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On Prayer


Prayers based upon the Lotus Sutra will definitely be answered, writes Nichiren Daishonin. In contrast, he emphasizes, prayers based upon mistaken teachings will not only go unanswered, but will create suffering both for those who offer them and for those who urge them to do so.

This is the theme of the Gosho "On Prayer," written by Nichiren Daishonin in 1272, when he was in exile on Sado Island. The Gosho is thought to be a reply to questions raised by Sairen-bo, a disciple of the Daishonin and former priest of the Mountain [Jikaku] school of the Tendai sect, who at the time was also living in exile on Sado Island.

Sairen-ba and the Daishonin exchanged a number of letters concerning various important Buddhist doctrines such as, in particular, the attainment of Buddhahood. In this Gosho, the Daishonin distinguishes between the efficacy of prayer based on sects that prevailed in Japanese society of the day-including the Kegon, Hosso, Ritsu, Shingon and Tendai sects-and prayer based upon the Lotus Sutra. The authorities of the contemporary imperial court and shogunate relied to a great degree upon the teachings and prayers of the Shingon and Tendai sects, and the Zen and Nembutsu sects.

It was because the prayers offered by priests of the Shingon and Tendai sects were ineffectual, the Daishonin declares, that the imperial forces were defeated in the Jikyu Disturbance-a struggle for power between the imperial court and the Kamakura shogunate in 1221. Placing their trust in these sects, the court had requested that prayers be offered for protection and victory.

Ultimately, however, despite the prayers, not only were the imperial forces defeated in battle, but three retired emperors were exiled to distant islands. Thus, concludes the Daishonin, such prayers do not simply go unanswered; they actually bring about misfortune.

On the other hand, prayers based on the Lotus Sutra are true prayers, the Daishonin says. He then states the reasons: all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, people of the two vehicles (voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones), and human and heavenly beings feel a great sense of gratitude because they attained Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra. To repay these debts of gratitude, they will certainly protect those who uphold the Lotus Sutra.

The Daishonin mentions the dragon king's daughter and the evil person Devadatta in particular, noting that because their attainment of Buddhahood was considered an especially remarkable achievement, their debt of gratitude is correspondingly great; thus, he assures Sairen-ba, they, too, will never fall to guard the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra.

The Daishonin also firmly refutes the statement made by Kobo, the founder of the Shingon sect in Japan, who claimed in the work jfijfishin ron (Treatise on the Ten Stages of Mind) that the Dainichi Sutra ranks first, the Kegon Sutra second, and the Lotus Sutra third. To support his contention that Shingon doctrines are misleading, the Daishonin cites this statement made by the Buddha in the Lotus Sutra: "I have preached various sutras, and among those sutras the Lotus is the foremost!"

The Gosho's heading, "Nichiren, the shramana of Japan," expresses his conviction that he is truly a shramana, or seeker of the way, and that he is the votary of the Lotus Sutra. Shakyaniuni achieved enlightenment as a seeker of the way in India. in this sense this designation can also be said to convey the Daishonin's conviction that he is the true shramana of Japan and that he is the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

In conclusion, the Daishonin urges his follower to offer prayers based upon the correct doctrines of the Lotus Sutra and to fulfill his true potential as a human being by aspiring to attain Buddhahood.

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