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Establishing the Four Bodhisattvas as the Object of Worship

I have received a white robe, a gray priest’s robe, a surplice of the same color and one kan1 of coins. I have no words to adequately express my gratitude for your long-standing devotion. Someday I want to see you again and say all that I have to say.

In your letter you asked: "You have told me that an object of worship should be made of Lord Shakyamuni of the essential teaching, flanked by the four Bodhisattvas of the Earth who have attended him since he attained enlightenment in the remote past. But when is such an object of worship to be established?"

To reply, more than two thousand years have already passed since the Buddha’s death. During this period, Buddhism has spread throughout the entire world, especially in India, China and Japan, to such an extent that monks are as numerous as rice and hemp plants and doctrines as plentiful as bamboo and reeds. However, not a single temple in the three countries has ever made an object of worship of Lord Shakyamuni of the essential teaching flanked by the bodhisattvas who are his original disciples. Such a thing has never been heard of before. Those who built the tens of thousands of temples in Japan did not know that they should have made an object of worship of Lord Shakyamuni flanked by the four bodhisattvas. Even though Prince Shotoku2 founded Shitenno-ji, the first Buddhist temple in Japan, he established as its object of worship a statue of Amida Buddha, flanked by bodhisattvas such as Kannon, and also made images of the Four Heavenly Kings. The Great Teacher Dengyo built Enryaku-ji3 temple, but he enshrined an image of Yakushi Buddha of the eastern realm in the main hall as the object of worship. He made no object of worship of Lord Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment in the remote past and the attendants who have since been with him. I have never heard of such an object of worship in any of the seven major temples in Nara,4 let alone in the temples of the countryside.

Having had doubts about the matter, I consulted the passages of the Lotus Sutra, and they reveal why this object of worship has never before appeared. The sutra clearly states that it should not be established before the predicted age of conflict in the Latter Day of the Law.5 Those Buddhist scholars and teachers6 who appeared in this world during the Former and Middle Days of the Law did not establish this object of worship because they honored the Buddha’s prohibition. Had an object of worship of Lord Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment countless aeons before and his attendants ever been made during the Former and Middle Days, it would have been like the sun appearing at night or the moon shining by day. Because Bodhisattva Jogyo will establish this object of worship in the first five hundred years of the Latter Day, those four ranks of scholars and teachers who appeared during the Former and Middle Days did not even describe it in words. Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu knew of it in their hearts but did not speak to others about it. The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai Chih-che7 also knew of it, but, as he was a bodhisattva of the theoretical teaching,8 though he taught it in part, he did not expound its true meaning. He taught it indistinctly, like the cry of a cuckoo which one hears just before waking from a dream. Other Buddhist teachers did not say so much as a single word about it. For at Eagle Peak, Shakyamuni Buddha strictly prohibited those scholars and teachers who were bodhisattvas of the theoretical teaching, and who would appear during the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days, from disclosing even indirectly prior to the Latter Day anything about Lord Shakyamuni of the essential teaching who attained enlightenment in the remote past and the four Bodhisattvas of the Earth led by Jogyo who have accompanied him ever since.

Now that we have entered the Latter Day, an object of worship should be made of the true Buddha flanked by his original attendants, since this is the most appropriate time according to the Buddha’s golden words. Because this age corresponds to the predicted time, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will soon appear and establish an object of worship of the four bodhisattvas. Now is truly the proper time. That is why the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai longed for this age, saying, "In the fifth five hundred years, the Mystic Way shall spread and benefit mankind far into the future,"9 and why the Great Teacher Dengyo yearned for this time, saying, "The Former and Middle Days are almost over, and the Latter Day is near at hand. Now indeed is the time when the One Vehicle expounded in the Lotus Sutra will prove how perfectly it fits the capacities of all people."10

From a mundane view, I, Nichiren, am the poorest person in Japan, but in light of Buddhism, I am the wealthiest person in the world. When I consider that this is all because the time is right, I am overwhelmed with joy and cannot restrain my tears. It is impossible to repay my debt of gratitude to Lord Shakyamuni. I think even the Buddha’s twenty-four successors are less fortunate than I; perhaps even the rewards of the Great Teachers T’ien-t’ai Chih-che and Dengyo do not equal mine. That is because now is the right time to establish the object of worship of the four bodhisattvas.

Question: Have you any passages of proof that the four bodhisattvas should be established as an object of worship?

Answer: The Yujutsu chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads in part: "[Among these bodhisattvas] are four who led the entire multitude. The first is called Jogyo; the second, Muhengyo; the third, Jyogyo; and the fourth, Anryugyo."

Question: Are there any passages from the sutras which limit the establishment of this object of worship to the fifth five hundred years?

Answer: The Yakuo chapter reads in part: "In the fifth five hundred years after my death, accomplish worldwide kosen-rufu and never allow its flow to cease."

You also mentioned in your letter that the people connected with Ota Jomyo11 are apparently saying that the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra can in no way lead to enlightenment [and should therefore be discarded]. They are making a serious mistake. Remember this about the theoretical and essential teachings of the Lotus Sutra: which is shallow and which profound, which superior and which inferior, which lenient and which severe, and which subordinate and which primary must be judged in accordance with the time and the people’s capacity. The propagation of the Buddha’s lifetime teachings is divided into three periods,12 and so are the capacities of the people.

In the first five hundred years of the Former Day following the Buddha’s death, only Hinayana Buddhism spreads, while in the next five hundred years, provisional Mahayana Buddhism is propagated. The thousand years of the Middle Day see the rise of the theoretical teaching. In the beginning of the Latter Day, the essential teaching alone spreads, but even so, the theoretical teaching should not be discarded. Nowhere in the entire Lotus Sutra do we find a passage suggesting that we should discard the first fourteen chapters [which comprise the theoretical teaching]. When one distinguishes between the theoretical and essential teachings of the Lotus Sutra on the basis of the threefold classification of the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings, the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings are to spread in the Former Day, the theoretical teaching in the Middle Day, and the Latter Day is the time to propagate the essential teaching. In this time the essential teaching is primary, while the theoretical teaching is subordinate. However, those who therefore discard the latter, saying it is not the way to enlightenment, and believe only in the former, have not yet learned the teaching of Nichiren’s true intention. Theirs is a completely distorted view.

This doctrine concerning the theoretical and essential teachings is not my own [but was expounded by the Buddha]. Those who would distort it can only be possessed by devils, and will topple others along with themselves into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering. How foolish they are! Teach others clearly as I have taught you these many years. Those who call themselves my disciples and practice the Lotus Sutra should all practice as I do. If they do so, Shakyamuni, Taho and all the Buddhas of the ten directions as well as the Ten Goddesses will protect them. Yet for all that [some people around Ota Jomyo distort the teaching.] I cannot fathom their minds.

Priest Nichigyo’s13 death was indeed pitiful. I recited the Lotus Sutra and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for him, sincerely praying to Shakyamuni, Taho and all the Buddhas of the ten directions to receive him on Eagle Peak. I have not yet recovered from my illness, so I have written only briefly. I will write to you again.

With my deep respect,

The seventeenth day of the fifth month in the second year of Koan (1279)


  1. Kan: See P. T, n. 1.
  2. Shatoku: See p. im, n. 83. Prince Shatoku enshrined at the main hall of Shitenno-ji temple the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings (Jap Shitermo), since he had prayed to them for victory over the anti-Buddhist faction at court.Besides the Four Heavenly Kings, Shitenno-ji now houses the images of Bodhisattvas Karmon and Seishi, as well as a sixteen-foot golden statue of Amida Buddha.
  3. Enryaku-ji: The head temple of the Tendai sect on Mt. Hiei, located to the northeast of Kyoto. It was founded by Dengyo in 788 and named Enryaku-ji in 823 by Emperor Saga. This temple prospere for centuries as a major center of Japanese Buddhism.
  4. Seven major temples in Nara: See p. 87, n. 40.
  5. Predicted age of conflict: The last of the five five-hundred-years after Shakyamuni Buddha's death. In the Daijuku Sutra, the Buddha says "Disputes will arise among the adherents to my teachings, a Pure Law will become obscured and lost." The age of conflict corresponds to the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law.
  6. Four ranks of scholars and teachers: Buddhists who embraced and propagated Buddhism after Shakyamuni's death, as well as those whom he can rely upon. They are classified into four ranks according to the level of their understanding. They are explained in the Nirvana and other sutras.
  7. Chih-che: See p. 98, n. 71.
  8. Bodhisattva of the theoretical teaching: See p. 94, n. 64. T'ien-t'ai was said to be a reincarnation of Bodhisattva Yakuo.
  9. Hokke Mongu Vol. I.
  10. Shugo N I Sho.
  11. Ota Jomyo: See P. 273, n. i.
  12. Three periods: The Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law. Three consecutive stages into which the time following a Buddha's death is divided.
  13. Nichigyo: Sammi-bo Nichigyo See p. 209, n. 15.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. 3, page 293.

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