Lectures on Basic Study Materials (1)
from Dai-Byakuho, issue no. 356
This marks the establishment of a monthly column on fundamental materials for study called, “Lectures on Basic Study Materials.” We wish to begin this column with a summary of Shakyamuni’s life and teachings, and then introduce to you basic doctrine, to which we will add further explanations of important words and passages from Buddhist scriptures. We then wish to explain both the various
positions of, and the correlations between, the Lotus Sutra of Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutras of T’ien-T’ai and Dengyo, and then
Nichiren Daishonin’s Lotus Sutra of the Seed [of enlightenment] concealed within the Sutra’s depths. Finally we wish to select
important points for exposition from Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism in general Writings for this column will be under the direction of Nichiren Shoshu’s strong and vibrant volunteer priests. In order that this column may reach and help even one more person, the entire writing staff will approach our task with the following mottos: 1. Contents must be as profound as possible; 2. Information must be as precise as possible, and; 3. Writing must be as easily intelligible as possible.
So please look forward to our column. Buddhism seeks the fundamental salvation of all people. We would like to consider two episodes of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life to understand what kind of ideology made Shakyamuni want to help all of mankind.
Sights From the Four Gates During A Stroll (Shimon Yukan)
When Shakyamuni was prince of the castle in Kapilavastu, he went outside of the castle gates where he met a person bent over with age and another near death due to illness. He further saw a corpse being carried in funeral procession. He understood that these realities of aging, sickness and death were aspects of suffering which no person could escape. While pondering a solution to these sufferings, he met a seeker of the way whose body and mind were pure, and resolved to enter the path himself.
Training and Enlightenment
Shortly after Shakyamuni left his former secular world behind, he first visited two hermits, one after the other, and although he
practiced meditation just as he was taught by each of them, he was not satisfied.
Shakyamuni then secluded himself in a mountain forest to practice asceticism, but because he was not able to attain enlightenment even through this practice, he cleansed himself at a stream, ate some milk gruel offered by a young maiden and regained his strength. Then, understanding that asceticism was not a means to enlightenment, he entered into profound meditation under a nearby Bodhi tree, where he at last attained supreme enlightenment and became a Buddha. It is said that Shakyamuni was thirty years old at that time.
Stressing the Importance of Reality
Through these episodes, of Shakyamuni facing the reality that life is suffering, we can understand his search for a path to the alleviation of that suffering. In other words, the fundamental ideology of Buddhism is based on facing real life squarely.
Story of the Poisoned Arrow
In a teaching called the Sen’yu Sutra, there is a story about a poisoned arrow, which addresses this viewpoint of redemption from
suffering. The story goes something like this.
There was a man who had been hit by a poisoned arrow and was suffering. Although his kinsmen and friends urged him to promptly
see a physician, the one who really counted, the man himself, asked: “Was the person who shot me with the poisoned arrow a Brahman, a commoner or a manservant? And what was his name? Was the person tall or short? What was the hue of his skin? Where does he live? I cannot have the arrow extracted until I know these things.” The man furthered questioned and argued: “As for the bow used for this poisoned arrow, what kind was it? What material was the bowstring made from? And what about the shaft of the arrow, what kind of feathers were used? What about the type of poison?” While he went on in this way, it is said that the poison coursed throughout his whole body and the man unfortunately died. This teaching clearly shows how Buddhism places great importance on reality. In other words, Buddhism teaches that in order to alleviate the anguish and suffering of life, we should avoid useless, barren argument.
Buddhism Denies the Existence of a Transcendent Divinity
In Shakyamuni’s day, people keenly argued some of the following ideologies: “Is there, or is there not a hereafter?” “Is the world finite or infinite?” “Are the physical and spiritual the same or different?”
Shakyamuni, however taught that no matter how much one pursues these ideologies, they are not problems for which immediate
conclusions can be drawn, and that, on the other hand, by being attached to such partial ideas, one could not attain true
enlightenment. Buddhism recognizes the existence of neither a ‘God the Creator’ nor a transcendent divinity, but explains that all
existence, illusion and enlightenment, misfortune and happiness etc., are brought about through the causes and effects each person makes, and nothing else.
In recent times, there are new religions which borrow the name of Buddhism, claiming a “mandate from the spiritual realm,” but whose
purpose is profit. Though these new religions may bare a resemblance to Buddhism, it must be said that they are Gedo [outside the path], or inferior, non-Buddhist religions, and bare no resemblance to Buddhism.
Future Results from Present Causes
Even though we are apt to be pierced by the three poisoned arrows of greed, anger and stupidity, concerned with our immediate future, are we not apt to forget to extract the poisoned arrows?
Looking at the realities of this world, Shakyamuni saw the Four Sufferings (birth, old age, sickness and death) and the Eight Sufferings (in addition to the first four sufferings, the sufferings of meeting those one hates, parting from those one loves, not obtaining one’s desires and sufferings arising from the five components), which are revealed in the Shimon Yukan. Delving further into those sufferings, Shakyamuni saw more profoundly that everything in this world is suffering, non-substantial, impermanent and without self. He made it clear, in his teachings, that the fundamental resolution to various sufferings must be based on the Law of Cause and Effect, which carries through the three existences of past, present and future. In short, present fortune is dependent on the causes made through our past actions, and future fortune will depend on the causes of our present actions. However, the three existences are not separate entities. Because the past and future are included in the present moment, in order to purify our evil deeds from the past and obtain enlightenment in the future, he explained that we must, in the present, take faith in the True Law, which is the greatest good deed. Shakyamuni’s purpose was deliverance from the realities of suffering.
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