Rissho Ankoku Ron

A commentary
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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Choosing Hell or the Pure Land

 

                      Nichiren then laments that the people of his day are so anxious that they devote themselves to various teachings without stopping to examine them carefully. He praises their faith but criticizes their lack of discernment.

 

It seems to me that when people are in this world they all fear what their lot may be in the life to come. So it is that they put faith in distorted doctrines and pay honor to slanderous teachings. It distresses me that they should be so confused about right and wrong, and at the same time I feel pity that, having embraced Buddhism, they should have chosen the wrong kind. With the power of faith that is in their hearts, why must they recklessly give credence to distorted doctrines? If they do not shake off these delusions that they cling to but continue to harbor erroneous views, then they will quickly leave this world of the living and surely fall into the hell of incessant suffering.

 

                      People should give consideration to their futures and it is good if someone takes refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. However, faith must be balanced by wisdom, or at least some consideration and discernment. Blind belief is not warranted and in fact is quite dangerous as it can lead to disaster. In Buddhism, to have faith means to have trust and confidence in the teachings of the Buddha and in our own ability to put those teachings into practice so that we can realize the truth of them for ourselves. In the beginning we may have to take the Buddha’s word for it, but even at that initial stage we should make sure that we are actually following the authentic teaching of the Buddha and not some other person’s shallow or self-serving interpretations. We should also make sure that the teachings we are given are reasonable and not just a matter of dogma or superstition. Finally, we must judge the teachings by their actual results in our lives and not by what others want us to think. These are of course the three proofs that have been discussed earlier in connection with the evaluation of the Buddha’s teaching. While Buddhism does begin with faith, it also must begin with critical thinking and our own ability to discern the truth and authenticity of the teachings we receive, and this is a process that does not end but continues as we widen and deepen our understanding and practice of Buddhism.

 

                      Nichiren follows up this lament with a new series of citations from various sutras emphasizing the gravity of eliminating slander and upholding the True Dharma:

 

                      Great Collection Sutra: warns that a king must defend the Dharma as well as cultivating generosity, discipline, and wisdom. If he fails to do so he will sicken and die and then be reborn in hell as will his people.

 

                      Benevolent Kings Sutra: recounts how those who destroy Buddhism will have disharmony within their families, will lose the protection of the gods, and will fall into the lower realms. It also makes the following statement that is worthwhile to think about in relation to the ways in which our actions deeply imprint themselves in our lives and carry over from moment to moment, and lifetime to lifetime: “Retribution will follow as an echo follows a sound, or a shadow follows a form. Someone writing at night may put out the lamp, but the words he has written will still remain. It is the same with the effect of the deeds we perform in the threefold world.”

 

                      Lotus Sutra: warns in chapter three that those who do not put their faith in the Lotus Sutra but slander it instead are thereby attempting to kill the seed of buddhahood in all people in the whole world. For this they will fall into the Avichi Hell for many ages and suffer many other punishments after that. The 20th chapter is also cited, wherein those who persecuted Bodhisattva Never Despise fall into the Avichi Hell because they persecuted a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra.

                     

                      Nirvana Sutra: warns that those who avoid good teachers but seek out false teachings will end up in the Avichi Hell.

 

                      The expanded version of the Rissho Ankoku Ron supplied some additional citations from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the Six Perfections Sutra, and Great Collection Sutra that all make the same point. After the citations Nichiren states, “Examining many sutras, we thus see they all regard slandering the True Dharma as the most serious crime.” Nichiren then comes to his final conclusion, that by turning away from such slander and by embracing the True Dharma it is possible to make this world into a pure land.

 

You should promptly discard your false beliefs and take up the true and righteous teaching of the One Vehicle. Then this world will become the Buddha-land and the Buddha-land will never decay. All the worlds in the universe will become treasure worlds and the treasure worlds will never be destroyed. When our world does not decay and is not destroyed, our bodies will be safe and hearts tranquil. Believe these worlds and revere them.

 

                      These words express the whole purpose of the Rissho Ankoku Ron. It could even be said that they express the whole purpose of Nichiren’s entire mission. He endeavored from beginning to end to turn people back to the truth so that this world could become peaceful, all people live in safety and prosperity, and this world be recognized as the true pure land and all those within it respected as buddhas. In the Shugo Kokka Ron, Nichiren makes this point very clear:

 

Question: Which pure land should practitioners of the Lotus Sutra pray to be reborn in?

         

Answer: It is stated in the sixteenth chapter on “The Life Span of the Buddha,” the essence of the Lotus Sutra consisting of 28 chapters, “I will always stay in this Saha World;” “I reside here always;” and “This world of mine is at peace.” According to these statements, the Eternal True Buddha, the origin of all buddhas in manifestation, is always in this Saha World. Then why should we wish to be anywhere other than this Saha World? You should know that there is no pure land other than the very place where the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra resides. Why should we concern ourselves seeking a pure land in any other place? (WNSD1, pp. 67-68)

 

                      “Saha” means “endurance” and so the Saha World is the World of Endurance which is this world where we must endure many kings of suffering. But according to Nichiren it is also the true pure land where the Eternal Buddha revealed in chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra abides. In this and in his statement in the Rissho Ankoku Ron, Nichiren expressed his conviction that it is here in this world and in this lifetime that we all have a chance to attain buddhahood and that peace, prosperity, and enlightenment are not just possible but are of the true nature of this world.

 

 Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2004.

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