An Essay on the Chain
The first year of Kōgen , at 35 years of age
If we are to talk about becoming Buddhas in a general way, then it is through knowing what our persons consist of, and that we are able to become such. What is said to be knowing our own persons is to know that they are Buddhas from the very origin.
All sentient beings, including such creatures as crickets, ants, horseflies, and mosquitoes, are all endowed with bodies that are comprised of the eighteen ways of understanding through the six organs of sense – i) the eyes, ii) the ears, iii) the nose, iv) the tongue, v) the body, vi) the mind. The six objective realms of these senses are the fields of vii) sight, viii) sound, ix) odours, x) flavours, xi) touch, and xii) ideas, as well as the capabilities of xiii) seeing, xiv) hearing, xv) smelling, xvi) tasting, xvii) touching, and xviii) a consciousness of any one or all of these events that are taking place. Hence, all sentient beings are incarnations of the five aggregates that darken the awareness of our original enlightenment, through having i) a physical form which ii) has ways of perceiving, which bring about ways of iii) thinking, which lead to ways of iv) behaviour, which results in v) all these aggregates amounting to how this sentient being sees himself in relation to his own existence.
Among the explanations, it says, “By giving a name to the combination of these five aggregates, we refer to a sentient being.” The combination of these five aggregates that darken our original enlightenment is therefore the chain of the twelve causes and karmic circumstances that run through the whole of sentient existence.
This chain is made up of i) a fundamental unenlightenment, which leads to ii) dispositions that are inherited from former lives. Then, iii) the first consciousness after conception takes place in the womb, whilst iv) the body and mind are evolving, which leads to v) the five organs of sense and the functioning of the mind, as it makes vi) contact with the outside world. This becomes vii) the receptivity or budding intelligence and discrimination from six to seven years old onwards, which evolve into viii) the thirst, desire, or love at the age of puberty, and ix) the urge of sensuous existence, which x) forms the substance of future karma. Then, xi) the completed karma is ready to be born again, as it takes its direction towards xii) old age and death.
This chain of the twelve causes and karmic circumstances is said to be spread over the two levels of cause and effect, which are understood as past cause and present effect and present cause and future effect. Also, this chain is carried over from the past to the present and on to the future.
The first link of this chain of causes and karmic circumstances is our fundamental unenlightenment. The eighth link is a thirst, desire, or love at the age of puberty; and the ninth link is the urge for sensuous existence. These three links are seen as troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha). The second link is made up of the various dispositions inherited from our former lives, and the tenth link is the substance of future karma. These are understood as being the workings of karma.
The first spark of consciousness that takes place in the womb after conception, the body and mind that evolves in the womb, the five organs of sense and the functioning of the mind, contact with the outside world, receptivity or budding intelligence and discrimination from six to seven years onwards, the karma that is completed and ready to be born again, as well as old age and death – all these seven links in the chain are seen as suffering. The chain of the twelve causes and karmic circumstances that run through the whole of sentient existence consists of the three paths of troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha), the workings of karma, and suffering.
The two links in the chain of fundamental unenlightenment and the various dispositions that are inherited from former lives have their causes in the past. The five links of the consciousness that originates in the womb, the body and mind that also evolved there, the five organs of sense and the functioning of the mind, contact with the outside world, and the receptivity and intelligence and discrimination that evolved from six years onwards, are five visible effects that are now in the present. The three links in the chain, which are i) the thirst, desire for love that starts at the age of puberty, ii) the urge for sensual existence that forms iii) the substance of karma, are the causes of the present state of affairs. On the other hand, the completed karma ready to be born again is already facing in the direction of old age and death, of which the outcome is to be seen in the future.
As far as our bodies are concerned, there are the three bitternesses of taking life, robbery, and sexual abuse. As far as our mouths are concerned, there are the four oral transgressions of being foul-mouthed, double-tongued, recounting wild fantasies, and the use of false flowery language, which bring about the workings of karma. Then, with regard to the mind, there are the three kinds of troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha) of indulgence, hatefulness, and unprofundity.
If you hold to and believe, as in the same way you would in the Dharma, in this particular chain of the twelve causes and karmic circumstances that run through the whole of sentient existence, then there is no doubt that you will become aware that your own inherent Buddha nature is not separate from what you are now. What this amounts to is that, if a person vilifies and destroys this sutra through his unbelief, then he will cut off all his Buddha seeds, throughout all the existential spaces. Outside of our own persons, there exists neither a separate Buddha nor a Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō).
The cause of existence, brought about by karmic circumstances, or not coming into existence, as a result of karmic circumstances, is brought about by two of the twelve zodiac branches that refer to the past. [The animals of the twelve zodiac branches are the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar.] To come into existence, as a result of causes due to karmic circumstances, or not to come into existence brought about by karmic circumstances, is brought about by two of the twelve zodiac branches that refer to the future. The other eight of the twelve zodiac branches that are suspended between the past and the future all have the cause of their existence brought about by karmic circumstances, as well as having come into existence as a result of causes due to karmic circumstances. Not coming into an existence caused by karmic circumstances and not having come into existence as a result of causes due to karmic circumstances are dharmas free from causation.
Now if we think of the chain of the twelve causes and karmic circumstances that run through the whole of sentient existence in terms of the past, present, and future, then our fundamental unenlightenment is when our pasts have become completely solidified. Dispositions inherited from the past refer to every single disposition we ever had.
When the first consciousness takes place in the womb is when we inherit a mind that is consistent with our surroundings. When the body and mind are evolving in the womb is the time when we receive the continuity of life, even though the capabilities of seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting are not yet developed, nor are the five organs of sense and the functioning of the mind coherent as yet. The five stages within the womb are seen as the growth of the formation of a stupa [which originally was a tower-like reliquary which represents the dharma body in three-dimensional form; later, this representation of the dharma body became the pagodas of China, Japan, and Korea].
[In the esoteric symbolism which Nichiren refers to, proceeding from the base upwards is a square, a circle, a triangle, a moon-shaped semicircle, and a jewel in the shape of a flame, called a mani,which is a symbol for the wisdom of the Buddha. The square symbolises matter; the circle symbolises cognition; the triangle represents mind; the new moon shape stands for the Dharma; and the flame stands for the Buddha nature.] The first stage is (karara, kalala), which represents the first sequence of seven days. This is defined as a union of the sperm and ovary and the following development. The second stage is called (abudomu, arbuda), which is translated as a bud and represents the second week after conception. The third stage, heishi [Skt.: peshî], is understood as an agglomeration of flesh and blood. The fourth stage is (kennan, ghana), which denotes bodily growth from the fifth week onwards. The fifth stage, (barashakya, prāshakhā], is when the foetus is fully formed to bide its term until birth.
This is followed by the foetus leaving the womb and becoming a human being. This means to be a sentient being.
In the Broad Elucidation of the Universal Desistance from Troublesome Worries in order to See Clearly, it says, “The head is round just like the heavens, and the feet are square just like the earth. Within the body, there are empty cavities which are like empty space. The warmth of the bowels is comparable to spring and summer. The hardness of the backbone is like that of winter. The four limbs of the body are like the four seasons, and the twelve major joints throughout the body are like the twelve months of the year. The three hundred sixty lesser joints throughout the whole body are comparable to the three hundred sixty days of the year. When we breathe in and out through our noses, it is like the wind that blows down from the mountains, over the marshes, and through the ravines and valleys. The breath that comes in and out through our mouths is like the wind that blows through empty space. The eyes are comparable to the sun and moon, and their opening and shutting are like day and night. Our hair is like the stars and other heavenly bodies. The eyebrows are like the seven stars of the Big Dipper. Our veins and arteries are like the rivers and streams. Our bones can be likened to gems and stones. Our flesh is like the soil and the earth. And the hairs on our bodies are like the thickets and woods. The five viscera are like the five planets – Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn; or these five viscera are like the five sacred mountains on earth that mark the boundaries of China [Taisan (Taishan in Shandong), Kōsan (Hengshan in Hunan), Kasan (Huashan in Shanxi), Kōsan (Hengshan in Hebei), and Sūsan (Songshan in Henan)].”
The flesh on our bodies is symbolised by the element earth. The runny marrow in our bones is seen as the element water. Blood is symbolised by the element fire. The skin is symbolised by the element wind. And the muscles are understood as being the element wood. Now when it comes to the five organs of sense and the functioning of the mind, the eyes are for seeing shapes and colours; the ears are for hearing sounds; the nose is for smelling odours; the tongue is for tasting flavours; and the body suffers pain and discomfort, when it is touched by heat, cold, coarseness, and things that irritate it. It is easy to see with our eyes how these five senses work. As for the sixth sense which is the workings of the mind, this is a propensity that is to be found within the bodies of all sentient beings. But they do not know its totality.
This is something I cannot see and know nothing about. How is it then, for those superior to humankind? At the present time, is there anybody capable of knowing the totality of mind?
It is said that the mind of the Buddha cannot be thought out, nor deliberated upon. Then why should it not be so for those with lesser propensities?
What people do not know is that this totality is separate from being long or measuring less, or being round or square in shape. It is not cerulean, yellow, vermilion, white, or black. It is a dharma that is beyond any verbal expression or pondered thought. It cannot be compared to walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, which are understood as the four noble positions of the Buddha, or to any other state. It silences anything that is composed of words or any manifestation of cause and karmic circumstances. It is not something that could be depicted by painting a picture; nor is it anything that can be learned through study; nor is it something that comes from the Buddha’s foretelling when a disciple will attain enlightenment, nor from any oracular message from the gods; nor is it anything that can be handed down from one’s parents or teachers. It does not rain down from heaven; nor does it spring up from the earth. It is something so utterly all-embracing that it is impossible to ponder over or deliberate upon.
In response to such charlatans that claim to be enlightened, the two sage-like personages Tendai (T’ien T’ai) and Myōraku (Miao-lo), in the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi) and the Explanatory Notes on the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower (Hokke Gengi Shakusen), say, “The mind is as elusive as the sparks of fireworks which, when burned out, only remain as remembered words. But on naming these illusions we call them mind. As you would expect, some people will insist that these sparks existed, and when they say so, they perceive neither their colour nor their inherent qualities. Naturally, there are other people who say that these sparks do not exist, and, when they say so, only their memory comes to mind. You should not even go as far as wondering whether something exists or not, because it is the imponderable quality of Utterness. That which acts in the same way as the utterness of mind is referred to as the dharma(s). The dharmas of the mind are not the cause, nor are they the fruition. If you contemplate this matter in the light of it being a fundamental principle, you will come to understand that cause and effect are simultaneous; this is what we call the lotus flower. Then, when you have contemplated this matter as being the oneness of mind and pass this concept on to other minds in order to teach them, then this is what we call a sutra.”
In the Explanatory Notes on the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi Shakusen), it says, “The instant it is said that something exists, it does not mean to say that the totality of existence is not there. So why should it not be the quality and appearance of all the ten [psychological] realms of dharmas? When it is said that something does not exist, then again three thousand thoughts come to mind, which do not exclude the actual instant of reflexion on the realms of dharmas at hand. You should not bother yourselves as to whether anything exists or not, since one instant of mental activity is simply the way the middle way is. This is because, as you already know, mind is Utterness itself.”
At this point it is well understood that our minds are the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), and the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) is what our minds really are. Through not knowing the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), we cannot know what our persons really are.
The idea of moving house and forgetting about one’s wife could be used as an analogy for the person who cannot become a Buddha, because he has forgotten about the need for the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) for his existence to come. Therefore, anybody who goes against and vilifies the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) goes against all the Buddhas, all the deva (ten), one’s father and mother, lord and teacher, the mountains, the seas, the sun and the moon, and everything that exists.
The Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) has to be all the ten comparisons that the Bodhisattva Sovereign Remedy (Yaku’ ō, Bhaishajya-rāja) used to show that this sutra is superior to all others, when he said to the Bodhisattva Shukuōke, [“Just as out of all watercourses, effluents, streams, rivulets, and great rivers, the sea is the greatest, so it is the same with this Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), which is the most all-embracing and profound out of all the sutras that the Tathāgata has expounded. Just as out of all the mountains of soil, black mountains, the lesser ring of iron mountains that surround the world, the larger range of iron mountains that surround the world, Mount Sumeru is the greatest, so it is the same with this Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), which is the highest peak among all sutras. Just as, out of all the stars, the moon as a prince of the deva (ten) is the first among the heavenly bodies at night, again, it is the same with this Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), which shines the brightest out of the thousands of myriads of millions of different kinds of sutric dharmas that exist. Again, just as the sun as prince of the deva (ten) can take away all darkness, so it is the same with this Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) that is able to reverse the darkness of everything that is not good. Again, in the same way a sage-like sovereign whose chariot wheels roll everywhere without hindrance (tenrinnō, chakravartin) is monarch among all the lesser kings, it is the same with regard to this sutra, which is the most revered out of all the others. Again, just as the thirty-third heaven of Taishaku is the ultimate of all heavens, so it is the same with this sutra that is paramount among all the others. Just as the Universal King Bonten is the father of all sentient beings, it is the same with this sutra, which is the parent of all those who aspire to the mind of a bodhisattva, all those who are sage-like and wise, and all those who are still studying to get rid of their delusions and those who have begun to cast them off. Again, just as those whose practice is beyond the stream of transmigratory suffering, or those whose practice requires only one more lifetime before reaching nirvana, or those who have attained the supreme rewards of the individual vehicle, or those who realise nirvana for themselves and without a teacher, are foremost among ordinary people, so it is the same with this sutra, whether it be expounded by the Tathāgata, or by a bodhisattva, or even by a person who has heard the Buddha’s voice. Among all the dharmas, this sutra is superior to all. Also, the person who is able to receive and hold to this archetypal sutra takes first place among sentient beings. Just as the bodhisattvas are foremost among the hearers of the Buddha’s voice and those who realise nirvana for themselves without a teacher, so it is the same with this sutra. Out of all the sutric dharmas, this sutra is superior to all. Just as the Buddha is the sovereign of all dharmas, so it is the same with this sutra that is the most important of all.”].
It says in the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi), “The eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are the gateway to being free from troublesome worries and distress.” In the Explanatory Notes on the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke Gengi Shakusen) it says, “The eternally abiding, real aspect of all dharmas is like the sweet dew from the deva (ten) that is the elixir of immortality. Now that the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma) has been explained, the real aspect of all dharmas is opened up to us. This is why it is referred to as a gateway.”
Being free from troublesome worries (bonnō, klesha) and distress is the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). Also, the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) is the sweet dew of the deva (ten) that is the elixir of immortality. It says in the third fascicle of the Universal Desistance from Troublesome Worries in order to See Clearly (Maka Shikan), “The bundles of sutric scrolls of the all-pervasive wisdom and discernment of the Tathāgata exist in every detail within the persons of sentient beings. But because they are beset by the absurd ideas of ordinary people, this wisdom is obscured, so that they neither perceive it, nor do they think it is true.”
What I am saying you must attentively take into deep consideration. You must close your eyes, set your mind completely at rest, and fully take this in. All the six organs of sense – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind – are all the embodiment of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) [which is where the interdependence of cause and effect of the Utterness of the Dharma (Myōhō, Saddharma) occurs]. Have no doubts about the mind being the fundamental substance of the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) and that the other five sensory organs are its embodiment.
The mind is king, and the five organs of sense are its retinue. Although there is sight in our eyes and our auditive sense is in our ears, it is the mind that really makes us see and hear. Nevertheless, the behaviour of the five organs of sense is in accordance with the workings of the mind. Because seeing things is something that is done by the mind, then the eyes are also the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). Also, hearing with our ears is brought about through our minds, hence the ears being the Dharma Flower Sutra. It is also the same with the other organs of sense.
When we die, five of our organs of sense – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body – no longer function. Even though the actual substance of these five organs is dead, their outward shape still remains. However, because there is no mind, when has a person who is dead ever been able to see or hear? It does not follow common sense.
It is exactly the same with those who slander the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). Since our minds are the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), to go and vilify it implies losing our minds, so that our six organs of sense are incomplete. Does that then mean that by losing one’s mind, that is to say the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), we should establish the teachings that came before it?
By vilifying the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō), means that this person no longer has faith in it; and since his mind has gone in the direction of all the schools of all the provisional dharmas of the individual vehicle that were taught prior to the Dharma Flower, this person’s mind is indeed that of a dead body.
Now, the school of the Dharma Flower is said to be the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō) itself. Since we do not throw our minds away, we do not become like the corpses that have lost their six organs of sense. If the mind is not separate from the five sensory organs and the five sensory organs are not separate from mind, when the mind becomes a Buddha, our physical attributes will become Buddhas at the same time. Since outward appearances and the mind are not a duality, there is the mutual possession of an inner and an external existence.
In the Explanatory Notes on the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower Sutra, it says, “The eight petals of the Lotus Flower represent the eight classifications of the doctrines of Shākyamuni [i) the teachings of the three receptacles, ii) the interrelated teachings, iii) the particular teaching, iv) the all-inclusive teaching, v) the direct teachings that reveal the Buddha’s enlightenment without any preamble, vi) the gradual teachings where the Buddha reveals his enlightenment in stages, vii) the esoteric and secret teachings, and viii) the indeterminate teachings], and the calyx of the lotus stands for the one and only doctrine to which all the others relate. In the one, there are eight, and in the eight, there is one. There is always one, and there are always eight. There is only one and only eight. If it becomes one, then it becomes eight. There is neither a first, nor a last.”
In the Universal Desistance from Troublesome Worries in order to See Clearly (Maka Shikan), it says, “In the single instant of mind, there are ten [psychological] realms of dharmas. Even if there is only the tiniest scrap of mind, then there are three thousand existential spaces.” In the Broad Elucidation to Support the Practice of the Universal Desistance from Troublesome Worries in order to See Clearly, it says, “Indeed you should know that the one instant of thought of the self and its dependent terrain contains three thousand existential spaces. This is because, when we put this fundamental principle of the attainment to the path into words, then it becomes the one instant of our own minds being replenished with all the existing realms of dharmas.”
In the Recondite Significance of the Dharma Flower, we have, “Even if you say three thousand existential spaces, or even if you say the realms of dharmas, they are just alternative names for the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō).” In the Chapter on the Bodhisattva Sovereign Medicine (Yaku’ ō, Bhaishajya-rāja), it states, “There will be a broad propagation throughout the world of humankind.”
The world of humankind is the sky, the earth, and our fathers and mothers. Also, the same chapter goes on to say, “The good medicine is for the illnesses of the people of the world of mankind.” The good medicine is the sky, the earth, and our father and mother. In this manner, we ourselves who are sentient beings are none other than the substance of the Dharma Flower. We like to think that the Dharma Flower Sutra is an entirely different country or another Japan, and we think of the sky, the earth, water, as other dimensions and other places. In this way, we regardlessly end up by throwing our noble selves away. Apart from berating ourselves, we tend to fall into evil places. How can we be such wretched and sorry beings?
Therefore, when we have faith, our persons become something unthinkably wonderful, just as it is recounted in the Eighteenth Chapter on the Joy of the following Meritorious Virtues of Practice. But the adversities we may meet when we vilify our persons are recounted in the Twenty-Eighth Chapter on the Persuasiveness and Quest [for Buddhahood] of the Bodhisattva Universally Good (Fugen, Samantabhadra). In this chapter, it says, “This sacred text of the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna) is the treasure store of all the Buddhas. It is the eyes of all the Buddhas of the ten directions of the past, present, and future. It is the seed from whence all the Tathāgatas of the past, present, and future come into being. The person who holds to this sutra takes care of the Buddha, as well as carrying out his tasks.”
In the Third Chapter on Similes and Parables, it says, “If somebody vilifies this sutra through having no faith in it means that this person denies all his Buddha seeds throughout all the existential spaces.” In the Chapter on the Persuasiveness and Quest [for Buddhahood] of the Bodhisattva Universally Worthy (Samantabhadra, Fugen), it says, “All the Buddha Tathāgatas are the offspring of the actual reality of the dharma. Through doing the practice of the universal vehicle (daijō, mahāyāna), you will not be denying the seeds of the Dharma.”
Nichiren [formal signature]
Sunset seen from the island of Oahu
Martin Bradley, The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin, ISBN: 2-913122-19-1, 2005,
The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin by Martin Bradley
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.