Mahayana Buddhism and Nichiren Daishonin

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

 “The value of life does not lie in the number of years, but in the use you make of them. Whether you have lived enough depends on your will, not on the number of years”.-Michael de Montaigne

1553-1592. According to Shakymuni, the term "Buddha" is applicable to an "enlightened one." He who correctly perceives the true nature of all the phenomena and leads others to attain Buddhahood or development of mind. The "Buddha nature" according to Buddhism that exists in all beings is characterized by the qualities of wisdom, courage, compassion and life force.

 Out of all the Shakyamuni's discourses during the enlightened one's sojourn on earth, the penultimate philosophy prior to Parinibbna (demise) was known as the Sathdharma Pundarika Sutta (Lotus Sutra) conferred from the Eagle Peak or Gijja Kuta Parwatha to Bodhisattvas on earth, devotees and millions of people. It is deemed to be Gautama Buddha's the utmost discourse wrapping up all what Shakymuni had preached before.

 Lotus flower

The term "Sathdharma" refers to the comprehensive nature of life; Pundarika indicates the lotus flower with a deep-rooted meaning. The lotus plant, which grows in muddy ponds blooms and produces seeds simultaneously. It is illustrated as an expression of the Mystic Law or the process of cause and effect and, when it blooms, it is regarded as a symbol of realization within the life of a common mortal.

 The Lotus Sutra has been one of the most popular and influential Mahayana principles of Buddhism on the basis of which the Nichiren schools of Buddhism were established. In many Asian countries Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Lotus sutra contains the final teachings of the Buddha that is sufficient for one's salvation.

 Mahayana Buddhists believe that Gautama Buddha's philosophy would meaningfully be cherished and captivated by the laity during the first thousand years, but it would begin to decline during the second thousand years and after 2500 years further. It is also mentioned that during the penultimate discourse, the Buddha addressed Bodhisattva Vishishta Chaaritra, who was present at the sermon, and conferred upon him to take over the responsibility of executing and upholding Buddha's dharma, proclaiming Vishishta Chaaritra would be reborn in the eastern part of the world at the opportune moment for this purpose".

 Vishishta Chaaritra

As prophesied, Vishishta Chaaritra was reborn on 16 February 1221 in Japan and given the name Sen Nichi Maro. Young Sen Nichi Maro travelled up to the ancient temple in Nara where he came across the Lotus Sutra and studied it intensely and acquired a profound knowledge 'spiritually' to reach sainthood. He then assumed a sanctified name as Nichiren Daishonin. In Japanese, ‘Nichiren’ means sun, while ‘Daishonin’ means great sage. Thereafter, Nichiren Daishonin priest became the founder of Daishonin Buddhism and based his teachings on the Lotus Sutra in the 13th century (1222–1282). It is also known as "Kamakura Buddhism".

 Pathway to happiness

The Lotus Sutra defines Buddhism as a pathway to happiness and welfare of an individual. Three main elements in Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism are Faith, Practice and Study. Faith means to have expectation from the Gohonzon (Dharma Datu), which is the true object of worship for all people of the 'latter Day' ("fifth five hundred years" after the Parinirvanaya (demise) of Gautama Buddha or the present period of time of the law). "Go" means worthy of honour; "Honzon" means object of fundamental respect.

 The Lotus Sutra has 28 chapters in all. Nichiren Daishonin summerised these 28 chapters into five simple Japanese segments to sound as: Nam–Myo–Ho-Renge-Kyo, (or Gohonzon).

 In Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, Gohonzon is regarded as the main object of fundamental respect that embodies the Law of Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo (The ultimate law or true essence of life permeating everything in the universe). A remarkable feature in this religion is that devotees never worship statues or pictures except the Gohonzon.

 Gohonzon

Gohonzon consists of the Japanese stanza (seven segments) written vertically surrounded by characters representing gods Buddhists believe in (Satharawaram devio) and the ten worlds representing (1) Hell: a condition in which one feels totally trapped by one's circumstances. (2) Hunger: A condition characterized by insatiable desires. (3) Animality: A condition governed by instinct in which one has no sense of reason or morality and lives only for the present. (4) Anger: A condition dominated by the selfish ego, competitiveness, arrogance and the need to be superior in all things. (5) Humanity or Tranquility: Calm state. (6), Heaven or Rapture: The pleasure felt when desires are fulfilled (7) Learning: A condition in which one seeks some skill, lasting truth or self reformation through the teachings of others, (8) Realization or Absorption: A condition in which one discovers a partial truth through one's own observations and effort, (9) Bodhisattva: A state of enlightenment of oneself and (10) Buddhahood: A true state, indestructible happiness, a condition of perfect and absolute freedom, characterized by boundless wisdom, courage, compassion and energy.

 When one chants Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, ‘one is able to bring forth the law of life within oneself to fuse one's life with the Gohonzon’. Through this fusion adherents are able to attain the objective of their practice- the Buddhahood. Everything in Gohonzon is based on the Dai-Gohonzon, which Nichiren Daishonin inscribed on 12 October 1279. It was chanted for the first time on 28 April 1253.

 Gods

Who are gods identified by Buddhists? Nichiren Daishonin Buddhists believe anyone or anything in our environment working to protect and sustain life, or to support man's efforts to attain enlightenment and achieve Kosen-rufu (to widely declare and spread Buddhism).

 Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra refers to the "fifth five hundred years" (after the death of Gautama Buddha or the beginning of The Latter Day of the Law, and the present period of time). Sometimes Kosen-rufu is referred to as world peace that will come about as faith in the Mystic Law that spreads from person to person awakening their Buddha nature by chanting Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo.

Daishonin has indicated an eternal flow of Kosen-rufu when he declared, "Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years, and more, for all eternity".

 Nichiren Daishonin specified recitation of certain portions of the Lotus Sutra as a vital supporting practice for oneself. Doing both the primary and supporting practices each morning and evening is supposed to give rise to maximum joy and benefit in our daily lives. He has never given any specific instructions on the format for the sutra recitation, but has recommended reciting the "Expedient" in the 16th chapter, which is the heart of all Buddhist teachings. In the 'Expedient" Shakyamuni Buddha reveals the purpose of Buddha's advent in the world to lead all people to enlightenment, and how every being has the potential for Buddhahood. Gautama Buddha taught man's existence as identical to the universe as a whole, and the universe as a whole is identical to our existence, and each individual human life as a microcosm of the life of the universe.

 When devotees chant Nam-myo ho-renge-kyo (the universal law), their lives are supposed to perfectly harmonize with the universe. By carrying out these practices on a daily basis, they automatically tend to activate the infinite powers that the microcosm inherently possess by transforming a person's fate and helping the person to break through apparent deadlocks and convert sufferings into happiness. In other words, it creates a transformation of inner realm, leaving the person invigorated, refreshed and positive. Through one's primary practices one would be able to develop wisdom and compassion to lead both, one's life and others to happiness.

 Soka Gakki

Based on the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, a group of intellectuals in Japan formed a movement known as Soka Gakki in November 1930. During the World War II,  many anchormen of the association were imprisoned under the 'Peace Preservation and Law violations charges'. After the war, however Soka Gakki has expanded into more than 192 countries with millions of devotees around the world. The organisation's third president, Dr. Dausaku Ikeda, visited Sri Lanka in 1961. Having fathomed the spiritual substance of Sri Lankans by visiting the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, he developed a dream of establishing a branch of the Soka Gakki in Sri Lanka for the moral augmentation of all people.

 An extraordinary feature of this Buddhist organization is the responsibility shared mutually by the laity who dedicatedly engage in promoting peace, education and culture through Buddhism based on Gautama Buddha's Lotus Sutra. Soka Gakki Lanka Buddhist Association is a registered charity organization under the Company Act, engaged in voluntary work for the betterment of peace, harmony and education of the masses in Sri Lanka through the practice of Buddha's dharma. During the Tsunami disaster Soka Gakki Lanka Buddhist Association donated Rs. 20 million worth of aid to the Tsunami affected people, schools and Buddhist temples.

 Apart from religious guidance and practice, Soka Gakki Lanka Buddhist Association concentrates on peace, culture and education, including Kandyan dance, song and drama, with a multiple of other enlightening activities where even senior members share their experience in the belief of changing their past karma by practising this concept of Buddhism.

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