The Teaching of all Buddhas

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

Here is a talk given at the San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple on February 25, 2001.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Ryuei

The Teaching of all Buddhas

Recently I was asked: “What are the fundemental beliefs of Buddhism? Where would a person who is interested in learning about Buddism start?” This is a question that has been asked for more than 2,500 years, ever since the Buddha and his disciples started wandering around India. One particular story I like is from China.

One day, the famous poet Bai Juyi asked the monk Niaowo about Buddhism: “How must I live my life so that I am completely at one with the Way?”

Niawo replied: “Avoid all evil and perform all good.”

Bai Juyi was not impressed by this and said, “Even a three-year-old knows that much.”

To which Niaowo retorted with: “A three-year-old may know it. But not even a one-hundred-year-old can do it.”

Niaowo was clever, but he wasn’t telling the whole story. The Buddha actually said: "Not to do evil, to cultivate the good, and to purify the mind. This is the teaching of all the Buddhas." This statement can be found in verse 183 of the Dhammapada. It is a very concise summary of what Buddhism is all about. In this verse, it is not just good and evil which are stressed, but the extra step which is even harder -- purifying the mind. But without purifying the mind, it is very hard to refrain from evil and to do good. Sometimes, in our confusion and weakness, it is even hard to know what is good and what is evil in any given moment.

This statement itself rests upon the fundamental idea that life unfolds in accordance with the law of cause and effect. So we should make good causes in thought, word and deed because the causes we make will determine the nature of the effects that return to us. Sometimes people say, “What goes around comes around,” or “You will reap what you sow.” This law of cause and effect is the basis for such ideas. So instead of killing, stealing, being unfaithful, lying, and abusing our minds and bodies with drugs or alcohol, we should make good causes like nurturing others, being generous, faithful, honest, and cultivate a healthy body and mind.

Above all we should purify the mind of the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance so we can see Reality As It Is and not as we want it to be. When we awaken to reality, then we will be free of suffering ourselves and will be in a position to free others of suffering.

But it is easier to say this than to do this. So that is why Buddhists practice meditation and mindfulness in order to become more aware of the causes we make and the way reality is impermanent and interdependent. The best way to do this according to Nichiren Shonin is to chant and reflect upon the phrase Namu Myoho Renge Kyo which means "I devote myself to the Wonderful Truth of the Lotus Flower Teaching."

Our founder Nichiren Shonin wrote that faith in the Lotus Sutra transcends all else. It goes to the core of our being and can redeem the worst evils and surpasses even the limited good that we might do on our own:

Yet even though one may have committed the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins, so long as he does not turn his back on the Lotus Sutra, he will without doubt be reborn in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood in his next existence. On the other hand, we read in the sutra that even a person who observes the precepts, embraces all other sutras and believes in the various Buddhas and bodhisattvas, if he fails to take faith in the Lotus Sutra, is certain to fall into the evil paths. (Reciting the Hoben and Juryo Chapters)

Is Nichiren Shonin saying that blind faith in a sutra will allow us to transcend good and evil? I do not think so. I think that Nichiren Shonin was trying to point out that the best way to refrain from evil is to realize the ultimate dignity of all life, which is that all beings are destined to become buddhas -- fully enlightened. And the best way to do good is to spread this teaching to others by expressing our faith in the Lotus Sutra. This is what the Lotus Sutra really is, not a book or a sermon of the Buddha, but the ultimate truth that all beings are destined to become buddhas, and that buddhahood is in fact our very nature. We just have to recognize it and live our lives confidently and compassionately based on the truth of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Shonin also said:

“In the same way, one who chants the daimoku as the Lotus Sutra teaches will never have a twisted mind. For you must know that, unless the mind of the Buddha enters into our body, we cannot in fact chant the daimoku.” (Letter to Myomitsu Shonin)

So when we chant the Odaimoku, we are purifying our minds by allowing our minds to blossom forth as the mind of the Buddha. Metaphorically, Nichiren Shonin refers to this as “the Buddha entering our body.” This means that in our thoughts, words and deeds, we devote ourselves to the True Reality which enables us to bring out the blossoming flower of our own awakening, buddhahood, in the midst of our ordinary lives. This devotion leading to awakening is the process of purifying the mind and enables us to recognize and refrain from bad causes and empowers us to recognize and perform good causes for ourselves and others.

So, unlike Niaowo’s hundred-year-old man, I hope that we can begin to put the Buddha’s advice into practice and refrain from evil, perform good and purify the mind by taking faith in the Lotus Sutra, chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, and thereby allowing our thoughts, words and deeds to be the thoughts, words and deeds of buddhahood.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2001, 2002.

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