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The Two Kinds of Illness


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter from Mount Minobu to Shijo Kingo in Kamakura on June 26, 1278, when he was fifty-seven. Shijo Kingo was a devout follower of the Daishonin and a samurai who served the Ema family, a branch of the Hojo clan. He was well versed in both the practice of medicine and the martial arts. This letter conveys the Daishonin's appreciation for the medicine that Shijo Kingo had prescribed and sent to him, along with other offerings. Its content closely resembles that of another Gosho, "The Treatment of Illness," written to Toki Jonin on the same date. The opening passage, in fact, is virtually identical to one appearing in "The Treatment of Illness."

The Daishonin's life at Minobu was by no means easy. Winters were bitterly cold, and his shelter was inadequate. Food was another problem. Following the custom of Buddhist monks in those days, the Daishonin abstained from eating fish and meat, and the food provided by his disciples and believers did not provide all the nutrition he needed. In addition, for nearly the entire first half of 1278, he suffered from debilitating and chronic diarrhea. He says in a letter addressed to Shijo Kingo in October 1278: "I, Nichiren, am not as healthy as others, and in addition, I dwell in this remote mountain forest. This year was especially difficult, with widespread epidemics and famine in spring and summer, which worsened in autumn and winter. My sickness grew worse again, too, but you prescribed various medicines and sent them to me along with quilted silk clothes. Thanks to your remedies, I improved steadily; I have now recovered and feel much better than before" (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 225).

In this letter, Nichiren Daishonin refers to two kinds of illness: illness of the body, which arises primarily from physical causes, and illness of the mind, which arises from delusion and earthly desire. He explains that illness of the body can be cured by sufficiently skilled physicians but illness of the mind cannot; only Buddhism provides a remedy for such disorders. He also attributes the epidemics then ravaging Japan to slander of the Lotus Sutra. Neither Hinayana nor provisional Mahayana teachings will be able to stem them, he says. Faith in the Lotus Sutra alone will eradicate the people's slander and remove their suffering.

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