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Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment

I deeply appreciate your visit here and your constant concern over the numerous persecutions which have befallen me. I have met these great persecutions as the votary of the Lotus Sutra and do not regret them in the slightest. No life could be more fortunate than mine, no matter how many times one might repeat the cycle of birth and death. [Were it not for these troubles,] I might have remained in the three or four evil paths. But now, to my great joy, I am sure to sever the cycle of the sufferings of birth and death and attain the fruit of Buddhahood.

T’ien-t’ai and Dengyo were subjected to hate and jealousy merely because they propagated the doctrine of the theoretical ‘three thousand realms in a single moment of life’ of the first half of the Lotus Sutra. In Japan this doctrine was propagated and handed down successively by Dengyo, Gishin,1 Encho,2 Jikaku and others. Among the many disciples who followed the Great Teacher Jie,3 the eighteenth chief priest of the Tendai sect, were Danna,4 Eshin,5 Soga,6 and Zen’yu.7 At that time the sect’s teachings were divided in two: the administrator of monks Danna transmitted the doctrinal studies while the supervisor of monks Eshin devoted himself to the meditative practices. Doctrinal studies are comparable to the moon and meditative practices to the sun. Doctrinal studies are shallow, while meditative practices are deep. The teachings expounded by Danna were therefore broad but shallow, while Eshin’s teachings were deep but limited.

The teaching that I, Nichiren, am now propagating may seem limited, but it is actually exceedingly profound. This is because it goes deeper than the teachings expounded by T’ien-t’ai and Dengyo. It consists of the three important matters8 contained in the Juryo chapter of the essential teaching. To practice only the seven characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo may appear limited, yet since this Law is the master of all the Buddhas of the three existences, the teacher of all the bodhisattvas in the ten directions, and the guide that enables all living beings to attain the Buddha way, its practice is incomparably profound.

The sutra states, "The wisdom of the Buddhas is infinitely profound and immeasurable."9 "The Buddhas" means every Buddha throughout the ten directions in the three existences. It represents every single Buddha and bodhisattvas of any sutra or sect whatsoever, including both the Thus Come One Dainichi of the Shingon sect and Amida of the Pure Land sect, every Buddha of the past, the future or the present, including the present Thus Come One Shakyamuni himself. The sutra refers to the wisdom of all these Buddhas.

What is meant by the ‘wisdom’ of the Buddhas! It is the entity of the true aspect, or the ten factors, of all phenomena, the entity that leads all beings to Buddhahood. What then is the entity! It is nothing other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A commentary states that the profound principle of the true aspect is the originally inherent Law of Myoho-renge-kyo.10 The true aspect of all phenomena indicates the two Buddhas Shakyamuni and Taho [seated together in the treasure tower]. Taho represents all phenomena and Shakyamuni, the true aspect. The two Buddhas also indicate the two principles of the truth as object and the wisdom to grasp it. Taho signifies the truth , as object and Shakyamuni, the wisdom. Although these are two, they are fused into one in the Buddha’s enlightenment.

These teachings are of prime importance. They mean that earthly desires are enlightenment and that the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. Even during the physical union of man and woman, when one chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, then earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. Sufferings are nirvana only when one realizes that life throughout its cycle of birth and death is neither born nor destroyed. These principles are what is meant by the following passages. The Fugen Sutra states, ‘Without cutting off earthly desires and separating themselves from the five desires,11 they can purify their senses and wipe away their offenses.’ It is stated in the Maka shikan that ‘the ignorance and dust of desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.’ The Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra says, ‘At all times I think to myself: How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?’ And the Hoben chapter states, ‘All the characteristics of the world are eternal.’ The entity is none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

It was this most august and precious Lotus Sutra which in past existences I put under my knees, despised, scowled upon in disgust and refused to believe in. In one way or another, I maliciously ridiculed people who studied the Lotus Sutra and who taught it to others, even if only to a single person, thereby passing on the Law for the future. In addition, I did everything I could to hinder people from embracing the sutra by asserting that they should set it aside for a while because, though it might be suitable for practice in their next lifetime, it would be too difficult for them to practice in this lifetime.12 Slanderous acts such as these have now brought on the many severe persecutions I have suffered in my lifetime. Because I once disparaged the Lotus Sutra, the highest of all sutras, I am now looked down upon and my words go unheeded. The Hiyu chapter states that other people will neither concern themselves with nor have sympathy for one even though one sincerely tries to be friendly with them.

As a votary of the Lotus Sutra, you suffered severe persecutions, yet still you came to my assistance. In the Hosshi chapter the Buddha states that he will send the four kinds of believers, magically conjured, monks and nuns and laymen and laywomen [for the sake of the teachers of the Law]. If you are not one of these laymen, then to whom else could the passage possibly refer? You have not only heard the Law, but have taken faith in it and since then have followed it without turning aside. How wondrous! How extraordinary! Then how can there be any doubt that I, Nichiren, am the teacher of the Lotus Sutra? In other words, I almost resemble "the envoy of the Thus Come One"; I am carrying out "the Thus Come One’s work."13 I have propagated the five characters of the daimoku which were entrusted to Bodhisattva Jogyo when the two Buddhas were seated together within the treasure tower. Does this not indicate that I am an envoy of Bodhisattva Jogyo? Moreover, following me, you as a votary of the Lotus Sutra also tell others of this Law. What else could this be but the transmission of the Law?

Carry through with your faith in the Lotus Sutra. You cannot strike fire from flint if you stop halfway. Bring forth the great power of faith and establish your reputation among all the people of Kamakura and the rest of Japan as ‘Shijo Kingo of the Hokke sect.’14 Even a bad reputation will spread far and wide. A good reputation will spread even farther, particularly if it is a reputation for devotion to the Lotus Sutra.

Explain all this to your wife, and work together like the sun and the moon, a pair of eyes or the two wings of a bird. With the sun and the moon, how can you fall into the path of darkness? With a pair of eyes, how can you fail to behold the faces of Shakyamuni, Taho and all the Buddhas of the ten directions? With a pair of wings, you will surely be able to fly in an instant to the treasure land of Tranquil Light. I will write in more detail on another occasion.

With my deep respect,

The second day of the fifth month

Reply to Shijo Kingo


  1. Gishin (781-833): See P. 22, footnote 56.
  2. Encho (771-836): Second chief priest of Enryaku-ji temple. He ultimately corrupted the Tendai doctrines by incorporating into them the esoteric teachings of Shingon.
  3. Jie (912-985): Eighteenth chief priest of Enryaku-ji temple, a position he assumed at the age of fifty-five. As chief priest he fostered many capable diciples and contributed greatly to the restoration of the Tendai doctrines and the development of the temple.
  4. Danna (953-1007): Another name for Kaku'un, the founder of the Danna school of the Tendai sect. His name derives from the fact that he lived in Danna-in sub-temple on Mt. Hiei. Among Jie's disciples, Danna and Eshin were regarded as the two most distinguished Tendai scholars.
  5. Eshin (942-1017): Another name for Genshin, the founder ofthe Eshin school of the Tendai sect. The name Eshin comes from Eshin-in sub-temple on Mt. Hiei.
  6. Soga (917- 1003): One of the disciples of Jie. He led a very humble life in his Buddhist practice, heedless of fame or personal interest. It is said that he presented such a shabby, wretched appearance that people mocked him as a madman.  In his later years, however, he is said to have gained wide respect and fostered many disciples.
  7. Zen'yu: One of the four main disciples of Jie. Details about him are unknown.
  8. Three important matters: The Three Great Secret Laws: the true object of worship, the invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and the high sanctuary.
  9. Lotus Sutra, chap. 2.
  10. Source unknown.
  11. Five desires: Desires arising from the contact of the five sensory organs (the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin) with the five sensory objects (form, sound, smell, taste, and texture).
  12. According to the Pure Land sect, the Lotus Sutra is too profound to be understood by common mortals in the evil Latter Day of the Law, and it is therefore a waste of time to embrace it in this lifetime. Rather, they assert, one should chant the Nembutsu and obtain rebirth in the Pure Land, where he can then practice the Lotus Sutra more easily.
  13. Lotus Sutra, chap. 10.
  14. Hokke sect: The orthodox stream of Buddhism. It originally indicated T'ien-t'ai's teachings which are based on the Lotus Sutra. Here it refers to the Daishonin's teachings.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol 2.

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