It is important that we actively engage in the challenge of guiding those around us to happiness. Without that struggle, any ambition of achieving happiness for all humanity is meaningless. A religion is as good as dead if it cannot provide an answer to the vital question of how we can arouse the joy of living in the hearts of those experiencing the deepest suffering and despair, those who have lost all hope.“Ikeda Wisdom Academy: The Opening of the Eyes,” Living Buddhism, January 2018 p. 10
Two Key Teachings: The Enlightenment of Evil People and the Enlightenment of Women
In addition to the three pronouncements of the Buddha in the “Treasure Tower” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the “Devadatta” chapter contains two enlightening admonitions. [The first reveals that Devadatta will attain Buddhahood.] Devadatta was a man of incorrigible disbelief, of the type called icchantika, and yet it is predicted that he will in the future become a Buddha called the Thus Come One Heavenly King . . . Thus it is revealed that all those who commit the five or the seven cardinal sins or who slander the Law or who are icchantikas inherently opposed to taking faith will become Buddhas like the Thus Come One Heavenly King. Poison turns into sweet dew, the finest of all flavors.
[The second admonition concerns the fact that the dragon king’s daughter attained Buddhahood.] When she attained Buddhahood, this does not mean simply that one person did so. It reveals the fact that all women will attain Buddhahood. In the various Hinayana sutras that were preached before the Lotus Sutra, it is denied that women can ever attain Buddhahood. In the Mahayana sutras other than the Lotus Sutra, it would appear that women can attain Buddhahood or be reborn in the pure land. But they may do so only after they have changed into some other form . . . When the dragon king’s daughter attained Buddhahood, it opened up the way to attaining Buddhahood for all women of later ages. (WND-1, 268–69)
The enlightenment of evil people and women was not taught in the provisional pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. Consequently, the fact that it is expounded in the Lotus Sutra underscores again that the sutra is the one supreme teaching by which all people in this defiled age of the Latter Day of the Law can experience Buddhahood.
This is where we find the Lotus Sutra’s true greatness. If the Lotus Sutra could not open the way to enlightenment for the unfortunate beings denied Buddhahood in the provisional teachings, then it could not possibly enable all people of the Latter Day to attain that state of life either. The hallmark of a votary of the Lotus Sutra in this age is bringing the true greatness of the Lotus Sutra to shine forth, responding to Shakyamuni’s call by actually striving to realize the Buddha’s wish and intent.
It is important that we actively engage in the challenge of guiding those around us to happiness. Without that struggle, any ambition of achieving happiness for all humanity is meaningless. A religion is as good as dead if it cannot provide an answer to the vital question of how we can arouse the joy of living in the hearts of those experiencing the deepest suffering and despair, those who have lost all hope. ( Lecture Series, 87)
Opening the Path To Attaining Buddhahood in an Evil Age
We can identify three main points in Nichiren’s explanation of the two admonitions in this treatise.
First, Devadatta—an evil person and icchantika— is predicted to attain Buddhahood. Icchantikas were people of incorrigible disbelief who in the provisional pre-Lotus Sutra teachings were said to have the least possibility of attaining Buddhahood. Then, the dragon girl—a female who suffered discrimination in society and in the religious tenets and customs of Shakyamuni’s time—swiftly gives an actual demonstration of her ability to attain Buddhahood. This highlights the fact that the Lotus Sutra is the scripture that opens the path to enlightenment for all people living in an evil age . . .
Second, as a doctrinal basis for the teaching of universal enlightenment, the Daishonin emphasizes the “immediate attainment of Buddhahood that is based on the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life” (WND-1, 269). This concept of instantly attaining Buddhahood is found only in the Lotus Sutra. Here Nichiren clarifies the transformative power that makes this feat possible. In the case of evil people attaining enlightenment, he explains this power lies in the potential to “change poison into medicine,” that is, to transform even the greatest evil into the greatest good. In the case of women attaining enlightenment, this power, he explains, lies in the actual proof of attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form, that is, without having to undergo a physical transformation or rebirth. ( Lecture Series, 87–88)
Third, by expounding that evil people and women can attain Buddhahood—thereby establishing the potential for all human beings in an evil age to become enlightened—Nichiren also opens the way to the “attainment of Buddhahood by all fathers and all mothers” (see WND-1, 269). ( Lecture Series, 88)
Believing in the Transformative Power of the Mystic Law
In “What It means to hear the Buddha Vehicle for the First Time” (WND-2, 741–45), addressed to his lay follower Toki Jonin, Nichiren explains in the depth the meaning of “changing poison into medicine.” He writes that poison refers to the three paths—earthly desires, karma and suffering, while medicine indicates the three virtues—the Dharma body, wisdom and emancipation. Changing poison into medicine, he explains, is the principle whereby people living amid the negative causality of the three paths can manifest the positive benefit of the three virtues in their own lives through the power of the Mystic Law. ( Lecture Series, 92)
The life of an ordinary person engaged in a cycle of cause and effect based on the three paths is the seed for attaining the exact opposite state of life, one pervaded by the three virtues. In other words, it is the seed for Buddhahood. The key to changing poison into medicine is to believe in the Lotus Sutra, which elucidates the mystic nature of life whereby the three paths are instantly transformed into the three virtues (see Gosho zenshu, p. 983). Faith, or confidence, in the Mystic Law unlocks this wondrous and unfathomable power inherent in our lives. ( Lecture Series, 92)
“The Lotus Sutra Is The Classic of Filial Piety of Buddhism”
Only with the preaching of the Lotus Sutra, in which the dragon king’s daughter attained Buddhahood, did it become evident that the attainment of Buddhahood was a possibility for all mothers. And when it was revealed that even an evil man such as Devadatta could attain Buddhahood, it became evident that Buddhahood was a possibility for all mothers. And when it was revealed that even an evil man such as Devadatta could attain Buddhahood, it became evident that Buddhahood was a possibility for all fathers. The Lotus Sutra is The Classic of Filial Piety of Buddhism. (WND-1, 269)
Nichiren repeatedly emphasizes the importance of us ourselves manifesting Buddhahood, if we are truly intent on repaying our debt of gratitude to our parents. He also explains that if it weren’t possible to secure our own parents’ enlightenment, there would be no way we could help others gain it. Nichiren taught his followers that only through the Lotus Sutra could they demonstrate true filial devotion and care for their parents.