Matsuoka Essay

7. On the Transfer of the Entity of the Law

In conjunction with the topic of “embodying the object of devotion,” I here touch upon the subject of the transfer of the entity of the Law.

The term hottai sojo or the transfer of the entity of the Law was coined by the 56th high priest, Nichio. In his Dispelling Illusion and Observing One’s Mind, Nichio writes, “There are two aspects in the transfer of the heritage of this school through the sole lineage of the successive high priests. One is the specific transmission and the other is the general transmission. The specific transmission is the transmission of the entity of the Law and the specific transmission is the transmission of the teachings. In this context, the mentor who has gone through the specific transmission of the entity of the Law should be respected as the great leader who solely has received the heritage of this school, through the correct lineage of the successive high priests” and “In receiving the entity of the Law, the high priest also inherits the heritage of this school through the oral transmission, along the correct lineage of the successive high priests.” In this way, Nichio contends that the specific transmission of the entity of the Law that accompanies the oral transmission of the heritage is the true transfer through the sole lineage of the successive high priests. The term konku sojo, which literally means “transmitting orally” is a traditional term that was used by the high priests before Nichio. “Transmitting orally” obviously meant to transfer the school’s secret teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws orally or through documents. Since Nichio did not clearly define the transmission of the entity of the Law that is done after the phrase “oral transmission,” he left some room for various interpretations of what he meant by the transmission of the entity of the Law.

For instance, the current Taiseki-ji priesthood overly stresses the dignity of the high priest’s inner enlightenment and it understands the inheritance of the entity of the Law as his embodying the object of devotion. Not only that, the priesthood puts under the authority of the high priest the possibility for every individual to embody the object of devotion. The current priesthood of the Taiseki-ji school contends, “The inheritance of the heritage by the successive high priests is called the inheritance of the entity of the Law. Because the high priest had inherited the entity of the Law, the entity of the Gohonzon, which is the soul of Nichiren Daishonin, is innate in the high priest’s inner enlightenment.” The logic that “the entity of the Law equals Nichiren’s soul that also equals the entity of the object of devotion” is not erroneous because it is in accord with the school’s secret teaching of the oneness of the Person and the Law, in terms of the entity of the object of devotion. However, the priesthood is going beyond the boundary of Nichiren Buddhism in interpreting Nichio’s idea of the inheritance of the entity of the Law on the level with “embodying the object of devotion” and placing under the sole authority of the high priest the possibility of everyone’s embodying the object of devotion.

First of all, interpreting the inheritance of the entity of the Law as inheriting the entity of the object of devotion is opposed to Nichio’s idea of the inheritance of the entity of the Law—Nichio denoted the physical inheritance of the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary. In his Distilling Illusion and Observing One’s Mind, Nichio writes, “The entity of the Law through the specific transmission indicates the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the essential teaching that our temple keeps in secrecy.” What Nichio called the inheritance of the entity of the Law was the fact that the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary that physically exists at Taiseki-ji had been preservedthrough the sole lineage of the successive high priests. Therefore, in the ensuing part of Distilling Illusion and Observing One’s Mind, Nichio quotes in part “Articles Regarding the Succession of Nikko (Nikko Ato Jojo no Koto),” through which Nikko entrusted the administration of his school upon Nichimoku, “Nikko shall bestow upon Nichimoku the Dai-Gohonzon inscribed in the second year of Koan [1279]. It should be enshrined at Honmon-ji temple” (CC, vol. 1, p. 9). Incidentally, in his thesis Nichio contributed to TheWay of the Law (Ho no Michi) magazine, he remarked, “This school inherits the heritage of the Law and preserves the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the essential teaching whose inscription was the purpose of the Daishonin’s advent,” and “Their school does not possess the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the essential teaching whose inscription was the great purpose of the Daishonin. They don’t have the heritage that stems directly from the Daishonin, either,” and “Inheriting the orthodox heritage of the Law through the lineage that is derived from the Daishonin, this school preserves the school’s ultimate treasure, the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the essential teaching, whose inscription was the great purpose of the Daishonin’s advent.” Through these remarks by Nichio, we can sense his belief and pride in the fact that Taiseki-ji inherits the heritage of Nichiren Buddhism and preserves the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary. It is not improper to acknowledge that, due to such belief on his part, he put the konku sojo (the inheritance of the Law through the succession of the high priests) and the hottai sojo (the mission to protect the Dai-Gohonzon) on the same level side by side. Furthermore, we can see in his writings the statement in which he compared the transfer history of the Taiseki-ji school (where the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary is regarded as the entity of the Law transmitted from one high priest to another) to the history of the Japanese imperial family (where sacred treasures were transferred from one emperor to another). Nichio’s idea of the transmission of the heritage of the Law is compared to the physical transmission of the sacred treasures. In this sense, what Nichio meant by the transmission of the heritage of the Law was the transmission of the responsibility to physically preserve the ultimate treasure of the school, the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary.

Based on Nichio’s theory of the entity of the Law, the priesthood cannot put under the sole authority of the inner enlightenment of the high priest, the possibility of every individual’s possibility to embody the object of devotion in his or her life. Doctrinally speaking,  every individual can embody the object of devotion within by chanting daimoku to the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws, with faith in it. This can happen regardless of the intent of the high priest. However, the viewpoint that the high priest can monopolize the entity of the Law, cause the power of the Gohonzon to arise by sharing his monopoly with the Gohonzon he transcribes, and thus cause believers to embody the object of devotion in their lives — if you believe in this viewpoint, it means you are accepting a non-Buddhist view and one-dimensional dogma. According to our study of the writings of Nichikan, the beneficial power of the object of devotion will materialize in accord with the power of faith and practice on the part of believers. When we say that the beneficial power of the object of devotion can be manifested in everybody’s life through the power of his or her faith and practice, our view is in accord with the nature of the Mystic Law that permeates the whole universe. The uniqueness of the role of the high priest lies not in his monopoly of the possibility of embodying the object of devotion, but in understanding the profound meaning of the object of devotion through his inheritance of the heritage and in providing a correct environment for believers to help them attain Buddhahood. However, the uniqueness of the role of the high priest has diminished due to the revelation of the theoretical basis for the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws and the publication of the transfer documents of the object of devotion.

One thing I would like to add is that the uniqueness of the role that Nichiren played as the Lord of the Law in the Latter Day of the Law will never vanish as long as we read, understand, and implement the study of the writings of Nichikan. Nichikan writes that the possessor of complete enlightenment from  the time without beginning, enlightenment that embodies the fusion of the reality and the wisdom, is limited only to Nichiren. In his “Exegesis on ‘The Entity of Life,” Nichikan discusses the original fusion of the reality and wisdom at the time without beginning, in view of the practice of faith, showing that, “Wisdom is the source of enlightenment. It refers to the mystic truth. Because one can replace wisdom with faith, wisdom equals faith” (CE, p. 571). Nichikan holds that no one other than Nichiren is capable of possessing the wisdom of the original fusion of the reality and wisdom that occurred in the time without beginning that the original Buddha of limitless joy had acquired. However, Nichikan teaches that ordinary individuals in the Latter Day of the Law can achieve the same original Buddhahood of the fusion of the reality and wisdom by replacing the True Buddha’s wisdom with the power of faith.

In addition, Nichikan discusses the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies in his “Exegesis on ‘Taking the Essence of the Lotus Sutra,’” making a threefold classification of the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies. Namely, all people are (in theory) the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies, but in actuality, only those of Nichiren’s disciples who believe in the True Buddha who is eternally endowed with the three bodies are the Buddhas eternally endowed with the three bodies. Ultimately, however, Nichiren alone is the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies. In this regard, Nichikan writes:

“You should know this: Even though Sage Nichiren’s disciples are Buddhas eternally endowed with the three bodies, they are still at a cause-making stage, and they are not the ultimately enlightened Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies. Only Sage Nichiren is the ultimately enlightened Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies. In terms of the theory of the six stages of practice, all the people are in theory Buddhas eternally endowed with the three bodies and they are at the stage of being a Buddha in theory. Sage Nichiren’s disciples belong to the fourth stage of practice, that is, the stage of resemblance to enlightenment. Sage Nichiren’s being the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies means he is at the stage of ultimate enlightenment. Therefore, the Buddha of ultimate and perfect enlightenment whose original entity is eternally endowed with the three bodies is none other than Sage Nichiren Daishonin” (CE, p. 571).

In the above quote, Nichikan uses the traditional theory of the exoteric teachings to classify the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies into two categories: one that is the cause-making Buddha and the other that is the accomplished Buddha. Nichikan asserts also that the ultimately enlightened Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies is none other than Sage Nichiren. By using the term “ultimately enlightened” repeatedly, Nichikan may have wanted to stress that perfect enlightenment was Nichiren’s sole possession and that his disciples were still at the cause-making stage and their enlightenment was partial.

It is true that two events (the revelation of the theoretical basis of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws and the publication of the Gohonzon transfer documents) have terminated the exclusiveness of the role of the high priest, but it does not mean the denial of the uniqueness of the True Buddha Nichiren. Modern priests and lay believers of Nichiren Buddhism are making their mentor-and-disciple relationship with Nichiren their driving force in the practice of faith. Ultimately, they seek to become one with the inner enlightenment of Nichiren, as they embody the object of devotion. In this pursuit lies the true world of faith where the equality of truth and the supremacy of the True Buddha are perfectly fused and the oneness of each person and the Law occurs.

  1. Distilling Illusion and Observing One’s Mind, pp. 211-212.
  2. This Much the Soka Gakkai Is Wrong (Soka Gakkai to Iutokoro wa Konnani Machigatte Iru, Taiseki-ji, 2000, p. 18).
  3. Distilling Illusion and Observing One’s Mind, p. 212.
  4. “Nikko shall bestow upon Nichimoku the Dai-Gohonzon inscribed in the second year of Koan [1279] and entrusted upon me.” From this statement we deduce that Nichiren Daishonin assigned Nikko Shonin to protect the Dai-Gohonzon.
  5. The Way of the Law (Ho no Michi, Hodo Kai of Nichiren Shoshu, March 1903, pp. 5, 6, 8).
  6. The Way of the Law (Ho no Michi, Hodo Kai of Nichiren Shoshu, April 1903, pp. 17–18).
  7. Nichikan’s mentor, Nichiei, propounds that the mentor is referred to as the true effect while the disciple is referred to as the true cause. This way of thinking is one where the oneness of mentor and disciple is not seen in terms of inner enlightenment, but in terms of practice. This seems a traditional view upheld within the Taiseki-ji school. In his letter to Gibei Ishikawa, a believer of his time in Kanazawa city, Nichiei writes, “The five elements of the Mystic Law are the original, eternal five elements. These five elements of the Mystic Law and the five elements that constitute our lives share the same entity. When you practice with faith in this truth, you will make the eternal, indestructible five elements your own. In this regard, the Daishonin is the leader, while we are his disciples. We practice to make true causes. The mentor manifests his eternity. Therefore, he plays the role of the true effect” (CC, vol. 3, p. 362).