This essay is part of a continuing series of translations from a volume of
inspirational writings by the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai. DHARMA WORLD will
continue to publish these essays because of their lasting value as
guidance for the practice of one's daily faith.
In chapter 21 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Divine Power of the Tathagata," we find the following passage: "At the same time all the gods in the sky sang with exalted voices: 'Beyond these infinite, boundless, hundreds of thousands of myriads of kotis of ashamkhyeya worlds, there is a realm named saha. In its midst is a buddha, whose name is Shakyamuni. Now, for the sake of all bodhisattva-mahasattvas, he preaches the Great-vehicle Sutra called the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, the Law by which bodhisattvas are instructed and which the buddhas watch over and keep in mind. You should with all your utmost heart joyfully follow it and should pay homage and make offerings to Shakyamuni Buddha.'"
The expression "Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law" likens the unsurpassed teachings that guide all people everywhere to lead a life of purity and spiritual liberation in this secular world, without being sullied by its corruption, to the lotus that proudly offers its beautiful blossoms although it grows surrounded by muddy water. "The Law by which bodhisattvas are instructed" teaches us that we can reach the supreme stage only by applying the compassionate conducts taught by Buddhism toward all others at the same time as we undertake religious practice to perfect ourselves. "The Law which the buddhas watch over and keep in mind" is the teaching whose essence a buddha (one who has realized the Truth) cherishes and protects so that it may be spread correctly.
These three expressions directly articulate the contents, the purpose, and the value of the Lotus Sutra. If we truly understand them, the Lotus Sutra will not be merely a proper noun as a title to us but a common noun referring generally to the Truth and the supreme teaching, the universal principle that shows all people everywhere how to lead genuine lives. There can be no duality between the Truth and the supreme teaching, however. Though they may appear different in form and in the way they are expressed, at root they should be considered as essentially one. Thus, in the passage I quoted at the start, "the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law, the Law by which bodhisattvas are instructed and which the buddhas watch over and keep in mind," the description does not refer to the sutra in a limited way, nor does it confine the object of reverence and veneration to the individual figure of the Buddha Shakyamuni.
Then if we understand the above passage as meaning that all the divine beings everywhere in the universe are propounding the message that all of us should follow the teachings of the sutra to the utmost with joyful hearts and calling us to pay homage and make offerings to Shakyamuni Buddha, we may think that all the teachings that now exist in this secular (saha) world may actually impede the road to shared happiness for all human beings. In my view, however, the passage is a kind of prophecy that essentially all sacred teachings and all scholarship will inevitably be integrated into the teachings of a single great Truth. When this is fully realized, this saha world will become the greatest realm in the universe.
At present, many of the various religious teachings that are supposed to raise people up seem to be moving in different directions one by one, and furthermore, a number of religions and religious sects seem to endorse ideas and sentiments that are selfish, exclusivist, or self-righteous. People holding such beliefs cannot help but take an antagonistic stance toward others. Governments, too, whose duty it is to help improve the lives of their citizens, brandish opposing ideologies and engage in conflicts, forgetting that the people are what is most important. They are not working to promote and protect the welfare of their people, but rather are increasing their suffering and involving them in the danger of future ruin.
The same can be said about much modern scholarship. Originally, learning was intended to improve and enrich people's lives. It has now become so fragmented, however, that its underlying spirit often seems to have been largely forgotten.
If all religions, ideologies, and fields of scholarship could return to the spirit that Shakyamuni advocated, which honors truth, humankind, and harmony, this world would soon manifest itself as the ideal Pure Land, where a high spiritual civilization would come into being in combination with our present advanced material culture. It would make the saha realm the center of the universe in the truest sense. The cited passage from the sutra preaches the thought I explained above. From ancient times it has been said that this passage indicated the fact that all religious teachings would be recognized as returning to the essential teachings, those of the Buddha, in the future.
At the root of "unifying the worlds of religion" lies the idea that there actually is a single underlying principle. Shakyamuni told us that there can be no doubt that in the future all teachings will be integrated into the one basic Truth, and at that time, the saha world will become the most honored realm in the universe. The fundamental principle of religious cooperation has to be that all teachings will be seen as part of one whole in the future. That is why I have taken the position of honoring truth, humankind, and harmony as a unified, integral part of my creed, and have committed myself to the religious duty of achieving it.
Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, was an honorary president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and was honorary chairman of Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan) at the time of his death in October 1999.
This article was originally published in the July-September 2010 issue of Dharma World.
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