Be Free to Control Yourself

Embracing the Gohonzon Is Upholding All the Precepts

The law of cause and effect is always at work in our lives. When we cause suffering for others,our lives become corrupt and restricted, causing us to suffer and commit more wrongdoing. On the other hand, when we bring joy and happiness to others or prevent suffering and confusion, our lives will improve and expand, causing us to experience joy and happiness and, in turn, prompting us to do more good.

Based on this causal principle, the practice of Buddhism allows us to raise our life-condition and solidify compassion, courage and wisdom (that is, Buddhahood) as the basis of our existence. To keep us on this path of eternal self-improvement is the purpose of Buddhist precepts. As a guide to our efforts to improve ourselves, the Buddhist precepts were originally intended to encourage us to "stem injustice and stop evil."

Restoring the Intent and Purpose of the Precepts

As Buddhism spread, many precepts were adopted as rules of discipline. For example, lay believers were expected to observe the five most fundamental precepts, that is, (1) not to kill, (2) not to steal, (3) not to lie, (4) not to engage in sexual misconduct (5) not to drink intoxicants. In addition, two hundred and fifty precepts were adopted for monks, and five hundred for nuns.

The Buddhist precepts were eventually viewed as a complex body of rules restricting aspects of people's personal conduct, such as diet and sex; some precepts, furthermore, were prescribed chiefly in the social and cultural context of the day, having not much bearing on the timeless, essential teachings of Buddhism itself. Although the original purpose of the precepts was to serve as internal guides to living and to encourage self-discipline and self-control, they became external rules binding the lives of people.

Since many complex precepts were established, fewer practitioners were able to observe all the required precepts, and more started to focus on the observation of precepts as the sole purpose of their Buddhist practice. Those who observed the precepts were regarded highly regardless of their character, and many practitioners became more concerned about maintaining the appearance of keeping the precepts rather than striving for the original goal of Buddhism, that is, the attainment of the greatest possible human potential filled with compassion, courage and wisdom.

In this regard, the Lotus Sutra attempts to return to the original purpose of precepts as aides to self-discipline and self-control. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says in verse: "This sutra is hard to uphold; / if one can uphold it even for a short while / I will surely rejoice / and so will the other Buddhas. / A person who can do this / wins the admiration of the Buddhas. / This is what is meant by valor, / this is what is meant by diligence. / This is what is called observing the precepts / and practicing dhuta" (The Lotus Sutra, trans. Burton Watson, pp. 180–81). Here "dhuta" indicates a discipline or ascetic practice carried out to purify the body and mind and free one from the desires for food, clothing and shelter.

The Lotus Sutra explains here that in the act of upholding the sutra are contained the benefits of keeping all the precepts. The central message of the Lotus Sutra is the universal existence of Buddhahood, thus the dignity of all people. "Upholding the sutra" then means to take faith in and act in accord with the dignity of life. This idea, as the sutra says, is "hard to uphold" because life's dignity must be internalized as faith and must become the basis of all action. This process of internalizing the universality of Buddhahood, the sutra explains, takes "valor" and "diligence." The process, however, contains the benefits of all the Buddhist precepts since it constitutes the inward source from which all the outward conduct of human decency stems.

Upholding the Precept of the Diamond Chalice

Nichiren Daishonin identified the universality of Buddhahood with the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and embodied it in the concrete form of the Gohonzon, the object of devotion. The Daishonin taught that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with faith in our universal Buddhahood, we could manifest this supreme potential from within. Through the strength of our innate Buddhahood, we can exercise self-control in order to guide ourselves toward genuine happiness.

In this regard, the Daishonin states: "The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, contain the benefit amassed through the countless practices and meritorious deeds of all Buddhas throughout the three existences. Then, how can these five characters not include the benefits obtained by observing all of the Buddha's precepts? Once the practitioner embraces this perfectly endowed wonderful precept, he cannot break it, even if he should try. It is therefore called the precept of the diamond chalice" ("The Teaching, Practice, and Proof," The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 481).

In the Latter Day of the Law, those who embrace the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will enjoy the benefits of observing all the Buddhist precepts. To embrace the Gohonzon is to embrace the Buddha's indestructible life that exists in all people. For this reason, the act of embracing the Gohonzon is called the precept of the diamond chance or diamond precept.

Be Free And Independent

When we take faith in the Mystic Law and strive in our daily practice, we can manifest the Buddha's life, which is as strong and brilliant as a diamond, no matter what circumstances we face. This diamond precept is the foundation of all self-discipline and self-control.

The person who chooses to save life rather than cave in to the inclination to destroy is freer and more independent than a bird in the sky that cannot do anything but what it is programmed to do by instinct. Freedom and independence, in this sense, may be described as our power of self-determination and self-control. Those who act decently only when forced by external rules, often upon the threat of punishment, are neither free nor independent. In addition, those who only seek pleasure and avoid pain at the cost of others are least free and independent; in fact, they are slaves to their own selfish desires. To be free, we must rule ourselves; if not, we will allow someone else to rule us.

People are genuinely free and independent when they can control their negative inclinations and act compassionately and wisely on their own accord, without expectation of reward or punishment. By restoring the original intent and purpose of the Buddhist precepts, Nichiren Buddhism helps us clarify what it means to be free and independent as well as what it means to live morally and decently.

Upholding the principle of universal Buddhahood, we can act freely and morally, independent of external censure or coercion. The precept of universal Buddhahood, or the diamond chalice, therefore, is not a negation of other Buddhist precepts or rules of conduct in general; it is the sublimation of what they are meant to do.

By Shin Yatomi, SGI-USA Study Department Vice Leader, based in part on Yasashii Kyogaku (Easy Buddhist Study) published by Seikyo Press in 1994.

Living Buddhism, September 2002, p. 6