The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra

The word “Buddha” has two meaning:

  1.        the Buddha as a person,

  2.        the Buddha as a state of life

(The Buddha state of life is also called the world of Buddhahood).

The person of a Buddha means a physical manifestation of Buddhahood, and thus a transient person who is born and passes away (and cannot of course be eternal).  Nonetheless, the Buddhs’s state of life is a property of life, which 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 Shakyamuni.  Shakyamuni revealed this eternal state of Buddhahood in his own life.  Buddhahood, then is the  the original, or the general category, while the person of Shakyamuni was a specific embodiment, or a manifestation of Buddhahood.

It is also possible to look at this subject from the perspective of time and space.  The state of Buddhahood is not restricted by time or space, hence it is eternal, while the physical person of Shakyamuni Buddha was a physical manifestation of that state of life: Buddhahood, with a duration of his historical life.

The Three Views about the Eternal Buddha

The way in which the doctrine of the eternal or “Original Buddha” is understood, characterises the relevant differences on this subject between the three schools of Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and SGI:

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 can materialize in any human being who is perfectly devoted to the Law.  This interpretation regards both Shakyamuni and Nichiren as manifestations of 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).  Denial of calling Nichiren a Buddha contradicts his own writings, in which he declared several times that he vowed to attain Buddhahood (equal to Shakyamuni).  Nichiren Shu school teaches that the World of Buddhahood is 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? The LifeSpan chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches that Shakyamuni is a manifestation of the eternal Buddha state.

  1.    SGI interpretation of the Eternal Buddha (One who manifests the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) is consistent with Nichiren writings.  To assign the word ‘eternal’ to historical persons of Shakyamuni or Nichiren - and who passed away - creates inconstancy and requires a clarification that what is meant by eternal is not the historical person who passed away, but the state of life of their life of Buddhahood, being NamMyohoRengeKyo.

The concept of Tathagata: An eternally enlightened human being such as Shakyamuni 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 Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4 p.38

The Gohonzon embodies the Life of Eternal Buddhahood

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 in perfect harmony 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)

Nichiren inscribed in the Gohonzon the life of the Eternal Buddha (as described through the imagery of the Ceremony in the Air).  The Object of Devotion, Gohonzon, is the life of Eternal Buddhahood.

The individual life and the eternal Buddha:

One of the misunderstandings of priesthood (of both Nichiren Shoshu and Nichiren Shu) in regard to the concept of Eternal Buddha - is whether we as ordinary people can manifest this state of eternal Buddhahood.  Elevating the state of the original or eternal Buddha exclusively to either Shakyamuni or Nichiren - implies that ordinary people have no chance in manifesting the same state of eternal Buddhahood.  In this way, Buddhahood becomes externalised, and a property of great persons who passed away.

SGI literature mentions that each of us has own mission through which one can reveal own Buddhahood.  We cannot be someone else, nor we must have a mission as huge as that of Shakyamuni or Nichiren, nonetheless an individual human being, one can manifest eternal state of Buddhahood through own mission in daily life.


Author: Safwan Darshams

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