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

Two Nichiren Texts, pp. 76, 90-92

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

In the latter half of Nichiren’s response in exchange 20 he talks again of the four kinds of lands over which preside different buddhas or aspects of Śākyamuni Buddha. When the buddhas of those lands pass away into parinirvāna those lands will also disappear and so they as impermanent as any other conditioned phenomena. The Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, however, will not enter parinirvāna but will always preside over the purified aspect of this Sahā world, the world of Endurance, that is in actuality the true and everlasting Pure Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. In accordance with the teaching of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment each one of us is one with this Eternal Buddha and reside with him in this true pure land. Nichiren describes this in the following passage called the “Dharma-body passage of 45 characters”:

Now, however, when the Eternal Buddha was revealed in the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, this Sāha world became the Eternal Pure Land, indestructible even by the three calamities of conflagration, flooding, and strong winds, which are said to destroy the world. It transcends the four periods of cosmic change: construction, continuance, destruction, and emptiness. Śākyamuni Buddha, the Lord-preacher of this pure land, has never died in the past, nor will he be born in the future. He exists forever throughout the past, present, and future. All those who receive his guidance are one with this Eternal Buddha. It is because each of our minds is equipped with the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment and the three realms, namely, all living beings, the land in which they live, and the five aggregates of living beings (form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness). (Hori 2002, p. 148 adapted)

What takes place in this true pure land I will discuss below, but first I want to make clear up some confusion that may be created by different uses or understanding of the “nirvāna,” especially as it applies to the Buddha. Nirvāna refers to the extinguishing or extinction of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion. This is attained by buddhas upon their awakening and also by arhats and pratyekabuddhas. From the moment of their awakening they realize nirvāna or the unconditioned. In other words, they experience life clearly and selflessly because their attachment for, aversion to, and miscomprehension of conditioned phenomena has ceased. They are still subject to bodily weakness such as hunger, thirst, the need for sleep, the ravages of age, vulnerability to disease and violence and so on. Until the day they die they are still subject to physical pain or the experience of sad occurrences such as the loss of friends or family or comfortable living situations but they no longer compound that pain with emotional suffering. They accept all things and respond with gracefulness and compassion.

Parinirvāna or “total extinction” is what it is called when a buddha, arhat, or pratyekabuddha dies because they have cut off all that which bound them to the cycle of rebirth and so with the passing of their last physical body and mind they are forever beyond any kind of pain or suffering. In time, the passing of a liberated being was simply referred to as their entrance into nirvāna, instead of as parinirvāna. This usage is also found in the Lotus Sūtra when the Buddha says that he is about to pass away and will soon enter into nirvāna. This confuses the issue because it is not nirvāna, the extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion that the Buddha is saying he is about to enter (or seemingly about to enter) but actually parinirvāna.

Mahāyāna Buddhism developed another term for the kind of nirvāna attained by the Buddha and that should be the actual goal of bodhisattvas: apratisthita-nirvāna, or the “nirvāna of non-abiding.” This is a nirvāna in which the advanced bodhisattvas and buddhas do not cling to either the cycle of birth and death nor to a nirvāna that is a quietist rejection of the world. In contrast, parinirvāna is referred to disparagingly as “reducing the body to ashes and annihilating consciousness.” The reason for the disparagement is because Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that it is better to continue to take rebirth in the world as bodhisattvas to help liberate all beings and eventually attain buddhahood and teach the Dharma for beings who have not had a chance to hear and practice it than to simply leave the cycle of rebirth as the arhats and pratyekabuddhas do. But here a contradiction arises in provisional Mahāyāna teachings prior to the Lotus Sūtra. While the bodhisattvas avoid entering parinirvāna and aspire to the non-abiding nirvāna whereby they can extinguished greed, hatred, and delusion but remain in the world out of compassion in eventually attaining buddhahood, as buddhas they set forth a Dharma that enables others to become arhats and enter parinirvāna, a lesser and even disparaged goal, and presumably when their work is done as a buddha (whether that takes a few score years or many kalpas) they too will enter parinirvāna. This means that the end result of having attained the non-abiding nirvāna would still be to lead others to reducing the body to ashes and annihilating consciousness and eventually to do so as well. The greater and more compassionate goal of attaining non-abiding nirvāna to help others therefore becomes nothing more than a delaying action before finally attaining the lesser goal of parinirvāna which leaves all sentient beings forever, not to mention that in this view the greater goal of attaining buddhahood is reserved for only a very few and most are expected to be led to the lesser goal.

It is the Lotus Sūtra that resolves this contradiction. In the first half or Trace Gate of the sūtra, the Buddha teaches that there are not three different vehicles or tracks to liberation for the śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas. Rather, there is only the One Vehicle that leads to buddhahood. In T’ien-t’ai’s teaching the śrāvakas who become arhats and the pratyekabuddhas who enter parinirvāna actually go to the Land of Transition, one of the four kinds of lands discussed previously. From that point on they realize that they have not fully eradicated ignorance and they begin to practice the One Vehicle. This is also spoken of in the Queen Śrīmālā Sūtra where it states that while arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas put an end to the transmigration of difference and limitation which is compulsory rebirth within the six worlds wherein sentient beings are differentiated and limited by the effects of their positive and negative karma they then take up the transmigration of change and advance whereby they voluntarily reenter the world to accumulate merit and wisdom and attain buddhahood. Of course once the arhats and pratyekabuddhas take up the transmigration of change and advance they realize that their previous attainment of nirvāna and parinirvāna was only provision, a resting point like the magic city of chapter seven of the Lotus Sūtra, and they become bodhisattvas who aim for the true non-abiding nirvāna of buddhahood. (See Chang p. 372) In the Trace Gate the major disciple of Śākyamuni Buddha who were arhats even have their buddhahood predicted, and so this is confirmation that the only vehicle is the One Vehicle. Still, the problem remains that the historical Śākyamuni Buddha seems to be on the verge of entering parinirvāna himself.

The latter half or Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, specifically chapter 16, addresses this. In that chapter Śākyamuni Buddha reveals that he attained buddhahood in the remote past of 500 dust-particle kalpas ago (an analogy for a uncountable number of years) and that his lifespan as a Buddha going into the future will be twice as long as that. In other words, Śākyamuni Buddha is saying that in actuality he is the Eternal Buddha whose work is never done and that he only seems to enter parinirvāna but does not actually do so. For the Buddha there is no final reduction of the body to ashes and annihilation of consciousness. The only true nirvāna is the non-abiding nirvāna whose qualities are the purity, bliss, eternity, and true self (or authenticity) of the Dharma-body that has no beginning or end.

Where then is the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha’s pure land? In chapter 16, he says, “In order to save the [perverted] people, I expediently show my Nirvāna to them. In reality I shall never pass away. I always live her and expound the Dharma.” (Murano 2012, p. 252) The pure land of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha is this very Sahā world. He says later in chapter 16, “[This] pure world of mine is indestructible. But the [perverted] people think: ‘It is full of sorrow, fear, and other sufferings. It will soon burn away.” (Ibid, p. 254) We do not perceive this world as a pure land, but the problem is with our deluded perception and not with the land itself. In the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, the Buddha explains this to Śāriputra and even provides a demonstration.

At that time Śāriputra, moved by the Buddha’s supernatural powers, thought to himself: “If the mind of the bodhisattva is pure, then his Buddha land will be pure. Now when our World Honored One first determined to become a bodhisattva, surely his intentions were pure. Why then is this Buddha land so filled with impurities?”

The Buddha, knowing his thoughts, said to him, “What do you think? Are the sun and moon impure? Is that why the blind man fails to see them?”

Śāriputra replied, “No, World Honored One. That is the fault of the blind man. The sun and moon are not to blame.”

“Śāriputra, it is the failings of living beings that prevent them from seeing the marvelous purity of the land of the Buddha, the Tathāgata. The Tathāgata is not to blame. Śāriputra, this land of mine is pure but you fail to see it.”

At that time one of the Brahma kings with his conch-shaped tuft of hair said to Śāriputra, “You must not think that this Buddha land is impure. Why do I say this? Because to my eyes, Śākyamuni’s Buddha land is as pure and spotless as the palace of the heavenly being Great Freedom.”

Śāriputra said, “When I look at this land, I see it full of knolls and hollows, thorny underbrush, sand and gravel, dirt, rocks, many mountains, filth and defilements.”

The Brahma king said, “It is just that your mind has highs and lows and does not rest on Buddha wisdom. Therefore you see this land as impure. Śāriputra, the bodhisattva treats all things and beings, each one of them, with perfect equality. His deeply searching mind is pure, and because it rests on Buddha wisdom, it can see the purity of the this Buddha land.”

The Buddha then pressed his toes against the earth, and immediately the throusand-millionfold world was adorned with hundreds of thousands of rare jewels, till it resembled Jeweled Adornment Buddha’s Jeweled Adornment Land of Immeasurable Blessings. All the members of this great assembly sighed in wonder at what they had never seen before, and all saw that they themselves were seated on jeweled lotuses.

The Buddha said to Śāriputra, “Now do you see the marvelous purity of this Buddha land?”

Śāriputra replied, “Indeed I do, World Honored One. Something I have never seen before, and never even heard of – now all the marvelous purity of the Buddha land is visible before me!”

The Buddha said to Śāriputra, “My Buddha land has always been pure like this.  But because I wish to save those persons who are lowly and inferior, I make it seem an impure land full of defilements, that is all. It is like the case of heavenly beings. All take their food from the same precious vessel, but the food looks different for each one, depending upon the merits and virtues that each possesses. It is the same in this case, Śāriputra. If a person’s mind is pure, then he will see the wonderful blessings that adorn this land.” (Watson, pp.29-31 adapted)

In the Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Sage Sūtra, the closing sūtra of the Threefold Lotus Sūtra, the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha is called Vairocana and the purified Sahā world is called the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light and described in terms of the four qualities of Dharma-body.

Śākyamuni Buddha is called Vairocana, the Omnipresent. His dwelling place is called Eternally Tranquil Light, a place that is taken up by eternal practice, a place that is made stable by self-practice, a place where the characteristics of existence are extinguished by pure practice, a place where there is no abiding in body and mind due to blissful practice, a place where the character of existence or non-existence cannot be seen in anything, and a place of tranquil extinction, which is the practice of wisdom. (Reeves, p. 416 adapted)

In chapter 11 of the Lotus Sūtra, Śākyamuni Buddha recalls all the buddhas of the worlds of the ten directions who are revealed to be his emanations. He then opens the stupa of treasures and enters into it to sit by the side of Many Treasures Buddha. The stupa then rises into the air and the Buddha uses his power to cause the whole assembly to rise into the air as well. This is the beginning of the Ceremony in the Air. In chapter 15, a multitude of bodhisattvas sprang up from underground and the Buddha explains that these ancient bodhisattvas are his original disciples. In chapter 16 the Buddha explains that he was able to teach them for such a long time because his own buddhahood was attained in the incalculably remote past. In chapters 17-19 the Buddha describes the vast merit accrued by any who are able to believe what he taught in chapter 16, even if only for a moment or even if they have only heard it as the 50th person in a succession of people passing on the teaching. In chapter 20 the Buddha tells the assembly about his past life as Never Despising Bodhisattva who greeted all he met as future buddhas. In chapter 21, the Buddha entrusts the teaching to the bodhisattvas from underground and in chapter 22 he entrusts it to the rest of the assembly. So ends the eight chapters of preaching wherein the bodhisattvas from underground were present, and so ends the Ceremony in the Air that began in chapter 20. Nichiren understands from all this that in those chapters Śākyamuni Buddha, revealing himself as the Eternal or Original Buddha in his Pure Land of Eternally Tranquil Light (also called by Nichiren the Pure Land of Vulture Peak), entrusted the Odaimoku, the heart of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, to his original disciples the bodhisattvas who appear from underground led by Superior Practice Bodhisattva so that they might propagate it in the Latter Age of Degeneration of the Dharma. It is this scene of the transmission of the Odaimoku from the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha to the bodhisattvas from underground that he describes as the true focus of devotion. In other words, it is not merely Śākyamuni Buddha who is the focus of devotion, but the Eternal Śakyamuni Buddha who transmits the Odaimoku to his original disciples for the Latter Age who is the true focus of devotion. The scene is described as follows:

Suspended in the sky above the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha’s Sahā world is a stupa of treasures, in which Śākyamuni Buddha and the Buddha of Many Treasures sit to the left and right of “Myō-hō-ren-ge-kyō.” Attending them are the four bodhisattvas such as Superior Practice representing the original disciples of the Eternal Buddha called out from underground. Four more bodhisattvas including Mañjuśrī and Maitreya, take lower seats as followers, other great and minor bodhisattvas – those converted by the Buddha in the Trace Gate and those who came from other lands – resemble numerous people sitting on the ground and looking up at court nobles. Also lined up on the ground are the emanation buddhas who gathered together from all the worlds in the universe in praise of the Buddha’s preaching, representing provisional buddhas in their respective lands. (Hori 2002, p. 149)

Nichiren explains that this scene appears nowhere else but in the eight chapters from 15-22 of the Lotus Sūtra. It is only in these eight chapters that the Eternal or Original Buddha appears in the company of his original disciples to teach and entrust them with the Wonderful Dharma. Since the passing of the historical Śākyamuni Buddha, whenever the Buddha was depicted as the focus of devotion it was in the company of his śrāvaka disciples like Mahākāśyapa and Ānanda or bodhisattvas such as Mañjuśrī and Samanthabhadra (Universal Sage). When flanked by śrāvakas it showed that Śākyamuni Buddha was being depicted as the teacher of the Hīnayāna sūtras. When flanked by bodhisattvas who appear in provisional Mahāyāna sūtras it shows that Śākyamuni Buddha is being depicted as the teacher of provisional Mahāyāna teachings and not the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra. What Nichiren is saying is that it is now the time to depict the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha revealed in the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sūtra accompanied by Superior Practice Bodhisattva and the other three leaders of the bodhisattvas from underground as the true focus of devotion (J. honzon). He asks, “Now in the beginning of the Latter Age of Degeneration, is it not the time that such statues and portraits are made for the first time?” (Ibid, p. 149) On July 8th, 1275, just a few months after writing Kanjin Honzon-shō, Nichiren did in fact inscribe this scene as a calligraphic mandala.

In regards to the calligraphic mandalas that Nichiren inscribed, typically he not only included the Odaimoku, Śākyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, the four leaders of the bodhisattvas from underground, and the names of four provisional bodhisattvas, but he also included many of the gods and beings such as Brahma, Indra, representatives of the other of the eight kinds of non-human beings that protect the Dharma, and the esoteric deities called the Vidyārājas or Knowledge Kings. Earlier, in the 18th exchange, the interlocutor described Śākyamuni Buddha in the company of these other beings. What Nichiren’s calligraphic mandala-honzon is attempting to depict is not just the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha (differentiated from the historical or other provisional aspects of buddhahood) in his pure land but also the Odaimoku as permeating all ten worlds. What is being shown is the mutual possession of the ten worlds in the form of a mandala composed of the names of beings who are representatives of those worlds who are all embraced by the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha and who have all been entrusted with the Odaimoku. The mandala also includes Shinto deities to show that the local spirits are included and that Japan too is embraced by the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha and is part of his pure land. This would also hold true for any other land in this world. Another thing Nichiren includes on the mandala are the names of those who transmitted Buddhism, in particular the T’ien-t’ai teachings, specifically Nāgārjuna (1st-2nd century) the honorary first patriarch of T’ien-t’ai Buddhism, T’ien-t’ai Chih-i (538-597) the founder, Chan-jan Miao-lê (711-782) the reviver of T’ien-t’ai Buddhism in the 8th century, and Saichō (767-822, known posthumously as Dengyō) who established the Tendai School in Japan. Nichiren also puts his own name at the bottom as the one who is transmitting the true focus of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra to the sentient beings of the Latter Age as the Buddha’s envoy.

Nichiren does not, and never does, say that the focus of devotion should only be depicted in calligraphic form. In fact he specifies that statues and portraits should be made. In Nichiren Shū, therefore, there are five different was of depicting the focus of devotion. These five can be placed into two categories. The first category is the hō-honzon (focus of devotion in terms of the Dharma), of which there are two sub-types:

  1. Jikkai mandara. The ten-world mandala as already described.
  2. Ippen shudai. An inscription of the Odaimoku alone.

The second major category is the nin-honzon (focus of devotion in terms of the person), of which there are three sub-types:

  1. Itto ryōson. The Odaimoku inscribed stupa of treasures flanked by statues of Śākyamuni Buddha and Many Treasures Buddha.
  2. Isson shishi. Statues of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha and the four leaders of the bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth.
  3. Shakuson ichibutsu. A statue of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha.

There has been some debate over the years as to whether Nichiren intended the focus of devotion to be primarily the person of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha or the Dharma of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. In different writings Nichiren said seemingly different things. In Honzon Mondō-shō (Questions and Answers on the Honzon) he said, “We should regard the daimoku of the Lotus Sūtra as the honzon.” (Ibid, p. 259) In Sandai Hihō Honjō-ji (The Transmission of the Three Great Secret Dharmas) however, he said, “The honzon (most venerable one) established in the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sūtra is Lord Śākyamuni Buddha who has been closely tied with us in this Sahā World by the bond of cause and effect ever since attaining buddhahood 500 dust-particle kalpas agao, and who has the three eternal bodies (Dharma-body, enjoyment-body, and transformation-body) of the Buddha.” (Ibid, p. 289 adapted) For my part, I believe that the honzon or focus of devotion is not a matter of being either the person or the Dharma. Rather, I believe the focus of devotion is the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha in the act of transmitting the Odaimoku, and therefore it is always both the person of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha and the Dharma of Namu Myāohō Renge Kyō. I cannot imagine the focus of devotion being just a person, no matter how exalted, or merely an abstract principle, no matter how sublime. But it does make to me to think of the focus of devotion as incorporating both in the action of transmitting the Wonderful Dharma to us. Also, if the Odaimoku represents the Dharma, then it is not other than the Dharma-body of the Eternal Buddha, and the Eternal Buddha also includes the enjoyment-body and transformation-body, these being the wisdom and liberating activity respectively of the Dharma that is the Odaimoku. How could the Wonderful Dharma and the Eternal Buddha be apart? I think that as long as it is understood that the Odaimoku is the true nature of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, and that the Buddha is not just the historical Buddha but the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha who transmits the Odaimoku then there need be no confusion or argument about whether the focus of devotion is the Buddha or the Dharma because they both require each other. Again, that is my view of it and others may disagree. There are certainly passages in Nichiren’s writings that might support other views, but I personally find it one-sided to say that the focus of devotion is just the Eternal Buddha or just the Odaimoku. It fits better with Buddhist teachings, including those of the Lotus Sūtra, to not set up a dualism between person and principle, and I think it also makes sense to try to reconcile the statements in Nichiren’s writings rather than to set passages off against one another.

There is another issue that I would like to look at in regard to viewing the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha and/or the Odaimoku as the focus of devotion. Is Nichiren saying that our attainment of buddhahood depends upon a power outside ourselves, what in Pure Land Buddhism is called “other-power”? Or is the Eternal Buddha our own original nature or true mind, our own flesh, blood, and bones, as Nichiren himself put it, and therefore our buddhahood depends on our own “self-power”? I believe that Nichiren avoided such dichotomies by pointing to the mutual possession of the ten worlds as a teaching that shows that our awakening is not really a matter of self-power or other-power. In Ichidai Shōgyō Tai-i (Outline of All the Holy Teachings of the Buddha) he wrote:

The “self-power” of the Lotus Sūtra is not what non-Buddhists thin it to be because we possess in our heart all living beings of the ten worlds. We have in ourselves the buddha-world, let alone the worlds of all living beings. Therefore, to become a buddha now does not mean to be a new one. The “other-power” in the Lotus Sūtra, too, is not what non-Buddhists consider it to be. For other buddhas are contained within each of us by nature. They also manifest themselves in us ordinary people.” (Hori 2004, p. 91)

In other words, the mutual possession of the ten worlds does not just mean that we have different potential states of interpreting and reacting to events. It means that we are interdependently involved with all other beings. They are part of us and we are part of them. Therefore, our own attainment of buddhahood is possible because others have attained buddhahood and they are part of our lives so we do not succeed on our own individual or singular merits. Conversely, buddhahood is our own nature and the other buddhas are not really other but a part of ourselves, so we are not saved by some other being in spite of ourselves but because it is in our own nature to realize and actualize buddhahood.

Now that the explanations for this part of Kanjin Honzon-shō have been given in terms of what Nichiren was talking about and referring to I want to discuss what all this can possibly mean for us. In a traditional East Asian Buddhist culture it makes sense to talk about having a focus of devotion, as East Asian Buddhism is very religious in orientation for the most part. For Nichiren and his contemporaries it was important to devote oneself to buddhas, bodhisattvas, and guardian spirits of various kinds in order to gain their protection, blessings, and assistance in attaining buddhahood. Nichiren in particular was concerned that one should relate to the right buddha in the right way because for him there was a spiritual hierarchy and order of precedence that reflected Buddhist principles. For many people in the world today it is still important to worship or placate the right deity (or in the view of monotheists the only deity) in the right way. This kind of religiosity may, however, seem more than off-putting to those who come to Buddhism looking to get away from religion and the idea that to be happy one must worship or placate invisible divine beings. So what are we to make of all this talk of the true focus of devotion and the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, and the transmission of the Odaimoku to us as some kind of spiritual seed? I think it is very important to consider what all this is about so that on the one hand we do not become needlessly alienated from our practice of Nichiren Buddhism and on the other hand do not slip into a naïve or superstitious way of understanding and relating to the Eternal Buddha and Odaimoku.

What strikes me about Nichiren’s writings and especially about Kanjin Honzon-shō is the emphasis on the T’ien-t’ai doctrine of the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment and in particular on the aspect of it called the mutual possession of the ten worlds. Nichiren may or may not have literally believed in the existence of the buddhas in their pure lands, bodhisattvas, dragons, demons, and other beings who appear in the Lotus Sūtra and that he inscribed on his calligraphic mandala (frankly it would surprise me if he didn’t as he was a man of his time) but he definitely believed that these beings represented aspects of our own nature and wrote about them as such. To show that the ten worlds are aspects of our nature that are at work in the world seems to be the main theme of the first part of Kanjin Honzon-shō wherein he points out to the interlocutor the various ways in which we can observe each of the ten worlds in human life. So what he is really talking about are all the aspects of human nature and how our nature is bound up with all that lives – non-human life and the environment as well. What Nichiren is really insisting upon is that our nature includes the ability to awaken fully and live a life of selfless compassion. He, like the T’ien-t’ai teachers before him, acknowledges that there are baser worlds or perspectives in our nature but that our most authentic nature is our buddha-nature, and this is characterized by true insight and compassion and subjectively experienced as our true self that is pure, blissful, and timeless. Nichiren insists upon the importance of the mutual possession of the ten worlds because he is insisting upon the insight that our nature contains the worst and best but that the best is the most real and authentic and that all of us can realize and actualize it. Nichiren insists upon the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment because he is insisting that all of these inner worlds are present in every moment of awareness and that each moment of awareness encompasses all that is including our mind and body, other beings, and even the insentient and inanimate. Nichiren insists that this is the inner meaning of the Lotus Sūtra and that to be open and receptive to this teaching is to sow a seed of awakening to the truth about our lives in our minds and hearts. The Odaimoku is an expression of receptivity, confidence, and joy in this teaching that we can all attain buddhahood as well as a focus of concentration when chanting it. Finally, Nichiren insists upon the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha as the focus of devotion because it is this image and understanding of buddhahood that he feels is the most complete. Attaining buddhahood is, after all, the goal of Buddhism as far as Nichiren was concerned, so what is buddhahood? Who, really, was or is the Buddha? In Nichiren’s view the Buddha is not merely a person who taught in a foreign land and passed away millennia ago, nor is he someone who presides over some idealized pure land reachable only after death, nor is he the personification of an abstract principle. The Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, for Nichiren, is the one who teaches and represents the three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment and who is the active spiritual presence or impulse felt in our lives here that draws us to our own buddhahood through the practice of Odaimoku. I think that what Nichiren is saying to us through his writings is that the goal of Buddhism is not the reduction of the body to ashes and annihilation of consciousness, is not just some otherworldly salvation through rebirth in a pure land after death (though he doesn’t deny this and speaks of rebirth in the Pure Land of Vulture Peak in other writings), and is not something that only a few can ever achieve, but that perfect and complete awakening, buddhahood, is something that is within our lives already and actively at work in our lives already even if we don’t know or accept that it is. All of the technical T’ien-t’ai doctrines and talk of understanding that the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha who transmits the Odaimoku is the true focus of devotion comes down to this: a heartfelt joyful acceptance of, appreciation for, and trust in the ongoing process of awakening of ourselves and all other beings. That is what I think this is all about.


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

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