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The Four Debts of Gratitude


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter on the sixteenth day of the first month in 1262, when he was forty-one and in exile on the Izu Peninsula. It is addressed to Kudo Sakon-no-jo Yoshitaka (d. 1264), also known simply as Kudo Yoshitaka, the lord of Amatsu in Awa Province and a follower of the Daishonin.

Kudo Yoshitaka is said to have converted to Nichiren Daishonin's teachings around 1256, at about the same time as Shijo Kingo and Ikegami Munenaka. While the Daishonin was in exile on Izu, Yoshitaka sent offerings to him and continued to maintain pure faith. He was killed defending the Daishonin at the time of the Komatsubara Persecution in the eleventh month of 1264. "The Four Debts of Gratitude" is the only extant letter addressed to him.

A year and a half before this letter was written, Nichiren Daishonin submitted the "Rissho Ankoku Ron" (On Securing the Peace of the Land through the Propagation of True Buddhism) to the government. Nembutsu adherents, furious at the criticism leveled against the Pure Land sect in this treatise, attacked the Daishonin's dwelling at Matsubagayatsu on the twenty-seventh day of the eighth month, 1260. The Daishonin just managed to escape, but the next year he was arrested and, on the twelfth day of the fifth month in 1261, sentenced to exile in Ito on the Izu Peninsula.

In this Gosho, in light of the reason for his banishment, Nichiren Daishonin expresses his conviction that he is a true practitioner of the Lotus Sutra. In the opening passage, he states, "Concerning my present exile, there are two important matters that I must mention." These "two important matters" form the two themes of this letter. He continues, "One is that I feel immense joy," and explains the reasons for his joy. The greater part of the letter consists of this explanation. Following this, he states, "The second of the two important matters is that I feel intense grief." Citing passages from the Lotus and Daijuku sutras which reveal the gravity of the offense of slandering the True Law and its devotees, the Daishonin explains that he grieves at the thought of the great karmic retribution his tormentors must undergo. This is the concluding part of the letter in the body of the Gosho, the Daishonin gives two reasons for his "immense joy." One is that he has been able to prove himself to be the votary of the Lotus Sutra by fulfilling the Buddha's prediction made in the sutra that its votary in the Latter Day of the Law will meet with persecution. The other reason is that, by suffering banishment for the sutra's sake, he will be able to repay the four debts of gratitude. He declares that the ruler who condemned him to exile is the very person to whom he is the most grateful; thanks to the ruler, he has been able to fulfill the words of the Lotus Sutra and so prove himself to be its true votary.

After expressing his gratitude to the ruler, the Daishonin proceeds to discuss the importance of repaying the four debts of gratitude set forth in the Shinjikan Sutra, for which this particular Gosho is named. The four debts of gratitude are the debts owed to all living beings, to one's father and mother, to one's sovereign and to the three treasures-the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood. Among these four debts of gratitude, the Daishonin places special emphasis on the debt to the three treasures, without which one could not attain Buddhahood.

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