The Ceremony in the Air and the True Buddha

The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra

In the Life Span chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni reveals that he has been a Buddha since time without beginning. On the doctrine of Eternal or Original Buddhahood, Nichiren states that the teacher of all Buddhas is Myoho-Renge-Kyo,

and that:”It is because of the Law that the Buddhas are worthy of respect”. In this perspective, when discussing the doctrine of the Eternal Buddha, Nichiren included also the Law, or the Eternal Dharma.

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Who is the True Buddha?

In the Life Span chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni reveals that he has been a Buddha since time without beginning. On the doctrine of Eternal or Original Buddhahood, Nichiren states that the teacher of all Buddhas is Myoho-Renge-Kyo,
and that: ”It is because of the Law that the Buddhas are worthy of respect”. In this perspective, when discussing the doctrine of the Eternal Buddha, Nichiren included also the Law, or the Eternal Dharma. The focus in Shoshu interpretation, however, is just on the person (Nichiren) as the Eternal Buddha – without exploring the depth of the concept of Eternal Law as well - and its value in daily life of ordinary people.

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:

‘The manifestation of the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo’.

Both sects of run into conflict with their interpretation of who they call Eternal Buddha. 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 Bodhisattva-Buddha (as the Mutual Possession teaches), a state perfectly equal to Shakyamuni as the Lotus Sutra states.

On the other hand, if according to Shoshu priesthood, only Nichiren was the True Buddha, the question arises: who was Shakyamuni of the Lotus Sutra? Was Shakyamuni a True Buddha well as Nichiren Daishonin?

Restriction leads to shallowness: It is notable that the two interpretations of both Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu of the doctrine of the Eternal Buddha are restricted to a specific historical man of Shakyamuni or Nichiren.

On the other hand, SGI interpretation of Eternal Buddha (One who manifests the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) does not include a gender-related name, and this is consistent with SGI teaching of “Buddha is Eternal Life” - as the ‘Life’ of Buddhahood surpasses gender and related historical specific names.

It is also obvious, on the level of physical reality, that Shakyamuni and Nichiren are names of persons who had passed away, while the philosophical concept of the “eternal” surpasses life and death. An eternally enlightened human being 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 (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 – and 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)

In practical means, for ordinary people - the life of the Eternal Buddha is the Gohonzon enshrined at home as the Object of Devotion.

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 Dharma which was described by Nichiren as “the teacher of all Buddhas”. This understanding opens the way for all people - not only for one person - to do the same, and to manifest the state of original Buddhahood.

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 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 (a tendency resulting in subconscious personality worship).

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 - who did pass away - 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

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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)

Depicting the Eternal:

The Gohonzon as the Original Buddha

Both schools of Nichiren Shu and SGI teach that the Eternal Buddha was revealed in the Ceremony of the Air in the Lotus Sutra:

“The Ceremony in the Air continues as Shakyamuni Buddha calls forth a vast multitude of bodhisattvas who emerge from beneath the earth. He reveals that these are his original disciples from the immeasurable ancient past. This astonishes the assembly because they cannot understand how he could have taught so many disciples for so long since he had only attained enlightenment forty years before. In response to their question, Shakyamuni Buddha reveals that he had in fact attained enlightenment in the beginningless past”. page 76 Lotus Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, San Jose Temple.

The teaching of the Ceremony of the Air - which reveals the concept of the Original Buddha from the beginnigless past - is based on the emergence of the Treasure Tower, and on the transmission of the Law to Superior Practices. This means that any depiction of the Original Buddha had to include not only Shakyamuni, but also the Treasure Tower and Superior Practices: ”The original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end could not be revealed without the appearance of Superior Practices”.

The wisdom of the Lotus Sutra vol.5 p164.

Some Nichiren Shu scholars acknowledge that a mere statue of Shakyamuni Buddha is not enough to indicate ‘the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra’, and accordingly suggest adding statues of the Four Bodhisattvas to relate to the presence at the Ceremony in the Air, which is the essence of the Object of Veneration.

The Ceremony of the Air - which revealed the Original Buddha - was inscribed by Nichiren in the form of a mandala as the Object of Veneration, to make it possible for ordinary people to identify with the Eternal Buddha and to revive their own eternal state of Buddhahood.

It is worth mentioning that the Gohonzon includes not only the Ceremony of the Air,

but the totality of the Lotus Sutra.

The Sutra’s text describing the Ceremony in the Air excludes the representatives of the lower worlds (including the Buddha’s enemy Devadatta) from attending the Ceremony. Nichiren, however, chose - by own decision - to give a new dimension to the Ceremony byadding to its depiction in the Gohoznon - all the representatives of the lower worlds, condensing thus the totality of the Sutra in form of mandala Gohonzon.

As Dr Jacqueline Stone mentions in her book on “Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Japanese Buddhism”:

“ Nichiren’s mandala includes not only Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and deities but also representatives of the evil realms such as raksasa demons and Devadatta. In including such figures, Nichiren followed not the text of the Lotus Sutra itself - in which all beings in the six realms of transmigration are removed before the jeweled stupa is opened - but the principle of the three thousand realms in one thought moment, according to which even the Buddha realm contains the nine unenlightened states. In short the mandala depicts the mutual inclusion of the ten realms.” page 277-278

SGI literature regards the Gohonzon as: “the Lotus Sutra of Nichiren Daishonin” The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra vol 3 p.264, - or the Object of Devotion, which reveals the existence of the Original Buddha in all of the Ten Worlds, transforming also the lower worlds into the state of enlightenment.

The practical meaning of Original Buddha in our everyday practice

In daily circumstances, our state of life varies in the Ten Worlds. However, even in the lower states of the Ten Worlds, the state of Eternal Buddhahood exists as a potential in our lives and is revived through our chanting to the Gohonzon:

“Kuon signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon. When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginningless time. For us, each day is the beginingless time. Each day we can cause the supreme, pure, eternal life of time without beginning to well forth from our entire being . Each day we start anew. This is what it means to live based on the mystic principle of the true cause”. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra vol 5 p.165).

“That’s why the present time is the most important. We should not dwell on the past: those who exert themselves fully in the present moment, and burn with great hope for the future are the true sages in life.

In transmitting the essence of the Lotus Sutra (Nam-myoho-Renge-Kyo) to Bodhisattva Superior Practices, Shakyamuni entrusts him with achieving kosenrufu in the Latter Day of the Law. Therefore when we stand up in earnest and work for the propagation of the eternal Mystic Law, we experience the eternity of time without beginning in each moment.” (p.165)

In other words, chanting to the Gohonzon and carrying out the work of the buddha.

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Comment by Philip James Brett on August 16, 2015 at 9:54pm
I made a mistake at the end it should read: In other words, chanting to the Gohonzon and carrying out the work of Superior Practices, lead to revealing one’s eternal state of buddha nature.

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