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The Three Obstacles and Four Devils

The two men you sent have arrived here, bringing your various offerings. I also received a message from the Priest Nissho1 regarding your sincerity.

In this letter I want to advise you about what is most important for you. In the Former and Middle Days of the Law, the world did not fall into decline because sages and worthies appeared frequently and the heavenly gods protected the people. In the Latter Day of the Law, however, people have become so greedy that strife rages incessantly between sovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and younger brother, and all the more so among people who are unrelated. When such conflict occurs, the gods abandon the country and then the three calamities and seven disasters begin, until one, two, three, four, five, six or seven suns appear in the sky.2 Plants and trees wither and die, large and small rivers dry up, the earth smolders like charcoal and the sea becomes like boiling oil. Eventually flames fill the atmosphere, arising from the hell of incessant suffering and reaching the Brahma heaven. Such is the devastation that will occur when the world reaches its final dissolution.

Everyone, whether wise or foolish, considers it natural for children to obey their parents, for subjects to be loyal to their sovereign, and for disciples to follow their teacher. Recently, however, it appears that the people of our day, drunk with the wine of greed, anger and stupidity,3 make it a rule to betray their sovereign, despise their parents and scoff at their teachers. You should read again and again the previous letter4 in which I explained that one should of course obey one’s teacher, sovereign and parents, but should they commit evil, admonishing them is in fact being loyal to them.

Recently your elder brother, Uemon no Sakan, was again disowned by your father. I told your wife when she came to visit me here that he was certain to be disowned again, that I was apprehensive about how it would affect you, Hyoe no Sakan, and that she should be prepared for the worst. This time I am sure that you will give up your faith. If you do, I have not the slightest intention of reproaching you for it. Likewise, neither should you blame me, Nichiren, when you have fallen into hell. It is in no way my responsibility. It is an undeniable fact that fire can at once reduce even a thousand-year-old field of pampas grass to ashes, and that the merit one has formed over a hundred years can be destroyed with a single careless word.

Your father, Saemon no Tayu, now seems to have become the enemy of the Lotus Sutra, yet your brother, Uemon no Tayu Sakan, will now become one of its votaries.5 You, who think only of immediate affairs, will obey your father, and deluded people will therefore praise you for your filial devotion. Munemori6 obeyed his father’s tyrannous commands and was finally beheaded at Shinohara. Shigemori disobeyed his father and preceded him in death. Who was truly the filial son! If you obey your father who is an enemy of the Lotus Sutra and abandon your brother who is a votary of the one vehicle, are you then being filial! In the final analysis, what you should do is resolve to pursue the Buddha way single-mindedly just as your brother is doing. Your father is like King Myoshogon7 and you brothers are like the princes Jozo and Jogen. The age is different but the principle of the Lotus Sutra remains the same. Recently the lord of Musashi Province8 abandoned his vast territory and his many subjects in order to retire from all worldly affairs. If you ingratiate yourself with your father for the sake of a small private estate, neglect your faith and fall into the evil paths, you should not blame me, Nichiren. Yet despite this warning, I feel that this time you will discard your belief.

I state this out of pity because, though you have been faithful until now, you may still fall into the evil paths. If, by one chance out of a hundred or a thousand, you should decide to follow my teaching, then confront your father and declare: "Since you are my father, I should by rights obey you, but since you have become an enemy of the Lotus Sutra, I would be unfilial if I were to do so in this matter. Therefore, I have resolved to break with you and follow my brother. If you should disown him, be aware that you are disowning me too." You should not have the slightest fear in your heart. It is lack of courage that prevents one from attaining Buddhahood, although one may have professed faith in the Lotus Sutra many times since innumerable kalpas ago.

There is definitely something extraordinary in the ebb and flow of the tide, the rising and setting of the moon, and the way in which summer, autumn, winter and spring give way to each other. Something uncommon also occurs when an ordinary person attains Buddhahood. At such a time, the three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat. I have long been waiting to tell you this, either through my own messenger or by some other means. So I greatly appreciate your sending these messengers to me. I am sure that if you were about to abandon your faith, you would not have sent them. Thinking it may still not be too late, I am writing this letter.

To attain Buddhahood is difficult indeed, more difficult than the feat of placing a needle atop the Mount Sumeru of this world and then casting a thread from atop the Mount Sumeru of another world directly through the eye of this needle. And the feat is even more difficult if it must be done in the face of a contrary wind. The Lotus Sutra states:

A million million ten thousand kalpas, an inconceivable time will pass before at last one can hear this Lotus Sutra. A million million ten thousand kalpas, an inconceivable time will pass before the Buddhas, World-Honored Ones, preach this sutra. Therefore its practitioners, after the Buddha has entered extinction, when they hear a sutra like this should entertain no doubts or perplexities. (LS20)

This passage is extremely unusual even among the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra. From the first to the [tenth or] Hosshi chapters, human and heavenly beings, the four kinds of believers and the eight kinds of beings -- those at the stage of near-perfect enlightenment or below -- were many in number,9 but there was only one Buddha, the Thus Come One Shakyamuni. Thus, these chapters are of great import but may appear insignificant. The twelve chapters from the [eleventh,] Hoto to the [twenty-second,] Zokurui are the most important of all. This is because in the presence of Shakyamuni Buddha there appeared the treasure tower of Taho Buddha.10 It was as if the sun had risen in front of the moon. All the Buddhas in the ten directions were seated under the trees, and it seemed as though the light of a fire shone over all the grass and trees of the worlds in the ten directions. It was in this setting that the above passage was expounded.

The Nirvana Sutra states, "People have been suffering since numberless, uncountable kalpas ago. The bones each individual leaves behind in a kalpa pile up as high as Mount Vipula near Rajagriha, and the milk he sucks is equal to the water of the four seas.11 The blood one sheds surpasses the quantity of water in the four seas, and so do the tears he sheds in grief over the death of parents, brothers and sisters, wives, children and relatives. And though one used all the plants and trees growing on the earth to make four-inch tallies to count them, one could not count all the parents one has had in the past existences of life." These are the words the Buddha uttered lying in the grove of sal trees on the final day of his earthly life. You should pay the strictest attention to them. They mean that the number of parents who gave birth to you since innumerable kalpas ago could not be counted even with tallies made by cutting all the plants and trees growing on all the worlds of the ten directions into four-inch pieces.

Thus you have had a countless number of parents in your past existences, yet during that time you have never encountered the Lotus Sutra. From this we see that it is easy to have parents, but very difficult to encounter the Lotus Sutra. Now if you disobey the words of a parent, one who is easy to come by, and follow a friend of the Lotus Sutra, one who can rarely be encountered, you will not only be able to attain Buddhahood, but will also be able to lead to enlightenment the parent whom you disobeyed. For example, Prince Siddhartha12 was the eldest son of King Shuddhodana. His father wanted him to succeed to the throne and rule the nation, and actually made him crown prince, but the prince went against his father’s wishes and escaped from the palace at night. The king was angry at him for being unfilial, but after Siddhartha had attained Buddhahood, he set about first of all to convert his parents, King Shuddhodana and Lady Maya.

No parent would ever urge his son to renounce the world in order to attain Buddhahood. But however that may be, in your case, the observers of the precepts and the priests of the Nembutsu sect have egged your father on to join with them so that they may make both you and your brother abandon your faith. I am told that Priest Two-Fires13 is persuading others to chant one million Nembutsu in an attempt to cause discord among people and destroy the seeds of the Lotus Sutra. The Lord of Gokuraku-ji seemed to be an admirable person. But deluded by the Nembutsu priests, he treated me with enmity, and as a result, he and his entire clan have been all but ruined. Only the lord of Echigo Province has survived. You may think that those who believe in Priest Two-Fires are prospering, but you should see what has become of the Nagoe clan,14 who paid for the building of Zenko-ji temple, Choraku-ji temple and Daibutsu-den temple! Again, the lord of [Sagami] Province is the ruler of Japan,15 but by his conduct he has called down on himself an enemy almost as great as the land of Jambudvipa.

Even if you abandon your brother and take his place in your father’s favor, you will never prosper in ten million years. There is no knowing what will become of you even in the near future -- you may face ruin in this very lifetime. Therefore, you should resolve to give all your thought to your next existence. Having written all this, it occurs to me that this letter may be futile and I tire of going on. But it may serve as a reminder to you in the future.

With my deep respect,

The twentieth day of the eleventh month

Reply to Hyoe no Sakan


  1. Nissho (1221-1323): One of Nichiren Daishonin's six senior priest disciples. He devoted himself to propagation mainly in Kamakura, but after the Daishonin's death, he was influenced by his former ties with the Tendai sect and turned against the Daishomin's teachings and Nikko Shonin.
  2. One, two, three, four, five, six or seven suns appear in the sky: See p. io, footnote 24.
  3. Greed, anger and stupidity: Generally known as the three poisons-the fundamental evils inherent in life which give rise to human suffering.
  4. Previous letter: The "Letter to the Brothers" dated April 16, 1275.
  5. The elder brother Munenaka was of course already a votary of the Lotus Sutra in that he had been practicing the sutra according to the Daishonin's teaching. This statement implies that because Munenaka will willingly accept disinheritance and the accompanying social sanctions rather than renounce his faith, he is in effect giving his life for the Lotus Sutra.
  6. Munemori 047-1185) and Shigemori (1138-1'79): Brothers and warriors belonging to the Taira clan, which took control of the Japanese court in the mid-twelfth century and held supreme power until defeated by the Minamoto clan in i 18 5. The head of the ruling clan, Taira no Kiyomori, installed himself in the highest government position and abused his authority. His first son, Shigemori, virtuous and gentle, remonstrated with his father when he tried to confine the retired emperor Goshirakawa, while the second son, Munemori, obeyed his father and kept the emperor in prison after Shigemori died ofillness. This emperor's imprisonment triggered the attack on the Tairas by the Minamoto clan. Munemori was beheaded in i 18 s -
  7. My6sh6gon: Father ofJ6z6 and J6gen who appears in the Myoshbgonn45 (27th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. See J6z6 and J6gen in the Glossary.
  8. Hojo Yoshimasa (1243-1281): Atop official of the Kamakura government who held important posts such as advisor to the regent and provincial governor. He resigned from his position to enter the priesthood in 1277.
  9. Togaku: Fifty-first stage of bodhisattva practice. T'ien-t'ai classified the bodhisattva practice into fifty-two stages, the last being myakaku, or full enlightenment. T6gaku is thus the highest state of a bodhisattva.
  10. Tower decorated with many treasures: The Treasure Tower of Taho Buddha which appeared in the Hata (11th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The tower, representing the Buddha nature, appeared in order to signify that Shakyamuni was beginning to expound the essential teaching. See also Treasure Tower in the Glossary.
  11. Four oceans: In Buddhism, the oceans surrounding Mt. Sumeru on all four sides.
  12. Siddhartha: The given name of Shakyamuni Buddha before his renunciation of the world.
  13. Ryoko-bo (1217-1303): Gokuraku-ji Ryokan, a priest of the Ritsu sect. Ryoka of Ryoka-bo is a phonetic change of Ryokan and means "two fires." In March of 1275, a fire broke out in Gokuraku-ji temple where Ryokan was then living, and the flames spread to the palace of the shogunate. The temple and part of the palace were burnt to the ground. Sarcastically, therefore, Nichiren Daishonin called Ryokan "Ryoka"-bo (priest double-fire).
  14. Nagoe clan: The clan of Hojo Tomotoki (1193-1245), younger brother of Hojo Yasutoki, the third regent of the Kamakura government. His clan was called the Nagoe clan after their place of residence. He and his clan, who were earnest believers of the Nembutsu sect, died tragic deaths.
  15. Hojo Tokimune (1251-1284): The eighth regent of the Kamakura government. In the thirteenth century a new and ruthless race of conquerors, the Mongols, appeared upon the scene in Asia. In 1268, when the Mongol Empire sent the first of a succession of envoys to Japan to demand that it acknowledge fealty to the Mongols, Nichiren Daishonin wrote Tokimune a letter, saying that the government should discontinue its patronage ofheretical sects and take faith in true Buddhism, but his warning was not heeded. In 1274 and 1281, the Mongol forces attacked the southern parts ofJapan, sending waves of terror throughout the country. The Japanese suffered terrible losses, although a great part of the enemy fleet was destroyed by storms.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol 2.

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