In Question 18, Nichiren explained that the teaching on universal Buddhahood was explained by Zhiyi Tiantai in China, were passed to Saicho/Dengyo Daishi who brought them to Japan. He urged the disposition of faith/trust/confidence in the teaching.
In Question 19, Nichiren is asked if teachers in India such as Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu were aware of the Three Thousand Realms in a Single Thought. Nichiren declares that they were aware of this teaching, but did not reveal it in full. This is a paraphrase of Tiantai Zhiyi. Here is the passage from the Moho Chih-kuan where Zhiyi explained this in full. This is the conclusion of a longer discussion from Moho Chih-Kuan
Vasubandhu and Nāgārjuna internally had insight and were enlightened, and externally each responded appropriately to the needs of their times on the basis of tentative means. However, some [Buddhist] teachers have a one-sided understanding, and some scholars are carelessly attached [to their own limited interpretation], so that they [argue and fight uselessly,] like shooting arrows at a rock. They each maintain one extreme, and thus pervert the noble path. If you obtain this meaning, then you comprehend both the impossibility of verbal expression and the necessity of verbal expression.
Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, Zhiyi asserts, were fully aware of the Complete teaching, and abided in it themselves. They did not fully expound the Complete teaching, however. Each addressed particular misconceptions of their contemporaries in their particular times and places. Subsequently, their followers, not appreciating the full scope of the enlightenment of these sages and that their teaching were expedients taught in response to particular causes and conditions, became attached to the particulars of the sages’ teachings to the exclusion of other teachings, leading to endless argumentation and division.
Nichiren pivots back to Tiantai Zhiyi and Dengyo Daishi, who he explains expounded the Complete teaching of the Lotus Sutra. He points out that through their teachings, they were able to benefit thousands, including many who took the doctrine of Ichinen Sanzen and used it to interpret the doctrines of their own schools. This appropriation, far from being a negative is something Zhiyi specifically identified as a fundamental feature of the Lotus Sutra – “Opening the provisional to reveal the real”, meaning, the Lotus Sutra has the power to show the full and complete context of expedient teachings revealing them to be the Complete teaching. So long as they acknowledged this relationship to the Lotus Sutra, this was fine. During the lifetimes of each of these teachers, they were able to establish the Lotus Sutra as the ultimate teaching and win consensual acknowledgment.
What of this Complete teaching?
Nichiren then returns to the question of attaining Buddhahood. Nichiren first quotes a passage from the third chapter of the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, the introduction to the Lotus Sutra. The passage is part of the description of the Fourth Inconceivable benefit of the Lotus Sutra – here is the passage in full, with the parts quoted by Nichiren in bold:
“Good men, the fourth inconceivable benefit and power of this sutra is this: If living beings are able to hear this sutra, though they hear only one recitation, one verse, or just one line, they will be filled with brave and stalwart thoughts. Though they have not yet saved themselves, they will be able to save others. They will become companions of the bodhisattvas, and the buddhas, the thus come ones, will at all times turn toward such persons when they expound the Dharma. And once these persons have heard it, they will be able to accept and uphold all of it, abide by it without violation, propagate it for the sake of others, and preach it widely in accordance with what is appropriate.
“Good men, such persons will be like a prince newly born to the king of a country and his queen. When he is one day, two days, or seven days old; one month, two months, or seven months old; one year, two years, or seven years old, though he is not yet able to manage the affairs of state, already he is respected and looked up to by the ministers and the people. He is a companion to the sons of other great kings, and the king and queen love and dote on him and are forever talking of him. Why? Because he is still just a child.
“Good men, the person who upholds this sutra will be like this. The buddhas, who are the king, and the sutra, which is the queen, join together in harmony to give birth to this bodhisattva son. If the bodhisattva is able to hear this sutra, whether it is one line or one verse, one repetition, two repetitions, ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, or immeasurable, countless repetitions equal to the sands of a million ten thousand Ganges Rivers, though he cannot fully grasp the extent of its truth, and though he cannot make the lands of the major world system quake and tremble or with brahma sounds like the roll of thunder turn the great wheel of the Dharma, already he will be revered and looked up to by all the four kinds of believers and eight kinds of guardians, and he will have the great bodhisattvas for his companions. He will enter deeply into the secret Dharma of the buddhas and will be able to expound it without error or omission. He will be constantly guarded and kept in mind by the buddhas, who will pity and love him, favor and shelter him, because he is new in these studies.
“Good men, this is called the fourth benefit and inconceivable power of this sutra.
Merely hearing the sutra leads to upholding it, and doing so is accompanied by great benefits. As Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked, "Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." Similarly, the Lotus Sutra explains that once you hear the length of the Buddha's life span, your benefits surpass the practice of 5 paramitas, and enlightenment is assured. To illustrate, the world was once thought to be flat. However, once it was demonstrated to be round, a host of fears that once were real - such as falling off the edge of the world, were immediately relieved. A host of other considerations might arise, but never would the fear of falling off the earth into space be one of them. Hearing the Buddha's life span, even if we do not fully understand, casts everything into the context of eternity. Once so contextualized, one cannot undo this insight.
Nichiren next quotes from the Sutra on How to Practice Meditation on Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, the epilogue to the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren quotes selectively, but these are the complete quotes. Here the Buddha teaches the method of visualizing Samantabhadra, and the Buddhas of the ten directions praise the practitioner. Again, the broader context is quoted, with the passages quoted by Nichiren in bold:
“Each of these world-honored ones will stretch out his right hand, pat the practitioner’s head, and speak these words: ‘Excellent, excellent! You practice the Mahayana, you have set your mind on great adornment, you keep the Mahayana in your thoughts. In the past, when we set our own minds on the attainment of enlightenment, we were all like this. You must be diligent and attentive and never falter.
“‘Because in previous existences we practiced the Mahayana, we have now acquired pure bodies of right and universal knowledge. You must now pursue your efforts without slackening. This Mahayana sutra is the treasure storehouse of the buddhas, the eye of the buddhas of the ten directions and the three existences, the seed from which spring the thus come ones of the three existences.
“‘One who upholds this sutra upholds the body of a buddha and practices the deeds of a buddha. You should know that such a person is an envoy sent by the buddhas. The buddhas, world-honored ones, clothe him with their robes. He is a true son of the Dharma of the buddhas, the thus come ones. You should practice the Mahayana and never cut off the seed of the Dharma.
“After the Buddha has passed into extinction, if the disciples of the Buddha wish to repent their evil and undesirable acts, they should simply recite and read the Mahayana sutra. This broad and impartial sutra is the eye of the buddhas. It is through this that the buddhas are able to acquire the five types of vision. A buddha’s three types of bodies are born from this broad and impartial sutra. It is the great seal of the Dharma that assures entry into the sea of nirvana. It is from this sea that a buddha’s three types of pure bodies are born. These three types of bodies are fields of good fortune for human and heavenly beings and are highest among those worthy of alms. If a person recites and reads the Mahayana broad and impartial sutra, one should know that such a person is endowed with a buddha’s benefits. All his evils wiped out forever, he is born from the buddha wisdom.
Nichiren points out that this means of attaining Buddhahood, the recitation of the Lotus Sutra, is only taught in the Lotus Sutra. Implicitly acknowledging that other sutras contain similar passages concerning those respective texts, Nichiren then explains that these various sutras were taught by Buddha in his various expedient forms that had identifiable beginnings – ie. their respective enlightenment had a commencement. The Lotus, in contrast, has been taught by Shakyamuni, according to the Theoretical section, since he was the 16th son of Mahabhijna-jnanabhibhu Buddha, and according to the Essential Section, since his enlightenment in the remote (eternal) past. These periods of time during which Shakyamuni has taught the Lotus Sutra are far beyond the scope of any other sutras.
Further, Nichiren points out that the teaching of the Lotus Sutra encompasses the complete Buddhist path, from the initial gate of enlightenment through the assurance of enlightenment. While these various sutras teach the Buddha's sudden attainment of Buddhahood, they do not explain the Buddha's enlightenment in the eternal past nor his constant teaching since then. Nor do they teach the three inherent causes of Buddhahood – the universal Buddhanature, the wisdom to perceive it, and the practice to develop the wisdom.
The Lotus, Nichiren explains, does.
The significance of this time span, and the entirety of the beginning through end of the Buddhist path, is its immense scope. In comparison to the Lotus Sutra, other sutras are of limited scope, and thus properly viewed as derivative of the Lotus Sutra, discrete parts of the Lotus Sutra. They are expedients leading to the full revelation of the Lotus Sutra.
Returning to the theme of the followers of Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu who argue with one another based on attachment to one particular teaching or another, Nichiren refers to the various teachers in China who incorporated Ichinen Sanzen of the Lotus Sutra into the interpretation of the various texts, but then denied this influence. This, Nichiren explained, this denial of the fundamental source of all wisdom expounded in the Lotus Sutra, is the reason for the rise of the various schools who by the Kamakura period had escalated their disputes to armed conflict.
Emphasizing the importance of the Lotus Sutra he concludes,
“Nonetheless, without the seed of Buddhahood established on the basis of the “3,000 realms in a single thought moment,” attainment of Buddhahodd by all sentient beings or the veneration of wooden statues and portraits are empty names without reality.”
The Buddha in our Mind is this Primordial Buddha. It is only in reference to this Primordial Buddha, with the three primordial bodies, awakened to the primordial Dharma, that any of the Buddha’s immeasurable teachings have significance.
“Once you have given up the ghost, everything follows with dead certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”