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Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment


Toward the end of March 1272, Shijo Kingo sent his messenger to Nichiren Daishonin who was living in exile on Sado Island. The messenger returned to Kamakura with a treatise entitled "The Opening of the Eyes" which the Daishonin had addressed to all of his disciples and entrusted to Shijo Kingo. In this writing, Nichiren Daishonin clearly reveals that he is the Buddha who possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent. It states in part, "When it comes to understanding the Lotus Sutra, I have only a minute fraction of the vast ability that T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo possessed. But in my ability to endure persecution and the wealth of my compassion for others, I believe I would put them to shame." Another part reads, "I, Nichiren, am sovereign, teacher, father and mother to all the people of Japan. " The Daishonin here defines the true object of worship in terms of the Person, i.e., in terms of the Buddha who eternally guides, protects and nurtures all people in their striving for Buddhahood.

In April 1272, Shijo Kingo journeyed from Kamakura to visit the Daishonin on Sado. It required great courage for Kingo to leave Kamakura. He was then in service to Lord Ema Mitsutoki of the ruling Hoja clan, the same family who had exiled the Daishonin in the first place. Moreover, the journey itself to Sado and back across the Sea of Japan took almost a month and entailed a long series of hardships.

Nichiren Daishonin had been transferred on April 3 from his hut at Tsukahara to an ordinary residence at Ichinosawa. The number of people on Sado professing faith in his Buddhism had increased, and at the house in which he lived, the landlord's wife became a believer and the landlord himself developed a favorable attitude.

Soon after Shijo Kingo returned to Kamakura, Nichiren Daishonin wrote him this letter, entitled "Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment," on May 2, 1272. It was very likely written out of his gratitude for Kingo's visit. Before the near-execution at Tatsunokuchi in September 1271, the Daishonin had assumed the role of Bodhisattva Jogyo, the votary whose appearance had been predicted in the Lotus Sutra. He spent all his time teaching the essence of the sutra and propagating the faith. After Tatsunokuchi, he revealed his true identity as the Buddha from time without beginning who is one with the supreme law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In this Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin teaches his followers the significance of the daimoku from the standpoint of the original Buddha who opens the way to Buddhahood for all mankind. He first states that it is his great joy to meet persecutions as the votary of the Lotus Sutra, because it is the sure way to attaining Buddhahood. "The teaching which I, Nichiren, am now propagating may seem limited, but it is actually most profound. This is because it goes even deeper than the teachings expounded by T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo." He reveals that the ultimate law attained by all the Buddhas throughout time and space is none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws.

Also, the Daishonin shows the power of the Law by referring to such profound Buddhist doctrines as the fusion of object (kyo) and subject (chi) and "earthly desires are enlightenment." This Gosho states, "Although these [kyo and chi] are two, they are fused into one in the Buddha's enlightenment." It refers to the fusion of the person and the object to which he is enlightened. "Object" or reality means the Gohonzon, the objective embodiment of Buddhahood, while "subject" or wisdom indicates people who develop their innate Buddha wisdom by fusing their lives with the Gohonzon. In a practical sense, the doctrine of "earthly desires are enlightenment" indicates that the mundane cravings of the individual, when tempered by faith in the True Law, become the fuel for enlightenment.

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