Category Archives: Blog

Learning Hotoge

Hotoge from Nichiren-Shu Service Book published 2007
Hoto Ge from Page 23 of the Nichiren Buddhist Service Companion published in 1968 by Headquarters of Nichiren Buddhist Temple of North America, Chicago, Illinois.

In April I published this post. At the time I had been attending the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church since January 2015 and I was still unable to recite the version of Hotoge performed during the service immediately after chanting Daimoku.

I have recordings of the services but the mokusho and the drum overwhelm everything. So I made an appointment with Ven. Kenjo Igarashi and asked him to record the Hotoge so that I can play it during my home services.

But when I reviewed the recordings with the text in the service book used in Sacramento, the words didn’t line up. Two lines were short – three beats instead of four.

It was only this Sunday, Oct. 1, while attending the online service at Myoshoji that I finally found the reason. The highlighted lines above accurately reflect the beats in the recording.


Hotoge with mokusho

Hotoge words

The source of the odd beat is explained in Lotus in a Sea of Flames.

Three Poisons and Six Pāramitās

Rev. Kenjo Igarashi discussing three poisons

Three poisons
Attended the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church‘s fall Ohigan service. This is the third of the regular memorial services held each year in Nichiren Shu – Spring and Fall Equinox and Obon in Summer. When you add in family memorial services to the mix it raised the question of why we have so many services honoring our ancestors. That was the subject of Ven. Kenjo Igarashi‘s lecture after the Ohigan service today.

Rev. Igarashi told the story of a woman who complained that Buddhists have too many memorial services. She decided she’d rather be a Christian – no memorial services.

Each memorial service has special meaning.

“Today I want to explain sandoku – three poisons,” he said. “These three poisons are why we suffer.”

What follows is my paraphrasing of the lecture.

The first of the poisons is greed. And greed is an essential component of living in this world. Everyone is competing with others all the time.

The second poison is anger. Everyone is fighting, fighting. Anger toward other people is easy.

The third poison is traditionallly translated as stupidity or ignorance. Rev. Igarashi suggested describing the third poison as “a lot of complaints. All the time complain. … All the time, I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Since these poisons cause our suffering that’s why Śākyamuni said we must eliminate these. If you don’t, you’ll never get happy in this life and after you pass away you won’t go to paradise or a good realm.

These three poisons are the reason we are born in this suffering world, but most people are ignorant of this fact.

People want to be happy. They want to be rich. They want to be famous. Everybody thinks like that. But we need to think about why we are born into this world.

The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to extinguish these three poisons. We can’t attain enlightenment or go to a good realm after we die without doing that.

It is hard to extinguish these three poisons. That’s why we had today’s pāramitā service.

The Nichiren Shu brochure on Higan offers this explaination of the pāramitās.

  1. fuse means to offer one’s self wholeheartedly and unconditionally, without any expectation of its return.
  2. jikai is to follow and maintain the general precepts of the Buddha.
  3. nin-niku suggests a resilience to persevere through hardship.
  4. syojin refers to the necessity of conscientious effort in accomplishing one’s goals.
  5. zenjo points to qualities existent in meditation, calling upon one’s concentration, adjoined by calmness and poise.
  6. chie is the Buddha’s wisdom, reinforced with its practical application.

How does this apply to memorial services for deceased ancestors?

“Maybe [those ancestors] are still in the suffering world,” Rev. Igarashi said.

Today’s service is called Higan, which means the other shore. The other shore is enlightenment.

“We are living on this shore, the suffering world, so maybe our ancestors are still in this suffering world. That’s why we practice in order to send them to the other shore with us.”

The six kinds of practices – the six pāramitās – are very important. With them we can extinguish the three poisons while at the same time helping our ancestors reach the other shore as well.

This is not a practice twice or three times a year. Every day is Higan or Obon.

Personal Faith or Just Heritage and Formal Observance

Flower offering
A member of the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church congregation cut these Bird of Paradise and Chrysanthemums flowers from her garden and created this offering for the Nov. 8, 2015, service.

This blog post was originally published Nov. 8, 2015, and is reprinted here as the last quote from the History of Japanese Region book.

For the past several weeks I’ve been publishing quotes from History of Japanese Religion. Today’s quote from the book concerned a battle fought in Miyako in 1536 between followers of Nichiren and soldier-monks of Hiei in alliance with Ikkō fanatics. The Nichiren followers were driven out of town after 21 of their great temples were burnt down.

Shouts of “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō,” the slogan of the Nichirenites, vied with “Namu Amida Butsu,” the prayer of the Ikkō men; many died on either side, each believing that the fight was fought for the glory of Buddha and that death secured his birth in paradise.

This history of Japanese Buddhism written in 1918 stretches from the passion of warring monks to the then modern view:

For the people at large religion was rather a matter of family heritage and formal observance than a question of personal faith.

Today, I attended the Komatsubara Persecution service at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church, surrounded by people who have been followers of Nichiren and members of Nichiren Shu for generations. The church in Sacramento was founded in the early 1930s, and many members can tell you the various addresses in downtown Sacramento where the church was located before the current church was built in 1970 in south Sacramento.

During the Dharma talk at the end of the service, Ven. Kenjo Igarashi explained that it is important to remember and celebrate the various trials and tribulations suffered by Nichiren because it was these trials suffered while propagating the Lotus Sutra during the Latter Day of the Law that prove the sutra’s predictions. And they also illustrate Nichiren’s need, and by example our own, to expiate bad karma.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century, there was a revival of Nichiren Buddhism. As History of Japanese Religion described the time:

On the part of many of its enthusiasts, it amounted to a religion of hero-worship, which remains still a force in the religious life of the Japanese. But many of the followers of Nichiren have narrowed down the horizon of Nichiren’s spiritual vision to the limits of chauvinistic patriotism. Thus, the movement has subsided to a great extent, but it is yet to be seen whether Nichiren’s profoundly religious ardour will inspire coming generations.

Attending Nichiren Buddhist services in Sacramento, California, nearly 100 years later, I’d like to think Nichiren’s “profoundly religious ardour” has indeed inspired many generations. And while for some it may be just formal observance and ritual, it remains vital and alive for many others.

Reflecting on Our Individual Buddhist Practice

This is the September 2017 lecture by Ven. Kenjo Igarashi

As Buddhists, we observe several religious customs throughout the year, many of which involve praying for our ancestors. Most recently, we had the Obon (お盆) service in August, followed by the upcoming Ohigan (お彼岸) service in the fall. While there may be many meanings and reasons behind observing these Buddhist traditions, there are two that I would like to focus on in this article. They include (1) acknowledging life’s impermanence and most importantly, (2) reflecting on the importance of our Buddhist practice.

(1) Recognizing Life’s Transience
There are certain Buddhist customs, including those mentioned above, that remind me of the notion of shogyo mujo (諸行無常), or in English, “the impermanence of worldly things”. I first learned this concept in college when training to become a priest. We are made aware of this impermanence in our daily lives, ranging from daily tasks that we do (e.g. watering plants to prevent them from wilting) to happenings that we hear about from others that are beyond our control (e.g. the unexpected deaths we hear about on the news). However, it is often funerals and memorial services that amplify this notion of impermanence. They evoke a stronger sentiment because of our direct connection to the deceased. It also forces us to face and acknowledge that life on this earth, including our own, is transient.

Throughout my approximate 50-year career as a minister, I have always reflected on this notion of impermanence as a way to help me understand death as a sad, but unavoidable end to the course of one’s life. However, no matter how many funerals I have attended or conducted, it remains one of the most difficult tasks that I must do as a priest.

(2) The Importance of One’s Buddhist Practice
As previously mentioned, many Buddhist customs focus on expressing gratitude and remembering those that have passed. However, some people tend to focus too much on this idea. In fact, many spend little or no time understanding the significance that these traditions play in furthering a person’s Buddhist practice and faith.

Many of Nichiren Shonin’s writings include letters he wrote to his followers who expressed their individual concerns about reaching Enlightenment. As many of you know, in Buddhism we believe that the deceased goes on a 49-day journey after their death, where they will reflect on their lifetime of memories. They will be reminded of the most joyous moments of their life, as well as some of the difficult times. Nichiren Shonin knew of the hardships that one might face throughout this journey, as explained in a letter to one of his followers:

“I, Nichiren, am the world’s utmost devotee of the Lotus Sutra. If you pass away after me, remember that there are many trials that you must undergo (throughout your 49-day journey). Pass each trial by declaring in front of the judge that you are the follower of Nichiren, the world’s utmost devotee of the Lotus Sutra. When you must cross the fast ripples of the deep river, the Lotus Sutra will become your boat. When you must climb the treacherous mountains, it will become your vehicle. And when you must travel along a dark road, it will become that glimmer of light in the darkness. I, Nichiren, will promise to wait for you at the entrance to the Northeast gate to Enlightenment, so that you do not lose your way.”

Nichiren Shonin provides positive reassurance in his letter thus far. Yet his tone changes in the subsequent lines, informing the individual of consequences that could result from lack of Buddhist practice and faith. He continues:

“However, I must warn you of the importance of having faith (in the Lotus Sutra). An individual lacking piety should not expect to receive help upon claiming to be Nichiren’s follower. They will enter into the suffering world as quickly as the large rock that tumbles down the cliff, and the raindrops that fall from the sky and hit the earth.”

Nichiren Shonin’s statement directly relates to the teachings in Chapter 6 of the Lotus Sutra. It states that while everyone has the potential to become the Buddha, whether or not the individual achieves enlightenment depends on his or her level of commitment to practicing Buddhism. The hope is that they do not just rely on praying during services at the temple, but also make an effort to individually practice Buddhism in their daily lives.

Since an individual’s life is transient, we have a limited time (i.e. our individual lifespan) in which we can practice our faith in this world. I am hoping that many of you will try to incorporate both of these ideas as you continue to practice and find ways to deepen your faith in Buddhism.

Ven. Kenjo Igarashi
September 2017

Don’t Waste Your Time

Sunday, September 3, 2017
Sunday, September 3, 2017

I attended the Sunday service at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church and picked up an omamori that I asked Rev. Igarashi to create for a friend who is pregnant. You can see the omamori in the center of the above picture.

One of the tangible benefits of being a member of a Nichiren Shū church with a priest who has survived five 100-day ascetic trials to gain special merits and knowledge is the chance to call upon all of the resources Buddhism offers. May my friend’s pregnancy be uncomplicated.

And on the topic of babies, Rev. Igarashi’s lecture dealt with just how rare it is that we are born as humans and even rarer that we are born as humans and encounter the Lotus Sūtra.

Nichiren described being born human as rare as the one-eyed turtle finding a suitable hollow in a floating log, or a thread lowered from the heavens passing through the eye of a needle on earth.

The reference to the turtle comes from the Miscellaneous Āgama Sutra. The story is told of a blind turtle, whose life span is immeasurable kalpas. The turtle lives at the bottom of the sea. Once every 100 years, it rises to the surface. There is only one log floating in the sea with a suitable hollow in it. Since the turtle is blind and the log is tossed about by the wind and waves, the likelihood of the turtle reaching the log is extremely remote. It is even rarer, says Śākyamuni, to be born a human being; having succeeded in doing so, one should use the opportunity to master the four noble truths and attain deliverance.

“That is why Nichiren Shonin said, ‘If you are born into this world if you waste your life then don’t regret after you pass away’, ” said Rev. Igarashi.

Unfortunately, many people don’t share their Buddhism for fear of what others might say. This, Rev. Igarashi said, is like the Aesop fable “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey.”

A man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them: “PLEASE ALL, AND YOU WILL PLEASE NONE.”

Rev. Igarashi said, “You have to think about why you are born into this world. Not just enjoy your life or make money. We are born into this world to practice Buddhism and get enlightenment and then try to save other people. …

“Practice and study the Lotus Sūtra, then if you understand only just a little bit you have to talk to other people and try to save them. That’s why we are born into this world. Now we can chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and chant the Lotus Sūtra so we don’t waste our time. We try to get enlightenment and don’t end up regretting after we pass away. …

“Please practice for yourself first, study, then if you understand just a little bit of Lotus Sūtra and Nichiren Buddhism maybe you become a very rookie Bodhisattvas. Then you try to save other people and move up the rungs of Bodhisattvas. …

“Try to practice and study and don’t waste your time.”

You and me and everyone else

Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, flowers

Attended the Kaji Kito service at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church on Aug. 27. The sermon from Ven. Kenjo Igarashi covered a range of Buddhist concepts but the one item that stuck with me was the inclusive nature of the Buddhist practice.

Today’s quote from Lotus Seeds summarizes this well:

The bodhisattvas are as concerned about relieving the suffering of others as they are about relieving their own. One might even say they know we are all in the same boat, the Great Vehicle of the Mahayana, which takes all people to the other shore of perfect and complete awakening. Thus, the advancement of the individual is impossible without the advancement of all.
Lotus Seeds

But beyond the Bodhisattva practice for oneself and others is the fundamental teaching of 3000 realms in a single moment.

In the time since 2015, when I joined Nichiren Shu, I’ve had to unlearn a good portion of what I thought Nichiren Buddhism taught. The Daimoku is not, for example, solely a wish-granting gem, the more you polish it the more you get.

More subtle, but no less profound, is the meaning of 3,000 realms in a single thought moment, one of the defining elements of Nichiren Buddhism.

The basics are simple enough. Here’s the summary from Lotus Seeds:

3000 realms explainedIchinen Sanzen, the Three Thousand Worlds Contained in One Thought, is the theoretical cornertone of Nichiren Buddhism. It is a universal vision of life as rich, dynamic, and meaningful. Ichinen Sanzen reveals thal all life contains all Ten Worlds, including Buddhahood, and that these worlds operate according to the causes and conditions that we all set in motion. In a praclical sense, this theory means that we are able to make the cause that will allow the world of Buddhahood to emerge in our lives when we chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.Lotus Seeds

This description works fine for self-inspection but, as the Bodhisattvas teach us, self-inspection is only part of the practice.

I recently finished “Buddha Seed: Understanding the Odaimoku Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,” a 53-page book adapted by the Nichiren Buddhist International Center from the lectures of Rev. Taiko Seno.

Buddha Seed introduced me to the full meaning of 3000 realms:

“What does this number three thousand represent? It represents everything not only of the earth, but also of the universe and includes everything in the past, present, and future. Everything of the universe from animals, plants, other beings, visible or invisible, and their activities, workings, and movements are included in the three thousand realms. Everything of the universe exists within each one of us. Everything influences us, works together as primary cause and environmental cause and brings effects, rewards and retributions. All of us exist in relationship with everything in the universe.”

Or as Rev. Igarashi put it Sunday: Ichinen sanzen holds that each moment contains all of the universe.

To paraphrase Rev. Igarashi:

“There are a lot of people living in this world, more than 5 billion. And each moment of Ichinen Sanzen contains all of these people. That’s why if somebody is fighting I’m not happy. If somebody is unhappy, I’m not happy. That’s why praying for world peace is very important. If the world is at peace, we are all happy. That’s why Shakyamuni warned against focusing on one’s own happiness. Everyone must be happy.

That’s why all of the time I give you purification. You have to extinguish your bad karma. You chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and the Lotus Sutra and accumulate merit while trying to help other people like Bodhisattvas. Not just for you. Not just for me. All 5 billion people’s spirit living in my mind. That’s why your actions made in this world decide your next world to go. Your actions are very important. Your actions accumulate merit.

Shakyamuni said everyone is equal but your karmas, your actions, your cause and condition are different. That’s why we have to try to accumulate good karma and help other people and try to extinguish our bad karma which we made in our previous life. That’s why I give you purification so that your karma is different and therefore your life is different.”

Eclipse Protection

NASA graphic

Sacramento Eclipse Info
On most Mondays I take the wife to the train station to begin her commute to work and return home to do my morning practice followed by some yoga, reading at Starbucks and weekly grocery shopping. It helps to have a routine when you’re retired.

But Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, wasn’t a normal day. Everyone was hyped about the TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE. I wasn’t excited to see the eclipse – I watched what could be seen from Sacramento on the last eclipse, Monday, February 26, 1979 – but the hype put me in a mood to do something special to mark the occasion.

So I created my Eclipse Protection ceremony.

First I donned the samue I purchased for the Seattle Choeizan Enkyoji Buddhist Temple retreat last month. Might as well dress for the occasion.

A quick Google search gave the local parameters. The moon would start to cross in front of the sun at 9:02am and reach the maximum coverage at 10:17am. The eclipse would end locally at 11:39am.

For the ceremony I decided on 20 minutes of chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo at the start of the eclipse and again for the final 20 minutes. In the middle, I would do 30 minutes of chanting centered on the 10:17am maximum eclipse point, with 15 minutes before and after. Between the chanting, I would do my regular morning service along with today’s English text from the Lotus Sūtra.

I highly recommend the Insight Timer app for situations like this.

So to begin I set up my altar with water, lit the candles and started a stick of incense. I bowed three times and kneeled on my floor cushion and waited for 9:02am.

At the appointed time, I started the timer and began chanting at a measured pace of one Namu Myoho Renge Kyo per breath. While chanting I imagined the moon beginning to eat at the edge of the sun’s disk of light.

After 20 minutes of chanting I started my normal morning practice, reciting Dōjōge to purify my altar and Sanborai to honor the Three Treasures. This was followed by the Invocation (Kanjo) and Kaikyoge, the Verses for Opening the Sūtra. (I do Kaikyoge in Japanese and then English.)

After Kaikyoge I recited the title of the Lotus Sūtra– Myoho Renge Kyo – and then recited today’s portion of the Sūtra in shindoku, the traditional Japanese reading of the Chinese characters.

When I finished reciting the Sūtra I had a few minutes before the start of the middle portion of chanting. I used that time to stretch my legs in silent walking meditation.

By 10:02am I was seated again. I lit another stick of incense and started the timer. This time I accompanied my chanting with my Uchiwa Daiko, pausing on Namu and then striking the fan drum on Myo, Ho, Ren, Ge, Kyo. I chanted at the pace we normally chant during services at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church.

The timer rang a bell at exactly 10:17am. The 0.83 percent coverage of the sun above Sacramento made the sky outside look as if it were overcast. As I continued chanting and striking the drum I imagined watching the sliver of light grow in brightness as the sun’s disk was uncovered.

Once the 30 minutes of chanting was complete, I opened my English copy of The Lotus Sūtra to my bookmark and began reciting aloud the last half of Chapter 2, Expedients, which was today’s portion of my 32-day cycle.

I’m including the full text here. While you read, imagine the world around you getting brighter and brighter.

Day 4
Chapter 2: Expedients (Continued)

Thereupon the World-Honored One, wishing to repeat what he had said, sang in gāthās:

Some bhikṣus and bhikṣunīs
Were arrogant.
Some upāsakās were self-conceited.
Some upāsikās were unfaithful.
Those four kinds of devotees
Were five thousand in number.

They could not see their own faults.
They could not observe all the precepts.
They were reluctant to heal their own wounds.
Those people of little wisdom are gone.
They were the dregs of this congregation.
They were driven away by my powers and virtues.

They had too few merits and virtues
To receive the Dharma.
Now there are only sincere people here.
All twigs and leaves are gone.

Śāriputra, listen attentively!
The Buddhas, having attained the Dharma,
Expound it to all living beings
By their immeasurable power to employ expedients.

I caused all living beings to rejoice
By telling them stories of previous lives,
Parables, similes and discourses,
That is to say, by employing various expedients
Because I knew their thoughts,
The various teachings they were practicing,
Their desires, their natures,
And the good and evil karmas they have previously done.

The sūtras were composed of prose, gāthās, and geyas.
The contents of them were
Miracles, parables, similes, upadesas,
And stories of the previous lives
Of Buddhas and of their disciples.
The reasons why the sūtras were expounded were also given.

I expounded the teaching of Nirvana to the dull people
Who wished to hear the teachings of the Lesser Vehicle,
Who were attached to birth and death,
And who were troubled by many sufferings
Inflicted on them because they have not practiced
The profound and wonderful teachings under innumerable Buddhas.

l expounded this expedient teaching in order to cause them
To enter the Way to the wisdom of the Buddha.
I never said to them:
“You will be able to attain the enlightenment of the
Buddha.” I never said this
Because time was not yet ripe for it.
Now is the time to say it.
I will expound the Great Vehicle definitely.
I expounded various sūtras of the nine elements
According to the capacities of all living beings.
I expounded various sūtras
Because those sūtras were a basis for the Great Vehicle.

Some sons of mine are pure in heart, gentle and wise.
They have practiced the profound and wonderful teachings
Under innumerable Buddhas
[ln their previous existence].
I will expound this sūtra of the Great Vehicle to them,
And a sure them of their future Buddhahood, saying:
“You will attain the enlightenment of the Buddha
In your future lives.”

Deep in their minds they are thinking of me,
And observing the pure precepts.
Therefore, they will be filled with joy
When they hear they will become Buddhas.
I know their minds.
Therefore, I will expound the Great Vehicle to them.

Any Śrāvaka or Bodhisattva
Who hears even a gāthā
Of this sūtra which I am to expound
Will undoubtedly become a Buddha.

There is only one teaching, that is, the One Vehicle
In the Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters.
There is not a second or a third vehicle
Except when the Buddhas teach expediently.

The Buddhas lead all Living beings
By tentative names [of vehicles]
In order to expound their wisdom.
They appear in the worlds
Only for the One Vehicle.

Only this is true; the other two are not.
The Buddhas do not save living beings by the Lesser Vehicle.
They dwell in the Great Vehicle.
The Dharma they attained is adorned
With the power of concentration of mind
And with the power of wisdom.
They save all living beings by the Dharma.

l attained unsurpassed enlightenment,
The Great Vehicle, the Truth of Equality.
If I lead even a single man
By the Lesser Vehicle,
I shall be accused of stinginess.
It is not good at all to do this.

l do not deceive
Those who believe me and rely on me.
I am not greedy or jealous
Because I have eliminated all evils.
Therefore, in the worlds of the ten quarters,
I am fearless.

I am adorned with the physical marks of a Buddha.
I am illumining the world with my light.
To the countless living beings who honor me, I will expound
The seal of the truth, that is, the reality of all things.

Know this, Śāriputra!
I once vowed that l would cause
All living beings to become
Exactly as I am.
That old vow of mine
Has now been fulfilled.

I lead all living beings
Into the Way to Buddhahood.
Seeing people of no wisdom, l thought:
“If I teach them only the Way to Buddhahood,
They will be distracted.
They will doubt my teaching, and not receive it.
I know that they did not plant
The roots of good in their previous existence.
They are deeply attached to the five desires.
They suffer because of stupidity and cravings.
Because they have many desires,
They will fall into the three evil regions,
Or go from one to another of the six regions
Only to undergo many sufferings.
Through their consecutive previous existences,
Their small embryos have continued to grow up
To become men of few virtues and merits.
They are now troubled by many sufferings.
They are in the thick forests of wrong views.
They say “Things exist,”
Or “Things do not exist.”
They are attached to sixty-two wrong views.
They are deeply attached to unreal things.
They hold them firmly, and do not give them up.
They are arrogant, self-conceited,
Liable to flatter others, and insincere.
They have never heard of the name of a Buddha
Or of his right teachings
For thousands of billions of kalpas.
It is difficult to save them.”

Therefore, Śāriputra!
I expounded an expedient teaching
In order to eliminate their sufferings.
That was the teaching of Nirvana.
The Nirvana which I expounded to them
Was not true extinction.

All things are from the outset
In the state of tranquil extinction.
The Buddhas’ sons who complete the practice of the Way
Will become Buddhas in their future lives.

l expounded the teaching of the Three Vehicles
Only as an expedient.
All the other World-Honored Ones also
Expound the teaching of the One Vehicle [with expedients].

The great multitude present here
Shall remove their doubts.
The Buddhas do not speak differently.
There is only one vehicle, not a second.

The number of the Buddhas who passed away
During the past innumerable kalpas was
Hundreds of thousands of billions,

All those World-Honored Ones expounded
The truth of the reality of all things
With various stories of previous lives, parables and similes,
That is to say, with innumerable expedients.

All those World-Honored Ones expounded
The teaching of the One Vehicle,
And led innumerable living beings [with expedients]
Into the Way to Buddhahood.

All those Great Saintly Masters
Who knew the deep desires
Of the gods, men, and other living beings
Of all the worlds,
Revealed the Highest Truth
With various expedients.

Those who met a past Buddha,
Who heard the Dharma from him,
And who obtained various merits and virtues
By almsgiving or by observing the precepts
Or by patience or by making endeavors
Or by dhyāna or by wisdom,
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who, after the extinction of a Buddha,
Were good and gentle,
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who, after the extinction of a Buddha,
Erected billions of stupas,
And who purely and extensively adorned [those stupas]
With treasures
Such as gold, silver, crystal,
Shell, agate, ruby, and lapis lazuli,
And who offered those adornments to his śarīras;
Or those who made the mausoleum [of the Buddha]
With stone, bricks, or clay,
Or with many kinds of wood,
Such as candana, aloes, or agalloch;
Or those who made the mausoleum of the Buddha
With heaps of earth
In the wilderness;
Or the boys who made the stupa of the Buddha
With heaps of sand by playing,
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who carved an image of the Buddha
With the [proper] physical marks in his honor
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who made an image of the Buddha
With the seven treasures;
Or those who made it
Of copper, copper-gold alloy, nickel,
Pewter lead, tin, iron, wood, or clay;
Or those who made it in plaster work,
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who drew or caused others to draw in color
A picture of the Buddha adorned with his physical marks,
Each mark representing one hundred merits,
Have already attained the enlightenment of the Buddha.

The boys who by playing drew
A picture of the Buddha
With a piece of grass or wood,
Or with a brush,
Or with the back of their fingernails,
Became able to accumulate merits one by one.
Having great compassion towards others,
They attained the enlightenment of the Buddha,
Taught only Bodhisattvas,
And saved many living beings.

Those who respectfully offered
Flowers, incense, streamers, and canopies
Enshrined in a stupa-mausoleum;
Or those who caused men to make music
By beating drums, by blowing horns and conches,
And by playing reed-pipes, flutes, lyres, harps,
Lutes, gongs, and copper cymbals,
And offered the wonderful sounds produced thereby
To the image or picture of the Buddha;
Or those who sang joyfully in praise of him for his virtues;
Or those who just murmured [in praise of him],
Have already attained
The enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who, without concentrating their minds,
Offered nothing but a flower to the picture of the Buddha,
Became able to see
Innumerable Buddhas one after another.

Those who bowed to the image of the Buddha,
Or just joined their hands together towards it,
Or raised only one hand towards it,
Or bent their head a little towards it
And offered the bending to it,
Became able to see innumerable Buddhas one after another.
They attained unsurpassed enlightenment,
Saved countless living beings,
And entered into the Nirvana-without-remainder
Just as fire dies out when wood is gone.

Those who entered a stupa-mausoleum
And said only once “Namo Buddhaya,”
Without even concentrating their minds,
Have already attained the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Those who heard the Dharma
In the lifetime of a past Buddha
Or after his extinction
Have already attained the enlightenment of the Buddha.

The World-Honored Ones in the future
Will be countless in number.
Those Tathāgatas also
Will expound the Dharma with expedients.

The Tathāgatas save all living beings
With innumerable expedients.
They cause all living beings to enter the Way
To the wisdom-without-āsravas of the Buddha.
Anyone who hears the Dharma
Will not fail to become a Buddha.

Every Buddha vows at the outset:
“I will cause all living beings
To attain the same enlightenment
That I attained.”

The future Buddhas will expound many thousands
Of myriads of millions of teachings
For just one purpose,
That is, for the purpose of revealing the One Vehicle.

The Buddhas, the Most Honorable Bipeds,
Expound the One Vehicle because they know:
“All things are devoid of substantiality.
The seed of Buddhahood comes from dependent origination.”

The Leading Teachers expound the Dharma with expedients
After realizing at the place of enlightenment:
“This is the abode of the Dharma and the position of the Dharma.
The reality of the world is permanently as it is.”

Gods and men are making offerings
To the present Buddhas of the worlds of the ten quarters.
The Buddhas as many as there are sands in the River Ganges
Who appeared in these worlds,
Are expounding the Dharma
For the purpose of giving peace to all living beings.

They know the Highest Truth of Tranquil Extinction.
They have the power to employ expedients.
Although they expound various teachings,
Their purpose is to reveal the Buddha-Vehicle.

Knowing the deeds of all living beings,
And their thoughts deep in their minds,
And the karmas they have done in their previous existence,
And their desires, natures, and powers to make efforts,
And also knowing whether each of them is keen or dull,
The Buddhas expound the Dharma according to their capacities,
With various stories of previous lives, parables, similes and discourses,
That is to say, with various expedients.

I also do the same.
I show the enlightenment of the Buddha
With various teachings
In order to give peace to all living beings.

I know the natures and desires of all living beings
By the power of my wisdom.
Therefore, I expound various teachings expediently,
And cause all living beings to rejoice.

Śāriputra, know this!
Seeing with the eyes of the Buddha
The living beings of the six regions, I thought:
“They are poor, and devoid of merits and wisdom.
They incessantly suffer because they are taken
To the rough road of birth and death.
They cling to the five desires
Just as a yak loves its tail.
They are occupied with greed and cravings,
And blinded by them.
They do not seek the Buddha who has great power.
They do not seek the Way to eliminate sufferings.
They are deeply attached to wrong views.
They are trying to stop suffering by suffering.”

My great compassion was aroused towards them.
I for the first time sat at the place of enlightenment[,]
[And attained enlightenment].
For three weeks afterwards,
I gazed on the tree,
Or walked about, thinking:
“The wisdom I obtained is
The most wonderful and excellent.
The living beings [of the six regions]
Are dull, attached to pleasures,
And blinded by stupidity.
How shall I save them?”

On that occasion King Brahman,
Heavenly-King Śakra,
The four heavenly world-guardian kings,
Great-Freedom God, and other gods [of each world],
And thousands of millions of their attendants
Joined their hands together [towards me] respectfully,
Bowed to me,
And asked me to turn the wheel of the Dharma.

I thought:
“If I extol only the Buddha-Vehicle,
The living beings [of the six regions] will not believe it
Because they are too much enmeshed in sufferings to think of it.
If they do not believe but violate the Dharma,
They will fall into the three evil regions.
I would rather enter into Nirvana quickly
Than expound the Dharma to them.”

But, thinking of the past Buddhas who employed expedients,
I changed my mind and thought:
“I will expound the Dharma which l attained
By dividing it into the Three Vehicles.”

The Buddhas of the worlds of the ten quarters
Appeared before me when I had thought this.
They consoled me with their brahma voices:
“Good, Śākyamuni, Highest Leading Teacher!
You attained the unsurpassed Dharma.
You have decided to expound it with expedients
After the examples of the past Buddha
We also expound the Three Vehicles
To the Living beings
Although we attained
The most wonderful and excellent Dharma.
Men of little wisdom wish to hear
The teachings of the Lesser Vehicle.
They do not believe that they will become Buddhas.
Therefore, we show them
Various fruits of enlightenment.
Although we expound the Three Vehicles,
Our purpose is to teach only Bodhisattvas.”

Śāriputra, know this!
Hearing the deep, pure, and wonderful voices
Of the Lion-Like Saints,
l joyfully called out, “Namo Buddhaya!”
I thought:
“I appeared in the defiled world.
Just like the other Buddhas,
I will expound the Dharma
According to the capacities of all living beings.”
Having thought this, I went to Varanasi,
And expounded the Dharma to the five bhikṣus
With expedients
Because the state of tranquil extinction of all things
ls inexplicable by words.
That was my first turning
Of the wheel of the Dharma.
Thus the words: Nirvana, Arhat, Dharma,
and Sangha
Came into existence.

I said to them:
“For the past innumerable kalpas
I have been extolling the teaching of Nirvana
In order to eliminate the sufferings of birth and death.”

Śāriputra, know this!
Then I saw many sons of mine,
Thousands of billions in number,
Seeking the enlightenment of the Buddha.
They came to me respectfully.
They had already heard
Expedient teachings
From the past Buddhas.

I thought:
“I appeared in this world
In order to expound my wisdom.
Now is the time to do this.”

Śāriputra, know this!
Men of dull capacity and of little wisdom cannot believe the Dharma.
Those who are attached to the appearances of things are arrogant.
They cannot believe it, either.

I am now joyful and fearless.
I have laid aside all expedient teachings.
l will expound only unsurpassed enlightenment
To Bodhisattvas.

The Bodhisattvas who hear the Dharma
Will be able to remove the mesh of doubts.
The twelve hundred Arhats also
Will become Buddhas.

All the Buddhas in the past, present, and future
Expounded, are expounding, and will expound
In the same manner the Dharma beyond comprehension.
I also will expound it in the same manner.

The Buddhas seldom appear in the worlds.
It is difficult to meet them.
Even when they do appear in the worlds,
They seldom expound the Dharma.

It is difficult to hear the Dharma
Even during innumerable kalpas.
It is also difficult to meet a person
Who listens to the Dharma attentively.
It is as difficult as seeing an udumbara-flower.
This flower, loved by all living beings,
And treasured by gods and men,
Blooms only once in a long time.

Anyone who rejoices at hearing the Dharma
And utters even a single word in praise of it
Should be considered to have already made offerings
To the past, present, and future Buddhas.
Such a person is rarely seen,
More rarely than the udumbara-flower.

[The Buddha said to the great multitude:]

All of you, do not doubt me!
I am the King of the Dharma.
I say to you:
“I will expound the teaching of the One Vehicle
Only to Bodhisattvas.
There is no Śrāvaka among my disciples.”

Śāriputra, other Śrāvakas, and Bodhisattvas!
Know this!
This Wonderful Dharma is
The hidden core of the Buddhas.

The living beings
In the evil world of the five defilements
Are attached to many desires.
They do not seek the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Evil people in the future will doubt the One Vehicle
When they hear it from a Buddha.
They will not believe or receive it.
They will violate the Dharma, and fall into the evil regions.

Extol the teaching of the One Vehicle
In the presence of those who are modest,
Who are pure in heart,
And who are seeking enlightenment of the Buddha!

Śāriputra [and others], know this!
As a rule, the Buddhas expound the Dharma
With billions of expedients as stated above,
According to the capacities of all living beings.

Those who do not study the Dharma
Cannot understand it.
You have already realized
The fact that the Buddhas, the World-Teachers, employ expedients,
According to the capacities of all living beings.
Know that, when you remove your doubts,
And when you have great joy,
You will become Buddhas!

[Here ends] the First Volume of the Sūtra of the Lotus flower of the Wonderful Dharma.

End of Day 4

When I finished reciting the Sūtra I concluded my morning practice with Hotoge, in shindoku and English, and then Eko, the dedication prayer, followed by the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows and ending with Sanki (taking refuge in the Three Treasures) and Buso (sending home the spirits who watch over our practices).

I had time for another period of silent meditation before the final 20 minutes.

At 11:19am I lit a final stick of incense and began slowly chanting, one Namu Myoho Renge Kyo for each breath, while imagining the final sliver of the moon departing from the face of the sun.

At 11:39am, the timer bell rang and I bowed, got up and put out the candles.

I showered, changed clothes and went grocery shopping. It was still Monday, after all.

Shodaigyo Practice

Video explaining Shodaigo
Click to watch video explaining Shodaigo Basic Practice

This last week I attended the four-day Enkyoji Buddhist Network 2017 Summer Retreat at the Seattle Choeizan Enkyoji Nichiren Buddhist Temple.

I’m not officially a member of this network. I chose to attend the retreat because I was interested in their efforts to promote propagation of Nichiren Shu Buddhism in America, something that no one else seems to be doing. Certainly no one is as focused on propagation as the Enkyoji Buddhist Network.

Before I continue I should note that the Enkyoji Buddhist Network is not a rogue group, but a recognized Nichiren Shu organization. Lots of information is available on their website

My new-found passion for propagation of Nichiren Shu Buddhism is one of the odd but telling things about my migration from Soka Gakkai to Nichiren Shu. In more than 25 years of Soka Gakkai membership I never felt comfortable saying more than “I’m a Buddhist.” I certainly didn’t want to do the sort of compulsory propagation encouraged in the late 1980s before Soka Gakkai’s split with Nichiren Shoshu. The lay-leader-led group meetings were never the sort of gatherings that I could invite, say, my boss to attend.

Now, however, I’m eager to tell people I’m a Nichiren Shu practitioner and invite people I meet in Sacramento to attend services at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church. But I’m also aware that dropping someone who knows little or nothing about Buddhism into the church’s regular Sunday service – not to mention the monthly Kaji Kito service – would do little more than overawe that person.

This is why I was so excited to learn at the retreat that the  Enkyoji Buddhist Network, working with the Nichiren Shu propagation office in Japan, has developed a simple practice suitable for any level of practitioner.

This is an abbreviated Shodaigyo service. The original Shodaigyo service, which incorporates periods of silent sitting mediation with Odaimoku chanting, was designed by Bishop Nichijun Yukawa of the Nichiren Shu in the 1950s. (Here’s the traditional version of the service.)

From the brochure:

  • Practice this program for a minimum of two weeks, with at least one session a day. You can further deepen your practice by setting a specific time daily in the morning and/or evening.
  • Do not practice this program for a specific purpose such as quitting addictions or to acquire something. As this practice has been arranged in a very short format, attachments and distractions tend to arise easily if a specific goal is set.
  • Think of this practice as an exercise for general well-being in order to taste the preciousness of life. If your well-being increases, the total well being of this world also increases. This is a very important concept in Nichiren Shu Buddhism.
  • This program draws on more than 750-years of history in Nichiren Shu Buddhism as well as the 2500-year tradition of Buddhism as a whole. In the Enkyoji lineage of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, we believe that this traditional program will enrich your life on the way to attaining the Buddha’s enlightenment.

The tri-fold brochure is designed so that it can be used as the focus of the service with Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo on the center panel and the instructions for the 8 steps of the service arranged on either side.

Between Ryusho Jeffus Shonin’s 35-Day Practice Guide and Enkyoji Buddhist Network‘s Shodaigyo practice I’m ready to spread Nichiren Shu Buddhism everywhere I go.

Respecting Ancestors

Rev. Igarashi explains memorial tablet inscribed with my wife’s mother’s name and date of death.

Memorial tablets on my altar with a mandala Gohonzon offering.

Attended the Obon service at the Sacramento Nichiren Buddhist Church with my wife. In addition to honoring our ancestors, we were there for the eye-opening of a memorial tablet for my wife’s mother, Mary “Michiko Wada” Buchin. Rev. Igarashi purchased the tablet and had it inscribed in Japan during a recent visit. This is the same process I went through for my parent’s memorial tablet.

Following the prayers for ancestors and the eye-opening, Rev. Igarashi gave his annual Obon lecture. (See last year.) And added a little science this time.

Each of us is, he explained, the product of our ancestors and carry our ancestors with us in our DNA. While they may have died, they live on in our bodies. It is out of this connection that we honor our ancestors and pray for their spirits.

I’ve had my DNA analyzed by 23andMe. On the health side I find that I have one of the recessive genes that could have given my son Cystic Fibrosis. I’m glad I didn’t know that before my son was conceived.

On the ancestry side I enjoyed the discovery that my 99.4% European ancestry (74.6% British & Irish; 3.7% French & German; 0.9% Scandinavian) is seasoned with 0.3% Sub-Saharan African (0.1% West African and 0.2% Broadly Sub-Saharan African.) The remaining fraction is 0.2% unassigned and a tantalizing less than 0.1% East Asian & Native American.

Imagine all of those ancestors.

The Reality of All Things Analyzed into Ten Nyoze

This is taken from Page 3 of the June 1, 2017, Nichiren Shu News, which is published by the Head Office of Nichiren Shu Buddhism and the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation Promotion Association (NOPPA).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the second in a series of translations and explanations of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren’s writings made by Bishop Senchu Murano. It has been published before in Nichiren Shu News, but we are printing it again now for our newer readers.

Bishop Senchu Murano, Head Priest, Myochoji Temple, Kamakura

The reality of all things, Shoho Jisso, is analyzed into ten suchnesses, or nyoze, in Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra. Tendai interpreted “all things,” shoho or sarvadharma in Sanskrit, as “living beings” when he explained the ten nyoze as follows:

Nyoze-so: All living beings are different from each other in appearance such as they are.

Nyoze-sho: All living beings are different from each other in nature such as they are.

Nyoze-tai: All living beings are different from each other in physique (entity) such as they are.

Nyoze-riki: All living beings are different from each other in power such as they are.

Nyoze-sa: All living beings are different from each other in action such as they are.

Nyoze-in: The present conditions of various living beings are the cause of their variety of future conditions as they are.

Nyoze-en: The present environments of various living beings are the cause of their variety of future environments as they are.

Nyoze-ka: All living beings are different from each other in their present conditions such as they are because their present conditions are the effects of past activities, which were different from each other.

Nyoze-ho: All living beings are different from each other in their rewards and retributions such as they are because their past activities in their past environments were different from each other.

Nyoze-hommatsu-kukyo-to: Not-withstanding all these differences, all living beings who are investigated here in regard to the first nyoze through the ninth and last nyoze, are equal to each other such as they are after all.