opening the near and revealing the distant ［開近顕遠］ ( kaigon-kennon): Discarding the assumption that Shakyamuni attained enlightenment for the first time in India and revealing that he originally gained enlightenment in the immensely distant past. In The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, T’ien-t’ai (538–597) of China defines the principal doctrine of the theoretical teaching (first half) of the Lotus Sutra to be the “replacement of the three vehicles with the one vehicle,” and that of the essential teaching (latter half) of the sutra to be “opening the near and revealing the distant.” This term describes a revelation made in the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. At the beginning of the “Emerging from the Earth” (fifteenth) chapter, countless bodhisattvas rise up from beneath the earth. The bodhisattvas already present in the assembly are surprised by the sudden appearance of this great multitude. On behalf of the others, Bodhisattva Maitreya asks Shakyamuni Buddha to explain the identity of these newly arrived bodhisattvas. In reply, Shakyamuni announces, “Ever since the long distant past I have been teaching and converting this multitude.” This revelation is called “opening the near and revealing the distant in concise form.”
Hearing this statement, however, the assembled bodhisattvas are dubious and perplexed, and Maitreya again asks Shakyamuni Buddha how he could have taught and trained so many bodhisattvas in the scant forty-odd years since his awakening under the bodhi tree. This opens the way for the Buddha’s explicit revelation in the following (sixteenth) chapter, “Life Span,” in which he says: “In all the worlds the heavenly and human beings and asuras all believe that the present Shakyamuni Buddha, after leaving the palace of the Shākyas, seated himself in the place of meditation not far from the city of Gayā and there attained supreme perfect enlightenment. But good men, it has been immeasurable, boundless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of kalpas since I in fact attained Buddhahood.” Shakyamuni then describes in some detail the immensity of the span of time since he actually attained enlightenment. The name given to that time span—numberless major world system dust particle kalpas—is an abbreviation of that description. This revelation in the “Life Span” chapter of the Buddha’s original attainment of enlightenment in the remote past is called “opening the near and revealing the distant in expanded form.” See also numberless major world system dust particle kalpas.