What is the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra?

The Entity of the Mystic Law gosho begins thus:

QUESTION: What is the entity of Myoho-renge-kyo? Answer: All beings and their environments in any of the Ten Worlds are themselves entities of Myoho-renge-kyo.

there’re still some things that make us all the same

As Elwood says in the Blues Brothers…

And remember people, that no matter who you are, and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there’re still some things that make us all the same. You, me… them… everybody! everybody!

This first passage from the Gosho reveals the identity of the manifest Mystic Law as all beings and their environments.

One of the most difficult questions I am asked as a Nichiren Buddhist is “What is the Mystic Law, exactly”. A verbose answer might simply be to cite the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra – the sanskrit title of the Lotus Sutra, which is translated variably as “Wonderful Law-Flower Sutra” or “The Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law”. The Mystic Law refers to the nature of reality as taught in the Lotus Sutra.

However, this is not a terribly helpful reply, because it doesn’t really explain what it means in practical terms. The paradox is that the Mystic Law, being the direct wisdom of the Buddha, is incredibly hard to grasp, let alone transmit in writing, let alone translate numerous times in different languages throughout differing historical and cultural contexts.

The early chapters proclaim the Lotus Sutra as the great single vehicle of the Buddha-way, replacing the two vehicles of voice hearers (sravakas) and self enlightened ones (pratyekabuddhas), and arguably the bodhisattva vehicle (depending on the exclusivity of the reading). The core of it’s teaching reveals that the Buddha has been around a lot longer than his followers thought, and that all will [eventually] attain Buddhahood, without exception, even evil-doers and women (hurah!)

The Lotus Sutra, however, doesn’t provide specific practices beyond the reading, copying, reciting, and preaching of the Sutra after the Buddha’s passing. While the Daimoku was not strictly Nichiren’s invention, he elevated it to a supreme level, and it became the single-practice Buddhism we follow today, and is our way of propagating the Sutra, and realising the Mystic Law in our lives.

But still this only briefly explains the Law in a literary sense; what it stands for, and how we propagate and realise it. So what IS it exactly?

Saicho (the great teacher, Dengyo) aside from championing the supremacy of the Lotus in an exclusive manner also recorded the concept of “three kinds of Lotus Sutra” consisting of

  1. The fundamental lotus – which represents the Buddhas true compassionate intent to lead all beings to buddhahood.
  2. The hidden and secret lotus – or those teachings in which the Buddha’s intention is not outwardly revealed due to the audience.
  3. The exoteric teaching that was preached and recorded as the text of the Lotus Sutra.

The Mystic Law itself is perhaps best represented as the fundamental lotus, above.

An easy trap to fall into, I think, is to view the Mystic Law as somehow conscious; that it can be persuaded to help us in return for Daimoku, or inflict retribution through our wrong-doing or slander. Western theistic thinking likes to slap a face on the Mystic Law, but this is erroneous.

The Mystic Law is not something wholly external to our own reality, but it is not wholly internal either. This Law of the Lotus Sutra essentially states that on the subtle level, all is one great Dharma. Differentiations, labels, views, and concepts are all relative to its absolute and embracing truth.

Consider a forest floor, covered in mushrooms. Anyone who has studied mushrooms, will know that the manifestation of mushrooms on the surface (Ho – appearance) is simply the results of hidden threads, or causes and conditions (Myo – Nature – Emptiness) beneath the dirt. We are like mushrooms, ignorant to the ultimate reality that our woes and fortunes depend upon incredibly subtle and intricate interwoven threads that bind us together beneath the surface of our conscious minds.

This notion of Gross (conventional existence as we understand it) and Subtle (emptiness, cause and effect, nature) when viewed as a single whole, become a threefold truth – the basis for Middle Way – Madhyamaka – thought. This posits that appearance and nature are combined to produce an entity that is fully consistent – and this is what is reflected in the Lotus Sutra.

Nagarjuna’s earlier doctrines of dependant origination and Sunyata (emptiness – that no form or non-form exists independently) bubbled through T’ien-t’ai and gave rise to the mutual possession of the Ten worlds, and presumably to the notion of original enlightenment, because if we are all interconnected, then we must all, therefore, be connected in some way to the Buddha.

I think it is incredibly important as Nichiren Buddhists to understand Sunyata (emptiness), because the whole notion of original enlightenment (that we are all inherently capable of manifesting Buddhahood) depends on an understanding of emptiness (also called void, or what the chinese saw as ‘principle’).

Ichinen Sanzen is really T’ien-t’ai’s further development of Middle Way throught, based on the true nature of all phenomenon as expressed in Ch2 of the Lotus Sutra. Along with his ten world doctrine it all got rolled it into a complex system of analysis that attempts to describe the complexity of the Mystic Law at any given moment.

So, where does this leave us? We have established that the Mystic Law is simply the ultimate (and ungraspable) reality of the Buddha’s wisdom.

By the power of the Mystic LawSo why, for example, do we say things like “reveal the power of the Mystic Law in our lives”. Like He Man and the Masters of the Universe do we, by holding the sword of Daimoku aloft, somehow invoke the power of the Castle Grayskull to do our bidding? I don’t think so.

The power of the Mystic Law is in removing our ignorance, and in doing so, helping us to fulfil our potential as bodhisattvas of the earth.

Other more esoteric elements of Nichiren Buddhism support the notion that by living one’s life in harmony with the Mystic Law, or in rhythm with the Mystic Law that material benefit will naturally manifest. Nichiren combines this idea of esho funi (oneness of self and environment) with his exclusive reading of the Lotus Sutra to predict disaster for those who do not follow his practice (earthquakes, invasion, drought, remember?) – and conversely great benefit for those who do.

While I feel that one will certainly derive suffering or benefit from an ignorance of or adherence to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, I believe any manifest effects are simply the product of causes made.

These effects might appear Mystic, but they are simply effects which are unfathomable by us due to their causality being too subtle to fathom. I personally doubt if whether one upholds the Lotus Sutra inclusively (Nichiren Shu or Rissho Kosei-kai) or exclusively (SGI, Nichiren Shoshu), that it is going to make much difference to one’s ability to be compassionate to others, and to realise benefit in one’s life.

The goal here is to be of service to others, demonstrate compassion to those in suffering, courage towards obstacles and devils, and to promote the egalitarian spirit of Buddhism throughout the world.

I believe The Mystic Law is nothing other than the Buddha’s understanding of absolute reality. It is impossible to grasp using our gross consciousness, yet it binds and saves all beings who appreciate it’s magnificence.

No teaching from a relative standpoint (i.e. from one who is not a fully realised Buddha) can effectively transmit its import or determine a sole method of practice. To truly grasp the sublime insight of the Buddha would extinguish all hope of explaining it in conventional terms.

It is not exclusive, but embracing, and all encompassing. The practice of connecting with it is to connect with the eternal Buddha; manifesting the desire to save all beings from suffering without delusion or impediment. It reveals all skilful means as the Buddha’s infinite wisdom. It ends one’s self-imploding quest for perfection and illuminates as an eternal explosion of brilliance the Buddha’s compassion for all beings.

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