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Curing Karmic Disease

I see from your letter that you have been stricken with a painful affliction. Knowing you are in agony grieves me, but, on the other hand, it is cause for delight. The Vimilakirti Sutra states, ‘At that time the wealthy Vimilakirti1 though to himself, ‘I am ill, lying on my bed, [yet why does the World-Honored One, man of great compassion, not take pity on me?] ... At that time the Buddha said to Monjushiri, ‘Go visit Vimilakirti and inquire after his illness.’’ The Nirvana Sutra says, "At that time, the Thus Come One ... assumed the appearance of one who is ill in body, and lay on his right side like a sick man.’ The Lotus Sutra states, ‘[The Thus Come One is well and happy,] with few ills and few worries.’2 The eight volume of the Maka shikan states, ‘Vimilakirti lay in his sickbed in Vaishali3 and utilized his illness to expound his teachings . . . The Thus Come One used his death to teach the eternity [of life] and clarified the power [of Buddhism] through sickness. It also says, ‘There are six causes of illness: (1) disharmony of the four elements;4 (2) improper eating or drinking; (3) inappropriate practice of seated meditation; (4) attack by demons; (5) the work of devils; and (6) the effects of karma."

The Nirvana Sutra reads, "There are three types of people whose illness is extremely difficult to cure. The first are those who slander the great vehicle; the second, those who commit the five cardinal sins; and the third, icchantikas or persons of incorrigible disbelief. These three categories of illness are the gravest in the world."

It also states, "One who creates evil karma in this life . . . will surely suffer [its retribution] in hell.... By making offerings to the three treasures, one can avoid falling into hell after death, but will instead suffer the retribution in this life in the form of the afflictions of the head, eye or back." The Maka shikan states, "Even if one has committed grave offenses . . . their retribution can be lessened in this life. Thus, illness occurs when evil karma is about to be dissipated." In his Daichido ron, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna says, "Question: [...Answer:] If that is so, then none of sutras from the Kegon to the Hannya haramitsu is a secret teaching, but the Lotus Sutra is secret.... [The Lotus Sutra is] like a great physician who changes poison into medicine." T’ien-t’ai explained the quotation further, saying, "This can be likened to a skilled physician who changes poison into medicine.... That persons of the two vehicles were given the prophecy of their enlightenment in this sutra means that it [the sutra] changes poison into medicine. This is what the Daichido ron means when it says, ‘The various sutras are not secret teachings; only the Lotus Sutra is secret.’ " The Maka shikan says, "The Lotus Sutra can cure them [illnesses], which is why it is called myo or wonderful." Miao-lo says, "Because it can cure that which is thought to be incurable, it is called myo or wonderful."5

The Nirvana Sutra states, "King Ajatashatru of Rajagriha was wicked by nature . . . He killed his father, and thereafter, in a fit of remorse, he developed a high fever...

Because of the fever from remorse, boils broke out over his entire body. They were foul and evil-smelling, repelling all who came near. At that time his mother Vaidehi, tried to help by applying various medicines, but this only made the boils worse; there appeared to be no hope of recovery. The king said to his mother, ‘These boils have a spiritual cause and do not arise from a disharmony of the four elements. Even if people say that there is a physician who can cure them, that could not possibly be...’ Then the World-Honored One, the compassionate and merciful teacher, entered into a ‘moon-loving’6 meditation for the king’s sake. While he dwelled in the meditation, a brilliant ray of light shone forth from the Buddha. This ray of clear coolness fell upon the body of the king, and in that instant the boils were healed."

The seventh volume of the Lotus Sutra, the sutra of the great wisdom of equality, says, "Because this sutra provides good medicine for the ills of the people of Jambudvipa. If a person who has an illness is able to hear this sutra, then his illness will be wiped out and he will know neither old age nor death."

In light of the above quotations, it would seem that your illness cannot have originated anywhere outside the six causes of disease. I will set aside the first five causes for the moment. Illnesses of the sixth, which result from karma, are the most difficult to cure. They vary in severity and one cannot make any fixed pronouncements, but we know that the gravest illnesses result from the karma created by slandering the Lotus Sutra. Even Shen Nung, Huang Ti,7 Hua T’o8 and Pien Ch’ueh9 threw up their hands, and Jisui, Rusui,10 Jivaka11 and Vimalakirti likewise kept silent. Such illnesses can only be cured by the good medicine of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Lotus Sutra, as that sutra itself explains.

The Nirvana Sutra, referring to the Lotus Sutra, states, "Even the offense of slandering this correct teaching [will be eradicated] if one repents and professes faith in the correct teaching.... No teaching other than this correct teaching can save or protect one. For this reason one should take faith in the correct teaching." The Great Teacher Ching-hsi says, "The Nirvana Sutra is itself pointing to the Lotus Sutra and saying that it is the ultimate."12 He further says, "[Even if one reviles the correct teaching and falls into the evil paths, one can create causes for eventual attainment of the benefit.] It is like the case of a person who falls to the ground, but who then pushes himself up from the ground to rise to his feet again. Therefore, even though one may slander the correct teaching, one will eventually be saved from the evil paths."13

Bodhisattva Vasubandhu was originally a scholar of Hinayana Buddhism. In an effort to prevent Mahayana Buddhism from spreading throughout the five regions of India, he wrote five hundred treatises on Hinayana doctrines. He awoke to the error of his views, however, when he talked with Bodhisattva Asanga.14 Vasubandhu told Asanga that he wanted to cut out his tongue in order to eradicate the error of his former preaching. Asanga restrained him, saying, "Instead, use your tongue to praise Mahayana teachings." Then Vasubandhu immediately wrote five hundred treatises on Mahayana doctrines in order to refute Hinayana doctrines. He also vowed that he would never preach another word of Hinayana teachings for the rest of his life. In this way he eradicated his past offense and was later reborn in the heaven where Bodhisattva Miroku dwells.15

Bodhisattva Ashvaghosha, a native of eastern India, was thirteenth among the successors of the Buddha’s teachings.16 At one time Ashvaghosha had been a leader of Brahmanism. However, when he debated with the Buddhist monk Punyayashas17 over the validity of their respective teachings, he quickly realized the superiority of Buddhist teachings. Ashvaghosha was prepared to behead himself in order to pay for his past offense, saying, "I have been my own worst enemy, leading myself to hell." But Punyayashas admonished him, saying, "Do not behead yourself! Instead, use your brains and your mouth to praise Mahayana teachings." Ashvaghosha soon thereafter wrote the Daijo kishin ron or "Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana," in which he refuted all Brahman teachings as well as Hinayana teachings. This marked the beginning of the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in India.

The Great Teacher Chi-tsang18 of Chia-hsiang-ssu temple was among the most outstanding scholars in China. He was the founder of the Sanron school, and lived in Hui in Wu. Believing that none could equal him in knowledge, he raised the banner of his pride to the highest place. He challenged the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai to discuss the meaning of the passage which states: "Among the sutras I have preached, now preach, and will preach, [this Lotus Sutra is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand]." In the debate, Chi-tsang was soundly defeated, and thereupon renounced his misguided beliefs. In order to expiate his serious offense of the slander of the correct teaching and those who upheld it, he gathered more than one hundred eminent scholars and begged the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai Chih-che to lecture to them. Chi-tsang used his body as a bridge for the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai to climb onto [the preaching platform], supporting T’ien-t’ai’s feet with his head.19 Moreover, he served T’ien-t’ai for seven years, cutting firewood and drawing water for him. He ceased giving lectures of his own, dispersed his followers and, in order to purge himself of his great conceit, refrained from reciting the Lotus Sutra.20 After the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai’s death, Chi-tsang had an audience with the emperor of the Sui dynasty to pay his respects. As he was leaving, he clutched His Majesty’s knees and tearfully bade him farewell. Sometime later Chi-tsang looked into an old mirror and, seeing his reflection, condemned himself for his past errors. All these many acts of penitence were done to eradicate his evil karma.

The Lotus, the wonderful sutra of the single vehicle, is the golden words of the three groups of Buddhas.21 Likened to a bright jewel, it ranks highest among all the sutras which "I have preached, now preach, and will preach." There are passages in the Lotus Sutra which say, "Among the sutras, it [the Lotus Sutra] holds the highest place," and "[. . . among those sutras] the Lotus is the foremost!’’ The Great Teacher Dengyo says that [the Hokke (Lotus) sect is] the very one founded by Shakyamuni Buddha himself.22

I have made a thorough study of the various Shingon sutras such as the Dainichi, Kongocho and Soshitsuji, but have found nothing written in them to compare with the above passages of the Lotus Sutra. The claim [that these sutras are superior to the Lotus Sutra] appears to be no more than the prejudiced view held by Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih, Pu-k’ung, Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho. Now, more than ever, we realize that it is the real intent of the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Dainichi to place the Lotus Sutra above all other sutras. When the three great teachers Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho, the founders of the Shingon teachings in Japan, went to China during the T’ang dynasty, they inherited from Hui-kuo23 and Fa-ch’uan24 the deceptions and delusions originally held by the three Tripitaka masters Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih and Pu-k’ung. Returning to Japan, they propagated the Lotus Sutra and the Shingon teachings in such a way as to make it seem that the dim light of fireflies -- the Shingon mandalas of the two realms25 -- outshone the brilliant moon of the Lotus Sutra, the supreme vehicle which surpasses all other sutras of the past, present and future. Not only that, they slandered the Lotus Sutra, saying that it was a work of "childish theory" and belonged to "the region of darkness." However, these comments were like a dagger turned against those who made them. It is not the Lotus Sutra but the Dainichi Sutra that is filled with childish theory and is in the region of darkness. The founders of the Shingon teachings were warped, to begin with. So how could their disciples and followers be upright! Contamination at the source of a river will pollute its entire length. Because of this, the Land of the Sun has had a long, dark night and the Sun Tree is now about to be blighted by an alien frost.

Although you were not in the mainstream of Shingon, you were still a retainer of a patron of that teaching. You lived for many years in a house whose family was dedicated to an erroneous doctrine, and month after month your mind was infected by the teachers of error. Though huge mountains may crumble and the great seas dry up, this offense of yours will not easily pass away. However, because of the influence of past karmic bonds and the mercy that the Buddha bestows on you in this lifetime, you have met me, a priest of humble learning, although you least expected it, and have determined to reform your ways. Therefore you will be spared worse suffering in the future, though at the moment your offense has brought on these boils from which you suffer.

King Ajatashatru suffered from severe boils because he committed the five cardinal sins and slandered the correct teaching. But his boils disappeared instantly when the light produced by the Buddha’s "moon-loving" meditation illuminated his body. And, though it had been predicted that the king had only twenty-one days left to live, his life span was extended forty years. In deep appreciation, he earnestly requested one thousand arhats to record the golden words of the Buddha’s lifetime,26 thus spreading the Buddha’s teachings into the ages of the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law.

Your boils have resulted from only one offense -- slandering the correct teaching. The beneficent power of the Mystic Law you now embrace is superior to that of the "moon-loving" meditation. There is no reason why your boils cannot be healed and your life span extended. If these words of mine do not prove to be true, you should shout, "The Buddha, the eye of the entire world, is a great liar, and the Lotus, the wonderful sutra of the single vehicle, is a scripture full of untrue flourishes! The World-Honored One should give me proof if he cares about his good name! All the sages and worthies should come to protect me if they do not want to be untrue to their vows!"

A letter cannot convey all that one would like to say, and words cannot fully express what is in the heart. The rest will have to wait until the next time we meet.

With my deep respect,

The third day of the eleventh month

Reply to Ota Nyudo


  1. Vimalakirti: See p. 89, footnote 63.
  2. Lotus Sutra, chap. 15. This is the answer to a question addressed to Shakyamuni Buddha by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth: "Is the World-Honored One in comfort, with few ailments and few troubles?"
  3. Vaishali: One of the sixteen major countries in ancient India. The Licchavi tribe, to which Vimalakirti belonged, lived here. Vaishali was also one of the VajJi Allied Nations. Shakyamuni Buddha often visited Vaishah to preach Buddhism. After the Buddha's passing, the second assembly for compiling the Buddha's teachings was held there.
  4. Four elements: See p. 191, footnote 113. 5. Guketsu, vol. 6.
  6. Moon-loving meditation: Here the boundless compassion of the Buddha is compared to the moonlight which releases one from uneasiness and brings him peace of mind.
  7. Shen Nung and Huang Ti: Two of the Three Rulers, legendary ideal rulers of ancient China who were skilled in medical matters.
  8. Hua To: A physician of the Later Han, said to have been especially skilled in surgical operations. When acupuncture and medicine proved ineffectual, he performed surgery under anesthesia. He invented a system of physical exercise which he himself practiced. As a result, he is said to have been still vigorous even at the age of one hundred.
  9. Pien Ch'fleh: A physician of the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 B.c.) in China. In his boyhood he learned medical arts and is said to have been skilled in treating almost all kinds of diseases.
  10. Jisui and Rusui: A father and son, both excellent physicians, who are described in the Konkomya Sutra. According to that sutra, they lived countless aeons ago. At one time, an epidemic broke out and spread through their country. jisui was too old to perform medical treatment, but Rusui mastered his medical art and, in his father's place, saved the people from the epidemic.
  11. Jivaka: An Indian physician in Shakyamuni's time. Immediately after birth he is said to have seized hold of the acupuncture needle and medicine bag. He had devout faith in Buddhism and also served as a minister to King Ajatashatru.
  12. Hokke Mongu Ki.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Asanga: Elder brother of Vasubandhu. According to tradition, Vasubandhu heard that his elder brother was ill and went to visit him. Asanga explained that he had become ill with grief thinking of the suffering his younger brother would incur from slandering Mahayana, and persuaded him to renounce his faith in Hinayana. See also p. 106, footnote 95.
  15. Heaven where Bodhisattva Miroku lives: Tushita Heaven, the fourth of the six heavens in the world of desire. Miroku is described in a sutra as having been reborn in this heaven after his death.
  16. Shakyamuni's successors: See Twenty-four successors in the Glossary.
  17. Punyayasha: One of the Buddha's twenty-four successors. A native of Pataliputra in Magadha, he was entrusted with the teachings by Parshva and, transferred them to Ashvaghosha.
  18. Chi-tsang (549-623): Also called Chia-hsiang, after the name of the temple where he lived. He laid the foundation for the San-lun (Sanron) sect in sixth-century China but later became a follower of T'ien-t'ai.
  19. This means that when T'ien-t'ai mounted an elevated seat for preaching, Chi-tsang carried T'ien-t'ai on his back and lifted him up.
  20. That is, Chi-tsang felt he was not qualified to recite the Lotus Sutra. A passage from the Gosho "Requital for the Buddha's Favor" reads, ". . . he [Chi-tsang] said, 'if I were to go on standing before my disciples and lecturing on the Lotus Sutra, they might suppose that I have the ability to understand the sutra correctly, when in fact I do not.' Chi-tsang was both older and more eminent than T'ien-t'ai, and yet, in the presence of others, he deliberately put his teacher T'ien-t'ai on his back and carried him across the river."
  21. Three sages: Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha and all the other Buddhas of the ten directions.
  22. Hokke Shfiku.
  23. Hui-kuo (746-8o5): The seventh master in the lineage of esoteric (Shingon) Buddhism. He studied esoteric teachings under Pu-k'ung. When Kobo came to China from Japan, Hui-kuo transferred the doctrines of the Womb World mandala of the Dainichi and the Diamond World mandala of the Kongogawa Sutra to him.
  24. Fa-ch'ilan: A Chinese priest of the esoteric teachings. He transferred the doctrines of the esoteric teachings to Jikaku and Chisho when they journeyed to China in 838 and in 853, respectively. He wrote many treatises on the esoteric teachings.
  25. Two Shingon mandalas: See p.156, footnote 39.
  26. Reference to the first council, which began the task of compiling the Buddha's teachings. In the year when Shakyamuni died, this council was convened, with the support of King Ajatashatru, in Pippala Cave at Rajagriha in Magadha.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol 2.

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