The Bodies and Minds of Ordinary Beings
The sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra
deal with the bodies and minds of ordinary beings. The Buddha
preached them in terms that would be accessible to the minds
of ordinary persons, and therefore, though they represent
the preachings of the Buddha, they do not go beyond the scope
of the minds of ordinary persons. Hence they are called zuitai
sutras, or sutras that were preached in accordance with the
minds of others.
To illustrate, suppose that there are parents
who do not care for sake themselves but who have a beloved
son who is extremely fond of it. Feeling tenderly toward their
son and desiring to win his affection, they urge him to have
some sake and in so doing pretend that they themselves like
it, too. The foolish son thereupon concludes that his father
and mother in fact like sake.
The Trapusha Sutra deals with the realms of
human and heavenly beings. The Agon sutras deal with
persons of the two vehicles. The Kegon Sutra deals
with bodhisattvas. The Hodo and Hannya sutras
in some respects resemble the Agon and Trapusha sutras,
and in others, the Kegon Sutra.
When common mortals in this latter age read
these various sutras, they suppose that these sutras accord
with the mind of the Buddha. But if we ponder the matter closely,
we will see that in fact they are only reading what reflects
their own minds. And since their own minds have from the outset
been uncultivated, there is little merit to be gained thereby.
The Lotus Sutra, on the other hand, is known
as a zuijii sutra, one that was preached in accordance
with the Buddha's own mind. Because the Buddha's mind is a
superior mind, persons who read this sutra, even though they
may not understand its meaning, will gain inestimable benefit.
Mugwort that grows in the midst of hemp or
a snake inside a tube [will as a matter of course become straight],
and those who associate with people of good character, though
they themselves may have no particular virtue, will consequently
become upright in heart, deed and word. The Lotus Sutra exerts
a similar influence. Though one may not be outstanding in
other ways, if he puts faith in this sutra, the Buddha will
look upon him as a good person.
Concerning the Lotus Sutra, however, the form
of its teaching will vary depending upon the people's capacity,
the time, the country and the individuals who propagate it.
Yet it seems that even bodhisattvas who have reached the stage
of togaku do not understand these relationships. How
much less can common mortals in the latter age ever fathom
In general, there are three kinds of messengers.
The first kind is extremely clever. The second is not particularly
clever but is not stupid, either. The third is the kind who
is extremely stupid but nevertheless reliable.
Of these three types, the first will commit
no error [in transmitting his message]. The second, being
somewhat clever but not quite as clever as the first type,
will add his own words to his lord's message. Thus he is the
worst possible type of messenger. The third type, being extremely
stupid, will not presume to interpolate his own words, and,
being honest, will relay his lord's message without deviating
from it. Thus he is in effect a better messenger than the
second type, and occasionally may be even better than the
The first type of messenger may be likened
to the four ranks of saints in India. The second type corresponds
to the teachers in China. And the third type may be likened
to the stupid but honest persons among the common mortals
of this latter age.
I will set aside here the period when the
Buddha lived in this world. The period of a thousand years
that followed from the day after his passing is known as the
Former Day of the Law. This thousand-year period of the Former
Day is divided into two. During the first five hundred years,
the teachings of the Hinayana sutras spread. The persons who
propagated them were Mahakashyapa, Ananda, and others like
them. In the second five hundred years Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna,
Asanga, Vasubandhu and others spread the teachings of the
provisional Mahayana sutras. Some among these scholars wrote
about partial aspects of the Lotus Sutra, and others made
no mention of it whatsoever. Of the scholars who appeared
after this thousand year period of the Former Day, their interpretations
in a few cases resembled the Buddha's own teaching, but for
the most part they fell into error. Of those who [appeared
during the period of the Former Day and] were not in error
but whose explanations were insufficient, we may name Mahakashyapa,
Ananda, Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Asanga, and Vasubandhu.
In the thousand-year period of the Middle
Day of the Law, Buddhism was introduced to China. But at first,
because of controversy with the Confucians, there was apparently
no time to go into the internal divisions of Buddhism, such
as the distinction between Mahayana and Hinayana and between
provisional and true teachings.
As the Buddhist teachings spread more widely
and one doctrine after another was introduced from India,
some persons who had earlier seemed discerning now appeared,
in the light of more recently introduced sutras and treatises,
to have been foolish. There were also some who had earlier
been thought foolish but who were now seen to have been discerning.
In the end, ten different schools developed, and a thousand
or ten thousand different interpretations were propounded.
Ignorant people did not know which to adhere to, while those
who were thought to be wise each grew boundlessly attached
to their own biased views.
In the end, however, there was one opinion
that all agreed upon. They agreed, namely, that of all the
teachings set forth in the course of the Buddha's lifetime,
the Kegon Sutra represented the highest, the Nirvana
Sutra stood in second place, and the Lotus Sutra in third
place. No one from the ruler on down to the common people
disputed this interpretation, because it was shared by the
Dharma Teacher Fa-yun, the Dharma Teacher Chih-tsang and the
other leaders of the ten schools, who were all looked up to
as great sages.
Then, during the Middle Day of the Law, in
the time of the Ch'en and Sui dynasties, there appeared a
young monk named Chih-i, who was later to be known as the
Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che. Although he taught many
doctrines, his teachings in the end centered upon this single
issue of the relative superiority of the Lotus, Nirvana and
The Dharma Teacher Chih-i declared that the
teachers of Buddhism had these three works ranked upside down.
The ruler of the Ch'en dynasty, in order to determine the
truth of the matter, thereupon summoned a group of more than
a hundred men, including the Administrator of Monks Hui-heng,
the Supervisor of Monks Hui-kuang, Hui-jung, the Dharma Teacher
Fa-sui, and others, all among the most eminent leaders of
the ten schools of northern and southern China, and had them
confront the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai in debate.
The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai said, "The
Lotus Sutra itself says that 'among the sutras, it holds the
highest place.' It also says, 'Among all the sutras I [Shakyamuni]
have preached, now preach and will preach, this Lotus Sutra
is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to
understand.' The Muryogi Sutra makes clear that the
sutras the Buddha already 'had preached' here refer to 'the
Makahannya Sutra, the Kegon teaching of oceanic
emptiness' and so forth. And with regard to the sutras he
'would preach' in the future, the Nirvana Sutra says, 'From
the Hannya Haramitsu [Sutra] derives the Great Nirvana
[Sutra].' These scriptural passages show that the Lotus Sutra
is superior the Kegon and Nirvana sutras; they make
it abundantly clear, clear as could possibly be. You should
Rebuked in this manner, his opponents in some
cases simply shut their mouths, in other cases spewed out
abuse or turned pale. The Ch'en ruler then rose from his seat
and bowed three times, and all the hundred officials pressed
their palms together in reverence. The leaders of the other
schools were powerless to prevail and were forced to concede
defeat. Thus it was established that, among the teachings
of the Buddha's lifetime, the Lotus Sutra holds the highest
Then, during the latter five hundred years
of the Middle Day of the Law, the new translations of the
sutras and treatises appeared one after another. In the third
year of the Cheng-kuan era (629) in the reign of Emperor T'ai-tsung,
a monk named Hsuan-tsang journeyed to India. He spent seventeen
years mastering the various Buddhist doctrines of the five
regions and returned to China in the nineteenth year of the
same era (645), introducing the Jimmitsu Sutra, the
Yuga Ron, the Yuishiki Ron and the other teachings
of the Hosso school.
Hsuan-tsang declared, "Although there
are many different schools in India, this school is the foremost."
Emperor T'ai-tsung was one of the wisest rulers China has
known and he took Hsuan-tsang to be his teacher.
In essence, what this school teaches is that
for some persons, the three vehicles are a mere expedient
and the one vehicle represents the truth, while for others
the one vehicle is an expedient and the three vehicles represent
the truth. It also teaches that the five natures are completely
separate, and that those sentient beings whose nature predestines
them [to the two vehicles] or who lack the nature of enlightenment
can never attain Buddhahood.
Such doctrines were as incompatible with those
of the T'ien-t'ai of Tendai school as are fire and water.
But by this time both the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and the
Great Teacher Chang-an had passed from the scene, and their
successors were not the men they ought to have been. Hence
it appeared that the Tendai school had already gone down in
Later, during the reign of Empress Tse-t'ien,
the Kegon school appeared in China. The translation of the
Kegon Sutra in sixty volumes, which the Great Teacher
T'ien-t'ai had criticized, was set aside, and thereafter,
the school was established on the basis of a new translation
of the Kegon Sutra in eighty volumes, introduced by
the Tripitaka Master Jih-chao. In general, this school teaches
that the Kegon Sutra represents the "root teaching"
of the Buddha while the Lotus Sutra represents the "branch
teachings." Empress Tse-t'ien was a Buddhist nun, and
she had a certain degree of understanding of both the inner
and outer scriptures. In her arrogance she looked down upon
the Tendai school. Between the Hosso and Kegon schools, the
Lotus Sutra thus became doubly obscured.
Later, in the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsung,
the three Tripitaka masters Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih and
Pu-k'ung traveled to China from India, bringing with them
the Dainichi, Kongocho and Soshitsuji
sutras. In both their character and doctrine, these three
men were quite beyond comparison with the earlier teachers
of Buddhism in China. And, in addition, because they introduced
mudras and mantras, which had been previously
unknown, it was thought that Buddhism had not really existed
in China before their arrival. These men declared that the
Tendai school was superior to the Kegon, Hosso and Sanron
teachings, but that it could not measure up to the doctrines
of the Shingon sutras.
Still later, the Great Teacher Miao-lo produced
refutations of the Hosso, Kegon and Shingon schools, schools
which the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai had of course not criticized.
But he did not carry out his refutations in a public debate,
as the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai had done. Thus the Lotus Sutra
became like a piece of brocade worn in the dark of night,
while the mudras and mantras, which are not
to be found in the Lotus Sutra, were clearly visible before
people's eyes. Therefore everyone agreed in declaring the
Shingon school to be superior.
During the Middle Day of the Law, Buddhism
was introduced to Japan in the sixth year of the reign of
Emperor Kimmei (544). During the more than two hundred years
from the reign of Emperor Kimmei to the reign of Emperor Kammu,
the six sects - Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu
- were propagated. The teachings of the Shingon school were
introduced during the reign of the forty-fourth sovereign,
Empress Gensho, and those of the Tendai school, during the
reign of the forty-fifth sovereign, Emperor Shomu. But neither
of these teachings was propagated at the time.
During the reign of Emperor Kammu there lived
the Dharma Teacher Saicho, who was later known as the Great
Teacher Dengyo. Before journeying to China he mastered the
teachings of the six sects, and in addition, he spent fifteen
years in retirement on the mountain, examining the doctrines
of the Tendai and Shingon schools. Therefore, even before
going to China he was able to criticize the earlier six sects
from the viewpoint of the Tendai teachings, and his criticisms
persuaded all the leaders of the seven major temples of Nara
to acknowledge themselves as his disciples. Thus the doctrines
of the six sects were refuted.
Later, in the twenty-third year of the Enryaku
era (804), he journeyed to China, returning to Japan in the
twenty-fourth year of the same era (805). At that time he
propagated the Tendai and Shingon teachings in Japan. But
as far as their relative superiority was concerned, though
it appears that he discerned it in his heart, he did not expound
it to others.
During this same period lived Kukai, who was
later known as the Great Teacher Kobo. He, too, went to China
in the twenty-third year of the Enryaku era and returned to
Japan in the third year of the Daido era (808). He studied
only the teachings of Shingon and propagated them in Japan.
In his opinion, the Lotus Sutra could not measure up even
to the Kegon Sutra, much less to the Shingon teachings.
The Great Teacher Dengyo had a disciple named
Ennin, who was later known as the Great Teacher Jikaku. He
went to China in the fifth year of the Jowa era (838) and
returned to Japan in the fourteenth year of the same era (847).
During those ten years he studied both the Shingon and Tendai
doctrines. While in Japan, he had thoroughly studied the Tendai
and Shingon doctrines under the Great Teacher Dengyo, Gishin
and Encho, and in addition, during his ten years in China
he studied Shingon under eight distinguished teachers and
received instruction in Tendai from Tsung-jui, Chih-yuan and
others. After returning to Japan, he announced that the Tendai
and Shingon schools both alike represented the flavor of ghee,
and that the sutras of both schools were profound and recondite.
An imperial edict was issued supporting these opinions.
After him there appeared Enchin, who was later
known as the Great Teacher Chisho. Before journeying to China,
he was a disciple of the Eminent Monk Gishin. While in Japan,
he studied the Tendai and Shingon teachings under Gishin,
Encho, Ennin and others. In addition, he went to China in
the third year of the Ninka era (853), returning in the first
year of the Jogan era (859). During his seven years in China,
he made a thorough study of the two teachings of Tendai and
Shingon under such men as Fa-ch'uan and Liang-hsu.
He declared that the relative merits of the
two sects of Tendai and Shingon were as clear as though reflected
in a mirror, but that this point would surely be disputed
in later times, and so he would settle the matter. He therefore
stated his opinion that the two sects of Tendai and Shingon
were comparable to the two eyes of a person or the two wings
of a bird. Those who held interpretations at variance with
this were going against the teachings of the founder, the
Great Teacher Dengyo, and should not be permitted to remain
on the mountain. An imperial edict was again promulgated in
support of this position, and Enchin spread his interpretation
throughout the country.
Thus it would appear that, though there are
many wise men in both China and Japan, there could be no one
who would refute this interpretation. If it is valid, then
those persons who practice in accordance with it are certain
to attain Buddhahood, and those rulers who pay respect to
it are bound to enjoy peace and safety in their realm.
I had thought that, though I might venture
to tell others my own opinion, they would not only refuse
to heed it but in fact would try to do me harm, and that my
disciples and lay patrons who heard my views would also be
placed in peril. And in fact everything has turned out just
as I anticipated.
Nevertheless, I believe that the interpretations
put forth by the persons I have mentioned above simply do
not accord with the Buddha's intent. Judging from the eight
volumes and twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra, if there
should be any other sutra that surpasses this one, then the
Lotus Sutra would represent no more than a gathering of the
Buddhas of the ten directions who came together to pile up
great lies. But in fact when we examine the Kegon,
Nirvana, Hannya, Dainichi and Jimmitsu sutras,
we do not find any passage that controverts the Lotus Sutra's
clear statement that "among the sutras, it holds the
Thus, although Shan-wu-wei, Hsuan-tsang, Kobo,
Jikaku, Chisho and the others put forth a variety of clever
arguments, they could produce no passage of scripture that
would prove the Lotus Sutra to be inferior to the Dainichi
Sutra. Their whole argument rests solely on the question of
whether or not the sutra includes mudras and mantras.
Rather than writing hundreds of volumes of argument, traveling
back and forth between China and Japan with their unending
schemes, and arranging for the promulgation of imperial edicts
in order to intimidate people, they would have been better
off producing some clear passage of proof in the sutras themselves.
Who then could have doubted their assertions?
Dewdrops accumulate to form a stream, and
streams accumulate to form the great ocean. Particles of dust
accumulate to form a mountain, and mountains accumulate to
form Mount Sumeru. And in the same way, trifling matters accumulate
to become grave ones. How much more so in the case of this
matter, which is the gravest of all! When these men wrote
their commentaries, they should have exerted themselves in
examining both the principles and documentary evidence of
the two teachings, and when the court issued imperial edicts,
it, too, should have delivered its admonitions after thoroughly
investigating both sides and citing some clear passage of
Not even the Buddha himself could repudiate
his statement that among all the sutras he had preached, now
preached and would preach, [the Lotus Sutra stands supreme].
How much less then can scholars, teachers and rulers of states
use their authority to do so! This statement has been heard
by Bonten, Taishaku, the deities of the sun and moon, and
the Four Heavenly Kings and duly recorded in their respective
While there were still persons who truly did
not know of this statement, it seems that the false interpretations
of the teachers I mentioned earlier spread without anyone
incurring retribution. But once a person of forceful character
has come forward to make this sutra passage known in a bold
and uncompromising fashion, then grave matters are certain
to occur. Because people have looked down upon this person
and cursed him, struck him, sent him into exile or attempted
to take his life, Bonten, Taishaku, the deities of the sun
and moon, and the Four Heavenly Kings rose up in anger and
became that votary's allies. Thus unexpected censures have
come down from Heaven, and the people are about to be wiped
out and the nation destroyed.
Though the votary of the Lotus Sutra may be
of humble background, the heavenly deities who protect him
are fearsome indeed. If an asura demon tries to swallow
the sun or moon, his head will split into seven pieces. If
a dog barks at a lion, its bowels will rot. And as I view
the situation today, the same sort of retribution is happening
here in Japan.
On the other hand, those who give alms and
support to the votary will receive the same benefit as though
they were supporting the Lotus Sutra itself. As the Great
Teacher Dengyo says in his commentary: "Those who praise
him will receive blessings that will pile up as high as Mount
Sumeru, while those who slander him will be committing a fault
that will condemn them to the hell of incessant suffering."
He who offered a humble meal of millet to
the pratyekabuddha became the Tathagata Universal Brightness.
He who offered a mudpie to the Buddha became the ruler of
the continent of Jambudvipa. Though one may perform meritorious
deeds, if they are directed toward that which is not true,
then they may bring great evil but they will never result
in good. On the other hand, though one may be ignorant in
mind and his offerings meager, if he presents them to a person
who upholds the truth, his merit will be great. How much more
so in the case of persons who in all sincerity make offerings
to the True Law!
In addition, we live today in a time of trouble,
when there is little that ordinary people can do. And yet,
busy as you are, in your sincerity of heart you have sent
me bamboo shoots of the moso variety as offerings to
the Lotus Sutra here in the mountains. Surely you are sowing
good seeds in a field of fortune. My tears flow when I think
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin,
Vol. 6, page 267.