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The Workings of Bonten and Taishaku

I received on the fourteenth day of the fifth month the horse-load of taros which you took the trouble to send me. Considering the labor involved in digging them, taros today are as precious as jewels or medicine. I will comply with the request you made in your letter.

Once there was a man named Yin Chi-fu. He had an only son, whose name was Po-ch’i. The father was wise, and so was the son. One would have thought that no one would try to estrange them, but Po-ch’i’s stepmother frequently slandered him to her husband. However, Chi-fu would not listen to her. Undaunted, she continued for several years to contrive a variety of plots against her stepson. In one such scheme, she put a bee into her bosom, rushed to Po-ch’i and had him remove the insect, making sure as she did so that her husband would observe the scene. Then, in an attempt to have her stepson killed, she accused him of having made advances to her.

A king named Bimbisara was a wise ruler and the greatest patron of the Buddha within the continent of Jambudvipa. Moreover, he reigned over Magadha, the state where the Buddha intended to preach the Lotus Sutra. Since the king and the Buddha were thus united in mind, it seemed certain that the Lotus Sutra would be expounded in Magadha. A man named Devadatta wished to prevent this by any means possible, but all his attempts ended in failure. After much thought, he spent several years befriending King Bimbisara’s son, Prince Ajatashatru, and gradually obtained his confidence. Then he set out to estrange father and son. He deceived the prince into killing his own father, King Bimbisara.

Now that Ajatashatru, the new king, had become of the same mind as Devadatta and the two had banded together, Brahmans and evil people from all five regions of India swarmed like clouds or mist gathering into Magadha. Ajatashatru flattered them and won them over by giving them land and treasures. Thus the king of the state became an archenemy of the Buddha.

Seeing this, the Devil of the Sixth Heaven, who dwells atop the world of desire, descended with his innumerable minions to Magadha and possessed the bodies of Devadatta, Ajatashatru and the six ministers. Therefore, although these people were human in appearance, they wielded the power of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. They were more boisterous, frightful and alarming than a high wind flattening the grasses and trees, a gale agitating the surface of the sea, a great temblor jolting the earth, or a conflagration devouring one house after another.

A king named Virudhaka, incited by Ajatashatru, put hundreds of people of Shakyamuni Buddha’s clan to the sword. King Ajatashatru unleashed a herd of drunken elephants and let them trample to death countless disciples of the Buddha. He also had many other disciples killed by concealing his soldiers in ambush at the roadside, defiling well water with excrement, or persuading women to bring false charges against them. Shariputra and Maudgalyayana were severely persecuted. Kalodayin was buried in horse dung. The Buddha was forced to survive for ninety days, one whole summer, on horse fodder.

People thought that perhaps not even the Buddha’s power could match that of those evil persons. Even those who believed in him swallowed their words and said nothing, and closed their eyes so that they might not see. They could only fold their arms helplessly, speechless with dismay. Finally, Devadatta beat to death Shakyamuni’s foster mother, the nun Utpalavarna, and then caused the Buddha’s body to bleed. Accordingly, there was no one who would side with the Buddha.

And yet somehow, despite all these many persecutions, the Buddha at length managed to preach the Lotus Sutra. A passage from this sutra states, "Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing?" This passage means that even while the Buddha was alive, the enemies of the Lotus Sutra offered fierce opposition; all the more will they harass those who, in the Latter Day of the Law, preach and believe in a single characters or even a single dot in the Lotus Sutra.

In light of this passage, it would seem that no one, during the more than 2,220 years since the Buddha expounded the Lotus Sutra, has lived it as the Buddha himself did. Only when one encounters great persecutions can we know that he has truly mastered the Lotus Sutra. The Great Teachers T’ien-t’ai and Dengyo would appear to have been votaries of the Lotus Sutra, but they did not meet persecution as severe as the Buddha did in his lifetime. They encountered only minor opposition - T’ien-t’ai from the three schools of southern China and seven schools of northern China, and Dengyo from the seven major temples of Nara. Neither of them was persecuted by the ruler of the state, attacked by the people brandishing swords, or abused by the entire nation. [According to the Lotus Sutra,] those who believe in the Lotus Sutra after the Buddha’s passing will suffer obstacles more terrible than those of the Buddha. Yet neither T’ien-t’ai nor Dengyo met oppression as harsh as the Buddha did, let alone persecutions that were greater or more numerous.

When a tiger roars, gales blow; when a dragon intones, clouds gather. Yet a hare’s squeak or a donkey’s bray causes neither winds nor clouds to arise. As long as the foolish read the Lotus Sutra and the wise lecture on it, the country will remain quiet and undisturbed. It seems however, that when a sage emerges and preaches the Lotus Sutra exactly as the Buddha did, the nation will be thrown into an uproar and persecutions arise that are greater than those during the Buddha’s lifetime.

Now I, Nichiren, am not a worthy, let alone a sage. I am the most perverse person in the world. However, my actions seem to be in exact accord with what the sutra teaches. Therefore, whenever I meet great difficulties, I am more delighted than if my deceased parents had returned to life, or than one who sees the person he hates meet with some mishap. I am overjoyed that I, a foolish man, should be regarded as a sage by the Buddha. There are wise persons who strictly observe the two hundred and fifty precepts and are revered by the entire nation more than Taishaku is by all heavenly beings. Yet what if, in the eyes of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra, they are as sinister as Devadatta? They may appear respectworthy to others now, but what horrors await them in their next life!

If the rumor spreads that you seem to be a votary of the Lotus Sutra, both those who are close to you and those who are not will respond adversely and admonish you as if they were your true friends, saying, "If you believe in the priest Nichiren, you will surely be misled. You will also be in disfavor with you lord." Then you will certainly abandon your faith in the Lotus Sutra. What is dreadful even for those of worth are the stratagems people devise. So it is advisable that you do not carelessly let it be known that you are a believer. Those possessed by a great devil will, once they succeed in persuading a believer to recant, use him as a means for making many others abandon their faith.

Shofu-bo, Noto-bo and Nagoe-no-ama were once Nichiren’s disciples. Greedy, cowardly and ignorant, they nonetheless let themselves pass for wise people. When persecutions befell me, they took advantage of these to convince many of my followers to drop out. If you allow yourself to be so persuaded, those in Suruga who seem to believe in the Lotus Sutra, as well as the others who are about to take faith in it, will all discard the sutra without exception. There are a few in this province of Kai who have expressed their desire to take faith. Yet I make it a rule not to permit them to join us unless they remain steadfast in their resolve. Some people, despite their shallow understanding, pretend staunch faith and speak contemptuously to their fellow believers. Thus they often disrupt the faith of others. Leave such people strictly alone. The time will certainly come when, by the workings of Bonten and Taishaku, the entire Japanese nation will simultaneously take faith in the Lotus Sutra. At that time, I am convinced, many people will insist that they too have believed since the very beginning.

If you faith is firm, then you should single-mindedly resolve: "I maintain faith not for the sake of other people but for the benefit of my deceased father. Others will not perform memorial services for him; because I am his son, I am the one who must pray for his repose. I govern one village. I will spend one half of my revenue making offerings for the sake of my deceased father, and use the other half to feed my wife, children and clansmen. Should an emergency arise, I will give my life for my lord." Speak in a mild manner, no matter what the circumstances.

If anyone should try to weaken your belief in the Lotus Sutra, consider that your faith is being tested. Say to him sardonically, "I deeply appreciate your warning. However, you should save your admonishment for yourself. I know well that our superiors do not approve of my faith. The idea of your threatening me in their name is simply absurd. I was contemplating visiting you and giving you some advice, but you came here before I could carry out my plan. You will surely join your palms together and beseech me for help when you, along with your beloved wife and children, are dragged out before Emma, the king of hell."

What you say about Niida may well be true. I have also heard about the people at Okitsu. Should the occasion arise, you should behave exactly as they did. When those of rank reproach you for your faith, think of them as worthy adversaries of the Lotus Sutra. Consider it an opportunity as rare as the blossoming of the udumbara plant or the blind turtle encountering a floating sandalwood log, and reply to them firmly and resolutely.

There have been instances in which those who governed a thousand or ten thousand acres of land had their lives summarily taken and their estates confiscated over trifling matters.

If you give your life now for the sake of the Lotus Sutra, what is there to regret? Bodhisattva Yakuo burnt his own body for twelve hundred years and became a Buddha. King Suzudan made a bed of his own body for his master for a thousand years; as a result, he was reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha.

Do not make a mistake. If you abandon your faith in the Lotus Sutra now, you will only make yourself the laughing stock of your foes. Shamelessly pretending friendship, they will try to maneuver you into recanting, with the intention of later laughing at you and letting others ridicule you as well. Let them say all they have to say. Then tell them, "Instead of advising me in the presence of many people, why don’t you admonish yourselves first?" With this remark, abruptly rise from your seat and depart.

Please let me know in a day or two what happened since you wrote. There are so many things I want to say that I cannot write all of them here. I will do so in my future letters.

With my deep respect,

The fifteenth day of the fifth month in the third year of Kenji (1277)

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 3, page 219.

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