Glossary of Buddhist Terms

Cause and effect - Buddhism expounds the law of cause and effect that operates in life, ranging over past, present, and future existences. This causality underlies the doctrine of karma. From this viewpoint, causes formed in the past are manifested as effects in the present. Causes formed in the present will be manifested as effects in the future. Buddhism emphasizes the causes one creates and accumulates in the present, because these will determine one's future. Nichiren taught that ordinary persons could manifest their innate Buddhahood (effect) through faith and practice, and then, based on Buddhahood, go out among the people of the nine worlds (cause) to lead them to Buddhahood. Daisaku Ikeda - The third and current president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), is a Buddhist thinker, author and educator who believes that only through personal interaction and dialogue across cultural and philosophical boundaries can human beings nurture the trust and understanding that is necessary for lasting peace. To date, he has traveled to more than fifty countries in pursuit of this ideal, holding discussions with many distinguished political, cultural and educational figures. Topics include a range of issues crucial to humanity such as the transformative value of religion, the universality of life, social responsibility, and sustainable progress and development. Eternity of Life - Buddhism's view of eternal life posits that one's life or essence has no real beginning or end. We live many lifetimes, repeating the cycle of birth and death. Like going to sleep at night, we refresh our bodies and wake up anew in circumstances that correspond to our karma (see Karma). It is extremely fortunate to be born as a human being with the potential to improve our own life while contributing to the happiness of those around us. Gohonzon - Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the fundamental object of respect, the Gohonzon, on October 12, 1279. This object, in the form of a scroll, depicts, in Chinese characters, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the law) and the life of Nichiren (the person), as well as protective influences. Down the center of the Gohonzon are the characters Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and Nichiren's signature. This indicates the oneness of person and law - that the condition of Buddhahood is a potential within and can be manifested by all people. SGI members enshrine a replica of the original Gohonzon in their homes as a focal point for their daily practice. The Gohonzon's power comes from the worshipper's faith - the Gohonzon functions as a spiritual mirror. Sitting in front of the Gohonzon and chanting, a person is able to recognize and reveal his or her own Buddha nature, the creative essence of life. Gongyo (daily practice) - The Japanese word gongyo literally means to exert oneself in practice. The fundamental practice of Nichiren's Buddhism is to recite Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and parts of the Expedient Means (second) chapter and the Life Span (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra with faith in the object of devotion called the Gohonzon each morning and evening. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo constitutes the fundamental or primary practice. Recitation of the Expedient Means and Life Span chapters help bring forth the benefit of the primary practice and therefore are called the supporting practice. Gosho (writings of Nichiren) - The individual and collected writings of Nichiren Daishonin are often referred to as the Gosho. Nichiren was persecuted throughout his life by the Japanese government and by religious powers who considered his revolutionary teachings a grave threat to their continued authority. Nevertheless, the letters he wrote to his followers, often under very harsh conditions, illustrate that even in the midst of the greatest challenge, he was able to realize the great beauty of life and feel joy and compassion for others. These letters and treatises, more than four hundred of which remain today, are collected in English as The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, and are the primary study material for SGI members. The Gosho may be divided into four groups: (1) treatises setting forth doctrine, (2) writings remonstrating with government authorities, (3) letters offering advice, encouragement, or consolation to believers. Also, those written in answer to questions or to express appreciation for offerings and support received, and (4) written records of Nichiren's oral teachings, including his lectures on the Lotus Sutra. Human revolution - Human revolution was a term used by Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai, to describe the process by which individuals gradually expand their lives, conquer their negative and destructive tendencies, and ultimately make the state of Buddhahood their dominant life-condition. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda wrote the following words in the foreword to his novel The Human Revolution, "A great revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a society and further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind." It is with this spirit that members of the SGI pursue their own individual human revolution through their daily Buddhist practice and activities for world peace. Karma - Karma is the accumulation of effects from the good and bad causes that we bring with us from our former lives, as well as from the good and bad causes we have made in this lifetime, which shapes our future. Karma is a Sanskrit word that means action. Karma is created by actions-our thoughts, words and deeds-and manifests itself in our appearance, behavior, attitudes, good and bad fortune, and where we are born or live. In short-everything about us. It is all the positive and negative influences or causes that make up our complete reality in this world. This law of karmic causality operates in perpetuity, carrying over from one lifetime to the next and remaining with one in the latent state between death and rebirth. Shakyamuni maintained that what makes a person noble or humble is not birth but one's actions. Therefore the Buddhist doctrine of karma is not fatalistic. Rather, karma is viewed not only as a means to explain the present, but also as the potential force through which to influence one's future. Buddhism therefore encourages people to create the best possible karma in the present in order to ensure the best possible outcome in the future. Nichiren Buddhism does not consider one's karma or destiny to be fixed since our minds change from moment to moment, even the habitual and destructive tendencies we all possess to varying degrees can be altered. In other words, Buddhism teaches that individuals have within themselves the potential to change their own karma. Lotus Sutra - This is the twenty-eight-chapter oral teachings, recorded in writing after the death of Shakyamuni, that benefited people during Shakyamuni's lifetime and during the former day of the Law. Whereas Shakyamuni expressed it as the "twenty-eight-chapter Lotus Sutra," Nichiren, to enable all human beings of the Latter Day to attain Buddhahood, revealed the ultimate principle of the Lotus Sutra as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, which constitute the Lotus Sutra's essence-that is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo-are the Lotus Sutra appropriate to this age of the Latter Day of the Law. The SGI's second president, Josei Toda, therefore termed the Daishonin's teaching the Lotus Sutra of the Latter Day. Since the Lotus Sutra was the central scriptural influence on Nichiren, it is worth mentioning one specific element in it that he thought was crucial. Adopting Chih-i's interpretation, he taught that the Lotus Sutra proclaims that there is an inherent Buddha nature in all human beings. From this comes the idea that all people can attain Buddhahood "as they are," as ordinary people in the phenomenal world. This rather revolutionary notion of the essential equality of men and women is central to Nichiren's understanding of the Lotus Sutra and was quite a radical thought at that time in history and in many places in the world even today. Nam myoho renge kyo - This is the ultimate law or truth of the universe, according to Nichiren's teaching. Nichiren taught that the essence, all of the benefits of the wisdom contained, in the Lotus Sutra could be realized by chanting its title: [Nam]-myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting these words and excerpts from the Lotus Sutra is the core of this Buddhist practice, supported by study and the sharing of Buddhist teachings. Namu derives from the Sanskrit word namas and is translated as devotion or as dedicating one's life. Myo stands for the Dharma nature, or enlightenment, while ho represents darkness, or ignorance. Together as myoho, they express the idea that ignorance and the Dharma nature are a single entity, or one in essence. Renge stands for the two elements of cause and effect. Cause and effect are also a single entity. Kyo represents the words and voices of all living beings. Kyo may also be defined as that which is constant and unchanging in the three existences of past, present, and future.