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Lessening the Karmic Retribution


The doctrine of karma is central to Buddhist philosophy. It states that each living being carries an accumulation of effects from causes made, not only in this lifetime, but throughout the infinite past. Every word, thought or action is imprinted upon the individual's life and contributes to his overall destiny, like an invisible balance sheet of debits and credits. The practice of Buddhism is powerful enough to override this vast accumulation and can minimize its negative effects, thus the title of this letter--- "Lessening One's Karmic Retribution."

On October 5, 1271, only three weeks after he came close to being executed at Tatsunokuchi, Nichiren Daishonin drafted this letter and sent it to three of his leading disciples - Ota Saemon, Soya Nyudo and Kimbara Hokkyo. One of them had perhaps visited the Daishonin while he was being detained at Echi. Records indicate that they lived in Shimosa, to the northeast of Kamakura, and this letter was an expression of gratitude for the visit and concern for the Daishonin's safety.

The Daishonin's near execution and detention at Homma Rokurozaemon's mansion were matters of grave concern to his followers. Immediately after the shogunate government failed to decapitate Nichiren Daishonin, it could not decide what to do with him, so it temporarily detained him at the mansion. In the meantime, fanatic adherents of the Nembutsu and other sects set fire to houses in Kamakura and ascribed the arson to the Daishonin's followers so that the government would not release him. Thus the government finally decided to exile him to Sado Island. It seems that when the letter was drafted, the exile had already been determined.

The practitioners of true Buddhism were disheartened. The Daishonin anticipated their distress and poured out a steady stream of encouraging letters. He explained that the incidents were not harassment, but were highly significant because they bore out predictions in the Lotus Sutra and thus substantiated the fact that he was the original Buddha. His sufferings were an important and inevitable part of that revelation. In this letter, he urges these followers to erase their own karma by "reading" the Louts Sutra with their lives. He assures them that the power of the supreme law is so great that it can minimize and even wipe out the effects of negative causes.

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