The Three Virtues of Sovereign, Teacher and Parent



The Gosho, “Opening of the Eyes” states: 

To begin with, there are three authorities to be respected by all people. These are the sovereign, teacher and parent. 

(Gosho, p. 523) 

 The sovereign’s virtues are shown when the sovereign takes action to protect and lead the people. A teacher or master serves to teach the people. Parents guide their children and provide them with love.

When children are born, they must be protected by parents and others so that they survive and become good human beings. Every country has its own ruler, either a monarch in a monarchy or the citizens themselves in democratic nations. The ruler governs the policies of the country and its relationships with others. Through the efforts of good rulers, people may live peacefully within their countries. As people grow, they encounter various teachers or masters who provide knowledge and skills. People’s lives are filled with various examples of the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent. Even non-Buddhist teachings expound the existence of these three virtues and set forth ways to repay debts of gratitude. 

However, teachings other than Buddhism (the Outer Way,) often treat the three virtues separately. The virtue of sovereign, it is said, is possessed solely by the ruler of a country, the virtue of master is possessed only by teachers, and the virtue of parent is exemplified by one’s own parents. Rarely, if ever, is consideration given to the notion that a single individual might possess more than one of these virtues. Teachings other than Buddhism must surely be imperfect. To define the three virtues without knowing what Buddhism teaches about the three existences of the past, present and future will never suffice to explain what is necessary to enable the people to attain Buddhahood, which is the greatest, most complete, form of happiness. 

 The Three Virtues in Buddhism

 Comment [CY1]:  This word can be translated as master, but the more usual English translation is Teacher, and that’s what’s in Gongyo, so let’s stick with it.   Again, if it’s clear, we don’t need to repeat it.

The Buddha who leads us to the true happiness of Buddhahood is described in the Gosho, “Questions and Answers about Zen School” (Renjo-sho): 

To begin with, the Buddha possesses the Three Virtues of Sovereign, Teacher and Parent and has that relationship with all living beings. 

(Gosho, p. 28) 


As stated above, the Buddha himself is fully endowed with the Three Virtues of Sovereign, Teacher and Parent. As a result, almost all sects of Buddhism venerate the Buddha who possesses the Three Virtues as their object of worship. 

To explain the Three Virtues for the people in Mappo, the Daishonin has broadly discussed them as they appear both in Buddhism and in other teachings. Through the use of comparison and by discarding the inferior and selecting the superior, the Daishonin showed us the true and highest nature of the Three Virtues. There is only one Buddha who possesses all Three Virtues. 

However, there are many Buddhas other than Shakyamuni Buddha. Take for example, Amida Buddha, Medicine Master Buddha, and Mahavairochana Buddha, who were mentioned in the provisional sutras that were taught prior to the Lotus Sutra. These Buddhas, however, are explicitly refuted in the Gosho, “On Sovereign, Teacher and Parent” (Shu-shi-shin gosho): 

For us, the Buddha Amida is not sovereign, not a parent and not a teacher at all. 

(Gosho, p. 47) 

Amida is the Buddha who dwells in the Western Paradise. He has no relationship with the saha world in which we live. Amida and any virtues he may possess have no connection with us, people without previous good causes, living in the age of Mappo. The same is true of Medicine Master Buddha and Mahavairochana Buddha. They have no relationship with us at all. Therefore, revering these Buddhas as objects of worship will not produce any benefit, but rather will result in slandering the heart of the True Buddha. 

The Daishonin is the True Buddha who possesses the true Three Virtues

Through the doctrine of the Comparison between the Buddhism of the Sowing and the Harvest, originally expounded by the Daishonin, we can conclude that Shakyamuni was the teacher of the Maturing and Harvesting for those people with previously existing good causes who already possessed the seed of enlightenment. Therefore, people in the age of Mappo do not have any relationship with Shakyamuni. The people in Mappo need the seed for enlightenment to be sown in their lives.  

It is stated in “Remonstration with Hachiman” (Kangyo hachiman sho): 

The sun rises in the east. This symbolizes that the Buddhism of Japan shall return to India. The illumination provided by the moon is not as bright. Shakyamuni’s lifetime teachings can be condensed into eight years alone. The illumination provided by the sun is much brighter than that of the moon. This symbolizes that the Buddhism of Japan will shine during and after the long shadow of the five five-hundred-year periods. 

(Gosho, p.1543) 

The above Gosho compared the Buddhism of Shakyamuni to the moon, and the Buddhism of the Daishonin to the sun. 

The Buddhism of Shakyamuni culminated in the eight years of preaching the Lotus Sutra. As the moon illuminates by reflecting the light of the sun, the Buddhism of Shakyamuni is only a reflection of the power of the True Buddha, the Daishonin. The Mystic Law of the Daishonin shall never fail to shine directly on the dark minds of all living beings into the eternal future. 

Historically, Buddhism originated in India and was later introduced to Japan. However, once the original Buddhism of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo was expounded by the Daishonin, then, like the sun that rises in the east and gradually shines in the west, the original True Law shall spread from Japan to India and finally all over the world. 

It is thus quite clear that Nichiren Daishonin alone is the True Buddha who leads us, the people without previously existing good causes, to immediate enlightenment through His sowing the seed of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo in the age of Mappo. The Daishonin has a deep relationship with us and He is the possessor of the Actual Ichinen-sanzen1 concealed in the depths of the Essential Teaching of the Lotus Sutra (Honmon). Therefore, in the “Opening of the Eyes,” the Daishonin states: 

Nichiren is sovereign, teacher, and mother as well as father for the people in Japan. 

(Gosho, p. 577) 

(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.)