The Lotus Sutra has been regarded for centuries as one of the most important teachings in Mahayana Buddhism. This book goes beyond theory to show how to bring these teachings into practice in daily life. Containing profound truths for all people from every culture, it reveals the secret for attaining happiness for both oneself and others through the process of self-reformation. Based on the teachings of Nichiren, a 13th-century Buddhist teacher and reformer, the scriptures of the Lotus Sutra show how every person can attain Buddhahood.
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About the Author
Daisaku Ikeda is the author of The Way of Youth, For the Sake of Peace, and The Living Buddha. He is the president of Soka Gakkai International, one of the most prominent Buddhist schools in the world today with over 12 million members.
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The Heart of the Lotus Sutra
Lectures on the "Expedient Means" and "Life Span" Chapters
By Daisaku Ikeda
World Tribune PressCopyright © 2013 Soka Gakkai
All rights reserved.
Niji seson. Ju sanmai. Anjo ni ki. Go shari-hotsu. Sho-but chi-e. Jinjin muryo. Go chi-e mon. Nange nannyu. Issai shomon. Hyaku-shi-butsu. Sho fu no chi.
At that time the World-Honored One calmly arose from his samadhi and addressed Shariputra, saying: "The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable. The door to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter. Not one of the voice-hearers or pratyekabuddhas is able to comprehend it." (LSOC, 56)
At the beginning of "Expedient Means," Shakyamuni arises from samadhi, or deep meditation, on the truth that immeasurable meanings come from the one Law. Immediately, he tells Shariputra: "The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable. ... [None of you] is able to comprehend it." The teaching thus opens with a scene of considerable tension.
Let us first consider just what kind of time is being indicated in the phrase "At that time." President Toda explained:
"At that time" refers to the concept of time as employed in Buddhism. This is different from time in the sense that we ordinarily use it to indicate some particular time such as two o'clock or three o'clock or in the sense of springtime.
Neither is "at that time" comparable to the typical nursery tale opening "Once upon a time." Time, in the sense signified here, refers to the time when a Buddha, perceiving the people's longing for the Buddha, appears and expounds the teaching.
Four conditions must be met for a Buddha to expound the Law — time, response, capacity and teaching. Time, in Buddhism, indicates when the Buddha appears and expounds the teaching in response to the capacity of people who seek it. In other words, time refers to when a Buddha and human beings encounter one another.
While Shakyamuni is engaged in his deep meditation, his disciples' seeking spirit no doubt reaches a climax. They probably thought to themselves: "I wonder what kind of teaching the World-Honored One will expound? I don't want to miss a single word. I will engrave the Buddha's teaching in my heart." Containing their blazing enthusiasm, they all listened intently, focusing their full attention and fixing their gaze on their mentor.
And so the time became ripe. Shakyamuni finally broke his long silence and began to expound the Lotus Sutra — the ultimate teaching that enables all living beings to attain Buddhahood. This is the meaning of "At that time," which begins the "Expedient Means" chapter.
In other words, it indicates the time when a Buddha stands up to guide people to enlightenment and the time when the disciples have established a single-minded seeking spirit for the Buddha's teaching. It signifies a profound concordance of the disciples' hearts with the mentor's heart. This scene opens the grand drama of mentor and disciple, who dedicate themselves to the happiness of humankind.
The Buddha is the one who most keenly comprehends the time. The Buddha awaits the proper time, discerns the nature of the time, creates the time and expounds the Law that accords with the time. Such is the Buddha's wisdom and compassion.
"Why do the people suffer?" "For what do the people yearn?" "What teaching enables the people to become happy, and when should it be taught?" The Buddha ponders these matters constantly and expounds the Law freely in accordance with the time.
In this sense, to know the time is also to understand people's hearts. The Buddha is a leader who has mastered understanding others' hearts. The Buddha is an instructor of the spirit and an expert on human nature.
From the Buddha's standpoint, "that time" is the time when the Buddha initiates the struggle to enable all people to attain enlightenment. For the disciples, it is the time when they grasp and become powerfully aware of the Buddha's spirit.
Regarding the importance of the time, Nichiren Daishonin writes, "When it comes to studying the teachings of Buddhism, one must first learn to understand the time" (WND-1, 538). Thus he indicates that Buddhism is expounded based on the time; the teaching that should be propagated is the one that accords with the time.
Proclaiming this period of the Latter Day of the Law to be the time when the great pure Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo should be spread, Nichiren launched the struggle to propagate the Mystic Law and enable all people of the Latter Day to attain enlightenment.
One's Inner Determination Opens the Way Forward
In other words, from the standpoint of the Buddhism hidden in the depths, we can interpret "that time" as indicating the time when Nichiren Daishonin commenced his great struggle to save all humankind. And it can also be said that "that time" indicates the time when Nichiren's disciples stand up in concert with the mentor to realize kosen-rufu.
In terms of our practice, therefore, I would like to stress that "that time" exists only when we pray to the Gohonzon and manifest determination and awareness of our mission for kosen-rufu. We have to make a determination, pray and take action. Unless we do so, our environment will not change in the least; though five or ten years may pass, "that time" will never arrive.
Our single-minded determination for kosen-rufu, and that alone, creates the "time." "That time" is when we set our lives in motion, when we stand up of our own volition and by our own will and strength. "That time" is when we summon forth strong faith and take our place on the grand stage of kosen-rufu.
Goethe writes, "The moment alone is decisive; Fixes the life of man, and his future destiny settles." "That time" is the moment you resolve from the depths of your heart, "Now I will stand up and fight!" From that instant, your destiny changes. Your life develops. History begins.
This is the spirit of the mystic principle of the true cause. This is the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. The moment you autonomously determine to accomplish something — not when you do it because you are told to — is "that time," the time of mission.
Immeasurable Meanings Derive From the One Law
At the outset of "Expedient Means," Shakyamuni arises serenely from samadhi and begins expounding the Lotus Sutra. Samadhi, or meditative concentration, means to focus one's mind on one point so that it becomes perfectly tranquil and still like a clear mirror and thereby enter a state of inner serenity. Shakyamuni enters samadhi early in "Introduction," the first chapter of the Lotus Sutra, and continues meditating throughout it.
Even though the sutra speaks of Shakyamuni entering samadhi, this does not mean that in the Latter Day people should seclude themselves in mountains and forests and practice sitting meditation. Nichiren Daishonin, who struggled in the very midst of society to enable all people to attain enlightenment, rejects such practices as unsuited to the time.
In the present age, samadhi means doing gongyo and chanting Nam- myoho-renge-kyo. We do not carry out this practice secluded in mountains and forests. Rather, on the foundation of our daily practice, we polish our lives, draw forth infinite wisdom and courage, and go out into society. This is the discipline we carry out.
Contemplation or meditation for its own sake is to have one's priorities reversed, to confuse a means for the end. In the Vimalakirti Sutra, Shakyamuni clearly explains that true meditation is not solitary contemplation beneath a tree but playing an active role in society while embracing the truth.
When someone urged that he pursue a life of meditation, Mahatma Gandhi is said to have replied that he felt no need to withdraw to a cave for that purpose. He carried the cave with him, he said, wherever he went. This episode is characteristic of Gandhi, who devoted his life to moving and taking action among the people.
Buddhism does not close its eyes to people's suffering; it is a teaching that opens people's eyes. Therefore, Buddhism is the path that enables people to become happy. To turn away our eyes from the contradictions of society and rid ourselves of all worldly thoughts is not the way of Buddhist practice.
The true spirit of meditation lies in manifesting our innate wisdom in society, resolutely struggling for the happiness of ourselves and others, and building a better society.
Nichiren Daishonin Stood Up for All Humankind
The specific samadhi Shakyamuni entered is termed "samadhi of the place of immeasurable meanings." The Immeasurable Meanings Sutra reads, "Immeasurable meanings are born from a single Law" (LSOC, 13). This Law from which immeasurable meanings derive is the foundation of all teachings. Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra from the standpoint of this great truth to which he had become enlightened.
Nichiren Daishonin clarified that this "single Law" is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He revealed this fundamental Law of the universe for all people and expressed it so that anyone can practice it. He stood up and expounded it for the happiness of the entire world and for all humanity. This is what the phrase "calmly arose from his samadhi" signifies in terms of its implicit meaning.
For us, "Immeasurable meanings are born from a single Law" means that by believing in and embracing the Mystic Law, we can acquire the Buddha's infinite wisdom. By doing gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho- renge-kyo daily, we cause our lives to shine with supreme wisdom and advance along the path of genuine victory in life. Each day, starting from this foundation, we can revitalize ourselves.
Therefore, please be confident that SGI members who pray with the determination "I will fight again today; I will do my best tomorrow too" and who stand up for kosen-rufu in society are themselves practicing "calmly arising from samadhi" each morning and evening.
The Unsolicited and Spontaneous Teaching
Shakyamuni, having arisen from samadhi, spontaneously begins to expound the Lotus Sutra without anyone first requesting that he do so. This manner of preaching, where the Buddha expounds the Law on his own initiative without any question having been put to him, is called "taking it upon himself to preach without being asked" (see OTT, 18-19).
The doctrine Shakyamuni spontaneously and serenely begins to expound is so profound that his disciples could not have imagined it, let alone have asked him to teach it. In this, we see the outpouring of wisdom and compassion that impelled Shakyamuni to expound the Lotus Sutra.
It is of profound significance that Shakyamuni takes it upon himself to preach without being asked. All sutras other than the Lotus Sutra are described as "preaching in accordance with the minds of others," that is, according to his listeners' capacities. As such, they do not represent the Buddha's true intention. By contrast, the Lotus Sutra is described as "preaching in accordance with one's own mind," because in this sutra Shakyamuni reveals the truth directly, in accordance with his own enlightenment.
Nichiren's declaration of the Buddhism of the Latter Day of the Law is another instance of taking it upon himself to preach without being asked. With regard to establishing his teaching, the Daishonin says, "If I speak out, I am fully aware that I will have to contend with the three obstacles and four devils" (WND-1, 239). He knew that if he spread the Mystic Law, he was certain to encounter persecution.
Nonetheless, without being asked by anyone, he began to expound the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In his lifetime struggles, the Daishonin preached in accordance with his own mind.
In our own practice, preaching in accordance with one's own mind indicates the spontaneous spirit to praise the Mystic Law out of profound recognition of its greatness, no matter what anyone might say. Such admiration for the Mystic Law is the essential reason we recite the sutra during morning and evening gongyo.
"Preaching in accordance with one's own mind" also indicates the attitude of propagating the Law to the full extent of one's ability, the irrepressible desire to teach and explain to others even a single word or phrase. By contrast, if you talk about the Mystic Law because you have been told to do so, or in the belief that it will make others think highly of you, then you are preaching in accordance with the minds of others.
Broadly speaking, "taking it upon himself to preach without being asked" and "preaching according to one's own mind" indicate autonomous and self-motivated action. It does not matter if your words are plain or if you are not a talented speaker. What is important is to pray earnestly with the determination for others to become happy and to tell others candidly about the greatness of Buddhism — with conviction and in your own words. This is the spirit of the Lotus Sutra and the spirit of the Soka Gakkai.
The Buddha Seeks to Enable All People to Attain the Same Enlightened State of Life
Shakyamuni starts out by telling Shariputra: "The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable. The door to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter. Not one of the voice-hearers or cause-awakened ones is able to comprehend it." This statement extols the great wisdom of the Buddha.
The "wisdom of the Buddhas" is the wisdom that shines like a sun within the Buddha. Shakyamuni praises this wisdom as "infinitely profound and immeasurable." It is "infinitely profound" because it penetrates down to the truth that is the very foundation of life. It is "immeasurable" because its light broadly illuminates all things.
Because the wisdom of the Buddhas reveals life in its entirety, the Buddha's state of life is said to be expansive and profound. Likening the Buddha's state of life to a great tree or a mighty river, Nichiren says: "The deeper the roots, the more prolific the branches. The farther the source, the longer the stream" (WND-1, 736).
Shakyamuni doesn't praise the wisdom of the Buddhas to say that the Buddha alone is great. In fact, it is just the opposite; his purpose is to encourage others. In effect, he is saying: "Therefore, all of you, too, should make this same great wisdom of the Buddhas shine in your own lives and become happy."
Wisdom is the path to happiness. Money, status, skill at getting by in the world — none of these can enable us to overcome the fundamental sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. The only way is to cultivate the wisdom with which our lives are inherently endowed.
The Lotus Sutra's purpose is to enable all people to cultivate supreme wisdom in their hearts and advance along the great path of indestructible happiness. Nichiren writes, "The treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all" (WND-1, 851). That is why Shakyamuni began by extolling the wisdom of the Buddhas, the supreme wisdom.
The next part of the passage reads, "The door to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter." Here Shakyamuni again praises the Buddha wisdom but from a slightly different perspective.
The "door to this wisdom" is the door to the realm of Buddha wisdom. Shakyamuni expounded various teachings as means to enable people to enter this realm. As we've discussed, prior to the Lotus Sutra, he taught in accordance with his listeners' diverse capacities. For example, at different times, he taught that life is suffering, that nothing is constant, that happiness lies in extinguishing all desires and that people should seek to awaken to the principle of dependent origination. In this way, Shakyamuni expounded teachings that the people could best understand.
These specific teachings, however, did not represent the Buddha's true purpose. The true purpose lay in enabling all people to enter the path of wisdom, the path for becoming a Buddha. This purpose, however, cannot be understood with the wisdom of voice-hearers or cause-awakened ones. Such people may understand the contents of a particular teaching, but they cannot fathom the Buddha's reason for expounding it.
Their very satisfaction with specific teachings — ones that explain life's impermanence or the need to eradicate desires, for instance — prevented them from entering the realm of the wisdom of the Buddha who had expounded these doctrines. They reached the gate, as it were, and then stopped. Therefore, Shakyamuni says this wisdom is "difficult to understand and difficult to enter."
Regard Suffering and Joy as Facts of Life
I have discussed until now the literal or surface meaning of this passage. President Toda explained this passage from the standpoint of its implicit meaning as follows:
The line "The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable" means that the wisdom of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is infinitely profound and immeasurable. The passage "The door to this wisdom is difficult to understand and difficult to enter" refers to the "door of faith" in the Gohonzon. By substituting faith for wisdom, we can enter the "door to this wisdom." This door is "difficult to understand and difficult to enter."
Excerpted from The Heart of the Lotus Sutra by Daisaku Ikeda. Copyright © 2013 Soka Gakkai. Excerpted by permission of World Tribune Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Impressions of My Mentor's State of Life,
The "Expedient Means" Chapter,
On the "Expedient Means" Chapter,
Excerpts From the "Expedient Means" Chapter,
( 1 ) Niji seson ... Sho fu no chi.,
( 2 ) Sho-i sha ga ... Ishu nange.,
( 3 ) Shari-hotsu ... Ryo ri sho jaku.,
( 4 ) Sho-i sha ga ... Kai i gu-soku.,
( 5 ) Shari-hotsu ... Mi-zo-u ho.,
( 6 ) Shari-hotsu ... Bus shitsu joju.,
( 7 ) Shi shari-hotsu ... Nange shi ho.,
( 8 ) Yui butsu yo butsu ... Nyo ze honmak kukyo to.,
THE "LIFE SPAN" CHAPTER PROSE SECTION,
On the "Life Span of the Thus Come One" Chapter,
The "Life Span" Chapter Prose Section,
( 9 ) Niji butsu go ... Jinzu shi riki.,
( 10 ) Issai seken ... Nayuta ko.,
( 11 ) Hi nyo go hyaku sen man noku ... Muryo muhen.,
( 12 ) Niji butsu go ... Asogi ko.,
( 13 ) Ji ju ze rai ... Dori shujo.,
( 14 ) Sho zen-nanshi ... Hok kangi shin.,
( 15 ) Sho zen-nanshi ... Sa nyo ze setsu.,
( 16 ) Sho zen-nanshi ... Kai jitsu fu ko.,
( 17 ) Sho-i sha ga ... Mu u shaku-myo.,
( 18 ) I sho shujo ... Mi zo zan pai.,
( 19 ) Nyo ze ga jo-butsu irai ... Bu bai jo shu.,
( 20 ) Nen kon hi jitsu metsu-do ... Kugyo shi shin.,
( 21 ) Ze ko nyorai ... Kai jitsu fu ko.,
( 22 ) Hi nyo ro-i ... On shi yo-koku.,
( 23 ) Sho shi o go ... Kyo shi jumyo.,
( 24 ) Bu ken shi to ... Mu bu shugen.,
( 25 ) Go sho shi chu ... Ni i fu mi.,
( 26 ) Bu sa ze nen ... Mot tsu fu sai.,
( 27 ) Sa ze kyo i ... Gen shi ken shi.,
( 28 ) Sho zen-nanshi ... Ni setsu ge gon.,
THE "LIFE SPAN" CHAPTER VERSE SECTION,
A Song in Praise of the Greater Self,
The "Life Span" Chapter Verse Section,
( 29 ) Ji ga toku bur rai ... Nirai muryo ko.,
( 30 ) I do shujo ko ... Sui gon ni fu ken.,
( 31 ) Shu ken ga metsu-do ... Ku shutsu ryojusen.,
( 32 ) Ga ji go shujo ... Nai shutsu i seppo.,
( 33 ) Jin-zu-riki nyo ze ... San butsu gyu daishu.,
( 34 ) Ga jodo fu ki ... Fu mon sanbo myo.,
( 35 ) Sho u shu ku-doku ... I setsu butsu nan chi.,
( 36 ) Ga chi-riki nyo ze ... Butsu-go jip puko.,
( 37 ) Nyo i zen hoben ... Ku sho kugen sha.,
( 38 ) I bonbu tendo ... I ses shuju ho.,
( 39 ) Mai ji sa ze nen ... Soku joju busshin.,
Appendix: Excerpts From the Lotus Sutra,