This is the ninety-fourth installment of a detailed commentary
on the Threefold Lotus Sutra by the late founder of
Rissho Kosei-kai, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano.
TEXT Then the bodhisattvas all together unanimously raised their voices, speaking thus in verse:
"Be pleased to be without anxiety! / After the Buddha's extinction,
/ In the [last] dreadful evil age, / We will proclaim abroad [this
sutra]. / Though in their ignorance many / Will curse and abuse us /
And beat us with swords and staves, / We will endure it all.
COMMENTARY Though in their ignorance many. This line refers to lay people of overweening pride (adhimana),
who think that they know what they do not and that they are enlightened
when they are not. Many of those around us irresponsibly malign the
Lotus Sutra without ever having read a line of it, and persecute those
who follow its teaching. The sutra commentaries rank such ignorant and
prideful lay people as the first of "the three kinds of powerful foes"
of the Lotus Sutra.
? Abuse. The Chinese for this word, ma-li,
is made up of two characters, the first meaning "to abuse directly,
face to face," and the second meaning "to revile in a sarcastic manner,
using innuendo and irony." The latter action is far worse than the
TEXT Bhikshus in that evil age will be
/ Heretical, suspicious, warped, / Claiming to have attained when they
have not, / And with minds full of arrogance.
COMMENTARY Heretical. The Chinese word translated as "heretical" has the meaning of evil, warped wisdom.
? Claiming to have attained when they have not. This line signifies having the illusion that they have attained enlightenment when in fact they have not.
"Arrogance" here refers to the conceit of the small self. Arrogant
bhikshus are called "people of religious pride," the second of the
three kinds of powerful foes of the Lotus Sutra. Though such bhikshus
have entered the Buddha Way, they believe unworthy teachings, regarding
them as supreme, and treat the Lotus Sutra with contempt, trying to
prevent its teaching from spreading.
TEXT Others in the aranya / Will wear patched garments in seclusion, / Pretending that they walk the true path / And scorning [other] people;
COMMENTARY Those spoken of in this
passage and below are the third of the three kinds of powerful foes,
"arrogant saints"---religious figures who pretend saintliness and look
down on the ordinary run of people. They believe themselves to be holy,
and are revered as such by society, but because they do nothing in
terms of sincere religious action to bring others to salvation, they
cannot be regarded as truly saintly. The sutra commentaries call such
people saints in name only and deplore their overweening pride.
This Sanskrit word means "solitude" or "tranquil place." It refers to a
quiet place away from human habitation in mountains or forests suitable
for religious practice.
? Patched garments. These are robes
made of discarded rags sewn together. The surplice wore by Japanese
Buddhist priests today retains traces of this ideal in the way it is
made, though now it is often splendid and costly.
? Pretending that they walk the true path.
The true path of a person of religion is universal salvation. It is not
enough to attain personal enlightenment and peace of mind and live a
pure life. It is far better to be soiled by the dust of the world if
this means it is possible to save people and bring even a little
happiness to society. That is what is meant by walking the true path.
Unfortunately, people in the community tend not to look for this
essential in people of religion, and people of religion themselves too
often create a false impression of sanctity.
? Scorning [other] people.
This is the greatest evil committed by those who are falsely regarded
as saints. A truly religious person shares the joy and suffering of
those around him or her and vows to act as a guide to lead them to
TEXT Greedily attached to gain, / They
will preach the Law to laymen / And be revered by the world / As arhats
of the six transcendent [powers];
COMMENTARY Attached to gain.
The literal meaning of the Chinese phrase is "venerating profit," but
it should be interpreted more widely as "being secretly attracted to
worldly desires, power, and fame."
? Laymen. The literal
meaning of the Chinese is "the white-robed." Indians prefer to wear
white, and generally all men other than the ordained do so. Thus the
expression contrasts the lay and the ordained. Here, "laymen" refers in
particular to those who are wealthy and of high status.
TEXT These men, cherishing evil minds, / Ever thinking of earthly things, / Assuming the name of aranyas, / Will love to calumniate us,
COMMENTARY Here is a scathing denunciation of those saintly figures who revile the Lotus Sutra.
? Ever thinking of earthly things. This means always mentally lusting after material things, power, and fame.
? Assuming the name of aranyas, will love to calumniate us.
Those who have separated themselves from the world to lead a pure life
criticize active people of religion who choose to remain among the
people and to be contaminated by the dust of the world for their sake.
Today there are many who, cloistered in their studies (the aranya),
delight in criticizing the so-called new religions.
TEXT Saying such things of us as /
'All these bhikshus, / From love of gain, / Preach heretical doctrine;
/ They have themselves composed this sutra / To delude the people of
the world; / For the sake of acquiring fame, / They make a specialty of
COMMENTARY Heretical doctrine.
This refers to teachings other than Buddhism and the teachings of
saints and wise people other than the Buddha. The latter half of
chapter 11, "Beholding the Precious Stupa," teaches that all saintly
and wise people are emanations of the Buddha. Thus it can be said that
in the broadest sense all true teachings are the Buddha's. Those whose
vision is narrow, however, reject all teachings other than those
issuing from the mouth of Shakyamuni himself as "heretical doctrine."
This attitude is mistaken and violates the spirit of Shakyamuni.
Shakyamuni was not so small minded; he permitted a certain flexibility
in the interpretation of his teaching and was highly tolerant of other
doctrines, as I have already explained through many examples. The
original message of the Buddha must not be distorted, but it is quite
correct to elaborate on it or amplify it to suit the needs of different
people and times. We must not forget that anything that can actually
save people is in accord with the Buddha's will. The words of the
bodhisattvas in this chapter were as vibrant in the time of Nichiren,
in thirteenth-century Japan, as they are for us today, wherever we may
TEXT Always in the assemblies, / In
order to ruin us, / To kings and ministers, / To Brahmans and citizens,
/ And to the other groups of bhikshus, / They will slanderously speak
evil of us, / Saying: 'These are men of false views, / Who proclaim
COMMENTARY This passage illustrates well the arrogant attitude of critics of the so-called new religions.
? Brahmans. This refers to the priests of Brahmanism. In today's terms, they are clerics and other representatives of established religion.
? Citizens. This refers to the Sanskrit grihapati,
"householder." In ancient India it meant a wealthy man whose business
included commerce and industry. In China it referred to an eminent
scholar who did not enter government service. In modern Japan it is
applied to a male lay Buddhist. Thus it remains the custom in Japan to
incorporate the Japanese equivalent, koji, in the "Dharma name" of a man who takes Buddhist orders and to the posthumous Buddhist name of a male believer.
TEXT But we, from reverence for the
Buddha, / Will endure all these evils. / By these contemptuously
addressed as / 'All you buddhas!'-- / Even such scorn and arrogance /
We will patiently endure.
COMMENTARY Because we revere the
Buddha deeply, we also revere the sutra that contains his greatest
teaching. Thus we are able to endure all hardship and persecution to
protect the sutra and spread its message, as well as any sarcasm about
our own role.
? By these contemptuously addressed as / 'All you buddhas!' Such derision causes far more pain and anger than straightforward abuse. Even this, however, we must patiently withstand.
TEXT In the evil age of the corrupt
kalpa, / Abounding in fear and dread, / Devils will take possession of
them / To curse, abuse, and insult us. / But we, revering and believing
in the Buddha, / Will wear the armor of perseverance; / For the sake of
preaching this sutra / We will endure all these hard things.
COMMENTARY Corrupt kalpa. This is a reference to "the evil ages of the five decays (see the May/June 1998 issue of Dharma World). The world is filled to overflowing with corruption; it is an age in which nothing can be done.
? Will wear the armor of perseverance. This fine phrase expresses dauntless determination to proclaim the Dharma in a nonconfrontational manner.
TEXT We will not love body and life, /
But only care for the supreme Way.
commentary What a splendid verse this is. As long as a single person
who has not been touched by the supreme teaching remains in the world,
we cannot afford to relax our efforts. What value can our individual
lives have in comparison? Such is the fervent mind-set of one who lives
in compassion and in the true Dharma.
COMMENTARY What a splendid verse this
is. As long as a single person who has not been touched by the supreme
teaching remains in the world, we cannot afford to relax our efforts.
What value can our individual lives have in com-parison? Such is the
fervent mind-set of one who lives in compassion and in the true Dharma.
TEXT We will, throughout all ages to
come, / Guard what the Buddha bequeaths. / World-honored One! Thou
knowest that, / In the corrupt age, vicious bhikshus, / Knowing not the
Law so tactfully preached / As opportunity served by the Buddha, / Will
abuse and frown upon us; / Repeatedly shall we be driven out, / And
exiled afar from the monasteries. / Such evils will be our ills / For
remembering the Buddha's command, / But [we] will endure all these
COMMENTARY Guard what the Buddha bequeaths. The task the Buddha has entrusted to us is to bring the people of the world to salvation by spreading the true teaching.
? Vicious bhikshus. "Vicious" should be interpreted here as "inferior." The phrase refers to bhikshus who do not know the true teaching.
? Knowing not the Law so tactfully preached as opportunity served by the Buddha.
This is a very important point. People who are preoccupied with the
so-called provisional Mahayana cannot comprehend the truth of "the Law
so tactfully preached," that is, the teachings of skillful
means---methods suitable to person and circumstances---and revile such
teachings as belonging to Hinayana. Again, those who are preoccupied
with the teachings of skillful means cannot comprehend their underlying
truth but, whatever the age, follow the literal meaning of the Buddha's
teachings word for word, never understanding how to bring true
salvation to all living beings. Because of this situation it was
essential that the "true Mahayana" be preached in the Lotus Sutra,
showing the truth of all provisional, "tactful" teachings. We must here
consider again the fact that the Lotus Sutra is the teaching that
expresses the truth contained in the teachings of skillful means. By so
doing we can gain a clear comprehension of the importance of the
teachings of skillful means, themselves based on the truth.
The above verse passage expresses the bodhisattvas' vow to put into
practice the first of the three rules of the robe, the throne, and the
abode of the Tathagata, that of putting on the robe of the Tathagata.
This is their response to the Buddha's command to teach the Dharma by
donning the robe of forbearance.
TEXT Wherever in villages and cities /
There be those who seek after the Law, / We will all go there and /
Preach the Law bequeathed by the Buddha.
COMMENTARY Fearing neither hardship
nor persecution, as long as there is even one person who seeks the
Dharma we will go wherever we are needed, to large cities or small
towns, regardless of whether we will be opposed by strong enemies, and
will teach the Lotus Sutra entrusted to us by the Buddha.
This verse corresponds to "entering into the abode of the
Tathagata," the vow of the bodhisattvas to teach the Dharma with great
compassion. The positive action that is the bodhisattva practice of
compassion is based upon the passive bravery of bearing up in the face
TEXT We are the World-honored One's
apostles / And, amidst a multitude having nothing to fear, / Will
rightly preach the Law. / Be pleased, O Buddha, to abide in peace.
COMMENTARY We are the World-honored One's apostles.
These are modest yet confident words. Because we are the messengers of
the Buddha, we must have a firm understanding of the basic truth and
preach the Dharma with unrestricted freedom based upon that
understanding. This basic truth is the teaching that all phenomena are
empty, that all forms of existence are temporary phenomena and are
nonsubstantial. This is the doctrine of "emptiness as the supreme
meaning" (paramarthashunyata; see the November/ December 1997
issue). In chapter 10, "A Teacher of the Law," we find the words "the
throne of the Tathagata is the emptiness of all laws. Established in
these . . . he will preach this Law Flower Sutra." The passage
beginning "We are the World-honored One's apostles" represents the
bodhisattvas' vow to teach the Dharma widely according to the words of
TEXT In the presence of the
World-honored One / And the buddhas come from all directions, / We thus
make our vow, / And the Buddha knows our hearts."
COMMENTARY This is the conclusion of
the bodhisattvas' vow. We should understand it as both the
bodhisattvas' own pledge and an encouragement to practitioners of the
Lotus Sutra in later times to be resolute and to strive to spread the
sutra's teaching whatever difficulties this entails.
We have come across many references in this chapter to the three
kinds of powerful foes. The description of the foes does not belong
merely to the time in which the sutra was written but is every bit as
apposite in today's world, for these foes are all around us. Let us
therefore consider the three kinds of powerful foes in modern terms.
The first of the foes are lay people of overweening pride, who
criticize, oppose, and attack without any real understanding of the
issues. By lay people, the sutra means ordinary people, who are
susceptible to power and are inclined to act according to mood. Such
people are swayed by the ideas of their leaders. Furthermore, lacking
any firm beliefs of their own, they judge things according to the
prevailing mood and fashion. For example, in the late-nineteenth and
early-twentieth centuries in Japan, a time when Western culture was
flooding into the country, many intellectuals deemed it fashionable to
become Christian and attend church. This gave the general public the
impression that Christianity was a superior religion, while Buddhism
was antiquated and riddled with superstition.
If this had remained merely an impression, it would not have been so
bad, but this false impression came to be regarded as the truth and was
given expression in speech and action. For example, the Lotus Sutra was
derided by those who did not even bother to read it and was judged a
fanatical teaching. Certainly practitioners of the Lotus Sutra
themselves have often been at fault in giving people that impression.
In the past there were those who linked the Lotus Sutra with
ultranationalism and militarism, and today some religious bodies pay
most attention to using belief in the Lotus Sutra to gain material
benefits for their members, while others form political movements. In
view of this, it may be inevitable that people on the whole have a
false impression of the sutra.
If we want to take our critics to task, we who believe in and follow
the Lotus Sutra must reflect first on our own attitude and behavior and
then attempt to break down their opposition by bringing them to
understand what the sutra actually teaches. We must grasp each
opportunity and use whatever means we can to inform others about the
fact that this sutra is the right and true teaching. We must also
reveal to the world our gratitude and devotion to the Lotus Sutra. This
will be evidenced by the truth of our words and actions and the way we
lead our lives. We bear witness to the wonderful and meritorious
teaching of the Lotus Sutra in all that we say and do. In the workplace
we must be competent, and at home a useful member of the family. We
must demonstrate in all our dealings the virtues of true affection and
magnanimity, so that we are honored and loved by all. In particular, it
is important that as members of groups we make a good impression on
others by acting according to social ethics and obeying laws and
regulations. Furthermore, we must continually strive to brighten the
world around us by performing public service and helping those in
Our actions are the best sermon. Of course sermons in the ordinary
sense of teaching, whether in writing, film, or broadcasting, are still
important, but they are of secondary importance when it comes to
spreading the teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
The second of the three kinds of powerful foes are people of
religious pride, or "arrogant bhikshus." Unlike the general public,
these people have some knowledge of the Way. They are religious
professionals, respected members of their sects. At a time when human
reason had not developed very far, they would attack other religions
and sects, contending that theirs alone was correct. The root of this
illusion, more often than not, was the intolerance of people of
religion, or, to be more direct, their animosity to other sects and
beliefs. Animosity clouds judgment; in fact, it blocks the will to make
correct judgments by preventing such a will from arising.
During the Sung dynasty in China (960-1279) there lived a man called
Chang Shang-ying, chief minister to the emperor, who at the age of only
eighteen had passed the state examinations brilliantly. Entering a
Buddhist temple one day, he noticed the veritable mountain of sutra
scrolls it possessed and cried out indignantly, "How dare they venerate
those foreign teachings so!" He decided then and there to compose a
work attacking Buddhism. Chang was convinced of the absolute
superiority of the teachings of Confucius and made no attempt to learn
about Buddhism before judging it. His initial reaction was animosity,
not curiosity. Unfortunately there are a great number of such attacks,
not only from religion but from the world of scholarship as well. For
example, in Japan there have been occasions when graduates of national
universities have ganged up to undermine the research of scholars from
private universities. It is truly a great pity that even eminent
scholars can automatically oppose a new theory or view.
Chang eventually abandoned his campaign at the urging of his wife.
Later, he happened to read the Vimalakirti-nir-desha-sutra and was so
moved by it that he became a devout Buddhist. This episode speaks
clearly of the importance of always studying something in depth before
criticizing it or regarding it with enmity. If, after sufficient study,
we discover mistakes and weaknesses in our subject, then is the time to
declare our opposition.
Since this type of foe reacts according to animosity alone, he or
she can be extremely dangerous. In the past, time and time again such
people persecuted, exiled, and even killed members of other faiths.
Often wars of religion broke out. From our present perspective, it is
paradoxical that religion, whose purpose is the happiness of humankind,
should permit people to be killed and wars to occur in its name. It
bespeaks the narrowness of vision and stubbornness of heart of people
of the past. This situation arose simply because they lacked wisdom,
the broadmindedness to tolerate people of other faiths and to perceive
the true nature of religion.
The majority of people in modern-day society, as well as people of
religion, have a far broader vision than their predecessors and greater
flexibility of mind. They are gradually approaching true wisdom. We see
less dogmatism than before, fewer attempts to force the words of
religious founders to apply literally to the present situation. As a
result there is far less proscription of other beliefs. All the same,
such thinking has not entirely disappeared. Some religious groups are
moving against increasing tolerance, branding other religions, and even
groups within their own faith, heretical. In extreme cases certain
individuals even accuse members of the same sect of heresy and expel
them. Such thinking derives not from the teachings themselves but from
their accretions over time. Certain believers treat such accretions as
jewels of truth, while others attach themselves to mere forms and
regulations. The perspective of such people is very narrow, and their
understanding is full of an animosity based on exclusivism and
This is extremely dangerous. It is a small step from here to
fascistic behavior, such as asserting that one's own belief should be
the religion of the state. Religions of this type are the modern
version of the template we are discussing, people of religious pride.
We must pray that such people will be brought as quickly as possible to
reflect upon their mistakes and returned to the true form of religion.
The third of the three kinds of powerful foes are "arrogant saints,"
religious figures who assume a saintly manner and set themselves apart
from ordinary people. Such people, who usually stand high in the
hierarchy of their religious organizations and are admired by society,
are intoxicated by their accomplishments and, proud beyond measure,
make light of the true teachings in order to protect their status. To
have achieved high status, these people must have studied and trained
hard in their youth. As they grow older and attain higher and higher
rank, however, they become complacent and lose all interest in studying
or training further. Truly outstanding religious figures, on the other
hand, believe that study continues to the day of death and seek
continually to advance in religious knowledge and experience.
Unfortunately most people, once they have attained a certain status,
sink into a state of stubborn defense of what they have achieved.
Among such people, those with little breadth of character tend to
find any burgeoning force a threat and are ill at ease when, for
example, a more inspiring teaching spreads its influence in their
direction. They are offended rather than pleased by new doctrinal
explanations proposed by others within their sect or by younger priests
and scholars, and hide behind their authority to scheme against the new
thinking and influence of the younger generation. They are called
"arrogant saints" because they consciously use for their own ends the
respect and trust society has given them.
They are particularly dangerous because of the great influence their status and fame grant them. Arrogance (adhimana)
in a young person blocks only his or her own development, and any
ensuing fault is minor. In one who holds high position and is well
known, however, arrogance so impedes the manifestation of truth and
obstructs its propagation that the implications for society as a whole
are severe and the sin is truly grave. Such people are all the more
insidious because they are trusted by the populace.
It is obvious that "arrogant saints" are the worst of the three
kinds of powerful foes. The Reverend Kosho Otani, recalling the late
Zen teacher Daisetz Suzuki, said, "He combined harmoniously the feeling
of gratitude of Shin [Pure Land] Buddhism with Zen acuteness and
resolute spiritual strength." Suzuki was both a great scholar and a man
of deep faith, blending the ideals of faith in one's own power, in the
Zen tradition, and faith in the power of the Buddha, in the Shin
tradition. His great capacity for tolerance, which spanned the thought
of both East and West, was undoubtedly grounded in the power of his
spirit. He continued to teach and write until he was ninety-five, but
never succumbed to scholarly arrogance or false pride through the
adulation of others.
This chapter of the Lotus Sutra has revealed to us the harm caused
by arrogant people and the dedication and determination with which we
must withstand them in order to protect and spread the true teaching.
It warns us too that we must reflect upon our own actions and
motivations so that we do not fall into the sin of arrogance. All in
all, it is a deeply significant chapter.
To be continued
This article was originally published in the July-September 2008 issue of Dharma World.
In this series, passages in the text sections are quoted from The Threefold Lotus Sutra,
Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Company, 1975, with slight revisions. The
diacritical marks originally used for several Sanskrit terms in the
text sections are omitted here for easier reading.