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Gongyo Series

Our Determination Creates the “Time”

Photo by Mary Delia

In his book The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, Ikeda Sensei details the significance and meaning of “Expedient Means” and “Life Span of the Thus Come One,” the 2nd and 16th chapters of the Lotus Sutra, which we recite in our daily practice of gongyo.

This week, let’s study what Sensei says about the first phrase in the “Expedient Means” chapter—“At that time.”

Niji seson. Ju sanmai. Anjo ni ki.
At that time the World-Honored One calmly arose from his samadhi … (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 56)

Let us first consider just what kind of time is being indicated in the phrase “At that time.” Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda explained:

“At that time” refers to the concept of time as employed in Buddhism. This is different from time in the sense that we ordinarily use it to indicate some particular time such as two o’clock or three o’clock or in the sense of springtime.

Neither is “at that time” comparable to the typical nursery tale opening “Once upon a time.” Time, in the sense signified here, refers to the time when a Buddha, perceiving the people’s longing for the Buddha, appears and expounds the teaching.

Four conditions must be met for a Buddha to expound the Law—time, response, capacity and teaching. Time, in Buddhism, indicates when the Buddha appears and expounds the teaching in response to the capacity of people who seek it. In other words, time refers to when a Buddha and human beings encounter one another.

While Shakyamuni is engaged in his deep meditation, his disciples’ seeking spirit no doubt reaches a climax. They probably thought to themselves: “I wonder what kind of teaching the World-Honored One will expound? I don’t want to miss a single word. I will engrave the Buddha’s teaching in my heart.” Containing their blazing enthusiasm, they all listened intently, focusing their full attention and fixing their gaze on their mentor.

And so the time became ripe. Shakyamuni finally broke his long silence and began to expound the Lotus Sutra—the ultimate teaching that enables all living beings to attain Buddhahood. This is the meaning of “At that time,” which begins the “Expedient Means” chapter.

In other words, it indicates the time when a Buddha stands up to guide people to enlightenment and the time when the disciples have established a single-minded seeking spirit for the Buddha’s teaching. It signifies a profound concordance of the disciples’ hearts with the mentor’s heart. This scene opens the grand drama of mentor and disciple, who dedicate themselves to the happiness of humankind.

The Buddha is the one who most keenly comprehends the time. The Buddha awaits the proper time, discerns the nature of the time, creates the time and expounds the Law that accords with the time. Such is the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.

“Why do the people suffer?” “For what do the people yearn?” “What teaching enables the people to become happy, and when should it be taught?” The Buddha ponders these matters constantly and expounds the Law freely in accordance with the time.

In this sense, to know the time is also to understand people’s hearts. The Buddha is a leader who has mastered understanding others’ hearts. The Buddha is an instructor of the spirit and an expert on human nature.

From the Buddha’s standpoint, “that time” is the time when the Buddha initiates the struggle to enable all people to attain enlightenment. For the disciples, it is the time when they grasp and become powerfully aware of the Buddha’s spirit.

Regarding the importance of the time, Nichiren Daishonin writes, “When it comes to studying the teachings of Buddhism, one must first learn to understand the time” (“The Selection of the Time,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 538). Thus he indicates that Buddhism is expounded based on the time; the teaching that should be propagated is the one that accords with the time.

Proclaiming this period of the Latter Day of the Law to be the time when the great pure Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo should be spread, Nichiren launched the struggle to propagate the Mystic Law and enable all people of the Latter Day to attain enlightenment.

One’s Inner Determination Opens the Way Forward

In other words, from the standpoint of the Buddhism hidden in the depths, we can interpret “that time” as indicating the time when Nichiren commenced his great struggle to save all humankind. And it can also be said that “that time” indicates the time when Nichiren’s disciples stand up in concert with the mentor to realize kosen-rufu.

In terms of our practice, therefore, I would like to stress that “that time” exists only when we pray to the Gohonzon and manifest determination and awareness of our mission for kosen-rufu. We have to make a determination, pray and take action. Unless we do so, our environment will not change in the least; though five or 10 years may pass, “that time” will never arrive.

Our single-minded determination for kosen-rufu, and that alone, creates the “time.” “That time” is when we set our lives in motion, when we stand up of our own volition and by our own will and strength. “That time” is when we summon forth strong faith and take our place on the grand stage of kosen-rufu.

Goethe writes, “The moment alone is decisive; Fixes the life of man, and his future destiny settles.”[1] “That time” is the moment you resolve from the depths of your heart, “Now I will stand up and fight!” From that instant, your destiny changes. Your life develops. History begins.

This is the spirit of the mystic principle of the true cause.[2] This is the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. The moment you autonomously determine to accomplish something—not when you do it because you are told to—is “that time,” the time of mission. (The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, pp. 23–26)


To learn more about gongyo, check out The Heart of the Lotus Sutra by Ikeda Sensei, available at bookstore.sgi-usa.org for $11.99 (e-book) and $14.95 (hard copy).

References

  1. ohann Wolfgang von Goethe, Herman and Dorothea, trans. Ellen Frothingham, vol. XIX, Part 4, The Harvard Classics (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14); Bartleby.com, 2001. ↩︎
  2. Refers to the practice Shakyamuni carried out countless kalpas in the past in order to attain his original enlightenment. The term contrasts with the true effect, or the original enlightenment Shakyamuni achieved as a result of the true cause countless kalpas before his enlightenment in India. Nichiren identified the true cause, or fundamental Law, that enables all Buddhas to attain their enlightenment, as the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. ↩︎

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