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Fifth "500" Years To Eternity - The Beginning Of The Latter Day:

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Posted by Glenn on July 26, 2002 11:50:41 UTC

***Shakyamuni Buddha said that his teachings would retain the power to benefit people during the limited period of 2,000 years after his passing. And,It has 2,230 years and more have now passed since Shakyamuni Buddha entered nirvana that Nichiren's advent on this world began and he all had undergone and certainly fit in accord on this sutra, his actions and experienced, as the votary of the Lotus sutra, what has been prophecied by Shakyamuni Buddha stated in the Lotus sutra.

“The end is coming!” On December 31, 999, many people in Christian Europe fearfully anticipated the catastrophic end of the world and the judgment of their souls. But as Pope Sylvester II conducted midnight mass in the Vatican, nothing happened. A half-century later, the similar millennium fear swept Buddhist Japan. Many believed that the year 1052 marked the first year of “the Latter Day of the Law,” a period in which they expected the world to be lost to suffering and chaos. As aristocratic rule was collapsing and the warrior class was gaining more influence, Japanese society at the time was in turmoil. For the next several centuries, as war, famine and pestilence continued to rack the country, many Japanese were convinced that they were indeed living in the Latter Day of the Law. This apocalyptic frenzy in medieval Japan was based on the concept of the “three time periods” of Buddhism—the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law (or Shakyamuni’s teaching). These are the three consecutive stages into which the time after the Buddha’s death is divided. There are several views on the length of these three periods. Many Buddhists, including T’ien-t’ai, Dengyo and Nichiren Daishonin, adopted the explanation found in the Sutra of the Great Assembly, which describes five consecutive five-hundred-year periods following Shakyamuni’s death. The first two five-hundred-year periods are regarded as the Former Day of the Law, the following two five-hundred-year periods as the Middle Day of the Law, and the fifth five-hundred-year period as the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law, which continues indefinitely.

Nichiren Daishonin describes the three time periods of Buddhism in terms of teaching, practice and proof. “Teaching” refers to the Buddha’s teaching, “practice” to the practice set forth by the Buddha’s teaching, and “proof ” to the resulting benefit of that practice. During the Former Day of the Law, the pure spirit of Buddhism remained intact, and people practiced Buddhism correctly and enjoyed the benefit of their practice. Thus, in the Former Day, the teaching, practice and proof of Buddhism were all present. During the Middle Day of the Law, Buddhism flourished in society, but the emphasis was placed on formalities and rituals. The vibrant humanism of Buddhism was beginning to decline. In this stage, people practiced Buddhism yet could not enjoy the fullest extent of its benefit. In the present Latter Day of the Law, people neither practice the Buddha’s teaching nor gain its benefit. While the teaching is present, there is neither practice nor proof. The Sutra of the Great Assembly describes this degenerate stage in the history of Buddhism as a time in which “quarrels and disputes will arise among the adherents to my [Shakyamuni’s] teachings, and the Pure Law will become obscured and lost” (quoted in The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 3, p. 85). That is, during the Latter Day of the Law, people lose sight of the Buddha’s true teaching and suffer from egoistic delusions.

According to the ancient Chinese dating of Shakyamuni’s death as 949 BCE, most Japanese thought that the year 1052[Nichiren lived 1222-1282] marked the beginning of the third millennium after the Buddha’s passing, that is, the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. Most modern scholars, however, date Shakyamuni’s death at either around 480 or 380 BCE. Based on these recent datings, the time in which Nichiren Daishonin lived would correspond to 1,600 or 1,700 years after Shakyamuni’s death.

When examining this discrepancy, it is important to note that the Daishonin deeply considered the conditions of religion and society at large in light of statements in various sutras. This fact is more significant than simple arithmetic. The Daishonin was living in the midst of conditions that could be best characterized as those of the Latter Day of the Law as described by the Buddhist teachings. In addition, it is important to note that expressions like “500 years” and “1,000 years” in the Buddhist scriptures should be taken not so much as a succinct fixed length of time, but as a description of a magnitude of time and a corresponding flow of events. From this standpoint as well, the conditions in the realm of Buddhism and society predicted for the Latter Day of the Law in the Buddhist sutras are more relevant a gauge than the precise number of years.

Why is Shakyamuni’s teaching said to fall into obscurity in the Latter Day of the Law? Because in the Latter Day, the sutras teach, people are profoundly deluded. Just as medicine kept beyond its expiration date can lose its power to combat pain or illnesses, Shakyamuni’s teaching has over the millennia lost its power to save ordinary people from suffering. In this regard, the Daishonin states: “In this way, the extremity of greed, anger and stupidity in people’s minds in the impure world of the latter age is beyond the power of any sage or worthy man to control” (MW-6, 141). The Daishonin here indicates that Shakyamuni’s teaching is no longer effective in relieving the people of the Latter Day of their suffering and confusion.

Although the Latter Day of the Law is described as rife with “quarrels and disputes,” this does not simply mean that there is an abundance of Buddhist dialogue and debate. In the history of Buddhism prior to the Daishonin’s time, there had been many doctrinal debates to evaluate the merits of various teachings. But in these earlier times, practitioners shared a strong desire to seek the correct teaching. Because of this seeking spirit, those who lost a debate over doctrine would gladly discard their own teaching or teacher and adopt those of the one who had successfully pointed out their error. In contrast, in the Latter Day, most people, including Buddhist practitioners, are so entrenched in greed, anger and ignorance that they refuse to follow the correct teaching even when they encounter it. Consumed with pride and ego, they tend to value status, position and fame more than the heart and spirit of Buddhism. So, in league with those in power, they persecute the practitioners of the correct teaching. The Lotus Sutra explains that the sutra’s practitioners after Shakyamuni’s death will encounter various forms of oppression from religious authority. What underlies such persecutions is the tendency, particularly among the Buddhist clergy, to be attached to status or wealth instead of striving to uphold the correct teaching.

The corruption of priesthood that characterizes the Latter Day of the Law was rampant during the Daishonin’s time. For example, Ryokan—a powerful and highly revered priest in Kamakura—was behind the government’s failed attempt to execute the Daishonin and his exile to Sado Island. Threatened by the Daishonin’s forthright challenge to the teachings they espoused, many influential priests felt enmity and contempt for the Daishonin.

While the characteristics of the Latter Day—corrupt and arrogant clergy and the people immersed in misery—were apparent in thirteenth-century Japan, the Daishonin remained optimistic. To be sure, the Latter Day of the Law signified the end of Buddhism to many; but Nichiren Daishonin viewed it as a new era in which the teaching by which all Buddhas attain enlightenment is to be revealed and spread among the common people. He confidently declared: “But that which is to come after ‘the Pure Law has become obscured and lost’ is the Great Pure Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the heart and core of the Lotus Sutra. This is what should be propagated and spread throughout the continent of Jambudvipa. . . so that it may be chanted by all persons. . .” (MW-3, 87-8). While he recognized the bleak reality of people’s lives in his contemporary society, the Daishonin viewed the arrival of the Latter Day of the Law as an opportunity to bring a new and powerful light of hope to humanity. He transformed the concept of the Latter Day of the Law from one of a fearful end into one of a hopeful new beginning.

Standing now as we do at the brink of a new millennium, his spirit can serve as a model for all those who have their gazed fixed upon the future.

Someone asked Nichiren regarding the Buddha's prophecy. IT says:

The seventh volume of the Lotus Sutra states, "In the fifth five hundred years after my death, accomplish worldwide kosen-rufu and never allow its flow to cease." On the one hand, it is deplorable to me that more than twenty-two hundred and twenty years have already passed since the Buddha's death. What evil karma prevented me from being born in his lifetime? Why couldn't I have seen the four ranks of saints in the Former Day of the Law, or T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo in the Middle Day? On the other hand, I rejoice at whatever good fortune enabled me to be born in the fifth five hundred years and read these words of the Buddha.

Even if I had been born in the Buddha's lifetime, it would have served no purpose, for those who embraced the first four tastes of teachings had not yet heard of the Lotus Sutra. Again, my being born in either the Former or Middle Day of the Law would have been meaningless, for neither the scholars of the three sects to the south or the seven sects to the north of the Yangtze River, nor those of the Kegon, Shingon or any other sects, believed in the Lotus Sutra.

The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai said, "In the fifth five hundred years, the Mystic Way shall spread and benefit mankind far into the future." Doesn't this describe the time of kosen-rufu? The Great Teacher Dengyo said, "The Former and Middle Days are almost over, and the Latter Day is near at hand." These words reveal how he longed to live at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. When one compares the rewards of living in the three different periods, it is clear that mine surpass not only those of Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, but those of T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo.

Question: You are not the only person living in this five-hundred-year period; why are you in particular so overjoyed to be living now?

Answer: The fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra reads, "Since hatred and jealousy abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing?" The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai stated, "It will be 'much worse' in the future because the Lotus Sutra is so hard to teach." The Great Teacher Miao-lo explained, "T'ien-t'ai calls the Lotus Sutra 'hard to teach' to let us know how hard it is to enable people to understand it." Priest Chih-tu stated, "It is said that good medicine tastes bitter. Similarly, this sutra dispels attachments to the five vehicles and establishes the one supreme teaching. It reproaches common mortals and censures saints, denies Mahayana and refutes Hinayana... All those who are repudiated persecute the believers in the Lotus Sutra." The Great Teacher Dengyo said, "The propagation of the true teaching will begin in the age when the Middle Day of the Law ends and the Latter Day opens, in a land to the east of T'ang and to the west of Katsu, among people stained by the five impurities who live in a time of conflict." The sutra says, "Since hatred and jealousy abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing?' There is good reason for this statement." The Great Teacher Dengyo wrote as though describing his own day, but actually, he was referring to the present time. That is what gives such profound meaning to his words, "The Former and Middle Days are almost over, and the Latter Day is near at hand."

The sutra states, "Devils, people under their influence, spirits of the heavens and seas, sinister demons called Yasha, demons which drain human vitality and others will seize the advantage." Another portion of the sutra details these "others": "Yasha, nimble demons, hungry demons, demons of filth, vengeful demons, red, orange, black, and blue demons, and so on." These passages explain that those who in previous lifetimes embraced the four tastes or the three teachings, Brahmanism, or the doctrines of Humanity and Heaven appear in this life as devils, spirits or human beings who persecute the votary of the true and perfect teaching when they see or hear of him.

Question: In comparing the Former and Middle days with the Latter Day of the Law, it seems to me that the first two periods were far superior in terms of both time and the people's inborn capacity. Why are these factors of time and capacity ignored in the Lotus Sutra which refers exclusively to this age?

Answer: The Buddha's thoughts are difficult to fathom. Indeed, even I am still unable to do so. We may attempt to understand, however, by taking Hinayana Buddhism as a point of clarification. During the thousand years of the Former Day of the Law, Hinayana was fully endowed with teaching, practice and proof. In the subsequent thousand years of the Middle Day, teaching and practice still remained, but no longer was there any proof. Now in the Latter Day of the Law, the teaching remains, but there is neither practice nor proof. To examine this from the standpoint of the Lotus Sutra: In the thousand years of the Former Day of the Law, those who possessed all three had most probably formed a bond of faith with the Lotus Sutra during the Buddha's lifetime. They were born again in the Former Day and were able to obtain the proof of Hinayana through its teaching and practice. Those born in the Middle Day had not developed strong ties to the Lotus Sutra during the Buddha's lifetime and were therefore unable to attain proof through Hinayana. They turned instead to provisional Mahayana and were thus able to be born in pure lands throughout the universe. In the Latter Day of the Law, there is no longer any benefit to be gained from either Mahayana or Hinayana. Hinayana retains nothing but its teaching; it has neither practice nor proof. Mahayana still has its teaching and practice but no longer provides any benefit whatsoever, either conspicuous or inconspicuous.

Furthermore, the sects of Hinayana and provisional Mahayana established during the Former and Middle Days of the Law cling all the more stubbornly to their doctrines as they enter the Latter Day. Those who espouse Hinayana reject Mahayana, and those who espouse provisional teachings attack the true teachings, until the country is overrun with people who slander. Those who fall into the evil paths because of their mistaken practice of Buddhism outnumber the dust particles which comprise the earth, while those who attain Buddhahood by practicing the true teachings are fewer than the dust specks you can hold on a fingernail. The gods have now abandoned the country, and only demons remain, possessing the minds and bodies of the ruler, his subjects, priests and nuns, and causing them to vilify and humiliate the votary of the Lotus Sutra.

If, however, in this time period after the Buddha's death, one renounces his attachments to the four tastes and three teachings and converts to faith in the Lotus Sutra which is true Mahayana, all the gods and countless Bodhisattvas of the Earth will protect him as the votary of the Lotus Sutra. Under their protection, he will establish the true object of worship represented by the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo and bring it to the entire world.

It was the same with Bodhisattva Fukyo who lived in the Middle Day of the Buddha Ionno's Law. He propagated the teaching of twenty-four characters which begins, "I deeply respect...," and was persecuted and attacked with staves. The words of the twenty-four characters of Fukyo are different from the five characters of Nichiren, but their spirit is the same. The method of propagation is also exactly the same both at the end of the Buddha Ionno's Middle Day and now at the beginning of the Latter Day. Bodhisattva Fukyo was a person of shozuiki and Nichiren is a common mortal of myoji-soku, which are both the initial stages of practice.

Question: How can you be certain that you are the votary of the Lotus Sutra prophesied to appear at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law?

Answer: A passage from the Lotus Sutra states, " much worse will it be in the world after his passing?" Another passage reads, "There are many ignorant people who will vilify and attack us, the votaries of the Lotus Sutra, with swords and staves." A third passage says, "We will be banished again and again." A fourth reads, "The people will be full of hostility, and it will be extremely difficult to believe." A fifth reads, "They will stone him and beat him with staves." A sixth reads, "Devils, people under their influence, spirits of the heavens and seas, sinister demons called Yasha, demons which drain human vitality and others will seize the advantage."

That the people might believe in the Buddha's words, I have sought throughout Japan, among the sovereign and his subjects, among priests and nuns, lay men and women, for one who has fulfilled these explicit predictions, but I can find none other than myself. Now is most certainly the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law, but had Nichiren not appeared, the Buddha's predictions would be false.

Question: You are an extremely arrogant priest--even more arrogant than Mahadeva or Sunakshatra. Is this not so?

Answer: Slandering Nichiren is a sin even graver than those of Devadatta or Vimalamitra. My words may sound arrogant, but my sole purpose is to fulfill the Buddha's predictions and reveal the truth of his teachings. In all Japan, who but Nichiren can be called the votary of the Lotus Sutra? By denouncing Nichiren, you will make lies of all the Buddha's prophecies. Are you not then an extremely evil man?

Question: You certainly fit the Buddha's prophecies. But are there perhaps not other votaries of the Lotus Sutra in India or China?

Answer: There cannot be two suns in the world. Can there be two sovereigns in one country?

Question: What proof do you have of this?

Answer: The moon appears in the west and gradually shines eastward, while the sun rises in the east and casts its rays to the west. The same is true of Buddhism. It spread from west to east in the Former and Middle Days of the Law, but will travel from east to west in the Latter Day. The Great Teacher Miao-lo said, "Buddhism has been lost in India, and they are seeking it abroad." Thus there is no Buddhism in India anymore. One hundred fifty years ago in China, during the reign of Emperor Kao-tsung, barbarians from the north invaded the Eastern Capital and put an end to what little was left of both Buddhism and the political order there. Now, not one Hinayana sutra remains in China and most Mahayana sutras have also been lost. Even when Jakusho and other priests set out from Japan to take some sutras to China, there was no one there to whom these sutras could be taught. Their efforts were as meaningless as trying to teach Buddhism to wooden or stone statues garbed in priests' robes and carrying mendicants' bowls. That is why Tsun-shih said, "Buddhism was first transmitted from the west, just as the moon first appears in the west. Now Buddhism returns from the east like the sun rising in the east." The words of Miao-lo and Tsun-shih make it clear that Buddhism is lost in both India and China.

Question: Now I can see there is no Buddhism in either India or China, but how do you know there is no Buddhism in the other three lands--to the east, west and north?

Answer: The eighth volume of the Lotus Sutra states, "After the Buddha's death, I will spread this sutra within the entire southern land and never allow it to perish." The word "within" indicates that the other three lands were excluded.

Question: You have fulfilled the Buddha's prophecy; now what do you yourself predict?

Answer: There can be no doubt that the fifth five-hundred-year period has already begun as prophesied by the Buddha. I say that, without fail, Buddhism shall arise and flow forth from the east, from the land of Japan. Omens will occur in the form of natural disasters of a magnitude greater than ever before witnessed in the Former or Middle Day of the Law. When the Buddha was born, when he turned the wheel of doctrine, and also when he entered nirvana, the omens, both auspicious and inauspicious, were greater than any ever observed. The Buddha is the teacher of all saints. The sutras describe how, at the time of his birth, five colors of light shone forth in all directions, and the night became as bright as noon. At the time of his death, twelve white arcs crossed the sky from north to south, the sun's light was extinguished, and the day became as dark as midnight. There followed the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law; saints, some Buddhist and some not, were born and died, but never were there any omens of such magnitude.

However, from the beginning of the Shoka period through this year, there have been tremendous earthquakes and extraordinary phenomena in the heavens, exactly like the signs which marked the Buddha's birth and death. Know that a saint like the Buddha has been born. A great comet crossed the sky, but for which sovereign or subject did this omen come? The earth tilted, and gaping fissures opened three times, but for which saint or sage did this occur? You should realize that these great omens, both good and bad, are of no ordinary significance. They are signs that the Great Pure Law is ascending and the Pure Law is in decline. T'ien-t'ai stated, "By observing the fury of the rain, we can tell the greatness of the dragon that caused it, and by observing the flourishing of the lotus flowers, we can tell the depth of the pond they grow in." Miao-lo said, "Wise men can see omens and what they foretell, as snakes know the way of snakes."

Twenty-one years ago I, Nichiren, understood what was to come. Since then I have suffered persecution day after day and month after month. In the last two or three years, among other things, I was almost put to death. The chances are one in ten thousand that I will survive the year or even the month. If anyone questions these things, let him ask my disciples for details. What joy is ours to expiate in one lifetime our slanders from the eternal past! How fortunate to serve the Buddha who has never been known until now! I pray that before anything else I can guide to the truth the sovereign and those others who persecuted me. I will tell the Buddha about all the disciples who have aided me, and before they die, I will share the great blessings of this faith with my parents who gave me life. Now as if in a dream I understand the heart of the Hoto chapter, which reads, "To hurl Mount Sumeru into countless Buddha lands would not be difficult...but to spread this sutra in the evil age after the Buddha's death is difficult." The Great Teacher Dengyo stated, "Shakyamuni taught that the shallow is easy to embrace, but the profound is difficult. To discard the shallow and seek the profound requires courage." The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai practiced in a manner true to Shakyamuni's teachings and spread the Hokke sect throughout China. Dengyo and his followers received the doctrine from T'ien-t'ai and disseminated it throughout Japan. Nichiren of Awa Province inherited the lineage of Buddhism from these three teachers and propagated the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. Together they should be called "the four masters of Buddhism in the three countries."

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