On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings
- Nyosetsu Shugyo Sho -
It is now clear that those who are born in this land and believe in this sutra when its propagation is undertaken in the Latter Day of the Law will suffer persecutions even more severe than those which occurred in the Buddha's lifetime. In that age the master was a Buddha, and his disciples were great bodhisattvas and arhats. Moreover, the Buddha expounded the Lotus Sutra only after he had thoroughly taught and trained everyone who was to hear it, including the gods, humans both lay and ordained, and the eight kinds of lowly beings. Still, some of his followers rejected it.
Now in the Latter Day of the Law, even though the teaching, the people's capacity and the time for propagation are in accord, we must expect all the more hostility. For this is the age of conflict in which the Pure Law has been lost. Moreover, the teacher is but a common person, and his disciples come from among impious men defiled by the three poisons. For this reason, people reject the virtuous teacher and seek out evil priests instead.
What is more, once you become a follower of the Lotus Sutra's true votary whose practice accords with the Buddha's teachings, you are bound to face the three powerful enemies. Therefore, from the very day you take faith in this teaching, you should be fully prepared to face the three kinds of persecutions which are certain to be more terrible now after the Buddha's passing. Although my disciples had already heard this, some became so terrified when both great and small persecutions confronted us that they even forsook their faith. Did I not warn you in advance? I have been teaching you day and night directly from the sutra, which says, "Since hatred and jealously abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing?"1 You have no reason to be suddenly frightened when you witness me driven from my home, wounded, or officially censured and exiled--this time to a distant province.
Question: The votary who practices according to the Buddha's teachings should live a peaceful life in this world. Why then are you beset by the three powerful enemies?
Answer: Shakyamuni faced the nine great persecutions for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. In the distant past, Bodhisattva Fukyo was attacked with sticks and stones. Chu Tao-sheng2 was exiled to Mount Su, Priest Fa-tao was branded on the face, and Aryasinha was beheaded. The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai was opposed by the seven northern and three southern sects, and the Great Teacher Dengyo was vilified by the six sects in the old capital of Nara. The Buddha and these bodhisattvas and great saints were all votaries of the Lotus Sutra, yet they suffered great persecutions. If you deny that they practiced according to the Buddha's teachings, then where can you find those who did? This is the age of conflict in which the Pure Law has been lost. Moreover, in this evil country, the ruler, his ministers and even the general public are without exception tainted by slander. They have opposed the true teaching and revered heretical doctrines and priests instead. Therefore, demons have invaded the land furiously, causing the three calamities and seven disasters to strike again and again.
This is indeed an accursed time to live in this land. However, the Buddha has commanded me to be born in this age, and it would be impossible to go against his decree. And so, I have put complete faith in the sutra and launched the battle of the provisional and true teachings. Donning the armor of endurance and girding myself with the sword of the true teaching, I have raised the banner of Myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of the entire eight volumes of the Lotus Sutra. Then drawing the bow of the Buddha's declaration, "I have not yet revealed the truth"3 and notching the arrow of "honestly discarding the provisional teachings,"4 I have mounted the cart5 drawn by the great white ox and battered down the gates of the provisional teachings. Attacking first one and then another, I have refuted the Nembutsu, Shingon, Zen, Ritsu and other sects. Some of my adversaries have fled headlong while others have retreated, and still others have been captured to become my disciples. I continue to repulse their attacks and defeat them, but there are legions of enemies opposing the single king of the Law and the handful who follow him. So the battle goes on even today.
"The practice of the Lotus Sutra is shakubuku, the refutation of the provisional doctrines."6 True to the letter of this golden saying, the believers of all provisional teachings and sects will ultimately be defeated and join the followers of the king of the Law. The time will come when all people, including those of Learning, Realization and Bodhisattva, will enter on the path to Buddhahood, and the Mystic Law alone will flourish throughout the land. In that time because all people chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together, the wind will not beleaguer the branches or boughs, nor will the rain fall hard enough to break a clod. The world will become as it was in the ages of Fu Hsi and Shen Nung7 in ancient China. Disasters will be driven from the land, and people will be rid of misfortune. They will also learn the art of living long, fulfilling lives. Realize that the time will come when the truth will be revealed that both the Person and the Law are unaging and eternal. There cannot be the slightest doubt about the sutra's solemn promise of a peaceful life in this world.8
Question: How should one practice if he is to be faithful to the Buddha's teachings?
Answer: The Japanese people of this age are one in their opinion of what practice accords with the Buddha's teachings. They believe that since all vehicles are incorporated in the one supreme vehicle, no teaching is superior or inferior, shallow or profound, but that all are equal to the Lotus Sutra. Hence the belief that repeating the Nembutsu chant, embracing Shingon esotericism, practicing Zen meditation, or professing and chanting any sutra or the name of any Buddha or bodhisattva equals following the Lotus Sutra.
But I insist that this is wrong. The most important thing in practicing Buddhism is to follow and uphold the Buddha's golden teachings, not the opinions of others. Our master, Shakyamuni Buddha, wished to reveal the Lotus Sutra from the moment of his enlightenment. However, because the people were not yet mature enough to understand, he had to employ provisional teachings for some forty years before he could expound the true teaching of the Lotus Sutra. In the Muryogi Sutra, which served as an introduction to the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha clearly distinguished the provisional teachings from the true teaching. He declared, "I have preached the Law in many ways, devising many means. But in these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth."9 The eighty thousand bodhisattvas, including Bodhisattva Daishogon, fully understood why Shakyamuni had preached the provisional teachings, demonstrated that they were nothing more than means, and finally discarded them entirely. They expressed their understanding by declaring that no one can attain supreme enlightenment by embracing any of the provisional sutras, which expound bodhisattva austerities spanning millions of aeons. Finally the Buddha came to reveal the Lotus Sutra and stated, "The World-Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth."10 He also warned, "In all the Buddha's lands of the universe there is but one supreme vehicle, not two or three, and it excludes the provisional teachings of the Buddha,"11 and "Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I will expound the Supreme Law,"12 and "Never accept even a single phrase from the other sutras."13 Thus, ever since that time, the supreme vehicle of the Mystic Law has been the only teaching profound enough to enable all people to attain Buddhahood. Even though no sutra other than the Lotus Sutra can provide even the slightest benefit, the Buddhist scholars of the Latter Day claim that all sutras must lead to enlightenment because they were expounded by the Buddha. Therefore, they arbitrarily profess faith in any sutra and follow whatever sect they choose, whether Shingon, Nembutsu, Zen, Sanron, Hosso, Kusha, Jojitsu, or Ritsu. The Lotus Sutra says of such people, "One who refuses to take faith in this sutra and instead slanders it immediately destroys the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world....After he dies he will fall into the hell of incessant suffering."14 Thus the Buddha himself concluded that one's practice accords with the Buddha's teachings only when he bases his faith precisely on the standard of the sutra, believing that there is but one Supreme Law.
Question: Then it would be wrong to say that faith in any sutra or any Buddha of the provisional teachings equals faith in the Lotus Sutra. But what of one who believes only in the Lotus Sutra and carries out the five practices15 of the Hosshi chapter or follows the easy practices of the Anrakugyo chapter? Could we not say that his practice accords with the Buddha's teachings?
Answer: Anyone who practices Buddhism should first understand the two types of practice--shoju and shakubuku. Any sutra or treatise must be practiced in one of these two ways. Although scholars in this country may have studied Buddhism extensively, they do not know which practice accords with the time. The four seasons continually repeat themselves, each in turn manifesting its own characteristics. In summer it is hot; in winter, cold. Flowers blossom in spring, and fruit ripens in autumn. Therefore, it is only natural to sow seeds in spring and reap the harvest in fall. If one sowed in autumn, could he harvest in spring? Heavy clothing is useful in bitter cold, but of what use is it in sweltering heat? A cool breeze is pleasant in summer, but what good is it in winter? Buddhism works in the same way. There are times when Hinayana Buddhism should be disseminated for the benefit of humanity, times when the provisional Mahayana doctrines are necessary, times when the true Mahayana teaching must spread to lead people to Buddhahood. The two millennia of the Former and Middle Days of the Law required the spread of Hinayana and provisional Mahayana Buddhism, while the first five hundred years of the Latter Day call for the kosen-rufu of the perfect, supreme teaching of the Lotus Sutra. As predicted by the Buddha, now is the age of conflict when the Pure Law has been lost, and the provisional and true teachings of Buddhism are hopelessly confused.
When one must face enemies, he needs a sword, staff or a bow and arrows. However, when he has no enemies, such weapons are of no use at all. In this age the provisional teachings have turned into enemies of the true teaching. When the time is right to propagate the supreme teaching, the provisional teachings become enemies. If they are a source of confusion, they must be thoroughly refuted from the standpoint of the true teaching. Of the two types of practice, this is shakubuku, the practice of the Lotus Sutra. With good reason T'ien-t'ai stated: "The practice of the Lotus Sutra is shakubuku, the refutation of the provisional doctrines." The four easy practices16 in the Anrakugyo chapter are shoju. To carry them out in this day would be as foolish as sowing seeds in winter and expecting to reap the harvest in spring. It is natural for a rooster to crow in the morning but strange for him to crow at dusk. Now when the true and provisional teachings are utterly confused, it would be equally unnatural for one to seclude himself in the mountains, carrying out the easy practice of shoju, and avoid refuting the enemies of the Lotus Sutra. He would lose all chance to practice the Lotus Sutra. Now in the Latter Day of the Law, who is carrying out the practice of shakubuku in strict accordance with the Lotus Sutra? Suppose someone, no matter who, should loudly proclaim that the Lotus Sutra alone can lead people to Buddhahood and that all other sutras, far from enabling them to attain enlightenment, only drive them into hell. Observe what happens should he thus try to refute the teachers and doctrines of all the other sects. The three powerful enemies will arise without fail.
The true master, Shakyamuni Buddha, practiced shakubuku during the last eight years of his lifetime, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai for more than thirty years, and the Great Teacher Dengyo for more than twenty, Nichiren has been refuting the provisional teachings for more than twenty years, and the great persecutions he has suffered during this period are beyond number. I do not know whether they are equal to the nine great persecutions suffered by the Buddha, but surely neither T'ien-t'ai nor Dengyo ever faced persecutions as great as Nichiren's for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. They encountered only envy and slander, whereas I was twice exiled by the regent, this time to a remote province. Furthermore, I was nearly beheaded at Tatsunokuchi, wounded on the forehead at Komatsubara, and slandered time and again. My disciples have also been exiled and thrown into prison, while my lay followers have been evicted and had their property confiscated. How can the persecutions faced by Nagarjuna, T'ien-t'ai or Dengyo possibly compare with these? Understand then that the votary who practices the Lotus Sutra exactly as the Buddha teaches will without fail be attacked by the three powerful enemies. Shakyamuni himself, T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo were the only three who perfectly carried out the Buddha's teachings in these more than two thousand years. Now in the Latter Day of the Law, the only such votaries are Nichiren and his disciples. If we cannot be called votaries faithful to the Buddha's teachings, then neither can Shakyamuni, T'ien-t'ai nor Dengyo. Could Devadatta, Kokalika17, Sunakshatra18, Kobo, Jikaku, Chisho, Shan-tao, Honen, Ryokan and others like them be called votaries of the Lotus Sutra? Could Shakyamuni Buddha, T'ien-t'ai, Dengyo or Nichiren and his disciples be followers of the Nembutsu, Shingon, Zen, Ritsu or other sects? Could the Lotus Sutra be called a provisional teaching, and the Amida Sutra and others be the Lotus Sutra? None of this could ever be possible, even if east were to become west and west become east; even if the earth and all its trees and plants were to fly up and become the heavens, while the sun, the moon and the stars tumbled down and became the earth.
What a great pity it is that all the Japanese people are delighted to see Nichiren and his disciples suffer at the hands of the three powerful enemies! What befell another yesterday may befall oneself today. Nichiren and his disciples have but a short time to endure, the time it takes for frost or dew to vanish in the morning sun. When our prayers for Buddhahood are answered and we dwell in the land of eternal enlightenment where we will experience the boundless joy of the Law, what pity we will feel for those suffering incessantly in the depths of hell! How they will envy us then!
Life flashes by in but a moment. No matter how many terrible enemies we may encounter, banish all fears and never think of backsliding. Even if someone were to cut off our heads with a saw, impale us with lances, or shackle our feet and bore them through with a gimlet, as long as we are alive, we must keep chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Then, if we chant until the very moment of death, Shakyamuni, Taho and all other Buddhas in the universe will come to us instantly, exactly as they promised during the ceremony at Eagle Peak. Taking our hands and bearing us upon their shoulders, they will carry us to Eagle Peak. The two saints19, the two heavenly gods,20 and the Ten Goddesses21 will guard us, while all the Buddhist gods raise a canopy over our heads and unfurl banners on high. They will escort us under their protection to the Buddha land. How can such joy possibly be described! Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The fifth month of the tenth year of Bun'ei (1273)
Postscript: Keep this letter with you at all times and read it over and over.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, page 99.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, p. 99-107.
Designed by Will Kallander