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On Filial and Unfilial Conduct


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at Minobu on the eighth day of the third month, 1280, to Nanjo Tokimitsu, in response to the latter's request that the Daishonin offer memorial prayers on the anniversary of the death of his father, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro. In this Gosho, the Daishonin explains the true meaning of filial conduct. First, by citing examples from the Chinese and Indian traditions of the retribution befalling notoriously unfilial people, he suggests the great merit that accrues from acting with filial piety.

The Daishonin then considers which teaching enables one to truly fulfill his obligation to his parents. The doctrines of Confucianism, he says, teach how one should care for his parents while they are alive. But because these doctrines do not penetrate to the true nature of life spanning past, present and future, they give no indication of how one can benefit one's parents after they have died. Thus, they do not teach filial piety in the deepest sense.

Next, with respect to the teachings of Buddhism, even the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana teachings expounded prior to the Lotus Sutra do not fully reveal the ultimate truth. Practicing them, the Daishonin says, cannot enable one's deceased parents to attain enlightenment; thus, these are still not truly teachings of filial conduct. He Concludes that only through faith in the Lotus Sutra, which leads all people equally to Buddhahood, can one enable one's deceased parents to attain enlightenment and so fully repay one's filial obligations to them.

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