countless kalpas of practice ［歴劫修行］ ( ryakkō-shugyō): Also, kalpas of practice or many kalpas of practice. Practice toward enlightenment over a period of countless kalpas (one kalpa being approximately sixteen million years according to one account). In the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, enlightenment, or Buddhahood, was thought to require countless kalpas of practice to attain. It was maintained that practitioners of Buddhism, as represented by bodhisattvas, had to practice lifetime after lifetime for countless kalpas to attain Buddhahood. This idea contrasts with that of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime or in a single lifetime. Those who aspired for enlightenment were required to carry out the six pāramitās and other bodhisattva practices over innumerable kalpas. When they had fulfilled the six pāramitās, they approached enlightenment but had not yet reached it. The Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, which serves as the prologue to the Lotus Sutra, says: “If there are living beings who are able to hear this sutra, they will gain great profit. Why? Because if they can practice it, then without fail they will quickly gain unsurpassed enlightenment. As for those living beings who are unable to hear it, one should know that they will lose great profit, for though immeasurable, boundless, inconceivable asamkhya kalpas may pass, they will in the end fail to gain unsurpassed enlightenment. Why? Because they will not know about the great direct way to enlightenment, but will travel perilous byways beset by numerous hindrances and trials.”
Nichiren (1222–1282) states in The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind: “Shakyamuni’s practices and the virtues he consequently attained are all contained within the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. If we believe in these five characters, we will naturally be granted the same benefits as he was” (365). In the Latter Day of the Law, “the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo”—which is the essence of the Lotus Sutra and which Nichiren embodied as the object of devotion—is the teaching that enables people to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime.