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The Third Doctrine

I have read through your letter.

In it, you report that you said, "The ninth volume of the Hokke mongu ki states, ‘Freeing oneself from the [threefold] world by means of the provisional teachings is termed an ephemeral liberation.’" To which Ryosho-bo replied, "There is no such passage." Yet in commenting on [the section of the Hokke mongu that deals with] the Juryo chapter, the ninth volume of the Hokke mongu ki does indeed say, "From the passage, ‘There is no one who emerges from the ephemeral...,’ to the passage, ‘The ephemeral teachings of the past were expounded for the sake of the truth,’ [the meaning of the text is that] freeing oneself from the [threefold] world by means of the provisional teachings is termed an ephemeral liberation. There are no people of the three vehicles who have not freed themselves from the threefold world, and no beings of the human and heavenly realms who have failed to escape the three evil paths. Yet these are both termed ephemeral liberation."

The ninth volume of the Hokke mongu reads, "There is no one who emerges from the ephemeral and yet fails to enter into the true. Therefore, we know that the ephemeral teachings of the past were expounded for the sake of the truth."

The Juryo chapter states, "Good men, the Thus Come One observes how among living beings there are those who delight in inferior teachings, meager in virtue and heavy with defilement.... Because living beings have [different natures..., I preach different doctrines.... This, the Buddha’s work,] I have never for a moment neglected." T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo are commenting on this passage. In this passage of the sutra, all the teachings from the Kegon Sutra, which was expounded immediately after the Buddha’s enlightenment and which combine both specific and perfect teachings, to the fourteen chapters that comprise the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra, are termed "inferior teachings." Those who delight in them are called people "meager in virtue and heavy with defilement," and the liberation achieved through them is shown to be an ephemeral liberation.

This being the case, concerning the Kegon sect, which relies on the Kegon Sutra; the Hosso sect, which upholds the Jimmitsu Sutra; the Sanron sect, which is based upon the Hannya sutras-, the Shingon Sect, which relies on the Dainichi Sutra; the Pure Land sect, which cherishes the Kammuryoju Sutra; the Zen sect, which upholds the Ryoga Sutra, as well as all the other various sects which rely on their respective sutras -- even if their adherents read and recite the sutra that their sect relies on just as that sutra teaches, they will neither free themselves from the threefold world nor escape the three evil paths. Even less will those who term these sutras true teachings, or who claim that they surpass the Lotus Sutra! They are like people spitting at the heavens or pounding at the earth in rage.

With respect to this doctrine: After the passing of the Thus Come One, in India for more than fifteen hundred years, the Buddha’s twenty-four successors, such as Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, knew of it but did not reveal it. In China for more than a thousand years, others did not know of it; only T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo gave a rough account of it. However, it seems that they did not explain its true significance. And the same was true of the Great Teacher Dengyo. Now when I, Nichiren, consider the matter, I find that in addition to the above passage of the Lotus Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra states, "If there are those who conceive differing ideas concerning the three treasures, then truly you should know that these people can no longer hope to take refuge in or rely upon these three pure treasures. They will be unable to uphold any of the precepts, and, in the end, they will be unable to obtain the fruits of the voice-hearer, the cause-awakened one or the bodhisattva. This passage is clearly referring to [the essential point of] the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra. It subsequently likens the Juryo chapter to a tree, and the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings and the theoretical teaching, to its shade. Other sutra passages also employ this metaphor. They teach that the benefits of the five periods and eight teachings, of the teachings that are still in a certain dimension and that extend beyond, and of the Mahayana and Hinayana, are all like shade, while the doctrine of the essential teaching is like a tree. They also teach that the benefits gained from the teachings expounded before the Juryo chapter by those who lived during the Buddha’s lifetime are like a tree’s shade in the darkness, for such benefits were obtainable only by those who had already heard the Juryo chapter in prior existences.

As for your opponent’s contention that disbelief does not in itself constitute slander, or his claim that those who disbelieve will not necessarily fall into hell, the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra states, "[If, with regard to this sutra] one should harbor doubt and fail to believe, he will fall at once into the evil paths."

On the whole, you should bear the following in mind. In contrasting the Lotus Sutra with the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings and evaluating their relative superiority and depth, the comparison between the teachings still in a certain dimension and those extending beyond may be carried out on three levels. Nichiren’s teaching represents the third doctrine. Though the first and second doctrines have been spoken of in the world rather vaguely, like a dream, the third has never been spoken of at all. Though T’ien-t’ai, Miao-lo and Dengyo explained it to some extent, they did not clarify it fully. In the end, they left it for now, the Latter Day of the Law. This is the time referred to as the fifth five-hundred-year period.

However, I was given no information about this doctrinal debate. Ryosho-bo is a person of vast learning. If he had remarked, "I am sorry to have to say this, but I am already well aware of the existence of that passage," and had somehow managed to frustrate you, claiming that our side had been defeated, I wonder what you could have done about it. Anyway, setting aside the fact that he and his fellow monks were ignorant of that passage of commentary, his having said that is does not exist in any of the sixty volumes is due to the punishment of heaven. His offense of slandering the Law became apparent when he encountered a messenger of the Lotus Sutra. Moreover, this affair of the debate surely occurred for some reason. Please find out in detail what Ota Jiro Hyoe of Kashima Daishin-bo and the chief priest of the main temple are saying. Matters such as these are described in detail in the sutra. The votary of the Lotus Sutra is certain to be obstructed by the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. Among the ten objects of meditation, this corresponds to the object of diabolical functions. It is the way of the devil to delight in obstructing good and in causing the production of evil. Concerning those whom he cannot force to perform evil acts, he is helpless and is capable only of allowing them to create good. Those who carry out the practices of the bodhisattva, he hinders by encouraging in the direction of the practice of the two vehicles. And lastly, if there is someone who practices the pure and perfect teaching exclusively, he will topple that person into the perfect teaching that is combined with the specific teaching. You may refer to the eighth volume of the Maka shikan.

You say the Ryosho-bo further claimed that a practitioner of the shikan meditation should keep the precepts. However, the ninth volume of the Hokke mongu restrains practitioners of the first, second, and third [of the five stages of practice] from upholding the precepts. This is also clear from the text of the sutra itself. The discrepancy in the Maka shikan is explained by Miao-lo in the form of questions and answers. See volume nine of the Hokke mongu ki. There are two kinds of practitioners at the initial stage of rejoicing. Practitioners of keen faculties may keep the precepts, while those of dull faculties are restrained from doing so. Moreover, there are differences among the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law, and differences between the practices of shoju and shakubuku. You should also take into account the Great Teacher Dengyo’s remark about a tiger in the marketplace.

From now on, you need not hold debates in Shimosa. Having defeated Ryosho-bo and Shi’nen-bo, were you to debate with others, it would only dilute the effect. I hear that these priests Ryosho-bo and Shi’nen-bo have been slandering me for some years now. These mosquitoes and gadflies, as it were, are such fools that they groundlessly revile Nichiren, who is like the lion king, when they have neither listened to nor seen him. For persons of the Tendai-Hokke sect to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo themselves and yet give their approval when others repeat the Nembutsu would be strange enough. Yet not only do they fail to remonstrate with them, but they criticize one who does confront the Nembutsu sect, which is strange indeed! As for Daishin-bo, as I wrote you before, please strongly admonish him by letter. It would appear that he has been brought back to our faith by the ten demon daughters. It would also seem that a messenger from the devil king has possessed him, but now has parted company with him. It cannot possibly be a lie when the sutra states that "evil demons will take possession of others." There is much that I would like to say, but the messenger is in a hurry, so I am writing this at night.

With my deep respect,

The first day of the tenth month


  1. 1. The original text of the Hokke mongu ki as quoted in the Gosho contains the parenthetical instruction that the Chinese character meaning "for
  11. 11. The Marquis of Sui once came upon a large snake that had been wounded. He applied medicine to the wound, and the snake later appeared holding a jewel in its mouth to reward him. The story is referred to in the letter addressed to Yang Te-tsu by Ts'ao Chih (192-232), Wen-hsiian, chap. 42. The source of the dragon reference is unknown.
  12. 12. Sky of Tranquil Light: An expression used to describe the supreme state of Buddhahood.
  13. 13. This is described in the Devadatta (12th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 7.

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