Lecture in Praise of Nichiren Daishonin
March, 2018 Oko Lecture
It is the understanding of most people that Buddhism is historically a religion that was established by Shakyamuni Buddha, who appeared in India approximately 3,000 years ago. However, not many people know that the time following Shakyamuni's passing is divided into the three periods of the Former, Middle, and Latter Days of the Law and that, along with the changes over time, there were different teachings that were propounded. The first one-thousand-year period following the passing of Shakyamuni is known as the Former Day of the Law. During this time, Shakyamuni's disciples, such as Mahakashyapa and Ananda, first propagated Hinayana Buddhism. Then, the likes of Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu denounced Hinayana Buddhism and spread the provisional Mahayana teachings.
The next one-thousand -year period is the Middle Day of the Law. During this time, the Great Teacher Tiantai emerged in China and the Great Teacher Dengyo made his advent in Japan. They denounced the doctrines that were propagated in China and Japan and promoted the true teaching of the Lotus Sutra-true Mahayana Buddhism.Thus, in the propagation of Shakyamuni's Buddhism, there was a distinct order and a clear sequence, ranging from the shallow to the extremely profound teachings, based on the objective of leading the people of the corresponding period to enlightenment. With the rise of the profound teachings, the preceding shallow doctrines declined, thereby manifesting a distinct order in the rise and fall of Buddhist teachings.
The two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law are followed by the Latter Day of the Law. Shakyamuni predicted the conditions in the Latter Day of the Law in the following way in the Sutra of the Great Assembly (Daishik-kyō):
[The last Five-hundred-year Period will be] the age of conflict within the teachings that I have expounded. This will cause the pure Law to become obscured and lost. (Gosho, p. 836)
While the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha still remained in the Latter Day of the Law, the power and forcefulness of Shakyamuni's Buddhism totally declined and disappeared. The doctrines completely lost the power to save the people. The effects of the practices-the attainment of enlightenment-became impossible during this period. As a result, conflict became ubiquitous throughout the world.
The Latter Day of the Law is described in the following way in the Encouraging Devotion (Kanji; thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra:
An age of fear and evil. (Hokekyō, p. 375; Lotus Sutra, Watson, p. 193)
In the Distinctions of Benefits (Fumbetsu kudoku; seventeenth) chapter, it is portrayed as follows:
The evil age of the Latter Day of the Law. (Hokekyō, p. 461; Lotus Sutra, Watson, p. 242)
Thus, the Latter Day of the Law is an evil era, where the hearts and minds of the people manifest complete chaos, fear, and suffering. The following is a passage from the Gosho, Letter to Soya nyūdō (Soya nyūdō dono-motogosho):
More than 220 years have passed since the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. The five impurities are extremely intense, and the three calamities occur frequently. The two impurities-of living beings and of view-have filled the entire nation. And those who commit the five cardinal sins and slander are ubiquitously present throughout all the directions of the four seas. (Gosho, p. 781)
Here, the Daishonin explains that society in the Latter Day of the Law is filled with the five impurities. The five impurities are five forms of defilement that cause confusion and chaos in the world. They are the impurities of the age, desire, living beings, view, and life itself. These five impurities intensify during the Latter Day of the Law. The impurity of the age refers to chaos in the world caused by disruptions such as wars, epidemics, and famines. The impurity of desire represents defilement of the mind and body caused by greed, anger, stupidity, arrogance, and doubt. The impurity of living beings signifies the collective of people who are plagued by these earthly desires. This indicates the impurity of the entire society as a whole. The impurity of view is the confusion of the mind, which results from obsessive attachments to the self, disregarding the law of cause and effect, and mistakenly considering something that is inferior to be superior. The impurity of life refers to the defilement of human life caused by the impurities of desire and view.
When these five impurities permeate the world, they bring about various forms of the three calamities, such as famines, epidemics, and warfare.
Nichiren Daishonin describes the evil world of the Latter Day of the Law, raging with the five impurities, in the following passage from Attaining Enlightenment at the Initial Stage of Faith through the Lotus Sutra (Hokke shoshin jōbutsu shō):
The hearts of people will be combative and evil, and they will hold intense greed and anger. As a result, only battles and conflicts will thrive. (Gosho, p. 1311)
Furthermore, he states:
The hearts of people have already gone awry, and the [teachings of the] Law are not productive. The mighty powers of the Buddhas and gods are no longer apparent, and the prayers for this and future existences do not come true. At times like this, the devil king will take advantage of the conditions and find an opportune way to slip in and wreak havoc. Consequently, the nation will encounter famines and droughts, and epidemics will erupt throughout the land under the heavens. (Gosho, p. 1313)
In fact, in our own world today, there is international instability regarding the dangerous situation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons. There are military buildups and destruction of the environment by countries who are only concerned with preserving their own interests and expanding their territories. These conditions have caused abnormal weather and unseasonable climates which, in turn, have led to crop failures and the destruction of the human soul. Upon seeing this, no one can doubt that now is the frightful reality of the Latter Day of the Law, when the efficacy of the pure Law of Shakyamuni Buddha is lost.
However, the True Buddha's great compassion to bring salvation to all mankind continues to flow ceaselessly, even in this evil world of the Latter Day of the Law. The compassion of the True Buddha constantly resides in this corrupt saha world, and the teachings of the Law by the Buddha will never be discontinued. In fact, the period of the five impurities actually is a time when the great Law appropriate for the Latter Day of the Law will come forth. The True Buddha of the Buddhism of the sowing will make his advent into this world and will illuminate the darkness of the ten thousand years and eternity of the Latter Day of the Law.
In the Wondrous Powers of the Tathagata (Jinriki; twenty-first) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni predicted the coming of the True Buddha, who will be born into the world as a common mortal, in the Latter Day of the Law. He stated:
After the Thus Come One has passed into extinction, this person will know the sutras preached by the Buddha, their causes and conditions and their proper sequence, and will preach them truthfully in accordance with principle. As the light of the sun and moon can banish all obscurity and gloom, so this person as he passes through the world can wipe out the darkness of living beings, causing immeasurable numbers of bodhisattvas in the end to dwell in the single vehicle. (Hokekyō p. 516; Lotus Sutra, B. Watson trans. p. 276)
Commenting on this passage, Nichiren Daishonin writes:
The current time is none other than the first Five-hundred-year of the Latter Day of the Law. The writing in the sutra clearly reveals that Bodhisattva Jōgyō will make his advent at this time and bestow upon the people of the entire nation of Japan the five characters of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. It also reveals that he will encounter exile and execution. (Gosho, p. 1435)
Thus, he states that, in the Latter Day of the Law, when the pure Law is obscured and lost, the great Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the very core of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, will be bestowed upon all mankind. Furthermore, the Daishonin states that the sutra clearly reveals that he will encounter the great persecutions of being exiled and taken to be executed. Then he writes:
The Wondrous Powers of the Tathagata (Jinriki; twenty-first) chapter of the Lotus Sutra states:
Just as the sunlight or moonlight dispels the darkness, this person will practice [Myoho-Renge-Kyo] in the world and eliminate [the fundamental] darkness of all living beings.
Who do you think "this person" is as described in this sutra? I think that "this person" is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jōgyō. (ibid.)
Here, Nichiren Daishonin, showed that there was not even the slightest discrepancy between his own actual life at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law and the behavior of Bodhisattva Jōgyō, as predicted by Shakyamuni. Thus, he secretly reveals that he is, in fact, none other than "this person" referenced in the passage, "this person will practice [Myoho-Renge-Kyo] in the world." Other than Nichiren Daishonin alone, there is actually no one at all who has experienced and proven the various major persecutions predicted in the Lotus Sutra.
Nichiren Daishonin appeared in the Latter Day of the Law as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jōgyō. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, which he propagated, was definitely not Shakyamuni Buddha's Lotus Sutra, which had enabled the people to attain enlightenment during Shakyamuni's lifetime and in the two thousand years thereafter, during the Former and Middle Days of the Law.
In fact, the Daishonin revealed the great Law hidden in the depths of the Lotus Sutra. It is Myoho-Renge-Kyo of the Buddhism of the sowing of the true cause from the infinite past of kuon-ganjo. Nichiren Daishonin directly expounded this essential Law from the infinite past of kuon-ganjo, in this present period, the Latter Day of the Law. He established the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching, the foremost object of worship in all of Jambudvipa (the entire world). The purpose of his advent into this world is to lead all people to attain enlightenment in their present form. For this reason, Nichiren Daishonin's superficial form is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jōgyō, and the true form of his inner enlightenment is the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
Nichiren Daishonin states the following in The Selection of the Time (Senji shō):
The time when "the pure Law will become obscured and lost," as stated in the Sutra of the Great Assembly (Daishik-kyō), is the fifth Five-hundred-year Period. There is no doubt that now is that time. However, after Shakyamuni's pure Law becomes obscured and lost, it is time for kōsen-rufu, when the great pure Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, must be propagated to all the people throughout Jambudvipa, with its 80,000 countries and kings, together with their retainers and subjects. [They all must chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo], just as the four kinds of believers in present day Japan are chanting the name of Amida.
(Gosho, p. 837)
Now, in the Latter Day of the Law, Shakyamuni's Buddhism has become obscured and lost and the five impurities permeate the world. The Daishonin declares that this is the very time for the ultimate propagation throughout the world of the great Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, hidden in the depths of the Lotus Sutra. We are truly fortunate to have been able to come into this world as humans-which is difficult to do-in these deeply evil times of the Latter Day of the Law. Furthermore, we have been able to embrace the mystic Law (Myōhō), which is difficult to encounter and which will bring salvation to all the people in the 10,000 years and future eternity of the Latter Day of the Law. We must be convinced that we are amassing limitless benefits and good causes by upholding our mission to propagate true Buddhism, as we strive to achieve kōsen-rufu in this evil world of the Latter Day of the Law and uphold faith and practice for ourselves and for others.
High Priest Nichinyo Shonin stated:
Now, in the Latter Day of the Law, slander permeates the world and, as a result, the people, unbeknownst to themselves, are exposed to negative karmic bonds. Due to the harmful and toxic effects of slanderous doctrines and religions, they are unable to extricate themselves from a life condition of unhappiness. To save these people, we cannot perform the gentle persuasion of shōju that was practiced during the periods of the Former and Middle Days of the Law. The best and only way is to perform shakubuku, by refuting heresy and revealing the truth. Doing shakubuku is, in fact, the supreme act of compassion to bring salvation to all mankind in the Latter Day of the Law. (Dainichiren, No. 863, p. 58)
The Latter Day of the Law is a time when the hearts of the people become increasingly desolate, as the world is permeated by the five impurities. Moreover, there are many erroneous doctrines that are inappropriate for the times. It is impossible to bring salvation to ourselves and others today by transcribing the sutras or by quietly forming the Zen posture alone and engaging in calm meditation.
We must do compassionate and courageous shakubuku and lead the people to the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching. It is the only way for us to achieve true happiness through the attainment of enlightenment both by ourselves and others. This is how we can achieve our great aspiration of kōsen-rufu and establish the Buddha land, a world of true peace and tranquility. This is the meaning of truly "understanding the time" of the Latter Day of the Law.
I would like to conclude my sermon for today by sincerely praying that we will unite our hearts as one and chant Daimoku together, as we advance toward 2021, the great occasion of the 800th anniversary of the advent of our Founder Nichiren Daishonin. Let us achieve, through practical and methodical means, our personal and chapter objectives that we set in the New Year.