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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12 Responses to What is the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra?

  1. Mark Rogow July 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    “Hail to all the Buddhas! Three- bodied Thus Come Ones! Open the door to, show me, cause me to awaken to, and to enter into the wisdom and insight of all the Buddhas.” — The Opening of the Eyes [Nichiren quoting Shan-wu-wei]

    • steve July 14, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      Mark, I feel I owe you an explanation of why I have removed your other comment. I also notice that since your posted you comment yesterday, you have now added a tirade of anti-sgi posts so anyone clicking your link gets the full flavour of your zeal. For anyone looking to start practicing Nichiren Buddhism and see this kind of material is neither helpful, nor productive – you are more likely to create ichantikas than bodhisattvas. While you may be on a crusade to rid the world of the SGI, I’m here to help people find happiness with as little voodoo as possible. If you read this blog you will understand my own position on the SGI is not typical, but is I hope moderate. It a real pity you are so incredibly insulting and insensitive in your approach, because you have some valid points to make. However, what I will not turn this blog into is a debating platform to thrash out who’s is the “one true way”, as any such belief is mistaken from the get go. If you wish to debate aspects of the Lotus Sutra or Nichiren’s Writings in a context not designed solely to slag off the SGI then please, feel free. I wish you a happy and peaceful weekend.

  2. sirsasana December 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    hey steve
    great blog – castle grey skull – heh heh heh can you recommend some reading on sunyata cos i have not really come across that in ND buddhism before – thankyou and happy new year

    • steve January 4, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      Hi Sirsasana, and happy new year to you too! Sorry for slow reply – the flu got me. Sunyata (emptiness) is pretty much a ubiquitous topic within Mahayana Buddhism. Nichiren didn’t concentrate (well, lets face it’s – he avoided it almost completely) on it – and once you have read about and started to understand the implications of Sunyata then you can make up your own mind about Nichiren’s reasons for doing so. I don’t have any books that specifically dwell on the topic of emptiness – at least not that are all that accessible. Google for the “Three Dharma Seals” for a good introduction. Good luck in your learning!

  3. ranjit ray January 24, 2013 at 12:50 am #

    Thank you for the wonderful site > I am an SGI member and find your comments and ideas very refreshing.I think practitioners of all religions have a tendency to choose dogma over critical thinking.

    • steve January 24, 2013 at 7:56 am #

      Thanks Ranjit – dogma, and even religion are not the same as spirituality, are they? Have a great week. Steve.

  4. billoo May 21, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    I think you can read surangama sutra for understanding of sunyata.

  5. Eric Toro February 9, 2015 at 8:49 pm #

    Nice post Steve. Seems like you’ve been doing your study. The writing from Nichiren that you quote at the very top certainly goes deep into explaining the “Entity of the Mystic Law”. I find that this writing reveals much about the history of the philosophy of the Lotus Sutra because within it Nichiren goes far into quoting from the teachings of Tien Tai himself, the founder of the Lotus Sutra school in China but also from the 6th patriarch of the school Miao-Lo and even more interesting the teacher of great teacher Tien Tai himself; a Buddhist master who went by the name Nan Yueh Wi Su. I have done some readings on the great master Nan Yueh from manuscripts prepared for the Institute of Oriental Studies at Soka University. These manuscripts delve deeply into the Nan Yueh’s oral lectures (later written out) on the 14th chapter of the Lotus Sutra; a chapter which focuses on the Four Peaceful Practices of the Bodhisattva in the latter age to come, better translated as “The Course of Ease and Bliss”. As you indicated, it is precisely because all living beings possess the three truths / three bodies and the matrix of the tathagata that we can realize the Buddha wisdom inherent within our own being. Nichiren made clear that is why chanting the name of the mystic law with faith enables us to realize this wisdom within ourselves. . .

  6. Edward March 9, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    I am a Nichiren follower in Singapore. Just want you to know that I have enjoyed reading the article.


  7. Eric Toro April 3, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    Looks like this post has petered out. Some further comments I would add are as follows. Reading through Steve’s views I sensed that while his views provide a measure of respect and awe for the deep principles of wisdom and insight regarding the principle of the mystic law, I also perceived that there was more of an intellectualistic / theoretical basis guiding his thoughts as opposed to the kind of inner experience and insight gained from an all out practice and dedication in the manner one could gain from say practicing with the SGI in the big cities such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and say Tokyo, Brazil and elsewhere, taking on consistent leadership roles, challenging oneself to dedicate great periods of time to building and developing communities of people dedicated to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism and the study of Nichiren’s writings as well as the writings and experiences of the three great Presidents of the SGI; seeking to stay in rhythm with the level of practice and propagation ever on-going within the higher leadership levels of the SGI. Such an experience can never be truly captured in words.

    As one commits oneself to the path of Nichiren practice that is pursued by the leadership of the SGI, one can come to perceive and awaken to the timeless functions and wisdom of the three truths in one’s own life. It is interesting that Nichiren himself makes this point abundantly clear in the writing entitled “The Entity of the Mystic Law” quoted at the beginning of Steve’s remarks.

    I also agree however, with Steve when he speaks about the relativity of practicing in the world and the futility of outwardly asserting a one true way exclusivity. This is not the correct way of the Nichiren Lotus practice. As Nichiren himself states in his Orally Transmitted Teachings and other writings where he explains that the practice entails “applying wisdom to ever changing circumstances”. This is the wisdom of three thousand realms in a single moment of thought.

    In the final analysis, long term dedication to the path of the SGI in concert with its wonderful unexcelled President Daisaku Ikeda, present in the world today, will yield an exquisite result in one’s life. I perceive the truth of Nichiren’s teachings, can perceive the wonder of the mystic law in all the workings of reality and most importantly that one’s own life is this wonderful law itself.

    It is also important to gain understanding in the principles and functions of the mind, such as for example in the principle of “name and form” or namarupa. This function is cited in the Buddhist principle of the 12fold chain of causation and signifies a function of the mystic law, the power to assign names or sound symbols to all phenomena / objects perceived by the senses. This is because the universal mystic law of life does manifest in the forms and structure of of the mind known as the three great truths, the outer external temporary forms of every day life (objective), the ever changing internal thought forms which correspond to them (subjective) and the oneness of the two or middleway of wisdom.

    In the principle of the ten worlds, ten factors and three realms of existence there is the Buddha’s understanding that one’s perception of reality or state of mind is directly affected by these states of life. The Buddha makes clear in the introductory sutra known as “Infinite Meanings Derive from a Single Law” that the way in which people perceive the laws of reality are not the same. Therefore the Buddha made provisions in his methods of teaching the mystic law such that people of differing minds will come to understand the hidden meanings of the Lotus Sutra in accordance with time and circumstances.

    Suffice it to say that the Buddha wisdom is subtle and profound and understands deeply the functions of cognition. The Buddha could perceive and understood well that the emergence of truthful words and phrases or the names and forms of higher conscious awareness would certainly spread from life to life throughout the world and that the proper individuals would of necessity emerge who could take up the leadership of such practices to awaken all mankind to the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Blossom. Nichiren, in his writings makes great revelation of these principles. I will share a few more.


    Nan-yüeh says in his commentary, “All living beings have within themselves the storehouse of the Dharma body, and therefore they are in no way different from the Buddha.”15 That is why the Lotus Sutra says, “The pure and ordinary eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind that one received at birth from one’s father and mother are also like this.”16

    Nan-yüeh also writes, “Question: In what sutra does the Buddha explain the eyes and the other sense organs and designate them by the name Thus Come One? Answer: The Great Diligence Sutra says, ‘Ordinary beings and the Thus Come One share a single Dharma body. Being pure and mystic beyond comparison, it is called Myoho-renge-kyo.’”

    “Thus, in the Lotus Sutra the Buddha employed three cycles of preaching in accordance with the respective understanding of those of superior, intermediate, or inferior capacity. For people of superior capacity, the renge, or lotus, that is the name of the Law was taught. But, for people of intermediate or inferior capacity, the lotus was used as a metaphor or symbol. As long as one understands that the word is being used both as a name for the Law itself and as a metaphor, depending upon which of the three groups of people is being addressed, then there should be no reason to argue over it.”

    This passage of commentary means that the supreme principle [that is the Mystic Law] was originally without a name. When the sage was observing the principle and assigning names to all things, he perceived that there is this wonderful single Law [myōhō] that simultaneously possesses both cause and effect [renge], and he named it Myoho-renge. This single Law that is Myoho-renge encompasses within it all the phenomena comprising the Ten Worlds and the three thousand realms, and is lacking in none of them. Anyone who practices this Law will obtain both the cause and the effect of Buddhahood simultaneously.

    All the Best

    The writing entitled the “The Entity of the Mystic Law” does indeed provide awesome insight into these functions.

    As Nichiren himself teaches in his wri

  8. Uwen April 25, 2017 at 4:18 am #

    Simply, the mystic law of LS is the fundamental Law of Evolution. By awakening to the truth of the law, we pursue human revolution ( acc. To Nichiren buddhism) or evolution as the ultimate goal or mission in life. This is the overarching law of laws.

  9. Uwen April 25, 2017 at 4:27 am #

    It is the understanding that the mystic law encompass all the function and dynamics in the universe – governing being and environment as one. It is this law that underpin earthly desire is enlightenment, 4 noble truths, true aspect of all phenomena.

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