BUDDHIST LOTUS SUTRA FOCUSED ON COMMON PEOPLE
by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando reporting from Colombo
‘The Value of Life does not lie in the number of years but in the use you make of them. Whether you have lived enough depends on your Will, not on the number of years’ - Michael de Montaigne 1553-1592
The term ‘Buddha’, according to Shakymuni or Gautama Buddha, applies to an “enlightened one” who correctly perceives the true nature of all phenomena and leads others to attain Buddha hood or development of mind. According to Buddhism the Buddha nature exists in all beings and is characterized by the qualities of wisdom, courage, compassion and life force.
Out of all the Shakyamuni’s discourses during his sojourn on earth, the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra or Lotus sutra (the penultimate to Parinibbana Sutra) delivered to bodhisattvas on earth, devotees and millions of people from the Eagle Peak or Gijja Kuta Parwatha, is regarded as Gautama Buddha’s the most absolute sermon encasing what Shakymuni had preached before.
The term Saddharma refers to the comprehensive nature of life while Pundarika suggests the Lotus flower with a deep rooted meaning - i.e. The Lotus flower blooms and produces seeds at the same time, and thus represents the simultaneity of cause and effect, which is one expression of the Mystic Law. In addition, the lotus grows and blooms in a muddy pond, which symbolizes the emergence of Buddhahood from within the life of a common mortal.
Shakymuni prophesied that his philosophy would be greatly appreciated and absorbed by laity during the first thousand years but would decline during the second thousand years and further after 2500 years. At this point Shakymuni greeted bodhisattva of the earth or Vishishta Chaaritra who was present at the discourse and bestowed upon him to take over the responsibility to execute the responsibility of upholding his dharma. Shakymuni predicted “ Vishishta Chaaritra would be reborn in the Eastern part of the world at the opportune moment for this purpose.”
As envisioned, Vishishta Chaaritra was reborn on 16 February 1221 in Japan and given the name Sen Nichi Maro. Young Sen Nichi Maro traveled to the ancient temple in Nara and found The Lotus Sutra, studied it meticulously, acquired a profound knowledge and understanding of the essence of Buddhism and spiritually elevated to Buddhahood or enlightenment, the highest saintly level a human being can move up to on earth. The Lotus Sutra defined the Buddhism is for the happiness and welfare of common man but not for selected people, which has been the practice of the time. He then adopted the sanctified name as NICHIREN DAISHONIN. The name Nichiren in Japanese means sun lotus, and Daishonin is an honorific title meaning great sage. Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1283) became the founder of Daishonin Buddhism. Three elements in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism are Faith, Practice and Study.
Faith means to have expectation from the Gohonzon (Dharma Datu), which is the true object of worship for all people of the Latter Day (“fifth five hundred years” after the death of Gautama or the present time period) of the law. In the true object of worship or Gohonzon, Go means worthy of honour and Honzon means object of fundamental respect. The Lotus Sutra has 28 chapters in all. Nichiren Daishonin summarized these into five segments in Japanese calling it NAM–MYO–HO-RENGE-KYO, or Gohonzon.
To the practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, the Gohonzon is the object of fundamental respect or the object, which they would hold in highest esteem. The Gohonson embodies the Law of Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo (The ultimate Law or true essence of life permeating everything in the universe). Down the center of the Gohonzon is written the stance “ Nam-myoiho-renge-kyo-Nichiren”, surrounded by characters representing Buddhist gods and the Ten worlds – (1) Hell: a condition in which one feels totally trapped by one’s circumstances. (2) Hunger: A condition characterized by insatiable desires. (3) Animality: A condition governed by instinct in which one has no sense of reason or morality and lives only for the present. (4) Anger: A condition dominated by the selfish ego, competitiveness, arrogance and the need to be superior in all things. (5) Humanity or Tranquility: Calm state. (6), Heaven or Rapture: The pleasure felt when desires are fulfilled (7) Learning: A condition in which one seeks some skill, lasting truth or self reformation through the teachings of others, (8) Realization or Absorption: A condition in which one discovers a partial truth through one’s own observations and effort, (9) Bodhisattva: A state of enlightenment of oneself and (10) Buddhahood: A true state, indestructible happiness, a condition of perfect and absolute freedom, characterized by boundless wisdom, courage, compassion and energy.
When people chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, to the Gohonzon, one is able to bring forth the Law of life, from within oneself where one fuses one’s life with the Gohonzon. Daishonin followers believe that only through this fusion people can attain the objective of their practice, the Buddhahood. Everything in Gohonzon is based on the Dai-Gohonzon, which Nichiren Daishonin inscribed on October 12, 1279. It was chanted for the first time on 28 April 1253.
Who or what are Buddhist gods? Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism believes anyone or anything in our environment, working to protect and sustain life, or to support man’s efforts to attain enlightenment and achieve Kosen-rufu (“ to widely declare and spread Buddhism”) as Buddhist gods.
23rd Chapter of the Lotus Sutra refers to the “ fifth five hundred years” after the death of Gautama Buddha or the beginning of The Latter Day of the Law, or the present time period. Sometimes Kosen-rufu is referred to as world peace that will come about as faith in the Mystic Law spreads and one after another people awaken to their Buddha nature by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Daishonin has indicated an eternal flow of Kosen-rufu when he declared, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years, and more, for all eternity”.
Practice is one of three pillars of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, the others being faith and study, through which a person can bring forth one’s innate Buddha hood. Practice entails two aspects, practice for oneself and practice for others. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the primary practice for oneself.
Nichiren Daishonin specified recitation of certain portions of the Lotus Sutra as a vital supporting practice for oneself. Doing both the primary and supporting practices each morning and evening is supposed to give rise to maximum joy and benefit in our daily lives.
Nichiren Daishonin never gave any specific instructions on the format for the sutra recitation, but has recommended reciting the “Expedient Means (Second) and “Life Span of Thus Come One” (sixteenth) chapters of the Lotus Sutra, which are the heart of all Buddhist teachings.
In the “Expedient Means” chapter Shakyamuni Buddha reveals the purpose of Buddha’s advent in the world as to lead all people to enlightenment. Shakymuni shows that every being has the potential for Buddha hood. This is the principal chapter of the theoretical teaching (first half) and one of the two pivotal chapters of the entire sutra. “Life Span of the Thus Come One” is the core of the essential Buddha’s teaching.
Gautama Buddha taught man’s existence as identical to the universe as a whole and the universe as a whole is identical to our existence and each individual human life as a microcosm of the life of the universe. When people recite the sutra and chant Nam-myo ho-renge-kyo (the universal law), our lives are supposed to perfectly harmonize with the universe. By carrying out these practices on a daily basis, we automatically tend to activate the infinite powers that the microcosm inherently possesses. It transforms a person’s fate, helps the person to break through apparent deadlocks and convert sufferings into happiness. It creates a transformation of inner realm, leaving the person invigorated, refreshed and positive. Through one’s primary and supporting practices one develops wisdom and compassion to lead both one’s life and others to happiness.
On 18 November1930, the Value Creation Educators Association (then called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai) was formed in Japan and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi became its first President. On November 18, 1944 during the Second World War, President Makiguchi died a martyr, in prison, due to the great persecution that befell him as a result of his efforts to propagate the Mystic Law. Josei Toda succeeded him and Dr. Daisaku Ikeda holds and executes the responsibilities of the organization presently as its current President.
In 1961 Dr. Ikeda visited Sri Lanka and The temple of the Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa) and having seen and fathomed the spiritual substance of the Sri Lankan people, developed a dream of establishing a branch of the Soka Gakkai in Sri Lanka for the moral augmentation of all people.
In 1971 Mr. Ishi Bashi from Japan visited Sri Lanka and met with Mr. Paul Dias, inaugurated the Soka Gakkai Lanka Buddhist Association in Sri Lanka and appointed Mr. Dias as its first Director General. Mr. Dias actively and tirelessly engaged in promoting Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism from its original center in Wattala and subsequently in Kollupitiya. At present Soka Gakkai Lanka Buddhist Association is based and operates from Shady Grove Avenue, Borella, Colombo 8.
After Dr. Ikeda became the president of the organization, Soka Gakkai has become the pillar of Japan and a bright light of hope for the world. In 2005 it celebrated its 75th anniversary with a global network that spans into 190 countries and territories around the world. An extraordinary feature of this Buddhist Organization is the responsibility shared mutually by the laity who dedicatedly engage in promoting peace, education and culture through Buddhism based on Gautama Buddha’s Lotus Sutra.
Dr. A. Ranjith Rupasinghe, who has taken the reigns of the Soka Gakkai Lanka Buddhist Association at Shady Grove Avenue Borella very recently, as its General Director, is a senior lecturer at Sabaragamuwa University, attached to the Faculty of Geometrics (for four years); now lectures in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages in cartography and environmental management.
Soka Gakkai Lanka Buddhist Association is a Registered Charity organization under the Company Act engaged in voluntary work for the betterment of peace, harmony and education of the masses in Sri Lanka through the practice of Buddha’s dharma.
During the Tsunami disaster Soka Gakkai Lanka Buddhist Association donated twenty million rupees (Rs, 20,000,000) worth of aid to the Tsunami affected people, schools and Buddhist temples. Normally the organisaton concentrates on Education as a prime objective. After the Tsunami disaster the Organisation selected 21 schools in the Eastern Province and given material and financial aid to volunteer teachers in these areas, out of funds they received from Japan and Singapore.
The Organization has a Board of Directors, Central Committee and District Leaders selected from five districts that are all members of the Association. The Board of Directors executes their moral responsibilities on a completely transparent basis when all financial and legal decisions and dealings are made.
Apart from religious guidance and practice, Soka Gakkai Lanka Buddhist Association concentrates on peace, culture, education, including Kandyan dance, song and drama with a multiple of other enlightening activities where even senior members share their experience, which they believe in a mode of changing their past karma by practicing this concept of Buddhism.
Apart from concentration and recitation of Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge–Kyo, the center conducts set programmes on a weekly, monthly and annual basis covering discourses where personal experiences of individuals are amplified. Dr. Ranjith Rupasinghe focusing on ‘Education and Encouragement’ based on Nichiren Daishonins writings and Dr.Ikeda’s guidance delivers open lectures frequently.
‘ Our enlightenment is not confined to ourselves but exerts an influence on our families, communities, nations and ultimately, all humanity. The principle of the oneness of life and its environment is the rationale for asserting that our practice will definitely bring about a transformation in society.’