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Bodhisattva Hachiman


This letter was written on the sixteenth day of the twelfth month, 1280. It was addressed to Nichigen-nyo, the wife of Shijo Kingo, but its contents suggest that it was intended for them both. In the beginning of the letter, Nichiren Daishonin expresses his gratitude for their gift of a quilted robe and cotton and touches on the rigors of winter in his retreat at Minobu.

The body of the letter deals with Hachiman, one of the major deities in Japanese mythology, along with the Sun Goddess (Tensho Daijin). The identification of Hachiman with Emperor Ojin is thought to have developed during the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-85) periods. Later, Hachiman became the object of veneration favored by the warrior class, and Minamoto no Yoritomo, founder of the Kamakura shogunate, established a shrine to him in Kamakura.

Hachiman also provides an early example of the fusion of Buddhist and Shinto elements. With the spread of Buddhism in Japan, the Japanese deities came to be viewed as local manifestations of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and Hachiman was granted the title Great Bodhisattva by the imperial court in the early Heian period.

By the Kamakura period (1185-1333), with the increasing popularity of Pure Land beliefs, most people had begun to regard Great Bodhisattva Hachiman as a manifestation of Amida Buddha. In this letter the Daishonin sharply criticizes this view and states unequivocally that Hachiman is a manifestation of Shakyamuni Buddha. He offers two pieces of evidence in support of this claim: a stone inscription in the province of Osumi, and the coincidence of Shakyamuni Buddha and Emperor Ojin, who was identified with Hachiman, having exactly the same birth and death dates. The Daishonin's description of the birth of Emperor Ojin differs in some particulars from the accounts given in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan), the earliest Japanese histories. Different versions of these texts and various traditions concerning historical events may have been in circulation in the Daishonin's time.

The Daishonin then offers his interpretation of the destruction by fire of the Kamakura Hachiman Shrine, which had occurred the month before. News of this event may in fact have prompted the choice of subject for this letter. Hachiman, the Daishonin says, once vowed to reside "on the heads of honest persons." The fact that he has abandoned his shrine and ascended to the heavens can only mean that there are no longer any honest persons in the country; all have abandoned the "honest doctrine" of the Lotus Sutra. However, the Daishonin concludes, the votaries of the Lotus Sutra are none other than "honest persons," and Hachiman surely continues to protect them.

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