SGI-USA Study Curriculum
PART 3: Basic Terms
Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism begins with
the awareness that a persons have the potential to achieve
enlightenment. That idea is the epitome of Mahayana Buddhism,
one of the two principal divisions of Buddhism, which arose
in India after Shakyamuni's death from. a movement to widely
spread the Buddha's teachings. Its followers did not shut
themselves off from society, as some early Buddhist groups
did, but instead worked to spread Buddhism throughout the
population and to assist others on the path to enlightenment.
Mahayana is thus characterized by a spirit of compassion
and altruism, known as the spirit of the bodhisattva.
Eventually Mahayana Buddhism was introduced
to China, where it gave rise to various schools. One of
the most important was that founded by T'ien-t'ai (538-597),
known as the T'ien t'ai or Tendai school. It teaches
that the Lotus Sutra is the highest of all the Mahayana
sutras, and that a thing, both living and inanimate, possess
a dormant potential for enlightenment. This doctrine is
summarized in the theory known as ichinen sanzen. The
doctrines of the sect were further developed and codified
by Miao-lo (711-782), the patriarch of the school.
T'ien-t'ai Buddhism, as we have seen, was
introduced to Japan in the ninth century by Dengyo Daishi,
who had studied its doctrines in China. Later, in the thirteenth
century Nichiren Daishonin studied at Mount Hiei, the headquarters
of the Tendai sect in Japan, and came to realize that the
Lotus Sutra constitutes the heart of all Buddhism. Soon
after, he began teaching the substance of his realization.
According to his teaching, the workings
of the universe are all subject to a single principle or
law. By deeply understanding that law, individuals can unlock
the hidden potential of their own lives and achieve perfect
harmony with their environment.
Nichiren Daishonin defined the universal
law as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a formula that represents the
essence of the Lotus Sutra and is known as daimoku. Furthermore,
he filly manifested that law within his own life and gave
concrete form to it by inscribing the Gohonzon, which enables
believers to call forth the Law from within their lives
through practice and attain enlightenment. In his treatise
"The True Object of Worship," he concludes that
believing in and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon,
which is the crystallization of the universal law, will
reveal the Buddha nature inherent in each individual.
All phenomena are subject to the strict
law of cause and effect. Consequently, the state of an individual's
life - one's destiny, in other words -is the summation of
all previous causes. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we
create the supreme cause, a cause that can offset negative
effects from the past.
Enlightenment is not a mystical or transcendental
state, as many might assume. Rather it is a condition of
the highest wisdom, vitality and good fortune wherein we
can shape our own destiny, find fulfillment in daily activities
and come to understand and appreciate our purpose in being
The Three Great Secret Laws
are the Object of Worship of True Buddhism (honmon no
honzon), the Daimoku of True Buddhism (honmon no
daimoku) and the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism (honmon
no kaidan). These constitute the core of Nichiren Daishonin's
The Object of Worship of True Buddhism
is the mandala on which Nichiren Daishonin inscribed his
life as the Buddha of absolute freedom of kuon ganjo,
or the infinite past. The High Sanctuary of True Buddhism
is the place where the object of worship is enshrined, and
the Daimoku of True Buddhism is the invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
which one chants with faith in the object of worship. Of
these three, the object of worship is the basis of the Three
Great Secret Laws, embodying all three within itself, and
thus is also called the One Great Secret Law.
After Shakyamuni Buddha's passing, his
successors and many other Buddhist scholars, such as Nagarjuna
in India and T'ien-t'ai in China, made their advent in order
to propagate the Buddha's teachings. However, none of them
ever revealed or expounded the Three Great Secret Laws.
Only Nichiren Daishonin did so. The term true Buddhism
(honmon) used 'in conjunction with the Three Great Secret
Laws denotes the essence of the Lotus Sutra, which Nichiren
Daishonin taught is implicit in "Juryo," the sixteenth
'chapter of the Lotus Sutra. This principle, the Mystic
Law, was explicitly revealed for the first time by Nichiren
Shakyamuni Buddha expounded a vast array
of teachings as preparation for the revelation of the Lotus
Sutra, the highest of all his sutras. Because the Lotus
Sutra contains the Three Great Secret Laws implicit 'in
its teaching, it enabled the people of his age and of the
Former and Middle Days of the Law to attain enlightenment.
However, in the Latter Day of the Law, the period
beginning 2,000 years after Shakyamuni's death, his Lotus
Sutra was no longer adequate to save the people. For the
people of this age, Nichiren Daishonin directly revealed
the Three Great Secret Laws, the fundamental doctrine for
all people to attain Buddhahood. The innumerable teachings
of all Buddhas throughout the three existences of past,
present and future, including Shakyamuni Buddha, are ultimately
integrated 'in the Three Great Secret Laws.
1. OBJECT OF WORSHIP OF TRUE BUDDHISM
The Object of Worship of True Buddhism
possesses the two aspects of the Law and the Person. The
object of worship in terms of the Law is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
or the actuality of ichinen sanzen, which is the
ultimate Law indicated in the depths of the 'Juryo"
chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The object of worship 'in terms
of the Person is Nichiren Daishonin, or the Buddha of absolute
freedom of kuon ganjo, who made his appearance as
the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. The object of worship
perfectly endowed with the aspects of both Law and Person
is the Dai-Gohonzon, which the Daishonin inscribed on October
12, 1279, as the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose
of his advent in the world.
In Japanese, an object of worship is called
a honzon, which means object of fundamental respect.
The object of worship in any religion is the foundation
of faith, and therefore it is most important for the believers.
The Object of Worship of True Buddhism, which embodies the
ultimate Law permeating all life and the universe, is the
supreme object of fundamental respect for all people to
attain true happiness. However, it should not be viewed
as an external power or deity. As we will see when we study
the Gosho "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon," in
a subsequent installment of this study material, the Gohonzon
exists so that we may tap and bring forth the "Gohonzon
within us," our innate Buddha nature.
To understand the relationship of this
object of worship revealed by Nichiren Daishonin and Shakyamuni's
Lotus Sutra, we must consider the meaning of the essential
teaching (honmon). The term essential teaching
indicates the latter fourteen chapters of the twenty-eight-chapter
Lotus Sutra, in which Shakyamuni Buddha revealed that he
originally attained enlightenment in the distant past rather
than 'in the present life as his disciples had understood.
In the essential teaching, specifically
in the 'Juryo" chapter, Shakyamuni implied the existence
of the fundamental Law, which had led him to attain Buddhahood
in the distant past but did not explicitly reveal what it
was. Nichiren Daishonin later stated that this Law was "hidden
in the depths" of the Juryo" chapter of the essential
teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
The Daishonin himself was the one who clearly
revealed the great Law that Shakyamuni Buddha had not taught
explicitly but had implied in the 'Juryo" chapter.
Because the Daishonin manifested this Law in concrete form
and made it accessible to all people, his Buddhism is often
called the "true Buddhism" hidden in the depths
of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. He expounded
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is the fundamental seed of Buddhahood,
and embodied it in the Gohonzon (Go is an honorific
prefix to honzon) as the object of worship for all
people in the Latter Day of the Law to gain enlightenment.
The object of worship in terms of the Person
is the Buddha whom all people revere. In the Latter Day
of the Law, Shakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism
'in India, is no longer the Buddha who can lead us to enlightenment;
Nichiren Daishonin is the Buddha who enables all people
to attain Buddhahood through the revelation of the great
Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Therefore, the Daishonin is
called the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
The Law to which the Daishonin was enlightened
within himself is the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the principle
inherent in all phenomena of the universe. In this sense,
he is the embodiment of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo - the Buddha
who is one with the Law. This is called the oneness of the
Person and the Law.
Nichiren Daishonin inscribed his enlightened
condition of life in the form of the Gohonzon. Thus the
Gohonzon, or the object of worship, is also the embodiment
of the oneness of the Law - the ultimate Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
- and the Person, the Daishonin who embodied the Law within
2. DAIMOKU OF TRUE BUDDHISM
The Daimoku of True Buddhism is the invocation
of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which includes the aspects of faith,
practice and study. We have faith in the object of worship,
practice the invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and study
its meaning. Practice in turn includes both practice for
oneself and for others.
Practice for oneself is to chant daimoku with faith in
the Gohonzon. Practice for others is to urge and instruct
other people to chant daimoku. We study not simply for intellectual
understanding but so that our knowledge can be transformed
through practice into correct wisdom for living and for
teaching others about the Law. Ultimately all three aspects
Daimoku, or the invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
literally means the devotion of one's life (namu or
nam) to Myoho-renge-kyo. Myoho-renge-kyo is the
tide of Shakyamuni's Lotus Sutra as it was translated into
Chinese, but here daimoku signifies the Mystic Law itself.
Thus the Daimoku of True Buddhism entails believing in the'
Object of Worship of True Buddhism indicated 'in the depths
of the 'Juryo" chapter of the Lotus Sutra and chanting
the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Only when we have faith
in the Gohonzon and chant daimoku can we obtain the great
benefit of "attaining Buddhahood in our present form"
(sokushinjobutsu) and enjoy the limitless power of
the Gohonzon overflowing in our lives.
The most fundamental practice for the attainment
of Buddhahood includes practice for oneself, or daily gongyo,
and chanting of daimoku, and practice for others, which
includes any activities carried out to promote understanding
and faith in the Daishonin's Buddhism among the people.
3. ICHINEN SANZEN LAW OF TRUE BUDDHISM
The High Sanctuary of True Buddhism is where we place the
Object of Worship of True Buddhism (the Gohonzon) and chant
the Daimoku of True Buddhism (Nam-myohorenge-kyo) to it.
A high sanctuary originally meant a place where priests
vow to observe various Buddhist precepts. The purpose of
keeping Buddhist precepts is "to stem injustice and
stop evil" within oneself. In the Daishonin's Buddhism,
however, it is unnecessary to observe special precepts.
When we discard erroneous beliefs and sincerely take faith
in the Gohonzon, and thus strive 'in our Buddhist practice
correctly, we begin keeping the precept of the Daishonin's
Furthermore, the Daishonin's Buddhism is a teaching open
not only to priests but to all people. Since all who put
their faith in the Gohonzon will be prevented from suffering
and evil, and will attain enlightenment through their Buddhist
practice, wherever the Gohonzon is enshrined can be regarded
as a high sanctuary in the Daishonin's Buddhism.
Nichiren Daishonin instructed that at the
time of kosen-rufu, the high sanctuary to enshrine the Dai-Gohonzon,
which was bestowed upon the entire world, be built as a
place to pray for all people's happiness and lasting worldwide
peace and prosperity. This high sanctuary is called the
"actual" high sanctuary.
The actual high sanctuary should be built
in accord with the progress of kosen-rufu, which is made
through believers' efforts to exert themselves in the practice
for self and others. The Sho-Hondo at Taiseki-Ji was constructed
with this significance.
Places where individual believers enshrine
the Object of Worship of True Buddhism and chant daimoku
for themselves and others with strong faith toward kosen-rufu
can be considered as significant as the actual high sanctuary.
THE FIVE GUIDES FOR PROPAGATION
The five guides for propagation (goko)
provide the criteria for demonstrating that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
of the Three Great Secret Laws taught by Nichiren Daishonin
is the supreme Law to be propagated in the Latter Day of
the Law. These guides entail a correct understanding of
(1) the teaching, (2) the people's capacity, (3) the time,
(4) the country and (s) the sequence of propagation.
The five guides were established by Nichiren
Daishonin as a standard for comparative evaluation of the
various Buddhist teachings. They are interpreted as criteria
that we must employ to correctly understand the supreme
Law and that we must consider in propagating the Law of
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The five guides may be briefly explained
1. CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF THE TEACHING
To understand the teaching means to recognize
differences among religions, particularly the many Buddhist
teachings, and discern right from wrong, profound from shallow
and superior from inferior. The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai
of China classified all of Shakyamuni's teachings by establishing
"the five periods and eight teachings" system
and demonstrated the superiority of the Lotus Sutra over
all other sutras.
Nichiren Daishonin established the principle
of "the fivefold comparison" to show that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
of the Three Great Secret Laws hidden in the depths of the
"Juryo" chapter is the most profound teaching
that enables all people in the Latter Day of the Law to
To recognize that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of
the Three Great Secret Laws is the greatest teaching in
the Latter Day of the Law is to have a correct understanding
of the teaching.
2. CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE'S
Capacity means the life-tendency of the
people, the nature of their connection to Buddhism, and
their ability to understand and believe in Buddhist teachings.
In short, to understand the people's capacity means to know
what it is the people seek, or to know by what teaching
they can attain enlightenment.
The people of the Latter Day of the Law
are those who have not been able to create good causes for
enlightenment through Buddhist practice in their past existences.
In other words, they have not yet received the seed of Buddhahood,
as had those who practiced during Shakyamuni's lifetime
and the Former and Middle Days of the Law.
Therefore, they must receive the seed of
enlightenment directly by practicing the "Buddhism
of sowing" in which the "seed" for attaining
Buddhahood is planted directly within the "soil"
of their lives. The Buddhism of sowing is the Buddhism of
Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the
Law, which plants the original seed of Buddhahood, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
in people's lives.
Recognizing that all people in the Latter
Day of the Law can attain enlightenment only through the
Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo contained in the depths of the
"Juryo" chapter is to have a correct understanding
of the people's capacity.
3. CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF THE MIDDLE WAY
Time is something we sense through the
movement or changes in the world in which we live. All functions
of human life change in accordance with the flow of time.
Based on this understanding, the development of Buddhism
following Shakyamuni's death is divided into three periods
known as the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law.
Generally speaking, the Former Day is the
time in which the spirit of a Buddha's teaching can be transmitted
correctly among the people, and that teaching leads many
people to enlightenment. The Middle Day is the period 'in
which that teaching gradually becomes obscured and is reduced
to formality, In the Latter Day of the Law, it completely
loses the power to lead people to enlightenment.
In the case of Shakyamuni's Buddhism, the
Former and Middle Days of the Law are each said to have
lasted 1,000 years, consecutively, after Shakyamuni's death.
The Latter Day of the Law is thus held to begin 2,000
years after Shakyamuni's passing. At this time, Shakyamuni's
Buddhism becomes powerless to benefit the people. Therefore,
at the beginning of the Latter Day, Nichiren Daishonin made
his advent to propagate Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three
Great Secret Laws.
To correctly understand the time is to
know that the Law that is to spread in this time period
is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws. The
present time in which we live corresponds to the Latter
Day of the Law, and to know both the time and what teaching
should be propagated in accordance with the time is indispensable.
4. CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF THE COUNTRY
Each country has unique geographical and
climatic conditions. Political, economic and education systems,
society, culture, ideology and religion also differ from
one country to another. To recognize the country implies
giving deep consideration to the method by which the Law
is to be propagated and revealing the teachings in a proper
manner by grasping the social situation and conditions of
The Daishonin wrote that some countries
actively slander the True Law, some are completely ignorant
of it, some are exclusively Hinayana, some exclusively Mahayana
and others both Hinayana and Mahayana. Japan, he said, was
an exclusively Mahayana country but one filled with people
who slander the True Law. He concluded, therefore, that
'in Japan in his day, inferior teachings should be denounced
and the Mystic Law assertively spread to save all people,
including even those who opposed it.
Today, the Daishonin's Buddhism is spreading
throughout the world, but the method of propagation will
differ according to the unique situation of each country.
To understand the country means that 'in spreading the Mystic
Law, one must correctly discern the customs and culture
of the society and make clear the necessity for faith in
the Mystic Law accordingly.
5. CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF THE SEQUENCE OF PROPAGATION
The significance of this criterion is that
one should not propagate a teaching inferior to those that
have already spread. The teaching to be propagated must
be superior to those that have prevailed up to the present.
Those who propagate teachings inferior to the prevailing
teaching will be unable to save the people and rather will
exert a harmful influence on society.
Buddhist history unfolded in the order
of the propagation of Buddhist teachings - from Hinayana
to provisional Mahayana teachings, and then from provisional
Mahayana to true Mahayana teachings. In the Latter Day of
the Law, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws,
the essence of the Lotus Sutra, is what should be propagated.
To recognize this is to have a correct understanding of
the sequence of propagation.
THE FIVEFOLD COMPARISON
The fivefold comparison is one set of criteria
for the comparative evaluation of systems of thought and
religions, especially of the Buddhist teachings. It is a
standard that concerns the "correct understanding of
the teaching," the first of the five guides for propagation.
The fivefold or five successive levels
of comparison are: (1) Buddhism is superior to non-Buddhism,
(2) Mahayana Buddhism is superior to Hinayana Buddhism,
(3) true Mahayana (the Lotus Sutra) is superior to provisional
(pre-Lotus Sutra) Mahayana, (4) the essential teaching (latter
half) of the Lotus Sutra is superior to the theoretical
teaching (former halo, and (5) the Buddhism of sowing (Nichiren
Daishonin's Buddhism) is superior to the Buddhism of the
harvest (Shakyamuni's Buddhism).
Nichiren Daishonin established the principle
of the fivefold comparison in his writing, "The Opening
of the Eyes," in order to demonstrate the supremacy
of Nam-myohorenge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws over
all other teachings. The fivefold comparison can be briefly
explained as follows:
1. BUDDHISM IS SUPERIOR TO NON-BUDDHIST TEACHINGS
Non-Buddhist teachings included Brahmanism
in India and Confucianism and Taoism in China.
Non-Buddhist teachings are not as profound
as Buddhism in that they do not reveal the causal law of
life penetrating past, present and future. Without such
a causal view of life and the world, the teachings cannot
serve as a guideline for the people's ultimate, happiness.
Only through Buddhism, which elucidates
the profound law of causality working within one's life,
can all people attain absolute happiness.
Buddhism attributes the cause of all phenomena
that bring about human happiness or unhappiness to the law
of cause and effect functioning in the life of each individual,
thereby enabling us to realize that the path to happiness
lies within our lives, rather than outside. In contrast,
non-Buddhist teachings generally ascribe the cause of such
phenomena to external factors such as a transcendent beings
This is why this comparison is called 'in
Japanese the comparison of the "Inner Way" (Buddhism)
with the "Outer Way" (non-Buddhist teachings).
2. MAHAYANA BUDDHISM IS SUPERIOR TO HINAYANA BUDDHISM
Hinayana Buddhism is a teaching for those
who aim only at personal emancipation. In contrast, Mahayana
Buddhism aims at enlightenment both personal and for others.
Hinayana Buddhism is expounded for persons of the two vehicles
(Learning and Realization) and belongs to the teachings
of what is known as the Agon period, the second of the five
periods in T'ien-t'ai's classification of Shakyamuni's teachings
according to the order of preaching. It is called Hinayana
(lesser vehicle) because it leads only a limited number
of people to enlightenment.
Hinayana Buddhism regards earthly desires
as the cause of all suffering and asserts that suffering
is eliminated only by eradicating those earthly desires.
Hinayana practitioners aim at emancipation through austere
practices. However, the ultimate goal of their practice
can only be achieved at death, when both body and Mind-the
sources of suffering-are extinguished.
Their practice has accordingly been derided
by Mahayanists as the teaching of "annihilating one's
consciousness and reducing ones body to ashes" Such
a teaching, far from enabling all people to attain enlightenment,
is entirely impossible to practice.
In contrast, Mahayana Buddhism is the teaching
that expounds the bodhisattva practice as the means toward
the happiness of both oneself and others. It is called Mahayana
(greater vehicle) because it can carry many people to enlightenment.
Where Hinayana teaches the elimination
of earthly desires, Mahayana aims at redirecting and transforming
them into a source of enlightenment by awakening people
to their Buddha nature and establishing the Buddha nature
as their fundamental state of life.
3. THE MAHAYANA IS SUPERIOR TO PROVISIONAL MAHAYANA
True Mahayana, or the Lotus Sutra, is a full and direct
statement of Shakyamuni's enlightenment. In contrast, provisional
Mahayana, or the pre-Lotus Sutra Mahayana teachings, were
expounded in various ways according to the people's capacity
in order to prepare them to understand the Lotus Sutra.
In the classification of Shakyamuni's teachings,
provisional Mahayana is identified with such teachings as
those of the Kegon, the Hannya, the Amida and the Dainichi
sutras, which deny the potential for Buddhahood for the
people of the two vehicles. In contrast, true Mahayana reveals
with concrete examples that all people, including those
of the two vehicles, can attain enlightenment.
4. THE ESSENTIAL TEACHING OF THE LOTUS SUTRA IS
SUPERIOR TO THE THEORETICAL TEACHING
The twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus
Sutra are divided into two parts, the theoretical teaching
and the essential teaching, according to the role and status
of Shakyamuni Buddha depicted in each. The theoretical teaching
consists of the first fourteen chapters of the Lotus Sutra,
and the essential teaching, the latter fourteen chapters.
In the same manner as the pre-Lotus Sutra
teachings, the theoretical teaching takes the form of preaching
by the historical Shakyamuni who first attained enlightenment
under the Bodhi tree near the town of Gaya in India. Thus
the theoretical teaching was expounded by Shakyamuni in
a transient role or aspect that he had assumed in order
to save the people.
In contrast, the essential teaching, especially
its core, the 'Juryo" chapter, takes the form of preaching
by Shakyamuni, who discarded his transient status and revealed
his true identity as the Buddha who had attained Buddhahood
in the remote past. The Buddha of the essential teaching
is called a true Buddha, as opposed to the provisional Buddha
of the pre-Lotus Sutra and theoretical teachings, who conceals
his true identity.
The essential teaching treats Buddhahood
as a reality manifested in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha,
who gained his original enlightenment in the inconceivably
distant past. Though Shakyamuni of the essential teaching
had already attained Buddhahood, he was nevertheless born
into this world as a common mortal, thus showing through
his own example that Buddhahood is inseparable from ordinary
human experience. For this reason, the essential teaching
is considered superior to the theoretical teaching.
5. THE BUDDHISM OF SOWING IS SUPERIOR TO THE BUDDHISM
OF THE HARVEST
This is a comparison between Nichiren Daishonin's
Buddhism of sowing, which reveals the Law of Nam-myohorenge-kyo
indicated in the depths of the Juryo chapter, and the Buddhism
of the harvest, Shakyamuni's essential teaching of the Lotus
The process by which the Buddha leads people
to enlightenment may be divided into three stages, called
41 sowing, maturing and harvesting." The Buddha first
plants the seed of enlightenment in people's lives by teaching
them the Law, then nurtures it through his preaching to
elevate their capacity, and finally brings them to full
enlightenment just as ripened grain is finally harvested.
The Buddhism of the harvest is for only
those who have already accumulated good causes, that is,
who have already received the seed of enlightenment from
Shakyamuni in the remote past and nurtured it through Buddhist
practice over the course of many lifetimes. For this reason,
the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra was propagated
for the sake of the people during Shakyamuni's lifetime
and the Former and Middle Days of the Law, who had already
received the seed of Buddhahood in prior lifetimes.
In contrast, the Buddhism of sowing, Nichiren
Daishonin's Buddhism, implants the fundamental seed of Buddhahood,
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, directly in the lives of the people
of the Latter Day of the Law, who by definition have never
accumulated good fortune through Buddhist practice in the
past. Consequently, they can manifest Buddhahood only by
receiving the seed of enlightenment, that is, by embracing
the great Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo hidden in the depths
of the "Juryo" chapter, the core of the essential
teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
Although Shakyamuni Buddha revealed his
enlightenment in the remote past as the effect of his Buddhist
practice, he did not specify the original cause for his
enlightenment, that is, the Law that led him to the supreme
state of Buddhahood. In other words, Shakyamuni did not
clarify the fundamental Law he himself had practiced to
Nichiren Daishonin disclosed that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
is the ultimate cause for the enlightenment of all Buddhas,
as well as the fundamental Law that Shakyamuni Buddha had
practiced to attain enlightenment. Nichiren Daishonin embodied
this Law in the form of the object of worship, the Gohonzon
of the Three Great Secret Laws.
The comparison of the Daishonin's Buddhism
and that of Shakyamuni Buddha concludes the fivefold comparison
and declares that the Daishonin's Buddhism of sowing is
the only way to enlightenment for all people in the Latter
THE THREE OBSTACLES AND FOUR
Nichiren Daishonin writes:
The doctrine of ichinen sanzen revealed
in the fifth volume of the Maka Shikan is especially
profound. If you propagate it, devils will arise
without fail. Were it not for these, there would be no
way of knowing that this is the true teaching.
One passage from the same volume reads, "As practice
progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles
and four devils emerge, vying with one another to interfere....
You should be neither influenced nor frightened by them.
If you fall under their influence, you will be led into
the paths of evil. If you are frightened by them, you
will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism."
This quotation not only applies to Nichiren but also is
the guide for his disciples. Reverently make this teaching
your own and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future
generations. (MW-I, 145)
In the phrase "if you propagate it"
in the above quotation, "propagate it" indicates
the practice for oneself and for others, that is, believing
in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism oneself as well as teaching
it to other people. When we devote ourselves to this practice,
hindrances that stand in the path of faith will emerge without
fail. The Daishonin teaches that were it not for these,
there would be no way of knowing that this is the true teaching.
Thus the emergence of such obstacles is indisputable proof
that we are practicing the True Law.
In the passage quoted above from the fifth
volume of the Maka Shikan (Great Concentration and
Insight), T'ien-t'ai says that when we believe in and practice
the True Law, hindrances will emerge that work to prevent
us from doing so. These are categorized as the three obstacles
and four devils.
T'ien-t'ai warns that when these obstacles
and devils emerge, "vying with one another to interfere"
we "should be neither influenced nor frightened by
them." For, if we fall under their influence or are
frightened by them, we cannot reach our ultimate objective,
that is, to attain Buddhahood; on the contrary, we will
verge off onto the paths of evil. For this reason, Nichiren
Daishonin says this warning of T'ien-t'ai's is the guide
for his disciples; he exhorts them to make it their own
and transmit it as an unchanging axiom of faith for 10,000
years and more, far into eternity.
Immediately following the above-quoted
passage, the Daishonin explains the "three obstacles
and four devils" as follows:
The three obstacles in this quotation
are bonno-sho, go-sho and ho-sho. Bonno-sho
are the obstacles to one's practice which arise from
greed, anger, stupidity and the like; go-sho are
the obstacles posed by one's wife or children, and ho-sho
are the hindrances caused by one's sovereign or parents.
Of the four devils, the functions of the Devil of the
Sixth Heaven are of this last kind. (MW-I, 145)
In the term three obstacles, the
word obstacles indicates hindrances or impediments
that stand in the path of our faith and practice and prevent
us from carrying them out.
The three obstacles are:
- The obstacle of earthly desires (bonw-sho), or
obstacles to faith. and practice that arise from earthly
desires such as greed, anger and stupidity;
- The obstacle of karma (go-sho), or obstacles
caused by bad karma created by committing any of the five
cardinal sins or ten . acts. In the above quotation, the
Daishonin explains this with the example of opposition
to one's faith by a spouse or children; and
- The obstacle of retribution (ho-sho), or obstacles
of painful retribution for actions in the three evil paths
or for slander against the True Law. The passage quoted
above cites obstacles to Buddhist practice caused by one's
sovereign and parents as examples.
In the term four devils, the word
devil can be translated as "robber of life:'
"murderer," "destroyer" and so on. As
these translations suggest, devils deprive the practitioner's
life of its internal brilliance as an entity of the Mystic
Law and kill that life. Whereas obstacles are the functions
that obstruct the practice of faith, devils are the workings
that additionally destroy life itself.
Today we can understand devils not as malevolent
spirits but as negative functions inherent in life itself.
The four devils are:
- The hindrance of the five components, that is, those
obstructions caused by one's physical and mental functions;
- The hindrance of earthly desires, or obstructions that
arise from the three poisons - greed, anger and stupidity
- and disrupt one's faith;
- The hindrance of death, in the sense that death makes
it impossible for practitioners to continue their practice.
To be shocked by a fellow believer's death and harbor
doubts about the validity of faith on that account is
also the working of this obstruction; and
- The hindrance of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. This
"king of devils" makes free use of the fruits
of others' efforts for his own pleasure. The Daishonin
teaches that he symbolizes the fundamental darkness inherent
in life. He is said to possess the bodies and minds of
those in power and make them persecute practitioners.
Thus far it has been seen that various
obstacles and difficulties, occur 'in the course of Buddhist
practice, vying with one another to harass the practitioner.
As discussed, such obstructions arise from earthly desires
such as greed, anger and stupidity, or take the form of
opposition from spouses, children or parents, or present
themselves as troubles of body and mind, or death. These,
however, are not obstacles and devils in and of themselves.
Rather, they become such when practitioners allow their
faith and resolve to be swayed by them.
The Daishonin writes: "Something uncommon
also occurs when an ordinary person attains Buddhahood.
At such a time, the three obstacles and four devils win
invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish
will retreat" (MW-2, 288). If and when
troubles and difficulties arise, it is important to overcome
them with the spirit of the wise, over-joyed and convinced
that they can be an opportunity of great advancement toward
the attainment of enlightenment.
LESSENING KARMIC RETRIBUTION
This is the principle of tenju kyoju, literally
"changing the heavy and receiving it more lightly."
Here "the heavy" signifies heavy karma that we
have accumulated since the remotest past by slandering the
Through the working of the law of causality,
grave offenses (causes) - such as serious slander that we
committed 'in past existences - have retribution (effects)
in our present life. Needless to say, the heavier the offenses
we commit, the severer the retribution we receive. "Changing
the heavy and receiving it more lightly" means that
we can change heavy karma from the past and experience its
effect to a lesser degree, thereby expiating it.
What makes the lessening of karmic retribution
possible? It is the working of the benefit the practitioner
accumulates by protecting the Law, that is, by believing
in and practicing the True Law.
With regard to the principle of lessening
karmic retribution, Nichiren Daishonin writes:
If one's heavy karma from the past is not expiated within
this lifetime, he must undergo the sufferings of hell
in the future, but if he experiences extreme hardship
in this life, the sufferings of hell will vanish instantly
When he dies, he will obtain the blessings of Rapture
and Tranquillity, as well as those of the three vehicles
and the supreme vehicle. (MW-I, 17)
Referring to the same principle in his
From Sado," the Daishonin quotes the following
passage from the Hatsunaion Sutra (Sutra of the Great Passing):
"It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting
the Law that one can diminish in this lifetime his suffering
and retribution" (MW-I, 40). He illustrates this principle
with the following example:
[Nichiren's] situation is like that of
a peasant heavily in debt to his lord and others. As long
as he remains on the estate, they are likely to defer his
debts from one year to the next, rather than mercilessly
hounding him. But as soon as he tries to leave, everyone
will rush over and demand that he repay everything at once.
Thus the sutra states, "It is due to the blessings
obtained by protecting the Law that one can diminish ...
his suffering and retribution." (MW-1, 41)
Since the infinite past, we have accumulated
much heavy karma. In the passage quoted above, this bad
karma is likened to enormous debts that a peasant owes to
his lord and others. The same is true with the effects of
the heavy karma such as slander that one accumulated in
Past existences. Unless we embrace the True Law, we will
be obliged to carry such a karmic debt and to suffer karmic
retribution in this present life and perhaps in future lifetimes
In the simile, the peasant remaining on
the estate indicates transmigration within the six paths
(from Hell through Heaven). The peasant leaving the estate
signifies that by taking faith in and practicing the True
Law, we break through the sufferings of the transmigratory
state and start advancing toward the state of absolute happiness,
that is, Buddhahood. Continuing in our practice, we can
completely expiate our heavy karma from the past by experiencing
at once in this present life all the karmic retribution
that we would otherwise have had to undergo 'in lifetime
after lifetime to come, yet in a greatly lessened form.
Therefore, when we encounter various hardships
in the course of Buddhist practice, we can consider them
as the retribution of slanderous deeds in the past, effects
that would otherwise have had to be experienced to a greater
degree and over a much longer period of time. We can be
confident that, because of the benefit obtained by believing
in and propagating the Law, we can expiate our bad karma
by experiencing its effects to a lesser degree. It is important
that, with this conviction, we exert ourselves in faith,
practice and study even more courageously than before.