Outline of the Lotus Sutra

(Source: Seikyo Times 1/89)

Chapter twenty-five: Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumon

(The Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Kanzeon)

Chapter twenty-six: Darani


This is the twentieth installment in a chapter-by-chapter outline of the Lotus Sutra. It is based on Myoho-renge-kyo, the twenty-eight-chapter version of the sutra translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva in 406, which Nichiren Daishonin used.

The Lotus Sutra has been revered in East Asia for centuries as the highest teaching of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. In the Latter Day of the Law, when people can no longer attain enlightenment through Shakyamuni's teachings, Nichiren Daishonin, the true Buddha of the age, revealed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws as the heart of the Lotus Sutra, the ultimate truth which the Lotus Sutra seeks to express.

The Daishonin often used the Lotus Sutra to clarify his own teaching, and we find countless references to it in his writings. We hope this series will provide our readers with a helpful reference in studying Nichiren Daishonin's Gosho.

Chapter twenty-five of the Lotus Sutra is called Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumon or The Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Kanzeon.' Like the two preceding chapters, it focuses on a particular bodhisattva figure, in this case the bodhisattva called Kanzeon ("He Who Perceives the Sounds of the World") or Kannon, as the name is often abbreviated. Worship of Bodhisattva Kannon flourished in India, China and Japan, and this chapter also circulated as an independent text, called the Kannon Sutra.

Bodhisattva Kannon has figured in several important Buddhist traditions. In Pure Land Buddhism, together with Bodhisattva Seishi, he is revered as one of two bodhisattvas said to attend the Buddha Amida, lord of the western paradise. In Shingon Buddhism, Kannon is one of the "nine honored ones" depicted in the central court of the Womb World mandala. In popular belief, Kannon was said to protect women in childbirth, as well as to confer other blessings. Though this bodhisattva was originally regarded as male, a concept of Kannon as female also emerged in China from around the seventh century.

Kannon has additionally provided a much beloved subject for Buddhist art. Because this bodhisattva is said to heed the sufferings of all living beings, he is often depicted with several faces looking in different directions, or given multiple arms, symbolizing his compassionate power to free all beings from distress. Standard iconographic forms of Kannon include the eleven-faced Kannon, the thousand-armed Kannon, and so on.

The Kannon chapter may represent an attempt to integrate popular faith in this bodhisattva within the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. In this sense, we must understand that Bodhisattva Kannon or Kanzeon described in this chapter actually represents the compassionate workings of the Mystic Law, which we strive to develop within ourselves.

He Who Perceives the Sounds of the World

At the beginning of the chapter, a bodhisattva called Inexhaustible Mind addresses Shakyamuni Buddha and asks him why Bodhisattva Kanzeon or "He Who Perceives the Sounds of the World" is so called. Shakyamuni replies: "If countless millions of living beings, suffering pain and torment, should hear of this Bodhisattva Kanzeon and single mindedly call upon his name, Bodhisattva Kanzeon shall instantly perceive their cries and voices, and all will be able to obtain deliverance."

If there is a man who upholds the name of this bodhisattva, Shakyamuni continues, then even if that man should fall into a fire, it will not burn him, thanks to Kannon's awesome mystic powers. If someone should be swept away by a great river and call on this bodhisattva, he shall immediately reach shallow ground. Altogether, Shakyamuni elaborates on "seven disasters" from which one can be saved by the power of Bodhisattva Kannon: fire, flood, rakshasa demons, swords and staves, yaksha and other demons or malignant ghosts, imprisonment, and attacks by bandits.

Moreover, Shakyamuni continues, the supernatural powers of this bodhisattva are such that those who revere him can free themselves from the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity. He can confer worldly benefits as well: For example, a woman who worships this bodhisattva can bear a child of the sex she desires, endowed with merit and virtue.

Suppose, says Shakyamuni Buddha, that some man or woman were to revere and uphold the names of bodhisattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty-two million Ganges rivers, and to his or her utmost capacity make them offerings of food, clothing, bedding, medicine, and so forth. Would the benefits gained by that man or woman be great?

Inexhaustible Mind replies, "Extremely great, World-Honored One."

Shakyamuni then declares that one who upholds the name of Bodhisattva Kanzeon and reveres it even for a time shall have still inconceivably greater benefit, benefit not to be exhausted even in the space of trillions of kalpas.

Bodhisattva Inexhaustible Mind then asks, "How does Bodhisattva Kanzeon travel in the saha world? How does he preach the Law for the benefit of living beings, and what is the nature of his power of expedient means?"

Shakyamuni replies that, for those who can be led to emancipation by the form of a Buddha, Bodhisattva Kannon assumes the form of a Buddha. For those who can be led to enlightenment by the form of a voice hearer or a god, he appears as a voice-hearer or a god. To those who can be led to enlightenment by a king, he appears as a king. To those who can be led to enlightenment by a woman, he appears as a woman. Altogether, Shakyamuni enumerates thirty-three forms, both human and non-human, which Bodhisattva Kannon assumes in accordance with the people's capacity in order to lead them to enlightenment.

"0 World-Honored One!" says Bodhisattva Inexhaustible Mind, "I will now make an offering to Bodhisattva Kanzeon!" He then removes a necklace he is wearing made of precious jewels worth a hundred thousand pieces of gold and presents it to Bodhisattva Kanzeon, saying, "Sir, accept this Dharma offering of a necklace of precious jewels!" But Kanzeon declines to accept it. Inexhaustible Mind again entreats him, saying, "Sir, out of pity for us, accept this necklace!" Shakyamuni then intervenes and tells Bodhisattva Kanzeon that, out of compassion for Bodhisattva Inexhaustible Mind and his attendants, he ought to accept the offering. Thereupon Bodhisattva Kanzeon accepts the necklace but immediately divides it into two parts, offering one to Shakyamuni Buddha, the other to the Treasure Tower of Taho Buddha. We can take this to indicate that the compassion and transcendent powers of the bodhisattva all derive from the life of Buddhahood. We ourselves can bring forth from within and cultivate this infinitely profound state of Buddhahood, manifesting it in bodhisattva conduct, by our faith in and practice to the Gohonzon.

Shakyamuni concludes by saying, "Inexhaustible Mind! With such freedom of mystic power does Bodhisattva Kanzeon travel through the saha world!" The substance of the chapter is then repeated in verse.

A superficial reading of this chapter might lead us to conclude that its message is one of faith in the saving power of some external bodhisattva figure who will intervene to help us if we but appeal to him. Historically, Bodhisattva Kanzeon has indeed been the object of such belief. However, given that this chapter is incorporated within the Lotus Sutra, we must try to understand it in light of that sutra's profound meanings. In his lectures on the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin makes clear that "Bodhisattva Kannon" is not a transcendent savior but represents a reality inherent in all of us. Thus he states, "Kannon represents the essence of the Lotus Sutra, that is, the essence that is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo"(Gosho Zenshu, p.801).

We have seen that Bodhisattva Kannon of the twenty-fifth chapter, like Bodhisattva Yakuo in chapter twenty-three and Bodhisattva Myo'on in chapter twenty-four, manifests himself in various forms in order to save all living beings. In terms of our own practice, this suggests the need for developing empathy, insight and responsiveness with respect to others. By discerning the hopes and fears, the sufferings and the dreams, of the people around us, we can best encourage their faith in the Mystic Law. Unless we can discern what is truly on another's mind, we will have no convincing encourage-men to offer In this sense, the name "He Who Perceives the Sounds of the World" does not simply mean to hear physical sounds, but to discern human hearts. As mentioned earlier, this power of altruistic insight and response derives from the Buddha nature awakened through our faith in the Gohonzon.

Chapter twenty-six, Dharani, deals with dharanis, secret spells or verbal formulas said to embody magical powers and to confer benefit and protection. They are further said to possess the function of thwarting evil and upholding good. Because their power lies in their form, dharanis were not translated when the sutras were introduced to China and Japan but continued to be recited in Sanskrit. They were especially valued in esoteric Buddhism. Often they have no literal meaning. English versions of the Lotus Sutra simply reproduce the Sanskrit sounds of the dharanis uttered in this chapter with no attempt at translation. The Dharani chapter probably represents the incorporation, into the Lotus Sutra, of earlier, perhaps even pre-Buddhist, elements.

In the beginning of the chapter, Bodhisattva Yakuo or Medicine King asks Shakyamuni Buddha how much good fortune a man or woman can gain from embracing and upholding the Lotus Sutra. Shakyamuni replies by offering an analogy. Suppose, he says, that someone were to serve Buddhas equal in number to the sands of ten billion nayuta (10^11) Ganges rivers. Would the good fortune a man or woman gained thereby be great?

"Very great," replies Bodhisattva Yakuo.

Still greater, says Shakyamuni, will be the good fortune of one who upholds even a single verse of the Lotus Sutra.

Bodhisattva Yakuo then pronounces a dharani or charm for the protection of those who teach the sutra. This dharani, he says, has been pronounced by Buddhas equal in number to the sands of sixty-two million Ganges rivers, If anyone acts against a teacher of the sutra, he shall have acted against those Buddhas.

"Excellent, excellent!" declares Shakyamuni. "Out of pity for the teachers of the Law and to protect them you have pronounced this dharani; you are a source of much benefit to living beings."

The Vow of the Demon Daughters

As the chapter proceeds, various other members of the assembly come forward to pronounce dharanis for the protection of those who preach the Lotus Sutra. Among them are Bodhisattva Yuze (Brave Donor); Bishamon and Jikoku, representing the four heavenly kings; and ten female rakshasa demons (Jap. jurasetsunyo) together with their mother, the demon Kishimojin. This offering of protective spells by various beings can, in a broad sense, be understood to mean that so long as we strive for enlightenment and work to spread the Mystic Law so that others may do the same, all circumstances will ultimately work to protect such efforts.

The promise of protection made by the ten demon daughters for the votaries of the sutra is especially well-known. Having pronounced their dharani, they speak in verses, saying: "Whoever resists our spell/And troubles a preacher of the Dharma,/May his head split in seven pieces/Like the branches of an arjaka tree." The Daishonin occasionally referred to this passage to reassure his disciples that those who persecuted him could not indefinitely escape the consequences of their actions.

In response to the vow made by the ten demon daughters, Shakyamuni declares, "Excellent, excellent! All of you, for protecting those who merely receive and uphold the name of the Lotus Sutra, shall have good fortune without measure." The "name" of the Lotus Sutra is of course Myoho-renge-kyo, and the Daishonin sometimes cites this passage as a documentary basis for the practice of chanting the daimoku. For example, in a Gosho called "How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra, "he writes: "This passage implies that we human beings, whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down, should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" (Gosho Zenshu, p.557), thus urging us to base the entirety of our daily conduct upon this practice.

The demon Kishimojin is called Hariti in Sanskrit. According to Buddhist tradition, she once made a habit of stealing human babies to feed her many hundreds of children, until Shakyamuni Buddha rebuked her and convinced her to stop. Her ten demon daughters are called Lamba, Vilamba, Crooked Teeth, Flowery Teeth, Black Teeth, Much Hair, Insatiable, Necklace Bearer, Kunti (Jap. Kodainyo), and Robber of the Vital Spirit of All Living Beings. The fact that even demons vow to protect those who uphold the Lotus Sutra teaches us that, based upon our faith in the Gohonzon, even negative or destructive influences can be made to enhance our growth. Both Kishimojin and her ten daughters appear on the Gohonzon, where, as the Daishonin says, "Illuminated by the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the enlightened nature they inherently possess" (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 212).

Although this chapter mentions several specific spells or dharanis, this too must be understood in terms of the sutra's fundamental teaching. Thus Nichiren Daishonin states in the "Ongi Kuden," the record of his lectures on the Lotus Sutra, "The dharanis [recited in this chapter] indicate Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The reason is that dharanis are the secret words of the Buddhas. The five characters of the daimoku are the most secret of secret words of all Buddhas throughout the three existences. Now the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo by Nichiren and his disciples is the spreading of dharanis, because it works to thwart evil and uphold good" (Gosho Zenshu, p.777).