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The Sutra of True Requital

In the first year of the Koan era (1278), when the reverse marker of Jupiter was in the sector of the sky with the cyclical sign tsuchinoe-tora, on the sixth day of the seventh month, a letter from Sennichi-ama of the province of Sado was brought to me here deep in the mountains at a place called Mount Minobu in the village of Hakiri, the province of Kai in Japan, being delivered to me by Abutsu-bo, her husband.

In the letter, she says that she had been concerned about the faults and impediments that prevent women from gaining enlightenment, but that since, according to my teaching, the Lotus Sutra places the highest importance on women attaining Buddhahood, she is therefore relying upon this sutra in all matters.

We may stop to ask ourselves: Who was the Buddha who preached this sutra known as the Lotus Sutra? To the west of this land of Japan, west again from China, far, far west beyond the deserts and mountain ranges, in the land called India, there was a great king named Shuddhodana. The son and heir of this great ruler, when he reached the age of nineteen, cast aside his position, withdrew to Mount Dandaka, and took up the religious life. At the age of thirty he became a Buddha. His body took on a golden color, and his spirit became capable of viewing everything in the three existences. This Buddha, whose mind reflected as though in a mirror all that had happened in the past and would happen in the future, spent more than fifty years expounding all the various sutras of his teaching life.

During the first thousand years after the Buddha's passing, these various sutras gradually spread throughout the land of India, but they were not yet transmitted to China or Japan. It was 1,015 years after the death of the Buddha when Buddhism was first introduced to China, but the Lotus Sutra was not among the texts transmitted at that time.

Some two hundred or more years after Buddhism was introduced to China, the Tripitaka Master Kumarayana lived in a country called Kucha, located between India and China. His son, Kumarajiva, journeyed from Kucha to India, where he received instruction in the Lotus Sutra from the Tripitaka Master Shuryasoma. On entrusting him with the sutra, Shuryasoma said to him, "This Lotus Sutra has a deep connection with a country to the northeast."

With these words in mind, Kumarajiva set out to carry the sutra to the region east of India, to the land of China. Thus it was more than two hundred years after Buddhism had been introduced to China, during the reign of a ruler of the Later Ch'in dynasty, that the Lotus Sutra was first brought to that country.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan during the reign of the thirtieth sovereign, Emperor Kimmei, on the thirteenth day, a day with the cyclical sign kanoto-tori, of the tenth month of the thirteenth year of his reign, a year with the cyclical sign mizunoe-saru (552), by King Songmyong of the kingdom of Paekche to the west of Japan. This occurred four hundred years after the introduction of Buddhism to China and more than fourteen hundred years after the Buddha's passing.

The Lotus Sutra was among the texts brought to Japan at that time. Later, however, Prince Shotoku, the son of the thirty-second sovereign, Emperor Yomei, sent an envoy to China to procure another copy of the Lotus Sutra, and propagated its teachings throughout Japan. Since then, more than seven hundred years have passes.

Already, over 2,230 years have gone by since the death of the Buddha. Moreover, the lands of India, China and Japan are separated one from another by mountains upon mountains, rivers upon rivers, and sea after sea. Their inhabitants, their ways of thinking, and the character of their lands all differ from each other; they speak different languages and follow different customs. How, then, can ordinary human beings like ourselves possibly understand the true meaning of the Buddhist teachings?

The only way to do so is to examine and compare the words found in the various sutras. These various sutras all differ from one another, but the one known as the Lotus Sutra is in eight volumes. In addition, there are the Fugen Sutra, which urges the propagation of the Lotus Sutra, and the Muryogi Sutra, which serves as an introduction to the Lotus Sutra, each consisting of one volume. When we open the Lotus Sutra and look into it, it is like seeing our own face reflected in a bright mirror, or like being able to discern the colors of all the plants and trees once the sun has risen.

In reading the Muryogi Sutra, which serves as an introduction, we find a passage that says, "In these more than forty years, I [Shakyamuni Buddha] have not yet revealed the truth." In the first volume of the Lotus Sutra, at the beginning of the Hoben chapter, we read, "The World Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth." In the fourth volume in the Hoto chapter, there is a passage that states clearly, "The Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law...all that you [Shakyamuni] have expounded is the truth." And the seventh volume contains the obvious passage of proof that mentions the tongue reaching to the Brahma Heaven.

In addition to these passages, we should note that the other sutras that preceded or followed the Lotus Sutra have been compared to the stars, to streams and rivers, to minor rulers or to hills, while the Lotus Sutra has been compared to the moon, to the sun, to the great ocean, to a great mountain or to a great king.

These statements are not something I myself have said. They are in every case the golden words of the Tathagata, words that express the judgment of all Buddhas in the ten directions. And all bodhisattvas, persons of the two vehicles, Bonten, Taishaku, and the gods of the sun and moon, which shine now in the sky like bright mirrors, witnessed these statements being made. The words of these sun and moon deities, too, are recorded in the Lotus Sutra. All the ancient gods of India, China and Japan were also present in the assembly, and none of the gods of Japan such as Tensho Daijin, the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman or the deities of Kumano and Suzuka dispute this view.

This sutra is superior to all other sutras. It is like the lion king, the monarch of all creatures that run on the ground, and like the eagle, the king of all creatures that fly in the sky. The Namu Amida Butsu Sutra and the other sutras are mere pheasants or rabbits by comparison, to be seized by the eagle as their tears flow down or to be pursued by the lion while fear grips their bowels. And the same is true of the Nembutsu believers, the Ritsu priests, the Zen priests and the Shingon teachers. Face to face with the votary of the Lotus Sutra, their color will drain away and their spirits will fail.

As for what sort of doctrines are taught in this wonderful Lotus Sutra: Beginning with the Hoben chapter in the first volume, it teaches that bodhisattvas, persons of the two vehicles and ordinary common mortals are all capable of attaining Buddhahood. But at this point there are no examples to prove this assertion. It is like the case of a guest whom one meets for the first time. His appearance is attractive, his spirit is forthright, and on hearing him speak, we have no reason to doubt him. Yet because we have never seen him before and have no proof of the things he says, we find it difficult to believe him on the basis of his words alone. But if we repeatedly see evidence to support the major points he made at that time, we will be able to trust what he says from then on as well.

For all those who wished to believe the Lotus Sutra and yet could not do so with complete certainty, the fifth volume presents what is the very heart and core of the entire sutra, the doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in one's present form. It was as though a black object were to become white, black lacquer to become like snow, an unclean thing to become clean and pure, or a wish-granting jewel to be thrust into muddy water. Here it is told how a reptile-like woman, the dragon king's daughter, attained Buddhahood in her present form. And at that moment, no one any longer doubted that it is possible for men to attain Buddhahood as well. Thus the Lotus Sutra uses the enlightenment of women as a model [to reveal that Buddhahood is accessible to all].

For this reason, the Great Teacher Dengyo, the founder of Enryaku-ji temple of Mount Hiei who first spread the true teachings of the Lotus Sutra in Japan, comments on this point where he states, "Neither teachers nor disciples need undergo countless kalpas of austere practice in order to attain Buddhahood. Through the power of the Lotus Sutra they can do so in their present form." And the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che of China, who first expounded the true meaning of the Lotus Sutra in that country, remarks, "The other sutras predict Buddhahood for men only and not for women....Only this [Lotus] sutra predicts Buddhahood for all."

Do not these interpretations make clear that, among all the teachings of the Buddha's lifetime, the Lotus Sutra stands in first place, and that among the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, that of women attaining Buddhahood, is foremost? For this reason, though the women of Japan may be condemned in all sutras other than the Lotus Sutra as incapable of attaining Buddhahood, as long as the Lotus Sutra guarantees their enlightenment, what reason have they to be downcast?

Now I, Nichiren, have been born as a human being, something difficult to achieve, and I have encountered the Buddhist teachings, which are but rarely to be met. Moreover, among all the teachings of Buddhism, I have been able to meet the Lotus Sutra. When I stop to consider my good fortune, I realize that I am indebted to my parents, indebted to the ruler and indebted to all living beings.

With regard to the debt of gratitude owed to one's parents, one's father may be likened to heaven and one's mother to the earth, and it would be difficult to say to which parent one is the more indebted. But it is particularly difficult to repay the great kindness of one's mother.

If, in desiring to repay it, one seeks to do so by following the outer scriptures such as the Three Records and the Five Canons or the Classic of Filial Piety, he will be able to provide for his mother in this life, but he cannot assist her in the life to come. Although he may provide for her physically, he will be unable to save her spiritually.

On turning to the inner scriptures, those of Buddhism, because the more than five thousand or seven thousand volumes of Hinayana and Mahayana sutras teach that women cannot attain Buddhahood, they offer no way to requite the debt owed to one's mother. The Hinayana teachings flatly deny that a woman can attain Buddhahood. The Mahayana sutras in some cases seem to say that a woman may attain Buddhahood or may be reborn in a pure land, but this is simply a possibility mentioned by the Buddha and no examples are given of such a thing actually having happened.

Only the Lotus Sutra reveals that a woman can attain Buddhahood, and therefore I have come to realize that this sutra is the very one that makes possible true requital for a mother's kindness. To repay that debt, I have vowed to enable all women to chant the daimoku of this sutra.

However, the women of Japan have all been led astray by priests like Shan-tao of China or Eshin, Eikan and Honen of Japan, so that throughout the entire country, not a one of them chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which should be their foundation. All they do is chant Namu Amida Butsu once a day, ten times a day, a hundred thousand billion times, or thirty thousand or a hundred thousand times. All their lives, every hour of the day and night, they do nothing else. Both those women who are steadfast in their pursuit of enlightenment and those who are evil make the invocation of Amida's name their basis. And the few women who seem to be devoting themselves to the Lotus Sutra do so only as though whiling away time waiting for the moon to rise, or as though reluctantly spending time with a man who does not please them until they can meet their lover.

Thus among all the women of Japan, there is not one whose actions accord with the spirit of the Lotus Sutra. They do not chant the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, which is the highest way to requite a mother's kindness, but instead devote their hearts to Amida. And because they do not base themselves on the Lotus Sutra, Amida extends no aid. Reciting the name of Amida Buddha is no way for a woman to gain salvation; rather it will invariably plunge her into hell.

In grieving over what is to be done, [I have realized that, in any event,] if one wishes to assist one's mother, the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha [is not the way to go about it, since it] creates the karma that destines a person to the hell of incessant suffering. Such recitation is not included among the five cardinal sins, and yet it is worse than the five sins. A person who murders his father and mother destroys their physical bodies, but he does not condemn them to fall into the hell of incessant suffering in their next existence.

Today the women of Japan, who could without fail attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra, have been deceived into reciting the formula Namu Amida Butsu exclusively. Because this does not appear to be an evil act, they have been misled. Because the Nembutsu is not the seed of Buddhahood, one who chants it will never become a Buddha. By clinging to the minor good of reciting Amida Buddha's name, one deprives oneself of the major good of the Lotus Sutra. Thus this minor good of the Nembutsu is worse in its effect than the great evil of the five cardinal sins.

It is like the case of Masakado, who during the Shohei era seized control of eight provinces in the Kanto region, or like Sadato, who during the Tenki era took possession of the region of Oshu. Because these men caused a division to arise between the people of their region and the sovereign, they were declared enemies of the court and in the end were destroyed. Their plots and rebellions were worse than the five cardinal sins.

Buddhism in Japan today reminds us of these men, marked as it is by strange plots and rebellions. The Lotus Sutra represents the supreme ruler, while the Shingon sect, Jodo sect, Zen sect and Ritsu priests, by upholding various minor sutras such as the Dainichi Sutra and the Kammuryoju Sutra, have become the deadly enemies of the Lotus Sutra. And yet women throughout Japan, unaware of the foolishness of their own minds, think that Nichiren, who can save them, is their foe, and mistake the Nembutsu believers and the Zen, Ritsu and Shingon priests, who are in fact deadly enemies, for good friends and teachers. And because they look upon Nichiren, who it trying to save them, as a deadly enemy, these women all join together to slander him to the government authorities, so that after having been exiled to the province of Izu in the past, he was once again exiled to the province of Sado.

I, Nichiren, having taken my vow, have this to say. There is absolutely no fault on my part. And even if I should be mistaken, the fact remains that I have made a vow to save all the women of this country of Japan, and that sincerity cannot be ignored - especially since what I am saying is in complete accord with the Lotus Sutra itself.

If the women of Japan do not choose to put faith in me, then they should let the matter rest there. On the contrary, however, they set about attacking me. But am I in error?

How do Shakyamuni, Taho, the Buddhas of the ten directions, the bodhisattvas, the people of the two vehicles, Bonten, Taishaku and the Four Heavenly Kings plan to deal with this matter? If I were in error, they would surely make that plain. We could certainly expect that much from the deities of the sun and moon, which are shining right before our eyes. Moreover, all these deities not only listened to the words of Shakyamuni Buddha, but vowed to punish one who persecutes the votary of the Lotus Sutra, saying, "May his head be split into seven pieces." What then do they intend to do? Because I, Nichiren, strongly called them to task in this manner, Heaven has inflicted punishment upon this nation of ours, and these epidemics have appeared.

By rights Heaven should command another nation to punish our country, but too many people of both sides would perish. Therefore, Heaven's design is to avoid a general conflict but instead to first destroy the people [in this epidemic] - which is in effect cutting off the ruler's hands and feet - and thus compel the ruler and high ministers of this nation [to honor the Lotus Sutra]. In this way it intends to wipe out the enemies of the Lotus Sutra and make way for the propagation of the True Law.

Nevertheless, when I was exiled to the province of Sado, the constable of the province and the other officials, following the designs of the regent, treated me with animosity. And the ordinary people went along with their orders. In addition, the Nembutsu believers and the Zen, Ritsu and Shingon priests in Kamakura sent word that by no means should I be allowed to return there from the island of Sado, and Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji and others persuaded Hojo Nobutoki, the former governor of the province of Musashi, to issue private letters of instruction, which were carried to Sado by Ryokan's disciples, ordering that I be persecuted. Thus it seemed that I could not possibly escape with my life. Whatever Heaven's design in the matter may have been, every single steward and Nembutsu believer worthy of the name kept strict watch on my hut day and night, determined to prevent anyone from communicating with me. Never in any lifetime will I forget how under those circumstances you, with Abutsu-bo, carrying a wooden container of food on his back, again and again came in the night to bring me aid. It was a though my deceased mother had suddenly been reborn in the province of Sado!

Once in China there was a man named Liu Pang, the lord of P'ei. Because there were signs about him indicating that he would become a ruler, the First Emperor of the Ch'in dynasty decreed that unparalleled rewards would be bestowed upon anyone who would kill Liu Pang. Liu Pang thought it would be too dangerous to try to conceal himself in the country villages, and so he entered the mountains, where he remained hidden for seven days, and then for another seven. At that time, he believed that his life was as good as lost. But Liu Pang had a wife of the Lu family who went searching for him in the mountains and from time to time would bring him food to keep him alive.

Being Liu Pang's wife, she could not help but feel compassion for him. But in your case, were you not concerned about the life to come, how could you have shown me such devotion? And that is also the reason why you have remained steadfast throughout, even when you were driven from your place, fined or had your house taken from you. In the Lotus Sutra, it is said that one who in the past has made offerings to tens of billions of Buddha shall, when reborn in a later existence, be unshakable in faith. You, then, must be a woman who has made offerings to tens of billions of Buddhas.

In addition, it is easy to sustain our concern for someone who is before our eyes, but quite a different thing when he or she is far away, even though in our hearts we may not forget that person. Nevertheless, in the five years from the eleventh year of the Bun'ei era (1274) until this year, the first year of the Koan era (1278), that I have been living here in the mountains, you have three times sent your husband from the province of Sado to visit me. What profound sincerity! Your faith is weightier than the great earth, deeper than the great sea!

Shakyamuni Buddha, when he was Prince Satta in a previous existence, gained merit by feeding his body to a starving tigress, and when he was King Shibi, he gained merit by giving his flesh to a hawk in exchange for the life of a dove. And he declared in the presence of Taho and the Buddhas of the ten directions that, in the Latter Day of the Law, he would transfer this merit to those who believe in the Lotus Sutra as you do.

You say in your letter that the eleventh day of the eighth month of this year will mark the thirteenth anniversary of your father's death. You also note that you are enclosing an offering of one kan of coins. It is extremely kind of you to do so. Fortunately, I happen to have a copy of the Lotus Sutra in ten volumes that I am sending you. At times when you are thinking fondly of me, you may have Gakujo-bo read it aloud for you so you can listen to the words. And in a future existence, you may use this copy of the sutra as a token of proof with which to search me out.

In view of the epidemics that have raged the year before last, last year and this year as well, I had been anxious about how all of you were faring and praying earnestly to the Lotus Sutra for your safety, but still I was feeling uneasy. Then, on the twenty-seventh day of the seventh month, at the Hour of the Monkey (3:00 - 5:00 P.M.), Abutsu-bo appeared. I asked him first of all how you were, and how Ko Nyudo was. He told me that neither of you had fallen ill, and that Ko Nyudo had set out along with him but, because the early rice was nearly ripe, and because he had no sons to help him harvest it, he had had no choice but to turn around and go back home.

When I heard all this, I felt like a blind man who has recovered his sight, or as though my deceased father and mother had come to me in a dream from the palace of King Emma, and in my dream I felt great joy. It is a strange and wonderful thing, but both here and in Kamakura, very few persons among my followers have died from this plague. It is as though all of us were riding in the same boat and, though it would be too much to expect that we should all survive, still, when disaster seemed to be upon us, another boat came out to rescue us. Or it is as though the dragon deities were watching over us and making it possible for us to reach the shore in safety. It is indeed wondrous to contemplate!

Concerning Ichinosawa Nyudo, please tell his wife, the nun, that I am grieved to hear of his death. But I have already told her quite clearly how matters stand with her husband, and she will no doubt recall my words. Regardless of the fact that he had a chapel dedicated to Amida Buddha in his house, Amida Buddha will not save an enemy of the Lotus Sutra. On the contrary, such a person renders himself a foe of Amida Buddha. After his death, he must have fallen into the realm of evil and be filled with deep regret. It is a great pity.

However, I am mindful that the nyudo on several occasions saved my life by hiding me in the corridor of his home, and I have therefore tried to think of something that can be done for him. Will you please ask Gakujo-bo to read the Lotus Sutra regularly at his grave? Even so, I do not think that this will enable him to reach enlightenment. Please tell his wife, the nun, that I grieve at the thought of how desolate and lonely she must feel. I will write more at another time.


The twenty-eighth day of the seventh month

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 245.

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