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Embracing the Lotus Sutra - Part 2

Study for February '01

Questions and Answers about Embracing the Lotus Sutra

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin - pp. 55-67

This study article is the second of two parts. The first part was published in the November issue of New Century.

The blessings gained by arousing even a single moment of faith in and understanding of the Lotus Sutra surpass those of practising the five paramitas; and the benefit enjoyed by the fiftieth person who rejoices on hearing the Law is greater than that acquired by giving alms for eighty years. The doctrine of the immediate attainment of enlightenment far outshines the doctrines of other scriptures; and the pronouncements concerning the revelation of the Buddha's original enlightenment and his immeasurable life span are never found in any of the other teachings.

In early Mahayana Buddhism, bodhisattvas practised the six paramitas in order to attain Buddhahood. The first five were practices such as almsgiving, forbearance, meditation, etc. These five led to the sixth paramita, which was the obtaining of wisdom that enabled a person to perceive the true nature of all things. However, in the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni stated that a person who aroused faith and understanding of the sutra for even a single moment would gain benefit without limit or measure; benefit that was a million times greater than those who had been practising for long periods. This statement certainly must have sent shockwaves through the body of believers. Shakyamuni had essentially thrown out the "rules" and revealed that faith and the understanding that derives from faith in the Lotus Sutra were the fundamental criteria for enlightenment. This may seem simplistic of him. How could someone gain such immeasurable benefit just from a moment of faith and understanding? He clarified this by saying that one who has aroused such faith and understanding could never fall back without reaching the goal of Buddhahood. He then continued that those who read, recited and embraced the sutra received Buddhahood in their lives. What Shakyamuni and the Daishonin are stating here is that Buddhahood is something that exists within one's life, not an external target to be reached. The way to manifest that Buddhahood is not through a rigidly specified series of steps and procedures; it is through living a life of compassion, courage and conviction based on our sincere prayer to the Gohonzon. As the Daishonin says in Letter to Priest Nichiro in Prison:

Others read the Lotus Sutra with their mouths alone, in word alone, but they do not read it with their hearts, they do not read it with their actions. It is reading the sutra with both one's body and mind that is truly praiseworthy! (WND, 204)

Reading the sutra with one's body and mind can be understood as practice for oneself and others. We gain the joy of the Law from our own daily practice and then spread that joy to others through our daily life. The Daishonin emphasizes this point by referring to the concept of the benefit enjoyed by the fiftieth person. Shakyamuni stated this concept in the "Benefits of Responding with Joy" chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The concept refers to the principle of continual propagation up to the fiftieth person and it goes this way. Suppose, Shakyamuni says, that after the Buddha's death a person rejoices upon hearing the Lotus Sutra and preaches it to a second person, who in turn preaches it to a third, and so on, until the fiftieth person hears the sutra. The benefit even this fiftieth person receives by rejoicing upon hearing the sutra surpasses that gained by someone who offers alms for eighty years to the beings of the four billion asogi worlds. A key element here is "rejoicing on hearing the Law". The Daishonin's wish was that each person feel joy from their practice. This joy can come instantly into our lives. However, to continue feeling joy in our practice we need to understand the nature of our lives so that we are not swayed by events that occur around us. This is a process that takes place as our lives expand to fulfill our potential. As we continue to develop, the joy of practice should only become stronger.

The other side of the joy felt by the fiftieth person is that somehow someone must tell the fiftieth person about the Law. This means that propagation is a very important part of our practice. When we feel "joy from the Law", we naturally want to encourage others, to let them know about this teaching and to live as we speak. Propagation is not about numbers; it is about communication and personal growth. When it comes down to it, the only true way to spread Buddhism in society is through sincere dialogue with others. Dialogue, which implies respect for others, is necessary for our own understanding of our personal practice as well. Without dialogue, we can become arrogant and disregard the value of life. With dialogue we realize that that not everyone will agree with us, but we also can grow to learn what others want. This is knowing the true nature of the time and capacity of the people. This is what enables us to live as productive citizens in society. Without dialogue, Buddhism can never spread successfully in the modern age.

In the final part of this passage, the Daishonin reaffirms that the Lotus Sutra is the highest teaching since it alone recognizes the eternal life of the Buddha and the fact that everyone can attain enlightenment immediately. For us this means that our daily practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon is also the highest Buddhist teaching.

How long can we expect to live on as we have, from yesterday to today or from last year to this year? We may look back over our past and count how many years we have accumulated, but when we look ahead into the future, who can for certain number himself among the living for another day or even for an hour? Yet, though one may know that the moment of one's death is already at hand, one clings to his arrogance and prejudice, to worldly fame and profit, and fails to devote oneself to chanting the Mystic Law. Such an attitude is futile beyond description! Even though the Lotus Sutra is called the teaching that enables all living beings to attain the Buddha Way, how could a person such as this actually attain it? It is said that even the moonlight will not deign to shine on the sleeve of an unfeeling person.

It may seem that the Daishonin is speaking against having material goods, but this is not the case. What he is expressing here is that we should not become too attached to our possessions and our positions so that we blur the line between our possessions and our identity. In a sense he is asking us to evaluate the state of our lives by saying, "If you were to die tomorrow, what would you do today?" He asks us, "What brings value to your life? What gives dignity to your life?" He then answers the question by saying in effect that nothing brings more value to life than chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. Even if a person believes in the Gohonzon, he says, how could such a person attain enlightenment if they don't understand what is truly valuable in life, if they don't understand the true nature of their own life? If we wish to revive our life force, that is, to become a "feeling" person, we should open our eyes and ears and realize the power of faith. Later in this writing the Daishonin reminds the questioner that those who uphold the Lotus Sutra will, as the sutra promised "enjoy peace and security in their present existence." This peace and security derives from our awareness of our true potential and our actions to fulfill that potential.

Moreover, as life does not go beyond the moment, the Buddha expounded the blessings that come from a single moment of rejoicing [on hearing the Lotus Sutra]. If two or three moments were required, this could no longer be called the original vow of the Buddha endowed with great impartial wisdom, the single vehicle of the teaching that directly reveals the truth and leads all living beings to attain Buddhahood.

Each moment of our life is important. If we feel that one moment is more important than another, we may form an attitude of complacency to our life and practice. Although this attitude may temporarily lead to the impression that one is creating an environment of relaxation, the attitude that "it can wait" inevitably leads to the chaos and stress. To feel satisfied we should always be asking ourselves how we can create value in this moment. This doesn't mean that we can't take a vacation, enjoy a movie, spend an evening with friends, etc. It does mean that we live our life to the fullest, enjoying what there is to enjoy and facing difficulties head on. It is also important to remember that while only this current moment exists, the past, present and future are contained within this moment. We are constantly facing the karma we created in the past, and we are constantly creating effects that we will face in the future. From this perspective, we can see that each moment is eternity and that our life is much more than or mere physical appearance on this earth. In his writing, Earthly Desires are Enlightenment, the Daishonin states it this way:

These teachings are of prime importance. They are also what is called "earthly desires are enlightenment" and "the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana." Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo during the physical union of man and woman is indeed what is called "earthly desires are enlightenment" and "the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana." "The sufferings are of birth and death are nirvana" exist only in realizing that the entity of life throughout its cycle of birth and death is neither born nor destroyed. (WND, 318)

In a recent speech, SGI President Ikeda, expressed the importance of living each moment to the fullest:

It is intensity of purpose and unity that win the day. A passionate, all-out effort opens the way forward and leads to victory. Ten thousand people are no match for one serious, dedicated individual. You can have a group as large as you like, but if its members are not earnestly committed, it won't be a force for anything. Shakyamuni Buddha stood up alone. Nichiren Daishonin also stood up alone and embarked on his struggle. Everything starts with the individual. The individual is the key. This is the teaching of Buddhism. (New Century, October 2000, p13)

As for the time of its propagation, the Lotus Sutra spreads during the latter age, when the Buddha's Law is about to perish. As for what capacity of persons it is suited to, it can save even those who commit the five cardinal sins, or who slander the correct teaching. Therefore, you must be guided by the intent of [the Lotus Sutra, which is] the immediate attainment of enlightenment and never give yourself up to the mistaken views that stem from doubts or attachments.

This is the time when Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was meant to spread. It is not a teaching of the past; rather, it is the teaching of the present and future. It is a teaching that is equal for all. Like the ocean that accepts all rivers, it accepts all persons regardless of their past or present causes. Through Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we know that each person has within them the nature of Buddha, not just a select few, and we know that all persons can manifest that nature immediately.

The Daishonin's teaching is a teaching of hope and conviction. To live to the expectation of the Daishonin, we have to live a life of determination and dedication. As President Ikeda has stated:

Kosen-rufu is an eternal struggle. To fight, and fight on, right through to the end, with the "lion-hearted spirit" of the Daishonin-this is the hallmark of a truly great life. (New Century, October 2000, p13) TERM FOR STUDY - THE CONCEPT OF THE SIX PARAMITAS

From Lectures on the "Expedient Means" Chapter, by Daisaku Ikeda

In the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, Shakyamuni expounded the six paramitas as practices for bodhisattvas to attain the state of life of the Buddha. The idea was that through carrying out the six practices of almsgiving, keeping the precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation and obtaining wisdom, they could approach the state of life of the Buddha. Such a practice, carried out in lifetime after lifetime over a vast period of time, is termed "Practising toward enlightenment over a period of countless kalpas."

However, the Muryogi [Immeasurable Meanings] Sutra, which serves as an introduction to the Lotus Sutra, states [as quoted in a Gosho]: "Although they have not yet been able to practise the six paramitas, the six paramitas will of themselves appear before them" (WND, 365). In other words, even though we do not practise the six paramitas, by embracing the Lotus Sutra, we are naturally endowed with their benefit.

"Distinctions in Benefits," the seventeenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra explains that the benefit of those who understand and believe in the Lotus Sutra when they hear it expounded is great beyond measure. It says that their benefit will be a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, million times greater than the benefit of practising the five paramitas (i.e., excluding of obtaining wisdom) for a period of "eight hundred thousand million nayutas of kalpas" (LS 17, 237).

The paramita of obtaining wisdom is excluded because this is the fundamental paramita; it is in a class by itself in terms of its importance relative to the other five paramitas. To put it another way, it might be said that the five paramitas are practised to attain the paramita of wisdom. Buddhism always places the greatest importance on wisdom.

Therefore, Nichiren Daishonin says that practitioners in the Latter Day of the Law "who have just aroused aspiration for enlightenment" need not practise the five paramitas (WND, 786). This view of Buddhist practice - expressed at time when making offerings to priests, upholding the precepts and the other paramitas were being promulgated in earnest - represents a great religious revolution.

Moreover, the Daishonin's teaches the principle of "substituting faith for wisdom." Correct faith itself becomes wisdom. Through believing in the Gohonzon, we in the Latter Day of the Law can gain the same benefit as we would by carrying out all of the six paramitas, including the paramita of obtaining wisdom.

In conclusion, those who now believe in the Gohonzon and advance toward kosen-rufu together with the SGI can gain the benefit of the six paramitas. Those who persevere in carrying out activities for kosen-rufu with others lead lives of the highest wisdom. The examples of your many seniors in faith attest to this. When we look back on our lives later on, we can clearly see this.

Because we practise faith, let us strive to live most wisely each day based on the principles of "faith manifesting itself in daily life" and "action manifesting itself in good health."