The Three Treasures are basics of faith in Buddhist practice. Buddhists should respect and make offerings to the Three Treasures. These are the Treasure of the Buddha, the Treasure of the Law, and the Treasure of the Priest.
The Treasure of the Buddha (Buppo) is the Buddha who is enlightened to the true nature of phenomena and to causes and effects spanning the Three Existences of the past, present and future. The Buddha possesses the Three Virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent.
The Treasure of the Law (Hoho) means the true teaching and the entity of Law based upon the enlightened wisdom of the Buddha.
The Treasure of the Priest (Sobo) means the person who transmits the teaching of the Buddha correctly to future generations.
The reason why they are called Three Treasures is that, by purifying the world and rescuing all people from suffering in the three evil paths of Hell, Hunger, and Animality, they lead the people to Buddhahood. Therefore, these are the most valuable treasures in this world.
In the Gosho, “On the Four Debts of Gratitude” (Shion-sho), the Daishonin stated as follows:
Those who learn Buddhism shall repay the four debts of gratitude.
Here, the Daishonin said that those who practice Buddhism should know about the four debts of gratitude and repay them as this is basic to the Buddhist way. The four debts of gratitude are the debts we all owe all people, our parents, the sovereign, and the Three Treasures.
For those who believe in Buddhism, the debt of gratitude we owe to the Three Treasures is especially important. Even if the Law through which all beings attain enlightenment actually exists in the universe, no one can receive its benefit without the person who awakened to it and taught it in this world. The Buddha is enlightened to the Law, expounds the law, and leads the people to Buddhahood. However, even should the Buddha and the Law exist, without priests who correctly learn and transmit the teachings into the future, Buddhism itself would cease to exist. Thus, priests should also be respected as a treasure. The Three Treasures together contain what is necessary to lead people to enlightenment. As a result, those who despise the Three Treasures cannot attain Buddhahood.
Therefore, in order to reach the most happy life condition or attainment of Buddhahood, Buddhists must respect the Three Treasures, acknowledge their debts of gratitude to them, and requite those debts.
The Three Treasures in the Various Buddhist Teachings
The various Buddhist teachings can be differentiated and judged according to a doctrine called the Fivefold Comparison. This is a classification system that includes Hinayana, provisional Mahayana, the Theoretical Teaching of the Lotus Sutra (Shakumon), the Essential Teaching of the Lotus Sutra (Honmon), the Buddhism of the Harvest, and the Buddhism of the Sowing hidden in the depths of the Lotus Sutra. The Three Treasures are different according to the various teachings.
In the Lotus Sutra, the first fourteen chapters are called the Theoretical Teaching (Shakumon). The Treasure of the Buddha is the Buddha who first attained enlightenment in this world. The Treasure of the Law is Theoretical Ichinen sanzen, the theoretical doctrine that three thousand realms are contained within a single moment of existence, as expounded in the Theoretical Teaching. The Treasure of the Priest includes the people of Learning and Realization, and the Bodhisattvas who listened to Shakyamuni’s preaching of the Lotus Sutra.
The second half of the Lotus Sutra is the Essential Teaching (Honmon). The Treasure of the Buddha is the Buddha Shakyamuni who attained Buddhahood in the remotest past. The Treasure of the Law is Actual Ichinen sanzen. The Treasure of the Priest refers to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, including Bodhisattva Jogyo.
Thus, depending on the level of the teaching, the Three Treasures differ. However, if the teaching is expedient, then its Three Treasures are also expedient, and if the teaching is true, then its Three Treasures are also true. Therefore, among the various descriptions of the Three Treasures, those of the provisional Mahayana are superior to those of the Hinayana, those of the Theoretical Teaching are superior to those of the provisional Mahayana. Furthermore, the Three Treasures of the Essential Teaching are superior to the Three Treasures of the Theoretical Teaching.
The Three Treasures of the Buddhism of the Sowing
The Daishonin revealed His true position as the Original Buddha in His Gosho, “The Teaching Judged and Approved by all Buddhas of the Three Existences” (Sokanmon sho):
Shakyamuni Buddha, at the very beginning of the remotest past, prior to five hundred [myriad] dust particle kalpas ago, when he was a common mortal, realized that his body was composed of the five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space, and he instantly attained enlightenment.
(Gosho, p. 1419)
Herein we see that Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo existed at the very beginning of the remotest past along with the Buddha of Intrinsically Perfect Wisdom. Nichiren Daishonin is the entity of this Intrinsically Perfect Wisdom from the very beginning of the remotest past. He possesses Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo as the True Buddha. As a result, in the Buddhism of the Sowing, the Treasure of the Buddha is Nichiren Daishonin. Moreover, the Treasure of the Law from the very beginning of the remotest past is the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching. The Treasure of the Priest, even from the very beginning of the remotest past, is Nikko Shonin, the foremost among priests in general, who inherited the self-actualized enlightenment of the True Buddha. These are the Three Treasures of the Buddhism of the Sowing, leading people to enlightenment in the age of Mappo. To base our faith on these Three Treasures is the basis of our denomination.
(Note: This chapter can be read in its entirety in the book: The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu.
For more information, please contact your local temple.)