THE LOTUS SUTRA AND A SET OF FUNDAMENTAL BUDDHIST TEACHINGS
Many people, especially those from the Judeo-Christian tradition, often ask, "Is Buddhism a religion?" In fact, Buddhism may not appear to be a religion in the usual sense of the world. This is mainly because the founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni, did not recognize the existence of a transcendent god controlling human destiny, nor did he ever teach belief in a creator deity who presides over the workings of nature, or an absolute being who offers salvation in response to prayer or worship.
Shakyamuni Buddha regarded this universe as resulting from the interaction of causes and conditions which bring all phenomena into being. He awoke to this truth of causation, also called dependent origination. The Sanskrit word for "awakening" is bodhi; therefore, Shakyamuni was called "buddha," the "awakened one." The principle of dependent origination serves as a foundation for a set of fundamental Buddhist teachings: The Three Seals of the Dharma, Four Noble Truths, Twelve Causes and Conditions, Ten Suchnesses, Eightfold Path, and Six Perfections.
Shakyamuni imparted a great many teachings during his lifetime, so many that they are often spoken of figuratively as the "the eighty-four thousand sermons." Those teachings were later recored in sutras, and since ancient times the Lotus Sutra has been widely accepted as supreme among them because of its profound philosophy and high ideals for the universal liberation of humanity from suffering and the attainment of world peace.
Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, discovered that the set of fundamental teachings of Buddhism were perfectly incorporated into the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra seamlessly integrates its profound philosophy and high ideals with practical fundamental Buddhist teachings. This is why the Lotus Sutra is the primary scripture in which Rissho Kosei-kai members place their faith.
WHAT IS THE ONE VEHICLE?
A hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha's passing, a varied understanding of his teachings eventually led to the development of about twenty different branches within the Sangha. Several hundred years later, the Buddha's followers were roughly separated into two opposing traditions: a conservative group and a reformist group. It was in these circumstances that the Lotus Sutra was introduced as an inclusive teaching for both, called the One Buddha Vehicle, or simply One Vehicle.
The concept of the One Vehicle means that all of the teachings of the Buddha are for the purpose of leading all living beings to buddhahood. At the same time, the ultimate meaning of the One Vehicle is that the whole universe is permeated by the Dharma, or Life as the source of all things, and that all living beings are sustained by it and together in their entirety, all things comprise a single living entity.
This teaching of the One Vehicle leads us to respect and appreciate one another in the understanding that all beings are precious and indispensable. When the truth of the One Vehicle is fully actualized, this world will achieve a great harmony, and people will overcome all national, racial, and religious differences and will accept one another in cooperation toward the betterment of our world.
Rissho Kosei-kai believes that the integral essence of the Lotus Sutra, the One Vehicle, is so universal and practical that it is in fact common to all the world's religions and is relevant for people everywhere. The Lotus Sutra is a scripture capable of leading humanity from division to unity, from discord to harmony, from conflict to peace, in a word, to the realm of the One Vehicle.
OUR FOCUS OF DEVOTION
Rissho Kosei-kai members put their faith in the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni who is revealed in chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Life Span of the Eternal Tathagata." He is ever present, everywhere, from the beginningless past into the infinite future, ready to aid and bring relief to all living beings in the universe. He liberates them in such a way that each of them can fully develop and manifest all the magnificent potential they have within themselves. The Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni is actually the omnipresent Dharma, the life-force in the universe that sustains and guides all - human beings, animals, plants, and all other sentient and consentient beings. But since the Dharma, which is the source at the root of our being, is invisible and intangible, we cannot perceive it clearly, and therefore can only become aware of it when it manifests in some concrete form.
Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Shakyamuni, was the first human being to awaken to the Dharma and become a buddha in this world. Although we can hardly grasp the Dharma, when we think of it as manifesting in the form of the Buddha, who teaches it to us and regards each of us with compassion, an image forms clearly in our minds. Through the form of the Buddha, we can become aware of the loving power of the Dharma, which is the life-force sustaining all of us.
For Buddhists, it is perfectly natural to signify the Dharma with an image of Shakyamuni Buddha, who appeared in the world and not only taught what became Buddhism but was also a living example of the Buddhist Way. Rissho Kosei-kai refers to him as the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni-Great Benevolent Teacher, World-Honored One, and members revere this image as their focus of devotion.
THE THREEFOLD LOTUS SUTRA AS OUR BASIC SCRIPTURE
The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wondrous Dharma, popularly known as the Lotus Sutra, is revered by millions of Buddhists as containing the core and culmination of the Buddha's teaching. Together with two shorter sutras that traditionally accompany it, Innumerable Meanings and the Method for Contemplating the Bodhisattva Universal Sage, it is one of the most important scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism and indeed one of the major documents of world religion.
The Lotus Sutra consists of a series of sermons delivered by the Buddha before a great multitude of disciples and countless others toward the end of his forty-five year teaching ministry. The setting and scope are cosmic, but the sermons themselves, presented in both prose and verse, are replete with parables and graphic anecdotes.
At the heart of the sutra are three major concepts of Mahayana Buddhism:
1. All sentient beings can attain perfect enlightenment, or buddhahood, and nothing less than this is the appropriate final goal of believers.
2. The Buddha is eternal, having existed form the infinite past and appearing in many forms throughout the ages to guide and assist living beings through the teachings of the Wondrous Dharma; and
3. The noblest form of Buddhist practice is the way of the bodhisattvas, those who devote themselves to attaining enlightenment not only for themselves but for all sentient beings.
The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings records the sermon preached by the Buddha to a host of bodhisattvas immediately preceding the delivery of the Lotus Sutra. Constituting an introduction to the central sutra, the Lotus Sutra proper, this shorter scripture is traditionally known as the "opening sutra." The Sutra of Method for Contemplating the Bodhisattva Universal Sage, said to have been delivered following the Lotus Sutra, establishes the performance of acknowledgment and remorse as the primary way to practice the spirit of the Lotus Sutra. As an epilogue to the main scripture, it is called the "closing sutra."
The Lotus Sutra, along with the opening and closing sutras, are traditionally called the Threefold Lotus Sutra. For Rissho Kosei-kai members it is the basic scripture of their faith.
BASIC BUDDHISM: CORE TEACHINGS
The Three Seals of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
Ten Suchnesses / Ultimate Reality of All Things
Twelve Causes and Conditions (Twelve-Link Chain of Causation)
Eightfold Noble Path
Middle Way / Emptiness
Make yourself the light; make the Dharma your light
The Three Treasures