Ajita! Anyone who, after hearing this sūtra, keeps or copies it or causes others to copy it after my extinction, should be considered to have already built many hundreds of thousands of billions of monasteries, that is to say, innumerable monasteries, each of which was installed with thirty-two beautiful halls made of red candana, eight times as tall as the tāla-tree, and spacious enough to accomodate one hundred thousand bhikshus. He also should be considered to have already furnished [those monasteries] with gardens, forests, pools for bathing, promenades, and caves for the practice of dhyāna, and filled [those monasteries] with clothing, food, drink, beddings, medicine, and things for amusements, and offered [those monasteries] to me and to the Sangha of bhikshus in my presence. Therefore, I say, ‘Anyone who keeps, reads or recites this sūtra, expounds it to others, copies it, causes others to copy it, or makes offerings to a copy of it after my extinction, need not build a stūpa or monastery, or make offerings to the Sangha.’ Needless to say, anyone who not only keeps this sūtra but also gives alms, observes the precepts, practices patience, makes endeavours, concentrates his mind, and seeks wisdom, will be able to obtain the most excellent and innumerable merits. His merits will be as limitless as the sky is in the east, west, south, north, the four intermediate quarters, the zenith, and the nadir. These innumerable merits of his will help him obtain the knowledge of the equality and difference of all things. (The Lotus Sūtra pp.258-259)

There are hundreds of schools and sub-schools of Buddhism. However, these many schools can be reasonably classified into three major branches. These three branches arose after the Buddha’s death as his monastic disciples and lay followers attempted to discern the true meaning and intent of his teachings. All three still exist today in different parts of the Buddhist world. This chapter describes each, but focuses on those teachings which are associated with the Mahāyāna, or “Great Vehicle” branch of Buddhism.

The first overarching difference is between the Theravāda and Mahāyāna branches. These developed in India within the first millennia after the Buddha’s death. Theravāda, the “School of the Elders,” carries on the tradition of the Buddha’s more conservative monastic disciples. Today, it is found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, and elsewhere in southeast Asia. Its primary practice is śamatha vipaśyanā (“tranquility & insight”) meditation. It accepts only the Pali canon of Buddhist writings, wherein the Buddha is simply an awakened man who primarily taught the four noble truths, the eightfold path and the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination. The goal of Theravāda is to become an arhat (“noble one”) by extinguishing the fires of the three poisons and breaking free of the wheel of becoming. The state of extinguishing the ignorant desires which cause suffering is called nirvāna. This form of Buddhism is primarily for monastics. Lay people are given a supporting role. By living a good life, lay followers can be reborn in the heavens, after which they may be reborn as a monastic and attain nirvāna themselves in a future lifetime.

The other major branch is the Mahāyāna. This is the form of Buddhism predominant in China, Korea and Japan. Mahāyāna means “Great Vehicle” and it is so named to contrast with the Hīnayāna, which means “Small Vehicle.” These names were given to express the idea that the Hīnayāna is like a small raft for the arhats who are disciplined enough to make the crossing from the shore of birth and death to the other shore of nirvāna. Conversely, the Mahāyāna is like a large passenger liner which can carry all beings over to the other shore of buddhahood. The originators of the Mahāyāna felt that the goal of the arhat was too narrow and selfish because it tended to be concerned only with individual liberation and did not offer a way for ordinary people to achieve awakening. In the Mahāyāna, compassion for others is considered to be just as important as attaining wisdom. In fact, wisdom and compassion are considered to be inseparable aspects of the Buddha’s awakening, like two sides of the same coin. These Buddhists insist that the proper path for monastics and lay people alike is the way of the bodhisattva (literally an awakening being) who voluntarily postpones his or her nirvāna in order to help all sentient beings achieve awakening. Mahāyāna Buddhism emphasizes the “six perfections” of the bodhisattva as opposed to solely focusing on the eightfold noble path. The six perfections are generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. Mahāyāna also developed the teachings of emptiness which are intended to break through one’s dualistic conceptions and preoccupations. Finally, Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that the Buddha actually has three bodies: a historical body, a glorified body which can only be seen by advanced bodhisattvas, and a transcendent body which is Ultimate Reality itself. The Mahāyāna ultimately teaches that we all have buddha-nature, and that we should all strive to become buddhas ourselves.

Before moving on to the next major branch, it must be pointed out that the term “Hīnayāna” does not truly apply to Theravādin Buddhists. It’s a disparaging term at best and does not really apply to them, since the Theravāda has its share of teachings and practices that encourage compassion and loving-kindness. In fact, many of the doctrines of the Mahāyāna can be found in a nascent form in the Pali canon, so there is not as much of a break between the two schools as there is a difference in emphasis. Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna are really attitudes towards the practice of Buddhism. These attitudes can be found in all schools of Buddhism, no matter what name they officially use.

The last of the three branches is the Vajrayāna, which means “Diamond Vehicle.” This is the Buddhism of Tibet, as well as a designation that fits the more esoteric practices and teachings within many of the Mahāyāna schools. Vajrayāna developed in India from the 8th-12th century as a Buddhist response to Indian Tantricism. Vajrayāna teaches that when one has realized the non-dual nature of the emptiness of all phenomena, one also realizes the intrinsic purity of reality. Vajrayāna Buddhists, under the direction of a guru, attempt to realize this intrinsic purity by imitating and identifying with various cosmic buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities. The practice used for this realization includes mantras (chants), mudrās (hand gestures), and mandalas (paintings used to focus the mind). This practice allows one to gain direct experience with the illusory and mind-created nature of reality, and thus with its emptiness and intrinsic purity.

The One Vehicle

We should recall, at this point, that the Lotus Sūtra is the teaching of the One Vehicle. Though the Buddha taught a variety of teachings, typified by the different types of Buddhism outlined above, they are all different aspects of the One Vehicle leading all people to buddhahood. In Nichiren’s view, no matter what aspect of the teaching we may be attracted to, we should realize that the ultimate purpose is to achieve buddhahood. This is accomplished through the merit of the Teaching of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, the essence of all the innumerable teachings. According to Nichiren, the teaching and practice of the Lotus Sūtra integrates all of the different branches of Buddhism into one harmonious whole centering on the practice of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.

Many of the teachings discussed in the previous chapters are actually considered to be Small Vehicle Buddhist teachings according to the Lotus Sūtra. This view is upheld because their aim is to help individuals find self-liberation from the three poisons and the six worlds of the wheel of becoming by breaking the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination. More specifically, the Lotus Sūtra states that the four noble truths and the eightfold path were taught by the Buddha for the sake of the śrāvakas (literally “voice-hearers”). These mendicant disciples of the Buddha needed practical and clear cut instructions so that they could free themselves from suffering. The twelve-fold chain of dependent origination was taught for the sake of the pratyekabuddhas (literally the “private buddhas”), or solitary enlightened ones, who preferred to contemplate life in solitude in order to arrive at their own realization. Actually, since the pratyekabuddhas do not even take the Buddha for their teacher, either from lack of inclination or opportunity, the teaching of dependent origination is not really directed towards them. It is more an expression of the common insight that comes to all authentic contemplatives and sages, whether with or without the assistance of any particular tradition. Of course, because all teachings are part of the One Vehicle of the Lotus Sūtra, even the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and dependent origination can and should lead one to buddhahood if properly understood and practiced. One could even view the Mahāyāna teachings as a restoration of the true intent and spirit of these fundamental teachings of the Buddha. As we go into the Mahāyāna teachings, they will reveal themselves to be a way of drawing out the deeper implications of the insights contained within these “Hīnayāna” teachings.

In the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha states that he actually teaches only bodhisattvas. This means that even the self-styled disciples and solitary contemplatives (the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas) are not authentic followers of the Buddha unless they have the compassionate heart of a bodhisattva. Thus, it is not enough to simply follow the eightfold path, one must also follow it with the spirit of compassionate concern for others. The bodhisattvas do not practice only for their own benefit, they practice for the sake of all beings. This is because they are deeply aware of the interdependent nature of all things. That is, they realize that no one is disconnected from the whole. Therefore, the notion of a self-liberation apart from others is just another symptom of the delusion of a separate self apart from the whole. The bodhisattvas, on the other hand, are as concerned about relieving the suffering of others as they are about relieving their own. One might even say that they know we are all in the same boat, the Great Vehicle of the Mahāyāna, that takes all people to the other shore of perfect and complete awakening. Thus, the advancement of the individual is impossible without the advancement of all.

This emphasis on compassionate concern for others is really the key to understanding the difference between the Mahāyāna path of the bodhisattva and the Hīnayāna path of the disciples and solitary contemplatives. Perhaps an illustration might help us to understand this better.

Let’s say that a fire breaks out in a crowded movie theater. The manager of the theater naturally calls the fire department and then rushes in to make sure that everyone makes it out of the exit. In the ensuing panic and confusion, some people immediately follow the manager’s direction to the exit. Others, however, may try for the exit on their own, especially if they are already close to it. Finally, some people may actually stay behind to assist the manager in getting the others out of the building. In this story, the burning theater represents the wheel of becoming, the exit is nirvāna, the manager represents the Buddha, the people who follow the manager’s directions are like the disciples, the people who find the exit on their own are like the solitary enlightened ones, while the people who stay behind to assist the others are like the bodhisattvas.

The Four Vows and Six Perfections

The term bodhisattva refers to an endless multitude of beings who are at many different stages of spiritual maturity. It includes those who have just begun to arouse the intention to save all beings from suffering to the celestial bodhisattvas who are practically buddhas themselves, like the famous Chinese paragon of mercy Kuan Yin. All bodhisattvas, whether celestial or mundane, have the aspiration to seek enlightenment for themselves and others. This aspiration is expressed in the “four great vows of the bodhisattva.” These vows are an important part of the Nichiren Shū daily liturgy.

Sentient beings are innumerable,
I vow to save them all.

Our defilements are inexhaustible,
I vow to quench them all.

The Buddha’s teachings are immeasurable,
I vow to know them all.

The Way of the Buddha is unexcelled,
I vow to attain the Path Sublime.

The first vow states the intention to work for the welfare of all beings and to selflessly practice the Buddha’s teachings. The bodhisattva will not rest until universal liberation from suffering has become a reality. No one is left out. Even though the task of saving all beings may seem to go on without end, the bodhisattva realizes that this work is itself the liberation that is sought. The path becomes the goal when one is working for the enlightenment of all beings.

The second vow states the intention to continue the process of purifying ourselves of the three poisons that was begun in the earlier Hīnayāna stages of training. This vow recognizes that we can not genuinely help others unless we have done our own inner work and set our own house straight. Again, this is a never ending process of self examination, wherein we must continually shine the light of self-awareness upon ourselves and root out the lingering traces of egoism and self-congratulation that can creep into even the most altruistic endeavors.

The third vow acknowledges the need to master all the Buddha’s teachings so that we will know the right teaching and the right method to apply in every situation. This process is also open ended because all of the principles of Buddhism have innumerable implications and applications depending upon the level of insight we have attained and the situation we may be facing.

The fourth vow recognizes that there is no higher, more worthwhile or more difficult goal than to attain the perfect and complete awakening of a buddha. In many forms of Buddhism, it is taught that achieving buddhahood requires an almost infinite number of lifetimes dedicated to practicing the six perfections of a bodhisattva. With this vow, the bodhisattvas commit themselves to persevering along this path for however long it will take. On a deeper level, the bodhisattva is not really concerned about getting awakening or attaining anything. For the bodhisattva, every moment on the path brings its own rewards and benefits for all beings. Again, the path is the goal.

After arousing the aspiration to seek awakening and expressing that intention in the form of the four great vows, the bodhisattva will practice the six perfections, which are specific to bodhisattvas according to the Lotus Sūtra. The six perfections are generosity, morality, patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. These six perfections are actually a restatement of the eightfold path, because morality in fact refers to right speech, right action, and right livelihood; energy refers to right effort; meditation refers to right mindfulness and right concentration; and wisdom refers to right view and right intention. The real difference is the addition of generosity and patience. Unless one is generous and patient with others, one is not on the right track. The six perfections of the bodhisattva make these qualities that are implicitly a part of the eightfold path explicit. In fact, generosity and patience flow naturally from the four infinite virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity which the Buddha taught as a preliminary to the eightfold path. In this way, the six perfections actually restore the compassionate dimension of the eightfold path that some practitioners lost sight of while doing their own inner work.

Let’s look at each of the six perfections so that we can better understand what they mean in the context of Mahāyāna Buddhism in general and Nichiren Buddhism in particular.

The first perfection, generosity, refers to the development of an open-hearted attitude towards others. This can take the form of donating money or time for the welfare of others. We can volunteer our time at a soup kitchen or donate blankets and clothing to a shelter or money to a charity. Another form of generosity is to give the Dharma to others. This is not to say that we are supposed to become evangelists, harassing people on street corners or going door to door on a recruitment drive. Rather, we should strive to live up to our ideals while on the job and in our personal lives. We should show others, through example, what it means to live a life centered on the Buddha Dharma. We should also freely share our understanding of the Buddha’s teaching with others when it seems as though they are curious or would otherwise be open to it. It also means that we should get together with other members of our community or Sangha whenever we can. In this way we can share our experiences, encourage, and inspire each other. Finally, the perfection of generosity means that we should be willing to fearlessly stand up for our values and beliefs. This means that we should not let ourselves be daunted by misunderstanding or even persecution in our efforts to spread the Buddha Dharma. In the past, Nichiren demonstrated the perfection of generosity when he showed that he was willing to give up his life for the sake of the Lotus Sūtra so that all people could attain awakening and save themselves from the disastrous consequences of mistaken views. It should also be remembered that one can not practice generosity with a condescending or self-congratulatory attitude. Our work for the sake of others should be from the heart and as natural as breathing without reflecting on how much merit we are gaining through our efforts.

The perfection of morality refers to living in accord with the precepts. “Precepts” are the ethical demands of right speech, right action, and right livelihood. Specifically, there are five precepts which are at the heart of Buddhist morality. The five precepts are as follows: not to kill, not to steal, not to engage in sexual misconduct, not to speak falsely, and not to use intoxicants which cloud the mind. Nichiren often wrote that he was a priest without precepts, because he cared only about chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. Yet until his death he lived the life of a simple, celibate monk. In addition, though he did not explicitly discuss the five precepts, Nichiren often advised his followers to refrain from violence, to maintain their principles of loyalty and honor, to discuss the Lotus Sūtra with others politely and reasonably, and to avoid staying out late at night drinking. While Nichiren definitely upheld common ethical principles, his concern was not with the letter but with the spirit of the precepts. He advocated the simple practice of chanting Odaimoku. Through this practice, all people can do good and avoid evil through constant awareness of the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Sūtra.

The perfection of patience refers to the ability to maintain one’s concern and compassion for others, even in the face of persecution. The bodhisattva must not give in to bitterness, hatred or ideas of revenge or retaliation even when suffering persecution at the hands of others. Even when innocent people are being persecuted, the bodhisattva must not give in to feelings of hatred towards the oppressors. This may be the most difficult of all the perfections. Basically, the perfection of patience involves deep insight into the pain and confusion of others, so that we can understand and ultimately forgive those who lash out violently or act callously towards others. In the Lotus Sūtra, patience is exemplified by a bodhisattva named “Never Despise” who begrudges no one and greets all people with an acknowledgement of their potential for buddhahood. Many people responded to Bodhisattva Never Despise with angry denunciations or even by throwing rocks at him because they did not believe that it was possible for all beings to attain buddhahood. They were offended and aggravated by this teaching. In spite of persecution, Bodhisattva Never Despise continued to greet everyone in the same way. In the end, he was able to hear the Lotus Sūtra and convert his former persecutors. In this century, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have provided very inspiring examples of Buddhist tolerance, patience, and forgiveness towards those who have brought ruin upon their countrymen and persecuted Buddhism. Nichiren also demonstrated this quality in those writings wherein he expresses not only forgiveness but even gratitude towards those who tried to kill him and then exiled him in the hopes that he would die from starvation and exposure to the elements. Nichiren felt that his enemies were simply giving him an opportunity to expiate the karmic consequences of his past misdeeds and to prove his devotion to the Lotus Sūtra.

One who has acquired the perfection of energy is tireless in his or her efforts to practice the Buddha Dharma. This is basically the same as right effort, that refers to the continuous effort to weed out bad habits and cultivate good habits. Nichiren felt that the simple recitation of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō would enable people to live in accord with the Wonderful Dharma in every moment. He felt that it was very important not just to read the Lotus Sūtra but to live it with one’s whole being, so that every thought, word, and deed reflected one’s dedication to its teaching.

The perfection of meditation refers to right mindfulness and right concentration. Through meditation, one cultivates full awareness of all of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds in all places and at all times. In meditation, one also practices concentration techniques in order to acquire tranquility and insight into the true nature of life, and liberation from false views. For Nichiren, the chanting of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō was the best form of meditation. It focuses the mind, enabling us to engage in self-reflection in the light of the Wonderful Dharma and finally directing our minds to the highest teaching of the Buddha so that we can realize its truth for ourselves.

The perfection of wisdom encompasses right view and right intention. Right view is that which is in accord with reality as it really is, apart from our biases, projections, and delusions. In the context of the Mahāyāna teachings, this means insight into the dynamic and interdependent nature of all things. Right intention follows from right view in that we are able to have pure altruistic intentions when we are not attached to self-serving, mistaken views. In Nichiren Buddhism, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō is itself the perfection of wisdom because it expresses our faith in the Wonderful Dharma. Through faith in the Wonderful Dharma, we are able to plant the seeds of buddhahood within our lives and thereby attain the insight and wisdom of the Eternal Buddha.

When we seriously think about it, even the eightfold path is very difficult for the ordinary person to follow, let alone the six perfections of the bodhisattva. It may be very inspiring to hear about these things and it may be nice to talk about these ideals, but when we look at ourselves honestly, most people find that they are not as easy to practice as one might wish. After all, are any of us as generous, virtuous, patient, energetic, peaceful, or wise as we would like to be? Are we not, in fact, seeking out the Buddha Dharma because we are lacking in these qualities? Another consideration is that unless one has wisdom to begin with, the other five perfections can easily become less than perfect. Generosity can easily become misdirected so that it harms rather than helps others. An example of this would be giving money to an alcoholic who will use it to buy more alcohol. Morality can become mere formalism or self-righteousness; patience can lead to a self-aggrandizing martyr complex; energy can become misdirected and lead to distraction and stress; and meditation can become mere indulgence in altered states of consciousness. For this reason, the perfection of wisdom is often given pride of place, since it is wisdom which is the goal of practice and wisdom which ensures that the other perfections are practiced correctly. This, of course, presumes that we have wisdom to begin with, but since we are practicing because we have no wisdom and hope to attain it, we seem to be stuck in a catch-22 situation.

Many other schools of Buddhism get around this problem by insisting that one begin the practice of the six perfections under the guidance of a guru who can help one navigate past the pitfalls of practice. Nichiren, however, took a different approach. Guided by the teaching of the Lotus Sūtra and the scholarly analysis of the T’ien-t’ai school, as well as his own experience and insight, Nichiren stated that it is virtually impossible for the people of this age to attempt to practice the six perfections. We are too overwhelmed by greed, anger, and ignorance for this attempt to be anything other than futile. Attempting to cultivate the perfections will only lead to frustration and burn out. Nichiren taught that we should instead try to concentrate on prajñā (wisdom) alone since it is the goal and source of the other five perfections. Unfortunately, we have no wisdom — if we did there would be no need for practice in the first place. Therefore, we should allow faith to stand in for wisdom until it can be developed. Specifically, this faith refers to a decisive and joyful trust in the teaching of the Lotus Sūtra that the Eternal Buddha has ceded all of his virtues and merits to us, including his vast wisdom. In that single moment of rejoicing we realize that everything is in one thought-moment and one thought-moment contains all, including the Buddha’s perfect and complete awakening. This realization itself is wisdom, and the other perfections arise of themselves through wisdom very naturally.

The Three Bodies of a Buddha

Mahāyāna Buddhism also changed the way in which the Buddha was understood. This is very important because, according to the Lotus Sūtra, all true followers of the Buddha have buddhahood itself as their goal. So what is a buddha? On one level, a buddha cannot really be understood except by another buddha, because a buddha is one who sees and understands the world in a way that transcends the limited and deluded views of those who are not awakened. However, there are three major ways of understanding what a buddha is, according to the Mahāyāna. These three different viewpoints are known as the trikāya, or three bodies of a buddha. They are not actually different bodies; rather, they are different aspects or properties of the life of a buddha.

Nichiren described these three bodies of the Buddha as follows:

About the Three Bodies: The Samantabhadra Sūtra says, “The three-fold body of the Buddha is produced by this sūtra. This sūtra contains all Dharmas just as the great ocean contains all water. The immaculate three-fold body of the Buddha is produced by this ocean-like sūtra. The three aspects of the Buddha’s body are like a field where gods and human beings can plant merit, and they are the first among those who are worthy to receive offerings.”

What the three bodies are: The first is the Dharmakāya Tathāgata. The second is the Sambhogakāya Tathāgata. The third is the Nirmānakāya Tathāgata. The Three Bodied Tathāgata includes all buddhas and all buddhas possess three bodies. For instance, the body of the moon is like the dharmakāya, the light of the moon is like the sambhogakāya, and the reflection of the moon is like the nirmānakāya. The one moon has three aspects, and one buddha has the merit of the three bodies. (Shijō Kingo Shaka Butsu Kuyoji, Shōwa Teihon p. 1182-1183. Authentic copy extant. Also see p. 131, WNS: FI 6)

The first body of a buddha is the nirmānakāya, which means “the transformation-body.” This body is the historical aspect of a buddha. In other words, this refers to a buddha as a person who is born at a certain date, who awakens at a particular time, who teaches the Dharma for a certain number of years and who then dies at a certain date. This is the buddha who is an ordinary human being in every respect, except that he (or she) is awakened to the true nature of life. The transformation-body manifests or expresses the Wonderful Dharma in terms of a human life. The historical Śākyamuni Buddha exemplifies the transformation-body.

The second body of a buddha is the sambhogakāya, “the enjoyment-body.” This is the ideal aspect of a buddha. In other words, this body is adorned with all kinds of special marks and characteristics that symbolize the transcendent nature of the buddha. This is the buddha of limitless life and light who resides in a pure land far removed from the suffering of the wheel of becoming. All who are born in this land are said to be able to attain awakening with ease. The enjoyment-body expresses the inner life of the historical Buddha and is the Buddha’s enjoyment of the Wonderful Dharma. It is also the focus of an advanced bodhisattva’s enjoyment of the Buddha’s spiritual presence and influence. Amitābha Buddha (the Buddha of Infinite Light) exemplifies the enjoyment-body.

The third body of a buddha is the dharmakāya, “the Dharma-body.” This is the buddha as universal truth. This body is really not a body of any kind but a personification of the true nature of reality itself. As such, the Dharma-body is synonymous with other Buddhist terms for the true nature of reality like emptiness, suchness, buddha-nature, or dependent origination. The Dharma-body expresses the Wonderful Dharma itself which is enjoyed by the enjoyment-body and manifested historically by the transformation-body. The Buddha Mahāvairocana (The Great Illuminator Buddha) represents the Dharma-body, despite the fact that the Dharma-body is supposed to be beyond representation.

In the history of Buddhism, different schools have fixated upon different buddhas who represent one or another of the three bodies. Some, like the Theravādins, focus on the historical Śākyamuni Buddha and minimize or ignore the more transcendent aspects of his enlightenment. Other schools, like the Pure Land, put their faith only in Amitābha Buddha in the hopes of rebirth in his pure land. Finally, the Vajrayāna schools tend to focus on Mahāvairocana Buddha and his many emanations and manifestations. In the Lotus Sūtra, however, the unity of all three bodies in the person of Śākyamuni Buddha is a key teaching.

A sacred writing of the Nichiren tradition states:

Only the the Lotus Sūtra is the wonderful teaching from the golden mouth of Śākyamuni Buddha, the three bodied enlightened one. (Myōmitsu Shonin Goshosoku, Shōwa Teihon p.1165. Listed in the Rokuge.)

The reason this unity in the person of Śākyamuni Buddha is so important is that none of the three aspects of buddhahood makes any sense without the others. They are all aspects of one buddha, of one reality. By focusing on only one aspect, we lose sight of the living reality of buddhahood and are left with mere abstractions. In Śākyamuni Buddha we can see the unity of the universal, the ideal, and the historical in an otherwise ordinary person who is no different than any of us, except for his awakening. By affirming and appreciating the unity of the three bodies in Śākyamuni Buddha, we are affirming our own ability to awaken to the ultimate truth and to base our lives upon it. So the ultimate truth of Mahāvairocana Buddha is the true nature of all life, including Śākyamuni Buddha and ourselves. It is not some god-like entity. The limitless light and life of Amitābha Buddha is, in reality, the inner life of Śākyamuni Buddha and the impact of his wisdom and compassion upon ourselves. Finally, the actual qualities and accomplishments of Śākyamuni Buddha flowed naturally from his inner realization of the ultimate truth. This serves us as an inspiration and a guide to what we ourselves our capable of.

The treatise “Conversation Between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man” states:

Myōhō Renge Kyō is the buddha-nature of all sentient beings. The buddha-nature is the Dharma-nature. The Dharma-nature is awakening. I call the buddha-nature of all sentient beings Myōhō Renge Kyō. This includes Śākyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Tathāgata, the buddhas of the ten directions, Superior Practice, Limitless Practice, and so on; Samantabhadra, Mañjuśrī, Śāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, and so on; Maha Brahmā Devarāja, Śakra Devānām Indra, the Sun and Moon, Venus, the Big Dipper, the twenty-eight constellations, the innumerable other stars, heavenly beings, earthly beings, dragon deities, the eight kinds [of non-humans], and all the human and heavenly beings of the great assembly, the Great King Yama; [and all those] above in the clouds of neither thought nor non-thought and beneath in the flames of hell. Through one universal chanting of the title [of the Lotus Sūtra], the buddha-natures of all sentient beings are called and gather around and our buddha-nature appears by manifesting the three bodies of the Dharma-body, enjoyment-body, and transformation-body of our own body’s Dharma-nature. We call this becoming a buddha. For instance, when the caged bird sings, the birds of the sky simultaneously gather around. Seeing this, the caged bird will try to get free of the cage. (Shogu Mondo-shō, Shōwa Teihon p. 387. Listed in the Rokuge. )