White Horses and White Swans
In the letter you wrote from Utsubusa you say that the ninth day of the eighth month will mark the hundredth-day anniversary of your fathers passing and that, as an offering, you present ten kan of coins with deep respect.
In the declaration you sent for the memorial service, you say that you have read and recited the entire Lotus Sutra once, the Hoben and Juryo chapters thirty times each and the Jigage three hundred times, and have chanted the daimoku of Myoho-renge-kyo fifty thousand times. In the same document you say that you recall gratefully how, when your deceased father was still alive, you, my disciple, journeyed a thousand ri over mountains and rivers [to this distant place], receiving in person from me the daimoku of the Mystic Law, and how, less than thirty days later, your fathers life came to an end. You say that although, alas, he has now become mere white bones in the dew garden of Jambudvipa,1 though he has turned to dust and earth, you believe that his departed spirit will surely blossom into a flower of enlightenment in the land of Eagle Peak.
Your declaration is signed, "Respectfully yours, the woman disciple of the Onakatomi clan, third year of the Kaan era (1280)."
When we consider the matter, we realize that although in India the Lotus Sutra, the single vehicle, is so voluminous that it can fill a whole city one yojana square, the version that has been transmitted to Japan consists of only eight volumes. In the past, there have been many examples of people who, praying to receive benefit in their present or future existences, have achieved their desires by reciting and praising all eight volumes, or merely one volume, or the Hoben and Juryo chapters, or the Jigage alone. I will say no more about these examples here.
In your declaration you speak of reciting the daimoku of Myoho-renge-kyo fifty thousand times. With regard to this statement, I have tried to think of earlier examples of such a practice, but they seem to be very few. Although there may have been some who recited this daimoku once or twice and gained benefit, I have never heard of anyone who recited it fifty thousand times.
All phenomena have their respective names, and the name in each case indicates the particular virtue or property inherent in that thing. For example, the person known as General Stone Tiger was so called because he was capable of penetrating a stone tiger with an arrow. And the Target Piercing Minister2 was given that name because he could shoot an arrow through a target made of iron. In both cases, the name indicates the qualities of the person.
In the case of the Lotus Sutra, the virtues and benefits of its eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters are all contained within the five characters that make up its title; it is like, for instance, the wonderful wish-granting jewel that contains ten thousand different jewels within it. This is what is meant by the doctrine that the three thousand realms are all contained within a single particle of dust.
The word namu expresses feelings of reverence and a sense of compliance. Therefore, the Venerable Ananda placed namu above the two characters nyoze that he wrote at the beginning of all the sutras. The Great Teacher Nan-yueh employed the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and the Great Teacher Tien-tai the words Keishu-nam-myoho-renge-kyo.3
The Venerable Ananda was the son of King Dronodana and a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings. Sixty days after Shakyamuni passed away, Mahakashyapa and the other disciples, a thousand persons in all, along with Monju and the other eighty thousand bodhisattvas, all gathered together in the Great Lecture Hall to lament the passing of the Buddha. They conferred among themselves, saying: "Even we, who attended upon the Buddha for so many years, lament our parting from him after only sixty days. What, then, of all the people who live a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, or in the Latter Day of the Law? What means will they have to cherish his memory?
"The six teachers of the non-Buddhist doctrines preserve the four Vedas and the eighteen major scriptures that the two deities4 and the three ascetics5 preached and left behind eight hundred years ago, so that the words left by their teachers might be transmitted to later ages. Should we not likewise write down the various teachings that we have heard the Buddha preach to the voice-hearers and the great bodhisattvas over the course of fifty years, so that they may serve as an eye to the people of the future?"
So concurring, they invited the Venerable Ananda to ascend to the highest seat and looked up to him in reverence in the same way they would the Buddha, while they themselves sat in the lower seats. Then Bodhisattva Monjushiri recited the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and the Venerable Ananda, in response to this, replied nyoze gamon, "This is what I heard." The 999 other great arhats then all dipped their brushes in ink and wrote down the words that were spoken.
It is precisely because all the benefits represented by the eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra are contained within these five characters that Bodhisattva Monjushiri recited them. The Venerable Ananda responded by saying, "Yes, indeed!" And the twelve thousand voice-hearers, the eighty thousand great bodhisattvas, and all the various other listeners from the two worlds and eight groups,6 since that agreed with what they had heard previously, signified their assent.
The sage known as the Great Teacher Tien-tai Chih-che wrote about the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo in the ten volumes and thousand pages of his work Hokke gengi. The gist of this work is that the eighty volumes or sixty volumes or forty volumes of the Kegon Sutra, the several hundred volumes of the Agon sutras, the scores of volumes of the Daijuku hodo Sutra, the forty volumes or six hundred volumes of the Daibon hannya Sutra, the forty volumes or thirty-six volumes of the Nirvana Sutra, and all the countless sutras in India, in the palaces of the dragon kings, in the heavens and in the worlds of the ten directions, which are as numerous as the particles of dust on the earth, are all servants and followers of the single word kyo (sutra) of Myoho-renge-kyo.
Moreover, the Great Teacher Miao-lo wrote a work in ten volumes entitled Hokke gengi shakusen, in which he declared that all the sutras that were brought to China after the time of Tien-tai, including the sutras known as the new translations,7 are all servants and retainers of the Lotus Sutra. And in Japan, the Great Teacher Dengyo likewise established that the Dainichi Sutra and the other sutras of the Shingon sect, which are among the new translations, are all servants and retainers of the Lotus Sutra. Kobo, Jikaku, Chisho and others, however, put forth opinions that were as different from this teaching as fire is from water. I will outline these opinions later in this letter.
To illustrate, without a single exception the five regions around the capital, the seven marches, the sixty-six provinces, the two islands, and all the districts, manors, villages, fields, plots, persons, cows and horses, gold, silver and other things in Japan are all contained within the three characters that make up the words "country of Japan."
The character "king" is written with three horizontal lines and one vertical line.8 The three horizontal lines represent heaven, earth and humanity, and the single vertical line represents the ruler. Like Mount Sumeru, which rises up out of the great earth and never sways, one whose presence pervades the realms of heaven, earth and humanity and does not waver in the slightest is called the ruler.
There are always two kinds of rulers, the first type being the petty rulers. Minor sovereigns in the realms of human and heavenly beings would be considered petty rulers. The second kind are the great rulers; the heavenly king Daibonten would be classified as such. In the case of Japan, the sovereign of the entire country would be considered a great ruler, while the governors of the various provinces would be petty rulers.
In the same way, sutras such as those of the Kegon, Agon, Hodo and Hannya periods, the Dainichi Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra and all the various other sutras preached before, simultaneously with or after the Lotus Sutra are petty rulers. They are like the governors of the various provinces of Japan.
The Lotus Sutra, however, is comparable to a great ruler, a Son of Heaven. Hence, the persons of the Kegon sect, the Shingon sect and the various other sects are like the subjects and followers of the ruler of the nation. But when persons who in social rank are no more than subjects living in the various provinces attempt to divest the Son of Heaven of his virtue, then it is as if inferiors are overthrowing superiors, as if the people are turning their backs on superiors and heeding inferiors, or as if the inferiors have overcome the superiors and are rioting and creating disturbances.
No matter how much one may hope to bring about order in the world under such circumstances, the result will only be confusion within the state and the downfall of the persons involved. One might as well try to move the roots of a tree without disturbing the peace of the branches and leaves, or hope that a ship could sail peacefully when the waves of the sea have risen in fury.
Though the priests of the Kegon, Shingon and Nembutsu sects as well as those of the Ritsu and Zen teachings claim to possess great wisdom and eminence, strictly abiding by the precepts and conducting themselves honestly, their status is that of persons born into families who engage in the overthrow of superiors by inferiors, and as such they are archenemies of the Lotus Sutra. Can they hope to escape falling into the great citadel of the Avichi hell? Among the adherents of the ninety-five different types of non-Buddhist schools,9 there were no doubt many who were honest and wise, and yet, because they subscribed to the heretical doctrines handed down from the two deities and the three ascetics, they could not escape being reborn in the evil paths of existence.
In the world today, however, those persons who recite Namu Amida Butsu laugh at those who recite Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or try to deceive them. To use secular comparisons, this is like millet disliking rice, or a landowner detesting his own fields. They are like bandits when the leaders of the army are not present, supposing that they will not be punished for their night raids or acts of burglary, or like moles before the sun has come up, believing that they are as safe as they would be underground. But when Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is like the leader of an army or the sun, appears, they disappear as quickly as raging flames vanish under water, or as monkeys cower when they encounter dogs. Today, when the reciters of Namu Amida Butsu hear voices chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the color drains from their faces and their eyes glare with anger, their wits desert them and their bodies begin to quake.
The Great Teacher Dengyo said that when the sun comes up the stars hide themselves, and that when true skill appears clumsiness becomes known.10 Bodhisattva Nagarjuna stated that erroneous words are easily dismissed, and that mistaken opinions are hard to support.11 Bodhisattva Gunamati said: "On her face there was the color of death and mourning and in her words there was the sound of sorrow and resentment."12 And Fa-sui said: "Those who were formerly the tigers of assertion are now the deer of assent."13 One should consider these opinions and understand their intent.
Let us openly and clearly proclaim the virtues of Myoho-renge-kyo! Just as poisonous compounds are changed into medicine, so these five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo change evil into good. The Spring of Jewels is so called because, in this spring, stones are changed into jewels.14 In the same way, these five characters can change ordinary human beings into Buddhas. Therefore, because your beloved departed father chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo while he was alive, he was a person who attained Buddhahood in his present form, in the same way that stones change into jewels.
The actions you have taken, then, are the very height of filial piety and concern. Therefore it says in the Lotus Sutra: "These two sons of mine have carried out the Buddhas work" and also "These two sons have been good friends to me."15
Long ago in the past there lived a great ruler named King Rinda. As long as this ruler could listen to the neighing of white horses, his color remained healthy, he had great strength and vigor, and he was satisfied without being offered food. Even his enemies in neighboring countries doffed their helmets and pressed their palms together in admiration.
But the white horses neighed only when they could catch sight of white swans. And because the rulers manner of governing was faulty, or perhaps because of some evil karma from his past, all the white swans disappeared until there was not a single bird left. As a result, the white horses no longer neighed. And when the white horses ceased to neigh, the kings complexion faded, his strength drained away, his body grew thin and withered, and his plans for government became shallow and ineffectual.
Soon the nation was in a state of chaos. Lamenting over what to do if soldiers from neighboring nations should rush to attack his country, the king issued a proclamation in which he said: "In our nation, many people follow the non-Buddhist teachings, all of which enjoy our patronage and support. The same is true of the Buddhist teaching. But the non-Buddhists and Buddhists are on bad terms with each other. Now whichever of these two groups can succeed in making the white horses neigh will have its teaching made the object of our faith, while the others teaching will be banished from the nation."
At this time all the non-Buddhist leaders gathered together and tried their best to make the white swans appear and the white horses neigh, but no swans appeared. Although in the past these leaders had shown themselves capable of causing clouds to appear and fog to come rolling in, of calling forth winds and stirring up waves, of causing fire or water to appear from their bodies, of changing men into horses or horses into men, and of performing any acts that they pleased, for some reason on this occasion they could not make the swans appear.
At this time there was a disciple of the Buddha known as Bodhisattva Ashvaghosha or Horse Neigh. When he prayed to the various Buddhas of the ten directions, the white swans immediately came forth and the white horses began to neigh. When the king heard the sound, his color began to improve somewhat, his strength returned, and his skin took on a fresh look. More white swans appeared, and still more, until a thousand birds had come forth, and a thousand white horses neighed all at the same time like cocks crowing at dawn. When the king heard this sound, his complexion became as bright as the sun, his skin as fresh-looking as the moon, his strength as powerful as the god Naraen, and his plans for government as sagacious as those of the god Bonten.
Then, because the silken words of the ruler were as irreversible as the emission of sweat, all the temples belonging to the non-Buddhist leaders were converted into Buddhist temples.
The country of Japan today resembles the story of King Rinda. This country began with the era of the gods. As it gradually approached the latter age, however, the views of its people became warped, and greed, anger and stupidity grew stronger. The gods became shallow in their understanding, their authority and power waned, and they began to have difficulty extending their protection even to their devotees.
Meanwhile, the teachings of the great doctrine known as Buddhism were introduced to the country and gradually spread. The people once again became honest and straightforward in their outlook, and the gods were restored to power and authority. But many erroneous opinions appeared in connection with the Buddhist beliefs, and because of these the situation in the country became perilous.
The Great Teacher Dengyo traveled to China and there carried out an investigation into all the various sacred teachings of Japan, China and India. He discarded those that were inferior and selected those that were worthy, examining each without prejudice or favor. In the end he singled out the Lotus Sutra and two other sutras,16 designating them as the three sutras that would ensure the protection of the nation.
Other sages, however, such as the Great Teacher Kobo, the Great Teacher Jikaku and the Great Teacher Chisho, claiming to base their ideas on teachings from China or India, proceeded to demote the Lotus Sutra to second or third rank among the sutras, declaring it to be a work of "childish theory"17 or claiming that it belonged to "the region of darkness."18 In place of the Lotus Sutra, they elevated the three sutras of the Shingon teaching19 to the position of highest honor.
Thus the age gradually became one in which inferiors overthrow superiors, and these mistaken doctrines spread throughout the entire country. Hence many people have fallen into the evil paths of existence, and the gods have little by little lost their authority, again finding it difficult to protect even their own devotees. As a result, we see that the five rulers of the nation,20 from the eighty-first to the eighty-fifth sovereign, either drowned in the western ocean or were abandoned on islands in the four seas. They were treated like demons while they were alive, and after their demise they fell into the hell of incessant suffering.
However, because there was no one who understood this situation, it has been impossible to remedy it. I am generally aware of these matters, and therefore try to repay the debt of gratitude I owe my country [by speaking the truth], but people only hate me for it.
But I will say no more about that. Instead I would like to say that your beloved father is comparable to King Rinda, and you yourself are comparable to Bodhisattva Ashvaghosha. The white swans are the Lotus Sutra, the white horses are Nichiren, and the neighing of the white horses is the sound of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And so, in the same way that when King Rinda hears the sound of the horses, his complexion brightens and his strength increases, when your beloved deceased father hears the sound of your voice chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, he will delight in his Buddhahood.
The fourteenth day of the eighth month in the third year of Koan (1280)
Reply to the lady of Utsubusa
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 7.
Designed by Will Kallander