Nichiren Shonin
Gohonzon Shu

O'Mandalas by St. Nichiren
[1222-1282]




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Gohonzon Mandala inscribed by Nichiren, abbreviated style.

The Good Deed Entails No Retribution

Chu Tao-sheng
(circa 360-434 C.E.)

The biographies of Tao-sheng lists this title ahead of all others, suggesting that it is Tao-sheng's earliest major writing. The question of retribution for deeds committed--cause and effect--intrigued the pragmatic Chinese mind. It was a subject much talked about in Tao-sheng's time, along with the question of spirit (shen) as the immutable entity or subject to receive this retribution.

As for the substance of Tao-sheng's theory, a key may be found in the terms good and retribution; both of which he redically redefined in this context. Tao-sheng is quoted as writing: "By overcoming evil through good, one is entitled to obtain the karma of man or god (deva). [Yet] in reality this is not what is truly good but is just [karmic] retirbution." In a different proposition Tao-sheng talks of retribution: "[Even] animals enjoy richness and pleasure [whereas] the retribution of men includes poverty and suffering." As long as one remains in the cycle of reincarnation one has done nothing "good" in the true sense of the word. As he says, "retribution belongs to the phase of change and transience; birth-and-death belongs to the domain of a great dream." The cycle of retribution in samsara does not lift one to the ultimate reality of nirvana. In the CVS (Commentary on the Vimalakirti Sutra) Tao-sheng illustrates this point: "When one practices meditation (dhyana) in the hope of receiving retribution, one then has attachment to the practice. Since one has attachment to the practice, one's retribution must be a delusion. One who is deluded in retribution is tied to birth [-and-death]." He then contrasts this with positive, undeluded karmic karmic retribution: "When [a bodhisattva], in hopes of saving other lives, is born [in the saha world], he is being born as an expedient means. Because he is not motivated for his own sake, his retribution is without delusion."

We must now determine what is meant by the word good. The good, as Tao-sheng understood it, must be define in terms of li, posited as the object of ultimate knowledge. In the CNS (Commentary on the Nirvana Sutra) Tao-sheng writes: "The attainment of li is "good." To deviate from li means "not good." He goes on to say: "What is good and what is not good? Deviating from li is not good. Returning to it, one achieves good.... In deviation from li, one gets tied [in bondage]. By achieving it one is [in the state of] nirvana, released (moksa), and cut off [from bondage]. Merely disliking suffering and seeking pleasure is not the good. What is valued by Tao-sheng is not based on biological, aesthetic, or ethical values.

Goodness can be measured only on a religious scale. All other values are subservient to the religious value. Tao-sheng declares in the CVS: "Seeking pleasure is the endless dharma; it is 'the conditioned (samskrta) [dharma]'. 'The unconditioned (asamskrta)' is the dharma embodying li. Therefore, [in the latter dharma] there is no actual [worldly] merit and benefit." As long as a deed stands to contribute to the path to enlightenment it is "good." Chi-tsang, the San-lun master, in his comentary to the Lotus cites Tao-sheng's original treatise: "Previously Chu Tao-sheng wrote a treatise titled 'The Good Deed Entails no Retribution.' In it he states: 'One tiny act of goodness also helps all to become Buddhas, but not to receive the retribution of birth-and-death.'" The significance of "one tiny act of goodness" is clearly indicated in the CSPS (Commentary on the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra). Accumulation of these bits of goodness in an individual being leads to the accomplishment of Buddhahood. All good deeds, therefore, must be directed toward the final goal of enlightenment. When the good is presented by the Buddha as something less than religious knowledge, this should be considered as an expedient device designed to induce unenlightened beings on to the bodhisattva path.

Source: Tao-Sheng's Commentary on the Lotus Sutra: A Study and Translation (Suny Series in Buddhist Studies) by Young-Ho Kim. State University of New York Press, Albany. 1990. pp. 39-40.

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The explanation below refers to Mandala #50.
explanatory text of the above Mandalaexplanatory text of the above Mandala

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