Recitation of the Hoben and Juryo Chapters
In the letter that you sent by messenger, you say that you used to recite one chapter of the Lotus Sutra each day, completing the entire sutra in the space of twenty-eight days, but that now you simply read the Yakuo chapter once each day. You ask [if this is satisfactory, or] if it would be better to return to your original practice of reading each chapter in turn.
In the case of the Lotus Sutra, one may recite the entire sutra of twenty-eight chapters in eight volumes every day; or one may recite only one volume, or one chapter, or one verse, or one phrase, or one word; or one may simply chant the daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, only once a day, or chant it only once in the course of a lifetime; or hear someone else chant it only once in a lifetime and rejoice in the hearing; or rejoice in hearing the voice of someone else rejoice in the hearing, and so on to fifty removes from the original individual who first chanted the daimoku.
In such a case, of course, the spirit of faith would become weak and the feeling of rejoicing much diluted, like the vague notions that might occur to the mind of a child of two or three, or like the mentality of a cow or a horse, unable to distinguish before from after. And yet the blessings gained by such a person are a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand times greater than those gained by persons of excellent innate ability and superior wisdom who study other sutras: persons such as Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, Monju and Miroku, who had committed to memory the entire texts of the various sutras.
The Lotus Sutra itself tells us this, and the same opinion is expressed in the sixty volumes of commentary by T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo. Thus, the sutra states [concerning these blessings], "Even if their quantity were to be measured with the Buddha wisdom, their limit could not be found." Not even the wisdom of the Buddha can fathom the blessings such a person will obtain. The Buddha wisdom is so marvelous that it can know even the number of raindrops that fall in this major world system of ours during a period of seven days or twice seven days. And yet we read that the blessings acquired by one who recites no more than a single word of the Lotus Sutra are the one thing alone it cannot fathom. How, then, could ordinary persons like ourselves, who have committed so many grave offenses, be capable of understanding such blessings?
Great as such blessings may be, however, it is now some twenty-two hundred years and more since the Buddha's passing. For many years, the five impurities have flourished, and good deeds in any connection are rare indeed. Now, even though a person may do good, in the course of doing a single good deed he accumulates ten evil ones, so that in the end, for the sake of a small good, he commits great evil. And yet, in his heart, he prides himself on having practiced "great good" - such are the times we live in.
Moreover, you have been born in the remote land of Japan, a tiny island country in the east separated by two hundred thousand ri of mountains and seas from the country of the Buddha's birth. What is more, you are a woman, burdened by the five obstacles and bound by the three obediences. How indescribably wonderful, therefore, that in spite of these hindrances, you have been able to take faith in the Lotus Sutra!
Even the wise or the learned, such as those who have pored over all the sacred teachings propounded by the Buddha in the course of his lifetime, and who have mastered both the exoteric and esoteric doctrines, are these days abandoning the Lotus Sutra and instead reciting the Nembutsu. What good karma must you have formed in the past, then, to have been born a person able to recite even so much as a verse or a phrase of the Lotus Sutra!
When I read over your letter, I felt as though my eyes were beholding something rarer than the udumbara flower, something even less frequent than the one-eyed turtle encountering a floating log with a hollow in it that fits him exactly. Moved to heartfelt admiration, I thought I would like to add just one word or one expression of my own rejoicing, endeavoring in this way to enhance your merit. I fear, however, that as clouds darken the moon or as dust defiles a mirror, my brief and clumsy attempts at description will only serve to cloak and obscure the incomparably wonderful blessings you will receive, and the thought pains me. Yet, in response to your question, I could scarcely remain silent. Please understand that I am merely joining my one drop to the rivers and the oceans or adding my candle to the sun and the moon, hoping in this way to increase even slightly the volume of the water or the brilliance of the light.
First of all, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, whether one recites all eight volumes, or only one volume, one chapter, one verse, one phrase, or simply the daimoku or title, you should understand that the blessings that result are in all cases the same. It is like the water of the great ocean, a single drop of which contains water from all the countless streams and rivers, or like the wish-granting jewel, which, though only a single jewel, can shower all kinds of treasures upon the wisher. And the same is true of a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand or a hundred thousand such drops of water or such jewels. A single character of the Lotus Sutra is like such a drop of water or such a jewel, and all the hundred million characters of the Lotus Sutra are like a hundred million such drops or jewels.
On the other hand, a single character of the other sutras, or the name of any of the various Buddhas, is like one drop of the water of some particular stream or river, or like only one stone from a particular mountain or a particular sea. One such drop does not contain the water of countless other streams and rivers, and one such stone does not possess the virtues that inhere in innumerable other kinds of stones.
Therefore, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, it is praiseworthy to recite any chapter you have placed your trust in, whichever chapter it might be.
Generally speaking, among all the sacred teachings of the Tathagata, none has ever been known to contain false words. Yet when we consider the Buddhist teachings more deeply, we find that even among the Tathagata's golden words there exist various categories, such as Mahayana and Hinayana, provisional and true teachings, and exoteric and esoteric doctrines. These distinctions arise from the sutras themselves, and accordingly we find that they are roughly outlined in the commentaries of the various scholars and teachers.
To state the essence of the matter, among the doctrines propounded by Shakyamuni Buddha in the fifty or more years of his teaching life, those put forward in the first forty or so years are of questionable nature. We can say so because the Buddha himself clearly stated in the Muryogi Sutra, "In these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth." And in the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha himself proclaims concerning its every word and phrase: "Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I will expound only the supreme Way."
Moreover, Taho Buddha appeared from the depths of the earth to add his testimony, declaring, "The Lotus Sutra ... All that you [Shakyamuni Buddha] have expounded is the truth." And the Buddhas of the ten directions all gathered at the assembly where the Lotus Sutra was being preached and extended their tongues to give further support to the assertion that within the Lotus Sutra there is not a single word that is false. It was as though a great king, his consort and his most venerable subjects had all with one accord given their promise.
Suppose that a man or a woman who recites even a single word of the Lotus Sutra should be destined to fall into the evil paths because of having committed the ten evil acts, the five cardinal sins, the four major offenses or countless other grave misdeeds. Even though the sun and moon should never again emerge from the east, though the great earth itself should turn over, though the tides of the great ocean should cease to ebb and flow, though a broken stone should be made whole or the waters of the streams and rivers cease to flow into the ocean, no woman who has put her faith in the Lotus Sutra would ever be dragged down into the evil paths as a result of worldly offenses.
If a woman who has put her faith in the Lotus Sutra should ever fall into the evil paths as a result of jealousy or ill temper or because of excessive greed, then Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha and the other Buddhas of the ten directions would immediately be guilty of breaking the vow they have upheld over the span of countless major kalpas never to tell a lie. Their offense would be even greater than the wild falsehoods and deceptions of Devadatta or the outrageous lies told by Kokalika. But how could such a thing ever happen? Thus a person who embraces the Lotus Sutra is absolutely assured of its blessings.
On the other hand, though one may not commit a single evil deed in his entire lifetime, but instead observe the five precepts, the eight precepts, the ten precepts, the ten good precepts, the two hundred and fifty precepts, the five hundred precepts, or countless numbers of precepts; though he may learn all the other sutras by heart, make offerings to all the other Buddhas and bodhisattvas and accumulate immeasurable merit; if he but fails to put his faith in the Lotus Sutra; or if he has faith in it but considers that it ranks on the same level as the other sutras and the teachings of the other Buddhas; or if he recognizes its superiority but constantly engages in other religious disciplines, practicing the Lotus Sutra only from time to time; or if he associates on friendly terms with priests of the Nembutsu, who do not believe in the Lotus Sutra but slander the Law; or if he thinks that those who insist the Lotus Sutra does not suit the people's capacity in the latter age are guilty of no fault, then all the merit of the countless good acts he has performed throughout the course of his life will suddenly vanish. Moreover, the blessings resulting from his practice of the Lotus Sutra will for some time be obscured, and he will fall into the great citadel of the Avichi Hell as surely as rain falls from the sky or rocks tumble down from the peaks into the valleys.
Yet even though one may have committed the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins, so long as he does not turn his back on the Lotus Sutra, he will without doubt be reborn in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood in his next existence. On the other hand, we read in the sutra that even a person who observes the precepts, embraces all other sutras and believes in the various Buddhas and bodhisattvas, if he fails to take faith in the Lotus Sutra, is certain to fall into the evil paths.
Limited though my ability may be, when I observe the situation in the world these days, it seems to me that the great majority of both lay believers and members of the clergy are guilty of slandering the Law.
But to return to your question: As I said before, though no chapter of the Lotus Sutra is negligible, among the entire twenty-eight chapters, the Hoben chapter and the Juryo chapter are particularly outstanding. The remaining chapters are all in a sense the branches and leaves of these two chapters. Therefore, for your regular recitation, I recommend that you practice reading the prose sections of the Hoben and Juryo chapters. In addition it might be well if you wrote out separate copies of these sections.
The remaining twenty-six chapters are like the shadows that accompany a form or the value inherent in a jewel. If you recite the Juryo and Hoben chapters, then the remaining chapters will naturally be included even though you do not recite them. It is true that the Yakuo and Devadatta chapters deal specifically with women's attainment of Buddhahood or rebirth in the Pure Land. But the Devadatta chapter is a branch and leaf of the Hoben chapter, and the Yakuo chapter is a branch and leaf of the Hoben and Juryo chapters. Therefore, you should regularly recite these two chapters, the Hoben and Juryo. As for the remaining chapters, you may turn to them from time to time when you have a moment of leisure.
Also, in your letter you say that three times each day you bow in reverence to the seven characters of the daimoku, and that each day you repeat the words Namu-ichijo-myoden ten thousand times. However, at times of menstruation you refrain from reading the sutra. You ask if it is acceptable to recite the daimoku and the Namu-ichijo-myoden [without facing the object of worship] at such times. You also ask whether you should refrain from reading the sutra merely during your menstrual period, or, if not, how many days following the end of your period you should wait before resuming recitation of the sutra.
This is a matter that concerns all women and about which they always inquire. In past times, too, we find many persons addressing themselves to this question concerning women. But because the sacred teachings put forward by the Buddha in the course of his lifetime do not touch upon this point, no one has been able to offer any clear scriptural proof upon which to base an answer. In my own study of the sacred teachings, though I find clear prohibitions against the impurity of certain sexual acts or the consumption of meat or wine or the five spicy foods on specific days of the month, I have never come across any passage in the sutras or treatises that speaks of avoidances connected with menstruation.
While the Buddha was in the world, many women in the prime of life became nuns and devoted themselves to the Buddhist Law, but they were never shunned on account of their menstrual period. Judging from this, I would say that menstruation does not represent any kind of pollution coming from an external source. It is simply a characteristic of the female sex, a phenomenon related to the perpetuation of the seed of birth and death. Or in another sense, it might be regarded as a kind of chronically recurring illness. In the case of feces and urine, though these are substances produced by the body, so long as one observes cleanly habits, there are no special prohibitions to be observed concerning them. Surely the same must be true of menstruation. That is why, I think, we hear of no particular rules for avoidance pertaining to the subject in India or China.
Japan, however, is a land of the gods. And it is the way of this country that, although the Buddhas and bodhisattvas have manifested themselves here in the form of gods, strangely enough, these gods, in many cases, do not conform to the sutras and treatises. Nevertheless, if one goes against them, one is likely to incur actual punishment.
When we scrutinize the sutras and treatises with care, we find that there is a doctrine called the zuiho bini precept that corresponds to such cases. The gist of this precept is that, so long as no seriously offensive act is involved, then, even though one should depart to some slight degree from the teachings of Buddhism, one should avoid going against the manners and customs of the country. This is a precept expounded by the Buddha. But it appears that some wise men, unaware of this fact, claim that because the gods are demonlike beings, they are unworthy of reverence. And by insisting upon the rightness of their views, it appears that they do injury to the faith of many believers.
If we go by this zuiho bini precept, then since the gods of Japan have in most cases desired that prohibitions be observed regarding the period of menstruation, people born in this country would probably do well to be aware of and honor such prohibitions.
However, I do not think that such prohibitions should interfere with a woman's daily religious devotions. I would guess that it is persons who never had any faith in the Lotus Sutra to begin with who tell you otherwise. They are trying to think of some way to make you stop reciting the sutra, but they do not feel they can come right out and advise you to cast the sutra aside. So they use the pretext of bodily impurity to try to distance you from it. They intimidate you by telling you that if you continue your regular devotions during a period of pollution, you will be treating the sutra with disrespect. In this way they mean to trick you into committing a fault.
I hope you will keep in mind all that I have said regarding this matter. On this basis, even if your menstrual period should last as long as seven days, if you feel so inclined, then dispense with the reading of the sutra and simply recite Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Also, when making your devotions, you need not bow facing the sutra.
If unexpectedly you should feel yourself approaching death, then even if you are eating fish or fowl, if you are able to read the sutra, you should do so, and likewise chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Needless to say, the same principle applies during your period of menstruation.
Reciting the words Namu-ichijo-myoden amounts to the same thing. But it is better if you just chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, as Bodhisattva Vasubandhu and the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai did. There are specific reasons why I say this.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 3.
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