BASIC CONCEPTS AND PRINCIPLES OF NICHIREN BUDDHISM
The prime concern of Buddhism is our life-condition, the joy or suffering we experience at each moment. This is always seen as an interaction between external conditions and inner tendencies; the same conditions (the same workplace, for example) that might be experienced by one person as unremitting misery may be a source of exhilarating challenge and satisfaction for another. Strengthening our inner state so that we are able to resist and even transform the most difficult and negative conditions is the purpose of Buddhist practice.
Based on his reading of the Lotus Sutra, the sixth-century Chinese Budhhist T’ien T’ai developed a system that classifies human experience into ten states or “worlds”. The concept was adopted and elaborated by Nichiren Daishonin, who stressed the inner, subjective nature of these worlds.
Each of us proposes the potential for all ten worlds and we shift from one world to other according to our life state and our interaction with the environment.
The ten Worlds, in order from the least to the most desirable, are :
1. The world of hell : A condition of despair in which one is completely overwhelmed by suffering.
2. The world of hungry spirit : A state dominated by deluded desire that can never be satisfied.
3. The world of animals: An instinctual state of fearing the strong and bullying the weak.
4. The world of asuras or the world of anger : A state characterised by an unrestrained competitive urge to surpass and dominate others and often a pretence of being good and wise.
5. The world of human being : A tranquil state marked by the ability to reason and make a calm judgments. While fundamental to our identity as humans, this state can also represent a fragile balance that yields to one of the lower states when confronted with negative conditions.
6. The world of heavenly beings or world of rapture : A state of joy typically experienced when desire is fulfilled or suffering escaped.
7. The world of voice-hearers or the world of learning : This is a condition of learning in which one seek some skill, lasting truth or self-improvement through the teachings or experience of others.
8. The world of cause-awakened ones or the world of realization : This is a state in which we seek the truth through our own observations, efforts and concentration. Realisation indicates the ability to perceive unaided the true nature of phenomena.
9. The world of Bodhisattva : A state of compassion in which we overcome the restraints of egotism and work tirelessly for the happiness and welfare of other.
10. The world of Buddhahood : A state of completeness and perfect freedom, in which one is able to savour a sense of unity with the fundamental life-force of the cosmos. For a person in the state of Buddhahood, everything – including the inevitable trials of illness, aging and death – can be experienced as an opportunity for joy and fulfillment. The inner life-state of Buddhahood makes itself visible through altruistic commitment and actions enacted in the world of Bodhisattva.
In Nichiren’s view, enlightenment is not so much a goal or end in itself, as a basis for altruistic action. The life-state of Buddhahood – is one which is expressed, maintained and strengthened through committed action to contribute to the well being and happiness of other people.
Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds
The ten worlds were originally thought of as distinct physical realms into which beings were born as a result of accumulated Karma. In Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, the Ten Worlds are viewed instead as conditions of life that all people have the potential to experience. As any moment, one of the ten states will manifest and the other nine dormant. The important implication of this principle is that all people, in whatever state of life they may be, have the ever-present potential to manifest Buddhahood. And equally important, Buddhahood is found in the other nine worlds, not somewhere separate.
In the course of a day, we experience different states from moment to moment, in response to our interaction with the environment. However, all of us have one or more worlds around which our life activities usually centre and to which we tend to revert when external stimuli subside. This is one’s basic life-tendency. The purpose of Buddhist practice is to elevate the basic tendency and eventually establish Buddhahood as our fundamental state. This does not mean riding ourselves of the other nine worlds. Rather, based on the life tendency of Buddhahood, the other nine worlds will be harmonized and function to benefit both ourselves and those around us.
Karma is the accumulation of effects from good and bad causes that we bring with us from our former lives, as well as from the good and bad causes who have made in this life time. Karma shapes and influences both our present and future.
Karma is a Sanskrit word that means “action”. Karma is created by our action- our thought, words and deeds – and manifests itself in our appearance, behavior, attitude, good and bad fortune, where and how we are born and live- in short everything about us.
The law of karmic cause and effect operates over the three existences of past, present and future and it is the karma formed in past lifetimes that accounts for the differences with which we are born into this world.
Karma however, like everything, is in constant flux. We create our own present and future by the choices we make in each moment. Viewed in this manner, the Buddhist concept of karma does not encourage resignation, but empowers us to become the protagonists and take charge of lives.
Lessening Karmic Retribution
Unlike some other philosophies, Buddhism does not consider one’s karma or destiny to be fixed. As our minds change from moment to moment, even the habitual and destructive tendencies we possess can be altered to varying degrees. Buddhism teaches that individuals have within themselves the potential to change their own karma.
One of the benefits of faith and practice is the lessening of one’s karmic retribution. This means that one will experience the effects of bad karma from the past to a lesser degree than would normally be manifested. This principle means that one can decrease the intensity of negative effects of the bad karma one has created, not only in this lifetime but also in the infinite past. One can also shorten the period for which one will have to suffer the effects of one’s negative karma. Furthermore, one can draw into this lifetime all the sufferings which would otherwise appear one at a time over many lifetimes and lessen them all at once within this lifetime.
Karmic retribution is lessened in three ways. Firstly by power of Wisdom; when one has sufficient wisdom, one can challenge and overcome the difficulties one faces, rather than trying to escape them. Secondly, one can reduce the effects of one’s negative karma through doing good deeds and accumulating good fortune. Thirdly, one can diminish one’s karmic retribution through the blessings one gains by protecting the law; by embracing, propagating and working for the Mystic Law.
ONENESS OF SELF AND ENVIRONMENT
People generally regard the environment as separate form themselves. However, from the viewpoint of Buddhism, the individual and the environment are one and inseparable. At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment.
Buddhism teaches that life manifests itself in both a living subject and an objective environment. Nichiren wrote, ”Life at each moment encompasses the body and mind and the self and the environment of all sentiment beings in the Ten Worlds as well as all insentiments beings in the three thousand realms, including plants, sky, earth, and even the minutest particles of dust.”
‘Life’ means the subjective self that experiences the effects of past actions and is capable of creating new causes for the future. The environment is the objective realm where the karmic effects of life take shape. Each living being has his or her own unique environment.
Since both life and its environment are one, whichever of ten Worlds an individual manifests internally will be mirrored in his or her external environment. For example, a person in the state of Hell will perceive the environment to be hellish, while a person in the state of learning will perceive the same environment as challenging. People also create physical environments which reflect their inner reality. For instance, someone who is depressed is likely to neglect his home and personal appearance. On the other hand, someone who is secure and generous creates a warm and attractive environment around them.
According to Buddhism, everything around us including work and family relationships is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual’s inner state of life. Thus, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change as well.
This is a liberating concept as it means that there is no need to seek enlightenment outside ourselves or in a particular place. Wherever we are, in whatever circumstances, we can bring forth our innate Budhhahood, thus transforming our experience of our environment into “the Buddha’s Land” – the joy-filled place where we can create value for ourselves and for others.
As we accumulate good karma through Buddhist practice, the effects will become apparent not only in ourselves but also in our environment, in the form of improved material circumstance, greater respect from others and so on. Therefore 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 the Buddhist practice of individuals will help usher in a transformation in society.
The single most positive action we can make for society and the land is to transform our own lives, so that they are no longer dominated by anger, greed and fear. When we manifest wisdom, generosity and integrity, we naturally make more valuable choices and we will find that surroundings are nurturing and supportive. Often, we cannot foresee the long-term results of our actions and it is hard to believe that one individual’s choice can really affect the state of the world, but Buddhism teaches that through the oneness of self and environment, everything is interconnected. And the more we believe that our actions do make a difference, the greater the difference we find we can make.
“Human Revolution” is the term used by second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda to describe a fundamental process of inner transformation whereby we break through the shackles of our “lesser self”, bound by self-concern and the ego, and grow in altruism towards a “greater self” capable of caring and taking action for the sake of others and ultimately all humanity.
As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda explains : “There are all sorts of revolutions ; political revolution, economic revolutions, industrial revolutions, scientific revolutions, artistic revolutions … but no matter what one changes, the world will never get any better as long as people themselves remain selfish and lacking in compassion. In that respect, human revolution is the most fundamental of all revolutions, and at the same time, the most necessary revolution for humankind.”
Human revolution is the process of transforming our lives at the very core. It involves identifying and challenging those things which inhibit the full expression of our positive potential and humanity. Nichiren realized that the deepest process of change and purification takes place when we bring forth this state, and he taught the practice of chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” as the direct and immediate means for accessing and experiencing it.
When we look beyond our personal concerns and take action for the sake of others, this process is strengthened and accelerated. An experience which previously seemed like a heavy burden can become the key to finding the purpose of our lives, as we learn how to help others struggling in a similar situation.
The individual process of human revolution is the very key to sparkling change on a global scale. For, as Daisaku Ikeda writes,
“A great revolution in just single person will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of all humankind,”
Taking responsibility for transforming our own lives is the first step towards creating a human society based on compassion and respect for the dignity of all people’s lives.
Kosen-rufu : Contributing to World Peace
The Japanese phrase kosen-rufu expresses a key concept of SGI members. It is often used synonymously with world peace, and has been informally defined as “world peace through individual happiness”. More broadly, it could be understood as a vision of social peace brought about the wide spread acceptance of core humanistic values such as unfailing respect for the dignity of human life.
Thus, for members of the SGI, kosen-rufu means the ceaseless efforts to enhance the value of human dignity, to awaken all people to a sense of their limitless worth and potential, it is for this reason that efforts in the fields of peace, humanitarian aid, educational and cultural exchange are all seen as vital aspects of the movement for kosen-rufu; these promote the values that are integral to human happiness.
Finally, it should be understood that kosen-rufu does not represents a static end point. As President Daisaku Ikeda noted in 1970, “Kosen-rufu does not mean the end point or terminus of a flow, but it is the flow itself, the very pulse of living Buddhism within society.”
In this sense, the “attainment” of kosen-rufu does not suggest the end of history or of the inevitable conflicts and contradictions that drive history. Rather, it could be thought of as building a world in which a deeply and widely held respect for human life would serve as the basis on which such conflicts can be worked out in a peaceful, creative manner. Buddhism teaches that it is something that we can begin to implement right now, wherever we are.