purpose of one’s advent ［出世の本懐］ ( shusse-no-honkai): A person’s ultimate purpose for being born into this world.
In the “Expedient Means” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha states, “The Buddhas, the world-honored ones, appear in the world for one great reason alone.” Shakyamuni continues, “The Buddhas, the world-honored ones, wish to open the door of Buddha wisdom to all living beings, to allow them to attain purity. That is why they appear in the world. They wish to show the Buddha wisdom to living beings, and therefore they appear in the world. They wish to cause living beings to awaken to the Buddha wisdom, and therefore they appear in the world. They wish to induce living beings to enter the path of Buddha wisdom, and therefore they appear in the world.”
Shakyamuni reveals that the purpose for which all Buddhas appear in this world is, by preaching the Lotus Sutra, to teach that all people originally possess within them the Buddha wisdom, and to show them the way to cultivate that wisdom and realize the life state of a Buddha.
Shakyamuni goes on to say, “Shāriputra, you should know that at the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us, and what I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled.” The vow Shakyamuni made as a bodhisattva many kalpas in the past was to enable all people to achieve Buddhahood. And now, he says, he has been able to fulfill that original vow by preaching the Lotus Sutra.
In the “Life Span” chapter of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni explains that upon fulfilling this original vow, he has completed all of the work he set out to do in this world and will pass into nirvana. But even his entry into nirvana would be an expedient means, a method of teaching, for the same chapter reveals that he will remain always and eternally present in this sahā world. His lifespan as a bodhisattva who had made the vow and as the Buddha who attained the way in the remote past is described as inexhaustible. This means that the vow of a bodhisattva and the great desire of a Buddha are the same—to enable all living beings to attain Buddhahood—and that the power and function of the eternal Buddha to realize this goal are always present in this world.
The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai (Chih-i) of China and the Great Teacher Dengyō (Saichō) of Japan overcame various obstacles to promote Buddhist faith and practice founded on the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren, basing himself on the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, described the purposes of their advent as follows: For T’ien-t’ai, who was active in China in the Middle Day of the Law, it was his work Great Concentration and Insight, in which he expounded the doctrine of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life” and established the practice of “observing the mind.” And for Dengyō, active in Japan at the end of the Middle Day of the Law, his purpose was realized through the establishment of a sanctuary for administering the precepts of perfect and immediate enlightenment based upon the Lotus Sutra.
For Nichiren, who appeared in the Latter Day of the Law when Shakyamuni’s teachings had lost their power to benefit people, the purpose of his advent was to establish the way by which all people of this age can attain Buddhahood. He expounded the teaching that people could study and practice and thereby attain Buddhahood. Nichiren revealed that that teaching is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and that it is the seed of Buddhahood hidden deep in the text of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
This Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was embodied in the form of the Three Great Secret Laws: the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the sanctuary of the essential teaching, and the daimoku of the essential teaching. Together they compose the essential teaching of the Latter Day of the Law.
The Three Great Secret Laws correspond to the three types of learning—three fundamentals of Buddhist practice that all Buddhists are supposed to master. They are the precepts, meditation, and wisdom.
The object of devotion of the essential teaching is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Law which brings about Buddhahood, that Nichiren discovered within his own life and then expressed in a mandala endowed with all of the Ten Worlds. Nichiren says that the benefit of embracing this object of devotion, called the Gohonzon, includes that of observing the mind. Among the three types of learning, this corresponds to meditation in Nichiren Buddhism.
The daimoku of the essential teaching means to believe in the object of devotion and chant the daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Because the Buddha wisdom emerges within one’s own life through this practice, the daimoku corresponds to wisdom among the three types of learning.
The sanctuary of the essential teaching indicates the place where the object of devotion of the essential teaching is enshrined and where one carries out faith and practice based upon it. One can thus extinguish the evil that has accumulated in one’s life and in its place cultivate the ultimate good that is the world of Buddhahood. For this reason, the benefit of embracing this object of devotion includes that of observing the precepts, and corresponds to the precepts among the three types of learning.
As described above, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws includes the three types of learning appropriate for the Latter Day of the Law that can enable all people to attain Buddhahood. Nichiren’s establishment of these Three Great Secret Laws is regarded as the purpose of his advent in this world.
Nichiren refers to the purpose of his advent in a letter titled On Persecutions Befalling the Sage, which he wrote on the first day of the tenth month in the second year of the Kōan era (1279). At the time, followers of Nichiren among the farmers in the Fuji area in Suruga province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) were subjected to severe persecution by religious and political authorities, which came to be known as the Atsuhara Persecution. Nevertheless, these farmers persisted in upholding their faith. Nichiren regarded their practice as a model for all, for such selfless devotion would make possible the wide propagation of his teachings. Nichiren’s fundamental vow, and the purpose of his advent, was to spread Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws widely, to realize the attainment of Buddhahood by all people and to establish peace and prosperity throughout the world.