The Teaching of all Buddhas
Recently I was asked: What are the fundemental beliefs
of Buddhism? Where would a person who is interested in learning
about Buddism start? This is a question that has been asked
for more than 2,500 years, ever since the Buddha and his
disciples started wandering around India. One particular story I
like is from China.
One day, the famous poet Bai Juyi asked the monk Niaowo
about Buddhism: How must I live my life so that I am
completely at one with the Way?
Niawo replied: Avoid all evil and perform all
Bai Juyi was not impressed by this and said, Even a
three-year-old knows that much.
To which Niaowo retorted with: A three-year-old may
know it. But not even a one-hundred-year-old can do it.
Niaowo was clever, but he wasnt telling the whole
story. The Buddha actually said: "Not to do evil, to
cultivate the good, and to purify the mind. This is the teaching
of all the Buddhas." This statement can be found in verse
183 of the Dhammapada. It is a very concise summary of what
Buddhism is all about. In this verse, it is not just good and
evil which are stressed, but the extra step which is even harder
-- purifying the mind. But without purifying the mind, it is very
hard to refrain from evil and to do good. Sometimes, in our
confusion and weakness, it is even hard to know what is good and
what is evil in any given moment.
This statement itself rests upon the fundamental idea that life
unfolds in accordance with the law of cause and effect. So we
should make good causes in thought, word and deed because the
causes we make will determine the nature of the effects that
return to us. Sometimes people say, What goes around comes
around, or You will reap what you sow. This law
of cause and effect is the basis for such ideas. So instead of
killing, stealing, being unfaithful, lying, and abusing our minds
and bodies with drugs or alcohol, we should make good causes like
nurturing others, being generous, faithful, honest, and cultivate
a healthy body and mind.
Above all we should purify the mind of the three poisons of
greed, anger and ignorance so we can see Reality As It Is and not
as we want it to be. When we awaken to reality, then we will be
free of suffering ourselves and will be in a position to free
others of suffering.
But it is easier to say this than to do this. So that is why
Buddhists practice meditation and mindfulness in order to become
more aware of the causes we make and the way reality is
impermanent and interdependent. The best way to do this according
to Nichiren Shonin is to chant and reflect upon the phrase Namu Myoho Renge Kyo which means "I devote myself to the
Wonderful Truth of the Lotus Flower Teaching."
Our founder Nichiren Shonin wrote that faith in the Lotus
Sutra transcends all else. It goes to the core of our being
and can redeem the worst evils and surpasses even the limited
good that we might do on our own:
Yet even though one may have committed the ten evil acts
or the five cardinal sins, so long as he does not turn his
back on the Lotus Sutra, he will without doubt be
reborn in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood in his next
existence. On the other hand, we read in the sutra that even
a person who observes the precepts, embraces all other sutras
and believes in the various Buddhas and bodhisattvas, if he
fails to take faith in the Lotus Sutra, is certain
to fall into the evil paths. (Reciting the Hoben
and Juryo Chapters)
Is Nichiren Shonin saying that blind faith in a sutra will
allow us to transcend good and evil? I do not think so. I think
that Nichiren Shonin was trying to point out that the best way to
refrain from evil is to realize the ultimate dignity of all life,
which is that all beings are destined to become buddhas -- fully
enlightened. And the best way to do good is to spread this
teaching to others by expressing our faith in the Lotus Sutra.
This is what the Lotus Sutra really is, not a book or a
sermon of the Buddha, but the ultimate truth that all beings are
destined to become buddhas, and that buddhahood is in fact our
very nature. We just have to recognize it and live our lives
confidently and compassionately based on the truth of the Lotus
Sutra. Nichiren Shonin also said:
In the same way, one who chants the daimoku as the Lotus
Sutra teaches will never have a twisted mind. For you
must know that, unless the mind of the Buddha enters into our
body, we cannot in fact chant the daimoku. (Letter
to Myomitsu Shonin)
So when we chant the Odaimoku, we are purifying our minds by
allowing our minds to blossom forth as the mind of the Buddha.
Metaphorically, Nichiren Shonin refers to this as the
Buddha entering our body. This means that in our thoughts,
words and deeds, we devote ourselves to the True Reality which
enables us to bring out the blossoming flower of our own
awakening, buddhahood, in the midst of our ordinary lives. This
devotion leading to awakening is the process of purifying the
mind and enables us to recognize and refrain from bad causes and
empowers us to recognize and perform good causes for ourselves and others.
So, unlike Niaowos hundred-year-old man, I hope that we can
begin to put the Buddhas advice into practice and refrain
from evil, perform good and purify the mind by taking faith in
the Lotus Sutra, chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, and
thereby allowing our thoughts, words and deeds to be the
thoughts, words and deeds of buddhahood.