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True Mahayana-An Indestructible Paradise Exists Within Our Lives

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Posted by Glenn on July 12, 2003 09:27:59 UTC

The Lotus sutra, above all other sutras,is highly-honored as supreme in the Buddhism as taught by Nichiren . In history, As Buddhist philosophy beginning gently flowed from India - north through China and Tibet, south into Thailand and Southeast Asia - Buddhism tended to absorb and be influenced by local religious customs and beliefs. The Buddhism that spread to Tibet and China and eventually to Korea and Japan was called Mahayana, meaning "greater vehicle." That which spread southward, to Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka was called Hinayana, for "lesser vehicle," a pejorative term applied to it by the Mahayanists. The Hinayana schools, based on the earlier teachings of Shakyamuni, typically emphasized a strict and highly detailed code of personal conduct geared toward one's personal salvation. The Mahayana schools emphasized the need for Buddhism to be a compassionate means for common people to attain enlightenment - to search for a practical method that could serve as a vehicle for greater numbers (the greater vehicle) to make the journey to Buddhahood. The profusion of different Buddhist sutras and theories came to be a source of great confusion, particularly in China in the first and second centuries. At that time, Chinese scholars were confronted with the random introduction of the various sutras of the many Hinayana schools as well as the Mahayana scriptures. Perplexed by these diverse teachings, Chinese Buddhists attempted to compare and classify the sutras.

By the fifth century A.D., the systematizing of the Buddhist canon had become very advanced. In particular, a priest named Chih-i, later known as the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, developed the definitive standard known as "the five periods and eight teachings." Based on his own enlightenment, which may have rivaled Shakyamuni's, T'ien-t'ai's system classified the sutras chronologically as well as from the standpoint of profundity. He determined that the Lotus Sutra, the penultimate teaching of Shakyamuni expounded toward the end of his life, contained the ultimate truth. T'ien-t'ai formulated this truth as the principle of "three thousand realms in a single moment of life." It employs a phenomenological approach, describing all the kaleidoscopic emotions and mental states that human beings are subject to at any given moment. The theory of three thousand realms in a single moment of life holds that all the innumerable phenomena of the universe are encompassed in a single moment of a common mortal's life. Thus the macrocosm is contained within the microcosm.

The vast dimension of life to which Shakyamuni awoke under the Bodhi tree was beyond the reach of ordinary human consciousness. T'ien-t'ai described this ultimate truth as three thousand realms in a single moment of life, recognizing that the Lotus Sutra was the only sutra to assert that all people - men and women, good and evil, intellectuals and common laborers - had the potential to attain Buddhahood within their lifetimes.

A crucial question remained: How could common people apply this to their lives? Toward that end, T'ien-t'ai advocated a rigorous practice of observing the mind through meditation, delving deeper and deeper until the ultimate truth of three thousand realms in a single moment of life was grasped. Unfortunately, this type of practice was feasible only for monks, who could spend indefinite periods of time contemplating the message implicit in the Lotus Sutra. It was almost impossible for people who worked for a living and had other things on their minds. The full flowering of Buddhism was not to be accomplished until it migrated along trading routes to Japan. It would not be widely practiced and revered today without the incredible courage and insight of a thirteenth-century Japanese monk named Nichiren, who brought the Lotus Sutra into sharp focus in a way that it is accessible to all masses,and had a direct impact on people and their daily lives.

As you know, the teachings of Mahayana(Greater vehicle)Buddhism are subdivided into two. One that postulates a transcendental being which people are taught to believe. These are Provisional Mahayana or preparatory teachings, that is, the teachings expounded before the Lotus sutra-the True Mahayana teachings or the correct Buddha's teahings. Such as the Avatamsaka sutra in which Tibetan Buddhism based their teaching on that sutra. This sutra is said to be first sutra expounded after Shakyamuni attained enlightenement which expounded the Ultimate truth, the enlightenment of Buddha. According to this Sutra, however, the ultimate truth comes from a unique existence(i.e Lord Great Compassion as depicted in that sutra) apart from the phenomenal world. In other words, the sutra says the entire universe including heaven and earth derives from the one Ultimate truth which governs all other existence. In contrast to this teaching, the Lotus sutra, reveals that univesal truth pervades the entire universe and is ONE with all phenomena. According to this [Lotus] sutra the ultimate truth is not something confine to a "unique existence", and therefore, the universe does not begin with the one truth, nor is it governed by the one truth, the truth is ubiquitous in all existence in the universe.

Thus, as you have said, because of this postulation of transcendental being, provisional Mahayana Buddhism is similar to Judeo-Christian or Islamic religion. However, there are Differrences as well. Provisional Mahayana buddhist sutras teaches that a Buddha of perfect enlightenment exist in a Paradise far away in the univese and that beleivers can travel to the land of this transcendental being after death. Christianity or Islam teaches that the supeme being transcends our present life, beyond the world and the universe. That is to say in these religions a transcendental being exists outside of the phenomenal world.

In contrast to these, the Lotus sutra teaches us that instead of transcendental being, the universal self(truth) exist in the depths of our lives within this phenomenal world and the entire universe. In Christianity and pre-Lotus sutra teachings this universal self or the ultimate reality is regarded as "personality". The Lotus sutra regards the reality as a "Law"(Dharma)which underlies all phenomena.

"Ever since then I have been
constantly in this saha world,
preaching the Law, teaching
and converting. And elsewhere
I have led and benefited living
beings in the hundreds, thousands,
ten thousands, millions of nayutas
and asamkhyas of lands." (Lotus sutra, Chap.16)

This passage,in essence, he[Shakyamuni] is saying that the saha(Impure) world is the pure land where the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past dwells eternally. This is a revelation of truly immense significance.

In the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, Shakyamuni had taught that this saha world was impure (a world defiled with earthly desires), and that the pure lands where the Buddhas dwelled lay elsewhere. For example, he taught that the Buddha Amida (Infinite Life) dwelled in the western region of the universe, in the so-called Pure Land of Prefect Bliss, and that the Buddha Yakushi (Teacher of Medicine) lived in the Pure Emerald World in the eastern region of the universe. These explanations of the earlier teachings are still basically adhered to even in the theoretical teaching (or first half) of the Lotus Sutra.

Thus, in the earlier sutras, Shakyamuni established a distinction between this impure saha world and other worlds that are pure. It is with this passage of the "Life Span of the Thus Come One" (16th) chapter that, for the first time, he clearly refutes this way of thinking.

In this passage, he reveals that the saha world is the true land where the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past dwells. The land where the Buddha dwells is called the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. Therefore, this passage clarifies the principle that the saha world is itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.

He then says, "And elsewhere I have led and benefited living beings in the hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas and asamkhyas of lands." In other words, Shakyamuni, who attained enlightenment in the remote past, has been guiding beings in countless other lands outside of the saha world. This indicates that the Buddhas in other lands(as depicted in other sutras,i.e Lord of Great Compassion) are transient projections or emanations of Shakyamuni.

In the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, Shakyamuni had taught that this saha world was impure (a world defiled with earthly desires), and that the pure lands where the Buddhas dwelled lay elsewhere. For example, he taught that the Buddha Amida (Infinite Life) dwelled in the western region of the universe, in the so-called Pure Land of Prefect Bliss, and that the Buddha Yakushi (Teacher of Medicine) lived in the Pure Emerald World in the eastern region of the universe. These explanations of the earlier teachings are still basically adhered to even in the theoretical teaching (or first half) of the Lotus Sutra.

Thus, in the earlier sutras, Shakyamuni established a distinction between this impure saha world and other worlds that are pure. It is with this passage of the "Life Span of the Thus Come One" (16th) chapter that, for the first time, he clearly refutes this way of thinking.

In this passage, he reveals that the saha world is the true land where the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past dwells. The land where the Buddha dwells is called the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. Therefore, this passage clarifies the principle that the saha world is itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.

He then says, "And elsewhere I have led and benefited living beings in the hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas and asamkhyas of lands." In other words, Shakyamuni, who attained enlightenment in the remote past, has been guiding beings in countless other lands outside of the saha world. This indicates that the Buddhas in other lands are transient projections or emanations of Shakyamuni.

In "The Opening of the Eyes," Nichiren Daishonin says:

When Shakyamuni Buddha revealed that he had gained enlightenment in the far distant past, it became apparent that all the other Buddhas were emanations of Shakyamuni. In the earlier sutras and the first half of the Lotus Sutra, he called the regions of the ten directions pure lands and spoke of the present world as an impure land. But now, in the Juryo chapter he has reversed this, revealing that this world is the true land and that the so called pure lands of the ten directions are impure lands, mere provisional lands.

This saha world is the true land where the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past carries out boundless activities and leads all people to happiness. Accordingly, if we were to seek a pure land apart from this saha world, then we would be seeking an ephemeral land outside of the true land. In other words, our efforts would be in vain; it would be as though we were seeking a shadow or apparition.

Why in the earlier sutras did Shakyamuni discuss lands of tranquil light existing apart from the saha world? He did so to arouse a seeking mind in people caught up in the desires of secular life. The lands of tranquil light taught in the earlier sutras were no more than expedient pure lands.

It could be said that in the "Life Span" chapter Shakyamuni refutes the way of thinking that establishes ideal worlds apart from this real world. Human beings have a certain escapist tendency; we are inclined to believe that if we could just get away from reality and go to some different realm, then we could become happy. Illusory happiness can never be anything more than an illusion. The "Life Span" chapter demolishes this illusory view.

In the "Ongi Kuden" (Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings), Nichiren Daishonin says, "It is not the case that he [the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra] leaves his present place and goes to some other place.... Now the places where Nichiren and his followers chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, be they 'mountain valleys' or 'wilderness,' are all the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light".

A place where people embrace the Mystic Law is the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. The truth is that the saha world is the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.At the same time, however- as implied by the Sanskrit term saha, meaning endurance-this is a world where people have to continually endure various sorrows and sufferings. Just what does it mean to say that a world such as this is itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light?

This points to a great change in the meaning of "saha world" that occurs in the "Life Span" chapter. Instead of a "place of tragedy" where people must continually endure suffering and sadness, it becomes a "stage for people's liberation," where the Buddha continually saves the people while enduring all manner of hardships.

From the standpoint of the Daishonin's teaching, Shakyamuni who attained Buddhahood in the remote past is not the only one active on this "stage." As I have already explained, the implicit meaning of "actual attainment in the remote past" is for us to return to the life of kuon ganjo(time without beginning.

President Toda, citing the sutra passage, "Ever since then I have been constantly in this saha world, preaching the Law, teaching and converting," said: "This indicates that the great universe itself equals the Gohonzon. Since the time of kuon ganjo, the life of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo-the Mystic Law, has existed together with the universe."

When we base ourselves on the life of kuon ganjo, the saha world becomes the universe. It becomes a great stage on which we can freely take action.
When we embrace the Mystic Law and open up within ourselves the great life of kuon ganjo ordinary people can manifest our true identity as champions with a mission who dedicate their lives to the liberation of all people while calmly enduring the difficulties of the saha world.

The way of life of a courageous Bodhisattva of the Earth lies in diving headlong into the most difficult situations, embracing those experiencing the greatest suffering; talking to and protecting friends; and, through it all, creating a revolution of hope-a revolution toward the understanding that the saha world is itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. When we lead such a way of life, our spirit shines.

There is an old Japanese saying, "Despise and abandon the impure world, and seek rebirth in the pure land." For a long time, Buddhism has been thought of as an escapist, passive and world-despising religion, as epitomized by this saying urging people to reject the real world that is so full of suffering and yearn for rebirth in the Pure Land of Perfect Bliss after death.

But the concept of a pure land existing apart from reality is nothing more than an expedient means expounded in accordance with people's capacity. While such a teaching may give temporary consolation, it will not enable people to realize true happiness.

In his treatise "Shugo Kokka Ron" (On the Protection of the Country), Nichiren Daishonin raises the question of whether those who practice the Lotus Sutra should pray to be reborn in a pure land. In answer, he first points out that in the "Life Span" chapter-the heart of the 28 chapter Lotus Sutra-Shakyamuni says, "I have been constantly in this saha world." If this is correct, he reasons, then Shakyamuni who revealed his identity as the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past is present in this saha world. Therefore, he concludes, there is no need to abandon this saha world and seek rebirth in some other land. Rather, the Daishonin teaches, we should seek the pure land in this saha world.

In essence, this world of reality is itself the pure land(Heavenly Bliss). And the spirit of Buddhism lies in tenaciously working to make that original pure land become manifest. Buddhism is certainly not a religion that encourages people to aim solely for personal enlightenment, secluding themselves away from others and society in mountains and forests. Nor is it a religion that urges people to give up on the present and place all their hopes in the promise of happiness after death.

"Pure land" has the active and practical meaning of "purifying the land of the Buddha." This is the original denotation of "pure land." In Japanese Buddhism, this original meaning has completely vanished, and the term has come to indicate a world after death, an afterworld.

"Pure land," in other words, means "purify the land." It indicates taking action to improve the environment and construct a better society.

The Buddhist scriptures go so far as to identify specific actions to be taken to transform the land. For example, Shakyamuni at one point says: "In barren regions, you should plant trees and make verdant groves. You should build bridges over rivers. In arid regions, you should dig wells and irrigate the land. You should build rest areas on roadsides for all travelers to use. The benefit of those who carry out these tasks will increase by the day, and their lives will reflect immutable truth."

King Ashoka (r.c. 268-232 BC.) of India put this spirit of Shakyamuni into practice as the governing ideal of his kingdom.

Nagarjuna, a great Buddhist scholar who lived during the Former Day of the Law, admonished a king of the time to "protect the sick, orphans and the poor"; to "carry out activities to aid those in areas ravaged by natural disasters, poor harvests and epidemics"; and to "not use his power to imprison people unjustly."

It must be said that the "pure land," in terms of its original meaning in Buddhism, is alive and well only in the ideals and practice of the Daishonin's teaching of rissho ankoku, or securing the peace of the land through the propagation of true Buddhism. The true heritage of Buddhism is found in the spirit to transform the actual land in which we live for the better.

President Toda once said: "We must make this saha world of ours a place of tranquillity and peace. Atomic weapons must not fly and bombs must not rain down from airplanes. There must be no killing of people or death by starvation in the world where we are spreading the Mystic Law."

When we do our Buddhist practice, we offer prayers for world peace and for the happiness of all people. Every day, we listen to the worries of friends and exert ourselves in our practice for kosen-rufu(World peace). Truly this is the noble practice for "purifying the land of the Buddha." As when you advance with this determination we are, in the words of the sutra, "preaching the Law, teaching and converting in this saha world."

..."Such are my transcendental powers.
For asamkhya kalpas
constantly I have dwelled on Holy Eagle Peak
and in various other places.
When living beings witness the end of a kalpa
and all is consumed in a great fire,
this, my land, remains safe and tranquil,
constantly filled with heavenly and human beings.
The halls and pavilions in its gardens and groves
are adorned with various kinds of gems.
Jeweled trees abound in flowers and fruit
where living beings enjoy themselves at ease.
The gods strike heavenly drums,
constantly making many kinds of music.
Mandarava blossoms rain down,
scattering over the Buddha and the great assembly."...
..."My pure land is not destroyed,
yet the multitude see it as consumed
in fire,with anxiety, fear and other
sufferings filling it everywhere.
These living beings with their various
offenses,through causes arising from their
evil actions, spend asamkhya kalpas
without hearing the name of the Three
Treasures." (Lotus sutra, Chap.16)

What is life's purpose? It is happiness. And what is the aim of religion or belief? Again, it must be human happiness.What, then, is happiness? What is a happy life?

If happiness lay in fleeting pleasures, then the world would abound with happiness. If true happiness could be found in a life of amusement, then devoting ourselves to such an existence would be most appropriate. But viewed from the standpoint of life's eternity over past, present and future, such happiness is a phantasm and in the end it will prove hollow.

Buddhism teaches how we can realize eternally indestructible happiness or, as President Toda put it, a "state of life of absolute happiness." The passage we are studying this time clarifies what this essentially entails. To begin with, "For asamkhya kalpas /constantly I have dwelled on Holy Eagle Peak / and in various other places" literally means that the Buddha has dwelled at Eagle Peak for an extremely long period of time, and that he has also appeared in various worlds in the ten directions.

From the standpoint of the Daishonin's Buddhism, this indicates that the Gohonzon solemnly exists in our lives at all times and wherever we may be. The Gohonzon is always with us and "at our sides," not parting with us for even an instant. It is always with us. Let us engrave this in our hearts.

From the next line, "When living beings witness the end of a kalpa...," we get a description of two completely different worlds.

"When living beings witness the end of a kalpa / and all is consumed in a great fire" describes a world of suffering that reflects the state of people's lives. It is truly a hellish condition of suffering and fear.

But from the line, "this, my land, remains safe and tranquil," the scene changes completely. Here, there is peace, tranquillity and vibrancy. There is joy and brilliance, lively music and rich culture. This is the true world as perceived by the Buddha with his vast state of life.

These two worlds are in fact one and the same. Ordinary people and the Buddha perceive and experience the same world in totally different ways.

Nichiren Daishonin says that the "great fire" people perceive is the "great fire of earthly desires" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 757). It is not the world itself but their own lives being consumed in flames. And at this they tremble in fear.

And so the Buddha counsels them, saying in effect: "What do you have to fear or lament? The truth is not at all what you perceive!" And he tells them, "This land where I dwell is eternally peaceful and tranquil."

With these few words, the Buddha shatters people's illusions and opens up their shallow, limited states of life. These words of great compassion express the Buddha's desire to elevate all people, all humankind, to the great state of life of Buddhahood. The pre-Lotus Sutra teachings taught that the Buddha and ordinary people lived in different worlds . They explained that people had to cross over from "this world," the saha world, to the "other world" where the Buddha was said to dwell-and that this was only possible by practicing for an extremely long time.

But the "Life Span of the Thus Come One" (16th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra explains that the Buddha eternally expounds the Law in this saha world. It teaches that this world is the Buddha land, and that the Buddha and ordinary people dwell in the same saha(Enduring/Suffering) world.

This saha world is the true land of the eternal Buddha. It is the true stage on which the undying Buddha resolutely struggles to lead all people to happiness. Therefore, it absolutely cannot be destroyed. So the Buddha declares. When we firmly base ourselves on these words of the Buddha, we are fearless. Our confidence that we dwell in an indestructible pure land manifests as indestructible courage and inexhaustible hope. And the power to transform an impermanent and impure world into an eternal pure land wells forth in our lives.

Nichiren Daishonin says: "There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds". And:

You must quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart and embrace the one true vehicle, the single good doctrine [of the Lotus Sutra]. If you do so, then the threefold world will become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land ever decline? The regions in the ten directions will all become treasure realms, and how could a treasure realm ever suffer harm? (MW-2 [2nd ed.], 40)

The world changes completely depending on our frame of mind or single-minded determination. On the most fundamental level, peace can only be realized through a revolution in people's lives.

"Yet the multitude see it as consumed in fire" refers to the saha world as it appears to those who wander from illusion to illusion, from darkness to darkness. At the end of such wandering, they see only an abyss of despair and hopelessness. Therefore it appears to them that the world is consumed in the flames of an all-destroying fire that spells the world's end. But it is not actually an all-destroying fire; the flames they see are merely the fires of their own earthly desires.

Again, as indicated by the lines, "with anxiety, fear and other sufferings / filling it everywhere," to those who labor under such delusion, this world is rife with anxiety, fear and all manner of suffering.

Here, the word see is central to the meaning. It appears to people that the world is filled with suffering, but this is not the reality. As observed by the Buddha, this world is a solemn Buddha land, a pure land. Therefore the Daishonin says, "What ever trouble may occur, consider it as transitory as a dream and think only of the Lotus Sutra" (MW-1, 147).

Viewing the troubles and hardships of life as "transitory as a dream" entails having an immense spirit. This is the power of single-minded determination, the power of faith. Belief entails a great revolution in our frame of mind. And this revolution constitutes the driving force for transforming our lives and our surroundings.

Those unaware of this power are miserable. They are referred to in the subsequent passage: "These living beings with their various offenses, / through causes arising from their evil actions, / spend asamkhya kalpas / without hearing the name of the Three Treasures."

"Offenses" fundamentally means "disbelief in the Mystic Law." "Causes arising from their evil actions" means "endless wandering through earthly desires, karma and suffering."

Such people, while physically dwelling in the Buddha land, enshroud their surroundings in a mist, and so fail to see the Buddha who is before their very eyes. Owing to disbelief, they firmly close the doors to their hearts, and as a result cannot even hear about the three treasures, even after a duration of asamkhya kalpas.

The three treasures are: the Buddha, the Buddha's teaching (the Law), and the gathering of people who protect and spread that teaching (the Priest). The three treasures hold the key to people's salvation. Therefore they are most highly revered in Buddhism as treasures that lead people to happiness.

Here I will mention something about the doctrine of the unity of the three mystic principles found in the "Life Span of the Thus Come One" (16th) chapter. The passage that begins "When living beings witness the end of a kalpa," which we also studied in the previous installment (March 1 World Tribune), explains that the saha world is in truth an indestructible pure land. This is the revelation of the mystic principle of the true land indicated in the earlier, prose section of the chapter in such passages as, "I have been constantly in this saha world, preaching the Law, teaching and converting" (LS16, 225).

Again, passages like "it has been immeasurable, boundless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of kalpas since I in fact attained Buddhahood" (LS16, 225) and "since I attained Buddhahood, an extremely long period of time has passed" (LS 16, 227) explain that the Buddha is always in this world and that his life is inextinguishable. This is the mystic principle of true effect.

Finally, "originally I practiced the bodhisattva way, and the life span that I acquired then has yet to come to an end but will last twice the number of years that have already passed" explains the permanence of the life of the nine worlds. This is the mystic principle of true cause.

These three mystic principles are all expounded in the "Life Span" chapter of the Lotus sutra, and this is termed the unity of the three mystic principles.

The unity of the three mystic principles in the essential teaching, or second half, of the Lotus Sutra --- indicating that the Buddha, the beings of the nine worlds and the land are all eternal and indestructible --- completes the Lotus Sutra's doctrine of "ichinen sanzen",or a life-moment possesses 3,000 realms. This profound and supreme Buddhist doctrine or theory, transcending distinctions among the ten worlds(realms of existence) and between life and its environment, clarifies that the 3,000 realms of all phenomena are all eternal and everlasting. It reveals the great and eternal entity of life that encompasses within it the 3,000 realms of all phenomena.

On the other hand,Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism put this theory into of actual practice of ichinen sanzen,in the form of "Gohonzon"-a mandala, opens the path whereby all people, without exception, of the Latter Day([modern age]can manifest this great and eternal life[of the universe], which he identified as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo-the Ulitmate prayer or invocation in Nichiren Buddhism [in front of the GOhonzon].

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