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Letter to Shomitsu-bo


In 1277, when he was fifty-six years old, Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter from Minobu to Shomitsu-bo, one of his disciples living at Seicho-ji temple in the province of Awa. Detailed information about Shomitsu-bo is lacking, but it appears that he was a priest of Seicho-ji temple who had become the Daishonin's follower and occasionally sought his instruction. The chief priest of Seicho-ji at that time is thought to have been Joken-bo (some sources say Gijo-bo), a priest senior to the Daishonin, who had later taken faith in his teachings. In another Gosho written to this chief priest, the Daishonin urges him to consult with Shomitsu-bo about any difficulties confronting the temple and describes Shomitsu-bo as knowledgeable in worldly affairs (Gosho Zenshu, P. 901).

Seicho-ji temple was founded in 771 by a priest called Fushigi (Mystery), who enshrined there an image of Bodhisattva Kokuzo that he had carved from an oak tree. In the next century, Jikaku, the third chief priest of Enryaku-ji temple, paid a visit there, after which Seicho-ji became a prestigious institution in the area. Originally a temple of the Tendai sect, Seicho-ji fell under the influence of first the Shingon and then the Jodo, or Pure Land, Sect, and by the Kamakura period (1185-1333) all three traditions were pursued there. In 1233 Nichiren Daishonin entered this temple to study Buddhism. There he chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the first time and proclaimed the founding of his new Buddhism on the twenty-eighth day of the fourth month in 1253.

In this Gosho, the Daishonin emphasizes the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, an important point for Shomitsu-bo, who was living at a temple where the original Tendai reverence for the Lotus Sutra had been distorted by Shingon influence. The Daishonin first cites the erroneous views of the Shingon priests of India, China and Japan with respect to the Lotus Sutra. In particular, he attacks Shan-wu-wei's assertion that the Dainichi Sutra and the Lotus Sutra are equal in terms of principle but that the Dainichi Sutra is superior in terms of practice. "Equal in principle" here refers to the principle of ichinen sanzen; but the Daishonin points out that this principle does not in any way derive from the Dainichi Sutra; it was established by the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai on the basis of the Lotus Sutra. Shan-wu-wei ordered this doctrine written into the Shingon teachings. As for the Dainichi Sutra being "superior in terms of practice": by this Shan-wu-wei meant that the Dainichi Sutra mentions mudras and mantras, while the Lotus Sutra does not. However, the Daishonin asserts that mudras and mantras are mere insignificant details when compared to the Lotus Sutra's two unprecedented revelations that even those in the realms of shomon and engaku can attain Buddhahood, and that Shakyamuni Buddha originally attained enlightenment in the far distant past. In the Mahayana teachings preached before the Lotus Sutra the people of the two vehicles were generally condemned as incapable of attaining Buddhahood; so the revelation that they can in fact do so vividly demonstrates that the Lotus Sutra makes Buddhahood accessible to all. Next, the Buddha's original enlightenment in the far distant past points to the eternity of the universal Buddha nature. The original or primordial Buddha who is the source of all other Buddhas and bodhisattvas personifies the eternal and ultimate reality-to which all Buddhas are enlightened.

In the latter part of the Gosho, the Daishonin explains that the Kegon and Shingon sects, while nominally Mahayana, in fact should be considered Hinayana because they bind themselves to the Hinayana precepts. He points out that even the Great Teacher Dengyo, who introduced the Shingon teachings to Japan, did not regard them as being in any way equal to the Tendai teachings, which are based on the Lotus Sutra. As for how far they clarify the three truths of non-substantiality (Kutai), temporary existence (Ketai), and the Middle Way (Chutai), the Kegon and Shingon sects do not rise above the level of the specific teaching (a higher level of Mahayana addressed specifically to bodhisattvas). However, says the Daishonin, because so many distinguished scholars and teachers embrace the Dainichi Sutra, the Shingon teachings have spread throughout Japan. The Daishonin concludes by expressing his hope that Shomitsu-bo will study the contents of this letter and grasp its doctrinal points.

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