The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra

The word “Buddha” is used in two contexts.  It covers two meanings:

  1.       Buddha as a person, and

  2.       Buddha as a state of life.  The Buddha “state of life” is the “world of Buddhahood”.

While the person of a Buddha means a physical manifestation of Buddhahood, the person cannot - of course - be eternal.  The eternal is assigned not to the person, but to the “state of life”  of Buddhahood. The state of “eternal Buddhahood” is necessarily not restricted by time or space.

Shakyamuni Buddha did not ‘invent’ the state of Buddhahood. The Eternal state of Buddhahood existed before the birth of the historical Buddha.  This state of Buddhahood is the original source (or the field of enlightenment)  -  to which the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, discovered in his own being, and thus he became a concrete (or specific) embodiment of Buddhahood.

This means that the state of Buddhahood is the general category, while Shakyamuni Buddha was a specific manifestation of the state of Buddhahood. .

Many problems in understanding of the concept of “identity of individual” come from a confusion between what is “General” and what is “Specific”.  For example: to say that person X is from a certain race or religion - this is the Specific category of that person, but to say that the same person is a human being - this is the General category.

“If you confuse the general with the specific even in the slightest, you will never be able to attain Buddhahood and will wander in suffering”.   WND1p746

Here, the “general” - is the state of Buddhahood (or NamMyohoRengeKyo), while the “specific” is the person Shakyamuni, Nichiren, and any also other human being - who is in perfect fusion with the general eternal field of Buddhahood. 

The Eternal Buddha in view of Nichiren Shu, Shoshu and Soka Buddhism

The way in which the doctrine of the “Original Buddha” is understood, characterises the relevant differences between various Nichiren’s schools.

The three schools of Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and SGI have different interpretations of the doctrine of Eternal Buddha:

Nichiren Shu, in this regard, names Shakyamuni as the Eternal Buddha,

Nichiren Shoshu names Nichiren Daishonin as the Original Buddha, while:

SGI literature indicates that the Eternal Buddha is:

                                 NamMyohoRengeKyo - Human Being

NamMyohoRengeKyo is the eternal state of Buddhahood, which materializes in any specific human being who is devoted to the Law.  This interpretation regards both Shakyamuni and Nichiren as manifestations of the Eternal State of Buddhahood, and opens the way for all people to attain the same state of Buddhahood. 

The eternal Buddha is the highest state of life, and can be manifested by devoted individual human beings without restriction.  it is not a “patent for one person only”, as Nichiren Shu teaches.

Both sects of Nichiren Shu and Shoshu focus on the person - disregarding the mention of the Law - and fall into the following inconsistency in their interpretation of whom they call Eternal Buddha:

  1.     If Shakyamuni is named the True or Eternal Buddha, then - according to Nichiren Shu - Nichiren is only a Bodhisattva.  This interpretation is based on separation of the Ten Worlds and it denies that Nichiren’s state of life was Buddha-acting-as-Bodhisattva (as the Mutual Possession teaches).  It also contradicts his own writings.  Nichiren Shu school makes the World of Buddhahood as “reserved” to one person only, while the Nine Worlds reserved for all humanity.

  1.        On the other hand, if - according to Shoshu priesthood, only Nichiren was the True Buddha, the question arises: then, who was Shakyamuni of the Lotus Sutra?

Nichiren Shoshu avoids viewing of Shakyamuni as a True Buddha, and focus only on Nichiren - a perspective that enhances their position as “closer to” and “representing” the True Buddha.

  1.       SGI interpretation of the Eternal Buddha (One who manifests the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) is consistent with Nichiren writings.  Both Shakyamuni and Nichiren as persons - passed away, so we cannot call the person of Shakyamuni or Nichiren - as being eternal.  What is eternal is the life of Shakyamuni and Nichiren, the life of Buddhahood. This “life of Buddhahood” is NamMyohoRengeKyo.  Buddhahood was perfectly manifested by both Shakyamuni and Nichiren.

Buddhism introduces a nameless reference to the concept of ‘Enlightened Being‘:  it is the concept of The Tathagata, or ‘One who emerged from the Truth’, translated also as “Thus Come One”.  The term ‘Thus Come One’ appears in the Lotus Sutra:

The Buddha said to Shariputra: A wonderful Law such as this,

Preached by the Buddhas, The ‘Thus Come Ones’” (Expedient Means, Ch.2, p.30)

This and other passages, clearly indicate that Buddhahood is the oneness of the person (who is the Thus Come One)  and the Dharma (or the Law).  In this perspective of SGI Buddhism - the eternal state of Buddhahood (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) can be manifested by any devoted human being (Thus Come One).  The concept of Tathagata is genderless, it is any human being, male or female, who through devotion to the Law can manifest the state of eternal Buddhahood.

According to SGI teachings:

“The Original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end is then Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo-Thus-Come-One”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 5 (page 164)

“Just as did Shakyamuni, all Buddhas of the past, present and future has become enlightened to, and have taken as their mentor, the Buddha of time without beginning: Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo -Thus Comes One.  This is the Buddha of Limitless Joy, the Buddha of absolute freedom “NamMyohoRengeKyo - Thus Come One”. 

President Toda said: The life of Nichiren Daishonin and our own lives have neither beginning nor end.  This is what is termed time without beginning”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4 p.38

An interpretation that maintains the true identity of both Buddhas - Nichiren and Shakyamuni – opens the way for any human being to manifest also original Buddhahood (or to become a “Thus Come One”: a human being whose life is one with the eternal law).  Such an interpretation has the capacity to benefit each person in daily life, through daily practice:

“Kuon [Timeless Life of Enlightenment] signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon. When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginning-less time”. (p.165)

This practically means that the life of the Eternal Buddha is the Gohonzon enshrined at home as the Object of Devotion.

Attaining Buddhahood is possible for all people, but each would have obviously own circumstances and own mission.  We cannot be someone else or have a mission as huge as that of Shakyamuni or Nichiren, nonetheless a human being can manifest eternal state of Buddhahood through own mission in daily life.             _______________________________________________________________

The Historical Buddha and the Eternal Buddha

Shakyamuni as a historical person - did not create Buddhahood, he only fused his life to the already existing eternal enlightenment of life, and existing before and after he appeared in the  history of humanity.

In what process Shakyamuni revealed his Buddhahood? It is through being ‘one with‘ - or being devoted (Namu) to the eternal Dharma (Myoho-Renge-Kyo):

“Although the Lotus Sutra was taught and revealed by Shakyamuni 3,000 years ago, the Buddhist Law in the Lotus Sutra is not something created by Shakyamuni.  Without beginning or end, it is a law governing and giving vitality to the constant flow of all phenomena since time without beginning”.


In other words, Shakyamuni was a Buddha because he was enlightened to the Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the eternal Dharma.

Nichiren Shu’ literature (Lotus Seeds, page 88) states, however, that: 

        “It is the core of the essential section of the Lotus Sutra which reveals that Shakyamuni Buddha

        is actually the Eternal Buddha”.   

This sentence would be read in SGI Buddhism as:

        “It is the core of the essential section of the Lotus Sutra which reveals that Shakyamuni

        Buddha is actually a manifestation of the Eternal state of Buddha.” .

This perspective does not deny that Shakyamuni of the Lotus Sutra was in fact the Eternal Buddha. It is a perspective which confirms that the life of Shakyamuni is an eternal manifestation of Buddhahood and also opens up the world of Buddhahood to all people. 

Nichiren Shu interprets the Lotus Sutra’s statement “I shall never pass away” - with the understanding that the word “I” indicates here “the person of the historical Buddha.

However, in reality: contrary to this statement, the historical Buddha did pass away.  Obviously the mentioned passage of the Sutra refers not to the person but to the life of the Buddha,   The word “I” in this statement refers to the enlightened Life of all living beings, the cosmic eternal presence of Myoho:

        “[The word] ‘I’ represents the living beings of the Dharma realm.

         Each and everyone is being referred to here in the word ‘I’.

The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol.4 page 76

Time without beginning or end

According to Soka literature:

        The very life of the universe, that continues to function ceaselessly is referred to by the term:

        ‘time without beginning’”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 5 (page 165)

        “The Original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end is then Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo-

        Thus-Come-One”. (p164)

        Regarding the term time without beginning, which in Japanese is kuon ganjo, the Daishonin

        says: ‘Kuon means neither created or adorned but remaining in one’s original state” (GZ,759). 

        Not created means inherently endowed, it does not indicate a specific point in time. “Not

        adorned” means not possessing the thirty two features (of Buddha) - it refers to ordinary people

        just as they are. “Remaining in one’s original state” means eternally existing ‘ ”. (p.165)

        Kuon signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon.

         When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginning-less time. (p.165)

Nichiren Shu & SGI        

Nichiren Shu PreLotus Interpretations

The Three Treasures  

Nichiren’s Buddhahood