one chapter and two halves ［一品二半］ ( ippon-nihan): The core of the Lotus Sutra, comprising the latter half of the “Emerging from the Earth” (fifteenth) chapter, the entire “Life Span” (sixteenth) chapter, and the first half of the “Distinctions in Benefits” (seventeenth) chapter. This section reveals Shakyamuni Buddha’s original attainment of enlightenment. At the beginning of the “Emerging from the Earth” chapter, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth make their appearance, and Bodhisattva Maitreya, on behalf of the assembly, asks Shakyamuni who they are. The Buddha replies that they are his disciples whom he has been teaching since the time of his enlightenment in this sahā world, though he alludes to having taught them since the “long distant past.” Unsatisfied, Bodhisattva Maitreya persists: How could Shakyamuni have possibly trained so many countless bodhisattvas in the mere forty-odd years since his awakening under the bodhi tree? He implores Shakyamuni to explain further for the sake of future generations who may harbor doubts. To comply, the Buddha explains in the next chapter, “Life Span,” that he actually attained enlightenment in the unimaginably distant past—what is known as numberless major world system dust particle kalpas in the past—and that since then he has always been in this world teaching the people. The first part of the “Distinctions in Benefits” chapter explains that the bodhisattvas and others who heard this revelation have all thereby received great benefits that will ensure their enlightenment.
T’ien-t’ai (538–597) and Nichiren (1222–1282) interpreted the concept of “one chapter and two halves” differently. According to T’ien-t’ai’s interpretation, the latter half of the “Emerging from the Earth” chapter begins with Shakyamuni’s statement that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are his disciples whom he has been teaching since the long distant past. Hearing this brief statement, T’ien-t’ai says, Shakyamuni’s disciples have understood that his enlightenment occurred in the remote past. In the Lotus Sutra, however, this implication is followed by Bodhisattva Maitreya’s second question: How could the Buddha have taught so many bodhisattvas in the short space of a few decades? Based on the sutra’s text, Nichiren interprets this question as being asked for the sake of those who will come after Shakyamuni’s death. Thus Nichiren does not include Shakyamuni’s initial brief allusion in his answer to this question—his statement that he has been teaching the Bodhisattvas of the Earth since the “long distant past”—in the latter half of the “Emerging from the Earth” chapter, or in the one chapter and two halves. In other words, Nichiren defines the one chapter and two halves as beginning with Bodhisattva Maitreya’s second question.
This difference in the interpretations of T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren relates to the distinction Nichiren made between the Buddhism of the harvest and the Buddhism of sowing. Shakyamuni’s reference to the remote past in this chapter is intended to resolve the doubts of the assembly. That is, it is a teaching directed toward Shakyamuni’s contemporary disciples and therefore falls into the category of the Buddhism of the harvest (the teaching meant to enable Shakyamuni’s contemporaries to “harvest” the seeds of Buddhahood planted in their previous lives). In contrast, Bodhisattva Maitreya’s second question is asked on behalf of those who will appear after Shakyamuni’s death. In reply, Shakyamuni reveals his enlightenment in the remote past in the next chapter, “Life Span.” According to Nichiren’s interpretation, this revelation implies the seed of Buddhahood or the cause that enabled Shakyamuni to attain enlightenment; that is, the ultimate truth or Law of life and the universe. Nichiren identified this Law as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which enables all people to attain Buddhahood. Nichiren’s “one chapter and two halves” refers to the essence of the “Life Span” chapter, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Buddhism of sowing meant for people in the Latter Day of the Law. In The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind, Nichiren writes: “The essential teaching of Shakyamuni’s lifetime and that revealed at the beginning of the Latter Day are both pure and perfect [in that both lead directly to Buddhahood]. Shakyamuni’s, however, is the Buddhism of the harvest, and this is the Buddhism of sowing. The core of his teaching is one chapter and two halves, and the core of mine is the five characters of the daimoku alone” (370).