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"Thus I Heard"

I have received the scroll of the entire Myoho-renge-kyo that you copied in small characters, as well as two quilted robes, ten kan of coins and a hundred folding fans as offerings for consecrating the sutra.

In the first volume of the Hokke Mongu we find a passage which states, "The word ‘thus’ [of ‘thus I heard’] indicates the essence of a doctrine heard from the Buddha." And the first volume of the Hokke Mongu Ki states, "If ‘thus’ does not indicate the teaching which surpasses the eight categories, then how can it be the teaching of the Lotus Sutra?"

The Kegon Sutra begins: "Daihokobutsu Kegon Sutra. Thus I heard." The Hannya Sutra begins: "Makahannya Haramitsu Sutra. Thus I heard." The Dainichi Sutra begins: "Daibirushana Jimbenkaji Sutra. Thus I heard." What does "thus" indicate in these and all other sutras? It refers to the title of each sutra. When the Buddha expounded a sutra, he put a title to it, revealing its ultimate truth. After the Buddha’s death, when his listeners such as Ananda, Monju and Kongosatta compiled the Buddha’s teachings, they first stated the title of a sutra and then, "Thus I heard."

The essence of each sutra is contained in its title. For example, the land of India has seventy states and its borders measure ninety thousand ri, yet the people, animals, plants, mountains, rivers and earth within them are all included in the single word, India. All things that exist on the four continents of the world are clearly reflected on the face of the moon without exception. In like manner, the teachings of a sutra are encompassed in its title.

The titles of the Agon sutras, for instance, explain the conclusion of these sutras, which is that all things are impermanent. These titles are a hundred million times superior to the two characters meaning existence and nonexistence which are used in the titles of Brahman sutras. Followers of all the ninety-five schools of Brahmanism, hearing the titles of the Agon sutras, abandoned their erroneous views and converted to the truth of impermanence. Those who hear the titles of the Hannya sutras realize the three teachings that all things are non-substantial in themselves (taiku), that the Middle Way is independent of non-substantiality and temporary existence (tanchu), and that it is inseparably united with them (futanchu). Those who hear the title of the Kegon Sutra perceive either of the last two of the above teachings.

Those who hear the titles of the Dainichi, Hodo and Hannya sutras understand that all things, when analyzed, prove to be without substance (shakku) or that all things are non-substantial in themselves; that non-substantiality is independent of the Middle Way and temporary existence (tanku) or that it is inseparable from them (futanku); that the Middle Way is independent of non-substantiality and temporary existence or that it is inseparably united with them. However, those who listen to the titles of such provisional sutras are unable to realize the teachings of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, the hundred worlds and thousand factors, or the three thousand realms, which contain the benefit of supreme enlightenment.

The sutras other than the Lotus Sutra do not expound this ultimate conclusion and so their followers are like common mortals of ri-soku [the stage at which one is ignorant of his own Buddha nature]. The Buddhas and bodhisattvas who appear in those sutras cannot equal common mortals of myoji-soku who have just embraced the Lotus Sutra, let alone approach the stage of kangyo-soku [in which one’s actions accord with his understanding,] for they do not even chant the title of the Lotus Sutra. This is why the Great Teacher Miao-lo states in the Hokke Mongu Ki, "If ‘thus’ does not indicate the teaching which surpasses the eight categories, then how can it be the teaching of the Lotus Sutra?" The titles of the provisional sutras fall within the eight categories. These titles are like the meshes of a fishing net, while the title of the Lotus Sutra is like the rope which gathers the meshes of the eight categories. Those who chant Myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra, even without understanding its meaning, realize not only the heart of the Lotus Sutra but also the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings.

A crown prince who is only one, two or three years old will, when he ascends the throne, reign over the empire and be obeyed by the regent and ministers, although he is presently unaware of this. A baby has no conscious understanding but, taking the mother’s breast, grows naturally. In contrast, an arrogant minister who belittles a young crown prince will bring about his own downfall, as did Chao Kao of the Ch’in dynasty. The scholars of the other sutras and sects who, as Chao Kao did, look down upon the prince who chants only the title of the Lotus Sutra, will eventually fall into the hell of incessant suffering. However, if a votary of the Lotus Sutra who chants its title without knowing its meaning is frightened by the learned priests of other sects into forsaking his faith, then he is like the young puppet emperor Hu Hai who [replaced the crown prince but] was intimidated and killed by Chao Kao.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is not only the heart of all the Buddha’s teachings but also the heart, entity and essence of the Lotus Sutra. Yet as wonderful as this teaching is, no one has spread it during the more than 2,220 years since the Buddha’s passing. The twenty-four successors of the Buddha in India did not propagate it, nor did T’ien-t’ai or Miao-lo of China, nor Prince Shotoku or the Great Teacher Dengyo of Japan. Therefore, when I expounded it, people refused to believe it, thinking that it must be a false teaching. This is perfectly understandable. For example, if a lowly soldier had announced that he had seduced the beautiful court lady, Wang Chao-chun, no one would have believed it. Similarly, people cannot believe that a priest of such lowly birth could expound Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the Lotus Sutra, which even T’ien-t’ai and Dengyo, who ranked as highly as ministers and court nobles, did not propagate.

You may not know this, but the crow, the most despised of birds, can recognize omens of good and evil events that will occur during the year, which the eagle and the hawk cannot. A snake is no match for a dragon or an elephant, but it can foresee the coming of a flood seven days in advance. Even if Nagarjuna and T’ien-t’ai had not known the teaching which I propagate, if it is stated clearly in the sutra, one should not doubt it. If one holds me, Nichiren, in contempt and does not chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, he is like a baby who doubts its mother’s milk and refuses the breast, or a patient who is suspicious of his doctor and rejects the medicine prescribed for him. Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu realized this teaching but did not propagate it perhaps because they knew that the time was not right and that the people of their day had no capacity to understand it. Others most probably did not spread it because they were ignorant of it. Buddhism spreads according to the time and the people’s capacity. Although I may not be worthy of this teaching, I expound it because the time is right.

Our contemporaries think of the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo only as a name, but this is not correct. It is the entity, that is, the heart of the Lotus Sutra. Chang-an, [commenting on T’ien-t’ai’s explanation of the title of the Lotus Sutra as set forth in the Hokke Gengi,] states, "Hence [his explanation of the title in] the preface conveys the profound meaning of the sutra as a whole, and the profound meaning embodies the heart of the work." According to this interpretation, Myoho-renge-kyo is neither the scriptural text nor its meaning but the heart of the entire sutra. Those who seek the heart of the sutra apart from its title are as foolish as the turtle who sought the monkey’s liver outside the monkey, or the monkey who left the forest and sought fruit on the seashore.


The twenty-eighth day of the eleventh month in the third year of Kenji (1277)

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 3, page 243.

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