On the Eighteen Perfections Chapter1

On the Eighteen Perfections

Written by Nichiren


QUESTION: Where does the doctrine of the eighteen perfections derive from?

Answer: It has its source in the single character ren, or lotus.

Question: Can we find it explained in any of the commentaries?

Answer: It is explained in The Daily Records of the Transmission at Hsiu-ch’an-ssu Temple by the Great Teacher Dengyō. The doctrine constitutes one of the recondite teachings of the present-day Tendai school. It is to be treated as secret! It is to be treated as secret!

Question: What are the names of the eighteen perfections?

Answer: (1) Perfection of the universal truth, (2) perfection of religious practice, (3) perfection of the function of conversion, (4) perfection of the sea of effects, (5) perfection of duality and identity, (6) perfection of all the various teachings, (7) perfection of one instant of thought, (8) perfection of actual phenomena and the universal principle, (9) perfection of benefits, (10) perfection of the various stages of practice, (11) perfection of the seed, (12) perfection of the provisional and the true, (13) perfection of the various phases of phenomena, (14) perfection of the understanding of worldly truth, (15) perfection of the interior and the exterior, (16) perfection of observation of the mind, (17) perfection of tranquillity and brightness, and (18) perfection of the inconceivable.



Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter on the third day of the eleventh month in 1280 at Minobu to his disciple Sairen-bō Nichijō, formally a priest of the Tendai school.

In it he addresses, through a series of eleven questions and answers, the doctrine known as the eighteen perfections and other teachings elucidated in The Daily Records of the Transmission at p.910Hsiu-ch’an-ssu Temple, a document by Dengyō, the founder of the Tendai school in Japan.

After assessing and analyzing these teachings from various viewpoints, the Daishonin concludes that, in the Latter Day of the Law, one should not be attached to the doctrines put forth by T’ien-t’ai of China. The way to attaining enlightenment, he asserts, lies in reciting the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The contents of this letter can be divided into three sections. The first section opens with the question, “Where does the doctrine of the eighteen perfections derive from?” (p. 900) and ends with the statement “. . . the source of all phenomena, the threefold contemplation in a single mind, the three thousand realms in a single moment of life, the three truths, the six stages of practice, the unification of reality and wisdom, the ultimate meaning of the essential teaching and theoretical teaching—all these teachings have their origin in and arise from the single character ren

In this section, the Daishonin first introduces what Dengyō taught concerning each of the eighteen perfections by quoting Dengyō’s Daily Records of the Transmission. Next, because, among the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the teaching of the eighteen perfections originated from the single character ren, or lotus, the Daishonin quotes passages from the same document to illustrate the profound meaning of the character ren, from the perspective of each of the five major principles—name, entity or essence, quality, function, and teaching. These five principles were set forth by T’ien-t’ai in his Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, where he applied them to each of the five characters of the sutra’s title, Myoho-renge-kyo. But in this work, the Daishonin examines them only as they apply to the character ren. In conclusion, he states that all phenomena, and all teachings regarding enlightenment expounded by T’ien-t’ai, such as the threefold contemplation in a single mind and the three thousand realms in a single moment of life, originated from the character ren.

The second section begins with the question, “What is ‘the general theory of the five major principles’?” and continues through the statement “With regard to the state of this enlightenment, the Buddha gives the name concentration to the tranquillity of the essential nature of all phenomena. And he gives the name insight to [the wisdom that is] tranquil and constantly in a state of brightness”.

In this section, the Daishonin again quotes from Daily Records of the Transmission, this time concerning the general theory of the five major principles. Each of the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo corresponds to one of the five major principles, he explains, myō to name,  to entity or essence, ren to quality, ge to function, and kyō to teaching.

Next, within the general theory of the five major principles there are two categories, the five major principles as they pertain to the Buddha’s intention, and the five major principles as they pertain to the capacities and feelings of the people. Of these two, the former represents the five types of vision that characterize the enlightenment of all Buddhas. And these five types of vision correspond to the five kinds of wisdom, which in turn correspond to the nine consciousnesses (the wisdom of ordinary people corresponds to the shallower five levels of consciousness, and the remaining four correspond to the deeper four levels of consciousness).

The five major principles as they pertain to the people’s capacities and feeling, indicate Myoho-renge-kyo as it was expounded in accord with the capacities of the people. “Since there are five characters in the title Myoho-renge-kyo,” the Daishonin says, “there are accordingly five types of threefold contemplation in a single mind,” and he explains each type.

The third and final section begins with the question, “When the concentration and insight of the natural enlightenment that is bright in and of itself are carried out, do the doctrines of three thousand realms in a single moment of life and the threefold contemplation in a single mind apply?” and proceeds to the end of the letter. Here the Daishonin discusses the relationship between the “concentration and insight of the natural enlightenment that is bright in and of itself,” and the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. He concludes that this concept of the concentration and insight as expounded by T’ien-t’ai and propagated in the Middle Day of the Law should be discarded today in the Latter Day of the Law. The Daishonin identifies the correct practice for attaining Buddhahood in the Latter Day as the recitation and propagation of the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, that is, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He concludes, “Nichiren’s disciples, like Nichiren himself, should invariably practice the correct principles. . . . The essential thing, therefore, is that at each hour, at each moment, one should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”

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