Bodhisattvas of the Earth

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Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by Ginkyo » Sun Aug 19, 2018 8:14 pm

Hi everyone,

I'd like to start a discussion on what different understandings people have about what the Sutra means as Bodhisattvas of the Earth. In the Gakkai, the general view is that all the members of the organisation (and, I assume - although of course being SGI it's not ever stated - that practitioners of other Nichiren schools too) are people who have 'woken up' to the eternal vow they made at the Ceremony in the Air. But I'd like to hear others' understanding of this and what it means to them.

I have to confess I've always found this difficult to understand. Particularly the idea of voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma. How does this fit in with the law of cause and effect and the results of previous lifetimes? I didn't have a great start in life - spent time in a children's home, dealt with various kinds of abuse and subsequent mental illness and I can be honest and say the practice has been a great help as an adult. But how does this fit in with voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma? I think I'm right in saying that not all schools think that all practitioners are Bodhisattvas of the Earth..? In which case, what do people think they represent in the Lotus Sutra?

Just an idea for a friendly discussion... And it's something I think the SGI Durant explain fully -at least to my knowledge. :-)

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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by narhwal90 » Mon Aug 20, 2018 3:39 am

SGI/NSA members as Bodhisattvas of the Earth goes way back, I don't hear about it so much nowadays but back in the NSA days the troupe didn't include any other schools, including the other deluded Nichiren schools. IIRC the reasoning went along the lines of since we were standing up to spread Nichiren's Buddhism, by our actions we were demonstrating our identity as BoE; act like it and be one, essentially. I never got into it since the argument requires lots of assumptions about karma, past lives, literal interpretations etc - the proposition never seemed well founded. But it was more than a colloquial statement, lots of leaders echoed it- pretty much in the sense of legitimizing the evangelical character of the NSA.

For my part I view the BoE's as wheels within wheels arranged by Sakyamuni, the Ceremony in the Air is not a game solely for the śrāvaka in audience- regular folks get front row seats too, because Sakyamuni brought them along himself.

Regardless, just because SGI says something it doesn't mean you have to believe it. I say read the Lotus Sutra & many others, and make up your own mind.

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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by markatex » Mon Aug 20, 2018 4:12 pm

Practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism being the bodhisattvas from underground in the Lotus Sutra is a pretty standard teaching as far as I know. In the Nichiren schools outside of SGI and Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren is understood to be Jogyo Bosatsu, the leader of the bodhisattvas from underground, who the Buddha entrusts to protect and spread the teaching of the Lotus Sutra in the age of mappo.

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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by markatex » Mon Aug 20, 2018 4:14 pm

Ginkyo wrote:
Sun Aug 19, 2018 8:14 pm

I have to confess I've always found this difficult to understand. Particularly the idea of voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma. How does this fit in with the law of cause and effect and the results of previous lifetimes?
I’m not sure what you mean by this, exactly. Can you elaborate?

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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by Queequeg » Mon Aug 20, 2018 7:21 pm

Start with the source material:

The BoE appear in the Lotus Sutra in the 15th Chapter. In the previous chapter, the Buddha describes the practice of the Lotus Sutra. At the opening of the 15th Chapter, the cosmic bodhisattvas, meaning bodhisattvas such as Maitreya, Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, etc., ask the Buddha for permission to propagate the Lotus Sutra. The Buddha declines their request saying they are not needed because in this Saha world there are already multitudes of bodhisattvas who are prepared to do this. Then the ground splits open and multitudes of bodhisattvas, far more advanced than them, erupt from below. The assembly is dumbfounded. These are highly advanced bodhisattvas:
They look magnificent
And have great transcendent powers.
Their wisdom is beyond our comprehension.
They are firm in their resolve,
Have the power of great perseverance,
And an appearance that sentient beings
Desire to see.
Maitreya, on behalf of the assembly of cosmic bodhisattvas asks who these bodhisattvas are, which Buddha first taught them and trained them, who's teachings they practiced, what land they came from. The Buddha explains that they are all his students.
O Ajita! You should know
That all of these great bodhisattvas
Have practiced the wisdom of the Buddha
For innumerable kalpas.
They have all been inspired by me,
And the thought of the great path
Has awakened in them.
They are my heirs.
Abiding in this world,
They always cultivated ascetic practices,
Wishing to be in quiet places.
Rejecting the clamor of the multitude,
They did not want to have much discussion.
All my heirs such as these
Constantly practiced my teaching
With vigor, day and night.
In order to seek the buddha path
They lived in the space
Under the earth of this sahā world.
They were firm in recollection,
And they always diligently sought wisdom.
Explaining various subtle teachings
Their minds were free from fear.
Sitting under the bodhi tree
In the city of Gayā,
I attained highest, complete enlightenment,
And turned the wheel of the highest Dharma.
I then led and inspired them
So that the thought of the path
Awakened in them for the first time.
All of them are now at the stage of nonretrogression,
And will certainly become buddhas with no residue.
I now teach the truth.
You should wholeheartedly believe that
From long, long ago I have been
Leading and inspiring all these bodhisattvas.
This just causes Maitreya to have further questions. He wonders how Shakyamuni, who only attained awakening 40 years before could teach all these bodhisattvas and bring them so far along the path.

In the 16th Chapter, the Buddha reveals that he actually awoke in the inconceivably distant past, not just 40 years ago.

He goes on to transmit the Lotus Sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, entrusting them to propagate the teaching in the Degenerate Age of Dharma.


The imagery of the BoE coming from the Earth is indicative that they are karmically entwined with this Saha World. This is in contrast to the cosmic bodhisattvas whose karma is grounded in other worlds, under the teaching and guidance of other Buddhas. The Buddha entrusts the BoE because they are in the best position to work for the liberation of beings in this world - their karmic connection is to this world and its beings.

The imagery of being from the Earth stands in contrast to the teaching the Buddha delivers from the seat inside the stupa that is suspended in the air, ie., not connected to or dependent on the causes and conditions of the Saha world - or any world. The Stupa suspended in the air is indicative of the ultimate teaching, ie. real aspect, that is not dependent on any conditions. This does not mean that it is distinct from causes and conditions, but rather that it is the Buddha's teaching stripped of any modification to conform to the causes and conditions of ordinary beings, ie. in accord with the minds of unenlightened beings. Instead, the Buddha bears his real aspect directly to the Assembly, and according to some, this is actually the Lotus Sutra - the Buddha in full without modulation to be comprehensible to unenlightened beings.

The BoE embody the mediation between the ultimate and the conditioned. They are entrusted with teaching the Real Aspect to the beings of the Saha world in the Age of Degeneration.

Nichiren writes,
At this time the countless Bodhisattvas of the Earth will appear and establish in this country the object of devotion, foremost in Jambudvīpa, that depicts Shakyamuni Buddha of the essential teaching.
This simplifies Nichiren's teachings (we are skipping alot, particularly the Tiantai/Tendai background of Nichiren's teachings), but those who propagate the Three Great Secret Laws in the Degenerate Age are considered the BoE because they make the Buddha's ultimate teaching available to the beings of the Degenerate Age, as set forth in the teaching that was transmitted to them by Shakyamuni.

If you can't grok the karma that spans lifetimes, you can just take that story as a figurative narrative. Even if you do accept the karma of lifetimes, this is a story to get certain points across... The literal truth down to the details? ...
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

I think each human being has things to find out in his own life that are inescapable. They’ll find them out the easy way or the hard way, or whatever.
-Jerry Garcia

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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by illarraza » Mon Sep 03, 2018 8:30 am

SGI's teachings: It is your karma to fight and struggle and give your hard earned money to those whose karma it is to do the same work as you and earn upwards of a half a million dollars a year. Don't blame the Vice Presidents of the SGI for their good karma, look at your own bad karma. Actually, you asked to suffer and they asked to become multi-millionaires to do the exact same work you do for free. Its your mission to be a menial and theirs to be great high paid leaders of kosen rufu. "Voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma". It is your karma to clean community center toilets and barely make ends meet and theirs to send their children to the best schools and to order others about. Lead a karma free life. You are free to support them with your blood and tears and they are free to enjoy the fruits of your labor and laud themselves over you.

Am I being too cynical?


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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by illarraza » Mon Sep 03, 2018 8:36 am

Here is an SGI lecture on voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma and my comments: ... ?v=jul2_15

It is a most superficial lecture. It not only fails to lecture on The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra Chapter 16 to which it is entitled, "The Lifespan of the Tathagata" [jumping to Chapter 24 Bodhisattva Wonder Sound], it fails to grasp the profound meaning of the central point of the lecture, "Voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma".

The SGI lecturers maintain that we choose to be born into various circumstances [highlighting unfavorable circumstances] in order to eventually win and demonstrate the greatness of the Mystic Law. They use as an example the Bodhisattva Wonder Sound from Chapter 24 of the Lotus Sutra and they [Ikeda] quote the Ongi Kuden forgery [rather than the Lotus Sutra itself or an authentic writing of the Daishonin]:

"He [Bodhisattva Wonder Sound] manifests thirty-four different forms, illustrating the Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds and preaching the Law so as to benefit others."

The Lotus Sutra states:

“Flower Virtue, you see only the body of Bodhisattva Wonderful Sound that is here. But this bodhisattva manifests himself in various different bodies and preaches this sutra for the sake of living beings in various different places. At times he appears as King Brahma, at times as the lord Shakra, at times as the heavenly being Freedom, at times as the heavenly being Great Freedom, at times as a great general of heaven, at times as the heavenly king Vaishravana, at times as a wheel-turning sage king, at times as one of the petty kings, at times as a rich man, at times as a householder, at times as a chief minister, at times as a Brahman, at times as a monk, a nun, a layman believer, or a laywoman believer, at times as the wife of a rich man or a householder, at times as the wife of a chief minister, at times as the wife of a Brahman, at times as a young boy or a young girl, at times as a heavenly being, a dragon, a yaksha, agandharva, an asura, a garuda, a kimnara, a mahoraga, a human or a nonhuman being, and so preaches this sutra. The hell dwellers, hungry spirits, beasts, and numerous others who are in difficult circumstances are thus all able to be saved. And for the sake of those who are in the women’s quarters of the royal palace, he changes himself into a woman’s form and preaches this sutra.

“Flower Virtue, this bodhisattva Wonderful Sound can save and protect the various living beings of the saha world. This bodhisattva Wonderful Sound performs various transformations, manifesting himself in different forms in this saha land and preaching this sutra for the sake of living beings, and yet his transcendental powers, his transformations, and his wisdom suffer no injury or diminution thereby. This bodhisattva employs various types of wisdom to illuminate the saha world, causing each one among all the living beings to acquire the appropriate understanding, and does the same in all the worlds in the ten directionsnumerous as Ganges sands.

“If the form of a voice-hearer is what is needed to bring salvation, he manifests himself in the form of a voice-hearer and proceeds to preach the Law. If the form of a pratyekabuddha will bring salvation, he manifests himself in the form of a pratyekabuddha and preaches the Law. If the form of a bodhisattva will bring salvation, he manifests a bodhisattva form and preaches the Law. If the form of a buddha will bring salvation, he immediately manifests a buddha form and preaches the Law. Thus he manifests himself in various different forms, depending upon what is appropriate for salvation. And if it is appropriate to enter extinction in order to bring salvation, he manifests himself as entering extinction.

“Flower Virtue, the bodhisattva mahasattva Wonderful Sound has acquired the great transcendental powers and the power of wisdom that enable him to do all this!”

At that time the bodhisattva Flower Virtue said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, this bodhisattva Wonderful Sound has planted the roots of goodness very deeply. World-Honored One, what samadhi does this bodhisattva dwell in, that he is able to carry out all these transformations and manifestations to save living beings?”

The Buddha said to Bodhisattva Flower Virtue, “Good man, this samadhi is called manifesting all kinds of bodies. The bodhisattva Wonderful Sound, dwelling in this samadhi, is able in this manner to enrich and benefit immeasurable living beings."

Question: What could be wrong with this, whether Ikeda or the lecturers quote the Ongi Kuden or the Lotus Sutra to make this valuable point?
Answer: This point is true from the perspective of the general rather than the specific, the more profound viewpoint is taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Lifespan Chapter:

"I [Shakyamuni] either preach my own body or preach the body of another or show my own body or show the body of another or show my own matter or show the matter of another. The various words I preach are all true and not empty. What is the reason? The Tathagata knows and sees the appearance of the Three Worlds in accordance with reality: there is no Birth-and-Death, whether backsliding or emerging; likewise there is neither existence in the world nor extinction; they are not real; they are not void, they are not thus; they are not different. It is not as the Three Worlds see the Three Worlds. In such a matter as this the Tathagata sees clearly and is without error."

Nichiren comments on this matter from the Lifespan Chapter in an authenticated writing:

"The oral tradition says that the Buddha can become grass and trees. This means that the Shakyamuni Buddha of the “Life Span” chapter can manifest himself in grass and trees. The Lotus Sutra speaks of “the Thus Come One’s secret and his transcendental powers.” There is nothing in the entire realm of phenomena that is not the manifestation of the Thus Come One Shakyamuni." (The Enlightenment of Plants)

From the perspective of the specific, the more enlightened perspective, Bodhisattva Wonder Sound [and we] are manifestation of Shakyamuni Buddha. This is what the most profound chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches and what the authentic Nichiren taught.

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Re: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Post by illarraza » Mon Sep 03, 2018 9:01 am

Now, I would like to speak a little about the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. They are those who received the Law of Namu Myoho renge kyo from Shakyamuni Buddha of the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra in the remotest past and who spread the Law in this Latter Age. There are Four Great Leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, one of whom was the supreme leader, Jogyo Nichiren. Each of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth represent one of the Four Virtues of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth: Jogyo or Superior or Emminent Conduct (Nichiren) who represents True or Unconditioned Self; Muhengyo or Boundless Practices who represents Eternity; Anrugyo or Firmly Established Practices who represents Joy; and Jyogyo or Pure Practices who represents Purity

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth lead people to the Lotus Sutra (Myoho renge kyo). Some lead a multitude and others are solitary Bodhisattvas who practice the Lotus Sutra on their own. The Four Eternally Evolved Bodhisattvas, the Four Leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are most often born as Wheel Turning Kings. We could sure use one today!


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