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On Omens


Nichiren Daishonin wrote "On Omens" at Minobu in 1275, when he was fifty-four years old. As the closing part of this letter is missing, its recipient is uncertain, but it is generally thought to have been addressed to Shijo Kingo, a samurai and one of the Daishonin's most loyal followers. Shijo Kingo was at this time facing opposition from his lord and fellow samurai on account of his faith.

In October 1274, the Mongols had launched a massive attack against the southern islands of Iki and Tsushima and advanced to Kyushu. Japanese losses were staggering, but when the Mongol forces returned to their battleships at night, an unexpected storm arose and heavily damaged their fleet, forcing them back toward Korea. The next year, however, Khubilai Khan again sent envoys, threatening another invasion if the Japanese government did not acknowledge fealty to the Mongol Empire. During this period, the Daishonin was busy at Minobu writing letters, training his disciples and giving lectures on the Lotus Sutra. "On Omens" interprets the Mongol threat and other recent calamities in the light of his teaching.

In the beginning of this letter, Nichiren Daishonin discusses the omens which appeared when Shakyamuni Buddha expounded the Lotus Sutra in terms of the principle of the oneness of life and its environment (esho funi). Further expanding on this principle, he explains that when people's six sense organs or perceptive faculties are deluded, extraordinary changes occur in the heavens and on earth. This statement reflects the truth that while life and its environment are two independent phenomena, fundamentally they are one and inseparable.

Next, the Daishonin explains that the Buddha's preaching is always preceded by omens, whose magnitude reflects the depth of the teaching to be revealed. Thus the portents heralding the preaching of the Lotus Sutra were greater than those preceding any other sutra. Moreover, the signs presaging the essential teaching (latter half) of the Lotus Sutra far surpassed those introducing the theoretical teaching (former half). The Daishonin cites the emergence of the Treasure Tower and the appearance of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth as omens revealing the superiority of the essential teaching over the theoretical teaching. Moreover, he says, the great portents of the Jinriki (twenty-first) chapter surpass even these, and foretell that the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo indicated in the depths of the Juryo (sixteenth) chapter will spread widely in the Latter Day, which begins two thousand years after Shakyamuni's passing.

The Daishonin then turns to the upheavals and strange occurrences in Japan during his own time. All of these, he concludes, occur because people oppose the votary of the Lotus Sutra who propagates its essence in the Latter Day. Specifically, he warns that because of the slander perpetrated by Nembutsu believers and Shingon teachers, Japan will be destroyed by a foreign country. Since the people are persecuting Nichiren Daishonin, they suffer from great calamities. This implies that he is none other than the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law - which is "the most important of my teachings" mentioned in the last paragraph.

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