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The Three Obstacles and Four Devils


This letter was written to Hyoe no Sakan Munenaga, the younger of the Ikegami brothers, on November 20, 1277, three years after Nichiren Daishonin returned from exile on Sado Island. The two Ikegami brothers, Uemon no Sakan Munenaka and Hyoe no Sakan Munenaga, were converted to the Daishonin's Buddhism at about the same time as Shijo Kingo. The elder, Munenaka, was the first to accept the faith, probably in 1256, and his younger brother, Munenaga, followed soon after. Both were officials in the Kamakura shogunate and their father, Yasumitsu, held an important post in the government construction office.

Yasumitsu was a devout follower of Ryokan, the chief priest of the Ritsu sect who was highly active in political affairs. Therefore Munenaka and Munenaga met with stubborn opposition from their father in their Buddhist practice. In April of 1275, Yasumitsu disowned his elder son, who was stronger and more confident in his faith. On hearing the news, the Daishonin wrote the "Letter to the Brothers" to encourage the two by stating that Munenaka's disinheritance was an obstacle of the sort that invariably arises when one earnestly pursues enlightenment, and that, by overcoming this obstacle, they could both change their destiny and gain happiness.

No matter how offensive his sons' religion might have seemed to Yasumitsu, there must have been some other provocation to cause him to take so extreme a measure. The Daishonin suspected Ryokan's hand in this affair. Ryokan had long since abandoned any direct attacks on Nichiren Daishonin, but he could easily apply pressure on his own followers. Evidence shows that he persuaded the father, Yasumitsu, to take action againt his sons. By disowning Munenaka, Yasumitsu in effect was provoking a rift between the two sons, tempting the weaker Munenaga to trade his beliefs for the right to inherit his father's estate. Yasumitsu failed in this attempt and forgave Munenaka. However, he disowned Munenaka again in 1277, which seems to have greatly shaken the younger Munenaga's confidence. In this letter, "The Three Obstacles and Four Devils," Nichiren Daishonin taught Munenaga the true meaning of filial piety-which is, to convert one's parents to faith in true Buddhism-and encouraged him to persist in his faith throughout his life, citing the example of Jozo and Jogen. Thereafter, supported by the Daishonin's guidance and encouragement, Munenaga upheld his faith together with his brother, and in 1278, after a total of twenty-two years' practice, their united efforts finally led their father to accept faith in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.

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