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In this excerpt, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda examines Nichiren’s writing “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” exploring the principle that ordinary people can manifest their Buddha nature just as they are.
Just what constitutes a deeply meaningful life? What is true happiness? Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching of hope that enables us to forge a state of unsurpassed and indestructible happiness and to lead a life of supreme value, while also helping others do the same.
Everyone has the potential to attain Buddhahood; moreover, they can gain that lofty state just as they are, and in fact are assured of being able to do so in this lifetime. The Buddhism of Nichiren clearly elucidates this wonderful path to enlightenment.
Nichiren’s profound teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime was a revolutionary concept that turned prevailing Buddhist thought on its head. Indeed, it continues to shine today as a principle that can powerfully transform the age and open a bright future for our modern world in the 21st century.
As Nichiren wrote in this letter:
“If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life.” (WND, 3)
“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime” is an important writing that clarifies the basic theory and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. SGI members throughout the globe have deepened their understanding of the essence of Nichiren’s teachings by earnestly studying this writing as a guideline for practice and study.
Although the original is no longer extant and the precise date and name of the recipient are unknown, this letter is traditionally held to have been written around 1255 and addressed to Toki Jonin.
The practice of chanting daimoku is the foundation of Nichiren Daishonin’s lifetime teachings. The Buddhism of Nichiren, unlike the established Buddhist schools of his day, was not dedicated to the worship of a specific god or Buddha. Nichiren established the means for all people to achieve enlightenment, which is the ideal of the Lotus Sutra, by formulating the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which enables us to activate our inherent Buddha nature and manifest it as the life-state of Buddhahood.
There are two aspects of the daimoku in Nichiren Buddhism: the daimoku of faith and the daimoku of practice. The daimoku of faith refers to the spiritual aspect of our practice. This essentially consists of the struggle we wage in our hearts against our inner delusion or darkness; a battle against the negative and destructive forces within us. It means breaking through the darkness clouding our Buddha nature and bringing forth the life-state of Buddhahood through the power of faith. The daimoku of practice, meanwhile, refers to chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ourselves and also teaching it to others. It means making efforts in word and deed for the happiness of ourselves and others as evidence of our spiritual struggle against inner negativity and illusion.
When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are both chanting the name of, and calling forth, the Buddha nature in our own lives and the lives of others. When our faith wins out over inner doubt and delusion, the power of our inherent Buddha nature is called forth by the sound of our daimoku and spontaneously manifests in our lives.
related article President Ikeda’s Writings Excerpts from the writings of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on the history of Buddhism, and Buddhist practice and philosophy. The key point that set Nichiren Buddhism apart from the other Buddhist schools of his day was the establishment of this concrete means for attaining Buddhahood. And from the time he first declared Nam-myoho-renge-kyo until the moment of his death Nichiren ardently strove to teach this supreme path of enlightenment to people throughout the land.
In the opening passage of “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” Nichiren clearly and fully articulates the basic philosophy of salvation that lies at the heart of his teaching, which exists for the happiness of all humanity.
[This passage states] that by manifesting within us the mystic truth inherent in all living beings, we can free ourselves of the endless sufferings of birth and death. The name of that mystic truth is Myoho-renge-kyo, and the way to manifest it is through chanting Myoho-renge-kyo.
As Nichiren wrote:
“Nevertheless, even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching.” (WND, 3)
The concept of “attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime” refers to an ordinary person becoming enlightened during the course of their present existence. What this also means, by extension, is that they can achieve this just as they are. As such, “attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime” means the same thing as “attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form.”
This view contrasts sharply with the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, which expound that one can become enlightened only after practicing austerities over countless lifetimes. Because the life-state of Buddhahood is at one with the eternal Mystic Law and abounds with infinite wisdom and compassion, it tended to be seen as something completely separate and removed from the lives of ordinary people steeped in illusion. Attaining enlightenment was thought to require overcoming the unfathomably deep chasm between the spiritual states of a Buddha and ordinary people.
Nichiren Buddhism clarifies that it is specifically in this present existence, in which we have been born as human beings, that we can actualize the principle of attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form that is revealed in the Lotus Sutra. This is what led him to elucidate his profound teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Nichiren places importance on the present lifetime of human beings. Of course, not only humans but all living beings possess the Buddha nature and have the potential to attain Buddhahood in their present form. But the reason Nichiren stresses attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is that his focus is always first and foremost on the happiness of human beings.
The human heart is sensitive, multifaceted, and rich, and has the capacity to achieve incredible feats. But for that very reason, it often also undergoes great suffering and torment. Likewise, the human heart can become trapped in an endless, negative downward spiral.
related article Understanding Kosen-rufu SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses the concept of Kosen-rufu in this excerpt from Discussions on Youth—For the Protagonists of the Twenty-first Century. As evidenced in many of his writings, Nichiren repeatedly stresses the crucial importance of the heart or mind. It is in this deep inner realm of life that the potential resides for dramatic shifts from evil to good or from good to evil. That is why Nichiren’s teaching of enlightenment can be viewed as a process that begins with inner change. In other words, through the power of faith, we can defeat the negative functions inside us and manifest the positive functions of life that are one with the Dharma nature—that is, our Buddhahood.
“Therefore, when you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself.” (WND, 3)
“Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” (WND, 4)
In “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” Nichiren thoroughly explains that we cannot achieve enlightenment without a profound change in our lives themselves—that is, a change in our hearts and minds.
First of all, he says that the mystic truth with which all living beings are endowed reveals “the principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena.” What this means is that our lives or our minds at each moment both embody all phenomena and pervade all phenomena. This could be described as a state of life of oneness with the universe.
Also, Nichiren warns that if we seek the Mystic Law outside ourselves, then no matter how much daimoku we chant, we will not be able to attain enlightenment; on the contrary, our Buddhist practice will only “become an endless, painful austerity.” He clearly states: “Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching.” Nichiren explains that summoning up deep faith is the key to chanting daimoku, and declares that when we do so, we can polish our lives and attain enlightenment.
In addition, Nichiren speaks of “the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality”—in other words, the mystic, inscrutable nature of life, of our hearts and minds, that manifests as Buddhahood. In this way, he indicates that Myoho-renge-kyo is the mystic law of life, of the inner realm of our beings. On that basis, he asserts that when we chant daimoku with deep faith in the Mystic Law, we can attain Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Next, I wish to touch on three aspects in which Nichiren’s teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is significant.
First, by opening the way for all people to attain enlightenment in this lifetime through chanting daimoku, Nichiren established for the first time a teaching of genuine humanism. Opening the way to enlightenment for all people could be called the prerequisite for a genuinely humanistic religion. This, I believe, is the religious or philosophical significance of the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Second, by opening the path to attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, Nichiren made it possible for us to lead lives based on the infinite power of the Mystic Law—that is, to lead solid and secure lives that give us the courage and confidence to be self-reliant. This is the significance of the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime in terms of our individual lives.
In Nichiren Buddhism, attaining enlightenment is not about embarking on some inconceivably long journey to become a resplendent godlike Buddha; it is about accomplishing a transformation in the depths of one’s being. This revolutionary view of realizing enlightenment fundamentally changed the whole meaning of Buddhist practice as it was traditionally viewed.
related article Understanding Kosen-rufu SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses the concept of Kosen-rufu in this excerpt from Discussions on Youth—For the Protagonists of the Twenty-first Century. In other words, it is not a matter of practicing in order to scale the highest summit of enlightenment at some point in the distant future. Rather, it is a constant, moment-to-moment, inner struggle between the opposing courses of revealing our innate Dharma nature or allowing ourselves to be ruled by our fundamental darkness and delusion. This unceasing effort to polish our lives is the heart and essence of Buddhist practice. Only by winning over our inner darkness and negativity can we be victorious in life and reveal our full potential.
“The Lotus Sutra is the king of sutras, the direct path to enlightenment, for it explains that the entity of our life, which manifests either good or evil at each moment, is in fact the entity of the Mystic Law. If you chant Myoho-renge-kyo with deep faith in this principle, you are certain to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. That is why the sutra states, ‘After I have passed into extinction, [one] should accept and uphold this sutra. Such a person assuredly and without doubt will attain the Buddha way.’ Never doubt in the slightest.” (WND, 4)
Thirdly, the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is significant in that it offers a source of hope to humanity and opens the way to transforming the destiny of all humankind. This is its collective or universal significance.
Without surmounting the fundamental human delusions of greed, anger, and foolishness, we will not be able to solve the many problems that the world faces today, including the preoccupation with economic growth, politics that are devoid of humanism, international conflicts, war, growing disparity between rich and poor, and rampant discrimination. One conclusion from my dialogues with leading thinkers is that the only real solution is for human beings themselves to change, that the sole key lies in “human revolution.”
It could further be said that without establishing a correct view of life and death, it is impossible to conquer inner darkness and delusion at the most fundamental level. Without the view of life and death of the Middle Way . . . true and lasting happiness cannot be achieved.
The only way for human beings to change is for them to conquer their inner darkness and rediscover the eternal sanctity and dignity within their own lives. Cultivating the noble spirit with which all people are originally endowed will directly lead to a change in the destiny of humankind. With that conviction, we of the SGI have been working to build a network of goodwill all around the globe.
Excerpted from the first in a series of lectures on Nichiren’s writing “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime” that began in the January 2006 issue of the Soka Gakkai study journal, the Daibyakurenge.