Building the Treasure Tower

Thoughts on Chapter 21 of the Lotus Sutra
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

St. Nichiren once wrote to his disciple, Abutsu-bo, "You, yourself, are a true Buddha who possesses the three enlightened properties. You should chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo with this conviction. Then, the place wherein you dwell and chant daimoku is the place of the Treasure Tower." This passage indicates that the Treasure Tower is a symbol of the infinite virtues of the Buddha emerging from within us when we take faith in and practice the Lotus Sutra.

The life of the ordinary person is often characterized by anxiety and insecurity. One might call it a poverty mentality which strives to retain what little happiness and security it has already gained, while constantly searching for ways to grab just a little bit more. Anxiety, frustration and hostility begin to characterize the lives of those who have such a siege mentality towards life. Thoreau called this the life of "quiet desperation."

The Lotus Sutra, however, shows us that the poverty mentality is a delusion. Chapter 21 states that, "all the teachings of the Tathagata, all the unhindered, supernatural powers of the Tathagata, all the treasury of the hidden core of the Tathagata, and all the profound achievements of the Tathagata are revealed and expounded explicitly in this sutra." This is vitally important for us, because these virtues or powers are the shared reality of all beings, not the private hoard of a single Tathagata. The true treasure is not worldly security but the life of the Tathagata itself which is the life of the universe wherein all beings and objects are interrelated. This is the Treasure Tower of peace and generosity within each of us and when we discover it we can then touch the lives of everyone around us, such as our family, friends, co-workers and even the many strangers that we meet in the course of the day, just as we have been touched by the caring and sacrifices of others. By opening our lives to all of these people through a smile, a kind word, or selfless giving it makes it easier for them to find the Treasure Tower within themselves. In this way the wisdom and compassion of the Tathagata reaches throughout all time and all space as the sutra says, "At that time the worlds of the ten quarters became passable through each other without hindrance as if they had been a single Buddha-world."

Chapter 21 also says, "In any world where anyone keeps, reads, recites, expounds or copies this sutra, or acts according to its teachings, or in any place where a copy of this sutra is put, be it in a garden in a forest, under a tree, in a monastery, in the house of a person in white robes, in a hall, in a mountain, in a valley, or in the wilderness, there should a stupa be erected and offerings be made to it because, know this, that place is the place of enlightenment." This passage shows that enlightenment is a possibility for us at all times and in all places. Whenever we are able to let go of the mind of self-interest and reveal the mind of the Tathagata revealed in the Lotus Sutra with its infinite powers and virtues, then we have consecrated new ground for the Treasure Tower.

Henry Miller once asked, "Why then do we not give ourselves -- recklessly, abundantly, completely? If we realized we were part of an endless process, that we had neither to lose nor to gain, but only to live it out, would we behave as we do?" A votary of the Lotus Sutra should take this to heart and pull down the walls of the poverty mentality and allow a Treasure Tower for all beings to spring up in its place.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick 2001.

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