SGI-USA Study Curriculum
Learning from the Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin
by SGI President Ikeda
Lecture 14 - A Letter of Condolence
The Buddha Shares Others' Sufferings
A strong person is gentle. "Birds cry, but never shed
tears. I, Nichiren, do not cry, but my tears flow ceaselessly"
(The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin vol. 1, p. 94).
Nichiren Daishonin wrote these famous words while in exile
on Sado Island. He had great and abounding compassion. He
was the perfect embodiment of profound feeling and towering
Dostoevsky writes, "Great ideas spring not so much
from noble intelligence as from noble feeling." (1)
Buddhism is a religion of compassion and wisdom --- these
are inseparable. A person of true wisdom has unparalleled
compassion. A person of deep compassion embodies the wisdom
The Japanese word for compassion, jihi includes the meaning
of suffering together or crying out in sympathy with others.
The Buddha first of all shares others' sufferings.
Take the case of a mother whose child has died, who is
sitting in a daze on the roadside. Probably no words can
heal her heart. And passers-by, unable to do anything, will
have no choice but to walk briskly past. Occasionally, a
cleric may stop before her and try to instruct her with
a look of affected enlightenment. But no one can truly share
No matter how science advances, even though it can send
a human being into outerspace, it cannot assuage a mother's
sorrow. Maybe only the words of a woman who has been in
the same situation can reach her.
What would the Buddha do in such an instance? He would
probably sit down at the mother's side. And he might simply
continue sitting there, not saying a word. Even if no words
were exchanged, the mother would sense the warm reverberations
of the Buddha's concern. She would feel the pulse of the
Buddha's life. Eventually, she would lift up her face and
before her eyes would be the face of the Buddha who understands
all her sorrows. The Buddha would nod and the mother would
nod in reply.
Even without words, there is no greater encouragement than
heart-to-heart exchange. On the other hand, even if a million
words are spoken, nothing will be communicated in the absence
of heartfelt exchange.
At length the Buddha would stand up, and the mother, as
though following his example, would probably also rise.
Then, together, they would advance forward one step, then
another --- their way gently illuminated by the light of
the moon. The Buddha would tirelessly offer encouragement,
until the mother could lift her head high, until she could
determine to lead a life of great value for her deceased
The Buddha is sometimes gentle, sometimes stern, sometimes
offering bouquets of words and sometimes taking action with
those suffering. To the mother, the Buddha is a true ally,
for he empathizes with her sufferings and brings her the
greatest peace of mind. For this reason, the Buddha's words
penetrate her life.
At its roots, compassion is the spirit to suffer alongside
and pray with those suffering. The Daishonin possessed such
a spirit. He joined Ueno-ama Gozen, the mother of Nanjo
Tokimitsu (Lord Ueno), (2) in her grief and tears when her
youngest son, Shichiro Goro, passed away at the tender age
of 16. He continued to offer her encouragement until she
regained the will to go on living.
During the first year or so after Shichiro Goro's death,
the Daishonin sent approximately 10 letters to the Nanjo
family. We can imagine how his deep concern must have warmed
their grieving hearts.
Starting with this installment, we will begin studying
a number of letters sent to the Nanjo family by the Daishonin
--- and the human drama that they tell.
"Letter to a Bereaved Family"
On the matter of the death of Nanjo Shichiro Goro, all
people, once born, are certain to die. This is known to
all people, both the wise and the foolish, both those of
high and low standing. Therefore, when that time comes,
one should not lament or be alarmed as though learning this
for the first time. I have borne this in mind myself and
also taught it to others. But since the time has actually
arrived, I cannot help wondering even now whether this [Shichiro
Goro's death] is a dream or fantasy. (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1567)
Just as there is the drama of joy upon the birth of a child,
there is the drama of grief upon the death of a loved one.
In the fall of 1280, these two dramas played out one after
the other in the Nanjo family.
The drama of joy was the birth of a son. In a letter dated
Aug. 26 that year, the Daishonin expresses his delight to
Nanjo Tokimitsu and his wife on their being blessed with
a son in addition to their infant daughter. The Daishonin
named the boy Hiwaka Gozen (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1566).
It must have been deeply moving for the couple that the
name he selected contained the Chinese character for sun
(Jpn hi), which forms part of the Daishonin's name, Nichiren
(i.e., the same character is also pronounced nichi). This
was one year after the Atsuhara Persecution, (4) and they
must have felt that the weariness had in an instant been
swept away. Above all, Tokimitsu's mother, Ueno-ama Gozen,
was deeply moved by the birth of a grandson who would succeed
as head of the family and by the Daishonin's congratulatory
But only 10 days later, on Sept. 5, the Nanjo household
was visited by misfortune. Tokimitsu's youngest brother.
Shichiro Goro, died suddenly. He was only 16. While the
cause of his death is unknown. it must have been very sudden
and unexpected. Their celebration of the birth of a son
and grandson was overturned, replaced by sorrow at Shichiro
Goro's death. The family's grief knew no bounds.
The Daishonin, too, was surprised by this turn of events.
As soon as the messenger bearing news of Shichiro Goro's
death arrived, the Daishonin immediately wrote a reply to
Tokimitsu, the "Letter of Condolence" which we
are studying this time, dated Sept. 6.
The impermanence of life is inescapable. In Buddhism, this
is a fundamental premise about the nature of existence.
Why should death come as a shock? From the standpoint of
life's eternity, it could be said that birth and death are
occurrences of minuscule significance. That is all well
and good in theory, but the human heart cannot fully come
to terms with such events through theory alone.
The Daishonin was thoroughly human, a most humane person.
Hearing the unexpected report, he was in disbelief. He wondered
whether it was "a dream or fantasy." Further on,
he indicates that he is in such turmoil he doesn't feel
up to continuing to write. These words must have expressed
the feelings of the bereaved family members as well.
In the letter "Sad News of Lord Goro's Death,"
(5) which is thought to have been written to Nanjo Tokimitsu
about a week later, the Daishonin says:
Until now I have repeatedly thought to myself that the
matter of Nanjo Shichiro Goro's death must have been a dream
or a fantasy, or certainly untrue, but it is again mentioned
in your letter. And so, for the first time, I have become
convinced of its truth. (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1566)
The Daishonin says that he has had a hard time accepting
Shichiro Goro's death. What compassion the original Buddha
shows! He mourns the death of this young follower, just
as a parent would.
The Daishonin inscribed his immense compassion for all
humankind in the Gohonzon. He says: "Suffer what there
is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both
suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens" (MW-1,
161). Just as he says, in both times of joy and times of
sadness, everything will turn out for the best if we continue
Someone may expound a fine teaching while abiding in a
place of comfort and safety --- but that is not Buddhism.
A genuine Buddha lives among the people, grieves and suffers
with them and shares their hopes and laughter. That's how
the original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, conducted himself.
Above all, the Daishonin did not blithely brandish theories
of karma. Making condescending pronouncements to suffering
people like, "That's just your karma," will only
add to their misery. Someone battling destiny feels like
there is a gale raging through his or her heart. When we
encounter people in such a state, we should stand with them
in the rain, become sopping wet with them and work with
them to find a way out of the storm. In the end, that's
probably all another human being can do.
Even if the attempt is not totally successful, through
making this effort we forge a bond between ourselves and
the other person. This is not mere sympathy or sentimentality.
The effort to regard someone else's suffering as your own
and thus offer prayer for its resolution creates a life-to-life
bond. Through this bond one person touches another's life.
'Eternal Family' of the Mystic Law
Above all, how your mother (Ueno-ama Gozen) must be grieving.
She was preceded in death both by her parents and siblings,
and she was bereaved of her beloved husband. Still, her
many children must have been a comfort to her.
(Shichiro Goro] was a charming child and, moreover, a boy.
He was very handsome and brave and had a trustworthy look.
He made others feel refreshed. His having died so young,
however, while defying reason, is like the buds of a flower
being withered by the wind, or the full moon suddenly waning.
It doesn't seem real to me [that he has died], and so I
do not feel inclined to continue. I will write you again.
With my deep respect
The sixth day of the ninth month of 1280
Postscript: When I met him on June 15, he struck me as
a lad of splendid spirit and as very gallant. I am most
sad that I will not be able to see him again.
Still, since he believed deeply in Shakyamuni Buddha and
the Lotus Sutra, in his last moment he was splendidly composed.
He certainly went to the pure land of Eagle Peak where his
father dwells. They must have had a joyful reunion. How
wonderful! How wonderful! (Gosho Zenshu, pp. 1567-68)
Ueno-ama Gozen had experienced a great deal of suffering.
Her husband, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro, died in 1265. He was still
in the prime of his life and ought to have had many years
ahead of him. He was survived by five sons and four daughters,
all still young when he died; Tokimitsu, the second son,
was only 7. Shichiro Goro, the youngest child and fifth
son, was still in his mother's womb when his father died.
In another Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin writes to Ueno-ama
When your husband, the late Lord Ueno, preceded you in
death, he was still in the prime of life and your grief
on that occasion was no shallow matter. Had you not been
pregnant with his child. I know you would have followed
him through fire and water. Yet when this son was safely
born, you felt that it would be unthinkable to entrust his
upbringing to another so that you could put an end to your
life. Thus you encouraged yourself and spent the following
fourteen or fifteen years raising your children. (MW-7,
The child to whom he refers is Shichiro Goro, who had now
suddenly died. The mother looked forward to the growth of
Tokimitsu and Shichiro Goro with high hopes. Shichiro Goro
was handsome, intelligent and well-liked by others. It also
appears that he was very dutiful toward his mother.
It seems as though even the Daishonin was at a loss as
to how to encourage the mother. He conveys his feelings
most openly and candidly. The mother, her heart made sensitive
by sadness, must have keenly felt the Daishonin's kindness,
which pervades each line of the condolence letter he sent
to the Nanjo family via Nanjo Tokimitsu. How the Daishonin's
warmth must have consoled her grief-stricken heart! Simply
having someone who understands everything can give us the
strength to go on living.
In the postscript, the Daishonin reiterates his regret
at the death of this youth who had such a promising future.
When Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro died, the Daishonin wrote: "While
he was in this world he was a living Buddha, and now, he
is a Buddha in death. His Buddhahood transcends both life
and death" (MW-2 [2nd ed.], 207).
The Daishonin teaches that someone who embraces the Mystic
Law, even though their life may be short, is a Buddha in
both life and death In the postscript to "A Letter
of Condolence," the Daishonin says that without doubt
Shichiro Goro has been reunited with his father at Eagle
In another letter, he writes to Ueno-ama Gozen:
You must feel that if only he [your son Shichiro Goro]
had left word where you could go to meet him, then without
wings, you would soar to the heavens, or without a boat,
you would cross over to China. If you heard that he was
in the bowels of the earth, then how could you fail to dig
through the earth?
And yet there is a way to meet him readily. With Shakyamuni
Buddha as your guide, you can go to meet him in the pure
land of Eagle Peak. (MW-7, 262)
The Daishonin tells Ueno-ama Gozen that she can definitely
meet her son at Eagle Peak. Time and again, the Daishonin
offers her warm encouragement.
It is extremely difficult to understand the impact that
losing a child has on a mother. Even now, I cannot forget
how my mother looked when she received official notification
that my eldest brother had died in the war. She turned away,
her shoulders went limp and her body seemed fraught with
grief. My mother did not cry in front of us, but I had the
clear sense that from that day she aged considerably.
Such is the cruelty of war. I will fight with my life to
oppose war, which plunges mothers the world over into sorrow
and grief. For the happiness of all mothers and children,
for the creation of a society where they can all look up
at blue skies with smiling faces --- toward this end we
are striving to develop a great undercurrent of compassion
in society. This is the great objective of our movement.
(This concludes President Ikeda's lecture
on "A Letter of Condolence.")
1. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Eternal Husband, trans. Constance
Garnett (London: William Heineman, l 917), p. 105.
2. Ueno is the name of a village near Mount Fuji of which
Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro, and later his son Nanjo Tokimitsu,
was steward. Lord Ueno refers to the head of the family,
at the time of this writing, Nanjo Tokimitsu.
3. "Ueno Dono Gohenji" (Gosho Zenshu, pp. 1567-68),
written in September 1280 when the Daishonin was 59. It
is addressed to Nanjo Tokimitsu (Lord Ueno).
4. Atsuhara Persecution: A series of threats and acts
of violence against followers of Nichiren Daishonin in
Atsuhara Village near Ueno, beginning in 1278. The persecution
culminated in 1279 when three farmers were executed for
refusing to abandon their faith. Nanjo Tokimitsu used
his influence to protect believers during this time, sheltering
some in his home and negotiating for the release of others
who had been imprisoned. The government punished him for
his role by levying severe taxes on his estate, forcing
him to live in poverty.
5. "Nanjo Dono Gohenji."
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