THE BUDDHA WRITINGS OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN~ AN INTRODUCTION ~
by Martin Bradley
The next question is – how are we to understand this practice in terms of the twenty-first century?
Traditionally, the answer is through faith. But here we must make a distinction between faith and belief.
Here in the Western world, we are faced with the problem of not knowing the Japanese language. It is only in this essay, or in the translations that follow, that I know of any reasonable translation of Nam(u) Myōhō Renge Kyō, which is “the consecration and founding of our lives on the vertical threads of the sutra where existence takes place, into which is woven the filament of the interdependence of cause and effect of the entirety of existence that are the utter limits of the one instant of mind containing three thousand existential spaces”. Then of course we can translate Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō literally, which is, “to consecrate and found our lives upon the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō)”, the meaning of which Nichiren has explained with precise clarity in his The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden).
From here on, we can say that the only place upon which we can found our lives and consecrate them to is the whole of life itself. I can also take on trust that all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future based their practice on reciting at least something that had the same meaning as the “theme and title” (daimoku) of the Dharma Flower, even if they were not the precise words.
What we are really talking about is the recitation of a paramount psychological truth. Where there is no subjective mind, such places cannot be explored. The boundaries of perception are always limited by the mandala-like circles that are created in the depths of the unconscious, and in most cases not even that.
I would say that nowadays in educated Western societies there are very few thinking and enquiring people who do not accept the subconscious of Sigmund Freud and the collective unconscious of C.G. Jung as a part of our normal cultural heritage. Then would not Jung’s archetype of the ‘crock of gold at the bottom of the ocean’ not be the immaculate cognition I mentioned a few passages ago? Is this not the source from which all culture, mythology, and faith come? Is this not the immaculate cognition squeezing and squirming through the various deep down archetypes of our minds, in order to impart to us that our respective identities are not who we think we are, but in fact we are none other than life itself?
No doubt this is what the Bodhisattva Not Holding Anyone or Anything in Contempt Ever (Jōfukyō, Sadapāribbhūta), in the Twentieth Chapter on the Bodhisattva Not Holding Anyone or Anything in Contempt Ever (Jōfukyō, Sadapāribbhūta), saw in anybody who was a monk or a nun, or either a layman or female lay follower. He said, “I really admire you. How could I be arrogant and look down on you? Since you are all practising the path of the bodhisattva, you will certainly attain to the Buddha harvest.”
It is not beyond the bounds of the imagination that there is an immaculate essence that is all space, all time, which includes the past, present, and future that is the real embodiment of what life really is, yet at the same time is not separate from people like ourselves who, due to our fundamental unenlightenment, find ourselves living lives that are not without problems. This is what makes us ask the question, “How and why did I get here, and what can I do about it?”
The simple answer would be to have enough trust in the Buddha teaching to accept the fact that we have a Buddha nature, just in the same way that we have an unconscious, along with our usual complexes and quirks. This would be a basis for faith. But it is not faith if we blindly listen to or take to heart inanities, such as we find in some silly books that say, “The gohonzon [the Fundamental Object of Veneration] is the body and mind of Nichiren himself. It is not different from a living human being...” Then this is the way to piousness, bigotry, blind belief, and a life that is cold, narrow, and nasty. Often, it is in the circles that pretend to have faith in the teaching of Nichiren Daishōnin where there is far too much sanctimoniousness and not enough faith.
In order to understand why we are the way we find ourselves in the world of humankind, the Buddha teaching describes this situation in a chain of twelve causes and karmic circumstances that run through the whole of sentient existence.
i. The first is mumyō. This is the part of us that does not want to know, that does not want to change our ways. It is our fundamental unenlightenment that leads to ii. gyō, the dispositions and volitions inherited from former lives, which are carried over to iii. shiki, which are the first signs of consciousness that takes place in the womb after conception. This then leads to iv. myō, shiki, the body and mind evolving in the womb. The body then develops v. rokunyū, the five organs and cognitions of sense, as well as the cognition of conscious mental activity. After birth, this leads to vi. shoku, which is contact with the outside world. This opens the way for vii. ju, receptivity and budding intelligence and discernment from six to seven years onwards. At the age of puberty, we then develop viii. ai, the thirst and yearning for love and amorous relationships. All of this leads to ix. shu, the urge for an existence in which desires, hopes, and ambitions are fulfilled. But, even if these desires are not accomplished, we come to x. yū, which is the substance of karma to come in the future. Then we come to xi. shō, the completed karma ready to be born again. Naturally, this life is now irrevocably facing in the direction of xii. rō, shi, old age, and death. Nichiren explains this karmic process in his Essay on the Chain of the Twelve Causes and Karmic Circumstances that Run through the Whole of Sentient Existence.
Since people who live in the Western Hemisphere are endowed with a healthy dose of doubt, as well as a tendency to ask how or why the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) is seen to have the properties it does, the answer has to be, “It is the people who do the practices of the Nichiren teachings who invest the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) with the qualities it has.” What this basically amounts to is the faith of the practitioners in the existence of their own Buddha nature.
This of course is also true for all the crosses, images of saints, Buddha images, and any other object that is thought of as being sage-like. But in the same way as beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, the numinous quality of an object of worship resides in the faith of those people who hold it sacred. Faith can bring about an intuitive understanding. Deeper insight can lead to greater faith. And, as a follower of the teachings of Nichiren, a deep faith can make us aware of our inherent Buddha nature, without becoming something different from what we are, even if this may only happen at the time of our deaths.
However that may be, the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) is as it is defined in the Second Consideration of the religious ceremony of the Nichiren Shōshū School, which is as follows: “I consecrate my life to the essence of the Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata of the original gateway – the universal Dharma that lies esoterically submerged within the text – the subtle integration of the objective realm and the subjective insight of the original terrain that is so hard to understand – the primordial infinity of the original beginning – the actual fundamental substance of the self-received reward body that is used by the Tathāgata : the inherently infinite existence of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas, the pragmatic one instant of mind containing three thousand existential spaces – the oneness of the person and his Dharma – the one and only Universal Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) of the altar of the precept of the original gateway.”
Now having quoted all of this, obviously I must now give the reader some explanations, starting with the essence of the Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata. This is the Sixteenth Chapter of the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō), in which Shākyamuni refuted the concept that he had attained enlightenment for the first time in Bodhgaya under the bodhi tree in northern India. Instead, he announced that he already had become enlightened in the dimension of the original source of existence in the primordial infinity in time, which is the synchronicity of cause and effect that perpetuates throughout the whole of existence.
This chapter begins with three exhortations, where the Buddha says, “Indeed, you must sincerely give your attention to having faith and accepting what the Tathāgata says.” The Buddha was about to repeat this phrase a fourth time when the Bodhisattva Maitreya (Miroku) said three times over, “World Honoured One, we only wish to hear your teaching. We do indeed accept with faith what the Buddha says.”
After this ritual of the Buddha announcing that he would teach without being asked to, a situation which throughout all the Buddha teachings is extremely rare, the Tathāgata said, “You must listen attentively to what I have to say about the extent of the esoteric and almost inaccessible reaches of the mind of the Tathāgata.” The Buddha then goes on to say that his enlightenment existed prior to a period of time that would amount to all the grains of dust that would go into the making of five hundred kalpas.
Rather than being an immense distance in time, I would suggest that we really are talking about a very great psychological depth. This statement is referred to as, “the clearing away of what is close at hand, in order to reveal the distance”. The Lifespan in the title of this chapter alludes to the longevity of the Buddha as being all time, which is an inherently infinite existence that includes all the past, present, and future, even though this infinity is expressed in terms of a time that is like a long piece of string, or perhaps as a circle instead of a synchronicity. This is the meaning of the Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata that is esoterically submerged within the text.
The original gateway to the Dharma is the second half of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). The first half of this sutra concerns itself with teachings and events that are suspended in space and time, and therefore only temporary. In contrast, the original gateway to the Dharma points to things that exist in the original state that is more like a profound dream that unfolds to us psychological truths as to the nature of our real existence.
Another important point is that, apart from the Buddha stating that his life is inherently eternal, he also said that he is always present in “this world that has to be put up with” (shaba sekai), which means that there is no other Buddha terrain apart from the world we are living in now. The Chapter on Expedient Means of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) emphasises that the dharma realm of the Buddha is present in all the other nine realms of dharmas of ordinary people. But in the Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata, it is pointed out that these realms of dharmas are also endowed with that of the Buddha.
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.