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"The Origin of the Urabon"


"The Origin of Urabon" was written to Shijo Kingo in July 1271. Shijo Kingo had sent various offerings to Nichiren Daishonin as a donation for a memorial service to be held for his mother, who had passed away on July 12 some years earlier. In reply, the Daishonin wrote Kingo this letter, in which he teaches that only the act of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo fundamentally benefits the deceased.

The first part, from which this writing takes its name, discusses the origin of the Urabon ceremony. The Daishonin says that it began with Shakyamuni's disciple Maudgalyayana, who saved his deceased mother form the sufferings of the world of Hunger. This tradition was widely accepted in the Daishonin's time. However, the Daishonin interprets it in light of the Lotus Sutra and the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo which is the sutra's essence. He points out that although Maudgalyayana was able to relieve his mother's suffering, he was not able to lead her to attain Buddhahood until he heard the Lotus Sutra on Eagle Peak, embraced it and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, thus attaining enlightenment. At that time his deceased mother was able to attain Buddhahood also.

According to popular belief, the spirits of those who had been greedy or egotistic while alive were thought to be suffering from hunger. The Daishonin subsequently discusses various kinds of hungry spirits mentioned in Buddhist texts and clarifies the past causes, or evil acts which they committed in prior existences, that led them to be born in this form. In this section, he also exposes the true motives of many priests of his day, referring to them as "Law-devouring hungry spirits" who use the Buddhist teachings as a means to gain personal fame and fortune. Though they pretend to have a sincere desire to propagate the Buddhist teachings, in their hearts they are greedy, and they conceal the offerings received from others, keeping them to themselves. The Daishonin also censures those Buddhists, whether of the priesthood or of the laity, who neglect to hold memorial services for the repose of their deceased parents or teachers.

Finally the Daishonin encourages Shijo Kingo by saying that since Kingo's deceased mother had been a devout believer, she could not possibly be suffering in the world of Hunger. Rather, the Buddhas must be warmly praising her on Eagle Peak because of her son's devotion to the Lotus Sutra. In this way, he encourages Kingo to further deepen his faith.

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