Moreover, such men of the Two Vehicles
as Sariputra and Kasyapa kept 250 Buddhist Commandments, lived a life of dignity
in accordance with 3,000 rules, progressively mastered the three steps of meditation,
completely studied the Agon Sutras (Hinayana scriptures) and won liberty from
all delusions and evil passions in the world of unenlightened people. They should
be examples of people who know the Four Favors and repay them. In spite of all
this, the Buddha condemned them for not realizing what they had owed. The reason
for this is that it is for the purpose of saving parents that a man leaves his
parent's house and takes a Buddhist vow, but those men of the Two Vehicles, who
free themselves from delusions and evil passions, do not save others. Even if
they help others to a certain degree, they are still to be blamed for not repaying
what they owe their parents so long as their parents are left wandering on the
path with no possibility whatsoever of obtaining Buddhahood.
According to Nichiren, filial piety is the highest secular and religious value. Patriotism, loyalty and all other relationships are subsumed by it. Even within Buddhism itself, it separates the narrow-minded and self-concerned Hinayana from the broad-minded and compassionate Mahayana. In fact, even the value of the various Mahayana teachings can be gauged by the degree to which they enable one to help one's parents attain Buddhahood. As one of Nichiren's most important works, it is remarkable how much of the Kaimoku Sho is devoted to the question of how to practice true filial piety and repay the debt of gratitude to one's father and mother. This shows how important Nichiren himself considered this particular debt. Throughout all of his letters and treatises, Nichiren extols the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching of Buddhism and the one that should be upheld at all costs. In the Kaimoku Sho, Nichiren explains why the Lotus Sutra is superior to all other Buddhist and non-Buddhist (Confucianism and Brahmanism) teachings in terms of its ability to allow one to repay the debt to one's father and mother:
Filial devotion preached in Confucianism is limited to this life. Confucian sages and wise men are such in name only because they do not help their parents in their future lives. Brahmans know of the past as well as the future, but they do not know how to help parents. Only Buddhism is worthy of being the way of sages and wise men, as it helps parents in future lives. However, both Mahayana and Hinayana sutras expounded before the Lotus Sutra preach Buddhahood in name only, without substance. Therefore the practitioners of such sutras would not be able to obtain Buddhahood even for themselves, not to talk about helping parents obtain Buddhahood. Now coming to the Lotus Sutra, when enlightenment of women was revealed, enlightenment of mothers was realized; and when a man as wicked as Devadatta could attain Buddhahood, enlightenment of fathers was realized. These are the two proclamations of the Buddha in the "Devadatta" chapter, and this is the reason why the Lotus Sutra is the sutra of the filial way among all the Buddhist scriptures.
Nichiren is referring here to the instantaneous transformation of the Dragon King's daughter into a buddha (the only such "contemporary" attainment of buddhahood by anyone other than Shakyamuni Buddha in the sutras) and to the Buddha's prophecy of buddhahood for his treacherous cousin Devadatta in the "Devadatta" chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Since no other sutra provided such "guarantees" of buddhahood for all men and women, Nichiren felt that no other sutra could enable one to repay the debt of gratitude to one's parents. With the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, however, one could enable one's mother and father to realize buddhahood for themselves, thus repaying one's obligation to them.
How can the Lotus Sutra
enable our parents to achieve Buddhahood? I would say that through our deep faith
in the Lotus Sutra we gain confidence and trust in the Buddha's teaching that
we can attain Buddhahood. This allows us to gain peace of mind and the ability
to create a stable and happy life for ourselves, and our families. This alone
will bring our parents peace of mind and even joy, because parents worry the most
about their children's happiness and well being, and if their children are happy,
most parents are also very happy. More importantly, by demonstrating the value
of a life centered on faith in the Lotus Sutra, we are able to engender a spiritual
awakening or even a rebirth in others, even our parents. At the very least we
plant the seed of the Wonderful Dharma in their lives and give them something
to reflect upon and from which to gain hope. Our parents gave us birth, so it
is up to us to repay them by planting the seed for a spiritual birth through our
own sincere efforts and faith in the Lotus Sutra.
Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000, 2002.