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The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra


This Gosho was written for a woman of advanced years. Nothing is known about her other than she was a new believer in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism and lived in Amatsu of Awa Province. This Gosho explains in plain terms the rewards of the simple practice of true Buddhism by saying that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo contains all the powers of the Buddha, and that one who chants it can tap all the benefits of Buddhism and revitalize his life force.

In the fall of 1264, one year after he was pardoned from the Izu exile, Nichiren Daishonin returned to his birthplace in Awa Province. News of his mother's grave illness, plus a lessening of official pressures, prompted his decision to return home. However, Tojo Kagenobu, the steward of that district and a passionate believer in the Nembutsu, was still incensed over the Daishonin's proclamation of true Buddhism eleven years earlier and was lying in wait for him.

The Daishonin's first concern was to visit his mother. Their reunion seems to have had a great effect upon her and she recovered rapidly. The Daishonin described what happened in a letter to Toki Jonin's wife (On Prolonging Life) in 1279: "When I, Nichiren, prayed for my mother, not only was her illness cured, but her life was prolonged by four years..." Kudo Yoshitaka and the Daishonin's other disciples in the area were also anxious to see him and urged him to visit Yoshitaka's manor. Nichiren Daishonin set out on November 11, 1264, accompanied by messengers sent to guide him. When the group reached a place known as Komatsubara, they were ambushed by Tojo Kagenobu and a group of Nembutsu followers. Kudo Yoshitaka and others came rushing to the Daishonin's aid. Kagenobu cut down Yoshitaka and another disciple named Kyonin-bo. The Daishonin received a sword slash on the forehead and had his left hand broken.

At great personal risk, the Daishonin remained in Awa from 1264 through 1267 and conducted vigorous propagation activities, working among the common people. His efforts won him many converts, and the beginnings of a religious movement were taking shape. In Kazusa to the north of Awa Province, he converted the entire clan of Sakuma Hyogo. Jakunichi-bo Nikke, who later built Tanjo-ji temple in Kominato to mark the Daishonin's birthplace was of that clan.

In 1266, The Daishonin stayed for a while at Seicho-ji temple, where he wrote this Gosho. He also wrote several doctrinal treatises, probably intended for the benefit of the priests Gijo-bo and Joken-bo, his seniors while he studied Buddhism in his boyhood.

This Gosho consists of two sections. The first deals with the benefits gained through the invocation of the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, and the second, with the virtues of the Mystic Law, the essence of the Lotus Sutra. In the first section, Nichiren Daishonin addresses the question of whether or not one can receive benefits by chanting the daimoku (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) without understanding the meaning of the Lotus Sutra, and stresses the necessity of faith in attaining Buddhahood. Citing the examples of Mahakashyapa and Shariputra, he states that even without understanding, one can eradicate any evil karma and accumulate boundless benefit, as long as one carries out the practice of chanting the daimoku with firm faith in true Buddhism.

in the second section, the Daishonin clarifies the great blessings contained in the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra. He explains the three meanings of myo (mystic): to open, to be fully endowed, and to revive. Finally, he states that only the Lotus Sutra enables women to attain Buddhahood, and urges the recipient of this letter to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the daimoku of the Mystic Law, and forsake her attachment to the Nembutsu.

At the beginning of this letter, Nichiren Daishonin calls himself a "follower of the Great Teacher Dengyo." Dengyo was the founder of the Japanese Tendai sect, the orthodox school of Buddhism. He traveled to China to master T'ien-t'ai's doctrines, and, after returning to Japan, repudiated all the sects based on the Buddha's provisional teachings and devoted himself to propagating the Lotus Sutra. The phrase "follower of the Great Teacher Dengyo" implies that the Daishonin is the legitimate successor to the Buddha's teaching.

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