The Three Proofs
According to various estimates, there are more than twenty major world religions, copious minor ones, as well as numerous religiously inspired ideas and philosophies that people follow individually. How, amongst such a plethora of teachings, is it possible to judge the validity or efficacy of a religion? Linda Pietersen and Caroline Gallup consider.
To answer this question, Nichiren Daishonin advocated that religions should be judged by three types of proof (Jp. sansho), to be used as a standard to judge the validity of various religious and philosophical teachings. These are documentary, theoretical and actual proof. Although the various schools of Buddhism that grew up after Shakyamuni’s death set them up, they are nevertheless a fair and unbiased way to assess any religious, philosophical or scientific teachings.
Documentary proof is the resultant written report or evidence of that which the founder of a religion said, did, or wrote. In Christianity for example, these are the Gospels written down by the followers of Jesus after his death. In Islam it is the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed). In Buddhism it is the written compilation of Shakyamuni’s teachings in the form of sutras, by the first Buddhist Council, after his death. These originally oral teachings were gradually written down in the centuries following his passing. Nichiren Daishonin validated his understanding of Buddhism by referring meticulously to these sutras in his writings, and to their interpretations by leading Buddhist scholars such as T’ien-t’ai (538-597), to provide clear evidence of his own role and identity, and the correctness of his reading of them.
In addition to the sutras, we have Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, written down in his lifetime in the form of many letters to his followers or to the government. We refer to these letters collectively as the Gosho, and they constitute the documentary proof of the teachings we follow today. Anything we say or write as practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is firmly based on these writings. Consequently, anything that is not, or goes against the spirit of the Gosho, does not have documentary proof.
Theoretical proof refers to whether the teachings make sense logically and are compatible with reason. Nothing Nichiren Daishonin said or did went against reason. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says:
Without common sense, religion develops into blind belief and fanaticism, which have no place in Buddhism. The Daishonin writes, ‘Buddhism is reason. Reason will win over your lord.’ (WND, 839) In other words, reason will win over authority.
The absolute nature or reality of life cannot be comprehended through reason or intellect alone, but the teachings about it should be consistent, as far as possible, with scientific proof and not demand blind faith in an illogical premise. As President Ikeda continues, ‘To do things that others find strange and unnatural, that runs counter to common sense – these actions go against the basic tenets of Buddhism and amount to slander of the Law’. As scientists discover more and more about how life works, we often find their discoveries to be in accord with Buddhist teachings. For example, in Shakyamuni’s time, he talked about ‘many worlds’, now we can prove there are indeed many galaxies all containing planets – although we have yet to find whether any of them support life.
Buddhism has always talked about the interdependence of all things, and chaos theory now offers an explanation that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can have a profound effect in another part of the earth, perhaps causing a storm or tidal wave. Moreover, in his book The Web of Life the eminent physicist Fritjof Capra suggests:
Ultimately, deep ecological awareness is spiritual or religious awareness. When the concept of the human spirit is understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual feels a sense of belonging, of connectedness, to the cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that ecological awareness is spiritual in it’s deepest essence… whether we talk about the spirituality of Christian mystics, that of Buddhists, or the philosophy and cosmology underlying the Native American traditions.
A recent newspaper article by Sarah Getty tells of new research being carried out at the University of Wisconsin, published in New Scientist magazine (24 May 2003), which attempts to discover the secret of happiness. This research suggests that joy is located just behind the forehead in the left pre-frontal lobe of the brain. The article goes on to say that ‘this part of the brain is associated with positive emotions and good mood. In experienced Buddhists, it is consistently active.’ Professor Richard Davidson, who is leading the research says that ‘we can now hypothesise with some confidence that those apparently happy, calm Buddhist souls one regularly comes across… really are happy.’ The same article informs of separate research that has found that experienced practictioners do not get as ‘flustered, shocked or surprised’ as people who do not use this technique. Professor Davidson concludes, ‘No antidepressant makes a person happy…on the other hand, Buddhist meditation and mindfulness, which were developed 2,500 years before Prozac, can lead to profound happiness.’
However, Nichiren Daishonin taught that the third of the three proofs, actual proof, is the most important. In one of his letters, ‘Three Triptika Masters Pray for Rain’, he says, ‘In judging the relative merit of Buddhist doctrines, I Nichiren, believe that the best standards are those of reason and documentary proof. And even more valuable than reason and documentary proof is the proof of actual fact.’ (WND, 599) When you put the teachings into effect in your life, do you overcome your suffering and find absolute happiness and can you help others do the same? Is your life filled with hope and do you gain the wisdom and courage to achieve a wonderful life, thus showing others the most positive way to live as a human being? Do the teachings enable you to respect all life and help you gain control over the negative aspects of life that cause war and sufferings to others?
President Ikeda refers to some words by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who had been imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War:
He [Frankl] says that we cannot give meaning to someone else’s life. The only thing we can give another person, the only thing we can give someone as a parting gift on the journey of life, is our actual example – that of the sum total of our existence. There is no intellectual answer to the ultimate meaning of human suffering. He says, ‘We do not catch hold of the [the ultimate meaning] on intellectual grounds but on existential grounds, out of our whole being.’
This is somewhat difficult, but Frankl says that it is only our actual example and our actual existence – in other words, real people – that have the power to lead others to happiness.
‘The Opening of the Eyes’ describes the Daishonin’s actual life.
I, too, became aware of the greatness of Buddhism as a result of meeting Josei Toda – by coming into contact with his words and actions, and sensing in them true human greatness. Through President Toda’s example, my eyes were opened to Buddhism.
We too can see how to put Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings into action by looking at the way President Ikeda behaves and how he lives his life. The actual proof of his life shows us that we too can have a profound impact on our world and bring about peace and happiness for everyone. By sincerely practising Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism exactly as he taught, we are all able to experience actual proof, as the many experiences, over the years, in this magazine show. We read of people revealing all the great qualities they possess and how they, and we, can overcome problems and sufferings. From this point of view, this Buddhism definitely shows documentary, theoretical and actual proof and, for the millions of practitioners around the world, is, without doubt, entirely validated.
Daisaku Ikeda, Faith into Action, (World Tribune Press [SGI-USA], 1999), p. 243.
Ibid. p. 258
Capra, The Web of Life, (Harper Collins, 1996), p. 7.
METRO, 22 May 2003.
Frankl, The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1969), p. 98.
SGI Newsletter, No 5395, 27 December 2002.