The San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple

3570 Mona Way

San Jose, CA 95130.

Phone (408) 246-0111

sanjosenichiren@yahoo.co.jp

 

Lotus in a Sea of Flames – the novelization of Nichiren’s life and teachings is now available. If you wish to purchase a copy please send a check for $31 (this includes shipping and handling) made out to the San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple to the above address. The book is a large sized trade paperback of 564 pages. It includes a glossary, sources, notes explaining sources of information for each chapter, and illustrations.

 

Schedule of Events

(all events start at 10 am unless stated otherwise):

 

July 3 – No Service

 

July 10 - Sunday Service

A Buddhist service is the basic daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the centerpiece of which is the recitation of Odaimoku and whose supporting practices include the recitation of passages from chapter 2 and 16 of the Lotus Sūtra. The daily service (that can also be done at home) can be found here.

 

July 17 - Obon Service – Service for Ancestors and Departed.

 

July 24 Shodaigyo meditation. This is a practice involving a period of silent sitting, a longer period of Odaimoku chanting to the rhythm of a taiko drum, and another short period of silent sitting. It is explained in more detail here

Following the service one can participate in either the study class or shabutsu practice. We are currently studying the Kanjin Honzon-shō. Specifically the chapter Life and Teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha.

Alternatively, Shabutsu Practice will also be offered. Shabutsu is the devotional and contemplative practice of drawing of Buddhist images. The temple will provide copying paper, pens, brushes, and sumi ink. No prior art experience is necessarily. One may also practice Shakyō, the copying of passages from the Lotus Sūtra.

 

July 31 – No Service

 

August 7 - Meditation

We begin with some stretching exercises and then do about 20 minutes of silent meditation (as per the tranquility and insight practices taught by T’ien-t’ai Chih-i) followed by some silent walking meditation. Instructions for this can be found here. After this we adjourn to the dining hall for a Buddhist temple style breakfast (rice porridge, takuan, miso soup).

 

August 14 - Sunday Service

A Buddhist service is the basic daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the centerpiece of which is the recitation of Odaimoku and whose supporting practices include the recitation of passages from chapter 2 and 16 of the Lotus Sūtra. The daily service (that can also be done at home) can be found here.

Following the service one can participate in either the study class or shabutsu practice.

Alternatively, Shabutsu Practice will also be offered. Shabutsu is the devotional and contemplative practice of drawing of Buddhist images. The temple will provide copying paper, pens, brushes, and sumi ink. No prior art experience is necessarily. One may also practice Shakyō, the copying of passages from the Lotus Sūtra.

 

August 21 Shodaigyo meditation. This is a practice involving a period of silent sitting, a longer period of Odaimoku chanting to the rhythm of a taiko drum, and another short period of silent sitting. It is explained in more detail here

Following the service one can participate in either the study class or shabutsu practice. We are currently studying the Kanjin Honzon-shō. Specifically the chapter Life and Teachings of Śākyamuni Buddha.

Alternatively, Shabutsu Practice will also be offered. Shabutsu is the devotional and contemplative practice of drawing of Buddhist images. The temple will provide copying paper, pens, brushes, and sumi ink. No prior art experience is necessarily. One may also practice Shakyō, the copying of passages from the Lotus Sūtra.

 

August 28 - No Service

 

September 4 - No Service

 

Recently I have been conducting a once a month study group in Oakland to cover everything from the Buddha’s basic teachings up to and including the Lotus Sutra. We recently discussed the Dhammapada and I had a chance to again read various translations. I actually have a list of these translations and the other books we have covered and hope to cover on Amazon. My Amazon list includes my overall feeling about each translation. That can be found here.

Anyway, here are some lines from the Dhammapada (adapted from the translation by John Ross Carter and Mahinda Palihawadana) that I find especially noteworthy:

Chapter I

1. Preceded by mind are phenomena,

For them is mind supreme,

From mind have they sprung.

If, with mind polluted, one speaks or acts,

Thence suffering follows

As a wheel the draught ox’s foot.

2. Preceded by mind are phenomena,

For them is mind supreme,

From mind have they sprung.

If, with tranquil mind, one speaks or acts,

Thence ease follows

As a shadow that never departs.

That was from the translation by Thomas Cleary. Cleary comments: “The Buddhists Mahaparinirvana-sutra, or Scripture of the Absolute Nirvana, says, “Be master of your mind, do not be mastered by mind.” That was something Nichiren Shōnin frequently cited. Here is Buddhism in a nutshell. It is not about just being ethical or philosophical, it is not about worshipping a buddha or bodhisattva, it is not about just making good causes. It is about recognizing that our experience of life is a mental construct and that the way our mind is set will determine whether we experience life as heavenly or hellish, as a war of all against all, or as a gratuitous, selfless, and interdependent wonder where compassion is the most rewarding and authentic response. Life is the way our mind makes it appear to us, and based on that we will either act intelligently, maturely, and wisely, or we will react thoughtlessly and in unwholesome and inappropriate ways. Buddhism is about cultivating the mind and all else will follow for good or ill.

19. If one, though reciting much of texts,

Is not a doer thereof, a heedless man;

He, like a cowherd counting others’ cows,

Is not a partaker in the religions quest.

20. If one, though reciting little of texts,

Lives a life in accord with Dharma,

Having discarded passion, ill will, and unawareness,

Knowing full well, the mind well freed,

He, not grasping here, neither hereafter,

Is a partaker of the religious quest.

How many Buddhists are out there who think it sufficient to merely study texts for information (or fodder for debate) or just recite them as if they were magical spells? Clearly this is not what the Buddha intended for his teachings. Certainly the reading and consideration of the Buddha’s discourses are important for guiding and informing our practice, and even the ceremonial or ritual recital of sutras can be an act of  calming and focusing the mind (as well as helping us keep the verses we recite in mind). But the important thing is to deeply understand and apply the discourses.

Chapter III

42. What a foe may do to a foe,

Or a hater to a hater -

Far worse than that

The mind ill held may do to him.

43. Not mother, father, nor even other kinsmen,

May do that [good to him -]

Far better than that

The mind well held may do to him.

These lines also point to the preeminence of mind and how self-awareness and self-control are much more important than depending on other people or on having some imagined optimal situation in terms of one’s external environment. You can be your own worst enemy and you can also be your own best friend. Do not neglect to take care of your own mind.

Chapter IV

58. Just as in a heap of rubbish

Cast away on a roadside,

A lotus there could bloom,

Of sweet fragrance, pleasing the mind,

59. So amid the wretched, blinded ordinary folk,

Among them who have turned to rubbish,

The disciple of the Fully Awakened One

Shines surpassingly with wisdom.

These verses of course catch my eye because it uses the image of the lotus as an analogy. Beyond that the lesson is one that I wish more people (including myself) would take to heart. Remember the humanity of those you are inclined to look down upon due to your own prejudices and biases. Remember that there is far more to people than you can ever hope to see. Also, the wisest people and best teachers may be those who offer what they have learned for free and not the wealthy jet-set celebrity gurus who charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to attend their retreats. There may be people in your neighborhood who are far wiser and far more authentic offering to share their practice with others for nothing or next to nothing and who feel no need to set themselves up as gurus or awakened masters, who in fact know better than to engage in that kind of foolishness.

Chapter VII

97. Who has no faith, the ungrateful one,

Then man who is a burglar,

Who had destroyed opportunities, ejected wish,

Truly he is a person supreme.

Most translations take this paradoxical verse and interpret it freely so that the paradox disappears. That annoys me, because this verse shows that play and paradox and the reversal of assumptions is not something confined to Zen but has been part of Buddhism from the beginning. Thankfully the Ross and Palihawadana translation presents it as it should appear. Here is what is meant – the person who knows for him or herself has no need of faith in a second or third-hand account. The word translated as “ungrateful” is a pun because it is also related to the word for “uncreated” – so the ungrateful person is really the one who recognizes the uncreated or empty nature of things (for which there would be no need to be grateful for some paltry created or conditioned impermanent gain). The word translated as “burglar” is also a pun because it can literally mean a “breaker of joints” and “joints” can refer to the links or fetters that tie a sentient being to the cycle of birth and death. Destroying opportunities refers to the destruction of the karmic activity that brings about the opportunities for rebirth in the realms of suffering. Ejecting wishes or hopes means that once awakened one has transcended such hopes and fears and is truly content.

Chapter VIII

102. And should one recite a hundred verses,

With words of no avail,

Better is one Dharma word,

Having heard which, one is pacified.

As a Nichiren Buddhist I can’t help think of the “one word” of Odaimoku (though really it is a title of seven Chinese characters) standing over and above all the other sutras that can be recited (including the Lotus Sutra itself). But again the important thing is this – are you really living that phrase and plumbing its deepest meaning in your life or just paying lip service, or even worse just using the phrase as a form of magical wishful thinking to avoid real introspection and application of the Dharma?

Chapter IX

127. That spot in the world is not found,

Neither in the sky nor in the ocean’s depths,

Nor having entered into a cleft in the mountains,

Where abiding, one would be released from the bad deed.

This sounds pretty fatalistic, but really I think the point is that you can’t escape responsibility for your actions no matter where you. Buddhism is not about escapism or spiritual bypassing. It is about being realistic and dealing with yourself and life as it is.  You can’t just find some savior figure who will do it for you or take away the repercussions of your actions. Though there are buddhas and bodhisattvas in Buddhism who offer help, and though Buddhism does teach about no-self and pure realms, ultimately these are analogies and metaphors for opening ourselves up from our selfish myopic view to a greater reality where we will find resources that enable us to face our problems resolve them.

Chapter XI

154. House-builder, you are seen!

The house you shall not build again!

Broken are your rafters, all,

Your roof beam destroyed.

Freedom from the habitual tendencies has the mind attained.

To the end of craving has it come.

This was supposedly said by the Buddha upon his awakening.  It was addressed to Mara, the devil like figure who personifies ignorance and all negative tendencies that prevent awakening and liberation. It also makes me think of the decrepit burning house in the Lotus Sūtra. The house here is conditioned existence and the roof-beam would be clinging to a “self” envisioned as a separate unchanging eternal existence. Such an idea or false sense of self is what keeps us self-preoccupied and fretful about our fate and leads to the attachment and aversion that compels rebirth in the six lower realms (either from lifetime to lifetime or less literally from moment to moment).

Chapter XII

165.  By oneself is wrong done,

By oneself is one defiled.

By oneself wrong is not done,

By oneself, surely, is one cleansed.

One cannot purify another;

Purity and impurity are in oneself [alone].

So basically the Buddha is saying stop looking for a savior to depend on or do your inner work for you and stop blaming and scapegoating others.

Chapter XIII

As upon a bubble one would look,

As one would look upon a mirage,

The one considering the world thus,

King Death does not see.

Here we find the teaching of emptiness or at least the same similes used later in the Diamond Sūtra (chapter 32) and also used in the Samyutta Nikāya (22.95) to explain emptiness. It is not that phenomena don’t exist. If you experience something then it exists, but like a bubble or mirage it is not permanent or graspable. Phenomena appear or disappear in accordance with conditions. Phenomena are nothing more than a conglomeration of conditions in the first place. To reflect on this undercuts attachment and aversion (except in a provisional way) and by doing that one overcomes even the fear of death because it is seen that there is no substantial world or even a substantial self that could ever have been graspable at all.

Chapter XIV

183. Refraining from all that is detrimental,

The attainment of what is wholesome,

The purification of one’s mind:

This is the instruction of Awakened Ones.

And here is Buddhism in a nutshell. Again notice the importance of mental purification. This goes beyond mere ethical considerations (though such are also considered as a prerequisite, self-control being the basis for liberation). Here is a story from China that uses this verse which I am particularly fond of:

One day, the famous poet Bai Juyi asked the monk Niaowo about Buddhism: “How must I live my life so that I am completely at one with the Way?”

Niawo replied: “Avoid all evil and perform all good.”

Bai Juyi was not impressed by this and said, “Even a three-year-old knows that much.”

To which Niaowo retorted with: “A three-year-old may know it. But not even a one-hundred-year-old can do it.”

Chapter XX

277. When through wisdom one perceives,

“All conditioned phenomena are transient,”

Then one is detached as to misery.

This is the path of purity.

278. When through wisdom one perceives

“All conditioned phenomena are suffering,”

Then one is detached as to misery.

This is the path of purity.

279. When through wisdom one perceives,

“All phenomena are without self,”

Then one is detached as to misery.

This is the path of purity.

This is a recounting of the three marks that characterize the authentic teaching of the Buddha. The three marks are impermanence, suffering, and no-self. Any discourse that claims to be a teaching of the Buddha should be consistent with these. The three marks mean that all conditioned phenomena (sankhāras) are (1) impermanent and therefore (2) suffering (because unable to provide lasting satisfaction or ease), and that no fixed and abiding self can be found in any phenomena (dharmas) whether conditioned (like the sankhāras) or the unconditioned (like nirvāna) and when that is realized one attains liberation from suffering. I think the distinction made here in these three verses is sometimes lost. The unconditioned nirvāna is free of impermanence and suffering, one might say that it is even constant and blissful, but it is not a self (not a person, place, or thing) and therefore should not be made an object of clinging. It is what comes about when the impermanent, ultimately unsatisfying, and selfless nature of conditioned phenomena is realized and attachment and aversion drop away.

Chapter XXI

294. Having slain mother and father

And two kings of the warrior caste,

Having slain a kingdom together with the subordinate,

Without trembling the brahman goes.

295. Having slain mother and father

And two learned kings,

Having slain the tiger’s domain, as fifth,

Without trembling, the brahman goes.

Even more paradoxical verses that seem to praise violence but are really about slaying negativity and delusion. Here mother is craving the mother of rebirth, and father is self-conceit. The two warrior kings represent the two false and extreme views of eternalism (that there is an eternal unchanging independent existence) and annhilationism (that there is not even a provisional existence). The kingdom represents the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination and passion is the subordinate or minister for the kingdom. The brahman represents the ideal person who is free of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion. The two learned kings also represent eternalism and annihilationism, and the “tiger’s domain, as fifth” refers to the five hindrances to meditation practice – sensual craving, ill-will, drowsiness, restlessness, and debilitating doubt, where the tiger esp. represents the fifth, debilitating doubt which prevents one from even trying to practice.

Chapter XXIII

330. A life of solitude is better;

There is no companionship with the childish one.

With little exertion, like the elephant in the Mātanga forest,

Let one wander alone, and do no wrongs.

This is especially important for many Buddhists I have known who remain too long in dysfunctional organizations or practicing with negative people. If the people you are practicing with are hindering your practice or holding you back then have the strength to practice on your own. Trust your own judgment and don’t become dependent on gurus, masters, personality cults, and so on… At the same time, do look for healthy communities and fellow practitioners even if they are not famous gurus or international organization with gold toilet seats for their leaders.

Chapter XXIV

336. But whosoever in the world

Overcomes this childish craving, hard to get beyond,

From him sorrows fall away,

Like drops of water from a lotus leaf.

I just like this for the lotus imagery. Be in the world but not of it, let negativity and craving fall away.

339. For whom thirty-six streams,

Flowing to what is pleasing, are mighty,

That one, whose view is debased,

The currents, which are thoughts settled on passion, carry away.

Ever wonder why there are 108 small beads on a juzu (Buddhist rosary)? They represent 108 defilements that needs to be purified. The number 108 is arrived at in the following way: There are cravings for sensual pleasures, craving for continued existence, and craving for annihilation. These three can be multiplied by the six senses (the five physical senses and the mind as the mental sensory field) and so you have eighteen. The three kinds of craving can also be multiplied by the six objects corresponding to the six senses and so again you have eighteen. So together you have 18 kinds of craving in terms of the senses and 18 in terms of the objects and the total is 36. If these are multiplied by the three times periods of past, present and future you get 108. So 108 defilements represent the activity of craving throughout time in terms of our senses and their objects.

Chapter XXV

370. Let one cut away the five, relinquish the five,

And, especially, cultivate the five.

A bhikkhu who has gone beyond five attachments

Is called “One who has crossed the flood.”

This isn’t paradoxical but more of a playful riddle or perhaps a mnemonic. Here the five that are cut away are the five fetters that bind beings to rebirth within all the realms with the exception of the highest heaven in the realm of form and the heavens of the formless realm. They are (1) the view that there is an unchanging independent eternal self, (2) debilitating doubt that prevents one from taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and from practicing the teachings, (3) wrong view of rules and observances whereby one mistakenly thinks that mere external observances and ethics can enable one to be free of the cycle of birth and death, (4) sensual desire, and (5) ill-will. Those who have cut away these will only be liable to be reborn in the highest heaven of the realm of form.

The overcoming of these are milestones to look out for in one’s practice. Here is my understanding of them:

You become a “stream-enterer” or at least the bodhisattva equivalent if you can honestly say: (1) that you are free of the idea (though you may still feel it or feel wistful about it) that there is some substantial self that is permanent, unchanging, and separate from all other beings and things; (2) that you fully trust that the Buddha was truly awake to reality and thereby liberated from suffering, that the Dharma he taught will enable us to also attain liberation, and that there is a Sangha or community that has successfully passed his teachings on to you so that you can practice them; and (3) that you no longer rely on mere ethics or external ritual observances to overcome suffering or attain purification from defilement.

You become a “once-returner” or at least the bodhisattva equivalent if you can honestly say that (4) sensual craving and (5) ill-will no longer dominate your life. In other words you no longer are in danger of losing control or compromising your integrity because of ill-will or sensual craving, even though such feelings still rise up on occasion. They are still in your life but you have achieved sufficient spiritual maturity that you no longer give in to them.

You become a “non-returner” or at least the bodhisattva equivalent if you can honestly say that sensual craving and ill-will have totally been uprooted. Are there people like this? Perhaps. In the Tiantai view even the buddhas retain all the lower worlds. So perhaps from a Tiantai/Nichiren point of view this means that one has matured beyond such primitive reactions but still retains the ability to feel or at least understand them. Maybe at least Mr. Rogers was like this? He certainly seemed like it.

Relinquishing the five refers to the five more subtle fetters that keep one from becoming an arhat who will no longer ever be reborn in the six lower realms. These five are (1) desire to continue existing in the form realm heavens, (2) desire to continue existing in the formless realm heavens, (3) conceit, (4) restlessness, and (5) ignorance.

I understand this to mean that the arhat no longer has even the slightest wish to continue existing in even in a subtle or refined spiritual state. They are totally unselfconscious and so beyond conceit. They no longer feel the need to accomplish anything because all has been done that needs to be done on their part. They have also overcome the ignorance that perpetuates even a lingering sense of self or dualistic subject-object distinctions. I think, though, that a bodhisattva would also have accomplished this but also would see (as per the One Vehicle) that having no attachment to subtle states doesn’t mean that one would then have aversion for them. The bodhisattva would be free to enter or leave any state in any of the realms of becoming. Furthermore, the bodhisattva would be unselfconscious and content but in keeping with their skillful interactions with ignorant beings they would manifest active provisional embodiments or “selves” as needed. They would no longer even be afraid of ignorance. As Senchu Murano translated from chapter 14 of the Lotus Sūtra:

What are the proper practices the Bodhisattva-mahāsattva should perform? He should be patient, mild, and meek. He should not be rash, timorous, or attached to anything. He should see things as they are. He should not be attached to his non-attachment to anything. Nor should he be attached to his seeing things as they are. These are the proper practices the Bodhisattva-mahāsattva should perform.

The five things to cultivate are (1) faith (trust in the Thee Treasures), (2) energy (to apply oneself to practice), (3) mindfulness (to monitor one’s practice and life in general), (4) concentration (to attain  states of meditative focus, stability, and clarity), and (5) wisdom (to discern reality as it is and not as one wishes it to be).

The five attachments refer to greed, hatred, delusion, pride, and false views.

373. For a monk who has entered an empty house,

Whose mind is at peace,

Who perceives the Dharma fully,

There is delight unlike that of mortals.

More references to emptiness and houses as above. Which leads me to wonder – is there a burning house in the first place? See below:

Chapter XXVI

385. For whom the farther shore or the nearer shore

Or both does not exist,

Who is free of distress, unyoked,

That one I call a brahman.

See, this is the kind of thing I would only have expected from the Mahāyāna but here it is in the Dhammapada. The analogy of a near and far shore is about the difficulty of crossing from one side to the other and how this is like the spiritual difficulty of crossing from the “near shore” of deluded existence that comprises the six realms of rebirth and the “far shore” of nirvāna where one is liberated from rebirth. Here it is clearly stated that ultimately there is no such dichotomy, no far or near shore. The idea that one must cross from here to there is not a literal description of some objective metaphysical state of affairs but a skillful method to spur practice so that one can get out of the mindset that the grass is greener somewhere else.

401. Like water on a lotus petal,

Like a mustard seed on the point of an awl,

Who is not smeared with sensualities,

That one I call a brahman.

Another lotus analogy I would like to draw attention to.

421. For whom there is nothing

In front, behind, and in between,

The one, without anything, ungrasping,

That one I call a brahman.

Another excellent verse about emptiness and ungrasping.

 

 

 

Writing of Nichiren Shōnin: Doctrine Vol. 1, p. 188

Writings of Nichiren Shōnin: Doctrine Vol. 3, pp. 96-103, 123, 138-144

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin I, p. 48-52, 76-80, 538

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin II, p. 259

Nichiren begins the Senji-shi-shō by stating, “To study Buddhism, first of all we must know the right time.” (Hori 2003, p. 188) Knowing the correct time to propagate and practice a particular teaching is one of the five principles for propagation that should be kept in mind by teachers of the Dharma that Nichiren formulated during his exile to the Izu Peninsula from May 12, 1261 until his pardon on February 22, 1263, when he was allowed to return to Kamakura. In a letter from that period he wrote:

Those who intend to spread Buddhism must correctly understand the five principles for propagation in order to disseminate the True Dharma. They are: (1) the teaching, (2) the capacity of the people, (3) the time, (4) the country, and (5) the sequence of spreading the Buddha’s teachings. (Hori 2004, p. 123)

As far as Nichiren was concerned each of these principles pointed to the necessity to spread the Lotus Sūtra in Japan at the time he was writing and from there to the whole world on into the foreseeable future. The five principles are to properly evaluate: (1) the different teachings of the Buddha, (2) the different capacities of the people to be taught, (3) the correct time for particular teachings to be propagated, (4) the differences between countries, and (5) the correct sequence in which the teachings are to be taught. In this chapter I would like to briefly explain how Nichiren understood and applied these five principles. In the following chapters I will look at each of these in more depth and explore what these five principles may mean today.

The Teaching

The first principle, to know the Buddha’s teachings, means to be familiar with the different ways of classifying the Buddha’s teachings as found in the tripitika or three-part canon consisting of the Buddha’s discourses known as sūtras, the monastic rule known as the vinaya, and the systemization of the discourses called the abhidharma. In Kyō Ki Ji Koku Shō (Treatise on the Teaching, Capacity, Time and Country) Nichiren wrote:

First of all, the teaching refers to all sūtras, precepts and commentaries expounded by Śākyamuni Buddha and his disciples, amounting to 5,048 fascicles in 48 cases. … Among all the sūtras, precepts and commentaries, there are Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna, provisional and true, and exoteric and esoteric teachings. It is best to keep this in mind. The classification is not an opinion of commentaries or teachers that arose after the death of the Buddha but stems from the teaching of the Buddha himself. Everyone should realize this when studying Buddhism. Therefore, anyone who disregards this classification is a non-Buddhist. (Ibid, pp. 96-97)

The practice of classifying the relative profundity of the Buddha’s teachings, especially those found in the sūtras, began around the 5th century of the common era in China and was called panjiao or “tenet classification.” Each of the various schools of Buddhism that survived to Nichiren’s time had its own particular way of classifying the sūtras. It would be an understatement to say that Nichiren favored the tenet classification system of the Tiantai school. In fact, Nichiren believed that the system of Tiantai Zhiyi (538-597) was the only one that actually adhered to statements found in the Mahāyāna sūtras wherein the Buddha remarked upon the relative chronology and profundity of the various sūtras. In his Shugo Kokka-ron (Treatise on Protecting the Nation), Nichiren even provides citations from the sūtras to show that the Tiantai system is correct. (See Hori 2003, pp. 5-21)

In brief, the Tiantai system divides the Buddha’s teachings into four types of doctrine and four methods of teaching, and then into five flavors or periods. The four doctrines are (1) the Tripitika teaching wherein the Buddha explained basic Buddhist concepts and practices such as the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination as well as the vinaya and abhidharma, (2) the Shared teaching wherein the Buddha began to introduce Mahāyāna teachings relating to the emptiness of all phenomena and the cultivation of the six perfections to be shared with those who only aspired to liberation for themselves and also the bodhisattvas who aspired to buddhahood out of compassion for all beings, (3) the Distinct teaching that related more advanced Mahāyāna teachings and practice for the bodhisattvas, and (4) the Perfect teaching found in the Lotus Sūtra and reiterated in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra that reveal that all the other teachings are actually forms of the One Vehicle that leads to buddhahood and that buddhahood is not merely extinction but is experienced as the true self that is pure, blissful, and eternal. The four methods of teaching classify the Buddha’s teachings according to whether he presents the Perfect teaching suddenly or builds up to it gradually by using the other doctrinal teachings to prepare his audience; and according to whether some disciples are given more advanced teachings secretly or whether he gives a teaching of indeterminate meaning to all and leaves it up to each disciple to understand according to their individual capacity. The five flavors consist of different ways of drawing upon the four doctrinal teachings, and these five flavors later came to be called the five periods as they became associated with specific sūtras believed to have been taught at different times in the Buddha’s life. The first period was that of the Flower Garland Sūtra wherein the Buddha combined the Perfect teaching with the Distinct teaching. The next period is known as that of the Deer Park, because it excludes all but the pre-Mahāyāna Tripitika teachings that the Buddha began to teach at the Deer Park to the five ascetics. The third period is called Expanded because the Buddha began to teach more expansive Mahāyāna sūtras, utilizing all four doctrinal teachings as they corresponded to the needs of his audience. The fourth period is called the Wisdom period because the Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras that included the Flower Garland, Distinct, and Perfect teachings. Finally there was the period of the Lotus Sūtra and Nirvāna Sūtra wherein the Buddha taught only the Perfect teaching.

In the quote above Nichiren talks about discerning Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna, provisional and true, and esoteric and exoteric. Generally Nichiren viewed the Tripitika teaching and the Deer Park period as Hīnayāna and the other teachings and periods as Mahāyāna, but there were also times when he stated that less profound Mahāyāna teachings that did not extend the promise of buddhahood to all were Hīnayāna in comparison with more profound teachings that did teach that all beings could attain buddhahood. As for the division between esoteric and exoteric, the esoteric sūtras that became the basis for True Word Buddhism had not appeared in China during the lifetime of Tiantai Zhiyi, so they were not accounted for in his writings. Nichiren, however, believed that they should be regarded as falling into the Expanded period, and therefore not even on the level of the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras in terms of profundity. The true teaching he, of course, regarded as the Perfect teaching of the Lotus Sūtra. He wrote, “Thus, only those who thoroughly discern the difference between the Lotus Sūtra and other sūtras can truly be said to have understood the teaching.” (Ibid, p. 100)

The Capacity

The second principle, to know the capacity of those to be taught, means to understand people’s inclinations, ability, and general spiritual maturity. In his Treatise on the Teaching, Capacity, Time and Country, Nichiren relates a story from the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra wherein Śāriputra mistakenly teaches a blacksmith the practice of contemplating the decomposition of corpses and a launderer the practice of mindfulness of the breath. Neither are able to make any progress and after three months they become icchantika, incorrigible disbelievers in the Dharma. The Buddha then teaches the blacksmith, who works with a bellows, to be mindful of the breath, and the launderer, who washes impurities, to contemplate decomposition. They are then able to understand the Dharma, because they have each been given a teaching and practice that they can relate to in their daily lives. Nichiren concludes, “Even Śāriputra, who was reputed as the wisest man, made a mistake in teaching according to a person’s capacity. Needless to say, it is not easy for ignorant, ordinary, and unenlightened masters in the Latter Age of Degeneration to decipher a person’s capacity. However, such an ordinary master, who cannot discern an individual’s capacity, should solely teach the Lotus Sūtra to his disciples.” (Hori 2004, p. 97) Here, capacity seems to mean a person’s interests, inclinations, and experience. If one cannot judge which particular provisional teaching would be of most relevance to a particular individual, then one should immediately teach the Lotus Sūtra, the highest and most perfect teaching, because it will ultimately be relevant to everyone, even if they cannot understand it at first.

Nichiren also spoke of capacity in terms of ability to understand and practice the teachings and in terms of defilements and karmic hindrances to practice. In Nanjō Hyōe Shichirō-dono Gosho (A Letter to Lord Nanjō Hyōe Shichirō) Nichiren says, “Even those who commit the five grave offences, the ten evil deeds, or immeasurable other sins can attain awakening only if they have superior capacity. Devadatta and Aṅgulimāla fall into this category. Those with inferior capacity who have not committed any sin can also attain buddhahood. Śuddhipanthaka belongs to this category.” (Ibid, p. 140) Here, Nichiren is referring to a fourfold categorization of people’s spiritual capacities from the Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom attributed to Nāgārjuna that was also used by Zhiyi in the Great Calming and Contemplation. The highest category is composed of those who not only understand the Dharma and practice calming and contemplation, but who also commit no evil deeds and therefore have no karmic hindrances. Disciples of the Buddha such as Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana would be included in this category. The second category includes those who have an ability to understand and practice but first they must repent of their evil deeds and overcome their karmic hindrances. People such as King Ajātaśatru who deposed and murdered his own father and the serial killer Ańgulimāla who both repented and became the Buddha’s followers belong in this category. The third category includes those whose capacity to learn and practice the Dharma is very dull but who live good lives and have no karmic hindrances. The slow-witted Śuddhipanthaka, who finally became an arhat after the Buddha taught him a simple phrase to recite, is an example of such people. The last and lowest category is for ordinary people who have trouble understanding the Dharma, find it difficult to practice calming and contemplation, and who are constantly committing evil deeds and therefore are afflicted by numerous karmic hindrances. (See Donner and Stevenson, pp. 331-333)

Nichiren concludes that the spiritual capacity people of the Latter Age is inferior even to Śuddhipanthaka and that they are deeply infected by greed, anger, and ignorance and commit transgressions just as serious as the five grave offences and ten evil deeds committed by such as Devadatta. His conclusion is that the only hope for his contemporaries is not only to put their faith in the Lotus Sūtra but also to avoid complicity in the slander of the sūtra by denouncing its enemies.

Nichiren also anticipates those who would ask why the Lotus Sūtra should be taught to ignorant people who will only slander it when the sūtra itself warns in chapter three that it should not be taught to the ignorant. Nichiren replies that wise masters who are teaching those with a superior capacity should teach the sūtras in their proper sequence, thereby preparing their disciples and followers for the ultimate truth taught in the Lotus Sūtra. In the Latter Age, however, ordinary teachers of the Dharma do not have the discernment to do this, and there are no disciples of superior capacity in any case. Therefore, it is best to teach the Lotus Sūtra to the unfaithful and ignorant people from the start, so that a connection can be formed with it. Nichiren compares this process to the analogy of the poison drum from the Nirvāna Sūtra, wherein a drum smeared with poison magically kills all who hear it, even if they do not wish to listen. In the same way, all who hear the Lotus Sūtra will be able to attain buddhahood through its teaching, even if at first they reject it. He also equates the expounding the sūtra to those who reject it with the practice of Never-Despising Bodhisattva in the 20th chapter of the Lotus Sūtra.

The Time

The third principle, to know the proper time, means to understand how the teaching of the Dharma unfolds over time. This is, of course, the main theme of the Senji-shō. Nichiren shared with his contemporaries the assumption that buddhas appeared periodically in each world system to teach the Dharma, thereby beginning a particular dispensation of the Dharma that would only last for a few thousand years before the Dharma would again by forgotten for large spans of time, perhaps even millions or billions of years, before a new dispensation would begin when the next buddha would appear. In East Asia, the dispensation of Śakyamuni Buddha was commonly divided into three periods: the Former Age of the True Dharma, the Middle Age of the Semblance of the Dharma, and the Latter Age of the Degeneration of the Dharma that would last for the next 10,000 years after which the Dharma would be entirely forgotten.

The three ages of the Dharma appear in the Pāli Canon and in the Mahāyāna sūtras as a way of summarizing the teaching that even the Dharma itself (as a conceptual teaching and historical phenomena) will decline. It fits in very well with the common Vedic motif of the cycle of creation, maintenance, decline, and destruction. According to the teaching of the three ages, the Former Age of the True Dharma begins with the first rolling of the Wheel of the Dharma by the Buddha at the Deer Park. It will continue for a thousand years to be followed by the Middle Age of the Semblance of Dharma. After a thousand years of the Middle Age of Semblance the 10,000 years of the Latter Age of the Degeneration of Dharma will begin. During the first age, those with a strong affinity for the Buddha and the Dharma will be born during the lifetime of the Buddha or soon enough afterwards to be able to benefit from the True Dharma and thereby attain awakening. Those with a weaker karmic affinity will be born in the Semblance Age when the true spirit of Buddhism has been lost and only the outwards forms remain more or less intact. But even they are able to make some progress, and according to Mahāyāna teachings they can be reborn in the pure lands of the celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas after their deaths and thereby attain awakening in those happier circumstances. Those born in the Latter Age of Degeneration, however, have no good roots or genuine karmic affinity for the Dharma, so they are born into an age when even the outward forms are disappearing and rather than practice the Dharma people will only fight over it. It is also taught that the Latter Age will be the time of the five defilements. The five defilements are: 1) the decay of the age due to famine, plagues, and war; 2) the decay of views as people take up wrong views; 3) the decay of evil passions as people’s greed, hatred, and ignorance increase; 4) the decay of living beings as their physical and spiritual strength ebbs; and 5) the decay of lifespan as people live shorter lives.

Furthermore, according to the Great Assembly Sūtra cited by Nichiren in the Senji-shō, the Former Age of the True Dharma could itself be divided into the first 500 years wherein people practiced and attained buddhahood, and the following 500 year period wherein they studied and practiced the Dharma but could not attain buddhahood. The thousand years of the Middle Age of the Semblance Dharma could likewise be divided into the first 500 years wherein people still read the sūtras to increase their knowledge of the Dharma, and the following 500 years wherein they focused on gaining merit by building temples and pagodas. In the first 500 years of the Latter Age, the fifth 500 year period following the Buddha’s passing, there would increasing disputes and quarrels that would lead to the destruction and ruin of the Dharma.

Nichiren also spoke of the Former Age as a time when many received and upheld the precepts, the Middle Age as a time when people still received the precepts but were unable to maintain them, and the Latter Age as a time when people did not even receive the precepts anymore. In keeping with the changing circumstances, people in the Former Age respected and made offerings only to those monastics who received and kept the precepts, in the Middle Age people had to settle for giving offerings to those monastics who at least took the precepts even if they broke them, and in the Latter Age the people made offerings even to monastics who did not even take the precepts. At no time, however, were offerings ever to be given to those who slandered the Lotus Sūtra, regardless of whether or not the slanderers accepted and abided by the precepts. In this way, Nichiren made the point that reverence for the Lotus Sūtra was even more constant and more integral to the true spirit of Buddhism over time than the monastic precepts.

Nichiren’s understanding was that the Buddha taught all the pre-Mahāyāna and Mahāyāna sūtras over a period of fifty years. However, after his passing, the pre-Mahāyāna or Hīnayāna teachings would be propagated first, and then gradually the Mahāyāna teachings would be propagated. As time went on, the earlier teachings would lose their efficacy and only the more profound teachings of the Mahāyāna would be able to help people attain the way to buddhahood. Finally, in the Latter Age, the Lotus Sūtra alone would be able to liberate people and enable them to attain buddhahood. Why this should be will be covered in more detail later in this commentary, as it is the main theme of the Senji-shō.

In East Asia, it was believed that the Buddha lived from 1029 to 949 B.C.E. due to the attempts of Chinese Buddhists to show that the Buddha predated Lao-tzu and the Taoist teachings. Assuming these dates for the life of the Buddha Nichiren and his contemporaries believed that the Latter Age had begun in 1052 C.E. Modern scholars believe the Buddha’s actual dates were 500 years or more later than that. The Japanese Buddhist scholar Hajime Nakamura set the dates as late as 463-383 B.C.E. What all this means is that if the dates of the three ages are taken literally, then Nichiren’s belief that he was living in the Latter Age is completely off the mark since the Latter Age would not actually begin until the 16th or 17th century. In any case, the idea that the world suddenly shifts gears spiritually like clockwork when a particular calendar date comes around should strike us as naive and entirely too arbitrary. Therefore, I do not think it behooves us to take any of the above time periods too literally. The point is that the Buddhist tradition understands that Buddhism itself is a conditioned phenomena that arises and ceases in accordance with changing causes and conditions. Nichiren and his contemporaries in particular felt themselves to be living in a time when the traditional teachings and methods of Buddhism seemed to have lost their efficacy. They believed that a deeper understanding and/or new methods had to be found if people were to be liberated from suffering and attain buddhahood. It was Nichiren’s conviction that he had found such a new approach in the depths of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra and that the time had come to propagate this new understanding and practice.

The Country

The fourth principle, to know nature of the country, means that a teacher of the Dharma must understand the unique characteristics of the country where they are trying to teach the Dharma. Things such as climate, geography, size, population, levels of education and moral development, and relations with other countries are all things that Nichiren includes as factors to take into account. However, the most important consideration is what kind of teachings have already spread within the country in question, whether Hīnayāna or Mahāyana, or a mix of both. In Kaimoku-shō, Nichiren also speaks of countries that are immoral and ignorant of the Dharma, and those that actively slander the Dharma once they have heard it by supporting false teachings or promoting provisional teachings over the True Dharma of the Lotus Sūtra. In his explanations about the principle of knowing the country, Nichiren cites several past authorities in China and Japan to establish that the Japanese people had a special affinity for the Lotus Sūtra.

The Sequence

The final principle, to know the sequence of the teachings, means that one should begin with simple and basic teachings and move on to more subtle and profound teachings. One must never try to spread teachings that are less refined than the ones already established, but should instead lead people away from provisional teachings and toward the definitive and true teaching of the Lotus Sūtra. There is not much more to say about this principle as the proper sequence is already laid out in terms of the Tiantai tenet classification system spoken of above.

In the following chapters I hope to explore each of these principles more deeply.

Writings of Nichiren Shōnin Doctrine 2, pp. 153-164

Two Nichiren Texts, pp. 97-113

The Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin I, pp. 369-376

Nichiren ends Kanjin Honzon-shō with the following statement:

For those incapable of understanding the truth of the three thousand worlds in one thought-moment. Lord Śākyamuni Buddha, with his great compassion, wraps this jewel with the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō and hangs it around the neck of the ignorant in the Latter Age of Degeneration. (Ibid, p. 164)

The Kanjin Honzon-shō opened with an explanation of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment as taught by T’ien-t’ai Chih-i (538-597) and ends with Nichiren’s assertion that the Eternal Buddha is bestowing upon us the benefit of this teaching in the form of the Odaimoku, the sacred title of the Lotus Sūtra, even if we do not understand it conceptually. In closing this commentary on the Kanjin Honzon-shō I would like to reflect upon what Nichiren meant by this and explore the connection between Chih-i’s perfect and sudden method of concentration and insight that includes the contemplation of the inconceivable (the contemplation that involves the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment) and the chanting of Odaimoku. Previous to the above statement, Nichiren wrote:

Toward the end of the Age of the Semblance Dharma, Bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Medicine King appeared in this world as Nan-yüeh and T’ien-t’ai respectively, and they thoroughly explained the doctrines of the “1,000 factors contained in 100 worlds” and the “three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment,” stressing the Trace Gate as the central theme and the Original Gate as its supporting idea. They, however, merely reasoned in the abstract that three thousand worlds are contained in the minds of the unenlightened; they did not practice and have others practice the actual way of realizing it – reciting and upholding the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō, and revering the focus of devotion as revealed in the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra (honmon no honzon). A few people, with the capacity to comprehend the True Dharma did exist, but after all, the time was not ripe for the perfect teaching. (Ibid, p. 161)

Nichiren viewed Chih-i’s use of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment in the contemplation of the inconceivable as a conceptual consideration of the principle that the world of buddhahood is all pervasive in our lives. By contemplating our own deluded minds we should try to perceive that the three thousand worlds are all present as empty yet contingently existing phenomena manifesting the Middle Way that is neither mere emptiness nor substantial existence. This is, naturally, easier said than done. Nichiren recognized that not all people were able to learn about or understand the doctrine of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment, let alone spend enough time sitting silently to perceive clearly the world of buddhahood within. If attaining buddhahood depended upon such an intellectual and contemplative exercise than very few people would ever be able to do it, and in the Latter Age of the Dharma it was doubtful if anyone had the capacity to do so. And yet Nichiren was convinced that buddhahood involved awakening to the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment. So there must be some other way whereby this realization can be conveyed to the people of the Latter Age. Surely the Buddha provided some other means? Nichiren saw the practice of Odaimoku as the means provided. The Odaimoku was not a form of conceptual contemplation. It was instead an expression of the world of buddhahood within. It was something that manifested as an actual, as opposed to theoretical, part of the practitioner’s life here and now. Four years later, in a letter to his follower Toki Jōnin, Nichiren wrote that Chih-i’s meditation method was the way of principle whereas the Odaimoku was the way of actuality.

There are two ways of meditating on the doctrine of three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment. One is the way of principle, and the other is the way of actuality. Grand Masters T’ien-t’ai and Dengyō practiced the former. I, Nichiren, now practice the latter. As my method of practicing meditation is superior, difficulties befalling me are harder to bear. What T’ien-t’ai and Dengyō propagated was based on the doctrine of three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment expounded in the Trace Gate, while what I, Nichiren, propagate is based on the doctrine of three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment in the Original Gate. The difference between the two is as great as the difference between heaven and earth. Remember this especially at the time of the last moment of life. Have an unwavering faith in the Lotus Sūtra and continue chanting the daimoku, which is the right way of meditation based on the doctrine of three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment in actuality. (Ibid, p. 257)

In Nichiren’s time, principle (J. ri) was often contrasted with actuality (J. ji). The former had to do with the true nature of reality, designated by such terms as emptiness or suchness or the Dharma-body. Silent sitting meditation practice was seen as a way of awakening to this ultimate principle, the true nature of one’s own life. Esoteric practices, on the other hand, involved the way in which principle could be actually manifest in terms of such outward and visible signs as mudrās (hand gestures), mantras (verbal invocations), and mandalas (cosmic diagrams). In True Word (J. Shingon) Buddhism, one used mudrā, mantras, and mandalas to embody in oneself the bodily actions, speech, and mind of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, especially of Mahāvairocana Tathāgata, the Dharma-body of the Buddha. (See Stone, pp. 27-31)

Nichiren saw the contemplation of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment as a practice based on trying to perceive the principle of the true reality of all existence taught primarily in the first half or Trace Gate of the Lotus Sūtra. In the Trace Gate the Buddha taught the ten suchnesses that unite all ten worlds of the ignorant and awakened, emphasized the One Vehicle, and predicted that his disciples would attain buddhahood in the future, so in principle all people had the world of buddhahood within and would someday realize it. By contrast, in the latter half of the Lotus Sūtra, the Original Gate, Śākyamuni Buddha reveals that his life as a buddha has no quantifiable beginning or end, so he is still with us, still teaching us, and therefore this world that we are all living in is his pure land, the Pure Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. This, by the way, is why it was so important that the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment encompass not just the aggregates of the individual or relations among beings but the very land itself. So, if the Buddha is still present then how is he present? He is present when we take up the posture of earnest faith and devotion (J. kimyō-gasshō; S. Añjali-mudrā; see Saunders, pp. 76-79), chant the Odaimoku (a form of mantra), and gaze upon focus of devotion depicting the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha transmitting to us the Wonderful Dharma often in the form of the calligraphic mandala that Nichiren inscribed (See Stone, 266-267). It is through our practice that the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha and his Pure Land of Tranquil Light are actualized, even if we do not yet fully understand the concept of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment that describes how the worlds of the ignorant and the world of buddhahood mutually contain one another.

 

Earlier in his teaching it seems that Nichiren encouraged those of his monastic disciples and lay followers who could do so to take up the T’ien-t’ai practice of the perfect and sudden concentration and insight as well as the chanting of Odaimoku. On May 28, 1260 he wrote the following in Shō Hokke Daimoku-shō (Treatise on Chanting the Daimoku of the Lotus Sūtra):

Since we have many ignorant people today, the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment doctrine may be difficult to contemplate from the beginning. Nevertheless, those who wish to study it are encouraged to do so from the start. (Hori 2007, p. 19)

As late as May of 1271, before the attempted execution and exile to Sado Island, Nichiren wrote the following to one of his disciples, a Tendai monk named Sammi-bo, who was studying at the main Tendai School temple on Mt. Hiei:

What we should chant all the time as the practice of the perfect teaching is “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,” and what we should keep in mind is the way of meditation based on the truth of “3,000 worlds contained in one thought-moment.” Only wise men practice both chanting “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” and meditating on the truth of “3,000 worlds contained in one though-moment.” Lay followers of Japan today should recite only “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.” (p. 4)

By “wise men” Nichiren apparently meant those who were knowledgeable in Tendai teachings and practices and had the discipline and ability to engage in the practice of perfect and sudden concentration and insight wherein the most advanced practitioners are said to be able to attain awakening by using the first mode of contemplation involving the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment. It was not expected that lay people in Japan at that time would ever be taught such practices and so it was of course out of reach for them. By reciting the Odaimoku, lay people could at least sow the seed of buddhahood and by this expression of faith in the Eternal Buddha and his teaching be assured that they would no longer be reborn in the worlds of suffering and someday they would awaken to the truth of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment, as well as the three truths of emptiness, provisional existence, and the Middle Way.

Sometime from 1274-1276, after the Sado exile, when Nichiren had settled on Mt. Minoubu, he wrote a letter to another Tendai monk, named Sairen-bo, who had become a disciple. In this letter, Nichiren criticizes the idea that Chih-i’s Great Concentration and Insight was superior in doctrine and practice to the Lotus Sūtra. In the letter, Nichiren makes it clear that Chih-i’s teachings and meditation methods were by no means superior to the Lotus Sutra, rather they were means for realizing the true meaning of the Lotus Sūtra.

Since the Great Concentration and Insight preaches the way of practicing the spiritual contemplation according to the doctrine of “3,000 worlds contained in one thought-moment” in the Lotus Sūtra, the way to practice the “threefold contemplation in a single thought” is nothing but recognizing the Wonderful Dharma to be beyond conceptual understanding. Therefore, monks who belittle the Lotus Sūtra and make too much of spiritual contemplation commit the grave sin of slandering the True Dharma, are men of false view, or are as devilish as a heavenly devil. This is because according to Grand Master T’ien-t’ai’s “threefold contemplation in a single thought,” “concentration and insight” means the unique state of mind in which one is awakened with the truth of the One Buddha teaching through steadily maintaining the mind in tranquility by the Lotus Sūtra. (Ibid, p. 219)

In other words, spiritual contemplation, for Nichiren, was not something that transcended the sūtras as the Zen School or some of his Tendai contemporaries were teaching, and so the Lotus Sūtra could not be dispensed with in favor of it. The purpose of meditation, as Nichiren wrote, was to realize the “unique state of mind in which one is awakened with the truth of the One Buddha teaching through steadily maintaining the mind in tranquility by the Lotus Sūtra.” The Odaimoku was the means that Nichiren now proposed that could be done. The Odaimoku would now be the direct way to realize tranquility the true meaning of the Wonderful Dharma.

On July 21, 1276, Nichiren completed the Hōon-jō (Essay on Gratitude) in which he wrote: “All the people in Japan, China, and everyone else in the whole world, regardless of being wise or foolish, should chant Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō single-mindedly, forgetting everything else. (Hori 2004, p. 58) So it would seem that by 1276 Nichiren had decided that there would no longer be any need to differentiate between practices for the wise and those for the foolish. All people should just single-mindedly chant Odaimoku, a practice that is no means or method for realizing the truth but rather a jewel that is bestowed upon us by the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha.

Did Nichiren mean that we should not ever meditate or think about the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment or reflect upon the nature of our lives? I think that would be the wrong conclusion. Certainly I think it is clear from his writings, especially from the time of writing Kanjin Honzon-shō and afterwards, that Nichiren did not believe anything else was necessary for the attainment of buddhahood other than to express one’s faith in the inner meaning of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra by chanting Odaimoku. One did not need to formally take up the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, or wisdom. One did not need to chant to be reborn in a pure land, or receive any particular ordination to receive monastic or bodhisattva precepts, or receive any esoteric empowerments or transmissions of the Dharma. One only needed to keep and uphold the Lotus Sūtra. However, in doing so, one sows the seed of buddhahood, and you plant a seed so that it will germinate and come to fruition. That means that one’s faith should naturally bear the fruit of the six perfections and other qualities of buddhahood. Among those fruits would be the six perfections so that a person growing in their faith in Odaimoku should indeed become, over time and not perfectly once and for all, generous, moral and ethical, patient, able to curb bad habits and engage in beneficial work, and naturally able to abide peacefully and reflect insightfully upon the nature of life. Such a person would not condemn themselves or others for not being perfect in these areas but at the same time would not excuse their shortcomings and would return again and again to the sowing and nurturing of the seed of all these qualities by chanting Odaimoku.

Nichiren envisioned or re-envisioned Buddhist practice in such a way that it no longer involved trying to meditate and “figure out” the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment or trying to discern buddhahood in the midst of our own confusion, anguish, greed, hatred, and delusion. Rather, buddhahood was something that seems to come to us as a gift. The chanting of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō is meant to be our expression of receiving and keeping the Buddha’s gift of the Wonderful Dharma, though it is also a way to focus and concentrate the mind and an invitation to gain insight into the true meaning of the Wonderful Dharma. In other words, it is itself the perfect and sudden concentration and insight but now based upon the inner meaning of the Original Gate wherein it is not just we deluded ordinary people striving to awaken but the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha who is at work here and now awakening us in the words of the Lotus Sūtra, in the teachings of the other sūtras, in the different symbols and forms utilized in our practice, in the occurrences of our daily lives, in our relationships with others, in our relationship with ourselves, and in the very dynamic and interdependent structure of life.

I think it is important to understand that Odaimoku practice is itself a form of meditation as well as an act of faith. It is an expression of faith in that to simply chant it means that there is some degree of confidence that the Buddha really awakened to what life is about, that his awakening freed him from suffering and enabled him to flower into the kind of human being that we would ourselves like to be, that his teachings can enable us to awaken as he did, and that in fact we all have the nature to awaken. It is a form of concentration practice just as any mantra can be, but it is also meant to be an insight practice. How does one gain insight by simply chanting that one is devoted to a scripture? First of all, the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō, the Odaimoku or “sacred title” are not just the title of a scripture. They have long been understood to be the title of the Wonderful Dharma itself, and so it is the Wonderful Dharma that one’s mind is being directed to, and that Wonderful Dharma is none other than the true nature of our life right here and now. Without making it an intellectual exercise one is more and more learning to trust in the workings of life in this moment, to see buddhahood as the inner state of everything, or to put it another way to see that the awakening we are hoping for and the Eternal Buddha who bestows the Odaimoku is actually all of what we meet if viewed with a mind and heart that is receptive and open. By nurturing confidence in the awakened nature of ourselves and all other beings, all phenomena in fact, we come to realize what is meant by the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment, we will ourselves see that in each moment we are free to actualize the selfless compassion of buddhahood, and we thereby see into the true nature of mind with all its merit and wisdom.

Sources

Gosho Translation Committee, editor-translator. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1999.

Hori, Kyotsu, comp. Writings of Nichiren Shonin: Doctrine Volume 2. Tokyo: Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Promotion Association, 2002.

________________. Writings of Nichiren Shonin: Doctrine Volume 3. Tokyo: Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Promotion Association, 2004.

________________. Writings of Nichiren Shonin: Faith and Practice Volume 4. Tokyo: Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Promotion Association, 2007.

Murano, Senchu, trans. Two Nichiren Texts. Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2003.

Saunders, E. Dale. Mudrā: A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Stone, Jacqueline. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: Kuroda Institute, 1999.