In 1958, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, toured the United States and Brazil. He traveled to Brazil to attend the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Japanese immigration to that country. After that he visited San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Hawaii, where he met and gave spiritual guidance to Japanese immigrants who had joined Rissho Kosei-kai in Japan. These Japanese members went on to become local leaders and share the Buddha's teachings, mainly with fellow Japanese immigrants. In 1959 Rissho Kosei-kai opened chapters in Hawaii and Los Angeles.
New Sanghas were also formed in other parts of America, including San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and San Antonio, where English-speakers also played active roles in the practice and dissemination of the Dharma. Some of these Sanghas were designated by Rissho Kosei-kai as Dharma centers: San Francisco in 1979, New York in 1982, and Oklahoma in 2007. Rissho Kosei-kai in the United States now comprises eight corporations and 1,742 member households.
The following is the text of President Nichiko Niwano's address on August 1, 2009, in Las Vegas at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Rissho Kosei-kai's successful dissemination activities in the United States.
Let me offer sincere congratulations to all the members of Rissho Kosei-kai in America, gathered here today at this convention commemorating fifty years of sharing the teaching in the United States. It is truly remarkable that you have reached this half-century anniversary.
Of course you know that last year Rissho Kosei-kai also reached a milestone, the seventieth anniversary of its founding. To mark this significant event, we began implementing a plan to install the icon of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and the Dharma titles of Founder Nikkyo Niwano and Cofounder Myoko Naganuma at the home altars of all members. It is my understanding that the American members of Rissho Kosei-kai played a key role in advancing this important proposal and have continued to be instrumental in its realization.
It is no exaggeration to say that on reaching this milestone, Rissho Kosei-kai has shed its former image as a Japanese religion and has emerged as a world religion. For Buddhists whose trust is in the Lotus Sutra, this brings us back to the original and essential form of Buddhism as a global faith.
Now I would like to touch upon the Members' Vow, in which our faith is so concisely expressed, and speak about it in the sense of reviewing the meaning of the vow.
The Members' Vow begins with the words "We, members of Rissho Kosei-kai, take refuge in the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, . . . under the guidance of our revered founder, Nikkyo Niwano" and concludes with "And we pledge ourselves to follow the bodhisattva way to bring peace to our families, communities, and countries, and to the world."
Since the first words are "We . . . take refuge in the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni," the invocation of the focus of devotion by all members therefore is literally a living Members' Vow.
As the Members' Vow also contains the phrase "under the guidance of our revered founder, Nikkyo Niwano," invoking the Dharma titles is another step in bringing the vow to life.
When we review the vow this way, the installation of the focus of devotion and the Dharma titles of the founder and cofounder is nothing out of the ordinary, but entirely natural.
Now I would like to say something about the focus of devotion, the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni.
Two Shakyamunis appear in the Lotus Sutra, in which we place our faith. One of them, needless to say, is the human being Shakyamuni, a historical person. This Shakyamuni, who was born in 463 BCE and died in 383 BCE (according to the distinguished biographer of the Buddha, Dr. Hajime Nakamura), had a physical body of flesh and bone, just like all of us.
In Mahayana Buddhism, this is termed the manifest-body that appeared in order to assist all living beings - all things that have life. We revere the human Shakyamuni as the "manifest-body of the Buddha," meaning that the Buddha appeared in the form of a human being in order to save us and all living beings.
But, because Shakyamuni was a human being, he eventually died. In their grief Shakyamuni's disciples and followers put their faith in the final teaching Shakyamuni left them: "This body of mine that you see with your eyes is limited and therefore will die, but the Dharma (Buddha Dharma) that I realized, which you cannot see with your eyes, is eternal truth, and therefore does not disappear and will never die. It is forever." They called the personification of the formless Dharma realized by Shakyamuni upon his enlightenment "the Dharma-body" (the body of the Buddha Dharma), and put their faith in the "Dharma-body of Shakyamuni," in contrast to the human Shakyamuni.
So the meaning of "the two Shakyamunis" becomes clear. The Lotus Sutra is structured so that the first half explains the preaching by the human Shakyamuni as the manifest-body of the Buddha, and the latter half contains the preaching by the Dharma-body of Shakyamuni. Although we speak of the two Shakyamunis, from the beginning they actually have never been separate, because the human Shakyamuni only became so by virtue of being enlightened to the Dharma (the truth permeating the universe and all living beings). Put another way, the Dharma is the original body, the true form, of the physical or human Shakyamuni. Because the human Shakyamuni, who had only a limited lifetime, embodied the limitless Dharma, we take refuge in the Tathagata Shakyamuni unifying the Dharma-body and the physical body.
However, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Mahayana Buddhist thought is taking refuge and having faith in "the Eternal and Original Buddha," the reflection of Shakyamuni as the eternal Dharma-body Buddha personifying the Dharma, rather than in the human Shakyamuni, the physical, manifest-body of the Buddha.
This is easy to understand if we take an example from the field of science. As we learned in school, the seventeenth-century English mathematician and scientist Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity. Although Newton died at the age of eighty-five, his discovery is eternal. Let us think about this more deeply. The law of gravity would have been in effect from the beginning of time, whether Newton had been born or not, and whether it had been discovered or not. Since no one had been aware of this basic truth before Newton discovered it, however, he has justly been praised as a great man.
Similarly, the law of dependent origination existed before its realization by Shakyamuni, but like the law of gravity, no one had been aware of it. (The law of dependent origination means that all things have no fixed, absolute form, but are made up of the coming together of many different impetuses [cause] and situations [condition]. Put more simply, dependent origination means that since things arise through karmic conditions, one's own life is entirely due to what lies outside of oneself: the gods and the buddhas, as well as the people around us.) There is a Buddhist fable known as "The Seven Buddhas of the Past" about the six buddhas who appeared before Shakyamuni. It symbolizes the fact that the law of dependent origination preceded Shakyamuni's enlightenment.
Shakyamuni himself commented on this: "I, too, am nothing more than one who has uncovered the old way pursued by the enlightened ones of the past." This was said not from his modesty, but rather Shakyamuni's acknowledging that, like the law of gravity, the law of dependent origination to which he became enlightened is truth, regardless of his human birth and death. The personification of the eternal truth realized by Shakyamuni is "the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni" and "the Dharma-body Shakyamuni." Clearly it follows that the physical-body Shakyamuni and the Eternal (Dharma-body) Shakyamuni are not separate from each other.
"Eternal" in this instance does not refer to time that began in the past very long ago, but rather to the time stretching forward to a very distant future. To quote from the words of a Japanese university's school song, "an eternal ideal . . . that does not forget the past." In a sense, the way of life led by us who believe in the teaching of the Lotus Sutra is the same as living with an eternal ideal without neglecting all the changes and discoveries of our own time. The fact of becoming the Buddha, having been enlightened long ago to the truth of the Buddha Dharma that has existed since the beginning of time whether or not it was discovered or realized, like the law of gravity and the law of dependent origination, we term "the true attainment of enlightenment in the remotest past." The flesh-and-bone Shakyamuni who reached this enlightenment and the Dharma-body Shakyamuni are one and the same exactly.
Although the physical Shakyamuni did die, Shakyamuni's teaching will never perish, and I believe what is being taught today is the teaching of the Dharma-body Shakyamuni. This is explained in the Lotus Sutra by the verse, "I am always abiding here, teaching the Dharma." "Always abiding" describes the fact that he is forever living with us, existing for eternity.
In order to deepen our understanding of "I am always abiding here, teaching the Dharma," I would now like to touch upon "all things have the form of truth," a central teaching of the Lotus Sutra.
"All things" means "all of existence." Everything existing in the universe is covered by "all things." "The form of truth" means the appearance of absolute truth. The word "form" can also mean an image we see with our eyes, so it can refer to facial features. Facial features reflect a person's inner personality, which is invisible to the eye but which takes an outer, visible form in the look on one's face.
"All things have the form of truth," and similarly, all things we see with our eyes - mountains, rivers, grasses, and trees, the birds in the air, the fish in the water - themselves have the appearance of a visible form of reality (truth). Put differently, we could say that the forms we see with our eyes are the appearance of the truth that we cannot see with our eyes.
For instance, let us consider the phenomenon of an apple falling from a tree branch. This appearance manifests the truth of the law of gravity, and also that "all things have the form of truth." In other words, the truth invisible to the eye is the visible appearance or manner (phenomena).
Zen master Dogen, founder of the Japanese Soto sect, wrote the following tanka poem concerning "all things have the form of truth."
The colors on the peak,
The echoes in the gorge -
In all of them
I hear the voice of Shakyamuni.
The meaning of this poem is that all the changing colors of the mountain and the sounds of the river in the gorge are nothing else but the appearance and the sound of the voice of Shakyamuni. We can share through this poem the experience of looking in awe upon the appearances of all things such as mountains, rivers, grasses, and trees, as they are representations of the enlightenment of Shakyamuni.
Here, once again, I return to my starting point.
The meaning of "I am always abiding here, teaching the Dharma" is not limited to the Dharma-body of Shakyamuni; when we become aware of the fact that we are being taught by the silent voices of parents, teachers, and friends who are no longer with us, then we could say that it also includes the good advice we have received from those people.
Our ears can hear the voice and our eyes see the appearance of a person who is still alive and in possession of a physical body. However, we cannot hear the voice of a person who is now deceased, a person without appearance or form. Only if our ears and our hearts are pure can we somehow see and hear them, even though we may not be trying to.
Ten years have now passed since Founder Niwano entered nirvana. In his last years he used to admonish me with the slogan "many in body, but one in spirit." Even now, I sometimes think I hear him saying that to me.
And my late mother used to always say that there was a deep karmic connection between the day on which someone was born and the corresponding chapter of the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra. I suppose she had a rather unique perspective; however, I was born on the twentieth of the month, and of course chapter 20 is "The Bodhisattva Never Despise," of which I have many special memories.
I imagine that all of you gathered here at today's convention also have been taught many things by the silent voices of parents, teachers, and friends.
Now let me offer some concluding words.
As we all know, the word "present" as a verb means "to give" and as a noun it means "a gift." Yet the word "present," as in "the present moment," is spelled and pronounced the same way. I think these homonyms teach us something very important.
The things we now see with our eyes, the sounds we hear with our ears, the food we eat and the words we speak with our mouths, the way we walk with our feet - all these things that our bodies receive and accept are presents from the Eternal Buddha, who permeates the universe.
Therefore, presents are not only things that we did not have until they were given to us by other people; presents are also all the things flowing all around us that we are now receiving.
The meaning of the English word "present" hints at a deeper understanding of such phrases as "I am always abiding here, teaching the Dharma" and "All phenomena now appearing before your eyes are the Buddha's teaching, the Dharma." At the same time, this discovery allows us to experience their meaning anew with a feeling of deep emotion.
And then, we feel, with even deeper emotion, the teaching saying that:
How difficult to receive life as a human,
And yet more difficult now to have this life
That must eventually die.
Hearing the True Dharma is even more difficult,
And encountering buddhas in the world is more difficult still.
Verse 182 from the Dhammapada
It is difficult for people to receive life, and for all things that must die, to have life is difficult (a rare thing). And even for those who receive life, it is very rare in their lifetimes to come into contact with a true teaching, and very rare to be born into the world (here on earth), which is filled with buddhas.
I would like to conclude by reciting from the Members' Vow: "And we pledge ourselves to follow the bodhisattva way / To bring peace to our families, communities and countries, and to the world."
And also from the Transfer of Merit: "May these merits be transferred to all living beings, so that together with them, we may accomplish the Buddha Way."
This article was originally published in the January-March 2010 issue of Dharma World.
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