The Supreme Leader of the World
Having glanced through your letter, I feel as relieved as if the day had finally broken after a long night or as if I had returned home after traveling a great distance.
Buddhism primarily concerns itself with victory or defeat, while government is based on the principle of reward and punishment. For this reason, a Buddha is looked up to as the supreme leader of the world, while a king is called the one who rules at his will. India is called the Land of the Moon and our country is named the Land of the Sun. Of the eighty thousand countries in the continent of Jambudvipa, India is one of the largest and Japan, one of the smallest. When it comes to the auspiciousness of their names, however, India ranks second and Japan first. Buddhism began in the Land of the Moon; it will reside in the Land of the Sun. It is in the natural course of events that the moon appears in the west and travels eastward while the sun proceeds from east to west. This truth is as inalterable as the fact that a lodestone attracts iron or that the zoge plant is nourished by the sound of thunder. Who could possibly deny it?
Let us examine how Buddhism came to Japan. Our country was ruled first by seven generations of heavenly gods and then by five generations of earthly deities. Their reigns were followed by the age of human rulers, the first being Emperor Jimmu. The thirtieth emperor was Kimmei, who reigned for thirty-two years. In those days there was a state called Paekche to the west of this country. It was under the suzerainty of the Japanese emperor and was governed by a king named Songmyong. When the king made annual tribute to Japan on the thirteenth day of the tenth month in the thirteenth year of Emperor Kimmeis reign (552), he sent along with it a gilded bronze image of Shakyamuni Buddha, a number of Buddhist scriptures, and also priests and nuns.
Overjoyed, the emperor sought counsel from his ministers as to whether or not the nation should worship the Buddha of the western countries.
One of the highest ministers, Iname no Sukune of the Soga family, said, "All the countries of the west worship this Buddha. Why should Japan alone deny him?" However, Okoshi, another top-ranking minister from the Mononobe clan, Nakatomi no Kamako and others advised the emperor, saying, "The sovereign who rules over our nation has traditionally performed rites throughout the four seasons of the year, in honor of heaven and earth, the gods of the land and of grain, and numerous other deities. If we alter this custom in favor of the god of the west, our native deities will be angered." Unable to decide, the emperor decreed that Soga no Sukune alone should worship the Buddha by way of trial and that no one else should do so. Sukune was exceedingly glad to receive this decree. He took the image of Shakyamuni Buddha to his residence at a place called Ohada and enshrined it there, to the surprise and outrage of Mononobe no Okoshi.
At that time, a terrible epidemic broke out in Japan and killed a majority of the populace. Since it seemed as though the entire nation would perish, Mononobe no Okoshi took this opportunity to declare to the emperor that the Buddha image should be destroyed. The emperor concurred and commanded that Buddhism, a foreign religion, be discarded immediately. Mononobe no Okoshi, acting on the emperors behalf, confiscated the statue, heated it in a charcoal fire and smashed it with a hammer. He razed the Buddha image hall and flogged the priests and nuns. Then, although the sky was cloudless, a gale blew and rain fell. The imperial palace was consumed in a fire which descended from heaven. All three men--the emperor, Mononobe no Okoshi and Soga no Sukune--fell ill in the epidemic. Each suffered excruciating agony as though he were being mangled or burnt alive. Mononobe no Okoshi finally died, while the emperor and Soga no Sukune barely recovered. From that time, nineteen years passed without anyone taking faith in Buddhism.
The thirty-first emperor, Bidatsu, was the second son of Kimmei. He reigned for fourteen years, aided by the Ministers of the Left and the Right. One of them was a son of Mononobe no Okoshi, Yuge no Moriya, who had succeeded to his fathers position. The other was a son of Soga no Sukune, Soga no Umako. It was during Emperor Bidatsus reign that Prince Shotoku was born. He was a son of Emperor Yomei and a nephew of Bidatsu. One day in the second month of the year when the prince was two years old, he faced east, extended his third finger and chanted "Namu Buddha," whereupon the Buddhas ashes materialized in his palm. This was the first time that anyone in Japan had invoked the name of Shakyamuni Buddha.
When the prince was only eight years one, he proclaimed, "Those who, in the latter age, worship the image of the sage of the west, Shakyamuni Buddha, will forestall calamities and receive benefits. Those who despise it will invite disasters and have their life span shortened." Hearing this, Mononobe no Moriya and others said in anger, "The Sogas have been worshipping the god of a foreign land in violation of the imperial decree." Epidemics still raged incessantly, nearly wiping out the entire populace. Mononobe no Moriya reported this to the emperor. The emperor issued a decree, which stated, "Soga no Umako has been upholding Buddhism. Practice of this religion must cease."
In compliance with the imperial command, Moriya, together with Nakatomi no Katsumi, marched upon the temple. There they demolished the hall and pagoda, burned and destroyed the Buddha image and set fire to the temple. They stripped the priests and nuns of their surplices and punished them with whips. After this incident the emperor as well as Moriya and Umako fell ill in an epidemic. All three said that they felt as though they were being burnt alive or hacked to pieces. Moreover, boils called smallpox appeared all over their bodies. Umako, lamenting in anguish, said, "Still, we should worship the three treasures." The emperor commanded that Umako alone should do so and that no one else must follow suit. Overjoyed, Umako had a monastery built and there worshipped the three treasures.
The emperor finally passed away on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the year in which Prince Shotoku was fourteen. Yomei became thirty-second emperor and reigned for two years. He was the son of Kimmei and the father of Shotoku. In the fourth month of the second year of his reign (587), he fell ill in an epidemic. Thereupon he expressed a desire to embrace the three treasures. Soga no Umako insisted that the imperial wish be honored, and finally brought a priest called Toyokuni into the imperial palace. Mononobe no Moriya and others flew into a rage. Furious, they swore to invoke a curse upon the emperor. At length the emperor died.
In the fifth month of that year, Moriya and his clan entrenched themselves at his residence at Shibukawa and assembled a large number of troops there. Prince Shotoku and Umako advanced upon the enemys position and fought. The fifth, sixth and seventh months saw a total of four encounters. The prince lost the first three. Before the fourth battle took place, he offered a prayer and vowed that he would build a stupa for the preservation of Shakyamuni Buddhas ashes and also construct Shitenno-ji temple. Umako similarly pledged that he would erect a temple in which to enshrine and worship the image of Shakyamuni Buddha which had been sent from Paekche.
When the fighting began, Moriya shouted at the prince, "It is not I but the god of my ancestors, the great deity enshrined at Futsu, who shoots this arrow." The arrow flew far and struck the princes armor. The prince responded by calling out, "It is not I but the Four Heavenly Kings who shoot this arrow." Then he had a courtier named Tomi no Ichihi let fly the arrow. It traveled a great distance and struck Moriya in the chest. Hata no Kawakatsu rushed to the spot and severed Moriyas head from his body. This incident took place during the interval between Yomeis death and Sushuns ascension to the throne.
After Sushun became the thirty-third emperor, Prince Shotoku built Shitenno-ji temple, in which he placed Shakyamuni Buddhas ashes. Umako erected a temple called Gango-ji, where he worshipped the image of the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni which had been sent from Paekche. Here it must be pointed out in passing that the most appalling fraud in the world today is the statue of Amida Buddha, allegedly the original object of worship of Zenko-ji temple. It was because of their enmity toward Shakyamuni Buddha that the three emperors as well as the members of the Mononobe clan perished. Prince Shotoku had an image of Shakyamuni Buddha cast and enshrined it in Gango-ji temple. This is the object of worship now enshrined in Tachibana-dera temple. It was the first statue of Shakyamuni Buddha ever to be made in Japan.
In China in the seventh year of Yung-ping (AD 64), the second emperor of the Later Han dynasty, Emperor Ming, dreamt of a man of gold. He thereupon dispatched eighteen emissaries, including the scholars Tsai Yin and Wang Tsun, to India to seek Buddhism. As a result, in the tenth year of Yung-ping, two sages of central India, Kashyapa Matanga and Chu-fa-lan, were brought to China and accorded the highest esteem. Thousands of adherents of Confucianism and Taoism, schools which had up until then presided over all imperial rites, resented this and lodged a complaint with the emperor. The emperor decreed that an open debate be held on the fifteenth day of the first month in the fourteenth year of Yung-ping.
Overjoyed, the Taoists erected an altar for a hundred Chinese deities as their objects of worship. The two sages from India had as their objects of worship the Buddhas ashes, a painting of Shakyamuni Buddha and five sutras.
As was customary in their rituals performed in the imperial presence, the Taoists brought in the scriptures of their school, as well as the Three Records, the Five Canons, and the writings of the Two Sages and the Three Kings, piled some of them with firewood and set them afire. In similar rites in the past these books had always withstood the flames, but this time they were reduced to ashes. Others, which were placed in water, had previously floated on the surface but now sank to the bottom. The Taoists called out for demons to appear but to no avail. They all felt unbearably humiliated, and among them, Chu Shan-hsin, Fei Shu-tsai and others died, consumed with shame. When the two Indian sages preached the Law, the Buddhas ashes ascended to heaven and there radiated a light so brilliant that it eclipsed the sun. The Buddha in the painting emitted rays of light from the middle of his forehead. More than six hundred Taoists, including Lu Hui-tung, finally capitulated and entered the Buddhist priesthood. Within thirty days of this confrontation ten temples were constructed.
Thus Shakyamuni Buddha is perfectly just in the administering of reward and punishment. Because, as I mentioned earlier, the three emperors and the two subjects became enemies of Shakyamuni Buddha, they lost their lives and fell into the evil paths in their next existence.
Our own age is not unlike theirs. The Taoists Chu and Fei of China and Moriya in Japan, by relying on the major and minor deities of their respective countries, became enemies of Shakyamuni Buddha. But since these gods themselves follow the Buddha, those believers were all brought to ruin. These present times are exactly like theirs. The deities of their respective countries, became enemies of Shakyamuni Buddha. But since these gods themselves follow the Buddha, those believers were all brought to ruin. These present times are exactly like theirs. The image I mentioned earlier which came from Paekche is that of Shakyamuni Buddha. Nevertheless, [priests of the other sects] have deceived the Japanese people by calling it Amida Buddha. In other words, they have replaced Shakyamuni with another Buddha. There is a difference between the Taoists and Moriya on the one hand and our contemporary priests on the other in that the former preferred gods to a Buddha while the latter have replaced one Buddha with another.
If there is anyone among my followers who is weak in faith and goes against what I, Nichiren, say, he will meet the same fate as did the Soga family. I will tell you the reason. It was due to the efforts of father and son, Soga no Sukune and Umako, that Buddhism came to be established in Japan. They could have held the same position as Bonten and Taishaku at the time of Shakyamuni Buddhas appearance in this world. Because they had brought Mononobe no Okoshi and his son Moriya to ruin, they became the only influential clan in the country. They rose in rank, controlled the nation, and their family enjoyed high prosperity. But Umako therefore grew so arrogant that he had Emperor Sushun assassinated and many princes killed. Moreover, his grandson, Iruka, had his retainers put to death twenty-three of Prince Shotokus children. Thereupon Empress Kogyoku, following the advice of Nakatomi no Kamako, had a statue cast of Shakyamuni Buddha and prayed to it fervently. As a result, Iruka, his father and the entire Soga family all perished at once.
Draw your own conclusions from what I said above. Those among my followers who fail to carry through their faith to the end will incur punishment even more severe. Even so, they should not harbor a grudge against Nichiren. Remember what fate Shofu-bo, Noto-bo and others met.
Be extremely cautious and, for the time being, never submit yourself to writing a pledge, whatever it may concern. No matter how furiously a fire may rage, it burns out after a while. On the other hand, water may appear to move slowly, but its flow does not easily vanish. Since you are hot-tempered and behave like a blazing fire, you will certainly be deceived by others. If your lord coaxes you with soft words, I am sure you will be won over, just as a fire is extinguished by water. Untempered iron quickly melts in a blazing fire, like ice put in hot water. But a sword, even when exposed to a great fire, withstands the heat for a while, because it has been well forged. In admonishing you in this way, I am trying to forge your faith.
Buddhism is reason. Reason will win over your lord. No matter how dearly you may love your wife and wish never to part from her, when you die, it will be to no avail. No matter how dearly you may cherish your estate, when you die, it will only fall into the hands of others. You have been prosperous enough for all these years. You must not give your estate a second thought. As I have said before, be hundreds of thousands of times more careful than ever.
Since childhood, I, Nichiren, have never prayed for the secular things of this life, but have single-mindedly sought to become a Buddha. Of late, however, I have been ceaselessly praying for your sake to the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha and the god of the sun, for I am convinced that you are a man who can inherit the soul of the Lotus Sutra. Be extremely careful not to come into conflict with others. Do not meet anyone at any place other than your own house. None of the night watchmen are sufficiently dependable, but considering that they had their mansions confiscated because of their faith in the Lotus Sutra, you should, under ordinary circumstances, maintain friendly relations with them. Then they will exercise extra caution on their nightly rounds and provide you with protection. Even should the people on your side make a slight error, pretend not to see or hear it.
Even should your lord ask to hear the teachings of Buddhism, do not heedlessly rejoice and rush off to see him. Answer mildly that you are not sure that you can comply, and that you will consult with some of the disciples. If you betray a great joy in your countenance and allow yourself to be tricked by his ostensible desire to hear the teachings, you will bring everything to ruin as surely as fire consumes whatever will burn or as rain falls from heaven.
If the opportunity arises, submit to your lord the petition I have written in your behalf. Since it contains matters of great import, it will certainly create a stir.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 3, p. 229.
Designed by Will Kallander