Lecture in Praise of Nichiren Daishonin
September 2013, Oko Lecture
Embracing the Mystic Law (Myoho) and
Expiating Our Negative Karma
In Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, embracing the mystic Law (Myōhō) means to uphold the Object of Worship of the Essential Teaching. Nichiren Daishonin revealed Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo of actual ichinen sanzen in the form of the Gohonzon of the Essential Teaching. Thus, he enabled all mankind in the Latter Day of the Law to attain enlightenment in this world filled with the powerful forces of the three poisons. In “The True Object of Worship” (“Kanjin no honzon-sho”), the Daishonin explained the following about the benefits of embracing the Gohonzon:
The practices that Shakyamuni carried out and the virtues he consequently acquired are all contained in the five characters of Myoho-Renge-Kyo. If we embrace these characters, the same virtues that Shakyamuni gained will naturally be bestowed upon us.
(Gosho, p. 653)
The causal practices and the resulting effects that Shakyamuni amassed to attain enlightenment are contained entirely within the Gohonzon of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Those who embrace and practice to this Gohonzon are able to expiate all the slanderous causes from past existences and receive far-reaching and profound benefits.
The Sixty-fifth High Priest Nichijun Shonin stated the following:
Perhaps, it is possible to live without taking faith in a religious doctrine. However, such a life is narrow, shallow, and short. Even if it is sustained by wealth and honor and filled with happiness and love, it is still narrow, shallow, and short-lived. Laughter is followed by loneliness, and misery casts its shadow on sentiments of anger….Being able to immerse oneself in eternal life and optimum conditions is a special privilege available only to those who can uphold faith in Nichiren Shoshu.
(Complete Works of Nichijun Shonin [Nichijun Shonin zenshu], vol. 2, p. 691)
Indeed, there are times when people feel happy, feel loved, and rest on the laurels of their wealth and honor. They can rejoice in the fact that they are happier and more fortunate than most people. However, such glory typically is not long lasting. When their fortune runs out, they instantly will descend into a life of hardship and suffering. Good fortune, happiness, and prosperity are the results of good causes made in the past. Thus, they eventually will disappear, unless benefits and good causes continue to be accumulated.
Nichijun Shonin states, “Being able to immerse oneself in eternal life and optimum conditions is a special privilege available only to those who can uphold faith in Nichiren Shoshu.” This refers to achieving the ultimate benefit of attaining enlightenment in this lifetime (issho jobutsu). Indeed, Nichiren Daishonin teaches us to aim to achieve such a life condition, since it represents the true benefit.
In order to establish this supreme life condition concretely, we must embrace the Gohonzon, do Gongyo, and uphold faith and practice for ourselves and for others (jigyo keta). However, as we put our efforts into faith and practice for ourselves and others, we inevitably will encounter the negative karma and consequences of our past sins, which we have amassed from our past lifetimes. In “The Four Debts of Gratitude” (“Shion-sho”), Nichiren Daishonin states:
This land is populated by those who were cast away from the pure lands of the ten directions. They have committed the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins. They have slandered the wise men and sages and have been unfilial to their parents. They have committed the sin of being irreverent to the priests. They fell into the three evil paths for countless kalpas and then finally were reborn into this world. However, the elements of their negative karma from their past existences have not been expiated, and thus, these people still tend to commit the ten evil acts and the five cardinal sins; they disparage the wise men and sages; they are unfilial to their parents; and they remain irreverent to the priests….People with negative karma are born and they congregate together.
(Gosho, pp. 264〜265)
Furthermore, in the Gosho, “On Revealing Slander” (“Ken hōbō-shō”), the Daishonin writes:
In every way, the common mortals of the Latter Day of the Law will find difficulty avoiding the evil paths.
(Gosho, p. 283)
This means that various karmic sins are a part of the lives of the people living in the Latter Day of the Law.
“Sins” (zai) refer to negative causes that bring about suffering. There are various types of sins, such as karma, earthly desires, and negative practices. The Abhidharma mahavibhasa sastra (Dai-bibasha-ron) explains that, of the three categories of action—thoughts, words, and deeds—the negative karma created by thoughts are most grievous. It also states that of all earthly desires, heretical views are most reprehensible; and that, of all the negative practices, the gravest offense is breaking the unity with the priesthood. In addition, there are numerous forms of sins, including the five cardinal sins, ten evil acts, and slanderous sins. These are comprehensively called sins (zai). They also are referred to as hindering sins (zaishō), karmic sins (zaigō), and evil sins (zaiaku).
In the “Letter to the Brothers” (“Kyodai-sho”), the Daishonin states:
If you spread the word about this doctrine, devils will come forth without fail. If the devils do not compete to oppose you, there is no way of knowing that this is the true Law. A passage in the fifth volume [of the Great Concentration and Insight (Maka shikan)] explains: “When you practice assiduously and strive to deepen your understanding, the three obstacles and four devils will compete with one another in disorderly confusion to impede your progress….You should not follow them or fear them. If you follow them, each of you will head down the evil paths. If you fear them, they will prevent you from practicing true Buddhism.”
(Gosho, p. 986)
The three obstacles refer to hindrances caused by karmic sins. As you strive to advance in your Buddhist practice, the sins from your past will arise as obstacles to impede your progress. The Daishonin further explains in concrete terms:
The three obstacles in this passage refer to the obstacle of earthly desires (bonnō shō), the obstacle of karma (gō shō), and the obstacle of retribution (hō shō). The obstacle of earthly desires is a hindrance caused by greed, anger, and stupidity. The obstacle of karma is an impediment posed by one’s wife and children. The obstacle of retribution is a hindrance brought about by one’s sovereign or parents.
Thus, the obstacles of earthly desires are impediments—resulting from our past negative causes of greed, anger, and stupidity—which we encounter today when we practice true Buddhism. The obstacles of karma are caused by our past offenses in the form of the five cardinal sins or the ten evil acts. These obstacles appear as obstruction from our spouses and children, when we are striving to advance on the correct path of true Buddhism. The obstacles of retribution represent the painful consequences of our past deeds, which take the form of hindrances from our sovereign or parents.
In this way, our past karmic sins will appear today as obstacles in various forms and conditions. When we defeat these obstacles, we are able to expiate our negative karma, advance forth, and improve our Buddhist practice.
In the Gosho, “Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution” (“Tenju kyoju homon”), the Daishonin writes:
In the Nirvana Sutra, there is a doctrine called “lessening one’s karmic retribution.” If one’s heavy negative karma accumulated since one’s past existences is not eradicated in this lifetime, then he is destined to undergo the sufferings of hell in the future. However, if he endures severe agony in this lifetime, the sufferings of hell will instantly disappear, and after his death, he will receive the benefit of reaching the states of humanity, rapture, the three vehicles, or the one vehicle of Buddhahood. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was abused, vilified, and attacked with staves, sticks, stones, and tiles for a good reason. It was due to his slander against the correct Law in his past existences. Thus, it is stated [in the Bodhisattva Never Disparaging (Fukyō; twentieth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra], “The offenses that he had committed have been expiated.” All of his negative karma accumulated since his past lives was eliminated through undergoing these hardships.
(Gosho, p. 480)
When we continue to uphold strong faith and practice, we can expiate our negative karma by receiving slight hardships, rather than having to encounter severe hardships for our heavy karmic sins. Furthermore, the benefits of embracing the mystic Law (Myoho) are immeasurable, since we are able to eradicate, in this lifetime, all of the karmic sins that we have amassed during the long, long period of innumerable past kalpas.
Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, in the past, encountered many persecutions when he practiced the Lotus Sutra. The Daishonin explains that he was able “to eradicate his past sins because he encountered persecutions in his present life.” He teaches that this is substantiated by the passage in the Lotus Sutra that states, “The offenses that he had committed have been expiated.” High Priest Nichinyo Shonin gave the following explanation concerning this passage:
The pharse, “The offenses that he had committed have been expiated,” literally means “after the expiation of the sins.” The various forms of persecution that Bodhisattva Never Disparaging encountered from the arrogant individuals among the four kinds of Buddhist believers were caused by his karmic sins from his past existences. He endured this maltreatment and continued his Buddhist practice. As a result, he achieved a “conclusion of the sins”; in other words, he was able to eradicate the karmic sins from his past lifetimes and achieve enlightenment. The same is true when we do shakubuku. We are able to eliminate the various karmic sins from our past existences, when we do shakubuku. Indeed, this is precisely why doing shakubuku is the foremost Buddhist practice for the attainment of enlightenment in this lifetime (issho jobutsu).
(Collected Direction of the High Priest Nichinyo Shonin
[Goshinan-shu], vol. 2, p. 15)
We must follow these directions and perform our Buddhist practice of shakubuku, based on the conduct of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. As a result, we will be able to eradicate our negative karma from our past existences.
We currently are advancing with great devotion to accomplish our objectives, designated by High Priest Nichinyo Shonin, for 2015 and 2021. These goals are none other than promoting the achievement of the salvation of all humanity through the ultimate propagation of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism—kosen-rufu. When each one of us stands tall and takes responsibility for this challenge to achieve kosen-rufu, we can manifest the true Buddhist practice. We may encounter various obstacles as a result, but, in fact, we will be eradicating the karmic sins that we have amassed during our past lifetimes over innumerable kalpas. At the same time, we will open a life condition full of benefits. We must never lose sight of the fact that our personal goal is to achieve the great effect of attaining enlightenment in this current lifetime.
Let us follow the directions of our High Priest completely and form a solid unity between priesthood and laity. Let us strive to do our best in the challenge to achieve kosen-rufu, based on the unity of many in body one in mind (itai-doshin).