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Consecrating an Image of Shakyamuni Buddha Made by Shijo Kingo


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at Minobu to Shijo Kingo on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, 1276, when he was fifty-five. Evidently Shijo Kingo had mad a wooden image of Shakyamuni Buddha for the benefit of his deceased parents and asked the Daishonin to perform the eye-opening ceremony to consecrate it. This letter is the Daishonin's reply.

In the opening section, the Daishonin says that only when the Lotus Sutra is used to consecrate a Buddha image will that image became endowed with the five types of vision and the three bodies or enlightened properties that Buddhas possess. All Buddhas, he declares, acquire the five types of vision and the three properties by virtue of the Lotus Sutra; the same is true of Buddha images.

The eye-opening ceremony to consecrate a Buddha image was popularly said to infuse that image with a spirit or "soul." The Daishonin, however, explains the matter more profoundly in terms of the doctrine of ichinen sanzen, which clarifies that even insentient beings, such as the trees and plants from which wooden and painted images are made, inherently possess and can manifest the Buddha nature. The content of this first portion of the Gosho "Opening the Eyes of Wooden or Painted Images," and the reader may refer to the text and background of that Gosho.

Nichiren Daishonin actually designated the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws, rather than images of the Buddha, as the object of worship. However, when this Gosho was written, the Dai-Gohonzon had yet to be inscribed; moreover, making Buddha images was a very widespread practice, and, in an age when most people revered the Buddha Amida, the Daishonin sometimes provisionally approved of the making of images of Shakyamuni as an act leading toward correct understanding. This subject is discussed in some detail in the background section of "The Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei".

A similar attitude also underlies the next section of the Gosho, in which the Daishonin comments on Shijo Kingo's hereditary practice of worshiping the sun deity at certain times of the year. He explains here that the power and workings of the sun deity ultimately derive from the Buddhist Law, which the Lotus Sutra expounds.

The Daishonin then praises Shijo Kingo for his filial devotion. Kingo's father had died in 1253, and his mother in 1270, and he had often asked the Daishonin to perform memorial services for them. In this letter, moved by Kingo's fears that his parents are suffering in hell, the Daishonin assures him that the Buddhist gods are certain to have pity on him and answer his prayers.

At this time, Shijo Kingo was being harshly treated by his lord on account of his belief in the Lotus Sutra, and had probably told the Daishonin that he wished to leave his lord's service. Anxious that his disciple not act rashly but resolve his dilemma through his faith, the Daishonin urges him not to harbor hatred toward Lord Ema. He points out that by providing Shijo Kingo with a livelihood, Ema has enabled him to discharge his filial duties and also to make offerings to the votary of the Lotus Sutra. It would be wrong, the Daishonin says, to lightly abandon someone to whom one is so deeply indebted. In this way, he encourages Shijo Kingo to approach the feudal relationship between lord and vassal from the standpoint of faith.

This letter concludes with specific advice about how Kingo should behave. At this time Shijo Kingo was in physical danger due to the animosity of his fellow samurai, and the Daishonin warns him to be on guard. He advises him, for example, not to go drinking heedlessly anywhere outside of his own home, and, if possible, to avoid answering summons from his lord at night.

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