Nichiren Shonin
Gohonzon Shu

O'Mandala by Nichiren
[1222-1282]




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The Daimoku outside of the Nichiren Context

In this section, we will consider two types of evidence that shed light on daimoku practice outside the context of Nichiren and his community. First we will examine a discussion of the practice of chanting the daimoku that occurs in the Shuzenji-ketsu, an apocryphal work in four fascicles attributed to the Japanese Tendai founder Saicho (767-822). This text, the focus of much modern scholarly contraversy, was in premodern times widely thought to have been known to Nichiren and to have influenced his formulation of the daimoku practice. Then we will turn to a consideration of several widely scattered references to the chanting or other uses of the daimoku before Nichiren's time.

The Shuzenji-ketsu Contraversy

The Shuzenji-ketsu ([Doctrinal] Decisions of Hsiu-cha'n-ssu) was the first text to draw modern scholarly attention to the possibility of pre-Nichiren origins for the practice of chanting the Lotus Sutra's title. The Shuzenji-ketsu purports to be a record of various transmissions received by Saicho during his journey to China, chiefly from Tao-sui at the temple of Hsiu-cha'n-ssu on Mt. T'ien-t'ai. It belongs to the genre known as kuden homon or orally transmitted doctrines, texts systematizing medieval Tendai doctrines informed by notions of original enlightenment (hongaku). It is thought to represent an early stage in the development of the "great matter of the threefold seven categories" (sanju shichika no daiji)--the four broad categories of transmission and three abbreviated transmissions.--that systematize the orally trasnmitted doctrines of the Eshin school of medieval Tendai Buddhism. It also present the most details discussion of the practice of chanting the daimoku to appear in any known medieval text outside the corpus of works belonging to the Nichiren tradition. Other medieval Tendai texts appear possibly to refer to the practice of chanting the Lotus Sutra's title, but these notices are for the most part brief and unclear. The Shuzenji-ketsu, in contrast, discusses the daimoku at some length and offers a doctrinal explantion for this practice. Like most of the Tendai kuden literature, it is virtually impossible to date with accuracy; estimates range from the mid-eleventh to the beginning of the fourteenth century. Because this text for a long time represented the sole unambiguous reference to the practice of chanting the daimoku outside of Nichiren Buddhism, its dating became a focus of considerable contraversy between the scholars of the Tendai and Nichiren sects. At stake were the issues of who had initiated this practice and how far Nichiren had been influenced by the Tendai establishment of his day, with which he had supposedly broken.

Several passages in the Shuzenji-ketsu discuss the chanting of the daimoku. The first occurs in the context of an extended discussion of the threefold contemplation in a single mind (issin sangan), a central meditation of Tendai Buddhism whereby one contemplates in terms of a single thought-moment the unity of the three truths of emptiness, provisional existence, and the middle. According to the Shuzenji-ketsu, the method of this meditation whould be varied in accordance with three distinct temporal contexts: special times, ordinary times, and the hour of death. Concerning the last of these, it states,
"The practice of this [deathbed] rite does not resemble the form of meditation for ordinary times. When one faces his end and the pain of dissolution comes upon him suddenly and wracks his body, his spiritual faculties are blunted, so that he is unable to discern things clearly. What will your learning in ordianry times avail you, if in your dying moments you fail to carry out the essential practice necessary for liberation? Therfore at this stage, one should practice the threefold contemplation in a single mind as encompassed in the Dharma container (hogu). The 'threefold contemplation in a single mind as encompassed in the Dharma container' is precisely Myoho-renge-kyo.... At the time of death, one should chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. Through the workings of the three powers of the Wondrous Dharma [subsequently explained in considerable detail as the powers of the Dharma, the Buddha, and faith], one shall at once attain enlightened wisdom and will not receive a body bound by birth and death."
Here we see that the daimoku is (1) presented as a practice uniquely appropriate to one's final moments; (2) defined as a "meditation container," whose recitation is equal to the threefold contemplation in a single mind; and (3) associated with faith. The latter two aspects suggest similarities with the teaching of Nichiren, who regarded the chanting of the daimoku as equivalent to meditative discipline and grounded it in faith. There is no evidence, however, that Nichiren recommended the daimoku as a practice specifically for the time of death, in the manner of the Shuzenji-ketsu.

A second relevant passage of the Shuzenji-ketsu similarly presents the chanting of the daimoku as a simple form of another traditional Tendai meditation, in this case, the contemplation of "the single thought-moment comprising three-thousand realms" (ichinen sanzen)--standard Tendai terminology for the interpenetration and identification of the mind ("single thought-moment") and all dharmas ("three thousand realms"). This meditation, like the threefold contemplation in a single mind, is interpreted by the Shuzenji-ketsu in terms of the three temporal contexts of special times, ordinary times, and the time of death. Here, again, the contemplation of the single thought-moment comprising three thousand realms to be practiced at the hour of death is identified as "Myoho-renge-kyo." "At the time of death," the text reads, "one should chant Myoho-renge-kyo with a concentrated mind. It also describes a practice in preparation for death in which one recites certain brief passages from the Lotus Sutra one thousand times, invokes the name of the bodhisattva Kannon (Skt. Avalokitesvara) one thansand times while profoundly contemplating the bodhisattva, and also chants the title of the Lotus Sutra one thousand times.

A third passage mentions the daimoku in the course of describing practice "possessing concrete form" (uso). Like the first passage cited above, it presents the chanting of the daimoku as a simplified form of the threefold contemplation in a single mind. It also associated the daimoku with specific objects of worship (honzon):
The transmission concerning the Master [Tao-sui]'s profound and secret method of practice states, "You should make pictures of images representing the ten realms [of beings] and enshrine them in ten places. Facing each image, you should, one hundred times bow [with your body], chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo with your mouth, and contemplate with your mind. When you face the image of hell, contemplate that its fierce flames are themselves precisely emptiness, precisely provisional existence, and precisely the middle, and so on for all the images. When you face the image of the Buddha, contemplate its essence being precisely the threefold truth. You should carry out this practice for one time period in the morning and one time period in the evening. The Great Teacher [Chih-i] secretly conferred this Dharma essential for the [beings of] dull faculties in the last age. If one wishes to escape from birth and death and attain bodhi, then first he should employ this practice."
This passage, too, offers some intriguing parallels to Nichiren's thought. Its reference to the ten images suggests the calligraphic mandala devised by Nichiren, on which the names of representatives of all ten realms of beings are inscribed as manifestations of the true aspect of reality, represented by "Namu-myoho-renge-kyo" written down the mandala's center. It also associates the chanting of the daimoku with the last age, as Nichiren did.

Today most scholars agree that the Shuzenji-ketsu is not Saicho's work. Like many Tendai texts of the medieval period, it was retrospectively ascribed to a great teacher of the past. But if not Saicho, then who did write it, and when? At what period in time were Japanese Buddhists chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra at the hour of their death, as this text prescribes? Does the Shuzenji-ketsu predate Nichiren, and if so, did Nichiren read it? Did it influence him in formulating his teachings concerning the daimoku and the mandala? Or is it a later work, representing a borrowing of Nichiren's ideas back into the Tendai tradition from which he had emerged? Or--yet a third possibility--did the Shuzenji-ketsu and Nichiren's thought emerge independently, perhaps drawing on a common source or sources? These questions have provoked heated arguement and have yet to evoke a scholarly consensus.

In premodern times, when the Shuzenji-ketsu was still held to be Saicho's work, many scholars within the Nichiren sect evidently assumed that Nichiren had drawn on it in developing his thought. They were no doubt confirmed in this opinion by the fact that two works in the corpus of writings attributed to Nichiren refer to the Shuzenji-ketsu by name. The three abbreviated transmissions of the Eshin school mentioned in the Shuzenji-ketsu and other medieval Tendai texts--concerning, respectively, the triple-bodied tathagata of the perfect teaching, the causality of the Lotus, and the Land of Ever-Quiescent Light--were sometimes identified in premodern Nichiren denominational scholarship with the Three Great Secret Dharmas that Nichiren had set forth as the core of his teaching: the object of worship, the daimoku, and the kaidan or ordination platform.

For more on the Shuzenji-ketsu contraversy, you can buy: "Chanting the August Title of the Lotus Sutra: Daimoku Practices in Classical and Medieval Japan," by Jacqueline I. Stone, from Re-Visioning 'Kamakura' Buddhism, Studies in East Asian Buddhism 11, edited by Richard K. Payne. Kuroda Institute: Univ. of HI: Honolulu. 1998. pp. 118-121.

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Gohonzonsh»u (129 halographs)
Published by Rissho Ankokukai. 1947, 1999.
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