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The Problem to Be Pondered Night and Day


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter to Toki Jonin, a learned and dedicated disciple in Shimosa Province. In it he stresses the extreme seriousness of the offense of slander, and also the importance of embracing the supreme Buddhist teaching. The original manuscript is dated only "the twenty-third day of the eighth month," and though it is generally thought to have been written at Mount Minobu in 1275, no firm conclusion has been reached in this regard. Other opinions are that the Daishonin wrote it in 1276 or even in 1273 on Sado island.

In Nichiren Daishonin's teaching, rather than adherence to a specific code of conduct, one's fundamental posture toward the Mystic Law or ultimate reality is regarded as determining one's happiness or unhappiness in life. A person who seeks and awakens to the ultimate truth within himself will attain enlightenment, while one who remains in ignorance of it or even slanders it will remain bound by suffering. Hence the Daishonin's emphasis on exclusive commitment to the Lotus Sutra, which teaches the direct attainment of Buddhahood for all people. He himself embodied the Law implicit in the Lotus Sutra in concrete form as the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws, for the sake of all people in the Latter Day.

In the first part of the Gosho, the Daishonin quotes from the Lotus and Nirvana sutras to warn of the grave retribution for slandering the True Law and of the danger of being led astray by "evil friends" - those who hinder one in his quest for enlightenment. He also quotes from the writings of Nagarjuna and Saramati to show that even the so-called "five cardinal sins," traditionally regarded as the worst of evils, are minor when compared to slander of the ultimate truth or Buddha nature which is the true aspect of one's life. He also points out that great Buddhists of the past such as Hsuan-tsang and Dengyo were so determined to seek the truth of Buddhism that they risked their lives on hazardous journeys. Unwilling merely to accept the opinions of their contemporaries, they sought their answers in the Buddhist sutras and treatises themselves.

In the latter part of the Gosho, the Daishonin laments that the people of Japan as a whole have chosen to follow such teachers as Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho, who failed to grasp the profound meaning of the Lotus Sutra and discarded it in favor of the provisional Shingon teachings. To embrace the doctrines of these men, he suggests, is more dangerous than any imaginable physical threat. Lastly he raises a question, one that his assertions had no doubt raised in the minds of many: on the basis of what insight does he dare to criticize the eminent teachers of the past? However, instead of answering this question directly, he simply says, "I hope my disciples will ponder this matter, cutting short their sleep by night and curtailing their leisure by day." This passage, from which the Gosho takes its name, suggests that the most important task of our human existence is to seek out and uphold the Law leading to enlightenment.

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