Enlightenment – Chapter 57: Finding Enlightenment in the Final Age

As noted in Chapter 42, many monks in East Asia came to believe that they were living in a degenerate age, the final age of the dharma, a time so far removed from the time of the Buddha that the traditional path was no longer possible. Special modes of salvation were necessary. The Japanese monk Nichiren (1222-1282) emerged from the influential Tendai (Chinese: Tiantai) school and shared its reverence for the Lotus Sutra as Sakyamuni Buddha’s final and supreme teaching. Nichiren is known for his message of exclusive devotion to the sutra as the only vehicle of salvation in the age of the final dharma and for his conviction that faith in the Lotus Sutra can transform this world into the Buddha’s pure land. Nichiren defied both religious and government authority and exhibited great fortitude in the face of the persecutions resulting from his exclusivist truth claim and his harsh criticisms of other forms of Buddhism. The Kanjin honzon sho, excerpts from which are translated here, was written in 1273 amid the privations of his exile to Sado Island. It is often considered his most important work, and about eighty commentaries have been written on it.

Its full title is Nyorai metsugo go gohyakusai shi kanjin honzon sho (The contemplation of the mind and the object of worship first revealed in the fifth of the five 500-year periods following the nirvana of the Tathagata). As its title suggests, it deals with the mode of contemplative practice and the object of worship intended for the final dharma age, said to begin two thousand years after Sakyamuni’s passing, in which Nichiren and his contemporaries believed themselves to be living. It opens with a quotation concerning the *three thousand realms in one thought-moment’ (ichinen sanzen ) set forth by the Tiantai master Zhiyi (538-597). This complex concept holds that one’s ordinary mind (single thought-moment) and all phenomena (three thousand realms) exist at each moment in a mutually inclusive relationship. As the text indicates, the figure *three thousand’ is the product of multiplying specific numerical dharma categories: the ten realms of sentient beings, their mutual inclusion, the ten suchnesses and the three realms. More importantly, however, ichinen sanzen represents a totalistic view of interdependent reality: the Buddha and ordinary worldlings, body and mind, cause and effect, subject and object, sentient and non-sentient are mutually encompassed in every moment of thought. The ichinen sanzen principle was important to Nichiren in that it established a theoretical basis for the achievement of buddhahood by ordinary worldlings and the realization of the buddha- land in this world, and also legitimized the use of a physical object of worship.

However, both the mode and object of contemplation set forth in the Kanjin honzon sho differ substantially from those put forth by Zhiyi and the subsequent Tiantai/Tendai traditions of China and Japan, which Nichiren saw as unsuited to ordinary worldlings of the last age.

The first two sections of the Kanjin honzon sho deal, respectively, with contemplation and its object for the last age. As the text unfolds in question-and-answer form, a hypothetical interlocutor finds it *hard to believe that our inferior minds are endowed with the Buddha dharma- realm’. This questioner may be thought to represent people of the final dharma age, who are not capable of practising introspection and discerning the identity of the mind with true reality. In this age,

Nichiren says, *contemplating the mind’ is not a matter of mind discernment through introspection, but of embracing faith in the Lotus Sutra and chanting its daimoku or title in the formula namu-myoho- renge-kyo, ‘Homage to the Lotus Sutra’. He asserts that this title, the heart of the Lotus Sutra and the seed of buddhahood, contains all the practices Sakyamuni undertook in the stages of cultivation and the merits he achieved in consequence: one who embraces the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra thereby naturally receives the merits of the Buddha and is able to realize buddhahood.

Similarly, as the text goes on to clarify, *mind contemplation’ – faith and chanting of the daimoku – in the last age takes as its object not the practitioner’s own mind, as in traditional meditation, but the heart of the Lotus Sutra, or the original buddha, the eternal Sakyamuni revealed in the origin teaching (honmon) or last fourteen chapters of the sutra. These two, dharma and buddha, may be understood as two aspects of the same truth. The concrete form of this object of worship, in Nichiren’s understanding, was indicated by the sutra ’s description of the assembly in open space above the sacred Vulture Peak, where the core chapters of the origin teaching were preached. In the Nichiren Buddhist tradition, this object of worship is embodied as a calligraphic mandala devised by Nichiren, in which the central inscription namu- myoho-renge-kyo is flanked by the characters for the buddhas Sakyamuni and Many Jewels (Prabhutaratna, see Chapter 7), as well as other figures representing beings of all ten dharma-realms present in the Lotus Sutra’s assembly. Alternatively, an image of Sakyamuni is used, flanked by images of the four leaders of the bodhisattvas from beneath the earth, who are his original disciples and whose presence shows him to be the eternal buddha For Nichiren, the daimoku and the object of worship together comprise ‘ichinen sanzen in actuality’, as opposed to the abstract ‘ichinen sanzen in principle’ taught by Zhiyi.

The third section of the text deals with the transmission of the daimoku and the object of worship in the last age. It says that the Buddha transmitted them only to his original disciples, the bodhisattvas ’dwelling beneath the earth’, whom he summons in the latter part of the Lotus Sutra and entrusts with its propagation after his nirvana.

Nichiren identified his own proselytizing efforts with the mission of these bodhisattvas.

Volume five of the Great Calming and Contemplation [Mohe zhiguan, of Zhiyi] states: ‘Now the mind at each moment comprises ten dharma-realms [from hell to the buddha-realm]. Each dharma-realm also comprises ten dharma-realms, giving a hundred dharma- realms. One realm comprises thirty kinds of realms, so a hundred dharma-realms comprise three thousand kinds of realms. These three thousand realms reside within the mind in a single thought- moment. Where there is no mind, that is the end of the matter, but if there is even the slightest bit of mind, it immediately contains the three thousand realms…. This is what is meant by the term “inconceivable object” [of contemplation].’.

Question: What is the distinction between the hundred realms and thousand suchnesses, and the three thousand realms in one thought-momen t?

Answer: The hundred realms and thousand suchnesses pertain only to the realm of sentient beings. The three thousand realms in one thought-moment include both sentient and non-sentient.

Question: But if non-sentient beings also have the ten suchnesses, then do grasses and trees have minds, and can they realize buddhahood like sentient beings?

Answer: This is something ‘hard to believe and hard to understand’. Tiantai [Zhiyi] identifies two aspects of [the Lotus Sutra’s claim that it is] ‘hard to believe and hard to understand’, one pertaining to doctrinal understanding and the other to contemplative practice. As for the first, within the teachings of the same buddha, those sutras preached before the Lotus say that persons of the two vehicles and icchantika will never achieve trace and origin teachings [respectively]. Who could believe a buddha who says two things as different as water and fire? This is the matter ‘hard to believe and hard to understand’ with respect to the doctrinal teachings. That pertaining to contemplative practice concerns the hundred realms and thousand suchnesses and [especially] the three thousand realms in one thought-moment, which clarifies that even non-sentient beings have the ten suchnesses and, thus, both physical and mental aspects. Both inner and outer writings permit the use of wooden and painted images as objects of worship, but the reason for this has emerged solely from the Tiantai school. If plants and trees did not possess both physical and mental aspects as well as cause and effect, it would be useless to rely on wooden and painted images as objects of worship….

Question: Now that I have learned the source of this doctrine [of three thousand realms in one thought-moment], what is meant by ‘contemplating the mind’ (kanjin)?

Answer: ‘Contemplating the mind’ means to observe our mind and see the ten dharma-realms within it. To illustrate, though we can see the six sense organs in other people, we cannot see them in our own face and do not know that we possess them. Only when we look into a bright mirror do we see that we ourselves have the six sense organs. Similarly, the various sutras may refer here and there to the six paths and four noble realms, but until we look into the bright mirror of the Lotus Sutra and the great teacher Tiantai’s

Great Calming and Contemplation, we do not know that we ourselves possess the ten realms, hundred realms, thousand suchnesses and three thousand realms in one thought-moment….

Question:… Even if this is what the Buddha preached, I find it hard to believe. Now when I look repeatedly at others’ faces, I see only the human realm. I do not see the other realms. And the same is true of my own face, too. How am I to believe?

Answer: When you look repeatedly at another’s face, you will at times see joy, at other times rage, and at other times calm. At times greed will appear, at times foolishness, and at times deviousness. Rage is the hell [realm]; greed is that of hungry ghosts; foolishness is that of beasts; deviousness, that of asuras; joy, that of devas; and calm, the human [realm]. The six paths are all present in the physical aspect of another’s face. The four noble realms are hidden and do not appear, but if you investigate carefully, you will find that they are there.

Question: Although I am not entirely clear about the six paths, from listening to you, it would seem that we possess them. But the four noble realms cannot be seen at all. How do you account for them?

Answer: Just now you doubted that the six paths exist within the human realm, but when I did my best to explain, you agreed that such seems to be the case. Perhaps it will be the same with the four noble realms. Let me apply reason and thus try to explain a small portion of the matter. The impermanence of worldly phenomena is clear before our eyes, so how could the human realm not include the two vehicles [the sravaka vehicle and the pratyekabuddha vehicle]? Even an evil man lacking in reflection still cherishes his wife and children; [his affection] is part of the bodhisattva-realm. The buddha-realm alone does not readily appear. But because you have the nine realms, you should be able to believe you have the buddha-realm as well. Do not give rise to doubts…. That ordinary worldlings born in the latter age can arouse faith in the Lotus Sutra is because the buddha-realm is present in the human-realm..

Question: You still have not fully answered my question [about how the Buddha can exist in the mind of us ordinary worldlings].

Answer: The Sutra of Unfathomable Meanings (Wuliang yi jing) states, ‘Even if they have not yet cultivated the six paramitas [bodhisattva perfections], the six paramitas will naturally abide in them.’ The Lotus Sutra states, ‘They wish to hear the perfectly encompassing way.’ The Nirvana Sutra states, ‘Sad [of the Lotus’s title, Saddharma-pundarika-sutra] means perfectly encompassing.’. The Great Teacher Tiantai says, ’Sad is Sanskrit. Here [in China] we translate it as miao or “perfect” [Japanese: myo, also “subtle” or “wonderful”].’ To impose my own interpretation may slight the original texts, but the heart of these passages is that Sakyamuni’s causal practices and their resulting virtues are perfectly encompassed in the five characters myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo. When we embrace these five characters, he will naturally transfer to us the merits of his causes and effects.

The four great sravaka disciples, having understood [the one- vehicle teaching], said, ‘An unsurpassed precious jewel has come to us of itself, without our seeking.’ They represent the sravaka-realm within our mind. [The Buddha stated], ‘My vow of the past – to make all beings equally like myself, without difference – has now already been fulfilled. I have converted all beings and caused them to enter the buddha way.’ Sakyamuni of perfect awakening is our blood and flesh. Are not the merits of his causes and effects our bones and marrow?… The Fathoming the Lifespan chapter states, ‘Since I in fact achieved buddha-hood, it has been immeasurable and boundless hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of nayutas of kalpas [billions of aeons].’ Sakyamuni within our own mind has manifested the three [tathagata] bodies since countless dust-particle kalpas ago; he is the ancient buddha without beginning. The sutra states, ‘The lifespan that I [Sakyamuni] acquired in my former practice of the bodhisattva path is still not exhausted. Indeed, it will last twice the above number [of kalpas].’ This refers to the bodhisattva-realm within us. The countless bodhisattvas who emerged from beneath the earth [in the Lotus Sutra] are the retainers of Lord Sakyamuni within our mind. They are like Taigong and Dan, the Duke of Zhou, ministers to King Wu of the Zhou, who served [his heir, the] infant king Cheng, or the minister Takeshiuchi, the support of Empress Jingu, who also served [her grandson], crown prince Nintoku. [The four leaders of these bodhisattvas] – Superior Conduct, Boundless Conduct, Pure Conduct and Firm Conduct – are the bodhisattvas within our mind. The Great Teacher Miaoluo [Zhanran, 711-782] says, ‘You should realize that one’s person and land are the three thousand realms in one thought-moment. When we attain buddhahood, in accordance with this principle, our body and mind in that moment pervade the dharma-realm.’…

Now the Saha world of the original time [of the Buddha’s enlightenment] is the constantly abiding pure land, freed from the three disasters and transcending [the cycle of] the four kalpas [formation, stability, decline and extinction]. Its buddha has not already entered nirvana in the past, nor is he to be born in the future. And his disciples are the same. This [reality] is precisely the three realms [the five aggregates, living beings and the land] included in the three thousand realms of one’s mind. [The Buddha] did not expound this in the fourteen chapters of the trace teaching, perhaps because – even though the trace teaching is part of the Lotus Sutra – the time and his hearers’ understanding had not yet matured. And with respect to the five characters namu-myoho-renge- kyo, the heart of the origin teaching, the Buddha did not transmit this even to Manjusri or Medicine King, let alone to any bodhisattvas of lesser stature. Instead he summoned countless bodhisattvas from beneath the earth and preached the eight core chapters [fifteen to twenty-two], entrusting it to them. As for the form of the corresponding object of worship [indicated in this transmission]: Above the saha world of the original teacher [Sakyamuni], the jewelled stupa resides in empty space, and within the stupa, Sakyamuni Buddha and the buddha Many Jewels appear to the left and right of myoho-renge-kyo. Sakyamuni is attended by Superior Conduct and the others of the four bodhisattvas [leading those who emerged from beneath the earth], while four bodhisattvas [of the provisional teachings] including Manjusri and Maitreya take lower seats as retainers. All the bodhisattvas of the great and lesser vehicles, whether they are disciples of the Buddha in his provisional forms or have come from other worlds, are like commoners on the ground gazing up at lofty nobles. The various buddhas of the ten directions likewise remain on the ground, showing that they and their lands are provisional traces [of the original buddha and his land]….

[This object of worship was not previously revealed], because it was entrusted to the countless bodhisattvas from the earth. Having received the Buddha’s command, they have been waiting near at hand beneath the great earth. They did not appear in the True or Semblance [dharma-ages], but if they failed to appear now, in the Final Dharma-age, they would be great liars, and the prophecies of the three buddhas [Sakyamuni, Many Jewels and the emanation buddhas], mere empty froth.

In this light, we should consider the great earthquake, comet and other recent disasters, such as never occurred in the True and Semblance [dha7ma-ages]. These are not the activities of garudas, asuras, or dragon deities; they can only be signs heralding the advent of the four great bodhisattvas. Tiantai says, ‘By observing the force of the rainfall, one can know the size of the dragon, and by observing the flourishing of the [lotus] blossoms, one can know the depths of the pond.’ Miaoluo comments, ‘A wise man knows why things happen, as a snake naturally knows the way of snakes.’ When the heavens are clear, the ground is illuminated.

One who knows the Lotus will also understand occurrences in the world.

For those unable to discern the three thousand realms in one thought-moment, the Buddha, arousing great compassion, wrapped up this jewel within the five characters and hung it from the necks of the immature beings of the last age. The four great bodhisattvas will protect these people just as Taigong and the Duke of Zhou aided King Cheng or as the four white-haired elders served Emperor Hui.

Translated by Jacqueline Stone, based on the critical edition of Nichiren’s writings, Showa teihon Nichiren Shonin ibun, ed. Rissho Daigaku Nichiren Kyogaku Kenkyojo (Minobu-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture: Minobusan Kuonji, 1952-59; revised 1988), vol. 1, pp. 702-21. Commentaries consulted include Asai Endo, Kanjin honzon sho, Butten koza 38 (Tokyo: Daizo Shuppan, 1981), and Komatsu Kuniaki, Kanjin honzon sho yakuchu (Tokyo: Sankibo Busshorin, 1995).

Source: Lopez Donald S. (2004), Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin Classics; First Edition.

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