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On Filial and Unfilial Conduct

I have received your gift of a sack of rice, sent in donation for a memorial service on the anniversary of Lord Ueno's passing. I will offer it in the presence of the Buddha and recite the Jigage.

As for what it means to be filial, by first knowing about unfilial behavior, we can understand the meaning of filial piety. As an example of unfilial conduct, a person called Yu-meng once struck his father, and as a result was destroyed by a bolt of lightening. A person called Pan-fu cursed his mother, and as a result was attacked and devoured by a poisonous snake. King Ajatashatru killed his father, and as a result contracted white leprosy. King Virudhaka killed one of his parents, and as a result he was trapped in a burning boat on a river and fell alive into the hell of incessant suffering. Never have there been instances of people incurring such retribution for killing unrelated persons. By considering the results of unfilial conduct, we can understand how great the benefit of filial conduct must be.

The more than three thousand volumes of outer scriptures concern no other matters; they teach nothing but filial conduct toward one's father and mother. Yet though [by following these teachings] one may fulfill his duties to his parents in the present life, he will be unable to help them in their life to come. The debt of gratitude owed to one's father and mother is as vast as the ocean. If one cares for them while they are alive but does nothing to help them in their next life, his actions, by comparison, are like a single drop of water.

The more than five thousand volumes of inner scriptures likewise concern no other matters; they simply set forth the merits of filial piety. However, though the Buddha's first forty years and more of teachings may seem to be about filial conduct, he did not reveal the true teaching on filial conduct in them. Therefore, though they appear to fall within the realm of teachings of filial conduct, they are in fact unfilial.

The Venerable Maudgalyayana rescued his mother from the suffering of the realm of hungry spirits. However, he was only able to lead her to the worlds of Humanity and Heaven, and could not enable her to enter the path of attaining Buddhahood. Shakyamuni Buddha, at the age of thirty, expounded the Dharma to his father, King Shuddhodana, enabling him to attain the highest of the four fruits. And at the age of thirty-eight, he enabled his mother, Lady Maya, to attain the stage of arhat. Yet, while such deeds may resemble filial conduct, the Buddha was in fact thereby guilty of unfilial behavior, for, though he freed his parents from the six paths, he caused them to enter a path that would never lead to Buddhahood. This is like reducing a crown prince to the status of commoner, or like marrying a princess of royal blood to a man of lowly birth.

For this reason, the Buddha declared that, [had he only expounded the provisional teachings,] "I would have fallen into miserliness and greed, and such a thing would never do." Having given his parents a meal of boiled barley while begrudging them amrita, and having offered them unrefined sake while denying them refined sake, the Buddha had become the most unfilial of persons. Like King Virudhaka, he should have fallen alive into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering, and like King Ajatashatru, he should have contracted white leprosy in that very body. However, forty-two years [after he attained enlightenment], he expounded the Lotus Sutra, saying, "Though these persons may arouse thoughts of extinction and enter nirvana, yet in that land, seeking the Buddha wisdom, they will be able to hear this sutra." Because Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra in order to repay the dept of gratitude he owed to his father and mother, Taho Buddha, who had come from the Land of Treasure Purity, praised him as a Buddha of true filial piety. And the Buddhas of the ten directions assembled and declared him to be the most filial among all the Buddhas.

Pondering matters in this light, we can see that the people of Japan are all unfilial. In a passage of the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha taught that unfilial people would be more numerous than the dust particles of the earth. Thus, the sun, the moon and the eighty-four thousand stars in heaven each grow enraged and glare with furious eyes at the country of Japan. That is what today's divination masters are reporting to the ruler as "frequent disturbances in the heavens." And with strange happenings on the earth occurring day after day, the country is like a small boat tossed about on the great sea. This is the reason why the children of Japan have lost their vitality, and why the women are vomiting blood.

Your are the most filial person in all of Japan. Bonten and Taishaku will descend from heaven to serve as left and right wings to you, and the gods of the earth in the four directions will support your feet, revering you as their father and mother. There is still much that I would like to say, but I will conclude here.

With my deep respect,

The eighth day of the third month in the third year of Koan (1280)

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 287.

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