Buddhas Appear for One Great Reason
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For ages, people have pondered and sought answers to questions like: Why was I born? What is the purpose of my life? The Lotus Sutra teaches that “the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones, appear in the world for one great reason alone” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 64).
What is that “one great reason”?
In short, it is to lead everyone to enlightenment. And the Lotus Sutra reveals that all people, without exception, can attain enlightenment, or Buddhahood.
Nichiren Daishonin searched for a way to help awaken all people to their inherent Buddhahood, and after widely studying Buddhist sutras and teachings decided that the answer lay in the Lotus Sutra.
On April 28, 1253, he established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and the means for freeing all people from suffering on the most fundamental level.
But this was just the first step in Nichiren’s painstaking efforts to fulfill “the purpose of his advent,” or the “one great reason” for his appearance in the world. In “On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” which he wrote on Oct. 1, 1279, he states: “The Buddha fulfilled the purpose of his advent in a little over forty years, the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai took about thirty years, and the Great Teacher Dengyo, some twenty years.
I have spoken repeatedly of the indescribable persecutions they suffered during those years. For me it took twenty-seven years” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 996).
Why did it take him 27 years to fulfill his mission? Because his aim was to raise genuine disciples who would continue spreading the correct spirit and practice of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo into the future.
Having questioned and challenged the existing traditions and ideas accepted by the Buddhists of his day, Nichiren encountered all manner of opposition and persecution from powerful priests and authorities, including banishment and attempts on his life.
On Sept. 12, 1271, owing to the machinations of Ryokan, an influential priest of the True Word Precepts school, the Daishonin was arrested on false charges. Making the arrest on behalf of the government was Hei no Saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna, the deputy chief and de facto head of the Office of Military and Police Affairs.
Rather than banish Nichiren as he had been instructed, however, Hei no Saemon sought to conduct an extra-judicial execution of the Daishonin that night on the beach at Tatsunokuchi. Just as Nichiren was about to be beheaded, however, a blinding meteor streaked across the night sky, frightening away the executioner and guards and helping him narrowly escape death. He was instead exiled to Sado Island.
Following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, harassment of his followers grew so strong that “999 out of 1,000 people gave up their faith” (“Reply to Niiama,” WND-1, 469). Yet many continued walking the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple as they courageously persevered in faith.
Nichiren was pardoned from his exile in March 1274, and in May he took up residence at Mount Minobu, where he dedicated his life to fostering disciples who could continue spreading his teachings no matter the challenges that arose.
From around 1275, propagation in the area near Mount Fuji began in earnest due to the efforts of Nichiren’s disciple, Nikko Shonin. In Atsuhara Village, increasing numbers of residents converted to Nichiren’s teaching, alarming local authorities and priests.
By 1278, Nichiren’s followers were being confronted with intensifying threats and acts of violence aimed at swaying their faith. These disciples, who had never met Nichiren, came to understand his spirit through his letters and frequent encouragement conveyed by Nikko. Despite their newfound faith, they directly connected with the Daishonin’s spirit, and vowed to uphold their practice of the Lotus Sutra and to spread the Mystic Law.
The Daishonin encouraged them, stating, “Each of you should summon up the courage of a lion king and never succumb to threats from anyone” (“On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” WND-1, 997). He also asks them to remind each other to “be prepared for the worst, and not to expect good times, but take the bad times for granted” (WND-1, 998).
The persecutions in Atsuhara came to a head on Sept. 21, 1279, when 20 farmers who were followers of Nichiren were arrested on false charges. Authorities interrogated, threatened and tortured these farmers in an attempt to force them to abandon their beliefs. However, they remained resolute. Months later, the brothers Jinshiro, Yagoro and Yarokuro were executed, and the remaining 17 were banished from their village.
Seeing the examples of these ordinary people fearlessly upholding faith and defying the harshest persecutions, even at the cost of their lives, convinced Nichiren that the time of kosen-rufu (widespread propagation) had arrived.
“For me it took twenty-seven years” (WND-1, 997)—indicates that after 27 years, Nichiren’s disciples demonstrated that Nichiren Buddhism was a teaching that could be championed by ordinary people—that it was a teaching that could lead all people to enlightenment. The appearance of these stalwart disciples signaled that Nichiren had fulfilled the “one great reason” for his appearance in this world, making it possible for all people to attain enlightenment.
SGI PRESIDENT IKEDA’S GUIDANCE
Embracing Nichiren Daishonin’s great vow as their own with pure-hearted faith, his disciples among the farmers of Atsuhara fought the persecution directed at them by tyrannical authorities. Their example of invincible commitment in the face of harsh persecution is a model of selfless dedication to propagating the Law based on faith solidly united with one’s mentor. It was an incomparable achievement proclaiming the victory of the Buddhism of the people for future generations.
Persecuted for their faith in the correct teaching, the unknown farmers of Atsuhara engaged in a struggle to win eternal spiritual freedom. They represented the emergence of a great power consisting of people who believe in and practice Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and strive alongside the Daishonin for kosen-rufu. The foundation of the people’s Buddhism was thus firmly established. This marked the fulfillment of the purpose of Nichiren’s appearance in the world. The essence of Nichiren Buddhism is the emergence of people who are Bodhisattvas of the Earth possessing a profound mission, who take Bodhisattva Never Disparaging as their model.
For the Daishonin’s disciples, the appearance of the disciples among the farmers of Atsuhara who did not begrudge their lives for the sake of Buddhism became an immortal foundation for kosen-rufu that will shine for all time. (July 2016 Living Buddhism, pp. 47–48)