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Persecution by Sword and Staff

The greatest of all the persecutions which I have suffered were the attempted decapitation at Tatsunokuchi1 and the attack at Tojo.2 None of the others were direct attempts on my life. I have been reviled, denounced, ousted, falsely accused, and struck across the face, but these were all comparatively minor incidents. I, Nichiren, am the only person in Japan to be abused in both body and mind [for the sake of the Lotus Sutra]. If anyone else has been slandered as I have, it was not because of the Lotus Sutra. One incident in particular I can never forget is how Shobo3 seized the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra4 and struck me across the face with it. His attack on me stemmed from the three poisons.

Once in India there was a jealous woman5 who hated her husband so much that she smashed everything in the house. Her excessive rage completely altered her appearance; her eyes blazed like the sun and moon, and her mouth seemed to belch fire. She looked exactly like a blue or red demon.6 She seized the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra which her husband had been reciting for some years and trampled it savagely with both feet. Later she died and fell into hell, all of her except her feet. Though the wardens of hell7 tried to force them down by beating them with iron staves her feet remained outside of hell as a result of the relationship, albeit a reverse one, which they had formed with the Lotus Sutra by trampling on it. Shobo struck me in the face with the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra because he hated me. Thus he too has formed a reverse relationship8 with this sutra.

One incident occurred in India, the other in Japan; one was perpetrated by a woman, and the other by a man; in one, a pair of feet committed the violence, and in the other, a pair of hands; one happened because of jealousy, the other because of the Lotus Sutra. However, the same fifth scroll of the sutra was involved in both instances. The woman’s feet did not enter hell, so why should Shobo’s hands fall into the hell of incessant suffering? The woman, however, hated only her husband and not the Lotus Sutra itself, whereas Shobo hated both the Lotus Sutra and me, Nichiren. Therefore his entire body will enter the hell of incessant suffering. As the sutra states, "When his life comes to an end, he will enter the Avichi hell."9 There is no mention of his hands being spared. How pitiful, how truly pitiful! Eventually, however, he will meet me again and be able to gain the fruit of Buddhahood, just as the four kinds of believers who arrogantly persecuted Bodhisattva Fukyo were ultimately saved by him.10

The fifth scroll contains the heart of the Lotus Sutra, for it reveals that the dragon king’s daughter attained Buddhahood in her present form. Devadatta represents the spiritual aspect of enlightenment, and the dragon king’s daughter, the physical aspect. The principle of attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form can be found nowhere else in the Buddha’s entire lifetime of teachings. The Great Teacher Dengyo enumerated ten outstanding points in which the Lotus Sutra surpasses all others. One of them is the sutra’s "superiority in leading people to attain Buddhahood in their present form." This is the most important doctrine of the Tendai sect, and a section of the Hokke mongu is devoted to this teaching of attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form. It is also a point of controversy between the Shingon and Tendai sects. The dragon king’s daughter attained Buddhahood through the power of the Lotus Sutra. Bodhisattva Monjushiri stated, "I constantly expounded the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law alone."11 The words "alone" and "constantly" are the core of this statement. However, the Bodaishin ron12 reads, "Only in the Shingon teachings [can one attain Buddhahood in one’s present form]." Which is one to accept, "only" or "alone"? The Muryogi Sutra states, "In these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth." The Lotus Sutra reads, "The World-Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth." Taho Buddha affirmed that only the Lotus Sutra enables one to attain Buddhahood in one’s present form when he said, "All that you have expounded [in the Lotus Sutra] is the truth."13 No matter how firmly the sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra guarantee the attainment of Buddhahood, and no matter how much the believers in these provisional doctrines may wildly insist that this is so, it is as easy to refute these assertions as it is to smash a thousand earthen cooking dishes with a single hammer. This is what is meant by [T’ien-t’ai’s words:] "The Lotus Sutra is the teaching of shakubuku, the refutation of the provisional doctrines."14 The Lotus Sutra is indeed the most profound teaching.

Ever since Jikaku, scholars of the Tendai sect have interpreted the passages from T’ien-tai’s three major works of the Hokke gengi, Hokke mongu and Maka shikan in one way or another, and have given plausible explanations. Their views, however, are as useless to us now as last year’s calendar or yesterday’s meal. Even if someone should insist that, in the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law, there exists a way to enlightenment apart from the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, you should take no heed of what he says, even if it is based on the Buddha’s teachings, and even less so if it is merely some teacher’s opinion. The Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches that Devadatta was the teacher of the Thus Come One Shakyamuni in some past existence. He who was once the teacher is now the disciple, and he who is now the disciple was formerly the teacher. On pondering this chapter, I, Nichiren, realized that it reveals the profound meaning of the Lotus Sutra through the oneness of past and present and the inseparability of the one who teaches and the one who learns. Therefore, the merciful Shakyamuni Thus Come One became the teacher of the wicked Devadatta, and the wise Monju became the teacher of the ignorant daughter of the dragon king. Certainly I, Nichiren, can in no way be inferior to Monju or to Shakyamuni Thus Come One. The men of Japan are like Devadatta and the women are like the dragon king’s daughter. Whether by following it or opposing it, they will attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra. This is the message of the Devadatta chapter.

Next we come to the Kanji chapter. Only I, Nichiren, have read with my entire being the twenty-line verse15 from this chapter, which the eight hundred thousand million nayutas of bodhisattvas proclaimed in a single voice. Since the Buddha’s death, who else in the three countries of India, China and Japan has ever read this verse as I have? No one even claims to have done so, nor do I believe that anyone has. The verse reads, "[There will be many ignorant people who will] ... attack us with swords and staves." Perhaps others have been beaten with staves, but I have never heard of any who were injured by the sword.

We know that Bodhisattva Fukyo was attacked with staves, as is written in the sutra, "[Some ... would take] sticks of wood or tiles and stones [and beat and pelt him, ]" but he was not persecuted by the sword. T’ien-t’ai, Miao-lo and Dengyo also escaped persecution by sword and staff, as the sutra states, "Swords and staves will not touch him."16 I, Nichiren, however, have been attacked by both. As I mentioned before, I was attacked with a sword at Matsubara in Tojo and later at Tatsunokuchi. No one else has been thus assaulted [for the sake of the Lotus Sutra] even once, but I, Nichiren, have been so assaulted twice. As for being attacked with staves, I have already been struck in the face by Sho-bo with the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra. It is the very scroll used as a staff that carries the passage that [votaries of the Lotus Sutra] will be attacked with staves. What a miraculous prediction of the sutra! Sho-bo hit me before dozens of people, and, though I knew it was for the sake of the Lotus Sutra, being human, I felt miserable and ashamed. Had I had the strength, I would have wrested the weapon from his hand, trampled it to pieces, and thrown them away. However, it was in fact the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra

This brings to mind a story.17 A father, anxious about his son’s future, thrashed the boy with a bow made of a zelkova tree because he refused to study. At the time, the son resented his father’s action and hated the zelkova bow. However, he applied himself to his studies so much that eventually he [mastered Buddhism], thereby achieving emancipation himself and benefiting others. In retrospect, he saw that he owed his achievements to his father’s thrashings. It is said that he erected a stupa made of a zelkova tree for the repose of his deceased father.

It is the same with me, Nichiren. When I attain Buddhahood, how will I be able to forget my obligation to Sho-bo?

Much less can I forget the thanks I owe to the scroll of the Lotus Sutra [with which he struck me]. When I think of this, I cannot restrain my tears of gratitude.

The Yujutsu chapter also explains something about me, because it states that Bodhisattva Jogyo and his followers will appear in the Latter Day of the Law to propagate the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.18 I, Nichiren, have appeared earlier than anyone else. How reassuring to think that I will surely be praised by bodhisattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers!19 Be that as it may, commit yourself to the Lotus Sutra and have faith in its teachings. You must not only believe in them yourself but also encourage others to do the same, so that you may save your parents in all your past existences.

From the time that I was born until today, I, Nichiren, have never known a moment’s ease; I have thought only of propagating the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra. I do not know how long I or anyone else may live, but without fail, I will be with you at the time of your death and guide you from this life to the next. All the Buddhas of the past, present and future attain enlightenment between the hours of the Ox and the Tiger.20 In all three countries of India, China and Japan, the place of Buddhist practice is located to the northeast, in the direction of the demon gate.21 These are profound teachings of Buddhism, which are reverently transferred from teacher to disciple. I will explain in more detail later.

With my deep respect,

As you crave food when hungry, seek water when thirsty, long to see a lover, beg for medicine when ill, or as a beautiful woman desires powder and rouge, so should you put your faith in the Lotus Sutra. If you do not, you will regret it later.


The twentieth day of the fourth month in the second year of Koan (1279), cyclical sign tsuchinoto-u

Reply to Lord Ueno


  1. Tatsunokuchi:  Site of an attempt made by the deputy police chief Hei no Saemon to execute Nichiren Daishonin on September 12, 1271.
  2. Tojo: Place in Nichren Daishonin's native province of Awa.  On November 11, 1264, the Daishonin was ambushed by Lord Tojo Kagenobu and his men.  In the melee he recieved a swordcut on his forehead and had his hand broken.
  3. Shofu-bo: Originally a follower of Nichiren Daishonin who later abondoned his faith.  Although details are unknown, it is thought that around the time of the Izu exile, he started doubting the Daishonin and finally turned against him.   When Hei no Saemon and his men went to arrest the Daishonin on September 1 1271, he accompanied them as Saemon's chief retainer.
  4. Fifth Volume of the Lotus Sutra:  In those days, documents were written on a long roll of paper wrapped around a wooden staff, so they would have had considerable force if wielded as a weapon. The twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra traditionally comprised eight volumes, with two more volumes for the opening and closing sutras. The fifth volume includes four chapters from the twelfth through the fifteenth chapters. A passage from the Kanji (13th) chapter states that the votaries of the Lotus Sutra will be attacked by sword and staff.
  5. Jealous woman: Story recounted in the Hokke Denki of the Chinese priest Seng-hsiang, a collection of the biographies of distinguished priests, along with their commentaries.
  6. Blue or red demon: Blue demons (Skt Apasmaraka) were ordinary demons said to disturb human beings. They were often depicted in statues and images. Red demons (Vetala) were said to be hell's guardians with ox- or horse-heads.
  7. Hell's guardians: Demon subjects of Emma, the king of Hell, who torment those who have fallen into hell with their iron staves.
  8. Reverse relationship: Opposite of positive relationship. A connection with the Lotus Sutra formed by opposing it. Although one who slanders Buddhism must suffer retribution for his slander, he nevertheless forms an eternal bond with Buddhism and can thus ultimately attain Buddhahood. This principle shows the great power of the Lotus Sutra which eventually saves everyone who forms a relationship with it, whether positive or negative.
  9. Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
  10. This story is found in the Fukyo (20th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The four kinds of arrogant people are priests and nuns, lay men and women who slandered and persecuted Bodhisattva Fukyo when he revered them for their inherent Buddha nature. What he practiced at that time was the Lotus Sutra, and because of their slander of that sutra the people fell into the hell of incessant suffering. Eventually, however, due to the reverse relationship they had formed with the Lotus Sutra, they met Bodhisattva Fukyo again and were able to attain enlightenment.
  11. Lotus Sutra, chap. 12.
  12. Bodaishin Ron: Treatise attributed to Nagarjuna and translated by PuVung in China. It teaches the importance of a seeking mind for enlightenment. Kobo, the founder of the Japanese Shingon sect, quoted it frequently to assert the superiority of the esoteric teachings over the Lotus Sutra. Naga6una's authorship appears doubtful.
  13. Lotus Sutra, chap. i i.
  14. Hokke Gengi, vol. 9.
  15. Twenty-line verse: The verse section of the thirteenth or Kanji chapter that states that the votaries of the Lotus Sutra will be attacked by swords and staves.
  16. Lotus Sutra, chap. 14. This refers to one of the benefits which bodhisattvas gain as a result of the peaceful ways of practice set forth in the Anrakugya chapter.
  17. This story appears in the Sangoku Denki (Biographies of the Three Countries). The son later became Ensho, a chief priest of Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai sect.
  18. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo actually consists of seven Chinese characters. Sometimes the first two are omitted when referring to the name of the Law (as distinguished from the invocation).
  19. Sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers: A typical Indian expression which appears in many Buddhist sutras, meaning "innumerable."
  20. Time and direction in ancient Japan were designated by twelve different animals. The Hour of the Rat corresponded to the time from 11:00 P.M. to 1: 00 A.M.; the Hour of the Ox, from 1: 00 to 3: 00 A.M.; and the Hour of the Tiger, from 3: 00 to 5: 00 A.m. Buddhism traditionally regards these hours as a crucial interval in which life moves from the negative (yin) to the positive (yang), from sleep to waking, or from death to life. Shakyamuni Buddha, under the Bodhi tree, attained enlightenment during these hours, and Nichiren Daishonin, at the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, revealed his true identity as the original Buddha during the same hours.
  21. In correlating hours with spatial direction, the hours of the Ox-Tiger correspond to the northeast, believed to be the location of both Buddhism and demons.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol 2.

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