Three Great Secret Laws ［三大秘法］ ( sandai-hihō): The core principles of Nichiren’s teaching. They are the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the daimoku of the essential teaching, and the sanctuary of the essential teaching. Here, “essential teaching” refers to the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and not to the essential teaching, or the latter fourteen chapters, of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren (1222–1282) established these three essential principles to enable people in the Latter Day of the Law to attain Buddhahood. They are called secret because they are implicit in the text of the “Life Span” (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra and remained hidden or unknown until Nichiren revealed them. Nichiren regarded them as the vital teaching that Shakyamuni Buddha transferred to Bodhisattva Superior Practices in the “Supernatural Powers” (twenty-first) chapter of the sutra. He regarded his mission as one with that of Bodhisattva Superior Practices.
The Three Great Secret Laws represent Nichiren’s embodiment of the Wonderful Law, to which he was enlightened, in a form that all people can practice and thereby gain access to that Law within their own lives. He associated the Three Great Secret Laws with the three types of learning set forth in Buddhism—precepts, meditation, and wisdom. Specifically, the object of devotion corresponds to meditation, the sanctuary to precepts, and the daimoku to wisdom. Concerning the three types of learning based on the Lotus Sutra, Dengyō (767–822), in his Questions and Answers on Regulations for Students of the Tendai Lotus School, states, “The spacelike immovable precept, the spacelike immovable meditation, and the spacelike immovable wisdom—these three all together are transmitted under the name ‘Wonderful Law.’” The three types of learning based on the Lotus Sutra are called “spacelike” and “immovable” because they are eternal and indestructible. Nikkō, Nichiren’s successor, stated that in Nichiren’s teachings the object of devotion corresponds to the spacelike immovable meditation, the sanctuary to the spacelike immovable precept, and the daimoku to the spacelike immovable wisdom.
Nichiren mentions the Three Great Secret Laws in several of his writings (all dated after his near execution at Tatsunokuchi and subsequent exile to Sado Island in 1271), and in a work known as On the Three Great Secret Laws, he offers a detailed definition.
At the core of the Three Great Secret Laws is the object of devotion of the essential teaching, or Nichiren’s embodiment in the form of a mandala of the eternal Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which he fully realized and manifested in his life. He writes in The Person and the Law, “Deep in this mortal flesh I preserve the ultimate secret Law inherited from Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, at Eagle Peak” (1097). Because embracing this object of devotion called the Gohonzon is the only precept in Nichiren’s teaching, the place where it is enshrined corresponds to the place where one vows to observe the Buddhist precepts—the ordination platform, or sanctuary, of the essential teaching. The term precept in Buddhism implies preventing error and putting an end to evil. The daimoku of the essential teaching indicates the invocation or chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the object of devotion; it includes chanting the daimoku for oneself and teaching it to others. Thus, both the sanctuary and the daimoku derive from the object of devotion. Together the Three Great Secret Laws give one the access to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the ultimate Law of life and the universe.