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The Teaching, Capacity, Time, and Country


In July 1260, Nichiren Daishonin submitted his treatise "Rissho Ankoku Ron" (On Securing the Peace of the Land through the Propagation of True Buddhism) to the former regent Hojo Tokiyori, who, though retired from office, was still the most influential member of the ruling Hojo clan. This marked the Daishonin's first remonstration with the government, as well as the formal beginning of his efforts to propagate his Buddhism for the peace and happiness of society, a task he would pursue throughout his life.

Infuriated at the Daishonin's criticism of the Pure Land sect set forth in the treatise, a group of Nembutsu believers attacked his dwelling at Matsubagayatsu, Kamakura, in an attempt to do away with him. The Daishonin narrowly escaped and fled to Toki Jonin's residence in the neighboring province of Shimosa. When he reappeared in Kamakura in the spring of 1261 and resumed his propagation activities, the government arrested him and, without investigation, ordered him exiled to Ito on the Izu Peninsula. He remained in exile on Izu from May 12, 1261, until he was pardoned and returned to Kamakura on February 22, 1263. While in exile the Daishonin wrote this Gosho, "The Teaching, Capacity, Time and Country," reconfirming the righteousness of his Buddhism in the light of what he termed the five guides of propagation. This Gosho also reaffirms his own mission in view of the Lotus Sutra's predictions that the votary in the Latter Day of the Law will undergo various persecutions at the hands of the three powerful enemies.

This Gosho is dated simply "the tenth day of the second month." Though we know that it was written some time during the Izu exile, the exact year remains unclear. The text reads, "At present, it has been more than 210 years since we entered the Latter Day of the Law," and "At present in Japan, some 2,210 years after the demise of Shakyamuni Buddha . . . " The Daishonin's contemporaries for the most part accepted 949 B.C. as the date of Shakyamuni's death, so the 2,210th year following that event would have been 1261. Since the Daishonin did not arrive at Izu until May 1261, and since he had already been pardoned and had returned to Kamakura by February 22, 1263, it is generally assumed that this Gosho was written on February 10, 1262.

Buddhist scholars of the past had set forth various criteria which one must understand and take into account in propagating Buddhism. Nichiren Daishonin organized these criteria into an integral system, establishing the "five guides for propagation" as a standard for the comparative evaluation of the various Buddhist teachings. In this Gosho he explains these five guides, demonstrating in terms of each one why the Lotus Sutra is the supreme teaching. Although this particular Gosho refers only to the "Lotus Sutra," in light of the Daishonin's other writings we may understand this to mean the Lotus Sutra of the Latter Day, that is, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws implicit in the depths of the Juryo (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

With this understanding, the five guides may be briefly explained as follows: 

  1. A correct understanding of the teaching. This means to recognize the differences among the many Buddhist teachings and discern their relative profundity. Systems of comparative classification, such as the fivefold comparison, have been established for this purpose. Ultimately, to recognize that the Lotus Sutra stands supreme among all sutras, and that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws hidden in the depths of the Juryo chapter is the most profound teaching which enables all people in the Latter Day to attain Buddhahood, is to understand the teaching.
  2. A correct understanding of the people's capacity. Capacity includes such factors as the life-tendency of the people, the nature of their connection to Buddhism (or lack of it), and their ability to understand and believe in Buddhist teachings. In short, to understand the people's capacity means to know by what teaching they can attain Buddhahood. The people of Shakyamuni's time and of the Former and Middle Days of the Law had already received the seed of Buddhahood from him in the remote past and nurtured it through Buddhist practice over many previous existences. Therefore, Shakyamuni's Lotus Sutra was the teaching most appropriate to them, in that it enables them to reap the harvest of enlightenment. On the other hand, the people of the Latter Day have not yet received the seed of Buddhahood, and thus cannot benefit from the Buddhism of the harvest. Rather, they must receive the seed of enlightenment directly by practicing the Buddhism of sowing, that is, the Buddhism of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. To recognize this is to understand the people's capacity.
  3. A correct understanding of the time. The development of Buddhism following Shakyamuni's death is divided into the three periods known as the Former, Middle, and Latter Days of the Law. The Former Day is the time in which the spirit of Shakyamuni's Buddhism is transmitted correctly, and his teaching leads many people to enlightenment. The Middle Day is the period in which Shakyamuni's teaching gradually becomes obscured, is reduced to formality and benefits fewer and fewer people. In the Latter Day, it completely loses the power to lead people to enlightenment. The Lotus sutra reveals that in the Latter Day of the Law, Bodhisattva Jogyo will appear and propagate the Law that is the sutra's essence. Nichiren Daishonin defined this Law as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. To recognize that now is the Latter Day of the Law when Nam-myoho-renge-kyo should be spread is to understand the time.
  4. A correct understanding of the country. This means to discern the nature of a particular nation or society's connection to Buddhism. The Daishonin states that some countries actively slander the True Law, some are completely ignorant of it, some are related exclusively to Hinayana, some exclusively to Mahayana and others to both Hinayana and Mahayana. Japan is an exclusively Mahayana country filled with people who slander the True Law. Therefore, the Mystic Law should be spread in Japan to save all people, including even those who oppose it.
  5. A correct understanding of the sequence of propagation The point of this criterion is that one should not propagate a teaching inferior to those which have already spread, as it degrades the Buddhist Law. The teaching to be propagated must be superior to those which have prevailed up to the present. In Japan, where the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra has already been established by the Great Teacher Dengyo during the Middle Day of the Law, the essential teaching of the Lotus sutra -- specifically, the True Law indicated in the Juryo chapter -- should be propagated. To recognize this is to understand the sequence of propagation.

This short treatise consists of three sections. In the first section, the Daishonin explains each of the five guides and defines the true leaders of Buddhism as those who propagate the Buddhist Law with a correct understanding of them. Next, he clarifies in the light of the five guides why the Lotus Sutra is to be propagated, and refutes the erroneous views of those sects which are confused as to these criteria. In the third section, he declares that those who practice and propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil-ridden Latter Day of the Law are destined to encounter the three powerful enemies, as predicted in the Kanji (thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

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