The Four Virtues

Juzu BeadsNichiren Buddhism demands that we test ourselves and that we test the results of our Practice. To do this we must know why we do, what we do, and this covers every aspect of our Practice.

In my previous post about The Significance Of Prayer Beads we saw that the four smaller beads in the body represent the four Great Bodhisattvas of the Earth. These in turn represent The Four Virtues of the Buddha, and here is a much fuller explanation.

Nichiren Daishonin attributes the four virtues of the Buddha to the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Bodhisattva Superior Practices (Jogyo) represents true self. Revealing true self means for us to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, thus manifesting our innate Buddhahood and shedding the lesser self of egotism. Bodhisattva Boundless Practices (Muhengyo) signifies eternity. Through establishing our true self of Buddhahood, we come to understand, perhaps not intellectually but with our innermost heart, the eternity of life, and remain unswayed by our ever-changing circumstances while confidently challenging ourselves. Bodhisattva Pure Practices (Jyogyo) represents purity. Once we are awakened to the greater self of Buddhahood, we are no longer tainted by delusions. With a secure sense of self, we can even positively influence our environment, thus purifying it. Finally Bodhisattva Firmly Established Practices (Anryugyo) signifies happiness—a kind of happiness that withstands all the ups and downs of our lives, including death. Through developing confidence in the Buddha nature as our true self, we free ourselves from trivial concerns for any unnecessary artifice of life and remain at peace with ourselves, knowing that we will ultimately triumph over any obstacle.

It is significant that the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth represent the four virtues of the Buddha. As the names of those bodhisattvas indicate, only through our dedicated practice as bodhisattvas—practice dedicated to the happiness of others—can we break through our lesser self and reveal the greater self of Buddhahood. In other words, our bodhisattva practice is the cause for the Buddha’s four virtues to manifest in our lives. Yet from another perspective, it may be also said that Buddhas are in essence those who are awakened to their greater self and act for the well-being of others. In this sense, the altruism of Bodhisattva practice is not only the means to overcome the lesser self and develop the four virtues; it is also a direct expression of these four virtues inherent in life, in our Buddha nature. This is why chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which calls forth our inherent Buddhahood and its corresponding virtues, provides the greatest basis for an altruistic life—a life dedicated to the happiness of others.

The four virtues of the Buddha, from the standpoint of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, describe the ideal characteristics of human beings whose view of self is not hindered in any way by selfish ego. Their understanding of self is so encompassing that their own existence and the world around them become indistinguishable. A limited understanding of self, however, leads to egotism, bringing suffering and misery to both oneself and others. True self-knowledge—an awakening to our true, greater self—in this sense is a key to overcoming selfishness.

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