Letter to Myomitsu Shonin
I have received the five kan of blue-duck coins you sent.
The first of the five precepts is not to take life, and the first of the six paramitas is that of almsgiving. The ten good precepts, the two hundred and fifty precepts, the ten major precepts and all the other rules of conduct begin with the prohibition against the taking of life.
Every being, from the highest sage on down to the smallest mosquito or deer fly, holds life to be its most precious possession. To deprive a being of life is to commit the gravest kind of sin.
When the Buddha appeared in this world, he made compassion for living beings his basis. And as an expression of compassion for living beings, not to take life and to provide sustenance for the living are the most important precepts.
In providing another with sustenance, one obtains three kinds of benefits. First, one sustains one's life. Second, one brings color to one's face. Third, one gains strength.
"To sustain one's life" means that one is born in the human or heavenly realms and receives the karmic reward of long life. When he becomes a Buddha, he manifests himself as a Dharma-body Tathagata, whose body is as vast as space.
Because he "gains strength," having been born in the human or heavenly realms, he becomes a person of virtue and influence, attracting many followers. When he becomes a Buddha, he manifests himself as a bliss-body Tathagata, dwelling on a lotus pedestal where he shines like the full moon when it appears in a clear sky on the fifteenth night of the eighth month.
And because "he brings color to his face," having been born in the human or heavenly realms, he acquires the thirty-two features and becomes as lovely and striking as a lotus flower. When he becomes a Buddha, he displays himself as a manifested-body Tathagata, like Shakyamuni Buddha.
If we inquire into the origin of Mount Sumeru, we find that it began with a single speck of dust, and likewise the great ocean began with a single drop of dew. One added to one becomes two, two becomes three, and so on to make ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, or an asogi. Yet one is the mother of all.
As for the beginning of Buddhism in the country of Japan: after the seven generations of heavenly gods and the five generations of earthly gods, the hundred reigns of human sovereigns began, the first of whom was called Emperor Jimmu. In the time of the thirtieth sovereign following Jimmu, Emperor Kimmei, the Buddhist scriptures were introduced to Japan from the kingdom of Paekche, along with a statue of Shakyamuni, the lord of teachings, as well as priests and nuns.
Then Prince Shotoku, the son of Emperor Yomei, began to study the Buddhist writings. He had a copy of the Lotus Sutra brought from China, wrote a commentary on the text, and endeavored to propagate its teachings.
Later, in the time of the thirty-seventh sovereign, Emperor Kotoku, the Administrator of Monks Kanroku introduced the Sanron and Jojitsu sects from the kingdom of Silla to Japan. And during the same period the priest Dosho introduced the Hosso and Kusha sects from China, and a priest named the Preceptor Shinjo introduced the Kegon sect.
In the reign of the forty-fourth sovereign, Empress Gensho, a holy man from India introduced the Dainichi Sutra, and in the time of the forty-fifth sovereign, Emperor Shomu, the priest Ganjin came from China, introducing the Ritsu sect to Japan. At the same time, he brought with him copies of the Hokke Gengi, Hokke Mongu, Maka Shikan, Jomyo Sho, and other works of the T'ien-t'ai school. But he did not propagate the teachings of the Shingon and Hokke [Tendai] schools.
In the reign of the fiftieth sovereign, Emperor Kammu, there was a young priest named Saicho, who was later to be known as the Great Teacher Dengyo. Before going to China, he spent fifteen years studying on his own the writings and commentaries of the Shingon and Tendai schools. Later, in the seventh month of the twenty-third year of the Enryaku era (804), he sailed for China. He returned to Japan in the sixth month of the following year, and thereafter instructed several dozen learned priests of the seven major temples of Nara in the teachings of the Tendai and Shingon sects.
Four hundred years have passed since then. In all, it has been more than seven hundred years since Buddhism was first introduced to Japan. During that time, there have been persons who urged the populace to call upon the name of Amida, to call upon the name of Dainichi, or to invoke the name of Shakyamuni. But there has never been anyone who urged them to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra.
And this does not apply to Japan alone. In India, in the thousand years following the death of the Buddha, there were great scholars such as Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Ashvagosha, Nagarjuna, Asanga and Vasubandhu who worked to propagate Buddhism throughout the five regions of India. And in the first several hundred years after Buddhism was introduced to China, people such as Kashyapa Matanga, Chu-fa-lan, the Learned Doctor Kumarajiva, Nan-yueh, T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo wrote commentaries and expounded the teachings of the sutras. But none of these persons ever urged that the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra be chanted in the same manner as the name of Amida. They only chanted it themselves, or, when lecturing on the Lotus Sutra, the lecturer himself alone recited it.
The teachings of the eight sects and the nine sects differ from one another, yet generally speaking, we find that in the majority of cases, the founders and leaders of these sects recited the name of Amida. Next in number were those who recited the name of Bodhisattva Kannon, and next those who invoked the name of Shakyamuni Buddha, followed by those who called upon the name of Dainichi, Yakushi, or others. But for some reason there were none who chanted the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, the very heart and core of the Buddha's entire lifetime of teachings.
You should inquire very carefully into the reason why this was so. A renowned physician, for example, though he discerns the causes of all kinds of illnesses as well as the relative efficacy of various medicines, nevertheless refrains from indiscriminately applying the most powerful medicine but instead employs other medicines, depending upon the nature of the illness. Thus perhaps it was because, during the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law following the death of the Buddha, the sickness of delusion had not yet become critical, and therefore no one urged that the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the finest medicine in all the Buddha's lifetime of teachings, be applied. But now we have entered the Latter Day of the Law, and people are all suffering from grave illness. This illness can hardly be cured by such minor medicines as invocations to Amida, Dainichi or Shakyamuni.
Though the moon is beautiful, the full splendor of its light can only be seen in autumn. Though the cherry blossoms are lovely, they open only in spring. All things are regulated by the time. And since that is so, may we not suppose that, during the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law, the time had not yet come for the daimoku to spread?
However, it is the messengers of the Buddha who propagate his teachings. And these disciples of the Buddha have different doctrines that they received from him. Thus, the scholars who appeared during the thousand years of the Former Day of the Law and the teachers who appeared during the thousand years of the Middle Day of the Law were in most cases men who had been entrusted with Hinayana or provisional Mahayana doctrines or with the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra or other ancillary doctrines. Bodhisattva Jogyo, who is entrusted with the daimoku, the core of the essential teaching, had not yet made his advent in the world.
But now he will appear in the Latter Day of the Law and propagate the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo to all the nations and to all the people of the world. Surely it will spread in the same way that the invocation of Amida's name has spread throughout Japan at the present time.
I, Nichiren, am not the founder of any sect, nor am I a latter-day follower of any older sect. I am a priest without precepts, neither keeping the precepts nor breaking them. I am an ordinary creature like an ox or a sheep, divorced from both the possession of wisdom and the absence of it.
Why did I first begin to chant as I do? Bodhisattva Jogyo is the one destined to make his advent in this world to propagate the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. But before he had even appeared, I began, as though speaking in a dream, hardly knowing what I was doing, to chant the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and so I chant them now. In the end, is this a good thing I do, or a bad thing? I do not know, nor can anyone else tell for certain.
But when I reverently open the Lotus Sutra and peruse it, I see that even the bodhisattvas Monju, Miroku, Kannon and Fugen, who had reached the stage of togaku, were scarcely able to uphold so much as a single phrase or verse of this sutra, because the sutra itself states that it can "only be understood and shared between Buddhas."
The Kegon Sutra represents the first exposition of the sudden teaching preached immediately following the Buddha's enlightenment, a sutra embodying the complete and perfect teaching, yet it was entrusted to the four bodhisattvas, including Dharma Wisdom, to expound. The Hannya sutras, though not on the same level as the Kegon Sutra, nevertheless represent the loftiest among the other sutras that the Buddha had preached thus far. And yet Subhuti was the one entrusted with the task of expounding them.
Only the Lotus Sutra represents the wonderful teaching preached directly from the golden mouth of Shakyamuni Buddha, who is perfectly endowed with the three bodies. Therefore even the bodhisattvas Fugen and Monju were hardly able to expound so much as a single phrase or verse of it. How much more difficult then must it be for us, who are no more than common mortals living in the Latter Day of the Law, to embrace in our own persons even one or two words of this sutra!
Because the founders of the various sects read and lectured on the Lotus Sutra, their respective disciples all assumed that their own teacher had grasped the heart of the Lotus Sutra. However, if we look carefully into the essence of the matter, we find that the Great Teacher Tz'u-en read the Lotus Sutra while making the Jimmitsu Sutra and the Yuishiki Ron his teachers, and the Great Teacher Chia-hsiang read the Lotus Sutra while making the Hannya sutras and the Chu Ron his teachers. Men like Tu-shun and Fa-tsang read the Lotus Sutra while making the Kegon Sutra and tSut Jujubibasha Ron their teachers. And Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih and Pu-k'ung read the Lotus Sutra while making the Dainichi Sutra their teacher. All these men thought that they had read the Lotus Sutra. But in fact they had not read so much as a single phrase or verse of it.
In the end, as the Great Teacher Dengyo put it, "Even though he praises the Lotus Sutra, he destroys its heart." They were like non-Buddhist believers who, though they read the Buddhist sutras, interpret them to be the same as the non-Buddhist teachings; or like bats which, in their blindness, mistake day for night. Or they were like a red-faced man who, looking into a clear mirror, supposes that the whole mirror has turned red, or like a round-faced man who, seeing his reflection in a narrow sword blade, thinks that his face has become long and narrow.
But I, Nichiren, am different from such persons. I firmly uphold the teaching that the Lotus Sutra is supreme among all the sutras that the Buddha "has preached, now preaches and will preach." Moreover, I chant the daimoku, which is the heart and core of the entire sutra, and I urge others to do likewise. [When one does so,] he will be like mugwort growing in a field of hemp or wood marked with a carpenter's inking line. Though the mugwort and the wood may not be straight to begin with, they will as a matter of course become so.
In the same way, one who chants the daimoku as the Lotus Sutra teaches will never have a twisted mind. For you must know that, unless the mind of the Buddha enters into our body, we cannot in fact chant the daimoku.
The Buddhist teachings that have been disseminated by other persons are in all cases those that they have learned and received from their respective teachers. It is like the case of the fiefs possessed by the shogun's immediate vassals of the estates administered by the stewards in the various provinces. Though their lands may measure no more than one or two cho, they in all cases received them through the favor of the late shogun. How much more indebted to him are persons whose holdings measure a hundred cho, a thousand cho, a whole province or two whole provinces!
One who carries on the doctrines of a good teacher is called a worthy man. One who realizes the truth for himself without the aid of a teacher is called a sage. In the lands of India, China and Japan since the passing of the Buddha, there have been two sages. They were T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo. These two men deserve to be called sages.
They also deserve to be called worthy men. The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai carried on the doctrines of Nan-yueh; in that sense he was a worthy man. But he also realized the supreme vehicle of Buddhahood by himself at the place of meditation; in this sense he was a sage.
Similarly, the Great Teacher Dengyo received instruction in the Shikan teachings and the great precepts of perfect and immediate enlightenment from his teachers Tao-sui and Hsing-man. In that sense he was a worthy man. But even before he journeyed to China, while still in Japan, he had already understood and mastered all the doctrines of the Shingon and Shikan sects without the aid of a teacher, and had come to realize that the wisdom of the Tendai sect surpassed that of the six sects or the seven sects. In this sense he was a sage.
So it is that one of the Confucian classics declares: "Those who are born with an understanding of this are the highest." (By "highest" is meant the sage.) "Those who study and thereby reach this understanding are the next." (By "next" is meant the worthy man.) And one of the Buddhist sutras contains the passage, "In my religious practices, I am without the aid of a teacher."
Shakyamuni, the lord of teachings, is the foremost sage of this saha world. T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo were both sages as well as worthy men. Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, Lao Tzu and Confucius were all both sages and worthy men, either of the Hinayana teachings, the provisional Mahayana teachings, or of non-Buddhist teachings; however, none of them was a sage or worthy man of the Lotus Sutra.
Now I, Nichiren, am neither a sage nor a worthy man; I neither adhere to the precepts nor am I without precepts; I neither possess wisdom nor lack it. Nevertheless, I was born some 2,220 years after the passing of the Buddha, in the last five-hundred-year period, when the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra is destined to spread. And before any other person of the various sects--whether here in Japan or in the far-off lands of India and China--could begin the invocation of the daimoku, I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in a loud voice and have continued to do so for more than twenty years.
During that time, I have been cursed and beaten, and at times have sustained injury. Twice I have been exiled, once I was condemned to death, and the other great trials that I have suffered are too numerous to mention; I have been like a soybean plunked into a large pot of boiling water or a big fish in a tiny puddle.
The Lotus Sutra says: "Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing!" It also states: "In the world at that time the people will be full of hostility, and it will be extremely difficult to believe." And it says: "There will be many ignorant people who will curse and speak ill of us," and "They will attack us with swords and staves, and with rocks and tiles,... again and again we will be banished."
If I, Nichiren, had not been born in the land of Japan, then these passages of the sutra would have been mere words on the Buddha's part--empty of all significance. They would have been like blossoms that open but form no fruit, or like thunder that rumbles but never ushers in rain. These golden words of the Buddha would have been in vain, and the Lotus Sutra, which speaks honestly, would have been found to incorporate great falsehoods. When I consider all this, it seems to me that I must be the equal of the sages T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo, and that I stand above Lao Tzu and Confucius.
In this entire country of Japan, I am the only person who has chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I am like the single speck of dust that marks the beginning of Mount Sumeru or the single drop of dew that spells the start of the great ocean. But then two people, three people, ten people, a hundred people will join in chanting it, until it spreads to one province, two provinces, and all the sixty-six provinces of Japan, and reaches the two islands of Iki and Tsushima as well. Those persons who have spoken slanderously of me will in time chant in the same way; and everyone from the ruler on down to the multitude of common people will, as described in the Jinriki chapter of the Lotus Sutra, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a single voice. Though the trees may desire to be still, the wind will not cease to blow; though we may wish spring to linger, it must give way to summer.
Though the people of Japan think highly of the Lotus Sutra, because of their animosity toward me, the priest Nichiren, they refuse to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. But when the invaders from the great kingdom of the Mongols strike once or twice again as they did at Iki and Tsushima, attacking and killing the men and taking the women prisoner, battling their way as far as the capital Kyoto and the city of Kamakura, seizing the sovereign himself, along with his high ministers and hundred officials, flinging them in the dirt before their oxen and horses, and kicking and violently abusing them--how then will the people of Japan be able to keep from chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?
In the past, I was struck several times in the face with the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra, but I felt no resentment at it. In fact, I was actually delighted. For to be attacked in the manner described in the Fukyo chapter, to suffer assault as predicted in the Kanji chapter, to is a great honor indeed.
But how vexing such attacks must be to Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and moon and the Four Heavenly Kings, who inscribed an oath in the presence of the Buddha that they would not permit evil men to strike the votary of the Lotus Sutra! It would be no small matter if those who slander me were to incur no punishment from Heaven in their present body. So those deities [who fail to punish them] will not only be destroyed throughout past, present and future, but even now are surely being called upon to account to the Buddha for their actions. And when that happens, it will be no fault of Nichiren's! Rather, by siding with those priests who slander the Law, they are summoning disaster upon themselves.
In view of all this, your sincerity in sending a gift of five strings of blue-duck coins whenever the opportunity arises truly entitlethe opportunity arises truly entitles you to be known as one who propagates the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra in Japan. As first one person, then two persons, then a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand and then all the people throughout the country come to chant the daimoku, before you know it their blessings will accumulate in your person. Those blessings will be like the drops of dew that gather to form the great ocean or the specks of dust
The ten demon daughters in particular have vowed to protect those who recite the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra; it would follow from this that these goddesses must look upon you, Myomitsu Shonin, and your wife as a mother looks upon an only child. They will prize you as a yak cherishes its own tail, and watch over you day and night. How reassuring!
There is much more that I would like to say, but I do not have time to go into detail. Please explain these things carefully to your wife. I do not write these words merely to flatter.
The more gold is heated in the flames, the brighter will be its color; the more a sword is whetted, the sharper it will become. And the more one praises the blessings of the Lotus Sutra, the more his blessings will increase. Bear in mind that the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra contain only a few passages elucidating the truth, but a great many words of praise.
The fifth day of the intercalary third month