Nichiren Buddhist Association of America

Nichiren Buddhist Association of America
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The Use and Symbolism of
Nichiren Buddhist Meditation Beads
by David Heimburg
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Various Buddhists use chanting beads or juzu (in Japanese) while meditating. They were used for counting by early Buddhists, but the current predominant and enduring use is as a tactile sensory focus and stimulus while chanting. They have much symbolism and are an important tool to use while meditating. Notice that I said "important" not absolutely necessary. How important, though? Well, let me put it this way, anything that enhances the effectiveness of chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is extremely important. The very act of chanting is a significant ritual. During the chanting meditation you strengthen and elevate your life condition. Access to one's life condition is by means of your senses. Using the beads engages an important one, the sense of touch. That's their primary purpose and using them actually helps many people focus better while chanting. As well, there is a lot of symbolism of the beads that is meaningful for your meditative practice.
 
 
Tassels - They're not just for priests.
 
   
If you currently belong to a Nichiren Buddhist organization other than NBAA, you will be "discouraged" from using meditation beads with tassels. Instead, you will be asked to buy beads with ridiculous looking little pom-poms. Those other Nichiren Buddhist organizations currently say that only priests are "allowed" to use beads with tassels (or pom-poms with extended tassels) because this denotes their "status as teachers of the Law and to share their benefit." They further explain that the balls or pom-poms that all people other than priests must use symbolize the spread of Buddhism world-wide (aka kosen rufu). The idea, I suppose, is that the pom-poms extend their ends in every direction from the center, and this indicates spreading Buddhism. Nice thought, until you consider what "center" they're alluding to. Presumably it's the sangha, which specifically means the group of monks and nuns who renounced secular life and dedicated themselves to Buddhist practice night and day but more generally includes all Buddhist practitioners: monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen; collectively, the grouping of all Buddhist practitioners. If, in fact, that is what the pom-poms mean then why don't they mean the same thing for priests who should be part of this sangha? What they're really saying by enforcing the use of only pom-poms for non-priests, is that priests are really special and should be treated with more respect than you deserve.

This is NOT an NBAA priest.
This is Reverend Shiba, a Nichiren Shoshu priest, holding his beads with tassels

Both Buddhists (laity & priests) should have the same kind of Buddhist practice, according to Nichiren. He advocated that there should "be no distinction" between those who practice Buddhism, presumably referring to the thought that there should be no distinctions of the status of each person rather than differences in the personal mission of each. Priests perform ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. Laity do not (usually). Laity have more opportunity to talk with others about Buddhism than priests do, and typically are more effective at teaching Buddhism broadly within society.

There is a current point of view among some other Buddhist organizations that Buddhism is best propagated by keeping the roles of laity and priests distinct and separate. We of NBAA feel that while certainly there will be different personal areas of emphases for as many individuals, whether they be priests or laity, as there are, those who practice Buddhism are not really different from each other at all in terms of function and purpose.

Then there are people who choose not to directly teach Buddhism to others but will instead invite friends to attend meetings or attend their temple to hear a priest. There are still others who just financially support the priesthood and in this way consider their offerings as their practice for the accomplishment of kosen rufu or world wide propagation of Buddhism. There may be circumstances that people find themselves in which make these methods the most viable and appropriate for them. Some examples might be that you're living in a country in which you don't speak the native language fluently yet. Or you may have certain physical or mental illness that limits your opportunity to engage with others socially and you therefore have few opportunities to teach Buddhism. By using priests or others' ability to teach Buddhism on your behalf, you can still participate in the spread of Buddhism using these indirect methods.

But if you are capable of teaching Buddhism to others you should definitely do so. Teaching Buddhism becomes your arena for developing your compassion, your Buddhahood. The more you teach, and the more sincerely you teach, the more you, in the process, will learn about Buddhism and about your own path to the development of Buddhahood. Certainly it all starts with your own practice of Buddhism. But almost immediately your practice can include your own sincere efforts to teach and encourage others as well. There's a quote from the Lotus Sutra, "Teacher of the Law" (tenth) chapter, that says: "… [O]ne who secretly teaches to another even a single phrase of the sutra should be regarded as the Buddha's envoy, sent to carry out his work." Nichiren teaches that "a single phrase" can mean Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. That phrase is not only the title of the Lotus Sutra, it's also the essence and meaning of the entire Lotus Sutra. So teaching someone to chant Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is teaching Buddhism. The term envoy in the quote above, refers to a person who acts as an agent for another. This signifies that teachers are envoys of their own and others' Buddha nature and that their own Buddha nature is revealed and brought out in the act of compassionately teaching another person about Buddhism. You're acting as an envoy of your own Buddha within. So being a teacher of the law is not outside the grasp of everyone.

So for NBAA members, each has taken vows to devote their entire lives to the practice and study of Buddhism. In this regard they are no different from priests (and some in fact are priests). They accomplish the task of fulfilling their vows while remaining within society. That is, they hold jobs, raise families, and otherwise carry on normal lives.

There are various bead makers and vendors who sell both beads with tassels and beads with pom-poms. NBAA is the only Buddhist organization today that encourages its members to use only the tassel beads. But anyone, regardless of organizational affiliation should consider using tassel beads. And they should consider taking vows as well. In this way we hope to encourage more and more individuals to become teachers of the Law and individuals who are on the path to Buddhahood.

 
Five Strands - The meanings relate to our lives and Buddhist practice
 
There are five strands of beads that extend off from the main loop or circle of beads. This is the most obvious distinction between Nichiren Buddhists' beads and beads used by other forms of Buddhism who typically use two end strands (or sometimes four) on their beads. As you look at the various symbols of Nichiren Buddhist beads, all of the symbolism used refers back to the individual Buddhist practitioner and the relative significance of this specific form of Buddhism. The following are some of the symbolic reasons for using chanting beads with five strands instead of the two used by other Buddhists.

Human Body - If you lay out the beads on a table with a single twist in the middle of the large circle, it's easy to see how they give shape to a symbolic human. The three tassels become a head and two arms. The twist in the large circle of beads becomes a waist. The two tassels become two legs. All of Buddhism relates back to the individual and the individual's practice to eliminate all sufferings in both themselves and others. All references of the symbolism of the chanting beads to humans is significant and instructive. It's important to always keep that in mind. It is never about a deity or external power, rather it is about your subjective life and how to transform yourself into a Buddha.

Five Components - Centuries ago, Buddhists came up with the hypothesis that each individual human being has come into existence through the temporary uniting of five components. The theory tries to describe both the physical and spiritual aspects of human life. The five are: form, sensation, idea, choice, and cognition. (1) Form means the physical aspect of life and includes the five sense organs - eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body - with which one perceives the external world. (2) Sensation is the function of receiving external information through the six sense organs (the five sense organs plus the "mind," which integrates the impressions of the five senses). (3) Idea is the function of creating mental images and concepts out of what has been perceived. (4) Choice is the will that acts on the idea and motivates action. (5) Cognition is the conscious function of discernment or reasoning that integrates the components of sensation, idea, and choice. Form represents the physical aspect of your life, while sensation, idea, choice, and cognition represent the spiritual aspect. Because the physical and spiritual aspects of life are inseparable, there can be no form without cognition, and no cognition without form. All life carries on its activities through the interaction of these five components. Their workings are colored by karma previously formed and at the same time create new karma. We acknowledge that these five components are coming together in the moment we begin chanting.

Five Impurities - The practice of chanting meditation is an act of purification. The five impurities or defilements is a concept that appears in Shakyamuni's "Expedient Means" (second) chapter of the Lotus Sutra where it says, "The Buddhas appear in evil worlds of five impurities…." (1) Impurity of the age includes repeated disruptions of the social or natural environment. (2) Impurity of desire is the tendency to be ruled by the five delusive inclinations, i.e., greed, anger, foolishness, arrogance, and doubt. (3) Impurity of living beings is the physical and spiritual decline of human beings. (4) Impurity of thought, or impurity of view, is the prevalence of wrong views such as the five false views (see next explanation). (5) Impurity of life span is the shortening of the life spans of living beings. Simply put, this indicates that our Buddhahood is made manifest amid the impurities of whatever age we live in. There is no need to change all of the evil in the world before we can attain happiness and enlightenment. But at the same time we acknowledge that as we chant, the five impurities influence us away from our goal of developing the compassionate Buddha within.

Five False Views - The Buddhist scholar T'ien-t'ai (538-597) of China held that there are five false views or ways of thinking that give rise to desires. The five false views are: (1) Though the mind and body are no more than a temporary union of the five components, one regards them as possessing a self that is absolute; and though nothing in the universe can belong to an individual, one views one's mind and body as one's own possession; (2) the belief in one of two extremes concerning existence: that life ends with death (disregarding the vestigial traces and historic influences), or that life persists after death in some eternal and unchanging form (as an intact identity of your former self); (3) denial of the law of cause and effect; (4) adhering to misconceptions and viewing them as truth, while regarding inferior views as superior; and (5) viewing erroneous practices or precepts as the correct way to enlightenment. By utilizing the practice and study of Buddhism and by pursuing scientific inquiry into natural laws that affect our lives, we can change the five false views that we hold. As we chant, when we recognize desires that arise in our minds as having come from these five false views, we can adjust our way of thinking and meditating. To always advance and continuously correct erroneous views of life that we may find ourselves settling for, we acknowledge that the study of life is a necessary aspect of our Buddhist practice. The five false views reminds us to diligently use scientific inquiry, Buddhist meditation, and compassionate practice in order to remain on the path to Buddhahood. This requires much humility, courage, and determination.

Fivefold Comparison - Nichiren (1222-1282) in his writing titled The Opening of the Eyes developed the fivefold comparison as a way of demonstrating the superiority of his teaching of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo over all other teachings. The fivefold comparison ranks teachings according to the effectiveness of each at bringing about the enlightenment, that is, absolute happiness and fulfillment, of the individual. To fully understand these five comparisons, the reader is encouraged to read this profound writing. The fivefold comparisons, briefly described are:

(1) Buddhism is superior to non-Buddhist teachings. In Nichiren's day in Japan, the common non-Buddhist teachings he was dealing with were Confucianism and Brahmanism. He said that Confucianism and Brahmanism are not as profound as Buddhism in that they do not reveal the causal law of life that penetrates the three existences of past, present, and future. Today, non-Buddhist teachings abound and are well known, with Christianity, Judaism, and Islam being the most prominent.

(2) Mahayana Buddhism is superior to Hinayana Buddhism (aka Theravada). Hinayana (lesser vehicle) Buddhism is the teaching for people of the two vehicles. These vehicles are the teachings used by the so-called voice-hearers (Skt. Shr?vaka) and cause-awakened ones (pratyekabuddha) to their respective levels of enlightenment. The voice-hearers used the four noble truths; the cause-awakened used the vehicle of causal relationship via the teaching of the twelve-linked chain of causation. The pratyekabuddhas lived apart from other humans, and along with the voice-hearers were renounced by provisional Mahayana Buddhist's for seeking their own enlightenment without working for the enlightenment of others. In contrast, Mahayana Buddhism is the teaching for bodhisattvas who aim at both personal enlightenment and the enlightenment of others; it is called Mahayana (great vehicle) because it can lead many people to enlightenment. So in that sense, Mahayana teachings are superior to Hinayana teachings.

(3) True Mahayana is superior to provisional Mahayana. True Mahayana is defined by Nichiren as relating to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, while Provisional Mahayana refers to pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. In the provisional Mahayana teachings, the people of the two vehicles, women, and evil persons are excluded from the possibility of attaining enlightenment; in addition, Buddhahood is attained only by advancing through progressive stages of bodhisattva practice over incalculable periods of time. In contrast, the Lotus Sutra reveals that all people have the Buddha nature inherently, and that they can attain Buddhahood immediately by realizing that nature. Furthermore, the provisional Mahayana teachings assert that Shakyamuni attained enlightenment for the first time in India and do not reveal his original attainment of Buddhahood in the remote past, nor do they reveal the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, as does the Lotus Sutra. For these reasons, the true Mahayana teachings are superior to the provisional Mahayana teachings.

(4) The essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra is superior to the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra. The theoretical teaching consists of the first fourteen chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and the essential teaching the latter fourteen chapters. The theoretical teaching takes the form of preaching by Shakyamuni who is still viewed as having attained enlightenment during his lifetime in India. In contrast, the essential teaching takes the form of preaching by Shakyamuni who has discarded this transient status and revealed his true identity as the Buddha who attained Buddhahood in the remote past. This revelation implies that the eternal condition of Buddhahood is an ever-present potential of human life. This is called the essential teaching and is superior to the theoretical teaching in that it points to the ever-present potential for Buddhahood rather than Buddhahood being considered merely a historic occurrence.

(5) The Buddhism of sowing is superior to the Buddhism of the harvest. Nichiren got this comparison from T'ien-t'ai's concept of sowing, maturing, and harvesting in his writing The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra. The seed being referred to here is the seed cause for attaining Buddhahood.

Helping each other was a survival mechanism that early humans had in order to endure the ravages of the environment as well as competing animals and other competing human tribes. As time passed, humans developed more cognitive capabilities as well as more sophisticated tools and machinery that allowed survival of individuals who had little concern for those outside their family. The current age continues with this disconnecting of humans from one another and interferes with the compassion that is so necessary for Buddhahood to develop within our lives. Surprisingly, though, when an individual does go against the trend of the times and does develop compassion beyond their family unit, that compassion is further-reaching than their ancestors' compassion. Compassion that drives bodhisattva caring in modern times tends to be a more universal compassion than the clan-concerns of early times. Through better forms of communication we've had individual lives who are no more than remotely evolutionarily related to us brought to our attention. We find ourselves weeping in concern for those subjected to religious atrocities such as the beheading of Islamic apostates and stoning of violators of Islamic sexual codes of conduct. We see other species of animals suffering from the effects of human corruption of their environment and feel empathy and pity for them. We have learned to care for other life without the expected reciprocation that our predecessors hoped for when supporting others of their clan.

This caring or compassion when consciously evoked or strengthened through the Buddhist practice of chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is vastly superior to the practices that preceded it that involved family and ancestral lineages. This practice is limitless and timeless. While there is no "bad" or inconsequential amounts of compassion, and while all compassion supports the development of one's Buddhahood, the more selfless caring we can muster, the more powerful a force it becomes. In modern times we are able to see beyond our immediate world and honestly and passionately care about ending the suffering of all beings around the world. This is an act of planting the seeds for Buddhahood in our own lives, then nurturing that seed until it matures. Finally, and within our own lifetimes, it is possible to realize an end to our own suffering that is rooted deeply in our compassion for many, many others. This is the highest form of Buddhism and is called the Buddhism of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the Buddhism of sowing.

In summary, people in this age don't believe that there is any practice that will lead to enlightenment in this lifetime. They have become jaded, lost hope, and don't focus their lives on developing compassion and altruism, what's known as a bodhisattva practice. Therefore they don't plant the seed for attaining Buddhahood in their lives. In other words, they have no hope-seed of Buddhahood in this lifetime. Nichiren described Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo as the seed of Buddhahood that people of our times can implant into their lives and in one lifetime mature and harvest it. Ultimately, Nichiren says that there was nothing in the Lotus Sutra or pre-Lotus Sutra teachings that can give realistic seed-hope for the attainment of Buddhahood. The cause of the bodhisattva practice is contained in chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. As Nichiren puts it in his writing titled The Teaching for the Latter Day, "Now, in the Latter Day of the Law, neither the Lotus Sutra nor the other sutras lead to enlightenment. Only Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo can do so."

 
Two Large Beads - Fusion of objective reality and subjective wisdom
 
Notice the two larger beads on the main loop of beads. These represent objective reality (bead with two strands coming off it, held on the left hand looped over the third finger) and subjective wisdom (bead with three strands, held on the right hand over the third finger).

The concept of the fusion of objective reality and subjective wisdom is analogous to the process of attaining Buddhahood. It considers that there exists truth, or objective reality, and that this truth can be obtained or realized subjectively through the development of our compassionate wisdom. It further posits that objective reality is otherwise known as the law or principle of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. By fusing the subjective law of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo by chanting it and thereby subjectively "activating" it, with the external law of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo in its environmental reality, each individual can gradually attain Buddhahood.

This relationship of self to objective reality is also represented by Shakyamuni Buddha (subjective wisdom) on the right hand and Many Treasures (aka Taho) Buddha (objective reality) on the left hand. The historical existence of Shakyamuni Buddha who developed the subjective wisdom that enabled him to become a Buddha symbolizes the same potential in each one of us to manifest that wisdom with our Buddhist practice. The mythical existence of Many Treasures Buddha first appeared in the "Treasure Tower" (eleventh) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The fusion of Shakymuni and Many Treasures Buddha represents the application of wisdom to the objective world, the application of an enlightened perspective on natural phenomena. While the objective world remains the same, our spiritual relationship to it can be either positive and fruitful or negative and destructive. Many Treasures Buddha represents the concrete outcome or result of happiness within reality. That is, it is happiness amid the reality of life in all its manifestations. This affirms that the inevitable result of chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo with great subjective compassion results in happiness within our present lifetime.

These two beads are also sometimes referred to as the "parent beads". This is another symbolic and analogous representation of the process of offering our subjective compassion and love while chanting and having that cause result in giving birth to or obtaining the result of happiness that's been thereby awakened within our lives. We remind ourselves that unconditional, parental compassion for other living beings is just the kind of compassion that we attempt to summon up in our practice of chanting. It is the kind of compassion that led Shakymuni, in the "Life Span" (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, to declare "I am the father of this world, saving those who suffer and are afflicted."
 
One Hundred and Eight Beads - Earthly desires and their relationship to enlightenment
 

The main loop of beads is made up of 108 beads (interspersed with four smaller "bodhisattva beads" which will also be explained) which represent all categories of ways that desires affect us at any given moment.

This number is derived at by the following calculations:
(1) Six senses are the main means by which desires affect us. These are analogous to the sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and the mind that receives sensory input.

(2) Six senses are multiplied by the three aspects of time: past, present, and future. [6 senses x 3 aspects of time = 18 aspects of desire]

(3) Two characteristics of good or evil intent within our mind affect our desires. Good intent is associated with desires that benefit ourselves or others or society at large, while evil intent relates to the desire to cause deliberate harm to another or to society. [18 aspects of desires x 2 kinds of intent = 36 aspects of desire]

(4) Three levels of attention or preferences that we have at any moment affect our desires. We can like (intend to act on), dislike (intend to not act on), or be indifferent to (momentarily ignore) any of the multitude of desires that bombard us at any given moment. We tend to quickly rank our desires within these categories and thereby multiply the affect of any of the 36 aspects calculated thus far. [36 aspects of desires x 3 levels of preference = 108 aspects of earthly desires]

Early Buddhists perceived the connection between desires and suffering. There's a direct connection. So their early attempts were to use ascetic practices to cut off their desires and thereby eliminate suffering. These were some of the first crude attempts at attaining Buddhahood or the elimination of suffering. The logical errors contained in such efforts finally dawned on those who attempted to deprive themselves of sexual relations, family and social relationships, and even food and drink. Extinguishing all desires in order to attain enlightenment would paradoxically include the desire for enlightenment itself and even the desire to live. It's clear to us that such efforts are futile and foolish to the point of absurdity.

The Mahayana teachings deal with earthly desires entirely differently than the Hinayana (early) teachings do. Hinayana teachings held that earthly desires and enlightenment are two independent and opposing factors, and the two cannot coexist. Mahayana teachings turn that Hinayana principle over and say that earthly desires cannot exist independently on their own; therefore one can attain enlightenment without eliminating earthly desires. Mahayana Buddhist teachings say that these 108 categories of earthly desires are actually one with and inseparable from enlightenment. This is because all things, even earthly desires and enlightenment, are manifestations of the unchanging reality or truth - and thus are non-dual at their source.

So from a practical standpoint, we still acknowledge the harmful effects of giving ourselves over to desires. Through the means of fusing our subjective wisdom with objective reality (as symbolized with the two large beads) we come to transform our harmful desires while maintaining the supportive ones that allow us to fully embrace our lives as well as the suffering lives of others. With the compassionate meditative practice of chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, our overriding desires for the happiness of others become directly connected to and result in our own attainment of Buddhahood. As Nichiren put it, "Today, when Nichiren and his followers recite the words Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, they are burning the firewood of earthly desires, summoning up the wisdom-fire of enlightenment."

 
Four Small Beads - Four bodhisattva characteristics leading to Buddhahood
 
If you look among the 108 beads in the main loop you'll see four different sized and sometimes different colored beads. These four beads represent the four leaders of the bodhisattvas of the earth. These bodhisattvas represent characteristics that you acquire as a result of chanting and teaching Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. In the "Emerging from the Earth" (fifteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni tells a story about the earth splitting open and bodhisattvas in countless numbers coming forth. Their bodies are golden and they possess the thirty-two features that characterize a Buddha. They are led by four bodhisattvas - Superior Practices, Boundless Practices, Pure Practices, Firmly Established Practices - and Superior Practices is the leader of them all. This analogy was used to indicate the bodhisattva practice of compassion that directly leads to Buddhahood.

As an aside, it's interesting to note that the question as to where these four bodhisattvas came from and who they are led straight to the "Life Span" chapter, considered to be the heart of the Lotus Sutra and a description of enlightenment. In other words, even in the construct of the text of the Lotus Sutra, the four bodhisattvas led the way to the highest stage of enlightenment.

The four bodhisattva leaders signify the Buddha conditions or virtues of (1) true self, (2) eternity, (3) purity, and (4) happiness.
These four bodhisattvas, or aspects of Buddhahood, are associated explicitly with the Lotus Sutra, and more specifically with the teaching of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. These four bodhisattvas are said to be so much superior to the bodhisattvas associated with other Buddhist teachings that the other bodhisattvas, although seemingly magnificent and wonderful in isolation, pale by comparison to Superior Practices, Boundless Practices, Pure Practices, and Firmly Established Practices. Nichiren likens the comparison to a scene in which humble mountain folk are seen mingling with nobles or humble fishermen appear in an audience before the emperor. Such a statement is obviously intended to suggest the superiority of the results attained from a Buddhist practice based on these four principles.

True self, eternity, purity, and happiness are both the leaders of all people to the enlightenment of the Lotus Sutra as well as descriptions of the kind of enlightenment attained by this practice. We can use them as guides for our desired state of mind as we chant - in other words, objects of focus.

True self refers to the Buddha nature within, the Buddha you. Eternity refers to the eternal aspect of the Buddha nature inherent within all things and the eternal aspect of yourself. In essence, it means that all things have the potential to become Buddhas or lead others to enlightenment. This potential lies eternally dormant, in potentia, throughout the whole of the universe (or universes). As one cannot be totally fulfilled and happy while others suffer, Buddhas don't exist outside of their struggle to lead others to enlightenment.
In practice, all four bodhisattvas are related to compassion. After all, they are all bodhisattvas, representatives of the life condition of bodhisattva, the internal condition of compassion.

Superior Practices can be said to symbolize the unswerving determination to save all others from suffering. It is a self-confidence grounded in compassion that leads all others to Buddhahood. In his writings, Nichiren refers to himself as Bodhisattva Superior Practices incarnate.

Boundless Practices relates to the enduring life condition of Buddhahood which results from a vow and commitment to the bodhisattva practice of compassion. Pure Practices describes the process of purification that results from devoting oneself to the bodhisattva practice of compassion for all species, and indeed all living beings. When we internalize the reality that we are an aspect of the universe, as one's view of "self" expands to incorporate all of the natural world, caring and concern for others progresses to include more and more individuals of various species. The life condition that results is thereby purified to include a broader and broader definition of self. Conversely, being only concerned about selfish desires pollutes the flow of one's practice and leads to stagnation. Firmly Established Practices describes the condition where happiness continuously arises within a person who devotes their entire life to establishing a compassionate bodhisattva practice.

The placement of the four bodhisattva beads among the 108 desires has important symbolism. If we are to effectively deal with our desires, we must develop other, freeing and noble, aspects of ourselves. As we chant, true self, eternity, purity and happiness naturally surface and give rise to the development of caring and compassion for others. This is the place where your hands touch together. This is where the action is. Knowing theoretically that the fusing of subjective wisdom and objective reality leads to Buddhahood is not the same as actualizing or realizing it. In order to realize Buddhahood one must commit to the attainment of these four aspects of our lives and become more compassionate by means of a bodhisattva practice. There is no need to isolate oneself from others or even from our own desires. The four bodhisattva characteristics, as symbolized by the four small beads, remind us that we need to determinedly vow to put ultimate meaning and significance into our own lives.
 
Ten Beads In A Loop - Signify the Ten Worlds
 
If you look at the left hand Many Treasures bead, the one with two long strands extending from it, you'll notice a small circle of ten beads. These ten beads symbolize the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds or ten life conditions that a person can exhibit at any given moment. This categorization of life condition is a component principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, which T'ien-t'ai (537-597) established in his work titled Great Concentration and Insight. The important aspect of this principle is that the World of Buddhahood or enlightenment, is found within the reality of our lives in the other nine Worlds, not somewhere separate. This is why the Ten Worlds bead circle appears on the left or "Objective Reality" side of the beads. The mutual possession of the Ten Worlds is also symbolized by the touching together of our ten fingers while using the beads.

Here is a brief explanation of the Ten Worlds. (1) The world of hell. Hell indicates a condition in which living itself is misery and suffering, and in which, devoid of all freedom, one's anger and rage become a source of further self-destruction. (2) The world of hunger. A condition governed by endless desire for such things as food, profit, pleasure, power, recognition, or fame, in which one is never truly satisfied. (3) The world of animality. It is a condition driven by instinct and lacking in reason, morality, or wisdom with which to control oneself. In this condition, one is ruled by the "law of the jungle," quivering in fear of the strong, but despising and preying upon those weaker than oneself. (4) The world of anger or animosity. It is characterized by persistent, though not necessarily overt, aggressiveness. It is a condition dominated by ego, in which excessive pride prevents one from revealing one's true self or seeing others as they really are. Compelled by the need to be superior to others or surpass them at any cost, one may pretend politeness and even flatter others while inwardly despising them. (5) The world of humanity. In this state, one tries to control one's desires and impulses with reason and act in harmony with one's surroundings and other people, while also aspiring for a higher state of life. (6) The world of rapture or sometimes called the world of heaven. This is a condition of contentment and joy that one feels when released from suffering or upon satisfaction of some desire. It is a temporary joy that is dependent upon and may easily change with circumstances. These six worlds are called the six paths. Beings in the six paths, or those who tend toward these states of life, are largely controlled by the restrictions of their surroundings and are therefore extremely vulnerable to changing circumstances. The remaining four states, in which one transcends the uncertainty of the six paths, are called the four noble worlds: (7) The world of learning. In this state, one dedicates oneself to creating a better life through self-reformation and self-development by learning from the ideas, knowledge, and experience of one's predecessors and contemporaries. (8) The world of realization. In this condition one perceives the impermanence of all phenomena and strives to fee oneself from the sufferings of the six paths by seeing some lasting truth through one's own observations and effort. People in the worlds of learning and realization are given more to the pursuit of self-perfection than to altruism. (9) The world of bodhisattva is a state of compassion in which one thinks of and works for others' happiness even before becoming happy oneself. The term bodhisattva consists of bodhi (enlightenment) and sattva (beings), meaning a person who seeks enlightenment while leading others to enlightenment. The condition of bodhisattva is an awareness that the way to self-perfection lies only in altruism, working for the enlightenment of others even before their own enlightenment. (10) The world of Buddhahood is characterized as a state of perfect and absolute freedom in which one realizes the true aspect of all phenomena or the true nature of life. One can achieve this state by manifesting the Buddha nature inherent in one's life. Attaining this condition does not mean becoming a special being, separate from the other conditions of life. Mutual possession of the ten worlds indicates that within each of the other nine worlds the world of Buddhahood, or tenth world, can manifest itself. In this state one still continues to work against and defeat the negative functions of life and transform any and all difficulties into causes for further development. It is a state of complete access to the boundless wisdom, compassion, courage, and other qualities inherent in life; with these one can create harmony with and among others and between human life and nature.
 
Thirty More Tassel Strand Beads - Signify three thousand realms in a single moment of life
 

On the long tassel strands there are thirty more beads remaining that have not yet been discussed. On the ends with two strands there are five beads each, and on the end with three strands there are five beads on two of them and ten beads on the remaining one. (These beads are far easier to observe than explain their location.) This is a complex philosophical system established by T'ien-t'ai (538-597) of China. The theory states that three thousand realms, or the entire phenomenal world, exists in a single moment of life. A "single moment of life" is also translated as one mind, one thought, or one thought-moment.

The number three thousand comes from the following calculation: 10 (ten worlds) x 10 (ten worlds - within the previous ten) x 10 (ten factors) x 3 (three realms of existence) = 3000. Life at any moment manifests one of the ten worlds. Each of these worlds possesses the potential for all of the ten within itself, and this "mutual possession," or mutual inclusion, of the ten worlds is represented as 10 x 10 = 100 possible worlds. Each of these hundred worlds possesses the ten factors, making one thousand factors or potentials, and these operate within each of the three realms of existence, thus making three thousand realms.

The ten factors are descriptions of spiritual aspects of life or reality. They are: (1) Appearance: attributes of things discernible from the outside, such as color, form, shape, and behavior. (2) Nature: the inherent disposition or quality of a thing or being that cannot be discerned from the outside. T'ien-t'ai also refers to the "true nature," which he regarded as the ultimate truth or Buddha nature. (3) Entity: the essence of life that permeates and integrates appearance and nature. [These first three factors describe the reality of life itself. The next six factors explain the functions and workings of life.] (4) Power: life's potential energy. (5) Influence: the action or movement produced when life's inherent power is activated. (6) Internal cause: the cause latent in life that produces an effect of the same quality as itself, i.e., good, evil, or neutral. (7) Relation: the relationship of indirect causes to the internal cause. Indirect causes are various conditions, both internal and external, that help the internal cause produce an effect. (8) Latent effect: the effect produced in life when an internal cause is activated through its relationship with various conditions. (9) Manifest effect: the tangible, perceivable result that emerges in time as an expression of a latent effect and therefore of an internal cause, again through its relationship with various conditions. (10) Their consistency from beginning to end: the unifying factor among the ten factors. It indicates that all of the other nine factors from the beginning (appearance) to the end (manifest effect) are consistently and harmoniously interrelated. All nine factors thus consistently and harmoniously express the same condition of existence at any given moment.

The three realms of existence are (1) The realm of the five components: An analysis of the nature of a living entity in terms of how it responds to its surroundings. (2) The realm of living beings: The individual living being, formed of a temporary union of the five components, who manifests or experiences any of the ten worlds. (3) The realm of the environment: The place or land where living beings dwell and carry out life-activities. The state of the land is a reflection of the state of life of the people who live in it. A land manifests any of the ten worlds according to which of the ten worlds dominate in the lives of its inhabitants. These three realms are not to be viewed separately, but as aspects of an integrated whole, which simultaneously manifests any of the ten worlds.
A single moment of life means life as an indivisible whole that includes body and mind, cause and effect, and sentient and insentient things. A single moment of life is endowed with the three thousand realms or possibilities within it. Nichiren advocated that by chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo one can "see" or observe the existence of the realm of Buddhahood within their own life and within the lives of others from among any other of the possible realms.

 
The Jars - Signify the accumulation of benefit and the process of attaining Buddhahood
 
On the ends of four of the five strands you'll find tube or jar shaped beads. These signify vessels to accumulate fortune through one's practice of chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. They have a pass-through hole for the tassels to be attached, and this is indicative of the flow of Buddhahood. Attaining Buddhahood is a process rather than a point in time. As you chant and develop your bodhisattva practice of compassion for others, the merits of your efforts accumulate in your life. Sometimes, you're so focused on helping others attain Buddhahood you scarcely notice your own happiness that has resulted from such efforts. But whether you notice it or not, happiness does begin to build up from the very first moment you begin your practice of chanting meditation. But this happiness is not a static state. It is more akin to a flowing river the current of which is determined by your efforts to practice Buddhism. Happiness, thus built up, is difficult to extinguish and is commensurate with your own efforts to give it to others.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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