THE BUDDHA WRITINGS OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN~ AN INTRODUCTION ~
by Martin Bradley
The word Namu is the Chinese version of the Sanskrit word Namas. The apt translation of this word is based on the Universal Teacher Tendai’s (T’ien T’ai) definition of it, which is “to consecrate and found one’s life on”. In Japan, this expression of devotion or dedication is to be found inscribed on the images of every kind of bodhisattva, deva (ten), or Shinto divinity.
But nothing could be more deeply meaningful than consecrating and founding our individual lives on the very essence of life itself. This is the particular significance of the recitation of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō. This is the lion’s roar, as Nichiren expresses it in his The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden): “The lion’s roar is the Buddha’s exposition of the Dharma. The exposition of the Dharma is the Dharma Flower Sutra, and in particular it is Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō.”
According to the teachings of the Nichiren Schools, sentient beings possess nine modes of cognition (kyūshiki). The first five correspond to our faculties of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touch. i. The cognition of sight (kenshiki) depends on the organ of the eye, and its function is to discern shape, colour, and form. ii. The cognition of hearing (nishiki) depends on the organ of the ear, and its function is to discern and pick out sounds. iii. The cognition of smell (bishiki) has the function of discriminating odours, fragrances, and stenches. iv. The cognition of taste (zesshiki) depends on the tongue, whose function is to discern various tastes and flavours. v. The cognition of touching (shinshiki) and feeling depends on the body, whose role is to discern every variety of physical contact. vi. The cognition of conscious mental activity (ishiki) is the consciousness and the awareness of what we are feeling and perceiving, with regard to what is going on around us and within us.
The first five cognitions have their own organs to detect whatever they are supposed to sense, whereas the cognition of mental activity (ishiki, manashiki) is dependent on the mind as a faculty of thought. Perhaps one could say I know I am seeing, but that, in fact depends on the mind.
vii) The cognition of the mind as a faculty of thought (i, mano) – this cognition is in fact a little more complicated, since it has a strong power of attaching itself to the result of its own thinking. This cognition constantly perceives images, sounds, tastes, etc., even if they are only imagined, all of which induce this cognition to presume that it is the controller of the body and the part of us that makes decisions. It also sees itself as being independent by nature. The cognition of mind as an organ of thought first wills; then it discriminates (funbetsu), in order to judge. The process of judging entails an awareness of the individual particularities in concepts, ideas, and in matters and things – hence this cognition’s habit of firmly attaching itself to a subjective and objective view of existence.
The cognition of mind as an organ of thought is always functioning, even during our sleep, unconsciousness, and comas, etc. As a result, unenlightened people such as us are always prey to illusions and ideas about our own existence, which to all intents and purposes belong to the nine realms of dharmas (kyūkai) that constitute our unenlightenment in the world of the dream.
viii. The storehouse cognition (arayashiki) strictly speaking is not a cognitive faculty and has no discerning powers of its own; rather, its role is accumulative. This storehouse cognition is the source of the previous seven cognitions, which are produced from “messages” (shūji) that are implanted in it. This storehouse is a sort of universal unconscious that stockpiles every conceivable dharma that is available to us, whether it be physical or mental, including the concept of our own bodies. When this storehouse cognition receives the outcome of the messages from the other seven cognitions, it passes these messages on to the cognition of conscious mental activity (ishiki), which in turn holds on to these impressions and discerns them as being real.
In this sense, the storehouse cognition is the basic element of the individual who mistakenly interprets the cognition of conscious mental activity as the sum total of the self. On this account, we have the tendency to think that we are what we know. The storehouse cognition is also the part of us that stores up the whole of our past and present karma. This deepest basement of our personalities also accompanies us through all our cycles of living and dying. It is through the distorted notion of being what we know that we become susceptible to deep traumas in the intermediate existence between death and rebirth, which tend to create distorted archetypes in our psyches. The scars of these deepest traumas from previous deaths may even assist in obscuring any intuition we may have, with regard to our original enlightenment. At any event, the storehouse cognition hoards up the whole of our existence, whose real identity is ix) the immaculate cognition (amarashiki), which is the fundamental of life itself.
This ninth cognition (daikushiki, amarashiki, amala-vijñāna) is not really a way of perceiving, since this particular cognition is the origin of all dharmas and mind. At the same time, it is the track upon which our lives roll. The object of most Buddha teachings suggests, through one practice or another, that the people who carry out these practices should shake themselves free of the storehouse cognition that is tainted with illusions and return to the original state of the superlative and absolutely pure, real suchness, which is the immaculacy of pure mind as the self nature of existence. In other words, it is the cognition of the Buddha, which is the original enlightenment.
This immaculate cognition is also seen as the sovereign of the mind and the foundation of all its workings. By being the real suchness, it is what life really is and completely inalterable. All things, both sentient and insentient, are endowed with this quality. In the teachings of Nichiren, this ninth and immaculate cognition is the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō). To be a little more explicit but perhaps not simpler, this sutra consists in the vertical threads of the loom where existence takes place, into which is woven the filament of the interdependence of cause and effect of the entirety of life itself.
Nichiren defines this dimension of us as the ninth cognition (daikushiki, amarashiki, amala-vijñāna) that is the capital of the real suchness and the sovereign of the mind. This aspect of ourselves is not merely an emptiness filled with light, but is also replenished with all the archetypal urges that pulsate throughout existence Thus, it was Nichiren’s all-embracing compassion for all sentient beings that made him draw up a mandala which includes all our primordial forces set in perfect proportion and in perfect relation to each other, just as they are in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). In this way, ordinary people who are burdened with karma, as we all are, can discover that this ninth cognition (daikushiki, amarashiki, amala-vijñāna) is our real identity.
Nichiren’s intention was to show us a pathway that would lead to a real individuation, which is referred to in Buddhist technical language as the opening up of our inherent Buddha nature, with our persons just as they are. This psychologically alchemical process can be set about through reciting Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō in front of this mandala, which for those people who follow these teachings is the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon).
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.