The Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei
The Lotus Sutra is the heart and core of the teachings expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha during the course of his lifetime, the foundation of all the eighty thousand doctrines of Buddhism. The various exoteric and esoteric sutras such as the Dainichi, the Kegon, the Hannya and the Jimmitsu sutras spread in China, India, the palaces of the dragon kings and the heavens above. In addition, there exist the teachings expounded by the various Buddhas throughout the lands of the ten directions, which are as numerous as the sands of the Ganges. Even if one were to use all the water of the oceans to mix his ink and fashion all the trees and bushes of the major world system into writing brushes, he could never finish writing them all. Yet when I examine them and weigh their contents, I see that among all these sutras, the Lotus Sutra occupies the highest place.
Nevertheless, among the various schools of India and in Buddhist circles in Japan, there were many scholars and teachers who failed to understand the Buddha's true intention. Some of them declared that the Dainichi Sutra is superior to the Lotus Sutra. Others said that the Lotus Sutra is inferior not only to the Dainichi Sutra but to the Kegon Sutra as well, or that the Lotus Sutra is inferior to the Nirvana, Hannya and Jimmitsu sutras. Still others maintained that the sutras each have their distinctive character, and therefore possess various superior or inferior aspects. Some said that the worth of a particular sutra depends upon whether or not it accords with the capacities of the people; sutras that fit the capacities of the people of the time are superior, while those that do not are inferior. Similarly, some persons claimed that if people had the capacity to gain enlightenment through the teaching that phenomena have real existence, then one should condemn the teaching that phenomena are without substance, praising only the teaching that phenomena actually exist. And the same principle, they said, should be applied to all other situations.
Because no one among the people of the time refuted such doctrines, the rulers and leaders of the various states, ignorant as they were, began to put great faith in them, donating cultivated fields for the support of those who taught them, until their followers grew to be numerous. And as time passed, because such doctrines had been prevalent for an extended period, people came to be firmly convinced that they were correct teachings and no longer even dreamed of questioning them.
But then, with the arrival of the latter age, there appeared one wiser than the scholars and teachers whom the people of the time had followed. He began to question one by one the doctrines upheld by the early scholars and teachers and to criticize them, pointing out that they differed from the sutras on which they were based, or clarifying solely in the light of the various sutras that, in formulating their doctrines, the scholars and teachers had failed to distinguish which sutras had been preached early in the Buddha's teaching life and which later, and which were shallow and which profound. Thus attacked, the adherents of these doctrines found themselves unable to defend the erroneous teachings of the founders of their various sects, and were at a loss how to answer. Some in their doubt declared that the scholars and teachers whom they followed must surely have had their passages of proof in the sutras and treatises to support such doctrines, but that they themselves, lacking the requisite wisdom, could not defend these doctrines effectively. Others, likewise doubtful, decided that, while their masters had been wise men and sages of high antiquity, they themselves were ignorant men of the latter age. In this way, they convinced virtuous and high-placed men to ally with them and totally opposed the one who challenged their beliefs.
But I have discarded prejudice - whether against the opinions of others of in favor of my own - and set aside the views propounded by the scholars and teachers. Instead, relying solely on the passages of the sutras themselves, I have come to understand that the Lotus Sutra deserves to occupy first place. If there are persons who assert that some other sutra surpasses the Lotus Sutra, we must suppose it is for one or another of the following reasons. First, they may have been deceived by passages in other scriptures that resemble those of the Lotus Sutra. Or they may have been deceived by spurious sutras that have been fabricated by men of later times and passed off as the words of the Buddha. Lacking the wisdom to distinguish true from false, they may have consequently accepted such texts as the Buddha's actual words. Beginning with Hui-neng and his Platform Sutra or Shan-tao and his Kannen Homon Sutra, there have been numerous false teachers in India, China and Japan who have simply made up their own "sutras" and preached them to the world. In addition, there are many others who have made up what they claim to be scriptural passages, or who have interpolated their own words into passages of the scriptures.
Unfortunately, there are ignorant people who accept these spurious texts as genuine. They are like sightless persons who, if told that there are stars in the sky that shine more brightly than the sun or moon, will accept that assertion as fact. When someone says that his own teacher was a worthy man or sage of high antiquity while Nichiren is a mere foolish man of the latter age, ignorant persons will tend to agree.
This is by no means the first time that doubts of this kind have been raised. IN the time of the Ch'en and Sui dynasties in China there was a lowly priest called Chih-i, who later became the teacher of the emperors of two dynasties and was honored with the title of the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che. Before he rose to honor, this man not only refuted the doctrines of the various learned doctors and teachers who had lived in China in the preceding five hundred years or more, but he also refuted those of the scholars who had taught in India over the course of a thousand years. As a result, the wise men of northern and southern China rose up like clouds in opposition, while the worthy men and sages from east and west came forth like ranks of stars. Criticisms fell on him like rain, while his doctrines were attacked as though by strong winds. Yet in the end he succeeded in refuting the one-sided and erroneous doctrines of the scholars and teachers, and established the correct doctrines of the T'ien-t'ai school.
Likewise, in Japan during the reign of Emperor Kammu there was a humble priest named Saicho, who later was honored with the title of the Great Teacher Dengyo. He refuted the doctrines that had been taught by the Buddhist teachers of the various sects in Japan during the two hundred and some years following [the introduction of Buddhism in] the reign of Emperor Kimmei. At first people were infuriated with him, but later they all joined in becoming his disciples.
These people had criticized T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo by saying, "The founders of our sects were scholars of the four ranks of saints, worthy men and sages of high antiquity, while you are no more than an ordinary, foolish man of the end of the Middle Day of the Law!" The question, however, is not whether a person lives in the Former, the Middle or the Latter Day of the Law, but whether he bases himself upon the text of the true sutra. Again, the point is not who preaches a doctrine, but whether it accords with truth.
The believers of Brahmanism criticized the Buddha, saying, "You are a foolish man living at the end of the Kalpa of Formation and the beginning of the Kalpa of Continuance, while the original teachers of our doctrines were wise men of ancient times, the two deities and the three ascetics!" In the end, however, all the ninety-five different types of Brahman teachings came to be discarded.
On considering the eight sects of Buddhism, I, Nichiren, have discovered the following. The Hosso, Kegon and Sanron sects, based upon the provisional sutras, declare that the provisional sutras are equal to the true sutra, or even that the true sutra is inferior to the provisional sutras. These are obviously errors originating with the scholars and teachers who founded these sects. The Kusha and Jojitsu sects are a special case, while the Ritsu sect represents the very lowest level of the Hinayana teachings.
The scholars excel the ordinary teachers, and the true Mahayana sutra excels the provisional Mahayana sutras. Thus the Dainichi Sutra of the Shingon sect cannot equal the Kegon Sutra, much less the Nirvana and Lotus sutras. Yet when the Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei came to judge the relative merits of the Kegon, Lotus and Dainichi sutras, he erred in his interpretation by declaring that, though the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra are equal in terms of principle, the latter is superior in terms of practice. Ever since that time, the Shingon followers have arrogantly asserted that the Lotus Sutra cannot even compare to the Kegon Sutra, much less to the Shingon sutras, or that, because it fails to mention mudras and mantras, the Lotus Sutra cannot begin to compete with the Dainichi Sutra. Or they point out that many of the teachers and patriarchs of the Tendai sect have acknowledged the superiority of the Shingon sect, and that popular opinion likewise holds the Shingon to be superior.
Since so many people hold mistaken opinions on this point, I have examined it in considerable detail. I have outlined my findings in other writings, which I hope you will consult. And I hope that people who seek the Way will take advantage of the time while they are alive to learn the truth of the matter and pass it on to others.
One should not be intimidated by the fact that so many people hold such beliefs. Nor does the truth of a belief depend on whether it has been held for a long or short time. The point is simply whether or not it conforms with the text of the scriptures and with reason.
In the case of the Jodo sect, the Chinese priests T'an-luan, Tao-ch'o and Shan-tao made numerous errors and led a great many people to embrace false views. In Japan, Honen adopted the teachings of these men and not only taught everyone to believe in the Nembutsu but also attempted to wipe out all the other sects of Buddhism in the empire. Because the three thousand priests of Mount Hiei, as well as the priests of Kofuku-ji, Todai-ji and the other temples of Nara - indeed, of all the eight sects of Buddhism - strove to put a stop to this, emperor after emperor issued edicts, and directives went out from the shogunate, all in an attempt to prevent the spread of this teaching, but in vain. On the contrary, it flourished all the more, until the emperor, the retired emperor, and the populace as a whole all came to believe it.
I, Nichiren, am the son of a humble family, born along the shore in Kataumi of Tojo Village in the province of Awa, a person who has neither authority nor virtue. If the censures of the temples of Nara and Mount Hiei and the powerful prohibitions of emperors, the Sons of Heaven, could not put a stop to the Nembutsu teachings, then what could I do? I thought. But, employing the passages of the sutras as my mirror and divining tool and the teachings of T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo as my compass, I have attacked these teachings for the past seventeen years, from the fifth year of the Kencho era (1253) to the present, the seventh year of the Bun'ei era (1270). And, as may be seen, by the evidence before one's eyes, the spread of the Nembutsu in Japan has been largely brought to a halt. Even though there are people who do not cease chanting the Nembutsu with their mouths, I believe they have come to realize in their hearts that the Nembutsu is not the path by which to free themselves from the sufferings of birth and death.
The Zen sect likewise is guilty of doctrinal errors. By observing one thing, you can surmise ten thousand. I can bring an end to the errors of the Shingon and all the other sects at will. The "wisdom" of the Shingon teachers and other eminent priests of the present time cannot compare to that of an ox or a horse, and their "light" is less than that given off by a firefly. To expect anything from them is like placing a bow and arrows in the hands of a dead man, or asking questions of one who is talking in his sleep. Their hands form the mudra gestures, their mouths repeat the mantras, but their hearts do not understand the principles of Buddhism. In effect, their arrogant minds tower like mountains, and the greed in their hearts is deeper than the seas. And all these mistaken opinions mentioned above have come about because they are confused as to the relative superiority of the various sutras and treatises and because none of them has corrected the errors originally propounded by the founders of these sects.
Men of wisdom should of course devote themselves to the study of all the eighty thousand doctrines of Buddhism, and should become familiar with all the twelve divisions of the sutras. But ignorant persons living in this latter age of ours, a time of evil and confusion, should discard the so-called "difficult-to-practice way" and "easy-to-practice way" that the Nembutsu believers talk of, and devote themselves solely to changing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra.
When the sun rises in the eastern sector of the sky, then all the skies over the great continent of Jambudvipa in the south will be illuminated, because of the vast light that the sun possesses. But the feeble glow of the firefly can never shed light on a whole nation. A man who carries a wish-grating jewel in his bosom can produce whatever he desires, but mere tiles and stones can confer no treasures upon him. The Nembutsu and other practices, when compared to the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, are like tiles and stones compared to a precious jewel, or like the flicker of a firefly compared to the light of the sun.
How can we, whose eyes are darkened, ever distinguish the true color of things by the mere glow of a firefly? The fact is that the lesser, provisional sutras of the Nembutsu and Shingon sects are not teachings that enable common mortals to attain Buddhahood.
Our teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha, in the course of his lifetime of teaching, expounded eighty thousand sacred doctrines. He was the first Buddha to appear in this saha world of ours, which previously had not known any Buddha, and he opened the eyes of all living beings. All the other Buddhas and bodhisattvas from east and west, from the lands of the ten directions, received instruction from him.
The period prior to his advent was like the time before the appearance of the rulers and emperors of ancient China, when men did not know who their own fathers were and lived like beasts. In the time before Emperor Yao, people knew nothing about the duties to be performed in the four seasons, and were as ignorant as horses or oxen.
In the period before the appearance of Shakyamuni Buddha in the world, there were no orders of monks or nuns; there were only the two categories of men and women. But now we have monks and nuns who, because of the teachers of the Shingon sect, have decided to look upon Dainichi Buddha as the supreme object of veneration and have demoted Shakyamuni Buddha to an inferior position, or who, because they believe in the Nembutsu, pay honor to Amida Buddha and thrust Shakyamuni Buddha aside. They are monks and nuns by virtue of the Lord Shakyamuni, but because of the erroneous teachings handed down from the founders of these various sects, they have been led to behave in this way.
There are three reasons why Shakyamuni Buddha, rather than any of the other Buddhas, has a relationship with all the people of this saha world. First of all, he is the World-Honored One, the sovereign of all the people of this saha world. Amida Buddha is not the monarch of this world. In this respect, Shakyamuni Buddha is like the ruler of the country in which we live. We pay respect first of all to the ruler of our own country, and only then do we go on to pay respect to the rulers of other countries. The Sun Goddess Tensho Daijin and the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman are the original rulers of our country, provisional manifestations of Shakyamuni Buddha who appeared in the form of local deities. No person who turns his back on these deities can become the ruler of Japan. Thus the Sun Goddess is embodied in the form of the sacred mirror known as Naishidokoro, and imperial messengers are sent to the Bodhisattva Hachiman to report to him and receive his oracle. Shakyamuni, the World-Honored One, is our august sovereign. It is he who is to be regarded as the supreme object of veneration.
The second reason is that Shakyamuni Buddha is the father and mother of all the persons in this saha world. It is proper that we should first of all pay filial respect to our own father and mother, and only then extend the same kind of respect to the fathers and mothers of other people. In ancient times we have the example of King Wu of the Chou dynasty in China, who carved a wooden image of his deceased father and placed it in a carriage, designating it as the general who would lead his troops into battle. Heaven, moved by such conduct, lent him protection, and thus he succeeded in overthrowing his enemy, Chou, the ruler of the Yin dynasty.
The ancient ruler Shun, grieved because his father had gone blind, shed tears, but when he wiped his hands, wet with those tears, on his father's eyes, his father's eyesight was restored. Now Shakyamuni Buddha does the same for all of us, opening our eyes so as to "awaken the Buddha wisdom" innate within us. No other Buddha has ever yet opened our eyes in such a way.
The third reason is that Shakyamuni is the original teacher of all persons in this saha world. He was born in central India as the son of King Shuddhodana during the ninth kalpa of decrease in the present Wise Kalpa, when the life span of human beings measured a hundred years. He left family life at the age of nineteen, achieved enlightenment at thirty, and spent the remaining fifty or more years of his life expounding the sacred teachings. He passed away at the age of eighty, leaving behind his relics to provide the means of salvation for all the persons of the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law. Amida, Yakushi, Dainichi and the others, on the other hand, are the Buddhas of other realms; they are not the World-Honored One of this world of ours.
This saha world occupies the lowest position among all the worlds of the ten directions. Among these worlds, it holds a place like that of a prison within a nation. All the persons in the worlds of the ten directions who have committed any of the ten evil acts, the five cardinal sins, the grave offense of slandering the True Law or other terrible crimes and have been driven out by the Buddhas of those worlds have been brought together here in this saha land by Shakyamuni Buddha. These people, having fallen into the three evil paths or the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering and there duly suffered for their offense, have been reborn in the realm of Humanity or Heaven. But, because they still retain certain vestiges of their former evil behavior, they are inclined to easily commit some further offense by slandering the True Law or speaking contemptuously of men of wisdom. Thus, for example, Shariputra, though he had attained the status of an arhat, at times gave way to anger. Pilindavatsa, though he had freed himself from the illusions of thought and desire, displayed an arrogant mind, while Nanda, though he had renounced all sexual attachment, continued to dwell on the thought of sleeping with a woman. Even these disciples of the Buddha, though they had done away with delusions, still retained their vestiges. How much more so must this be the case, therefore, with ordinary mortals? Yet Shakyamuni Buddha entered this saha world of ours with the title Nonin, "He Who Can Forbear." He is so called because he does not berate its people for the slanders they all commit but shows forbearance toward them.
These, then, are the special qualities possessed by Shakyamuni Buddha, qualities that the other Buddhas lack.
Amida Buddha and the other various Buddhas were determined to make compassionate vows. For this reason, though they felt ashamed to do so, they made their appearance in this, the saha world, Amida Buddha proclaiming his forty-eight vows, and Yakushi Buddha, his twelve great vows. Kanzeon and the other bodhisattvas who live in other lands also did likewise.
When the Buddhas are viewed in terms of the unchanging equality of their enlightenment, there are no distinctions to be made among them. But when they are viewed in terms of the ever-present differences among their preaching, then one should understand that each of them has his own realm among the worlds of the ten directions, and that they distinguish between those with whom they have already had some connection, and those with whom they have no such connection.
The sixteen royal sons of Daisuchisho Buddha each took up their residence in a different one of the lands of the ten directions and their led their respective disciples to salvation. Shakyamuni Buddha, who was a reincarnation of one of these sons, appeared in this saha world of ours. We people too, have been born into the saha world. Therefore, we must not in any way turn away from the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. But people all fail to realize this. If they would look carefully into the matter, they would understand that, as the Lotus Sutra says, "I [Shakyamuni] alone can save them," and that they must not cut themselves off from the helping hand of Shakyamuni Buddha.
For this reason, all the persons in this saha world of ours, if they detest the sufferings of birth and death and wish to have an object of veneration to which they can pay respect, should first of all fashion images of Shakyamuni Buddha in the form of wooden statues and paintings, and make these their object of worship. Then, if they still have strength left over, they may go on to fashion images of Amida and the other Buddhas.
Yet when the people of this world today, being unpracticed in the sacred ways, come to fashion or paint images of a Buddha, they give priority to those of Buddhas other than Shakyamuni. This does not accord either with the intentions of those other Buddhas, or with the intentions of Shakyamuni Buddha himself, and is moreover at variance with secular propriety.
The great king Udayana, when he carved his image of red sandalwood, made it of none other than Shakyamuni Buddha and the painting offered to the King of a Thousand Stupas was likewise of Shakyamuni Buddha. But people nowadays base themselves upon the various Mahayana sutras, and because they believe that the particular sutra they rely on is superior to all others, they accordingly relegate the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni to a secondary position.
Thus all the masters of the Shingon sect, convinced that the Dainichi Sutra surpasses all other sutras, regard Dainichi Buddha, who is described therein as the supreme Buddha, as the one with whom they have a special connection. The Nembutsu believers, on the other hand, putting all their faith in the Kammuryoju Sutra, look upon Amida Buddha as the one who has some special connection with this saha world of ours.
Because the people of our time in particular have mistaken the erroneous doctrines of Shan-tao and Honen for orthodox teachings and taken the three Pure Land sutras as their guide, eight or nine out of every ten temples that they build have Amida Buddha enshrined as the principal object of worship. And in the dwellings of both lay believers and priests, in houses by the tens, the hundreds or the thousands, the image hall attached to the residence is dedicated to Amida Buddha. Moreover, among the thousand or ten thousand paintings and images of Buddhas to be found in a single household today, the great majority are of Amida Buddha.
Yet people who are supposed to be wise in such matters see these things happening and do not regard them as a calamity. On the contrary, they find such proceedings quite in accord with their own views and consequently greet them with nothing but praise and admiration. Paradoxical as it may seem, men of wholly evil character who have not the least understanding of the principle of cause and effect and who are not dedicated to any Buddha whatsoever would appear to be the ones free from error with respect to Buddhism.
Shakyamuni Buddha, our father and mother, who is endowed with the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent, is the very one who encourages us, the people driven out by all other Buddhas, saying, "I alone can save them." The debt of gratitude we owe him is deeper than the ocean, weightier than the earth, vaster than the sky. Though we were to pluck out our own two eyes and place them before him as an offering until there were more eyes there than stars in the sky, though we were to strip off our skins and spread them out by the hundreds of thousands of ten thousands until they blanketed the ceiling of heaven, though we were to give him our tears as offerings of water and present him with flowers for the space of a hundred billion kalpas, though we were to offer him our flesh and blood for innumerable kalpas, until our flesh piled up like mountains and our blood overflowed like vast seas, we could never repay a fraction of the debt we owe to this Buddha!
But the scholars of our time cling to distorted views. Even though they may be wise men who have mastered all the eighty thousand doctrines of Buddhism and committed to memory the twelve divisions of the scriptures, and who strictly observe all the rules of discipline of the Mahayana and Hinayana texts, if they turn their backs upon this principle, then one should know that they cannot avoid falling into the evil paths.
As an example of what I mean, let us look at the Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei, the founder of the Shingon school in China. He was a son of King Busshu, the monarch of the kingdom of Udyana in India. The Lord Buddha Shakyamuni left his father's palace at the age of nineteen to take up the religious life. But this learned doctor abdicated the throne at the age of thirteen, and thereafter traveled through the more than seventy states of India, journeying ninety thousand ri on foot and acquainting himself with all the various sutras, treatises and schools of Buddhism. In a kingdom in northern India, he stood at the foot of the stupa erected by King Konzoku, gazed up at the heavens and uttered prayers, whereupon there appeared in midair the Womb World mandala, with the Buddha Dainichi seated in its center.
Shan-wu-wei, out of his compassion, determined to spread the knowledge of this teaching to outlying regions, and thereupon traveled to China, where he transmitted his secret doctrines to Emperor Hsuan-tsung. At the time of a great drought, he offered up prayers for rain, and within three days, rain fell from the sky. This learned doctor was thoroughly familiar with the "seeds" representing the twelve hundred and more honored ones, their august forms, and their samayas. Today all the followers of the Shingon sect belonging to To-ji and the other Shingon temples in Japan look upon themselves as disciples of the Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei.
But the time came when the learned doctor suddenly died. Thereupon a number of guardians from hell appeared, bound him with seven iron cords and led him off to the palace of Emma, the king of hell. This was a very strange thing to happen.
For what fault did he deserve to be censured in this way? Perhaps in the life he had just lived, he might have committed some of the ten evil acts, but surely he had not been guilty of any of the five cardinal sins. And for his past existences, in view of the fact that he had become the ruler of a great kingdom, he must have strictly observed the ten good precepts and dutifully served five hundred Buddhas. What fault, then, could he have committed?
Moreover, at the age of thirteen he had voluntarily relinquished his position as king and entered the religious life. His aspiration for enlightenment was unequaled throughout the entire world. Surely such virtue should have cancelled out any major or minor offenses that he might have committed in his present or previous lives. In addition, he had made a thorough study of all the various sutras, treatises and schools that were propagated in India at that time, and that fact too should have served to atone for any possible faults.
In addition to all this, the esoteric doctrines of Shingon are different from the other teachings of Buddhism. They declare that, though one may make no more than a single mudra with the hands or utter no more than a single mantra with the mouth, even the gravest offenses accumulated throughout the three existences of past, present and future will thereby without fail be eradicated. Moreover, they say that all the offenses and karmic hindrances that one may have created during the space of innumerable kotis of kalpas will all be extinguished the moment one looks upon the esoteric mandalas. How much more should this be true, therefore, in the case of the Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei, who had memorized all the mudras and mantras pertaining to the twelve hundred and more honored ones, who had understood as clearly as though it were reflected in a mirror the practice of contemplation for "attaining Buddhahood in one's present form," and who, when he underwent the ceremony of anointment in the Diamond World and Womb World mandalas, had become in effect the Enlightened King Dainichi or Dainichi Buddha himself! Why, then, should such a man be summoned before Emma, the king of hell, and subjected to censure?
I, Nichiren, had resolved to embrace that teaching which is supreme among the two divisions of Buddhism, the exoteric and the esoteric, and which allows us to free ourselves from the sufferings of birth and death with the greatest ease. Therefore, I acquainted myself in general with the esoteric doctrines of Shingon and made inquiries concerning this matter of Shan-wu-wei. But no one was able to give a satisfactory answer to the question I have posed above. If this man could not escape the evil paths of existence, then how could any of the Shingon teachers of our time, let alone the priests and lay believers who had performed no more than a single mudra or uttered no more than a single mantra, hope to avoid them?
Having examined the matter in detail, I concluded that there were two errors for which Shan-wu-wei was summoned before King Emma for censure.
First of all, the Dainichi Sutra is not only inferior to the Lotus Sutra, but cannot even compare to the Nirvana, Kegon or Hannya sutras. And yet Shan-wu-wei maintained that it is superior to the Lotus Sutra, thus committing the error of slandering the Law.
Secondly, although Dainichi Buddha is a emanation of Shakyamuni Buddha, Shan-wu-wei held to the biased view that Dainichi is in fact superior to the Lord Shakyamuni. The offense of such slanders is so grave that no one who commits them could avoid falling into the evil paths, even though he should carry out the practices pertaining to the twelve hundred and more honored ones over a period of innumerable kalpas.
Shan-wu-wei committed these errors, the retribution for which is very difficult to escape, and therefore, although he performed mudras and mantras peculiar to the various honored ones, it was to no avail. But when he merely recited those words from the Hiyu chapter in the second volume of the Lotus Sutra that read: "Now this threefold world is all my domain. The living beings in it are all my children. Yet this world has many cares and troubles from which I alone can save them," he escaped from the iron cords that bound him.
Be that as it may, the Shingon teachers who came after Shan-wu-wei have all maintained that the Dainichi Sutra is not only superior to the various other sutras, but surpasses even the Lotus Sutra. In addition, there were other persons who have declared that the Lotus Sutra is also inferior to the Kegon Sutra. Though these groups differ in what they maintain, they are alike in being guilty of slandering the Law.
The Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei held the prejudiced opinion that both the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra should be regarded with great respect, since they agree in the profound principles that they embody, but that because the Lotus Sutra says nothing about mudras and mantras, it is inferior to the Dainichi Sutra. The Shingon teachers who came after him, moreover, were of the opinion that even with respect to the important principles expressed, the Lotus Sutra is inferior to the Dainichi Sutra, to say nothing of being inferior with respect to the matter of mudras and mantras. Thus they went much farther in their slander of the Law, piling up offense upon offense. It is impossible to believe that they can long avoid being censured by King Emma and consigned to the suffering of hell. Indeed, they will immediately call down upon themselves the flames of the Avichi Hell.
The Dainichi Sutra does not originally contain any mention of the profound principle of ichinen sanzen. This principle is confined to the Lotus Sutra alone. But Shan-wu-wei proceeded to steal and appropriate this profound principle that the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai had put forth on the basis of his reading of the Lotus Sutra, incorporating it into his own interpretation of the Dainichi Sutra. He then asserted that the mudras and mantras of the Dainichi Sutra, which were originally expounded merely to lend adornment to the Lotus Sutra, are the very elements that make the Dainichi Sutra superior to the Lotus. Shan-wu-wei was putting forth a distorted view when he stated that the Lotus and Dainichi sutras are equal in principle, and he was likewise stating an erroneous view when he claimed that the Dainichi Sutra is superior by reason of its mantras and mudras.
This is like a foolish and lowly person who looks upon his six sense organs as his personal treasures, though in fact they belong to his feudal lord. Consequently, he is led into all manner of erroneous conduct. We should keep such a case in mind when interpreting the sutras, because the doctrines set forth in inferior sutras serve only to adorn the sutra which is truly superior.
I, Nichiren, was a resident of [Seicho-ji temple on] Mount Kiyosumi in Tojo Village in the province of Awa. From the time I was a small child, I prayed to Bodhisattva Kokozo, asking that I might become the wisest person in all Japan. The bodhisattva transformed himself into a venerable priest before my very eyes and bestowed upon me a jewel of wisdom as bright as the morning star. No doubt as a result, I was able to gain a general mastery of the principal teachings of the eight older sects of Buddhism in Japan, as well as those of the Zen and Nembutsu sects.
During the sixteen or seventeen years since the fifth year or so of the Kencho era until the present, the seventh year of the Bun'ei era, I have leveled many criticisms against the Zen and Nembutsu sects. For this reason, the scholars of those sects have risen up like hornets and flocked together like clouds, though as a matter of fact their arguments can be demolished with hardly more than a word or two.
Even the scholars of the Tendai and Shingon sects, losing sight of the principles laid down by their own sects concerning which teachings are to be adopted and which discarded, have come to hold opinions identical to those of the Zen or Nembutsu sect. Because the lay members of their communities hold to such beliefs, they themselves have thought it best to lend support to these sects and their erroneous views by declaring that the Tendai and Shingon teachings are the same as those of the Nembutsu and Zen sects. As a result, they join the others in attempting to refute me. But although it might appear as though they are indeed refuting me, in fact they are simply destroying their own Tendai and Shingon teachings. It is a shameful, shameful thing they are doing!
The fact that I have in this way been able to discern the errors of the various sutras, treatises and sects is due to the benefit of Bodhisattva Kokuzo, and is owed to my former teacher, Dozen-bo.
Even a turtle, we are told, knows how to repay a debt of gratitude, so how much more so should human beings? In order to repay the debt that I owe to my former teacher Dozen-bo, I desired to spread the teachings of the Buddha on Mount Kiyosumi and lead my teacher to enlightenment. But he is a rather foolish and ignorant man, and in addition he is a believer in the Nembutsu, so I did not see how he could escape falling into the three evil paths. Moreover, he is not the kind of person who would listen to my words of instruction.
Nevertheless, in the first year of the Bun'ei era (1264), on the fourteenth day of the eleventh month, I had an interview with him at the priests' lodgings of Saijo in Hanabusa. At that time, he said to me, "I have neither wisdom nor any hope for advancement to important position. I am an old man with no desire for fame, and I claim no eminent priest of Nembutsu as my teacher. But because this practice has become so widespread in our time, I simply repeat like others the words Namu Amida Butsu. In addition, though it was not my idea originally, I have had occasion to fashion five images of Amida Buddha. This perhaps is due to some karmic habit that I formed in a past existence. Do you suppose that as a result of these faults I will fall into hell?"
At that time I certainly had no thought in mind of quarreling with him. But because of the earlier incident with Tojo Saemon Nyudo Renchi, I had not seen my teacher for more than ten years, and thus it was in a way as though we had become estranged and were at odds. I thought that the proper and courteous thing would be to reason with him in mild terms and to speak in a gentle manner. On the other hand, when it comes to the realm of birth and death, there is no telling how either young or old may fare, and it occurred to me that I might never again have another opportunity to meet with him. I had already warned Dozen-bo's elder brother, the priest Dogi-bo Gisho, that he was destined to fall into the hell of incessant suffering if he did not change his ways, and they say that his death was as miserable as I had foretold. When I considered that my teacher Dozen-bo might meet a similar fate, I was filled with pity for him and therefore made up my mind to speak to him in very strong terms.
I explained to him that, by making five images of Amida Buddha, he was condemning himself to fall five times into the hell of incessant suffering. The reason for this, I told him, was that the Lotus Sutra - wherein the Buddha says that he will now "honestly discard the provisional teachings" - states that Shakyamuni Buddha is our father, while Amida Buddha is our uncle. Anyone who would fashion no less than five images of his uncle and make offerings to them, and yet not fashion a single image of his own father - how could he be regarded as anything but unfilial? Even hunters in the mountains or fisherman, who cannot tell east from west and do not perform a single pious act, are guilty of less offense than such a person!
Nowadays those who have set their minds upon the Way no doubt hope for a better existence in their future lives. Yet they cast aside the Lotus Sutra and Shakyamuni Buddha, while never failing even for an instant to revere Amida Buddha and call upon his name. What kind of behavior is this? Though they may appear to the eye to be pious people, I do not see how they can escape the charge of rejecting their own parent and devoting themselves to a relative stranger. A completely evil person, on the other hand, has never given his allegiance to any Buddhist teaching at all, and so has not committed the fault of rejecting Shakyamuni Buddha. Therefore, if the proper circumstances should arise, he might very well in time come to take faith in Shakyamuni.
Those men who follow the heretical doctrines of Shan-tao, Honen and the Buddhist teachers of our time, making Amida Buddha their object of worship and devoting themselves entirely to the practice of calling upon his name - I do not believe that they will ever renounce their erroneous views and give their allegiance to Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra, even though lifetime after lifetime throughout countless kalpas should pass. Accordingly, the Nirvana Sutra that was preached just before Shakyamuni Buddha's death in the grove of sal trees states that there will appear frightful persons whose offenses are graver than the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins - icchantika or men or incorrigible disbelief and those who slander the Law. We also read there that such persons will be found nowhere else but among the company of wise men who observe the two hundred and fifty precepts, wrap their bodies in the three robes of a Buddhist monk and carry a mendicant's bowl.
I explained all this in detail to Dozen-bo at the time of our interview, though it did not appear that he completely understood what I was saying. Nor did the other persons present on that occasion seem to understand. Later, however, I received word that Dozen-bo had com to take faith in the Lotus Sutra. I concluded that he must have renounced his earlier heretical views and had hence become a person of sound belief, a thought that filled me with joy. When I also heard that he had fashioned an image of Shakyamuni Buddha, I could not find words to express my emotion. It may seem as though I spoke to him very harshly at the time of our interview. But I simply explained things as they are set forth in the Lotus Sutra, and that is no doubt why he has now taken such action. They say that words of good advice often grate on the ears, just as good medicine tastes bitter.
Now I, Nichiren, have repaid the debt of gratitude that I owe to my teacher, and I am quite certain that both the Buddhas and the gods will approve what I have done. I would like to ask that all I have said here be reported to Dozen-bo.
Even though one may resort to harsh words, if such words help the person to whom they are addressed, then they are worthy to be regarded as truthful words and gentle words. Similarly, though one may use gentle words, if they harm the person to whom they are addressed, they are in fact deceptive words, harsh words.
The Buddhist doctrines preached by scholars these days are regarded by most people as gentle words, truthful words, but in fact they are all harsh words and deceptive words. I say this because they are at variance with the Lotus Sutra, which embodies the Buddha's true intention.
On the other hand, when I proclaim that the practitioners of the Nembutsu will fall into the hell of incessant suffering or declare that the Zen and Shingon sects are likewise in error, people may think I am uttering harsh words, but in fact I am speaking truthful and gentle words. As an example, I may point to the fact that Dozen-bo has embraced the Lotus Sutra and fashioned an image of Shakyamuni Buddha, actions that came about because I spoke harsh words to him. And the same thing holds true for numerous other persons throughout Japan. Ten or more years ago, virtually everyone was reciting the Nembutsu. But now, out of ten persons, you will find that one or two chant only Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, while two or three recite it along with the Nembutsu. And even among those who recite the Nembutsu exclusively, there are those who have begun to have doubts and who in their hearts put their faith in the Lotus Sutra and have even begun to paint or carve images of Shakyamuni Buddha. All this, too, has come about because I, Nichiren, have spoken harsh words.
This response is like the fragrant sandalwood trees that grow among the groves of foul-smelling eranda trees, or the lotus blossoms that rise out of the muddy water. Thus, when I proclaim that the followers of the Nembutsu will fall into the hell of incessant suffering, the "wise men" of our day, who are in fact no wiser than cows or horses, may venture to attack my doctrines. But in truth they are like scavenger dogs barking at the lion, the king of beasts, or foolish monkeys laughing at the god Taishaku.
The seventh year of Bun'ei (1270)
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 4, page 55.
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