Category Archives: History of Japanese Religion

The ‘Five Theses’

Abandoned and alone in his place of exile and surrounded by dangers, Nichiren reviewed his past life and found in the scripture more encouraging assurance of his own mission and deeper inspiration. The result of this calm reflection and ardent aspiration he formulated in the “five theses” of his mission. They were: First, as to the doctrine promulgated, his religion was based upon the unique authority of the Lotus, the consummation of all teachings of Buddha. Second, as to the capacity of those to be taught, mankind of that degenerate age of the Latter Days could be trained only by Buddha’s teaching in its simplest expression, not by any complicated system. Third, as to the time, his time was the age of the Latter Law, in which the Lotus alone would remain efficient for the salvation of all. Fourth, as to the country of its promulgation, Japan was the land where true Buddhism was destined to prevail; whence it should be propagated throughout the world. Fifth, as to the successive rise and fall of systems, other forms of Buddhism had done their missions and the way had been prepared by the old masters for the acceptance of the Perfect Truth. All these five conditions seemed to Nichiren to be in process of fulfilment by his activity, and the dangers he was encountering assured him more and more of his high mission. Thus three years’ life in exile only added fire to his ardour.

History of Japanese Religion

The ‘Sacred Title’

But all these doctrines and speculations were fused by the white-heat of [Nichiren’s] faith and zeal, and he reduced the whole of his religion to a simple method, that of uttering the “Sacred Title” of the scripture, in the formula Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, which meant “Adoration to the Lotus of Perfect Truth.” It was for him not a mere oral utterance but a real embodiment of the truths revealed in that book, because the “Title” was representative of the whole revelation, which was to be realized in the spirit and embodied in the life of all who adored Buddha and his revelation. To utter the “Sacred Title” was, according to Nichiren, the method of at once elevating oneself to the highest enlightenment of Buddhahood and of identifying self with the cosmic soul. This method he deemed to be the only adequate way available for the degenerate men of the latter days.

History of Japanese Religion

‘Sun-Lotus’

This man was Nichiren, and his name meant “Sun-lotus,” which symbolized a combination of Shinto and Buddhist ideals, the Sun embodying light and life, and the lotus purity and perfection. His character and career were unique in the religious history of Japan. In him were harmonized the fervour of a prophet and the sweetness of a saint, the wisdom of a learned doctor and the enthusiasm of an ardent reformer.

History of Japanese Religion

Hokke-kyō

Besides its characteristic as a source of religious inspiration, the Hokke-kyō was rich in literary qualities. It contained an abundance of materials appealing to the fancy and imagination. The transfiguration of the Vulture Peak and the manifestation of supernal glories set forth in the opening scene; the resplendency of the heavenly worlds in response to the spiritual illumination of a king who, having left his royal dignity, has attained supreme enlightenment; the heavenly shrine (stūpa) appearing in the sky, from which Buddha proclaims and gives assurance of the further propagation of his religion in the Latter Days; the myriads of mysterious beings issuing out of the earth and taking vows before Buddha to work strenuously for religion, these are depicted in a highly imaginative style and with the vividness of apocalyptic vision. The prodigal son who is welcomed home by his noble father and educated to be his worthy heir; the scene of a thunderstorm and heavy rainfall after which plants and flowers grow luxuriantly; the burning house from which a thoughtful father, by means of a special device, takes out his children, these parables are intended to elucidate the all-embracing tact of the educative methods adopted by Buddha. The showers of heavenly flowers scattered upon the spot of Buddha’s sermon; the illumination of all beings by the rays of Buddha’s spiritual illumination; and finally the revelation of the eternal entity of Buddha’s person, these were told and heard in pious devotion. The guarantee given by Buddha to his disciples of their future destiny as Buddhas; the instantaneous enlightenment of a girl Naga (serpent) on hearing Buddha’s sermon, these inspiring stories in assuring salvation for all beings were received with tears of hope and gratitude. In addition to these stimulating stories and good tidings contained in the book, the supreme beauty of the Chinese translation played a great part in deepening and extending its inspiration. It is, then, no wonder that the Hokke-kyō played in Japanese literature a rôle nearly akin to that of the Bible in English literature.

History of Japanese Religion

Securing the Entity of Moral Life

The specific point in Saichō’s contention was that the confessions and vows were to be made not to human masters, as in other branches of Buddhism, but to Buddha himself, which meant to one’s own innermost soul and entity. And therein lay the mystery, that by taking vows with these convictions and uttermost zeal, one could arouse the innermost good, including power and wisdom, which was inherent but otherwise dormant. Once aroused, this would ensure for us an incorruptible firmness of moral and spiritual life and could last throughout any number of lives, in spite of obstacles, temptations, nay despite even casual guilt and the commission of sin. The initiation, therefore, was taught to secure the awakening and abiding of the fundamental Buddha-nature, the mystery of “securing the entity of moral life.”

History of Japanese Religion

Living the Life of the Universal Self

The fundamental maxim of Tendai ethics is “to put on the robes of the Tathāgata, to occupy the seat of the Tathāgata, and to enter the abode of the Tathāgata,” in short, to live the life of the universal self.

History of Japanese Religion

Faith and Morality

Thus, faith means the communion of our soul with the Buddha-soul in its triune nature, our participation in his dignity and work. In other words, communion in faith presupposes a basic unity existing between the worshipper and the worshipped. One who realizes this fundamental oneness of our being with that of Buddha cannot but proceed to save others by leading them along the same pathway of Buddhist enlightenment. This exertion is moral life, the life of the Bodhisattva, the Buddha-to-be. Faith is perfected by moral life, as morality is based on faith.

History of Japanese Religion

The Bodies of the Buddha

The historical Buddha, Sākya-muni, is but one of those adaptive manifestations; he is a Buddha in the Nirmana-kāya (Jap. Wō-jin), the “Condescension-body,” the concrete object of our faith. Yet he is the Buddha par excellence for us living in this world and in this world-period, because of the moral and metaphysical bond connecting a being and the world he lives in. Besides this condescending manifestation, Buddha reveals his wisdom and power, exhibiting them in the blissful glories of celestial existence. This supernal revelation is, again, adapted to the respective heights of enlightenment on the part of those who have made a certain advance in moral purity and spiritual vision. Hence the infinite varieties of Buddha’s Sambhoga-kāya (Jap, Hō-jin), the “Bliss-body,” and hence the varieties of celestial abodes for different blissful lives. Among those abodes of bliss, however, Tendai Buddhism gives a special preference to the “Paradise of Vulture Peak” (Jap. Ryōzen-Jōdo), an idealization of the Vulture Peak where Buddha Sākya-muni is said to have revealed the truth of the Lotus based on the metaphysical conception of the connection between the world and the individual, already referred to.

History of Japanese Religion

The ‘Truth Body’

According to the doctrine of the Tendai school, Buddha is really a man and yet the Truth itself. As a man of historical reality, he attained the full truth of existence and lived accordingly; he is the Tathāgata, the Truth-winner. This aspect of his being is, however, but a manifestation of the Dharmaui, the fundamental nature of the universe, which consists in the correlated unity of all the varieties and variations of existence. In other words, in Buddha we see, the one who has come down from the height of enlightenment to live among us in order to reveal the real nature of our being. He is the Tathāgata, the Truth-revealer, and he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is the aspect of his personality expressed by the term Dharma-kāya (Jap, Hosshin), the “Truth-body.” All and every one of us participate in this universal Buddha-soul; it is in fact inherent in us, although we may be quite unaware of it. Faith is nothing but a realization, a bringing to full consciousness, of the innermost identity of our own being with the Dharma-kāya.

History of Japanese Religion

One Single Thought

In human life, even one single thought or one act has the power of stirring up a character or tendency destined to bring us to any of the diverse realms of being.

History of Japanese Religion