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Buddhist Study

Each Instant Contains Incredible Possibilities

Concept #13: The Three Thousand Realms in a Single Moment of Life

Vivid colorful landscape scenery with a footpath through the hill slope covered by violet heather flowers and green valley, river, mountains and cloudy blue sky on background. Pentland hills, near Edinburgh, Scotland.
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Each instant of life contains incredible possibilities. Most important among these, especially when facing problems, is our ability to bring forth the strength and resolve to win—to forge ahead with hope, joy and courage, while challenging our doubts or fears. Such inner resolve, Buddhism teaches, is the key to a happy, fulfilling life.

Countless Soka Gakkai members have demonstrated this by using their Buddhist practice to overcome all kinds of challenges, reaching goals they thought were unreachable and creating a solid foundation for lasting happiness.

A core principle in Nichiren Buddhism is “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” which describes why this is possible. Nichiren Daishonin uses it to teach that a change in our inner resolve can change everything.

Today, we face endless uncertainties, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, issues with relationships, finances or social division. Nevertheless, we can shape the life we envision and positively affect those around us by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. By practicing and sharing Buddhism, and refreshing our resolve to win in any situation, we become stronger, wiser and more understanding of ourselves and others.

Ikeda Sensei says:

This principle [of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life”] holds that each life-moment is endowed with three thousand different functions, which influence not only our own lives but those of all around us; they also influence society, our natural environment and the earth. They encompass the entire universe.

Therefore, once you have decided to do something, the three thousand functions and your entire being start working to help you reach your goal. The entire universe also starts moving toward the fulfillment of your goal. If you pray, “This is how I want to be,” and continue to work toward your dream, you will gradually realize the future you have envisaged.[1]

The concepts behind three thousand realms in a single moment of life are profound and complex, and are difficult to explain fully in this brief article. But they describe the incredible potential and power our lives possess. That said, hopefully, the overview that follows sheds a little light on this principle.

Where Does the Number 3,000 Come From?

The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai[2] in the sixth century developed the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life as a way to explain the truth revealed in the Lotus Sutra: that the tremendous potential called Buddhahood resides in each person’s life.

“Three thousand realms” points to all aspects of life and their varied functions, while “a single moment of life” refers to life at any moment. The number 3,000 combines three Buddhist concepts that approach life and the law of causality from different perspectives. It derives from multiplying the number 100—from the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds (10 worlds x 10 worlds = 100)—by the “ten factors of life” and then by the “three realms of existence” (100 x 10 x 3 = 3,000).

The Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds

“The doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” Nichiren says, “begins with the concept of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,”[3] which, as explained in the previous installment of this series,[4] shows that the nine worlds exist within the world of Buddhahood, and the world of Buddhahood is inherent, and can only be expressed, within the reality of the other nine worlds.

This concept clarifies the Lotus Sutra’s teaching that all living beings fundamentally possess Buddhahood, the most enlightened state of life, and that we can bring it forth at any time by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The Ten Factors of Life

While the Ten Worlds describe different ways we experience life, the ten factors of life describe how the life state we are in—any of the Ten Worlds—is expressed at each moment in our life and environment.

Every day in the first section of gongyo, we repeat three times these ten factors from “Expedient Means,” the Lotus Sutra’s second chapter. They are: 1) appearance, 2) nature, 3) entity, 4) power, 5) influence, 6) internal cause, 7) relation, 8) latent effect, 9) manifest effect and 10) consistency from beginning to end.[5]

The first three factors describe the essence of a living being, while the next six describe the law of cause and effect, or how the Ten Worlds manifest in our lives. The last factor, “consistency from beginning to end,” indicates that all nine factors are consistent for each of the Ten Worlds.

For example, when we are in the world of hell, it shows on our face, we see people and situations through that lens, and we act out of frustration or rage.

Likewise, because we possess the potential for Buddhahood, when we attend SGI meetings, study, chant or tell others about Buddhism, that sparks the “internal cause” for us to experience and express in all aspects of our lives the workings of the world of Buddhahood.

The Three Realms of Existence

Finally, a transformation in our core mindset transforms the three realms of existence, which are three different standpoints of life: 1) the realm of the five components[6] (the individual), 2) the realm of living beings (society) and 3) the realm of the environment (the environment in which we live).

These three realms represent our actual world and are not separate. Instead, they are parts of an integrated whole, in which any of the Ten Worlds can manifest. They describe everything we each have to deal with—ourselves, our relationships with others and our environment.

Just as Nichiren emphasizes that “it is the heart that is important,”[7] the first of these three realms, which represents the inner workings of life, is key. When the state of our heart and mind changes, it effects a change in our interactions with those around us and our environment.

A Simple, Effective Approach

Nichiren Daishonin took the profound and comprehensive view that is three thousand realms in a single moment of life and engineered a simple way to apply it to our daily lives so that we can bring forth our Buddhahood, just as he did.

He explains that the benefits possessed by all Buddhas and inherent in all Buddhist sutras, the Lotus in particular, are fully contained within Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It is the Law, the seed of Buddhahood, by which ordinary people can realize enlightenment.

He manifested in his own life as an ordinary person this Law for attaining Buddhahood and embodied it in substantial ways—in his behavior, his words and demeanor.

He then crystallized that state of life directly in the form of the Gohonzon, which we regard as the concrete expression of three thousand realms in a single moment of life.

And today, through our practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon—even without fully grasping the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life—we can draw forth limitless courage, hope and resilience to surmount challenges and make the impossible possible.

Sensei says:

When we chant to the Gohonzon, we can perceive the true nature of our lives and manifest the world of Buddhahood.

Our attitude or determination in faith is perfectly reflected in the mirror of the Gohonzon and mirrored in the universe. This accords with the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. …

Accordingly, our attitude or mind is extremely important. Our deep-seated attitude or determination in faith has a subtle and far-reaching influence.[8]

Through powerful prayer to the Gohonzon, we can tap our greatest potential at any moment, and share the joy and freedom it gives us with our families, communities and society, and ultimately transform the entire world.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. Discussions on Youth, p. 411. ↩︎
  2. The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai (538–97), also known as Chih-i, was the founder of the T’ien-t’ai school in China and spread the Lotus Sutra in China. His lectures were compiled in such works as The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra and Great Concentration and Insight. ↩︎
  3. “The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 224. ↩︎
  4. For more on the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, see concept #12 in this series, published in the Sept. 17, 2021, World Tribune, p. 9. ↩︎
  5. For a detailed explanation of the ten factors of life, see The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, pp. 103–24. ↩︎
  6. The realm of the five components: An analysis of the nature of a living entity in terms of how it responds to its surroundings. The five components are 1) form, corresponding to the physical aspect of life, and the other four, which correspond to the spiritual aspect, 2) perception, 3) conception, 4) volition and 5) consciousness. ↩︎
  7. “The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1000. ↩︎
  8. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, p. 42. ↩︎

This Month in Soka Gakkai History (October)

The Courage to Challenge My Fears