W HEN it comes to studying the teachings of Buddhism, one must first learn to understand the time. In the past, when the Buddha Great Universal Wisdom Excellence appeared in the world, he remained for a period of ten small kalpas without preaching a single sutra. Thus the Lotus Sutra says, Having taken his seat, ten small kalpas pass.1 And later, The Buddha knew that the time had not yet come, and though they entreated, he sat in silence.2
Likewise Shakyamuni, the lord of teachings in the present world, spent the first forty and more years of his preaching life without expounding the Lotus Sutra, because, as the sutra says, the time to preach so had not yet come.3
Lao Tzu remained in his mothers womb for eighty years, waiting to be born,4 and Bodhisattva Maitreya abides in the inner court of the Tushita heaven for a period of 5,670 million years, awaiting the time for his advent in the world. The cuckoo sings when spring is waning, the cock waits until the break of day to crow. If even these lowly creatures have such an understanding of time, then how can a person who wishes to practice the teachings of Buddhism fail to make certain what time it is?
When Shakyamuni Buddha prepared
to preach at the place where he had gained enlightenment, the various Buddhas made their appearance in the ten directions, and all the great bodhisattvas gathered around. Brahma, Shakra, and the four heavenly kings came with their robes fluttering. The dragon deities and the eight kinds of nonhuman beings pressed their palms together, the ordinary people of superior capacity bent their ears to listen, and the bodhisattvas who in their present bodies have attained the stage where they perceive the non-birth and non-extinction of the phenomenal world, along with Bodhisattva Moon of Deliverance, all begged the Buddha to preach. But the World- Honored One did not reveal a single word concerning the doctrines that hold that persons of the two vehicles can attain Buddhahood, or that he himself had attained enlightenment countless kalpas in the past, nor did he set forth the most vital teachings of all, those concerning a single moment of life encompassing the three thousand realms and the fact that one can attain Buddhahood in ones present form. There was only one reason for this: the fact that, although his listeners possessed the capacity to understand such doctrines, the proper time had not yet come. Or, as the Lotus Sutra says, [The reason . . . was that] the time to preach so had not yet come.5 Nichiren, disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha