renge / 蓮華

October 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

蓮華

Tonight we’re seeking to understand Nichiren Daishonin’s gosho: “King Rinda”[1] Specifically we’ll be concentrating on the first part of the gosho & in this paper we will not address the legend of King Rinda.

The initial point to recognize about this gosho—as with many other goshos—is the simple progression of the mentor disciple relationship. This pattern is fundamental to how knowledge & wisdom is passed down from generation to generation, from mentor to disciple, then as the disciple becomes the mentor & foreword, as the cycle continues with the teachings that become practice in the daily lives of everyday people like ourselves. In this particular context, in this reading, we have a discernable lineage: from Shakyamuni Buddha, to T’ien-t’ai, to Miao-lo, to Nichiren Daishonin, onward to Daisaku Ikeda[2] & then into our hands here today (there are many other mentors that can be included in this progression, but for our use we’ll start with these). This primary structure is, in our context, a religious one; however, it does have a secular relevance. Any learning & knowledge transmission follows this pattern. This is the way others help us to know & to help us progress wisdom within the world. As this is a form of paying respect to the mentor, it is also about maintaining our own individuality, since so much of learning is about self-determination & self-direction.

With all this foregoing said, let us turn to the gosho itself. Nichiren talks about some vital points that Miao-lo[3] elucidated & Nichiren opens with the metaphor of the transformation from milk to ghee. The ‘Agama’ sutras are better known to us as the Hiniyana sutras & the others that he mentions (including the Lotus Sutra) can be classified as Mahayana sutras. We are shown that apart from even the precious taste of milk we can classify the Mahayana sutras according to the refinements of milk: e.g. cream, curdled milk, butter & then to the Nirvana Sutras that are the clarification of butter into ghee.[4] The Lotus Sutra is therefore named: “The true lord of the ghee,” as it is then further distinguished from the Nirvana Sutra. On this hierarchy Nichiren writes: “The main point of these passages is that the five flavors serve to nourish life, but life itself is lord over all the five flavors.”[5] The reason it is named as such is because it is the only teaching that Miao-lo gives the distinction of “opening the provisional & revealing the distant”[6] We’ll explain the subtleties of this quote in a bit. Meanwhile, we’ll make the observation that even as we as position the Lotus Sutra as the ‘true lord of the ghee,’ let us not forget that the milk is still the base of the ghee & that ghee can’t be what it is without being milk first. Just as we can’t have the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin without the provisional teachings of Shakyamuni’s, & we can’t have our own enlightenment without the sufferings of the nine worlds, which are included in the world of enlightenment.

With these observations, along with Miao-lo’s quote, we’ll see that the above reasoning is a key to understanding why the word myo is used in the title of the Lotus Sutra.[7] Myo means wonderful, mystic, it means to open & it also means beyond conception.[8] Because the word myo (mystic, mysterious) is given, also designates that this wisdom will not be readily known & that parts of it (& certainly with life in general) will remain mysterious. Above all, we must see this word as a designation of the Sutra’s superiority & that the wisdom that preceded & following it, is included within it—thereby stating that all wisdom is considered to be an aspect of the wonderful Lotus Sutra.

“Opening the provisional & revealing the distant” signifies the core teaching of this gosho. We are told by Nichiren that Miao-lo defines the two parts of the Chinese word renge (ren: 蓮 ge: 華) as the ge of ren/ge corresponds to the provisional teachings mentioned earlier & the ren corresponds to the distant. Ikeda then takes us to see[9] that, not only does the “opening the provisional & revealing the distant” refer to the word renge, it additionally signifies a division of the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra, whereby “opening the provisional…” is related predominantly to the “Expedient Means” chapter.[10] We must continue to draw out that this fist part of the Lotus Sutra is to be known as the ‘theoretical teachings’ & the latter half (the last half of the Lotus Sutra) is to be known as the ‘essential teachings.’ The provisional teachings are what open up & lead to the true (distant[11]) teachings. Aside from the Lotus Sutra the provisional teachings are said to be those that regard the ten worlds as separate & that certain people, including evil people & women, are not capable of attaining Buddhahood.

Before we leave the first half of the phrase: “opening the provisional…” we’ll be sure to notice that Ikeda wants us to take notice of the way the word renge brings the phrase together with its other half: “revealing the distant.” We can see for ourselves that a way renge represents this has to do with seeing that ren means lotus flower & that ge means flower; most importantly, ren is the effect & ge is the cause. Ikeda writes: “In Buddhism, our lives in the nine worlds are viewed as the cause [ge] for attaining the effect [ren] of Buddhahood.”[12] Renge represents the simultaneity of cause & effect because as we know, the word means lotus flower & the lotus blossoms & seeds at the same time. The lotus flower as a symbol is also of relevant to this quote (& our lives) for yet another reason; the lotus grows in the muddy swamp & its ugly roots enable it to grow & glean nutrients from the muddy water, it is in this crucial synthesis that the lotus can reveal its beautiful truth as a flower & as symbol for the enlightenment we all seek. Suffering is intrinsic to our enlightenment—we can’t cut off our sufferings & expect to be enlightened. We can’t have the lotus flower without its roots in the muddy swamp. We can’t have the clarified ghee without milk. We can’t have the Lotus Sutra without the provisional teachings. In order to overcome our sufferings, the sufferings have to be there to begin with. Fundamental darkness isn’t named fundamental because it’s dispensable. The nine worlds we know & live in are the only way to the enlightenment of Buddhahood.

We’ll now turn to the second half of Miao-lo’s phrase: “…revealing the distant” &/or “…revealing the true” The first half of the Lotus Sutra (the theoretical teachings) & the provisional teachings reveal that the Buddha attained enlightenment in his lifetime, in India. In the latter half of the Lotus Sutra (the essential teachings), specifically the “Lifespan” chapter, we have the distinction that the Buddha actually attained enlightenment in the far distant past, hence revealing the fruit, the ren of renge. This is revealed when we consider the concept we know of as “the mutual possession of the ten worlds.”[13] Remember that we pointed out earlier that the provisional teachings taught that the nine worlds as separate & only a select few made it to the tenth world of enlightenment, but this concept of mutual possession includes all the ten worlds enclosed & comingled within each of the others. This underscores the idea that in spite of any of the worlds we are manifesting, Buddhism is contained in each, meaning that we all have the potential to manifest enlightenment no matter how incapable we think we are—this is the essential teaching.

Ikeda tells us that as Nichiren was quoting Miao-lo where he speaks of the “doctrines taught…” & this refers to the doctrines we’ve been looking at here, having everything to do with the daimoku Nam-myho-renge-kyo as it is the title of the Lotus Sutra & that it contains the theoretical (the first fourteen chapters) & the essential teachings (the latter fourteen chapters). This is given the honorific distinction known as myo, which places it as including all wisdom known & unknown. We were also shown that anyone in the lower nine worlds can attain the enlightenment of the tenth world of Buddhahood. Renge represents the law of the simultaneity of cause & effect, so the causes we make now will affect the enlightenment we seek while here in this saha world.[14]

—Aurelio Madrid / October 26, 2011


[1] Daishonin, Nichiren. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. Eds. & Trans. The Gosho Translation Committee. Tokyo: Soka Gakkai. 1999. pp. 983-992. print. See online PDF: http://www.sgilibrary.org/pdf/136_0983.pdf

[2] Shakyamuni Buddha (est. ca. 563-483 b.c.), T’ien-t’ai (538-597 c.e.), Miao-lo (711-782 c.e.), Nichiren Daishonon (1222-1282), Daisaku Ikeda (1928- ).

[3] Miao-lo was an important ‘ninth patriarch’ in the T’ien-t’ai school.

[4] Ghee: clarified butter.

[5] Daishonin, Nichiren. Op. cit.: p. 983.

[6] This is part of the whole quote of Miao-lo’s given by Nichiren from Miao-lo’s work “Annotation on ‘Great Concentration & Insight’”.

[7] The title of the Lotus Sutra is: Nam Myoho Rnge Kyo. To chant this phrase is known as daimoku & daimoku is also the name for the title of the Lotus Sutra.

[8] A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms & Concepts. Tokyo: Nichiren Shoshu Int. 1983. p. 270.

[9] Ikeda, Daisaku. Learning form the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin: King Runda. Living Buddhism Sept.-Oct. 2011. pp. 64-80.

[10] …this also includes the all first fourteen chapters. The “Expedient Means”is the first part of Gongyo.

[11] …keep in mind that Miao-lo’s quote can also be translated as “opening the provisional & revealing the true.”

[12] Ikeda, Daisaku. Op. cit. p. 72.

[13] …see link for definition: http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php?id=1468

[14] Saha world: the world that must be endured.

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