Saturday, June 22, 2013

Original Enlightenment explained: waves vs. acorns

Okay, Masaru asked me to explain this in plain English and here goes, if anyone

has questions, is confused about a point just ask me! I'm happy to discuss it.

      Now SGI teaches that the Buddha is life and you can tap into that energy,

that you're a buddha too. This idea comes from medieval Tendai philosophy

basically that ordinary humans = Buddha's enlightened reality. So SGI would say

the Buddha is the ocean and we are the difference.

     Now Kempon Hokke teaches that chanting the Daimoku plants the seed of

Buddhahood.  Ordinary people have the potential to become Buddhas, but they

are not there yet. . Think of an acorn, every acorn is the seed of a potential oak


So you can see the big difference;  it's waves vs acorns. 

Nichiren followed the Buddha-seed idea, which comes from Zhiyi (Chih-I) the

founder of the Tiantai sect in China. Zhiyi said the Buddha sowed the seeds of

enlightenment in human beings by preaching the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren says the

Daimoku is the seed of buddhahood and this happens as:

Sakyamuni Buddha's cause and effect are contained into the five of words of Myoho renge kyo. If we keep this five of words, His cause and effect are naturally transferred to us. Kanjin Honzon-sho

Well that's a lot and I really think enough for now. But you can see when you

have the seed of Buddhahood, you're basically a student of Shakyamuni

Buddha, so you need to listen to your teacher, meditate on his teachings and

study a lot!


  1. I'm not sure SGI is the only ones who describe Buddha as Life - from "The Tradition of Nichiren Doctrine" by Rev. Tetsujo Kubota, p. 15-16:
    "Further, the law of the Lotus Flower of the Sublime Dharma is the unchanging law which has existed in all its fullness from the beginningles beginning, the beginningless Most Distant Past. In other words, we may call it the Life of the Universe or the Original Buddha of the Most Distant Past."

    I have no interest in your critique of SGI doctrines, but I do have an interest in seeing Nichiren understood correctly. The short treatment you give to SGI's teachings, and comparing them to a caricature of Hongaku (Original Enlightenment) thought does neither of those subjects justice, nor ultimately illuminate why either of these are not acceptable interpretations of Buddha Dharma.

    Moreover, when you limit Daimoku to a "seed", you are disregarding its other aspects. Nichiren commented on several occasions that the Hokke Gyoja carries out the work of the Buddha. Read in context with the passages such as this from the 16th Chapter, "Sometimes I appear as myself, Sometimes I appear as others", when we practice the Lotus Sutra, we arguably are extensions of the Buddha - in a sense, waves on the water. Nichiren commented on numerous occasions about himself and others, speculating that they are somehow animated and moved to do the Buddha's work.

    There is an aspect of the Daimoku as a seed, but this is considered in context with other causes of Buddhahood explained by Zhiyi, such as the innate Buddha Nature and the practices of purification. These are Three causes, but in the manner of Tientai logic, they are not three.

    Anyway, my point is, we need to be careful when criticizing the teachings of others. There is a reason that Nichiren considered shakubuku as a practice only for the properly trained monks. Ordinary believers were encouraged to support the monks and have unshakeable faith.

    The Lotus Sutra is a deep and subtle teaching. We do no one any favors by treating it in simplistic terms, or when we turn other Lotus Sutra Buddhists, who we may deeply disagree with, into caricatures. I think all you do is serve to confirm the preconditioned biases of the choir.

    I don't wish to discourage your blogging, but you seem serious about Buddhadharma and as a fellow who also takes this matter seriously, I am offering a critique because I wish to see Lotus Sutra discourse elevated to a higher level over all.

  2. Queequeg, I appreciate what you are saying, I was asked by Masaru to give a very boiled down explanation in plain English for people who didn't understand.

    How can I be an 'extension' of the Buddha when everything in Madhyamika theory is about emptiness, the simultaneous valorization of of the phenomenal world and the Middle. I'd say interpenetration.

    It wouldn't have helped if I discussed buddhanature - entirely different from the buddha-seed, Vairocana, Avatamasaka theory and Shingon. ...I'm also going to discuss Tiantai philosophy and ichinen sanzen but also have to boil that down, really.

    But it is a good idea to have blog posting for those of us devoted to philosophy and discuss co-penetration and Zhiyi. Would that appeal?

  3. Its not clear that Tientai endorses Madhyamika theory. See Tientai Buddhism and Early Madhyamika by Ng, and Evil and/or/as the Good by Ziporyn. Zhiyi relied more heavily on Dazhidulun, which is attributed to Nagarjuna, though scholars are deeply skeptical. The teachings of the Madhyamikakarika might more appropriately be classified as Shared Teaching in Zhiyi's system.

    You are an "extension" of the Buddha because as explained by ichinen sanzen, your life (both material and spiritual aspects) is mutual and coextensive with the life (both material and spiritual) of the Buddha. Nichiren taught that the Buddha is contained inside your body (身); he went beyond teaching that the Buddha is just in your mind. The Real Ichinen Sanzen is the spiritual and material of this world in which mind and matter are one.

    The entirety of the dharmadhatu is you. The Buddha is a part of this dharmadhatu. Likewise, the Buddha is the entire Dharmadhatu. You are a function in the world of the Buddha, just as the Buddha is a function of you. You appear because the Buddha appears; the Buddha appears because you appear. Even Madhyamika theory teaches this dependent origination, though they treat it as merely the function of the deluded mind, and why in Lotus Buddhism, it is a lower teaching. Zhiyi interpreted the conditional as part of a threefold truth with the absolute and the middle as alternative aspects of a single truth, as opposed to (some interpretations) of Madhyamika that privileges the absolute over the conditioned. You can be an extension of the Buddha precisely because of the "valorization of the phenomenal world", though that seems to imply an acknowledgement that the phenomenal world is only a subjective experience (a bias that Zhiyi would disagree with). The subjective is real in Lotus Buddhism, not just an illusion to overcome. Interpenetration, extension - either works, in slightly different ways, describing different aspects of the relationship.

    The point is that the phenomenal is real, not just the delusions of an ignorant being. As Nichiren taught, even though you can't see your nose, just as it is there on your face, so is the Buddha inside you.

    If Lotus Buddhism was just Madhyamika, Zhiyi would have just given us commentaries on the Madhyamikakarika and been done with it. Zhiyi insisted that he was just following Nagarjuna. He was being modest.

    Also, it would have helped to discuss Buddhanature because that is the critical concept in Tientai thought - I'm not sure what role Tathagatagarbha plays in Tientai. It seems it was worked in mostly because Zhiyi et al. had to respond to the introduction of Yogacara thought which is based heavily on it.

  4. "One should carefully ponder the six-character phrase: 'the truer the teaching, the lower the stage [of the persons it can bring to enlightenment].'"
    On the Four Stages of Faith

    Explanations like hers are a great place to start in understanding the practice and it's different aspects, Q. I think elsewhere you used the metaphor of having a vague image of the "big picture" and then focusing on specific areas to gradually add detail and nuance. Also consider the saying "a little inaccuracy saves a lot of time."

    Seeing as how she presented it as a simplified explanation and even offered to discuss the concept further, I think this might possibly be as perfect as any exposition can be.