Writings of Nichiren Shōnin Doctrine 2, pp. 137-139, 144, 147-149

Two Nichiren Texts, pp. 76-79, 86, 90-92

The Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin I, pp. 359-360, 364, 366-367

There are a few other topics related to the way in which Mahāyāna Buddhism, and in particular the T’ien-t’ai School, looked upon the Buddha that I think are important to review because they are enter into the dialogue in Kanjin Honzon-shō. At one point, Nichiren cites a passage from the Meditation on the Universal Sage Bodhisattva Sūtra, the closing sūtra of the Threefold Lotus Sūtra, stating that the Mahāyāna sūtras are the source of the five kinds of eyes of the Buddha and in turn of the three bodies of the Buddha.

The Buddha then said to Ānanda, “After the extinction of the Buddha, if his disciples want to repent of their evil and bad actions, they only have to read and recite the Great Vehicle sūtras. These sūtras of the Expansive Teaching are the eyes of the buddhas. By means of these sūtras the buddhas have been able to attain the five kinds of eyes, and from them are born the three kinds of buddha bodies. This is the mark of the great Dharma, marking the ocean of nirvāna. From such an ocean the three kinds of pure buddha bodies are born. These three kinds of bodies are field of blessings for human and heavenly beings, and most worthy of offerings. If anyone recites and reads the sūtras of the Great Vehicle, the Expansive Teaching, it should be known that they have the blessings of a buddha, and having extinguished their various evils long ago, are born of buddha-wisdom.” (Reeves, p. 417)

Five Kinds of Eyes

What are these “five kinds of eyes” and “three kinds of buddha bodies”? The five kinds of eyes are the physical eye, the heavenly eye, the wisdom eye, the dharma eye, and the buddha eye that are cultivated by bodhisattvas in order to attain buddhahood. The Buddha describes them to Śāriputra in the Large Sūtra on Perfect Wisdom.

Śāriputra: What is a bodhisattva’s perfectly pure physical eye?

The Lord: There is the physical eye of a bodhisattva that sees for a hundred miles, for two hundred miles… (Conze 1984, p. 76 slightly adapted)

The Buddha goes on to say that the physical eye can see across not only the whole world but effectively the whole universe, though Buddhist cosmological terms are used and I would rather pass over those kinds of details right now. The point is that the physical eye sees the colors and forms of the physical world. Even our current microscopes and telescopes that augment the power of our vision do not go beyond what Buddhism means by the physical eye.

The next eye the Buddha describes is the heavenly eye.

Śāriputra: What is a bodhisattva’s perfectly pure heavenly eye?

The Lord: A bodhisattva wisely knows the heavenly eye of the gods, beginning with the four great kings; but the gods do not wisely know a bodhisattva’s heavenly eye. With his perfectly pure heavenly eye he wisely knows, as it really is, the decease and rebirth of all beings in the world systems numerous as the sands of the Ganges River, in each of the ten directions. This is a bodhisattva’s perfectly pure heavenly eye. (Ibid, p. 77)

The heavenly eye is effectively the same as the fifth of the six supernatural powers described previously.

The next eye the Buddha describes is the wisdom eye.

Śāriputra: What is a bodhisattva’s perfectly pure wisdom eye?

The Lord: A bodhisattva who is endowed with that wisdom eye does not wisely know any dharma – be it conditioned or unconditioned, wholesome or unwholesome, faulty or faultless, with or without outflows, defiled or undefiled, worldly or supramundane. With that wisdom eye he does not see any dharma, or hear, know, or discern one. This is the perfectly pure wisdom eye of a bodhisattva. (Ibid, p. 77)

The wisdom eye is sometimes equated with the sixth of the six supernatural powers, as that was the power that enabled the Buddha to rid himself of the taints and awaken to the working of dependent origination in which there can be found no self-nature among the dynamic flux of causes and conditions. Here the explanation takes a paradoxical turn typical of the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras by asserting that wisdom is to not know or recognize any dharmas. This will require a bit of explanation, one that I think is worth going over because of the light it sheds on the Mahāyāna view of reality.

The word “dharma” in the above passage does not mean “Truth” or “Reality” but rather phenomena. In pre-Mahāyāna Buddhism, beings and objects and all other things we experience in life are analyzed into their seemingly indivisible components. For instance, according to the Theravadin enumeration the aggregate of form consists of the following dharmas: earth, air, fire, water, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, form, sound, smell, taste, femininity, masculinity, heart-base, life faculty, and nutriment. Note that touch is not a dharma but is accounted for by the earth, fire, and air that provide for solidity, temperature, and pressure. Theravadin Buddhism also enumerates the following “non-concrete” forms: space, bodily and verbal intimation, lightness, malleability, wieldiness, production, continuity, decay, and impermanence. This is obviously a pre-scientific way of analyzing natural phenomena and processes.  The dharmas pertaining to the mind would include consciousness or bare awareness, and its many concomitants such as contact, feeling, perception, volition, one-pointedness, attention, thought, examination, greed, hatred, wrong view, faith, compassion, sympathetic joy, and so on. Each of these discrete dharmas flash into and out of our experience of life according to prevailing causes and conditions and it is out of these that we build up our concepts of self and other, subject and object.

The Mahāyāna objection to this is when the dharmas are taken to be actual things that have a self-nature. The Mahāyāna, and in particular the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras, points out that the dharmas are just abstractions, concepts derived from the experience of the dynamic flux of causes and condition in which there are no such base realities with a fixed and independent self-nature. What Mahāyāna Buddhism is saying is that to hold that there are actual dharmas, no matter how discrete, minute, or seemingly indivisible, whether physical or mental, is to overlook the sheer emptiness of all phenomena on every level. Any phenomena or dharma can be said to be empty because they are all impermanent, they are all composed of causes and conditions that are themselves composed of other causes and conditions and so on without end, and they are all experienced only through the filter of our perceptions and mental constructs. There can be no fixed independent or lasting self-nature because all that can be experienced is impermanent, utterly contingent, and conditioned by the mind that experiences them. They are empty of any self-nature, and therefore ungraspable. The alleged dharmas are nothing more than abstractions, whether for the sake of conventional speech or for the sake of analysis, and therefore it can be said that there are no dharmas to know. The wisdom eye, therefore, is the eye that sees that there is nothing to see.

The next eye the Buddha describes is the dharma eye. Here I will provide only a couple of lines of the Buddha’s explanation as the full explanation makes reference to many things that would take us too far afield to get into here.

Śāriputra: What is a bodhisattva’s perfectly pure dharma eye?

The Lord: Here a bodhisattva knows by means of the dharma eye, that “this person is a faith-follower, that person is a dharma-follower. This person is a dweller in emptiness, that person is a dweller in the signless, that person is a dweller in the wishless…” (Ibid, p. 77)

The Buddha’s definition goes on to cover all the types of people who are cultivating themselves and thereby attaining various insights and stages of liberation up to and including those bodhisattvas who are about to attain buddhahood. The basic idea is that while the wisdom eye sees the emptiness of all dharmas, the dharma eye recognizes them again as provisionally existent and with an eye (so to speak) for the spiritual progress of all those within its gaze. It is an eye that does not dismiss things or refuse to acknowledge things because they are empty but rather sees deeply into the spiritual potentials and actualities of beings based on their changing conditions and circumstances. With this eye the bodhisattvas and the buddhas are best able to judge what would be the most skillful manner of assisting sentient beings attain liberation.

The fifth of the five eyes is the buddha eye.

Śāriputra: What is a bodhisattva’s perfectly pure buddha eye?

The Lord:  The bodhisattva, when immediately after the thought of enlightenment he has, with a wisdom conjoined with one single thought-moment, entered on the adamantine concentration, reaches the knowledge of all modes. He is endowed with the ten powers of a Tathāgata, the four kinds of fearlessness, the four kinds of analytical knowledge, the 18 unique properties of a buddha, the great friendliness, the great compassion, the great sympathetic joy, the great equanimity, and the unhindered deliverance of a buddha. And that eye of the bodhisattva does not meet with anything that is not seen, heard, known, or discerned – in all its modes. That is the bodhisattva’s perfect buddha eye. (Ibid, p. 79 adapted)

Several categories of powers and attributes are referred to and these have already been explained except for the four kinds of analytical knowledge that has to do with the Buddha’s analytical knowledge relating to meaning, the teaching of the Dharma, language, and inspired speech. The point is that the buddha eye represents the fullest realization of what it is to be completely awakened and to know all things fully in all their aspects, as both empty and provisionally existent according to causes and conditions. It is the eye that guides the Buddha’s selfless and compassionate response to any and every situation. It is the eye that encompasses and surpasses the first four eyes.

It would be easy, I think, for us to dismiss the five eyes as nothing more than religious rhetoric and hyperbole. I’d like to point out, however, that they express an interesting perspective on how spiritual awakening came to be understood. The physical eye is simply our mundane vision perfected and augmented, but the other four are pointing to capacities of understanding that should be considered. The heavenly eye is not just the psychic power of clairvoyance, but is also the ability to understand the patterns of the conduct of beings and where those patterns will likely lead for better or worse. The wisdom eye is the ability to uproot attachment and aversion by seeing that ultimately there are no subjects or objects with any independent fixed self-natures to have any attachment or aversion for. The dharma eye on the other hand corrects the tendency of the wisdom eye to dismiss phenomena as merely empty because it sees that things do nevertheless arise and cease in accord with causes and conditions and that within that flux suffering can be alleviated through the application of skillful methods of teaching and practice. The buddha eye brings it all together and maintain the Middle Way that encompasses both the empty and yet provisionally existent nature all phenomena.

Three Bodies of the Buddha

The passage from the Meditation on the Universal Sage Bodhisattva Sūtra asserts that from the five kinds of eyes are born the three bodies of the Buddha. In other words, in attaining the wisdom represented by the five kinds of eyes one awakens and is a buddha with the “three bodies” (S. trikāya) of a buddha: the Dharma-body (S. dharmakāya), enjoyment-body (S. sambhogakaya), and transformation-body (S. nirmānakāya). The concept of the three bodies is a later Mahāyāna development from the 3rd or 4th century that expanded upon the earlier concepts of the form-body and the Dharma-body previously discussed. Briefly, the three bodies are a way of highlighting three different aspects of the Buddha.

The transformation-body is the Buddha as a historical person. The historical Śākyamuni Buddha was born on a certain day, died on a certain day, and in between he was subject to aging, sickness, and infirmity, and had to eat, sleep, and relieve himself like the rest of us. This was the Buddha who spent 50 years of his life teaching others how to free themselves of suffering by attaining the same awakening that he did.

The enjoyment-body is an idealized buddha who resides in an ideal world called a pure land where all the conditions of that world make it easy to attain awakening. One of the most popular enjoyment-body buddhas is Amitābha Buddha of the Pure Land School. The enjoyment-body is a kind of personification of all the meritorious qualities of the Buddha that manifest themselves in the form of the 32 marks. The enjoyment-body also personifies the bliss of the Buddha’s awakening that only advanced bodhisattvas are able to perceive.

The Dharma-body is the true nature of reality.  As discussed above, in early Buddhism the term either referred to the Buddha’s body of teachings or to the five-fold Dharma-body of practice and liberation: precepts, meditation, wisdom, liberation, and knowledge of liberation. It can also refer to the collective body of the Buddha’s more intangible transcendent qualities such as the ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, and the eighteen unique properties of a buddha. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, the Dharma-body came to mean true reality itself and was personified by cosmic buddhas like Mahāvairocana Tathagata (in J. Dainichi Nyorai, which translates as “Great Sun Tathāgata”).

By way of summarizing the teachings regarding the three bodies and the five eyes of the Buddha below is a passage from a letter by Nichiren to his follower Shijō Kingo about them:

Regarding the threefold body of a Buddha, the Meditation on the Universal Sage Bodhisattva 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.”

The three bodies of a Buddha are (1) the Dharma-body, (20 the enjoyment-body, and (3) the transformation-body. Each buddha inevitably is equipped with these three. If we compare them to the moon, the Dharma-body is the moon’s body, the enjoyment-body is the moonlight, and the transformation-body is the reflection of the moon [in a pond]. As one moon has three aspects, each Buddha has the virtue of three bodies.

This doctrine of “five kinds of eyes” and “three bodies of a buddha” cannot be found anywhere except in the Lotus Sūtra. Therefore, Grand Master T’ien-t’ai states in his Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sūtra, fascicle 9, “A buddha has always been equipped with the ‘three bodies’ throughout the past, present, and future, but the Buddha concealed it in various sūtras except the Lotus Sūtra.” In this interpretation “various sūtras” refer not only to the Flower Garland Sūtra, the expanded sūtras, and the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras but also all sūtras except the Lotus Sūtra. “The Buddha concealed it” means the Lord Śākyamuni Buddha did not expound it anywhere except in the “Duration of the Life of the Tathāgata” chapter of the Lotus Sūtra. Therefore, the eye-opening service for a Buddhist portrait or statue must be performed with the Lotus Sūtra by the Tendai (T’ien-t’ai) School of Buddhism. (Hori 2010, p. 131-132 adapted)

The last sentence of the passage above has already been cited previously when I discussed the eye-opening ceremony in connection with the buddhahood of the environment. What I would like to draw attention to now is where Nichiren states that each Buddha has the virtue of all three bodies. Other forms of Buddhism often viewed the three bodies as embodied in different buddhas. For instance, Mahāvairocana of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra is considered to be the Dharma-body, Amitābha Buddha of the Pure Land sūtras is considered an enjoyment-body buddha, while the historical Śākyamuni Buddha is a transformation-body buddha. T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren Buddhism, however, view all three bodies and their qualities are regarded as three integral aspects of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha of the Lotus Sūtra.

Unfortunately, the writings in which Chih-i explained his views about the three bodies in relation to the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha have not been translated into English. So I must rely upon what scholars have stated about his teaching. In the following passage from her book Original Enlightenment, Jacqueline Stone summarizes Chih-i’s interpretation (Note that she calls the sambhogakāya the “recompense body” and the nirmānakāya the “manifested body”):

Elsewhere, in a dynamic synthesis, he interpreted Śākyamuni Buddha of the “Fathoming of the Lifespan” chapter as embodying all three bodies in one. When the Buddha’s wisdom grasps the ultimate reality, that which is realized is the Dharma body; and the wisdom that realizes it is the recompense body. For the sake of living beings, this wisdom manifests itself in physical form as the human Buddha who teaches in the world; this is the manifested body. Since the recompense body both realizes the truth that is the Dharma body and responds to aspirations of the beings in the form of the manifested body, Chih-i regarded it as central. However, he also rejected any notion of hierarchy among the three bodies, denying that one can be seen as prior to the others. (Stone, p. 26)

Preeminence is usually assigned to the Dharma-body of the Buddha as it is the unconditioned true nature of reality that is unborn and deathless. The tathāgata-garbha or buddha-nature is the Dharma-body when it is obscured by defilements, and the Dharma-body is the buddha-nature when it is fully realized and actualized by a Buddha. The enjoyment-body and transformation-bodies are usually seen as subordinate temporal emanations of the Dharma-body that appear in particular times and places. Basically the Dharma-body is aligned with the ultimate truth that is emptiness, and the other two bodies are aligned with the conventional truth that is phenomenal existence. Chih-i, however, attempted to go beyond dualistic interpretations of emptiness and phenomenal existence. He taught that the truths of emptiness and provisional existence are both united in the truth of the Middle Way so that all three are a single integral truth. The unity of the three truths thereby undercuts any duality between the ultimate and the conventional. Applying this to the three bodies of the Buddha means that three bodies are also to be viewed as three constant aspects of an integral whole.

If the three bodies are three aspects of an integral whole then that means that it is not just the Dharma-body that is unborn and deathless, but that the enjoyment-body and the transformation body must also be unborn and deathless. All three are empty of birth and death, all three are ungraspable, and all three are unconditioned. In the Lotus Sūtra, it is asserted that the true aspect of all phenomena is of the unconditioned nature of nirvāna, this would include the phenomenal aspects of the Buddha’s life. In chapter 16 of the Lotus Sūtra, Śākyamuni Buddha speaks of his own awakened lifespan as beyond calculation both in terms of its beginning and its end and from his point of view there is no birth or death in the triple world. Chih-i understood all of this to mean that not just the Buddha’s true nature, but also his ideal qualities and his concrete presence in the world all transcend birth and death.

In Ichidai Goji Keizu (Genealogical Chart of the Buddha’s Lifetime Teachings in Five Periods), Nichiren contrasts the traditional views of the three bodies with the T’ien-t’ai Schools teachings regarding the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha of chapter 16 of the Lotus Sūtra in whom all three bodies are revealed to be integral aspects of a single Buddha who is unborn and deathless. He explains that this is why the T’ien-t’ai school views the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha as the focus of devotion whereas the other schools of Buddhism are devoted to buddhas who only embody only one or another of the three bodies in their more limited and separated aspects.

The focus of devotion of the T’ien-t’ai School is Śākyamuni Buddha, who had actually practiced the bodhisattva way and attained buddhahood in the remote past. The buddhas such as Vairocana Buddha, the lord preacher of the Flower Garland Sūtra, and Mahāvairocana, lord preacher of the True Word School, are retainers of this Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha.

Except for the Eternal Buddha revealed in the essential section of the Lotus Sūtra, buddhas all attained buddhahood for the first time in this life and possess the three kinds of bodies. Transformation-body buddhas are finite buddhas who appear in this world, showing both beginning (attaining buddhahood) and ending (entering nirvāna). The enjoyment-body is obtained as the reward of completing the bodhisattva practice and having mastered the wisdom of the buddha. Buddhas in this body therefore have a beginning (attaining buddhahood) but no end (entering nirvāna). The Dharma-body is the body of fundamental truth, the Dharma to which the Buddha is awakened, which is immaterial and has no beginning or ending. The Vairocana Buddha of the Flower Garland School and Mahāvairocana of the True Word School are claimed to be buddhas of the enjoyment-body and Dharma-body respectively.

The Buddha as revealed in the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra is the one who attained buddhahood in the remote past. He, too, possesses the three kinds of buddha-body. In this Eternal Buddha, the three bodies are fused in one, having no beginning and no ending, and he lives forever from the eternal past to the infinite future to guide the people. (Hori 2004, p. 250 adapted)

In the above passage, Nichiren makes it very clear that the true focus of devotion of the T’ien-t’ai School is none other than the Eternal Buddha of Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra who embodies the unity of the three bodies of a Buddha and who is in all respects unborn and deathless. For Nichiren, this is the most integrated and complete view of Śākyamuni Buddha and therefore provides us with the most complete and integrated view of buddhahood, including our own. Nichiren will have more to say about this later in Kanjin Honzon-shō when he reveals the true focus of devotion.

I’d like to share one other thought about this teaching of the unity of the three bodies in the person of Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha. It might not be hard to think of the true nature of reality as having no beginning or end; we might even be able to imagine that the glorified Buddha presiding over a pure land has no beginning or end; but how can we say that the transformation-body or historical Buddha (whom we tentatively assign the dates 463-383 BCE) is without a beginning or end? Of course the physical frame and historically conditioned personality of Siddhārtha Gautama was born on a certain date and died 80 years later, but this is to speak in terms of the aggregates that the Buddha did not identify as a “self.” If we change our focus we will see that the historical Buddha was a temporary formation in a flow of causes and conditions that express the skillful means of the Eternal Buddha, it is this flow of concrete skillful activity in the world that is the true transformation-body of the Buddha, and like any other conditioned phenomena it is ungraspable and not a matter of a fixed independent substance that appears and then disappears. It is a beginningless and endless process with no boundaries, though it gives rise to phenomena that we conventionally ascribe boundaries to – like the life of an Indian prince who became an ascetic and then an awakened teacher, or the compilation of a text and its many iterations and translations that we relate to as the Lotus Sūtra. I won’t pretend that I fully understand the meaning of saying that the transformation-body too is unborn and deathless, but I am sure it does not mean that the historical Siddhārtha Gautama is now to be viewed as an eternal ghostly presence or spirit much less that he is still physically alive. I do get the sense that it means what is being said is that the Eternal Buddha is a real constant presence in the world: as the true nature of reality (the Dharma-body); as the virtuous qualities of buddhahood in the depths of our lives and communicated to ourselves and others in and through our Buddhist practice (enjoyment-body); as the concrete manifestations of Buddha Dharma in the form of our teachers and fellow practitioners; as the text of the Lotus Sūtra that can guide and inspire us; as the Omandala that depicts our focus of devotion (J. gohonzon); and as the sound of the Odaimoku as the seed of buddhahood that we sow in our lives and the lives of others. As it says in the Verses for Opening the Sūtra used in the Nichiren Shū services: “We shall be able to approach awakening when we see, hear, or touch this sūtra. Expounding is the Buddha’s enjoyment-body (sambhoga-kāya). Expounded is the Buddha’s reality-body (dharma-kāya). The letters composing this sūtra are the Buddha’s transformation-body (nirmāna-kāya). (Hirai & McCormick, p. 5) I believe what this is saying is that we encounter all three bodies of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha in our practice of the Lotus Sūtra.

Four Lands

In addition to the late Mahāyāna development of the concept of the three bodies, the Mahāyāna from early on taught that there are buddhas throughout the universe. The pre-Mahāyāna sūtras only took into account the historical Śākyamuni Buddha of this world and this era, and only one bodhisattva, his successor Maitreya Bodhisattva. The Mahāyāna sūtras, however, have a grander scope that takes in the whole universe and unimaginably vast scales of time wherein there are countless buddhas inhabiting pure lands throughout the universe with bodhisattva attendants who voluntarily take birth even in this Sahā world (the world of Endurance) in order to help liberate all beings and accumulate the merit and wisdom needed to attain buddhahood and establish their own pure lands.

In Kanjin Honzon-shō, Nichiren reviews the ways in which Śākyamuni Buddha appeared when he taught the other sūtras leading up to and including the Trace Gate of the Lotus Sūtra as well as the Nirvāna Sūtra that followed and how during that time he appeared in different aspects and in the company of large numbers of buddhas.

Speaking of the attainment of buddhahood as a result of the practices of a bodhisattva, it is generally believed that Lord Śākyamuni Buddha attained perfect awakening for the first time under the Bodhi tree at Buddhagāya. For some forty years since then, he manifested himself as various buddhas, preaching the four doctrinal teachings (Tripitika, shared, distinct, and perfect). He thus preached the pre-Lotus sūtras, the Trace Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, and the Nirvāna Sūtra, delivering salvation to all people.

Namely, when preaching the Flower Garland Sūtra, he appeared as Vairocana Buddha sitting on the lotus-dais in the center of the universe. In the Āgama sūtras, he manifested himself as a buddha who had eliminated illusions and attained buddhahood by going through thirty-four stages of spiritual cultivation. He showed the dignity of appearing with 1,000 buddhas in sūtras of the Expanded period and Perfection of Wisdom period, and 1,200 buddhas in such sūtras as the Mahāvairocana Sūtra and the Diamond Peak Sūtra. (Hori 2002, p. 138 adapted)

The order in which Nichiren discusses the Buddha’s appearance and the company he is in follows that of the five periods of the T’ien-t’ai sūtra classification system discussed previously. So he begins with the Flower Garland Sūtra wherein the Buddha appears as Vairocana Buddha. In the Mahāyāna sūtras, the name Vairocana (lit. Illuminator) is used to indicate Śākyamuni Buddha in a glorified or cosmic aspect that can only be perceived by advanced bodhisattvas. It is Vairocana Buddha who is the Buddha of the Flower Garland Sūtra, the Brahmā Net Sūtra, the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, and the Diamond Peak Sūtra. The Sūtra of Meditation on the Universal Sage Bodhisattva, the closing sūtra of the Threefold Lotus Sūtra, says, “Śākyamuni Buddha is called Vairocana, the Omnipresent. His dwelling place is called Eternally Tranquil Light.” (Reeves 2008, p. 416 adapted) Sometimes the name Mahāvairocana (lit. Great Illuminator) is used interchangeably with Vairocana Buddha. In the T’ien-t’ai School, Mahāvairocana Buddha is taken to be the Dharma-body, while Vairocana Buddha is understood to be the enjoyment-body (S. sambhoga-kāya) aspect of Śākyamuni Buddha. In Japanese Mahāvairocana is translated as Dainichi, which means Great Sun.

The Āgamas are those sūtras that contain the pre-Mahāyana teachings, the Deer Park period in the T’ien-t’ai system. In the Āgamas the Buddha appears in his inferior transformation-body as a person who awakened through his own insight and efforts and became the Buddha of this world who set in motion the wheel of the Dharma. He is not shown in the company of any other buddhas nor even in the company of bodhisattvas.

In the Expanded sūtras such as the Great Assembly Sūtra and in the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras of the periods of the Expanded and Perfection of Wisdom teachings, Śākyamuni Buddha is shown in a collegial relationship with the other buddhas in the pure lands throughout the universe. These buddhas of the ten directions are able to see and converse with one another even though they all stay in their own respective worlds. So for instance the Buddha speaks of Amitābha (Infinite Life) Buddha in the Pure Land of Bliss or Bhaisajyaguru (Medicine Master) Buddha in the Pure Land of Emerald, or the Mahāvairocana (Great Illuminator) Buddha of the Pure Land of Mystic Glorification. In the . In chapter 11 of the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha purifies this world three times and recalls all his emanations so that he can open the Stūpa of Treasures. The emanations are the buddhas of the ten directions. Nichiren therefore says, “The lords of these lands are transformations of Śākyamuni Buddha.” (Hori 2002, p. 148) So not only Vairocana and Mahāvairocana, but also Amitābha, Bhaisajyaguru and other buddhas are actually aspects of Śākyamuni Buddha and their pure lands are aspects of his pure land. In the Mahāvairocana Sūtra the Buddha is called Mahāvairocana as mentioned above and is shown in the company of more than 700 buddhas who together form the Womb Realm Mandala, while in the Diamond Peak Sūtra he appears with more than 500 buddhas who form the Diamond Realm Mandala.

In the Trace Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, specifically in chapter 11, and in the Nirvāna Sūtra that together comprise the period of the Perfect teaching the Buddha revealed four lands and four types of bodies respectively.

Moreover, in the Trace Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, the eleventh “Appearance of the Stūpa of Treasures” chapter, he manifested four different buddhas in four lands: the Land of the Awakened and Unawakened, the Land of Transition, the Land of Actual Reward, and the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. In the Nirvāna Sūtra, he exhibited four types of buddha bodies: the inferior transformation-body as sixteen feet tall, the superior transformation body that is sometimes tall but short at other times, the enjoyment-body known as Vairocana, and the vast as the sky Dharma-body. (Ibid, p. 138 adapted)

These four lands with their four different kinds of buddha-bodies are both correlated with each other and with the four different types of the Buddha’s teaching according to content according to the T’ien-t’ai analysis. In this system there is an inferior and a superior transformation body. The Buddha’s inferior transformation-body presides over the Land of Awakened and Unawakened, wherein the sages of the four higher worlds commingle with the beings of the six lower worlds. This land is associated with the Tripitika teaching. Note that the inferior transformation-body is said to be sixteen feet tall as well as possessed of the 32 major marks and 80 minor marks. The other bodies are presumably even larger and more glorious. The Buddha’s superior transformation-body presides over the Land of Transition where the arhats and pratyekabuddhas reside after they believe they have attained nirvāna. It is like a resting place where they can abide before taking up the bodhisattva path. Those bodhisattvas who have not advanced very far may also reside here. This land is associated with the shared teaching. The Buddha’s enjoyment-body presides over the Land of Actual Reward where the advanced bodhisattvas reside and contemplate the distinct teaching. Finally, the Buddha’s Dharma-body presides over the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light where the perfect teaching is realized.

All of this may seem very fantastic, but really it is all about being able to deepen one’s perspective. The five eyes are a way of teaching us to look beyond the surface of things and to appreciate the empty, yet provisionally existent Middle Wayness of all phenomena. The three bodies are a way of appreciating the different ways the Buddha (or buddhahood) is an active presence in the world and in our lives, as the historical founder of Buddhism, as an uplifting ideal and even spiritual presence, and as the selfless and compassionate true nature of reality. The four lands, like the ten worlds, are a way of classifying different states of being: from an unenlightened state in need of basic teachings and practices, to a state of peaceful detachment, to one of growing ease and ability, and finally to the timeless tranquility and illumination of buddhahood. As one matures in one’s practice it is likely that one will find oneself among more mature practitioners and one will also gain a greater understanding of the Buddha and what it means to realize and actualize buddhahood. In the context of Kanjin Honzon-shō, knowing these teachings helps us to appreciate why the interlocutor has such a hard time believing that the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha with his five eyes and three bodies who resides in the Pure Land of Eternally Tranquil Light can exist within ourselves. Nevertheless, this is what Nichiren is claiming, that we ourselves have the world of buddhahood within us, and so we ourselves have the five eyes and the three bodies and are able to abide in the Pure Land of Tranquil Light.

Sources

Conze, Edward, trans. The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

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

Hirai, Chishin & McCormick, Ryuei, trans. Shutei Nichiren Shū Hōyō Shiki. Hayward: Nichiren Buddhist International Center, 2013.

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: Followers Volume 6. Tokyo: Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Promotion Association, 2010.

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

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

Reeves, Gene, trans. The Lotus Sutra. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008.

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