Lectures on Basic Study Materials
from Dai-Byakuho, issue no. 364
The Supremacy of Buddhism: The Four Emblematic Theorems
What is an Emblematic Theorem?
Our signature that we each use in our day to day lives serves as a
personal emblem, which differentiates ourselves from others. In the
same way, according to Buddhist principle, there are what might be
called religious “Emblematic Theorems”, which clearly differentiate
one religion from another, and serve as “Guides of the Truth”, to
show each religion’s relative superiority.
There is the “Three Emblematic Theorems*” and the “Four
Emblematic Theorems.” This article intends to discuss the “Four
The “Four Emblematic Theorems” are:
1) “Everything changes, nothing last forever.”
2) “All of life is suffering.”
3) “All phenomena are without permanent self.”
4) “Nirvana is tranquillity.”
1: “Nothing Lasts Forever”
The words “nothing lasts forever ƒ” may sound to some as
pessimistic. Yet it points out the fleeting nature of life. Since the first
half of that theorem – “everything changes” – speaks about the
constant change which all worldly existence/phenomena undergo,
the words “nothing lasts forever” can also represent the aspect of
improvement and development.
A passage in the Nirvana Sutra called the “Verse on Impermanence”
tells the story of Sessen Doji, who, during his Buddhist practice, was
willing to lose his life in order to hear the teaching he sought:
All is changeable, nothing is constant. This is the law of birth and
death. Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one enters the joy
of nirvana. (M.W., Glossary)
Two principles from the “Four Emblematic Theorems” are
demonstrated in this passage, i.e., “everything changes, nothing lasts
forever”, and “nirvana is tranquillity”.
The Japanese “Iroha Ballad”, is a ballad to life’s fleeting nature:
Though there is color and fragrance, both fade and die.
When in this world and nothing is eternal,
Why cross the mountain recess today?
Not even giddinessƒonly a momentary dream.
In short, this lyric means that from the time of birth till the moment
of death, all phenomena change, without even the slightest pause.
2: “All of Life is Suffering”
Buddhism teaches that the impermanence of all phenomena is the
cause of suffering. There are “three sufferings”, which are: “the
suffering of pain”, “the suffering of dissolution”, and “the suffering of
The suffering of pain is the physical sensation of pain. The suffering
of dissolution is the anguish one feels at the decay and death of
things, e.g., the emotional sufferings due to poverty, despair and the
infirmities of old age. The suffering of life alludes to the second of
the Four Emblematic Theorems – “all of life is suffering”, and refers
specifically to suffering caused by the impermanence of all that
occurs (all phenomena and all life).
Buddhism places such great emphasis on suffering so that rather
than taking an easy view of life, we look squarely at the realities of
life in order to seek the highest ideals and true emancipation.
3: “Without Permanent Self”
To give a simple explanation of the phrase, “all phenomena are
without permanent self”, because existence is impermanent, nothing
has a characteristic or essential true nature. All phenomena in this
world are constantly changing, and since even humans are nothing
more than a temporary synthesis of the Five Components (form,
perception, conception, volition and consciousness), there is no such
thing as a fixed (permanent) individual nature or self. This view can
be said to be the same as the Mahayana ideology of ku. This view,
“all phenomena are without permanent self”, admonishes that
intrinsically, we should not be attached to things, or caught up by
emotions of love and hatred that stem from making distinctions
between ourselves and others.
4: “Nirvana is Tranquillity”
By sensing the realities of suffering, mankind simultaneously comes
to know the significance of the ideal of emancipation, or the condition
where there is no suffering.
Buddhism expounds “nirvana is tranquillity” as the ideal of the real
world. The word nirvana means the state where all such earthly
passions as greed, anger and stupidity are eliminated, like [a candle]
that has been blown out. In other words, the life condition in which
the fire of earthly passions has been extinguished is called nirvana.
It is explained that nirvana itself is the state of tranquillity, or the
peaceful condition whose surface is disturbed by not even the ripple
of a wave. It is further taught that when man has reached this
tranquil state, our hearts will, for the time, be able to reflect the light
of absolute truth.
The True Entity of All Phenomena – Emblem of the One True Entity
Although the above mentioned Three Emblematic Theorems and Four
Emblematic Theorems are taught as the pillars of Hinayana
Buddhism, in Mahayana Buddhism, and especially in the Lotus Sutra,
only the “One Emblematic Theorem” is taught, which is the “True
Entity of All Phenomena”.
An explanation of the “True Entity of All Phenomena” is given in
T’ien-t’ai’s Hokke Gengi. He explained that the true entity of all
phenomena [life] is made clear by means of the teaching of the ten
factors in the Hoben chapter of the Lotus Sutra. It is further taught
that the Buddha’s wisdom encompasses the true aspect of reality,
that all things possess the Buddha nature and are themselves
manifestations of the truth. T’ien-t’ai established the principle of
Ichinen Sanzen by means of this “True Entity of All Phenomena”, but
then again, from the viewpoint of the Lotus Sutra, it can be said that
the preceding Four Emblematic Theorems also show the doctrine of
the “True Entity of All Phenomena”.
In the Orally Transmitted Teachings (Ongi Kuden), the Daishonin
The seed [of enlightenment] is belief in the heart of the Lotus Sutra.
One enlightened to the true entity of all phenomena has attained
Buddhahood. (Shinpen, p. 1741)
The Daishonin is teaching us here that enlightenment to the true
entity of all phenomena is itself the core of Buddhahood, and that the
manifestation of ichinen sanzen, which reveals corroborating
evidence to that fact, is none other than the Dai-Gohonzon of Nam-
Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the Supreme Law to be propagated in the Latter
Day of the Law.
*Leaving out the second listing, “All of life is suffering”, from the
above four phrases, we are left with what are known as the “Three
Emblematic Theorems”. Moreover, if the phrase, “All phenomena are
non-substantial”, is added to the above four phrases, the group of
five is called the “Five Emblematic Theorems”.
©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly