Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.8]
3.8 The Mystic Law Exists within Our Lives
President Ikeda explains that by making Buddhism easily accessible to all the Daishonin’s teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo represents a great religious revolution.
In “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” Nichiren Daishonin sternly cautions: “Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo,1 if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching” (WND-1, 3). “Inferior” here means “incomplete.” The Mystic Law is the ultimate truth that is perfect and complete; in contrast, an incomplete teaching sets forth only a partial truth.
The above passage contains a profound philosophy that overcomes one of the serious pitfalls to which religion tends to succumb. It also embodies a crucial philosophy of faith for attaining genuine happiness.
Religion is generally held to be a universal endeavor to connect the human being to the infinite, absolute, and sacred. While in a sense this may be true, it seems that many religions postulate from the outset a separation between the secular and the sacred and between human beings and gods or Buddhas, and thus seek to bridge that gap.
The Daishonin, however, regards teachings that view the absolute or sacred as separate from human beings as incomplete. And he cites as an example the provisional, pre-Lotus Sutra Buddhist teachings, which do not set forth the principles or practice that enable ordinary people to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. Rather, they espouse that one must first undergo countless kalpas of practice over many lifetimes before enlightenment can be achieved. In the provisional, pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, a virtually insurmountable gulf exists between Buddhas and ordinary people. As long as that divide exists between the world of Buddhahood and the nine worlds [the realm of ordinary beings], it naturally follows that there is no way for all people to attain enlightenment. In this worldview, ordinary people and the idealized Buddhas are poles apart, thus leaving ordinary people with no option but to aspire for salvation through the assistance or intervention of such Buddhas.
This perceived separation between the nine worlds and the world of Buddhahood is demolished by the Lotus Sutra doctrine of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life”—in other words, the teaching that “the nine worlds have the potential for Buddhahood and that Buddhahood retains the nine worlds” (WND-1, 539). Here we can see the immense importance of the Lotus Sutra principle of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds.”2
The Daishonin opened the way to actualizing this latter principle, which is the key to attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, by establishing the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This constitutes in its fullest and most complete form the teaching of Buddhism that seeks enlightenment for all human beings.
The Mystic Law is the fundamental law of the universe. Its universality transcends our individual selves. However, the Mystic Law also exists within our lives (cf. WND-1, 3). It both resides within us and transcends us. Put another way, the Mystic Law is inherent in our lives because it is the all-embracing Law that pervades everything in the universe.
Regarding the meaning of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Daishonin further states: “When we revere Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion, the Buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is what is meant by ‘Buddha’” (WND-1, 887). The expression “is summoned forth and manifested” points to the profound significance of the Mystic Law.
The Daishonin uses a wonderful metaphor to explain this principle of calling forth and revealing the inner Buddha nature: “When a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out” (WND-1, 887).
The singing of the caged bird refers to the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo by ordinary people who, shackled in the chains of fundamental ignorance3 and earthly desires, arouse faith in the Mystic Law. In other words, it is the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith, determined to win over all obstacles and become happy without fail through the power of the Mystic Law.
The power of such strong, resolute chanting calls forth the Buddha nature in all living beings. Not only does the Buddha nature of [the protective gods] Brahma and Shakra and of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the universe manifest, but those chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can also sever the chains of fundamental ignorance and illusion, and reveal their own Buddha nature. In other words, it is the power of our voices chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that connects our lives with the Mystic Law pervading all phenomena in the universe.
The Daishonin’s most important admonition in regard to attaining enlightenment through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is that we must not view the Law as something outside ourselves. If we think the Law exists externally, then we are reverting to the kind of divide between Buddhas and ordinary people found in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings.
Throughout everything, Mr. Toda steadfastly continued to seek the Law that exists nowhere but within our own lives. And he stressed the importance of living true to oneself. His starting point was his profound realization in prison that the Buddha is life itself and his awakening to his identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.
He also often spoke of the spirit of faith we need in order to perceive the Mystic Law within us, saying: “You have to be resolved that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is your own life!” and “Propagating the Mystic Law in the Latter Day of the Law simply means deciding, ‘My life is none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!’” This is the spirit the Daishonin teaches in the passage: “When you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself” (WND-1, 3).
The Daishonin saw the power of the Mystic Law, which encompasses and sustains all things in the universe, as existing within human beings, and he established a means for actually manifesting that Law in their lives.
It is only by communing and fusing with the power (“other power”) of the eternal, unchanging truth transcending our limited, finite selves that we can wholly activate our own power (“self power”). At the same time, however, this eternal, all-encompassing “other power” actually exists inherently in our lives. The Daishonin writes: “People are certainly self-empowered, and yet they are not self-empowered. . . . People are certainly other-empowered, and yet they are not other-empowered” (WND-2, 62).4 What this means, I believe, is that by relying neither exclusively on “other power” nor on “self power,” we can bring forth from within us the power that transcends us. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to do this.
In this way, Nichiren Buddhism opens up a broad new vision of a universal religion for the happiness of all humankind—one that transcends the approach of teachings that strictly divide the powers of self and other and that emphasize one over the other.
From Lecture on “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” published in Japanese in January 2007.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam, or namu, being comprised of two characters). The Daishonin often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings.
- *2Mutual possession of the Ten Worlds: The principle that each of the Ten Worlds possesses the potential for all ten within itself. “Mutual possession” means that life is not fixed in one or another of the Ten Worlds, but can manifest any of the ten—from hell to Buddhahood—at any given moment. The important point of this principle is that all beings in any of the nine worlds possess the Buddha nature. This means that every person has the potential to manifest Buddhahood, while a Buddha also possesses the nine worlds and in this sense is not separate or different from ordinary people.
- *3Fundamental ignorance: The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. The inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life.
*4In “The Meaning of the Sacred Teachings of the Buddha’s Lifetime,” the Daishonin states: “Now in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, people are certainly self-empowered, and yet they are not self-empowered. This is because one’s own self, or life, at the same time possesses the nature of all living beings in the Ten Worlds. Therefore this self has from the beginning been in possession of one’s own realm of Buddhahood and of the realms of Buddhahood possessed by all other living beings. Therefore when one attains Buddhahood one does not take on some new or ‘other’ Buddha identity.
“Again, in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, people are certainly other-empowered, and yet they are not other-empowered. The Buddhas, who are considered separate from us, are actually contained within our own selves, or the lives of us ordinary people. Those Buddhas manifest the realms of Buddhahood of all living beings in the same manner as we do” (WND-2, 62).