Returning to Chapter 1 (Introduction) of the Lotus Sutra, after Shakyamuni finishes teaching the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra, he enters samadhi (a state of meditation)
“At that time heaven rained down mandarava flowers, great mandarava flowers, manjushaka flowers, and great manjushaka flowers, scattering them over the Buddha and over the great assembly, and everywhere the Buddha world quaked and trembled in six different ways.” (LSOC1, p37)
These omens signify something truly great is coming, and it’s something that is going to really shake up the world and shake up the lives of everyone who hears it.
Next, “The Buddha emitted a ray of light from the tuft of white hair between his eyebrows … lighting up eighteen thousand worlds in the eastern direction. There was no place that the light did not penetrate, reaching down as far as the Avachi hells and upwards to the Akanishtha heavens” (LSOC1, p38)
This ray of light illuminated everything within those 18,000 worlds and the assembly could see people in those worlds struggling in the six paths of life, buddhas teaching various sutras, disciples carrying our various practices, and buddhas entering paranirvana.
In the Orally Transmitted Teachings (Nichiren’s lectures on the Lotus Sutra recorded by Nikko), Nichiren describes this ray of light as “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. When we enter samadhi by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo before the Gohonzon, we are aligning ourselves with the wisdom of the universe and this beam of light comes from within us, illuminating the true aspect of all phenomena and the Mystic Law of the universe at work within our lives, the lives of others and within our environment.
The assembly is filled with great joy at these omens, but also wonders what these various signs mean. On behalf of everyone, Bodhisattva Maitreya asks Manjushri what is going on.
Manjushri explains that many millions of years ago, these same omens occurred after Buddha Sun Moon Bright taught a sutra called “Immeasurable Meanings”, and this Buddha then preached “the great vehicle sutra called the Lotus of the Wonderful Law”. Manjushri replies:
“I suppose that the Buddha, the world-honored one, wishes now to expound the great Law, to rain down the great Law, to blow the conch of the great Law, to beat the drum of the great Law, to elucidate the meaning of the great Law.” (LSOC1, p46)
All of this leads us to understand that the message that Shakyamuni is about to teach, and explain to us, is a teaching that is shared by buddhas throughout history.
It’s a teaching that will rain down on everyone, and when it rains, everyone gets wet. The Lotus Sutra is a teaching that WILL affect everyone, whether it’s future bodhisattvas of the earth, who will embrace and propagate this teaching, or believers of earlier schools of Buddhism that actively choose to ignore the most profound and supreme teaching of Shakyamuni.
The great Law is coming and it’s going to rain down on everyone equally, regardless of social status, gender, race, sexual orientation or age. This is an incredibly profound teaching, especially from a country with such a strict caste system, and Shakyamuni had decided in his wisdom not to reveal it in the previous forty years. This really is a teaching that many people at that time, and even today, would find “difficult to understand and difficult to enter”.
“To blow the conch of the great Law” and “to beat the drum of the great Law” are both sounds that have been used to rally armies before going into battle, and as well as clearly explaining the true aspect of all phenomena and the Mystic Law, Shakyamuni will inspire us with his words to go forth and spread this teaching far and wide.
The Lotus Sutra is really shaking things up, and as well as being a teaching for everyone, Shakyamuni wants us to tell other people about it. He doesn’t want us to keep this message to ourselves, he wants us to share this Great Law with others.
Later in this chapter of the Lotus Sutra, this point is explained again in the phrase “heavenly drums sounded of themselves” (LSOC1, p50)
Nichiren Daishonin’s interpretation of this phrase in his Orally Transmitted Teachings is that, “The “heavenly drums” represents “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” and “sounded” refers to the sound of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo”. “Sounded of themselves” also suggests "preaching spontaneously without being asked", so “heavenly drums sounded of themselves” implies that when spontaneously chanted by votaries of the Lotus Sutra “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” will spread everywhere in the Latter Day of the Law’.
Similarly, “Beating our own drum” and “blowing our own horn” are both ways to promote, publicize and advertise something that’s great about us, and within the context of Nichiren Buddhism we are proudly promoting the wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra and publicly declaring the immeasurable benefits of chanting Nichiren’s mantra of “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”
The Lotus Sutra is not a bedtime story to make you feel warm and fuzzy, it's a calling to spread this Buddhism far and wide. The teaching to come, once Shakyamuni awakes from his meditation, is not only going to raise our spirits and make us feel good, but it will inspire us and motivate us to share the message with others for the benefit of all humanity.
Manjushri ends this first chapter by saying:
“Let us press our palms together and wait with a single mind. The Buddha will rain down the rain of the Law to fully satisfy all seekers of the way. You who seek the three vehicles, if you have doubts and regrets, the Buddha will resolve them for you, bringing them to an end so that nothing remains.” (LSOC1, p55)