IT has been said that Shakyamuni Buddha is to us a sovereign, a teacher, and a parent, who alone works to save and protect us.1 Amida Buddha is not a sovereign to us, is not a parent, and is not a teacher. Hence the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai in his commentary2 says: “The Buddha of the western land is different [from the Buddha of this sahā world], and those who form a relationship with him are also different. And because the Buddha is different, it is impossible to assert that the wealthy man [in the parable of the wealthy man and his impoverished son], when he hides the fact that he is the father of the impoverished son, corresponds to Shakyamuni, and when he reveals that he is the father, to Infinite Life [or Amida] Buddha. And because those who form a relationship with him are different, it is impossible to assert that the living beings of this sahā world are related to Infinite Life Buddha in the way that the father and son [in the above parable] are related. Moreover, nowhere from its beginning to its end is there anything in this [Lotus] sutra that would support such a claim. Close your eyes and ponder the matter deeply.”
The fact is that Shakyamuni Buddha was the son and heir apparent of King Shuddhodana of central India. When he was nineteen years old, he left family life and went into seclusion at a place called Mount Dandaka. He climbed the high peaks to gather firewood and descended to the deep valleys to draw water, carrying out difficult and painful practices. At the age of thirty he attained Buddhahood and spent the remainder of his life expounding his sacred teachings.
Outwardly, he preached various sutras such as the Flower Garland, Āgama, Correct and Equal, and Wisdom sutras, but in his heart he longed to preach the Lotus Sutra. He knew, however, that living beings differ in their capacities, and therefore he did not preach as his own mind dictated, but instead preached numerous sutras that were suited to the hearts and minds of his listeners.
For forty-two years he continued to be troubled by thoughts on this matter. But then a time came when he preached the Lotus Sutra, declaring that he had fulfilled the vows he had taken earlier and he would now let living beings know how they could become Buddhas like himself.
From remote ages in the past up to the present, he explained, he had at times appeared as a deer, at times as a bear, or at other times had offered his body as food to a demon.3 He would 36now take the merits he had acquired through these acts and bestow them on living beings who put faith in the Lotus Sutra, stating that they were “true sons of the Buddha,”4 truly his own children.
When Shakyamuni Buddha has been such a thoughtful parent as this, if one should regard him with contempt and fail to put faith in the Lotus Sutra he preached, “the one great reason for which the Buddhas appear in the world,”5 then how can such a person ever attain Buddhahood? You should ponder this question very carefully!
In the second volume of the Lotus Sutra we read: “If a person fails to have faith but instead slanders this sutra, immediately he will destroy all the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world.”6 And later are the words “not accepting a single verse of the other sutras.”7 These passages mean that, in order to become a Buddha, one should seek to accept and uphold only the Lotus Sutra and should not accept a single verse or phrase of any other sutra.
In the third volume we read: “Suppose that someone coming from a land of famine should suddenly encounter a great king’s feast.”8 That is, a person who has come from a land beset by famine suddenly encounters a great king’s feast. This means that though one may behave like a dog or a fox, one should never direct one’s mind to the lesser vehicle teachings as did Mahākāshyapa and Maudgalyāyana. When they were told that though a stone that was split apart might be put together again, or though a tree that had withered might bloom once more, no persons of the two vehicles could ever attain Buddhahood, Subhūti was so dumbfounded that he threw down the alms bowl he was carrying,9 and Mahākāshyapa wept so loudly that his voice echoed throughout the major world system, so great was their grief and sorrow. Yet later, with the preaching of the Lotus Sutra, the Venerable Mahākāshyapa was given a prophecy that he would become a Buddha named Light Bright Thus Come One, and Maudgalyāyana, Subhūti, Mahākātyāyana, and the others10 thereby realized that they too were certain to attain Buddhahood. Thus their joy was like that of a person who, coming from a land of famine, suddenly encounters a great king’s feast.
Since the beginningless past, we living beings have never for an instant been separated from this wish-granting jewel of Myoho-renge-kyo. But, befuddled by the wine of ignorance, we fail to realize that it is hidden in the lining of our robes, and we are content with merely a little gain.11 Though we are living beings who, simply by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, could quickly attain Buddhahood, we observe petty precepts such as the five precepts or the ten good precepts, being reborn as a result in the realm of heavenly beings, as deities such as Brahmā or Shakra, and thinking that a wonderful accomplishment. Or at times we are born as human beings, becoming rulers of various countries, high ministers, court nobles, or other court officials, and we think ourselves incomparably happy.12 Thus we content ourselves with such little gains and are delighted with them.
However, the Buddha has taught that these accomplishments are mere prosperity in a dream, a phantom joy, and that we should simply accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra and quickly become Buddhas.
In the fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra we read: “Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even when the Thus Come One is in the world, how much more will this be so after his passing?”13
Shakyamuni Buddha was a grandson of King Simhahanu and the son and heir of King Shuddhodana. He 37abandoned his claim to the kingship to which the observance of the ten good precepts had entitled him, and put aside his wife, Yashodharā, the most beautiful woman in all the five regions of India, and at the age of nineteen left his family to engage in religious practice. At the age of thirty he attained enlightenment, and his body became adorned with the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics. Wherever he went, the great heavenly kings Brahmā and Shakra stood on his left and right, and the four heavenly kings, Hearer of Many Teachings, Upholder of the Nation, and the others, surrounded him in front and back. When he preached the Law, the four kinds of unlimited eloquence14 and the eight qualities of voice15 that marked his preaching filled Jetavana Monastery, and the power of the three kinds of wisdom16 and the five types of vision that he possessed reached throughout the land within the four seas.
One might wonder who could hate the Buddha, and yet there were many who viewed him with hatred and jealousy. How much greater, then, in the period after the Buddha’s passing, is the number of persons who look with hatred and jealousy on the votary of the Lotus Sutra, who has not rid himself of even one particle of earthly desire and is unable to distinguish even the smallest of evil deeds. They flock around him like clouds and mist.
The Buddha has in fact said that in the evil world of the latter age, those who preach this sutra as the sutra itself directs will face many enemies. And yet there are some persons in the world now who say that they uphold the sutra, that they read it and carry out its practices, and yet they have no enemies. Are the words of the Buddha false, then? Or is the Lotus not a true sutra?
If we assume that the Lotus is a true sutra, then are these people of our time perhaps reading it in an untruthful manner, are they in fact not true practitioners of the sutra? We must consider the question very carefully and clarify the matter.
After Shakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood at the age of thirty, he first preached a sutra called the Flower Garland Sutra. At the ceremony of Vairochana Buddha17 of the Lotus Treasury World spreading out in the ten directions, the Buddha expounded the great vehicle doctrines of the specific and perfect teachings and the sudden teaching to the four bodhisattvas Dharma Wisdom, Forest of Merits, Diamond Banner, and Diamond Storehouse for a period of twenty-one days. But at that time, Many Treasures Thus Come One, who is described in the fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra,18 did not appear.
But the capacities of the listeners of the two vehicles, the voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones, were not suited to such teachings. And therefore the Buddha “took off his necklaces, his soft fine garments . . . put on clothes that were ragged and soiled,”19 went to Deer Park in Vārānasī, and there for the next twelve years expounded the doctrine of the four noble truths pertaining to the realm of birth and extinction. As a result, Ājnāta Kaundinya and the others of the five ascetics attained the state of arhat, and eighty thousand heavenly beings were able to reach the stage where they realized the non-birth and non-extinction of all phenomena. Later, at the ceremony of the Great Treasure Chamber located between the world of desire and the world of form,20 or when the thirty-two thousand seats were set up in Vimalakīrti’s room, or at the ceremony of the sixteenth assembly by White Heron Lake in the Wisdom period,21 when the principle that the two aspects of phenomena, the defiled and pure, are non-substantial and fused together was 38preached22—on none of these occasions did Many Treasures Buddha appear. Nor did he appear in the Lotus Sutra in the section from the first volume to the “Prophecies” chapter23 of the fourth volume. It was only with the “Treasure Tower” chapter that he first appeared.
Shakyamuni Buddha himself declared that the sutras he had preached in the preceding forty and more years of his life were untrue, but people would not believe him, nor would they believe him when he declared that the Lotus Sutra represents the truth.24 They had long been told that the Buddha is a person who tells no lies and that he never speaks falsehood. Hence, when they were told that, not for merely one day or two, or for one month or two, or for one year or two, but for more than forty years he had spoken falsehoods, and when they were told that this sutra, the Lotus, represents the truth, they naturally wondered whether this itself was not a falsehood.
Such doubts, which were harbored by Shāriputra and the others, could not be dispelled by Shakyamuni Buddha alone. Therefore this Many Treasures Buddha journeyed all the way from the World of Treasure Purity to testify that all that is expounded in the Lotus Sutra is the truth.25 Only then was it confirmed that Shakyamuni’s statement that the sutras preached in the preceding forty and more years were untrue was the truth.
Though one may memorize all the words and phrases of the sutras other than the Lotus Sutra, though one may understand them as thoroughly as did the Venerable Ānanda, or may expound them with all the eloquence of Pūrna, these things are not difficult. The mountain known as Sumeru is made of gold and is 168,000 yojanas in height, but though one were to hurl it like a stone into some other world, that would not be difficult, the Buddha has told us.26 But if after the Buddha has entered extinction, in that evil world of the latter age, one can preach the Lotus Sutra just as it teaches, that will be difficult.
Devadatta was the strongest man in all the five regions of India. He picked up a stone that was thirty-five feet in length and twelve feet across and threw it at the Buddha.27 Hsiang Yü of Ch’u,28 who was said to have been the strongest man in China, lifted up a cauldron that held nine piculs of water and was filled to the brim. But though men such as these might pick up Mount Sumeru and hurl it away, to find someone who can read this sutra, the Lotus, exactly as it teaches, is difficult indeed, we are told.
Some may say they have read it, copied it, and preached it. But does this mean then that the sutra passages referred to above are false? Should we assume that such persons of our time are all true practitioners of the Lotus Sutra? One should ponder this matter very carefully.
In the “Devadatta” chapter in the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra we read: “If there are good men or good women who, on hearing the ‘Devadatta’ chapter of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law, believe and revere it with pure hearts and harbor no doubts or perplexities, they will never fall into hell or the realm of hungry spirits or of beasts, but will be born in the presence of the Buddhas of the ten directions.”
This chapter deals with two important matters. The first is that concerning Devadatta, the elder brother of the Venerable Ānanda. He was the son and heir of King Dronodana and a grandson of King Simhahanu, and hence a cousin of the Buddha.
He envied the Buddha his reputation as the foremost seeker of the way in the entire continent of Jambudvīpa, and vowed that he himself would 39become the foremost profligate and expounder of false views in all of Jambudvīpa. He enlisted ten thousand evil persons in his schemes, inciting them to enmity against the Buddha, and committed three of the five cardinal sins.29 As a result, the earth split apart and while he was still alive he fell into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering. But in the “Devadatta” chapter the Buddha predicted that he would become a Buddha named Heavenly King Thus Come One.
The passage cited above tells us what lies in store for good men who put faith in the Lotus Sutra upon hearing it. That is, if even a person as evil as Devadatta can become a Buddha, then how could persons of this latter age who, even if they are guilty of grave offenses, have in most cases not committed anything worse than the ten evil acts, fail to attain Buddhahood? And all the more so if they are deeply loyal in their faith.
The second important matter dealt with in this chapter is the fact that the daughter of the dragon king Sāgara, a reptile child of eight, was able to become a Buddha, a truly rare and wonderful event.
I say this because the Flower Garland Sutra states, “Women are messengers of hell who can destroy the seeds of Buddhahood. They may look like bodhisattvas, but at heart they are like yaksha demons.”30 The passage means that women are branded as messengers from hell and can rot the seeds that would otherwise allow them to become Buddhas, and though they resemble a bodhisattva in appearance, at heart they are like yaksha demons.31
And in the same sutra we read, “If a person once looks on a woman, he will lose the benefits of his eyes. It is better to look on a great serpent than to look on a woman.”32
A certain sutra tells us, “If all the desires and delusions of all the men throughout the major world system were lumped together, they would be no greater than the karmic impediment of one single woman.”33 This passage means that the various desires and delusions inherent in all the men throughout the major world system must be lumped together in order to match the karmic impediment of one single woman.34 And another sutra says, “Even if the eyes of the Buddhas of the three existences were to come out and fall to the ground, no woman could ever attain Buddhahood.”35
But this chapter, the “Devadatta” chapter, tells us that, while there are the different realms of human beings and of animals, if even the dragon king’s daughter, who belongs to the realm of animals, can become a Buddha, then we, who as a result of past deeds have been fortunate enough to be born in human form, a form superior to that of the dragon girl, cannot fail to become Buddhas.
And the passage quoted earlier has already assured us that we will never fall into the three evil paths.
Regarding hell, the first of the evil paths, it is made up of eight cold hells and eight hot hells. Among the eight great hot hells, the hell of repeated rebirth for torture is the first and shallowest of them, situated one thousand yojanas beneath the continent of Jambudvīpa. The offenders in this hell think constantly of doing harm to one another. Whenever they happen to see one another, they behave like a hunter who has come upon a deer. With iron claws they slash each other’s bodies until blood and flesh are torn away and only the bones remain. Or the wardens of hell beat them from head to foot with clubs until they are completely pulverized like grains of sand.
In the hell of burning heat, one suffers indescribable torment. Iron walls surround one on four sides and the gate is shut so tight that the strongest 40man could not open it. And the fierce flames soar so high that even if one had the wings of a garuda bird, one could not surmount them.
The realm of hungry spirits is located in two places. One is the court of Yama, the lord of hell, which is five hundred yojanas under the earth; the other is mingled in with the realms of human beings and heavenly beings.
There are various types of hungry spirits. Some have bellies like huge seas and throats as thin as needles, and though they eat constantly day and night, they never feel satisfied.36 Others live five hundred or seven hundred lifetimes without ever so much as hearing the words “eat” or “drink.” Some break open their own skulls and eat the brains,37 while others, after giving birth to five children in one night, proceed in the same night to eat them all up.38
Though there are forests with ten thousand kinds of fruit, when the hungry spirits try to pick the fruit, the trees all turn into a forest of swords. Though there are ten thousand rivers flowing into the sea, when they try to drink from them, the rivers turn into raging fires. How can they hope to escape from suffering?
Next is the realm of animals, which is located in two places. Most of the beings in this realm live in the great oceans, though some are mingled in with the realms of human beings and heavenly beings. In this realm of animals, the shorter beings are swallowed up by the longer ones, the smaller are eaten by the larger; all devour one another without a moment’s rest. Some are born in the form of birds or animals, some become oxen or horses, loaded down with heavy burdens, forced to go east when they want to go west, or west when they want to go east. They think only of the plentiful water and grass to be found in the mountains and plains and know nothing of anything else.
But the Buddha has told us that if good men and good women embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, they can escape being condemned to these three evil paths. What could be more wonderful than this? Here is something to rely on, something to rely on indeed!
Moreover, in the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra, the dragon king’s daughter says, “I unfold the doctrines of the great vehicle to rescue living beings from suffering.”39 What are these “doctrines of the great vehicle” that she unfolds? They are the Lotus Sutra. And who does she refer to as the living beings that are suffering? She does not refer to the living beings in hell, or to the living beings in the realm of hungry spirits. She refers simply to women; that is what is meant by the words “rescue living beings from suffering.”
There are the five obstacles and the three obediences, the three persons that women must obey and the five obstacles that they face. The dragon king’s daughter was a woman and she had experienced and understood the sufferings of women. Therefore she was not concerned about other matters, but vowed that she would be a guide and leader for other women. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
1. In chapter three of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says, “Now this threefold world is all my domain, and the living beings in it are all my children. Now this place is beset by many pains and trials. I am the only person who can rescue and protect 42others.” The Daishonin interpreted this passage as expressing these three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent. See also three virtues in Glossary.
2. The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra. The wording of the Japanese text has been expanded here for clarity.
3. This refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, who appeared in different forms when he practiced bodhisattva austerities in past existences. The Nirvana Sutra says that Shakyamuni appeared as a deer and as a bear in his past lives when he was carrying out bodhisattva practices. “Offering his body as food to a demon” refers to the story of the boy Snow Mountains (see Glossary), which appears in the Nirvana Sutra.
4. The “Treasure Tower” (11th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra says, “And if in future existences one can read and uphold this sutra, he will be a true son of the Buddha.” In the Chinese text, the last phrase of the quotation can also read, “true sons of the Buddha.”
5. Lotus Sutra, chap. 2. Shakyamuni reveals that the “one great reason” is to enable all people to attain the same enlightenment the Buddhas have. He further says that Buddhas appear in the world in order to open the door of Buddha wisdom to all living beings, to show it to them, to cause them to awaken to it, and to induce them to enter into it.
6. Ibid., chap. 3.
8. Ibid., chap. 6.
9. This statement is based on material contained in the Vimalakīrti Sutra. According to the sutra, Vimalakīrti, a Mahayana lay believer, refuted the Hinayana views held by Shakyamuni’s voice-hearer disciples, including Subhūti, with devastating eloquence, and preached Mahayana doctrines to them based on his understanding of non-substantiality and non-duality. Subhūti is said to have been so dumbfounded by Vimalakīrti’s mastery of Mahayana that he left behind his bowl that had been filled with food.
10. Mahākāshyapa, Maudgalyāyana, Subhūti, and Mahākātyāyana are collectively called the four great voice-hearers, whose attainment of Buddhahood is predicted in chapter six of the Lotus Sutra.
11. Chapter eight of the Lotus Sutra says, “World-Honored One, it was like the case of a man who went to the house of a close friend and, having become drunk on wine, lay down to sleep. At that time the friend had to go out on official business. He took a priceless jewel, sewed it in the lining of the man’s robe, and left it with him when he went out. The man was asleep drunk and knew nothing about it. When he got up, he set out on a journey to other countries. In order to provide himself with food and clothing he had to search with all his energy and diligence, encountering very great hardship and making do with what little he could come by.”
12. For five precepts and ten good precepts, see Glossary. According to Buddhist scriptures, if one abides by the ten good precepts, one will be reborn a king, such as Brahmā, Shakra, or a wheel-turning king. The Repaying Debts of Gratitude Sutra states that “those who give their allegiance to the three treasures and abide by the five precepts will be born in the world of human beings.”
13. Lotus Sutra, chap. 10.
14. Powers of understanding and teaching possessed by Buddhas and bodhisattvas. (1) Complete understanding of the Law, or teachings; (2) complete mastery of the meanings deriving from the Law; (3) complete freedom in expressing the teachings in various languages and dialects; and (4) the ability to preach to all people at will by employing the first three powers.
15. Virtues possessed by Buddhas and bodhisattvas in preaching to people of different capacities. (1) A pure and graceful voice, which leads the listeners to the Buddha way; (2) a soft voice, which delights them; (3) a harmonious voice, which reconciles their minds so that they can understand the teaching; (4) a solemn voice, which arouses a sense of respect and wisdom in them; (5) a manly voice, which strikes them with awe and subdues all obstacles; (6) a righteous voice, which leads them to correct views; (7) a stimulating voice, which enables them to grasp the teaching and increase their pure practices; and (8) an inexhaustible voice, which enables them to produce inexhaustible results.
16. The wisdom to understand the universal aspect of phenomena; the wisdom to understand the various paths to enlightenment; and the wisdom to understand both the universal aspect and individual aspects of phenomena.
17. Shakyamuni appears as Vairochana 43Buddha in the ceremony of the Lotus Treasury World described in the Flower Garland Sutra.
18. The fourth volume contains four chapters from the “Five Hundred Disciples” chapter to the “Treasure Tower” chapter. The “Treasure Tower” chapter describes the appearance of the Thus Come One Many Treasures.
19. Lotus Sutra, chap. 4. Shakyamuni took the form of the Buddha of the inferior manifested body to save all living beings.
20. At the ceremony of the Great Treasure Chamber, Shakyamuni expounded the Great Collection Sutra, according to the sutra itself.
21. The Wisdom period sutras describe the last of the sixteen assemblies held for the Buddha’s preaching by White Heron Lake.
22. This principle is expounded in the Heart of Wisdom Sutra and others.
23. The first volume consists of the “Introduction” and “Expedient Means” chapters. The eight chapters from “Expedient Means” through “Prophecies” constitute the revelation section (main body) of the theoretical teaching, or the former half of the Lotus Sutra.
24. Shakyamuni says in the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, “In these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth,” and in chapter two of the Lotus Sutra, “The World-Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth.”
25. This statement appears in chapter eleven of the Lotus Sutra.
26. This refers to the two of the nine easy acts that Shakyamuni set forth in chapter eleven of the Lotus Sutra. They are to teach innumerable sutras other than the Lotus and to take up Mount Sumeru and hurl it across countless Buddha lands. See six difficult and nine easy acts in Glossary.
27. According to The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, Devadatta dropped a boulder on Shakyamuni from atop a cliff in an attempt to crush him. However, it missed its mark, injuring only his toe.
28. Hsiang Yü (232–202 b.c.e.) was a warlord who contended with Liu Pang for power in the confusion following the death of the First Emperor of the Ch’in dynasty. After a lengthy struggle Liu Pang emerged the victor and founded the Han dynasty in 202 b.c.e. The source of the story referred to here is uncertain.
29. The three cardinal sins are killing an arhat, injuring the Buddha, and causing disunity in the Buddhist Order.
30. This statement is not found in the extant Chinese versions of the Flower Garland Sutra. However, A Collection of Treasures written by Taira no Yasuyori during the Jishō era (1177–1181) cites it as a quotation from the Flower Garland Sutra.
31. The Daishonin explains the meaning of the quotation written in classical Chinese.
32. This statement is not found in the extant Chinese versions of the Flower Garland Sutra.
33. Source unknown.
34. The Daishonin explains the meaning of the quotation written in classical Chinese.
35. The source of this passage is referred to as the Silver-Colored Woman Sutra in several of the Daishonin’s writings, but it is not found in the extant version of that sutra.
36. This statement is found in The Treatise on the Stages of Yoga Practice.
37. This statement is found in Great Perfection of Wisdom.
38. This statement is found in the Six Pāramitās Sutra.
39. Lotus Sutra, chap. 12.