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Letter to the Priests of Seicho-ji


As the title suggests, "Letter to the Priests of Seicho-ji" was addressed to the priests of Seicho-ji temple on Mount Kiyosumi in Kominato, Awa Province. It was written on January 11, 1276, while Nichiren Daishonin was living on Mount Minobu. When the Daishonin was twelve, his parents had sent him to study under Dozen-bo, the chief priest of nearby Seicho-ji temple. It was here that the Daishonin em-barked on a lifelong journey to find and proclaim the unique truth of Buddhism.

Seicho-ji temple itself was the kind of anomaly typical of Buddhist centers of the day. The temple had been founded by a Buddhist priest named Fushigi in 771, who had chopped down an oak tree, carved it into an image of Bodhisattva Kokuzo and placed it in a shrine he constructed. Thus the object of worship at Seicho-ji was originally the Bodhisattva Kokuzo. The shrine sank into oblivion, however, until the third high priest of Mount Hiei's Enryaku-ji temple, Jikaku, visited there in the next century. After that, it developed into a prestigious institution in that region.

Seicho-ji became a center for study of the Lotus Sutra, since it belonged to the Tendai sect. But later it fell under the influence of first the Shingon sect with its mystic rituals, and later, the Jodo sect with its reliance on Amida Buddha. Some time after taking the vows of a priest in 1237, the Daishonin set out to visit the great centers of learning in Japan to further his study of Buddhism and obtain the knowledge he needed to confirm his own enlightenment in the light of the sutras. In 1253, twenty years after he had entered Seicho-ji for the first time, he finally declared the founding of his new Buddhism.

This letter refers to events which took place shortly before his tonsuring ceremony. It states, "[As a youth,] he [Nichiren] received supreme wisdom from the living Bodhisattva Kokuzo. He had been praying to the Bodhisattva to become the wisest person in Japan." Thereby he obtained "a great jewel" which enabled him to understand all Buddhist scriptures correctly. Bodhisattva Kokuzo was said to possess the wisdom of universal life, so in this metaphorical way, the Daishonin explains that he awoke to the essence of life. Convinced though he was of his own enlightenment, he needed documentary verification to confirm and deepen his understanding of the truth of Buddhism. For this reason, he left Seicho-ji for Kamakura, the seat of the military government, and then Kyoto and Nara, which were the centers of Buddhism in Japan.

Subsequently, this letter refers to the particularly destructive influence of the Shingon sect which performed esoteric rituals and claimed the supremacy of its teachings over the Lotus Sutra. The Daishonin points out that, although he was persecuted for his criticism of Shingon and other sects, his prediction of internal strife and foreign invasion came true. Finally, the letter affirms the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra and warns the priests of Seicho-ji to pay heed to the Daishonin's advice.

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