THE DHARMA FLOWER SUTRA SEEN THROUGH THE ORAL TRANSMISSION OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN
Before I go any further into this preface, I would like to say that if it were not for the encouragement of Gerhard Lenz and his enormous effort in turning my handwritten pages into a published work, as well as his patient advice and editing, none of this original “web project” would ever have come into existence. Another person who has added an invaluable service as our proofing and style expert is Harley White. Lastly, for his support and encouragement, I want to express my gratitude to my friend and mentor, the Venerable Yumu Yamane. I would also like to express my gratitude to Michael Okoniewski and Kirk W. Wangensteen for all their help. .
The object of this publication project is that the existing translations, either those of the powerful lay organisation or at least two of the persuasions that are monkish orders, tend to be either misleading or in the case of the lay organisation sycophantic and misguided. This is mainly on account of a finicky desire to do translations that are either a reiteration of word for word for what was memorised verbatim by Anan (Ānanda) at the council of Rājagrha (Ōshajo) near Spirit Vulture Peak (Ryōjusen, Gridhrakūta) or the writings of Nichiren Daishōnin or the notes written down by his closest disciple Nikkō Shōnin.
This may well be considered scholarly accuracy, but if such a teaching is to be valid to westerners, then maybe a lot of soul-searching will be necessary in order to make sense out of the incoherent utterances of monks who have made little attempt at learning the languages of the West or even the dictatorial claptrap of those responsible for the powerful lay organisation. It is also extremely apparent that both these types of organisations have incredibly little knowledge of the enormous research conducted into the Buddha teachings by Sinologists, Sanscritologists, Tibetanologists and Japanologists in various countries in the West.
What is being attempted here is a close study of what it was that made Nichiren realise that the salvation of humankind is to be found within the text (montei) of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). I think it can be said that only at extremely sparse intervals in the course of history have there been a few individuals who have really comprehended what existence is all about. Many of these persons came from the East.
The first one I would mention has to be the historical Shākyamuni. But apparently his teachings only really began to have a profound meaning after Nāgājuna, Vasubandhu, Tendai (T’ien T’ai), Myōraku (Miao-lo) and Nichiren had made their appearances. Prior to the Buddha teaching there were Fu Hsi (Fuxi), Shên Nung (Shennong), Confucius, Mencius as well as many others, who gave ordinary people the formula for the enlightenment of Buddhahood.
The message is to devote our lives to and found them on the dimension where existence occurs whose interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect pervades the entirety of existence and is Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō in Japanese. It is the recitation of the title and subject matter of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) that makes us realise that the meaning of existence is here and now in each and every moment of our lives and that the white lotus flower-like mechanism is the totality of all the possible reaches of our minds.
This is neither a strictly scholarly translation of the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō) nor is it a flat rendering of The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden). Nevertheless this is a serious attempt to make both of these texts more accessible to people who have less experience with Buddhist literature in general.
The purpose of this project is to encourage readers who seek individuation as C.G. Jung calls it and for those who already are familiar with the teachings of Nichiren to embrace the implication of opening up one’s inherent Buddha nature with our persons just as they are. C.G. Jung wrote that individuation means being undivided which entails a fundamental sense of well-being that harmonises with all persons and everything that surrounds us. In other words we are happy.
In the teaching of Nichiren this sense of completeness means that our real identity is life itself, which has always been the basic ingredient of the whole of existence. This is not a handbook for some kind of quackish beatification, but a serious examination of the Buddha enlightenment of Nichiren, who saw in the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō), or simply the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), the real meaning of the whole of life. According to Nichiren in his Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden), which was put into writing by his closest disciple Nikkō, Kyō or sutra refers to the dimensions in which existence takes place and wherein the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) functions, which is throughout the entirety of all existence (Myōhō).
When it comes to the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) there are two distinct parts. The first part consists of the discourse that the Buddha Shākyamuni preached, which is the very essential part. Then there is the part that I describe as metric hymns. Originally these verses, which some scholars call stanzas, often consisted of a recurring group of five ideograms which may or may not have rhymed. These verses are also called gathas in Sanskrit and in Japanese ge. It is my suspicion that these verses were a later addition in order to facilitate committing the contents of the sutra to memory. Even the Buddha who saw existence as the singularity of its utterness, as the Buddha himself says in the Sixteenth Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata, as neither being its reality nor not existing at all (hijitsu hiko), might have found it difficult to compose such verse spontaneously.
What I feel is important in such translating work is to try and bring the intention and the meaning of such a subject within the reach of the intelligent reader. In other words these translations are similar to the “explanatory interpretations” of the various schools that are involved in the propagation of this kind of teaching.
The next question arises as to what authority I have to undertake this task. I am now eighty years of age and first started to seriously study both classical and modern Chinese when I was seventeen years old. This long and varied journey of life has been filled with deep research and serious study that also included literary and modern Japanese, Tibetan and most of the languages of Western Europe. If one is embracing a language, then I suppose it must involve a similar inclusion of the cultures of the idioms concerned. Apart from my linguistic endeavours these translations are the expression of forty years of faith in the teaching of Nichiren Daishōnin that was inherited by his successor Nikkō Shōnin.
Before I started the practices of the teaching of Nichiren I studied portions of the doctrines that came before the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) both from the Chinese point of view as well as from the Tibetan. Here we are immediately placed in the contradictory situation of enlightenment as the total extinction in nirvana and the Buddha awakening as opening up our inherent Buddha nature with our persons just as they are (sokushin jō butsu). The latter concept of the purpose of the Dharma is reasonably applicable by means of the daily practices of Nichiren Schools (Kōmon) that follow Nikkō Shōnin. According to Nichikan Shōnin, (1665-1726), it is not so much to admit how deeply we consciously believe, but the fact that we just get on and do our practice.
The Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō) is a celebration of life itself even though some passages are difficult to swallow. If it were not for The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden), the deeper significance of many parts of this sacred writing would have been lost. The real meaning of this sutra is tucked away in the title which in plain English would read “the time and place of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect that constitutes the totality of existence”.
The reality of our lives is that we are suspended in a ‘balloon’, wherein there are both 1) birth, maturing, becoming old, sickness, decline, and the finality of death (shō, rō, byō, shi) which applies to living beings, and 2) coming into existence, lasting as long as they should, falling apart, and finally ceasing to exist (shō, jū, i, metsu) of all that is inanimate, including stellar entities. Within this ‘balloon’ of the ‘reality of our lives’, the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect is a completely valid equation. I will attempt to explain how this contradictory equation is dealt with on the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon), which is a graphic description of all that the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) entails, as well as being a representation of everything that concerns our lives.
THE DHARMA FLOWER SUTRA SEEN THROUGH THE ORAL TRANSMISSION OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN by Martin Bradley
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.