Translator’s Note on the Sō Kan Mon Shō
Nichiren Daishōnin’s Writing, here entitled, A Collation of the Layers of the Various Teachings of all the Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future as to Which Specific Doctrines are to be Discarded or Established, is also known as, A General Collation of the Teaching of All the Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future so as to be able to Decide which Doctrines are to be Discarded or Established (Sanze Shōbutsu sō Kanmon Kyōsō hairyu) [Goshō Zenshū p. 558 & Goshō Shimpen p. 1408], as well as under the shorter title, A General Collation of the Teachings of all the Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future (Sanze Shōbutsu sō Kanmon Shō), or simply as a General Collation of the Teachings (Sō Kan Mon Shō).
This Writing was written in the tenth month of 1279, in Minobu, when Nichiren was fifty-eight. This was also the same year as the Dharma persecution in Atsuhara, when the people showed such a strong faith that Nichiren felt the time had come for him to realise his lifelong wish. On the twelfth day of the tenth month of that year, he inscribed the Fundamental Object of Veneration of the Altar of the Precept (Kaidan no Gohonzon).
Nevertheless, it is not definite that this writing was drawn up in 1279, and, even if some scholars insist that the recipient was Toki Jōnin, it is not recorded in The Records of the Eternal Teacher of sage-like Doctrine (Jōshi Seikyō Mokuroku). No one has been pointed out as its recipient. Because of the quotations from Tendai (T’ien T’ai), as well as the general discourse being comparable to the Thesis on the Significance of the Actual Fundamental Substance (Tōtai Gi Shō), this indicates that Sairenbō might have been the person to whom this Writing was addressed.
What the title of this thesis indicates is that, during the lifetime of Shākyamuni’s preaching of the Dharma, the first forty-two years were the provisional teachings (gonkyō) that were an expedient means in order to convert other people, and that these should be discarded. But during the following eight years, Shākyamuni taught the real teaching of his own practice, which was the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokkekyō).
However, this doctrinal process is exactly the same as that of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. This is made clear in the Second Chapter of the Dharma Flower Sutra on Expedient Means, where it says, “It is the same method of the Buddhas in general – the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, the Buddhas of the present as well as Shākyamuni – to clear away the provisional teachings in order to reveal the truth.”
Also, in the Writing on Revealing Slander, it says, “The Tathāgata Shākyamuni and the Buddhas of the past, present, and future all come into the world to expand each one of the sutras. So why should the Dharma Flower Sutra of the Buddhas not be the foremost?”
In the General Collation, the term “all the Buddhas” means that “all the Buddhas took into consideration all the texts and made a decision about them in exactly the same way. The word “general (sō)” has a dual significance. On the one hand, it refers to the person of the Buddhas and, on the other, it refers to the Dharma. When this word refers to the person of the Buddhas, it means all Buddhas of the past, present, and future, in exactly the same way…. In terms of the Dharma, it refers to the general principle of the Buddhas’ three ways of teaching, which were either 1) directly, 2) gradually, or 3) neither one way nor the other, i.e., undetermined. Furthermore, in order to induce people to take refuge in the Dharma Flower Sutra, he generally arranged his teachings according to the triple axiom of existence – relativity or the void (kū), phenomena (ke), or the middle way (chū).
By including both the Dharma as well as the person of the Daishōnin, we can begin to have a correct understanding of this Writing. Apart from the quotations from the Dharma Flower Sutra, Nichiren quotes the Sutra on Implications Without Bounds (Muryōgi-kyō), by saying, “For forty years I have not revealed the true reality.”
Among the more relevant sentences from the Dharma Flower Sutra, Nichiren emphasises this passage from the Chapter on Expedient Means: “As to the way in which all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future have expounded the Dharma, I also do the same, without any difference whatsoever.” He then goes on to quote, “Among all the Buddha lands of the ten directions, that is the only one Buddha vehicle that leads to enlightenment; there are neither two, nor are there three.” Further on, in another quote, it says, “There is only one reason and karmic circumstance for All the World Honoured Buddhas coming into and appearing in realms of existence.”
As to “which of the Doctrines are to be Established or Discarded”, obviously this refers to the content of the Dharma Flower Sutra. All the provisional teachings that are an expedient means are to be discarded, and the true reality (shinjitsu) is to be established.
Hence, on account of not having revealed the true reality for forty or so years, all these provisional teachings of Shākyamuni – that were those of the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon, Avatāmsaka), those of the individual vehicle (Agon), the doctrines of the equally broad (hōdō, vaipulya) period, as well as those of the wisdom (hannya, prajña) period – were either taught directly, or gradually, or in some way that is undetermined.
But since all these teachings were an expedient means specifically directed at people living in a dream state of existence that did not have the foundation of an awareness of the ever-present, original archetypal state (hommon), Nichiren said that all these teachings were to be set aside and people were to immediately start reciting the theme and title of the Dharma Flower (daimoku), which in itself is the original gateway to enlightenment (hommon). Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō implies devoting one’s life to and basing it on the interdependence of cause and effect which is inherent throughout the whole of existence.
Returning to the point, the title of this Writing should be understood as Nichiren Daishōnin deciding, after examining the content of all the teachings of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, as to which of these doctrines should be abandoned and which should be established, whereupon Nichiren set up the Three Esoteric Dharmas, i.e., the Fundamental Object of Veneration of the Original Gateway (to enlightenment) (Hommon no Honzon), the Altar of the Precept of the Original Gateway (Hommon no Kaidan), and the Title and Theme of the Original Gateway (Hommon no Daimoku).
The general subject matter of the Writing begins with the statement that the teachings of Shākyamuni can be divided into two parts – first, those that were taught for the forty-two years before the Dharma Flower Sutra, and, secondly, the eight years of the preaching of the Dharma Flower Sutra that followed. Again I will repeat that all the teachings of Shākyamuni that were expounded prior to those of the Dharma Flower Sutra were all expedient means designated for the conversion of others, whereas the Dharma Flower Sutra itself represents Shākyamuni’s vision of the whole of existence, which stems from his practice and refers to actual reality. The sutras that came prior to the Dharma Flower refer to a dream world without any foundation; on the other hand, the Dharma Flower Sutra entails a wakefulness that is perfectly attuned to reality.
The teachings prior to the Dharma Flower Sutra are immersed in the nine realms of dharmas (jikkai), of 1) suffering, 2) wants, needs, and desires, 3) animality, 4) the ego trip, 5) human equanimity, 6) temporary joyfulness, 7) the seekers, 8) those who are partially awakened to the truth, and 9) the altruists (bodhisattvas). But the Dharma Flower Sutra itself expounds the indestructible and the eternal Dharma realm of the enlightened (bukkai). All this is simply because, in the Sutra on Implications Without Bounds (Muryōgi-kyō), it states, “I have not revealed the true reality (of things) for forty or so years.”
The second part of this Writing goes on to explain the way things are in general, when it comes to the gateways to enlightenment in the teaching that were solely for the benefit of others (keta hōmon). Nichiren comments upon the teachings that came before the Dharma Flower Sutra as teachings devoid of a person who has become enlightened through them (ukōmunin) and that these teachings are for a dream-world that is only for the time being. Shākyamuni’s intention was that the provisional teachings were to prepare his listeners, before they were to take part in the assembly where he taught the Dharma Flower Sutra.
The third section of this Writing goes on to explain that the practice of the Dharma Flower was what the Buddha himself carried out. Then this Writing clearly establishes the position of the dream in contrast to being wide-awake, in order to explain the significance of Utterness (myō) as understood by the assembly of the Dharma Flower Sutra.
Nichiren explains that no dharmas can exist outside the workings of the mind and its perceptions. He also discusses the real aspect (jissō) of the ten such qualities of suchness (nyoze), which must imply that all dharmas are the oneness of mind and that the Buddha and ordinary people are not two separate entities, which is the Utterness of the unimaginable. This is made somewhat clearer through the metaphors of the fan and the mountains that partially hide the moon. In addition to this, we have the story of Chuang Tzū being a butterfly for a hundred years.
This leads to each of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas being endowed with the same three existential spaces (jikkai gogu). Then we have the evidence that bewilderment and enlightenment are not separate from each other, whereupon becoming aware of our own Buddha nature is not separate from who we are now and our respective personalities. This is followed by the dissertation on our persons not being in any way apart from heaven and earth or the whole of the dharma realms, and that we should never doubt that we can open up our inherent Buddha nature with our personalities just as they are.
The fourth section of this Writing continues, with Nichiren saying that “beyond the depths in our own mind” was expressed in the India of Shākyamuni as the uncountable grains of dust that would amount to the granules that would be left over, if someone were to grind five hundred universes, starting with their respective big bangs and also their big crunches. This can also be understood as the ever-present infinite in time (kuon ganjo), or literally as the incredibly long period as described in the sixteenth chapter of the Dharma Flower Sutra, which points to the time before the original Buddha became enlightened (gohyaku jintengo).
He says, “When I was simply a common mortal, I realised that my body was composed of earth, fire, wind, and the void of relativity (kū) (i.e., the components of the universe); thereupon I became enlightened.” This action of the Daishōnin indicates that he became inseparable (soku) from the function of the self-received wisdom body of the Tathāgata (jiju yūshin) in the ever-present infinite in time (kuon ganjo).
In the fifth paragraph, Nichiren talks about the power, as well as the advantages and disadvantages, of the teachings that were for the benefit of others and those which the Buddha practised for himself. Here he quotes and explains various sutric texts, encourages and gives incentives for ordinary people of the final era of the teachings of Shākyamuni (mappō) to practise the teaching that he propounds.
In the sixth part of this Writing, Nichiren discusses in general terms the triple axiom of phenomena (ke), noumena (kū), and the middle way of reality (chū), in the sage-like teachings of Shākyamuni’s lifetime, stressing the point that one should know thoroughly the difference between the sutras through which one can attain enlightenment and those through which illumination is not possible. In particular, he reveals the merits and effectiveness (kudoku, guna) of holding faith in the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma) of the all-embracing teachings (engyō).
In the seventh and last passage, Nichiren points out the reason and the karmic circumstances for bringing about the appearance of the Buddha in the world of humankind (ichi daiji innen). Defining himself as the ordinary person of the final period of the Buddha teaching of Shākyamuni (mappō), Nichiren rejoices at being able to be a good friend of the people of his own time.
Also, he says that, if people carry out the practice of reciting Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, they will certainly be able to open up their inherent Buddha nature. “All the Buddhas of the past, present, and future, with a singularity of mind, practised the reciting of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō and were able without any hindrance to open up their inherent illumination.”
The difference between the teachings that the Buddhas themselves practised and these that they preached in order to entice other is as clear as night and day. The consideration that all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future gave to all the sutric texts was done in this manner. Nichiren ends this Writing by saying that this is an esoteric teaching that is not to be bandied about to all and sundry.
Broadly speaking, this Writing has eight illustrative examples – which are that 1) the provisional teachings refer to the dream of living and dying, whereas the true doctrines refer to wide-awake reality; 2) all streams and rivers flow towards the great sea; 3) the metaphor of the fan, the trees, the wind, and the moon; 4) the reflection of the moon in the water and the moon in the sky; 5) the three kinds of plants, the two kinds of tree, and the one rain that nourishes the single earth; 6) the front and back of a mirror; 7) the wish-granting jewel, the gem, its shininess, and its value; 8) the substance and the use of the mirror.
These eight metaphors all go to show that the Dharma Flower Sutra is the only teaching that relates to reality. Again, towards the end of this Writing, Nichiren briefly describes the wisdom and the practical knowledge of what it means to be enlightened.
Martin Bradley – August, 2008
Martin Bradley at home in Bruges, Belgium (before August 2008)
The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin by Martin Bradley
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.