The One Vehicle


Temple-Naming and Wooden Gohonzon Enshrinement Ceremony for Jinnon-zan Hoshoji Temple (Formerly called Hosho’in), Kashima-cho, Ibaragi Prefecture, May 21, 1995

 I have come here today for the formal ceremony to rename the Hosho-in by giving it the name Shinnon-zan Hoshoji, and for the Enshrinement Ceremony for its wooden Joju Gohonzon. 

Many people have come here today, both lay believers associated with this temple and representatives from other temples in this territory. From the standpoint of repaying our debt of gratitude to the Buddha, I think it is wonderful that so many have taken time out of their busy schedules to come here and that you have been able to perform this ceremony with such great success.

….To explain briefly, it was initially taught that it was here on this earth that Shakyamuni Buddha, who appeared in India, first left secular life to become a religious ascetic, engaged in religious practice, and became enlightened to the Law. This was called his “first attainment of perfect enlightenment,” a phrase that signifies Shakyamuni as a Buddha who first attained “perfect enlightenment” on this earth. All of the teachings up to the Life Span (Juryo; sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra were taught with this idea as its premise. In contrast to this view, the Juryo chapter states:

 It has been long ago in the distant past since I actually attained Buddhahood. 

(Kaiketsu, p. 499)  

In short, this is where it is indicated that Shakyamuni Buddha first attained the Way in the far distant past, showing that the past of the Buddha is not the shallow, close-at-hand affair that the people had thought. 

…Shakyamuni Buddha taught expedient teachings for forty-some years out of the fifty years he preached during his lifetime. He explained that because the people he taught differed in terms of desires, etc., he taught them expedient teachings that corresponded to those differences. 

In contrast, in a passage in the Expedient Means (Hoben; second) chapter, the Lotus Sutra reveals for the first time: There is only the Law of the one vehicle; there are not two, there are not three.

 (Kaiketsu, p. 174) 

 In other words, in contrast with the two vehicles or three vehicles taught in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, the Lotus Sutra states that there is only “one vehicle.” Here, “one” does not simply mean a number that is smaller than two or three. The Great Teacher Tiantai explains in his commentary: 

 The “one” means the one ultimate truth; it is neither the five, nor the three, nor the seven, nor the nine; thus it is called the “one.” The “two” mentioned in the previous passage from the Expedient Means (Hoben; second) chapter means the two vehicles of learning and self-attained realization. The “three” means the teachings of the three vehicles and the contents of those teachings, that is, learning, realization, and bodhisattva, wherein bodhisattva is added to the two vehicles. The “five” means five vehicles, wherein the vehicles of heaven and humanity are added to the three vehicles. 

The “seven” means the seven expedient means. The seven expedient means are the three vehicles taught in the Hinayana teachings, the three vehicles taught in the connecting teachings, and the bodhisattva (vehicle) taught in the specific teachings, which possesses the significance of the Mahayana teachings. 

Finally, the “nine” refers to the nine worlds. In contrast to the enlightenment of the Buddha, the Buddhist teachings set forth the various kinds of thoughts, actions, and corresponding paths of living beings in the realm of the ultimate reality (universe). These have the natures of hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, heaven, learning, self-attained realization, and bodhisattva.

The Lotus Sutra taught for the first time that if these things are viewed in contrast to the one vehicle, they are all, each and every one, included within this one vehicle. In other words, the “one” that is indicated in the Lotus Sutra is not just “one” in the sense of being “fewer than two or three;” it is the greatest, crowning “one” that is endowed with and encompasses everything. Therefore, to deeply believe in this one entity and carry out its Buddhist practice encompasses each and every part of it; and its functions will be manifested without restriction everywhere. 

The wonderful, mysterious benefit of the mystic Law (Myoho) lies in being able to correctly deal with and correctly make use of all aspects of life. 

In this way, it is said that the Lotus Sutra is the teaching of the one vehicle. 


(Note: This lecture can be read in its entirety in the book: Sermons 1992-2002 by Sixty-seventh High Priest Nikken Shonin. For more information, please contact your local temple.)