Category Archives: Lotus in a Sea of Flames

Lotus in a Sea of Flames

Lotus in a Sea of Flames bookcover
Lotus in a Sea of Flames can be purchased from the Nichiren Buddhist International Center or by by sending a check for $31 (this includes shipping and handling) made out to the San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple and mailed to San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple, 3570 Mona Way, San Jose, CA 95130.

From the author Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick’s Preface to the book:

At the age of 18 I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism. Since that time I have voraciously read everything I could find in English translation connected to Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra, the teachings of Tiantai, and the life and writings of Nichiren Shonin, the founder of the school of Buddhism that I am ordained in as a minister. So this book is the product of my 30 years of research, some might say obsession. However, it would not have begun at all had not my sensei, the Ven. Ryusho Matsuda, asked me to write a book about Nichiren Shonin’s life using as my primary source the seven volumes of the Writings of Nichiren Shonin put out by the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation and Promotion Association. To get me started, I was handed two very thick sheaves of notes. One was a collection of passages from the aforementioned seven volumes pertaining to events in Nichiren’s life, and the second consisted of my sensei’s outline of Nichiren’s life based on those passages and other sources. He also provided me with his own translation of the booklet that accompanies a documentary DVD on the life of Nichiren Shonin by Dr. Takashi Nakao. Provided with these materials, I began to marshal my own resources and set to work. The end result is the present book. This book is my attempt, given my own limitations, to present a historical novelization of the life of Nichiren Shonin in order to understand him in the context of his own time and place. I hope that I have at least partially succeeded in conveying some of his spirit so that others will come to appreciate his life, teachings, and sacrifices as I have.

On Jan. 11, 2016, Rev. Ryusho Jeffus of Myosho-ji Temple in Charlotte, NC, hosted an online discussion with Ryuei Shonin.

With other books on this website, I’ve selected quotes that help me remember favorite passages. I’m not doing that with this book.

As with Ryuei’s other books written on behalf of the San Jose Nichiren Temple – Lotus World and Lotus Seeds  – Lotus in a Sea of Flames takes the reader from the basics of Buddhism, and in this book Japanese culture, to a thorough appreciation of the nuances of the topic. People with little knowledge of Nichiren or even Buddhism in general will find this book very informative and even entertaining.

The scholarly aspect of this historical novel benefits from fact-checking assistance provided by Dr. Jacqueline I. Stone, Professor of Japanese Religions in the Religion Department of Princeton University.

Ryuei has used Nichiren’s deathbed reminiscences as a vehicle to tell Nichiren’s life story. The first and last chapters are particularly well written. The scenes – nearly all based on the writings of Nichiren Shonin – are often very compelling. One of my favorites comes as Nichiren is being taken away to Izu on his first exile.

“I am no magistrate,” said the official. “I am not interested in your arguments. I am only interested in getting you onto that ship, out of Kamakura, and on to Izu. Now keep quiet!”

Nichiren put his palms together and bowed. His disciples cried out to him, some in tears. The guards kept back all but one. Nichiro, now a strong young man of 16, would not be cowed. He slipped past the guards and ran down to the boat just as it was being pushed off into the surf.

“Get back!” screamed the official.

But Nichiro would not get back. Crying for his master as he reached out to him, he waded out into the bay after the boat. Nichiren exhorted him to be calm, but his disciple was too overwrought and would not listen. “Take me with you!” He shouted again and again. Exasperated, the official took an oar and struck the young monk with bone shattering force. Clutching at his broken right arm, Nichiro finally backed away, his face white with pain.

Tears fell from Nichiren’s eyes as he saw his faithful disciple so brutalized. “Nichiro! Calm yourself. Is this how a disciple of the Buddha should act? From now on, when you see the sun setting in the west behind Izu, think of me. When I see the sun rising from the sea, I shall think of you.”

Nichiro nodded. “Forgive me, master.” Becoming faint, he went down on his knees in the water, sweat and tears coursing down his face. One of the guards finally reached him and escorted him back to where Nissho and the other monks were gathered.

As the boat moved away Nichiren began to chant the final verses from the eleventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “It is difficult to keep this sutra. I shall be glad to see anyone keeping it even for a moment.” The rocking of the waves caused his voice to fade in and out, giving the recitation an odd rhythm. The passage ended with, “Anyone who expounds this sutra even for a moment in this dreadful world should be honored with offerings by all gods and men.” From that point on Nichlren knew that he and his disciples had truly become practitioners of the Lotus Sutra as its predictions of hardships that would be faced by the teachers of the True Dharma began to be fulfilled in their own lives.

Each day I recite the Hotoge, those verses from Chapter 11, and I wonder what was the source of the odd rhythm.

Hotoge with rhythm markings

Day 29

Illustration Nichiren at Tasunokuchi
Nichiren at Tatsunokuchi by Rhea Adri from Ryūei Michael McCormick’s Lotus in a Sea of Flames

In chanting the daimoku, the power of the whole sutra and all its protectors had been invoked. Who had sent that ball of lightning across the sky at just that moment? Perhaps it had been World Voice Perceiver Bodhisattva, of whom the Buddha sang in the verses of chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, “Suppose you are sentenced to death, and the sword is drawn to behead you. If you think of the power of World Voice Perceiver, the sword will suddenly break asunder.”

Day 29 covers all of Chapter 25, The Universal Gate of World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva.

In earlier readings of Chapter 25, I’ve scoffed at what I described as World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva’s Get Out of Jail Free card but recently I’ve been reading Ryūei Michael McCormick’s Lotus in a Sea of Flames (you can get info on how to purchase this new biography of Nichiren on his blog). Nichiren had not resigned himself to his death on the beach at Tatsunokuchi. No, he embraced it in much the same way Gladly-Seen-By-All-Beings Bodhisattva in Chapter 23 embraced giving himself to the flames of the Dharma. McCormick’s novel imagines Nichiren consoling Shijo Kingo and his brothers just moments before his execution saying: “How dismayed you all are! You should be laughing at such a wonderful occasion as this when I am going to present my wretched head to the Lotus Sutra. It will be like exchanging sand for gold or pebbles for jewels.”

All the more reason to bear in mind what the Buddha says:

Good man! If many hundreds of thousands of billions of living beings hear [the name of] World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva and call his name with all their hearts when they are under various sufferings, World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva will immediately perceive their voices, and cause them to emancipate themselves [from the sufferings].

And while not everyone faces death at the hands of robbers or peril at sea in a storm-tossed ship, there are many other times when thinking of World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva can rescue us:

Those who have much lust will be saved from lust if they constantly think of World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva and respect him. Those who have much anger will be saved from anger if they constantly think of World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva and respect him. Those who have much stupidity will be saved from stupidity if they constantly think of World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva and respect him. Endless-Intent! World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva has these great supernatural powers. He gives many benefits to all living beings. Therefore, they should constantly think of him.

As with Wonderful-Voice Bodhisattva, World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva can be found wandering about this world transforming himself into various beings in order to teach the Dharma:

This World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva does these meritorious deeds. He takes various shapes, walks about many worlds, and saves the living beings [of those worlds]. Make offerings to World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva with all your hearts! This World-Voice-Perceiver Bodhisattva-mahāsattva gives fearlessness [to those who are] in fearful emergencies. Therefore, he is called the ‘Giver of Fearlessness’ in this Sahā-World.

In summary:

World-Voice-Perceiver will save
All living beings from misfortunes
And from innumerable sufferings of the world
By the wonderful power of his wisdom.

He has these supernatural powers.
He employs various expedients with his wisdom.
In the ten quarters there is no kṣetra
In which he does not appear at all.