The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are the bodhisattvas of the Essential Teaching (Honmon) who first appeared in the “Emerging from the Earth” (Yujutsu—15th) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra to substantiate the revelation made by Shakyamuni to reveal his true identity (to cast off his transient status and reveal his true identity). Furthermore, in the “Mystic Powers” (Jinriki—21st) Chapter, they received the entrustment of the sacred teachings from Shakyamuni for the propagation of the Law in the Latter Day of the Law. Thereafter, they made their departure, following the conclusion of the “Entrustment” (Zokurui—22nd) Chapter.
Bodhisattvas of the Earth in the Lotus Sutra
In the Theoretical Teaching of the Lotus Sutra (Shakumon), Shakyamuni explained that, after his passing, in the Latter Day of the Law, the propagation of the Mystic Law would be an extremely difficult feat. He also taught that overcoming these difficulties and propagating the Mystic Law would bring forth infinite benefits. Moreover, he expounded the following in the “Treasure Tower” (Hoto—11th) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra:
In this saha world, who is most capable of expansively expounding the Mystic Law? Now is, indeed, a most significant time. The Buddha before you will soon enter nirvana. Thus, he seeks to entrust the heritage of Myoho-Renge-Kyo to ensure its continuation for future generations.
(Kaiketsu, p. 349)
Moreover, he stated:
So, I say to the great assembly: “After I have passed into extinction, who can eminently protect, uphold, read and recite this sutra?”
(Kaiketsu, p. 349)
Shakyamuni called for candidates who would propagate the Law after his death. In response to this invitation, the bodhisattvas and the masses arose and made a vow to Shakyamuni at the beginning of the “Emerging from the Earth” (Yujutsu—15th) Chapter:
Lord Buddha, allow us, after your entry into nirvana, to advance forth assiduously in this saha world to protect, uphold, read, recite, transcribe and worship the Lotus Sutra. We vow to preach this sutra widely throughout the land.
(Kaiketsu, p. 407)
Thus, they offered their pledge to Shakyamuni to propagate the Mystic Law in the Latter Day of the Law. To their surprise, however, Shakyamuni faced the bodhisattvas and masses and proclaimed:
Desist men of devout faith! There is no need for you to protect this sutra. In this saha world, there are bodhisattvas who are as numerous as the sands of sixty-thousand Ganges rivers, and each of these bodhisattvas has a retinue equal to the sands of sixty-thousand Ganges. After my passing, they will protect, read, recite and widely preach the Mystic Law.
(Kaiketsu, p. 408)
In this way, Shakyamuni rejected their offer to propagate the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. Just then, the ground shook, and a host of bodhisattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty-thousand Ganges rivers emerged, each with a retinue of followers. The four great bodhisattvas who led this group – Jogyo, Muhengyo, Jyogyo and Anryugyo – possessed the thirty-two features that were identical to those possessed by the Buddha.
Those in the assembly who witnessed this spectacle were astonished. They wondered from whence these bodhisattvas had come, what karmic bond had prompted their emergence, who their master was, and what practice and training they had undergone.
Shakyamuni responded to the queries from those at the assembly, through the following passage in the “Emerging from the Earth” (Yujutsu—15th) Chapter:
In this saha world, after I achieved my supreme, true enlightenment, I taught these numerous bodhisattvas, guided them, trained them and led them to seek the Way of the Buddha.
(Kaiketsu, p. 419)
Furthermore, in the Juryo (“Lifespan”—16th) Chapter, Shakyamuni discarded his provisional identity as the Buddha who was born in India, who entered the priesthood at the age of nineteen and who first attained enlightenment at the age of thirty under the Bodhi tree. He stated:
Thus, since I attained Buddhahood, an extremely long period of time has passed . . . I have constantly resided here without ever entering extinction.
(Kaiketsu, p. 433)
He also expounded:
Ever since then, I have been constantly in this saha world, preaching to the masses.
(Kaiketsu, p. 431)
Thus, Shakyamuni revealed the fact that he was a Buddha who actually had originally attained enlightenment in the inconceivably remote past of five hundred [myriad] dust particle kalpas ago (Gohyaku-jindengo).
Through this revelation, in which Shakyamuni cast off his transient form and established his true identity, he clearly established the fact that he was a Buddha who achieved enlightenment in the earliest time of kuon. This meant that all the Buddhas of the three periods and the ten directions, such as Dainichi, Amida and Yakushi, were mere emanations of this Buddha who had actually attained enlightenment in the remote past of kuon. At the same time, this confirmed that the bodhisattvas who emerged from the earth were actually the very individuals who were directly taught by Shakyamuni since he became a Buddha in the remote past of kuon.
Ultimately, Shakyamuni transferred the essential Law of the Lotus Sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, such as Jogyo, and entrusted them with the propagation of the Law in the Latter Day of the Law, following his demise, as it is expressed in the following passage from the “Mystic Powers” (Jinriki—21st) Chapter:
In essence, in this Lotus Sutra, I have referenced, presented and clearly expounded the entirety of the laws of the Buddha, his mystic powers, his secret and essential teachings and his profound practices. Thus, after the passing of the Buddha, you must single-mindedly accept, uphold, read, recite, preach, transcribe and practice this sutra as it is so directed.
((Kaiketsu, p. 513)
Moreover, in the “Entrustment” (Zokurui—22nd) Chapter, Shakyamuni transferred the Lotus Sutra – with the exception of the Essential Teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which he transferred to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth – to Bodhisattva Yakuo and to the rest of the bodhisattvas and masses, so that they would propagate it during the two-thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law. This marked the conclusion of the ceremonies of transferring the Law. Thereafter, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth took their leave of the assembly of the Lotus Sutra.
Note: This chapter can be read in its entirety in the book: The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu.
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