The environment includes insentient life forms such as plants and trees, mountains, rivers and so on. Life and its environment are closely related – in fact, Buddhism expounds the concept of the oneness of life and its environment. Whichever of the 10 worlds a living being manifests will be reflected in the environment of that living being. A person in the state of hell can be in a comfortable environment and seemingly good circumstances from an objective viewpoint. However, if they are suffering, the environment is in actuality reflecting their state of hell. For example, we could be in a beautiful park, sharing valuable time with our family and a massive argument breaks out. Instead of a peaceful time it turns into one of stress and suffering. The purpose of practising Buddhism is that, rather than being affected by our environment, we determine to transform it. So rather than being angry ourselves and escalating the situation, we may empathise and see that despite being in a beautiful park, our partner may have something on their mind; our children are not being naughty, rather playful. From our reflection it may be possible to engage in a dialogue or determine to put more energy into ensuring everyone can have a valuable and enjoyable time. Alternatively, we could give up and a golden memory in the park is clouded by descending into the state of hell. The cause for a positive transformation arises from a deeper consciousness than the conscious mind. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo activates this deeper consciousness.

When we focus on the environment as affecting us we see a war torn area as reflecting the life state of Hell as its people are thrown into immense suffering and agony. An amusement park like Disneyland reflects the state of Rapture as people enjoy the thrills of the rides. Again, dependent on different states of life, Disneyland may conjure up hell (for parents worried about the cost or for someone who has a fear of heights!) and war may draw out qualities of compassion and courage in individuals beyond what they thought possible. Once again, the purpose of studying the concept of ichinen sanzen is to give us confidence that the potential always exists to transform our environment. As Nichiren Daishonin points out in On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime,

…if the minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.

This is why our own inner transformation is important. When we transform, we see the change reflected in our environment and our relationships, too. The Daishonin says, “It is the heart that is important” . When we open our heart to belief, we tap into the limitless creative potential of our self, humanity and the environment to transform towards a positive direction. Even as we address each issue that threatens humanity, for example environmental destruction, another new challenge will always arise unless we get to the root of suffering. This is due to the failure of our race to address the fundamental crisis that effects all humanity. That is, the crisis of the spirit or the heart. From this perspective, the evolution of humanity’s spirituality is the prime point for the future of humanity and its environment.

From the above examples we can see that the Three Realms are interrelated to the 10 Worlds and 10 Factors. We can see that our current life state (e.g. anger) will colour our perception of self, our society and our environment. This is manifested through our behaviour towards others. When we change our life state positively by chanting for the happiness of others this is reflected in our environment, although anger may remain our motivation or driver. Each individual is so closely related to their society and environment. This interdependence ultimately influences the world at large.

As we believe so do we act. The potential effects of our actions accumulate in the depths of our lives to find expression in daily life, when the time and conditions are right. If we think of the objective world as a screen on which the effects of our actions are reflected like a shadow cast by a body, it means we can determine how the world around us is. Blaming our surroundings for our misery is like the body blaming the shadow for its shape! The revealing of Buddhahood in our lives transforms our immediate environment for the better and as more and more people reveal their Buddha natures, the possibility of world peace, including a sustainable environment, becomes a reality.

Source: Indigo, May 2007, SGI Australia



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We ourselves are none other than Thus Come Ones of original enlightenment, who possess the three bodies within a single body. This is made clear in the passage in the Lotus Sutra that speaks of the ten factors of “appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect, manifest effect, and their consistency from beginning to end.”1

First, with regard to appearance, this refers to the appearance manifested by the form and shape of our bodies. This corresponds to the manifested body of the Thus Come One. It also corresponds to emancipation and to the truth of temporary existence.

Next, with regard to nature, this refers to the nature of our minds. This corresponds to the reward body of the Thus Come One. It also corresponds to wisdom and to the truth of non-substantiality.

The third factor is entity, which is the entities of these lives of ours. It corresponds to the Dharma body of the Thus Come One. It also corresponds to the truth of the Middle Way, to the essential nature of phenomena, and to tranquil extinction.

These three factors constitute the Thus Come One of the three bodies. That these three factors represent the Thus Come One of thethree bodies may seem to be an extraneous matter, but in fact it concerns these very lives of our own. One who understands this may be said tohave grasped the meaning of the Lotus Sutra.

These three factors constitute the beginning, or basis, from which emerge the other seven factors, thus forming the ten factors. These tenfactors are the basis of the hundred worlds, the thousand factors, and the three thousand realms. In this way a great number of doctrines are enunciated, which are known collectively as the eighty thousand teachings. But all of these come down to one single doctrine, that of thethree truths. Outside of the doctrine of the three truths, there is no other doctrine.

The hundred worlds represent the truth of temporary existence, the thousand factors represent the truth of non-substantiality, and the three thousand realms represent the truth of the Middle Way. Non-substantiality, temporary existence, the Middle Way—these are the three truths. And although they are elaborated in numerous doctrines such as those pertaining to the hundred worlds, the thousand factors, or the three thousand realms, these are all simply the one doctrine of the three truths.

Thus the three truths expressed in the first three of the ten factorsand the three truths expressed in the remaining seven factors are simply this one doctrine of the three truths. The first three factors and the remaining seven factors are the principle contained within our own lives and are simply one thing, wonderful beyond comprehension. Hence it is stated in the sutra that they are marked by complete consistency from beginning to end. This is what is meant by the words “consistency from beginning to end.”

The first three factors are the “beginning,” and the remaining seven factors are the “end.” These make up the ten factors, which constitute the three truths contained within our own lives.



This one of several works related to the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life that Nichiren Daishonin wrote in 1258.

The ten factors are introduced in the Lotus Sutra to define the fundamental reality of life. This reality consists of

  • appearance,
  • nature,
  • entity,
  • power,
  • influence,
  • internal cause,
  • relation,
  • latent effect,
  • manifest effect and
  • their consistency from beginning to end.

The Daishonin begins with the conclusive statement that the lives of all people are one and identical with the Buddha, or Thus Come One, of original enlightenment. To make his point, he cites the ten factors of life from the “Expedient Means” (2nd) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, and defines the first three of the ten factors in terms of their correspondence with the three bodies of the Buddha and with the three truths. Thus we have,

  • the factor of appearance, the manifested body, the truth of temporary existence;
  • the factor of nature, the reward body, the truth of non-substantiality; and
  • the factor of entity, the Dharma body, the truth of the Middle Way.

One who realizes that this applies to oneself, he states, is a Buddha and one who does not, is an ordinary person.

The remaining seven factors he states are the “end”. Of these seven factors, six factors explain the functions and workings of life, specifically with regard to the principle of causality.

  • Power is life’s potential strength or energy to achieve something, and
  • influence is the movement or action produced when this latent power is activated.
  • Internal cause consists of the possibilities inherent in our life and the inner karmic tendencies or orientations we have created by our past thoughts, actions and deeds.
  • Relation is the external cause which helps “stir up” and activate the internal cause.
  • Latent effect is the result produced simultaneously in the depths of our life by this interaction, and
  • manifest effect is the visible external result which eventually appears.

The last factor, Consistency from beginning to end means that all these nine factors are perfectly consistent in expressing our life state (i.e., the manifestation of the same world of the Ten Worlds) at any given moment.

SGI President Ikeda on the Ten Factors of Life says:

Let me try to explain the ten factors of life through an example. Your own existence is a phenomenon. Your features, posture and so on comprise the “appearance” of the phenomenon of your life. Again, while invisible to the eye, such traits as shortness of temper, magnanimity, kindness or reticence, or the various other aspects of your personality and temperament, make up your “nature.” Your physical and spiritual totality—that is, your “appearance” and “nature” together—make up your “entity,” the person you are. Also, your life has various energies (power), and these produce various external functions (influence). Your life thus becomes a cause (internal cause) and, activated by conditions internal and external (relation), changes arise in your life (latent effect), and these eventually appear externally (manifest effect). Moreover, these nine factors interweave your life and your environment without any inconsistency or omission (consistency from beginning to end). This is the true aspect of the ten factors of your life. Each of us lives within the framework of the ten factors. No one can say that he or she has no “appearance.” Such a person would be invisible. Similarly, no one can truly claim not to have a personality, not to have any energy or not to carry out any activity. Nor could there be a situation where the appearance is one person, the nature someone else and the entity another person still. There is consistency among all factors, and together they make up the irreplaceable totality of your being. People in each of the Ten Worlds are endowed with the ten factors according to their state of life. For example, people in the world of hell have the dark and depressed appearance of those overwhelmed by suffering. Since their nature is filled with suffering and anger, their power and influence tend to also mire those around them in darkness. Those in the world of heaven are typically bright and smiling in their appearance. In their nature, since they feel uplifted—as though “ascending into the heavens,” as it were—anything they see makes them happy. Their power and influence tend to make those around them too feel buoyant and cheerful. Similarly, each of the Ten Worlds has its own factors of appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect and manifest effect, and there is consistency from beginning to end. This is the true nature of all phenomena. Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda explained this as follows: “Suppose there is a thief in front of us. He is a thief from appearance to manifest effect. That’s consistency from beginning to end in a thief ’s life. There is no discontinuity.” Rather than simply looking at surface appearances, understanding the true aspect of all phenomena means to grasp the vastness and profundity of life in its entirety. The ten factors of life are not limited only to human beings. Flowers blooming on the roadside, for example, have the appearance, nature and entity of beauty. They also possess power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect and manifest effect, without any omission. And in their totality, all of these factors are coherently integrated with the life of the flower. The same is also true of inorganic things. A pebble, the sky, the moon, stars, the sun, the sea with its salty scent, rugged mountains, skyscrapers overlooking noisy streets, houses and  cars and every piece of furniture or utensil—the ten factors of life describe the existence of all things. This is the wisdom of the true aspect of all phenomena that the Buddha has attained. In other words, when observing any phenomenon, the Buddha understands its true aspect. When looking at people, the Buddha understands their state of life and sees their Buddha nature within. When looking at something in nature, the Buddha can sense its noble brilliance. And, considering social phenomena, the Buddha can deftly discern their underlying significance. It might be said that the wisdom of the true aspect of all phenomena is the ability to discern the true nature of all things.