The Doctrine of Attaining Buddhahood in One's Present Form
Question: In the country of Japan, there are the six sects, the seven sects and the eight sects. Among these, which sect teaches the attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form?
Answer: According to the Great Teacher Dengyo, this doctrine is found only in the Lotus Sutra, while according to the Great Teacher Kobo, it is found only in the Shingon teachings.
Question: What proof can you show to support this?
Answer: The Great Teacher Dengyo states in his Hokke shuku: "You should understand that, among the sutras that the other sects rely upon, there are none that teach the doctrine of entering [Buddhahood] in ones present form. Although a part of them appears to teach this doctrine, they limit such attainment to those who have reached the eighth of the ten stages of development1 or higher. They do not acknowledge [the attainment of Buddhahood in] the form of a common mortal. Only the Tendai-Hokke sect clearly teaches this doctrine of entering [Buddhahood] in ones present form."
The Hokke shuku also declares: "Neither teacher nor disciples need undergo countless kalpas of austere practice in order to attain Buddhahood. Through the power of the Lotus Sutra they can do so in their present form."
It also says: "You should understand that this passage [in the Lotus Sutra] is inquiring whether there are any persons who have attained Buddhahood, and so intends to manifest the great power and authority of this sutra."2
The purpose of these passages of commentary is to clarify that the attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form is limited to the Lotus Sutra alone.
Question: What evidence can you show that would indicate the opinion of the Great Teacher Kobo?
Answer: In his Nikyo ron, the Great Teacher Kobo states: "The Bodaishin ron says: Only in the Shingon teachings can one attain Buddhahood in ones present form, because these teachings expound the practice of samadhi meditation. No such exposition is to be found in the other types of teachings. I would like to point out that this treatise represents the secret storehouse, the heart and core, of all the thousand treatises written by the great sage Nagarjuna. In the passage just quoted, the phrase other types of teachings refers to the various doctrines expounded by the body of beneficence3 and by the various transformation bodies.4 These are all doctrines of the exoteric teachings. But the words these teachings expound the practice of samadhi meditation refer to the teaching expounded by the body whose nature is the Dharma and to the samadhi practice carried out in the esoteric teachings of Shingon. These are set forth in the hundred thousand verses of praise in the Kongocho Sutra and other texts."
Question: The opinions put forward by these two great teachers are as incompatible as water and fire. Which one are we to believe?
Answer: These two great teachers were both outstanding sages. They went to China in the same year, and there both alike received instruction in the Shingon esoteric teachings. The Great Teacher Dengyo had as his teacher in the two mandalas5 the eminent priest Shun-hsiao. The Great Teacher Kobo had as his teacher in the two mandalas the eminent priest Hui-kuo.
Both Shun-hsiao and Hui-kuo were disciples of Pu-kung. And the Tripitaka Master Pu-kung was sixth in a direct line of succession from the Buddha Dainichi. Thus from the standpoint of both the transmission they had inherited and their own accomplishments, the great teachers Dengyo and Kobo were valued by the people of the time as though they were the sun and moon. They were looked up to as if they were the minister of the left and the minister of the right. For a person of shallow learning to try to decide which is right and which is wrong is difficult indeed. [Were I to do so,] I would surely gain an evil reputation throughout the land and call down great difficulties upon myself. Nevertheless, I will attempt to examine their doctrines with a critical eye and clarify their truth or falsehood.
Question: When the Great Teacher Kobo says that the doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form is found only in the Shingon teachings, what sutras or treatises is he relying on?
Answer: The Great Teacher Kobo is relying on the Bodaishin ron of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna.
Question: What proof do you have of this?
Answer: In his Nikyo ron, the Great Teacher Kobo cites the passage from the Bodaishin ron that reads: "Only in the Shingon teachings [can one attain Buddhahood in ones present form,]... No such exposition is to be found in the other types of teachings."6
Question: Is there any sutra text to support this view?
Answer: In his Sokushin jobutsu gi, the Great Teacher Kobo states: "The six great elements interpenetrate without obstruction and are constantly harmonized. The four types of mandalas are not disassociated from one another, When the Buddha bestows the three mysteries and one responds with ones own three mysteries, Buddhahood will become manifest immediately. The aspect that is infinitely and mutually reflecting, like the jewels of Indras net, is what is referred to as present form. The Buddha is naturally endowed with all-embracing wisdom.
More numerous than dust particles are those possessing the fundamental entity of the mind and its attendant mental functions. Each is endowed with the five kinds of wisdom, with boundless wisdom. When the power of the round-mirror wisdom7 functions perfectly, this is the true wisdom of awakening.8
Question: I am somewhat in doubt as to what sutra this passage of commentary is based on. Answer: It is based on the Kongocho and Dainichi sutras.
Question: May I ask what passages in the sutras?
Answer: The Great Teacher Kobo cites as his proof the following passage: "The person who practices this samadhi can immediately attain the Buddhas enlightenment."9 He also cites this passage: "Without casting off this body, one can attain the supernatural power of being anywhere at will. Strolling in the realm of the Great Void, he masters the mystery of the body."10 And this passage: "I [Dainichi] realized that I am originally unborn." And this: "All phenomena are from the beginning unborn."11
Question: I would like to make an objection. These passages are indeed from the Dainichi and Kongocho sutras. But one of them refers to Dainichi Buddhas attainment of enlightenment; another asserts that the practitioner of Shingon can acquire the five transcendental powers12 in his present body; and a third describes how the bodhisattva in the ten stages of devotion13 may in his present body move on to the next stage, the stage of joy.14 But these still do not explain how one can in ones present form gain awareness of the non-birth and non-extinction of all phenomena, much less how one can attain Buddhahood in ones present form.
Moreover, the Bodaishin ron [on which Kobo bases his argument] is not even a sutra. To base ones arguments on a treatise is to commit the error of turning ones back on what is superior and following what is inferior. It also violates the Buddhas teaching that one should "rely on the Law and not upon persons."15
But the Shingon priests of To-ji temple speak ill of Nichiren, saying, "You are only an ordinary man, whereas the Great Teacher Kobo was a bodhisattva who had reached the third stage of development.16 You have not yet reached the state of realizing the non-birth and non-extinction of all phenomena in your present form, while the Great Teacher Kobo attained Buddhahood in his present form before the emperors very eyes.17 And moreover, because you have not yet received any imperial edict [bestowing such a title upon you], you are not a Great Teacher.18 Therefore you do not qualify as a teacher of the country of Japan! (This is their first point.)
"The Great Teacher Jikaku was a disciple of Dengyo and Gishin; the Great Teacher Chisho was a disciple of Gishin and Jikaku; and the eminent priest Annen was a disciple of the eminent priest Anne. These three men have declared that the Hokke-Tendai sects doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form represents only the esoteric doctrines, while the Shingon sects teaching of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form represents the esoteric doctrines and practices. The great teachers Dengyo and Kobo were neither of them stupid men. In addition, sages show no partiality, and thus, the three teachers Jikaku, Chisho and Annen, though they lived in the mountain temple founded by Dengyo, concurred in their teachings with the intent of Kobo of To-ji temple. Accordingly, in Japan for the past four hundred years or more, no one has disputed their doctrines. Now, what do you, an unworthy person, mean by coming forward with these evil doctrines of yours!" (This is their second point.)
Answer: If you simply speak rudely and adopt an abusive attitude, I will not discuss the matter with you. I will discuss it only if you sincerely desire to hear the truth. But with people like you, if one makes no reply, then you suppose him to be incapable of responding. Therefore I will answer you. But rather than adopting an abusive attitude or using rude language, you had better produce some clear passage from the sutras to support the assertions of the Great Teacher Kobo in whom you put such trust. In view of your abusive language and attitude, it would seem that in fact there is no sutra passage [substantiating the Shingon doctrine] of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form!
As for the matter of Jikaku, Chisho and Annen, the great teachers Jikaku and Chisho embraced the doctrines of the Great Teacher Dengyo while they were still in Japan. But after they journeyed to China, they adopted the doctrines of such teachers as Yuan-cheng and Fa-chuan and in their hearts discarded the doctrines of the Great Teacher Dengyo. Thus, although they lived in the mountain temple founded by Dengyo, they proved unfaithful to his teachings.19
Question: What led you to this conclusion?
Answer: The commentary by the Great Teacher Dengyo states, "You should understand that this passage is inquiring whether there are any persons who have attained Buddhahood, and so intends to manifest the great power and authority of this sutra." This section is related to a passage he quoted earlier in this commentary from the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra [in which Monjushiri says], "When I was in the ocean [I constantly expounded the Lotus Sutra alone]."20 The point of Dengyos comment is that, no matter how much people may talk about attaining Buddhahood in ones present form, unless there are actual examples of persons who have done so, one should not heed their doctrine. It stands to reason that, unless based on the sutra of the single truth that is pure and perfect, there can be no attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form. And in the Shingon scriptures such as the Dainichi and Kongocho sutras, no examples of such persons are to be found.
Moreover, when we examine these Shingon sutras, we see that they clearly belong to the categories of "combining, excluding, corresponding and including." They do not teach that persons of the two vehicles can attain Buddhahood, nor do they even suggest anywhere that Shakyamuni actually attained Buddhahood in the inconceivably remote past.
Were Jikaku and Chisho perhaps deceived by the commentaries of Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih and Pu-kung? Jikaku and Chisho appear to have been worthy men and sages, and yet they tended to honor what was distant and to despise what was close at hand.21 They were bewitched by the fact that the three Shingon sutras contained mudras and mantras, and completely forgot about the all-important path of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form.
Thus, although the persons on Mount Hiei at present seem to be propounding the Lotus Sutras doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form, they are in fact propounding the attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form as put forward by the Great Teacher Jikaku, Annen and the others. The attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form put forward by these persons is an attainment of Buddhahood in name but not in reality. The doctrines of such people are utterly at variance with those of the Great Teacher Dengyo.
According to the Great Teacher Dengyo, regardless of whether or not people have cast aside the body subject to transmigration through delusion with differences and limitations,22 the intent of the Lotus Sutra is that they attain Buddhahood in their present form. But according to the doctrines of the Great Teacher Jikaku, if one casts aside the body subject to transmigration through delusion with differences and limitations, then this cannot be called attaining Buddhahood, in ones present form. However, people who propound such a view have no understanding of what attaining Buddhahood in ones present form really means.
Question: The Great Teacher Jikaku knew the Great Teacher Dengyo personally, studied directly under him and inherited his teachings. You, on the other hand, are separated [from Dengyo] by more than four hundred years. Is this not so?
Answer: Are persons who have received the teachings directly from their teacher invariably free from error, while those who appear in later ages and examine and come to a perfect understanding are to be regarded as worthless? If so, then should we throw away the sutras and instead rely upon the four ranks of bodhisattvas? Should a person throw away the deed of transfer received from his father and mother and instead depend upon oral transmissions? Are the written commentaries of the Great Teacher Dengyo so much trash, and the oral traditions handed down from the Great Teacher Jikaku the only guide to truth?
In the Hokke shuku, the Great Teacher Dengyo lists ten points that are not found in any sutra [other than the Lotus]. As the eighth of these, it names the sutras "superiority in leading people to attain Buddhahood in their present form." Later on, the commentary states: "You should understand that this passage is inquiring whether there are any persons who have attained Buddhahood, and so intends to manifest the great power and authority of this sutra.... You should understand that, among the sutras that the other sects rely upon, there are none that teach the doctrine of entering [Buddhahood] in ones present form."
Are we to turn our backs upon this passage of commentary and instead endorse the doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form based on the Dainichi Sutra, which the Great Teacher Jikaku says represents the esoteric doctrines and practices?
Question: Among the commentaries of the Great Teacher Dengyo, are there any that do not recognize the word "only" in the Bodaishin rons statement [that "only in the Shingon teachings can one attain Buddhahood in ones present form"]?
Answer: The Hokke shuku states: "Neither teacher nor disciples need undergo countless kalpas of austere practice in order to attain Buddhahood Through the power of the Lotus Sutra they can do so in their present form." Thus, as you can see, this commentary does not recognize the word "only" in the Bodaishin rons statement.
Question: If one rejects the Bodaishin ron, is he not then rejecting Nagarjuna?
Answer: It is more likely that the translator distorted the meaning according to his personal views.
Question: If you reject any translator, then should you not also reject Kumarajiva, the translator of the Lotus Sutra?
Answer: In the case of Kumarajiva, there is actual proof [attesting to the validity of his translations]. But no such proof exists in the case of Pu-kung.
Question: May I ask what proof you refer to?
Answer: I refer to the fact that Kumarajivas tongue23 remained unburned. You should inquire about the details.
Question: Were Jikaku and Chisho ignorant of this matter?
Answer: These two men put their trust in the doctrines of the Tripitaka masters such as Shan-wu-wei. That is probably the reason they rejected the correct teachings of the Great Teacher Dengyo. They are examples of men who relied upon persons and turned their backs upon the Law.
Question: Up until now, there has never been anyone in Japan who controverted the teachings of Jikaku, Chisho and Annen. How do you explain that?
Answer: Do the followers of the Great Teacher Kobo accept the teachings of Jikaku and Chisho? Do the followers of Jikaku and Chisho accept the teachings of the Great Teacher Kobo?
Question: Although the two teaching lines may differ somewhat, they are not, as your teachings would be, as incompatible as fire and water. And neither do they criticize others as slanderers of the True Law, do they?
Answer: But how exactly should we describe slander of the True Law? When the followers of non-Buddhist religions attack the Buddhist teachings, when followers of Hinayana attack Mahayana, when followers of provisional Mahayana look down on the teachings of true Mahayana, or when true Mahayana attempts to join forces with provisional Mahayana -- in the final analysis, when what is superior is designated inferior -- such acts go against the Law and are therefore termed slander of the Law.
Where is there any scriptural evidence to support the Great Teacher Kobos contention that the Dainichi Sutra is superior to the Lotus and Kegon sutras? The Lotus Sutra, on the other hand, contains passages clearly stating that it surpasses the Kegon and Dainichi sutras. This is the meaning, for example, of the statement that among all the sutras the Buddha "has preached, now preaches and will preach"24 in the future, [the Lotus Sutra stands supreme]. Though Kobo is highly honored, he can hardly escape the grave charge of contradicting Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas of the ten directions, who are Shakyamunis emanations!
Now, rather than appealing to the authorities in an attempt to browbeat me, why do you not simply produce some reliable passage of scriptural proof? You people look to human beings to be your allies. But I, Nichiren, make the gods of the sun and moon, Taishaku and Bonten, my allies. Gods of the sun and moon, open your divine eyes and look at what is happening! In the palaces of the sun and moon there are surely copies of the Lotus, Dainichi and Kegon sutras. Compare them and see what the truth is! Whose teachings deserve the higher place, those of Kobo, Jikaku, Chisho and Annen, or those of Nichiren?
If in the doctrines I put forth there is one part in a hundred or a thousand that accords with true principles, then how can these heavenly beings withhold their aid from me? And if the teachings of Kobo and the others are in fact false, then all the people in this country of Japan will suffer the retribution of being born without eyes.25 Will not the heavenly beings then think of them with great pity?
I, Nichiren, have twice been banished,26 and at one point was almost beheaded.27 Those responsible were in effect attempting to cut off the heads of Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas of the ten directions!
There is only one god of the sun and one god of the moon, but these two are the eyes and the life of all the living beings of the four continents. It is written in the sutras that the sun and moon feed upon the Law of the Buddha and thereby increase their brilliance and power. Persons who destroy the flavor of the Buddhist Law are in effect depriving the sun and moon of their strength. They are enemies of all living beings. How can the sun and moon go on shining upon the heads of such persons, giving them long life and sustaining them with clothing and food?
When the disciples of those three great teachers [ -- Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho -- ] slander the Lotus Sutra, is it simply because the minds of the gods of the sun and moon have entered into them and are causing them to commit slander? Or, if that is not the case and I myself am at fault, then the god of the sun must show me so! Let those disciples be summoned to debate with me, and if I am bested in the argument and yet refuse to change my views, then the gods may take away my life!
But that is not what happens. Instead, they unreasonably hand me over to my enemies, like a baby monkey entrusted to a dog or a baby mouse presented to a cat, to be attacked and tortured without mercy, and yet mete out no punishment to my tormentors. That is what I cannot countenance! As far as the gods of the sun and moon are concerned, I suppose I am a deadly foe. When I find myself in the presence of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, I will surely press charges against them. At that time, you gods must bear me no resentment!
You gods of the sun and the moon, as well as you gods of the earth and the sea, hear my words! And, you gods who protect and guard Japan, hear me! I have not the slightest ill intention.
Therefore, you must hasten to respond in an appropriate manner. And if you delay until it is too late, you must bear me no grudge! Nam-myoho-renge-kyo! Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!
The fourteenth day of the seventh month
Reply to Myoichi-nyo
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 2.
Designed by Will Kallander