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Letter to the Brothers
- Kyodai Sho -


Nichiren Daishonin wrote "Letter to the Brothers" at Mount Minobu in April 1275, roughly a year after returning from exile on Sado Island. It is long, compared to many of the Daishonin's letters, and it embodies his unsparing effort to encourage his followers, the Ikegami brothers, at a critical juncture.

The two brothers, both of whom were samurai, lived in Ikegami in Musashi province, in what is now Tokyo. The elder brother was called Emon-no-tayu Munenaka, and the younger, Hyoeno-sakan Munenaga. Munenaka is thought to have become the Daishonin's follower around 1256, about the same time as Shijo Kingo. His younger brother, Munenaga, converted shortly thereafter. The brothers may have been introduced to the Daishonin's teachings by the priest Nissho, their uncle, one of the earliest disciples whom the Daishonin later designated as one of the six senior priests.

Their father, Ikegami Saemon-no-tayu Yasumitsu, served as director of the Office of Construction and Repairs of the Kamakura government. A devout follower of the priest Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji temple, he bitterly opposed his sons' faith. Ryokan, a leader of the Shingon-Ritsu sect, was a prominent figure 'in religious circles, and many revered him as a living Buddha. Yet he feared the Daishonin's growing influence and incited secular authorities to take action against him. Ryokan's intrigues ultimately led to the attempt on the Daishonin's life at Tatsunokuchi and the Daishonin's subsequent banishment to Sado. We have no information about the brothers in the nearly twenty years that passed between their conversion and the time of this letter. However, as one passage from this Gosho states, "Each of you has continued your faith in the Lotus Sutra ..." we may presume that they maintained their practice despite official pressures brought to bear against the Daishonin's followers during the years of his banishment to Sado.

After the Daishonin, against all expectations, had returned safely from exile, the brothers found themselves facing a new, personal crisis. In 1275, their father, Yasumitsu, suddenly disowned the elder brother, Munenaka, on account of his faith.

Disinheritance in thirteenth-century Japan carried awesome social and economic consequences difficult to imagine today. Confucian ethics demanded obedience to parents, and the family- not the individual - was paramount. Land holdings, government ranks and occupations were often hereditary. Disownment might easily condemn not only the individual concerned and his family but also his descendants to poverty and disgrace.

Even granted Yasumitsu's distaste for his son's religion, it is difficult to imagine that he would suddenly decide, after nearly twenty years, to take so grave a step without additional provocation. The Daishonin suspected that Ryokan had been pressuring him. Having failed to impede the Daishonin himself, this outwardly saintly priest now seemed intent on harming; the Daishonin's followers (for example, by trying to poison Lord Ema's mind against Shijo Kingo). By disowning Munenaka, Yasumitsu stood a good chance of provoking a rift between his two sons. He was, 'in effect, tempting the younger Munenaga, whose faith was less adamant, to trade his beliefs for the right to inherit his father's estate - a right that by primogeniture would ordinarily have been granted to his older brother. This was the crisis that prompted the writing of "Letter to the Brothers." In view of their twenty years of faith, the Daishonin minces no words and sternly admonishes the two - especially Munenaga - against letting temporary phenomena deceive them into abandoning their faith, which, of course, is of lasting importance.

This Gosho sets forth three reasons why believers meet hardships in spite of their sincerity in Buddhist practice. First, our strong faith enables us to rid our lives of the bad karma caused by past slander of the Law. This is the principle of lessening karmic retribution. Second, we meet hardships as a test of faith. In a sense, it is only by challenging adversity that we can develop the depth of faith necessary to enjoy happiness in this world. Third, obstacles arise as a function of the fundamental darkness innate in life, personified in Buddhism as "the Devil of the Sixth Heaven," which acts to keep us ignorance of our Buddha nature. "Letter to the Brothers" also explains that as we advance in practice and understanding, the "three obstacles and four devils" sansho shima) will definitely arise and attempt to thwart us. In this sense, obstacles confronting those dedicated in Buddhist practice actually serve to confirm that they are progressing toward enlightenment. Munenaka's father forgave him in 1276, only to disown him again in 1277. Munenaga wavered for a time. The Daishonin continued to encourage them during this period, for example, in "The Three Obstacles and Four Devils" (MW-2, 285-91). Thanks to his encouragement, the two brothers united and persevered in faith. In 1278, after some twenty-two years practice, they converted their father, Yasumitsu, to the Daishonin's Buddhism.

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