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Letter from Teradomari


After his unsuccessful attempt to execute Nichiren Daishonin at Tatsunokuchi on September 12, 1271, Hei no Saemon, deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs, had no choice but to follow the government's original instructions to deliver the Daishonin into the custody of Homma Rokuro Zaemon Shigetsura, the deputy constable of Sado. The Daishonin was confined for nearly a month at Homma's mainland residence in Echi, Sagami Province, awaiting word of his fate from the government.

In the meantime, some unidentified trouble had occurred at the residence of the regent, Hojo Tokimune, and a diviner told him that it was connected with the attempted execution. Tokimune ordered the Daishonin released, but events quickly militated against his decision. A wave of arson and murders swept through Kamakura, and rumor had it that the Daishonin's followers were to blame. The government then ordered that the original plans for exile be set in motion.

On October 10, Nichiren Daishonin left Echi, escorted by Homma's warriors. When the group reached the coast of the Sea of Japan on the 21st, snow covered the ground, and the sea was tumultuous. They were forced to stop for several days at a harbor called Teradomari in Echigo (Present Niigata Prefecture) and wait for the winds to calm sufficiently to make the crossing to Sado Island. Teradomari is said to have prospered from the early ninth century on as a port for shipping traffic between the island of Sado and the Japanese mainland.

The day after arriving at Teradomari, Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter and entrusted it to a lay priest whom Toki Jonin had sent to accompany him. Toki Jonin was one of the Daishonin's leading followers, and served as a retainer to a certain Lord Chiba in Shimosa Province. He had converted to the Daishonin's Buddhism around 1254. A man of considerable erudition, he received a number of important works from the Daishonin, including "The True Object of Worship."

The group reached Sado on October 28, and arrived on November 1 at Tsukahara, the Daishonin's assigned place of banishment. None of his enemies expected him to return from this cold and forbidding place. Nichiren Daishonin remained on Sado Island for nearly two and a half years, during which time he won many converts, inscribed Gohonzon for individual believers and wrote several important Gosho revealing his enlightenment as the original Buddha who appears in the Latter Day of the Law in order to save all humankind.

The community of believers in Kamakura had been badly shaken by the events of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution and the Sado Exile, and many among the Daishonin's disciples and followers succumbed to government pressures and gave up their faith, or began to have doubts when they saw the Daishonin persecuted and to lose confidence in his teaching. Among those who forsook their faith were some who started criticizing the Daishonin, saying that he met persecution because he was too strict in his manner of propagation, or that he could not possibly be the votary of the Lotus Sutra because he had failed to receive protection from the Buddhist gods. In order to help his followers dispel their doubts and persevere in faith, Nichiren Daishonin during his exile wrote a number of Gosho in which he sought to give clear-cut answers to the various questions they had, such as why the followers of true Buddhism face persecution, why the heavenly gods seem not to lend them protection, and why shakubuku is the way of propagation appropriate for the Latter Day. This letter is the first of these writings, which include "The Opening of the Eyes," "Letter from Sado" and "On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings."

At the beginning of this letter, the Daishonin mentions in passing the hardships and difficulties he experienced during the twelve-day journey to Teradomari. He then quotes scriptural passages to show that in the Latter Day of the Law, hatred and jealousy of the Lotus Sutra will be worse than during the Buddha's lifetime. He himself is actually confronting such opposition in exact accordance with the sutra's predictions, he says. Next, citing T'ien-t'ai's doctrine of "the precious jewels to ransom life" based on the Nirvana Sutra, the Daishonin declares the superiority of the Lotus Sutra over all other sutras and points out the mistaken views of the scholars of the various sects who fail to recognize this. In particular, he mentions the erroneous opinions of the Shingon sect deriving from Shan-wu-wei and others. He warns that the followers of the various sects are committing the offense of slandering the Lotus Sutra, unaware that their patriarchs inwardly concurred with the teachings of the T'ien-t'ai school, which are based on the Lotus Sutra.

The Daishonin next enumerates four frequent criticisms of his practice of shakubuku, raised not only by his enemies but by some of his own followers as well, and declares that the hardships he has encountered perfectly match the prophecies of the Kanji (thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra concerning the persecutions that will attend propagation in the Latter Day of the Law. In light of the sutra, he makes clear that he himself is the votary who propagates the sutra in this latter age. Finally, he expresses his appreciation for all that Toki Jonin has done for him, and asks him to inform him as soon as possible how his imprisoned disciples are faring.

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