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The Third Doctrine


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at Minobu on the first day of the tenth month, 1277, to Toki Jonin, a leading figure among the believers in Shimosa Province. A samurai who had become a lay priest, Toki was a man of considerable erudition, and the Daishonin entrusted him with many important writings, most notably "The True Object of Worship." This particular Gosho was written in response to Toki Jonin's report of his encounter in debate with Ryosho-bo a prominent local priest of the Tendai sect. In his reply, the Daishonin comments on the points raised in the debate and provides additional clarification for future reference.

Evidently, Toki had gained an unexpected advantage in the debate when his opponent proved himself ignorant of a passage in Miao-lo's Hokke mongu ki, to the effect that one cannot attain true liberation through the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. This passage represents Miao-lo's annotation on another passage from T'ien-t'ai's Hokke mongu, which in turn is commenting on a passage from the Juryo (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In the first part of his reply, the Daishonin cites all three passages and explains their essential meaning. The pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, he says, are all expedient means preached solely in order to lead people to the Lotus Sutra, which alone enables all living beings to attain true liberation.

Beginning with the statement, "With respect to this doctrine the Daishonin endeavors to explain the true significance of the Juryo chapter. Borrowing an analogy from the Nirvana Sutra, he likens the Juryo chapter to a tree, and all other teachings to its shade. Without the tree, there can be no shade; similarly, the benefits of the provisional teachings depend on the teaching of the Juryo chapter. The Daishonin also draws on a traditional standard of doctrinal comparison, that of the teachings still in a certain dimension and the teachings extending beyond, to further illustrate his point. This comparison, he says, may be carried out on three levels. But the Daishonin does not discuss these in detail, probably because Toki Jonin was already sufficiently well versed in this particular aspect of Buddhist doctrine. From the viewpoint of the third and final level of comparison, even the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra is considered to be a teaching still belonging to a certain dimension, while only the supreme Law hidden in the depths of the Juryo chapter is viewed as extending beyond. This third level corresponds to the "third doctrine," from which this Gosho takes its name. The third doctrine also indicates the supreme Law, that is, the original seed of enlightenment, which the Daishonin revealed for the first time in the Latter Day as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In this letter, the Daishonin also addresses other issues raised in the debate, such as whether disbelief is equivalent to slander and whether practitioners in the Latter Day need to observe precepts.

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