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The Story of Ohashi no Taro

I have received the summer robe, one horseload of salt, and five sho of oil that you sent.

A robe serves to keep off the cold and the heat, to hide one's nakedness and to adorn one's body. The Yakuo chapter in the seventh volume of the Lotus Sutra says, "Like a naked person who obtains clothing," meaning the one [who obtains the Lotus Sutra] will be as delighted as a naked person who obtains a robe. Among the Buddha's successors, there was one named Shanavasa, who was born wearing a robe. This came about because, in a previous existence, he had donated a robe for the sake of Buddhism. Also, the Lotus Sutra speaks of "the robe of gentleness and forbearance."

In the K'un-lun Mountains there are no mere ordinary stones, and in Mount Minobu there is no salt. In a place where there are no ordinary stones, stones are more valuable than gems, and in a place where there is no salt, salt is more precious than rice. Gems for the ruler of a nation are his ministers of the left and right, and these ministers of the left and right are called the "salt and vinegar" of his rule. If we have no miso (salted bean paste) or salt, it is hard for us to get along from day to day, and if the nation lacks its ministers of the left and right, it will be poorly governed.

As for oil, the Nirvana Sutra states: "In the wind, there is no oil, and in oil, there is no wind." Oil is the best medicine for curing illnesses caused by the wind.

I do not know how to thank you for the sincerity you have shown in sending these articles. In the end, it must be an indication of the depth of the late Lord Nanjo's faith in the Lotus Sutra. This is what is meant by the statement that a ruler's sincerity is made known by his minister, while a father's sincerity is made known by his son. I am sure that the late Lord Nanjo must by very happy.

In Tsukushi there was a daimyo who was called Ohashi no Taro. Having incurred the displeasure of the shogun [Minamoto no Yoritomo], he was imprisoned in a cell dug out of the hillside at Yuinohama in Kamakura for a period of twelve years.

When he met with the humiliation of being arrested and was leaving his domain in Tsukushi, he said to his wife: "Having taken up bow and arrow to serve my lord, I do not lament the fact that I have incurred his displeasure. It is unbearably hard for me to part from you, since we have been so close to one another from the time of our youth, but I will say no more of that, either. I regret, however, that we have had no children, neither a boy nor a girl. Now you tell me that you are pregnant, and I feel very sorry that I cannot be here to see whether the child is a girl or a boy. It also distresses me to think that when the child grows up, it will have no one to call father. I wish there were something I could do about this, but I am powerless." So saying, he took his leave.

The days and months passed, and in time his wife was safely delivered of a male child. When the boy was seven years old, she entrusted him to a temple in the mountains, but the other boys who were his companions in the temple made fun of him because he had no father. He returned to his home and asked his mother to tell him about his father, but she was unable to speak and could do nothing but weep.

The boy pressed her, saying, "Without the sky, the rain cannot fall, and without the earth, plants cannot grow. Though I have a mother, if I had not had a father as well, I could never have been born. Why do you hide my father's whereabouts from me?"

Confronted in this manner, his mother replied, "I did not speak of the matter because you were too young. But this is how things were," [and she told him the truth].

Weeping copiously, the boy said, "Did my father leave no mementos behind when he went away?"

"There are these," said his mother, producing a written record of the Ohashi family ancestors and a letter that the father himself had written for the child who was still in his mother's womb. Seeing these, the boy longed more than ever for his father and, unable to do anything but weep, said, "What am I to do now?"

"When your father set out," his mother replied, "many followers accompanied him, but because he had incurred his lord's displeasure, they all deserted him and went away. Now there is not even anyone to send me word whether he is still alive or not."

At this the boy flung himself face down and wept harder than ever, and would not stop even when chided.

The mother said, "The reason I sent you to the mountain temple was so that you could repay your filial obligation to your father. You must offer flowers before the Buddha, recite a volume of the sutra, and in this way fulfill your duty!"

The boy accordingly hurried back to the temple and abandoned all thought of returning home. Day and night he recited the Lotus Sutra, so that in time he not only became able to read it with ease but even committed it to memory.

When the boy turned twelve, he did not enter the priesthood, but, binding up his hair, he succeeded in running away from Tsukushi and journeyed to the city of Kamakura. There he went to pay his respects before the Hachiman shrine. After bowing low in reverence, he said, "The Great Bodhisattva Hachiman was the sixteenth ruler of Japan, and in his original form he is Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, who preached the Lotus Sutra in the Pure Land of Eagle Peak. In order to grant the wishes of all people he has manifested himself as the deity Hachiman, and I pray that he will now grant my wish as well. I wish to know whether my father is alive or dead."

At the Hour of the Dog (7:00-9:00 P.M.), he began reciting the Lotus Sutra and continued reciting through the Hour of the Tiger (3:00-5:00 A.M.). His beautiful childlike voice echoed through the sacred hall of the shrine and struck the hearts of all those who heard it, so that the persons who had come to pay their respects all forgot to take their leave but instead gathered around like a crowd at a market place. When they looked to see who was reciting, the discovered it was not a priest, nor a woman, but a young boy.

Just at that time, Lady Kyo-no-nii had come to pay a visit to the shrine. She had come in secret to avoid the eyes of others, but because the recitation of the sacred scripture was even more beautiful than usual, she remained listening until the end. Then she returned home, but she was so reluctant to depart that she left an attendant behind, and, on returning, she reported what had happened to the shogun. The shogun had the boy summoned and set him to reciting the Lotus Sutra in the image hall attached to his residence.

The following day the boy was once more ordered to recite the sutra for the shogun. Just then, some persons began making a commotion at the western gate of the shogun's palace. When the cause was inquired, a harsh voice shouted, "Today the prisoner is to be beheaded!"

The boy, hearing this, thought to himself, "Alas, I do not suppose that my father is still alive, but when I hear this talk of cutting off someone's head, I cannot help feeling as though it were some personal sorrow of my own!" And tears sprang to his eyes.

The shogun, observing this and thinking it strange, said, "Come, boy, tell my the truth - who are you?" The boy thereupon revealed all the events of the past just as they had happened. The greater and lesser lords who were in attendance, as well as the ladies hidden behind their curtains of bamboo, all wet their sleeves with tears.

The shogun then summoned Kajiwara and said, "Have the prisoner Ohashi no Taro brought here!" But Kajiwara replied, "He has just now been led away to Yuinohama beach to have his head cut off. The execution is probably taking place right now." At this the boy, though in the presence of the shogun, could not help collapsing in tears.

"Kajiwara!" said the shogun. "Go in person as fast as you can, and if the execution has not yet taken place, bring the prisoner back with you!"

Kajiwara raced off as fast as he could to Yuinohama. Even before he reached the spot he began shouting for the execution to cease. He arrived just as the executioner had drawn his sword in preparation to strike.

Kajiwara brought Ohashi no Taro, still bound with ropes, to the palace and seated him in the courtyard. The shogun ordered the prisoner to be handed over to the boy. The boy rushed down into the courtyard and untied the ropes, while Ohashi no Taro, not realizing that this was his own son, could not understand why he had been spared.

The shogun summoned the boy to his side again and presented him with various gifts. He not only released Ohashi no Taro into the boy's custody but also restored the family domains.

The shogun said, "From past times I have heard various reports regarding the power of the Lotus Sutra, and on two instances I have received personal proof of that power. The first was when my late father was beheaded by the Lay Priest Prime Minister. My chagrin was beyond expression. I did not know what god or Buddha to appeal to, but the nun Myoho of Mount Izu taught me to recite the Lotus Sutra. When I had recited it a thousand times, the priest Mongaku of Takao came to me with the head of my late father and showed it to me. After that I was not only able to revenge myself on my father's enemies but to become military commander of the warriors throughout Japan. All of this was due solely to the power of the Lotus Sutra.

"The second instance is this strange event today when this boy saved his father. I personally looked upon this Ohashi no Taro as a thoroughly despicable fellow. I would have had him beheaded even if it had meant violating an imperial decree. So great was my hatred for him that I kept him shut up in a cell dug into the side of a hill for no less than twelve years. And yet this strange event has occurred. The power of the Lotus Sutra is marvelous indeed! As a commander of warriors I have piled up a great many sins, yet I put my faith in the Lotus Sutra, and so I believe I will be spared punishment." He spoke these words with tears in his eyes.

Now when I consider the sincere offerings that you have sent, I think that, although the late Lord Nanjo undoubtedly loved you dearly as his son, he probably never imagined that you would in this way discharge your filial duty to him by means of your faith in the Lotus Sutra. Even if he were perhaps guilty of some offense, no matter where he may be now, your filial devotion will surely be recognized even by King Emma, as well as by Bonten and Taishaku. And how could Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra ever abandon him? Your devotion is no less than that of that young boy who untied his father's bonds. Thinking of it, the tears come to my eyes as I write.

As to an impending Mongol attack, I have not received any word. When I mention this subject, people say that the priest Nichiren rejoices whenever he hears that the Mongols will attack our country, but this is unwarranted. Because I suggested that such a thing would happen, I have been attacked as a foe or an enemy by people everywhere. Yet because it is expounded in the sutras, the Mongols are sure to come. No matter what I say, it is beyond my power to prevent it.

I was guilty of no fault and wanted simply to save my country. And yet not only was my advice not heeded, but I was struck in the face with the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra. Bonten and Taishaku witnessed what happened, and the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman of Kamakura likewise looked on. But now we live in an age when advice will never be heeded, and so I have retired to live here among the mountains.

Under the circumstances, I feel great pity for persons such as you and the others, but there is little I can do to help. Nevertheless, I pray day and night to the Lotus Sutra. You, too, must spare no effort in offering up prayers with firm faith. It is not that my resolve [to save you] is weak, but that for each of you, the strength of your own faith will be the decisive thing.

And yet in the end I fear that all the persons of high rank in Japan will surely be taken prisoner. How pitiful to think of it!

With my deep respect,

The twenty-fourth day of the intercalary third month

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 147.

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