THE BUDDHA WRITINGS OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN~ AN INTRODUCTION ~
by Martin Bradley Part 4:
Before going into the question of the lotus flower being the interdependence of cause and effect, I would like you to read an Oral Transmission from the Sacred Writings of Nichiren Shōshū (Nichiren Shōshū Seiten). Not only is this writing a little-known poetic vision of the lotus flower, but it also makes references to the eight-petalled lotus flower as being our own inherent Buddha nature. This text will also give the reader an idea as to how this lotus plant was seen in thirteenth century Japan. Nichiren says the following:
“To begin with, if we are to think of inquiring as to where the lotus flower grows, and as to what sort of pond, or in what sort of water, or in what kind of locality, or in what kind of environment this flower belongs, then are we to suppose that it grows among snowy mountains of the North? Or is it in tepid pools among the fragrant hills of the South that we find this unimaginable and ineffably wonderful flower, the great white lotus? Is this why we call it the Lotus Flower of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma)?
“However that may be, the ponds of King Hokabara have lotus flowers that bloom with a thousand petals, but those that flower among humankind have only about ten petals each. Above us in the heavens, there are lotus flowers with a hundred petals, and those of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas have a thousand. Should we, for this reason, call them the lotus flowers of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma)? Or again should we not try to find out if there are lotuses growing up from the Pool of the White Heron or the waters of Kunming?
“You should carefully turn this matter over in your mind, without further inquiring into the distance or searching in places that are far away. These lotus flowers grow in the breasts of sentient beings such as us. In the midst of its foul slush of evil karma and troublesome worries, the mind is endowed with the cause proper of the Buddha nature that is designated by the name of the Lotus Flower of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma).
“The lotus flowers of the ordinary world only bloom in summertime, but not the whole year round. They grow in muddy ooze and not on dry land. In the wind, they sink beneath the passing waves. They close up when it is icy and wilt in the blazing sun.
“Nevertheless, this is not the way of the lotus flower of the Buddha nature. By being the flower that is not limited by the past, present, or future, it keeps its petals throughout the four seasons of the year. And by being the flower whose bounds are unlimited, it flourishes in the six lower destinations of rebirth and the three realms of desire, materiality, and the immaterial. Since this is the flower of the non-duality of good and bad, it neither chooses the depth nor the shallowness of evil karma. Because it is the flower of the single suchness of right and wrong, it germinates in the foul slush of troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha). And, when it is grown, it is neither buffeted by the ten evil winds, nor is it submerged by the waves of the five deadly sins. The red lotus neither shrinks back from the icy cold, nor does it fade in the scorching heat.
“Even though we are in possession of the lotus flower of our Buddha nature just as it has been described, we are intoxicated by the liquor of unenlightenment, so that we are ignorant of its very presence within our bodies. By being beguiled by the murkiness of troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha), we are unawakened as to the real suchness of our own nature. This is like the poor woman who is oblivious of the treasure store in her own house and the kirin or dragon who is irritated by the jewel in his own body, without knowing that it is of worth. At all events, there are hidden things that we do not see, like the Buddha nature in sentient beings or the moon behind the clouds, the gold in the earth, or the flowers inside a tree. But there really is the Buddha nature stored within the hearts of sentient beings.”
Previously, we had the explanation of the meaning of the two ideograms for the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma). Now, it must be made clear what the lotus flower means. The words imply both the dharmic and metaphoric lotus flower [just as earlier there was both the dharmic and metaphoric Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma)].
Now the lotus flower of the actual fundamental substance has to be explained. Just as the metaphoric lotus grows out of the mire and remains unsullied, the lotus flower of the immaculate purity of our fundamental nature is not only unsoiled by muddy waters but is shown to be fully endowed with the fundamental substance and the functions of all the World Honoured Ones.
The lotus flower of the actual fundamental substance abides in the breasts of all sentient beings, in the form of a fleshy disc divided into eight parts. All of those who have received life everywhere – irrespective as to whether they are big, small, rough, or delicate, or as ungainly as crickets, ants, mosquitoes, and horseflies – all of them have within their bosom this immaculately white eight-petalled lotus flower.
In the eastern petal dwells the Buddha Ashuku (Akshobhya); in the southern petal dwells the Buddha Hōshō (Ratnasambhava). In the western petal, there is the Buddha Muryōju (Amitāyus); and the northern petal is the abode of the Buddha Fukūjōju (Amoghasiddhi). In the petal between the two astrological houses of the dragon and the snake, which is the southeast, resides the Bodhisattva Fugen; the petal in the southwestern direction of the sheep and the monkey is the seat of Bodhisattva Mañjushrī (Monjushiri). In the northwestern direction of the dog and the pig resides the Bodhisattva Kannon; and, in the northeastern petal, there is the abode of Bodhisattva Maitreya (Miroku). All eight petals entail four Buddhas and eight Bodhisattvas. Enthroned in the centre is the Tathāgata Dainichi, who is the Buddha of the nine World Honoured Ones of the eight-petalled lotus. In actual fact, this is what is known as the Buddha nature, which can be none other than the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma).
In the eastern region, all the Buddhas are comprised in the one Buddha Ashuku; in the western region, all Buddhas are comprised in the one Buddha Muryōju; and, in the northern region, all the Buddhas are embodied in the Buddha Fukūjōju. So, all the Buddhas of the ten directions and of the past, present, and future are all included among the nine World Honoured Ones in the eight-petalled lotus. In this manner, sentient beings are exquisite stupas that comprise the innumerability of all the Buddhas.
When it comes to ordinary mundane stupas, sentient beings are ignorant of this essential element. They have to be taught that our own bodies are indeed stupas that embody all the Buddhas and what this implies. People with sharper propensities would know that our bodies are analogous to the stupa of the realm of the dharmas. This is called the beginning of enlightenment. The eight-petalled lotus that lies within our breasts is called the Lotus Flower of the nine World Honoured Ones, and Bodhisattvas upon it are called the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma).
This pragmatic aspect of the teaching of Tendai (T’ien T’ai) should be studied in these terms. This is by far the most esoteric gateway to the Dharma. When we do talk of the minds of sentient beings in this manner, it is then said to be the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). Therefore, whenever we talk about the existence of the Precious Stupa in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) as not being real, then it has to be taught that the actual fundamental substance of sentient beings is just like the stupa of Tahō.
Accordingly, since all sentient beings are stupas, then the killing of people is a fearful wrongdoing. There is not even a tiny insect that settles in the palm of your hand that is not fully endowed with the eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones. If you begin to grasp the significance of this, then you will understand that should we fall into the flames of hell, then the eight-petalled lotus flower would also have to fall.
If you, in the tiniest way, consider that our minds are endowed with the fundamental substance and the function of the World Honoured Ones, then you are all but on the threshold of enlightenment. Even if you were to fall into the path of the hungry demons and deeply suffer the pangs of starvation, yet were in some small way to seize upon the idea that in our hearts there is a stupa of the Buddha who is totally awakened to Myōhō Renge Kyō, the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō), then this must be one’s person not being separate from becoming a Buddha.
Since time immemorial, the omnipresent ten realms of the dharmas have been the shape of Myōhō Renge Kyō. This is how the eight-year-old Dragon King’s daughter in this manner fully realised what the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma) was. And, without altering the actual fundamental substance of her female body, she became a Buddha with her person intact. Therefore, “Of all the persons who hear the Dharma, there is not one who will not become a Buddha”. This is the disclosure of the principle that of all the people everywhere that hear the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) there is not a single one who will not be enlightened.
In spite of there being the stupa of the eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones, through the one instant of thought being dirtied by the bewilderment of an unenlightened attachment to fancies that cannot be cleared away, we become temporarily unknowing. So this lotus is hidden by life and death and its troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha). When you hear it expounded in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) that your own mind is the actual fundamental substance of the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō), with the fundamental substance and the function of the World Honoured One, and that the citadel of your mind is the abode of the stupa of Tahō, then the least understanding of this means that your person is not separate from becoming a Buddha.
What this teaching implies is in fact what can be made known, and knowing it is what we understand. What we comprehend is again according to our knowledge. Therefore, even if you do not read the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), yet never give up meditating upon it, then seeing it in this way, you are someone who practises the Dharma Flower (Hokke-kyō). Albeit you do not understand this argument, it is still a meritorious virtue. Furthermore, when you know that the minds of all sentient beings are furnished with Buddhas of the eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones, you will, henceforth, always have the outlook of a person who practises the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). Whether you are asleep or awake, you will be accompanied by the Buddha both day and night.
When you hear this gateway to the Dharma without letting it slip from your memory, and if you can hold faith in it and understand it, then your person is not separate from becoming a Buddha. We have inherited a personality which is in accordance to how we reacted to things in former lives. Again, according to the karma which our personalities bring about in this life, this will then be the fruition of how we become and react to things in lives to come. But by even having a tiny speck of understanding and faith in the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō), the Buddhas of the eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones will reveal themselves and make an impression on future lives. You will acquire a Vajra body and dwell in the Lotus Flower of the citadel of your own heart.
Then there is a text that says, “On the contrary, I do prostrate myself at the feet of all the Buddhas within my heart.” The Dragon King’s daughter, whose person was not separate from becoming a Buddha, became universally and correctly awakened and was enthroned on the Unsullied Precious Lotus Flower of the southern regions. This means that she dwelt in the awareness of the revelation that the nature of her own mind was Myōhō Renge Kyō, the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō).
This would indicate that when faith and understanding become just a little stronger and flourish a little more, then even now, at this very moment, the Buddhas of the eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones, as a matter of course, reveal the light they emit and beam it onto the realms of the dharmas. This is why it says, in the Collection of Given Decisions, “Do not lose sight of the teaching, on account of my personal indolence. The Dragon King’s daughter became endowed with the thirty-two physical marks of a Buddha and bore witness to the silence and illumination of perfect enlightenment, on hearing the Sutra with undivided attention. What refers to all can be singled out with one example, since perceptive beings do think things out for themselves.”
It is on this account that if your understanding and your clear insight into the sutra is lacking, then you will not be capable of becoming a Buddha with your person just as it is. So there would be no reason for the Buddhas of the essence of your mind to reveal themselves in the lives to come. Therefore, you must forge and hammer yourself into the shape of becoming a Buddha. In this context, it is taught that you do not have to look for the peerless cluster of jewels, since we ourselves already possess it. When you do come to fully understand this eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones, you do not become a Buddha, even though you may be seated with the Buddha who has always been since the beginning. Nonetheless, it only takes a tiny shred of unenlightenment to obscure this understanding, so that we may never perceive it again.
Now we have come to the knowledge of the understanding which reveals that “You do not have to look for the peerless cluster of jewels, since we ourselves already possess it”. So we have Nangaku, who says, “The Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō) is the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), which, if sentient beings practise just as it teaches, then they will, as a matter of course, attain to the Buddha path. For instance, sentient beings who have rebuffed goodness, who are everywhere throughout the realm of dharmas, will decidedly, on a single hearing of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), attain to a mind of enlightenment.”
The eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones is also the essence of the mind of the slanderous person of incorrigible unbelief, as well as the evil person who commits the five deadly sins or the ten acts that lead to evil karma. Should these people exercise a minimum of faith and understanding, there is no doubt that they will become Buddhas and naturally attain to the Buddha path. While hell is just being hell, it is endowed with the World Honoured One, with both his fundamental substance and function.
The universal and impartial wisdom, by being the actual fundamental substance throughout the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas of the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō), perpendicularly reaches through the past, present, and future. Horizontally, it embraces the whole of the ten directions and is totally unbiased towards the differences of things being high or low, great or small, coarse or delicate, because it is the universally impartial wisdom of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). As the sole vehicle has been expounded in this manner, then there can be no other path to attain; neither two nor three, since it is called the sole Dharma vehicle.
Indeed, what an outstandingly superlative Dharma gateway this is!
It does not teach that the eight-petalled lotus of the nine World Honoured Ones only dwells within the breast of the masculine. It extols with a sigh that women also receive it in their feminine frames. If it expounded that only high-ranking people were endowed with stupas, then those of inferior rank would bear a grudge. Because this is the stupa of universally impartial wisdom, there could be no circumstance for a deviation from the truth.
If the Dharma becomes a single vehicle, then there are no doubts concerning it. Although this is an easier Dharma for becoming a Buddha, it was as long as forty years before Shākyamuni exposed this treasury of esoteric wisdom, for fear that a simple explanation of universal significance of the Dharma would reduce it to insignificance.
The meritorious virtue of building and setting up a hundred thousand stupas made of precious metals does not amount to the meritorious virtue of holding faith in, and understanding that our minds are stupas of the Buddhas. So, when sentient beings do evil things, they are acts of perversity, because sentient beings are the fundamental substance of the Lotus Flower of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma). Therefore, the enlightenment to this concept naturally consists in universal compassion. There is even great merit in giving up the seat of one’s position, so that others may be placed upon it. But how much more is the boundless meritorious virtue of rolling back one’s own unenlightenment, so as to reveal and know that the dwelling place of the five Buddhas and Four Bodhisattvas is in the citadel of one’s mind?
The Buddha, on giving an illustration, said that the ox-headed sandalwood tree is among all the kinds of wood the most renowned, so that one ounce of this wood is said to cost four mon. It is a treasure that has the value of a world where the sun shines from dawn to dusk under the four heavens. The capacity of this wood is like a wand with the wish-fulfilling pearl that can make all the treasures that one desires come raining down or bubble up like a spring. If you lay out this wood when it gets cold, it becomes warmer; and, if it is hot, it becomes cool. People who are sick are cured at once. Those who are impoverished become independently wealthy and honourable. So what would the meritorious virtue be, if one were to construct, from this precious wood, thirty-two halls, whose height is that of eight fan palms with a width of thirty-nine jō and two shaku, and then fill them with a hundred thousand fully ordained monks and members of the Order? Such a meritorious virtue would then be surpassed by myriads of billions of times, in a single instant of understanding and faith in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). All of this has been recounted in the sixth fascicle of this canon.
“Naturally, it must be the same as that which has just been said – that a hundred thousand myriad times that number of merits does not amount to the virtuous merit of one, which indeed is to be relied upon. What this Dharma amounts to is the reason for the Buddha coming into the world and is the direct path for all sentient beings, as well as the treasury of esoteric wisdom of all the Buddhas past, present, and future. Since this is the justification and the circumstances for the sole purpose of the Buddha appearing in the world, the Dharma that he expounded is of the ultimate significance.
“Nevertheless, the Buddha expounded the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) from the podium of possessing eternal nirvana. Then what is the reason for sentient beings not understanding or having faith in it? Even Shākyamuni held it back for as many as forty years and taught the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon, Avatāmsaka-sūtra), the sutras of the teachings of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna), and the interrelated sutras instead, so as to entice the various propensities of his hearers towards the exposition of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). And this is its meritorious virtue.”
Above all poetic and metaphorical considerations, the lotus flower is the interdependence of cause and effect. Nichiren, in his The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden), makes this clear, when he says, “... The lotus flower is the two dharmas of cause and effect, as well as being the oneness of cause and effect... The lotus flower is the Buddha entity of the nine World Honoured Ones of the eight-petalled lotus.”
Would this not be the part of us that lives all space, all time, which must include the past, present, and future – the part of us that cannot be destroyed? Is it the very essence of life itself?
However many lives or deaths we have had and will have to go through, or however much pain and suffering we may have had and may have to suffer in the future, it is on account of this interdependence of cause and effect that the substantiation of our own inherent Buddha nature comes about and, at the same moment, makes the Buddha nature manifest in all the plants, trees, and all the things and people that surround us.
Remote waterfall on the south end of Buttle Lake, Vancouver Island, BC
Martin Bradley, The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin, ISBN: 2-913122-19-1, 2005,
The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin by Martin Bradley
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.