May 2010 Oko
I would like to thank you for attending today’s Oko ceremony despite your busy schedule. I have offered your sincere Gokuyo to the Gohonzon, and sincerely prayed to the Gohonzon for the further development of your faith; eradication of your negative karma from this and infinite past lifetimes; to enjoy a safe and long life; for peace and harmony to reign in your home; for all matters to proceed forth smoothly; and for the successful achievement of all your great objectives in this and future existences.
For those who have requested Toba, I have offered my sincere prayers to the Gohonzon for the peace and happiness of your late relatives, friends, and ancestors.
Letter to Niike
Strive ever harder in faith and never give in to negligence. Everyone appears to believe sincerely when he first embraces the Lotus Sutra, but as time passes, he tends to become less devout; he no longer reveres nor serves the priest and arrogantly forms distorted views. This is most frightening. Be diligent in developing your faith until the last moment of your life. Otherwise you will have regrets. For example, the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop on the twelfth, how can you admire the moon over the capital? No matter what, be close to the priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra, keep learning from him the truth of Buddhism and continue your journey of faith.
This month’s Oko focuses on the Gosho, “Letter to Niike”. It was written as a letter to Niike Saemon-no-jo, a believer residing in the Totomi Province (present day Western Shizuoka) in the twelfth month of the third year of Koan (December 1280), when Nichiren Daishonin was 59 years old. It is said Lord Niike was a samurai warrior who directly served the Kamakura shogunate. Lord Niike was converted to True Buddhism by Nikko Shonin around the time Nichiren went to Mt. Minobu in 1274. Lord Niike and his wife Niike-ama embraced the Law and became devoted believers.
There are eight major points regarding this Gosho:
1) The Daishonin expresses his joy for being born in the Latter Day of the Law, when the Lotus Sutra must be propagated. He teaches that even if we profess faith in and recite the Lotus Sutra, if we do not believe in it we are committing the fourteen slanders, and will receive the corresponding karmic effects.
2) He explains the enormity of the benefits we will receive for making offerings to the priest who knows the Lotus Sutra—in other words, to Nichiren Daishonin, the Votary of the Lotus Sutra. The Daishonin stresses the importance of upholding consistent faith, unchanging from beginning to end, as we advance in our Buddhist practice.
3) He then uses the story of the Kankucho bird in the Snow Mountains to describe the changing nature of the world. He admonishes those who are lazy or seek fame and fortune.
4) The Daishonin explains that the slander committed by the people throughout the nation has caused all the guardian deities (shoten zenjin) to abandon their shrines and ascend to the heavens. In their stead the land has become inhabited by evil demons that lead people into the evil paths. But, he further declared that the guardian deities would never begrudge their lives to support the votaries who propagate the Lotus Sutra.
5) The Daishonin states that the priests who promote the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana doctrines are the enemies of the Buddha. He instructs us we must never follow their heretical principles nor give offerings to such priests. Conversely, he states that if there is an individual who truly knows the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, however humble or poor he may be, we must revere him like a living Buddha and present him with offerings.
6) The Daishonin indicates that in our practice of the Lotus Sutra, it is essential not to rely on our arbitrary perspectives and not to follow the words of others; it is important to uphold our practice according to the sutra and single-mindedly chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. As a result we will be able to attain Buddhahood. The Daishonin presents the two principles of “knowledge without faith” (uge mushin) and “faith without knowledge” (ushin muge). Those who gain knowledge of the Lotus Sutra but do not believe in it will never be able to attain Buddhahood. However, those who are unable to understand the Lotus Sutra but purely uphold strong faith in the mystic Law (Myoho) will achieve Buddhahood without fail.
7) The people in the Latter Day of the Law tend to abandon their faith and hold high regard for knowledge. Therefore, when they gain a little knowledge of the sutra, they proceed to belittle the priest and disparage the Law, ultimately falling into the evil paths. The Daishonin urges us to discard all regard for fame and fortune and to revere the priest as our good karmic friend (zenchishiki), as we proceed in our faith.
8) The Daishonin denounces the Zen priests who are uneducated and conceited. He then says if anyone longs to see him, they should pray towards the sun. He concludes the Gosho by saying that the priest who is his messenger (Nikko Shonin) should be trusted for his enlightened wisdom. He urges Lord Niike to exert his utmost efforts in faith and practice.
The quote that I read at the beginning centers on the devotion needed to accomplish our vows. “Strive ever harder in faith and never give in to negligence” directs us how to devote ourselves to our practice. As when we advance in our studies and practice, however we become satisfied with what we have learned and stop studying. Much worse, we use what we learn and start preaching our own idea's about Buddhism. The teachings of Buddhism, and particularly Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, are so deep that the words on the surface are not enough to understand it thoroughly and we must continue to study throughout our lives.
The next phrase of the passage, “Everyone appears to believe sincerely when he first embraces the Lotus Sutra, but as time passes, he tends to become less devout; he no longer reveres nor serves the priest and arrogantly forms distorted views. This is most frightening,” reminds us about how honest we must be about learning and understanding this Buddhism. But as times passes by and we become satisfied with where we are in our lives, we become less devoted to our practice. When we bring our own ideas and conclusions into our practice, we begin to create our own understanding, which separates us from the golden words of Nichiren Daishonin and the guidance of our High Priest. When this happens we are already going against the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. Nichiren Daishonin tells us firmly to “Be diligent in developing your faith until the last moment of your life. Otherwise you will have regrets.”
Following the explanation I gave for the first half of this passage, I would like to continue with the very important second half:
“For example, the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop on the twelfth, how can you admire the moon over the capital? No matter what, be close to the priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra, keep learning from him the truth of Buddhism and continue your journey of faith”.
In order to develop the determination to continue the journey in our practice and learn the truth of Buddhism, we will discuss the famous Buddhist terms, The Four Universal Vows.
In Buddhism, Four Universal Vows, reflect our Buddhist practice of jigyo-keta, practice for oneself and for others, and represent the four pledges to propagate Buddhism:
1. “to save innumerable living beings,”
2. “to eradicate countless earthly desires,”
3. “to master immeasurable Buddhist teachings,” and
4.“to attain the supreme enlightenment.”
1. Saving Innumerable Living Beings
This vow is the determination to save all mankind and to cause each individual to attain enlightenment. This vow teaches that those who aspire to a life based on True Buddhism must eliminate all notions of being satisfied with receiving benefits and achieving salvation only for oneself. It also teaches us the importance of having deep compassion and actually performing the Buddhist practice in order to save ourselves and others, which is to save all the people in the world.
In order to save all people, the practitioners must uphold the sincere aspiration to achieve worldwide Kosen-rufu. Religions other than Nichiren Shoshu may present a superficial understanding of the vow to save innumerable living beings; however, they do not provide us with an understanding of its true significance. They are unclear about what teaching to propagate, how to save all mankind, and what doctrine to use. The followers do not all actively participate in the practice for the sake of others, uphold the aspiration to achieve worldwide Kosen-rufu, or practice everyday toward that objective.
To people of all circumstances around the world, we, as disciples and followers of Nichiren Daishonin, propagate faith and practice in the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of True Buddhism, inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin, who was unaffected by the numerous great persecutions that he encountered. The Daishonin inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon so that all people throughout their three existences could achieve true happiness and attain enlightenment in their present form. In Nichiren Shoshu, each of us, priests and lay believers, performs Gongyo morning and evening and prays for the achievement of Kosen-rufu. Furthermore, we uphold the directions of our High Priest, we do shakubuku, and we act upon the vow of saving innumerable living beings, not as an empty theory, but in actual practice.
The vow of saving innumerable living beings is a pledge to lead all people to believe in the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary and to save them from the fundamental darkness at the essential core of their lives.
2. Eradicating Countless Earthly Desires
This vow is the pledge to completely eliminate the numerous earthly desires that are the root causes of all suffering.
Buddhism teaches that each person possesses 84,000 earthly desires. All people live each day and each moment based on these numerous earthly desires. For example, aspirations, wishes, and hopes are all based on earthly desires. Thus, it is extremely difficult to completely eliminate them. Our will to live is an earthly desire, and our wish to eliminate earthly desires is in itself another earthly desire. Realistically, it is impossible to completely eradicate earthly desires. The vow to eradicate countless earthly desires is our determination to eliminate our negative karma from the past and to purify our lives - characterized by earthly desires and flaws - by upholding the way of the Buddha.
The True Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin teaches us to transform earthly desires into enlightenment; to turn the sufferings of birth and death into nirvana; to physically attain enlightenment; and to secure true happiness for ourselves. Furthermore, it teaches us to transform the world of suffering into the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light and to purify the world. The beneficial power of Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the driving force for all of these principles: earthly desires are in themselves enlightenment (bonno soku bodai); the sufferings of birth and death are in themselves nirvana (shoji soku nehan); the saha world is in itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light (shaba soku jakko); and, in addition to these, the doctrine of changing poison into medicine (hendoku iyaku).
Therefore, the vow to eradicate countless earthly desires denotes our action to transform the innumerable earthly desires that we possess into enlightenment through faithfully chanting Daimoku to the Gohonzon. It signifies our effort to use the hardships, suffering, yearnings, and aspirations that we experience as a result of our earthly desires, to transform our lives into a life condition of true happiness.
3. Mastering Immeasurable Buddhist Teachings
This vow is the pledge to learn and understand the entirety of the Buddha's teachings. Anyone who aspires to embark upon the way of the Buddha determines to study and master the fundamental doctrine - the supreme teaching - within the vast and profound sea of Buddhist knowledge.
The True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, who made his advent in the Latter Day of the Law, was the first to reveal the great Law from the eternal past of kuon-ganjo and to teach the essential principles of True Buddhism. Studying the doctrines of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is not an easy task. It is important to resolutely attend the sermons held at the temples and to gain an understanding of the significance of Gosho passages, based on our faith and on chanting Daimoku in our homes. As we study the teachings of the Daishonin, we must grasp in our hearts the essential significance of those passages through our various life experiences, keeping a truly positive attitude and never becoming arrogant.
Thus, the vow to master immeasurable Buddhist teachings is our determination to study the profound teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and to manifest the effects of those teachings in our lives.
4. Attaining the Supreme Enlightenment
Finally, this vow is the pledge to perform the Buddhist practice to achieve the supreme enlightenment. It represents the determination of those who aspire to embark upon the way of the Buddha to attain the life condition of enlightenment in their present form, based on their practice of Buddhism.
The achievement of enlightenment in one's present form is absolutely impossible without the Mystic Law (Myoho) of Nichiren Daishonin. In order to experience the supreme enlightenment of the Buddha as our own enlightenment, we must follow the correct instructions of the True Buddha and participate in activities based on our faith and practice. The fundamental activity is none other than chanting Daimoku to the Gohonzon, the correct Object of Worship.
In our practice of jigyo-keta, the vow “to save innumerable living beings” is to strongly practice for others, while the other three vows are the practice for oneself. 67th High Priest Nikken Shonin stated:
"Of the Four Universal Vows, the first is the pledge to save innumerable living beings. There is no greater objective than to determine to save an infinite number of people. The other vows are characterized by the eradication of countless earthly desires, the mastery of immeasurable Buddhist teachings, and the attainment of the supreme enlightenment. These all represent truly boundless means." (March 31, 1994)
He further said:
"We must advance forth, never losing sight of the spirit of the practice for oneself and for others and the four objectives characterized by the Four Universal Vows, consisting of "saving innumerable living beings," "eradicating countless earthly desires," "mastering immeasurable Buddhist teachings," and "attaining the supreme enlightenment."' (August 24, 1989)
Four months have passed in the “Year of Advancing towards Kosen-rufu.” As we look upon the four universal vows, we must have the same sheer determination as the traveler heading from Kamakura to Kyoto to accomplish the vows we made to the Gohonzon.
Furthermore, let’s continue to progress in our determination to accomplish the shakubuku goals we made at the beginning of the year, in order to be successful in accomplishing the 50% increase by 2015.
In closing, I wish for further development of faith and greater health and happiness for each and everyone here today. Thank you very much.