The Bodies and Minds of Ordinary Beings
The sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra deal with the bodies and minds of ordinary beings. The Buddha preached them in terms that would be accessible to the minds of ordinary persons, and therefore, though they represent the preaching's of the Buddha, they do not go beyond the scope of the minds of ordinary persons. Hence they are called zuitai sutras, or sutras that were preached in accordance with the minds of others.
To illustrate, suppose that there are parents who do not care for sake themselves but who have a beloved son who is extremely fond of it. Feeling tenderly toward their son and desiring to win his affection, they urge him to have some sake and in so doing pretend that they themselves like it, too. The foolish son thereupon concludes that his father and mother in fact like sake.
The Trapusha Sutra deals with the realms of human and heavenly beings. The Agon sutras deal with persons of the two vehicles. The Kegon Sutra deals with bodhisattvas. The Hodo and Hannya sutras in some respects resemble the Agon and Trapusha sutras, and in others, the Kegon Sutra.
When common mortals in this latter age read these various sutras, they suppose that these sutras accord with the mind of the Buddha. But if we ponder the matter closely, we will see that in fact they are only reading what reflects their own minds. And since their own minds have from the outset been uncultivated, there is little merit to be gained thereby.
The Lotus Sutra, on the other hand, is known as a zuijii sutra, one that was preached in accordance with the Buddha's own mind. Because the Buddha's mind is a superior mind, persons who read this sutra, even though they may not understand it's meaning, will gain inestimable benefit.
Mugwort that grows in the midst of hemp or a snake inside a tube [will as a matter of course become straight], and those who associate with people of good character, though they themselves may have no particular virtue, will consequently become upright in heart, deed and word. The Lotus Sutra exerts a similar influence. Though one may not be outstanding in other ways, if he puts faith in this sutra, the Buddha will look upon him as a good person.
Concerning the Lotus Sutra, however, the form of its teaching will vary depending upon the people's capacity, the time, the country and the individuals who propagate it. Yet it seems that even bodhisattvas who have reached the stage of togaku do not understand these relationships. How much less can common mortals in the latter age ever fathom them!
In general, there are three kinds of messengers. The first kind is extremely clever. The second is not particularly clever but is not stupid, either. The third is the kind who is extremely stupid but nevertheless reliable.
Of these three types, the first will commit no error [in transmitting his message]. The second, being somewhat clever but not quite as clever as the first type, will add his own words to his lord's message. Thus he is the worst possible type of messenger. The third type, being extremely stupid, will not presume to interpolate his own words, and, being honest, will relay his lord's message without deviating from it. Thus he is in effect a better messenger than the second type, and occasionally may be even better than the first.
The first type of messenger may be likened to the four ranks of saints in India. The second type corresponds to the teachers in China. And the third type may be likened to the stupid but honest persons among the common mortals of this latter age.
I will set aside here the period when the Buddha lived in this world. The period of a thousand years that followed from the day after his passing is known as the Former Day of the Law. This thousand-year period of the Former Day is divided into two. During the first five hundred years, the teachings of the Hinayana sutras spread. The persons who propagated them were Mahakashyapa, Ánanda, and others like them. In the second five hundred years Ashvaghosha, Nargarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu and others spread the teachings of the provisional Mahayana sutras. Some among these scholars wrote about partial aspects of the Lotus Sutra, and others made no mention of it whatsoever. Of the scholars who appeared after this thousand-year period of the Former Day, their interpretations in a few cases resembled the Buddha's own teaching, but for the most part they fell into error. Of those who [appeared during the period of the Former Day and] were not in error but whose explanations were insufficient, we may name Mahakashyapa, Ánanda, Ashvaghosha, Nargarjuna, Asanga, and Vasubandhu.
In the thousand-year period of the Middle Day of the Law, Buddhism was introduced to China. But at first, because of controversy with the Confucians, there was apparently no time to go into the internal divisions of Buddhism, such as the distinction between Mahayana and Hinayana and between provisional and true teachings.
As the Buddhist teachings spread more widely and one doctrine after another was introduced from India, some persons who had earlier seemed discerning now appeared, in the light of more recently introduced sutras and treatises, to have been foolish. There were also some who had earlier been thought foolish but who were now seen to have been discerning. In the end, ten different schools developed, and a thousand or ten thousand different interpretations were propounded. Ignorant people did not know which to adhere to, while those who were thought to be wise each grew boundlessly attached to their own biased views.
In the end, however, there was one opinion that all agreed upon. They agreed, namely, that of all the teachings set forth in the course of the Buddha's lifetime, the Kegon Sutra represented the highest, the Nirvana Sutra stood in second place, and the Lotus Sutra in third place. No one from the ruler on down to the common people disputed this interpretation, because it was shared by the Dharma Teacher Fa-yun, the Dharma Teacher Chih-tsang and the other leaders of the ten schools, who were all looked up to as great sages.
Then, during the Middle Day of the Law, in the time of the Ch'en and Sui dynasties, there appeared a young monk named Chih-i, who was later to be known as the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che. Although he taught many doctrines, his teachings in the end centered upon this single issue of the relative superiority of the Lotus, Nirvana and Kegon sutras.
The Dharma Teacher Chih-i declared that the teachers of Buddhism had these three works ranked upside down. The ruler of the Ch'en dynasty, in order to determine the truth of the matter, thereupon summoned a group of more than a hundred men, including the Administrator of Monks Hui-heng, the Supervisor of Monks Hui-kuang, Hui-jung, the Dharma Teacher Fa-sui, and others, all among the most eminent leaders of the ten schools of northern and southern China, and had them confront the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai in debate.
The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai said, "The Lotus Sutra itself says that 'among the sutras, it holds the highest place.' It also says, 'Among all the sutras I [Shakyamuni] have preached, now preach and will preach, this Lotus Sutra is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand.' The Muryogi Sutra makes clear that the sutras the Buddha already 'had preached' here refer to 'the Makahannya Sutra, the Kegon teaching of oceanic emptiness' and so forth. And with regard to the sutras he 'would preach' in the future, the Nirvana Sutra says, 'From the Hannya Haramitsu [Sutra] derives the Great Nirvana [Sutra].' These scriptural passages show that the Lotus Sutra is superior the Kegon and Nirvana sutras; they make it abundantly clear, clear as could possibly be. You should understand accordingly."
Rebuked in this manner, his opponents in some cases simply shut their mouths, in other cases spewed out abuse or turned pale. The Ch'en ruler then rose from his seat and bowed three times, and all the hundred officials pressed their palms together in reverence. The leaders of the other schools were powerless to prevail and were forced to concede defeat. Thus it was established that, among the teachings of the Buddha's lifetime, the Lotus Sutra holds the highest place.
Then, during the latter five hundred years of the Middle Day of the Law, the new translations of the sutras and treatises appeared one after another. In the third year of the Cheng-kuan era (629) in the reign of Emperor T'ai-tsung, a monk named Hsuan-tsang journeyed to India. He spent seventeen years mastering the various Buddhist doctrines of the five regions and returned to China in the nineteenth year of the same era (645), introducing the Jimmitsu Sutra, the Yuga Ron, the Yuishiki Ron and the other teachings of the Hosso school.
Hsuan-tsang declared, "Although there are many different schools in India, this school is the foremost." Emperor T'ai-tsung was one of the wisest rulers China has known and he took Hsuan-tsang to be his teacher.
In essence, what this school teaches is that for some persons, the three vehicles are a mere expedient and the one vehicle represents the truth, while for others the one vehicle is an expedient and the three vehicles represent the truth. It also teaches that the five natures are completely separate, and that those sentient beings whose nature predestines them [to the two vehicles] or who lack the nature of enlightenment can never attain Buddhahood.
Such doctrines were as incompatible with those of the T'ien-t'ai of Tendai school as are fire and water. But by this time both the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and the Great Teacher Chang-an had passed from the scene, and their successors were not the men they ought to have been. Hence it appeared that the Tendai School had already gone down in defeat.
Later, during the reign of Empress Tse-t'ien, the Kegon School appeared in China. The translation of the Kegon Sutra in sixty volumes, which the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai had criticized, was set aside, and thereafter, the school was established on the basis of a new translation of the Kegon Sutra in eighty volumes, introduced by the Tripitaka Master Jih-chao. In general, this school teaches that the Kegon Sutra represents the "root teaching" of the Buddha while the Lotus Sutra represents the "branch teachings." Empress Tse-t'ien was a Buddhist nun, and she had a certain degree of understanding of both the inner and outer scriptures. In her arrogance she looked down upon the Tendai School. Between the Hosso and Kegon schools, the Lotus Sutra thus became doubly obscured.
Later, in the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsung, the three Tripitaka masters Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih and Pu-k'ung traveled to China from India, bringing with them the Dainichi, Kongocho and Soshitsuji sutras. In both their character and doctrine, these three men were quite beyond comparison with the earlier teachers of Buddhism in China. And, in addition, because they introduced mudras and mantras, which had been previously unknown, it was thought that Buddhism had not really existed in China before their arrival. These men declared that the Tendai School was superior to the Kegon, Hosso and Sanron teachings, but that it could not measure up to the doctrines of the Shingon sutras.
Still later, the Great Teacher Miao-lo produced refutations of the Hosso, Kegon and Shingon schools, schools that the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai had of course not criticized. But he did not carry out his refutations in a public debate, as the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai had done. Thus the Lotus Sutra became like a piece of brocade worn in the dark of night, while the mudras and mantras, which are not to be found in the Lotus Sutra, were clearly visible before people's eyes. Therefore everyone agreed in declaring the Shingon school to be superior.
During the Middle Day of the Law, Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Kimmei (544). During the more than two hundred years from the reign of Emperor Kimmei to the reign of Emperor Kammu, the six sects - Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu - were propagated. The teachings of the Shingon School were introduced during the reign of the forty-fourth sovereign, Empress Gensho, and those of the Tendai School, during the reign of the forty-fifth sovereign, Emperor Shomu. But neither of these teachings was propagated at the time.
During the reign of Emperor Kammu there lived the Dharma Teacher Saicho, who was later known as the Great Teacher Dengyo. Before journeying to China he mastered the teachings of the six sects, and in addition, he spent fifteen years in retirement on the mountain, examining the doctrines of the Tendai and Shingon schools. Therefore, even before going to China he was able to criticize the earlier six sects from the viewpoint of the Tendai teachings, and his criticisms persuaded all the leaders of the seven major temples of Nara to acknowledge themselves as his disciples. Thus the doctrines of the six sects were refuted.
Later, in the twenty-third year of the Enryaku era (804), he journeyed to China, returning to Japan in the twenty-fourth year of the same era (805). At that time he propagated the Tendai and Shingon teachings in Japan. But as far as their relative superiority was concerned, though it appears that he discerned it in his heart, he did not expound it to others.
During this same period lived Kukai, who was later known as the Great Teacher Kobo. He, too, went to China in the twenty-third year of the Enryaku era and returned to Japan in the third year of the Daido era (808). He studied only the teachings of Shingon and propagated them in Japan. In his opinion, the Lotus Sutra could not measure up even to the Kegon Sutra, much less to the Shingon teachings.
The Great Teacher Dengyo had a disciple named Ennin, who was later known as the Great Teacher Jikaku. He went to China in the fifth year of the Jowa era (838) and returned to Japan in the fourteenth year of the same era (847). During those ten years he studied both the Shingon and Tendai doctrines. While in Japan, he had thoroughly studied the Tendai and Shingon doctrines under the Great Teacher Dengyo, Gishin and Encho, and in addition, during his ten years in China he studied Shingon under eight distinguished teachers and received instruction in Tendai from Tsung-jui, Chih-yuan and others. After returning to Japan, he announced that the Tendai and Shingon schools both alike represented the flavor of ghee, and that the sutras of both schools were profound and recondite. An imperial edict was issued supporting these opinions.
After him there appeared Enchin, who was later known as the Great Teacher Chisho. Before journeying to China, he was a disciple of the Eminent Monk Gishin. While in Japan, he studied the Tendai and Shingon teachings under Gishin, Encho, Ennin and others. In addition, he went to China in the third year of the Ninka era (853), returning in the first year of the Jogan era (859). During his seven years in China, he made a thorough study of the two teachings of Tendai and Shingon under such men as Fa-ch'uan and Liang-hsu.
He declared that the relative merits of the two sects of Tendai and Shingon were as clear as though reflected in a mirror, but that this point would surely be disputed in later times, and so he would settle the matter. He therefore stated his opinion that the two sects of Tendai and Shingon were comparable to the two eyes of a person or the two wings of a bird. Those who held interpretations at variance with this were going against the teachings of the founder, the Great Teacher Dengyo, and should not be permitted to remain on the mountain. An imperial edict was again promulgated in support of this position, and Enchin spread his interpretation throughout the country.
Thus it would appear that, though there are many wise men in both China and Japan, there could be no one who would refute this interpretation. If it is valid, then those persons who practice in accordance with it are certain to attain Buddhahood, and those rulers who pay respect to it are bound to enjoy peace and safety in their realm.
I had thought that, though I might venture to tell others my own opinion, they would not only refuse to heed it but in fact would try to do me harm, and that my disciples and lay patrons who heard my views would also be placed in peril. And in fact everything has turned out just as I anticipated.
Nevertheless, I believe that the interpretations put forth by the persons I have mentioned above simply do not accord with the Buddha's intent. Judging from the eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra, if there should be any other sutra that surpasses this one, then the Lotus Sutra would represent no more than a gathering of the Buddhas of the ten directions who came together to pile up great lies. But in fact when we examine the Kegon, Nirvana, Hannya, Dainichi and Jimmitsu sutras, we do not find any passage that controverts the Lotus Sutra's clear statement that "among the sutras, it holds the highest place."
Thus, although Shan-wu-wei, Hsuan-tsang, Kobo, Jikaku, Chisho and the others put forth a variety of clever arguments, they could produce no passage of scripture that would prove the Lotus Sutra to be inferior to the Dainichi Sutra. Their whole argument rests solely on the question of whether or not the sutra includes mudras and mantras. Rather than writing hundreds of volumes of argument, traveling back and forth between China and Japan with their unending schemes, and arranging for the promulgation of imperial edicts in order to intimidate people, they would have been better off producing some clear passage of proof in the sutras themselves. Who then could have doubted their assertions?
Dewdrops accumulate to form a stream, and streams accumulate to form the great ocean. Particles of dust accumulate to form a mountain, and mountains accumulate to form Mount Sumeru. And in the same way, trifling matters accumulate to become grave ones. How much more so in the case of this matter, which is the gravest of all! When these men wrote their commentaries, they should have exerted themselves in examining both the principles and documentary evidence of the two teachings, and when the court issued imperial edicts, it, too, should have delivered its admonitions after thoroughly investigating both sides and citing some clear passage of proof.
Not even the Buddha himself could repudiate his statement that among all the sutras he had preached, now preached and would preach, [the Lotus Sutra stands supreme]. How much less then can scholars, teachers and rulers of states use their authority to do so! This statement has been heard by Bonten, Taishaku, the deities of the sun and moon, and the Four Heavenly Kings and duly recorded in their respective palaces.
While there were still persons who truly did not know of this statement, it seems that the false interpretations of the teachers I mentioned earlier spread without anyone incurring retribution. But once a person of forceful character has come forward to make this sutra passage known in a bold and uncompromising fashion, then grave matters are certain to occur. Because people have looked down upon this person and cursed him, struck him, sent him into exile or attempted to take his life, Bonten, Taishaku, the deities of the sun and moon, and the Four Heavenly Kings rose up in anger and became that votary's allies. Thus unexpected censures have come down from Heaven, and the people are about to be wiped out and the nation destroyed.
Though the votary of the Lotus Sutra may be of humble background, the heavenly deities who protect him are fearsome indeed. If an asura demon tries to swallow the sun or moon, his head will split into seven pieces. If a dog barks at a lion, its bowels will rot. And as I view the situation today, the same sort of retribution is happening here in Japan.
On the other hand, those who give alms and support to the votary will receive the same benefit as though they were supporting the Lotus Sutra itself. As the Great Teacher Dengyo says in his commentary: "Those who praise him will receive blessings that will pile up as high as Mount Sumeru, while those who slander him will be committing a fault that will condemn them to the hell of incessant suffering."
He who offered a humble meal of millet to the Pratyekabuddha became the Tathágata Universal Brightness. He who offered a mud-pie to the Buddha became the ruler of the continent of Jambudvipa. Though one may perform meritorious deeds, if they are directed toward that which is not true, then they may bring great evil but they will never result in good. On the other hand, though one may be ignorant in mind and his offerings meager, if he presents them to a person who upholds the truth, his merit will be great. How much more so in the case of persons who in all sincerity make offerings to the True Law!
In addition, we live today in a time of trouble, when there is little that ordinary people can do. And yet, busy as you are, in your sincerity of heart you have sent me bamboo shoots of the moso variety as offerings to the Lotus Sutra here in the mountains. Surely you are sowing good seeds in a field of fortune. My tears flow when I think of it.