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The Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei


In 1264, Nichiren Daishonin visited his native village in Awa Province. His father had already died in 1258, and his mother was now seriously ill. After praying successfully for her recovery, he took temporary lodging at a temple called Renge-ji. Hearing about the Daishonin's stay in Awa, Kudo Yoshitaka and other disciples in the area were anxious to see him and urged him to visit Yoshitaka's manor. The Daishonin set out on November 11, 1264, accompanied by messengers sent to guide him along the road from Renge-ji temple. When the group reached a place known as Komatsubara, they were ambushed to Tojo Kagenobu, the steward of Tojo Village and a firm believer in the Nembutsu, and his men. The Daishonin suffered a sword cut on his forehead and his left hand was broken. Two of his followers, Kyonin-bo and Kudo Yoshitaka, were killed. The Daishonin then returned to Renge-ji temple, where his old teacher, Dozen-bo, came to visit him upon learning of the attack. It was very likely a tearful reunion, during which the Daishonin tried to convince Dozen-bo of his mistake in adhering to the Nembutsu teaching.

In 1270, Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter from Matsubagayatsu, Kamakura, to Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, priests who had been his seniors at Seicho-ji temple in Awa. While his reasons for writing it are not certain, quite possibly it was motivated by his joy in learning, as mentioned at the close of this letter, that Dozen-bo had taken faith in the Lotus Sutra and carved a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. From the Daishonin's remarks, we may surmise that, although Dozen-bo did not entirely recant his belief in the Nembutsu, he came to revere Shakyamuni Buddha and put his faith in the Lotus Sutra sometime in 1270, following the Daishonin's instructions.

Dozen-bo was the chief priest of the Shobutsu-bo of Seicho-ji temple where the Daishonin had entered the priesthood as a child. Seicho-ji was originally a temple of the Tendai sect but had fallen under the influence of first the Shingon and then the Jodo (Pure Land) sect. By the Kamakura period (1185-1333), all three traditions were practiced there. In 1233, Nichiren Daishonin entered this temple and studied Buddhism under Dozen-bo. There he first declared the establishment of true Buddhism on April 28, 1253. This enraged Lord Tojo Kagenobu, and he ordered Nichiren Daishonin's arrest. Dozen-bo, aided by Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, quietly helped the Daishonin escape.

In this and other writings, Nichiren Daishonin praises the act of making images of Shakyamuni Buddha -- a statement we should understand in its proper perspective. Nichikan Shonin, the twenty-sixth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, points out in his "Mappo So-o Sho" (Teachings for the Latter Day) that in the Daishonin's time, virtually all people throughout Japan revered Amida Buddha as their object of worship. In comparison to the prevalent worship of Amida, making images of Shakyamuni was a praiseworthy action. Under these circumstances, the Daishonin as a first step taught his disciples and followers to revere Shakyamuni Buddha as the historical founder of Buddhism in this saha world, who had expounded the Lotus Sutra as the ultimate purpose of his advent. However, this emphasis on the historical Shakyamuni was intended only to pave the way for his elucidation of the profound Law indicated in the depths of the Lotus Sutra, which he embodied in the form of the Dai-Gohonzon on October 12, 1279. This is an important point for Nichiren Shoshu believers to grasp. One reason why the Daishonin's five senior disciples, other than Nikko Shonin, departed form the orthodoxy of his teachings after his death was that they failed to appreciate the significance of the Dai-Gohonzon as the true object of worship, rejecting it in favor of images of Shakyamuni. Nichikan Shonin also states that when viewed from the standpoint of Nichiren Daishonin's enlightenment, "Shakyamuni Buddha" indicates none other than the rue Buddha of limitless joy, or the entity of ichinen sanzen. Ultimately, therefore, the Lotus Sutra and Shakyamuni Buddha mentioned in this letter should be understood respectively as the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and the original Buddha of kuon ganjo.

Broadly speaking, this letter consists of five sections. In the first section, Nichiren Daishonin proclaims that the Lotus sutra is supreme among the vast number of Buddhist sutras, and is the sutra which perfectly accords with the Buddha's true intention. Nevertheless, most of the Buddhist scholars and teachers of India, China and Japan have slighted the Lotus Sutra and set forth various erroneous doctrines, turning against the intention of the Buddha. Following he examples of the Great Teachers T'ient-t'ai and Dengyo, the Daishonin has refuted their mistaken doctrines, relying not upon people's opinions but solely upon the sutras themselves.

In the second section, he points out the errors of several major sects of Buddhism in Japan, particularly those of Shingon and Jodo. He may have focused on these two not only because they represented major heresies, but because Dozen-bo had professed faith in their doctrines prior to his conversion to the Buddha Shakyamuni. The Daishonin then defines the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the practice for the universal attainment of Buddhahood in the Latter Day.

In the third section, the Daishonin identifies Shakyamuni as the Buddha karmically connected with all people living in this saha or mundane world, explaining that Shakyamuni possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent with respect to them. Therefore, the Daishonin says, all the people in the saha world should recognize their debt to Shakyamuni.

In the fourth section, from which this Gosho takes its name, the Daishonin refers to Shan-wu-wei, who first brought the esoteric Shingon teaching from India to China. The story of Shan-wu-wei serves to demonstrate that even a man of wisdom who has mastered all the Buddhist teachings will fall into the evil paths if he disparages Shakyamuni and slights the Lotus Sutra. By citing the example of Shan-wu-wei, the Daishonin also indirectly criticizes Seicho-ji temple which had fallen under the influence of the Shingon sect. In the fifth section, he expresses his gratitude to Bodhisattva Kokuzo and to his teacher Dozen-bo, and expresses his joy at hearing that the latter has embraced the Lotus Sutra. Finally, he stresses the importance of speaking frankly to those who have been led astray by teachings which distort the Buddha's intention.

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