Sunrise Service... The Sun and Hokekyo

Rev. Eijo Ikenaga, Honolulu Myohoji

The memorable day, April 28, is coming soon.

On this day in 1253, early in the morning, St. Nichiren first chanted “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo" from the top of Asahigamori on Mt. Kiyosumi in Chiba, Japan. He chanted it toward the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean. It was truly the beginning of Nichiren Shu. The 750th anniversary of the establishment of Nichiren Shu is coming up in 2002. We are moving towards this most memorable year, committing ourselves to counting day by day with the motto "Odaimoku-soguzu (Propagation of Odaimoku to the world)." On the island of Oahu in Hawaii, we commemorate the event every year on the Sunday nearest to April 28 at the Blow-hole Lookout.

Following is a copy of the radio talk "Honolulu Myohoji Hour" I offered twice a month through Radio Station KOHO. Although it is so old that the name of Bishop Senchu Murano, ex-Bishop of Nichiren Mission Of Hawaii, appears in the talk, I still have fond memories of the Sunrise Service of that day, and I would like to share with you the same thoughts on how we can walk towards the big year 2002.

In the greeting, after the prayer of the Sunrise Service, Bishop Senchu Murano encouragingly said, "As long as you come here to join in the reciting of Odaimoku, Nichiren Shu in Hawaii will be fine." Then he asked me to say a few words to the congregation. I spoke to the people, feeling the stimulating light of the rising sun on my back. I was inspired by the spectacle, with all of them looking beautiful in the morning sunshine. I raised my voice so as not to be drowned out by the sound of the high waves. "This is the 27th Sunrise Service since I came to Hawaii. The sunrise this morning was especially beautiful. But the beauty of the sunrise is different every time. Why? It is due to the water vapor and clouds on the horizon. The shape of the clouds is always different, just as you all look different from each other. Just as you think differently and have different ideas from each other, the shape of clouds is always different. This kind of diversity makes the sun look brilliant and beautiful when it rises. Look how beautiful and gorgeous it is. So are you! Bathed in the morning sun, receiving the graceful rays, each of you looks shining and gorgeous." It was truly wonderful to see them, as Bishop Murano said. However, a thought then passed through my mind. I was looking at it the opposite way from Bishop Murano. "What happened to him? Where is she? How about her?” I was looking for the people who used to come. I then raised my voice again. "Although the shape and thickness of the clouds is always different depending on whether we have a fine day or a rainy day, the sun behind the clouds is the same sun to which St. Nichiren chanted ‘Namu Myoho Renge Kyo' 700 years ago. Though the clouds around the sun change from time to time, the eternal light of the sun never changes. The sun is ‘Hokekyo’. Hokekyou is the eternal life, the eternal truth. As long as the sun rises, the light of the eternity permeates. No need to worry. Even if you or I cannot come here any longer, someone who loves truth will appear and chant ‘Namu Myoho Renge Kyo’. St. Nichiren was looking forward to the future by saying, 'If Nichiren's compassion is great, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo will spread and permeate to the future for millions of years.' So this morning I looked for eternity and chanted Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, burning myself like the sun."

This is what I said to the people at the site of the Sunrise Service. What Bishop Murano said was a matter of reality. What I said was a matter of ideal. We live every day between reality and the ideal. On the day when we had the Sunrise Service, we also had a Buddha Day workshop sponsored by the Hawaii Buddhist Council. It was held at the Sheraton Waikikii. We had enthusiastic hours of discussion, with Prof. George Tanabe from the University of Hawaii as the main speaker. Young ministers from various denominations and other Nisei and Sansei people participated as panelists or listeners. The subject we discussed was, as usual, how Buddhism in Hawaii can survive into the future.

This year, Hawaii observed the Centennial Anniversary of Immigration to Hawaii by contract between the Governments of Japan and Hawaii. Indeed, the Meiji Era has grown far away. Hawaiian Buddhism, which was brought to Hawaii by those immigrants, is also being phased out among the younger generations. The only contact many of the young people have with Buddhism is when someone dies. The things they see are meaningless to them. The sermons that the ministers give don't stimulate them to interest. The gap of language and custom between people is so huge that Buddhism today sometimes seems inactive. Reflecting on such phenomena, not only in Hawaii but also in Japan, Prof. Tanabe's presentation was controversial. What Prof. Tanabe said was, in short, that the traditional Buddhist sutras are so archaic that they are Greek to the common people. They cannot satisfy their intellectual need or faith.

Historical studies have shown that some of the sutras were not necessarily books of the Buddha's direct words. Some of sutras were written a hundred years after the life of the Buddha. It has been more than two thousand years since the time of the Buddha. It could be time for us to write a sutra that our contemporaries can understand. It could be named, for instance, “the Diamond Head Sutra.” There was some laughter, but it was sincerely discussed. The titles of most sutras begin with “Bussetsu," like “Bussetsu Kan Muryoju Kyo" or "Bussetsu Uranbon Kyo," putting stress on the importance that this sutra was truly formed through the Buddha's mouth. It is the real Buddhist's attitude that we respect the sutras as the real words of the Buddha. We should practice as the sutras tell us, and we should not distort what the sutras say about the truth.

My Dharma teacher once told me the story of his apprenticeship. Soon after his graduation from college, he was assigned by his Dharma teacher to give a sermon at an assembly. He was too young and impertinent to show off his knowledge and talents in a speech. He was speaking eloquently. All of sudden, when he said, “such and such, so and so...I think...," a thunderous voice fell upon his head, “Bakayaro! You fool!" He was pulled down out of the pulpit. He got a scolding, "When did you become so great as to be able to say 'I think so and so?’ It is one thing to talk that way about ordinary things. But the only way you can talk in delivering the teachings of the Buddha would be, ‘Buddha said this and that, St. Nichiren said so and so. There is no any other way for you to preach the teaching, is there?"

This story teaches us that there is no space to insert our own opinions among the divine teachings of Buddha. Real faith grows from the attitude that all of the Buddha's words are true. So we should be sincere towards the truth. As Prof. Tanabe mentioned, it is true that the sutras are not necessarily records of the direct words of the Buddha. The sutras were compiled by people who wanted to preserve the Buddha's words for the future. Therefore, most sutras are begun with the words, "Thus have I heard." In these words, "Thus have I heard," is expressed the sincere attitude of the compilers towards the truth revealed by the Buddha. It is called a treatise or a thesis when we write our opinions. There must not be any objections to the writing of treatises of Buddhism, but it is a different matter to write sutras. The thunderous voice of the above Dharma master may fall on us for being so arrogant. When Prof. Tanabe suggested, "Let us write our own sutras," of course, it might have been motivated by the needs of the time for Buddhism.

I would like to take Prof. Tanabe's suggestion in a positive way - to live a day without drifting in the ocean of realities, sustaining the ideal of Hokekyo within us, is to write our own sutras. To say "Thus have I lived " could be "Thus have I heard" to us. Though Buddhism teaches us that we can become a Buddha, it does not mean that we can become the sun itself. We can just receive the sunlight. Receiving the sunlight, bathing in the grace of the sunlight, how can we shine ourselves? By writing a sutra with "thus have I heard." As each of the people gracefully shone in the sunlight on the day of the Sunrise Service, sutras written by each of you would have a different taste. The sun, like Hokekyo, will bestow on each of you a glow that only you can have under the light. St. Nichiren said, "Illuminated by the Light of the Odaimoku, one turns into an August Being with innate nature." Let us each shine in the light of Hokekyo. Let us write our sutra with faith and responsibility, no matter how high and rough the waves of reality are. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.



Rev. Eiyu Yoshiki

"Because we are Your (the Buddha's) messengers, We are fearless before multitudes." (The Lotus Sutra, Chapter 13, "Encouragement for Keeping This Sutra")

Our founder, Nichiren Shonin, returned to Mt. Kiyosumi in his home district in 1253, after studying in many faraway places. Facing the morning sun on April 28, he recited the Odaimoku, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, for the first time. Nichiren Shonin was 32 years old.

We of the Nichiren Shu Order have determined that day as the day of the Establishment of Nichiren Buddhism (Rikkyo Kaishu). It has been almost 750 years since then. The Odaimoku that Nichiren Shonin recited for the first time at Kiyosumi has been recited not only in Japan, but also in India, the home of Buddhism, various countries in Asia, the United States, Brazil, and Europe.

The history of the spread of the Odaimoku among many peoples in many countries is the history of the many peoples who have been saved by the Odaimoku. Nichiren Shonin reached the firm conclusion, after pursuing his studies, that the Lotus Sutra is the supreme teaching of the Buddha, and that everyone can be saved by it if he recites Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. But he was seriously troubled about whether or not he should make it public. Later he wrote about it in a letter: "It is I, Nichiren, alone who knows that the Lotus Sutra is the soul of the Buddha Himself, who is a father of all human beings. Afraid of losing my life, if I do not speak up, I will be ungrateful for the Buddha, becoming an enemy of the Buddha. On the other hand, if I speak up and spread the faith of the Lotus Sutra, I won't be able to avoid exile or capital punishment in the future. What shall I do? After going through unbearable torment, I decided to choose the way to repay an obligation to the Buddha.”

As a teenager with an interest in philosphy and filled with intellectual curiosity, young Nichiren left his country home for Kamakura to seek the truth of Buddhism. He returned from Kamakura several years later, but then left for Mt. Hiei to enlarge his experience and pursue the truth again. Nichiren Shonin seldom discussed his journey of study. But, using Mt. Hiei as a base, he must have visited various temples and eminent priests in the Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara areas. When Nichiren Shonin reached the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra was the supreme teaching, his long journey of seeking the truth was over. The wise man of the Lotus Sutra returned home to Kiyosumi.

When Nichiren Shonin took the first steps from a wise man of the Lotus Sutra to a expounder of the Lotus Sutra, his mind swayed intensely. "The long-cherished hope of the Buddha is in the Lotus Sutra, people can not be saved until they believe in it. Should I speak up or not? If I speak out, various hardships and persecutions will befall not only me, but also my parents, brothers and master. If I don't speak out, I will certainly fall to hell after death even if I have no trouble in this life.”

After an intense conflict, Nichiren Shonin took the first step as an expounder of the Lotus Sutra. As he had expected, his life thereafter was a series of persecutions. It was exactly as preached in the Lotus Sutra, that expounders of the Lotus Sutra would encounter various persecutions. The phrase, "Because we are Your (Buddha's) messengers, We are fearless before multitudes," cited above at the beginning of this writing, is in the verse of twenty lines of the Lotus Sutra, chapter 13, "Encouragement for Keeping This Sutra." This verse is about the Bodhisattvas who swore patiently to propagate the Lotus Sutra no matter what kind of persecutions and great difficulties would befall them.

Whenever Nichiren Shonin encountered persecution, he found himself in this verse, deepening his realization as an expounder of the Lotus Sutra. When we are in difficulties, we complain or deplore our misfortune. But when we come to the conviction that our decision or our behavior is not wrong, but satisfactory in the eyes of Buddha, we could fearlessly take them in stride.


Q&A about Nichiren Shu


Q: In the Lotus Sutra, there is a chapter entitled "Hoben-pon," or "Expedients". In this chapter, it is said that all of the teachings expounded prior to the Lotus Sutra are expedients. Was Sakyamuni Buddha telling us to throw away all the previous teachings because they are expedients? Or should we study the previous teachings, along with the Lotus Sutra, as the Buddha's teaching? Please explain the true meaning of "Hoben" in the Lotus Sutra.

A: In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha tells us of the one great purpose for which the Buddhas appeared in the worlds.

"The Buddhas appear in the worlds in order to cause all living beings to open the gate to the insight of the Buddha, and cause them to purify themselves, in order to show the insight of the Buddha to all living beings. They appear in the worlds in order to cause all living beings to obtain the insight of the Buddha. They appear in the worlds in order to cause all living beings to enter the Way to the insight of the Buddha." (Lotus Sutra P.32)

In the teachings before the Lotus Sutra, practitioners called Sravaka and Pratyekabuddha, who are also called Two-Vehicles, are attached to obtaining their own enlightenment. They are arrogant because they believe that they have attained enlightenment, although they don't realize that their attainment is of a lower stage, called Arhatship.

The Buddha expounds various teachings to all living beings only for the purpose of revealing the One Buddha-Vehicle, the Lotus Sutra. And the Buddha's original vow was that He would cause all living beings (including Sravaka and Pratyekabuddha) to become exactly as He is.

However, this human's Saha-world is full of defilement, and the capacity of living beings to understand the Buddha's unsurpassed teachings are not yet ripe. Therefore, if He expounds the highest teaching to them from the beginning, they might be overwhelmed and would not be able to understand it. Besides, since each individual possesses a different capacity for understanding, the Buddha uses suitable words and stories for each one in order to lead him to the aimed path of the Lotus Sutra. This is the power of the expedients of the Buddha in his propagation.

All living beings possesses Buddha nature. Therefore, with the Buddha's expedient teachings they can gradually come to understand his teachings and improve their capacity, and finally become a Buddha with the Buddha's highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra.

There is a story in the Lotus Sutra. There was a place containing a magnificent treasure. In order to reach it, people had to travel a long, dangerous road. They organized a treasure-hunting party. In the party, there was a leader who was wise and clever, and he knew this road very well. He lead the party to the place of the treasure. But most of the party tired along the way and wanted to return home. The leader thought, "They shouldn't give up now. We are close to the treasure. I must think of some expedient to encourage them to continue." Then, using his supernatural power, he made imaginary city on the road ahead. He told the travelers, "Look, everyone! Now you don't have to worry any more. You can enter that city and take a rest."

After they refreshed themselves, the leader made the magic city disappear and said, "Let's move on! The treasure is right there." Encouraged by their leader, the travelers were able to reach their destination. (Lotus Sutra, P.144-145)

Following the story, the Buddha continues, "If you had only heard of the One Vehicle of the Buddha, you might not have wished to see or approach the Buddha, but may have thought, 'The Way to Buddhahood is too long for us to pass through unless we make a long, painstaking effort.' In order to give you a rest halfway, I have given you expedients to the teaching of Nirvana (such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Fold Path, or the Twelve-linked Chain of Dependent Origination) by the two vehicles. To those who have attained the two vehicles, I say, 'You have not yet done all that you should do. You are near the wisdom of the Buddha. Think it over and reconsider it! The Nirvana you attained is not true. I divided the One Vehicle of the Buddha into three."

But it is very sad that some misinterpret the meaning of Hoben, or expedients, saying, "Forget all the teachings expounded before the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra is the only teaching to lead all living beings to Buddhahood." He quotes from the Lotus Sutra translated by Burton Watson which says, "Now I, in the midst of the bodhisattvas, honestly discarding expedient means, will preach only the unsurpassed way." (P.44-45)

But we must refer to other English versions of the Lotus Sutra. There are other three English translations of the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra translated by Bishop Senchu Murano, which we of Nichiren-Shu rely on, says in that part, "I have laid aside all expedient teachings. I will expound only unsurpassed enlightenment to Bodhisattvas." (P. 47)

The Lotus Sutra translated by Tsugunari Kubo and published by the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research says in that part, “Having openly set aside skillful means, I will teach only the highest path to all the bodhisattvas." (P. 49)

Another English version, published by Kosei Publishing, has a translation similar to the Murano and Kubo translations. Furthermore, when we look at the origin of the term “ Hoben” in Sanskrit, “upaya”, it originally meant to approach or to reach. Considering these facts, it is obvious that the Buddha's true intention is not to discard the teachings He expounded before the Lotus Sutra. His true heart is that He had been expounding expedient teachings up to a point, but now the time has come to expound the highest teaching of the Lotus Sutra. Because the capacity of all living beings ripens, He stops expounding the expedient teachings. The Buddha's teachings expounded before the Lotus Sutra are not false. We Nichiren Buddhists should study them as well as the Lotus Sutra.

Sakyamuni Buddha states at the end of Chapter 2, Hoben-pon, of the Lotus Sutra, "As a rule, the Buddhas expound the Dharma with billions of expedients as stated above, according to the capacities of all living beings. Those who do not study the Dharma cannot understand it. You have already realized the fact that the Buddhas employ expedients, according to the capacities of all living beings. Know that, when you remove your doubts and when you have great joy, you will become Buddhas!" (P.49-50)

Please understand the true meaning of “HOBEN” or “Expedient” that the Buddha uses in the Lotus Sutra.


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