The One Vehicle and Bodhisattva Never Despise
Rev. Nikkyo Niwano's Understanding of Peace and the Lotus Sutra
by Michio T. Shinozaki
The Founder's worldview was that the self and others are one and interrelated, so acting out in violence toward others is also acting out against oneself.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "My life is my message," and we can certainly say about Rev. Nikkyo Niwano that his life was his message. For a religious person, how one lives one's life is exceedingly more important than one may assume.
A True Follower of the Lotus Sutra as a Peace Maker
Rev. Niwano followed the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, and he lived his life based on the spiritual path implied in the Lotus Sutra. His activities in interreligious cooperation were derived from his self-identity as a true follower of the Lotus Sutra. Rev. Niwano believed that with the concept of the One Vehicle, inspired by the sutra, the mission of Rissho Kosei-kai is to promote interreligious cooperation for the sake of world peace. His approach to peace in his activities of interreligious cooperation was nothing more than the practice of the One Vehicle. For him, the One Vehicle is more than just the One Lotus Vehicle (hokke ichijo) that Nichiren preached; he saw it as one open possible integration in the sense of "the true meaning of religion," derived from the idea of the integration of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren understood the sutra as a book of prophecy in a rather literal sense in what he saw as mappo (the Age of the Decay of the Dharma), while Rev. Niwano understood it in a rather symbolic way.
For Nichiren, persecution in his life was evidence, as predicted in the Lotus Sutra, that he had been sent by the Buddha as an apostle to embody truth in this evil world. Nichiren resolved his own doubts over persecution and overcame them with an apostle's martyr-consciousness. Indeed, the expression "true follower of the Lotus Sutra" came out of Nichiren's experience of his persecution. Thus, the acceptance of persecution was an expression of joy (gratitude) in the sense of having been chosen to serve as an apostle whose task was to establish the true Dharma in order to reform society.
I am convinced that Rev. Niwano's approach can be easily understood in comparison with Nichiren's idea of "securing the peace of the nation through establishing the true Dharma." For Rev. Niwano, world peace can be achieved by seeking the true meaning of religion through interreligious cooperation and dialogue. Whereas Nichiren seeks to "establish the true Dharma" in the sense of a faith based on the One Lotus Vehicle, Rev. Niwano broadly interpreted it in the sense of "the true meaning of religion." In the context of world peace, inspired by Nichiren's famous phrase, "Many in body, but one in spirit," he believed that if religious workers in the world could be attuned to the Will of God or the true intention of the Buddha, world peace could be achieved.
T'ien-t'ai Chih-i (538-97), the third patriarch in the lineage of the Chinese T'ien-t'ai school of Buddhism, taught that "Three-thousand realms [exist] within a single thought." Rev. Niwano interpreted it to mean that if we change our way of thinking, we can also change our environment. It means that simply by changing our attitude, "we can change our environment in any way. . . . True world peace is based upon this truth" (Nikkyo Niwano, A Buddhist Approach to Peace, p. 40). This approach to peace can be called an approach of "amending heart and mind." Rev. Niwano criticized the subjective idealism that is based upon the premise that once inner peace or self-enlightenment is achieved, everything is fine. Praying for peace is significant, but it is not enough. For the followers of the Lotus Sutra, purifying the Buddha-land means to establish a truly peaceful state by means of working together, seeking and affirming the true meaning of religion.
The Concept of the One Vehicle
Rev. Niwano's involvement in interreligious cooperation is derived from his conviction in the teaching of the One Vehicle. His successor, Rev. Nichiko Niwano, gave him the Dharma title "Great Teacher of the One Vehicle." I think that the One Vehicle symbolizes and represents his whole life. Rev. Niwano followed the Lotus Sutra's teaching that there is only one truth in the universe, and that we humans are all on the same vehicle trying to reach salvation; I am certain that he also believed that we could achieve world peace by paying reverence to one another, by collaborating with one another, and by breaking down our own sense of exclusivity.
What is the meaning of the One Vehicle in the Lotus Sutra?
First, for Rev. Niwano, the One Vehicle (Skt. ekayana) is the one vehicle that leads to the Buddha's enlightenment. Excerpts from chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra state, "[Only] by my powers of tactfulness / Do I manifest the three-vehicle Law. / [For] all the world-honored ones / Expound the One-vehicle Way." "There is One only and no second vehicle" (The Threefold Lotus Sutra, p. 66). For Rev. Niwano, the three vehicles (shravaka, pratyekabuddha, bodhisattva) are skillful means, but there is only One Vehicle by means of which one can attain enlightenment through the bodhisattva way.
The idea of the One Vehicle can be explained in "the doctrine of the Teaching of Opening Up the Three Vehicles and Revealing the One Vehicle" by Chih-i. This doctrine can be understood as a teaching of integration or unification. Just as opening up the three vehicles reveals the One Vehicle, innumerable meanings emerge from the One Dharma. That is to say, the One Vehicle and the One Dharma signify the integration of the many. The three vehicles and the innumerable meanings signify diversity or the many. The One Dharma has several implications. First, this One Dharma functions as the force of integration among various factors. Second, various teachings preached by the Buddha originated from this One Dharma. In other words, all laws and phenomena are integrated into One Dharma. Thus, the One Dharma and the idea of the One Vehicle signify integration.
Rev. Niwano's understanding of the One Vehicle is not an exclusivistic understanding; rather, it is inclusivistic, or at times pluralistic. It could almost be called "open oneness," because it is an open possibility of integration or oneness. As the One Dharma is emptiness, it cannot be fixed or absolute; thus it is not possible to teach that one faith is the only absolute faith and others are inferior, or that the Lotus Sutra is the only absolute scripture and others are inferior. For Rev. Niwano, the One Vehicle in the field of interreligious cooperation signifies the true meaning of religion.
One Dharma, the ultimate reality of all things as nirvana: Peace as harmony
The central message in the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, which is regarded as the opening sutra in the Threefold Lotus Sutra, is: "The Innumerable Meanings originate from one [Dharma]. This one [Dharma] is, namely, nonform. Such nonform is formless, and not form. Being not form and formless, it is called the real aspect [of things]" (The Threefold Lotus Sutra, pp.12-13).* The Buddha replied: "Good sons, this unique approach is called innumerable meanings. A bodhisattva who wants to practice and study the approach of innumerable meanings should observe that all things were originally, will be, and are in themselves empty and tranquil in nature and character. Not large or small, subject to birth or death, fixed or movable, and neither advancing nor retreating. Like empty space, they are non-dualistic" (The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, 2, Dharma Preaching, unpublished translation by Gene Reeves).
Rev. Niwano interpreted the idea of emptiness in the context of peace. The ultimate reality is emptiness, which makes it possible for all things in the universe to exist. It is the only reality in modern language, the fundamental energy that exists in all things. It is nirvana, or the constantly harmonious state of existence. From this perspective, all things are ultimately only one reality, so they are essentially equal, and the ultimate reality of the universe is a great harmonious state (cf. Nikkyo Niwano, Heiwa e no michi [The Way to Peace], pp. 27-29).
Peace is Rev. Niwano's interpretation of nirvana. The word "peace" also has the meaning of harmony (chowa or wa, wahei, heiwa) in Japanese. Like many Japanese Buddhists, Rev. Niwano saw the value of harmony as one of the highest, and interpreted the Buddhist ideal state, nirvana, as dynamism of creation and harmony. In order to explain nirvana, they understand it to be not merely a state of mental peace and quiet, but the dynamic interplay of creation and harmony. It is like the music that results from a dynamic performance created by a symphony orchestra.
Rev. Niwano's notion of harmony can be categorized in terms of four different levels: first, on a personal level, harmony as the ideal state of mind through self-cultivation; second, social reality as a relational and an institutional harmony; third, global reality as an international and an institutional harmony; and fourth, cosmic harmony between humans and nature.
One Dharma, the reality of all things signifies that all humans are equal
Rev. Niwano's concept of interreligious activities for peace is based upon his understanding of the teaching of the One Vehicle in the sense that all humans are equal.
"The One-vehicle means: All people can become buddhas" (Nikkyo Niwano, Buddhism for Today, p. 48). Human beings vary according to desires, capacities for understanding, races, etc., but they are incorporated into One Dharma, and this means that all humans are integrated into one potentiality that all will become buddhas without exception. This is what "One Vehicle" means. Here, we can see universal salvation for all living beings. The Lotus Sutra begins by saying that all living beings are the Buddha's children and that each one can be like him. The Lotus Sutra says, "The buddhas appear in this world to cause all living beings to comprehend the truth [of the Buddha]."
There is only one teaching (One Dharma) where the Buddha's compassion causes all human beings to become buddhas. Thus, there is a close relationship between the One Dharma and the One Vehicle. As there is the One Dharma in reality, this One Dharma dwells not only in teachings, but also in all human beings. So, the One Dharma can lead all human beings without exception to becoming buddhas. All teachings taught by the Buddha aim at guiding all people to becoming buddhas. In this way, the truth expounded by the Lotus Sutra is the ultimate reality of all things.
I also want to add another core concept that is intimately related to these three factors. It is the idea that all humans are essentially the same, and equal to the life of the Eternal Buddha. The truth of integration is present in those four ideas. We can see this truth as underlying and unifying other major themes in the Lotus Sutra.
"All religious teachings are coming from the same root" and "the true meaning of religions is one"
Rev. Niwano's understanding of interreligious cooperation is based on his conviction that "the teachings of all religions are originally the same." It can also be expressed as "the true meaning of religions is one." "If the believers of every religion were to study very deeply the true meanings of their respective religions, they might all discover behind the various differences of expression the truths that man is one and that to live on good terms with others is the way of living that coincides with the truth" (Buddhist Approach, p. 79). If they do so, if they can "reorient their minds away from discrimination and toward a sense of oneness, true peace and real happiness will come to this world for the first time." Therefore Rev. Niwano firmly believed that interreligious cooperation aims at reaching the stage where, by studying in depth the true meaning of various religions, "one can fathom the truth common to each religion and, by grasping this common truth, perceive oneness spontaneously" (Buddhist Approach, p. 79). His ideal goal for interreligious cooperation toward peace is that cooperation includes studying together seriously the true meaning of religion in depth, and if we do so, the true meaning of religions may be one, ultimately. In this sense, he says, "Please reflect deeply on the meaning behind such truths as God Almighty, creator of the universe; the Sovereign Ancestral Kami who divinely remain in the high Heavenly Plain; the root of the universe is the Eternal, Original Buddha; the three-thousand-great-thousandfold world is the body of the Tathagata Maha-vairocana; and Amitabha, Amitayus. It may be understood that all these truths are rooted in the same Truth.
"Although ways of expression and nuances in the way of thinking differ according to the land, time, and race into which a religion was born, the fundamental teaching is, in its essence, the same" (Buddhist Approach, pp. 78-79). Rev. Niwano applied this thinking to his own faith, especially, to the holy scripture, the Lotus Sutra, and to the Tathagata Shakyamuni Buddha. "Therefore," he maintains "the Great-vehicle Sutra called the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful [Dharma], . . . indicates neither that the Lotus Sutra is a proper noun nor that the object of worship and veneration, the Tathagata Sakyamuni, is a proper noun." He also says, "The Lotus Sutra, in its deepest meaning, is not a proper noun but a common noun meaning the highest and most real teaching, which teaches the truth of the universe to all human beings and leads them to the true way of living.
"But the real and the highest teaching can never be two. Though it can be expressed in various ways, in its fundamental meaning it is one" (Buddhist Approach, p. 68).
He believes that one true meaning of religion behind the diversity of religious faiths exists. With this conviction, he unceasingly promoted interreligious cooperation.
Peace Activities in the Sense of the Practice of Revealing the Buddha-nature
The relationship between the concept of the One Vehicle and the practice of revealing one's buddha-nature
When Rev. Niwano studied the sentence "The innumerable meanings emerge from One Dharma" for the first time, he was impressed by it and realized that all things he had learned in the Japanese folk faiths could be means of revealing the buddha-nature of all. The number of ways of revealing the buddha-nature of people are innumerable, so approaches to peace or skillful means to save all people are innumerable. All of his life, Rev. Niwano dedicated himself to saving people with Rissho Kosei-kai's activities. In the latter half of his life, he particularly served in activities of interreligious cooperation toward peace. He said that there was no discrepancy between the dissemination of the Dharma and the activities of interreligious cooperation in terms of the practice of revealing the buddha-nature of others.
Who and what is Bodhisattva Never Despise?
Rev. Niwano admired Gandhi's nonviolent action and often quoted the pundit. He saw the figure of Bodhisattva Never Despise in the Indian nationalist and spiritual leader. This bodhisattva is a very important figure for followers of the Lotus Sutra.
In chapter 20 there is a story about one of the Buddha's former existences. There was a monk known as Never Despise (or Never-Disrespecting) and whenever he encountered anyone, he paid respect and said, "I deeply revere you, because you are to become a buddha." He continued this practice even under hostile conditions, and even when evil actions were directed at him by those people. When he was nearing death, he heard the entire Lotus Sutra from the sky. He kept these verses within and his six organs were purified. He prolonged his life for countless years, met countless buddhas, and finally became a buddha himself.
The spirit of Bodhisattva Never Despise and the interreligious cooperation movement
Rev. Niwano says that the practice of Bodhisattva Never Despise is the core spirit needed to promote interreligious cooperation. "I am convinced that the spirit of Bodhisattva Never Despise really can make it possible to eliminate every conflict in the world. No system or regime can make peace without the spirit of revealing the buddha-nature of others. Bodhisattva Never Despise's practice of revealing the buddha-nature is really my fundamental attitude while promoting the activities of the World Conference of Religions for Peace" (Nikkyo Niwano, Kono Michi [The Path That We Have Walked], p. 319). The bodhisattva practice of making any encounter meaningful is the practice of revering the buddha-nature in others. Making oneself open to others and encountering people of different faiths and ideas turns out to be good and meaningful. For Rev. Niwano, the truth of dependent origination is nothing more than making encounters with others meaningful and significant. The model Bodhisattva Never Despise gives us, in concrete encounters with people of other faiths and cultures, urges us toward self-transformation in activities of peace. Such a model produces an ethic of tolerance and an altruistic spirit through activities for peace.
Truth and nonviolence
Rev. Niwano was impressed by Bodhisattva Never Despise and "his steadfast practice of respectful commendation toward everyone he met, without losing patience." He continues, "Then I was impressed by his courage in following his convictions and by the fact that even though he was abused by others he did not return the abuse. Bodhisattva Never Despise's way of life was one that was tender in personal relations but firm in defending the truth." This is the model of nonviolence. The basic attitude of Never Despise was in the same spirit of the armor of perseverance as expressed in chapter 13, "Exhortation to Hold Firm." Nichiren's thinking is that the spirit of chapter 20 and that of chapter 13 are the two sides of the same coin.
Rev. Niwano saw that the apostles of peace who are devoted to nonviolence must have the kind of attitude that is expressed in the story of Bodhisattva Never Despise as well as in chapter 13, promoting an attitude of enduring hardship and having the courage to express the truth for the sake of the Dharma (the Truth). This spirit is expressed in the words, "We will not love body and life, / But only care for the supreme Way." Rev. Niwano praised this attitude as "one who lives in truth and dies in peace." He saw Mahatma Gandhi as one who exemplified this spirit of the gentle and forbearing heart for the sake of realizing truth.
The vision for overcoming hatred and violence and repentance of sins as expiation of sins
Nonviolent attitudes include reverence for the buddha-nature of those who are wicked or who are our enemies. Rev. Niwano found the spirit of ahimsa in chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra. It contains a story of how Shakyamuni Buddha dealt with the violence and abuse of Devadatta with compassion. Compassion and nonviolence have been illustrated as being far more powerful than the combination of hatred and violence. Quoting verses from the Dhammapada, Rev. Niwano maintained that hatred will only cease when the chain of hatred is cut off. He mentions this example by referring to a speech delivered at the plenary session of the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951 by the Ceylonese finance minister, who declared that Ceylon had renounced its demand for reparations from Japan. When J. R. Jayewardene, chief Ceylonese delegate, declared the renouncement of reparations, he cited the phrases of the Dhammapada quoted above. He said, "Hatred is never appeased through hatred in this world; by love alone is it appeased. This is an ancient law" (Buddhism for Today, pp. 157-58). A way to cut the chain of hatred between individuals, races, and nations is needed now in this troubled world. This is the most important vision and hope that Buddhism can possibly contribute to this modern world (cf. Buddhist Approach, p. 18).
One way to cut the vicious circle of hatred is a path of forgiveness and reconciliation, which is truly the most difficult to take, but the most needed in this world. In this sense, Rev. Niwano's understanding of nonviolent action was not simply a political means to gain political results; rather, it was a bodhisattva practice to awaken the buddha-nature in oneself and others. It "provides a center of life, an 'orientation' to the world, by means of which one gains a sense of direction" to peace (cf. Some Thoughts on Peace, pp. 7-13).
Rev. Niwano's worldview was that the self and others are one and interrelated, so acting out in violence toward others is also acting out against oneself. Accepting violence or persecution is a way of repenting, or wiping away, the bad karma of the past. It could be construed as an action of repentance to the Buddha. In the story of Bodhisattva Never Despise, when he approached death, his past sins were expiated and his six organs were purified. This story suggests that the practice of revealing one's buddha-nature is the practice of repentance as expiation of past sin. His activities of peace are in one sense the practice of repentance as expiation of past sin.
While Rev. Niwano promoted the WCRP and the ACRP (Asian Conference on Religion and Peace), he repented as a Japanese and a religious worker during World War II, otherwise, it is likely such conferences would never have come into reality. For example, when Rev. Niwano visited China, and met Rev. Zao Puchu, president of the Buddhist Association of China, he repented that Japan had severely harmed China. When Rev. Niwano visited war memorials in Asian countries and Hawaii, he repented as a Japanese religious worker and prayed for peace. He said, "Whether or not the Asian Conference on Religion and Peace can be meaningful and truly significant depends on how deeply and wholeheartedly Japanese people of religion can repent Japan's war atrocities" (Ajia o sukuu daijo no kodo [Mahayana Actions That Save Asia], pp. 6-11). One example of such repentance went into the issue of the reconciliation process. Rissho Kosei-kai youth members visited Bataan, the Philippines, and learned of the acts of inhumanity by the Japanese army that were represented by the Bataan Death March in 1942. Through the process of constructing the Friendship Tower in Bataan, the people of Bataan and Rissho Kosei-kai youth members were reconciled. Its completion was celebrated on April 8 (the Buddha's birthday), 1975, with the attendance of one thousand Filipinos and about five hundred Rissho Kosei-kai youth members. The ceremony itself was performed jointly in the Christian and Buddhist traditions (The Bataan Christian Youth Foundation, Inc., Sharing Horizons, 1982).
Rev. Niwano's thought of interreligious cooperation and peace was based upon his understanding of the Lotus Sutra, especially the concept of the One Vehicle and the practice of Bodhisattva Never Despise, and the ways of being a true follower of the Lotus Sutra. I have shown that these three concepts are interwoven in his interreligious activities toward peace.
One of the most important ideas for Rev. Niwano when he promoted interreligious activities was the idea of harmony shared generally by Japanese Buddhists. It is his understanding of emptiness, or nirvana. This ideal of harmony can work well within a family or a small community, in which face-to-face relationships or primary relationships are efficient, solid, and reliable among the members, where everyone understands the rules and customs. It is extremely good as long as all goes well, and there is no crisis. This type of implementation of harmony can work in a homogeneous culture to the benefit of minority groups that might otherwise sense alienation.
Rev. Niwano's idea of altruism and tolerance, found in the Buddhist idea of harmony, however, can work even in heterogeneous societies and the various cultures of the world, where uniqueness is prized. Here, his understanding of oneness, One Vehicle, is quite important. It is not something fixed; it has no exclusive absoluteness. In order to keep oneness, all that is required is that the members inside open their eyes to the interests of the people outside. Whether his optimistic ideal of interreligious cooperation can work or not is surely questioned. The ideal of harmony will be tested more than ever in this borderless world and global age.
Yoshiro Tamura talks about one of the three types of Nichiren-sect or Lotus Sutra faith in modern Japan, from the beginning of the Meiji era on. He says, it "was nationalistic and accompanied the rise of contemporary nationalism, or Nipponism. It tried to make Nichiren a pillar of Japanese nationalism" (Yoshiro Tamura, Hoke-kyo [The Lotus Sutra]). A theology identifying the Lotus Sutra faith with nationalism must be avoided, especially when Japan faces a national identity crisis.
The theological foundation of interreligious cooperation, which contains an inclusive interpretation of the One Vehicle, is important, because it may successfully guide and actually prevent some followers of the Lotus Sutra from falling into the narrow-minded world of exclusivistic nationalism.
* "The innumerable meanings emerge from one Dharma. This one Dharma is characterless. Accordingly, this characterlessness is without character. It has no character. Being without character and characterless is called true character (jisso)" (Reeves's translation, The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, 2, Dharma Preaching).
Niwano, Nikkyo. Buddhism for Today: A Modern Interpretation of the Threefold Lotus Sutra (New York: Weatherhill, 1961)
------. Heiwa e no michi [The Way to Peace] (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1972)
------. A Buddhist Approach to Peace (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1977)
------. Lifetime Beginner: An Autobiography (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1978)
------. Shakyamuni Buddha: A Narrative Biography (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1980)
------. Some Thoughts on Peace (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1984)
------. "Heiwa jissen-sha no kokoro gamae" [Requirements for Peace Workers] in Ajia o sukuu daijo no kodo [Mahayana Actions That Save Asia] 19, (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1988)
------. Kono Michi [The Path That We Have Walked] (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1999)
Sharing Horizons, The Bataan Christian Youth Foundation, Inc., 1982.
Tamura, Yoshiro. Hoke-kyo [The Lotus Sutra] (Tokyo: Chuo Koron, 1969)
The Threefold Lotus Sutra, trans. Bunno Kato, et al. (Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 1975)
The Threefold Lotus Sutra, trans. Gene Reeves. Unpublished.
Michio T. Shinozaki, currently president of the Gakurin seminary of Rissho Kosei-kai, formerly served as the director of the organization's General Secretariat. He received a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Vanderbilt University in 1988.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2006 issue of Dharma World.
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