The Teaching, Capacity, Time, and Country
Nichiren, the Shramana of Japan
With regard to the first item, the teaching consists of all the sutras, rules of monastic discipline and treatises expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha, comprising 5,048 volumes contained in 480 scroll cases. These teachings, after circulating throughout India for a thousand years, were introduced to China 1,015 years after the Buddha's passing. During the 664-year period beginning with the tenth year of the Yung-p'ing era, the year with the cyclical sign hinoto-u (A.D. 67), in the reign of Emperor Ming of the Later Han, and ending with the eighteenth year of the K'ai-yuan era, the year with the cyclical sign kanoe-uma (A.D. 730), in the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsung of the T'ang, all of these teachings were introduced to China.
The contents of these sutras, rules of monastic discipline and treatises can be divided into the categories of Hinayana and Mahayana teachings, provisional and true sutras, and exoteric and esoteric sutras, and one should carefully distinguish between them. Such designations did not originate with the later scholars and teachers of Buddhism, but derive from the preaching of the Buddha himself. Therefore they must be used without exception by all the people of the worlds of the ten directions, and anyone who fails to do so should be regarded as non-Buddhist.
The custom of referring to the teachings of the Agon sutras as Hinayana derives from the various Mahayana sutras such as the Hodo, Hannya, Lotus and Nirvana sutras. In the Lotus Sutra the Buddha says that had he preached only the Hinayana teachings without preaching the Lotus Sutra, he would have been guilty of concealing the truth. Moreover, the Nirvana Sutra states that those who accept only the Hinayana sutras, declaring that the Buddha is characterized by impermanence, will have their tongues fester in their mouths.
Second is the matter of capacity. Anyone who attempts to propagate the teachings of Buddhism must understand the capacity and basic nature of the persons he is addressing. The Venerable Shariputra attempted to instruct a blacksmith by teaching him to meditate on the vileness of the body, and to instruct a washerman by teaching him to count his breaths in meditation. Even though he spent over ninety days with them, these pupils of his did not gain the slightest understanding of the Buddha's Law. On the contrary, they took on erroneous views and ended by becoming icchantika or persons of incorrigible disbelief.
The Buddha, on the other hand, instructed the blacksmith in the counting-of-breath meditation, and the washer of clothes in the meditation on the vileness of the body, and as a result both were able to obtain understanding in no time at all. If even Shariputra, who was counted foremost in wisdom among the major disciples of the Buddha, failed in understanding the capacity of the persons he was instructing, then how much more difficult must it be for ordinary teachers in this, the Latter Day of the Law, to have such an understanding! Ordinary teachers who lack an understanding of capacity should teach only the Lotus Sutra to those who are under their instruction.
Question: What about the passage in the Lotus Sutra that says one should not preach this sutra among the ignorant?
Answer: When I speak of understanding capacity, I am referring to the preaching of the Law done by a man of wisdom. Yet, [even though one understands the capacity of one's listeners,] one should preach only the Lotus Sutra to those who slander the Law, so that they may establish a so-called "poison-drum relationship" with it. In this respect, one should proceed as Bodhisattva Fukyo did.
However, if one is speaking to persons who one knows have the capacity to become wise, then one should first give them instruction in Hinayana teachings, then introduce them to the provisional Mahayana teachings, and finally instruct them in the true Mahayana. But if one knows that one is dealing with ignorant persons of lesser capacity, then one should first give them instruction in the true Mahayana teaching. In that way, whether they choose to believe in the teaching or to slander it, they will still receive the seed of enlightenment.
Third is the consideration of time. Anyone who hopes to spread the Buddhist teachings must make certain that he understands the time. For example, if a farmer should plant his fields in autumn and winter, then, even though the seed and the land and the farmer's efforts were the same as ever, this planting would not result in the slightest gain but rather would end in loss. If the farmer planted one small plot in that way, he would suffer a minor loss, and if he planted acres and acres, he would suffer a major loss. But if he plows and plants in the spring and summer, then, whether the fields are of superior, medium or inferior quality, each will bring forth its corresponding share of crops.
The preaching of the Buddhist Law is similar to this. If one propagates the Law without understanding the time, one will reap no benefit but on the contrary will fall into the evil paths of existence. When Shakyamuni Buddha made his appearance in this world, he was determined to preach the Lotus Sutra. But though the capacities of his listeners may have been right, the proper time had not yet come. Therefore he spent a period of more than forty years without preaching the Lotus Sutra, explaining, as he says in the Lotus Sutra itself, that this was "because the time to expound it had not yet come."
The day after the Buddha's passing begins the thousand-year period known as the Former Day of the Law, when those who uphold the precepts are many while those who break them are few. The day after the end of the Former Day of the Law marks the beginning of the thousand-year period known as the Middle Day of the Law, when those who break the precepts are many while those without precepts are few. And the day after the ending of the Middle Day of the Law begins the ten-thousand-year period known as the Latter Day of the Law, when those who break the precepts are few whole those without precepts are many.
During the Former Day of the Law, one should cast aside those who break the precepts or who have no precepts at all, giving alms only to those who uphold the precepts. During the Middle Day of the Law, one should cast aside those without precepts and give alms only to those who break them. And during the Latter Day of the Law, one should give alms to those without precepts, treating them in the same way as if they were the Buddha.
However, whether in the Former, the Middle or the Latter Day of the Law, one should never in any of these three periods give alms to those who slander the Lotus Sutra, whether they keep the precepts, break the precepts, or do not receive them at all. If alms are given to those who slander the Lotus Sutra, then the land in which this happens will invariably be visited by the three calamities and seven disasters, and the persons who give such alms will surely fall into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering.
When the votary of the Lotus Sutra speaks words of condemnation against the provisional sutras, it is like a ruler meting out punishment to his followers, a father punishing his sons, or a teacher, his disciples. But when the votaries of the provisional sutras speak words of condemnation and slander against the Lotus Sutra, it is like followers attempting to mete out punishment to their ruler, sons attempting to punish their father, or disciples to punish their teacher.
At present, it has been more than 210 years since we entered the Latter Day of the Law. One should consider very carefully whether now is the time when the provisional sutras or the Nembutsu teachings should be propagated, or whether it is the time when the Lotus Sutra should be spread!
Fourth is the consideration of the country. In spreading the Buddhist teachings, one must not fail to take into account the kind of country involved. There are cold countries, hot countries, poor countries, rich countries, central countries and peripheral countries, big countries and small countries, countries wholly given over to thieving, countries wholly given over to the killing of living creatures, and countries known for their utter lack of filial piety. In addition, there are countries wholly devoted to the Hinayana teachings, countries wholly devoted to the Mahayana teachings, and countries in which both Hinayana and Mahayana are pursued. In the case of Japan, therefore, we must carefully consider whether it is a country suited exclusively to Hinayana, a country suited exclusively to Mahayana, or a country in which both Hinayana and Mahayana should be pursued.
Fifth is the sequence of propagation. In a country where the Buddhist teachings have never been introduced, there of course will be no inhabitants who are familiar with Buddhism. But in a country where Buddhism has already been introduced, there will be inhabitants who are believers in the Buddhist Law. Therefore one must first learn what kind of Buddhist doctrines have already spread in a particular country before attempting to propagate Buddhism there oneself.
If the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana teachings have already spread, then one should by all means propagate the true Mahayana teaching. But if the true Mahayana teaching has already spread, then one must not propagate the Hinayana or provisional Mahayana teachings. One throws aside rubble and broken tiles in order to pick up gold and gems, but one must not throw aside gold and gems in order to pick up tiles and rubble.
If one takes the five considerations outlined above into account when propagating the Buddhist Law, then one can surely become a teacher to the entire nation of Japan.
To understand that the Lotus Sutra is the king, the first among all the various sutras, is to have a correct understanding of the teaching. Yet Fa-yun of Kuang-che-ssu temple and Hui-kuan of Tao-ch'ang-ssu temple claimed that the Nirvana Sutra is superior to the Lotus Sutra. Ch'eng-kuan of Mount Ch'ing-liang and Kobo of Mount Koya claimed that the Kegon and Dainichi sutras are superior to the Lotus Sutra, Chi-tsang of Chia-hsiang-ssu temple and the priest K'uei-chi of Tz'u-en-ssu temple claimed that the two sutras known as the Hannya and the Jimmitsu are superior to the Lotus Sutra. One man alone, the Great Teacher Chih-che of Mount T'ien-t'ai, not only asserted that the Lotus Sutra is superior to all the other sutras, but urged that anyone claiming there is a sutra superior to the Lotus should be admonished and made to see the light; he said that if such a person persists in his false claim, his tongue will surely fester in his mouth during his present existence, and after his death he will fall into the Avichi Hell. One who is able to distinguish right from wrong among all these different opinions may be said to have a correct understanding of the teaching.
Of all the thousand or ten thousand scholars of the present age, surely each and every one is confused as to this point. And if so, then there must be very few who have a correct understanding of the teaching. If there are none with a correct understanding of the teaching, there will be none to read the Lotus Sutra. And if there are none who read the Lotus Sutra, there will be none who can act as a teacher to the nation. If there is no one to act as a teacher to the nation, then everyone within the nation will be confused as to the distinctions within the body of sutras, such as those between the Hinayana and the Mahayana, the provisional and the true, and the exoteric and the esoteric sutras. Not a single person will be able to escape from the sufferings of birth and death, and in the end they will all become slanders of the Law. Those who, because of slandering the Law, fall into the Avichi Hell, will be more numerous than the dust particles of the earth, while those who, by embracing the Law, are freed from the sufferings of birth and death, will amount to less than the quantity of soil that can be placed on top of a fingernail. How fearful it is to contemplate!
During the four hundred or more years since the time of Emperor Kammu, all the people in Japan have had the capacity to attain enlightenment solely through the Lotus Sutra. They are like those persons who for a period of eight years listened to the preaching of the Lotus Sutra on Eagle Peak, with capacities suited to the pure and perfect teaching. (Confirmation of this may be found in the records of the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, Crown Prince Shotoku, the Eminent Priest Ganjin, the Great Teacher Dengyo, the Eminent Priest Annen, and Eshin.) To understand this is to have an understanding of the people's capacity.
Yet the Buddhist scholars of our time say that the people of Japan all have capacities fit only for the recitation of Amida Buddha's name, the Nembutsu. They are like Shariputra in the incident I mentioned earlier who, because he was misled as to the capacity of the persons under his instruction, in the end turned them into icchantika or persons of incorrigible disbelief.
At present in Japan, some 2,210 years after the demise of Shakyamuni Buddha, in the last of the five five-hundred-year periods after his death, the hour has come for the widespread propagation of Myoho-renge-kyo. To understand this is to have an understanding of the time.
Yet there are Buddhist scholars in Japan today who cast aside the Lotus Sutra and instead devote themselves exclusively to the practice of the invocation of Amida Buddha's name. And there are others who teach the Hinayana precepts and speak contemptuously of the high-ranking priests of Mount Hiei, as well as those who present what they describe as a special transmission outside the sutras, disparaging the True Law of the Lotus Sutra. Such persons may surely be said to misunderstand the time! They are like the monk Shoi who slandered Bodhisattva Kikon, or the scholar Gunaprabha who behaved with contempt toward Bodhisattva Miroku, and thus invited the terrible sufferings of the Avichi Hell.
Japan is a country related exclusively to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, just as the country of Shravasti in India was related solely to the Mahayana teachings. In India there were countries that were wholly devoted to Hinayana teachings, those that were wholly devoted to Mahayana teachings, and those that were devoted to both Hinayana and Mahayana teachings. Japan is a country that is exclusively suited to Mahayana teachings, and among those teachings, it should be dedicated solely to the Lotus Sutra. (The above statement is attested to in the Yuga Ron, the writings of Seng-chao, and the records of Crown Prince Shotoku, the Great Teacher Dengyo, and Annen.) To understand this is to understand the country.
Yet there are Buddhist teachers in our present age who address the people of Japan and instruct them only in the precepts of the Hinayana, or those who attempt to make them all into followers of the Nembutsu. This is like "putting rotten food in a precious vessel." (This simile of the precious vessel is taken from the Shugo Kokkai Sho by the Great Teacher Dengyo.)
In Japan during the 240 or more years from the time when Buddhism was first introduced from the Korean kingdom of Paekche in the reign of Emperor Kimmei to the reign of Emperor Kammu, only the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana teachings were propagated throughout the country. Though the Lotus Sutra existed in Japan, its significance had not yet been made clear. This was similar to the situation years before in China, where the Lotus Sutra had existed for more than three hundred years before its significance was clarified.
In the time of Emperor Kammu, the Great Teacher Dengyo refuted the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana teachings and made clear the true significance of the Lotus Sutra. From that time on, opposing opinions ceased to prevail, and everyone single-mindedly put faith in the Lotus Sutra. Even those scholars of the earlier six sects of Buddhism who studied Hinayana and Mahayana teachings such as the Kegon, Hannya, Jimmitsu and Agon sutras regarded the Lotus Sutra as the ultimate authority. Needless to say, this was even more so with scholars of the Tendai and Shingon sects, and of course with the lay believers of Buddhism who had no special knowledge of the subject. In its relation to the Lotus Sutra, the country was like the K'un-lun Mountains where not a single worthless stone is to be found, or the mountain island of P'eng-lai where no harmful potion is known.
However, during the fifty or more years since the Kennin era (1201-03), the priests Dainichi and Kakuan have spread the teachings of the Zen sect, casting aside all the various sutras and postulating a doctrine that is transmitted outside the scriptures, while Honen and Ryukan have established the Jodo or Pure Land sect, contradicting the teachings of the true Mahayana and setting up sects based on the provisional teachings. They are in effect casting aside gems and gathering stones instead, abandoning the solid earth and endeavoring to climb up into the air. Men such as this know nothing about the order in which the various doctrines should be propagated. The Buddha warned of such men when he said, "Better to encounter a mad elephant than an evil friend!"
In the Kanji chapter of the Lotus Sutra it is recorded that, in the last five-hundred-year period or two thousand or so years after the Buddha's passing, there will be three types of enemies of the Lotus Sutra. Our present age corresponds to this last five-hundred-year period. And as I, Nichiren, ponder the truth of these words of the Buddha, I realize that these three types of enemies are indeed a reality. If I do not cause them to come forth, then I will not be a true votary of the Lotus Sutra. Yet if I cause them to appear, then I am almost certain to bring death and destruction upon myself.
In the fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra, it is stated, "Since hatred and jealously toward this sutra abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing?" In the fifth volume it says, "The people will be full of hostility, and it will be extremely difficult to believe." The same volume also reads, "We do not hold our own lives dear. We value only the supreme Way." And the sixth volume says, "Not begrudging their lives."
In the ninth volume of the Nirvana Sutra, we read: "For example, if an envoy who is skilled in discussion and knows how to employ clever expedients should be sent to a foreign country to carry out a mission for his sovereign, it is proper that he should relate the words of his ruler without holding back any of them, even though it may cost him his life. And a wise man should do the same in teaching Buddhism, going out among the common run of people, willing to give up his life, and proclaim without fail ... the Mahayana sutras." The Great Teacher Chang-an, commenting on the words "without holding back any of them, even though it may cost him his life," says, "One's body is insignificant while the Law is supreme. One should give his life in order to propagate the Law."
When I examine these passages, I know that if I do not call forth these three enemies of the Lotus Sutra, then I will not be a true votary of the Lotus Sutra. Only by making them appear can I be a true votary. And yet if I do so, I am almost certain to lose my life. I will be like the Venerable Aryasimha or Bodhisattva Aryadeva.
The tenth day of the second month