The High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching (Honmon no kaidan)

The Origin and History of the High Sanctuary

The Japanese Buddhist term kaidan literally means “precept platform,” but is usually is translated as “ordination platform,” and refers to the place where the ritual of receiving Buddhist precepts (Gojukai) is performed. In Nichiren Shoshu, the preferred English translation of the word kaidan is “high sanctuary.”

The tradition of the kaidan began during Shakyamuni’s lifetime, when earth was heaped up into a high mound, upon which a dais was erected. It was from atop this platform that the formal receiving of precepts took place. During the Sung Dynasty in China, an Indian Buddhist translator named Gunabhadra constructed a precept platform in a bamboo grove at Nanlin Temple (Ch., Nanlinssu). The first ordination platform in Japan was built during the Nara Period, when a Chinese priest named Ganjin (Ch., Chin Chien-chen) built a precept platform at Todaiji Temple in Nara and converted Emperor Shomu and a number of Japanese nobles to Hinayana Buddhism. Other Hinayana ordination platforms were later erected at Yakushiji in Shimousa and at Kanzeonji in Tsukushi. During the Heian Period, the Great Teacher Dengyo Saicho erected the first Mahayana ordination platform on Mt. Hiei. Mahayana ordination platforms had not been constructed in either India or China.

In any event, these platforms were erected to serve Shakyamuni’s Buddhism of Maturing and Harvest. The ordination platform, or, in this case, the High Sanctuary, for the Latter Day of the Law is the place where Nichiren Daishonin’s Object of Worship of the Essential Teaching (honmon no honzon) is enshrined. This High Sanctuary is referred to as the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching (honmon no kaidan).

Precepts

As used in the word kaidan, the Chinese character for kai indicates precepts, which are one of the three pillars of Buddhist training, the other two being meditation and wisdom. These three disciplines are designed to curb negativity and harmful behavior as a way of helping Buddhists practice the Buddha Path correctly. In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha admonishes his disciples to discard all of his pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, and encourages them to embrace the Lotus Sutra alone.

A passage from the Expedient Means (Hoben; second) chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads:

Now I, joyful and fearless, in the midst of the bodhisattvas, honestly discarding expedient means, will preach only the unsurpassed way.
(Hokekyo, p. 124; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, pp. 44-45)

Shakyamuni also states the following in the Parable (Hiyu; third) chapter:

If there are monks who…seek the Law in every direction…not accepting a single verse of the other sutras, to persons such as this it is permissible to preach it.
(Hokekyo, p. 183; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, p. 79)

The above passages warn us not to believe in or practice any of the doctrines that the Buddha expounded prior to the Lotus Sutra. At the end of the Treasure Tower (Hoto; eleventh) chapter, Shakyamuni makes the following assurance:

This sutra is hard to uphold; if one can uphold it even for a short while I will surely rejoice and so will the other Buddhas. A person who can do this wins the admiration of the Buddhas. This is what is meant by valor, this is what is meant by diligence.
(Hokekyo, p. 354; The Lotus Sutra, Watson, p.180-1)

Here, Shakyamuni establishes the sole precept of embracing the Lotus Sutra, whose practice innately purifies our senses and assists our elimination of harmful earthly desires. The pure practice of embracing the Lotus Sutra encompasses the three disciplines of precepts, meditation, and wisdom, and is the source for all of the other precepts that Shakyamuni expounded in his pre-Lotus Sutra teachings.

Still, Shakyamuni’s Lotus Sutra only establishes the theory of the mystic Law of ichinen sanzen that underpins the true entity of all life. The sole precept of embracing Shakyamuni’s Lotus Sutra is likewise a theoretical precept for people whose capacities are adapted to his Buddhism of Maturing and the Harvest.

Nichiren Daishonin established the actual precept for the Latter Day of the Law—to embrace and practice the mystic Law of actual ichinen sanzen from kuon ganjo that he himself revealed. In short, the Daishonin explains that we should discard all pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, together with the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra, and simply accept, uphold, believe in and practice to the Dai-Gohonzon of the Essential Teaching.

The practice of accepting and upholding the Gohonzon is conducted in the place where the Gohonzon is enshrined, which is referred to as the High Sanctuary (kaidan). The High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching is the training center where the Object of Worship of the Essential Teaching is enshrined and the place where we exert ourselves in faith and practice.

The Actual High Sanctuary

In contrast with theoretical precept platforms established on the basis of the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the place where the Object of Worship of the Essential Teaching resides is referred to as the actual High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching. The Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching is the fundamental entity of the Law that encompasses the Three Great Secret Laws. There is, on the one hand, the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching in fact, and, on the other, the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching in principle.

The Daishonin defines the actual High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching in “On the Three Great Secret Laws” (“Sandai hiho bonjoji”). He states:

When the principles of government come to accord with Buddhism and the spirit of Buddhism pervades secular affairs, when both the ruler and the governed alike embrace the Three Secret Laws of True Buddhism and the bond of old between King Utoku and the monk Kakutoku shall become evident at some future time in the defiled Latter Day of the Law; then, when an imperial decree is delivered and handed down, seek out a place of the finest scenery comparable to the pure land of Eagle Peak and there erect the High Sanctuary.
(“Sandai hiho bonjoji”)

The actual High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching is defined here as the High Sanctuary that is to be established at the dawn of kosen-rufu, when the mystic Law has spread and is practiced throughout the world.

However, Eeven before kosen-rufu is realized, however, the place where the Dai-Gohonzon of the Essential Teaching is enshrined is referred to as the actual High Sanctuary. As the physical manifestation of Nichiren Daishonin’s doctrine of actual ichinen sanzen, the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary is the fundamental entity of the Law to be spread worldwide. So even now, when kosen-rufu has not yet been accomplished, the place where the Dai-Gohonzon resides is referred to as the actual High Sanctuary.

Dependent High Sanctuaries

Nichikan Shonin explains dependent High Sanctuaries in Exegesis on “Repaying Debts of Gratitude.”

There are two categories of High Sanctuary, actual and theoretical. By theoretical, we mean that which accords with a principle. Theoretical High Sanctuaries are also referred to as dependent High Sanctuaries. Branch temples and homes where transcriptions of the Object of Worship are enshrined are all dependent High Sanctuaries.
(Ho’on-sho mondan)

However, even if a given place houses a Gohonzon inscribed by the Daishonin or transcribed by one of the successive High Priests, if that place is divorced from Nichiren Shoshu’s transmission of the Lifeblood Heritage of the Law to a single person, upon which the actual High Sanctuary is based, then that place cannot be called a dependent High Sanctuary. Nor can practice to such a Gohonzon help one attain Buddhahood within a single lifetime.

Looking forward to the Establishment of the Actual High Sanctuary

A passage from “On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings” (“Nyosetsu shugyo-sho”) describes what actual conditions on the planet will be like when the mystic Law spreads worldwide:

In that time because all people chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo together, the wind will not beleaguer the branches or boughs, nor will the rain fall hard enough to break a clod. The world will become as it was in the ages of Fu Hsi and Shen Nung in ancient China. Disasters will be driven from the land, and the people will be rid of misfortune. They will also learn the art of living long, fulfilling lives. Realize that the time will come when the truth will be revealed that both the person and the Law are unaging and eternal. There cannot be the slightest doubt about the sutra’s solemn promise of a peaceful life in this world.
(Gosho, p. 671; MW-1, pp. 101-102)

There are two reasons for establishing the actual High Sanctuary. The first is to bring to fruition the True Buddha’s supreme vow to relieve the sufferings of all people. The other is that by persevering in the practice of our faith as we work to accomplish kosen-rufu, we priests and lay members of Nichiren Shoshu can attain the ultimate reward of Buddhahood within a single lifetime.

In the “Document for Entrusting the Law that Nichiren Propagated throughout his Life” (“Nichiren ichigo guho fuzoku-sho”) Nichiren Daishonin specifies the place where the actual High Sanctuary is to be built:

When the sovereign embraces this Law, you must establish the High Sanctuary of Honmonji at Mt. Fuji.
(Gosho, p. 1675)

The Daishonin leaves us his final wish in this passage, which is that we establish the High Sanctuary of Honmonji Temple at the foot of Mt. Fuji.

To realize that goal as quickly as possible, let us first accomplish High Priest Nichinyo Shonin’s directive to double the Hokkeko membership through rigorous shakubuku in preparation for the 750th anniversary of Nichiren Daishonin’s submission of the Rissho ankoku-ron in praise of the true doctrine.
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