The seventh volume of the Lotus Sutra states, “After I have passed into extinction, in the last five-hundred-year period you must spread it [the Lotus Sutra] abroad widely throughout Jambudvīpa and never allow it to be cut off.”
The fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra reads, “Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even when the Thus Come One is in the world, how much more will this be so after his passing?”4 The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai states, “It will be much worse in the future because the principles [of the Lotus Sutra] are so hard to teach.”5 The Great Teacher Miao-lo explains, “The purpose of the phrase ‘the principles are so hard to teach’ is to let us know how hard it is to enable people to understand these principles.”6
The Dharma Teacher Chih-tu states: “It is said that good medicine tastes bitter. This sutra, which is like good medicine, dispels attachments to the five vehicles and establishes the one ultimate principle. It reproaches those in the ranks of ordinary beings and censures those in the ranks of sagehood, denies [provisional] Mahayana and refutes Hinayana…. That is why all these types of people try to make hindrances [for a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra].”7
The Great Teacher Dengyō states: “Speaking of the age, [the propagation of the true teaching will begin] in the age when the Middle Day of the Law ends and the Latter Day opens. Regarding the land, it will begin in a land to the east of T’ang and to the west of Katsu. As for the people, it will spread among people stained by the five impurities who live in a time of conflict. The sutra says, ‘Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even when the Thus Come One is in the world, how much more will this be so after his passing?’
There is good reason for this statement.”8 The Great Teacher Dengyō seems to be describing his own day, but actually he is referring to our present time. His words “The Former and Middle Days are almost over, and the Latter Day is near at hand” have just such a meaning.
The sutra states, “Evil devils, the devils’ people, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, kumbhānda demons, and others will seize the advantage.”9 Another part of the sutra details these “others”: “Whether it be a yaksha, or a rākshasa, or a hungry spirit, or a pūtana, or a kritya, or a vetāda, or a skanda, or an umāraka, or an apasmāraka, or a yaksha kritya, or a human kritya…”10
These passages explain that those who in previous lifetimes embraced the four flavors and three teachings, non-Buddhist teachings, or doctrines concerning the realms of human and heavenly beings appear in this life as devils, or heavenly or human beings who persecute the votary of the true and perfect teaching when they see or hear of him.
The Buddha’s intent is difficult to fathom. Indeed, I am unable to grasp it. We may attempt to understand, however, by taking the Hinayana sutras as a point of reference. During the thousand years of the Former Day of the Law, Hinayana was fully endowed with the three elements of teaching, practice, and proof. During the thousand years of the Middle Day, teaching and practice alone remained; proof no longer existed.
In the Latter Day of the Law, teaching alone remains; neither practice nor proof exists. On examining this from the standpoint of the Lotus Sutra, we find that in the thousand years of the Former Day of the Law persons who possessed all three had most probably formed ties with the Lotus Sutra during the Buddha’s lifetime. They were born again in the Former Day and were able to obtain the proof of Hinayana through its teaching and practice. Those born in the Middle Day had not developed strong ties to the Lotus Sutra during the Buddha’s lifetime and were therefore unable to attain proof through Hinayana.
They turned instead to provisional Mahayana and thus were able to be born in the pure lands of the ten directions. In the Latter Day of the Law, no benefit is derived from either Mahayana or Hinayana. Hinayana retains nothing but its teaching; it has neither practice nor proof. Mahayana still has its teaching and practice, but no longer provides any proof of benefit, either conspicuous or inconspicuous.
Furthermore, the schools of Hinayana and provisional Mahayana established during the Former and Middle Days of the Law cling all the more stubbornly to their doctrines as they enter the Latter Day. Those who espouse Hinayana reject Mahayana, and those who espouse provisional teachings attack the true teaching, until the country is overrun with slanderers of the Law.
Those who fall into the evil paths because of their mistaken practice of Buddhism outnumber the dust particles of the land, while those who attain the Buddha way by practicing the correct teaching are fewer than the specks of dirt that can be placed on a fingernail. At such a time, the heavenly gods and benevolent deities abandon the country, and only perverse heavenly beings and perverse demons remain, possessing the minds and bodies of the ruler, his subjects, and monks and nuns, and causing them to curse, revile, and heap shame on the votary of the Lotus Sutra.
If, however, in the time after the Buddha’s passing, a person renounces his attachments to the four flavors and three teachings, and converts to faith in the Lotus Sutra that is true Mahayana, the heavenly gods and benevolent deities, as well as the bodhisattvas numerous as the dust particles of a thousand worlds who emerged from beneath the ground, will protect him as the votary of the Lotus Sutra. Under their protection, he will [establish and] spread abroad widely throughout Jambudvīpa the object of devotion of the essential teaching, or the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo.
It was the same with Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, who lived in the Middle Day of the Law of the Buddha Awesome Sound King. He propagated widely throughout his land the teaching of twenty-four characters that begins, “I have profound reverence for you… ,” and was attacked with sticks of wood by the whole population. The twenty-four characters of Never Disparaging and the five characters of Nichiren are different in wording, but accord with the same principle.
The end of the Buddha Awesome Sound King’s Middle Day and the beginning of this Latter Day of the Law are exactly the same in method of conversion. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was a practitioner at the initial stage of rejoicing; Nichiren is an ordinary practitioner at the stage of hearing the name and words of the truth.
The Lotus Sutra states, “[Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even when the Thus Come One is in the world], how much more will this be so after his passing?” Another passage reads, “There will be many ignorant people who will curse and speak ill of us and will attack us with swords and staves.”12 A third passage says, “Again and again we will be banished.”13 A fourth reads, “It [the Lotus Sutra] will face much hostility in the world and be difficult to believe.”14 A fifth reads, “Some among the group would take sticks of wood or tiles and stones and beat and pelt him.”15 A sixth reads, “Evil devils, the devils’ people, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, kumbhānda demons, and others will seize the advantage.”
That the people might believe in the Buddha’s words, I have held up the bright mirror of these scriptural passages before the ruler, his subjects, and the four categories of Buddhists throughout Japan. But I can find none other than myself who has lived these passages. As for the time, now is most certainly the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law, but had Nichiren not appeared, the Buddha’s words would be false.
Featured Image: Double Dragon Jade Plate