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Opening the Eyes of Wooden or Painted Images


There are widely differing views as to the date of this writing. One view places it at 1264, another at 1272, a third at 1273, and a fourth at 1282. In this Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin deals with the concept of the enlightenment of insentient beings, first in terms of Buddha images, and then in terms of the deceased.

The Gosho begins with reference to the thirty-two extraordinary features which the Buddha is said to possess. They represent the Buddha's virtues, abilities, etc. Of the thirty-two features, thirty-one can be depicted in pictures or statues; only the Buddha's pure and far-reaching voice cannot.

Next, Nichiren Daishonin compares a wooden or painted image to the living Buddha. Wooden and painted images of the Buddha are inferior to the living Buddha because they lack not only the feature of the pure and far-reaching voice but also the Buddha's mind, that is, his spiritual aspect. The pure and far-reaching voice is the manifestation of the Buddha's mind. The Buddha's compassion to save the people manifests itself in his voice, that is, in his teachings. Thus, when a sutra is placed before a Buddha image (i.e., used to "open the eyes" of the images or consecrate it), it is the same as if it possessed the pure and far-reaching voice. This is because a sutra embodies the Buddha's teachings conveyed by his voice.

However, the Daishonin goes on to explain that the kind of sutra used to consecrate an image will determine the nature of the spiritual aspect that the image manifests. He concludes that since the Lotus Sutra embodies the Buddha's spiritual aspect, when the Lotus Sutra is used to "open the eyes" of a Buddha image, that image will become equal to the living Buddha. This accords with the principle of the attainment of Buddhahood by plants, (somoku jobutsu), "plants" here representing all insentient life.

This concept of the enlightenment of plants in turn derives from the profound principle of ichinen sanzen, which teaches that all life --- insentient as well as sentient --- possesses the Buddha nature. In a similar context, Nichiren Daishonin states in "The True Object of Worship": "Both the Buddhist and non-Buddhist scriptures permit wooden or painted images to be used as objects of worship, but T'ien-t'ai and his followers were the first to explain the principle behind this act. If a priest of wood or paper did not have both material and spiritual aspects, or lacked the inherent cause to manifest a spiritual nature, then it would be futile to rely upon it as an object of worship" (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 48), and ". . . without ichinen sanzen, the seed of enlightenment, sentient beings cannot attain enlightenment, and any statue or image would be an object of worship in name alone" (ibid., p. 63). This concept of manifesting the Buddha's nature inherent in an insentient image through the "eye-opening ceremony," thus making it an object of worship, also applies to the Gohonzon, though the Daishonin does not mention the true object of worship in this particular Gosho.

Subsequently the Daishonin sharply attacks the use of Shingon rituals for "opening the eyes" of Buddha images. He points out that using distorted teachings such as those of Shingon to consecrate images will cause demons or devils to occupy them -- that is, it will bring forth not the Buddhahood but the diabolical nature inherent in the insentient life of the image, causing suffering for individual believers and disaster for the land in which they live.

In the final section, the Daishonin touches on the subject of prayers for the deceased. The idea of the spirit departing from the dead person's body and a demon taking its place actually stems from popular folk belief. The Daishonin employs it in order to make readily understandable to his contemporaries the concept that the religious conduct of the living has an influence on the lives of those who have passed away. In this context, he explains two levels of enlightenment: the realization of the non-birth and non-extinction of all phenomena, and the attainment of Buddhahood in one's present form. Both can of course be achieved while one is alive, but since the subject of this Gosho is the enlightenment of insentient beings, the Daishonin explains both in terms of the deceased -- death being life's insentient phase -- as represented by the dead person's remains. In the text, "a wise person enlightened to the Lotus Sutra" specifically indicates Nichiren Daishonin. The Daishonin embodied his life as the original Buddha in the form of the Dai-Gohonzon. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon, we ourselves can "attain Buddhahood in our present form," and our daimoku for the deceased will also enable them to do the same.

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