WHY is the Lotus Sutra superior to all other sutras? Because this sutra contains the doctrines of threefold contemplation in a single mind and three thousand realms in a single moment of life.
The bodhisattva Medicine King appeared in the world in the land of China, going by the name of the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, and gained enlightenment into these doctrines. But although he set forth many different doctrines in such works as The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra in ten volumes, The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra in ten volumes, The Mind-Perceiving Meditation, The Essentials of Concentration and Insight, commentaries on the Vimalakīrti Sutra, The Four Meditations, and The Teaching of the Practice of Meditation, he did not in these works expound the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, but merely discussed the doctrines relating to the hundred worlds and the thousand factors.
Then, in the summer of his fifty-seventh year, around the fourth month, at a place called Yü-ch’üan-ssu temple in Ching-chou, he expounded to his disciple, the Great Teacher Chang-an, a work in ten volumes entitled Great Concentration and Insight.
The first four volumes of the work still held back the secret, dealing only with the six stages of practice and the four forms of meditation. But in the fifth volume he expounded the ten objects of meditation, the ten meditations, and the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, asserting that life at each moment is endowed with all three thousand realms.
Two hundred years later, the Great Teacher Miao-lo stated in his commentary on this work: “You should understand that one’s life and its environment at a single moment encompass the three thousand realms. Therefore, when one attains the Buddha way, one puts oneself in accord with this fundamental principle, and one’s body and mind at a single moment pervade the entire realm of phenomena.”1
These doctrines of three thousand realms in a single moment of life and threefold contemplation in a single mind are based on the ten factors, or ten thusnesses, enumerated in the first volume of the Lotus Sutra, in the passage the heart of which deals with the hundred worlds and thousand factors, and the three thousand realms.
With regard to threefold contemplation in a single mind, the other schools of Buddhism take it to be equivalent to the word nyoze, which means thusness, or suchness.2 But this is an error, because it fails to account for the two 83principles [of non-substantiality and temporary existence]. They make this error because they do not understand the interpretation set forth by T’ien-t’ai and Nan-yüeh.
In our own school, we follow the interpretation set forth in the commentaries of T’ien-t’ai, which gives three readings to each of the ten factors. Reading them three times will produce great benefit.
The first reading, zesōnyo, “this appearance is thus,” indicates that each of the ten factors, such as appearance, nature, entity, and power, “is thus.” Here the word nyo, or thus, represents the principle of non-substantiality. And for this reason we know that all Ten Worlds are characterized by the truth of non-substantiality. When we contemplate this reading, we come to realize that we ourselves are none other than Thus Come Ones of the reward body, the eighty-four thousand teachings, and wisdom.
The second reading, nyozesō, “thus appearance,” or appearance like this, indicates the appearance manifested by the form and shape of one’s own body. All such appearances are temporary, and this means that, since the same applies to all the ten factors from appearance, nature, entity, power, and so forth, all Ten Worlds are characterized by the truth of temporary existence. When we contemplate this reading, we come to realize that we ourselves are none other than Thus Come Ones of the manifested body. This is also known as emancipation.
The third reading, sōnyoze, “appearance is thus,” refers to the Middle Way, the Buddha of the Dharma body. When we contemplate this reading, we come to realize that we ourselves are none other than Thus Come Ones of the Dharma body. This is also known as the Middle Way; as the essential nature of phenomena; as nirvana; and as tranquil extinction.
These three readings represent the three bodies, the Dharma body, the reward body, and the manifested body; the three truths of non-substantiality, temporary existence, and the Middle Way; and the three virtues of the Dharma body, wisdom, and emancipation.
These three bodies of the Thus Come One are in no way something that is extraneous to us. Rather we should understand that we ourselves are none other than ultimate entities endowed with the three virtues, Buddhas of original enlightenment, who possess the three bodies within a single one. When we understand this, we may be called Thus Come Ones, sages, enlightened ones. While we do not understand this, we are called ordinary mortals, ordinary living beings, or people in a state of delusion.
[Because of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds] living beings in any one of the Ten Worlds possess all Ten Worlds, and this therefore makes a total of a hundred worlds. Each of these hundred worlds possesses the ten factors, and this makes a thousand factors. Each of these thousand factors possesses the three realms, the realm of living beings, of the environment, and of the five components, and this makes three thousand realms.
The forms and appearances that are manifested in the hundred worlds all represent the principle of temporary existence and hence pertain to the truth of temporary existence. The thousand factors all represent the principle of non-substantiality and hence pertain to the truth of non-substantiality. The three thousand realms all represent the principle of the Dharma body and hence pertain to the truth of the Middle Way.
Though the doctrines involved here are many, they come down simply to the three truths. These three truths may be called the Thus Come One of the 84three bodies, or the ultimate entity of the three virtues.
The first three of the ten factors are the Thus Come One of original enlightenment. These combine with the remaining seven factors to form a single entity that is without dualism or distinction, which is termed consistency from beginning to end. What is termed the “beginning” is the [manifested] Buddha nature, and what is termed the “end” is the Buddhahood that has not yet been manifested, that is, the state of the nine worlds. The term “consistency” indicates that the Thus Come One of the ultimate stage of perfect enlightenment and we ordinary mortals in the stage of being a Buddha in theory are without any distinction. This is called consistency, or the great wisdom of the Lotus Sutra that sees the equality of all beings.
The first three of the ten factors represent the Thus Come One of original enlightenment. When one has attained an understanding of the Thus Come One of original enlightenment, then one is a Buddha of perfect enlightenment. And one [who is the embodiment of the Thus Come One of original enlightenment] thus becomes the father and mother of this [Buddha of] perfect enlightenment, and the Buddha is the child that one gives birth to.
Thus the first volume of Great Concentration and Insight says, “Concentration is none other than the mother of the Buddha, and insight is none other than the father of the Buddha.”3
Suppose, for example, that there are ten persons all of whom have treasures piled up in their respective storehouses. But, being unaware that they have such treasures in their storehouses, they are on the point of starving to death or dying of the cold. Among these ten, however, there is one clever person who awakens to the true situation. The other nine are utterly unable to do so, and must be enlightened by the clever person and shown how to eat, or have food put in their mouths.
The first volume of The Annotations on “Great Concentration and Insight” states, “The two words ‘concentration and insight’ represent the entity that is to be perceived by one who hears the teachings.” One who fails to hear the teachings will not understand the true meaning of “consistency from beginning to end.”
The child is often superior in many ways to the parent. Thus Ch’ung-hua4 treated his father with great respect, though the latter was stubborn and hard-headed, and so became known as a man of worth. Liu Pang,5 the governor of P’ei, even after he became emperor, continued to pay obeisance to his father and treat him with great respect. The father, who was thus respected, was not the one worthy to be called ruler; rather it was the son, who paid him respect, who deserved to be looked up to as ruler.
In like manner, though the Buddha is the offspring, it is he who gains enlightenment because he is wise, while ordinary mortals, although they are the parents, are ignorant and foolish and have not yet gained enlightenment.
People who do not understand the principle involved speak ill of such statements, insisting that they amount to “trampling on the head of the Buddha Vairochana,” but this is a gross error.
With regard to threefold contemplation in a single mind, there is threefold contemplation that is carried out in successive stages, and threefold contemplation that does not involve stages, but I will not go into this matter in detail.
When one has thoroughly mastered this threefold contemplation, one realizes that, as the Flower Garland Sutra says, “In the threefold world there is only this single mind.”
85T’ien-t’ai has stated, “The various waters enter the sea.”6 That is, the Buddha, we ourselves, and all other living beings are in our essential nature identical and without distinctions; this is the great wisdom of equality. The term “equality” may be taken to mean “universal” or “all-inclusive.”
These doctrines of threefold contemplation in a single mind and three thousand realms in a single moment of life are not found in any of the other sutras. Therefore, if one does not encounter the Lotus Sutra, how can one possibly attain Buddhahood?
The other sutras explain the existence of the six worlds, the eight worlds, or the ten worlds, but they do not make clear the mutual possession of these various worlds. But when, through the Lotus Sutra, we meditate moment by moment on the meaning of threefold contemplation in a single mind and the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, then we come to realize that we ourselves are Thus Come Ones of original enlightenment. Then the clouds of ignorance part and the moon of the essential nature of phenomena shines forth. We wake from dreams of delusion and the round moon of original enlightenment is seen in all its brilliance. We see that this fleshly form received in birth from our parents, this body bound by earthly desires, is none other than the Thus Come One who has existed always and is ever-abiding.
This is what is called the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form, the realization that earthly desires are none other than enlightenment and that the sufferings of birth and death are none other than nirvana.
At this time when we gaze at the phenomenal world, we see that all things conform to the single principle of the Middle Way, and that the Buddha and living beings are one. This is what T’ien-t’ai means when he writes in his commentary, “There is not one color or one fragrance that is not the Middle Way.”7
At this time we see that all the worlds of the ten directions are the Pure Land of Tranquil Light. Where, then, can one find the pure lands of Amida Buddha or the Buddha Medicine Master? This is what the Lotus Sutra means when it says, “These phenomena are part of an abiding Law, [and] the characteristics of the world are constantly abiding.”8
We may wonder whether, without reciting the sutra, it is possible simply through the meditation of the mind-ground9 alone to attain Buddhahood. The fact is that the meditation on three thousand realms in a single moment of life and the method of meditation known as threefold contemplation in a single mind are contained within the five characters Myoho-renge-kyo. And these five characters, Myoho-renge-kyo, are also contained within the single life of each of us. Thus T’ien-t’ai’s commentary states: “This Myoho-renge-kyo represents the depths of the secret storehouse of the original state, the enlightenment attained by the Thus Come Ones of the three existences.”10
When we chant this Myoho-renge-kyo, the Buddha of original enlightenment present in our lives becomes manifest. Our bodies and minds are comparable to the storehouse of the teachings, and the word myō is comparable to the seal [that permits the opening of the storehouse]. Thus the commentary of T’ien-t’ai states: “To reveal the depths of the secret storehouse—this is called myō, or wonderful. To define the proper relationship between the provisional and the true—this is termed hō, or the Law. To point to the original enlightenment attained by the Buddha in the far distant past—this is compared to ren, or lotus. To clarify the perfect way of the 86non-duality of provisional and true—this is compared to ge, or blossom. The voice carries out the work of the Buddha, and this is called kyō, or sutra.”11
And the commentary also states: “Myō is a term used to praise the Law that is beyond ordinary comprehension. Myō is also the Law of the Ten Worlds and the ten factors, the Law that is both provisional and true.”12
Chanting the daimoku, or title, of the Lotus Sutra is the same as carrying out meditation. Ignorant persons may find this difficult to believe. But the second volume of Great Concentration and Insight by T’ien-t’ai has a passage “regarding recitation and silence” in which the word “recitation” refers to recitation of the Lotus Sutra and “silence” to the practice of meditation or contemplation. And again, in the first volume of his Meaning of the Four Teachings, T’ien-t’ai states: “Not only [are such practices as recitation] not a needless waste of effort, they are essential in enabling one to grasp the principle involved.”
The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai was a reincarnation of the bodhisattva Medicine King, and in his commentaries he discussed the merits of reciting the sutra and those of meditation. To begin with, in his commentaries he defined four guidelines for interpreting the words and phrases of the Lotus Sutra, namely, causes and conditions, correlated teachings, theoretical and essential teachings, and observation of the mind. But persons who do not understand the importance of these four types of interpretation are likely to apply only one type of interpretation, turning all their attention to the way in which the passage relates to the theoretical and essential teachings, or turning all their attention to how it relates to observation of the mind.
In the Lotus Sutra, we find the doctrine directly stated, we find it taught through similes, and we find it taught through an explanation of causes and conditions in the past. In passages where the doctrine is directly stated, the original purpose for which the Buddhas appear in the world is set forth, the direct path by which all living beings can attain Buddhahood. And daimoku represents the cause and condition that permits not only us but all living beings to proceed directly to the place of enlightenment.
Therefore T’ien-t’ai in the first volume of his Profound Meaning states: “All the little practices of goodness are gathered together, and one finds one’s destination in the breadth and magnitude of the one vehicle.”13 By “breadth and magnitude” he means that all living beings without exception shall be guided to this goal.
Although this goal may be set forth as the original purpose for which one person, Shakyamuni, made his appearance in the world, yet all beings in the stage of near-perfect enlightenment and below should look up to it and should have faith in this sutra, the Lotus. For this sutra itself is the original purpose for which the Buddhas appear in the world.
The Zen school reveres the practice of meditation, or observation of the mind, as the original purpose for which the Buddhas appear in the world, when in fact it is only one aspect of the four guidelines mentioned earlier. If meditation on three thousand realms in a single moment of life and threefold contemplation in a single mind were in fact the heart and core of the Lotus Sutra, then the ten factors would have been mentioned in the daimoku, or title, of the sutra. But of course the daimoku is simply Myoho-renge-kyo, and so there is no need for any further discussion.
Moreover, the Zen school of our time speaks of itself as a “separate transmission outside the sutras.” But at the same time, it quotes the words of the 87Perfect Enlightenment Sutra, though it has supposedly discarded all such sutras. And since it has done so, it has no business trying to meddle with the Lotus Sutra, the sutra of the true teaching.
Those who are knowledgeable may practice both sutra recitation and meditation. Those uninformed may simply chant the daimoku, for in doing so they will be abiding by the principle of the sutra.
This Myoho-renge-kyo is a term designating the essential nature of our minds, or, more generally speaking, the essential nature of the minds of all living beings, the eight-petaled white lotus blossom. The words of the Buddha himself teach us this. From time without beginning until the present, these bodies of ours have transmigrated through the realm of birth and death, in a state of delusion as to the essential nature of the mind that is within these bodies. But now that we have encountered the Lotus Sutra and chant the daimoku that represents the Thus Come One of original enlightenment, who possesses the three bodies in a single body, the Thus Come One becomes manifest. In our present existence we achieve the inner realization and attainment of Buddhahood that is known as the attainment of Buddhahood in our present form.
And when we die, our bodies will emit a glow. This is what is known as the outward-directed activity associated with the attainment of Buddhahood. This is what the Lotus Sutra means when it says, “Then in a future existence they will be able to become Buddhas.”14
“When for the sake of brevity one mentions only the daimoku, or title, the entire sutra is by implication included therein.”15 This means that one recitation of the daimoku is equivalent to one recitation of the whole sutra.
When we chant Myoho-renge-kyo, the Thus Come One of the essential nature of our minds becomes manifest, and the sounds that reach the ears of others wipe out their offenses accumulated over countless asamkhya kalpas. When they respond with joy even for a moment, they attain Buddhahood in their present form. Even though they may not believe this, the seed has been planted, it is maturing, and through it they will invariably attain Buddhahood.
The Great Teacher Miao-lo states: “Whether one accepts or rejects the teachings, they have entered one’s ear and one has thus established a bond with them. And then, though one may comply with them or go against them, in the end one will because of this bond be able to achieve liberation.”16
And I, Nichiren, declare that these words, “whether one accepts or rejects,” “though one may comply with them or go against them,” constitute a passage worthy to be engraved on the heart. This is what the Lotus Sutra means when it says, “If there are those who hear the Law, [then not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood].”17 Here it speaks of those “who hear the Law.” But if it were referring to those who attain Buddhahood through meditation, it would say, “If there are those who meditate on the Law.”
According to the interpretation of T’ien-t’ai, the ten factors are equivalent to the Ten Worlds. These Ten Worlds arise in life at each moment, and thus the living beings of the Ten Worlds come forth.
These ten factors represent Myoho-renge-kyo. This sahā world is a land in which one gains the way through the faculty of hearing. And, as I indicated earlier [the Great Teacher Miao-lo states], “You should understand that one’s life and its environment at a single moment encompass the three thousand realms.” It is clear, then, that the bodies of all living beings encompass the hundred worlds and thousand factors, and the three thousand realms.
88Therefore living beings whose ears are touched by the daimoku are living beings who will gain merit. And when we speak of all living beings, this category of all living beings includes plants and trees, tiles and pebbles. (Both sentient and insentient things.) Regarding such plants and trees, The Diamond Scalpel states: “A plant, a tree, a pebble, a speck of dust—each has the Buddha nature, and each is endowed with cause and effect and with the function to manifest and the wisdom to realize its Buddha nature.”
And at the beginning of the “Teacher of the Law” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, we read: “[Medicine King, do you see in this great assembly] the immeasurable number of heavenly beings, dragon kings, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, human and nonhuman beings, as well as monks, nuns . . . ? Upon these various kinds of beings who listen to one verse or one phrase of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law and for a moment think of it with joy I will bestow on all of them a prophecy that they will attain supreme perfect enlightenment.”
The words “nonhuman beings” refer to all those sentient beings outside the world of human beings who possess a mind. And if they are included, then how much more certain is it that those in the world of human beings are included.
If votaries of the Lotus Sutra carry out religious practice as the sutra directs, then every one of them without exception will surely attain Buddhahood within his or her present lifetime. To cite an analogy, if one plants the fields in spring and summer, then, whether it be early or late, one is certain to reap a harvest within the year.
Votaries of the Lotus Sutra fall into three categories, superior, middling, and inferior, depending upon their capacities, and yet all will invariably attain enlightenment within a single lifetime. Thus the first volume of Profound Meaning states: “Whether of superior, middling, or inferior capacity, all will be given a prophecy of the attainment of Buddhahood.”
Those who seek to attain Buddhahood solely through the contemplation of the mind are following a one-sided approach. And how much truer is this of those who practice the Zen style of seated meditation and speak of a “separate transmission outside the sutras.”
In the “Teacher of the Law” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha states: “Medicine King, though there may be many persons, those still living in the household and those who have left it, who practice the way of the bodhisattva, if they are not willing to see, hear, read, recite, copy, embrace, and offer alms to this Lotus Sutra, then you should know that such persons are not yet practicing the bodhisattva way in a fitting manner. But if there are those who will listen to this sutra, then they are capable of practicing the bodhisattva way in a fitting manner.”
If the sutra meant that one could attain Buddhahood through contemplation of the mind alone, then why would it speak of “seeing, hearing, reading, reciting”? This sutra makes “hearing” the sole basis of practice.
In this sutra, the Lotus, evil persons, women, persons of the two vehicles, and icchantikas are not discriminated against. Thus, as the sutra says, “all attain the Buddha way.”18 This is also known as the great wisdom of equality.
Once one has heard the sutra teaching that good and evil are not two, that correct and erroneous are as one, then one gains inner enlightenment and attains Buddhahood. Therefore this is called the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form. And because one gains enlightenment in a single lifetime, it is called perfect enlightenment in one lifetime.
89Though there may be persons who are unaware of the principle involved, if they chant the daimoku, they will experience the joy that can only be shared between Buddhas. This is what the sutra means when it says, “I will surely rejoice and so will the other Buddhas.”19
Though one may possess medicine blended from hundreds and thousands of ingredients, if one does not drink it, one’s illness will never be cured. Though one may have riches in one’s storehouse, if one does not know enough to open the storehouse, one may go hungry; and though one may have medicine in the breast of one’s robe, if one does not know enough to drink it, one may die. And this is also true of the benefits of this Lotus Sutra, which are like those of the wish-granting jewel described in the “Five Hundred Disciples” chapter.
If, along with contemplation of the mind, one recites the sutra, then of course one will gain these benefits. And even without practicing meditation, as I explained earlier, when one recites the words “This reality consists of zesōnyo (this appearance is thus) . . . ,” the word “thus” represents the principle of non-substantiality. Therefore the non-substantiality of the appearance, nature, entity, power, and so forth acquired by one’s life through the karma of past existences, and of the eighty-eight types of illusions of thought and eighty-one kinds of illusions of desire inherent in them—the non-substantiality of all these is the Thus Come One of the reward body.
When one recites the words “This reality consists of nyozesō (“thus appearance,” or appearance like this) . . . ,” this is the principle of temporary existence. Therefore the appearance, nature, entity, power, and so forth acquired by one’s life through the karma of past existences, along with the illusions innumerable as particles of dust and sand inherent in them—all these are the Thus Come One of the manifested body.
And when one recites the words “This reality consists of sōnyoze (appearance is thus) . . . ,” this is the principle of the Middle Way. Accordingly, the appearance, nature, and so forth acquired by one’s life through karma, as all the illusions about the true nature of life inherent in them are swept away, are opened up as none other than the Thus Come One of the Dharma body.
When the passage on the ten factors is given these three different readings, this represents the principle of the three bodies in a single body, the single body that comprises the three bodies. Though divided into three, they are truly one; though posited as one, they are at the same time three.