The Nichiren Buddhist International Center bookstore
The meaning of the characters on the Gohonzon of Nichiren Buddhism can be confusing even to those who read Japanese. The interested practitioner could study the symbolic Buddhas, bodhisattvas, demons, dragons, kings and other beings represented by the thirteenth century Buddhist teacher Nichiren Shonin on his calligraphic Mandala. However, before Lotus World he would have needed a small library of books to find all of the characters represented.
Finally, the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose has published a book that will allow everyone with an interest in Buddhism to find all of their answers in one slim volume. Lotus World provides the reader with all of the detail one might desire, from the story of the characters to how they are represented in art. There is even useful section describing the overall world-view necessary to understand the hierarchy of beings.
Price: $15.00 (With a pictorial Mandala)
Wander about an interactive map of the Shutei Mandala and the Illustrated Mandala created from excerpts to Lotus World.
The list of names that appears at the bottom of the Great Mandala provides a kind of lineage chart of the authentic teaching of the Lotus Sutra according to Nichiren. This lineage comprises the historical transmission of the Lotus Sutra that began with the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. Nichiren refers to this in the Spiritual Contemplation of the Focus of Devotion:
“… I should say that during the period spanning the time the Buddha was still alive and some 1,800 years after His death, there appeared only three throughout the three lands of India, China, and Japan who perceived the ultimate truth, that is, the Lotus Sutra. They are Shakyamuni Buddha of India, Grand Master T’ien-t’ai of China, and Grand Master Dengyo of Japan, who are the three sages of Buddhism.”
If Nichiren Shonin is included in this number, these teachers are known collectively as the “four masters in three lands,” who comprise the outer or historical transmission. This is distinguished from the inner or spiritual transmission from the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha to Superior Practice Bodhisattva who appeared in the Latter Age of the Dharma as Nichiren Shonin.
The Wheel Turning King and King Ajatashatru represent the best and worst of the world of human beings respectively. The asura kings represent the world of fighting demons. The dragon kings, being dragons (or serpents) in charge of powerful natural forces, are representatives of nature and the world of animals. Hariti and her ten rakshasi daughters represent the world of hungry ghosts. Finally, Devadatta, who is said to have fallen into hell alive, represents those in the world of the hell-dwellers.
All of these beings are shown on the Great Mandala illuminated by the Odaimoku. By receiving the Odaimoku with faith and joy, they receive the merits and virtues of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha, overcome their delusion and suffering, and attain buddhahood.
Nichiren taught that all the gods had promised to protect those who uphold the Lotus Sutra. He frequently invoked the Vedic deities and the Shinto kami as his protectors, as in the following passage from Persecutions of the Sage: “Even those who have a great demonic spirit [on their side] cannot harm Nichiren because he is protected by Brahma, Indra, the gods of the sun and moon, the four heavenly kings, Tensho Daijin, and Hachiman.”
Louis Frederic in “Flammarion Iconographic Guides: Buddhism” gives the following summary of the position of the devas within Buddhism: “The gods of Buddhism are not saviours, but beings with more power than humans. They live in pleasure for extremely long lives, but are nevertheless ultimately subject to the cycle of rebirth and suffering. They may be worshiped for material gain, and the earliest Buddhist literature contains stories of their service to the Buddha, and their promotion and protection of Buddhism. Thus we find the gods of the Indian pantheon assisting at all the major events in the life of the Buddha, more as attentive servants than as followers.”
The deities of the Vedic hymns of Brahmanism are called “devas,” or “shining ones.” Nichiren’s Great Mandala includes several of these devas. Buddhism assimilated the devas. They appear as the inhabitants of the heavens, personifications of the forces of nature, and protectors of the Buddha Dharma. They are sometimes seen as roles taken on by the various bodhisattvas or as embodiments of various aspects of enlightenment. However, though deities, they are never above the teachings of the Buddha. Rather, they are sentient beings much like humans – though more powerful and long-lived – who need the Buddha’s teachings just like every other being.
One of the most critical events in the life of the early Sangha was Devadatta’s instigation of a schism. Devadatta convinced 500 newly ordained monks to follow him instead of Shakyamuni Buddha. Out of compassion for those 500 monks, the Buddha sent Shariputra and Maudgalyayana to visit them. Devadatta was eager to have these two revered disciples join his group, so he invited them to join him and even to preach to the monks while he rested. Devadatta’s overconfidence was his undoing, however, for Shariputra and Maudgalyayana taught the true Dharma which the monks had not heard before. They were thereby convinced to return to the Sangha of Shakyamuni Buddha. Devadatta awakened to discover that all his followers had left him.
“Voice-hearers” (Sanskrit, shravaka) refers to those monastic disciples who heard the voice of the Buddha in person. From the standpoint of Mahayana Buddhism, the voice-hearers are Hinayana disciples who listened and followed the teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. … Traditionally ten major disciples are listed. They are representative of the different qualities that were valued by Hinayana Buddhism:
Shariputra, foremost in wisdom
Mahakashyapa, foremost in ascetic practices
Ananda, foremost in hearing the sutras
Subhuti, foremost in understanding emptiness
Purna, foremost in expounding the Dharma
Maudgalyayana, foremost in supernatural powers
Katyayana, foremost in explaining the Dharma
Aniruddha, foremost in clairvoyance (the divine eye)
According to the Lotus Sutra, … even the voice-hearers are on the path of the One Vehicle that leads to buddhahood. The nirvana of the arhats is a temporary goal on the journey to perfect and complete enlightenment, like the “magic city” conjured to provide a temporary respite for weary travelers in one of the parables of the Lotus Sutra. The true “voice-hearer” then, is actually a bodhisattva who has heard the teaching of the One Vehicle of the Lotus Sutra and who enables others to hear it as well.
The two Vidyarajas represented on the Great Mandala – Achalanatha [Fudo Myo-o (Japanese) Immovable Lord Knowledge King] and Ragaraja [Aizen Myo-o (Japanese) Desire King Knowledge King], have also been viewed as the representatives of the teachings that “birth and death are themselves nirvana” (Japanese, shoji soku nehan) and “the afflictions are themselves enlightenment” (Japanese, bonno soku bodai) respectively. The first principle means that nirvana does not exist in another realm but is actually the true reality of this realm, the world of birth and death. The second principle means that enlightenment is not the eradication of the afflictions, like greed and anger, but their liberation and transformation, via the wholesome energy of the enlightened mind, into positive qualities like devotion and discernment.
Only the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the original disciples of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha, are able to teach the essential teaching [during the Latter Age of the Dharma when no other teaching is radical enough to shake beings out of their complacency, obstinacy, and spiritual blindness]. Even then, however, the provisional bodhisattvas are still present and able to protect and assist the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in accomplishing their mission.