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How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood Through the Lotus Sutra


"How those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra" is generally thought to have been written in the third month of the year of Kenji (1277), though differing opinions assign it to the year 1271, 1272, 1276, 1281 or even 1282. Its recipient was a woman called Myoho-ama who lived at Okamiya in Suruga Province. Little is know about her, other than that she was widowed in 1278 and also lost an elder brother. She appears to have maintained steadfast faith throughout her life. She is the same Myoho-ama who received "The One Essential Phrase" from Nichiren Daishonin in 1278. "Those Initially Aspiring the Way" in the Gosho's title refers to the people of this latter age, who were generally considered to have planted few roots of merit in prior lifetimes.

The text is written in question-and-answer form. It first establishes that among the various sects of Buddhism, only that based upon the Lotus Sutra represents the sect founded by Shakyamuni Buddha himself, for this sutra alone expresses the Buddha's true intention. Through the first few sets of questions and answers, the Daishonin explains that, whether viewed in terms of the teaching, the people's capacity, the time or the country, the Lotus is the only sutra to be propagated in Japan during the Latter Day. Unlike the provisional teachings, which are suited to some people but not to others, the Lotus Sutra is unique in enabling all people to attain Buddhahood.

In Nichiren Daishonin's time, the idea prevailed that the Lotus Sutra, being extremely profound, was far beyond the capacity of people born in the Latter Day of the Law, and that only the relatively easy Nembutsu teachings could save them by leading them to rebirth in Amida's Pure Land. The Daishonin counters by asserting that, in this time, the seven characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which represent the heart and core of the Lotus Sutra, can benefit all persons. This is the Law to be propagated by Bodhisattva Jogyo.

Referring to the many disasters then besetting Japan, Nichiren Daishonin points out that prayers for the nation's welfare based on the provisional teachings no longer produce results. To make fire, he says, three things are needed: a good piece of steel, a good flint and good tinder. Similarly, one needs three elements - a good teacher, a good believer and a good doctrine - before prayers can be answered and the nation restored to peace. The Lotus Sutra, being foremost among the Buddha's teachings, is just such a "good doctrine" that can answer prayers and banish disasters.

An important theme running through this writing is the Lotus Sutra's universal power of salvation. To further clarify this point, Nichiren Daishonin has his hypothetical questioner raise the following objection: If one preaches the Lotus Sutra to those who have no capacity to understand it, they may in fact slander it and fall into hell. Would it not be more compassionate to expound for them the Nembutsu teachings, which are better suited to their limited understanding, as an expedient? In reply, the Daishonin says that instead of worrying about whether people do or do not posses the power of understanding, the most important thing is to let them form a bond with the Mystic Law. Thus he emphasizes that, in the evil age of the Latter Day, one should assertively teach the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra rather than some lesser, provisional teaching, for even those who slander the Lotus Sutra will eventually attain Buddhahood by virtue of the "poison-drum relationship," or the reverse connection that they thereby form with it. He also makes clear for Myoho-ama's benefit that the Lotus Sutra, unlike the earlier teachings, guarantees Buddhahood for women as well as for men.

The conclusion explains that the Law of Myoho-renge-kyo, the five characters of the sutra's title, is identical to the Buddha nature inherent in our own lives and in all things in the universe. When we revere this Law, the essence of our own life, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we simultaneously manifest the Buddha nature, both in ourselves and in the world around us.

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