We often hear the Japanese word ‘Kudoku’ when we talk about the benefits we receive in this practice. The word Kudoku can be translated as ‘benefit’ or ‘merit’ or sometimes ‘fortune.’ In general, Kudoku means that one accumulates reward or virtue (toku) by repeatedly performing good or virtuous deeds (ku). In the Ongi Kuden, the oral commentary of Nichiren Daishonin compiled by Second High Priest Nikko Shonin (Gosho - p.1775), Nichiren Daishonin states: “’Deeds’ (ku) means happiness. ‘Deeds’ (ku) also means to expiate evil, while virtue (toku) means to engender good. Merit (the great happiness, kudoku) is attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form.” In other words, the merit which we accumulate through our practice of True Buddhism results in happiness and fortune, which ultimately means to attain enlightenment in our present form. In the work titled, Kanjin no Honzon Sho Mondan (Mondan Shu - p.443), Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin states: “The merit of this object of worship is infinite and boundless; its unfathomable, wondrous functions are all-encompassing and profound. Therefore, if even for a short moment one believes in this object of worship and chants Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, no prayer will fail to be answered, no sin will fail to be expiated, no fortune will fail to come, and no truth will fail to become evident.”
It is undoubtedly true that most people join Nichiren Shoshu because they want to overcome their troubles and sufferings and become happy. Everyone, however, has their own individual reasons for taking faith in this religion, but regardless of one’s motivation, great rewards always result when one forms a relationship with the correct object of worship and carries out a correct and straightforward practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. This is indicated by the Great Teacher Miao-lo, who taught, “Even if one is not sincere when one begins in faith, the merits will still be great if one forms a relationship with the correct object (of worship).” The key point here is the absolute necessity for us to form a deep relationship with the correct object of worship!
In the Ongi Kuden (Gosho - p.1732), Nichiren Daishonin states: “The Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo that Nichiren now chants will enable all living beings of the ten thousand years of Mappo to attain Buddhahood . . . . There can be no doubt that the grave illness of the delusions of all living beings will be cured by the supreme medicine of the Mystic Law.” The words, “the Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo that Nichiren now chants” is indicative of the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teachings, because the Dai-Gohonzon Itself is the enlightened life of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin. Enshrined at Taisekiji, the Head Temple of Nichiren Shoshu, the Dai-Gohonzon is the basis of our faith. As disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, we, the people of Mappo, receive immeasurable merit or benefit by correctly believing in and accepting the Dai-Gohonzon and, under the direction and guidance of our current High Priest, Nikken Shonin, by sincerely chanting the Daimoku of the Essential Teachings which Nichiren Daishonin Himself chanted. In the Gosho, The Letter to Myomitsu Shonin (MW5 - p.203: Gosho - p.969), Nichiren Daishonin states: “At first one person, then two persons, then a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand and then all the people throughout the country will come to chant the Daimoku; before you know it their blessings will accumulate in your person. Those blessings will be like the drops of dew that gather to form the great ocean or the specks of dust that pile up to become Mount Sumeru . . . . And the more one praises the blessings of the Lotus Sutra, the more his blessings will increase.” As the above passages indicate, any person who sincerely chants the Daimoku with strong faith in the Gohonzon and with the enthusiasm to serve the purpose of Kosen-rufu will be endowed with merit or benefit so great that it cannot be comprehended with the insight or wisdom of a common mortal. By persevering in our faith and practice, we can all obtain this wonderful merit!
We have to remember, however, that there are two types of benefit in True Buddhism. One is called conspicuous, the other inconspicuous. receive it without realizing it. Inconspicuous benefit is the great benefit you feel in living a life protected by the Gohonzon as you overcome all of your sufferings and tribulations and as you accumulate great fortune from your faith and practice over a long period of time. Although most people think of the benefit they receive through their faith and practice as being something immediate and visible, this is actually not the correct interpretation of benefit for people in the Latter Day of the Law. In the Gosho, Teaching, Practice, and Proof (MW4 - p.113; Gosho - p.1104), Nichiren Daishonin states: “. . . . those who obtained benefit during Shoho and Zoho received ‘conspicuous’ benefit, because the relationship they formed with the Lotus Sutra during the distant past had finally matured. On the other hand, those born today in Mappo receive the seed of Buddhahood for the first time, and their benefit is, therefore, inconspicuous.” appears directly, in the present – things like making money, curing illness, avoiding disaster, escaping from an accident or solving problems closely related to our daily lives. , on the other hand, does not immediately manifest itself in an obvious manner – it might be difficult to see or you might
The first one thousand years following the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha are called the Shoho period. This period is commonly called the Former Day of the Law, or, more accurately, the Age of the Genuine Law. The next one thousand years are called the Zoho period. This period is commonly called the Middle Day of the Law, or, more accurately, the Age of the Formal Law. The significant point about this is that the people who lived during these two periods, Shoho and Zoho, already had the ‘roots of goodness’ which I mentioned in last month’s Oko. In other words, they had already received the seed of enlightenment in the distant past and had accumulated the ‘roots of goodness’ by practicing the Buddhism of Shakyamuni. For this reason, the benefit they received was primarily conspicuous, or benefit which appeared right away.
In contrast, people born in the age of Mappo ‘fundamentally do not yet have good roots.’ In other words, we, the people of Mappo, have not formed a relationship to Buddhism in the past by receiving the seed of enlightenment. Because of this, we have not accumulated merit or the ‘roots of goodness’ from the past; we have accumulated immeasurable negative karma instead. The seed of enlightenment, which is essential to becoming a Buddha, is planted in our lives for the very first time through Nichiren Daishonin’s True Buddhism. Mappo, therefore, is the period of time when people receive inconspicuous benefit. Receiving inconspicuous benefit can be compared to the analogy of a tree; a seed for a tree is planted in the ground and soon sprouts and grows, but it takes many years before the tree will bear fruit.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there is no conspicuous benefit for the people living in the age of Mappo. For people who have only recently started their practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, the so-called ‘new believers’ benefit’ appears in order to show the great power of the Gohonzon, which is the power of the Buddha and the power of the Law. In addition to this, conspicuous benefit is also received by the people of Mappo when a problem must absolutely be solved -- to overcome an illness, for example. To receive this type of benefit, however, not only requires us to sincerely chant Daimoku to the Gohonzon, but also requires us to have a strong determination to overcome whatever problem or obstacle is facing us, a determination based on our desire to serve the Three Treasures by doing whatever we can to advance the Will of Nichiren Daishonin, which is Kosen-rufu. Although these types of conspicuous benefit are important, they are truly small and almost insignificant when you consider the inconspicuous benefit of gradually building a life of indestructible happiness, which is known as ‘attaining enlightenment in this lifetime and in our present form,’ which is the ultimate purpose of our faith and practice.
The reason why the people of Shoho and Zoho primarily receive conspicuous benefit while the people of Mappo primarily receive inconspicuous benefit can be more easily understood if we compare this to the process of overcoming an illness. The illnesses of the people who lived during the two thousand years of Shoho and Zoho were relatively light, because they had been taking the medicine of the Buddha for a long time. As a result, the effect of the medicine appeared right away as a conspicuous benefit. The illnesses which afflict the people of Mappo, however, are extremely serious, because our negative karma is very deep. We cannot be cured by ordinary medicine, which is another way to refer to the provisional teachings taught by Shakyamuni Buddha. Our illnesses can only be cured by the most unfathomable and wondrous medicine of Myoho-Renge-Kyo, and even if the effect of this wonderful medicine is not readily apparent, it is still there! We receive it without realizing it. It is truly an inconspicuous benefit, because all of the illnesses of our bodies and minds are ultimately cured. This is a very important point. The cure referred to is not merely the treatment of a symptom or a temporary remission; it is, instead, a complete cure of the very root or origin of the disease itself.
Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha of time without beginning or ending, teaches us that all life is eternal, that it never perishes; life, in other words, is not limited to this current lifetime, but rather spans the three existences of past, present, and future. True benefit, therefore, is the elimination or eradication of the hindrances of negative karma from the infinite past and the establishment of a life of indestructible happiness which extends into the infinite future. If we again use the analogy of fighting a sickness, what this means is that inconspicuous benefit, or the complete elimination of a disease at its very source, is far more valuable than conspicuous benefit, or the temporary treatment of the symptoms of a disease.
How, then, can we receive the true benefit of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism? First of all, it’s important to realize that we have to make a cause before we can expect any kind of effect. There’s no such thing as an effect without a cause! To receive the effect of true benefit, there must first be a cause, and that cause is our sincere prayer to the Gohonzon. In the Gosho, Letter to Domyo Zemmon (MW6 - p.173: Gosho - p.1041), Nichiren Daishonin states: “Concerning prayer, there are conspicuous prayer and conspicuous response, conspicuous prayer and inconspicuous response, inconspicuous prayer and inconspicuous response, and inconspicuous prayer and conspicuous response. However, the essential point is that, so long as you carry out faith in this sutra, all your wishes will be fulfilled in both present and future existences.” In this way, Nichiren Daishonin explains about the relationship between prayer and benefit.
“Conspicuous prayer and conspicuous response” is when one wholeheartedly prays with a specific target or goal in mind and then, as a result, achieves that goal or target; the benefit appears right before one’s eyes as a result of strong prayer based on faith in the Gohonzon. “Conspicuous prayer and inconspicuous response” is when a specific prayer comes true without one noticing it or before one is aware of it; the fortune gained from this type of prayer accumulates without one being aware of it. “Inconspicuous prayer and inconspicuous response” is when one accumulates virtue and fortune from continuous prayers offered day by day without a specific goal or need in mind; although the results of this day-to-day effort do not immediately appear, they will definitely appear over a long period of time. “Inconspicuous prayer and conspicuous response” is when, as in the preceding example, one accumulates virtue and fortune from continuous prayers offered day by day without a specific goal or need in mind; the difference is that, at an important time, even without a specific prayer, a good result will appear when needed.
In terms of benefit or response, the age of Mappo is a time of inconspicuous benefit and inconspicuous response. In terms of prayer, however, we have both specific prayers and those non-specific prayers which we hold in our hearts every day. Both types of prayer can be fulfilled, so it is very important that you deeply realize that their fulfillment is brought about by your sincere faith and steady practice to the Gohonzon and by your strong determination to serve the cause of Kosen-rufu.
The Shinge (Faith and Understanding) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra states: “One gains the supreme cluster of jewels without seeking it.” In the Gosho, Ongi Kuden (Gosho - p.1800), Nichiren Daishonin explains that the phrase “without seeking it” may be interpreted as, “to gain just what one wants without seeking it.” To put this another way, this indicates that one’s desires will naturally come true, even without frantically praying for them day after day; this doesn’t mean, however, that your desires will be fulfilled without doing something to achieve them. The difference as to whether they come true or not is determined by the condition of your faith. In the Gosho, Reply to Nichigon Ama (MW5 - p.305: Gosho - p.1519), Nichiren Daishonin states: “Whether or not your prayer is answered depends upon your faith; (if it is not,) the fault in no way lies with me, Nichiren.” In other words, no matter how splendid a plate of food might look when it is set in front of you, you will never know how delicious it is by only looking at it. You can only find out how good it is by actually eating it. The same can be said about our faith and practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s True Buddhism. We cannot gain any real benefit from it unless we are willing to earnestly carry out our faith; there is no other way to experience the true ‘flavor’ of benefit of Buddhism.
In the Gosho, Unseen Virtue and Visible Reward (MW5 - p.259; Gosho - p.1362), Nichiren Daishonin gives the following guideline for faith; “Unseen virtue brings about visible reward.” This means that benefit will definitely appear if a person perseveres in doing Gongyo, Daimoku, and shakubuku, even if no one else sees these efforts. It is not genuine faith to only put on a grand display of faith when others are watching; no merit or benefit will be gained that way. True benefit is created in our life when we accumulate infinite merit by resolutely cultivating our powers of faith and practice toward the Dai-Gohonzon of the Essential Teachings, which possesses the power of the Buddha and the power of the Law! People who believe in the Gohonzon and chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo can definitely transform their earthly desires and sufferings into supreme wisdom or happiness and can naturally receive the inconspicuous benefit of enlightenment, the greatest merit of faith. This merit or benefit, moreover, doesn’t only benefit that single individual; it extends into the realm of the land, providing a way to solve the problems of the nation, such as war, disaster, and famine. The Juryo (Life-span of the Tathagata) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra states: “This land of mine is peaceful and secure; it is always filled with heavenly beings.” What this means is that the accumulation of merit through our faith and practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s True Buddhism will also build a peaceful and safe society. How wonderful! Let’s keep this guidance always in our minds!