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The Doctrine of Attaining Buddhahood in One's Present Form


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at Minobu to a follower called Myoichi-nyo, about whom very little is known. One theory identifies her with Myoichi-ama, a relative of Nissho, one of the Daishonin's senior disciples. The Daishonin is thought to have written this Gosho in 1280, when he was fifty-nine. Employing a question-and-answer format, he addresses the issue of whether it is the Lotus Sutra or the esoteric Shin-gon teachings that represent the doctrine that enables one to attain Buddhahood in one's present form (Jap. sokushin-jobutsu); hence the Gosho's title.

The Gosho opens with the question: Which of all the various sects of Buddhism in Japan teach one how to attain Buddha-hood in one's present form? The Daishonin replies that, ac-cording to the Great Teacher Dengyo, founder of the Japanese Tendai sect, only the Lotus Sutra contains this ultimate doc-trine. On the other hand, he explains, the Great Teacher Kobo, founder of the Shingon sect, asserted that this doctrine is to be found only in the Shingon teachings. The Daishonin also cites the works in which these two great teachers made their respec-tive claims. He points out, however, that while Dengyo's asser-tion is based on the text of the Lotus Sutra itself, there is no scriptural evidence whatsoever to support Kobo's view. This Gosho reflects the Daishonin's conviction that explanations of doctrine should rest firmly on the authority of the Buddha's own words as recorded in the sutras, and not on the arbitrary opinions of later teachers.

The Daishonin states that the Shingon priests heap abuse upon him for his criticism of their founder's doctrines, a reaction which, in itself, he says, betrays the weakness of their doctrinal position. The Daishonin also refers to the Shingon priests' objection that Dengyo's own successors in the Tendai sect, men such as Jikaku, Chisho and Annen, held the Shingon teachings to be superior to the Lotus Sutra in that such teach-ings set forth not only the theory, but the concrete means of practice, for attaining Buddhahood in one's present form. In response to this point the Daishonin asserts that the Shingon sutras belong to the category of provisional teachings and do not begin to approach the profundity of the Lotus Sutra, with its unique doctrines of the attainment of Buddhahood by people of the two vehicles and the revelation of the Buddha's original enlightenment in the distant past. Citing scriptural evidence in support of the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, the Daishonin reiterates that only the Lotus Sutra enables all people to attain Buddhahood in their present form. To claim otherwise, he asserts, amounts to slander of the Law, which he defines as holding a superior doctrine to be inferior. He concludes by calling on all the deities to bear him witness and lend him their aid.

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