SGI-USA Study Curriculum
Learning from the Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin
by SGI President Ikeda
Lecture 13 - Letter to Toki Jonin
Noblest Are Those Who Love Humanity
Shakyamuni Buddha was a traveler. Throughout his life,
he was continually active and on the move.
"I will visit that place --- for there are people
there." Spurring himself to action, he walked on, his
gaze fixed on the distant horizon. Shakyamuni sincerely
loved human beings.
As he made his way through each place, he must have thoroughly
enjoyed encountering new friends and discovering new qualities
and virtues in old friends. Transcending all superficial
differences, he drew out each person's goodwill and created
heart-to-heart bonds of benevolence. Weaving such a spiritual
fabric was doubtless his greatest joy. His spirit was that
of a true champion of humanism.
A Buddhist text relates how once Shakyamuni came upon a
sick person. Shakyamuni, however, would not forsake him.
He approached the man, who was filthy, and warmly comforted
him. Helping him up, Shakyamuni led him outdoors and washed
him. While the man was bathing, Shakyamuni even changed
Those observing this wondered why the Buddha was going
to such lengths for the sick man. "If you wish to serve
the Buddha," Shakyamuni told them, "then you should
tend to the sick." (1) This is a well-known anecdote.
Sickness is not merely a physical phenomenon; it invariably
signals the presence of spiritual malady, too. In seeking
to cure someone's illness, we should spare no effort, leave
no stone unturned. In the above instance, Shakyamuni's intention
was probably to indicate that the path of Buddhism lies
solely in working and taking action among people.
Because Shakyamuni loved people, many gathered around him,
drawn by his thoroughly humane conduct. And, naturally,
the atmosphere around him was always lively and bright.
The same was true of Nichiren Daishonin. In the Daishonin's
presence, people doubtless felt free to voice the thoughts
and feelings in their innermost hearts.
The Daishonin was of course a strict mentor and teacher.
But at the same time, from his many letters, we can see
that people felt absolute assurance in confiding in him.
He knew everything about them.
In the Daishonin's presence, even adults would become as
honest and open as children. Almost without realizing it,
they would reveal their genuine, unaffected selves, their
Toki Jonin was one such follower. From the Daishonin's
letters to him, we can infer that Toki Jonin must have been
very concerned about his mother. And the Daishonin respected
and treasured his feelings. He gave him the support and
encouragement he needed to conduct himself with true filial
devotion toward his mother.
In the Gosho that we are studying this time, (2) we can
sense the Daishonin's immense spirit of love and humanity.
I have received one unlined kimono.
Among the Buddha's disciples there was one monk who, when
the Buddha was in a place where there was famine and was
restricted in his activities because of the shortages, sold
his clerical robes and gave the money that he received to
The Buddha asked him where the money had come from. So
the monk told him how he had acquired it, relating everything
exactly as it had happened.
The Buddha then declined the offering, saying: "The
surplice is the Dharma robe for the enlightenment of all
Buddhas over the three existences. I do not have the power
to requite such an offering." So the monk asked, "Then
what should I do with the money that I received for my surplice?"
In response, the Buddha asked him, "Do you have a dear
mother?" When the monk replied that he did, the Buddha
told him, "You ought to offer this money from the surplice
to your mother." The monk then said to Shakyamuni:
"The Buddha is the most venerable being in the threefold
world. He is the eye of all living beings. Even if it were
a robe broad enough to wrap in itself the entire universe,
or a surplice large enough to cover the earth, the Buddha
is certainly worthy of such an offering My mother is as
ignorant as a cow and more thoughtless than a sheep. How
could she possibly be worthy of the offering of a surplice?"
The Buddha replied: "Who gave birth to you? Your mother
did. Doesn't she therefore fully deserve to receive the
offering of this surplice?" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 968)
This episode vividly conveys the humanism of Buddhism.
It portrays the spirit of a disciple to want to assist his
mentor, and the concern of the mentor for the disciple and
also his mother. It is a beautiful story.
It may be that, by rights, a monk was not supposed to sell
his clerical robes under any circumstance. Still, the disciple
took this action to support his mentor, even if it meant
being reprimanded. While fully appreciating the spirit of
his disciple, the Buddha tells him in effect: "I am
not worthy to receive this precious offering. And, there
is someone more suitable than I: That is your mother.
"Is there anyone more noble than your mother? You
are carrying out Buddhist practice and will eventually become
a Buddha. Therefore, to treasure the mother who gave birth
to you is itself Buddhism." Buddhism teaches such true
Elsewhere, the Daishonin tells another major disciple,
One's debt to one's father is so great as to make Mount
Sumeru appear small . One's debt to one's mother is so profound
as to make even the ocean seem shallow. You should set your
mind on repaying your debt of gratitude to your father and
mother. (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1527)
I am reminded here of second Soka Gakkai President Josei
Toda' s "Precepts for Youth." Mr. Toda cried out
to youth: "Stand tall! Join the battle with me!":
We must fight with love for the people. Today, there are
many youth who don't even love their parents, so how can
they love others? Our struggle is for human revolution ---
to surmount our lack of compassion and develop in ourselves
the mercy of the Buddha. (3)
President Toda was very strict with young people disrespectful
toward their parents.
Shakyamuni cherished the image he had of his mother (who
is said to have died when he was seven days old) and treasured
his adoptive mother. The Daishonin also treasured his mother,
and successfully prayed for her life to be extended when
she was ill.
In the above passage, the mentor teaches a disciple who
thinks that his mother is ignorant and worthless that this
is far from the case.
The most respectable and noble person in the world is one
with the greatest love for the people. A truly wise person
is not someone who orders others to treat him or her deferentially,
but someone who teaches through words and actions that each
person, including his or her mother, is vitally important.
The disciple here, suddenly grasping the immense warmth
of his mentor's spirit must have felt he was gazing upon
the sun's brilliance.
The heart of one person moves another's. A Greek philosopher
teaches that hatred of language and ideas leads to hatred
of humanity. (4) If your heart is closed, then the doors
to other people's hearts will also shut tight. On the other
hand, someone who makes all those around him or her into
allies, bathing them in the sunlight of spring, as it were,
will be treasured by all.
A Buddhist's way of life has to embody such clear and natural
reasoning. The Buddha transmits the heart's sunlight universally
to all beings.
Even when we strive to treat everyone with love and compassion,
though --- since we are ordinary people --- it is only natural
that we will have likes and dislikes. There is no need for
us to struggle to make ourselves fond of people we find
disagreeable. In our work as emissaries of the Buddha, however,
we must not let our thoughts or actions be colored by any
discrimination or favoritism.
Through offering sincere prayer and conducting earnest
dialogue, all of you are working to open the lives of people
whose hearts are closed tight like clams. Your actions are
Why do you suppose the Daishonin brings up this episode
to Toki Jonin, devoting two thirds of this short letter
to it? The reason becomes clear as we keep reading.
In a Life Dedicated to Kosen-rufu, No Effort Is Wasted
This unlined kimono was a present given by a merciful mother,
more than 90 years old, to you, her beloved son [Toki Jonin].
She must have strained her eyes and expended her life to
As the son, you must have sent it to me knowing that it
would be difficult for you to repay the debt for this robe.
And it will also be difficult for me, Nichiren, to repay
it. Even so, I do not think it would be proper for me to
That's because if I wear this robe and report these matters
in detail before the god of the sun, then they will without
fail be known to Taishaku, Bonten and all the Buddhist gods.
It is but one robe, but heavenly deities throughout the
universe will surely acknowledge your meritorious conduct.
Like dew joining the ocean, or soil being added to the earth,
your good fortune will not be lost in lifetime after lifetime,
nor decay in world after world.
With my deep respect,
The fifth day of the second month
(Gosho Zenshu, p. 968)
When the Daishonin saw the robe that Lord Toki had sent,
he must have fondly recalled the face of his follower's
mother. The Daishonin is said to have spent time at Toki
Jonin's manor after the Matsubagayatsu Persecution in 1260.
Probably he had grown close to Lord Toki's mother.
More than 10 years had passed since then. In those days,
a person more than 90 years old would have been extremely
long-lived. The Daishonin must have been concerned about
how difficult needlework would have been for Toki Jonin's
mother. His sentiments are expressed in the sentence, "She
must have strained her eyes and expended her life to make
Toki Jonin was 60 at the time. But even after reaching
an advanced age, the parent, as they say, is still the parent
and the child is still the child. Toki Jonin no doubt wondered
how he could reply to his mother's warm consideration.
"That's it," he probably thought, "I'll
offer the robe to the Daishonin. Both he and my mother will
be pleased." While there is no way of knowing whether
this was his intent, the unlined kimono was delivered to
The Daishonin's sense of gratitude may well have been accompanied
by some hesitance. He couldn't nonchalantly accept an item
that was invested with such profound love. The tale that
the Daishonin relates in this reply sheds light on his feelings.
Although he was reluctant to accept the garment? to return
it would amount to rejecting the sincere spirit with which
it had been offered. Under the circumstances, the Daishonin
acknowledges Toki Jonin's sincerity and conveys the greatest
thanks and encouragement to the latter's mother.
The Daishonin says that by his wearing this robe, Bonten,
Taishaku and all heavenly deities would know the ardent
spirit of mother and son in making the offering. He says
that the Buddhist gods in the 10 directions would definitely
protect them. And he concludes the letter telling them that
their benefit in making such an offering would illuminate
their lives in lifetime after lifetime, eternally.
What joy the mother and son must have felt on receiving
this response! Toki Jonin, in his joy at conducting himself
in the most dutiful manner toward his mother, must have
felt the deepest gratitude to the Daishonin.
"What matters is one's heart" (The Major Writings
of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 5, p. 289). Here we see a beautiful
exchange take place: a mother who undertakes painstaking
effort out of concern for her son; a disciple who is motivated
by concern for his mother and his mentor; and the mentor
who, out of his concern for the mother and son, does his
utmost to bring out the best in all their efforts. This
is the world of Buddhism.
The year after this letter was sent, in February 1276,
Toki Jonin's mother passed away with him, his wife and other
relatives watching over her. According to one account, she
was 93 when she died.
Toki Jonin held an important position in society [as a
vassal of Lord Chiba, governor of Shimosa Province (present-day
Chiba Prefecture), with a rank comparable to that of a steward],
and was also a central figure among the Daishonin's followers.
Toki Jonin's wife also looked after his mother attentively.
One of his mother's grandchildren struggled for kosen-rufu
at the Daishonin's side, and later two of her grandchildren
were active under Nikko Shonin. Embraced by the mercy of
the original Buddha, the life of Toki Jonin's mother was
doubtless one of great satisfaction and victory. It was
the drama of a woman who, though ordinary and without any
special distinction, lived earnestly and realized victory.
Buddhism exists to help such valiant individuals become
When we base our lives on the great wish for kosen-rufu,
regarding each effort as "like dew entering the ocean,
or soil being added to the earth," then our petty lesser
self gives way to the greater self that shines with eternal
victory. Our every effort turns into an ocean of benefit,
an earth of good fortune.
I hope each of you will be confident that, just as Nichiren
Daishonin promises, you have already entered this path.
And that, therefore, you will treasure your heart of faith.
The "Letter to Lord Toki," while short, is pervaded
with warmth. In it, we glimpse warm heart-to-heart exchange
between the Daishonin and his followers. Because of their
bond with the Daishonin and sense of inner security that
this brought, his followers could endure ordeals and struggle
with all their might for kosen-rufu.
"How can I help others experience joy? How can I help
them practice in high spirits and really exert themselves?"
It goes without saying that someone who gives no thought
to these questions and does not respond to members' needs
is not qualified to be a leader in the humane world of Buddhism.
Our practice has to be based on strong prayer for the happiness
of each person. Donning Toki Jonin's robe, which was imbued
with sincerity, the Daishonin, too, prayed to the Buddhist
When we sincerely pray, without fail the Buddha wisdom
to know how to encourage others will well forth. Our movement
of kosen-rufu is to expand this world of encouragement.
(This concludes President Ikeda's lecture
on "Letter to Lord Toki.")
1. Vinaya-pitaka: one section of the tripitaka, a collection
of treatises on discipline.
2. "Toki Dono Gohenji" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 968),
written in February 1275 when the Daishonin was 54.
3. Toda Josei Zenshu (Collected Works of Josei Toda),
vol. 1, pp. 59-60.
4. Plato, "Phaedo" in the Portable Plato, trans.
Benjamin Jowett, ed. Scott Buchanan (New York: Viking
Press, 1973), p. 238.
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