Reply to Hoshina Goro Taro
After Emperor Ming of the Han dynasty dreamed at night of a golden man [and dispatched emissaries to the western region], the two sages, Kashyapa Matanga and Chu-fa-lan, came to China and stood for the first time at the gates of Ch'ang-an. From that time until the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsung of the T'ang dynasty, the Buddhist teachings of India spread throughout China. During the Liang dynasty, Buddhism was first introduced to Japan by King Songmyong of the Korean kingdom of Paekche. This occurred during the reign of Kimmei, the thirtieth emperor of our country. Thereafter, all the sutras and treatises were circulated widely, and various Buddhist sects arose throughout Japan. Fortunately, therefore, even though we were born in the Latter Day of the Law, we are able to hear the teachings preached at Eagle Peak, and even though we live in a remote corner of the world, we are able to scoop up with our hands the water of the great river of Buddhism.
However, a close examination shows that there are distinctions to be made among the Buddha's teachings, such as the Hinayana and the Mahayana or the provisional and true teachings, or those of the sequence of preaching. If one is confused about these distinctions, he will fall into erroneous views, and even though he may practice Buddhism, his offense will be greater than that of committing the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins. For this reason, those who abhor the secular world and seek the Way should understand this standard of evaluation before anything else. Otherwise, they are destined to follow the path of the monk Kugan and other slanderers. As the Nirvana Sutra says: "If one clings to distorted views, at the time of his death he will surely fall into the Avichi Hell.
Question: How can we discern the error of distorted views? Although I am a humble person, I am nevertheless anxious about my next life and have resolved to seek the Buddhist Law to the best of my ability. Therefore, I wish to know this standard of evaluation by all means. Should it be that I am adhering to distorted views, I will reflect on them and turn to the correct view.
Answer: It can be neither discerned with one's mortal eyes nor clarified with one's shallow wisdom. One should use the sutras as his eyes and give precedence to the wisdom of the Buddha. Surely, however, if this standard is made clear, people will become enraged and harbor indignation in their minds. Let them do as they will. What matters most is that we honor the Buddha's command. As a rule, people in the world value what is distant and despise what is near, but this is the conduct of the ignorant. Even the distant should be repudiated if it is wrong, while that which is near should not be discarded if it accords with the truth. Even though people may revere [their predecessors' doctrines], if those doctrines are in error, how can we employ them today?
I am told that the scholars of the ten schools - three in southern China and seven in northern China - were so outstanding in authority and virtue that they were revered by the general populace for more than five hundred years. However, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, who lived during the reigns of emperors of the Ch'en and Sui dynasties, examined their doctrines and denounced them as erroneous. Hearing of this, the people hated him intensely, but the Ch'en and Sui emperors, being worthy rulers, summoned T'ien-t'ai to debate with the priests of the ten schools and settle the matter. Truth and error were thereby made clear, and in consequence, the priests all revised the distorted views that their schools had upheld over a period of five hundred years and became followers of the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai. And in our own country, the Great Teacher Dengyo of Mount Hiei, the founder of the Tendai sect, debated with the scholars of Nara and Kyoto and distinguished between right and wrong in the Buddhist teachings. In every case, T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo based their arguments on the sutras.
However, the people of our time - whether clergy or laity, nobles or commoners - all revere persons and do not value the Law. They make their own mind their teacher, and do not rely on the sutras. Consequently, they take up the provisional teachings of the Nembutsu and discard the mystic scripture of the Mahayana, or employ the heretical doctrines of Shingon to slander the True Law, the one supreme teaching. Are they not slanderers of the Mahayana? If what is written in the sutras is true, how can they escape the sufferings of hell? And those who follow their erroneous teachings will also suffer the same fate.
Question: You claim that the Nembutsu and the Shingon should be denounced as provisional or erroneous doctrines, and that their followers are people of distorted views or slanderers. This seems very doubtful. Kobo Daishi was a manifestation of Kongosatta and a bodhisattva of the third stage of development. The Shingon is the most powerful secret teaching. Moreover, Priest Shan-tao was an incarnation of Amida Buddha, the lord of the Western Land, and Priest Honen was an incarnation of Bodhisattva Seishi. How can you call such eminent priests men of erroneous views?
Answer: Such criticism must of course not be leveled on the grounds of one's personal opinion; the matter must be clarified on the basis of the sutras. The statement that the Shingon teaching represents the most profound of all secrets derives from the assertion that the Soshisuji Sutra should be ranked as the king among the three Shingon sutras. Nowhere in the sutras themselves do we read that the Shingon is the highest of all the Buddha's teachings.
In Buddhism, that teaching is judged supreme which enables all people, whether good or evil, to become Buddhas. So reasonable a standard can surely be grasped by anyone. By means of it, we can compare the various sutras and ascertain which is superior. The Lotus Sutra reveals that even the people of the two vehicles can attain enlightenment, but the Shingon sutras do not. Rather, they categorically deny it. The Lotus Sutra teaches that women are capable of attaining Buddhahood, but the Shingon sutras make no mention of this at all. In the Lotus Sutra, it is written that evil people can attain enlightenment, but in the Shingon sutras we find nothing about this. How can one say that the Shingon sutras are superior to the Lotus Sutra?
Moreover, if we discuss this matter in terms of the omens occurring at the time of preaching, six portents preceded the preaching of the Lotus Sutra. Among them, flowers rained down from the heavens, the earth trembled, and a beam of light emanated from the tuft of white hair between the Buddha's brows, reaching as high as the Akanishtha Heaven and illuminating as deep as the Avichi Hell. Moreover, the Treasure Tower rose from the earth, and all the emanations of the Buddha assembled from the ten directions. In addition, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth led by Jogyo emerged from beneath the earth, each with his followers equaling in number the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers, fifty thousand, forty thousand, thirty thousand, and so forth, down to the sands of one Ganges River, one half, and so forth. When such awesome and wondrous events are considered, how can one still maintain that the Shingon sutras surpass the Lotus Sutra? I have no time to dwell on these matters. I have brought up only one drop of the ocean.
I have here a copy of the one-volume work called Bodaishin Ron, which is attributed to Bodhisattva Nagarjuna. This work says, "Only in the teachings of Shingon can one attain Buddhahood in his present form. Accordingly, the Shingon expounds the method of entering samadhi. This doctrine is neither found nor recorded in any of the other teachings." As I thought this statement extremely doubtful, I examined it in light of the sutras. I discovered that although the Shingon sutras contained the words "attaining Buddhahood in one's present form," they gave no example of anyone who had actually done so. And even if they had, because the attainment of Buddhahood in one's present form is also taught in the Lotus Sutra, Nagarjuna should not have proclaimed that this principle is "neither found nor recorded in any of the other teachings." This is a gross error.
In truth, however, this treatise is not the work of Nagarjuna. I will explain this in detail on another occasion. Yet, even if it were the work of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna, an error is still an error. In the Daichido Ron, Nagarjuna refers to a vital point in differentiating among the teachings expounded by Shakyamuni during his lifetime: "The Hannya sutras are not secret teachings because they contain no mention of the attainment of Buddhahood by persons of the two vehicles. The Lotus Sutra is the secret teaching because it does." It also says, "Those sutras which expound the attainment of Buddhahood by those of the two vehicles are esoteric teachings, and those which do not are exoteric teachings."
If one goes by the words of the Bodaishin Ron, then he must not only specifically contradict Nagarjuna's Daichido Ron, but more generally deny the one great reason why all Buddhas make their advent in the world. Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu and others all appeared in this world in order to propagate the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Nagarjuna was one of the Buddha's twenty-four successors. Could he really have put forth such an erroneous interpretation?
The Shingon sutras are inferior even to the Hannya sutras. How can we compare them with the Lotus Sutra? Nevertheless, in the Hizo Hoyaku, Kobo claims that all the teachings expounded during the Buddha's lifetime are contained within the teachings of Shingon. He not only relegates the Lotus Sutra to third place, but even dismisses it as "childish theory." Yet, when I reverently open the Lotus Sutra, I find that it declares itself to be the highest among the teachings of all Buddhas, as well as the sutra supreme "among all those I [Shakyamuni] have preached, now preach and will preach." In the ten comparisons of the Yakuo chapter, the Lotus Sutra is likened to the ocean, the sun and Mount Sumeru. This being the case, could anything be deeper than the ocean, brighter than the sun or higher than Mount Sumeru? One should realize the truth through such comparisons. On what basis can Kobo claim that the Shingon sutras are superior to the Lotus Sutra? We find no such passages whatsoever in the Dainichi or other sutras. Trusting only to his own view, he has violated the Buddha's intention for a long time.
The Great Teacher Miao-lo states, "I call upon those with eyes to examine this thoroughly." Is he not without eyes, who regards the Lotus Sutra as inferior to the Kegon Sutra? The Nirvana Sutra reads: "If there is a person who slanders the True Law of the Buddha, his tongue should be cut off." Ah, how pitiful that the tongue which slanders shall utter no words in world after world, and that the eye attached to false views shall fall out in lifetime after lifetime, seeing nothing! Moreover, the Lotus Sutra says, "One who refuses to take faith in this sutra and instead slanders it ... After he dies, he will fall into the hell of incessant suffering." If this statement is valid, Kobo will surely fall into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering where he will undergo agony for countless kalpas. One should also recognize the fate of Shan-tao and Honen through his example. Who, among those endowed with wisdom, will dip into the stream of such slanderous teachings and be consumed together with these men in the flames of the Avichi Hell? Truly, the votary should fear this. These are all persons of profoundly distorted views. In this connection, we find, among the true and golden words of the Buddha: "[This Devil of the Sixth Heaven and other devils will in time try] to destroy this True Law of mine. They will be like a hunter who wraps his body in a priestly robe. They will assume the forms of stream-winners, once-returners, non-returners, arhats, pratyekabuddhas or Buddhas, and will try to destroy this True Law of mine."
Shan-tao and Honen, displaying a variety of majestic powers, deceived ignorant priests and lay believers, and schemed to destroy the Buddha's True law. And the Shingon schools in particular make it a point to emphasize worldly benefits exclusively. Using animals as objects of worship, they conduct prayers not only to satisfy the passions of man and woman, but also to fulfill desires for estates and the like. They claim such trifling results as wondrous benefits. However, if they are going to assert the supremacy of Shingon on these grounds, they are no match for the Brahmans of India. Hermit Agastya kept the waters of the Ganges River in his ear for twelve years. Hermit Jinu swallowed up the four great oceans in a day, and Brahman Uluka turned into a stone and remained that way for eight hundred years. How could the results of the Shingon prayers surpass these? Hermit Kudon assumed the form of the god Taishaku and preached for twelve years, while Kobo transformed himself into Vairochana for an instant. Judge for yourself whose powers are the greater. If you believe that such transformations confer great benefit, you might just as well believe in the Brahmans.
Yet it should be known that, while the Brahmans possessed such impressive powers, they could not escape the flames of the Avichi Hell, not to mention those with only trivial powers of transformation. Even less can slanderers of the Mahayana avoid this fate. The Shingon priests are evil friends to all living beings. Avoid them; fear them. The Buddha states: "Have no fear of mad elephants. What you should fear are evil friends! Why? Because a mad elephant can only destroy your body; it cannot destroy your mind. But an evil friend can destroy both body and mind. A mad elephant can only destroy a single body, but an evil friend can destroy countless bodies and countless minds. A mad elephant merely destroys an impure stinking body, but an evil friend can destroy both pure body and pure mind. A mad elephant can destroy the physical body, but an evil friend destroys the Dharma body. Even if you are killed by a mad elephant, you will not fall into the three evil paths. But if you are killed by an evil friend, you are certain to fall into them. A mad elephant is merely an enemy of your body, but an evil friend is an enemy of the good Law." Therefore, even more than venomous serpents or malevolent demons, one should fear evil friends who follow Kobo, Shan-tao and Honen. This is just a brief clarification of the error of holding distorted views.
The messenger is in such a great hurry that I have written only a small part of what I had to say. When an opportunity arises in the future, I will write to you again, examining sutras and treatises in detail. Never show this letter to anyone. If I survive until then, I will visit and talk with you in the fall of next year, as you requested.
With my deep respect,
The fifth day of the twelfth month