Dossier Sandaihiho

Introduction à San Dai Hi Ho

by Pier P. Del Campana (note) - 1971

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The Sandaihiho-sho (note) is a work attributed to Nichiren (1222-82). According to the date found at the end of its short text, it was written by Nichiren about a year and a half before he died.

It takes the form of a dialogue ; six questions and answers are preceded by an opening statement and followed by a closing exhortation. Though no divisions are marked in the text, the content falls easily into three parts : an introduction, a doctrinal exposition, and a conclusion.
The introduction contains the designation of the person to whom the doctrine and its preaching was entrusted : bodhisattva Superior Conduct ; and the time when this doctrine must be preached : the Age of the Latter Law. The doctrinal exposition concerns the Three Great Mysteries. The conclusion affirms the importance of this doctrine and its unique role in the saving of men ; it must be preached, but with prudence and discrimination.

The Three Great Mysteries which are the subjects of this work are the so-called ‘honzon’, ‘daimoku’, and ‘kaidan’. The honzon is the Original (True) Object of Worship, i.e. the object of religious faith and veneration. Nichiren discovers it in the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra ; it is the Eternal Buddha manifested historically in Shakyamuni, and in whom the eternal and historical aspects of reality are united. This union of time and eternity can be termed the central point in Nichiren’s doctrine, the point which provides the key to explaining his religious system.

The religious life which Nichiren summarizes in the recitation of the daimoku, i.e. the Sacred Title (Nam-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo) also reflects this double aspect. By stressing the difference between the recitation of the daimoku practiced by his predecessors and the one he advocates, Nichiren points out that mere contemplation of the truth expressed in it fails to include the social and historical elements which, to his mind, are necessary for salvation in the Age of the Latter Law. His mind in the matter is clear : “It was intended merely as a personal practice, and was not preached for the benefit of others.

But now — as we are living in the Age of the Latter Law — the Sacred Title which I, Nichiren, recite is definitely different from that of the previous ages : it is the ‘Nam-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo’ that embraces both personal practice and the work of leading others to salvation.”
The fact is that Nichiren believes that the basic unity of a reality — whose realization is the very essence of salvation — must be achieved in time, in society. It cannot be conceived separately from man’s historical existence. A purely contemplative life seems to Nichiren to exclude this social and historical dimension. Such a life would be limited to a theoretical and abstract level and could not produce real fruits. The fundamental truth expressed in the principle that ‘one thought contains three thousand worlds’ should not just be realized conceptually or in the solitude of one’s own contemplation : it must be realized in the concrete life of humanity. The eternity of the Buddha must be lived in history.

From this point of view the mystery of the kaidan, i.e. the Seat of Ordination, represents the official commitment of society to true Buddhism and is a logical consequence of the religious premises. From the start of his preaching Nichiren demanded that Japanese society commit itself to the following of true Buddhism, abandoning (and even suppressing) all other forms of false Buddhism. The ideal he envisaged for Japan was a country in which the political institution was at the service of the true doctrine of the Buddha. He saw the model for this relation in the example of King Utoku and the monk Kakutoku, an example which — as early as 1260 — he had presented to the Kamakura military government in his Rissho ankoku ron. The story is contained in the Nehan-gyo (note). According to it, the monk Kakutoku, a faithful follower of true Buddhism, was attacked by evil monks who were jealous of his sanctity. The good king Utoku went to the help of the saintly monk and fought against the evil monks. Kakutoku was saved, but the pious king was wounded so badly that he died. However, great was his reward ; for his zeal in defense of true Buddhism, he became a Buddha in a future life.

Though the Sandaihiho-sho is not strictly speaking in the form of a letter, it ends with the notation ‘Response to the Lord Ota Kingo’. Ota Kingo was a Kamakura samurai who was converted to Nichiren’s faith and remained to the end his staunch follower and benefactor.

The work is a mixture of kambun (Chinese style) and Japanese, a style commonly found in Nichiren’s other writings and in those of other Buddhist authors of his time.

The following translation is based mainly on the text given in the second volume of the complete works of Nichiren, published in 1962 by the Heirakuji Publishing Co. of Kyoto. (réf.) All references are to this edition.

It would be too long, and perhaps even tedious, to go into all the details concerning the question of the authenticity of the Sandaihiho-sho. The main points of the discussion can be reduced to three : the fact that no original manuscript of the Sandaihiho-sho exists ; the style of the work ; the doctrine contained in the work.

First of all, there exist today only copies of the Sandaihiho-sho, and no original. The oldest copy is the one made by Nisshin (1407-1488), who sent it to his disciple Nikkyo. The copy was made in 1442, i.e. 180 years after Nichiren’s death, and is kept today in the archives of the Hompo-ji in Kyoto. Though Nisshin did not mention the original from which he had copied the text, there is no doubt that he considered the work authentic.

Even before Nisshin’s time we find references made to the Sandaihiho-sho. The oldest is made by Nichijun (1295-1354) in his book Hon’in kuketsu, where he mentions the Sandaihiho-sho and the doctrine contained in it. The date of this book’s appearance is unknown, but it certainly was written no later than 72 years after Nichiren’s death. The later records in favor of authenticity are numerous, but those against it are just as numerous. In this respect the controversy has come to a deadlock. The fact that there is no extant manuscript does not mean that the Sandaihiho-sho is spurious, but on the other hand the witnesses for authenticity are not conclusive enough to dispel all doubts in the matter.

As far as the style is concerned, the discussion is even more inconclusive. The opponents of the work’s authenticity maintain that, judging from the style, this work could not have been written by Nichiren. However, the reasons given by both sides are really too subjective to be satisfactory. The problem of the content and doctrine of the Sandaihiho-sho is more relevant. It revolves around two points : the explicit affirmation by Nichiren that he was the avatar of the bodhisattva Superior Conduct ; and the statement that the Seat of Ordination should be established by the political rulers of Japan. Opponents of the authenticity maintain that these two doctrines not only are not to be found elsewhere in the writings of Nichiren, but they also actually contradict the doctrine contained in other writings.

Regarding the first doctrine, all have to admit that the passage in the Sandaihiho-sho is the only place Nichiren states explicitly that he is the avatar of the bodhisattva Superior Conduct. On the other hand, it is equally undeniable that Nichiren considered himself the apostle of the Lotus Sutra in the Age of the Latter Law. This conviction, together with his faith in the prophesy made by the Buddha (that the true doctrine of the Lotus Sutra would be preached in the Age of the Latter Law by the bodhisattva Superior Conduct), could not but make Nichiren conscious of being the one to whom this mission had been entrusted. Hence it is true that, even though the explicit affirmation of this doctrine can be found only in the Sandaihiho-sho, the substance of it is contained in several other writings of Nichiren. (note) As for the second point, i.e. establishment of the Seat of Ordination by the political rulers of Japan, the discussion presents two aspects which must be considered separately.

The controversy as understood and carried out before modern times was not so much about the fact that Nichiren seems to advocate a Seat of Ordination sponsored by the government (in modern terminology, a union between Church and State), but rather was about the choice of the place where such a Seat of Ordination should be established.

Right after the death of Nichiren dissensions arose among his disciples and sects began to split. The Seat of Ordination, and especially its place, was thought to be the sign of authentic succession from the Founder. The Fuji sect, (note) which declared itself to derive from Nikko (1246-1333), one of Nichiren’s six original disciples, in particular claimed exclusive orthodox lineage. Using two letters allegedly written by Nichiren to Nikko in which the Master had granted Nikko the exclusive succession to his religious ideals, they claimed that their sect was the only legitimate heir to Nichiren’s spiritual heritage. In addition, the Fuji sect stated that in the Sandaihiho-sho Nichiren intended to designate Mt Fuji as the ‘exalted place, similar to the Vulture Peak’, where the Seat of Ordination was to be built.

And it was precisely at the foot of Mt Fuji that the Fuji sect had its main temple (the present Taiseki-ji). To this the other Nichiren sects answered that the two letters were forgeries, and they also denied the authenticity of the Sandaihiho-sho.

In more recent times, and especially after the war, the central point of the discussion has shifted. It is not just a question of where the Seat of Ordination should be built or if a particular sect should have any exclusive prerogatives over it, but the very concept of a Seat of Ordination established by the political authorities of the nation is being discussed. In other words, did Nichiren really advocate the union of state and religion ? This shift is understandable enough considering how any thought of union between religion and political authority is opposed to our modern mentality. The postwar appearance and success of the Soka Gakkai, which declares its activities are based on the tenets of Nichiren Shoshu (the old Fuji sect), have considerably sharpened and heated the controversy. Viewing the controversy from an outsider’s standpoint, I cannot help feeling that much of the opposition to the authenticity of the Sandaihiho-sho seems to stem from the desire of many of Nichiren’s followers and sympathizers to bring his doctrine in line with the modern idea of separation between Church and State. (note)

The problem, however, remains. Would Nichiren’s doctrine on this point be essentially different if the Sandaihiho-sho were struck from the list of his writings ? In my opinion it would not. In this sense I am inclined to agree with Suzuki Ichijo, (réf) who after having stated in his commentary on the Sandaihiho-sho that the question of the authenticity of this work cannot be decided in the basis of available data, concludes that the doctrine of the Seat of Ordination was part of the ideal embraced by Nichiren.

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