Letter to Konichi-bo
In the ninth month of the eighth year of Bun'ei (1271), when the reverse marker of Jupiter was in the sector of the sky with the cyclical sign kanoto-hitsuji, I incurred the displeasure of the ruler and was exiled to Sado Island in the northern sea. While I was living in Kamakura in Sagami Province, I used to long vaguely for Awa province because it was my birthplace. Yet, although it was my home, the feelings of the people there made it somehow difficult for me to be on close terms with them, so I rarely went to visit. Then I was arrested and was to have been put to death, but instead, I was banished from Sagami Province. It seemed that unless some extraordinary circumstance arose, I would never be able to return to Kamakura, and that therefore I would never be ale to visit my parents' grave again. Thinking of this, I was belatedly consumed by remorse. Why, I lamented, before finding myself in this predicament, had I not crossed seas and traversed mountains every day, or at least once a month, to visit my parents' grave and to inquire after my teacher?
Su Wu was a prisoner in the land of the northern barbarians for nineteen years. He envied the geese migrating southward. Nakamaro went to China as an emissary of the Japanese imperial court. Years passed, but he was not permitted to return home. Whenever he saw the moon rise in the east, he would console himself by thinking that the same moon must be shining above Mount Mikasa in his native province and that the people there must even at that moment be gazing at it. Just when I was overwhelmed by similar longings for home, I received from my native province the robe you had entrusted to someone journeying to Sado Island. Su Wu's life was sustained by a mere letter tied to a goose's leg, while I actually received such clothing! His joy could not possibly have compared to mine.
The people of this country are continually deceived by the Nembutsu priests, or by the Zen, Ritsu or Shingon sect. Thus they act outwardly as though they revere the Lotus Sutra, but in their hearts they do not believe in it. So although I, Nichiren, do not think that I have done anything particularly wrong, when I assert the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, they all resent me, just as the people in the Latter Day of the Law of Ionno Buddha detested Bodhisattva Fukyo. From the ruler on down to the common people, they hate even to hear my name, let alone see my person, therefore, though I was innocent of any wrongdoing, having been exiled, I could not possibly be pardoned. To compound matters, I had denounced the Nembutsu--which the people of Japan revere more deeply than their own parents and more highly than the sun and moon--as the karmic cause that leads to the hell of incessant suffering. I attacked the Zen sect as the work of devils, and Shingon as a heresy that will ruin the nation, and insisted that the temples of the Nembutsu priests, the Zen sect, and the Ritsu priests be burned down, and the priests of the Nembutsu beheaded. I even went so far as to assert that the two deceased lay priests of Saimyo-ji and Gokuraku-ji temples had fallen into the Avichi Hell. Such was the gravity of my offense. Having voiced such serious charges to all people both high and low, even had I spoken in error, I could never again rise in the world. Even worse, I repeated such remarks morning and evening and discussed them day and night. I also sternly informed Hei no Saemon and several hundred officers that no matter what punishment I might incur, I would not cease declaring these matters. Therefore, even if a boulder at the bottom of the sea, which requires a thousand men to move it, were to surface by itself, or if rain falling from the sky should fail to reach the ground, still I, Nichiren, could not possibly have returned to Kamakura.
Nevertheless, I encouraged myself by thinking that if the teaching of the Lotus Sutra were indeed true and the gods of the sun and moon did not abandon me, I might yet have an opportunity to return to Kamakura and also visit my parents' grave. Climbing a high mountain, I would shout these words aloud: "What has happened to Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and moon, and the Four Heavenly Kings? Are Tensho Daijin and Hachiman no longer in this country? Do you intend to break the vow you made in the Buddha's presence and forsake the votary of the Lotus Sutra? Even if you fail to protect me, Nichiren, I will have no regrets, no matter what may happen to me. Remember, however, what you each solemnly pledged in the presence of the Lord Shakyamuni, Taho Buddha and all the Buddhas of the ten directions. If you do not protect me, Nichiren, now, but instead abandon me, will you not be making a great lie out of the Lotus Sutra, in which the Buddha declared that he was 'honestly discarding the provisional teachings?' You have deceived all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions and the three existences, an offense even graver than Devadatta's outrageous falsehoods and more blameworthy than Kokalika's deceptions. Now you may be respected as Great Bonten and live at the top of the world of form, or be revered as the Thousand-eyed God and dwell on the summit of Mount Sumeru. But if you discard me, Nichiren, you will become firewood to feed the flames of the Avichi Hell and be forever confined to the great citadel of incessant suffering. If you dread committing this offense, make haste to manifest some sign to the country [showing my teachings to be correct], so that I may be permitted to return home!"
Then in the eleventh month, shortly after my arrest on the twelfth day of the ninth month, a rebellion broke out, and on the eleventh day of the second month in the following year, several generals, mighty protectors of Japan, were executed for no apparent reason. It was clear the Heaven had meted out its punishment. Apparently shaken by this incident, the authorities released my imprisoned disciples.
However, I myself had not yet been pardoned, so I continued to berate the heavenly gods all the more vehemently. Then one day, a white-headed crow flew overhead. I remembered that Prince Tan of Yen had been released when a horned horse and a white-headed crow appeared, and recalled Priest Nichizo's poem: "Even the mountain crow's head/Has turned white./The time for my return home/Must have come at last." I was now convinced that I would be released before long. As I had expected, the government issued a letter of pardon on the fourteenth day of the second month in the eleventh year of Bun'ei (1274), which arrived in the province of Sado on the eighth day of the third month.
I left [my place of residence on] Sado on the thirteenth day of that month and reached a harbor called Maura, where I spent the night of the fourteenth. I should have arrived at the harbor of Teradomari in Echigo Province on the fifteenth, but a gale prevented my boat from making port. Fortunately, however, after two days at sea, we reached Kashiwazaki, and on the following day I arrived at the provincial seat of Echigo. Thus, after traveling for twelve days, I finally returned to Kamakura on the twenty-sixth day of the third month. On the eighth day of the fourth month, I had an interview with Hei no Saemon. As I had expected all along, my warnings went unheeded. Altogether I had remonstrated with the authorities three times for the sole purpose of saving Japan from ruin. Mindful that one whose warnings are thrice ignored should retire to a mountain forest, I left Kamakura on the twelfth day of the fifth month.
I had thought at that time of going to my birthplace to visit my parents' grave once again. However, it is the tradition of both Buddhism and the secular world that one should return home in glory. Had I returned without any honor worthy of mention, would I not have proven to be n unfilial son? And in view of the fact that I had already overcome such hardships and returned to Kamakura, I thought that I might have some future opportunity to go home in triumph, and that I would wait until such time to visit my parents' grave. Because I feel deeply about this, I have yet to travel to my birthplace. But I am so homesick that whenever someone says that the wind is blowing from the east, I rush out from my dwelling to feel it, and if told that clouds are gathering in the eastern sky, I stand in the garden to watch them. With such emotions my heart warms even toward someone I would not otherwise be friendly with if that person is from my native province. Imagine, then, how beside myself I was with joy at receiving your letter! I opened and read it in great haste, only to learn that you had lost your son Yashiro on the eighth day of the sixth month, the year before last. I had been delighted before I opened you letter, but then, having read the sad news, I wished I had not opened it in such a hurry. I felt regret such as Urashima no Ko must have experienced upon opening his casket.
I never think lightly of the people from my native province or cease to care about what happens to them, even if they have caused me sorrow or treated me cruelly. Your son specially impressed me. His handsome appearance made him stand out among the others, and in his thoughtful air there seemed to be no trace of obstinacy. It was during one of my lectures on the Lotus Sutra [that I saw him for the first time]. Since there were many strangers present, I did not venture to address him. When my lecture ended, my listeners left, as did you son. But later he sent a messenger to convey the following:
"I am from a place called Amatsu in the province of Awa. Since my childhood, I have always greatly admired your commitment. My mother also thinks highly of you. You may think that I am speaking with undue familiarity, but there is something about which I would like to seek your counsel in confidence. I know that I should wait until after we have met several times and become better acquainted. However, as I am in the service of a certain warrior, I have little time to spare, and moreover, the matter is quite urgent. Therefore, while fully aware that I am being rude, I implore you to grant me an interview."
In this way he courteously asked to consult with me. Moreover, since he was from my native province, I told him he need not stand on ceremony and invited him to my place. He talked in great detail about the past and future. Then he said: "Impermanence is the way of the world. No one knows when he may die. Moreover, I am committed to a warrior's service, and I cannot avoid a challenge to combat that I have lately received. I dread what may await me in my next life. I beg you to help me."
I gave him instruction, quoting sutra passages. Then he lamented, saying, "I can do nothing for my deceased father. But should I die before my widowed mother, I would be an unfilial son. Should anything happen to me, please ask your disciples to look after her."
In this respectful way he made his request. Am I right in assuming that nothing untoward happened on that occasion but that some later incident brought about his death?
No one born human, whether high or low, is free from sorrow and distress. Yet, troubles vary according to the time and differ according to the person. In this respect, sorrow is like illness: No matter what malady one may suffer from, as it worsens, he will think that no illness could be more dreadful than his. There is the sorrow of parting from one's lord, of parting from one's parent, and of parting from one's spouse, none of which can be lightly dismissed. However, one may serve another lord, or find comfort in remarrying. But the sorrow of having lost one's parent or child seems only to deepen as the days and months pass. Yet, although death is sorrowful in any case, for parents to die and their children to live on is the natural course of things. It is pitiful indeed for an aged mother to be preceded by her child in death! You may well feel resentment toward both gods and Buddhas. Why did they not take you instead of your son? Why did they let you survive only to be tormented by such grief? Truly, it is hard to bear.
Even animals of little intelligence cannot endure to part from their young. The golden pheasant at the Bamboo Grove Monastery plunged into flames and died in order to save her eggs. The stag at Deer Park offered himself to the king in order to save a female deer's unborn fawn. How much greater, then, must be the love of human beings toward their children! Thus, Wang Ling's mother smashed her own skull [and died in order to prevent her son from becoming a traitor], and the consort of Emperor Shen Yao had her abdomen cut open for the sake of an unborn prince. When you consider these examples, I am certain you must feel that you yourself would not hesitate to plunge into fire or smash your own skull if by so doing you could see your son again. In imagining your grief, my tears will not cease to flow.
You say in your letter, "Because my son killed others, I would like you to tell me into what kind of place he may be reborn." A needle sinks in water, and rain will not remain in the sky. Those who kill even an ant are destined for hell, and those who merely cut up dead bodies cannot avoid the evil paths. All the more must they suffer who kill human beings. However, even a large rock can float on the sea when carried aboard a boat. Does not water extinguish even a great fire? Even a small error will destine one to the evil paths if one does not repent of it. Yet even a grave offense can be eradicated if one repents of it sincerely.
Let me cite a few examples. The monk who stole millet was reborn as an ox for five hundred consecutive lifetimes. The person who plucked water oats fell into the three evil paths. The more than eighty thousand kings, including Rama, Batsudai, Birushin, Nagosa, Katei, Bishakya, Gakko, Komyo, Nikko, Ai and Jitanin, all ascended the throne by killing their fathers. As they did not encounter good teachers, their offenses could not be eradicated and, in the end, they fell into the Avichi Hell.
There was a wicked man named Ajita in Varanasi. Falling in love with his own mother, he killed his father and made her his wife. When the arhat who had been his father's teacher admonished him, he killed that arhat, and when his mother took another man for a husband he killed his mother as well. Thus he committed three of the five cardinal sins. Shunned by his neighbors, he had no place to turn. He went to the Jetavana Monastery and sought admittance to the Order, but the monks refused. The evil in his heart grew more rampant than ever, and he burned down many of the monks' quarters. Finally, however he met Shakyamuni Buddha and was permitted to become a monk.
There was a kingdom called Saiseki in northern India that was ruled by a king named Ryuin. Ryuin killed his father, but later, horrified by his own act, he abandoned his country, presented himself before the Buddha and repented of his wrongdoing; thereupon the Buddha forgave him.
King Ajatashatru was by nature given to the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity, and was forever committing one or another of the ten evil acts. Moreover, he killed his father, attempted to take his mother's life, and, accepting Devadatta as his teacher, massacred countless disciples of the Buddha. Due to his accumulated misdeeds, on the fifteenth day of the second month, the very day on which the Buddha was to pass away, virulent boils broke out in seven areas of his royal body, a sign that he will fall into the hell of incessant suffering. The king writhed in agony; he felt as if he were being burned by a great fire or doused with boiling water. His six ministers presented themselves before him and summoned the six non-Buddhist teachers, asking them to cure him of his foul sores. This was just like the people of Japan today relying on the Zen and Ritsu leaders or the Nembutsu and Shingon Priests as good teachers in the belief that the prayers of these man can subdue the Mongols and help them in their next life. Moreover, Ajatashatru's first teacher, Devadatta, had memorized the sixty thousand non-Buddhist and eighty thousand Buddhist teachings. His understanding of both secular and religious matters was as clear as the sun, the moon or a burnished mirror. He was like the learned priests of the Tendai sect in the world today who are well versed in both the exoteric and esoteric teachings and know all the Buddhist scriptures by heart. Because Ajatashatru was guided by such teachers and ministers, he had refused to become the Buddha's follower. And for this reason, his country, Magadha, had suffered repeated disturbances in the heavens and frequent strange occurrences on earth, being ravaged incessantly by violent winds, severe droughts, famine and pestilence. Moreover, it had been attacked by another country. Now, in addition to all this, he was suffering from virulent boils. When his kingdom appeared to be on the verge of ruin, he suddenly presented himself before the Buddha and repented of his evildoings, and his offenses were eradicated.
In any event, even though one's parents may be evildoers, if that person himself is virtuous, his parents' offenses will be forgiven. On the other hand, although the child may be an evildoer, if the parents are good people, their child's faults will be pardoned. Hence, even though your late son Yashiro committed evil, if you, the mother who gave birth to him, grieve for him and offer prayers for him day and night in the presence of Shakyamuni Buddha, how can he not be saved? Rather, as a believer in the Lotus Sutra, he will surely lead his parents to Buddhahood.
Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra should beware of and guard themselves against the sutra's enemies. Know that the Nembutsu priests, the upholders of the precepts, and the Shingon teachers--in fact, all those who refuse to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo--are the enemies of the Lotus Sutra, no matter how earnestly they may read it. If you do not know your enemies, you will be deceived by them. How I wish I could see you personally and talk to you about these matters in detail! Whenever you see Sammi-bo or Sado-ko, who will visit your area from Minobu, have them read this letter to you. Place it in the custody of Myoe-bo. Those lacking in wisdom would no doubt mock me or criticize this letter as mere clever words on my part. Or they would compare me with others, saying, "This priest could never match the Great Teacher Kobo or surpass the Great Teacher Jikaku!" Consider those who say such things ignorant.
Written in the third month in the second year of Kenji (1276), cyclical sign hinoe-ne, in the mountains of Hakiri Village in the Nambu area of Kai Province.