The Ten Factors – Ichinen Sanzen Pt 2

Read the other parts of this series – Part 1Part 3Part 4

Ichinen Sanzen – Part 2

Previously, in the Ten Worlds article, we introduced the concept of Ichinen Sanzen (3000 realms in a single moment of life), and how it is comprised of the Ten Worlds, the Ten Factors, and the Three Realms.

In this article I’m going to tackle the Ten Factors, which collectively describe:

  • our interface with the universe, in terms of our spiritual and physical aspects.
  • our power and influence .
  • how the laws of causality affect us, and our relationship with our environment.
  • how all of the factors combine to perfectly describe a single moment of life.

The Ten Factors are collectively the engine or rules that drive us forward through the hundred worlds (the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds) and the Three Realms (described in a later article) and allows us to further refine our understanding of the complexity of any given life-moment.

The Ten Factors are revealed in the Lotus Sutra in the Hoben Pon, the second chapter – also known as the Expedient Means chapter, from which we recite in Gongyo, is this passage:

But stop, Shariputra, I will say no more. Why? Because what the Buddha has achieved is the rarest and most difficult-to-understand Law. The true entity of all phenomena can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, inherent cause, relation, latent effect, manifest effect, and their consistency from beginning to end.

Indeed, collectively The Ten Factors provide the underpinning of Mayahana Buddhism (the one vehicle) as taught in the theoretical teaching (first half) of the Lotus Sutra. The Ten Factors are common to all life and phenomena and therefore there can be no fundamental distinction between a Buddha and an ordinary person, or for that matter, between me and my dog!

An aside – why we chant the Ten Factors three times in Gongyo

At the end of the Expedient Means chapter in Gongyo, we recite three times:

Sho-i shoho. Nyo ze so. Nyo ze sho. Nyo ze tai. Nyoze riki. Nyo ze sa. Nyo ze in. Nyo ze en. Nyo ze ka. Nyo ze ho. Nyo ze honmak kukyo to.

The Ten Factors (appearance, nature, entity etc.) are recited three times because in The Doctrine of Ichinen Sanzen (Gosho Zenshu) Nichiren explains that there is increased benefit in doing so. Reciting the Ten Factors three times signifies the manifestation of the Three Truths of impermanence, non-substantiality and the Middle Way in our lives.

The Three Truths are so called because they are indisputable. We have a physical body (which is impermanent), we possess consciousness (non-substantiality), and the two are combined to present our entity (Middle Way). The Three Truths relate directly to the first three factors of Appearance (impermanence), Nature (non-substantiality) and Entity.

These terms are not immediately obvious in their meaning, so let’s clarify them for a moment, and how they relate to the first of the Ten Factors.

The Threefold Truth

The Indian Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna (150–250 CE) developed the concept of non-substantiality in connection with concepts of dependent origination and the non-existence of self-nature (self-nature meaning that something can be originated without any preceding causes or conditions).

Nagarjuna argued that because phenomena arise only by virtue of other causes and conditions, they can have no distinct nature or existence of their own. In other words, no entity exists independently and alone from other phenomena.

Chih-i (538–597 CE) later founded the T’ien-t’ai school based on his understanding of Nagarjuna’s teachings of the Two Truths and the Middle Way. This Chih-i called the “perfect harmony of the Threefold Truth” because there are not three distinct truths, but a single truth understood in a threefold way.

The Three Truths are inseparable. A common simile used to explain this, is to consider a piece of paper. Although there are two sides to the sheet, neither can exist without the other. And the entity (the sheet of paper) cannot exist without comprising two sides – or aspects.

The first three of the Ten Factors are directly related to the Threefold Truth. They also represent the most common understanding of Myoho, in Myoho-Renge-Kyo.


The first three factors (Appearance, Nature and Entity) are easier to consider as a unit. Although each describes a fundamentally different perpective, together they essentially endeavour to represent the great truth of all phenomena, both seen and unseen.

Appearance relates to physical manifestation, or “ho” from Myoho. In other words, it relates to things we perceive daily through the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

The way someone walks, the colour and shape of a lemon, the round yellow sun, or the smiling face of a loved one; these are all appearances. They are the objective reality of our environment at any moment – and they are subject to constant change. Because of their fleeting nature, they are regarded as impermanent. It is this impermanence of all phenomena that constitutes one of the Three Truths.

Every physical manifestation is impermanent. My baby teeth, my once full head of hair, the beautiful sunflower that grew last summer in the garden, an agonising attack of indegestion – all of these things are physical manifestations, and all of them return to being latent, or non-substantial after a time.

Death is something that people in the west have a particular aversion to discussing, and it offers ultimate proof of the impermanence of all things. A remarkably high proportion of our body is replaced on an annual basis due to the natural death and replacement of our cells. Our skin becomes more prone to wrinkles, our hair gets thinner, turns grey or falls out altogether, and our joints gradually become stiffer. The impermanence of our own bodies is palpable from year to year as we get older.


Nature describes the unseen yet inherent tendencies within anything. It represents the truth of non-substantiality, or Myo (meaning mystic and unseen). Would we call hopes and fears non-substantial? Probably not. Yet, if the most knowledgable neuroscientists sliced and diced my brain they would never find a latent fear of spiders, or my hope, say, of becoming a grandparent.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology can certainly detect which areas of the brain react when one thinks about spiders, but that reaction in and of itself is just an impermanent manifestation of one’s latent fear, one’s nature – science can’t see the subconscious cause for our fears, or predict exactly what emotions go through our mind when we see spiders, but the human experience informs us that those emotions are real enough!

Alternatively, consider an egg. Although the egg itself is an example of impermanence, its non-substantial aspect (its nature) is for it to develop into a chick, and from that perhaps into a beautiful rooster. Now, I’ve eaten enough eggs to know that there is no hint of a rooster in there, but the genetic information combined with the wonder of life will sure enough, create a fully grown adult bird.

Unlike the impermanent appearance of an entity, the nature of a phenomena is immutable. The nature of fire, for example, is that it is an exothermic reaction involving fuel and oxygen – it’s hot, and always will be.

So, how does this work with people? Suppose someone is arrogant for many years, and then they have a child with a disability and suddenly develop compassion and a greater understanding of the suffering of others. One might argue that the person has changed their nature, but to do so would mistake the arrogance (an impermanent manifestation) for the persons true nature. Just as the egg’s true nature is to turn into a chicken, so when the correct conditions presented themselves, then this person’s true nature led them to develop greater compassion.

Our nature is informed by our eight consciousness (the Alaya consciousness), also referred to as Karma. Although our Karma can change, it is still our Karma and has been since the infinite past; so in that respect it is immutable. It is the storehouse of the effects of causes we have made since the infinite past, and is responsible for the delusions we experience as a result of our earthly desires.

Crucial in understanding the basis for Mahayana Buddhism, is the belief that the non-substantial aspect of our lives include the Buddha nature, along with the other nine worlds – and that all ten worlds are ready to surface at the right moment when the correct causes and conditions present themselves.


Without impermanent manifestation (appearance), and non-substantiality (nature) there can be no life, or Middle Way (entity). It is the thread upon which hangs the physical and hidden world.

Entity is a way of rationalising our inherent tendency to think in dualistic terms. For a long time, the west has regarded the mind (nature) as somehow separate from the body (appearance). Indeed, it could be argued that people concern themselves almost exclusively with their outward appearance, clothes, hair, working out etc., and neglect to cater for their spiritual or mental wellbeing.

When we focus on our entity, we have to take into account a more holistic view of both our physical and spiritual wellbeing, because without either our entity cannot exist – at least not in a meaningful way.

For example, a flute would not be a flute if it did not make a sound when one blew across the mouthpiece. Likewise, it is not possible to hear the sound made by the flute without there being a flute in the first place. The combination of the flute’s impermanent physical appearance, and its nature to create beautiful sounds combine to form the entity we understand as a flute.

A gun on the other hand, is shaped and designed to fit in the hand. It’s nature is to fire bullets when the trigger is pulled and to create a loud noise. Of course, this could be a bad thing (when its pointed at someone), or it could be the cause for great excitement (when it’s a starting pistol) – but that would depend on which of the Ten Worlds it possesses at any time – and that’s a topic for a later article!

Power & Influence

The two factors of power and influence are considered together because collectively they describe the ability and amount to which an entity can manifest change in the universe.

To effect change requires both power and influence. It is a common misconception to think that power is the ultimate requirement to make changes in our lifes. However, this is only partially true.

Power can be thought of as our inherent potential, or life force. It could be related therefore to our physical strength, or a particular ability or skill (whether that has been developed and realised or not). In order to exercise this power, we must be able to influence our surroundings through our thoughts, words and actions.

It is possible to possess great potential (perhaps for mathematics or physics), but without the wisdom or courage to go to school, to influence our lives in a positive way, then we will never fulfil our potential. Conversely, even if we possess only limited skill, but through our thoughts, words and deeds we act in harmony with the Mystic Law, then we can effect great change in our lives.

One analogy is to think of a car’s engine as the power, and the gearbox as the influence. Even with a very powerful engine, if the gearbox is in neutral (no influence), then we’re going nowhere. We can rev the engine, and make a lot of noise and hot fumes, but the car won’t move.

Likewise, if we wish to climb a steep hill and select too high a gear then even a powerful engine may stall. However, a low powered engine can still climb the hill in first gear. So, with only limited power but effective influence, we can achieve that which unlimited power alone cannot.

When Gandhi opposed the Raj in India, he did so with almost infinitely less power than was bought to bear upon him by the British authorities. His prolonged campaign of non-cooperation and peaceful protest, however, formed strong connections of the heart with his oppressed countrymen. Based on his compassion and desire for peace and free will, his influence continued to grow until independence was eventually achieved in 1947. The British failed because despite their great physical power their motives were impure. They trampled on the hearts of the people, and their ability to influence support was a mirage, ultimately evaporating altogether.

Cause and Effect

The next four factors are all related to the Buddhist law of cause and effect. Both cause and effect are each broken down into two further elements demonstrating the insightful nature of T’ien-t’ai and his insightful predecessors.

It is important to understand that an effect cannot exist independently of a cause. If this were the case, then the Buddha would be distinct from other living beings.

Internal Cause and External Cause

Cause, per se, is broken into an internal and external factor. Also referred to as inherent cause, internal cause is the inherent potential within us, driven by our desires. This potential can be represented by any of the ten worlds, or life states at any given moment.

For example, one might be terrified of horses (an internal cause in the life-state of hell), and therefore have the strong desire to be nowhere near a horse. As long as no horse is around, one is free to go about his daily routine; the inherent Equinophobia never manifests. When suddenly confronted with a horse (external cause), however, one’s inherent fear of horses is activated, and becomes manifest.

Another popular analogy for internal cause is a glass of water with some sediment (internal cause) at the bottom. The sediment represents the internal causes (desires) within our life. Free from all other influences the sediment remains at the bottom, and the water remains clear. Upon inserting a spoon and stirring the water up (external cause) the glass becomes cloudy (manifest effect)

So, in order to activate an internal cause, we require an external influence, or catalyst – this is variably referred to as external cause, and sometimes simply as relation. The external cause might be viewed, superficially, as the reason for something happening. e.g. “I hit him because he insulted me”. Being insulted in this example may be understood as the reason for the retaliation.

However, if we look at this event from the perspective of Internal and External Cause, we should consider the word reason as meaning causes and conditions. i.e. both the external cause (being insulted) and the internal conditions (a delicate ego, or pre-existing enmity towards the person delivering the insult) have to exist in order for someone to hit another.

Our internal causes, or inherent causes, then, are also an aspect of our nature (from the Threefold Truth of Myo, or appearance), and are therefore at the mercy of our Karma – the effects of causes we have made since the infinite past.

This is why it is difficult for us to change our default behaviour, and why we strive daily through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to turn the negative tide of our Karma. To use the glass of water analogy once more, when we replace the sediment in our lives with the Universal Salty Taste (a great Gosho by the way) of the Lotus Sutra, then no matter how hard we stir things up, we can see clearly and objectively through the wisdom of our own innate Buddhahood.

Manifest Effect and Latent Effect

The resultant effects of the causes we make are usually all too apparent, but it still requires some examination to fully grasp the consequences of them. Like the internal and external causes discussed above, the effects of those causes also comprise of two factors, both internal and external. The internal effect is known as the latent effect, and the external effect is known as the manifest effect.

Like all things external, the manifest effect is impermanent. It is what we experience through our five physical senses, and our perception. For example, consider a heated argument between a couple. The woman says something that provides the external cause to trigger the man’s inherent cause to loose his temper and see red mist. As a result he smashes a plate on the floor. The manifest effect is quite clear, and requires only a dustpan and brush to remedy – or does it? If only life were so simple!

Before we look at latent effects, lets just consider for a moment the interconnectedness of all things, (Nagarjuna’s theory of dependent origination again), which we know as Ichinen Sanzen (to be covered later) and how this applies to the breaking of the plate. The manifest effect of the broken plate is not singularly physical. Like all phenomena, it has an appearance, and a nature. The nature of the broken plate is possessed perhaps of the world of anger, hunger or hell. Therefore the breaking of the plate in itself may act as the external cause to illicit a reaction from the woman, triggering an internal cause in her life that results in her breaking down and crying, or storming out, or throwing more plates back at the man! Let’s stop there before it’s gets any worse!

We have seen how the manifest effect of the broken plate behaves as the external cause to trigger a reaction in the woman, but it also creates an internal latent effect in the man’s own life – in his Karma.

Because the plate breaking was driven by the four lower worlds, the overall effect upon the man’s Karma will be to increase its “weight” (thus the hippy saying “heavy Karma, man!”.) Worst of all the latent effect may be to reinforce a pre-existing inherent cause based in one of the evil paths. The man, thinking he has won the argument after smashing the plate may reinforce his tendency to smash plates to win arguments in future. It can be a viscous cycle of delusion fed by the man’s desire for others to accept his point of view.

The problem of drug taking can provide us with another example. Let’s suppose one had an inherent desire to get high on cocaine. The peddler offering the drugs at the party is all the external cause you require to buy a gram, and do some lines. The manifest effect is, predictably, you get high – the world seems a great place to be, for a while. The inherent effect, of course, is physical and psychological addiction to the temporary stimulation given by the trip – thus reinforcing our negative tendency or internal cause to use more cocaine – and so forth.

Consistency from Beginning to End

This final factor is not so much a fundamental factor in it’s own right. In as much as “Entity” discussed earlier is a third and binding perspective of what would otherwise be the dual factors of appearance and nature, so Consistency from Beginning to End refers to life’s appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect and manifest effect all consistently expressing the dominant life state at any given moment.

For example, if a life moment were dominated by learning at any given moment, then you would not be tempted to use your power or influence to buy drugs, despite an inherent cause to use drugs. To do so would be inconsistent. This factor could also be viewed as a cohesive law of consistency, which essentially acts as a checksum to assert that any anomalies are really an error in our relative observation, rather than an error in absolute reality.

I remember having just received the phone call (external cause) that my wife and I had become grandparents. Because we love our kids (inherent cause) the news made my face light up, and I wore a huge grin from ear to ear (appearance). Always wanting to share joy with my wife (nature) I shouted the news to my her (manifest effect). We rushed to the hospital (power and influence) so that we could express our love for the new addition.

When we elevate our life condition and to aspire to the Buddha way our lives will consistently manifest benefit, both conspicuous and inconspicuous. If our lives are dominated by our buddha nature then it is purely consistent that we should create good causes in our life that serve to cease suffering and help end the suffering of others. The latent effects created in this life state serve to lessen our Karmic retribution. Again, this is why we strive to reveal our Buddhahood by chanting twice daily to the Gohonzon.

Well, that about wraps it up for this instalment – please if you have read this, please drop me a note – It really helps to know if this work has helped anyone in the least!

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