Writings of Nichiren Shōnin Doctrine 2, pp. 131-137

Two Nichiren Texts, pp. 68-76

The Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin I, pp. 356-359


The dialogue that comprises Kanjin Honzon-shō moves on to a discussion of the mutual possession of the ten worlds, and in particular to whether the world of the Buddha really exists within the minds of ordinary people. This part begins with the 12th question asking about the meaning of “contemplation of the mind” (J. kanjin). According to Nichiren, it means to see that the ten worlds exist within our own minds. This is in accordance with the T’ien-t’ai teaching that in every single instant of thought or conscious awareness there are three thousand worlds as discussed previously. Nichiren goes on to say that the Lotus Sūtra and the teachings of T’ien-t’ai Chih-i (538-597), particularly the Great Concentration and Insight, act as mirrors that allow us to recognize that this is so. The interlocutor finds this all very hard to believe and so the next several questions up to and including question 20 all deal with the teaching of the mutual possession of the ten worlds.

The first thing Nichiren does is to provide a series of proof texts from the Lotus Sūtra showing how the various ten worlds mutually contain one another. Lets look at each of these:

To show that the beings of the nine worlds all contain the world of buddhahood within themselves, Nichiren offers this statement of Śākyamuni Buddha from the second chapter of the Lotus Sūtra, “The Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, appear in the worlds in order to cause all living beings to open the gate to the insight of the Buddhas, and to cause them to purify themselves.” (Murano 2012 p. 33) This is the first portion of four statements that deal with the “one great purpose” of the buddhas for appearing in the worlds in order to teach the Dharma. In short, the buddhas appear in the worlds in order to open and show the gate to the insight of the buddhas to all living beings and thereby allow them to obtain that insight and enter the Way to that insight. Further on, Nichiren cites Chih-i and his disciple Chang-an Kuan-ting (561-632) who taught that if the world of buddhahood were not within all beings, then the buddhas would not be able to open and show the insight of the buddhas or invite unenlightened beings to obtain that insight or enter the Way.

Conversely, buddhas embrace the nine worlds within themselves. Nichiren cites evidence for this in the following statement of the Buddha in the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sūtra, “As I said before, it is very long since I became the Buddha. The duration of my life is innumerable, asamkhya kalpas. I am always here. I shall never pass away. Good men! The duration of my life, which I obtained by the practice of the way of Bodhisattvas, has not yet expired. It is twice as long as the length of time previously stated.” (Ibid, p. 249) What this means is that extending innumerable ages in the past and extending innumerable ages into the future the Buddha continues to be a living presence and therefore can relate to and co-exist within the other nine worlds of unenlightened beings. The Buddha, though attaining buddhahood, does not cut off and is not cut off from the worlds of unenlightened sentient beings.

Nichiren then proceeds to show how the beings of the lower nine worlds, starting with the hell-dwellers and moving up to the bodhisattvas, are shown to have the world of buddhahood according to various passages in the Lotus Sūtra wherein they are assured of attaining buddhahood or in some way show that they are capable of attaining buddhahood. There is no need to show that each world contains each of the other nine worlds because the important thing is to show that each can attain buddhahood and therefore must possess the world of buddhahood and all the rest as potential states of being within themselves. Nichiren ends with a passage to that shows that the buddhas also continue to retain the other nine worlds.

  • The hell-dwellers are promised buddhahood when the Buddha says, “Devadatta will become a Buddha after innumerable kalpas. He will be called Heavenly-King…” (Ibid, p. 202) Devadatta was the Buddha’s cousin who became a monk but later fell prey to his own ambitions and jealousy towards the Buddha. He is said to have murdered a nun named Utpalavarnā who was an arhat, made three attempts on the Buddha’s life and in the third attempt wounded the Buddha on the toe with a boulder, and initiated a schism in the Sangha. These acts are three of the five grave offences: killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing an arhat, injuring a Buddha, and causing a schism in the Sangha. The five grave offences are considered so heinous because they are not just acts of violence, but also a betrayal of the most fundamental human feelings of filial love and reverence for the wise and virtuous. Their committal is a rejection of the very basis of morality and the path to liberation from suffering. According to Buddhism, anyone who commits any of the five grave offenses will be immediately reborn in the Avīci Hell, or Hell of Incessant Suffering, after death without any chance of reprieve. Those who would commit such grave offences were considered to be one of the icchantika, people of incorrigible disbelief who are wholly unrestrained and given over to the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion. In provisional Mahāyāna teachings, this was considered to be a class of beings who were incapable of attaining enlightenment, perhaps even altogether devoid of buddha-nature. In the Lotus Sūtra, however, even Devadatta, the worst of the worst, is given a prediction of buddhahood, showing that there is no one so bad that they are totally bereft of the world of buddhahood within that can someday begin to manifest.
  • The hungry ghosts are promised buddhahood when the Buddha says to Hārītī (J. Kishimojin) the Mother-of-Devils and her brood of malevolent female spirits, “Your merits will be immeasurable even when you protect the person who keeps only the name of the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma.” (Ibid, p. 336) Hārītī, her ten daughters, other children, and all their attendants appear in the Lotus Sūtra in order to bestow protective spells, called dhāranī, upon those who uphold and teach the Lotus Sūtra. Hārītī and her children were considered rākshasī, a type of hungry ghost who were particularly malevolent and could be very powerful. According to legends, Hārītī had been preying upon the children of the city of Rājagriha in order to feed her own children. In desperation the Buddha was called in to put a stop to this. He did it by hiding one of Hārītī’s own children under a begging bowl. When she could not find the child she came to the Buddha, now frantic and miserable herself. The Buddha pointed out to her that she was causing the same anguish to others that she now felt herself and awakened in her a sense of compassion for the people of the city. She then repented of her actions, took refuge in the Three Treasures, received the five precepts, and vowed to become a protector of the Dharma. The Buddha then returned her child to her and from that point on she accepted offerings of food, esp. pomegranates, instead of seeking to consume human flesh and blood. In addition to protecting the Dharma she is also known as a gentle protector of children and as one who bestows children on those seeking to become pregnant. This story does not appear in the Lotus Sūtra, but it in the sūtra she is clearly understood to have already become a devotee of the Buddha along with her ten daughters and other children. In promising that her merit for protecting the teachers of the Lotus Sūtra will be immeasurable, the Buddha is stating that even hungry ghosts like Hārītī and her children manifest boundless merit and wisdom of the world of buddhahood within themselves.
  • Animals are promised buddhahood when the eight year old daughter of Dragon King Sāgara says to Śāriputra and Accumulated Wisdom Bodhisattva, “Look at me with your supernatural powers! I will become a Buddha more quickly.” (Ibid, p. 207) She then transformed into a buddha, confounding the disbelief of Śāriputra, Accumulated Wisdom Bodhisattva, and other members of the congregation who doubted that a young girl who was not even human could attain buddhahood. She used her magical display to conform to the traditional requirements for attaining buddhahood by instantly changing into a male body, performing bodhisattva practices, and moving to another world where there was no presiding buddha. It has been pointed out, however, that this was a magical display for the sake of chauvinistic doubters and that in fact her buddhahood did not depend upon such outward signs. She therefore became in T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren Buddhism an example of someone who actualized the teaching of “becoming a buddha in one’s present form” (J. sokushin jōbutsu). In traditional Buddhist cosmology, dragons are considered to belong to the world of animals and so the daughter of the dragon king’s attainment of buddhahood in the Lotus Sūtra shows that even animals possess and can realize and manifest the world of buddhahood within.
  • The fighting demons, called asura, are promised buddhahood when the Buddha says, “Medicine King! Do you see the innumerable gods, dragon-kings, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, men, and nonhuman beings, and [the four kinds of devotees:] bhiksus, bhiksunīs, upāsakas, upāsikās,and those who are seeking Śrāvakahood or Pratyekabuddhahood or the enlightenment of the Buddha in this great multitude? If in my presence any of them rejoices, even on a moment’s thought, at hearing even a gāthā or a phrase of the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, I will assure him of his future Buddhahood, saying to him, ‘You will be able to attain Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.’” (Ibid, p. 176) This passage lists the eight kinds of nonhuman beings that are considered protectors of the Dharma. In the first chapter of the Lotus Sūtra it is said that these beings are present on Mt. Grdhrakūta, or Vulture Peak, including the fighting demons. “There were also four asura-kings: Balin Asura-King, Kharaskandha Asura-King, Vemacitrin Asura-King, and Rāhu Asura-King, each accompanied by hundreds of thousands of attendants.” (Ibid, p. 3) So in the above passage the Buddha is assuring all of those present, including the asura-kings and their attendants, that if they rejoice for even a moment at hearing even a verse or phrase of the Lotus Sūtra they will attain buddhahood, in other words anuttara-samkyak-sambodhi, or perfect complete awakening. Therefore the asuras, the fighting demons, have the world of buddhahood within.
  • Humans are promised buddhahood when the Buddha describes numerous acts of reverence shown towards the Buddha or even just an image of the Buddha, some of which seem quite trivial, and states that anyone who has done such things have already attained the enlightenment of the Buddha. For example, “Those who carved an image of the Buddha/With the [proper] physical marks in his honor/Have already attained/The enlightenment of the Buddha.” (Ibid, p. 42) This shows that human beings have within themselves the world of buddhahood.
  • The gods who dwell in the heavens, called devas, express their own assurance of attaining buddhahood when they rejoice after hearing the Buddha predict the buddhahood of Śāriputra. They sing, “We also shall be able to become Buddhas.” (Ibid, p. 61) This shows that the gods too have the world of buddhahood within.
  • The śrāvakas, the hearers of the Buddha’s teachings, are promised buddhahood many times in the first half of the Lotus Sūtra when the Buddha bestows prophecies of buddhahood upon his major disciples and the other monks and nuns in the assembly beginning with Śāriputra. He says to his chief disciple, “Śāriputra! After a countless inconceivable number of kalpas from now, you will be able… to become a Buddha called Flower-Light…” (Ibid, pp. 56-57) This is especially significant because in provisional Mahāyāna teachings those like Śāriputra who have become arhats will no longer be reborn and therefore they are incapable of pursuing the bodhisattva way of voluntarily being reborn in the six lower worlds in order to accumulate wisdom and merit and eventually being reborn in a world where Buddhism has not been taught or where it has been forgotten and there attain buddhahood and turn the wheel of the Dharma. In the passage above, however, the Buddha predicts that even arhats like Śāriputra will be able to continue in their cultivation and attain buddhahood and therefore they too have the world of buddhahood within.
  • The pratyekabuddhas, the privately-awakened ones or cause-knowers, are promised buddhahood when Śāriputra sings that “Those who are seeking the vehicle of cause-knowers…” (Ibid, p. 29) and all “…The innumerable living beings in this congregation will respect and believe the Dharma. They have been taught by the [past] Buddhas in their consecutive previous existences. They are joining their hands together [towards you], wishing with all their hearts to hear and receive your words.” (Ibid, p. 31) What they are wishing to hear and receive is the Buddha’s teaching of the One Vehicle, that in fact there are not really separate vehicles for śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas but only One Vehicle leading all to buddhahood. This shows that the pratyekabuddhas also have the world of buddhahood within.
  • Bodhisattvas are by definition on the path to buddhahood, but Nichiren cites the passage where the bodhisattvas from underground say to the Buddha, “World-Honored One! After your extinction, we will expound this sūtra in the worlds of the Buddhas of your replicas and also in the place from which you will pass away. Why is that? It is because we also wish to obtain this true, pure and great Dharma, to keep, read, recite, expound, and copy [this sūtra], and to make offerings to it.” (Ibid, p. 298) In expressing the wish to obtain the Wonderful Dharma and perform the five practices of keeping, reading, reciting, expounding, and copying it the bodhisattvas are beginning to manifest the world of buddhahood.
  • That the buddhas retain the other nine worlds within themselves is indicated when the Buddha says, “I described my deeds [in some sūtras,] and the deeds of others [in other sūtras].” (Ibid, p. 249) This means that sometimes the Buddha shows himself as a buddha and other times he manifests as one of the beings of the other nine worlds, or in other words as a sentient being who has not yet attained buddhahood. Traditionally it is taught that the Buddha spent countless lifetimes as a bodhisattva accumulating wisdom and merit by taking birth in the six lower worlds of rebirth. The stories of the Buddha’s deeds in past lives as a bodhisattva are told in the Jātaka stories which number in the hundreds. However, in chapter 16 of the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha states that he actually attained buddhahood in the remote past. This means that during all his previous lifetimes he was a buddha manifesting as a bodhisattva, and as a bodhisattva appearing among the six lower worlds. In chapters 23 and 24 of the Lotus Sūtra, it is taught that the Wonderful-Voice Bodhisattva and World-Voice-Perceiver (Avalokiteśvara) Bodhisattva respectively are able to take on any forms, including śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. So bodhisattvas can even appear as those beings following the two vehicles, and those who are following the two vehicles can enter the One Vehicle and become bodhisattvas. Therefore the Buddha during those lifetimes when he was a buddha but not yet showing it could also appear as a being of the two vehicles. In saying that the other nine worlds possess the world of buddhahood within, what is meant is that the other nine worlds have it within themselves to realize and actualize the state of buddhahood. On the other hand, in saying that the buddhas possess the other nine worlds within themselves what is meant is that, without falling away from buddhahood, they continue to relate to and even appear as any of the other sentient beings as needed in order to lead them all to buddhahood.

As the dialogue unfolds the interlocutor and Nichiren discuss the difficulties of believing this teaching of the mutual possession of the ten worlds. I will discuss these difficulties in another chapter of this commentary. For now I want to focus just on the examples Nichiren provides of the other nine worlds (aside from the world of humanity) appearing in the lives of human beings in response to the persistent questions of the interlocutor, who cannot imagine what it could possibly mean to say that all the worlds from hell to buddhahood are contained within us.

Nichiren first provides examples of how the six lower worlds manifest in the lives of ordinary human beings.

As we often look at each other’s faces, we notice our facial expression changes from time to time. It is full of delight, anger, or calm sometimes; but other times it changes to greed, ignorance, or flattery. Rage represents the hells, greed – hungry ghosts, ignorance – animals, perversity – fighting demons, delight – gods, and calm – humanity. Thus we see six worlds of illusion in the countenance of people, from the hells to the worlds of the gods. (Hori 2002, pp. 134-135 adapted)

In regard to the worlds of the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas (followers of the two vehicles) and also the bodhisattvas, Nichiren provides the following examples:

Nothing is permanent in this world. I know that some people realize this truth. Here we can say that they are adherents of the two vehicles. Even the most cruel man loves his wife and child. He has part of bodhisattvahood. (Murano 2003, p. 74)

 Nichiren admits that the world of buddhahood is very hard to see and that in this case one should have faith that it is there just as the other worlds are. He again cites the passage from the Lotus Sūtra wherein the Buddha speaks of the one great purpose for which the buddhas appear in the worlds, that being to allow people to attain buddhahood. He also cites a passage from the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra that says, “Though having only human eyes, those who study Mahāyāna Buddhism are regarded the same as having the eyes of a buddha because they see the truth of Buddhism.” (Hori 2002, p. 134 adapted) Nichiren also says, “The reason why we, ordinary people, born in the Latter Age, can put faith in the Lotus Sūtra is that the world of buddhas is included in the world of human beings.” (Ibid, p. 134 adapted) These examples show that to even seek the wisdom of the Buddha by studying the teachings and taking faith in it is itself a partial manifestation of buddhahood. Further on, Nichiren gives these additional examples:

Ancient Chinese rulers, sages such as Yao and Shun, treated all people equally with compassion, proving the existence of the world of buddhas, at least a portion of it, within the world of humanity. Never Despising Bodhisattva, described in the twentieth chapter on “Never Despising Bodhisattva” of the Lotus Sūtra, pressed his hands together in respect and bowed to anyone he met because whenever the bodhisattva saw a person, he saw a buddha in them. Born to the human world, Prince Siddhārtha, young Śākyamuni, became the Buddha. This evidence should be enough to convince you to believe that the world of buddhas exist in the world of humanity. (Ibid, p. 137)

Yao (r. 2356-2347 BCE) and Shun (r. 2244-2205 BCE) were among the idealized sage-rulers of the legendary golden age of China’s past. They were particularly revered as ideal rulers who instituted many of the rites that Confucius believed were at the heart of civilized life. Nichiren sees the compassion they extended equally to all people and their benevolent rule as partial expressions of buddhahood. In chapter 20 of the Lotus Sūtra, Śākyamuni Buddha tells the story of his past life as a bodhisattva named Never Despising who greeted all the Buddhist monastics and laypeople he met with the following words, “I respect you deeply. I do not despise you. Why is that? It is because you will be able to practice the Way of Bodhisattvas and become Buddhas.” (Murano 2012, p. 292) So Nichiren is telling his interlocutor that the Buddha became the Buddha through the practice of recognizing the buddhahood in others. Finally, Nichiren points to the fact that Śākyamuni Buddha was born an ordinary human being, Prince Siddhārtha, and just as Siddhārtha was able manifest buddhahood, so can other human beings because all of us have the world of buddhahood within.


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.

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

______________, trans. The Lotus Sutra. Tokyo: Nichiren Shu Headquarters, 2012.