Read an Excerpt
On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime
By Daisaku Ikeda
World Tribune PressCopyright © 2011 Soka Gakkai
All rights reserved.
Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime —
The Fundamental Purpose of Life and a Source of Hope for Humankind
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If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life. ("On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime," The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 3)
Just what constitutes a deeply meaningful life? What is true happiness? Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching of hope that enables us to forge a state of unsurpassed and indestructible happiness and to lead a life of supreme value, while also helping others do the same.
All people have the potential to attain Buddhahood; moreover, they can gain that lofty state just as they are and in fact are assured of being able to do so in this lifetime. Nichiren Buddhism clearly elucidates this wonderful path to enlightenment.
Nichiren Daishonin's profound teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime was a revolutionary concept that turned prevailing Buddhist thought on its head. Indeed, it continues to shine today as a principle that can powerfully transform the age and open a bright future for our modern world in the twenty-first century.
Therefore, I look forward to studying Nichiren's writing "On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime" together with you, as we embark in high spirits on a new journey of growth and development toward the Soka Gakkai's eightieth anniversary (in 2010).
The Profound Meaning of Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
"On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime" is an important writing that clarifies the basic theory and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. SGI members throughout the globe have deepened their understanding of the essence of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings by earnestly studying this writing as a guideline for practice and study.
Although the original is no longer extant and the precise date and name of the recipient are unknown, this letter is traditionally thought to have been written around 1255 and addressed to Toki Jonin. The assertion that it was composed in 1255, shortly after Nichiren publicly declared his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in 1253, is credible in view of the letter's content, explaining as it does the significance of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in terms of both theory and practice.
The practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the foundation of Nichiren's lifetime of teachings. Nichiren Buddhism, unlike the established Buddhist schools of his day, was not dedicated to the worship of a specific god or Buddha. Nichiren established the means for all people to achieve enlightenment, the ideal of the Lotus Sutra, by formulating the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which enables us to activate our inherent Buddha nature and manifest it as the life-state of Buddhahood.
In Nichiren Buddhism, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has two aspects: the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in terms of faith and chanting in terms of practice. Chanting in terms of faith refers to the spiritual aspect of our practice. This essentially consists of the struggle we wage in our hearts against our inner delusion or darkness — a battle against the negative and destructive forces within us. It means that through the power of faith — in other words, through strengthening our conviction that we possess the Buddha nature — we can break through the darkness obscuring this awareness, thus revealing the life-state of Buddhahood. Chanting in terms of practice, meanwhile, refers to chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ourselves and also teaching it to others. It means making efforts in word and deed for our own and others' happiness in the course of our spiritual struggle against inner negativity and illusion.
When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are both chanting the name of, and calling forth, the Buddha nature in our own lives and the lives of others. Through applying our practice of faith to win over doubt and delusion, the power of our inherent Buddha nature is called forth by the sound of our chanting and spontaneously manifests in our lives.
The key point that sets Nichiren Buddhism apart from the other Buddhist schools of his day was the establishment of this concrete means for attaining Buddhahood. And from the time he first declared Nam-myoho-renge-kyo until the moment of his death, Nichiren ardently strove to teach this supreme path of enlightenment to people throughout the land.
In the opening passage of "On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime," Nichiren clearly and fully articulates the basic philosophy of enlightenment that lies at the heart of his teaching, which exists for the happiness of all humanity: "If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life" (WND-1, 3).
We'll discuss the profound meaning of this passage in detail next time. But briefly, it says that by manifesting within us the mystic truth inherent in all living beings, we can free ourselves from the endless sufferings of birth and death. The name of that mystic truth is Myoho-renge-kyo, and the way to manifest it is through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
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The Significance of Our Existence as Human Beings
Nevertheless, even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching.(WND-1, 3)
The concept of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime refers to ordinary people becoming enlightened during the course of their present existences. By extension, it means that they can achieve this just as they are. As such, attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime means the same thing as attaining Buddhahood in one's present form, which is the Lotus Sutra's approach to Buddhahood and illustrated by the example of the dragon king's daughter in the sutra's "Devadatta" chapter.
This view contrasts sharply with the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, which expound that one can become enlightened only after practicing austerities over countless lifetimes. Because the life-state of Buddhahood is at one with the eternal Mystic Law and abounds with infinite wisdom and compassion, it tended to be seen as something completely separate and removed from the lives of ordinary people steeped in illusion. Attaining enlightenment was thought to require overcoming the unfathomably deep chasm between the spiritual states of a Buddha and ordinary people, and this gave rise to the idea that it was necessary to carry out austere practices for innumerable kalpas.
Nichiren Buddhism clarifies that it is specifically in this present existence, in which we have been born as human beings, that we can actualize the principle of attaining Buddhahood in one's present form as explained in the Lotus Sutra. And Nichiren Daishonin reveals how to actualize this profound teaching.
Drawing an analogy to rice crops, Nichiren notes that while some ripen early and some ripen late, they will all mature and be ready for harvest within the year. He explains that votaries of the Lotus Sutra will likewise attain Buddhahood in this existence without fail.
Nichiren places importance on the present lifetime of human beings. Of course, not only humans but also all living beings possess the Buddha nature and have the potential to attain Buddhahood in their present form, but Nichiren's focus is always first and foremost on the happiness of human beings.
The human heart is sensitive, multifaceted and rich; it has the capacity for magnificent achievement. For that very reason, the heart often undergoes great suffering and torment, and can become trapped in an endless, downward spiral. Will we transmigrate forever along the paths of evil, or can we succeed in directing our lives into an orbit of good?
As evidenced in many of his writings, Nichiren repeatedly stresses the crucial importance of the heart, or mind. In this inner realm of life, the potential resides for dramatic shifts from evil to good or from good to evil. That is why Nichiren's teaching of enlightenment can be viewed as a process that begins with inner change. In other words, through the power of faith, we can defeat the negative functions inside us that are governed by the fundamental darkness in all human hearts and manifest the positive functions of life that are one with the Dharma nature — our Buddhahood.
This present lifetime, in which we have been born as human beings, represents a golden opportunity to ensure that our lives no longer transmigrate along the evil paths but instead traverse the paths of good.
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Emphasis on Inner Change
Therefore, when you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself.(WND-1, 3)
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Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.(WND-1, 4)
In "On Attaining Buddhahood in This Life-time," Nichiren Daishonin thoroughly explains that we cannot achieve enlightenment without a profound change in our lives, in our hearts and minds.
First, he writes that the mystic truth with which all living beings are endowed reveals "the principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena" (WND-1, 3). What this means is that our lives or our minds at each moment both embody all phenomena and pervade all phenomena. This could be described as a life-state of oneness with the universe.
Also, Nichiren warns that if we seek the Mystic Law outside ourselves, then no matter how much we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we cannot manifest the condition of enlightenment; on the contrary, our Buddhist practice will only "become an endless, painful austerity" (WND-1, 4). He clearly states: "Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching" (WND-1, 3).
Nichiren explains that the key to chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is summoning up deep faith, or confidence, in the existence of our innate Buddhahood. He declares that when we do so, we can polish our lives and reveal our enlightenment, writing: "Therefore, when you chant myoho and recite renge [that is, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo], you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself [literally, your mind at each moment]" (WND-1, 3). He continues: "Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" (WND-1, 4).
In addition, Nichiren speaks of "the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality" (WND-1, 4) — in other words, the mystic, inscrutable nature of life, of our hearts and minds, that manifests as Buddhahood. Here, he indicates that Myoho-renge-kyo is the wonderful law of life, of the inner realm of our beings. On that basis, he asserts that when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with deep faith in the Mystic Law, we can reveal our Buddhahood in this lifetime. Nichiren writes: "The Lotus Sutra is the king of sutras, the direct path to enlightenment, for it explains that the entity of our life [literally, our mind or inner reality], which manifests either good or evil at each moment, is in fact the entity of the Mystic Law. If you chant Myoho-renge-kyo with deep faith in this principle, you are certain to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime" (WND-1, 4).
A Teaching of Genuine Humanism
Next, I'll touch on the significance of Nichiren Daishonin's teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime from three perspectives.
I'll start by pointing out that through opening the way for all people to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren established for the first time a teaching of genuine humanism. Opening the way to enlightenment for all people could be called the prerequisite for a genuinely humanistic religion. This, I believe, is the religious or philosophical significance of the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Nichiren had deep insight into the potential of human beings, discerning that they could free themselves from a cycle of negative transmigration and realize a positive one through profound inner change. And he set forth a practical way to enable all people to achieve this. Consequently, there is no other teaching that can more deservedly be called humanistic than Nichiren Buddhism.
In "The True Aspect of All Phenomena," Nichiren writes: "Though it is thought that Shakyamuni Buddha possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent for the sake of all of us living beings, that is not so. On the contrary, it is common mortals who endow him with the three virtues" (WND-1, 384). This passage describes a shift from an authoritarian to a humanistic, people-centered religion. The teaching of Nichiren, who established the concrete means for achieving enlightenment in this lifetime, makes this shift possible.
When the Soka Gakkai's first president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, formulated his theory of value, he did not include the aspects of "holiness" or "sacredness," which many thinkers before him had considered to constitute religious value. For Mr. Makiguchi, "great good" was deemed the highest value a religion should strive to realize. By "great good," he is referring to the highest value that can be actualized by human beings and society. In Mr. Makiguchi's theory of value, we find the view that a true religion is one that serves the welfare of human beings. Nichiren's opening of the path to attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime signifies the establishment of a religion that contributes to the happiness of human beings in the greatest possible way.
The Significance of Attaining Buddhahood for Our Lives
Second, by opening the path to attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, Nichiren Daishonin made it possible for us to lead lives based on the infinite power of the Mystic Law — that is, to lead solid and secure lives that give us the courage and confidence to be self-reliant. This is the significance of the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime in terms of our individual lives.
In Nichiren Buddhism, attaining enlightenment is not about embarking on some inconceivably long journey to become a resplendent, godlike Buddha; it is about accomplishing a transformation in the depths of one's being. This revolutionary view of enlightenment fundamentally changed the meaning of Buddhist practice from how it was traditionally viewed.
In other words, it is not a matter of practicing in order to scale the highest summit of enlightenment at some point in the distant future. Rather, it is a constant, moment-to-moment, inner struggle between revealing our innate Dharma nature or allowing ourselves to be ruled by our fundamental darkness and delusion. This unceasing effort to polish our lives is the essence of Buddhist practice.
Only by winning over our inner darkness and negativity can we be victorious in life and reveal our full potential. The same is true if we wish to savor true fulfillment. Allow me to emphasize, then, that the Nichiren Buddhist practice toward attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is the only means to conquer the darkness and delusion that are the fundamental source of human evil, and cultivate true independence. It allows us to construct a solid self, and achieve a state of life of boundless happiness and peace of mind. Attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime thus becomes the fundamental purpose of an individual's life.
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The Significance of Attaining Buddhahood for Humanity
The Lotus Sutra is the king of sutras, the direct path to enlightenment, for it explains that the entity of our life, which manifests either good or evil at each moment, is in fact the entity of the Mystic Law.
If you chant Myoho-renge-kyo with deep faith in this principle, you are certain to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. That is why the sutra states, "After I have passed into extinction, [one] should accept and uphold this sutra. Such a person assuredly and without doubt will attain the Buddha way." Never doubt in the slightest.(WND-1, 4)
Third, the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is significant in that it offers a source of hope to humanity and opens the way to transforming the destiny of all humankind. This is its collective or universal significance.
Excerpted from On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime by Daisaku Ikeda. Copyright © 2011 Soka Gakkai. Excerpted by permission of World Tribune Press.
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