Some two years after he first proclaimed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren Daishonin was living in
Kamakura. That city was the seat of the military government (shogunate), and this letter was
addressed to an official serving there on the military tribunal. His name was Toki Jonin and he
was a staunch follower of the Daishonin throughout his life. Thirty other letters, including
the "Letter from Sado" and "The True Object of Worship," were addressed to him or his wife. "On
Attaining Buddhahood" was written in 1255.
The letter opens with the Daishonin equating Myoho-renge-kyo, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the
truth of life. Throughout history, most religions have theorized that the supreme law or being
transcends the physical world. Buddhism teaches that the law and the phenomena we observe
around us are inseparable. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the law of life, gives rise to all phenomena,
and all phenomena are manifestations of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. That is what is implied by the
reference in this letter to "the mutually inclusive relationship of life and all phenomena."
According to the Jodo doctrine, this world is impure, but a magnificent, pure land lies far
beyond the western horizon. This was the only paradise to which humans could aspire, and then
only in death. Therefore, the title of this Gosho, which implies enlightenment in this
lifetime, had a remarkably fresh ring to it.
The Daishonin frankly rejects the distinction between the Buddha and human beings by saying
that there are no fundamental differences between a Buddha and a common mortal.
However, a person suffering from delusion is called a common mortal, but the same person, once
enlightened, is called a Buddha. A further explanation is to be found in "The True Entity of
Life": All people have the potential for Buddhahood within, and that is why "On Attaining
Buddhahood" says, "You must never seek any of Shakyamuni's teachings or the Buddhas and
bodhisattvas of the universe outside yourself." He rejects the concept of a distant "pure land"
and the condemnation of this world that it implies. A land is pure or impure only to the degree
that the people who inhabit it are Pure. Both purity and impurity exist in any land and vary
according to the life-condition of the population, hence the Buddhist law of the oneness of
life and environment (Esho Funi)
Nichiren Daishonin then stated that the only means to rid ourselves of illusions and awaken to
the unchanging truth of life is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. By so chanting we form an
indissoluble bond with the life of the original Buddha, through which the precious heritage of
enlightenment can flow. He next defines the literal meaning of myoho or the Mystic Law, which
is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Life is eternal and continually repeats the two phases of life and
death. In the manifest state (life) it exhibits the quality of "existence," and in the latent
state (death) it exhibits the quality of "nonexistence. " But the true nature of life is far
more profound than anything conveyed by either of those two concepts. Myo, meaning mystic,
indicates the essence of life, which cannot be grasped logically or perceived through the
senses. Ho, or law, indicates the manifestations of life, which function 'in accordance with
various natural principles. The Daishonin explains that life itself!
is the entity of the Middle Way, which is the reality of all things - in other words,
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. All these concepts, which constitute the core of his philosophy, must be
pondered and then utilized in practice if we are to illuminate the innate darkness of our lives
and become enlightened in this lifetime.
If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured through
eternity and attain supreme enlightenment in this lifetime, you must awaken to the mystic truth
which has always been within your life. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo
will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth within you. Myoho-renge-kyo is the king of
sutras, flawless in both letter and principle. Its words are the reality of life, and the
reality of life is the Mystic Law (Myoho). It is called the Mystic Law because it explains the
mutually inclusive relationship of life and all phenomena. That is why this sutra is the wisdom
of all Buddhas.
Life at each moment encompasses both body and spirit and both self and environment of all
sentient beings in every condition of life1, as well as insentient beings -- plants, sky and
earth, on down to the most minute particles of dust. Life at each moment permeates the universe
and is revealed in all phenomena. One awakened to this truth himself embodies this
relationship. However, even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the
Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but some inferior teaching.
"Inferior teachings" means those other than this sutra, which are all provisional and
transient. No provisional teaching leads directly to enlightenment, and without the direct path
to enlightenment you cannot attain Buddhahood, even if you practice lifetime after lifetime for
countless aeons. Attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is then impossible. Therefore, when you
chant the Mystic Law and recite the Lotus Sutra, you must summon up deep!
conviction that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself.
You must never seek any of Shakyamuni's teachings or the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the
universe outside yourself. Your mastery of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of
mortal sufferings in the least unless you perceive the nature of your own life. If you seek
enlightenment outside yourself, any discipline or good deed will be meaningless. For example, a
poor man cannot earn a penny just by counting his neighbor's wealth, even if he does so night
and day. That is why Miao-lo states, "Unless one perceives the nature of his life, he cannot
eradicate his evil karma."2 He means here that unless one perceives the nature of his life, his
practice will become an endless, painful austerity. Miao-lo therefore condemns such students of
Buddhism as non-Buddhist. He refers to the passage in the Maka Shikan, "Although they study
Buddhism, their views revert to those of non-Buddhists."
Whether you chant the Buddha's name3, recite the sutra or merely offer flowers and incense, all
your virtuous acts will implant benefits in your life. With this conviction you should put your
faith into practice. For example, the Jomyo Sutra says the Buddha's enlightenment is to be
found in human life, thus showing that common mortals can attain Buddhahood and that the
sufferings of birth and death can be transformed into nirvana. It further states that if the
minds of the people are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is
their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely
in the good or evil of our minds.
It is the same with a Buddha and a common mortal. While deluded, one is called a common mortal,
but once enlightened, he is called a Buddha. Even a tarnished mirror will shine like a jewel if
it is polished. A mind which presently is clouded by illusions originating from the innate
darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but once it is polished it will become clear,
reflecting the enlightenment of immutable truth. Arouse deep faith and polish your mirror night
and day. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
What then does myo signify? It is simply the mysterious nature of our lives from moment to
moment, which the mind cannot comprehend nor words express. When you look into your own mind at
any moment, you perceive neither color nor form to verify that it exists. Yet you still cannot
say it does not exist, for many differing thoughts continually occur to you. Life is indeed an
elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It
is neither existence nor nonexistence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic
entity of the Middle Way that is the reality of all things. Myo is the name given to the mystic
nature of life, and ho to its manifestations.
Renge, the lotus flower, symbolizes the wonder of this Law. Once you realize that your own life
is the Mystic Law, you will realize that so are the lives of all others. That realization is
the mystic kyo, or sutra. It is the king of sutras, the direct path to enlightenment, for it
explains that the entity of our minds, from which spring both good and evil, is in fact the
entity of the Mystic Law. If you have deep faith in this truth and chant Myoho-renge-kyo, you
are certain to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. That is why the sutra states, "After my
death, you must embrace this sutra. Those who do so shall travel the straight road to
Buddhahood."4 Never doubt in the slightest, but keep your faith and attain enlightenment in
this lifetime. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.