fundamental darkness

the three obstacles and four devils, with fundamental darkness
the three obstacles and four devils, with fundamental darkness

(click on diagram for a closer look)

Fundamental Darkness

 “…also, fundamental ignorance or primal ignorance. The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. Darkness in this sense means inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life.  The term fundamental darkness is contrasted with the fundamental nature of enlightenment, which is the Buddha nature inherent in life. According to the Shrimala Sutra, fundamental darkness is the most difficult illusion to surmount and can be eradicated only by the wisdom of the Buddha. T’ien-t’ai (538-597) interprets darkness as illusion that prevents one from realizing the truth of the Middle Way, and divides such illusion into forty-two types, the last of which is fundamental darkness. This illusion is only extirpated when one attains the stage of perfect enlightenment, the last of the fifty-two stages of bodhisattva practiceNichiren (1222-1282) interprets fundamental darkness as ignorance of the ultimate Law, or ignorance of the fact that one’s life is essentially a manifestation of that Law, which he identifies as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In The Treatment of Illness, Nichiren states: “The heart of the Lotus school is the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, which reveals that both good and evil are inherent even in those at the highest stage of perfect enlightenment.  The fundamental nature of enlightenment manifests itself as Brahma and Shakra, whereas the fundamental darkness manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven“. Nichiren thus regards fundamental darkness as latent even in the enlightened life of the Buddha, and the devil king of the sixth heaven as a manifestation or personification of life’s fundamental darkness. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings reads, ‘Belief is a sharp sword that cuts off fundamental darkness or ignorance.’” —The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism

What is Fundamental Darkness?  Fundamental Darkness is ignorance sometimes called primal ignorance & it is within us all.  It is a persistent & deceptive illusion.  It is at times hard to ignore & it is also difficult to indentify.  Nichiren Daishonin writes that: “Fundamental Darkness manifests itself as the Devil of the Sixth Heaven.”  The Devil of the Sixth Heaven is also related to the metaphor of The Three Obstacles & Four Devils.  Nichiren warns that when one is practicing the correct teaching of Buddhism, obstacles (& hindrances) will inevitably appear, to deter our path to enlightenment.  One of these devils, the Devil of the Sixth Heaven is said to be the most powerful.  He is the manifestation of Fundamental Darkness & he is the last devil defeated, he will fight to the bitter end to keep you from enlightenment.  It might be helpful to bear in mind that nowadays we do not see this as an actual demon or devil (with wings, horns & claws) but simply as a metaphor for a concept that is essentially the antithesis to our enlightenment.  Nichiren writes that since the devil (of the sixth…) is there (in your life working on deterring you on your path to enlightenment) the devil might be saying this to himself: “This is most vexing. If I allow this person to remain in my domain, he will not only free himself from the sufferings of birth and death, but [he will also] lead others to enlightenment as well…” 

 Fundamental Darkness is many things, including not recognizing our own Buddha nature & not recognizing the Buddha nature in others.  A key difference from a traditional/western notion of evil, is that we Buddhists acknowledge that fundamental darkness is latent in all of life (including our own), rather than occurring only in specific individuals/groups exclusively.  The theory is that we can use it as a motivation, a catalyst to improve, & as an impetus to strive for enlightenment.  “Earthly desires are enlightenment.” Once we can identify when, where & how fundamental darkness invades our daily lives (by chanting Nam-myho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon) then we can strive to pursue our own Buddha-nature with greater force & conviction, since we have taken the vow to improve by practicing Nichiren’s Buddhism.  As I’ve repeated, Fundamental Darkness lies (dormant or active) within ourselves, just as our own enlightenment does, this realization can help to better understand others, since they too are going through their own great struggles with the Devil of the Sixth Heaven.  Fundamental Darkness is the ignorance to the truth of one’s life, and ignorance to the Mystic Law, indeed ignorance (not to be mistaken for innocence) of the law of Nam-myho-renge-kyo.  The recognition that Fundamental Darkness is a fact of life might be a tool that helps us see our similarities, rather than our differences.  You fight Fundamental Darkness & so do I.  When we see that each person contains (more-or-less) the best & the worst of our own-selves (in a variety of degrees exaggerated, enhanced, suppressed, repressed, unseen, magnified &c.), then we can stop seeing others as “the other,” & simply more like ourselves.  Saying: “she is like me,” is more difficult than, “she is bad, or she is evil.”  “All men are created equal,” includes women, minorities, the oppressed, the poor, the voiceless, your enemy, & yourself.  This is the wisdom of y/our enlightenment.   

There is no doubt that the influence of Fundamental Darkness is insidious & multifaceted.  We can all recognize it in our own lives, in our own hearts—we know what it is (usually without question). We know its circumstances.  We know its guises.  We know its deception.  We know its persistence well.  It’s so familiar, that it’s probably why we turned to the Nichiren’s practice for help.  Perhaps our lives had been overwhelmed by Fundamental Darkness.  We needed a way to confront, question & we needed a way to challenge this difficult “friend.”  There lies part of the secret to understanding how we overcome its devilish influence.  Chant with faith that we will have the wisdom to defeat our own demons, faith that we will have the wisdom to understand (& to know) our own Devil of the sixth heaven. Be reassured that you have the strength.  Have faith that the darkness that might pervade your life now can be illuminated, enlightened & confronted with practice & study.  On Fundamental Darkness President Ikeda writes:

 “…for all its negative & destructive influence [it is] at essence nothing but ignorance.  Therefore it can be vanquished by wisdom.  A person who brings forth this kind of wisdom is a Buddha.  The supreme wisdom for achieving this goal is found in the correct teaching of Buddhism, which is none other than the Lotus Sutra of Shakyamuni & the teaching of Nam-myho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws expounded by Nichiren Daishonin.” Living Buddhism May/June 2009

 Aurelio Madrid

10 thoughts on “fundamental darkness

  1. Great! May I ask — are you an SGI member? I know someone in Boulder who wants to find out more about the practice.

    1. …thanks for dropping by! I always like to write about buddhist theology. fundamental darkness is one issue we always need to regard with more wisdom.

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