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The Two Kinds of Illness

The illnesses of human beings may be divided into two general categories, the first of which is illness of the body. Physical diseases comprise one hundred and one disorders of the earth element, one hundred and one imbalances of the water element, one hundred and one disturbances of the fire element and one hundred and one disharmonies of the wind element, a total of four hundred and four maladies. These illnesses can be cured with the medicines prescribed by skilled physicians such as Jisui, Rusui, Jivaka and Pien Ch'ueh.

The second category is illness of the mind. These illnesses arise from the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity and are of eighty-four thousand kinds. Only a Buddha can cure them; thus they are beyond the healing powers of the two Brahman deities and the three ascetics, not to mention those of Shen Nung and Huang Ti.

Illnesses of the mind differ greatly in severity. The three poisons and their eighty-four thousand variations that afflict common mortals of the six paths can be treated by the Buddha of the Kusha, Jojitsu and Ritsu sects which derive from the Tripitaka teaching of Hinayana. However, if one tries to use the Hinayana teachings to cure the three poisons and eighty thousand diseases that arise from slandering the Mahayana sutras such as the Kegon, Hannya and Dainichi sutras, these illnesses will merely become worse and will never be cured. They can be treated only with the Mahayana teachings. Moreover, if one attempts to use the Kegon, Hannya and Dainichi sutras or the Shingon and Sanron teachings to cure the three poisons and eighty thousand diseases that arise when the practitioners of the various Mahayana sutras oppose the Lotus Sutra, those sicknesses will become all the more serious. To illustrate, the flames emitted by burning wood or coal can easily be extinguished by water, but a fire produced by burning oil will only burn more intensely, the flames mounting still higher, if one pours water over it.

The epidemics which have been raging in Japan since last year cannot be categorized within the four hundred and four illnesses of the body. Therefore, they are beyond the healing powers of Hua T'o and Pien Ch'ueh. Nor do they correspond to any of the eighty-four thousand diseases which can be treated with the Hinayana or provisional Mahayana teachings. For this reason, the prayers offered by the priests of the sects based on these teachings not only fail to end the epidemics, but rather aggravate them all the more. Even if the epidemics should subside this year, they will surely break out again in years to come. Probably they will come to an end only after something dreadful has happened.

The Lotus Sutra says: "If they pursue the way of medicine and treat illness according to prescription, they will only produce further complications, or perhaps even cause death.... Their illness will grow more acute." The Nirvana Sutra states, "At that time King Ajatashatru of Rajagriha...and boils broke out over his entire body.... [The king said,] 'These boils have a spiritual cause and do not arise form a disharmony of the four elements. Even if people say that there is a physician who can cure them, that could not possibly be.'" Miao-lo says, "Wise men can see omens and what they foretell, as snakes know the way of snakes."

The present epidemics are like the virulent boils of King Ajatashatru, which could not be cured by anyone other than the Buddha. They can be eradicated only by the Lotus Sutra.

I, Nichiren, developed diarrhea on the thirtieth day of the twelfth month of last year, and, up until the third or fourth day of the sixth month of this year, it grew more frequent by the day and more severe by the month. Just when I was thinking that it must be my immutable karma [to die at this time], you sent me excellent medicine. Since taking it, my complaint has diminished steadily and is now a mere fraction of its former intensity. I wonder if the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni might have entered your body to help me, or perhaps the Bodhisattvas of the Earth have bestowed upon me the good medicine of Myoho-renge-kyo. Chikugo-bo will explain all this to you in more detail.

Postscript: Your messenger arrived around the Hour of the Dog (7:00-9:00 P.M.) on the twenty-fifth day of this month. The things you have sent me are beyond counting. Please convey my appreciation to Lord Toki for his offering of a summer robe. Also please tell your wife how saddened I am at the passing of her grandfather.

With my deep respect,

Nichiren

The twenty-sixth day of the sixth month