Opening the Eyes of Wooden or Painted Images
The Buddha possesses thirty-two features.1
All of them represent the physical aspect. Thirty-one of them, from the lowest, the
markings of the thousand-spoked wheel on the sole of each foot,2
up to the unseen crown of his head,3
belong to the category of visible and non-coextensive physical existences.4
They can therefore be depicted in tangible form, such as pictures or statues. The
remaining feature, the pure and far-reaching voice,5 belongs
to the category of invisible and coextensive physical existences.6 It therefore cannot be
captured either in a painting or in a wooden image.
Since the Buddha's passing, two kinds of images, wooden and painted,
have been made of him. They possess thirty-one features but lack the pure and far-reaching
voice. Therefore they are not equal to the Buddha. They are devoid of the spiritual
aspect. The Buddha in the flesh is to a wooden or painted image what the heavens are to
the earth or clouds to mud. Why, then, does the Nehangyo Gobun7
state that both the living Buddha and a wooden or painted image made of him after his
death bestow equal benefit? Indeed, the Daiyoraku Sutra8
absolutely declares that a wooden or painted image is inferior to the living Buddha.
When one places a sutra in front of a wooden or painted image of the
Buddha, the image becomes endowed with all thirty-two features. Yet, even though it has
thirty-two, without the spiritual aspect it is no way equal to a Buddha, for even the
being in the world of Humanity or Heaven may possess the thirty-two features.9 When the Gokai Sutra10 is placed before a wooden or painted image having
thirty-one features, the image becomes equal to wheel-turning king.11
When the Juzen Ron12 is placed before it, the image
becomes equal to Taishaku. When the Shutsuyoku Ron13 is
placed before it, the image becomes equal to Bonten. But in none of these cases does it in
any way become equal to a Buddha.
When an Agon sutra is placed in front of a wooden or painted image, the
image becomes equal to a man of Learning.14 When one of the common
prajna teachings,15 which were preached at the various
ceremonies held during the Hodo and Hannya periods,16 is
placed before it, the image becomes equal to a man of Realization. When one of the
specific or perfect teachings preached during the Kegon, Hodo or Hannya period is placed
before it, the image becomes equal to a bodhisattva. Yet in none of these cases either
does it in any way become equal to a Buddha. The mudras and mantras17
of the Buddhas Butsugen and Dainichi18 who appear in the
Dainichi, Kongocho and Soshitsuji sutras are useless, for, although their names Butsugen
and Dainichi respectively mean the Buddha-eye and Great Sun, in reality they do not
possess these qualities. Similarly, even the Buddha who appears in the Kegon Sutra is not
the Buddha of the perfect teaching,19 though his name
suggests that he is.
When the Lotus Sutra is placed before an image possessing thirty-one
features, the image never fails to become the Buddha of the pure and perfect teaching.20 It is for this reason that the Fugen Sutra,21 referring to the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra, explains,
"The three enlightened properties22 of the Buddha's
life arise from the Hodo.23 "Hodo" in this
phrase does not mean the sutras of the Hodo period; it indicates the Lotus Sutra. The
Fugen Sutra also states, "This Mahayana sutra is the eye of all Buddhas because,
through its teachings, they acquire the five types of vision."24
The written words of the Lotus Sutra express in visible and
non-coextensive form the Buddha's pure and far-reaching voice, which is itself invisible
and coextensive. They therefore possess the two physical aspects of color and form. The
Buddha's pure and far-reaching voice, which once vanished, has reappeared in the visible
form of written words to benefit the people.
A person gives utterance to speech on two occasions. On one occasion, he
does so to tell other people what he himself does not believe, in an effort to deceive
them. His voice in this case "accords with others' minds."25
On the other, the person gives voice to what he truly has in mind. Thus his thoughts are
expressed in his voice. The mind represents the spiritual aspect, and the voice, the
physical aspect. The spiritual aspect manifests itself in the physical. A person can know
another's mind by listening to his voice. This is because the physical aspect reveals the
spiritual aspect. The physical and spiritual which are one in essence, manifest themselves
as two distinct aspects; thus the Buddha's mind found expression as the written words of
the Lotus Sutra. These written words are the Buddha's mind in a different form. Therefore,
those who read the Lotus Sutra must not regard it as consisting of mere written words, for
those words are in themselves the Buddha's mind.
For this reason, T'ien-t'ai in his commentary26 states: "When the
Buddha expounds the Law only after repeated entreaties from his listeners, he expounds the
heart of his teachings. The heart of his teaching is the Buddha's mind and the Buddha's
mind is itself the Buddha's wisdom. The Buddha's wisdom is extremely profound. Therefore,
the Buddha refuses three times to proceed with his preaching, and his listeners entreat
him four times to continue to preach.27
The preaching of the Lotus Sutra was accompanied by such difficulties. Compared to the
Lotus Sutra, the preachings of the other sutras was an easy matter." In this
commentary, T'ien-t'ai uses the term "Buddha's mind" to indicate that the sutra,
itself a physical entity, actually embodies the Buddha's spiritual aspect.
Because the Lotus Sutra manifests the Buddha's spiritual aspect, when
one embodies that spiritual aspect in a wooden or painted image possessing thirty-one
features, the image in its entirety becomes the living Buddha. This is what is meant by
the enlightenment of plants.
It is for this reason that T'ien-t'ai states, "All things having
color or fragrance are manifestations of the Middle Way."28 Commenting on this,
Miao-lo adds, "However, although people may admit that all things having color or
fragrance are manifestations of the Middle Way, they are nevertheless shocked and harbor
doubts when they hear for the first time the doctrine that insentient beings possess the
Ch'eng-kuan30 of the
Kegon school stole T'ien-t'ai's doctrine of ichinen sanzen, using it to interpret the
Kegon Sutra.33 Then he wrote, "Both the Lotus and
Kegon sutras reveal the doctrine of ichinen sanzen. However, the Kegon Sutra is the
teaching of enlightenment for people of the sudden teaching,32 because it was preached
earlier, while the Lotus Sutra is the teaching of enlightenment for people of the gradual
teaching because it was preached later. The Kegon Sutra is the root, because it preceded
all the other sutras. The Lotus Sutra consists of nothing but branches and leaves."33 He puffed himself up
like a mountain, thinking that he alone had mastered the true teaching. In reality,
however, he did not know about the enlightenment of plants, the heart of the doctrine of
ichinen sanzen. Miao-lo ridiculed the ignorance Ch'eng-kuan showed in the above-quoted
Our contemporary scholars of the Tendai sect think that they alone have
mastered the doctrine of ichinen sanzen. Yet they equate the Lotus Sutra with the Kegon
Sutra or with the Dainichi Sutra. Their arguments do not go beyond even Ch'eng-kuan's
views but remain on the same level as those of Shan-wu-wei and Pu-k'ung. In the final
analysis, when the eye-opening ceremony34
for a newly-made wooden or painted image is conducted by Shingon priests, the image
becomes not a true Buddha, but a provisional Buddha. Even though it may resemble the
Buddha in appearance, in reality it remains the same insentient plant from which it
originated. Moreover, it does not even remain an insentient plant; it becomes a devil or a
demon. This is because the erroneous doctrine of the Shingon priests, expressed in mudras
and mantras, becomes the mind of the wooden or painted image. This is like those instances
in which a person's mind causes him to alter and turn into a rock, as happened with Uluka35 or Kapila.36
Unless one who has grasped the essence of the Lotus Sutra conducts the
eye-opening ceremony for a wooden or painted image, it will be as if a masterless house
were to be occupied by a thief or as if, upon a person's death, a demon were to enter his
body. When, in present-day Japan, eye-opening ceremonies for the Buddha images are
conducted according to the Shingon rite, demons occupy them and deprive people of their
lives, for a demon is also known as a "robber of life." Moreover, devils enter
those images and deprive people of benefits, and another name for a devil is a
"robber of benefit." Because the people worship demons, they will bring the
country to ruin in their present lifetime, and because they revere devils, they will fall
into the hell of incessant suffering in their next existence.
When a person dies and his spirit departs from his body, a demon may
enter in its place and destroy his descendants. This is what it meant by a demon called
gaki,37 a hungry spirit that devours even itself. However,
if a wise person extols the Lotus Sutra and with it inspirits the dead person's remains,
then, although the deceased's body remains human, his mind will become the Dharma body.38 This accords with the doctrine that one can in his present
form attain the stage where he perceives the non-birth and non-extinction of the
phenomenal world. A wise person who has mastered the perfect teaching of the Kegon, Hodo
or Hannya39 can bring a dead person's remains into the
state of realizing the non-birth and non-extinction of all phenomena. This is what the
Nirvana Sutra means when it states, "Although his body remains human, his mind will
become equal to that of the Buddha's." Chunda40 set
an example of attaining in his present body the realization of the non-birth and
non-extinction of all phenomena.
If a wise person enlightened to the Lotus Sutra conducts a service for
the deceased person, the deceased's body, just as it is, will become the Dharma Body.41 This is what the phrase
"in one's present form" means. Then the wise man will retrieve the dead person's
departed spirit, bring it back into his remains and transform it into the Buddha's mind.
This is what the phrase "attaining Buddhahood" indicates. The words "in
one's present form" represent the physical aspect and "attaining
Buddhahood," the spiritual. The deceased person's physical and spiritual aspects will
be transformed into the mystic reality and mystic wisdom42
of beginningless time. This is attaining Buddhahood in one's present form.
Thus the Lotus Sutra states, "... This reality consists of
appearance (the body of the dead person), nature (his mind) entity (the true entity of his
body and mind),..."43
It also reads "Having profoundly mastered the aspects of offense and
benefit,/Universally illuminating all ten directions,/The subtle and pure Dharma body/Has
perfected the thirty-two features..."44 In this last quotation,
the first two lines indicate the realization of the non-birth and non-extinction of all
phenomena, and the latter two, the attainment of Buddhahood in one's present form. The
model of the latter is the dragon king's daughter, while that of the former is Chunda.
- Thirty-two features: Remarkable physical
characteristics which Buddhas, wheel-turning kings and others are said to possess.
- A Buddha is said to possess the markings of a Wheel of the Law on the
sole of each foot.
- This feature is also often cited as a protuberant knot of flesh
resembling a topknot on the crown of the Buddha's head. The top of the Buddha's head is
said to be unseen, indicating his inconceivably great wisdom, the boundlessness of his
enlightened life, etc.
- Category of visible and non-coextensive physical existences: The first of
the three categories of physical existences enumerated in the Abidon Shin Ron.
"Non-coextensive" here means that the physical existences in this category
cannot simultaneously occupy the same space. The second category is invisible and
non-coextensive physical existences. The third category is invisible and coextensive
physical existences. Mention of this third category immediately follows in the text.
- Pure and far-reaching voice: Also called the voice which reaches to the
Brahma Heaven. According to the Daichido Ron, the voice of a Buddha delights those who
hear it; it touches the depths of people's hearts and arouses a feeling of reverence.
- According to the Kusha Ron, all kinds of sounds and voices including the
Buddha's pure and far-reaching voice fall under the category of invisible and
non-coextensive physical existences. However, the Daishonin assigns the Buddha's pure and
far-reaching voice to the category of invisible and coextensive physical existences,
probably to emphasize that it embodies the Buddha's teachings.
- Nehangyo Gobun: Another name of the Daihatsunehangyo
Gobun (Epilogue to the Daihatsunehan Sutra). The Daihatsunehangyo Sutra is a Chinese
version of the Nirvana Sutra, a general term for any of the sutras recording the teachings
which Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have expounded immediately before his death or those
sutras describing the events surrounding his entry into nirvana. The Nehangyo Gobun, which
consists of two fascicles, was translated by Jnanabhadra of the T'ang dynasty. It
describes the cremation of the Buddha's body, the distribution of his ashes, etc.
- Daiyoraku Sutra: Another name of the Bosatsu Yoraku Sutra (Sutra of the
Bodhisattvas' Jewel-like Bodies). It consists of fourteen fascicles and was translated by
Chu-fo-nien of the Later Ch'in dynasty (384-417). It describes the principal practices
which bodhisattvas should carry out.
- In the following sentences, Nichiren Daishonin uses a wheel-turning king
as an example of a being in the world of Humanity who possesses the thirty-two features,
and the gods Taishaku and Bonten as examples of beings in the world of Heaven.
- Gokai Sutra: "Sutra of the Five Precepts." The five precepts
are the precepts to be observed by lay people. The are: (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal,
(3) not to commit unlawful sexual intercourse, (4) not to lie and (5) not to drink
intoxicants. The expression Gokai Sutra may refer to any one of the sutras dealing with
the five precepts, and is also used as a generic term for all these sutras.
- Wheel-turning king: An ideal ruler in Indian
mythology. In Buddhism wheel-turning kings are regarded as kings who rule the world by
justice rather than force. They possess the thirty-two distinctive features and rule the
four continents surrounding Mt. Sumeru by turning the wheels which they were given by
heaven at the time of their coronation. These wheels are of four kinds: gold, silver,
copper and iron.
- Juzen Ron: "On Ten Good Precepts." The ten precepts are
precepts for lay believers of Mahayana. They are prohibitions against the ten evils of (1)
killing, (2) stealing, (3) unlawful sexual intercourse, (4) lying, (5) flattery or random
and irresponsible speech, (6) defaming, (7) duplicity, (8) greed, (9) anger and (10) the
holding of mistaken views. Buddhism teaches that one can be born in the world of Heaven by
embracing these precepts. The expression Juzen Ron may refer to any one of the sutras or
treatises dealing with the ten good precepts, and is also used as a generic term for all
these sutras and treatises. It is not certain in which sense the Daishonin uses it here.
- Shutsuyoku Ron: "On Emancipation from the World of Desire."
Buddhism teaches that one can free himself from the world of desire and be born in the
four meditation heavens in the world of form by practicing the four stages of meditation.
The expression Shutsuyoku Ron may refer to any one of the sutras or treatise dealing with
the four stages of meditation, and is also used as a generic term for all these sutras and
treatises. It is not certain in which sense the Daishonin uses it here.
- Shakyamuni expounded the teachings of the Agon sutras
chiefly for men of Learning in order to enable them to attain the state of arhat, the
highest stage of Hinayana enlightenment.
- Common prajna teachings: The prajna teachings which were expounded in
common for both men of the two vehicles (Learning and Realization) and for novice
bodhisattvas. Prajna means the wisdom which illuminates all phenomena and their essential
truth. In terms of the four teachings of doctrine, a system of comparative classification
set forth by T'ien-t'ai, the common prajna teachings correspond to the connecting
teachings (Jap. tsugyo).
- Hodo and Hannya periods: The third and fourth of the five periods into
which T'ien-t'ai divided Shakyamuni's teachings. The Hodo period, which follows the Agon
period, or the period of Hinayana sutras, includes various Mahayana sutras such as the
Vimalakirti Sutra, Ryoga Sutra, Dainichi Sutra, Kongocho Sutra and Soshitsuji Sutra. The
Hannya period includes the Hannya (Wisdom) sutras, or the sutras which deal with the
teaching of prajna-paramita or the perfection of wisdom.
- Mudras and mantras: Ritual elements of Shingon worship. Mudras are signs
and gestures made with the hands and fingers, which symbolize the enlightenment and vows
of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Mantras are formulas consisting of secret words or
syllables which are said to embody mystic powers. Esoteric Shingon regards mudras and
mantras as a way of achieving union with the Buddha Dainichi (Skt. Mahavairochana).
- Butsugen and Dainichi: Buddhas revealed in the
esoteric teaching. Butsugen (Buddha-eye) is said to give birth to all other Buddhas. He is
also called Butsugen Butsumo, Butsumo literally meaning the mother of all Buddhas.
Dainichi (Great Sun) is also regarded as the source from which all other Buddhas and
- Buddha of the perfect teaching: An expression used in contrast to
"provisional Buddha." Here, the Buddha of the perfect teaching as expounded in
the Lotus Sutra. The Buddha of the Kegon Sutra is Vairochana Buddha. Vairochana means
"coming from or belonging to the sun."
- Buddha of the pure and perfect teaching: The Buddha of the Lotus Sutra.
There are two categories of perfect teaching: that expounded in the pre-Lotus Sutra
teachings and that taught in the Lotus Sutra itself. The pure and perfect teachings mean
- Fugen Sutra: "Sutra of Meditation on Bodhisattva Fugen," an
epilogue to the Lotus Sutra. Following the Kambotsu (28th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the
Fugen Sutra describes how to meditate on Bodhisattva Fugen and explains the benefit of
this practice. It also exhorts people to believe in and propagate the Lotus Sutra.
- Three enlightened properties: Also called the three bodies. See Three
properties in Glossary.
- Hodo: Here, the Lotus Sutra. The word Hodo consists
of the two characters ho and do. Ho is interpreted as correct in doctrine and do as
impartial or universal. For this reason the term Hodo is generally used to refer to the
- Five types of vision: Five kinds of perceptive faculty. They are: (1) the
eye of common mortals, which distinguishes color and form; (2) the divine eye, or the
ability of heavenly beings to see beyond the physical limitations of darkness or distance;
(3) the eye of wisdom, or the ability of people of the two vehicles to perceive the
non-substantiality of all phenomena; (4) the eye of the Law, by such bodhisattvas
penetrate all teachings in order to save the people; and (5) the eye of the Buddha, which
perceives the true nature of life spanning past, present and future. The eye of the Buddha
includes all the other four perceptive faculties.
- "Accords with others' minds": A translation of the Buddhist
term zuitai which appears in the original text. Zuitai meant the preaching method by which
the Buddha expounds his provisional teachings according to the people's capacity in order
to lead them to the true teaching. Zuitai also means the provisional teachings so
expounded. The term is used in contrast to zuijii ("according with one's own
mind," i.e., the Buddha's mind), or the teaching in which the Buddha directly reveals
his enlightenment. Here the term zuitai is used in a broader sense to mean saying what
others which to hear.
- Hokke Genji, vol. 10.
- This exchange takes place in the Hoben (2nd) chapter
of the Lotus Sutra when Shakyamuni has begun to reveal the principle of opening the three
vehicles to reveal the one vehicle and is about to elaborate on this principle from a
variety of angles. On behalf of the assembly, Shariputra repeatedly entreats him to
preach. A similar exchange takes place at the beginning of the Juryo (16th) chapter, in
which the multitude headed by Bodhisattva Miroku four times implores the Buddha to preach.
This ritual indicates that the Buddha is about to reveal his true mind, and is not found
in any sutra other than the Lotus.
- Maka Shikan, vol. 1.
- Maka Shikan Bugyoden Guketsu, vol. 1.
- Ch'eng-kuan: see p. 13 n. 12.
- Ch'eng-kuan took the doctrine of ichinen sanzen and read it into the
passage in the Kegon Sutra: "The mind is like a skilled painter." He went so far
as to assert that the doctrine of ichinen sanzen was also revealed in the Kegon Sutra, the
basic scripture of his own school. Moreover, although he claimed to have understood
ichinen sanzen, he denied that insentient beings have the Buddha nature.
- This refers to the perfect teaching expounded for
those people who have the capacity to attain enlightenment through the sudden teaching.
The "sudden teaching" means those teachings which the Buddha preached directly
from his own enlightenment without giving his listeners preparatory instruction. "The
teaching of enlightenment for people of the gradual teaching," mentioned
subsequently, means the perfect teaching expounded for those people with the capacity to
attain enlightenment through the gradual teaching. The "gradual teaching" means
those teachings which the Buddha expounded to gradually elevate the people's capacity.
Ch'eng-kuan asserted that although gradually elevate the people's capacity. Ch'eng-kuan
asserted that although both the Lotus Sutra and the Kegon Sutra lead to enlightenment, the
Buddha taught the former as the conclusion of a gradual process of instruction but
expounded the latter to people of superior capacity directly from his own enlightenment
without giving any prior instruction. For this reason he declared the Kegon Sutra superior
to the Lotus Sutra.
- This assertion appears in the Kegon Zuisho Engi Sho, Ch'eng-kuan's
commentary on the Kegon Sutra, though the wording differs slightly.
- Eye-opening ceremony: Ceremony for consecrating a newly-made Buddha
image. By means of this ceremony, the image is endowed with the Buddha's spiritual
property, thus making it an object of worship.
- Uluka: The founder of the Vaisheshika school, one of the six main schools
of Brahmanism in India. Fearful of death, he took a drug for longevity and changed himself
into a rock.
- Kapila: The founder of the Samkhya school, one of the
six major schools of Brahmanism. Kapila was also fearful of death and ate a certain sweet
fruit to prolong his life, changing himself into a rock.
- Gaki: (Skt. preta) The spirit of a deceased person that is continuously
tormented by hunger. The realm of hungry spirits was also incorporated into the Ten Worlds
as the world of Hunger.
- Dharma body: Also called the property of the Law. One of the three
bodies. The fundamental truth or Law to which the Buddha is enlightened. It means the true
nature of the Buddha's life.
- Perfect teaching of the Kegon, Hodo or Hannya: The perfect teaching as
expounded in the Kegon, Hodo and Hannya periods. It corresponds to the first of the two
categories of perfect teaching explained in note 20. See also Perfect teaching in
- Chunda: A blacksmith in Pava Village. When Shakyamuni visited Pava
Village the day before he entered nirvana, Chunda heard him preach the Nirvana Sutra.
Moved and delighted, he invited the Buddha to his home for a meal. As a benefit of this
offering, he is said to have attained the realization of the non-birth and non-extinction
of all phenomena. The passage from the Nirvana Sutra quoted in the preceding sentence
refers to the benefit Chunda received.
- "The deceased's body, just as it is, will become the Dharma
body" refers to the principle that a common mortal attains Buddhahood in his present
form without discarding his identity as a common mortal.
- Mystic reality and mystic wisdom: The unfathomable
truth and the wisdom of the Buddha to perceive this truth. They represent the totality of
the Buddha's life.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 2.
- Ibid., chap. 12. This is an excerpt from verses spoken by the dragon
king's daughter just before her attainment of Buddhahood. The first two lines refer to the
Buddha's profound wisdom that perceives the truth of all phenomena. The latter two lines
refer to the physical manifestation of the Buddha's virtues.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 4, pp. 27-37.
by Will Kallander