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Buddhist Study

Inheriting the Ultimate Law of Life

A young woman receives the Gohonzon on New Year’s, San Francisco. SGI President Ikeda states, “There is no difference or distinction among our lives, the Buddha and the Law.” Photo by Kingmond Young.

Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment countless kalpas ago, the Lotus Sutra that leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from one another. To chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death. This is a matter of the utmost importance for Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters, and this is what it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra. (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 216)

Nichiren Daishonin recognized that all people, no matter who they are, experience joys and sufferings in life. At the same time, all have the potential to bring forth the most sublime inner condition a human being can experience. In this way, we are no different from the Buddha or the Lotus Sutra, which substantiates this noble state of life.

In recent months, with the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how connected we are with people around the globe, witnessing both negative and beautiful aspects of humanity.

In the passage above from “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” Nichiren teaches that Shakyamuni Buddha, the Mystic Law expounded in the Lotus Sutra and we, ordinary human beings, are one and the same.

The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people, without exception, inherently possess Buddhahood. We have the transformative power within to expand our state of life, bring forth our full potential and build absolute happiness.

What Is the Heritage of the Law?

Myoho-renge-kyo is the title of the Lotus Sutra and contains its essence. It is also the name of the Mystic Law that governs all life.

During the Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony in the Air, this great Law was transmitted by Shakyamuni Buddha to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who had emerged with the vow to propagate the Buddha’s teaching amid the difficulties of this world.

So what does it mean to “inherit” this Law?

SGI President Ikeda explains, “Only through living and taking action with the spirit of selfless dedication for the sake of Buddhism can Myoho-renge-kyo be transmitted as the ultimate Law of life and death” (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 5).

In other words, we inherit the Mystic Law by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and taking action to share this Law with the same resolve as Nichiren and Shakyamuni to help all people establish lives of absolute happiness.

Nichiren Shoshu’s Mistaken View of the Heritage

Despite Nichiren’s clear statement in “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life”—that Shakyamuni, the Law and ordinary people are all manifestations of Buddhahood—in attempting to justify its attacks on the Soka Gakkai and its members, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood distorted the teaching of the heritage of the Law, claiming it can only be passed down from high priest to high priest. This, they assert, is the only “heritage of the Law.”

They also refer to a separate heritage, which takes place only when lay believers chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo based on their absolute faith in the high priest, which they call “the heritage of faith.”

Therefore, the priests insist that if lay believers do not believe in the “heritage of the Law” being passed down exclusively from high priest to high priest, then they will not be able to access the “heritage of faith.”

Nichiren, however, makes clear that the Buddha and the Law reside in the lives of ordinary people without any distinction. And he says, “To chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death” (WND-1, 216).
SGI President Ikeda writes:

There is no difference or distinction among our lives, the Buddha and the Law. To believe that there is, even in the slightest, is a manifestation of delusion arising from our innate ignorance to life’s ultimate truth. Only when we comprehend that we are entities that undergo birth and death in the realm of Buddhahood can we be said to be truly practicing Nichiren Buddhism. (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life, Lecture Series, p. 46)

Advancing Kosen-rufu Based on the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple

In contrast to the priesthood, SGI members take concrete action to transmit the Law and ensure its eternal transmission. We strive to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and take action with the same unconquerable resolve as Nichiren.

This is what enables us to inherit the Law.

President Ikeda says, “To cherish the same great desire and to fight with the same spirit of selfless commitment as the mentor, even in the face of arduous difficulties, is the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple in the struggle for kosen-rufu” (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life, Lecture Series, p. 7).

Now, in this time of arduous challenge, let’s fight with the same vow as our mentor, determined to transform our circumstances and empower others to do the same.

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