The Five Guides for Propagation

What are the Five Guides for Propagation?
Nichiren Daishonin formulated the Five Guides for Propagation, also known as the Five Maxims or the five doctrines for religious propagation, as a means of understanding and evaluating the Buddha’s teachings, based on their relative similarities and differences. The five guides are: 1) the teaching; 2) people’s capacity; 3) the age; 4) the country; and, 5) the sequence of propagation.

Nichiren Daishonin discusses the Five Guides for Propagation in the following excerpt from “Conversation Bbetween a Sage and an Unenlightened Man”:

Now, in widely propagating the Buddhist teachings and bringing salvation to all people, one must first take into consideration the teaching, the capacity of the people, the time, the country, and the sequence of propagation.
(Gosho, p. 402; MW-5, p. 102)

The Daishonin teaches that relief of the people’s suffering through dissemination of the Buddha’s true teaching requires a strict examination of the doctrinal content of the established sects, using the criteria of teaching, capacity, age, country and sequence of propagation as guidelines for evaluation. These Five Guides serve as fundamental principles for religious critique and choice, and greatly impact the determination of religious tenets.

Nichiren Daishonin clarifies the basis for his most important doctrines in writings such as “The Opening of the Eyes,” “The True Object of Worship,” “The Selection of the Time,” and “Repaying Debts of Gratitude.” One should note, however, that the Five Guides for Propagation are at the root of the Daishonin’s doctrinal rationale in all of these works.

As the True Buddha for the Latter Day of the Law, Nichiren Daishonin made use of his mastery of Shakyamuni’s Buddhism to endow the Five Guides for Propagation with criteria that allow people to discern the relative superiority of the Buddha’s teachings. At the same time, the Five Guides explain how religions relate to people’s capacities, the age, the country and the country’s religious history.

No religious perspective other than the Daishonin’s Five Guides for Propagation offers such a complete understanding of the differences between the teachings that Shakyamuni expounded over the course of fifty years. Partiality, personal opinion, and shallow, self-satisfied perspectives mar the rationales underpinning the other major Buddhist sects.

To take a case in point, a priest named Honen established the Pure Land (Ch. Jing-tu; Jpn. Jodo) sect in Japan. The Daishonin condemned this sect, warning that the Pure Land teachings lead to the Hell of Incessant Suffering. Honen seems to have been drawn to the Pure Land teachings out of a concern for the people’s capacities. He claimed that because the Lotus Sutra belongs to the “difficult to practice path,” also known as the Sacred Way teachings, it was beyond the capacities of the Japanese people. He, therefore, told people to discard the Lotus Sutra. He also asserted that only the Nembutsu, which belongs to the “easy to practice path,” matches the capacities of the Japanese people, and, therefore, argued that people in the Latter Day of the Law should embrace the Pure Land sect.

The terms, “easy to practice path,” and “difficult to practice path,” were coined by a Chinese priest named T’an-luan, the founder of the Chinese Pure Land school. Honen later emphasized these concepts in a work entitled The Sole Selection of Nembutsu (Senchaku-shu), and used them as the authority upon which he discarded the Lotus Sutra.

In this instance, (and there are other similar instances),, Honen established the Pure Land sect by resting his entire argument on only one of the Five Guides for Propagation—the people’s capacities. However, Iin so doing, however, he totally ignored the issue of the relative superiority of the Buddha’s teachings, which is the most important of the Five Guides concerning a person’s ability to attain Buddhahood. Honen’s thesis is a misguided theory that can never can lead to Buddhahood.

The Shingon sect uses the Ten States of Mind (Jujushin) and other related works as primary sources for the sect’s doctrinal stance. However, theHowever, the author of the Ten Stages of Mind, a priest named Kobo, manipulated ideas that originated in Treatise on the Mind Aspiring for Buddhahood (Bodaishin-ron), attributed to Nagarjuna. Kobo twisted Nagarjuna’s words to formulate a frivolous ranking system that places the Shingon sect’s Mahavairochana Sutra (Dainichi-kyo) first, the Flower Garland Sutra (Kegon-kyo) second and the Lotus Sutra, inferior to the Mahavairochana Sutra by Kobo’s standards, third.

Be that as it may, there is not one shred of evidence in the sutras themselves to document Kobo’s claims. Shingon is an erroneous doctrine, conceived of personal whim and shallow, self-satisfied perspective. That is why the Daishonin warned that Shingon would destroy the nation.

The Significance of the Five Guides for Propagation

The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai organized Shakyamuni’s lifetime teachings according to such systems as the Five Periods and Eight Teachings, and the Three Standards of Comparison. His research led him to the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra is not only Shakyamuni’s supreme teaching, but also the only one that leads to Buddhahood.

The Daishonin clarified that the teaching best suited to the Latter Day of the Law (this age) is the Mystic Law (Myoho), the seed of Buddhahood that Shakyamuni concealed within the depths of the Life Span (Juryo; sixteenth) chapter, in the Essential(Honmon)Teaching (honmon) of the Lotus Sutra. The Daishonin established the Mystic Law by means of the Three Great Secret Laws, which consist of the Object of Worship, the High Sanctuary and the Daimoku of the Essential Teaching.

The Three Great Secret Laws are the three tenets upon which the Daishonin established his Buddhism.

In “The Essentials of the Lotus Sutra” (“Hokke shuyo-sho”), one of his Ten Major Writings, the Daishonin teaches:

Question: In the more than two thousand years since the passing of the Buddha, what is the secret Law that Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, T’ien-t’ai and Dengyo failed to transmit? Answer: It is the Object of Worship, the High Sanctuary and the five characters of the Daimoku of the Essential Teaching.
(Gosho, p. 736)

Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin offers the following insight on this passage in a work entitled:Exegesis on “The Essentials of the Lotus Sutra” (Hokke shuyo-sho mondan).

What the Daishonin is referring to here are the Three Great Secret Laws. They are the three tenets of this sect. Embodying the True Entity of the Buddhism of Sowing for the Latter Day, they are the true reason for our founder Nichiren Daishonin’s advent. Of all the profound doctrines of this sect, the Three Great Secret Laws are the deepest. Our school possesses no secret greater.
(Collected Exegeses on the Gosho by Nichikan Shonin, p. 531)

In another writing entitled Exegesis on “Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” Nichikan Shonin discusses the relationship between the Five Guides for Propagation and the three tenets of this sect:

Generally speaking, the great guide that our founder the Daishonin propagated consists of the three tenets of this sect and the Five Guides for Religious Propagation. They comprise the eight doctrines of Nichiren Shoshu. While the Five Guides for Religious Propagation serve as vehicles for doctrinal explanation, the three tenets embody the principles themselves. For that reason, it is proper that one should first master the Five Guides for Propagation.
(ibid., p. 463)

In other words, the Five Guides for Propagation represent a way of classifying the Buddha’s teachings. The purpose of the Five Guides is to explain that the three tenets of Nichiren Shoshu (the Three Great Secret Laws) comprise the supreme Law by which all people born in the Latter Day of the Law can attain Buddhahood within a single lifetime, just as they are.

The above demonstrates why it is important for us to understand the intimate relationship between the Five Guides for Propagation and the three tenets of this sect.

Summary

The Daishonin revealed the Three Great Secrets Laws, which are: the Object of Worship, the High Sanctuary, and the Daimoku of the Essential Teaching, by means of the Five Guides for Propagation—the teaching, people’s capacities, the age, the country and the sequence of propagation. He thereby demonstrated that the Three Great Secret Laws comprise the supreme Law that encompasses all others, and stands as the world’s finest and truest teaching.

It is vital, therefore, that as true disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, we priests and lay members of Nichiren Shoshu study the Five Guides and properly spread the Three Great Secret Laws, the three tenets of this sect, throughout the world.
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