The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra

The word “Buddha” has two meaning: one is the Buddha as a person,

the other is the Buddha as a state of life.  The Buddha state of life is the world of Buddhahood.

While the person of a Buddha means a physical manifestation of Buddhahood, the person cannot of course be eternal, but his or her state of life is eternal.  Buddhahood is one of the Ten Worlds, which are eternal.

The Eternal state of Buddhahood existed before the birth of the historical buddha - and this eternal state of Buddhahood is the original, while the historical Buddha is a specific embodiment of Buddhahood. The person of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni was a specific manifestation of eternal Buddhahood.  The state of eternal Buddhahood is not restricted by time or space.  Buddhaood is the General state of life - while Shakyamuni was a specific person who perfectly manifested that state of life: Buddhahood.

Many problems in understanding identity come from a confusion between what is General and what is Specific.  For example: to say that person X is from a certain race or religion - this is the Specific category of that person.  To say that person X is a human being - this is the General category of that person.  The reason is that race and religions are specific manifestations of a general origin, being humanity.

Nichiren explains that confusing the General with the Specific is a big mistake:

“If you confuse the general with the specific even in the slightest, you will never be able to attain Buddhahood and will wander in suffering”.   WND1p746

The Three Interceptions of the Eternal Buddha

The way in which the doctrine of the “Original Buddha” is understood, characterises the relevant differences between Nichiren’s schools.

The three schools of Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and SGI have different interpretations of the doctrine of Eternal Buddha:

Nichiren Shu, in this regard, names Shakyamuni as the Eternal Buddha,

Nichiren Shoshu names Nichiren Daishonin as the Original Buddha, while:

SGI literature indicates that the Eternal Buddha is:

                                 Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo’ - human being

NamMyohoRengeKyo is the eternal state of Buddhahood, which materializes in any human being who is devoted to the Law.  This interpretation regards both Shakyamuni and Nichiren as manifestations of the Eternal Buddhahood, and opens the way for all people attain the same state of Buddhahood.  The eternal Buddha is the highest state of life, and can be manifested by men and women without restriction.

Both sects of Nichiren Shu and Sho Shu fall into conflict with their own interpretation of who they call Eternal Buddha:

  1.     If Shakyamuni is named the True or Eternal Buddha, then - according to Nichiren Shu - Nichiren is only a Bodhisattva.  This interpretation is based on separation of the Ten Worlds and it denies that Nichiren’s state of life was Buddha-acting-as-Bodhisattva (as the Mutual Possession teaches), and contradicts his own writings.  Nichiren Shu school makes the World of Buddhahood as reserved to one person only.

  1.    On the other hand, if according to Shoshu priesthood, only Nichiren was the True Buddha, the question arises: then, who was Shakyamuni of the Lotus Sutra? Is it possible that Shakyamuni is a True Buddha as well as Nichiren Daishonin? 

  1.    SGI interpretation of the Eternal Buddha (One who manifests the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) is consistent with Nichiren writings, and bears no contradiction in placing a time-restricted person of Shakyamuni or Nichiren - as being eternal, while they passed away.  That what is eternal is their life of Buddhahood, being NamMyohoRengeKyo.

An eternally enlightened human being such as Shjakyamuni or Nichiren - must have had countless lifetimes, manifestations and names – not just one specific name.  Buddhism introduces a nameless reference to the concept of ‘Enlightened Being‘:  The Tathagata, or ‘One who emerged from the Truth’, translated also as “Thus Come One”.  The term ‘Thus Come One’ appears in the Lotus Sutra:

The Buddha said to Shariputra: A wonderful Law such as this,

Preached by the Buddhas, The ‘Thus Come Ones’” (Expedient Means, Ch.2, p.30)

This and other passages, clearly indicate the oneness of the person (who is the Thus Come One)  and the Dharma (or the Law).  It also means that any person whose life perfectly manifests the eternal Dharma (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) is a Thus Come One.

According to SGI teachings:

“The Original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end is then Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo-Thus-Come-One”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 5 (page 164)

Both Shakyamuni and Nichiren manifested the Eternal Dharma, or the original Buddhahood:

“Just as did Shakyamuni, all Buddhas of the past, present and future has become enlightened to , and have taken as their mentor, the Buddha of time without beginning: Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo Thus Comes One.  This is the Buddha of Limitless Joy, the Buddha of absolute freedom Nam-myoho -renge - kyo Thus Come One. 

President Toda said: The life of Nichiren Daishonin and our own lives have neither beginning nor end.  This is what is termed time without beginning.  The Universe itself is a great entity of life”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4 p.38

Clearly, an interpretation that maintains the true identity of both Buddhas - Nichiren and Shakyamnui – opens the way for any human being to manifest also original Buddhahood (or to become a Thus Come One: a human being whose life is one with the eternal law).  Such an interpretation has the capacity to benefit each person in daily life, through daily practice:

“Kuon signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon. When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginningless time”. (p.165)

This practically means that the life of the Eternal Buddha is the Gohonzon enshrined at home as the Object of Devotion, inscribed by Nichiren.

Attaining Buddhahood is possible for all people, but each would have own mission and horizon of responsibility.  We cannot be some one else or have a mission as huge as that of Shakyamuni or Nichiren, nonetheless a human being can manifest eternal state of Buddhahood through own mission in daily life.             _______________________________________________________________

The Historical Buddha and the Eternal Buddha

Nichiren Shu literature maintains that The Original Eternal Buddha is ‘One’ with the historical Shakyamuni Buddha”.  SGI perspective about this subject is just the opposite; it is rather the other way around.  The historical Buddha Shakyamuni fused his life to become ‘one with’  the Life of the Universe, or the ‘Eternal Buddhahood  - which is the Dharma of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo:

“Although the Lotus Sutra was taught and revealed by Shakyamuni 3,000 years ago, the Buddhist Law in the Lotus Sutra is not something created by Shakyamuni.  Without beginning or end, it is a law governing and giving vitality to the constant flow of all phenomena since time without beginning”.

In other words, Shakyamuni was a Buddha because he was enlightened to the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the eternal Dharma.  Nichiren Shu’ literature (Lotus Seeds, page 88) states:

“It is the core of the essential section of the Lotus Sutra which reveals that Shakyamuni Buddha is actually the Eternal Buddha”.

The same sentence would be read in SGI Buddhism as:

“It is the core of the essential section of the Lotus Sutra which reveals that Shakyamuni

Buddha is actually a manifestation of the Eternal state of Buddha.” .

This perspective does not deny that Shakyamuni was in fact the Eternal Buddha. It is a perspective which confirms that the life of Shakyamuni is an eternal manifestation of Buddhahood and also opens up the world of Buddhahood to all people.  The imposed restriction introduced by Nichiren Shu on acknowledging the world of Buddhahhod to one person only - reveals an inclination for focus on the person (not the Oneness of Person and Law) - and it is based on pre-Lotus thinking (with the world of Buddha separate from Bodhisattva).

Nichiren Shu interprets the Lotus Sutra’s statement “I shall never pass away” - with the understanding that the word “I” indicates here “the person of the historical Buddha. However, in reality: the historical Buddha did pass away.

This means that a consistent interpretation of the statement “I shall never pass away- relates obviously not to the person of the historical Shakyamuni - but to his life, his state of Buddhahood, which is eternal.

The word “I” in this statement refers to the enlightened Life of all living beings, the cosmic eternal presence of Myoho (and not exclusively to just one person): “ [The word] ‘I’ represents the living beings of the Dharma realm. Each and everyone is being referred to here in the word ‘I’. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol.4 page 76

Time without beginning or end

The very life of the universe, that continues to function ceaselessly is referred to by the term: ‘time without beginning’”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 5 (page 165)

“The Original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end is then Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo-Thus-Come-One”. (p164)

Regarding the term time without beginning, which in Japanese is kuon ganjo, the Daishonin says: ‘Kuon means neither created or adorned but remaining in one’s original state” (GZ,759).  Not created means inherently endowed, it does not indicate a specific point in time. “Not adorned” means not possessing the thirty two features (of Buddha) - it refers to ordinary people just as they are. “Remaining in one’s original state” means eternally existing ‘ ”. (p.165)

Kuon signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon. When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginningless time. (p.165)


The Gohonzon and Eternal Buddhaood

Nichiren’s Identity

Nichiren Shu  and  SGI Buddhism