by Martin Bradley

Part 5:

Now we come to the word ‘sutra'. One of its most common interpretations is ‘the thread of the discourse'. However the Daishônin in his explanation of Nam myôhô renge kyô at the very beginning of his Oral Transmission, defines it as, ‘... the realms of dharmas are the sutra'. Among the many meanings attached to the Chinese ideogram kyô that is equated with the word ‘sutra' as well as its Tibetan counterpart ‘mdo', this concept includes the warp of a fabric and things running lengthwise such as meridians etc. It is probably due to the never ending vertical threads of the warp in weaving, that this ideogram acquired a secondary nuance of something that lasts forever such as a scriptural canon or a philosophical classic.

Be that as it may, but if we use this ideogram for sutra in the light of the doctrines of Shakyamuni, then it was at the first council on Spirit Vulture's Peak in northern India not long after the Buddha's demise into Nirvana, the Venerable Ânanda (Japanese: Anan) was asked to repeat from memory all the teachings that the Buddha had expounded during his fifty years of preaching. It was because of Ânanda's outstanding memory that he was able to reconstitute these orally transmitted discourses and have people write them down. Each one of these Buddha teachings begin, ‘As I heard upon a time', and since then this phrase has been used as a token to validate a discourse and call it a sutra.

It is within the Buddha teachings of Nichiren Daishônin whose education was almost entirely in classical Chinese, rather in the same way Latin was used in thirteenth century Europe, that we see the profundity of the word sutra extended to a far greater significance than a mere discourse. The way people used to read at the time of the Daishônin was not like the way we read an Agatha Christie novel in the train, because of the content of the larger part of mediaeval writings had something to do with the meaning of life, readers projected the whole of their psyches into whatever was written as a part of their search for an inner realisation. I am firmly convinced that the way the Daishônin read all his books was by thoroughly pondering over the significance of each and every ideogram in whatever text he was examining as though he was determined to find evidence to confirm his own enlightenment. For the Daishônin, Myôhô renge kyô were not only five ideograms that made up the title of the sutra of the same name, each ideogram is a word. A convenient translation would be ‘The Sutra on the Lotus Flower of the Utterness of the Dharma' but a far profounder interpretation of this title would be ‘the vertical threads of the sutra into which is woven the filament of the simultaneousness of cause and effect of the entirety of existence'. In this way this title becomes the ‘title and theme' (daimoku).

Martin Bradley, The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, ISBN: 2-913122-19-1, 2005, Introduction, p. 75