Letter from Sado
This letter is addressed to Toki Jonin. It should also be shown to Shijo Kingo, Tonotsuji Juro1, Sajiki no Ama2 and my other disciples. Send me the names of those killed in the battles at Kyoto and Kamakura. Also please have those who are coming here bring me the Geten Sho,3 volume two of the Hokke Mongu and volume four of the Hokke Gengi, as well as the collected Imperial reports and edicts.
The most dreadful things in the world are the pain of fire, the flashing of swords and the shadow of death. Even horses and cattle fear being killed; no wonder human beings are afraid of death. Even a leper clings to life; no wonder a healthy person struggles to live. The Buddha taught that offering one's little finger for the sutra is more rewarding than covering an entire galaxy with seven kinds of jewels.4 Sessen Doji offered his life, and Gyobo Bonji ripped off his own skin to seek the truth of Buddhism. Since nothing is more precious than life itself, those who dedicate their l ives to the Buddhist practice are certain to attain Buddhahood. If they are prepared to offer their lives, why should they begrudge any other treasure for the sake of Buddhism? On the other hand, if one is loath to part with his material possessions, how can he possibly give away his life, which is far more valuable?
Society dictates that one should repay a great obligation to another even at the cost of his own life. Many warriors die for their lords, perhaps even more than one would imagine. A man will die to defend his honor; a woman will die for a man. Fish want to survive; they deplore their pond's shallowness and dig holes to hid in, yet tricked by bait, they take the hook. Birds in a tree fear that they are too low and perch in the top branches, yet bewitched by bait, they too are caught in snares. Human beings are equally vulnerable. They give their lives for shallow, worldly matters but rarely for the noble cause of Buddhism. Small wonder they do not attain Buddhahood.
Buddhism should be spread by the method of either shoju or shakubuku, depending upon the age. These are analogous to the two worldly arts of the pen and the sword. The bodhisattvas of old practiced the Law as befitted the times. Sessen Doji offered his own body when told that he would be taught the Law in return. Prince Satta gave his own flesh and blood to carry out his bodhisattva practice. But should one sacrifice his life at a time when it is not required? In an age when there is no paper, one should use his own skin. In an age when there are no pens, one should use his own bones. In an age when society accepts the True Law and honors the percepts while denouncing those who break or ignore them, one should strictly follow them all. In an age when Confucianism or Taoism is used to assail Buddhism, one should risk his life to debate with the emperor, as did the priests Tao-an, Hui-yuan and Fa-tao.5 In and age when people confuse Hinayana and Mahayana, provisional and true teachings or exoteric and esoteric doctrines, as though unable to distinguish gems from pebbles or cows' milk from asses' milk6, one should strictly differentiate between them, following the example of the Great Teachers T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo.
It is the nature of beasts to threaten the weak and fear the strong. Our contemporary scholars are just like them. They despise a wise man without power but fear the evil rulers. They are merely servile courtiers. Only by defeating a powerful enemy can one prove his real strength. When an evil ruler in consort with heretical priests tries to destroy true Buddhism and banish a man of wisdom, those with the heart of a lion will surely attain Buddhahood as Nichiren did. I say this not out of arrogance but because I am committed to true Buddhism. An arrogant man will be overcome with fear when he meets a strong enemy, just like the haughty ashura who shrank and hid himself in a lotus flower blossoming in Munetchi Lake when reproached by Taishaku. Even a word or phrase of true Buddhism will lead one to the path of enlightenment, if it suits the times and the capacity of the people. Even though one may study a thousand sutras and ten thousand doctrines, he cannot attain Buddhahood, should those teachings not fit the times and the people's capacity.
Now, twenty-six years since the Battle of Hoji7, the Kamakura government is again plagued by internal strife. Rebellions8 have already broken out twice on the eleventh and the seventeenth day of the second month of this year. Neither non-Buddhists nor the enemies of Buddhism can destroy the Buddha's True Law, but the Buddha's disciples definitely can. As the sutra says, a parasite in the lion's bowels will devour the lion. A man of great fortune cannot be ruined by his enemies but only by those close to him. The current rebellion is what the Yakushi Sutra means by "the disaster of internal strife.9" The Ninno Sutra states, "When the sage departs, the seven types of calamity will invariably arise." The Konkomyo Sutra states, "The thirty-three heavenly gods become furious because the king permits evil to run rampant." Although Nichiren is not a sage, he is equal to one, for he embraces the Lotus Sutra exactly as the Buddha taught. Furthermore, since he has long understood the ways of the world, all the prophecies he wrote have come true without exception. Therefore you should not doubt what he has told you concerning your future existence.
Nichiren is the pillar, sun, moon, mirror and eyes of the ruling clan of Kanto10. On the twelfth day of the ninth month of last year when I was arrested, I boldly declared that if the country should lose Nichiren, the seven disasters would occur without fail. Didn't this prophecy come true just sixty and then one hundred fifty days later? And those battles were only the first signs. What lamenting there will be when the full effect appears People foolishly wonder why Nichiren is persecuted by the government if he is truly a wise man. Yet it is all just as I expected. King Ajatashatru killed his father and nearly murdered his mother, for which he was hailed by the six royal ministers. When Devadatta killed an arhat and shed the Buddha's blood, Kokalika11 and others were delighted. Nichiren is father and mother to the ruling clan and is like a Buddha or an arhat to this age. The sovereign and his subjects who rejoice at his exile are truly the most shameless of all. Those heretical priests who have been bewailing the exposure of their errors may be overjoyed for the moment, but eventually they will suffer no less than Nichiren and his disciples. Their joy is like Fujiwara Yasuhira's12 when he killed his brother and Minamoto Yoshitsune. The devil who shall destroy the ruling clan has already entered the country. This is the meaning of the passage from the Lotus Sutra which reads, " The devil enters one's body."13
The persecutions Nichiren has faced are the result of karma formed in previous lifetimes. The Fukyo chapter states, "... after expiating his sins," indicating that Bodhisattva Fukyo was vilified and beaten by countless slanderers because of his past karma. So, too, it is with Nichiren, who in this life was born poor and lowly to a chandala14 family. In my heart I cherish some faith in the Lotus Sutra, but my body, while outwardly human, is fundamentally that of an animal, which once subsisted on fish and fowl and was conceived of the male and female fluids. My spirit dwells in this body like the moon reflected in a muddy pond or gold wrapped in a filthy bag. Since my heart believes in the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear even Bonten or Taishaku, but my body is still that of an animal. With such disparity between my body and my mind, no wonder the foolish despise me. Without doubt, when compared to my body, my mind shines like the moon or gold. Who knows what slander I may have committed in the past? I may possess the soul of Priest Shoi15 or the spirit of Mahadeva16. Maybe I am descended from those who contemptuously persecuted Bodhisattva Fukyo or am among those who forgot their original faith17 in the Lotus Sutra. I may even be related to the five thousand arrogant people18 who would not remain to hear the sutra, or belong to the third and lowest group of Daitsu Buddha's disciples. It is impossible to fathom one's karma. Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword. Wise men and saints are tested by abuse. My present exile is not because of any crime. It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past heavy slanders and be freed from the three evil paths in the next.
The Hatsunaion Sutra states, "In the coming age, there will be those who enter the priesthood, don surplices and make a show of studying my teachings. However, being neither diligent nor serious about their practice, they will slander the Mahayana sutras. You should be aware that these people are the ones who are following the heretical religions of today." Those who read this passage should reflect deeply on their own practice. The Buddha is saying that those of our contemporary priests who are lazy and remiss were disciples of the six non-Buddhist teachers in Shakyamuni's day. The followers of Honen who call themselves the Nembutsu sect not only turn people away from the Lotus Sutra, telling them to "discard, close, ignore and abandon" it, but advocate chanting only the name of Amida, a Buddha described in the provisional teachings. The followers of Dainichi, known as the Zen sect, claim that the true teachings of Buddhism have been transmitted apart from the sutras. They ridicule the Lotus Sutra as nothing more than a finger pointing to the moon or a meaningless string of words. These priests were certainly followers of the six non-Buddhist teachers, only now they have entered the stream of Buddhism. According to the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha had enabled everyone to attain enlightenment by teaching the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Yet, alas, when he illuminated the hundred and thirty-six hells underground, instead of finding them empty, he saw that the slanderers of Buddhism who were people of incorrigible disbelief were still being confined there by the guards of hell. They proliferated until they became the people of Japan today.
Since Nichiren himself committed slander in the past, he became a Nembutsu priest in this lifetime, and for several years he also laughed at those who practiced the Lotus Sutra, saying, "Not a single person has ever attained Buddhahood through that sutra"19 or "Not one person in a thousand can reach enlightenment through its teachings."20 Awakening from my slanderous condition, I feel like a drunken son, who, in his stupor, strikes his parents but thinks nothing of it. When he returns to his senses, he regrets it bitterly but to no avail. His offense is extremely difficult to erase. Even more so are past slanders of the Law, which stain the depth of one's heart. A sutra21 states that both the crow's blackness and the heron's whiteness are actually the deep stains of their past karma. The Brahmans and other non-Buddhists refused to recognize this causality and claimed it was the work of nature, and today, when I expose people's slanders in an effort to save them, they deny it with every excuse possible and argue back with Honen's words about barring the gates to the Lotus Sutra. From Nembutsu believers this is scarcely surprising, but even the Tendai and Shingon priests actively support them. On the sixteenth and the seventeenth day of the first month of this year, hundreds of priests and believers from the Nembutsu and other sects came to debate with Nichiren. Representing the Nembutsu, Insho-bo said, "Saint Honen did not instruct us to discard the Lotus Sutra. He simply wrote that everyone should chant the Nembutsu, and its great blessings will assure their ascension to the pure land. Even the Tendai priests of Onjo-ji and Enryaku-ji temples22 exiled to this island praise Saint Honen and say how excellent his teaching is. How do you dare try to refute it?" The local priests are even more ignorant than their counterparts in Kamakura. They are absolutely pitiful.
How terrible are the slanders Nichiren committed in his past and present existences! Since you have been born into this evil country and become the disciple of such a man, there is no telling what you may have to endure. The Hatsunaion Sutra reads, "Men of devout faith, because you committed countless sins and accumulated much evil karma in the past, you must expect to suffer retribution for everything you have done. You may be reviled, cursed with an ugly appearance, be poorly clad and poorly fed, seek wealth in vain, be born to an impoverished or heretical family, or be persecuted by your sovereign." It further states, "It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law that one can diminish in this lifetime his suffering and retribution." Were it not for Nichiren, these passages from the sutra would virtually make the Buddha a liar. For none, save Nichiren have experienced all eight sufferings described in the s utra: (1) to be slighted; (2) to posses an ugly physical form; (3) to lack clothing; (4) to lack food; (5) to seek wealth in vain; (6) to be born to a poor family; (7) to be born to a heretical family; and (8) to be persecuted by one's sovereign. One who climbs a high mountain must eventually descend. One who slights another will in turn be despised. One who deprecates those of handsome appearance will be born ugly. One who robs another of food and clothing is sure to fall into the world of hunger. One who mocks noble men or anyone who observes the precepts will be born to a poor family. One who slanders a family that embraces the True Law will be born to a heretical family. One who laughs at those who cherish the precepts will be born a commoner and meet with persecution from his sovereign. This is the general law of cause and effect.
Nichiren's suffering, however, are not ascribable to this causal law. In the past he despised the votaries of the Lotus Sutra and ridiculed the sutra itself, sometimes with exaggerated praise and other times with contempt. He has met all eight of these terrible sufferings for such acts against the Lotus Sutra which is as magnificent as two jewels combined, two moons shining side by side, two stars conjoined or one Mount Hua23 placed atop another. Usually these sufferings would torment a person over many lifetimes, appearing one at a time. but Nichiren has denounced the enemies of the Lotus Sutra so severely that all eight descended upon him at once. His situation is like that of a peasant heavily in debt to his lord and others. As long as he remains on the estate, they are likely to defer his debts from one year to the next, rather than mercilessly hounding him. But as soon as he tries to leave, everyone will rush over and demand that he repay everything at once. Thus the sutra states, "It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law that one can diminish...his suffering and retribution."
The Lotus Sutra reads, "There are many ignorant people who will vilify and attack us, the votaries of the Lotus Sutra, with swords, staves and stone... they will denounce us to the sovereign, ministers, Brahmans and other influential men... we will be banished again and again."24 Without hell's guards to torment them, slanderers could never emerge from hell. Were it not for the authorities who now persecute Nichiren, he could not expiate his past sin of slandering the Law. Nichiren is like Bodhisattva Fukyo who lived in ages past, and the people of this day are like the priests, nuns and lay men and women who disdained and persecuted Fukyo. The people are different, yet the cause is the same. Different people may kill their parents, but they all fall into the same hell of incessant suffering. Since Nichiren is making the same cause as Fukyo, he is certain to become a Buddha equal to Shakyamuni. Moreover, those who now persecute him are like Bhadrapala25 and the others who persecuted Fukyo. They will be tortured in the depths of hell for a thousand aeons. I therefore pity them deeply and wonder what can be done for them. Those who at first disdained and persecuted Fukyo later took faith in his teachings and became his followers. The greater part of their slander was thus expiated, but even the small part which remained caused them to suffer as terribly as one who had killed his parents a thousand times over. The people of this age refuse to repent at all and must therefore suffer for interminable aeons as described in the Hiyu chapter, perhaps even for the duration of sanzen- or gohyaku-jintengo.
There are also those who appeared to believe in Nichiren but began doubting when they saw him persecuted. They have not only forsaken the Lotus Sutra but actually think themselves wise enough to instruct Nichiren. The pitiful thing is that these perverse people must suffer in the depths of hell even longer than the Nembutsu believers. Ashura contended that the Buddha had only eighteen sensory functions but that he himself had nineteen. Brahmans claimed that the Buddha offered only one way to enlightenment but they had ninety-five. In the same way, the renegade disciples say that although Priest Nichiren is their teacher, he is too rigid, and they will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more flexible way. In so asserting, they are being as ridiculous as fireflies laughing at the sun and moon, an anthill belittling Mount Hua, small inlets despising the boundless sea, or a magpie mocking the Chinese phoenix. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The twentieth day of the third month in the ninth year of Bun'ei (1272)
There is very little writing paper here in the province of Sado, and to write to you individually would take too long. However, if even one person fails to hear me, it will cause resentment. Therefore, I want all sincere believers to meet and read this letter together for encouragement. When disaster strikes, our personal troubles seem insignificant. I do not know how accurate the reports reaching me are, but there must surely be intense grieving over those killed in the recent battles. What has become of Izawa no Nyudo and Sakabe no Nyudo26? Send me news of Kawanobe, Yamashiro, Tokugyo-ji27 and the others. Also, please be kind enough to send me the Essentials of Government28 in the Chen-kuan Era, the Anthology of Tales29, and the Esoteric Teachings30 of the Eight Sects. Without these, I cannot even write letters.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. I, pp. 33-44.
Designed by Will Kallander