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.