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Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life
- Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho -

I have just carefully read your letter. To reply, the ultimate law of life and death as transmitted from the Buddha to all living beings is Myoho-renge-kyo. The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo1 were transferred from the two Buddhas inside the Treasure Tower, Shakyamuni and Taho, to Bodhisattva Jogyo, carrying on a heritage unbroken since the infinite past. Myo represents death and ho represents life. Life and death are the two phases passed through by the entities of the Ten Worlds, the entities of all sentient beings which embody the law of cause and effect (renge).

T'ien-t'ai said, "You must realize that the interrelated actions and reactions of sentient beings and their environments all manifest the law of simultaneity of cause and effect."2 Sentient beings and their environments" here means the reality of life and death. The law of simultaneity of cause and effect is clearly at work in everything that lives and dies.

The Great Teacher Dengyo said, "Birth and death are the mysterious workings of the life essence. The ultimate reality of life lies in existence and nonexistence."3 No phenomena -- heaven or earth, Yin or Yang4, the sun and moon, the five planets5, or any life-condition from Hell to Buddhahood -- are free from birth and death. Thus the life and death of all phenomena are simply the two phases of Myoho-renge-kyo. In his Maka Shikan, T'ien-t'ai says, "The emergence of all things is the manifestation of their intrinsic nature, and their extinction, the withdrawal of that nature into the state of latency."6 Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas, too, are the two phases of life and death.

Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment countless aeons ago, the Lotus Sutra which leads all people to Buddhahood,7 and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from each other. Therefore, to chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate law of life and death. To carry on this heritage is the most important task for Nichiren's disciples, and that is precisely what it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra. For one who summons up his faith and chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the profound insight that now is the last moment of his life, the sutra proclaims: "After his death, a thousand Buddhas will extend their hands to free him from all fear and keep him from falling into evil paths."8 How can we possibly hold back our tears at the inexpressible joy of knowing that not just one or two, nor only one hundred or two hundred, but as many as a thousand Buddhas will come to greet us with open arms!

One who does not have faith in the Lotus Sutra will instead find his hands firmly gripped by the guards of hell, just as the sutra warns, "...After he dies, he will fall into the hell of incessant suffering."9 How pitiful! The ten kings of hell10 will then pass judgment on him, and the heavenly messengers11 who have been with him since his birth will berate him for his evil deeds.

Just imagine that those thousand Buddhas extending their hands to all Nichiren's disciples who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are like so many melons or moonflowers extending their slender vines. My disciples have been able to receive and embrace the Lotus Sutra by virtue of the strong ties they formed with this teaching in their past existences. They are certain to attain Buddhahood in the future. The heritage of the Lotus Sutra flows within the lives of those who never forsake it in any lifetime whatsoever -- whether in the past, the present or the future. But those who disbelieve and slander the Lotus Sutra will "destroy the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world."12 Because they cut themselves off from the potential to attain enlightenment, they do not share the ultimate heritage of faith.

All disciples and believers of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with one mind (itai doshin), transcending all differences among themselves13 to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate law of life and death. Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren's propagation. When you are so united, even the great hope for kosen-rufu can be fulfilled without fail. But if any of Nichiren's disciples should disrupt the unity of itai doshin, he will destroy his own castle from within.

Nichiren has been trying to awaken all the people of Japan to faith in the Lotus Sutra so that they too can share the heritage and attain Buddhahood. But instead they attacked me time and again, and finally had me banished to this island. You have followed Nichiren, however, and met with sufferings as a result. It pains me deeply to think of your anguish. Gold can neither be burned by fire nor corroded or swept away by water, but iron is vulnerable to both. A wise person is like gold and a fool like iron. You are like pure gold because you embrace the "gold" of the Lotus Sutra. The Lotus Sutra reads in part, "Sumeru is the loftiest of all mountains. The Lotus Sutra is likewise the loftiest of all the sutras."14 It also states, "The good fortune of the believer cannot be burned by fire or washed away by water."15

It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined you to become my disciple at a time like this. Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas certainly realize this truth. The sutra's statement, "In lifetime after lifetime they were always born together with their masters in the Buddha's lands throughout the universe,"16 cannot be false in any way.

How admirable that you have asked about the transmission of the ultimate law of life and death! No one has ever asked me such a question before. I have answered in complete detail in this letter, so I want you to take it deeply to heart. The important point is to carry out your practice confident that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the very lifeblood which was transferred from Shakyamuni and Taho to Bodhisattva Jogyo.

The function of fire is to burn and give light. The function of water is to wash away filth. The winds blow away dust and breathe life into plants, animals and human beings. The earth nourishes the grasses and trees, and heaven provides nourishing moisture. Myoho-renge-kyo too works in all these ways. It is the cluster of blessings brought by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. The Lotus Sutra says that Bodhisattva Jogyo should now appear to propagate this teaching in the Latter Day of the Law, but has this actually happened? Whether or not Bodhisattva Jogyo has already appeared in this world, Nichiren has at least made a start in propagating this teaching.

Be resolved to summon forth the great power of your faith, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of your death. Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate law and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of life and death are nirvana. Without the lifeblood of faith, it would be useless to embrace the Lotus Sutra.

I am always ready to clear up any further questions you may have.

With my deep respect,
Nichiren, the Shramana of Japan

The eleventh day of the second month in the ninth year of Bun'ei (1272)

  1. Five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo: the five characters are myo, ho, ren, ge, kyo. In the Daishonin's writings, Myoho-renge-kyo is often substituted for Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
  2. Hokke Gengi, vol. 7.
  3. Tendai Hokkeshu Gozu Homon Yosan, vol. 5.
  4. Yin and Yang: Two universal principles of ancient Chinese philosophy. Yin is the negative, dark and feminine principle: Yang is the positive, bright and masculine principle. Their interaction was thought to affect the destiny of all things.
  5. Five planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The more distant planets were undetected in 13th century Japan.
  6. Maka Shikan, vol. 5.
  7. Nichiren Daishonin employs the name of Shakyamuni to denote the Buddha, and the Lotus Sutra to denote the Gohonzon. Therefore, from the viewpoint of the Daishonin's Buddhism, this passage means that the True Buddha of kuon ganjo, the Gohonzon which leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary people are in no way different or separate from each other.
  8. Lotus Sutra, chap. 28.
  9. Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
  10. Ten kings of hell: Symbolic figures from popular religious tradition. One Chinese concept viewed hell as a demonic court of law where the dead were tried for their evil deeds.
  11. Heavenly messengers: See p. 199, footnote 52.
  12. Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
  13. Transcending all differences among themselves: This phrase could be rendered literally as "without any thought of self or other, this or that." This is not a denial of individuality but rather urges the bridging of gaps between people which arise from selfishness and mistrust.
  14. Lotus Sutra, chap. 23.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid. chap. 7.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. 1, p. 21.

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