Casting Off the Transient and Revealing the True
Most religions recognize and revere a founder, great sage or savior, and many, a supreme deity of some sort. Usually it is not an option for ordinary believers to consider themselves equal to these figures. This was even true among the Buddha’s disciples, who found it difficult to regard themselves as equal to the Buddha.
In the Lotus Sutra, however, the Buddha himself overturned this kind of thinking. In the sutra’s 16th chapter, “Life Span of the Thus Come One,” Shakyamuni reveals that he did not attain enlightenment for the first time while meditating under the bodhi tree in India, as everyone had assumed. Instead, he makes the astounding assertion that in fact “it has been immeasurable, boundless hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of kalpas since I in fact attained buddhahood” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 266).
Thus, Shakyamuni’s identity as “the Buddha who first attained enlightenment in this life” is transformed to that of “the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past.”
The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai of China describes this revelation as Shakyamuni “casting off the transient to reveal the true.” He taught that this means that Buddhahood is an eternal potential within the lives of all people.
In this concept, transient refers to a superficial image or idea of oneself, comparable to the image of the moon reflected on the water’s surface.
Casting off, which also means “opening,” indicates opening up that shallow surface image and bringing forth one’s true nature.
Revealing the true means bringing to light that true nature—that of a genuine, fully enlightened, eternal Buddha capable of leading others to happiness. It also means revealing that a true Buddha is none other than an ordinary human being who has awakened to this eternal potential.
Nichiren’s Fearlessness in the Face of Persecution
Nichiren Daishonin demonstrated this process of casting off the transient and revealing the true with his very life, as he underwent what is known as the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.
This was the surreptitious attempt by authorities to behead him at the Tatsunokuchi execution grounds. His fearless, conviction-filled bearing, together with a bright object that appeared in the night sky at the very moment the sword was to fall, shocked his would-be executioners into abandoning their attempt.
Nichiren later stated in “The Opening of the Eyes”:
On the twelfth day of the ninth month of last year, between the hours of the rat and the ox (11:00 P.M. to 3:00 A.M.), this person named Nichiren was beheaded. It is his soul that has come to this island of Sado and, in the second month of the following year, snowbound, is writing this to send to his close disciples. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 269)
His captors failed to kill him, but he nevertheless says “this person named Nichiren was beheaded,” expressing that what died that day was his “transient identity”—his limitations as someone who regarded himself merely as an ordinary person. While he didn’t cease to be an ordinary person, he revealed his true “soul”—his identity as a Buddha.
By doing so, the Daishonin embodied the core message of the Lotus Sutra: ordinary people can become Buddhas just as they are.
Revealing the Buddha Within
A Buddha is not a transcendent or superlative being with special powers beyond that of any ordinary human.
A Buddha is a person who has “cast off” or “opened” their limited identity or sense of self, and revealed their beautiful true self, which is the source of limitless courage, wisdom and compassion.
Luckily there’s no need to face the executioner’s sword for us to “cast off the transient and reveal the true.” We need only apply our Buddhist faith and practice earnestly in overcoming any challenge we face and in helping others bring forth their limitless Buddhahood. Ikeda Sensei says:
However much we may speak of the wonderful innate power of life, or of people’s limitless potential, that alone amounts to no more than an abstraction. Rather, it is when we strive to develop ourselves in the midst of the greatest adversity that our innate power as human beings reveals itself. Our true self, of which we were not even aware, comes to the fore. (June 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 50)
This is the exact spirit with which Nichiren overcame the Tatsunokuchi Persecution. Sensei goes on to say that casting off the transient and revealing the true “means striving in faith … continuously setting forth from the present moment. It means taking action right now” (June 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 50).
As we advance kosen-rufu each day as the Daishonin’s disciples, undaunted by hardships, we reveal our true identity and mission as Buddhas to awaken everyone to their limitless power.
—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department
To learn more about “casting off the transient and revealing the true,” check out Ikeda Sensei’s book The Opening of the Eyes: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, available at bookstore.sgi-usa.org in paperback ($7.95) and e-book ($5.99).