The Essence of the Yakuo Chapter
Concerning the general meaning of this
chapter called the Yakuo, the Yakuo chapter is in the seventh
volume and is the twenty-third of the twenty-eight chapters
that make up the Lotus Sutra.
The first volume of the sutra contains
two chapters, the Jo chapter and the Hoben chapter. The
Jo chapter serves as an introduction to the entire twenty-eight
The eight chapters beginning with the Hoben
chapter and continuing through the Ninki chapter are concerned
primarily with clarifying how persons of the two vehicles
can attain Buddhahood, and secondarily with clarifying how
bodhisattvas and ordinary people can attain Buddhahood.
The following five chapters, consisting
of the Hosshi, Hodo, Devadatta, Kanji and Anraku chapters,
explain how the teachings set forth in the preceding eight
chapters are to be carried out by ordinary persons in a
The ensuing Yujutsu chapter serves as an
introduction to the Juryo chapter. The subsequent
twelve chapters, numbering from the Fumbetsu kudoku chapter
on, serve primarily to explain how the doctrines set forth
in the Juryo chapter are to be carried out by ordinary
persons in a latter age, and secondarily to explain how
those set forth in the eight chapters from the Hoben chapter
on are to be carried out. The Yakuo chapter, therefore,
is a chapter that explains how one ought to carry out the
teachings both of the eight chapters beginning with the
Hoben chapter and of the Juryo chapter.
This chapter, the Yakuo, contains ten analogies,
the first of which is the analogy of the great ocean. I
will begin by explaining this analogy in outline form. In
the southern continent of Jambudvipa there are 2,500 rivers;
in the western continent of Goddniya there are 5,000 rivers.
In all the four continents there are a total of 25,000 rivers.
Some of these rivers are forty ri in length, some a hundred
ri, some only one ri, one chu or one fathom. However, concerning
the matter of depth, not one of these rivers can match the
Among all the sutras, such as the Kegon;
Agon, Hodo, Hannya, Jimmitsu, Amida, Nirvana, Dainichi,
Kongonchi, Soshitsuji and Mitsugon sutras, all the sutras
preached by Shakyamuni Buddha, all the sutras preached by
Dainichi Buddha, all the sutras preached by Amida Buddha,
all the sutras preached by Yakushi Buddha, and all the sutras
preached by the various Buddhas of the three existences
of past, present and future-among all these sutras, the
Lotus Sutra stands foremost. Thus these other sutras are
analogous to the large rivers, middle-sized rivers and small
rivers, while the Lotus Sutra is analogous to the great
The ocean possesses ten virtues or outstanding
characteristics in which it surpasses rivers. First of all,
the floor of the ocean becomes increasingly deeper, which
is not true of rivers. second, the ocean will not provide
a resting place for a corpse, which is not true of rivers.
Third, the ocean obliterates the names of the various rivers
that flow into it, while rivers retain their names. Fourth,
the water of the ocean has a single uniform taste, while
this is not true of rivers. Fifth, the ocean contains various
treasures that are not found in rivers. Sixth, the ocean
is extremely deep, which is not true of rivers. Seventh,
the ocean is boundless in breadth, which rivers are not.
Eighth, the ocean houses creatures of great size, which
is not true of rivers. Ninth, the ocean has tides that ebb
and flow, but rivers do not. And tenth, the ocean absorbs
the waters of torrential rains or huge rivers without ever
overflowing, but this is not true of rivers.
The Lotus Sutra likewise has ten virtues,
while the other sutras have ten faults. In the case of this
sutra the benefits gained from it increase in depth and
bounty, and they continue down to the fiftieth person who
hears of it.1 In the
case of the other Sutras, however, there is no benefit to
be gained even by the first person who hears them, much
less by the second, third or fourth person, and so on down
to the fiftieth person.
Though rivers may be deep, their depth
cannot match even the shallow places of the ocean. And though
the various other sutras may claim that a single character
or a single phrase of theirs or the ten meditations2
are capable of encompassing those who are suffering from
the evil effects of the ten evil acts or the five cardinal
sins, such benefits cannot match those gained by the fiftieth
person who hears a single character or a single phrase of
the Lotus Sutra and responds with joy.
In the case of the Lotus Sutra, just as
the ocean will not provide a resting place for a corpse,
so a person who slanders the Law by turning against the
Lotus Sutra will be cast out by the sutra, even though in
other respects he may be an individual of extreme goodness.
And how much more so will this be true in the case of an
evil person who, in addition to his other evil acts, slanders
the Law! Though one may speak slanderously of the other
sutras, if he does not turn his back upon the Lotus Sutra,
he is certain to attain the Buddha way. But though he may
put his faith in all the other sutras, if he turns his back
upon the Lotus Sutra, he will invariably fall into the great
citadel of the Avichi hell.
I move now to the eighth virtue of the
ocean, the fact that it can house creatures of great size.
And we find that in the ocean there are huge fish known
The place called the hell of incessant suffering measures
eighty thousand yojana in total length and breadth. But
when a person falls into the hell of incessant suffering
by committing one of the five cardinal sins, this person
alone is sufficient to fill it up completely. Thus we know
that the inhabitants of this hell, persons who have committed
one or more of the five cardinal sins, are beings of very
In the other sutras, which we have likened
to small rivers or large rivers, no makara fish are to be
found. However, in the great ocean that is the Lotus Sutra,
they do exist. And in like manner, the other sutras do not
in fact state that persons who commit one or more of the
five cardinal sins are capable of attaining the Buddha way.
Or, even if the sutras do state this, in fact the true principle
has yet to be revealed in them.
Therefore the Great Teacher Tien-tai
Chih-che, who had memorized all the sacred teachings of
the Buddhas lifetime, says in his commentary on the
Lotus Sutra: "The other sutras merely predict Buddhahood
for bodhisattvas but not for persons in the two vehicles.
They predict Buddhahood merely for the good but not for
the evil.... This sutra predicts Buddhahood for all living
beings."4 But I
will not go into details on this matter.
Second is the analogy of mountains. The
sutra says that among the Ten Treasure Mountains and the
other mountains, Mount Sumeru is foremost. The Ten Treasure
Mountains are: first, Snow Mountain; second, Fragrant Mountain;
third, Mount Khadira; fourth, the Mountain of Immortals
and Sages; fifth, Mount Yugamdhara; sixth, Horse Ear Mountain;
seventh, Mount Nimindhara; eighth, Mount Chakravdda; ninth,
the Mountain of Past Wisdom; and tenth, Mount Sumeru.
The first nine of these ten mountains are
analogous to the various other sutras, which are like ordinary
mountains. Each of these mountains contains valuable resources.
But Mount Sumeru contains numerous valuable resources, and
hence in terms of resources is superior to them. For example,
it is like Jambfinada gold,5
to which ordinary gold cannot compare.
The Kegon Sutra has its teaching that "the
phenomenal world is created by the mind alone," the
Hannya sutras have their eighteen kinds of non-substantiality;
the Dainichi Sutra has its fivefold meditation for attaining
Buddhahood, and the Kammuryoju Sutra has its doctrine of
rebirth in the pure land. But the Lotus Sutras teaching
of the attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form
surpasses all of these.
Mount Sumeru is golden in color. Every
creature that comes to this mountain, whether ox or horse,
human being or heavenly being, bird or any other being,
inevitably loses its original color and takes on the golden
color of the mountain. This is not true of any of the other
mountains. In the same manner, the various other sutras,
when placed beside the Lotus Sutra, lose their original
color. They are like black objects that, when exposed to
the light of the sun or the moon, lose their color. So the
many-colored teachings regarding rebirth in another land
or attainment of Buddhahood that are found in these other
sutras, when exposed to the light of the Lotus Sutra, inevitably
lose their meaning.
Third is the analogy of the moon. Among
the various stars, some can light an area of no more than
half a ri, some an area of no more than one ri, some
an area of no more than eight ri or sixteen ri.
But the moon can light an area of over eight hundred ri.
Thus, although the various stars have their light, it cannot
equal that of the moon.
Even if we were to assemble a hundred thousand
ten thousand million stars, as well as all the stars from
the world of the four continents, from a major world system,
and from all the worlds of the ten directions, their light
would not equal the light of a single moon. How then could
the light of only one star equal the light of the moon?
Similarly, though we gather together all
the various sutras, such as the Kegon Sutra, the Agon sutras,
the Hodo, Hannya, Nirvana, Dainichi and Kammuryoju sutras,
they could never equal even a single character of the Lotus
Within the mind of all human beings there
exist the three categories of illusions of thought and desire,
of illusions innumerable as particles of dust and sand,
and of illusions about the true nature of existence, as
well as karma created by the ten evil acts and the five
cardinal sins-all of which are like a dark night. The Kegon
and the other various sutras are like stars in this dark
night, while the Lotus Sutra is like the moon in this night.
For those who have faith in the Lotus Sutra but whose faith
is not deep, it is as though a half moon were illuminating
that dark night. But for those who have profound faith,
it is as though a full moon were illuminating the night.
On a night when there is no moon, but only
the light of the stars, strong men or resolute individuals
may walk abroad, but elderly people and women will find
it impossible to do so. But when there is a full moon, even
women and elderly people may walk about anywhere they please,
proceeding to a banquet or going to meet others. Similarly,
in the various sutras, it is said that bodhisattvas and
ordinary persons of great capacity can attain enlightenment.
But for persons of the two vehicles, ordinary persons, evil
persons and women, or persons in a latter age who are elderly
and lazy and do not observe the precepts, no assurance is
given that they can ever attain rebirth in the pure land
or achieve Buddhahood. This is not so of the Lotus Sutra,
however. There even persons in the two vehicles, evil persons
and women are assured of becoming Buddhas, to say nothing
of bodhisattvas and ordinary persons of great capacity.
Again, the moon shines more brightly around
dawn than it does in the early evening, and is more luminous
in autumn and winter than in spring and summer. In a similar
fashion, the Lotus Sutra is even more effective in bringing
benefit to living beings in the Latter Day of the Law than
it is during the two thousand years that make up the Former
and Middle Days of the Law.
Question: What passages of proof can you
Answer: The truth is plain to see. In addition,
this chapter later states as follows: "After I have
passed into extinction, in the last five-hundred-year period
you must spread it [the Lotus Sutra] abroad widely throughout
Jambudvipa and never allow it to be cut off."6
This passage from the sutra, which states that it must be
widely spread throughout Jambudvipa, the southern continent,
when two thousand years have passed, expresses the same
meaning as the third analogy of the moon. The Great Teacher
Kompon, also known as the Great Teacher Dengyo, was referring
to this idea when he stated in his commentary: "The
Former and Middle Days are almost over, and the Latter Day
is near at hand. Now indeed is the time when the one vehicle
expounded in the Lotus Sutra will prove how perfectly it
fits the capacities of all people."7
The benefits conferred by the Lotus Sutra
surpass those of the various other sutras even during the
thousand years of the Former Day of the Law and the thousand
years of the Middle Day of the Law. But when the spring
and summer of the two thousand years of the Former and Middle
Days are over, and the autumn and winter of the Latter Day
of the Law have come, then the light of this moon will shine
more brightly than ever.
Fourth is the analogy of the sun. When
the moon appears in the sky where the stars are shining,
although its light surpasses that of the stars, the stars
do not actually lose their light. But when the sun appears,
not only do the stars lose their light, but the moon, too,
is deprived of its light and loses its glow.
The sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra
are like the stars, the theoretical teaching of the Lotus
Sutra is like the moon, and the Juryo chapter is
like the sun. When the Juryo chapter makes its appearance,
then the moon of the theoretical teaching cannot equal it,
to say nothing of the stars that are the previous sutras.
During the night, the time of the stars
and the moon, people do not pursue their occupations. But
when dawn comes, they invariably go about their various
tasks. Similarly, while the earlier sutras or the theoretical
teaching of the Lotus Sutra prevails, it will be difficult
for people to free themselves from the sufferings of birth
and death. But once the Juryo chapter of the essential
teaching makes its appearance, then people are certain to
be able to free themselves from the sufferings of birth
I will omit a discussion of the other six
In addition to these ten analogies, there
are many other analogies employed in this chapter. Among
them is that of a traveler who finds a ship when he wishes
to make a crossing. The meaning of this analogy is that
in the sea of the sufferings of birth and death, the sutras
preached before the Lotus Sutra are like rafts or little
boats. Although they can carry people from one shore in
the realm of birth and death to another shore in that same
realm, they are incapable of carrying them across the sea
of birth and death to the distant shore of Perfect Bliss.8
These sutras are like the small boats of
our world that can go from Kyushu to the Bando region, or
from Kamakura to Enoshima,9
but cannot go as far as China. A China ship, on the other
hand, is fully capable of going all the way from Japan to
China without difficulty.
Again, there is the analogy that says,
"like the poor finding riches." The lands represented
by the sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra are impoverished
lands and their inhabitants are like hungry spirits. The
Lotus Sutra, on the other hand, is a veritable mountain
of riches and its inhabitants are wealthy.
Question: When you say that the lands of
the sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra are impoverished
lands, what passage of scripture are you referring to?
Answer: The Juki chapter of the Lotus Sutra
states: "Suppose that someone coming from a land of
famine should suddenly encounter a great kings feast."
Concerning rebirth in the pure land and
the attainment of Buddhahood by women, a passage from the
sutra has this to say: "If in the last five-hundred-year
period after the Thus Come One has entered extinction there
is a woman who hears this sutra and carries out its practices
as the sutra directs, when her life here on earth comes
to an end, she will immediately go to the world of Peace
and Delight where the Buddha Amida dwells surrounded by
the assembly of great bodhisattvas and there will be born
seated on a jeweled platform in the center of a lotus blossom."10
Question: Why does this sutra and this
chapter in the sutra, make a particular point of discussing
rebirth in the pure land by women?
Answer: The Buddhas intentions are
difficult to fathom, and the significance of this matter
is difficult to determine. But if I were to venture a guess,
I would say that it is because women are looked upon as
the root of various errors and the source of the downfall
of the nation. Therefore, in both Buddhist and non-Buddhist
scriptures, there are many prohibitions laid down with regard
to women. Among these, for example, are the three obediences
set forth in the non-Buddhist scriptures. The "three
obediences" means to obey three times and refers to
the fact that when a woman is young, she must obey her parents;
when she marries, she must obey her husband; and in old
age, she must obey her son. She is thus confronted with
these three obstacles and cannot conduct herself freely
in the world.
If we turn to the Buddhist scriptures,
we find that they speak of the five obstacles. Of these
five obstacles that confront women, the first is the fact
that, in the course of being reborn again and again in the
six paths, they cannot, like men, ever be reborn as the
deity Daibonten. Second, they can never be reborn as Taishaku.
Third, they cannot be reborn as a devil king. Fourth, they
cannot be reborn as a wheel-turning king. And fifth, they
must remain forever within the six paths, unable to emerge
from the threefold world and become a Buddha. (This passage
is found in the Chonichigatsu sammai Sutra.11)
The Gonjikinyo Sutra has this to say: "Even
if the eyes of the Buddhas of the three existences were
to fall to the ground, no woman of any of the realms of
existence could ever attain Buddhahood."12
Ordinary human beings though they are,
worthy rulers and sages do not tell falsehoods. Thus Fan
Ya-chi presented his head to Ching Ko, and Prince
Chi-cha hung his sword on the grave of the Lord of Hso.
They did these things so as not to go against their promises
or be guilty of uttering falsehoods. And if such men do
not utter falsehoods, how much more is this true of voice-hearers,
bodhisattvas or Buddhas!
Long ago, when the Buddha was still an
ordinary man and was practicing the teachings of the Hinayana
sutras, he undertook to observe the five precepts. And among
these five, the fourth is that one must never lie. He firmly
observed this precept. Thereafter, even though it meant
losing his property or his life, he never violated this
When he was practicing the teachings of
the Mahayana sutras, he observed the ten major precepts,
and among these ten major precepts, the fourth is that one
must never lie. He faithfully observed this precept without
once violating it throughout countless kalpas, until in
the end, through the power acquired by observing this precept,
he was able to attain the body of a Buddha. And among the
thirty-two features that distinguish the body of a Buddha,
he was able to obtain that of a long and broad tongue.
This tongue of the Buddhas is so
thin and broad and long that it can be extended to cover
his face or reach up to his hairline, or even to reach to
the Brahma heaven. On this tongue are five figures that
are like embossed designs, and the tongue is the color of
copper. Underneath it are two jewels that emit amrita dew.
This tongue was obtained by virtue of the
fact that the Buddha observed the precept against lying.
And with this tongue he stated that, though the eyes of
all the Buddhas of the three existences might fall to earth,
no woman in all the realms of existence could become a Buddha.
Thus we may suppose that no woman in any world whatsoever
can ever hope to become a Buddha. And if so, then we must
assume that, when one is born with the body of a woman,
even if she should rise to the position of a queen or the
consort of an emperor or an emperors mother or grandmother,
it would not help her, and even if she should perform meritorious
acts and practice the teachings of Buddhism, it would do
Nevertheless, in this Yakuo chapter of
the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha says that women may attain rebirth
in the pure land. This is very strange indeed! Is the other
sutra lying? Or is this sutra lying? However we look at
it, we must suppose that one of them is lying. And if one
of them is lying, then the same Buddha is saying two different
things, which is very hard to believe.
However, in the Muryogi Sutra, the Buddha
says: "In these more than forty years, I have not yet
revealed the truth." And in the Nirvana Sutra he says:
"Though the Thus Come One does not speak untruths,
if I knew that by speaking falsely [I could help people
gain the benefits of the Law, then for their sake I would
go along with what is best and speak such words as an expedient
In view of these passages, it would appear
that the Buddha was speaking falsely when he declared that
women cannot attain rebirth in the pure land and achieve
Buddhahood. And if we consider the passages in the Lotus
Sutra that state: "The World-Honored One has long expounded
his doctrines and now must reveal the truth,"13
and "All that you have expounded [in the Lotus Sutra]
is the truth," then we must conclude that those passages
in the Lotus Sutra that declare that women can most assuredly
attain rebirth in the pure land and achieve Buddhahood are
true statements and expressions of his observance of the
precept against lying.
There are times when a worthy man in secular
society, because his son is behaving strangely or is guilty
of some error, will declare that he is no longer his son.
To prove the truth of the assertion, the man may even write
out a vow or swear an oath. But when the time of his death
approaches, he will forgive his son. Though he does these
things, we do not deny that he is a worthy man or accuse
him of speaking falsely. And the Buddha, too, at times acts
in this same manner.
During the more than forty years when the
earlier sutras were being preached, the Buddha acknowledged
that bodhisattvas could attain the way, that ordinary persons
could do so, and that good persons and men could do so,
but he would not admit that persons in the two vehicles,
evil persons or women could do so. There were times, however,
when he did seem to admit the possibility. Therefore the
truth of this matter remained undetermined. But when he
had completed his first forty-two years of preaching, and
he was ready to enter the eight-year period when he would
preach the Lotus Sutra on Mount Gridhrakuta at Rajagriha
in the kingdom of Magadha, he first of all preached the
Muryogi Sutra. And in that sutra he stated: "In these
more than forty years, [I have not yet revealed the truth]."14
- A reference to the principle of "continual propagation
to the fiftieth person," described in the Zuiki
kudoku (18th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. A person,
rejoicing on hearing the Lotus Sutra, teaches it to a
second person, who in turn teaches it to a third, and
so on, until the fiftieth person hears the sutra.
- Ten meditations: Here probably the meditation that the
Pure Land sect sets forth on the basis of the Muryogi
and Kammuryoju sutras. It consists of chanting
the name of Amida Buddha ten times, and is said to lead
to rebirth in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha.
- Makara: (Skt) A huge imaginary fish with eighteen
heads and thirtysix eyes, described in the Kompon setsuissaiubu
binaya (Monastic Rules of the Sarvdstivdda School),
- Hokke mongu, Vol. 7.
- Jambanacla gold: Gold sifted from the sediment of the
river running through the forest of jambu trees
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 23. "The last five-hundred-year
period" indicates the fifth five hundred years following
Shakyamuni's death, that is, the beginning of the Latter
Day of the Law.
- Shugo kokkai sha
- Perfect Bliss: The name of the land of Amida Buddha.
- Kyushu is an island in southern Japan. Bando is another
name for Kanto, a region in east central Japan that includes
present-day Tokyo. Enoshima is a small island located
west of Kamakura.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 23. "Peace and Delight"
is another name for the land of Perfect Bliss (see
- Chonichigatsu sammai Sutra: Probably the Chonichimyj
- This statement is not found in the extant Chinese version
of the Gonjikinyo Sutra.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 2.
- Ibid., chap. it.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 7.