THE DHARMA FLOWER SUTRA (Lotus Sutra) SEEN THROUGH THE ORAL TRANSMISSION OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN
Essays on the Buddha Teaching
The Teaching of Shākyamuni
The Life of Shākyamuni
The Triple Entity of the Buddha (sanjin, Trikāya)
The Individual Vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna)
The Universal Vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna)
The Teachings derived from the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work (shakumon)
The Teaching of the Original Archetypal State (honmon)
The Five Periods and the Four Ways of Teaching
The Reaches of the Mind (jinzū, abhijña)
The Teaching of Nichiren
Terms and concepts common to all Buddhist teachings
The Teaching of Shākyamuni
The Life of Shākyamuni
Shākyamuni was the historical Buddha and the founder of the Buddha teaching. As the Buddha, he was endowed with the titles of the enlightened – 1) Nyorai (Tathāgata), One who has arrived at a perfect understanding of the suchness of existence; 2) Ōgu (Arhat), Worthy of offerings; 3) Shōhenchi (Samyak Sambuddha), Correctly and universally enlightened; 4) Myōgyō-soku (Vidyā-charana-samppanna), Whose knowledge and conduct are perfect; 5) Zensei (Sugata), Who is completely free from the cycles of living and dying; 6) Sekenge (Lokavit), Understanding of the realms of existence; 7) Mujōji (Anuttara), Supreme Lord; 8) Jyōgo-jōbu (Purusha-damaya-sārathi), The Master who brings the passions and delusions of sentient beings into harmonious control; 9) Tenninshi (Shasta-deva-manushyanam), The Teacher of humankind and the deva (ten); 10) Seson (Bhagavat), and the Buddha who is the World Honoured One.
Shaka (Shakya) is the name of Shākyamuni’s family and the word “muni” roughly means a sage. Shākyamuni’s birth date is not precisely known, but it seems to have been somewhere between 565 and 563 BCE. His father was king (rāja) of the Shaka (Shakya) clan whose capital was in Kapilavastu in Central India. In the same way as his father, Shākyamuni was a member of the Kshatrya caste of rulers and warriors [although he later rejected the caste system].
According to the traditional accounts of Shākyamuni’s birth, Queen Mahāmaya, at the time when she was heavily pregnant, was returning to her father’s home in order to give birth there. Having arrived at Lumbinī Park, she gave birth to Shākyamuni.
It is said that when he was born, Shākyamuni stepped seven paces in all four directions. With each direction he said, “I am alone, honoured, among humankind and the deva (ten). In the threefold realm of existence where sentient beings have appetites and desires, who are incarnated in a subjective materiality with physical surroundings, and, at the same time, are endowed with the immateriality of the dimensions of fantasies, dreams, thoughts and ideas (sangai, triloka), I will save them from their sufferings.”
His mother died as a result of the birth, and, several days after, the baby was put into the care of an aunt, Makahajahadai (Mahāprajāpatî). Shākyamuni was given the traditional education of a crown prince. Undoubtedly he was trained in the ways of a royal court, the religious and secular literature of his time, as well as in the various military arts.
As Shākyamuni grew older, he tended to become more and more introspective. Thus his father became concerned as to whether he could succeed to the throne. The king decided that it would be better if his son were to marry. As a result, his father arranged his marriage to Yashudara (Yashodharā) at a time when Shākyamuni was about nineteen years old.
Nevertheless did not affect Shākyamuni as to his destiny. His meditative introspection engrossed him all the more. He became extremely preoccupied with the problems of living and dying. Then finally, he decided to lead the life of a Brahmanical ascetic.
Shākyamuni did, however, father one son, Ragora (Rāhula), who later in the same way as his wife and aunt became the Buddha’s disciple. As tradition would have it, when Shākyamuni was around twenty-nine, during the night he mounted his white horse, accompanied by only a single retainer. Rejecting the mundane world, he then set upon his course to become a sannyasi. The following day he had reached the shore of the Anuma River where he shaved his head as a gesture of leaving the laity, so as to become an ascetic. There he dismissed his retainer and went on alone.
At first he visited various renowned masters of the Dharma but found that their teachings were incomplete. From then on, Shākyamuni followed the path of asceticism for six years. The folkloric tradition says that Shākyamuni’s father King Jōbon (Suddhadana) sent five men to protect and accompany his son in his practice. The folkloric tradition also states that Shākyamuni continued to practise until his body was like a skeleton and his eyes had sunk deep into his head.
However, he realised that by castigating his body he would never expand his mind in order to fully understand the meaning and workings of existence. There and then he rejected the austere ascetic practices. He made his way to a riverbank where he cleansed his body. [Indian tradition has it that ascetics cover their bodies with ashes.] A girl from a neighbouring village gave him a bowl of milk curds and gradually he regained his strength.
Shākyamuni then made his way beyond the forest where he had done his austere practices to a place which is now known as Buddhagāya and sat down under a pippala (pipal) tree, later known as the bodhi tree. The story has it that while Shākyamuni was meditating, many demons presented themselves in desirable manifestations and tried to tempt him and divert him from his aim to fully understand and realise the significance of existence. But Shākyamuni was able to unmask and overcome all terrestrial, negative qualities.
When Shākyamuni was around thirty years old, he became fully enlightened. On his attainment to enlightenment and becoming the Buddha, he faced another inner struggle, as to whether to keep his realisation to himself or to try to explain it to ordinary people so as to enlighten them as well. On account of his compassion for all sentient beings, he decided on the latter course and made his way across India until he arrived at Deer Park, which is now called Sārnāth, near Benares (Varanasi). There Shākyamuni assembled the five men who had accompanied him during his asceticism, but had abandoned him, when he rejected the austere practices of mortifying the body so as to release the mind.
On gathering these five persons together, he preached his first sermon, which in essence consisted of the Four Noble Truths: 1) all existence is suffering; 2) the cause of suffering is illusion; 3) nirvana is the dimension free from suffering; 4) the means for attainment of nirvana is the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path (Hasshōdō). The Eightfold Noble Path is so called, because it leads to nirvana.
This Eightfold Noble Path consists of 1) correct view (shōken), which refers to a correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths; 2) correct thinking (shōshiyui), which is the ability to reflect on the Four Noble Truths correctly; 3) correct speech (shōgo), which implies no false statements; 4) correct action (shōgō); 5) correct livelihood (shōmyō); 6) correct endeavour to attain enlightenment (shōshōjin); 7) correct memory (shōnen), which means memory of things beneficial to enlightenment; 8) correct meditation (shōjō).
Afterwards, Shākyamuni journeyed to Magadha in Central India where he was received with reverence by King Bimbashara (Bimbisarā), who became a convert to the Buddha teaching. He stayed at the Bamboo Grove Monastery (Chikurin shoja, Venuvana) where he taught the three Kashō (Kāshyapa) brothers and added Sharihotsu (Shāriputra), Mokuren (Maudgalyāna) and Makakashō (Makākashyapa) to his following.
At that time the Buddha teaching acquired many more disciples as each day went by. His renown became so great that it arrived at his father’s court.
Thereupon, his father sent a message asking him to return to his homeland. This he did and taught the Dharma to his father and other members of his family as well. He converted his cousin Anan (Ānanda), his half-brother Nanda (Nanda), Ragora (Rahula) his son and Daibadatta (Devadatta) who was another cousin. Makahajahadai (Mahaprajapati) who had brought up Shākyamuni also became a nun. Later after some time, Yashudara (Yashodhara) to whom he had been married also became a member of the female order.
Shākyamuni taught in various places, and, even though these teachings were not recorded at the time, they became the foundation for the written scripture. He established the Buddhist community of monks, nuns, lay followers both male and female, all governed by a framework of precepts and rules. All distinctions of caste were clearly set aside.
At a later period of his teaching, the Buddha encountered some opposition particularly from Daibadatta (Devadatta) his cousin, who tried to disrupt the community of monks and nuns (sangha). It is said that he also tried to kill Shākyamuni.
The Buddha’s lifetime of active teaching lasted somewhere between forty-five and fifty-one years. Shākyamuni, conscious of his approaching demise, asked that his bed be placed in a clearing in the Shara (Shāla) grove near Kushinagara (Kushinagara). Realising that his extinction into nirvana was close, he expounded his final teaching, which is known as the Sutra on the Buddha’s Passing Over to the Extinction of Nirvana (Nehan kyō, Nirvana Sutra). Then, with his head pointing towards the north, with his face looking west and lying on his right side, he passed into the extinction of nirvana.
When Shākyamuni died he was said to have been around eighty-one years old. According to tradition, his body was cremated. Ambassadors from eight important countries of the time arrived to claim his relics. His ashes were divided into eight portions in all and were placed in eight stupas, erected on ground sacred to the Buddha teaching in various places throughout India.
Tathāgata (Nyorai) is one of the ten titles of the Buddha. This implies that he comes from the dimension of the truth or suchness, which may be understood as the absolute reality which transcends all the phenomena and noumena that fill up our daily lives. This concept is equated with the Dharma entity (hosshin, Dharma-kāya) and cannot be expressed in words or even thought out by unenlightened people such as us. For those of us who follow the teachings of Nichiren, suchness can be none other than Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, which means to devote our lives to and found them on the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō) [entirety of existence, enlightenment and unenlightenment] permeated by the underlying white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) in its whereabouts of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [which is every possible psychological wavelength] (Kyō). This is suchness as it has often been defined as that which cannot be pondered over or even explained (fushigi).
There are two ways of translating the word Tathāgata. One is Tathā āgata, which means “he who has come from that” (suchness). This is the Sino-Japanese understanding of this Sanskrit word. In the second way, it is interpreted as Tathā gata which means “he who has arrived at that” (suchness).
The Triple Entity of the Buddha (sanjin, Trikaya)
This concept is also known as the three enlightened properties. These represent the three types of entity that the Buddha possesses. On the whole, this is a concept appropriated by the various schools of the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), in order to indicate the various aspects of the Buddha as referred to in the sutras.
The first is the Dharma entity (hosshin, Dharma-kāya), which is the highest aspect of this triple entity. It is the absolute nature of the mind of the Buddha. Perhaps we may understand this idea of the Buddha nature in everything, as clearly propounded in the theory of the one instant of thought containing three thousand existential spaces (ichinen sanzen). This aspect of the Buddha is ineffable, unmanifested, and not apparent in our everyday lives.
The second entity is the reward body, or the entity of wisdom of the Buddha (hōshin, sambhoga-kāya). In the teaching of Nichiren Daishōnin, this entity of enlightenment can be seen as all the implications of the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon).
The third entity of the Buddha is his manifestation throughout the entirety of existence (ōjin, nirmāna-kāya), which he uses as a device to ameliorate or redeem all sentient beings. This also includes the appearance of the Buddha as a person, which he uses to save humanity from itself.
According to the teachings of Tendai (T’ien T’ai), he differentiates two kinds of manifested entities of the Buddha. These are 1) the inferior manifested entity, which the Buddha uses to make his appearance for the benefit of ordinary mortals, people of the two vehicles [i.e., the people who exerted themselves to attain the highest stage of the teachings of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) through listening to the Buddha or the intellectuals of this present age, as well as those people who have become partially enlightened due to a profound search for the meaning of existence (engaku, hyakushibutsu, pratyekabuddha)], as well as bodhisattvas who have not yet attained the first stage of development out of the fifty-two stages towards enlightenment in the doctrine of Shākyamuni. 2) There is a superior manifestation, which the Buddha uses in order to reveal himself to bodhisattvas who have gone beyond the first stage of development out of the fifty-two.
The interpretations of the triple entity differ from one school to another. Throughout most of the doctrine of Shākyamuni, it was assumed that this triple entity could exist as three separate entities. However, in the Tantra and Mantra School, it is maintained that Dai-nichi Nyorai of the Tathāgata of Universal Sunlight is the highest aspect of the triple entity (hosshin, Dharma-kāya), the Buddha Amida (Amitābha) is the body of wisdom (hōshin, sambhoga-kāya), and Shākyamuni is their manifest embodiment.
In accordance with the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) and the theory of the one instant of thought containing three thousand existential spaces (ichinen sanzen), Tendai (T’ien T’ai) expresses the view that this triple entity does not consist of the three existences that are apart from each other, but three entities of the one Buddha.
In this way, the triple entity of the Buddha is 1) the universal element of the Dharma, which has always existed and will continue to exist into eternity. This is the essential component of the Buddha’s life and the truth to which he is enlightened (hosshin, Dharma-kāya). 2) The entity of wisdom of the Buddha is all that his enlightenment entails, and again it is all that is involved in the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) of the Nichiren Schools. 3) The physical embodiment of the Buddha (ōjin, nirmāna-kāya) is the means whereby the Buddha is able to manifest himself, in order to ferry all sentient beings from the shores of unenlightenment to the shore of Buddhahood.
In the Kōmon School, Nichiren is held as the fundamental Buddha of the ever-present infinite in time (kuon ganjo) and is defined as the Buddha eternally endowed with the triple entity, that is not produced by any conditions and is free from all karma (musa no sanjin).
The Individual Vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna)
The individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna), which is also known as hīnayāna (shōjō) or the Theravada School, is one of the major tendencies of the Buddhist teaching. The other major tendency is the universal vehicle, also called mahāyāna (daijō) or the Major Vehicle.
The object of the teachings of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) is to attain the realisation of an Arhat. [In the Buddha teachings that are conveyed in Classical Chinese, this term is defined as ōgu, which means “worthy of offerings”. This expression has the undertone of a person who is free from all craving and attachments and will not be reborn. An Arhat has already freed him or herself from all mental defilements – has attained perfect knowledge, so that according to the values of ancient India there was nothing more to be learned. Such people were worthy of offerings and respect.
With the rise of the concepts of the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) was used as a disparaging term by those who were already practising the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna). These new practitioners censured those people who were still involved with the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna), who on the whole only practised for themselves with little or no concern for the salvation of other people.
After the death of Shākyamuni, the religious order underwent various schisms, which split into various schools much in the same way as in medieval China, Japan and Korea. At the time of Shākyamuni’s demise into the extinction of nirvana, the monks of various factions in their concern for preserving the teachings of the Buddha shut themselves in their monasteries and dedicated themselves to the maintenance of various monastic precepts and doctrinal explanations of the various sutras. Also, during the same period the clerical community (sō, sangha) lost sight of the purpose of the Buddha teaching, which was to liberate all sentient beings from their sufferings and difficulties.
Towards the first century BCE, or at the beginning of the first century CE, a new group of practitioners of the Buddha teaching appeared, who were no longer satisfied with what they perceived as a Brahmanic style of pedantry. The new practitioners, calling themselves bodhisattvas whose aim was to save all sentient beings, practised among ordinary people and called their doctrine the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), so as to indicate that their teaching had the capacity to lead most people to enlightenment. The more traditional schools were given the name, “the individual vehicle”.
According to the teachings of Tendai (T’ien T’ai), the doctrine of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) consisted essentially of the twelve years of the Agon (Āgama) system of belief. These doctrines are the Four Noble Truths which are 1) the reality of all existence involves suffering in one way or another; 2) suffering is brought about by selfish desires; 3) the elimination of selfish desires is to make an endeavor to attain nirvana and 4) there exists a way through which one can eliminate one’s selfish wants by following the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path entails 1) correct views in regard to the Four Noble Truths and the freedom from ordinary thinking, 2) correct thought and purpose, 3) correct speech and the avoidance of false and idle talk, 4) correct conduct and getting rid of all improper thoughts and deeds so as to be able to live in purity, 5) earning one’s living correctly which entails neither harming nor killing other sentient beings, 6) correct energy in an uninterrupted progress in search of enlightenment, 7) a correct memory which retains the truth and excludes the false and 8) correct meditation or absorption into the object of meditation.
The Agon (Āgama) teachings included the Chain of the Twelve Causes and Concomitancies that run through all sentient existence. They are 1) a fundamental unenlightenment of not wanting to know what existence is all about; 2) natural tendencies and inclinations that are inherited from former lives; 3) the first consciousness after conception that takes place in the womb; 4) body and mind evolving in the womb; 5) the development of the five organs of sense and the functioning of the mind; 6) birth and contact with the outside world; 7) receptivity or budding intelligence and discrimination from six to seven years onwards; 8) yearnings and desires for amorous love at the age of puberty; 9) the urge for a sensuous existence that forms 10) the substance for future karma; 11) the completed karma ready to be born again and 12) facing the direction of old age and death.
What was not included in the teachings of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) was the idea of devoting our lives to and founding them on (Nam) the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō) [entirety of existence, enlightenment and unenlightenment] permeated by the white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) in its psychological whereabouts of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [which is every possible psychological wavelength] (Kyō), which is Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō and the all-embracing equation that pervades all existence.
The Universal Vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna)
The teachings of the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) consist of the bodhisattva practice as a means of attaining enlightenment not only for oneself but also for others. These teachings stand in contrast to those of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) whose objective was to attain a certain enlightenment for oneself only.
After the demise of Shākyamuni into the extinction of nirvana, the Buddha teaching split into a number of different schools, each one developing its own interpretation of the sutras and other teachings. As time went by, these religious communities tended to isolate themselves from the laity, shutting themselves up into their various monasteries where they dedicated themselves to writing explanatory theses on the sutras, as well as following the monastic precepts to the letter. These religious communities gradually lost all sight of the original Buddha teaching which was to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment.
Between the end of the first century BCE and the first century of the Common Era, there appeared a new group of believers of the Buddha teaching who expressed their disagreement with the elitism of the traditional monastic orders. The object of this new group was to save all sentient beings and they called their teaching the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna). This means that their teaching is all-embracing (dai, mahā) and they denounced the more traditional schools of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna).
According to some schools and indologists, the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) had its origins in the popular practice of venerating stupas which spread throughout India during the reign of King Ashoka (268 – 232 BCE). In any case, this movement seems to have come about as an attempt to restore the original intention of the Buddha teaching, in which both the religious orders and the laity could take part.
According to the teaching of Tendai (T’ien T’ai), Shākyamuni’s doctrinal periods of the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon, Avatāmsaka), the equally broad teachings (hōdō, vaipulya), the wisdom (hannya, prajña) period, and the Dharma Flower and Nirvana Sutra periods are in essence the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna). Whereas the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) indoctrinated its followers to get rid of their worldly and bodily inclinations, the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) considered such tendencies from a more positive viewpoint and proposed to help people find their bearings. Again, such a viewpoint culminated in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), which teaches that our troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha) are not separate from our enlightenment.
The Chinese monk E’on (Hui Yuan 523 – 592 CE) said that there exist two kinds of universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), one being the perfect universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) and the other being the provisional one. The provisional universal vehicle doctrine covers teachings that were expounded for the time being, so as to instruct people as well as raising their level of understanding. The teachings of the perfect universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) are those that are based on the straightforward assertion that the enlightenment of Shākyamuni is as indestructible and eternal as life itself. This concept is clearly expressed in the Sixteenth Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō).
Tendai (T’ie T’ai) states that the provisional universal vehicle consists of the doctrinal periods of the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon, Avatāmsaka), the equally broad teachings (hōdō, vaipulya), and the wisdom (hannya, prajña) period, whereas the perfect universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) only comprises the teachings of the original archetypal state (honmon) of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) and to a lesser extent the Nirvana Sutra.
The Teachings derived from the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work (shakumon)
These teachings refer to the first fourteen of the twenty-eight chapters of the Dharma Flower Sutra, that is to say, from the First and Introductory Chapter to the Fourteenth Chapter on Practising with Peace and Joy. The Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) divided the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) into two separate parts. The first fourteen chapters refer to the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work (shakumon) for which some schools use the term “the theoretical teachings”. The following fourteen chapters are referred to as the “teachings of the original archetypal state” or as some schools call it “the essential teachings” (honmon).
The teachings derived from the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work are, as this expression implies, the teachings expounded by the Buddha Shākyamuni who is described as having attained enlightenment in Buddhagāya under the bodhi tree when he was about thirty years old, whereas the teachings of the original archetypal state refer to the time when the Buddha Shākyamuni realised the indestructibility and eternity of life, not only that of himself but also that of us who are ordinary people. At that time the eternal and indestructible quality of life was expressed as a concept in the depths of our minds as the uncountable grains of dust that would be left should someone grind five hundred universes from their inception to their termination into powder. This concept is perpetuity itself, which we experience in our daily lives as the ever-present infinite in time (kuon ganjo). In this way the Buddha Shākyamuni puts his present incarnation to one side so as to reveal the eternity of his and our own lives.
The Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) compares the relationship between the eternal Buddha and his incarnation as Shākyamuni to the moon in the sky and its reflection in pools of water. The essence of the teachings derived from the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work is the second chapter of the Dharma Flower Sutra on Expedient Means, where he expounds the real aspect of all dharmas as being every way they make themselves present to any of our six organs of sense [eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodily touch and the mind which perceives dharmas].
This chapter also points out that the advent of all the Buddhas into this world is to lead all sentient beings towards opening their inherent store of perceptive wisdom (kai), to demonstrate and point out its meaning (shi), to cause sentient beings to apprehend and be aware of it (go), so as to lead humankind into the perceptive wisdom of the Buddha (nyū).
This chapter also makes clear that the three realms of dharmas were simply three kinds of expedient means, in order to lead people onto the path of Buddhahood. These three realms of dharmas refer to 1) intellectual seekers who, at the time of Shākyamuni, were people who exerted themselves to attain the highest stage of the teachings of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) [i.e., to become arhats (arakan)] through listening to the Buddha (shōmon, shrāvaka), 2) people who were partially enlightened, due to a profound search for the meaning of existence (engaku, hyakushibutsu, pratyekabuddha), and 3) the altruists or bodhisattvas, whose object was to become enlightened and to enlighten other people.
The Teaching of the Original Archetypal State (honmon)
This is the teaching expounded by Shākyamuni when he reveals his real identity of being life itself. This teaching is comprised of the latter fourteen chapters of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), from the Fifteenth Chapter on the Bodhisattvas who swarm up out of the Earth to the Twenty-eighth Chapter on the Persuasiveness of the Bodhisattva Universally Worthy (Fugen, Samantabhadra) [Fugen Bosatsu Kanpatsu Bon].
As was stated above, the Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) in his Textual Explanation of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Mongu) divides the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) into two parts. The first fourteen chapters consist of the teachings derived from the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work (shakumon) and the following fourteen chapters comprise the teaching of the original archetypal state (honmon) which is a dimension that can only be reached by deep contemplation, only to discover that it lies at the very foundation of our lives and implies life itself.
The difference between the teachings derived from the external events of the Buddha Shākyamuni’s life and work and those of the original archetypal state is that the first fourteen chapters indicate that the possibility of enlightenment is inherent in all human beings, whereas the essence of the original archetypal state is in the Sixteenth Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata where Shākyamuni tells the assembly that he attained enlightenment in an infinite past and that his enlightenment will perpetuate into an eternal future.
Since Buddhahood is not separate from the other nine realms of dharmas [a realm of dharmas is a space where dharmas occur i.e., 1) the various hells, 2) hungry spirits, 3) animality, 4) titans or giants (shurakai), 5) human equanimity, 6) provisional ecstasies, 7) intellectual seekers, 8) people who are partially enlightened and 9) bodhisattvas], this would imply that the dimension of Buddhahood is the wisdom of understanding all the connotations that involve Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, which is what life is itself.
It is in the Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata where Shākyamuni makes the three principles of Utterness (Myō) conspicuously clear. These are 1) the Utterness of the original fruition (hongamyō) which is the enlightenment of the Buddha that infers the original mind as being absolutely pure and intelligent and also regarded as the embodiment of the Dharma [i.e., existence (hosshin, Dharma-kāya)], 2) the Utterness of the original cause (honinmyō) which implies the practices observed in order to attain Buddhahood and 3) the Utterness of the original terrain (honkokudo) which is where the Buddha lives and teaches. These three principles of Utterness make the enlightenment of the Buddha clear as to where, when and how it happened.
Occasionally, Nichiren uses the expression “the teaching of the original archetypal state” to specify his concept of the Buddha doctrine. This can be compared to Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō which means to devote our lives to and found them on (Nam) the Utterness of the Dharma [entirety of existence, enlightenment and unenlightenment] (Myōhō) permeated by the underlying white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) in its whereabouts of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [which is every possible psychological wavelength] (Kyō) and summarises all that life is in a nutshell.
The three esoteric Dharmas (sandai hihō) – 1) the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) of the teaching of the original archetypal state (honmon no honzon), the recitation of the theme and title of the teaching of the original archetypal state (honmon no daimoku) and 3) the altar of the precept of the teaching of the original archetypal state (honmon no kaidan) – are all considered to be provisional teachings but Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō is the fundamental teaching of the original archetypal state.
The Five Periods and the Four Ways of Teaching
The five periods and the four ways of teaching are a comparative classification of the Buddha teachings of Shākyamuni which was established by Tendai (T’ien T’ai) in The Recondite Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi Shakusen), in order to show the superiority of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) as opposed to all the other sutras and teachings of Shākyamuni. This classification is the alleged order in which the teachings were expounded.
The Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon, Avatāmsaka) was Shākyamuni’s first exposition after his enlightenment under the bodhi tree and was expounded for the benefit of his five companions, who were practising various Brahmanical austerities alongside him. Hence this teaching is often understood as a specific doctrine for bodhisattvas. The essence of this teaching is that each and every single dharma is impregnated by all the other dharmas in existence. It is also the sutra that clearly enumerates all the stages of bodhisattva practice.
The teaching of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) lists four in Chinese and five in Pali. These teachings are often called the Agon gyōor the āgamas which are understood as “The Traditionally Transmitted Teachings”. This nonspecific term is used to cover these earlier teachings of Shākyamuni which were no doubt riddled with various Brahmanical prejudices and concepts of purity. Here it might be wise to emphasise that all individuals are victims of their own culture including enlightened individuals such as Shākyamuni, Tendai (T’ien T’ai) and Nichiren.
Hōdō (Skt. Vaipulya) may well be translated into English as “Equally Square”. It is a term applied to the third of the teaching periods of Shākyamuni and is often referred to as the provisional universal vehicle. In Soothill’s Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, it says that the equally square teachings (Hōdō, Vaipulya) are distinguished as an expansion of doctrine and style. These sutras are apparently of a later date, showing the influence of different schools. Their style is lengthy and with tedious repeating of the same idea over and over again. Probably such repetitions were for instructional purposes, since learning in medieval China was simply learning by memorisation.
The fourth period of teaching was the Hannya or Wisdom doctrines. Hannya, or Prajñā in Sanskrit, means ‘to know’, ‘to understand’, or ‘wisdom’. The type of wisdom is described as the “supreme”, “highest”, “incomparable”, “unsurpassed” and “unequaled”. There are a number of sutras referred to as the Prajñāparamitas which describe the wisdom that carries people from the shores of mortality to that of nirvana. The essence of these teachings is spoken of as the principal means of attaining nirvana, through their revelation of the insubstantiality of existence (kū, shūnyatā).
The final period is the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) which is the fundamental canonical text of all the Nichiren and Tendai Schools. There are various versions of this sutra in Sanskrit, either from Central Asia, Nepal, or Cashmere; also there are six Chinese translations and one Tibetan. For those who are involved with the practices of the Nichiren Schools, the most important translation of this sutra is that of Kumārajîva (Kumarajū) [approx. 409 C.E.] which is also the basis for this interpretive and explanatory translation.
At the time of Shākyamuni there were in Brahmanistic circles enormous prejudices against women, even though at the same time there were Tantric practices that were based on sexual rituals. Still, it is stated here in the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) that women can attain enlightenment. The Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) also says that very misguided people and individuals whose intelligence is not outstanding are able to attain enlightenment as well.
The four teachings of the doctrine and the four teachings according to their methods of instruction are 1) Zōkyō, which are teachings mainly based on those of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna), 2) Bekkyō, the teachings based on the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon, Avatāmsaka) which specifically for the instruction of mature bodhisattvas, 3) Tsūgyō, the intermediary teachings that act as a link between the teachings of the individual vehicle (shōjō, hīnayāna) and the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) and 4) Engyō, the all-inclusive teaching which is the Buddha teaching that can lead all sentient beings to perfect enlightenment.
The four ways of teaching are classified as follows: 1) Tongyō, the teaching of instantaneous enlightenment as opposed to the doctrines that propound a Buddha awakening after numerous kalpas of practice, 2) Zengyō, the teaching of gradual enlightenment, the step by step attainment of Buddhahood, 3) Himitsukyō, teaching in a secret way by which one can hear the Dharma without being noticed in the assembly and 4) Fujokyō, the indefinite way of teaching by which people in the same assembly will each interpret the Dharma in a different manner, and each individual will derive benefit from it.
The Reaches of the Mind (jinzū, abhijña)
When it comes to the reaches of the mind, this technical term has the undertone of how far the psyche can be extended. Obviously, the reaches of the mind “par excellence” are those of the Buddha Shākyamuni in his role of the original or fundamental enlightenment which are recounted in the Sixteenth Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata.
What this chapter entails is that the Buddha is fully aware of his own eternity as well as having a very clear understanding of how existence functions. Existence has no beginning and no end. Existence always exists, even though due to karmic circumstances it changes. Life according to the Buddha teaching is an essential part of existence. Existence without life would simply be a physicality of no importance, although there have been periods when existence has been one enormous conflagration or vacuum filled with dark matter and totally unsupportable of any form of life as we know it.
Could the medieval tales of salamanders, which were something like elementals that lived in fire, shed any light on this dilemma? Even though such a concept infers physicality, real existence would imply a material body that was encased in a subjective mind that could withstand fire or vacuity. However, from a Buddhist viewpoint, the essential ingredient of existence is mind.
In the teaching of Nichiren, the title and theme of the Dharma Flower Sutra (daimoku) with the added “Namu” from the Sanskrit Namas, which means to devote our lives to, and according to the patriarch Nittatsu, has the implication of founding them on life itself. Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō has the meaning to devote our lives to and found then on (Nam) the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō) [entirety of existence, enlightenment and unenlightenment] permeated by the underlying white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Renge) in its whereabouts of the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [which is every possible psychological wavelength] (Kyō).
Albeit our existence according to the Buddha teaching is a temporary binding of the five aggregates – which are 1) form and materiality that give us the illusion that we are in possession of a body in physical surroundings, 2) this embodiment according to its past karma has its own perceptions in the sense that we don’t all see the same colour red or that certain foods do not have the same taste from one individual to another, 3) this subjective embodiment is capable of concepts and ideas, 4) these fantasies, inner visions, concepts and ideas are conditioned by the experiences that we underwent in the spaces between dying and being reborn, 5) as we grow up and become mature individuals, our respective ways of perceiving life are also qualified by these former four aggregates – also, we have to include the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas, the ten ways in which dharmas makes themselves present to any of our six organs of sense and the three existential spaces upon which we depend for an existence. This of course is the one instant of mental activity containing all the possibilities of life (ichinen sanzen). According to this vision of life or the way we perceive our individual lives, the denizens of hell really suffer acutely as in our present-day war zones and, at the same time, the Buddhas are said to have a terrain upon which they depend for an existence, as has been referred to in so many sutras.
Coming back to the point, which is the reaches of the mind, they are, as the Buddha Shākyamuni says himself, suspended in the infinity of time, with an extremely clear insight into the way the whole of existence works, with its causes, karmic circumstances with every conceivable result. Nevertheless, there is another aspect of the expression, “reaches of the mind” which refers to powers that ordinary people such as us cannot perform.
Within the bounds of Buddhist folklore, the Buddha Shākyamuni is endowed with ubiquitous powers such as the means to cause the earth to shake, issue light from the pores of his skin, extend his tongue as far as the heavens of the Brahmanic deva (Bonten) [see description of Mount Sumeru], to be effluent with light, the ability to cause flowers and objects to rain from the sky along with various apocryphal powers. Other beings such as Buddha emanations, bodhisattvas, deva (ten), arhats are sometimes accredited with similar powers.
The Teaching of Nichiren
The Life of Nichiren
Nichiren was born on the 16th of the second month of the first year of Jō.ō (1222 CE) in the fishing village of Kominato in the Tōjō district of the Awa province – the present-day village of Kominato in the Chiba Prefecture – and died on the 13th of the tenth month in the fifth year of Kō.an (1282 CE). His father was Mikuni no Taifu; his mother was called Umegikunyo. They were said to have led a humble existence along the seashore. As a child he was called Zennichi Maro.
At the age of twelve he entered Seichōji Temple under the instruction of the Venerable Dōzen who gave him the name of Yaku’ ō Maro. At about the same time, Nichiren made a vow to the Bodhisattva Kokūzō (Ākāsha-garbha bodhisattva) that he would become the wisest man in Japan. He took sage-like orders when he was sixteen and was renamed Zeshōbō Renchō.
Next, he left for Kamakura for further studies and three years later came back to the Seichōji Temple only to quickly leave again for Kyōto in order to study and practise the Dharma gateways of the Tendai School on Mount Hiei. More precisely it was at the Onjōji Temple, the Tennōji Temple and on Mount Kōya where he studied the doctrinal significance of each and every school that included reading through all the sutras and various Buddhist writings.
At the age of thirty-one Nichiren left Mount Hiei and returned to Seichōji Temple. On the morning of April 28th, 1253, in the Hall of Holding to the Buddha (Jibutsutō) in the All Buddhas Monastic Residence (Shobutsubō) of the Seichōji Temple, in front of the whole assembly he announced his fourfold criterion of “Those who bear in mind the formula of the Buddha Amida (Amitābha) (Nembutsu) bring about the hell of incessant suffering; the School of watchful attention (Zen) is the work of the Universal Demon of the Sixth Heaven above Mount Sumeru; the Tantric (Shingon) School entails the ruin of the state and the Ritsu School are the robbers of the land.” He also announced that all sentient beings could be saved by the recitation of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō.
When Tōjō Kagenobu, the local ruler who was a follower of Nembutsu – i.e., the people who bear in mind the formula of the Buddha Amida (Amitābha) – heard this, he flew into a rage and tried to have Nichiren arrested. However the Venerable Jōken and Gijō, acting as guides, were able to organise his escape and he made his way back to Kominato.
After taking leave of his parents he embarked upon his life’s destiny of propagating his teaching. He began his mission in Nagoe no Matsubatani outside Kamakura where he had built a hermit’s cottage. At that period he converted numerous people who became his disciples and supporters. In the eleventh month of the fifth year of Kenchō (1253) he was visited by a monk from Mount Hiei called Jōben who was later to become Nisshō, one of the six elder monks.
In 1258 on a visit to the Iwamoto Jissōji Temple, the then thirteen-year-old Nikkō Shōnin became his disciple and was to remain so, until he became the second patriarch after Nichiren’s demise in 1282. Among the other disciples there was Toki Jōnin who was a samurai attached to the Shogunate, as well as other samurais such as Shijō Kingo, Soya Kyōshin, Kudō Yoshitaka, and the two Ikegami brothers Munenaka and Munenaga.
On the 16th day of the seventh month of the first year of Bun.ō (1260), as a result of the good offices of Yadoya Nyūdō, Nichiren was able to have his well-known Thesis on Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma handed over to the regent Hōjō Tokiyori. The argument of this thesis is that, if the correct Buddha teaching were established, instead of the incomplete doctrines of the time, then the whole country would find peace and stability.
That same year on the night of the 27th of the eighth month, the followers of Nembutsu and the Shogunate organised an attack on Nichiren’s hermitage at Matsubatani. Fortunately he was able to escape harm and moved to the estate of Toki Jōnin. On the 12th day of the fifth month of the first year of Kōchō (1261), under the orders of the Shogunate, he was exiled to the Izu Peninsula. His disciple Nikkō and Funamori Yasaburō along with the latter’s wife accompanied him and were constantly in attendance.
One year and nine months later Nichiren was pardoned, and he returned to Kamakura. In the first year of Bun.ei (1264) he returned to his birthplace in Awa in order to take care of his mother during her illness. During that same time he propagated his teaching throughout the whole of the Awa region.
In the same year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, while Kudō Yoshitaka of Amatsu was returning towards his own estate, his military escort was attacked by Tōjō Kagenobu, the local ruler, in Komatsubara. Both Kudō Yoshitaka and the Venerable Kyōnin were killed in the struggle. Nichiren was also wounded on the forehead.
In 1268 the Mongolian court sent a delegation with a letter from Kublai Khan demanding that the Shogunate become his vassal. This particular incident was evident proof of the prediction in the Thesis on Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma which again urged the nation to take refuge in the correct Dharma. At the same time, Nichiren called for a public debate with the monks of all the other schools and sent letters to eleven various religious leaders. But he received no reply whatsoever.
During the eighth year of Bun.ei (1271) there was a terrible drought from one end of the Japanese archipelago to the other. The renowned monk Ryōkan performed the prayer ritual for rain but was unable to bring it about whereas Nichiren’s success is well-established in the annals of Japanese history. The defeated Ryōkan left Kamakura for the north. This became an opportunity for the monks of the other schools to provoke the Shogunate with slanderous reports concerning Nichiren.
On the tenth day of the ninth month of that same year, Nichiren received a summons from Heinosaemon no Jō Yoritsuna to be interrogated by the Court of Enquiry. At the interrogation he severely reprimanded the hypocritical stance of the Shogunate. The outraged Heinosaemon no Jō immediately had Nichiren arrested and taken in the middle of the night to Tatsu no Kuchi to face execution.
However, just as the executioner’s sword was about to strike, an enormous crystalline, pure white light surged up and covered half of the sky. In panic the officials of the Shogunate and the samurai in attendance ran in all directions and hid. No one dared try to execute Nichiren.
This is the moment when Nichiren reveals the original terrain of the self-received reward body that is used by the Tathāgata of the primordial infinity of the original beginning. It is also referred to as ‘eradicating the temporary gateway in order to reveal the original archetypal state’.
On the tenth day of the eleventh month he was exiled to the island of Sado. There he began to compose the Thesis on Clearing the Eyes, the Thesis on the Instigator's Fundamental Object of Veneration for Contemplating the Mind and also completed a number of important theses, such as, the Thesis on the Unbroken Transmission of the Single Universal Concern of Life and Death, the Thesis on the Significance of the Actual Fundamental Substance, An Account of the Buddha's Revelations for the Future, and the Thesis on Cultivating Oneself in the Practice as it is Expounded. During this exile, several of his admirers such as the Venerable Abutsu and his wife took refuge in his teaching.
At Tsukahara where he was forced to spend his exile in the broken-down Sanmaidō Temple, the Nembutsu School challenged him to an open debate in which he completely refuted each and every argument. At this point the Venerable Sairen and the Honma family were converted to the Teachings of Nichiren. After two years or so, in 1274 on the 27th day of the third month of the eleventh year of Bun.ei, Nichiren was granted a pardon, and he returned to Kamakura.
On the eighth day of the fourth month of the same year he was summoned a second time by Heinosaemon no Jō to appear before the Shogunate. This time they calmly admonished Nichiren and told him to treat and view the monks from the other schools as equals. Naturally, the reply was that if the Correct Dharma was not held to then it, then it could not be possible to assure the security of the land. The outcome of this interview was that Nichiren, like other wise men of the past in China and Japan when their efforts to save their country went unheeded, retired to the backwoods to a more hermit-like existence.
In this case Nichiren retired to the Hagiri district on Mount Minobu in the province of Kai which is the present-day Yamanashi prefecture. There he gave lectures on the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) and for the preparation and education of his disciples he went into the subtlest details so that the dharma would be protracted into eternity. During this same period he also wrote the Thesis on Selecting the Time and the Thesis on the Requital of Grace.
The Senior Monk Nikkō promoted propagation in the direction of Mount Fuji. His first major conversion was Nanjō Tokimitsu. Then, there were the Matsuno and Kawai no Yui families and others from among the monks of Ryūsenji Temple in Atsuhara. Nisshū, Nichiben and Nichizen also took refuge in the teachings of Nichiren. During the same period a number of the local peasants and farmers did the same.
On the 21st day of the ninth month of the second year of Kō.an (1279), all the followers of Nichiren, both monks and laymen, were harassed and pestered as a single sect. Finally twenty people, beginning with Jinshirō, were arrested. Heinosaemon no Jō interrogated the prisoners at his private residence and pressured them to change their religion. With profound faith all of them persisted in reciting the title and theme Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō. Jinshirō, Yagorō, and Yarokurō were beheaded, and the remaining seventeen were banished from Atsuhara. These events are often referred to as the adversity of the dharma at Atsuhara.
Nevertheless it was on account of this particular adversity of the dharma that Nichiren felt that the time had come for him to fulfil his real purpose of coming into the world. On the 12th day of the tenth month of the second year of Kō.an (1279) he inscribed the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) of the Altar of the Precept of the Original Gateway. In order to perpetuate his teaching, Nichiren appointed six elder monks to help him in this task but decided to entrust the succession of the patriarchate to Nikkō. In 1282, while undertaking a journey to the hot springs in Hitachi for rest and recuperation, he entered peacefully and auspiciously into nirvana, at the age of 61 years, in the mansion of Ikegami Munenaka.
The Life of Nikkō Shōnin
Nikkō Shōnin (1246-1333), or Byakuran Ajari Nikkō, was the successor of Nichiren and the second patriarch of the Nichiren Shōshū School, as well as being the founder of their main temple Taiseki-ji. He was born in Kajikazawa in the province of Kai, which is now the Yamanachi prefecture in modern Japan. His father’s name was Oi no kitsuroku, and his mother was a member of the family Yui of Fuji. When Nikkō was still a child, his father died, and his mother married into another family. Nikkō was brought up by his grandfather. When he was seven years old, he entered the Tendai School at Shijūku-in temple, in the province of Suruga [present-day Shizuoka].
Apart from the doctrines of the Tendai School, he studied the Chinese classics, Japanese literature, poetry, calligraphy, as well as various other subjects that were studied at the time. The Shijūku-in temple was closely connected with the Jissō-ji temple, which was visited by Nichiren Daishōnin in 1258 to do research in its library, in preparation for writing, Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma (Risshō Ankoku ron). Nikkō, on this occasion, had the opportunity to assist Nichiren in his investigations and expressed the desire to become his disciple. Nikkō was only thirteen years old at the time and received the name Hoki-bō.
From that moment onwards, he devotedly served Nichiren. In 1261, at the age of fifteen, he also rejoined his teacher, during his exile in Izu. He converted the monk of the Tantric and Mantra School (Shingon), Gyōman, of the Kongō-in temple. Nikkō also shared Nichiren’s exile in Sado, 1271-1273.
After their return from Sado and Nichiren’s third admonition to the government, Nichiren decided there and then to leave Kamakura. Nikkō arranged with one of his converts, Lord Hakiri Sanenaga, the commissioner of the area of Mount Minobu, to establish a retreat for Nichiren.
During 1278, Nikkō Shōnin took down notes from a series of lectures given by Nichiren to his foremost disciples in Minobu and compiled them into, The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden). He also made enormous efforts to propagate the doctrine of Nichiren in the provinces of Kai [present-day Yamanashi], as well as Suruga [present-day Shizuoka], and Izu. In the province of Suruga, both monks of Shujūku-ji and Ryūsen-ji temples were converted to the teachings of Nichiren.
As the number of converts grew, among whom were farmers and ordinary people, the pressure on Nichiren’s disciples increased. The first to be persecuted were the younger converted monks, who were expelled from Shijūku-in temple. At the Ryūsenji temple in Atsuhara, the principle monk, Gyōchi, threatened the monks, among whom were Nisshū, Nichiben, and Nichizen who had been converted by Nikkō, as well as harassing their lay followers. Finally Gyōchi had twenty farmers arrested, and on the 27th of December, 1279, three of them were beheaded. This incident is known as the Persecution of Atsuhara.
Nichiren, feeling that his death was near at hand, appointed Nikkō Shōnin as his successor in two documents of bequeathal. One was written in September 1282, in Minobu. The other was written on the day of Nichiren’s death, 13th of October 1282, at Ikegami.
Tendai (T’ien T’ai)
Tendai (T’ien T’ai) or Chih-yi 538 – 587 C.E. was the founder of the Tendai School. Tendai (T’ien T’ai) is usually referred to as the Universal Teacher Tendai (Tendai Daishi). His name and title are derived from the T’ien T’ai Mountain in China, where he lived during the periods of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, as well as the Sui.
He was born in Hua-Jung in the province of Ching-Chou, where his father was a high-ranking functionary under the government of the Liaug Dynasty. Due to the fall of this regime, Tendai’s (T’ien T’ai) family were forced to become exiles. Shortly after Tendai (T’ien T’ai) turned eighteen, his parents died, at which time he entered the Kuo Yuan Shih temple. Afterwards, he went to Ta-Hsien, where he studied special portions of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō).
At the age of twenty-three, he visited his teacher, Nan Yüeh (Nangaku) on Mount Ta-su, in order to be able to study under his tutorship. After a period of intense practice, he became enlightened, while studying the twenty-third chapter of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) on the original conduct of the Bodhisattva Sovereign Medicine (Yaku’ ō, Bhaishajya-rāja). The Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) came to be considered the Buddha of the period when the Dharma was an imitative display of itself (zōbō).
After some years of practice under the direction of Nan Yüeh (Nangaku), he left Mount Ta-su and went to Chin-Ling, which was the capital of the Chen Dynasty, and lived in the temple of Wa Kuan Shih. There he gave lectures on the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) and other relevant texts, over the next eight years. His reputation grew and attracted numerous disciples.
However, regretting the fact that people with some degree of wisdom were on the decrease, he retired to Mont T’ien T’ai in 575 C.E. This phase of his life was followed by the emperor’s request to give lectures on the hundred fascicle commentary of the Sutra that Ferries People over the Seas of Mortality to the Shore of Nirvana (Daichido-ron) of Nāgārjuna (Ryūjū), along with the sutra about a benevolent king who protects his country, by means of the Buddha teaching (Ninnō Gyō).
Tendai (T’ien T’ai) also made discourses at the Temple Kuang Tse Shih, which were ultimately compiled into the Textual Explanation of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Mongu). After the fall of the Chen Dynasty, he returned to his native town, where he expounded the essence of the Recondite Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi Shakusen), in 593 C.E.
By 595 C.E., Tendai (T’ien T’ai) had compiled the Universal Desistance from Troublesome Worries in order to See Clearly (Maka Shikan), at the Yü Ch’üan Shih temple. He returned to Mount T’ien T’ai, where he died, at the age of sixty.
Tendai (T’ien T’ai) was able to refute the concepts based on sutric texts that were used by various Buddhist schools of his time. On account of the fact that he viewed the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) as the pinnacle of the Buddhist teaching, he was able to establish the concept of the five periods of the evolution of Shākyamuni’s doctrine, along with the conclusion of the one instant of thought containing three thousand existential spaces (ichinen sanzen).
The Meaning of the Title (Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma)
The oldest translation of this sutra into a western language was produced by M. E. Burnouf. In 1852, he completed a translation from the original Sanskrit into French and gave it the title Le Lotus de la Bonne Loi. Ever since this pioneer work appeared nearly all subsequent translations of this text have been referred to as the Lotus Sutra which, in the eyes of the present translator is a distorting misnomer. However, since this translation is being directly taken from the Chinese version of Kumārajîva (344-413 BCE) to which all the interpretations of Nichiren Daishōnin (1222-1282 C.E.) have been applied, it has little or nothing to do with any Indian concepts of the Buddha teaching.
From the earliest times, Chinese literary, philosophical or poetical texts commonly used titles that gave the reader a broad indication of their contents. This same principle concerns our present text, which in the Chinese ideograms is called Mi ao fa lien hua ching, or Myōhō Renge Kyō in Japanese.
The reason why I use the expression “white lotus flower-like mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō)” is that relativity (kū, shūnyatā) is a continual movement of cause, concomitancy and effect that underlies the whole of existence. This continual activity was in the final teachings of Shākyamuni referred to as the white lotus flower (renge, pundarîka).
One has the impression that the Buddha never really said that existence exists eternally until he expounded the Sixteenth Chapter on the Lifespan of the Tathāgata of the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō). Even then it was only alluded to as something that had a beginning, in an infinitely long time ago.
Buddhist thought is an evolving continuous development and those who hold faith in the Buddha teaching conceive existence (Dharma) as something that has neither a beginning nor an end.
When I was studying the Buddha teaching in Hong Kong under the Venerable Hsin Kuang he instructed me to repeat every morning, “All dharmas are only the workings of the mind (shin, kokoro). And the three realms (sangai) that consist of a dimension of 1) hunger, needs, wants and sexual desires 2) that is incarnated with all the accompanying physicalities and 3) all that can be reached in our heads are simply ways of knowing.” This is entirely due to this lotus white flower-like mechanism which makes life go in a forward direction and the hallucinatory images and patterns that run through our minds when we are just dropping off to sleep being always on the move.
The Tibetan title of this sutra (Dam pai chos kyi pundarîka’i mdo) clearly implies the white lotus (pundarîka) and the ideogram for “ren” in (renge) in Buddhist texts means the white lotus unless specified as being otherwise. The reason why it is a white lotus flower in the title of this sutra is because this white lotus flower-like mechanism that underlies the entirety of existence does not get soiled with its own karma. Hence, the title is the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō) albeit the term Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) can be used as an abbreviated alternative which corresponds to the shortened version of this title in Chinese (fa hua ching) or the Japanese reading of the same ideograms (hokkekyō).
Throughout this work the Japanese Buddhist terms are only occasionally followed by their Sanskrit equivalents. This is because I am working from the Chinese version of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) [Taisekiji edition] of this canonical text. Even though Nikkō Shōnin originally wrote The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden) in a kind of a Classical Chinese that was not Chinese in flavour or style, but such an artificially erudite language that it could very easily be compared to the thirteenth century Latin writings of Northern Europe, I am using the version of The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden) in the Taisekiji edition of the Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin.
As I have said on other occasions, I am not interested in making a mirror image of these texts in English since this has already been done, only to leave the reader baffled as to what the intention of these texts are about. Rather, I am offering an explanatory interpretation, for the benefit of my fellow occidentals who have an interest in, but little knowledge of, the Buddha teaching. At this point, I have to admit that I have never seen either the Sanskrit or the Tibetan version of this sutra. However, because the teaching of Nichiren is in Japanese I have given privilege to this language which I have been using on a daily basis for the last forty or so years.
The ideograms of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō
I promised a friend of mine that I would explain what the title and subject matter of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), means as it is inscribed on the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon), for most of the Nichiren Schools. Along with this title and theme, I also would be clarifying the significance of the individual Chinese ideograms concerned. In a number of cases the meaning and purport of these signs has changed over the millennia that separate the Buddhist language of Nichiren and the inscriptions on the oracle bones of the Hsia (Xia) dynasty 2205 BCE.
Also I would like to underline the fact, in spite of what some scholars say, that without The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden)it might be impossible to reach a real understanding of what this profound teaching is about. As for the archaic definitions of the Chinese ideograms concerned I have solely relied on Mr. Chang Hsüan’s book The Etymologies of 3000 Chinese characters in common usage that was published by the Hong Kong University Press in 1968.
The Buddhist term for devotion is written with two ideograms “nan” which means south and “mu” which means “to come to nothing” or obliterate. Both of these Chinese ideograms are used only for their phonetic value to represent the sound of the Sanskrit word “namas”.
The first ideogram “nan”, as I said before, in the present-day languages that either use or refer to Chinese ideograms means “south”. In one of the oldest glossaries of the Chinese language, the Shuo wên chieh tzū, Setsu bun kai ji) or Discerning the Signs and Explaining the Ideograms, it says, “The branches of trees and plants grow in a southerly direction.” The next ideogram that is used in this phonetic representation of “Namu”, as in the Discerning the Signs and Explaining the Ideograms means “to come to nothing” and it is pronounced (in present-day Chinese) as wu. My teacher in Buddhist studies, the Venerable Hsin Kuang explained this character as being a picture of a thicket of trees being consumed by fire and coming to nothing.
However, if we are to understand this word “nam(u)” properly then perhaps it might be better to quote what Nichiren had to say about it. The Oral Transmission on the Meaning of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Ongi Kuden) states that nam(u) is a word that comes from Sanskrit; here when rendered into Chinese it means to devote and establish one’s life. The Object of Veneration (gohonzon) to which we devote our lives and establish them on is both the person of Nichiren and the Dharma which involves the one instant of thought containing three thousand existential spaces (ichinen sanzen). The person is the eternal Shākyamuni who is present within the text of the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō) [The Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō)]. The Dharma is the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) as the recitation of its title and subject matter (Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō) and its Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) to both of which we dedicate and establish our lives on.
Again devotion means to turn to the principle of the eternal and unchanging reality (shohō jissō) which must entail the one instant of thought containing three thousand existential spaces as it is expounded in the teachings derived from the external events of Shākyamuni’s life and work (shakumon). The establishment of one’s life means that it is founded on the wisdom of the original archetypal state (honmon) which is reality as it changes according to karmic circumstances.
This introduction to the Sutra on the White Lotus Flower-like Mechanism of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō Renge Kyō) [The Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō)] subsequently states that the Nam(u) of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō is derived from Sanskrit and that Myōhō, Renge, and Kyō are words of Chinese origin.
In the inscription on the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) Nichiren uses a style of writing that is referred to as “calligraphy with whiskers” (hige monji). In the case of Nam(u) the ideogram for “south (nan)” sits straight on top of the ideogram “to come to nothing (mu)” which may imply that those two characters are pronounced as a monosyllable.
When the question is raised 'why such a peculiar writing?’, then I would suggest that, even outside of our teaching, prayers and mantras are often recited and intoned in a particular way. This is simply because they are too important to utter in an ordinary conversational voice. In China, Taoist talismans and charms are often written in what also might be described as “whiskery writing (hige monji)” because the content is supposedly too profound for an ordinary calligraphic style.
Regarding Myō, in the text of Discerning the Signs and Explaining the Ideograms there is a small addendum that says, "It is unthinkable. Since it is known that the book of Hsü (Xu) must have originally had this ideogram. I can only suggest that it had been overlooked. It seems to have been derived from the category of ideograms (radical) under feminity, and the ideogram for few (hsiao) serves as an indication of how this ideogram was pronounced.” However from a Buddhist point of view the Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) defined the ideogram myō as that which cannot be pondered over; nor can it be discussed (fushigi).
Nichiren in his thesis on The Real Aspect of All Dharmas states that the real aspect of existence (hō) has to be all dharmas [they include the whole of existence]. Then all dharmas have to include the ten ways in which dharmas make themselves present to any 1) of our six sense organs [i. eyes, ii. ears, iii. nose, iv. tongue, v. body and vi. mind] (Nyoze sō), 2) their various inner qualities (Nyoze shō), 3) their substance or what they really are (Nyoze tai), 4) their potential strength and energy (Nyoze riki), 5) the manifestation of that energy and strength which is their influence (Nyoze sa), 6) their fundamental causes (Nyoze in), 7) along with their karmic circumstance (Nyoze en), 8) the effects they produce (Nyoze ka) and 9) their apparent karmic consequences (Nyoze hō). 10) Also any way dharmas make themselves present to any of our six sense organs has coherence with their “apparent karmic consequences” which are present in every instant of life (nyōze hon makku kyō tō).
These ten ways in which dharmas or existence can become apparent to all our six senses must involve the ten psychological dimensions of existence, or what it is called in Buddhist terminology the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas [1) hell and suffering, 2) hungry ghosts or craving or wanting, 3) animal instinctiveness, 4) shura (ashura) or the bombastic extravagance and anger of titans, 5) human equanimity, 6) impermanent ecstasies and joys, 7) intellectual research, 8) partial enlightenment, due to a profound search for the meaning of existence, 9) benevolent beings and people who think of others, 10) the enlightenment of the Buddha]. These ten [psychological] realms of dharmas have to possess some kind of embodiment and an objective environment, or as beings in the intermediary dimension between dying and being reborn or the realms of dreams and the imagination.
Later on in the same thesis Nichiren says that the whole of existence or all dharmas are Myōhō Renge Kyō. I suggest that, if we read over these two passages carefully we will come to understand that the ideogram myō is Utterness, or an entirety that implies the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect by simply being the whole of its own existence. So, it is the common denominator and the motivating force of this thing we call life.
Here it might be useful to mention that the word Utterness or Myō implies the enlightened realm of the Buddha, which is the immateriality and the relativity and noumena (kū, shūnyatā). The state of enlightenment that was attained by Shākyamuni Buddha is said to be the extinction of all being and all illusion as well as the destruction of all karma, which in his teaching is the cause of rebirth. According to the doctrine of the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), nirvana denotes neither coming into being (fushō) nor coming to nothingness (fumetsu). This enlightened dimension is also equated with the wisdom (chi) and discernment (e) of the enlightened that have the ability to perceive with no error what is true and what is false.
On the other hand, the word dharma (hō) designates existence, as what we take in through our various organs of sense. This is probably the reason why people who do the practices of the various Nichiren schools concentrate on the ideogram myōwhen they chant the title and theme (daimoku).
There are schools that would prefer to translate the ideogram myō as having meanings such as “mystic, wonderful” or “without equal” in the sense that this concept is beyond comprehension. In this context the Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) explains the meaning of this ideogram from two points of view, in order to demonstrate the depth of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). The first meaning is comparative (sotai myō). This means that when the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) is measured up to all the other sutras, then it is this sutra that surpasses all in its underlying profundity. Then there is the concept of myō as an absolute which is not only the common denominator of all existence but also its dynamism (zettai myō). This vision of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) cannot be compared to any other Buddha teaching because it integrates every aspect of the Dharma.
The ideogram for hō or Dharma has an extremely exotic archaic etymology of “where the Kirin (Kylin), or the Chinese unicorn, goes it is the law”. However the usual definition is more or less ‘water finds its own level’ which I would interpret as that water finds its own level. Buddhists use this ideogram to express the various implications of the words Dharma and dharma or dharmas since they never come singly or in the singular.
From the Buddha’s enlightened viewpoint all existence is the oneness of Myōhō Renge Kyō which must involve the one instant of thought containing three thousand existential spaces. Be that as it may, we, as ordinary people, perceive existence as something multifarious, complex and definitely a plurality. This concept in my translations is written with a small “d”, as dharmas. These are anything that touches upon any one of our six senses, whether it is physically perceptible or even if it is something that is just in our minds. This concept has practically nothing to do with the original definition except that ideograms, like the words in our language, change over the millennia.
As a result, my understanding of Myōhō is either the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma) or the entirety of all dharmas as the whole of existence.
Next we come to the ideogram “ren” which also has a native Japanese reading “hasu”. This ideogram is classed in a category (radical) of plants which in this case is at the top. The other part of this ideogram “ren” or “lien” in Chinese is simply used as a phonetic to show how this ideogram should be pronounced, but nevertheless has an independent meaning of “joining”, “connecting” or “to accompany”. The part of the ideogram “ren” has no bearing on its meaning.
In many Japanese supermarkets this ideogram “ren” which can also be read “hasu” refers to the roots of the lotus plant which is the part that we eat and in Chinese medicine is said to be good for the lungs. But in actual fact this word stands for the whole of the lotus plant.
In the teaching of Nichiren, in his definition of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, this ideogram has the undertone of the fruition or effect as in the sentence “The lotus flower is the two dharmas of cause and effect; this again is cause and effect as a single entity.”, or as in the Writing on the Eighteen Perfect Spheres where it states that the lotus plant has the implication of “the blossom (ge), is the cause that brings about the fruition”.
Here I would like to stress that, since Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō implies the whole of the Dharma or all dharmas, the ideograms of this title and subject matter (daimoku) cannot be seen as independent or individually separate.
Those who are familiar with the teachings of Nichiren Daishōnin must be aware that “ge” is the word that almost inevitably follows “ren”. In the text of Discerning the Signs and Explaining the Ideograms, this ideogram simply defines this word for “flower” as “They look attractive and are splendid.” This character is derived from the category of ideograms (radical) for plants and also an archaic ideogram that seems to be the graphic representation of a flower in which the Book of Hsü (Xu) says that “This ideographic image also shows how this ideogram should be pronounced.”
In the teachings of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) this particular ideogram (ge) usually refers to the flower of the White Lotus, the famous pundarikai. This becomes apparent in the Tibetan title of this sutra Dam pai chos kyi pundarikai mdo. Also in the combination of the words “ren” and “ge”, the flower, which is “ge”, tends to have the implication of being the cause in the concept of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect.
The Universal Teacher Tendai (T’ien T’ai) in his Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi Shakusen) gives two explanations of the lotus flower. The first is the lotus flower as a simile or a metaphor to explain the fundamental nature of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma). The lotus plant at the same moment has its flowers and seeds and is used as a symbolic image to allude to the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect which is the nature of the essential reality that runs through the whole of existence (shinnyo, bhūtathāta).
Furthermore the lotus plant grows in muddy swamp water and the emergence of the white flower hints at the awakening of the Buddha nature in the ordinary individual. However this is still the Buddha teaching of Shākyamuni, whereas in the teaching of Nichiren, our Buddha nature manifests the first instant we decide to do the practices of his doctrine and to hold faith in it.
Then, there is the second concept of the essence of the Dharma [in the sense it is existence] being comparable to the lotus plant, a concept that refers to the entirety of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) not just as a symbol but what existence really is. In Nichiren’s writing on the Thesis of the Actual Substance (Totaigi shō), he clearly states that Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō is the total embodiment of the Dharma.
Fundamentally the white lotus flower-like mechanism of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect which is the underlying workings of the entirety of existence (tōtai renge) is what makes life move ahead in the way it does. In the earlier teachings of Shākyamuni, all things came into existence through what a number of translators call “dependent arising” (Engi, patitya samutpada), which also implies that existence arises from causation. Since all that exists comes about on account of the interdependence of cause, concomitancy and effect (Engi) and is devoid of a self-nature as well as being impermanent, hence in this case existence is the relativity of kū.
The Four Kinds of Spiritual Teachers
(C) Copyright 2005 by Timothy Conway
[The following is a fairly widely-read post on determining authentic spiritual teachers. It was uploaded to various websites devoted to the subject of Nondual Spirituality. Sometimes this essay went untitled, sometimes it was titled "Advaita (Nonduality) and Ethics," or else "Four Kinds of Spiritual Teachers." I have given it the following title and subtitle for this webpage:]
Four Kinds of Spiritual Teachers:
Nonduality (Advaita), Ethics, Authentic and Inauthentic Sages
Sunday Feb. 27, 2005
Within the life-dream nondually conjured up by Consciousness, made of nothing but Consciousness, we can consider the “relative reality,” the conventional world of “rights and wrongs,” “justices and injustices,” “wellness/ease and unwellness/dis-ease(s).”
To heal the various forms of dis-ease and injustice, we have three kinds of genuine spiritual teachers and (sigh) also the inauthentic pretender.
The three types of authentic spiritual figures are as follows:
1) The truly free beings who conduct themselves in the traditional manner of a sage, saint or adept, that is to say, exemplars of genuine disidentification from the bodymind and freedom from attachments and aversions (the samskaras or vasanas, as Hindu and Buddhist sages term them). These are the shining exemplars of peace, bliss, loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, generosity, courage, equanimity, and selfless sacrifice, functioning as a Guru-Lama-Shihfu-Roshi-Staretz-Tzaddik (as such a one is termed in various sacred traditions) on behalf of apparent sentient beings. (And recall here the wonderful paradox given by the Buddha in the Vajracchedika [Diamond] Sutra: “one must liberate all sentient beings” / “there are no sentient beings.”) These exemplary free beings communicate a traditional wisdom emphasizing the transcendence-immanence of the Absolute, as well as the impermanence, insubstantiality and unreliability of all phenomena, the need for awakening from the constricted egocentric dream, various ways or methods for awakening, the need for great earnestness in “striving” toward this Divine freedom and also the always freely available divine Grace.
Then there are: 2) The wild men/women or holy fools (avadhutas, majdhubs, masts, saloi, yurodivye, idiota, yu jen, mahasiddhas, et al.), within what is sometimes called the “crazy wisdom tradition.” These rather mysterious folks have spontaneously or deliberately gone beyond all societal conventions, sometimes simply because God-realization and liberation came for them in such an unusually powerful way that it blew out the circuits of normal psychological and social functioning. These wild ones, who usually display no regard for their own comforts and even many basic bodily needs (food, liquids, sleep, shelter, basic hygiene), are not usually known for any conspicuous "loving-kindness" on the conventional interpersonal level. They have been known to grunt at, scream at, punch, push, piss on, completely ignore and in various ways “abuse” those whom they encounter—yet with an unexpectedly quite positive, beautifully transformational affect on the recipients of such “holy abuse.” In other words, just as with the free beings of category #1, so also there can be a palpable, edifying sense of divine blessing (saktipat, kripa, baraka, wang, descent of the Holy Spirit, etc.) that is experienced by the recipient during or after the bizarre encounter with a “wild fool” of category #2. This blessing force brings with it an amazing sense of freedom, peace, equanimity, bliss, love, and nondual identity with the One and all beings.
There is 3) a third type of genuine spiritual figure: the “good friend” (kalyana mitra in Buddhism) or spiritual teacher-mentor-counselor who may not be 100% established in spiritual freedom, fully awake and always lucid within the dream, yet such a one is nevertheless a very helpful, enlightening figure who empowers those s/he encounters. This person does not try to “role-play Guru” by presuming to be fully awake or take full responsibility for the welfare and direction of disciples. This friend-teacher just serves as much as possible, sharing from the heart the clear wisdom, caring compassion and gratitude for Divine grace that has served him/her thus far on the pathless journey HOME to full, free Awareness. Such a person may actually be quite a gifted teacher, healer or catalyst for fellow sentient beings, truly empowering them with certain wonderful breakthroughs, strengths and gifts. Some persons may even become fully awake through their association with this type of teacher-healer who is not yet 100% free and awake.
In addition to the above two types of authentically free or fully liberated spiritual adepts (the Guru-Sage and the Holy Fool) and the not-quite-fully-realized but nevertheless very helpful "good spiritual friend-teacher," there is 4) another figure, a tragic figure, within the Divine dream of manifestation: the inauthentic pretender. This is someone who is, at best, no more spiritually accomplished or free than the teacher-friend mentioned above in category #3, but is pretending to be someone in category #1 or #2. In other words, here there are flashes (even frequent flashes) of brilliance but there still occur occasional or perhaps many lapses of lucidity into egocentric states of attachment-aversion toward dream phenomena. These attachments-aversions, the all-too binding likes and dislikes, what Hindu Vedanta-Yoga terms “raga-dvesha” and Theravada Buddhism calls “lobha-dosa,” are also generally known as one’s samskaras or vasanas. The inauthentic pretender, bless his heart, cannot admit to others and probably not even to himself that he is still samskara-driven and bound, i.e., not totally free, and so the pretender must rationalize (in a classic Freudian defense mechanism against anxiety) that his lack of freedom is somehow “okay,” “Divinely ordained,” “part of the perfect manifestation,” “not really a problem because whatever happens is perfect.”
Rather than earnestly endeavor to realize the insubstantiality of the deluded ego-sense with its attachments-aversions, and actually live from FREEDOM, the pretender tries to convince others and himself that he is, in fact, free, while still dragging around his samskaric chains. Freedom, for these pretenders, is INSIDIOUSLY RE-DEFINED to include states of being bound (e.g., a misinterpretation of the old Mahayana idea: “Nirvana is Samsara”).
In a competitive marketplace of “spirituality,” whether in India, Japan, China, Europe, the USA, etc., we see quite a lot of this last figure, the pretender. Such persons chronically present themselves as higher and freer than they actually are, in order to draw attention and recognition, lure followings of students/disciples, make money, attain fame, and get high (psychically inflated) on the subtle or not-so-subtle adrenaline rush that comes with being granted power, influence and concomitant comforts by a social group that fawns over them and defers to them as a “spiritual authority.”
And now we must look at a very specific phenomenon: what happens when such pretenders, such not-quite-free teachers (or not-very-free-at-all charlatans), are exposed for certain exploitative behavior, usually around the old issues of “lust and greed”—inappropriate sexual or financial behavior.
At this point of being exposed, the spiritual pretender and those among his followers who identify and align with the pretender rather than with the Dharma (authentic spirituality) usually fall into deeper trouble. The pretender and his lackeys (peace and divine blessings be upon them!), rather than act with authentic courage, sincerity and remorse—which would include humbly admitting their own lack of freedom and also include issuing heartfelt APOLOGIES and making some kind of meaningful AMENDS toward the parties exploited—instead thicken their samskaric web of complications. Problematic defense mechanisms against anxiety (as studied by Sigmund Freud) are hastily deployed, not just passionate narrow identification with “our righteous cause” (a major samskaric attachment!) but also rationalization that nothing terribly wrong has happened, denial of either the claims of injury or severity of the situation (this denial often involves blatant forms of lying and aggressive cover-ups), and, of course, projection in the form of blaming the victims and also any sympathizers who try to bring further light to the dark situation and remedy the injustice by enacting forms of justice and healing (including clarifying what is true Dharma and what is not).
One of the classic rationalizations, remember, that the pretender and the cronies chronically deploy, especially when the flaws of the pretender are being exposed, is the idea that “nothing is really wrong,” that his lack of freedom, as reflected in the exploitative behavior, is somehow “perfect,” “Divinely willed,” “part of the Divine dream,” therefore “not a problem.” Unfortunately, this rationalization is easily available to pretenders who labor in the field of mystical nondual spirituality, because nondual traditions usually articulate quite clearly this Absolute level of truth, the paramarthika satya, over the conventional or relative level of phenomenal truth, the samvriti or vyavaharika satya.
It needs to be stated in no uncertain terms that these pretenders are actually anarchists, for they attempt to destroy any rational or intuitive basis for morality and ethics. In this pseudo-nondual realm, “anything goes”—at least for themselves and their accomplices. There are no ethical standards by which to determine appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
The discerning reader will notice that the type of “wild holy fool” of the crazy wisdom tradition, briefly discussed above as an authentic spiritual figure in category #2, also doesn’t abide by the conventional-looking ethics of human societies. Clothed in rags, sometimes virtually or completely naked, usually ungroomed or even unwashed, often abnormally silent or using language in bizarre forms, frequently maintaining strange postures or movements, such wild free ones, as mentioned, have been known to roundly “abuse” their visitors and would-be “disciples” (such holy fools often do not let anyone stay around them for long in the conventional apprentice relationship found in the traditional lineages of gurus-disciples, masters-novices, or teachers-students). Again, one hears tales of folks being hit, struck, yelled at, utterly ignored, and in other ways treated rather shockingly by these crazy wisdom characters.
But there are huge DIFFERENCES between the pretenders and the authentic holy fools.
For one thing, disciples of the holy fools feel blessed, not exploited, after their contact with the holy fool, the opposite of what happens when trusting disciples are exploited by the pretenders. The disciples of the pretenders either immediately or eventually feel, not empowered, but exploited for the gain of the pretender. The pretender, in short, functions as a taker, not a giver.
Secondly, the authentic holy fools are quite unattached to whatever happens in the dream of life, especially concerning their own bodily welfare, whereas the pretenders are usually quite interested in making sure they are properly fed, clothed, sheltered, honored and, yes, remunerated. Rather than rely on spontaneous Divine Grace for whatever happens, these pretenders and their partners make definite plans, arrange things to insure the most pleasing and lucrative outcomes, and so on. They are clearly operating from the mental level, not the transmental/transpersonal Identity, in their strategic planning and calculating of revenues and expenditures, marketing strategies, schedules, meeting site set-up and configurations, writing and publishing ventures, etc. Obviously, some of the pretenders aren’t so much involved in this side of things—they have their willing cronies manage everything or nearly everything for them, and so the pretender can easily “flow with situations” and trust that their acolytes (not God) will take care of everything while the pretenders can appear to be serene and “above it all.”
Thus, for such pretenders and their “true believer” slavish followers to make the claim that they are part of the crazy wisdom tradition is utterly bogus. They are not utterly “abandoned unto Divine Providence,” they are not thoroughly surrendered. No, they are to some extent or another quite attached to outcomes and are rather busily engaged to make sure those outcomes serve themselves. In short, they still labor under the sense of “doership,” i.e., being egocentric agents of action.
Such persons, I would also submit, are trying to have it both ways: they want to be seen and valued as lineage-holders of a tradition—this obviously adds to their status and influence as “an authority.” And yet they have the audacity to ignore and/or distort their tradition’s teachings about morality and ethics, and the need for staying as free as possible from samskaric attachments and aversions. And when anyone tries to raise the issue of traditional moral requirements for disciples and gurus, they immediately will say that “they are not bound by tradition,” that “this is a living tradition that must shock people out of their hypnotic trance state,” and other such malarkey.
This might seem persuasive to those who chronically defer to them, but anyone with any discernment can see that these pretenders are trying to have the best of two opposing worlds: traditional authority and anarchistic “anything goes” license to act out their samskaras. To put it in still more words, they exploit, for their own recognition and aggrandizement, the concept and social institution of the Guru and the lineage of Gurus, but they do not want any accountability within the criteria set by that tradition’s previous Gurus for who is and who is not an authentic spiritual master.
Hence, one finds here a major violation of “Truth in advertising”: the pretenders are passing themselves off as “Gurus” in a “lineage” within a “sacred tradition”—and then, whenever it suits them, these anarchists depart from what that tradition values as authenticity and they proceed to engage in rogue behavior.
These pretenders (may the God-Self spare them from their karmuppance) are claiming special immunity in putting themselves above society’s rules on basic decency and fairness, and also putting themselves beyond the conventions of their own sacred traditions from which they try to draw their high status.
May all be fully awake and free in their intrinsic Divine Awakeness and Freedom, by the Grace of this One God-Self, the transcendent-immanent Self of all selves....
***[NOTE: The following is excerpted from a related essay about Advaita, ethics, and spiritual teachers, authentic and inauthentic. Originally this essay and the prior one reproduced above were written in February 2005 to address issues that arose over the problematic behavior of a certain neo-advaita teacher, Ramesh Balsekar. These two essays here can be found embedded in my very long webpage discussion of dear Ramesh. But i have uploaded the relevant parts of both essays to this webpage because they can stand alone as commentaries on authentic and inauthentic spiritual leadership.]
We see in our era many spiritual "counterfeiters" pretending to be fully liberated and yet abusing their students in various ways. Such abuse can take several forms, but the most common are exploiting people financially and sexually and using students-disciples-visitors' needs (and, sometimes, needy-ness) to puff themselves up in pride and psychic inflation (see the warnings on this inflation by the famous psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung).
On financial exploitation: Every authentic sage I've ever met charges no fees for his/her work. Donations might be allowed, but no charging of fees. There is a kind of universal Divine support for anyone who has truly surrendered to the Dharma, clearly promised by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I can tell you from direct experience that this is so. I've never had to charge a dime for any advaita understanding I've ever shared in satsangs (which I've been holding on and off since 1990), even when there were times of great financial challenges due to my wife's health and disability issues. Everything has worked out okay, by Divine Grace. On rare occasions I've allowed donations to be made to help pay for a rental space (if i didn't just pay for it myself), but there's never been any pressure on students for money, as with so many pseudo-teachers who (or via their organization) chronically have the hand extended seeking some kind of compensation. Even charging anyone $10-$15 for a 2 hour satsang is outlandish. Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Ramakrishna, Anandamayi Ma, Anasuya Devi and other spiritual giants of nondual Realization didn't do this. The present "Hugging Mother" Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) doesn't do this. The stories of various pseudo-gurus and their cronies charging outlandish sums for workshops in India and in the west indicate to me that such persons don't really trust Divine Grace to provide support for their teaching work.
As for sexual exploitation: anyone working in the helping professions in the civilized world, be this a doctor, schoolteacher, therapeutic counselor, lawyer, etc., has very clear and strict ethical guidelines, especially male professionals, about not mixing sexual activity with clients-patients-students. Even for situations wherein there is a mutual attraction, the professional is required in no uncertain terms by the ethics of the profession NOT to engage in any sexual behavior with the client-patient-student until the nature of that relationship has been formally changed and transcended—i.e., there is no longer the student-teacher, patient-healer relationship. Mature professionals know that, if there is to be any kind of sexual relationship with their former student-client-patient, one does well to wait at least several months if not a year or two so that the relationship has a better chance of being transformed into a more egalitarian one of adults on equal standing. These caveats help guard against the natural human tendency for someone in a position of perceived power to abuse that power by seducing those who are naturally deferential to a person holding that power.
When someone presumes to play the role of Guru, he is adopting a "one-up" power position, and that power, if it is to be held and maintained (and not relinquished in an egalitarian way, as the best teachers know how to do) must be honored in the most sacred, careful way. Soliciting more-or-less vulnerable female students with requests for sexual favors is a highly unethical abuse of power. If such a pseudo-guru is lonely or needs sexual companionship, he ought to be mature and straight about it and try to cultivate an egalitarian, committed relationship with a romantic partner. If he is incapable of that and is so identified with the bodymind that he needs sexual experience (and can't just adeptly let go or "see off" the arising-passing sensations associated with the sexual impulse), he could visit a state or country where it is legal to consort with a prostitute or call girl. Or he could simply get his kicks with videos or the internet. But messing around with the bodies and psyches of his female (or male) students indicates a lack of ethics and appropriate psychological boundaries.
So many of the sages have made it clear that appropriate behavior is a “given.” Sri Siddharameshvar, Nisargadatta’s Guru, would frequently state: “Realize the Self and behave accordingly.”
Yes, on the absolute level, everyone is nothing but Atman/Brahman, pure Saccidananda Being-Awareness-Bliss, and everything that happens is, on the highest level of understanding, nothing but Lila, Divine play or sport (Lord Krishna to Arjuna: "No one slays, no one is slain."). But on the relative or conventional level there needs to be ethical behavior and accountability. To say otherwise is to make a travesty of all our "engaged spirituality" traditions endeavoring to enact social, racial, gender, economic, political and environmental justice. DO NOT CONFUSE the absolute truth level of Dharma teaching (Paramarthika Satya) with the relative truth level (Vyavaharika or Samvriti Satya), which is the level of our humanity and decency, the commonweal or public good.It is has become quite common for persons identified with and invested in their particular guru (pseudo-guru) to rationalize their guru's indecent, unethical, abusive behavior by pathetically confusing the Absolute level with the conventional level. Many naive folks are misled by this.
Anyone wanting more clarity on this can read this essay, wherein I clearly distinguished between the three levels of nondual reality (all simultaneously true, paradoxical though this might seem): 3) the conventional level of the appropriate and inappropriate, right and wrong, good and evil, justice and injustice; 2) the "Divine Comedy" subtle-level of the soul wherein "everything's perfect," everything's happening for the good of all souls in their "soul-ular" evolution and journey HOME; and 1) the Absolute Truth: no-thing is really happening, it's all a dream in the one, nondual Awareness; only God IS (no world, no souls).
The essential point here is that one can honor and does well to honor all three levels, otherwise one's spirituality becomes quite imbalanced.
All authentic traditions of nondual spirituality—the Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Saiva traditions of India, the Ch'an/Zen/Son traditions of China/Japan/Korea, the Shingon and Vajrayana tantric traditions of Japan and Tibet, the nondual Sufi traditions in regions of Islam, and the western nondual mystic traditions within Christianity and Kabbalah/Hasidim Judaism—are rooted in and express themselves in ethical, moral behavior. Yes, one can find a relative few "holy fools" in various traditions (the avadhutas, majdhubs, yurodivye, et al.) who are quite beyond conventions of "gentlemanly" or "ladylike" behavior. But these wild adepts don't play the conventional guru role, either, with formal satsangs, charging money for their teaching, writing and selling books of teachings, etc., the way so many pretenders are trying to do.
Just looking at Hindu Advaita Vedanta, the teachings of Sankara (founder of the formal Advaita tradition) clearly enjoin impeccable behavior for both the aspirant and for the jnani, the realized sage. The classic "fourfold pre-requisites" for any aspirant are viveka (the ability to discern Absolute Awareness from the phenomenal events), vairagya (utter dispassion and equanimity over the phenomenal world), mumuksatva (great yearning and earnestness over Truth), and shatkasampatti, the six great virtues (inner control of the mind, sense-control, fulfillment of one's duties, patient endurance of all opposites, spiritual faith, and concentration on Truth). If this is to apply to the novice, how much more so does it apply to the authentic sage or Guru! Upon realization of Brahman, Absolute Spiritual Reality or Being-Awareness-Bliss, the sage is not suddenly given license to act out old samskaric patterns. No, these patterns have been largely if not completely burnt out by the fire of Realization. Any residual arising samskaric tendencies of likes and dislikes (raga and dvesha) are simply noticed, "seen off" and not acted upon, especially when acting out these tendencies might harm a student, if only by confusing the student with what is appropriate and inappropriate. (And anyone who seriously tries to argue that there is no distinction between appropriate and inappropriate behavior is utterly deluded and probably psychopathic.)
Endeavoring to seduce women or bring in piles of money from students or audiences are clearly signs of someone who is being pulled and pushed around by their samskaras, treating others as objects to be exploited, and lacking empathy. As I have written before, one of my favorite definitions of liberation comes from our dear Annamalai Swami, one of Sri Ramana Maharshi's most faithful spiritual sons; the Swami in 1980 clearly defined enlightenment (when I asked him to do so): "It's like zero-gravity. Nothing is pulling you anymore."
Notice that this teaching from Annamalai Swami pertains more to the motivational, behavioral level rather than merely the cognitive/mental level of "understanding." The good Swami's expression of enlightenment comes from someone who is authentically FREE, not a pretender who has cleverly rationalized a lack of freedom as some kind of true "freedom," the way so many neo-advaitins like to do.
I can also tell you that the behavior of true sages like Ramana Maharshi, Annamalai Swami, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramakrishna, Anandamayi Ma, Anasuya Devi, Amma Amritanandamayi, et al. toward their visitors and students expressed true impeccability. One never gets the least impression that these venerable men and women were exploiting anyone for their own benefit. No, this was all about empowering people, not disempowering them. These are real GIVERS, not takers.
It is terribly important to distinguish "the Understanding" on a mere cognitive level (one of neo-advaitin's favorite terms to describe the "final state") as distinct from authentic liberation-moksha-nirvana. It's pretty easy for anyone to come to the former, a clear mental-intuitive understanding of nondual teachings, which brings a certain clarity, confidence and mellow state, rather like what Alan Watts once joked would provide most people with a "mystic experience": walk around for a week with two-pound weights in your shoes and then take the weights out and walk around... (The neo-advaitin emphasis on certain classic Advaita teachings of "no doer," "no karma," "no purpose," etc., have the same "weightless" effect for most people long burdened by their concepts of self, responsibility, and so on!)
Yet it's quite another thing to be authentically free or liberated from the samskara-forces fueling an ego sense and pulling and pushing it around via the binding likes and dislikes. Just to have "the understanding of freedom" without genuine freedom is a colossal illusion, and easily degenerates into the kind of narcissism, lack of empathy, and tendency to exploit other sentient beings that we have witnessed among so many half-baked teachers. This is why, incidentally, the great Ch'an/Zen masters distinguish between the preliminary, temporary "enlightenments," what the Japanese Zen masters term "satori" or "kensho," and the final, real freedom of total liberation: anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
Yes, there is only the nondual One Awareness, right HERE, right NOW. Yes, ultimately "nothing matters." Yes, there is no need to fabricate and carry around any baggage of egoic striving, regrets, loathing, or self-loathing. But there needs to be accountability. One must genuinely LIVE the liberated state. Not just talk about "the Understanding."
Jesus is alleged to have said, "By their fruits ye shall know them: a good tree produces good fruits, a rotten tree gives rotten fruit." That pretty much sums it up.
All the best (and authentic, total FREEDOM!) to anyone who reads this...
In Love and Grace
Your Own Self
Santa Barbara, CA