ESSENTIAL PASSAGES FOR FAITH
BY HIGH PRIEST NICHINYO SHONIN KOFU-BO,
HEAD TEMPLE TAISEKIJI
“The Selection of the Time” (“Serji-sho”)
There is not the slightest doubt that I, Nichiren, am the first and foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in all of Japan. Based on what I say in this letter, you should realize that in China, India, and throughout the entire world, there is no one equal to Nichiren. (Gosho, p.864)
This letter, “The Selection of the Time,” was written by the Daishonin at Minobu in the first year of Kenji (1275). It was addressed to Yui of Nishiyama in Suruga Province. This Gosho is one of the Daishonin’s ten major writings.
As you can see, the title, “The Selection of the Time,” means to choose the time. Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin teaches in his Commentary on the “Selection of the Time” (“Senji-sho” guki) as follows: “Select” means to sort out. “The time” indicates the Latter Day of the Law. Thus, the true meaning in terms of a specific interpretation is to select the Latter Day of the Law. That is why it is called the “Selection of the Time.”‘ (Mondan, p.289)
Thus, this Gosho was named based on the meaning of selecting the Latter Day of the law. The same writing further explaine.
First of all, now in the Latter Day of the Law, one must propagate the great Law hidden in the depths of the Juryo chapter of the lotus sutra. Second, in the Latter Day of the Law, one must revere Nichiren as the object of worship of the Buddhism of the sowing (ibid.)
Nichikan Shonin teaches that there are two meanings to this title. Fist is the meaning that in the Latter Day of the Law, the great Law hidden in the depths of the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra will be propagated without fail. The second meaning is that Nichiren Daishonin is the one to be revered as the Buddha of the Buddhism of the sowing in the Latter Day of the Law.
“The selection of the Time” first states that the time is significant in Buddhism. It then explains the spread of Buddhism in the three countries of India, China, and Japan, over the three periods of the Former, Middle, and Latter Days of the Law. It reveals the correct Law to be propagated according to each period and each country.
In India, in the first five hundred years of the Former Day of the law, the teachings of Hinayana Buddhism were propagated by Mahakashyapa, Ananda, and others. In the second five hundred years of the Former Day of the Law, Nagarjuna. Vasubandhu, and others propagated the provisional Mahayana teachings. Next, in the midterm of the Middle Day of the Law, the Great Teacher Tiantai propagated the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra in China, and toward the end of the Middle Day, the Great Teacher Dengyo propagated the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra in Japan.
The Latter Day of the Law marks the beginning of the period when the great pure Law will become obscured and lost. At this time, Shakyamuni’s Buddhism will lose its power. It is revealed that in this period, Bodhisattva Jogyo (Superior Practice) will make his appearance and propagate the supreme great Law and save all Iiving beings.
In this Gosho, the Daishonin further teaches that one must practice Buddhism without begrudging one’s life, aiming toward the achievement of kosen-rufu in the Latter Day of the Law, the evil age defiled by the five impurities.
Based on a general interpretation, “the votary of the Lotus Sutra” cited in this Gosho passage refers to the Daishonin’s disciples and followers. Based on the specific interpretation, however, it indicates Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha in the Latter Day of the Law.
In a general sense, a “votary” refers to a Buddhist practitioner. For example, the Daishonin states in the Gosho, “Ten Superior Doctrines”(“Jissho-sho”):
Any ignorant person should be considered a votary of the Lotus Sura, if he chants Nam-Myoho-Renge- Kyo. (Gosho, p.468)
As this Gosho passage teaches, in a general sense, all of the Daishonin’s disciples and followers who chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo are the votaries of the Lotus Sutra.
However, there is no person other than Nichiren Daishonin who has lived every single sentence and phrase of the Lotus Sutra with the three categories of action — thoughts, words, and deeds–in the Latter Day of the Law. Therefore, “The Selection of the Time” states:
For seven hundred-odd years, from the time of Emperor Kimmei up to the present reigning emperor [Gouda], we never have seen or heard of anybody who is wise enough to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and urge others to do the same. When the sun rises, the stars disappear. When a wise king emerges, a foolish one
falls. When the true teaching spreads, the provisional teachings die out. If a man of wisdom chants Nam- Myoho-Renge-Kyo, a fool follows him. This is like a shadow accompanying the body or an echo following a voice. There is not the slightest doubt that I, Nichiren, am the first and foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in all of Japan. (Gosho, p.863)
The Daishonin also teaches in “Letter to Ryokan of Gokurakuji Temple”:
Nichiren is the first and foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan. (Gosho, p.376)
Furthermore, the “Opening of the Eyes” (“Kaimoku-sho”) reads: If it [the appearance of the three
powerful enemies,] were not for Nichiren, who could fulfill the Buddha’s words concerning the votary of the Lotus Sutra? (Gosho, p.541)
Furthermore, “On the Buddha’s Behavior” (“Shuju ofurumai-gosho”) teaches:
Now, I, Nichiren am the first and foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra. There are not the slightest errors in my words and deeds. I teach this true doctrine in order to save all living beings in the country of Japan, who are destined to fall into the hell of incessant suffering. (Gosho, p.1059)
He further teaches in the “Orally Transmitted Teachings” (“Ongi kuden”):
Tathagata refers to Shakyamuni, or in a broad sense all the Buddhas of the three existences and ten directions. In a strict sense, however, Ta-thagata is [the True Buddha] whose ultimate identiry is a being with the uncreated and unadorned three enlightened properties. Now in the Latter Day of the Law, from the standpoint of Nichiren and his followers, Tathagata means all living beings in theory; however, in reality, Tathagata represents Nichiren’s disciples and believers. Thus, the uncreated and unadomed three enlightened properties signify the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. Its venerable name is Nam-Myoho- Renge-Kyo. (Gosho, p.1765)
The Daishonin reveals in this Gosho passage that the votary of the Lotus Sutra also is known as the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
In this way, in a general interpretation, the votary of the Lotus Sutra refers to all the priesthood and laity who revere and practice the Daishonin’s legitimate Buddhism of the Heritage of the Law. However, in a specific sense, it indicates only Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. Herein lies the general and specific ways of interpretation.
Shakyamuni, the Great Teacher Tiantai, and the Great Teacher Dengyo can be cited as the votaries of the Lotus Sutra in the past. In “Persecutions Will Befall the Votary of the Lotus Sutra” (“Hokke gyoja chinanji”), the Daishonin states:
In the period when the Buddha was alive and in the two-thousand-year periods of the Former and Middle Days of the Law, there were just three votaries of the Lotus Sutra. They were the Buddha, Tiantai, and Dengyo. (Gosho,p.719)
“The Buddha” in this passage refers to Shakyamuni Buddha. Thus, Shakyamuni, Tiantai, and Dengyo are referred to as the votaries of the Lotus Sutra of the past.
The Daishonin makes a comparison between himself and these three individuals. He states the following in “One Hundred and Six Articles” (“Hyakurollea-sho”):
The practice in the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law are based on the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra, while the practice in the Latter Day of the Law is based on the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. Today, Nichiren’s practice is far superior to the Buddhas practice in the past. (Gosho, p.1696)
He also remarks in “Letter to Shimoyama”(“Shimoyama goshosolu”):
The votary of the Lotus Sutra, who is far more significant than the Great Teacher Shakyamuni…(Gosho,p.1159)
This passage points out that the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, is far superior to Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni was the votary of the Lotus Sutra during his lifetime and during the two, one thousand- year periods after his passing. The same is true for Tiantai and Dengyo. However, in the Latter Day of the Law, the founder Nichiren Daishonin is the true votary of the Lotus Sutra.
Referring to Tiantai and Dengyo, the Daishonin teaches in “Reply to Lord Ueno'(“Ueno dono-gohenj”):
Though it appears that the Great Teacher Tiantai and the Great Teacher Dengyo are the true votaries of the Lotus Sutra, they did not encounter great persecutions as Shalyamuni did. (Gosho, p.1122)
Furthermore. “The Treatment of Illness” (“Chibyo daisho gonjitsu imok”) reads:
But now, every obstacle has risen to confront me, Nichiren. The three obstacles and four devils that Nichiren is encountering are far more severe than those that Tiantai, Dengyo, and others had to face in their time. (Gosho, p.1239)
In terms of great persecutions, both Tiantai and Dengyo are inferior when compared to Shakyamuni. When they are compared with Nichiren, the difference is even greater. Thus, Tiantai and Dengyo can be
considered as the votaries of the Lotus Sutra in the Middle Day of the Law. However, in the Latter Day of the Law, Nichiren Daishonin alone is the votary of the Lotus Sutra.
One of the reasons is because during the Middle Day of the Law, the Lotus Sutra was not suited to be propagated. “The Selection of the Time” reads:
There were two times when the Lotus Sutra was to be propagated. The first time was during the [final] eight years when Shakyamuni was alive. The second time is the first five hundred years after Shakyamuni’s death. (Gosho.p.838)
The second reason is that both Tiantai and Dengyo never urged people to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge- Kyo. Since they were the teachers of the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra, they did not encourage people to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge- Kyo, which is to be propagated in the Latter Day of the Law.
In the Gosho, “On the Meaning of the True Entity of Myoho-Renge-Kyo” (“Totaigi-sho”), the Daishonin teaches:
The five characters of mystic law (Myoho) constitute the great pure Law that is to be propagated widely in the Latter Day of the Law. And, it is the great bodhisattvas who sprang up from the earth in numbers equal to the dust particles of a thousand worlds who were entrusted with the task of spreading it abroad. Therefore, Nan-Yueh, Tiantai, and Dengyo, though in their hearts they understood the truth, left it to the leader and teacher of the Latter Day of the Law to spread it widely, while they themselves refrained from doing so. (Gosho, p.702; cf. MW-7,pp.81-2)
Shakyamuni Buddha, Tiantai, and Dengyo can be considered as the votaries of the Lotus Sutra of past ages. However, they are not the votaries of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. If these sages are compared with the votary of the Lotus Sutra of the Latter Day of the Law, then Nichiren Daishonin, who is the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law, is superior.
It also is worth mentioning that within the Gosho passages where the votary of the Lotus Sutra is mentioned, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging (Fukyo), too, is described as a votary of the Lotus Sutra. Additionally, the votaries of various other sutras are mentioned. “Reply to the Wife of Shijo Kingo” (“Shijo Kingo dono nyobo-gohenji”) reads:
Comparing the votaries of all the sutras with the votary of the Lotus Sutra, the votary of the Lotus Sutra is like the sun or the moon, while the votaries of the various other sutras are numerous stars or lanterns. (Gosho, p.756)
The Daishonin teaches that there is a world of difference between the votaries of the various other sutras and the votary of the Lotus Sutra. Moreover, in the “Orally Transmitted Teachings” (“Ongileuden’), he
The wisdom of the votary of the Lotus Sutra is one hundred, one thousand, and ten thousand times
superior to the great wisdom of the votaries of the provisional teachings. (Gosho, p.745)
This passage emphasizes that the votaries of the Lotus Sutra surpass all other sages. At the same time, as we view the behavior of the Daishonin, who is the votary of the Lotus Sutra in terms of the specific
interpretation, we must know that the votary of the Lotus Sutra encounters various hardships, without fail. The twenty-line verse of the Encouraging Devotion (Kanji; thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra reveals the appearance of the three powerful enemies after Shakyamuni’s passing. This means that the votaries of the Lotus Sutra will encounter great persecutions. Without such great adversity, it cannot be
proven that this practitioner is the votary of the Lotus Sutra.
Thus, the “Opening of the Eyes” reads:
If there exists a votary of the Lotus Sutra, the three powerful enemies must appear without fail.
“A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering”(“Shiji shirodono-gosho”) also reads:
In the Latter Day of the Law, the votary of the Lotus Sutra appears without fail. The greater the
hardship he encounters, the greater the delight he feels, because of his strong faith…without great adversity, there would be no votary of the Lotus Sutra. (Gosho, p.1555)
As the Daishonin teaches in this passage, we, the disciples and followers of the Daishonin, are to be prepared. Once we become votaries of the Lotus Sutra, the three obstacles and four devils will emerge, and we certainly will encounter great adversity.
However, overcoming such great hardships is the only way to achieve the attainment of Buddhahood in this lifetime. If we are frightened by such adversity and give up trying to do shakubuku or slacken in our daily practice for oneself and others, then we will ruin all the benefits we have accumulated up to now.
Therefore, just like the Daishonin, we are encouraged to do shakubuku continuously and courageously, in order to propagate the true Law. Then, we can become the votaries of the Lotus Sutra in a general sense.
I believe it is important that we devote ourselves to our practice with the conviction that “we, too, are the votaries of the Lotus Sutra.” The votaries of the Lotus Sutra will be protected by the guardian deities, if they assiduously chant the Daimoku. It is not the case that we only are encountering great adversity. Even though one faces hardship, the guardian deities will protect the votaries of the Lotus Sutra without fail.
The Peaceful Practices (Anrakugyo; fourteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads:
The heavenly beings day and night will for the sake of the Law constantly guard and protect them. (Hokelyo, p.396; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, p.206)
It further states:
The young sons of heavenly beings will wait on him and serve him. (Hokekyo, p.402; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, p.209)
As the sutra teaches, the guardian deities, Ten Demon Goddess Daughters, Demon Goddess, and others made vows to protect the votaries of the Lotus Sutra, one after another.
The Dharani (Darani; twenty-sixth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra also reads:
If there are those who fail to heed our spells and trouble and disrupt the preachers of the Law, their heads will split into seven pieces like the branches of the arjaka tree. (Hokelyo, p. 580; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, p.310)
This is where the phrase, “their heads will split into seven pieces,” appears in the sutra. As it is taught, the guardian deities will protect the votaries of the Lotus Sutra without fail, so there is no need for us to be frightened.
There are great benefits. “Reply to Shijo Kingo” (“Shjo Kingo dono gohenjt”) states:
Guardian deities especially must protect the votary of the Lotus Sutra. They made vows in the Entrustment (Zoleurai; twenty-second) chapter of the Lotus Sutra…The heavenly sun will protect the votary of the Lotus Sutra, and Marishiten, a child of Brahmans, also will protect the votary of the Lotus Sutra. (Gosho, p.1407)
The vows of protecting the votaries of the Lotus Sutra, which were made by the guardian deities, never will be broken. Thus, we courageously must continue to practice with conviction, despite the appearance of the three obstacles and four devils, or any other hardship. In fact, the Gosho, “On Prayer”(“Kito- sho”) reads:
Therefore, we know that the prayers of the votary of the Lotus Sutra will be answered, just as an echo answers a sound. (Gosho,p.626)
This passage teaches that any prayer will be answered without fail. It further states:
Even if one misses while pointing at the earth….and even if the sun rises in the west, the prayers of the votary of the Lotus Sutra will never be unanswered. (Gosho, p.630)
As the Daishonin encourages in these passages, we truly must devote ourselves to do shakubuku with courage. If we practice shakubuku, devils will emerge. However, the guardian deities surely will protect us. To put it bluntly, any devil has no chance against the Buddha–absolutely no chance. Therefore, if we keep on chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, we certainly will overcome any obstacle or devil. There is not the slightest doubt.
First, you must have this conviction. Then, any adversity will become remote. This is the difference between strong faith and weak faith.
I would like to explain further using the example of a dog. But this is merely an example. I do not want anyone to try this. As you know, dogs often bite. When one is bitten in the foot by a dog, he reflexively pulls his foot back. However, it is recommended that one actually push his foot deeper into the dog’s mouth. Then, the dog will get frightened and disengage.
Doesn’t a devil behave the same way? If we chant Daimoku based on our firm faith, devils will get frightened and with draw. Devils bully the weak. This is their nature.
So, if you encounter devils, you steadfastly should chant Daimoku and face them. Then, you surely will overcome them. Please engrave these golden words into your heart:
Even if one misses while pointing at the earth….and even if the sun rises in the west, the prayers of the votary of the Lotus Sutra will never be unanswered. (ibid.)
I sincerely pray that you will continue to devote yourselves to your practice and face all obstacles with firm conviction.
Nichiren Shoshu Monthly, April 2013.