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Fivefold comparison

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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fivefold comparison
五重の相対 (Jpn goju-no-sotai )

    Five successive levels of comparison set forth by Nichiren (1222-1282) in The Opening of the Eyes to demonstrate the superiority of his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo over all other teachings.

    (1) Buddhism is superior to non-Buddhist teachings. Nichiren takes up Confucianism and Brahmanism, and concludes that these non-Buddhist religions are not as profound as Buddhism in that they do not reveal the causal law of life that penetrates the three existences of past, present, and future.

    (2) Mahayana Buddhism is superior to Hinayana Buddhism. Hinayana Buddhism is the teaching for persons of the two vehicles, or voice-hearers (Skt shravaka ) and cause-awakened ones (pratyekabuddha), who aim at personal emancipation; its ultimate goal is to put an end to the cycle of rebirth in the threefold world by eliminating all earthly desires. It is called Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) because it saves only a limited number of people. In contrast, Mahayana Buddhism is the teaching for bodhisattvas who aim at both personal enlightenment and the enlightenment of others; it is called Mahayana (Great Vehicle) because it can lead many people to enlightenment. In this sense, the Mahayana teachings are superior to the Hinayana teachings.

    (3) True Mahayana is superior to provisional Mahayana. Here true Mahayana means the Lotus Sutra, while provisional Mahayana indicates the Mahayana teachings that, according to T'ient'ai's system of classification, were expounded before the Lotus Sutra. In the provisional Mahayana teachings, the people of the two vehicles, women, and evil persons are excluded from the possibility of attaining enlightenment; in addition, Buddhahood is attained only by advancing through progressive stages of bodhisattva practice over incalculable kalpas. In contrast, the Lotus Sutra reveals that all people have the Buddha nature inherently, and that they can attain Buddhahood immediately by realizing that nature. Furthermore, the provisional Mahayana teachings assert that Shakyamuni attained enlightenment for the first time in India and do not reveal his original attainment of Buddhahood in the remote past, nor do they reveal the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, as does the Lotus Sutra. For these reasons, the true Mahayana teachings are superior to the provisional Mahayana teachings.

    (4) The essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra is superior to the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra. The theoretical teaching consists of the first fourteen chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and the essential teaching, the latter fourteen chapters. The theoretical teaching takes the form of preaching by Shakyamuni who is still viewed as having attained enlightenment during his lifetime in India. In contrast, the essential teaching takes the form of preaching by Shakyamuni who has discarded this transient status and revealed his true identity as the Buddha who attained Buddhahood in the remote past. This revelation implies that all the Ten Worlds of ordinary people are eternal just as the Buddha's are, and confirms that Buddhahood is an ever-present potential of human life. For these reasons, the essential teaching is superior to the theoretical teaching.

    (5) The Buddhism of sowing is superior to the Buddhism of the harvest. Nichiren established this comparison based on the concept of sowing, maturing, and harvesting that T'ient'ai (538-597) set forth in The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra. In The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, T'ient'ai cites the process by which the Buddha teaches, described in the "Parable of the Phantom City" (seventh) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, as well as the relationship of the Buddha and his disciples from the remote past explained in the "Life Span" (sixteenth) chapter of the sutra. All these ideas illustrate how the Buddha begins teaching his disciples by sowing the seeds of Buddhahood in their lives, helps those seeds mature, and finally harvests their fruit by leading them to the final stage of enlightenment or Buddhahood.

The Lotus Sutra describes this process as ranging over countless kalpas. The sutra does not, however, explain the nature of these original seeds, though it is clear that the seed of Buddhahood is essential for attaining Buddhahood. Nichiren identifies the seed as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and states that it can be found only in the depths of the "Life Span" chapter. By implanting this seed in one's life, one can attain Buddhahood. From this viewpoint, Nichiren identifies his teaching as the Buddhism of sowing (the teaching aimed at implanting the seed of Buddhahood) and Shakyamuni's as the Buddhism of the harvest (the teaching aimed at harvesting the fruit of enlightenment borne from the seed planted in the remote past). He explains that Shakyamuni appeared in India in order to harvest the fruit of Buddhahood borne from the seed he had sown and caused to mature in the lives of his disciples until that time. The people of the Latter Day of the Law who have no such seed implanted in their lives cannot harvest its fruit. Nichiren states, "Now, in the Latter Day of the Law, neither the Lotus Sutra nor the other sutras lead to enlightenment. Only Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can do so" (903).