A few words only are necessary in order to introduce this essay to the public.
Captain J. M. James, of Shinagawa, is an English gentleman who has lived in Japan for more than twenty years. He is a professional man, and the consistent way in which he has always devoted his skill and genius to the interest of both Government and people has made him universally beloved. No sooner did he arrive among us than he was struck with astonishment at the great predominance of Buddhism in the country, and this led him to enter upon a systematic study of Buddhist doctrines. His researches resulted in the discovery that Religious Truth is contained only in the religion of Buddha, especially as set forth in a sacred book of ours called ‘The Lotus,’ and that the teachings of this book are best exemplified in the doctrines and practices of the Nichiren school of thought. Thenceforward he directed his exclusive attention to the Nichiren form of Buddhism, and frequently visited our late lamented prelate, the Most Learned and Virtuous Archbishop Nissatsu Arai, at the temple of Ikegami, in order to receive his instructions. His knowlege thus increasing, his faith in what he learned kept pace with it. This faith, on his part, was doubtless due in a measure to the unfolding of his predestined nature; but must also be attributed to the high intellectual power he exercised in testing and observing truths.
Some time ago Captain James made me acquainted with a friend of his, Mr. Frederic H. Balfour, who had made a special study of the philosophico-religious systems of China. This gentleman, at my request, undertook to write out in its present form the essay now given to the world, which is from the pen of the late Archbishop of Ikegami above referred-to. This was most excellent and meritorious on the part of Mr. Balfour, who has thereby rendered a great service to our Sect. Never before have the doctrines of Japanese Buddhism been published by any European author in such detail. My warm acknowledgments are also due to Mr. K. Tatsumi, Professor of Sociology in the Nobles’ School, for his invaluable assistance in Englishing the original text. It is now printed for the advantage of all who are interested in the subject, and will be sent far and wide over the face of the globe. The doctrines it sets forth should not be confined to our own country; they are intended for the enlightenment of all living beings wherever such may be — in all times and ages, all spheres and realms of life. It is for this reason that the whole world is now given an opportunity of hearing and embracing the Truth.
College of the Nichiren Sect,
Abbot. Takanawa, Tokyo.
The True Buddha is that Sakyamuni who has been from immemorial times sufficiently enlightened to know the underlying sameness of all things, and the identity of his own person with the external world; he is that Buddha who identifies a pure act of thought with all existences in time and space; he is that state of mind in which the Truth and the Intellect, the perceived and the perceiver, cease to be two, and are recognized as radically and in essence One. And if this is the case with Sakyamuni, it cannot be otherwise with the people generally. Just as all things in time and space are no more than subjective in the consciousness of Sakyamuni, so are they in the consciousness of each individual man.
It is the identity perceived by Buddhas that is the real state of things – the very Truth itself. Sakyamuni, fearing that such reasoning was above the comprehension of the people generally, embodied the Truth in the concrete form of his own person, in order that they might there see it for themselves, and thus addressed them: “Now, the three worlds – the mortal, the material, and the spiritual – are all my own possession; and all the living beings they contain are my own children.”
All things and phenomena, being identical in essence with the Buddha or Reality, are eternal and unchangeable au fond, and, in their true nature, one and the same as each other. The vulgar see variety where Buddhas perceive identity. This inability to see anything beneath the external variety in things arises from confusion in the minds of those who look at them. Things in themselves are not mutually different.
The Noumenal or Spiritual Body of the Buddha, is the Truth itself; the second, the Compensation Body, is the Intellect, which can discover the Truth; the third, the Body of Transformation or Impermanence, is that which is the object of worship to the vulgar.
This discovery was made by Sakyamuni when he was thirty years of age. It was after his perception of this truth that Sakyamuni was called the Subordinate Buddha; while, as the Buddha of Original Enlightenment, i.e., as the personification of Truth, he is called the Original Buddha. Then, desiring to teach the people that any one of them could likewise become Buddha, he advanced the doctrines contained in a sacred work called the Kegon Kyo. But they were very slow to understand; their intelligence, in fact, was insufficient to grasp so great a truth; so he was obliged to confine his instructions for more than forty years to the Disciplines, the practice of which was necessary as a preparation for the reception of the higher doctrines. It was only when he was seventy years old that he was able to revert to his former project. Then he taught what will be found in the first [volume] of the [Lotus Sutra]: “It is only Buddhas, i.e., enlightened ones, who can, with the Buddha, investigate the reality of things.” This refers to the doctrine that all things in all times and all departments of space are, in essence, originally identical with the Buddha, and contain in themselves the three bodies of the Buddha, viz., the Spiritual or Noumenal Body, the Compensation Body, and the Body of Transformation or Impermanence.
This Truth is to be found everywhere and always— in the past, the present, and the future ; it exists in every part of space, above and below, to the right and to the left, in front and behind. Look up – there are the sun, the moon, and millions of stars; look down – there are mountains, rivers, plants, trees, and minerals; between these there are human beings, animals, birds, reptiles and insects. Well, all these things are nothing but subjective phases in consciousness of each man’s individual Self. They are all contained in a single act of thought; in fact, there is no distinction between the individual Self and the whole external world. When once this Truth is apprehended, we are said to have attained to the Great Self, that is, the summit of all enlightenment. This attainment is referred to in the words of Buddha as found in the [Lotus Sutra]: “I have been the Buddha of Original Enlightenment from all eternity.”
Now the real state of visible things is one of emptiness and relativity. All phenomena, mental and material, in all times and spaces, are to be conceived of as existing subjectively in the consciousness of every individual, as his own physical and mental states, and thus only; so that the differences and varieties which distinguish things from one another must be regarded as purely imaginary and misleading, without any foundation in fact. Grasp this, and you have the Truth, and everything will then appear to you as it is in reality; you will see it as it is in itself.
The [Lotus Sutra] it must be understood, consists of two parts, the “original” and the “subordinate” respectively. The former treats of the original Buddha and the original reality of all living beings, while the latter deals with the subordinate Buddha and the derived or temporary condition of all living beings. Thus the Buddha is conceived of under a twofold aspect; one, as originally or self enlightened, the other as having attained enlightenment only after study and meditation. Again, the real state of living beings connotes the reality of things as perceived by the Buddha intellect – that is, their natural and true condition.
If a vessel be tipped on one side, its contents will overflow ; if the tranquillity of a State be disturbed, its inhabitants will be in danger. Now the original doctrine of the “Holy Book of the Lotus of the Good Law” [The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma] is two-fold. In the first place it teaches that the visible, inhabited world, which is changeable and destructible, is but the external appearance of an underlying eternal Reality; in the second place, it teaches the original enlightenment of all living beings. Its object is to ensure the tranquility of the present life and relieve the future life of suffering, and therefore, whenever Nichiren preached, he claimed it as the merit of our Sect to establish the Good Law and preserve the peace of the State. Now the State prospers by virtue of the Law, and the Law receives its justification from Man. It is clear, then, that the prosperity or decadence of the State depends upon the truth or falsehood of its religion; and this being the case, it is our duty to promulgate the Good Law with faithfulness and zeal and so bring about the well-being of our country.
By Wakita Gyozwn,
Tonsured Priest of the Nichiren Sect of Buddhism
Two thousand one hundred and seventy-one years after the departure of Sakyamuni from the world – i.e., in the year 1222 of the Christian era – there was born in Japan a great religious hero; one destined to bring about a great revolution in the Buddhist religion as he found it. This man, known to us today by the name of Nichiren, or Sun Lotus, was a native of Kominato, a small village in Nagase, a district of the province of Awa. His family belonged to the Fujiwara clan, and was called Nukina; his father’s name being Shigetada Jiro. It was at the early age of twelve that Nichiren entered the priesthood, assuming the tonsure when he was sixteen. As he grew older, he undertook journeys in various directions, visiting many eminent sages and teachers of Buddhism in quest of the True Doctrine. Many years had elapsed since Buddha had entered Nirvana, and meanwhile so many errors, heresies, and misconceptions had crept into the popular expositions of the Buddhist creed that it was impossible to place full faith in what was taught. Buddhism was split up into a congeries of rival sects – the Tendai, the Shingon, the Jodo, and the Zen, among others – and these sects were divisible into two schools or groups. One taught self-reliance on the part of the devotee; the other inculcated reliance on the merits and assistance of the Buddha. The former teaching soon became too subtle, speculative, and esoteric to commend itself to men of ordinary intellect, while the latter degenerated into a sort of vulgar sentimentalism, and was marked by a tendency to pusillanimity on the part of its adherents. In fact, the sects of both schools had strayed from the right way as laid down by Sakyamuni; and such being the main characteristic of all the authoritative teaching of the time, it is not surprising that the gravest dangers, in a religious sense, threatened both State and people.
This condition of affairs impressed Nichiren so deeply that he determined to discard the opinions of the sectaries altogether, and search for the Truth in his own spiritual consciousness and in the sacred writings. With this in view, he ceased all intercourse with the rest of the world, and shut himself up in a storehouse of sacred books well furnished with the treatises he required. These he studied carefully, reading them through and through. The end of it all was his discovery that the true reason of the descent of the Buddha into the world is to be found, and found only, in “The Holy Book of the Lotus of the Good Law”; he saw that the pure doctrines of that “Holy Book” were alone fit to tranquillize and settle both individuals and the State; and by virtue of these he determined, if possible, to revolutionise the whole religious world. From that time he set out to establish a new sect — what would be, in point of fact, almost a new religion. Nichiren was by this time thirty-two years old. Study had oc cupied him hitherto ; the moment foraction had now arrived. It will have been observed that he seems to have regarded the influence of Buddhism in its relation, not only to individual adherents, but to the State as a corporate whole ; and it was this connection of his new principles with the idea of nationality that formed one of his most prominent characteristics. Thus we find the works he wrote bearing such titles as “To Guard the People and the State,” “To Establish the Good Law and Tranquillize the State,” and so on. The former is, of all his books, the most replete with the idea of nationality, and it is known in Japan as the Risshu-an-koku Ron. It was his prevision of the invasion of the country by the Mongols under Kublai Khan that induced Nichiren to write this book and present it to the de facto Government of his day. The sovereignty was then in the hands of a family named Hojo, the power of the Imperial House being merely nominal.
In this work Nichiren lays down the axiom that the prosperity or decline of a State depends entirely upon the truth or perversion of its religion, and says boldly that both the rulers and the ruled were at that time wandering in error. He insists upon the substitution of truth for falsehood as a sine qua non for the peace and prosperity of the country, and launches defiance at the authority of the Government. It seems as though he had written the book with blood hot from his very heart, and used his own bones for pencils. The composition consists of more than ten thousand characters; his arguments cut sharp and deep, and his diction is full of sense and fire. It must be remembered that Nichiren appeared subsequent to all the other great religious founders, and that his mission was to discredit and suppress the existing sects. Of course this made him enemies; and so hot was their rage against him that, after suffering no small persecution, he was eventually exiled from the country. But he was not the man to be discouraged or put in fear. He set so high a value upon the welfare and prosperity of the State that he was ready to sacrifice life itself in defence of the Good Law, and accepted punishment and execution as though they were sweet food and pleasant drink.
The situation of Japan at that period was very similar to that of the Frankish Kingdom during the last days of the Merovingian dynasty. The later Merovingian kings were effete and powerless, the affairs of State devolving entirely on the Mayors of the Palace, the most famous of whom was Charles Martel. During his Mayoralty the kingdom was invaded by the Saracens. Charles defeated them, and drove them back to their own country. And Pepin, Charles’s son, was so powerful as to dethrone his master, and usurp the sovereignty himself. Much the same thing happened in Japan at the time of which we are writing. The country was then de facto under the sway of the Hojo family. The chief of this family, to whom Nichiren offered his work “To Establish the Good Law and Tranquillize the State,” was a man named Tokiyori, whose ancestors had deposed and banished many emperors; and his son, Tokimune, defeated the Mongolian army, one hundred thousand strong, who had dared to invade Japan. In fact the power and authority of the Hojo family may well be compared with those of Charles and Pepin. It was the good fortune of the Imperial House that the chiefs of this warlike clan stopped short of the audacity of Pepin. Bold and heroic, indeed, must he have been who dared to defy their despotism!
Besides, the Hojo family were adherents of the Zen persuasion, tendency of which is to deny, or ignore, any difference between the Buddha and his disciples, or between the sovereign and his subjects. They were, therefore, the first and greatest foes of Nichiren upon religious grounds. It was in vain he urged them to suppress all the sects, not excepting the Zen. Unquestionably he here embarked on a dangerous and difficult enterprise; his efforts, however, were not altogether fruitless.
At the age of sixty-one Nichiren entered Nirvana – just six hundred and twelve years ago. His most distinguished disciples at this time numbered a little over forty, and all of them bore their share in his arduous and risky work. He left some thirty or forty volumes behind him, all which are still extant. At present the Nichiren sect has five thousand tera or temples, seven thousand priests, and more than two millions of adherents. The largest and most important temples are those with which Nichiren himself had some personal connection.
There are some biographical critics who speak of this great reformer as the Luther of the East. The comparison, however, is open to arraignment, as being based upon a superficial acquaintance with Nichiren’s character and mission. To appreciate the eminence of his virtue, the extent and profundity of his learning, the heroism and grandeur of the man himself, it is necessary to read his works. “If,” says Nichiren, “my benevolence is really great and far-reaching, the ‘Holy Book of the Lotus of the Good Law’ will continue predominant a million years.” And again: “Indian Buddhism came from the West to the East. Japanese Buddhism will go from the East to the West.” There are signs even now that his words are being fulfilled.