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Letter to Shomitsu-bo

With regard to the Dainichi Sutra, Shan-wu-wei, Pu-k'ung and Chin-kang-chih declared that the principle of the Dainichi Sutra is the same as the principle of the Lotus Sutra, but in the matter of mudras and mantras, the Lotus Sutra is inferior. On the other hand, the Chinese priests Liang-hsu, Kuang-hsiu and Wei-chuan declared that the Dainichi Sutra cannot compare to the Kegon, Lotus or Nirvana Sutra, but is merely one of the sutras belonging to the Hodo category.

The Great Teacher Kobo of Japan states, "The Lotus Sutra is inferior even to the Kegon Sutra, and so of course it cannot compare to the Dainichi Sutra." He also says: "The Lotus Sutra was preached by Shakyamuni, while the Dainichi Sutra was preached by the Buddha Mahavairochana or Dainichi. The lord of teachings who proclaims the sutra is different in the two cases. In addition, Shakyamuni Buddha is a mere messenger of Dainichi Buddha. He preached the exoteric doctrines, which represent no more than the first step toward the esoteric doctrines." And again he states, "The Buddha of the Juryo chapter, which is the heart of the Lotus Sutra, is a Buddha in terms of the exoteric teachings; but from the point of view of the esoteric teachings, he is no more than a common mortal who is bound by and entangled in illusions and desire."

Nichiren, after pondering the matter, has this to say: The Dainichi Sutra is one of the newer translations and was transmitted to China by the Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei of India in the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsung of the T'ang, in the fourth year of the K'ai-yuan era (716). The Lotus Sutra is one of the older translations, transmitted to China by the Learned Doctor Kumarajiva in the time of the Later Ch'in (384-417). The two are separated by an interval of more than three hundred years.

A hundred years or more after the Lotus Sutra was brought to China, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che established in the realm of doctrinal studies the classification of the five periods and the four teaching. He refuted the doctrinal interpretations that had been put forward by the scholars of the preceding five hundred years or more, and through his practice of meditation he awakened to the truth of ichinen sanzen, realizing for the first time the principle of the Lotus Sutra. The Sanron school that had preceded the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and the Hosso school that appeared after his time both taught the doctrine of the eight worlds but made no mention of the Ten Worlds. So these sects could not possibly have established the doctrine of ichinen sanzen.

The Kegon school had its beginnings among the various teachers of northern and southern China before T'ien-t'ai's advent. These teachers declared that the Kegon Sutra was superior to the Lotus Sutra, but at that time they did not refer to themselves as the Kegon school. It was Fa-tsang and Ch'eng-kuan, men of the reign of Empress Tse-t'ien, the consort of Emperor Kao-tsung of the T'ang, who first began using the term Kegon school.

This school, in its doctrinal interpretations, posits the five teachings, and, in its mediational practices, sets forth the principles of the ten mysteries and the six forms. All these teachings appear to be extremely impressive, and one might think that by means of them Ch'eng-kuan would have been able to refute the teachings of T'ien-t'ai. But in fact what Ch'eng-kuan did was to borrow T'ien-t'ai's doctrine of ichinen sanzen and define it as the true intent of the passage in the Kegon Sutra that reads, "The mind is like a skilled painter." We might say, then, that the Kegon school was actually defeated by T'ien-t'ai, or perhaps we should say that it was guilty of stealing the doctrine of ichinen sanzen. Ch'eng-kuan was, to be sure, a strict observer of the precepts. Not a single precept of either the Mahayana or Hinayana codes did he violate in any way. And yet he stole the doctrine of ichinen sanzen, a fact that ought to be made known by word of mouth.

Whether or not the term "Shingon school" was used in India is a matter of serious doubt. It may simply be that, because there is a group of sutras known as the Shingon sutras, Shan-wu-wei and others affixed the term "school" to the teachings based on these sutras when they introduced them to China. One should be well aware of this point.

In particular one should note that, when Shan-wu-wei came to judge the relative merits of the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra, he set forth the interpretation that the two are equal in principle but that the latter is superior in terms of practice. By this he meant that, although the principle of ichinen sanzen is the same in both the Lotus and the Dainichi sutras, the Lotus Sutra contains no mention of mudras and mantras, and is therefore, in terms of the practices to be carried out, inferior to the Dainichi Sutra. So long as it lacks actual descriptions of the formulas for practice, one cannot say that it represents the esoteric teachings in both theory and practice.

Nowadays many people in Japan, as well as many leaders of the different sects, subscribe to this opinion of Shan-wu-wei, including the leaders of the Tendai sect, who should be the last to do so. In this they are just like the members of the various sects who, although jealous [of the Nembutsu believers], have all begun themselves to call out the name of Amida, and have completely abandoned the particular object of worship revered in their own sects. So the Tendai priests have all sunk to the level of Shingon believers.

I am very suspicious of the logic underlying Shan-wu-wei's argument. This Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei declares that the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra are equal in principle but that the latter is superior in terms of practice. He is taking the doctrine of ichinen sanzen first enunciated by the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and reading it into the Dainichi Sutra and on that basis arbitrarily declaring that the two sutras are alike. But should we accept such an assertion?

For example, long ago, Hitomaro composed a poem that goes:

How I think of it -

dim, dim in the morning mist

of Akashi Bay,

that boat moving out of sight

beyond the islands.

Ki no Shukubo, Minamoto no Shitagau, and others have praised this poem, declaring it to be "the father and mother of poetry." Now suppose someone should announce that he had composed a poem and, without changing a single syllable, should proceed to recite this poem by Hitomaro and then boast that his talent was in no way inferior to that of Hitomaro. Would anyone be likely to agree with his claim? Uneducated people like hunters and fishermen might just possibly do so.

Now this principle of ichinen sanzen that was first put forward by the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai is the father and mother of the Buddhas. Yet, a hundred years or so later, Shan-wu-wei steals this doctrine and proceeds to declare in his writings that the Dainichi Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are equal in principle and that the principle they have in common is this one of ichinen sanzen. Should any person of wisdom or understanding give credence to such a claim?

He further asserts that the Dainichi Sutra is superior in terms of practice because the Lotus Sutra contains no mention of mudras and mantras. Now is he speaking of the relative worth of the Sanskrit versions of the Dainichi and Lotus sutras? Or is he speaking of the relative worth of the Chinese versions of these two sutras?

The Learned Doctor Pu-k'ung's translation of the Hokke Gengi, or Rituals Based on the Lotus Sutra, indicates that the Lotus Sutra does in fact contain mudras and mantras. Similarly, the older translation of the Ninno Sutra by Kumarajiva contains no mudras or mantras; but the later translation of the same sutra by Pu-k'ung does contain mudras and mantras.

These various sutras as they existed in India no doubt had a countless number of such practices associated with them. But because India and China are far apart and it was difficult to transport everything, the sutras were abridged [when they were brought to China].

Although the Lotus Sutra does not mention mudras and mantras, it has the merit of declaring that persons in the two realms of shomon and engaku can attain Buddhahood, and even records the kalpas when this will happen, the lands where it will take place, and the names that the various shomon disciples will bear when they become Buddhas. And it also declares that the Buddha attained enlightenment in the incomparably distant past. The Dainichi Sutra may describe mudras and mantras, but it says nothing about the attainment of Buddhahood by those of the two vehicles of shomon and engaku, or the Buddha's original enlightenment in the far distant past.

If we compare this doctrine of the attainment of Buddhahood by persons of the two vehicles with the matter of mudras and mantras, we will see that they are as far apart in importance as heaven and earth. In all the various sutras that the Buddha preached in the forty or more years before he preached the Lotus Sutra, persons of the two vehicles of shomon and engaku are described as [incapable of attaining Buddhahood, like] rotten seeds that will never sprout. They are condemned not merely in a word or two but in innumerable passages in sutra after sutra. In the Lotus Sutra, however, all these passages are refuted; and it is proclaimed that persons of the two vehicles can in fact attain Buddhahood.

As for mudras and mantras, where in any sutra has one ever encountered a passage condemning them? And since they have never been condemned, the Dainichi Sutra, as many other sutras do, feels no hesitation in mentioning mudras and mantras, and therefore teaches them.

A mudra is a gesture made with the hand. But if the hand does not become Buddha, how can mudras made with the hand lead one to Buddhahood? A mantra is a motion made with the mouth. But if the mouth does not become Buddha, how can mantras made with the mouth lead one to Buddhahood? If the persons of the two vehicles do not encounter the Lotus Sutra, then even though they may perform the mudras and mantras of the twelve hundred and more honored ones for innumerable kalpas, they will never attain Buddhahood in body, mouth or mind.

One who would declare as superior a text that contains no mention of the fact that persons in the two vehicles can attain Buddhahood, though this is a highly superior teaching, but instead describes mudras and mantras, though these are a matter of inferior significance, must be a thief in terms of principle and a heretic in terms of practice - the kind who regards inferior things as superior. Because he committed this error, Shan-wu-wei was censured by Emma, the king of hell. Later he repented of it, revered the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, and put his faith in the Lotus Sutra; so he escaped the realm of evil.

The Buddha's original enlightenment in the far distant past is not even hinted at in the Dainichi Sutra. And yet this original enlightenment is the source of all Buddhas. Thus if we take the vast ocean as a symbol of the Buddha's original enlightenment in the distant past, then the fish and birds that inhabit it are comparable to the twelve hundred and more honored ones of the Shingon teachings. Without the revelation of the Buddha's enlightenment countless ages ago, the twelve hundred and more honored ones would become like so many bits of floating weed that lack any root, or like the nighttime dew that lasts only until the sun rises.

People of the Tendai sect fail to understand this matter and thus allow themselves to be deceived by the Shingon teachers. And the Shingon teachers themselves, unaware that their own sect is in error, go on vainly accumulating distorted ideas that can only lead to the evil paths of existence.

The priest Kukai [Kobo] not only failed to understand this principle, but in addition he borrowed a false interpretation of the Kegon sect that had already been refuted in the past; and adopted the erroneous view that the Lotus Sutra is inferior even to the Kegon Sutra. This is like talking about the length of turtles' fur or the existence of rabbits' horns. Since turtles in fact have no fur growing on their shells, can we argue about how long the fur is? Since rabbits have no horns on their heads, how can we go about discussing the existence of such horns?

Even someone [like Shan-wu-wei] who declared that the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra are the same in principle could not escape the censure of King Emma. How then can someone who says that the Kegon Sutra is inferior to the Dainichi Sutra, and that the Lotus Sutra is in turn inferior to the Kegon Sutra, escape the charge of slandering the Law? Though the individuals involved may differ, the slander is the same. From this we can discern the reason why Kukai's principal disciple, the Administrator of Monks Kakinomoto no Ki, turned into a blue demon [after his death]. Unless Kukai has repented of his mistaken opinions and rectified them, he no doubt still remains in the realm of evil. What then will be the fate of his followers?

Question: Priest, why do you alone spew forth such evil words about other people?

Answer: I, Nichiren, am not condemning others. I am only pointing out the questionable places in their doctrines. If anyone wants to get angry at me, then let him!

Long ago, the doctrines of Brahmanism spread throughout the five regions of India and prevailed there for eight hundred or a thousand years, so that everyone, from the wheel-turning kings on down to the myriad common people, bowed his head in reverence. And yet all its ninety-five schools were from first to last refuted by the Buddha. The fallacious doctrines of the priests of the Shoron school prevailed for more than a hundred years, but were later refuted; and the mistaken opinions of the Buddhist leaders of northern and southern China, after being accepted for more than three hundred years, were likewise refuted. In Japan, the doctrines of the six sects of Nara were refuted after prevailing for more than two hundred and sixty years; in fact, the Great Teacher Dengyo refutes them in some of his writings.

In Japan, there are five sects that belong to Mahayana Buddhism, namely, the Hosso, Sanron, Kegon, Shingon and Tendai sects. There are three Hinayana sects, the Kusha, Jojitsu and Ritsu sects. Next, though the Shingon, Kegon, Sanron and Hosso sects derive from Mahayana Buddhism, if one examines them closely, one will find that in fact they all belong to the Hinayana.

A sect may be defined as something that encompasses all the three types of learning, namely precepts, meditation and wisdom. Leaving aside meditation and wisdom for the moment, we should note that by means of the precepts they uphold, the various sects can be clearly divided into those of Mahayana and those of Hinayana. Neither the To-ji branch of the Shingon sect, nor the Hosso, Sanron or Kegon sect, has its own ordination platform for the administering of the precepts, and therefore they must use the platform at Todai-ji in Nara. This means that they are binding themselves to the precepts put forth by the Ritsu sect, a Hinayana sect, which are no better than donkey's milk or stinking excrement. In terms of the precepts that they observe, therefore, all these sects are to be classified as Hinayana.

The Great Teacher Dengyo received instruction in the teachings of the two sects of Tendai and Shingon [in China] and brought them back to Enryaku-ji temple on Mount Hiei. But in urging the establishment of an ordination platform for administering the precepts, Dengyo referred to the perfect meditation, perfect wisdom and perfect precepts of the perfect and immediate enlightenment of the Tendai sect. So it appears that he did not think it proper to use the term Shingon sect alongside the name Tendai sect. In the memorial that he submitted to the imperial court, he refers to the Shikan (concentration and insight) and Shingon (Vairochana discipline) practices of the Tendai-Hokke sect. And the oath concerning the precepts that Dengyo handed down to his disciple Jikaku in fact speaks of "the Shikan and Shingon of the Tendai-Hokke sect," with the term "Shingon sect" clearly omitted.

The Tendai-Hokke sect is known as the Buddha-founded sect, having been established by Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The Shingon sect was the invention of common mortals, and its scholars and teachers of later times were the ones who began to use the term "sect" to describe themselves. However, they ascribed the founding of the sect to the Buddha Dainichi and Bodhisattva Miroku. But only the single sect devoted to the Lotus Sutra conforms to the true intent of Shakyamuni Buddha.

The Hinayana teachings are divided into two sects, eighteen sects, or even twenty sects; but in essence they all expound a single principle, namely, the impermanence of all phenomena.

The Hosso sect teaches that all phenomena arise from the mind alone but have actual existence. There are countless different sects belonging to the Mahayana teachings, but insofar as they subscribe to this view - that the mind alone produces all phenomena but that phenomena have actual existence - then they may be regarded as constituting a single sect. The Sanron sect teaches that all phenomena arise from the mind alone and are without real existence. Again, there are countless different Mahayana sects, but insofar as they subscribe to this view - that the mind alone produces all phenomena and that phenomena have no real existence - then they may be regarded as constituting a single sect. So all these sects stress one or the other of two partial truths of the Mahayana: that phenomena have actual existence or that they are non-substantial (ku) in nature.

As for the Kegon and Shingon sects, if we were to speak generously of them, we could say that they represent the doctrine of the Middle Way that is independent of non-substantiality and temporary existence, while if we were to speak strictly of them, we would have to say that they are on a level with the two above-mentioned Mahayana views of phenomena. In terms of their content, the Dainichi Sutra cannot compare even with the Kegon or Hannya sutras. But because so many distinguished persons still put their faith in the Dainichi Sutra, the situation is rather like that of a king who bestows his love on a woman of humble station. The Dainichi Sutra is like a woman of humble station because its principles do not go beyond the doctrine of the Middle Way that is independent of non-substantiality and temporary existence. And the scholars and teachers who have upheld the Dainichi Sutra are comparable to a king because they command respect and influence among the people.

Since we are now living in the latter age when people are shallow in wisdom and puffed up with pride, it is unlikely that anyone will heed the points I have made in the discussion above. But when a sage or worthy man appears, then the full truth of the matter will no doubt become clear. Because I feel pity for you, I have written this letter as a guide. I hope you will study it when you have time.

The points touched on here are very important matters of doctrine. When you pay your respects to Bodhisattva Kokuzo, you should make a regular practice of reading this aloud.

Sent to Shomitsu-bo


Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 5, page 241.

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