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The Lotus Sutra, which is regarded in Nichiren Buddhism as the teaching in which the Buddha reveals the full truth of his enlightenment, is a largely allegorical description of Shakyamuni Buddha interacting with a great gathering of disciples. At a key point, a magnificent “treasure tower” suddenly appears from out of the earth. Its vast dimensions stagger the imagination, and it is adorned with seven kinds of treasures. “Tower” here is a translation of stupa—a dome-like structure built to house the relics of the Buddha.
As the astonished assembly looks on, a voice speaks from inside the tower praising Shakyamuni and attesting to the truth of his teaching. Shakyamuni opens the tower to reveal seated inside a Buddha named Many Treasures who, we learn, lived and died in the incalculably distant past.
Shakyamuni explains that this treasure tower appears anywhere in the universe that the Lotus Sutra is being preached. He enters into the tower and takes a seat beside Many Treasures. The tower and the entire assembly are raised up into space, where, in “the Ceremony in the Air,” further amazing events unfold.
All of this is an elucidation, in rich symbolism, of the unfathomable Buddha nature inherent within the life of all people.
related article The Meaning of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren declared that to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was to activate its promise of universal enlightenment; he was establishing a form of practice that would open the way to enlightenment for all people--regardless of class or educational background. In Buddhism, the Buddha represents the ideal of human development and perfection. Shakyamuni, with his great compassion, wisdom and courage, embodied this ideal, becoming a model for his followers. After his death, however, Buddhism became shrouded in mystique, and the ideal of Buddhahood came to be seen as an almost unattainable goal divorced from actual reality and at contrast with mundane human existence.
The teachings of Nichiren (1222–82), on the other hand, are based on the Lotus Sutra’s premise that the world of Buddhahood is an intrinsic part of the lives of all people, which we are capable of manifesting as we are. The emergence of the treasure tower can be seen as an explanation of the actual relationship between the rarified ideal of Buddhahood and everyday life.
Nichiren interprets the treasure tower as symbolizing the ultimate reality, which he identified as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The Buddha Many Treasures represents the eternally enduring world of Buddhahood. This sublime reality has always existed but manifests only under certain conditions. Shakyamuni Buddha represents here a mortal Buddha, or Buddhahood manifest and active in this transient, actual world. Shakyamuni’s act of seating himself beside Many Treasures represents the fact that these two aspects of the Buddha—the eternal and the transient—are the same.
No treasure tower exists other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra.
In a letter to a follower, Nichiren explains where the ultimate reality exists. It is in the depths of the lives of all people. He writes, “No treasure tower exists other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra.”
The attributes and qualities of the Buddha are already within the life of each individual. The purpose of the Lotus Sutra, and the mission of those who practice it, is to activate the qualities of the Buddha inherent in the depths of life and bring them into the world. The Lotus Sutra is what connects these two realities. Nichiren formulated the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the means of practicing the Lotus Sutra—of enabling the treasure tower to emerge within our lives. As a tool for this practice he inscribed a mandala—the Gohonzon—which depicts, in Chinese calligraphy, the Ceremony in the Air, and is a representation of the Buddha nature present in all things.
Nichiren describes the seven treasures adorning the treasure tower as representing the virtues of “hearing the correct teaching, believing it, keeping the precepts, engaging in meditation, practicing assiduously, renouncing one’s attachments, and reflecting on oneself.” Significantly, these qualities are not those of an august Buddha-like figure so much as those of one who is striving to attain Buddhahood. It is through effort and striving that the qualities of the Buddha nature inherent in our lives become manifest.
To see the treasure tower is to recognize our inherent Buddha nature. It is to be cognizant of and to uphold the great dignity of life—our own and others’. Faith in the inherent Buddha nature is essentially what distinguishes a “Buddha” from a “common mortal.”
As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda writes, “The ‘tower adorned with the seven treasures’ is the grand and dignified original form of our lives.”
[Courtesy July 2012 SGI Quarterly]