How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood Through the Lotus Sutra
Question: Of the eight sects, the nine sects or the ten sects, which is the true sect founded by Shakyamuni Buddha?
Answer: The Hokke [Lotus] sect is the sect founded by Shakyamuni. We know this because of the statement that, of all the sutras he "had preached, now preaches and would preach" in the future, the Lotus Sutra was foremost. These words were spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha himself. Therefore [the sect based on] the Lotus Sutra is known as the Buddha-founded sect, and is also called the Hokke sect. It is also known as the Tendai sect.
For this reason, the Great Teacher Dengyo states in his commentary, "The Hokke sect, which T'ien-t'ai elucidated, represents the sect founded by Shakyamuni, the World-Honored One." In none of the sutras other than the Lotus does one find a passage concerning [the relative superiority of] all the sutras that the Buddha "has preached, now preaches and will preach." Here, the sutras that the Buddha "has preached" refer to the various sutras expounded by the Buddha in the more than forty years before he preached the Lotus Sutra. Those he "now preaches" refer to the Muryogi Sutra. Those he "will preach" refer to the Nirvana Sutra. The Buddha thus firmly decreed that, transcending these three categories of sutras, the Lotus Sutra alone constitutes the sect that assures the attainment of Buddhahood.
The various other sects were founded by bodhisattvas or teachers in the period after the Buddha had entered nirvana. Should we now turn our backs upon the Buddha's decree and follow the sects established by the bodhisattvas and teachers? Or should we ignore the words of the bodhisattvas and teachers and follow the sect established by the Buddha? Or should we entrust ourselves to either course as the feeling strikes us, and uphold whatever sutra or doctrine suits our inclination? The Buddha knew long ago that we would have doubts of this kind, and therefore he clearly designated the sutra to be embraced by persons who are truly aspiring to the Way in this defiled and evil age of the Latter Day of the Law.
A sutra says: "Rely on the Law and not upon persons. Rely on the meaning [of the teaching] and not upon the words. Rely on wisdom and not upon discriminative thinking. Rely on sutras that are complete and final and not on those that are not complete and final." The meaning of this passage is that one should rely not upon the words of the bodhisattvas and teachers, but should heed what was established by the Buddha. It further means that one should rely not upon the teachings of the Shingon, Zen and Nembutsu sects, which are based upon the Kegon, Agon, Hodo and Hannya sutras, but uphold the sutras that are complete and final. And by relying upon "sutras that are complete and final," it means upholding the Lotus Sutra.
Question: Observing Japan at the present time, one can see that the obstacles presented by the five impurities are very grave, that quarrels and disputes occur incessantly, and that people's minds are consumed with anger and their thoughts filled with jealousy. In such a country and at such a time as this, what sutra ought to be propagated?
Answer: This is a country in which the Lotus Sutra should be propagated. Therefore the Lotus Sutra itself says: "I will cause this sutra to spread widely throughout the continent of Jambudvipa and never allow it to perish."
The Yuga Ron states that there is a small country situated to the northeast where the Mahayana teachings of the Lotus Sutra should be spread. And the Eminent Priest Annen states, "This refers to our country of Japan." From the point of view of India, Japan is indeed situated to the northeast.
Moreover, the Supervisor of Monks Eshin states in his Ichijo Yoketsu: "Throughout Japan, all people share the same capacity to attain Buddhahood through the perfect teaching, and therefore those in the countryside as well as those at court, the far as well as the near, should alike take faith in the one vehicle. Priests and lay believers, the eminent and the lowly, may all thereby look forward to the attainment of Buddhahood."
The meaning of this passage is that the people of Japan, whether they live in Kyoto, Kamakura, Tsukushi, Chinzei or Michinoku, whether they live nearby or far away, are endowed with the capacity to attain Buddhahood solely through the one-vehicle teaching of the Lotus Sutra, and that Japan is therefore a country where high and low, eminent and humble, those who observe the precepts and those who break them, men and women alike, will all be able to attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra. Just as no ordinary stones will be found in the K'un-lun Mountains and no poisons in the mountain island of P'eng-lai, so Japan is purely and wholly a country of the Lotus Sutra.
And yet we find people who, while declaring with their mouths that the Lotus is inherently a wonderful sutra and that no one could therefore refuse to take faith in it, nevertheless spend night and day, morning and evening, reciting the name of Amida Buddha. They are like people who sing the praises of a particular medicine and yet morning and evening dose themselves on poison. Or there are those who declare that the Nembutsu and the Lotus Sutra are essentially one. They are like persons who claim that ordinary stones are the same as gems, senior monks identical to junior monks, and poison equivalent to medicine.
In addition, there are many persons who hate, envy, are hostile to, slander, despise and look down on the Lotus Sutra. The sutra says, "In the world at that time the people will resent [the Lotus Sutra] and find it extremely difficult to believe." And it also says "Since hatred and jealousy [toward this sutra] abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing!" These predictions of the sutra have come about without the slightest deviation.
Therefore the Great Teacher Dengyo writes in his commentary: "If we speak about the age, the propagation of the true teaching will begin when the Middle Day of the Law ends and the Latter Day opens. If we inquire about the land, it will be to the east of T'ang and to the west of Katsu. If we ask about the people [among whom it will spread], they will be beings stained by the five impurities who live in a time of conflict. The sutra says, 'Since hatred and jealousy [toward this sutra] abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing!' There is good reason for this statement."
From these passages of the sutras and commentaries, one should know the following: In Japan, in one mountain monastery after another, in temple after temple, at court and in the countryside, in both near and distant regions, though scriptural teachings other than the Lotus Sutra, such as those of the Shingon, Zen, Ritsu and Nembutsu sects, are being propagated, these are not doctrines that suit the country or that conform to the Buddha's true intention, nor can they free us from the sufferings of birth and death.
Question: The Kegon sect propounds the doctrine of the five teachings and declares all the other sutras to be inferior, and the Kegon Sutra, superior. The Shingon sect puts forth the doctrine of the ten stages of mind, declaring that all the other sutras, being exoteric teachings, are inferior, while the Shingon sect, because it represents the esoteric teachings, is superior. The Zen sect rejects all the sutras as belonging to the realm of written teachings and asserts "a separate transmission outside the sutras, independent of words or writing." Because enlightenment, they say, is gained merely by sitting and facing the wall, the Zen sect alone is superior. The Pure Land sect sets forth two kinds of practices, correct and sundry. The Lotus Sutra and the various other sutras are rejected as belonging to the category of sundry practices, and hence one is urged to "discard, close, ignore and abandon" them. The three Pure Land sutras, on the other hand, they claim are adapted to the people's capacity and are wonderful sutras belonging to the realm of correct practices. Thus each sect in its conceit maintains its own one-sided attachment. But which one represents the true intention of Shakyamuni Buddha?
Answer: Each sect declares its own sutra to be superior, all other sutras being dismissed as inferior, and on this basis labels itself the correct sect. But their arguments are based merely upon the words of the teachers of doctrine and not upon the Buddha's teaching. Only the Lotus Sutra was proclaimed superior by the Buddha himself when he expounded the simile of the five flavors, likening them to the teachings of the five periods. He also declared that of all the various sutras that he "has preached, now preaches and will preach," in terms of the path of attaining Buddhahood, none could rival the Lotus Sutra. These statements are in truth the Buddha's own golden words.
Therefore, when people declare that their own sutra surpasses the Lotus Sutra, or that their own sect is superior to the Hokke sect, they are like persons of inferior rank calling someone of high rank a commoner, or retainers whose families have for generations been in the service of a certain lord turning against him and declaring him to be their servant. How can they escape grave retribution?
On the other hand, the assertion that the various other sutras rank below the Lotus Sutra is not based upon the words of the teachers of doctrine, but is plainly stated in the text of the sutra itself. In this respect, it is like a ruler asserting that he is superior to his subjects, or a samurai calling a menial a person of low rank. What fault is committed thereby? This sutra, the Lotus, represents the true intention of the Buddha and the prime concern of T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo.
Question: The teachings of the Buddha's lifetime were all intended to benefit the people. And because the people differ from one another in their innate nature, he expounded the various teachings. Nevertheless, his basic intention in all cases was simply to enable everyone to attain the Way. Therefore [people reason as follows:] the sutra that is pertinent to oneself may be quite irrelevant to other persons, while the sutra that is pertinent to them will be irrelevant to oneself. Thus, for example, for persons who can attain the Way through the Nembutsu teachings of the sutras other than the Lotus Sutra, the Kammuryoju and related sutras will be of greatest benefit while the Lotus Sutra will be of no help. Conversely, for those who can reach Buddhahood and attain the Way through the Lotus Sutra, the other sutras will be irrelevant while the Lotus Sutra will be of greatest benefit. When the Buddha said, "In these more than forty years, I have nor yet revealed the truth," when he said, "Though they [the Buddhas] may set forth various paths, they do so in truth for the sake of the Buddha vehicle", or when he said, "Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I will expound only the supreme Way," he was addressing persons with the capacity to attain the Way through the Lotus Sutra. Everyone in the world agrees that this argument is logical. How should we understand this matter? If this view is correct, then there is really no difference between the Mahayana and the Hinayana, and no real lack of similarity between the provisional and true teachings. Thus I find myself in great doubt as to which sutra the Buddha defined as representing his true intention, and which in fact he proclaimed to be the teaching for attaining Buddhahood.
Answer: From the very beginning, the Buddha's intention in appearing in the world was to preach the wonderful Law [of the Lotus Sutra]. But because the people differed so greatly in their capacity and were not ripe to receive it, the Buddha first pondered for a period of three weeks, then spent the following forty years and more preparing and readying the people, and then finally preached this wonderful Law. The Buddha said, "If I merely praise the Buddha vehicle, the people, being sunk in misery, will not be able to believe in this Law and, lacking faith, will slander it and thus fall into the three evil paths." And he also said, "The World-Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth."
The meaning of these passages is that the Buddha from the very beginning intended to preach this doctrine of the Buddha vehicle. But he knew that the people, having no inclination to hear the Buddha's Law, would not put their faith in it, but on the contrary would undoubtedly slander it. Therefore, in order to elevate the people's capacities to the same level, he first spent a period of forty or more years preaching the Kegon, Agon, Hodo and Hannya sutras, and then at the very last preached the Lotus Sutra. At that time, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana and the others of the twelve thousand shomon disciples, or voice hearers; Monju, Miroku and the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas; the billions of wheel-turning kings; as well as Bonten, Taishaku and the countless other heavenly deities, who had all been present during the Buddha's more than forty years of preaching, each exclaimed with regard to the teachings they had heard before, "We failed to receive the Tathagata's immeasurable wisdom and insight!" But when they heard him preach the Lotus Sutra, they rejoiced, exclaiming, "We have gained the supreme cluster of jewels without expecting it!" Therefore they said, "From past times we have often heard the World-Honored One preach, but we have never before heard such a profound and wonderful superior Dharma!" And they also said, "The Buddha has preached a rare Dharma, one that we have never heard before."
The intent of these passages is to praise the Lotus Sutra by saying that, though the members of the assembly had heard the Buddha preach a considerable number of times during the preceding forty-two years and more, they had never heard anything like the Law of the Lotus Sutra, and that the Buddha had never before preached a doctrine such as this.
The doctrines heard by the assembly in the preceding forty-two years cannot in any way be compared with those of this sutra they were now hearing. Therefore it is a grave error to assert that this sutra was preached for the sake of persons who can attain the Way through the Lotus Sutra, but that it is useless for persons who can gain the Way through the sutras preached earlier. In the case of the sutras preached during the previous forty-two years, since they were provided as expedient means for individuals each with a particular capacity or karmic affinity, one can perhaps speak of them as being relevant to some persons but not to others. But in the case of the Lotus Sutra, the different capacities that had enabled individuals to benefit from hearing one or another of the earlier sutras were all drawn together and readied so that they became identical and pure; the sutra was preached to such people. Therefore there can be no question of it being relevant to some persons and irrelevant to others.
How lamentable that the distinctions between Mahayana and Hinayana, or between provisional and true teachings, should become confused in this manner, so that the purpose of the Buddha's advent has been lost, and people go about declaring that the Lotus Sutra is useless for persons with the capacity to attain the Way through the earlier sutras. One should guard against and fear such errors! In past times there was a man known as the Great Teacher Tokuichi who taught just this sort of doctrine to others and fully believed it in his own mind, reading the Lotus Sutra in the light of such an interpretation. But the Great Teacher Dengyo attacked him, saying, "Even though he praises the Lotus Sutra, he destroys its heart." After that, the Great Teacher Tokuichi's tongue split into eight pieces and he died.
Question: In a commentary by the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, we find it stated that [although persons of the two vehicles can attain enlightenment through the Lotus Sutra,] bodhisattvas are assured of attaining it through various of the earlier sutras. From this it must follow that the Lotus Sutra was preached merely for the sake of persons of the two vehicles and not for bodhisattvas, since the bodhisattvas were already assured of enlightenment by the earlier sutras. If so, then one should understand that the words of the Buddha, "I have not yet revealed the truth," "Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, [I will expound only the supreme Way,]" and all the pronouncements found in the eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra, must have been spoken entirely for the sake of persons of the two vehicles and are not relevant to even a single bodhisattva. Is this correct?
Answer: The doctrine that the Lotus Sutra was preached solely for the sake of persons of the two vehicles and not for bodhisattvas was expounded in China in the time before that of T'ien-t'ai by the ten leading scholars representing the three schools to the south and the seven schools to the north. But T'ien-t'ai refuted this doctrine and put an end to it, so that it is no longer propagated today. If you say that there are no bodhisattvas who profit from the Lotus Sutra, then how do you account for the passage that says, "When the bodhisattvas hear this Law, the nets of their doubt will all be swept away"? In view of this, can you possibly say that bodhisattvas derive no benefit from the sutra?
Or perhaps you will argue that the Lotus Sutra can benefit the bodhisattvas of dull faculties, as it does persons of the two vehicles, but that the bodhisattvas of keen faculties have already received sufficient benefit from the earlier sutras. If so, then how do you account for the passage in the sutra that says, "Whether they are sharp-witted or dull, I shower the rain of the Law on them equally," or the passage that says, "The perfect enlightenment of all bodhisattvas in every case belongs to this sutra"? The meaning of these passages is that, regardless of whether their faculties are sharp or dull, whether they abide by the precepts or break them, whether they are of exalted birth or humble, all bodhisattvas, all ordinary common mortals, and all persons of the two vehicles shall become Buddhas and attain the Way through the Lotus Sutra.
If you say that those bodhisattvas who have attained the Way through the Lotus Sutra are all persons of dull faculties, are you then prepared to say that Fugen, Monju, Miroku, Yakuo and all the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas are of dull faculties? And if you maintain that the bodhisattvas of keen faculties had already attained the Way through the sutras preached prior to the Lotus Sutra, then just who are those clever bodhisattvas?
Moreover, this enlightenment attained by bodhisattvas through the earlier sutras--is it the same as the enlightenment attained through the Lotus Sutra? If so, then it is the enlightenment of the Lotus Sutra and does not belong to the earlier sutras. And if it is an enlightenment other than that of the Lotus Sutra, then among which of the sutras that the Buddha "has preached, now preaches and will preach" in the future is it contained? In any event, if it is not the enlightenment of the Lotus Sutra, then it can only be a kind of limited enlightenment and not true enlightenment.
Therefore the Muryogi sutra states, "For this reason, the enlightenment attained by the beings is characterized by differences of degree." And it also says, "[If one cannot hear of this sutra...,] in the end he will never attain supreme enlightenment." In these passages the Buddha is saying that the people attained different degrees of enlightenment through the sutras expounded prior to the Lotus Sutra, but in the end they did not attain the supreme enlightenment of the Lotus Sutra itself.
Question: Some 2,230 years and more have now passed since Shakyamuni Buddha entered nirvana. Among all the various sutras, which sutra is fitted for an age like this, and will spread and benefit all living beings?
The Daijuku Sutra speaks of five successive five-hundred-year periods, of which our present age corresponds to the fifth period. This fifth of the five-hundred-year periods is described as an "age of conflict" when "the Pure Law will become obscured and lost." The Buddha here is saying that at that time people's hearts will be contentious and evil, and they will be overwhelmed with greed and anger, so that strife and battle alone flourish, and, among the various Buddhist doctrines, those that had earlier spread widely such as the Pure Law of the Shingon, Zen and Nembutsu sects and of those who observe the precepts will become obscured and lost.
If we observe the first, second, third and fourth of the five-hundred-year periods, we will see that, although [the teachings that spread in these ages were those in which] "the truth had not yet been revealed" concerning the way of attaining Buddhahood, the state of things in the world in each of the four periods did not differ from the Buddha's predictions even in the slightest. Considered in this light, his golden words about our present time being an "age of conflict" when "the Pure Law will become obscured and lost" could not possibly be false.
Yet, if that is so, are we then to assume that, now in the Latter Day of the Law, none of the Buddhist doctrines are of any efficacy, or that none of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas can benefit the people? Are we then to do nothing and pay no homage to any Buddha or bodhisattvas? Are we to practice no teaching whatsoever but to be left with nothing at all to turn to? How are we to make provision for the existences that are to come?
Answer: Now, the Latter Day of the Law, is the time when the seven characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo--the heart of the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra that Shakyamuni Buddha who achieved enlightenment in the remote past, along with the bodhisattvas Jogyo, Muhengyo and the others, is to propagate--will alone spread throughout this country, bringing advantage and benefit to all persons, and the blessings of Bodhisattva Jogyo will flourish greatly. This will happen because it is clearly stated in the sutra. Those who are firm in their aspiration for the Way and sincere in their seeking mind should investigate this matter in detail and seek instruction concerning it.
The people of the Pure Land sect claim that "in the ten thousand years of the Latter Day of the Law, all the other sutras will perish, and only the single teaching of the Buddha Amida will remain." They also say that "the present time, the Latter Day of the Law, is an evil age marked by the five impurities, when only the single doctrine of the Pure Land provides a road that leads to salvation." Though they falsely attribute these statements to the Daijuku Sutra, no such passages appear in that sutra. Moreover, there is no reason why they should. It is logically apparent that, while he was in the world, the Buddha would have had no reason for declaring that in the present, Latter Day of the Law, an evil age marked by the five impurities, only the Pure Land teachings would constitute the road to salvation.
Their basic sutra states, "In the age to come, the scriptural path will perish,... I [Shakyamuni] leave this one sutra, which shall endure a hundred years." But nowhere does it state that those hundred years fall within the ten thousand years of the Latter Day of the Law. Moreover, if we examine the Byodogaku Sutra and the Dai Amida Sutra, it appears that the hundred year period referred to represents the hundred years that follow the first millennium after the Buddha's passing. But people all regard Shan-tao's mistaken interpretation as quite reasonable, though in fact they are all in error.
Right-thinking people should consider the matter in the light of everyday reason. In a time of severe drought, is it the great ocean that dries up first, or is it the little streams? The Buddha himself explained this, likening the Lotus Sutra to the great ocean, and the Kammuryoju Sutra, Amida Sutra and similar texts to little streams. Therefore the Pure Law of the little streams that are the Nembutsu and similar teachings will surely disappear first, as a sutra passage states. When the Daijuku Sutra says that, in the fifth of the five five-hundred-year periods, "the Pure Law will become obscured and lost," and when the Muryoju Sutra says that "the scriptural path will perish...," they are simply saying the same thing. Therefore we are to understand that in the Latter Day of the Law, the scriptural path will perish beginning with the Muryoju Sutra and sutras of that type. "The scriptural path will perish" means that the sutras will lose their power to benefit the beings. It does not mean that the actual scrolls of the sutras will cease to exist. At present, more than two hundred years have passed since the time began when the scriptural path is to perish. In this period, the Lotus Sutra alone can benefit people and lead them to enlightenment.
This being the case, it becomes obvious that one ought to embrace this sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In the Yakuo chapter, the Buddha states: "In the fifth five hundred years after my death, widely declare and spread [the Lotus Sutra] and never allow its flow to cease." The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai comments on this by saying, "In the fifth five hundred years, the Mystic Way shall spread and benefit mankind far into the future." And the Great Teacher Miao-lo further says, "It is the time when the great teaching will be propagated." All these passages indicate that during the fifth five hundred years, the Lotus Sutra will be propagated, and thereafter will continue to exist throughout the world and never disappear.
In the Anrakugyo chapter we read: "In the latter age when the Law is on the point of disappearing, one who accepts and upholds, reads and recites this sutra..." And the Jinriki chapter says: "At that time the Buddha addressed Jogyo and the great host of bodhisattvas, saying, '...Even if, [by means of these mystic powers, I were for countless unlimited hundreds of trillions of asogi kalpas] to expound the benefits of this sutra to ensure its propagation, I could never explain them fully. I have briefly described in this sutra all the laws of the Buddha, all the invincible mystic powers of the Buddha, all the secret storehouses of the Buddha and all the profound practices of the Buddha.'"
The meaning of these various passages is that, whether one speaks of it as the fifth five-hundred-year period following the Buddha's passing, or calls it the future age, or the defiled and evil age, it is apparent that at the present time, when the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law have ended and we are two hundred years or more into the Latter Day, only the Lotus Sutra should be propagated. The reason for this is that, in this age, the people's minds have become twisted, and the teachings of the Law produce no actual effect. The Buddhas and gods no longer manifest their awesome powers, and prayers for this life and for future existences go unanswered. At such a time the devil king, or the Devil of the Sixth Heaven, will take advantage of the situation and come rampaging, and the nation will be troubled by constant famine and drought. Disease and plague will rage everywhere, and we will suffer the disasters of invasion from abroad and internal revolt, our nation being constantly at war within, and later invaded by forces coming from a foreign country to assault us. In such an "age of conflict," when the Pure Law of the other sutras ceases to be effective, the wonderfully efficacious medicine of the Lotus Sutra will provide the cure for all these grave disasters.
If one uses the Lotus Sutra to pray for the welfare of the land, it will prove to be a Great Pure Law for the safety and protection of the nation, insuring joy and prosperity to everyone from the ruler on down to the common people. King Ajatashatru and King Ashoka started out as evil rulers. But the former heeded the counsel of his high minister Jivaka, while the latter put faith in the guidance of the Venerable Yasha, and as a result both were able to leave behind them a reputation as worthy monarchs. Likewise the emperor of the Ch'en dynasty, who cast aside the three southern schools and the seven northern schools and relied on the Dharma Teacher Chih-i, and Emperor Kammu, who spurned the eminent priests of the six sects and instead heeded the Dharma Teacher Saicho, are known to this day as worthy rulers. The Dharma Teacher Chih-i is the man who was later honored with the title of the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, while the Dharma Teacher Saicho later became known as the Great Teacher Dengyo.
The present ruler of Japan is in a position to do the same. If he will put his faith in this Great Pure Law, which insures "peace and security in this life and good circumstances in the next," and propagate it throughout the nation, then he will be looked up to by all the other nations, and his name will be handed down in later ages as that of a worthy man. Indeed, he may come to be regarded as a manifestation of Bodhisattva Muhengyo. And the wise man who works to propagate the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, no matter how lowly his station, should be looked upon as a manifestation of Bodhisattva Jogyo, or perhaps as an envoy of Shakyamuni Buddha.
The bodhisattvas Yakuo, Yakujo, Kannon and Seishi, on the other hand, were envoys of the Buddha during the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law. Because their turn has already passed, they can no longer benefit people as they did in that time of high antiquity. Just observe what happens when prayers are offered to them at present! All such prayers go unanswered. Now, in the present age, the Latter Day of the Law, it is the turn of the bodhisattvas Jogyo, Muhengyo and the others.
Only when one understands all this clearly and has faith in it can the power of the Law be manifested and the Buddhas and bodhisattvas bring benefit to the people. To illustrate, in kindling a fire, three things are needed: a good piece of steel, a good flint and good tinder. The same is true of prayer. Three things are required--a good teacher, a good believer and a good doctrine--before the prayers can be effective and disasters banished from the land.
A "good teacher" is a priest who is innocent of any wrongdoing in secular affairs, who never fawns upon others even in the slightest, who has few desires and is satisfied with little, and who is compassionate, a priest who trusts to the scriptures, reads and upholds the Lotus Sutra and also encourages others to embrace it. Such a priest the Buddha has praised by calling him, among all priests, the finest teacher of the Dharma.
A "good believer" is one who does not depend upon persons of eminence nor despise persons of humble station, who does not rely on the backing of his superiors nor look down on his inferiors, who, not relying upon the opinions of others, upholds the Lotus Sutra among all the various sutras. Such a person the Buddha has called the best of all people.
As for a "good doctrine," the Buddha has told us that this sutra, the Lotus, represents the foremost among all doctrines. Among all the sutras the Buddha "has preached," among those he "now preaches," and among those he "will preach," this sutra is designated as foremost, and therefore it is a "good doctrine."
The scriptural doctrines of the Zen, Shingon and other sects stand in second or third place by comparison, and indeed, the doctrines of the Shingon sect in particular deserve to be put in seventh place! And yet in Japan, these second-rate, third-rate, or even seventh-rate doctrines are used as the basis for prayers and supplications, though any proof of their efficacy has yet to be seen.
This wonderful Law [of the Lotus Sutra], which is foremost and unexcelled, should in fact be the basis of prayers. The Buddha himself has declared that "honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I will expound only the supreme Way," and that "only this one teaching is true." Who, then, could have doubts in the matter?
Question: If ignorant persons should come and ask what path leads to emancipation from the sufferings of birth and death, what teachings of which sutras should one explain for them? What has the Buddha taught concerning this point?
Answer: You should teach them the Lotus Sutra. Thus, for example, the Hosshi chapter says: "If someone should ask you which persons in a future age will be able to attain Buddhahood, you should show him that these very persons in a future age will surely be able to attain Buddhahood." And the Anrakugyo chapter says: "If one should be closely questioned, one should not reply by means of the doctrines of the lesser vehicle, but explain solely by means of the teachings of the great vehicle." The meaning of these passages is that, if someone should ask what kind of persons are capable of attaining Buddhahood, you should reply that persons who embrace the Lotus Sutra are certain to attain Buddhahood. This represents the Buddha's true intention.
Here a question may arise: "People differ widely in their capacity and inclination. Some will want to hear the Nembutsu teachings, while others will want to hear the Lotus Sutra. If one expounds the Lotus Sutra to those who want to hear about the Nembutsu, what benefit will they derive from it? If someone has come and specifically asked to hear about the Nembutsu, should one insist on teaching that person the Lotus Sutra? The true intention of the Buddha was to preach the Law in accordance with people's capacities so that they could gain benefit thereby, was it not?"
If someone should raise objections of this kind, one should explain as follows. As a matter of principle, in the world of the Latter Day of the Law, without considering whether or not it conforms to the capacity of ignorant persons, one should go ahead and teach them the five characters that compose the title of the Lotus Sutra and enable them to embrace it.
As for the reason, when Shakyamuni Buddha spread the Lotus Sutra long ago as a bodhisattva named Fukyo, the laymen and laywomen, the nuns and the monks, all refused to heed his words. On the contrary, he was cursed and reviled, beaten and driven away, being subjected to numerous types of persecution. But though he was hated and envied, he did not allow it to daunt him in the slightest, but kept on assertively preaching the Lotus Sutra, and for that reason he appeared in our present world as Shakyamuni Buddha. The persons who had cursed Bodhisattva Fukyo did not find their mouths twisting out of shape, and those who had beaten him likewise suffered no stiffening of their arms. [After death, they fell into hell, but eventually were able to take faith in the Lotus Sutra.]
The Venerable Aryasimha, who inherited Shakyamuni's teachings, was murdered by a Brahman, and the Tripitaka Master Fa-tao was branded on the face and exiled to the region south of the Yangtze River. How much more so, in the Latter Day of the Law, will an insignificant monk who attempts to propagate the Lotus Sutra encounter such difficulties! Indeed, the sutra makes this very clear. Therefore, although the people may not heed it or may say that it does not suit their capacity, one should nevertheless persist in expounding to them the five-character title of the Lotus Sutra, because there is no other way apart from it to attain Buddhahood.
Again, someone might raise objections, saying, "Rather than to insist upon preaching the Lotus Sutra when it does not accord with the people's capacity, and thus cause them to slander it so that they fall into the evil paths, it would be better to preach the Nembutsu, which does suit their capacity, and thus awaken in them the aspiration for enlightenment. If someone not only fails to bring benefit to others but on the contrary causes them to commit slander and fall into hell, he is no votary of the Lotus Sutra but rather a person of false views."
In reply to such objections, one should point out that in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha states that whatever the people's capacity may be, in the Latter Day of the Law, one should persist in preaching the Lotus Sutra. Ask the questioner how he interprets that injunction. Does he claim that Shakyamuni Buddha, Bodhisattva Fukyo, T'ien-t'ai, Miao-lo and Dengyo are "persons of false views" or non-Buddhists?
Then again, with regard to persons of the two vehicles, who will not fall into the evil paths and have also escaped from rebirth in the threefold world, the Buddha declares that it is better to arouse the mind of a dog or a fox than to have the mentality of the two vehicles. He also warns that it is better to commit the five cardinal sins or the ten evil acts and fall into hell than to have the mind of the two vehicles. Not falling into the evil paths might appear to be a considerable benefit, but the Buddha did not regard this as his true intention. Even if one should fall into hell [as a result of slandering the Lotus Sutra], because one has heard the Lotus Sutra, which enables the attainment of Buddhahood, one has thereby received the seed of Buddhahood and will invariably become a Buddha.
Thus, T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo, following this principle, state in their commentaries that one should persist in preaching the Lotus Sutra. It is like the case of a man who stumbles and falls to the ground, but who then pushes himself up from the ground to rise to his feet again. In the same way, though persons [who slander the Lotus Sutra] may fall into hell, they will quickly rise up again and attain the state of Buddhahood.
The people of today in any event already reject the Lotus Sutra, and because of that error they will undoubtedly fall into hell. Therefore one should by all means persist in preaching the Lotus Sutra and causing them to hear it. Those who put their faith in it will surely attain Buddhahood, while those who slander it will establish a "poison-drum relationship" with it and will likewise attain Buddhahood.
In any event, the seeds of Buddhahood exist nowhere apart from the Lotus Sutra. If it were possible to attain Buddhahood through the provisional teachings, then why would the Buddha have said that one should insist on preaching the Lotus Sutra, and that both those who slander it and those who put faith in it will benefit? Or why would he say, "We do not hold our own lives dear. [We value only the supreme Way]"? Persons who have set their minds upon the Way should clearly understand these matters.
Question: If ignorant persons put faith in the Lotus Sutra, can even they attain Buddhahood in their present form? And in what pure land will they be reborn?
Answer: In embracing the Lotus Sutra, of those who profoundly grasp the sutra's essence, practice the seated meditation described in the Maka Shikan, and concentrate on the meditative disciplines pertaining to the three thousand realms in a single moment of life, the ten objects and the ten meditations there may be some who indeed attain Buddhahood in their present form and achieve enlightenment. As for other types of people, it would appear that even if they do not understand the heart of the Lotus Sutra and are ignorant but have a mind of earnest faith, then they will invariably be reborn in a pure land. For it says in the Lotus Sutra, "They will be reborn in the presence of all the Buddhas of the ten directions," and "She shall directly go to the tranquil and happy land." These passages give clear proof that one who has faith in the Lotus Sutra will be reborn in a pure land.
Someone may raise objections, saying, "Since one is only one person, I do not understand how one can be reborn in the presence of the Buddhas of all the ten directions. Surely one is limited to one direction. Therefore, which direction should I trust to and be reborn in?"
To this one would reply that there is a very good reason why the sutra speaks of ten directions and does not specify which one. This is because, when the life of one who believes in the Lotus Sutra comes to an end, among all the worlds of the ten directions, that person will be reborn in the land of a Buddha who is preaching the Lotus Sutra, and will never be reborn in a pure land where the other sutras, such as the Kegon, Agon, Hodo or Hannya sutras, are being preached.
There are many pure lands in the ten directions. There are pure lands where the way of the shomon disciple is preached, pure lands where the way of the pratyekabuddha is preached, and pure lands where the way of the bodhisattva is preached. Those who have faith in the Lotus Sutra will never be reborn in any of these, but will at once be reborn in a pure land where the Lotus Sutra is being preached. They will take their seats among the assembly, listen to the Lotus Sutra and as a result become Buddhas.
Yet in spite of this, there are those who urge others to set aside the Lotus Sutra in this lifetime, saying that it is not suited to their capacity, and that they will master its teachings when they are reborn in the western pure land. It is obvious, however, that such persons will never master the Lotus Sutra even in Amida's pure land, nor will they be reborn in any of the other pure lands of the ten directions. Rather, because the offense of turning one's back upon the Lotus Sutra is a grave one, they will fall into hell and remain there for a long time. The sutra is referring to such people when it says, "After they die, they will fall into the Avichi Hell."
Question: The sutra states, "She shall directly go to the tranquil and happy land where Amida Buddha dwells..." In this passage, the Buddha is saying that a woman who embraces the Lotus Sutra will be reborn in the pure land of Amida Buddha. It is said that by reciting the Nembutsu, one will also be reborn in the pure land of Amida Buddha. Since one is reborn in the pure land in either case, may we not assume that the Nembutsu and the Lotus Sutra are equivalent?
Answer: The Kammuryoju Sutra belongs to the provisional teachings, while the Lotus Sutra represents the true teaching. In no way can they be equivalent. The reason is that, when the Buddha appeared in the world, though he spent forty years and more preaching various doctrines, he had a great aversion to persons of the two vehicles, to evil persons and to women, and said not a single word about the possibility of their attaining Buddhahood. In this one sutra, [the Lotus,] however, he stated that even those persons of the two vehicles, for whom the seeds of Buddhahood had rotted; Devadatta, who had committed three of the [five] cardinal sins; and women, who are ordinarily hindered by the five obstacles, could all become Buddhas. This is clearly stated in the text of the sutra.
The Kegon Sutra states: "Women are messengers of hell who can destroy the seeds of Buddhahood. They may look like bodhisattvas, but at heart they are like yaksha demons." The Gonjikinyo Sutra says that even though the eyes of the Buddhas of the three existences should come out and fall to the ground, the women of the world could never attain Buddhahood. Another sutra says, "Women are great demon spirits who devour all people." And Bodhisattva Nagarjuna in his Daichido Ron says that just looking upon a woman once forms the karma to fall into hell for a long time. Thus, although I do not know if it is true or not, it is said that the priest Shan-tao, though he was a slanderer of the Law, spent his entire lifetime without ever looking at a woman. And Narihira was comparing women to demons in his poem:
My horror of that ruined,
Is because, even briefly,
It swarms with demons!
Moreover, women are burdened with the five obstacles and the three obediences, and so their sins are said to be profound. The five obstacles mean that first, a woman cannot become a Bonten; second, she cannot become a Taishaku; third, she cannot become a devil king; fourth, she cannot become a wheel-turning king; and fifth, she cannot become a Buddha. The three obediences mean that when a woman is young, she cannot follow her own desires but must obey her parents. When she reaches maturity, she cannot follow her own desires but must obey her husband. And when she is old, she cannot follow her own desires but must obey her sons. Thus, from the time she is a child until she becomes an old woman, she cannot do as she pleases, but must obey these three categories of persons. She cannot say what she thinks, she cannot see what she wants to see, she cannot hear what she wants to hear. This is what is meant by the three obediences.
For this reason, Jung Ch'i-ch'i numbered among his "three pleasures" the fact that he had not been born a woman. Women are thus despised in both the inner and outer scriptures. And yet, in the case of this sutra [the Lotus], even though they neither read nor copy the text, women who receive and uphold it in body, mouth and mind, and in particular chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with their mouths, will be able to attain Buddhahood readily, as did the dragon king's daughter or Gautami and Yashodhara, who lived at the same time as the Buddha. This is the meaning of the passage [you have cited] from the sutra.
Moreover, concerning the phrase "the tranquil and happy land," all the various pure lands are indicated by the words "tranquil and happy." And again, the Amida Buddha spoken of here is not the Amida Buddha of the Kammuryoju Sutra. The Amida Buddha of the Kammuryoju Sutra was originally a monk named Hozo, the master of forty-eight vows and a Buddha who attained the Way ten kalpas in the past. In the Lotus Sutra, the Amida mentioned in the theoretical teaching was the ninth son among the sixteen princes who were sons of Daitsuchisho Buddha, an Amida Buddha who made a great vow to propagate the Lotus Sutra. The Amida who appears in the essential teaching is an emanation of Shakyamuni Buddha. Therefore the commentary says, "One should understand that this does not refer to [the Amida of] the Kammuryoju and other sutras."
Question: The Lotus Sutra says, "[The portal to this wisdom] is difficult to understand and difficult to enter." The persons of our time cite this passage to argue that the Lotus Sutra is not fitted to the capacities of the people, and this seems to me very reasonable. What is your opinion?
Answer: Such an assertion is quite unfounded. The reason is because it is put forward by persons who have not grasped the true meaning of this sutra.
The sutras that were preached prior to the Lotus Sutra were indeed difficult to understand and difficult to enter. But when we come to the assembly where the Lotus Sutra was preached, then we can say that the Buddha's teaching became easy to understand and easy to enter. For this reason, the Great Teacher Miao-lo says in his commentary: "The sutras preached prior to the Lotus Sutra did not fully reveal the Buddha's meaning, and therefore it is said that they are difficult to understand. But in this present teaching, it is indicated that all persons whosoever can in fact enter the realm of truth. Hence the teaching is easy to understand."
The meaning of this passage is that, in the case of the sutras preached previous to the Lotus Sutra, because the people's capacity was inferior, these sutras were difficult to understand and difficult to enter. But by the time the Buddha preached the present sutra, the Lotus, the people's capacity had become sharper, and therefore the teaching was easy to understand and easy to enter.
In addition, if those sutras that declare themselves to be difficult to understand and difficult to enter do not fit the people's capacity, then you ought first of all to abandon the Nembutsu teaching. I say this because in the Muryoju Sutra we read, "[To embrace this sutra is] the most difficult of difficult things. Nothing is more difficult than this." And the Amida Sutra speaks of itself as a doctrine that is "difficult to believe." The meaning of these passages is that to receive and uphold these sutras is the most difficult of difficult things, that nothing could in fact be more difficult, and that their doctrines are difficult to believe.
Question: A sutra passage reads, "In these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth." And another sutra passage reads, "[If one cannot hear of this sutra...,] in the end he will never attain supreme enlightenment, even after the lapse of countless, limitless, inconceivable asogi kalpas." Just what are these passages saying?
Answer: The meaning of these passages is that, among the various doctrines that Shakyamuni Buddha expounded in the fifty years of his preaching life, he did not expound the truth in the Kegon Sutra, which represents his first teaching, nor did he expound the truth in the Hodo and Hannya sutras that he preached later on. For this reason, people who carry out the practice taught by the Zen and Nembutsu sects or who uphold the precepts will never attain Buddhahood, even though countless and limitless kalpas may pass.
After the Buddha had spent forty-two years preaching, he then expounded the Lotus Sutra, and in that sutra he said, "The World-Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth." When they heard and understood these words of the Buddha, Shariputra and the others of the twelve hundred arhats, the twelve thousand shomon disciples, Miroku and the others of the eighty thousand bodhisattvas, Bonten, Taishaku and the others of the billions of heavenly beings, and King Ajatashatru and the countless and innumerable other kings said, "From past times we have often heard the World-Honored One preach, but we have never before heard such a profound and wonderful superior Dharma!" Thus they declared that, although they had constantly attended the Buddha and heard him preach various doctrines over forty-two years, they had never heard anything like this wonderful Lotus Sutra.
How can people in the world so misunderstand such clear passages as to think that the Lotus Sutra and the other sutras are equal? Not only that, but they say that the Lotus Sutra, because it does not suit the people's capacity, is like brocade worn in the dark of night or like last year's calendar. When they happen to encounter someone who upholds the sutra, they look on him with scorn and contempt, hate and envy, and purse their lips in disapproval of him. This is nothing less than slander of the Law. How then could they be reborn in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood? It appears that such persons will surely fall into the hell of incessant suffering.
Question: Generally speaking, people who have a correct understanding of the Buddhist teachings and who act in accordance with the Buddha's will are looked up to by the world and respected by all. And yet in our present age, in the case of persons who uphold the Lotus Sutra, the world joins in hating and envying them, treats them with contempt and scorn, sometimes driving them away, sometimes condemning them to exile, never dreaming of giving them alms but rather hating them as though they were deadly enemies. It would almost seem as though the followers of the Lotus Sutra were evil-minded persons who were going against the Buddha's will and interpreting the Buddhist teachings in a distorted manner. How is this explained in the sutras?
Answer: According to the sutra text, the votaries of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law who are so faithful in upholding the sutra that they are hated by others are the true priests of the Mahayana. They are the teachers of the Dharma who will propagate the Lotus Sutra and bring benefit to others. As for priests who are thought well of by others, who go along with other people's desires and so come to be revered, one should regard them as the enemies of the Lotus Sutra and as evil teachers to the world. A sutra passage likens persons of this type to a hunter who spies sharply about him as he stalks a deer, or to a cat who hides its claws as it creeps up on a mouse. In just such a way, we are told, do they flatter, deceive and mislead the men and women lay believers.
In addition, the Kanji chapter mentions three groups of people who are enemies of the Lotus Sutra. The first group consists of laymen and laywomen. These lay men and women will hate and curse the votaries of the Lotus Sutra, beat them, put them to the sword, drive them from their dwellings or slander them to the authorities so that they are exiled to distant places. They behave toward them with pitiless enmity.
The second group consists of monks. These men are arrogant at heart, and though they have little true understanding, they pretend to be very wise and are looked upon by the people of the world as great authorities. When these men see the votaries of the Lotus Sutra, they hate and envy them, treat them with contempt and scorn, and speak evil of them to others, as if they were inferior to dogs or foxes. In their opinion, they alone have truly understood the Lotus Sutra.
The third group is made up of monks living in secluded places. These monks have all the outward signs of being very worthy men. They possess only the prescribed three robes and one begging bowl, and live in seclusion in a quiet spot in a mountain forest, so that everyone looks up to them as though they were the arhats living at the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, and all people revere them as though they were Buddhas. When these men see the monks who read and uphold the Lotus Sutra in accordance with its teachings, they hate and envy them, calling them great fools or holders of grave heretical views, claiming that they are completely lacking in compassion and that they preach doctrines that do not belong to Buddhism. And because the ruler looks up to such men and believes what they say, everyone on down to the common people gives alms to them as though they were Buddhas. Thus the Buddha taught that persons who read and uphold the Lotus Sutra in accordance with its teachings, will invariably be hated by these three types of enemies.
Question: Is there any evidence to indicate that one should in particular embrace the name of the Lotus Sutra in the same way that people embrace the name of a particular Buddha?
Answer: The sutra states, "The Buddha addressed the demon daughters saying, 'Excellent! Excellent! Merely by protecting those who receive and uphold the name of the Lotus Sutra, you will enjoy good fortune beyond measure.'" The meaning of this passage is that, when the ten demon daughters made a vow to protect those who embrace the title of the Lotus Sutra, the Greatly Enlightened World-Honored One praised them, saying, "Excellent! Excellent! The blessings you will enjoy for protecting those who receive and uphold Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will be impossible to fathom! They will be splendid blessings! Truly wonderful!" This passage implies that we human beings, whether we are walking, standing, sitting or lying down, should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
As for the meaning of Myoho-renge-kyo: The Buddha nature inherent in us, ordinary beings; the Buddha nature of Bonten, Taishaku and the other deities; the Buddha nature of Shariputra, Maudgalyayana and the other shomon disciples; the Buddha nature of Monju, Miroku and the other bodhisattvas; and the Mystic Law that is the enlightenment of all the Buddhas of the three existences, are one and identical; this principle is called Myoho-renge-kyo. Therefore, when once we chant Myoho-renge-kyo, with just that single sound we summon forth and manifest the Buddha nature of all Buddhas; all dharmas; all bodhisattvas; all shomon disciples; all the deities such as Bonten, Taishaku, King Emma; the sun, the moon, the myriad stars, the heavenly gods and earthly deities, on down to hell-dwellers, hungry spirits, beasts, asuras, humans, gods and all other living beings. This blessing is immeasurable and boundless.
When we revere Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of worship, the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; this is what is meant by "Buddha." To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our Buddha nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge. The Buddha nature of Bonten and Taishaku, being called, will protect us, and the Buddha nature of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, being summoned, will rejoice. This is what the Buddha meant when he said, "One who embraces it [the Lotus Sutra] even for a short time will delight me and all other Buddhas."
All Buddhas of the three existences, too, attain Buddhahood by virtue of the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. These five characters are the reason why the Buddhas of the three existences make their advent in the world; they are the Mystic Law whereby all living beings can attain the Buddha Way. You should understand this matter thoroughly, and, on the path of attaining Buddhahood, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo without arrogance or attachment to biased views.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 175.
Designed by Will Kallander