Masaharu Anesaki’s book, “Nichiren, The Buddhist Prophet” was originally published in 1916 but is now in the public domain. It is available on the web without charge in a number of electronic formats.
Masaharu Anesaki, M.A., Litt.D., was a professor of the Science of Religion at the Imperial University of Tokyo and a professor of Japanese Literature and Life at Harvard University. The 1916 edition was published by Harvard University Press.
The sun, which at its rising had beheld Nichiren’s proclamation, the sun which at noon had witnessed Nichiren’s sermon, set as the hunted prophet made his way through the darkness of a wooded trail; only the evening glow was in the sky. What must his thoughts have been? What prospect could he have cherished in his mind for his future career and for the destiny of his gospel?
So long as the Buddhists regard their master as a man who achieved Buddhahood at a certain time, they fail to recognize the true person of Buddha, who in reality from eternity has been Buddha, the lord of the world. So long as the vision of Buddhists is thus limited, they are unaware of their own true being, which is as eternal as Buddha’s own primeval nature and attainment. The Truth is eternal, therefore the person who reveals it is also eternal, and the relation between master and disciples is nothing but an original and primeval kinship. This is the fundamental conception, which is further elucidated by showing visions reaching to the eternally past as well as to the everlasting future.
Now Nichiren interpreted the “Consummation and Perpetuation” in a totally different manner. The inspiration he derived from these narratives was a spirit of emulation, instead of mere piety; the life of the true Buddhist was to be lived in emulating the courageous and compassionate spirit of the divine beings and the vows they uttered. This was due to Nichiren’s peculiar conception of the whole scripture, namely, that it was a book not to be read simply by the eyes, or merely understood by the mind, but to be “read by the body,” that is, by flesh and blood. The truths revealed therein were, for Nichiren, the records of the true Buddhist life, which was realized by the saints of the past, and therefore to be striven for by all Buddhists of the coming ages.
The revelation of the eternal past is thus followed by the assurance for the everlasting future. The past and the future are united in the oneness of the Truth, by the unity of purpose, methods, and power, in all the Buddhas of all ages — in short, in the Sole Road of Truth.
Neither is birth the beginning, nor death the end of life; the true life extends far beyond both of these commonly assumed limits. Things come and pass away, but truth abides; men are born and disappear, but life itself is imperishable. Buddhahood is neither a new acquisition nor a quality destined to destruction. The One who embodies the cosmic Truth, Buddha, the Tathagata, neither is born nor dies, but lives and works from eternity to eternity; his Buddhahood is primeval and his inspiration everlasting. How, then, can it be otherwise with any other beings, if only they realize this truth and live in full consciousness of it?
The Truth abides eternally, but it is an abstraction, a dead law, without the person who perpetuates the life of the Truth. The Buddha Sakyamuni, in his human manifestation, was the one, the Tathagata par excellence; but who shall be the one in the future, nay in the present, in these days of degeneration and vice? This was the question of Nichiren, who at last, as the result of his hard experience and perilous life, arrived at the conclusion that he himself was the man destined to achieve the task of the Tathagata’s messenger.
We have ever been Buddha’s children, but, up to the present, we have been blind to his presence and work, just like the prodigal son in the parable in the fourth chapter of the Scripture. We are now awake to this everlasting fundamental relationship, and thereby shall surely attain Buddhahood, because the Tathagata is constantly caring for us and watching over us, as he says: ‘Now, this threefold realm of existence is my dominion, And all beings therein are my children. Yet existence is full of troubles and tribulations, I alone am the protector and savior.’
The full-opened eyes see the Truth of the everlasting relationship between ourselves and the eternal Buddhahood, in which the Buddha, as revealed in the chapter on the Eternal Life of the Tathagata, is the Lord ruling over all subjects, the Master leading his pupils to maturity, and the Father who gives birth to the children. We are, from all eternity, subjects of the Buddha, his disciples, and his children; being essentially like him through the eternal Truth. When seen in this light, every religion and ethical system, compared with Nichiren’s religion revealed in the Lotus, is one of the preliminary steps leading up to the ultimate truth. Yet men are blind or squinting and do not see the whole truth in its full light.
Buddha, as he is represented as declaring himself in the chapter on Eternity, is the Tathagata from all eternity and has ever been working to lead all sentient beings to maturity in Buddhahood. He is the Lord of Truth and Father of all, and we are his disciples and children. Religion is nothing but the way to enlightenment in this eternal relationship, and morality, nothing but the method of realizing the same truth in our life.
The basic truth of existence and its everlasting laws are inherent in every being, while the personal manifestations of Buddhahood are working to bring all beings to full consciousness of their own real nature. In other words, all beings, participating in the primeval wisdom of the universe, are developing their proper nature in conjunction with the educative activity of the Buddhas. Taking this view of the cosmic movement, the Supreme Being is nothing but the union of the Truth and the Person, as realized in the person of Buddha and to be realized in each of us.