The Treatment of Illness and the Points of Difference between Mahayana and Hinayana and Provisional and True Teachings
I have received the summer robe you sent me through the offices of Shijo Kingo. Please inform all those who sent me various offerings that I have received everything he listed. I also wish to acknowledge receipt of the various offerings from Ota Nyudo1 shown on the list you made. The teachings I will be discussing in this letter have already been explained in part in one of my letters to Shijo Kingo.2 I hope you will ask him to show it to you.
Your letter says that the epidemics are raging all the more fiercely. The illnesses of human beings may be divided into two general categories, the first of which is illness of the body. Physical diseases comprise one hundred and one disorders of the earth element, one hundred and one imbalances of the water element, one hundred and one disturbances of the fire element and one hundred and one disharmonies of the wind element,3 a total of four hundred and four maladies. These illnesses do not require a Buddha to cure them. Skilled physicians such as Jisui, Rusui,4 Jivaka5 and Pien Chueh6 prescribed medicines which never failed to heal physical sickness.
The second category is illness of the mind. These illnesses arise from the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity and are of eighty-four thousand kinds.7 They are beyond the healing power of the two Brahman deities, the three ascetics,9 or the six non-Buddhist teachers.10 Medicines prescribed by Shen Nung and Huang Ti11 are even less effective.
Illnesses of the mind differ greatly in severity. The three poisons and their eighty-four thousand variations that afflict common mortals of the six paths can be treated by the Buddha of Hinayana and his teachings in the Agon sutras, or by the scholars and teachers of the Kusha, Jojitsu,12 and Ritsu sects. However, if these Hinayana believers, in following their teachings, should turn against the Mahayana, [the people will suffer from various diseases.] Or, even though they may not oppose Mahayana Buddhism, if the Hinayana countries think themselves equal to the Mahayana countries, their people will be plagued by sickness. If one attempts to cure such illnesses with Hinayana Buddhism, they will only become worse. They can be treated only by the votaries of the Mahayana sutras. [Even within the Mahayana,] if many followers of the Kegon, Jimmitsu,13 Hannya, Dainichi and other provisional Mahayana sutras, confusing the inferior with the superior, insist that the teachings of their sects are equal to or even surpass the Lotus Sutra, and if the ruler and others in high positions come to accept their assertion, then the three poisons and eighty-four thousand illnesses will all arise. Then, if those followers should try to cure these illnesses with the provisional Mahayana sutras on which they rely, the sicknesses will become all the more serious. Even if they try to use the Lotus Sutra, their efforts will fail because, although the sutra itself is supreme, the practitioners are persons who hold distorted views.
Further, the Lotus Sutra itself is divided into two categories, the theoretical teaching and the essential teaching. One is as different from the other as fire is from water or heaven from earth. The difference is even greater than that between the Lotus Sutra and the sutras that preceded it. These sutras and the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra are certainly different, but still they have some points of similarity. Among the eight teachings expounded by the Buddha, the engyo or perfect teaching of the earlier sutras and that of the theoretical teaching are similar to each other.14 When the Buddha expounded the pre-Lotus Sutra and the theoretical teachings, he assumed different guises such as the inferior manifested body,15 the superior manifested body, the bliss body and the Dharma body, yet16 he invariably depicted himself as having attained enlightenment for the first time in this world.
The difference between the theoretical and the essential teachings, however, is exceedingly great. Whereas in the former the Buddha is described as having first attained enlightenment during his lifetime, in the latter he is the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remote past. The difference is like that between a one-hundred-year-old man and a one-year-old baby. The disciples of these two teachings are also as different as fire is from water, to say nothing of the difference between their lands.17 One who confuses the essential teaching with the theoretical teaching would not have the sense to distinguish fire from water. The Buddha drew a distinct line between the two in his preaching, but during the more than two thousand years since his death, no one in the three countries of India, China and Japan--or for that matter, in the entire world--has clearly understood the difference. Only Tien-tai in China and Dengyo in Japan generally differentiated between the two. And the precept of the perfect and immediate enlightenment, in which the essential teaching is distinguished from the theoretical, still remained to be clarified. In the final analysis, Tien-tai and Dengyo perceived it in their hearts but did not reveal it for three reasons: first, the proper time had not yet come; second, the people had no capacity to accept it; and third, neither had been entrusted with the mission of expounding it. It is today, in the Latter Day of the Law, that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will appear and propagate it.
The Latter Day of the Law is the proper time for the spread of the essential teaching, so the followers of the Hinayana, provisional Mahayana and the theoretical teachings will receive no benefit from their teachings, even though they are not guilty of any fault. These teachings can be likened to medicines compounded for use in springtime, which are ineffective if taken in the fall, or at least not as effective as they are in spring or summer. What is worse, these people are deluded as to the relative superiority of Hinayana and Mahayana or of the provisional and the true teachings. But the rulers of Japan in ancient times believed in the sutras they espoused, and erected temples and donated fields and farmland to their sects. Were these people to admit the truth of my assertion that their teachings are inferior, they would have no way to justify themselves and would in consequence lose the support of the ruler. For this reason, they become enraged, slandering the sutra of the true teaching and doing harm to its votary. The ruler, too, accepting the groundless accusations of these followers, persecutes the votary, because he wishes to side with the majority, because he cannot bear to abandon the teachings honored by the rulers of ancient times, because he is simply stupid and ignorant, or because he despises the votary of the true teaching. As a result, the gods who guard the true teaching, such as Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and moon or the Four Heavenly Kings, punish the country, and the three calamities and seven disasters occur on an unprecedented scale. Hence the epidemics which have broken out this year as well as last year and in the Shoka era.19
Question: If, as you have stated, the gods inflict punishment on this country because it does harm to the votary of the Lotus Sutra, then epidemics should attack only the slanderers. Why is it that your own disciples also fall ill and die?
Answer: Your question sounds reasonable. But you are aware of only one side of the situation and not the other. Good and evil have been inherent in life since time without beginning. According to the provisional teachings and the sects based on them, both good and evil remain in ones life through all the stages of the bodhisattva practice up to the stage of togaku.20 Hence the people at the stage of togaku or below have faults of some kind, [but not those at the highest stage]. In contrast, the heart of the Hokke sect21 is the principle of ichinen sanzen, which reveals that both good and evil are inherent even in those at the highest stage, that of myogaku or enlightenment. The fundamental nature of enlightenment manifests itself as Bonten and Taishaku, whereas the fundamental darkness manifests itself as the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. The gods hate evildoers, and demons hate good people. Because we have entered the Latter Day of the Law, it is natural that demons should be everywhere in the country, just like tiles, stones, trees and grasses. Benevolent spirits are few because sages and worthies are rare in this world. One would therefore expect to find more victims of the epidemic among Nichirens followers than among the believers of Nembutsu, teachers of Shingon or priests of the Zen and Ritsu sects. For some reason, however, there is less affliction and death among Nichirens followers. It is indeed mysterious. Is this because we are few in number, or because our faith is strong?
Question: Has there ever in the past been such a terrible outbreak of epidemics in Japan?
Answer: During the reign of Emperor Sujin, the tenth ruler after Emperor Jimmu, epidemics swept throughout Japan, claiming the lives of more than half the populace. But when Emperor Sujin had the people in each province worship the Sun Goddess and other deities, the epidemics ceased completely. Hence the name Sujin, which literally means "worshipping the gods." That was before Buddhism had been introduced to the country. The thirtieth, thirty-first and thirty-second rulers in the imperial line, along with many of their ministers, died of smallpox and other epidemic diseases. Prayers were once more offered to the same deities, but this time it was to no avail.
During the reign of the thirtieth ruler, Emperor Kimmei, Buddhist sutras, treatises and priests were sent from the state of Paekche on the Korean Peninsula to Japan, as well as a gilded bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Soga no Sukune22 urged that the statue be worshipped. But Mononobe no Omuraji23 and other ministers, along with the common people, joined in opposing the worship of the Buddha, saying that if honor were paid to him, it would enrage the native deities who then would bring ruin upon Japan. The emperor was still trying to decide which opinion to follow when the three calamities and seven disasters struck the nation on a scale never known before, and great numbers of the populace died of disease.
Mononobe no Omuraji seized this opportunity to appeal to the emperor, and as a result, not only were the Buddhist priests and nuns subjected to shame, but the gilded bronze statue of the Buddha was placed over charcoal and destroyed, and the Buddhist temple was likewise burned. At that time, Mononobe no Omuraji contracted a disease and died, and the emperor also passed away. Soga no Sukune, who worshipped the Buddhas statue, also fell ill.
Omurajis son, the minister Mononobe no Moriya, declared that three successive emperors as well as his own father had died in the epidemic solely because homage had been paid to the Buddha. "Let it be known," he declared, "that Prince Shotoku,24 Soga no Umako,25 and the others who revere the Buddha are all enemies of my father and of the deceased emperors!" Hearing this, the Imperial Princes Anabe and Yakabe,26 along with their ministers and thousands of retainers, all joined forces with Moriya. Not only did they burn images of the Buddha and their temples, but a battle broke out, and Moriya was killed in the fighting. For a period of thirty-five years after Buddhism had first been brought to this country, not a year passed without seeing the three calamities and seven disasters, including epidemics. But after Mononobe no Moriya was killed by Soga no Umako and the gods were overpowered by the Buddha, the disasters abruptly ceased.
Outbreaks of the three calamities and seven disasters that occurred thereafter were for the most part due to confusion within Buddhism itself. But these would affect only one or two persons or one or two provinces, one or two clans or one or two areas. Such disasters occurred because of the anger of the gods, because Buddhism was slandered, or because of the peoples distress.
The three calamities and seven disasters of these past thirty years or more, however, are due solely to the fact that the entire country of Japan hates me, Nichiren. In province after province, district after district, and village after village, everyone from the ruler on down to the common people seethes in such anger against me as the world has never seen. This is the first time that the fundamental darkness has erupted in the lives of common mortals caught in the illusions of thought and desire.27 Even if they pray to the gods, the Buddha or the Lotus Sutra, these calamities will only be aggravated. But it is different when the votary of the Lotus Sutra offers prayers to the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. In the final analysis, unless we demonstrate that this teaching is supreme, these disasters will continue unabated.
The Great Teacher Tien-tai in his Maka Shikan described the ten objects of meditation28 and the ten meditations, but no one after him practiced them.29 In the days of Miao-lo and Dengyo some people practiced them to a certain extent but encountered few difficulties because there were no powerful opponents. The three obstacles and four devils described in the Maka Shikan will not arise to obstruct those who practice the provisional sutras. But now each and every one has risen to confront me. They are even more powerful than the three obstacles and four devils that Tien-tai, Dengyo and others had to face.
There are two ways of perceiving ichinen sanzen. One is theoretical and the other, actual. The ichinen sanzen of Tien-tai and Dengyo was theoretical, but that which I practice now is actual. Because the way that I practice is superior, the difficulties attending it are that much greater. The practice of Tien-tai and Dengyo was the ichinen sanzen of the theoretical teaching while mine is that of the essential teaching.30 These two are as different as heaven is from earth. You should bear this in mind when the time comes to face death.
With my deep respect,
The twenty-sixth day of the sixth month
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 3.
Designed by Will Kallander