notes on nichiren daishonin’s letter to the brothers

karasu tengu – from: orientalex 2


If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.

–latin proverb

“After the Buddha has entered extinction we will honor, embrace, recite & preach this sutra. Living beings in the evil age to come will have fewer & fewer good roots. Many will be overbearingly arrogant & greedy for offerings & others for gain, increasing the roots that are not good & moving farther than ever from emancipation. But although it will be difficult to teach & convert them, we will summon up the power of great patience & will read & recite this sutra, embrace, preach & copy it, offering many kinds of alms & never begrudging our bodies or our lives.”

This passage is from the Encouraging Devotion chapter of the Lotus Sutra. This is the same chapter of the Lotus Sutra Nichiren Daishonin quotes from in The Letter to the Brothers,” with the phrase: “Evil demons will take possession of others.” In this little chapter from the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha describes the importance of propagating the Mystic Law. In it we also get an elaborate series of metaphors & ways that our path (to enlightenment) will be obstructed by ignorance, arrogance, greed, delusion & so on. These things are otherwise known as Fundamental Darkness (or the devil of the sixth heaven).

Fundamental darkness is your obstruction, it is my obstruction, it was Nichiren’s obstruction & the two brothers also had an aspect of fundamental darkness inside their lives represented by their own father who tried to obstruct their faith by pitting them against each other. In fact, Nichiren writes that: “This world is the domain of the Devil of the sixth heaven. All of its people have been under the rule of this devil since time without beginning.”  

With this we see the importance of identifying what fundamental darkness is. Fundamental darkness is of course a fundamental ignorance & it is a stubborn illusion obscuring the truth that we all contain the potential for enlightenment. It is also ignorance of the law of Nam-myho-renge-kyo. I believe it is also the forces in our lives that are arrogant, greedy, malicious, selfish & all the others things that threaten to get in our way of enlightenment. Fundamental darkness obstructs our faith, it gets in our way of faith & it get’s in our way of knowing the correct path.

President Ikeda (in this month’s lecture) also reminds us that President Toda said:

“The Devil of the Sixth heaven (fundamental darkness) is depicted on the Gohonzon. So when we pray to the Gohonzon the devil king obeys the Gohonzon. The devil king will issue orders keeping the leaders of his devilish forces in check. The original enlightened potential of the devil king is manifested through the Gohonzon. Indeed all entities depicted on the Gohonzon display their innate dignified attributes when illuminated by Nam-myho-renge-kyo.”  

This clarification reaches deep into the metaphor of changing poison into medicine (Greg Martin speaks of this in this month’s lecture too), which is a concept of transforming fundamental darkness into enlightenment. Changing poison into medicine has to do with taking any negative situation (persons, actions, states of mind, physical, natural obstructions &c.) as a potential for enlightenment. When we fail at tasks, we naturally want to learn a better way. When we get sick, we can see our lives as precious & hence look to find deeper meaning within life & we can thereby gain a sense resolve within our selves. When someone else is unjust to us, the situation can offer a key to understanding human nature, it can also help us to see our own mistakes, or perhaps our own arrogance & shortsightedness. Negative functions can be a turning point from old ways of thinking that are merely reactionary & then a cause for the individual to propel his/her self into a creative & new solution, a new enlightened way of thinking.

When we look at the Gohonzon to identify where fundamental darkness is depicted, let us look at it in the perspective that President Toda speaks of, that is, to see the enlightened potential within it. This should then allow us to look at our lives & see the fundamental darkness within that, therefore urging us to see the enlightened potential of even the worst parts of our selves, the parts that are neglected, parts of our selves that are overly critical of others, in short: the parts of ourselves that need work.

One of our weaknesses that must be faced & transformed is that of misunderstanding. In the Gosho, the Lotus Sutra & Ikeda’s lecture, we are reminded (with wisdom) over & over that these devilish functions will inhabit even an enlightened individual. These individuals can be authorities, teachers & lay-persons alike. We must be aware that we can be easily misguided, misinformed & taken astray by people that might have their own interests over our own (remember the devil king of the sixth heaven is also known as: “he who makes free use of the fruits of others”). This is interesting in that it puts the responsibility of knowing the right way to practice, in the hands of the practitioner. We must understand the ways we can be deceived & we must be aware of when that very deception is coming out of our own lives, in other words, how we might allow ourselves to be deceived. Our responsibility to put forth the correct way is imperative to our own understanding. We probably cannot always be second guessing our teachers either, since this could be a form of churlish arrogance., but we can have a clear sense of where to turn, which is where we’re at right now: looking to the Lotus Sutra, reviewing Nichiren’s encouragements, reading Ikeda, Toda & also we sit among others in faith who can guide us along the correct path to enlightenment. Our potential is there & it can be enhanced, this is brought about with active listening, diligent study, assiduous practice, courageous faith, & friendly dialogue.


Aurelio  Madrid

luigi pareyson, richard tuttle, & reinaert de V.

Richard Tuttle “Section IV, Extension A.”, 2007
mixed media 7 1/4″ x 3″ x 4″

(…continuation from Reinaert de V.’s comments on the previous post)

Dear Reinaert de V.,

Thank you for the additional reply. I love that you brought these thinkers to me with more of your nice conversation/dialogue.

The frustration I have, is that Luigi Pareyson is not translated enough to find much written in English, of (or on) his philosophy. I did locate Umberto Eco’s The Open Work, that includes a nice chapter on (his former teacher) Pareyson.

So, between you & Eco, I’ve had to piece together this little understanding of the philosopher’s work.

I can see that Pareyson was an existentialist who dealt with themes of liberty, ontology & aesthetics from a hermeneutical (perhaps even a phenomenological) perspective. The hermeneutical nature of his theory of “form” helps to bring even more of a refinement to the/your overall discussion of art & art appreciation (while not excluding larger questions on the nature of objects, ideas, creation, expression, work &c.). His particular way of interpreting the way we see, consider & understand “form” as more of a universal expression (of not only the arts, but) of all human endeavor—is breathtaking. If we start to see “form” as a kind of window into the human spirit, then we can take the liberty to face (engage & challenge) our intrinsic suffering–hence: my suffering is palliated by active aesthetic appreciation/questioning.

What if we really could look at objects of art as less recalcitrant objects that refuse interpretation? Pareyson seems to suggest, the art-object (& it’s “form”) fully contains the physical manifestation of that artist’s life &/or spirit. Then if we see what is at work (in this frame of mind), then we can start to transfer this from an aesthetic study, to our everyday life, that is, how does: FORM + SPIRIT = LIFE? How does this “form” in-form our life?  It seems that when one engages this kind of question we could possibly have a fuller (& Pareysonian) interaction with the world around us, particularly the man-made world. It’s with this notion that we can have a great appreciation for work in all its forms.

The form I create now is the truest expression of me at this moment.  

When thinking & trying to understand Pareyson’s ideas I can’t help but think of Richard Tuttle’s wonderful art. Let me know if you agree with what I mean. Tuttle’s work always appears to be asking: “what is this–what am I?” Because his art objects “look” to be of such little effort, one instantly wants to have it validated, to give or impose a meaning onto the strange object. We’ve never seen such an odd little object. We automatically question its form (its right to exist). It might be within this bewilderment that (as we’ve discussed) we see shades of Lyotard’s sublime, but also we start to see Pareyson’s “forms” (formativity?) too. Tuttle had to make any number of decisions, changes, revisions, selections & whatever else, to produce any of his quirky little objects, hence a segment of his life is embedded within each object, and in fact we’ll call it a Richard Tuttle! That art object is a Richard Tuttle. What does that say about his life & the culture that produced him? Tuttle’s artwork represents existential-liberty, a liberty as a consequence of existence to make such an odd expression, a freedom to have such a tiny gesture, a stubborn, whispering object & in this simple form. The artwork is intrinsically linked with Tuttle’s life & ours, as bizarre as that may sound, since we are not separate from “form,” in all its infinite manifestations (& interpretations).

All of this is sidestepping (or at least not mentioning) what I see as the presence phenomenology in Pareyson’s thought. We already know that he has a background in the discipline & as you deftly draw-out a Pareysian similarity to Kant & his ideas on the noumena  (or the thing-in-itself – ding an sich). This concept of Kant’s is tied up with phenomena (things as we perceive them). What is striking to me, is how much this feels like an incipient thread of phenomenology, where the way things appear & the things in & of themselves are of critical (indeed central) importance when doing phenomenological research. Remember Husserl’s famous dictum: “Go to the things themselves.”

What I’d like to know is how Kant’s ideas on phenomena/noumena are looked at now, in the light of phenomenology now? Also within these ideas, we see Pareyson urging us to experience the form in the fullest way possible (beyond science or beyond physics). The world (& its creative forms) around us is not separate from our way of perceiving it (according to phenomenology). The objective & the subjective modes of experience are made to join. The way we intend an object, the way it is given to us is not a simple object vs. mind problem, rather the way we perceive & understand the objects around us has everything to do with understanding perception, memory, experience, understanding &c. This all appears to be linked to Pareyson’s view of “form.” Form seen in this way is the fertile ground on which we can examine our own minds at work. Form as work in the world put under the lens of a hermeneutical-phenomenology (a way of interpreting how the world presents itself to our consciousness). How explicitly Pareyson really embraced this assumed phenomenological reading is unclear to me now.

“Interpretation is a form of knowing in which receptivity & activity are inseparable & where the known is a form & the knower a person.” –Luigi Pareyson

 Your comments are always welcome!