A Comparison of the Lotus Sutra and Other
Question: The Hosshi chapter
in the fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra reads, "[.
. . this Lotus Sutra is] the most difficult to believe and
the most difficult to understand." What is the meaning
of this passage?
Answer: More than two thousand
years have passed since the Buddha expounded the Lotus Sutra
in India. It took a little more than twelve hundred years
before this sutra was introduced to China, and two hundred
more years before it was brought from China to Japan. Since
then, more than seven hundred years have already passed.
After the death of the Buddha, there were
only three persons who realized the true meaning of this
passage of the Lotus Sutra. In India, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
said in his Daichido Ron: "[The Lotus Sutra]
is like a great physician who changes poison into medicine."1
This is the way he explained the meaning of the passage,
". . . the most difficult to believe and the most difficult
In China, the Great Teacher Tien-tai Chih-che
interpreted this phrase in light of its context:
"Among all those [sutras] I have
preached, now preach and will preach, this Lotus Sutra
is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult
to understand." And in Japan, the Great Teacher Dengyo3
elaborated on this phrase: "All the sutras of the
first four of the five periods4
preached in the past, the Muryogi Sutra now being
preached, and the Nirvana Sutra to be preached in the
future, are easy to believe and easy to understand. This
is because the Buddha taught these sutras in accordance
with the capacity of his listeners. The Lotus Sutra is
the most difficult to believe and to understand because
in it the Buddha directly revealed what he had attained."5
Question: Can you explain what
he meant by that?
Answer: The ease of believing and
understanding in the one case is due to the fact that the
Buddha taught in accordance with the capacity of the people.
And the difficulty of believing and understanding in the
other case is due to the fact that he taught in accordance
with his own enlightenment.
Kobo Daishi and his successors at To-ji
temple6 in Japan hold
that, of all the exoteric teachings, the Lotus Sutra is
the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to
understand. They assert, however, that in comparison to
the esoteric teachings, the Lotus Sutra is easy to believe
and easy to understand. Jikaku, Chisho and their followers
contend that both the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra
are among the most difficult to believe and the most difficult
to understand, but that of these two, the Dainichi Sutra
is by far the more difficult to believe and to understand.
All people in Japan agree with both of
these contentions. However, in interpreting this passage
["the most difficult to believe and the most difficult
to understand"], I, Nichiren, say that non-Buddhist
scriptures are easier to believe and understand than Hinayana
sutras, the Hinayana sutras are easier than the Dainichi
and other [Hodo] sutras, the Dainichi and other [Hodo]
sutras are easier than the Hannya sutras, the Hannya
sutras are easier than the Kegon Sutra, the Kegon
is easier than the Nirvana Sutra, the Nirvana is easier
than the Lotus Sutra, and the theoretical teaching of the
Lotus Sutra is easier than the essential teaching. Thus
there are many levels of comparative ease and difficulty.
Question: What is the value of
Answer: No other doctrine can surpass
the Lotus Sutra, a great lantern that illuminates the long
night of the sufferings of birth and death, a sharp sword
that can sever the fundamental darkness inherent in life.
The teachings of the Shingon, Kegon and other sects are
categorized as those expounded in accordance with the peoples
capacity. They are, therefore, easy to believe and understand.
The teachings expounded in accordance with the peoples
capacity are those sutras which the Buddha preaches in response
to the desires of the people of the nine worlds, just as
a wise father instructs an ignorant son in a way suited
to the childs understanding. On the other hand, the
teaching expounded in accordance with the Buddhas
enlightenment is the sutra which the Buddha preaches directly
from the world of Buddhahood, just as a saintly father guides
his ignorant son to his own understanding.
In the light of this principle, I have
carefully considered the Dainichi, Kegon, Nirvana
and other [provisional] sutras, only to find that all of
them are sutras expounded in accordance with the peoples
Question: Is there any evidence
to support this contention?
Answer: The Shrimala Sutra says:
"The Buddha brings to maturity those who have only
practiced non-Buddhist teachings by enabling them to make
good causes leading to the states of Humanity and Heaven.
For those seeking the state of Learning, the Buddha imparts
the vehicle which leads them to that state. To those seeking
the state of Realization, the Buddha reveals the vehicle
for that state. To those who seek the Mahayana teachings,
the Buddha expounds them." This statement refers to
those teachings which are easy to believe and easy to understand,
such as the Kegon, Dainichi Hannya, Nirvana and other
[In contrast, the Lotus Sutra says,] "At
that time, through Bodhisattva Yakuo, the World-Honored
One addressed the eighty thousand7
great seekers of the Law: Yakuo, do you seewithin
this great multitude of uncountable gods, dragon kings,
yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas,
humans and non-humans,8
as well as monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen those
who seek the rank of shravaka, those who seek the
rank of pratyekabuddha, and those who seek the path
to Buddhahood? If any of them in the presence of the Buddha
hears a single verse or phrase of the Lotus Sutra and experiences
a single moment of rejoicing, then I hereby confer on him
a prophecy that he shall attain supreme enlightenment."9
In the provisional sutras, Shakyamuni taught
five precepts10 for
the beings of Humanity; ten good precepts11
for those of Heaven; the four infinite virtues12
for the god Bonten; a practice of impartial almsgiving for
the Devil King; two hundred and fifty precepts for monks;
five hundred precepts for nuns; the four noble truths13
for the people of Learning; the twelve-linked chain of causation14
for the people of Realization; and the six paramitas
for bodhisattvas. This method of teaching is comparable
to water that assumes the round or square shape of its container,
or to an elephant which exerts just enough strength to subdue
The Lotus Sutra is entirely different.
It was preached equally for all, including the eight kinds
of lowly beings and the four kinds of believers.15
This method of teaching is comparable to a measuring rod
that is used to eliminate uneven places, or to the lion,
king of beasts, which always exerts its full power in attack,
regardless of the strength of its opponent.
When one examines all the various sutras
in the clear mirror of the Lotus Sutra, it is evident that
the three sutras16 of
Dainichi Buddha and the three Jodo or Pure Land sutras17
are teachings expounded in accordance with the peoples
capacity. Yet because the teachings of Kobo, Jikaku and
Chisho have for some reason been widely accepted, this truth
was obscured in Japan more than four hundred years ago.
[To uphold these mens teachings instead of the Lotus
Sutra] is like exchanging a gem for a pebble or trading
sandalwood for common lumber. Because Buddhism has by now
become thoroughly confused, the secular world has also been
plunged into corruption and chaos. Buddhism is like the
body and society like the shadow. When the body is crooked,
so is the shadow. How fortunate that all my disciples who
follow the Buddhas true intention will flow naturally
into the ocean of all-encompassing wisdom! But the Buddhist
scholars of our time put their faith in teachings expounded
according to the peoples capacity and are therefore
doomed to sink into the sea of suffering. I will explain
in more detail on another occasion.
With my deep respect,
The twenty-sixth day of the fifth month
- Nagarjuna used this simile to illustrate the enlightenment
of the two vehicles, condemned in the pre-Lotus Sutra
teachings as those whose seeds of Buddhahood had been
scorched and couldn't. His statement was based on his
understanding of how difficult it is believe this concept
revealed in the Lotus Sutra, as it contradicts the message
of so many earlier teachings.
- Chih-che: See p. 98, n. 71.
- Hokke Gengi, Vol 10.
- First four of the five periods: (1) The Kegon period,
or period of the Kegon Sutra, which represents
a high level of teaching second only to the teachings
of the Hokke-Nehan period; (2) the Agon period, or period
of the Agon sutras, which correspond to the Hinayana
teachings; (3) the Hodo period, or period of introductory
Mahayana; and (4) the Hannya period, or period of the
Hannya (Wisdom) sutras. See also Five periods
- Hokke sho
- To-ji temple: The head temple of the To-ji (Eastern
Temple) branch of the Shingon sect, located in Kyoto.
It was originally built by Emperor Kammu in 796 as a temple
for the protection of the nation and was later granted
to Kobo by Emperor Saga, becoming a center for the study
of esoteric practices.
- Eighty thousand: An innumerable amount.
- Uncountable gods, dragon kings.... mahoragas:
Reference to the eight kinds of lowly beings, or nonhuman
beings who protect Buddhism. See also p. 80,
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 10.
- Five precepts: See p. 20, n. 58.
- Ten good precepts: See p. 20, n. 59.
- Four infinite virtues: Four kinds of measureless
compassion: (1) giving others happiness, (2) removing
their suffering, (3) rejoicing at seeing, them become
free from suffering and gain happiness, and (4) abandoning
attachments to love and hatred and being impartial toward
everyone. By the practice of these virtues, one is said
to be able to attain rebirth in the Brahma Heaven.
- Four noble truths: See p.4, n. 3.
- Twelve-linked chain of causation: An early doctrine
of Buddhism showing the causal relationship between ignorance
and suffering. The first link in the chain is ignorance.
Then, ignorance causes action; action causes consciousness;
consciousness causes name and form; name and form cause
the six sense organs; the six sense organs cause contact;
contact causes sensation; sensation causes desire; desire
causes attachment; attachment causes existence; existence
causes birth; and birth causes old age and death.
- Four kinds of believers: Monks, nuns, laymen and
- Three sutras: The Dainichi, Kongocho and
- Three Jodo sutras: The Muryoju, Kammuryoju and
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. 3, page