When we revere Myoho-renge–kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion, the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho–renge–kyo. This is what is meant by “Buddha.” To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our Buddha nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge. The Buddha nature of Brahma and Shakra, being called, will protect us, and the Buddha nature of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, being summoned, will rejoice. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, “If one can uphold it [the Mystic Law] even for a short while I will surely rejoice and so will the other Buddhas.”
This letter is generally thought to have been written in the third year of Kenji (1277), though differing opinions assign it to as early as 1271 or even as late as 1282. Its recipient was a woman called the lay nun Myōhō who lived at Okamiya in Suruga Province. Little is known about her, other than that she was widowed in 1278 and also lost an elder brother. She appears to have maintained steadfast faith throughout her life. She is the same lay nun who received The One Essential Phrase from Nichiren Daishonin in 1278.
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “When we revere Myohorenge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion [Gohonzon], the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is what is meant by ‘Buddha’” (WND-1, 887). He then proceeds to explain the process by which this great life state of Buddhahood manifests, employing the very accessible metaphor of a bird in a cage: “When a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out” (WND-1, 887). The “bird in the cage” represents the Buddha nature of us ordinary people. The cage represents a state of being shackled by fundamental darkness or ignorance, various deluded impulses or earthly desires, and all kinds of suffering. The “caged bird sings” refers to ordinary people rousing faith in the Mystic Law and chanting Nam-myohorenge-kyo. The “birds who are flying in the sky,” meanwhile, represent the Buddha nature of all living beings. We call forth our Buddha nature—that is, the Myoho-renge-kyo within us—by chanting with our own voices. At the same time, however, the sound of our chanting in fact also calls forth the Buddha nature of diverse living beings. This is because—as we saw in the earlier passage—Myoho-renge-kyo is also the name of the Buddha nature of all Buddhas, bodhi sattvas and other living beings in the Ten Worlds. Once we chant the Mystic Law, therefore, its power is such that it can call forth the Buddha nature of all of them. In other words, our voice chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the powerful sound that awakens and summons forth the Buddha nature of all living beings throughout the universe.
The Daishonin describes the great benefits of chanting Nam-myoho- renge-kyo, the single sound with which we can summon forth the Buddha nature of all living beings. He begins by speaking of revering “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion”. The Daishonin revealed the Mystic Law inherent in his own life and manifested it in the concrete form of the Gohonzon, the object of devotion or fundamental respect. Only when our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is based on faith in the Gohonzon does it become a practice for attaining Buddhahood. We revere the Gohonzon bestowed on humanity by Nichiren, taking it as a mirror and guide for our life, and believe that we possess and can manifest within us the same supremely noble state of life as the Daishonin. By doing so, we are revering “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion”. The Daishonin—embodying the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent— strove with boundless compassion in a dark and evil age to protect and teach people, and help them reveal their highest potential. The way for us to show true reverence and respect for the Gohonzon is to venerate the Daishonin as our fundamental mentor or teacher in faith, learn from his selfless dedication, and carry on his efforts for the happiness and welfare of all people. In other words, to revere the Gohonzon essentially means that, no matter how troubled the times, we strive to make our mentor’s spirit our own, take personal action for kosen-rufu, and become a source of hope, courage and peace of mind for others.
We are not truly revering “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion” if we seek the assistance of, or put our faith in, some supernatural being or Buddha outside of our own lives to attain salvation—for example, like one of the Buddhas taught in the provisional, pre-Lotus Sutra teachings,3 as is the case in the Nembutsu faith. In “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” Nichiren writes: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”. When the Daishonin embodied his own Buddhahood, “the soul of Nichiren”, in the form of the mandala that is the Gohonzon, his purpose was to enable each of us to reveal the Gohonzon that exists within us. The Gohonzon is the clear mirror that enables us to manifest the Gohonzon in our own life. Chanting with faith in the Gohonzon is the key to manifesting the Gohonzon within us and activating the “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life” (WND-1, 887). If we were to lose sight of this important point, our Buddhist practice runs the risk of lapsing into the subservient worship of some absolute being outside of us. My mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, often said: “You yourself are Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”; and “How can a Buddha be defeated by illness or economic hardship?”
Once we awaken to our enormous potential, we can face any adversity. The purpose of faith in Nichiren Buddhism is to develop such inner strength. Out of a spirit of profound compassion, Mr. Toda often gave strict guidance to members who lacked conviction in faith and displayed a resigned or defeatist attitude. When those same members later came back to share with him their experiences of overcoming difficulties and achieving victory in their lives, he would smile happily and rejoice together with them on their success. He constantly urged people to awaken to their greater self and to reveal their true potential. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is for each of us to bring forth the “Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life” and establish an inner state of everlasting and indestructible happiness.
Source: February 2012 Living Buddhism, pp. 25–28