Sessen Doji

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Tales from the Gosho

Sessen Doji

In this month’s installment of Tales from the Gosho, we will discuss
Sessen Doji.
A long time ago, there was a young man named Doji who sought the
Law of Buddhism and lived in an area called Sessen in the Himalayan
Mountains in northern India, thus he was called Sessen Doji. The tale
of Sessen Doji is noted in detail in Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and
can be found in the Gosho “The Fourteen Slanders” (see: Shinpen, p.
1048-1051; M.W., Vol. 3, p. 210-215).
Sessen Doji left his parents, brothers and sisters, and went off to live
alone deep in the mountains to seek the reality of enlightenment. He
spent his time there devoting himself to the practice of Buddhist
austerities as he thought to himself, “What is the true path that will
lead all people, including myself, to genuine happiness?”
There was a god, named Taishaku in the heavens above who had
been watching Sessen Doji and decided to test him to see whether his
feelings were sincere. Transforming himself into a hideously ugly
looking demon, Taishaku descended from the heavens and came to
rest on the ground near Sessen Doji. Sessen Doji was so deep in
meditation he did not notice the demon. However, seemingly out of
nowhere a voice was heard calling out, “All is changeable, nothing is
constant. This is the Law of birth and death.” Sessen Doji thought to
himself that these words were precisely what he had been searching
for all along. However, these words were only a partial verse. Sessen
Doji realized that there must be another phrase that followed to
complete the line of thought. He searched all around to see where the
voice had come from and just as he did so, the large repulsive face of
a terrible demon suddenly appeared before him. This startled Sessen
Doji, but, earnestly desiring only to hear the second half of the verse,
he remained unfrightened.
Sessen Doji asked the demon, “Was that you who preached that verse
just now?”
The demon said, “I’m so hungry, I’m about to collapse. I might have
said something, but I don’t quite remember.” Sessen Doji pleaded
with the demon, “I will prepare a meal for you if you will just teach
me the verse that follows.”
The demon replied in a dreadful voice, “I eat only the warm flesh
and blood of humans. Most of the people are protected by the gods,
so I hardly able to get a chance to eat anyone. I am always hungry.
Anyway, do you think you can prepare a meal for me?”
Sessen Doji’s eyes gleamed with the joy of finally discovering the
teaching he had been searching for his whole life as he replied to the
demon, “Yes, I can. I will give you my own body to eat. My flesh is
soft and my blood is warm. I will someday die anyway. Having the
chance to hear such a revered doctrine while I am still alive will
certainly be worth dying for such a teaching. Please teach me the
remaining verse.” As Sessen Doji said this to the demon, he took off
the fur clothing he had been wearing and laid it out on the ground
for the demon to sit upon.
Sessen Doji then stepped back, put his head to the ground, folded his
hands in reverence and awaited the demon’s preaching of the Law.
The demon soon declared in a loud voice, “Extinguishing the cycle of
birth and death, one enters the joy of nirvana.”
Tears of joy streamed down the face of Sessen Doji as over and over
again he chanted together the two verses the demon had taught him,
“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.”
The significance of the first half of this verse is that nothing in this
world is the same. Everything is born, dies and is in a constant state
of change. This is what is meant by the Law of birth and death. This
is the true and correct Law that was taught about the delusion of all
living beings before the appearance of the Lotus Sutra. The second
half of the verse “Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one
enters the joy of nirvana” teaches the truth concerning the
enlightenment of the Buddha. That is to say, hidden within the
visible birth and death of a person, exists an everlasting eternal life.
The illumination of this life is what is meant in the portion of the
verse that reads “one enters the joy of nirvana.” This is true pleasure
and enlightenment.
Sessen Doji was ecstatic over the knowledge he had acquired and
wrote the complete verse on the trees and rocks around him so that
others born after him would also have the chance to learn this
teaching and become happy. After a while, the demon finally said,
“Well, how long do I have to wait? I think you have had enough
time.”
Sessen Doji replied, “Yes, you’re right. I’ve had plenty of time. There
is nothing further for me to do; I have no regrets.” With that, Sessen
Doji climbed atop the highest tree and searched for a good strong
branch for him to sit upon. He gazed about the forest and smiled in
satisfaction with the wonderful teaching he had acquired. He aimed
himself towards where the demon was standing and flung himself in
the air. At that moment, the demon turned himself back into the god
Taishaku, caught Sessen Doji in the palm of his hands and said,
“Wanting to test the sincerity of your spirit to seek the Way, I
borrowed the words of the Buddha. You are a true Bodhisattva. I beg
you to work to lead all the people to happiness.” Sessen Doji was later
re-born and became Shakyamuni Buddha, who labored his entire life
to save all people.
Let’s look back upon this story and reflect on the things we have just
read. One point is that the spirit of learning is most important.
Aspiring to learn the ways of Buddhism is to study with a sense of
appreciation, with a feeling that one wants to be taught the truth
even though the person teaching us may be a hideous demon. It is
important that one pursues a feeling of wanting to learn everything
one can. Please exert yourself to the fullest to learn as much as
possible by earnestly listening to the chief priest or other priests of
your temple, parents, teachers or professors in school or the
university, and friends. There is an old Japanese maxim that says, it
is embarrassing for only a moment when someone has to ask, listen
and learn something, but the shame of not having knowledge lasts
for a lifetime.
The second point that was brought out in this tale was Sessen Doji
offering his life to the demon. To aspire to understand and attain the
way of Buddhism, one can not possess a lazy or reluctant heart.
There is a phrase in the Juryo (sixteenth) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra
that states, “Isshin yokken butsu, Fuji shaku shin’myo,” or translated,
“single-mindedly yearning to see the Buddha, one unbegrudgingly
devotes one’s entire heart and body [to Buddhist faith and practice].”
This passage means that earnestly desiring to seek the Law of
Buddhism without begrudging either one’s heart or body, or blindly
craving material objects is what constitutes the practice of faith. The
compilation of these constant efforts creates good fortune and thus,
happiness within our lives.
The third point brought out in this story was about Sessen Doji
engraving the passage he had learned from the Sutra on the
surrounding trees and stones. It wasn’t sufficient that only Sessen
Doji himself attained Buddhahood. It is important that the Law of
Buddhism be spread to others. The foundation of Nichiren Daishonin’s
Buddhism is to carry out shakubuku and Kosen-rufu to save all living
beings. Let’s all exert ourselves to the fullest to instill this spirit of
faith in our own lives as we carry out our daily practice of morning
and evening Gongyo, and instruct and encourage all those around us
who have not yet embraced this Buddhism to take faith in Nichiren
Daishonin’s True Buddhism.

©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly. All rights reserved