Lotus Blossom in McClelland Art Gallery – contrasts to the large sculptures…
With it’s dramatically sombre title, “The Importance of the Moment of Death“, Nichiren tells us exactly what’s on his mind. The text of the letter shows that it was sent to an unknown person to read to the lay nun Myōhō. Presumably she was unable to read… Whatever, Nichiren knew several lay nuns called Myoho and this one’s a widow.
We know he despised the “Pure Land” and other teachings and espoused the Lotus Sutra as being the final version of a lifetime’s work and thought by Shakyamuni, who most know as the Buddha. His outspokenness brought him many enemies in feudal Japan.
He was drawing to the end of his life, being 56, with 4 years to go. In this piece he states exactly what he thought – and did! The sheer poetry when he talks about the transient nature of life, is like majestic magic.
Looking back, I have been studying the Buddha’s teachings since I was a boy. And I found myself thinking, “The life of a human being is fleeting. The exhaled breath never waits for the inhaled one. Even dew before the wind is hardly a sufficient metaphor. It is the way of the world that whether one is wise or foolish, old or young, one never knows what will happen to one from one moment to the next. Therefore I should first of all learn about death, and then about other things.”
So I gathered and considered the sacred teachings of Shakyamuni’s entire lifetime, as well as the writings and commentaries of scholars and teachers.
Which is what Nichiren really did. From a young boy he sought the true nature of existence. And using the metaphors that without white there can be no black, and without life there can be no death, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo was the fruit of his lifetime’s studies.
Nichiren explicitly says (above) that it was from looking at dead people at such an early age that he commenced his life’s work and started studying Buddhism! What a fantastic thing from such a gloomy beginning!
Nichiren encourages the lay nun Myoho that her recently deceased husband is okay.
He also says that she will be (and is currently), okay.
The persistent care and trouble that Nichiren takes over ordinary people is noteworthy; he continually encourages, when things are just pottering on as well as when people are at their darkest hour and are troubled.
How does he say these things? Here?
The key passage for me is here:
One who upholds the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra transforms the black lacquer of the evil deeds of a lifetime, and of countless kalpas of lifetimes in the past, into the great merit of good deeds. All the more so is this true of one’s good roots from the beginningless past, which all take on a golden hue.
And when your deceased husband chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at the end on his deathbed, the evil deeds of a lifetime, and from the beginningless past, changed into the seeds of Buddhahood. This is what is meant by the teachings called “earthly desires are enlightenment,” “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana,” and “attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form.”
And because you are the beloved wife of such a man, the teaching of women attaining Buddhahood without doubt also applies to you.
The image is that of a huge dying star, the Carina Nebula which is likely to cataclysmically pop. From its remains, new stars will be made, which is the whole point of it all. Nichiren then goes on to finish saying,
…if this were to be a lie, Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and all the Buddhas of the ten directions, who are Shakyamuni’s emanations, would be liars, great liars, evildoers, and those who deceive all living beings and cause them to fall into hell (…) It would not be Nichiren’s lie; rather it would be the lie of all the Buddhas in the ten directions and three existences.
But consider: How could such a thing ever be?
I will explain this matter in detail when we meet.
I would love to had been at that meeting!
And in Another Letter to the Lay Nun Myoho…
Three years later in another letter to the nun, Nichiren again encourages the nun. Her loneliness has increased as she is shunned by her family – all for chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
In fact in this letter, we get a clue to Nichiren’s realisation that Buddhahood applies to everyone. He paraphrases Shakyamuni’s disillusionment with the women of his time and at the same time praises the lay nun Myoho, when he says,
I have received your gift of a light summer robe. You have been left behind by your deceased husband in a woman’s situation, and are separated from your relatives, too. You hear nothing from your one or two daughters, who are not to be relied on. Moreover, you are a woman who is hated by others because of this teaching. You are just like Bodhisattva Never Disparaging.
I had therefore thought that, though women would tarnish their names and throw away their lives on meaningless paths, they were weak at following the path to Buddhahood. But now you, born a woman in the evil world of the latter age, while being reviled, struck, and persecuted by the barbaric inhabitants of this island country who are unaware of these things, have endured and are propagating the Lotus Sutra.
She must have been a tough one. She chanted the daimoku, probably just like in this YouTube video.
Nichiren does not explicitly say, to my eyes, what “The Importance of the Moment of Death” is. But his meaning is clear.
The importance of the moment of death is to be chanting The Daimoku of The Lotus Sutra, even if it’s only in your head.
I did this when I had an operation a few years ago, just as I was going under the anaesthetic. Of course I woke up later (like dah…), but my faith was paramount in my thoughts as I drifted off, though weirdly, I almost forgot….. Here’s how.
I was completely empty of thoughts, or a bit shocked, as they prepared my hand for the drugs, maybe my face showed trepidation or something to the anaesthetist, but she said “most people try to think happy thoughts or faces at this time” – it was then that I remembered I’d previously promised myself many times to chant as I went under…. so I did… and just in time.
Clifford to Clarence Worley – Click image for Quote
I have a set drill in my head now that should I feel I’m a goner, to chant, even if it’s just inside my mind.
Is this mad? Not for me.
Will I forget again?
Who can tell? But though I quoted this at the top from Nichiren, I’ll repeat it again here…
It is the way of the world that whether one is wise or foolish, old or young, one never knows what will happen to one from one moment to the next.
……and read two small passages, both written by Buddhists, one of which quotes one of “The Buddha’s” last works, the Lotus Sutra.
What struck me, was that sometimes, this Buddhism that I do can get a bit confusing, and then suddenly – suddenly someone says something that brings everything right back sharply into focus.
And it all becomes clear, again. It’s just so simple, really.
Daisaku Ikeda Says:
Many religions have demanded blind faith, taking away people’s independence. President Makiguchi opposed such enslavement. What he called for instead was solidarity of awakened common people. To achieve this, he proposed a self-reliant way of life in which we advance on the path of our choice with a firm, independent character. He also stressed a contributive way of life in which we set our fundamental goal in life toward the realization of happiness for ourselves and others, casting aside arrogance and self-satisfaction to respect and benefit others. – For Today and Tomorrow.
Nichiren Daishonin Says:
Becoming a Buddha is nothing extraordinary. If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with your whole heart, you will naturally become endowed with the Buddha’s thirty-two features and eighty characteristics. As the sutra says, “hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us,” you can readily become as noble a Buddha as Shakyamuni – Letter to Niike
Both these men are quoting or expressing a fundamental principle of my Buddhism, first expounded by the Buddha, Shakyamuni, many centuries before the Christian era, which is that all people are equal and that all can be as equally enlightened as himself…
Shakyamuni Buddha Says:
(speaking to Shariputra, one of his disciples and trusted friends) ….you should know that at the start I took a vow hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us, and what I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled… see THE BUDDHA NATURE IS INHERENT IN ALL PEOPLE for a fuller explanation.
As part of my Buddhist practice I recite two bits of prose and chant some Daimoku, which is the words “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” over and over again.
I recite these two bits of prose, called the “Expedient Means” chapter and the “Life Span” chapter because Jill, the person who introduced me did so.
Jillian does so because Roger Edwards did so. And likewise, Richard Causton.
Richard Causton did so because that’s what Daisaku Ikeda does.
Daisaku Ikeda does so because Toda did so.
Toda did so because Makiguchi did so.
Makiguchi did so because he was searching for ‘something’ and found that the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism closely fitted his ideals.
The monks of Nichiren Shoshu do so because there’s a long chain of monks and disciples going back to 1275 that did so.
In 1275, Nichiren Daishonin wrote a letter to a lay priest called Soya, where he said,
I have written out the prose section of the “Expedient Means” chapter for you. You should recite it together with the verse portion of the “Life Span” chapter, which I sent you earlier.
The characters of this sutra are all without exception living Buddhas of perfect enlightenment. But because we have the eyes of ordinary people, we see them as characters. For instance, hungry spirits perceive the Ganges River as fire, human beings perceive it as water, and heavenly beings perceive it as amrita. Though the water is the same, it appears differently according to one’s karmic reward from the past.
The blind cannot see the characters of this sutra. To the eyes of ordinary people, they look like characters. Persons of the two vehicles perceive them as the void. Bodhisattvas look on them as innumerable doctrines. Buddhas recognize each character as a golden Shakyamuni. This is what is meant by the passage that says, “[If one can uphold this sutra], one will be upholding the Buddha’s body.” Those who practice with distorted views, however, are destroying this most precious sutra. You should simply be careful that, without differing thoughts, you single-mindedly aspire to the pure land of Eagle Peak. A passage in the Six Paramitas Sutra says ‘to become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you‘. I will explain in detail when I see you.
With my deep respect,
The third month in the twelfth year of Bun’ei (1275)
To the lay priest Soya
So there we have it. I recite those bits because Nichiren said so in this letter, and everyone since has been mindful to ‘uphold the sutra‘ and ‘not practice with distorted views‘.
Amazingly, for hundreds of years, many people have managed to keep both the spirit and the content of this letter going, sometimes against great adversity.
Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
What then does myo signify? It is simply the mysterious nature of our life from moment to moment, which the mind cannot comprehend or words express. When we look into our own mind at any moment, we perceive neither color nor form to verify that it exists. Yet we still cannot say it does not exist, for many differing thoughts continually occur. The mind cannot be considered either to exist or not to exist. Life is indeed an elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor nonexistence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality.
I just want to explain what I mean when I say that we should try to hold on to physical reality.(…)For what is thought to be a “system” is after all, just conventional, and I do not see how one is supposed to divide up the world objectively so that one can make statements about parts.
If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life.
Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious.
Though you may move among the most exalted company of court nobles, your hair done up elegantly like clouds and your sleeves fluttering like eddies of snow, such pleasures, when you stop to consider them, are no more than a dream within a dream.
Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay, without knowing the whys and the wherefore. In our daily lives we only feel that man is here for the sake of others, for those whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own. I am often worried at the thought that my life is based to such a large extent on the work of my fellow human beings and I am aware of my great indebtedness to them.
I have believed it is most important to understand one’s obligations to others, and made it my first duty to repay such debts of kindness. In this world, we owe four debts of gratitude. One who understands this is worthy to be called human, while one who does not is no more than an animal.
My passion for social justice has often brought me into conflict with people, as did my aversion to any obligation and dependence I do not regard as absolutely necessary. I always have a high regard for the individual and have an insuperable distaste for violence and clubmanship.
All these motives made me into a passionate pacifist and anti-militarist. I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult.
Great individuals fight abuses of authority. The truly strong do not lord it over the weak. People of genuine strength and courage battle against the powerful and the arrogant, the authoritarian, the evil and corrupt-all who look down on the people with contempt.
Answer: Einstein on the left, Nichiren on the right.
Over the last couple of days the strangest thought has plagued me. Two simple ugly words have kept emerging, only for me to lock them out and ridicule them as bizarre. Simon’s dead. Just to write it down feels like … Continue reading →
If you ever needed confirmation that the UK is not run by a shadowy cabal of sinister plotters but a bunch of chinless fucking idiots then the upcoming Digital Economy Bill is a good place to start. As well as … Continue reading →