Letter to Akimoto
I have received the thirty cylindrical vessels and the sixty plates that you were kind enough to send.
A vessel is a kind of utensil. Because the great earth is hollowed out, water collects on it; and because the blue sky is pure, the moon shines in it. When the moon rises, the water glows with a pure light; and when the rain falls, the plants and trees flourish.
A vessel is hollowed out like the earth, and water can be collected in it the way water is stored in a pond. And the reflection of the moon floats on the surface of the water in the same way that the Lotus Sutra pervades our being.
But a vessel is susceptible to four faults. The first is called fuku which means that the vessel overturns or is rendered useless because a lid is put on it. The second is called ro, which means that the water leaks out. The third is called u, which means that the contents are contaminated. Though the water itself may be pure, if filth is dumped into it, then the water in the vessel ceases to be of any use. The fourth is called zo or "mixed." If rice is mixed with filth or pebbles or sand or dirt, then it is no longer fit for human consumption.
The vessel here stands for our bodies and minds. Our minds are a kind of vessel, and our mouths too are vessels, as are our ears. The Lotus Sutra is the Dharma water of the Buddhas wisdom. But when this water is poured into our minds, then we may jar and upset it. Or we may shut it out by placing our hands over our ears, determined not to listen to it. Or we may spit it out of our mouths, determined not to let our mouths chant it. In such cases, we are like a vessel that has overturned or has had a lid placed on it.
Again, although we may have a certain amount of faith, we may encounter evil influences and find our faith weakening. Then we will deliberately abandon our faith, or, even though we maintain our faith for a day, we will set it aside for a month. In such cases, we are like vessels that let the water leak out.
Or we may be the kind of practitioners of the Lotus Sutra whose mouths are reciting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo one moment, but Namu Amida Butsu the next. This is like mixing filth with ones rice, or putting sand or pebbles in it. This is what the Lotus Sutra is warning against when it says: "Desiring only to accept and embrace the sutra of the great vehicle and not accepting a single verse of the other sutras..."1
The learned authorities in the world today suppose that there is no harm in mixing extraneous practices with the practice of the Lotus Sutra, and I, Nichiren, was once of that opinion myself. But the passage from the sutra [that I have just quoted] does not permit such a view. Suppose that a woman who had been the consort of a great king and had become pregnant with his seed should then turn round and marry a man of the common people. In such a case, the seed of the king and the seed of the commoner would become mixed together, and, as a result, the aid and assistance of heaven and the protection of the patron deities would be withdrawn and the kingdom would face ruin. The child born from two such fathers would be neither a king nor a commoner, but a kind of subhuman being.
This is one of the most important points in the Lotus Sutra. The doctrine of the sowing of the seed and its maturing and harvesting2 is the very heart and core of the Lotus Sutra. All the Buddhas of the three existences and the ten directions have invariably attained Buddhahood through the seeds represented by the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. The words Namu Amida Butsu are not the seeds of Buddhahood, nor can the mantras or the five precepts act as such seeds. One must be perfectly clear about this point, because this is the fault referred to as "mixed."
If a vessel is free of these four faults of overturning, leaking, being contaminated and being mixed, then it can be called a perfect vessel. If the embankments around a moat do not leak, then the water will never escape from the moat. And if the mind of faith is perfect, then the water of wisdom, the great impartial wisdom, will never dry up.
Now these vessels that you have sent me are sturdy and thick, and in addition they are coated with pure lacquer. They symbolize the firmness and sturdiness of the power of your faith in the Lotus Sutra.
It is said that Bishamonten presented four bowls to the Buddha and as a result became known as the foremost deity of good fortune in all the four continents of the world. Lady Jotoku presented eighty-four thousand bowls as an offering to the Buddha Unraionno, and as a result became the bodhisattva Myoon. And now, since you have presented these thirty vessels and sixty plates, is there any doubt that you will become a Buddha?
The country of Japan is known by ten different names, such as Fuso, Yamato, Mizuho and Akitsushima. In addition, it may be described as a country of sixty-six provinces and two islands3 that measures over three thousand ri in length, and varies in width from a hundred ri to five hundred ri. It is divided into the five provinces of the capital area and the seven marches, and it has 586 districts and 3,729 villages. In terms of fields it includes 11,120 cho of superior lands and 885,567 cho of other kinds. The population numbers 4,989,658 persons. There are 3,132 shrines and 11,037 temples. Men number 1,994,828 and women 2,994,830.
Among all these men, Nichiren alone deserves to be regarded as foremost. In what sense is he foremost? He is foremost in being hated by men and women. The reason is that, although the provinces of Japan are numerous and their inhabitants are likewise numerous, they are alike in heart and their mouths all utter Namu Amida Butsu. They look upon Amida Buddha as their object of worship, hate all the other nine directions, and long only for the west.4 Thus those who practice the Lotus Sutra, those who carry out Shingon practices, those who observe the precepts, those who are wise and those who are foolish all look upon these practices as secondary and upon the Nembutsu as their primary practice and, hoping in this way to expiate their offenses, they recite the Buddhas name. Hence some of them recite it 60,000 times, 80,000 times or 480,000 times, while others recite it 10 times, 100 times or 1,000 times.
But I, Nichiren, one man alone, declare that the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha is an action that leads to rebirth in the hell of incessant suffering, that the Zen sect is the invention of the Devil of Heaven, that Shingon is an evil doctrine that will destroy the country, and that the Ritsu sect and the observers of the precepts are traitors to the nation.
Because I do so, from the sovereign on down to the common people, all persons fear me more than they would an enemy of their parents, an enemy from a past existence, a plotter of treason, a night raider or a bandit. They rage, they curse, they strike at me. Those who slander me are given grants of land, while those who praise me are driven from their areas or fined, and the people who desire to kill me are singled out for rewards. And on top of all this, I have twice incurred the wrath of the authorities.5
I am not only the strangest person alive in the world today; in the reigns of the ninety human sovereigns,6 in the seven hundred or more years since the Buddhist teachings were first introduced to Japan, there has never been such a strange person.
I, Nichiren, am like the great comet of the Bunei era (1264), a disorder of the heavens such as had never happened in Japan before that time. I, Nichiren, am like the great earthquake of the Shoka era (1257), a freak of the earth that had never occurred in this land until that time.
In Japan since the history of the country began, there have been twenty-six perpetrators of treason. The first was Prince Oyama, the second was Oishi no Yamamaru, and so on down to the twenty-fifth, Yoritomo, and the twenty-sixth, Yoshitoki. The first twenty-four of these men were struck down by the imperial forces and had their heads exposed at the prison gate or their corpses left to rot in the mountain fields. But the last two succeeded in overthrowing the sovereign and gaining complete control of the nation, and at that time the imperial rule came to an end.
And yet these various perpetrators of treason are less hated by the mass of people than is Nichiren. If you ask why that should be, I will tell you. The Lotus Sutra contains a passage declaring that that sutra is first among all the sutras.7 However, the Great Teacher Kobo declares that the Lotus Sutra ranks third,8 while the Great Teacher Jikaku declares that the Lotus Sutra ranks second, 9and the Great Teacher Chisho agrees with Jikaku. Hence at present, when the priests of Mount Hiei, To-Ji and Onjo-ji confront the Lotus Sutra, they read the passage that says the Lotus Sutra is first, but what they understand when they read it is that the Lotus Sutra is second or third in standing.
The members of the courtier and warrior families have no detailed information about this matter. But since the eminent priests upon whom they rely in matters of faith all subscribe to this opinion, the lay followers share the same view as their teachers.
With regard to other groups, the Zen sect describes itself as a teaching transmitted apart from the sutras,10 and hence speaks with scorn of the Lotus Sutra. The Nembutsu sect asserts that "not one person in a thousand..."11 and that "not a single person has ever attained Buddhahood"12 through any other teaching, by which it means that, in comparison to the Nembutsu, the Lotus Sutra is too lofty to practice and therefore ought to be rejected. The Ritsu sect is composed of Hinayana doctrines. Even in the Former Day of the Law the Buddha would not condone the spread of such teachings, so surely he would never approve of them being propagated in the Latter Day of the Law, causing the ruler of the nation to be confused and misled.
Three women of antiquity -- Ta Chi, Mo Hsi and Pao Ssu -- misled the rulers of the three dynasties13 and caused them to lose their thrones. And in the same way, these evil doctrines are propagated throughout the nation and cause the Lotus Sutra to lose its proper place. As a result, the great sovereigns Antoku, Takahira and the others were cast aside by Tensho Daijin and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman and drowned in the sea or were exiled to distant islands. They were overthrown by families who for generations in the past had been their followers, and this was because they had lost the protection of the heavenly deities. They put their faith in those who are enemies of the Lotus Sutra. But because there was no one who understood this, they had no way to learn of their error. This is illustrated in the statement that wise men can perceive the cause of things, just as snakes know the way of snakes.14
I, Nichiren, am no wise man. But just as a snake can understand the mind of a dragon and crows can foretell the coming of good or bad fortune in the world, so I was able to fathom the course that events would take. And I knew that if I spoke out on the matter, I would instantly meet with punishment, while if I did not speak out, I would fall into the great Avichi hell.
In studying the Lotus Sutra, there are three principles that must be understood. The first is that regarding slanderers. Monk Shoi, Monk Kugan, the scholar Vimalamitra and the Great Arrogant Brahman are examples. These men dressed their bodies in the three robes, lifted a single begging bowl up before their eyes,15 and meticulously observed the two hundred and fifty precepts, and yet they were in fact enemies of the Mahayana and in the end fell into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering.
In recent times in Japan there have been men like Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho who observed the precepts just as those earlier monks did and who did not differ from them in wisdom. But because they asserted that "The Shingon teaching of the Dainichi Sutra ranks first and the Lotus Sutra ranks second or third," if my view of the matter should by any chance be correct, they are now in the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering.
It is a fearful thing to utter such words, and still more does one hesitate to put them into writing. But, when the Buddha himself has declared that the Lotus is foremost, if one learns of a person who ranks it second or third and, out of fear of other people or of government authorities, fails to speak out, then "one is in fact an enemy,"16 that is, one is acting as a fearful enemy to all living beings. This is stated in both the sutras and the commentaries, and so I speak out.
To speak out without fearing and without flinching before society this is what the sutra means when it says, "We care nothing for our bodies or lives but are anxious only for the unsurpassed way."17
It is not that one does not recall the evil accusations, the sticks and stones that were suffered by Bodhisattva Fukyo. It is not that one is unafraid of the world. It is just that the censures of the Lotus Sutra are even more severe. It is like the case of Sukenari and Tokimune, who acted as they did even though they found themselves in the camp of the shogun because they longed to avenge themselves upon their enemy and were ashamed at the thought of failing to do so.
The above is the principle relating to slanderers.
As for the families of slanderers, the family members may pass their entire lives without slandering the Lotus Sutra. But even though they practice it every hour of the day and night, the fact that they were born into the family of a slanderer means that they will invariably be reborn in the hell of incessant suffering.18 For example, those persons who were born into the family of Monk Shoi or Monk Kugan and became their disciples or lay supporters all fell, against their will, into the hell of incessant suffering. Or it is like the family members of Yoshimori. Setting aside the question of those who gave their lives in battle, even the children still in their mothers wombs, torn from their mothers bellies, were killed before birth.
Now I, Nichiren, have mentioned the three great teachers Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho, who boldly state in their writings that the Lotus Sutra represents the region of darkness, that it is a false and deluded doctrine. If what the Lotus Sutra itself says is correct, then what do you suppose will become of all the priests at Mount Hiei, To-ji, Onjo-ji, the seven major temples of Nara and the other 11,037 temples throughout Japan? If the examples cited earlier are any indication, they will without a doubt fall into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering.
Such is the principle relating to the families of slanderers.
Next we come to the country of slanderers. Those persons who happen to live in a country where there are slanderers of the Law will all -- everyone in the entire country -- be condemned to the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering. Just as all the various waters gather in the great ocean, so all kinds of misfortune gather about such a country. They will abound in the way that grass and trees abound on a mountain.
When the three calamities pile up month after month and the seven disasters appear day after day, then hunger and thirst will prevail and the country will be changed into a realm of hungry spirits. When plague and disease sweep over the land, the country will become a realm of hell. When warfare breaks out, it will be transformed into a realm of asuras. And when parents, brothers and sisters, ignoring the fact that they are kin, begin taking each other for a husband or wife, the country will become a realm of beasts. Under such circumstances, one does not have to wait until death to fall into the three evil paths. While one is still alive, the country in which one lives will be changed into these four evil realms.
Such is the principle relating to a country where slanderers live.
The people in such a country will be like those who lived in the Latter Day of Daishogon Buddha, or in the defiled age of Shishionno Buddha. Or, if what the Hoon Sutra tells us is true, people will eat the flesh of their own deceased parents or brothers or sisters or of any other dead person, and they will eat live creatures as well.
Japan at present is just such a country. The entire nation is full of Shingon teachers, members of the Zen sect and observers of the precepts who eat people. And this has come about wholly as a result of the false doctrines of Shingon.
Ryuzo-bo is merely one of the countless number of eaters of people whose case has happened to come to light. In a spirit similar to his, people procure human flesh and mix it with boar or deer meat, or cut it up and blend it with fish or fowl, pound it or pickle it and then sell it. It is impossible to tell how many people have eaten it. All this has happened because the country has been cast aside by the heavenly gods and abandoned by the benevolent deities who watch over and protect it. In the end, this country will be attacked by other nations, its inhabitants will fall to fighting among themselves, and it will be transformed into a veritable hell of incessant suffering.
Because I, Nichiren, have for some time been able to see the great error of its ways, because I wish to avoid the offense of complicity in slander, because I fear the accusations of the Buddhas, and because I understand my obligations and wish to repay the debt of gratitude I owe my country, I have announced and made known all of this to the ruler of the country and to all its inhabitants.
The precept against the killing of living creatures is the first among all the various precepts. The five precepts begin with the precept against taking life, and the eight precepts, the ten precepts, the two hundred and fifty precepts, the five hundred precepts, the ten major precepts of the Bommo Sutra, the ten inexhaustible precepts of the Kegon Sutra and the ten precepts of the Yoraku Sutra, all begin with the precept against killing. And among the three thousand penalties prescribed by the Confucian school, capital punishment stands in first place.
The reason is that "Nothing throughout the entire major world system matches the value of a living being,"19 which means that not even all the jewels and treasures that fill the entire major world system can equal the value of a life. One who kills a mere ant will fall into hell, to say nothing of those who kill fish or birds! One who cuts a mere blade of green grass will fall into hell, to say nothing of those who cut up dead bodies!
And yet, grave as are these prohibitions against taking life, it is stated that if a person acts as an enemy of the Lotus Sutra, then one who puts such a person to death is performing an act of outstanding benefit. And if this is so, then how could it possibly be right to offer alms and support to such a person? This is why King Senyo put to death 500 Brahman teachers, why the monk Kakutoku put to death a countless number of slanderers of the Law, and why the great monarch Ashoka put to death 108,000 non-Buddhists.
These rulers and monks were looked upon as the most worthy kings in the entire land of Jambudvipa, as the wisest of all among the observers of the precepts. King Senyo was later reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha, the monk Kakutoku was reborn as Kasho Buddha, and the great monarch Ashoka was recognized as a man who had attained the way.
Today Japan resembles the countries of these persons. It is a country where, whether they are observers of the precepts, breakers of the precepts or persons without precepts, whether they are rulers, ministers or common people, everyone joins together as one in slandering the Lotus Sutra. The situation is such that, even if one should strip off his own skin and transcribe the Lotus Sutra on it, or should offer his own flesh as alms,20 the country would still be certain to perish and that person himself would fall into hell, so great is his offense. The only remedy is to bar the way to the Shingon sect, the Nembutsu sect, the Zen sect and the observers of the precepts, and to devote oneself to the Lotus Sutra!
Those men who can recite from memory the sixty volumes of the Tendai sect and who are thought by the ruler of the nation and the other authorities to be men of wisdom: is it because their wisdom fails them, or because, though they understand the true situation, they fear the world, that they praise the Shingon sect and join forces with the Nembutsu, Zen and Ritsu followers? Their guilt is a hundred, a thousand times greater than that of these followers! They may be compared to Shigeyoshi or Yoshimura.
The Great Teacher Tzu-en wrote the ten-volume Hokke genzan, in which he praised the Lotus Sutra, and yet he fell into hell. This man was a leading disciple of the Tripitaka Master Hsuan-tsang, who was the teacher of Emperor Tai-tsung, and was said to have been a reincarnation of the eleven-faced Kannon. The subject matter of his writings resembled the Lotus Sutra, but at heart it was identical with the sutras preached previous to the Lotus Sutra, and that was the reason he fell into hell.
The Great Teacher Chia-hsiang wrote the ten-volume Hokke genron, and that would under ordinary circumstances have condemned him to fall into the hell of incessant suffering. But he set aside his own manner of reading the Lotus Sutra and served the Great Teacher Tien-tai, and thus was able to escape the pains of hell.
The men of the Hokke sect today are like these men. Mount Hiei should be a stronghold of the Lotus Sutra, and Japan should be a country devoted to the teachings of the single vehicle. And yet the Great Teacher Jikaku stole the post of chief priest of the sect that should have been devoted to the Lotus Sutra and instead became a chief priest of Shingon teachings, and all the three thousand priests of the mountain became his followers.
The Great Teacher Kobo stole the allegiance of Emperor Saga, who earlier had been a lay supporter of the Hokke sect, and turned the imperial palace into a temple of the Shingon sect.
Emperor Antoku, who relied on the chief priest Myoun as his teacher, had him pray with incantations for the defeat of the court minister Yoritomo. However, not only were these men punished by General of the Right Yoritomo, but in the end Emperor Antoku drowned in the western sea and Myoun was put to death by Yoshinaka.
The sovereign Takahira summoned the administrator of monks Jien, the Tendai chief priest, and other eminent priests of To-ji, Omuro and other temples, forty-one men in all, and had them erect a great altar in the imperial palace and perform incantations to overpower Yoshitoki, the acting administrator of the western sector of the capital. But on the seventh day, which fell on the fourteenth day of the sixth month, the capital was overwhelmed by Yoshitokis forces, the sovereigns were exiled to the province of Oki or to the island of Sado, the chief priest and the priests of Omuro and the others were severely reprimanded, and in some cases worried themselves to death.
The people of our time fail to understand the true origin of these events. This is entirely because they are confused as to the relative merit of the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra.
And now, when Japan faces the threat of an attack from the great empire of the Mongols, we are told that the authorities are employing these same inauspicious doctrines in an attempt to overpower the Mongols through incantations. The daily records also make it clear that this is so. Can anyone who understands the true situation fail to sigh in sorrow?
How tragic, that we should be born in a country where people slander the True Law and should encounter such great hardships! Though we may escape being slanderers ourselves, how can we escape censure for belonging to a family of slanderers or a country of slanderers?
If you would escape censure for being a member of a family that includes slanderers, then speak to your parents or your brothers about this matter. Perhaps they will hate you for it, but perhaps they will put faith in your words.
If you would escape censure for living in a country where there are slanderers, then you should remonstrate with the sovereign, though you may be condemned to death or to exile. "We care nothing for our bodies or lives but are anxious only for the unsurpassed way," says the Lotus Sutra. And the commentary states, "Ones body is insignificant while the Law is supreme. One should give ones life in order to propagate the Law."21
The reason you have not succeeded in attaining Buddhahood from countless distant kalpas in the past down to the present is that, when a situation such as this has arisen, you have been too fearful to speak out. And in the future as well, this principle will prevail.
Now I, Nichiren, understand these things because of what I myself have undergone. But even if there are those among my disciples who understand them, they fear the accusations of the times and, believing that their lives, which are as frail as dew, are in fact to be relied upon, backslide, keep their beliefs hidden in their hearts or behave in other such ways.
A passage in the Lotus Sutra says that the sutra is "the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand,"22 and I have learned the value of this passage through my own experience. Slanderers are as numerous as the particles of dust on the earth; believers are as few as the dirt that can be piled on a fingernail. Slanderers are a huge sea, upholders, one drop of water.
On Mount Tien-tai there is a place called the Dragon Gate, which is a waterfall a thousand feet in height. At the beginning of spring the fish gather there and attempt to ascend the waterfall, and if there is one fish in a hundred or a thousand that succeeds in ascending the waterfall, it will become a dragon.
The current of this waterfall is swifter than an arrow or a flash of lightning. Not only is the waterfall difficult to ascend, but at the beginning of spring fishermen gather by the waterfall and spread hundreds and thousands of nets to catch the fish, or shoot arrows at the fish or scoop them up. Eagles, hawks, kites, owls, tigers, wolves, dogs and foxes gather there as well, day and night snatching up the fish and devouring them. Thus ten or twenty years may go by without a single fish changing into a dragon. It is like a person of common and humble station dreaming of being admitted to the palace of the emperor, or a woman of humble birth hoping to become empress.
And you should understand that taking faith in the Lotus Sutra is even more difficult than this.
The Buddha has constantly warned us, saying that no matter how great an observer of the precepts a person may be, no matter how lofty in wisdom and well versed in the Lotus Sutra and the other scriptures, if that person sees an enemy of the Lotus Sutra but fails to attack and denounce him or report him to the ruler of the nation, instead keeping silent out of fear of others, then he will invariably fall into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering. Suppose, by way of analogy, that one oneself commits no treasonable act, but knows of someone who is plotting treason. If one fails to inform the ruler, then one is guilty of the same crime as the person who is plotting treason.
The Great Teacher Nan-yueh has stated: "If one sees a foe of the Lotus Sutra and yet fails to censure him, one becomes a slanderer of the Law and will fall into the hell of incessant suffering."23 Even a man of great wisdom, if he sees such a person and fails to speak out, will fall into the depths of the hell of incessant suffering, and as long as that hell shall endure, he will never escape.
I, Nichiren, fearing these admonitions of the Buddha, accordingly accused all those throughout the nation who were deserving of it, and more than once I was condemned to exile or to the death penalty. Believing that my past offenses had now been eradicated and that I was blameless of any fault, I left Kamakura to take up residence in this mountain, and since then seven years have passed.
Let me describe this mountain. In Japan there are seven marches, and it is in the march called the Takaido, which is made up of fifteen provinces. Within these is the province of Kai, where there are three village districts called Iino, Mimaki and Hakiri, and it is in the one called Hakiri. It is a remote mountain region that stretches over an area of more than twenty ri in the northwestern part of the district.
The northern part is Mount Minobu, the southern, Mount Takatori, the western, Mount Shichimen, and the eastern, Mount Tenshi. They are like boards set up on all four sides. Around the outside of this area run four rivers, the Fujigawa running north to south and the Hayakawa running west to east at the rear of the area, and before the area the Hakirigawa, which runs west to east, and its tributary, which has a waterfall and is called the Minobugawa. You might suppose that Eagle Peak had been moved from central India and set down here, or that Mount Tien-tai had been brought from China.
In the midst of these four mountains and four rivers is a flat area no broader than the palm of a hand, and here I have built a little hut to shield me from the rain. I have peeled bark off trees to make my four walls, and wear a robe made of the hides of deer that died a natural death. In spring I break off ferns to nourish my body, and in autumn I gather fruit to keep myself alive. But since the eleventh month of last year the snow has been piling up, and now, when we are into the first month of the new year, it goes on snowing. My hut is seven feet in height, but the snow is piled up to a depth of ten feet. I am surrounded by four walls of ice, and icicles hang down from the eaves like a necklace of jewels adorning my place of religious practice, while inside my hut snow is heaped up in place of rice.
Even in ordinary times people seldom come here, and now, with the snow so deep and the roads blocked, I have no visitors at all. So at the moment I am atoning for the karma that destines me to fall into the eight cold hells and, far from attaining Buddhahood in this present life, I am like the cold-suffering bird. I no longer shave my head, so I look like a quail, and my robe gets so stiff with ice that it resembles the icy wings of the mandarin duck.
To such a place, where friends from former times never come to visit, where I have been abandoned even by my own disciples, you have sent these vessels, which I heap with snow, imagining it to be rice, and from which I drink water, thinking it to be gruel. Please let your thoughts dwell on the effects of your kindness. There is much more I would like to say.
With my deep respect,
The twenty-seventh day of the first month in the third year of Koan (1280)
Reply to Akimoto Taro Hyoe
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 7.
Designed by Will Kallander