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Rebuking Slander of the Law and Eradicating Sins


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this Gosho on Sado Island in 1273 to his devoted follower, the samurai Shijo Kingo, who lived in Kamakura. At this point, the Daishonin had been living in banishment on the forlorn island for well over a year. In those days, banishment was a form of punishment second only to the death penalty, and the grim circumstances of exile often destroyed the spirit and claimed the lives of those receiving this sentence. Yet in this letter, the Daishonin says that despite the hardships of exile, his overriding emotion is one of joy. He has been banished precisely because he denounced the errors of those who slander the Lotus Sutra. Because he has met this great trial for the sutra's sake, the Daishonin explains, he is certain to thereby eradicate in this lifetime his evil karma accumulated since the distant past. This is the principle of "rebuking slander of the Law and eradicating sins" referred to in the Gosho's title.

The Daishonin goes on to explain that when Shakyamuni Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra, he transferred the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of his teaching, only to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. These bodhisattvas are the ones destined to appear and propagate this teaching at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. The Daishonin asserts that recent startling events, such as the devastating earthquake that struck Kamakura in the eighth month of 1257, and a huge comet that appeared from the sixth through the eighth months of 1264, should be understood as portents heralding the advent of these great bodhisattvas. Though the Daishonin does not state so here directly, the Gosho implies that he is the very one carrying out the task of these Bodhisattvas of the Earth in propagating the essence of the Lotus Sutra.

The Daishonin subsequently likens himself to Fukyo, a bodhisattva appearing in the Lotus Sutra, who revered all people as future Buddhas and met with abuse as a result. According to Shakyamuni Buddha's prediction, the Daishonin says, in the Latter Day of the Law at the time when the Lotus Sutra shall spread, events will unfold in the same manner as in Bodhisattva Fukyo's time. The fact that the Daishonin meets persecution just as Fukyo did for the sake of the Lotus Sutra indicates that he is the sutra's votary in the Latter Day of the Law.

The text then raises a question: In the "Rissho Ankoku Ron," the Daishonin interpreted the disasters befalling the country as the effect of widespread belief in misleading teachings. Now he interprets them as omens of the spread of the Lotus Sutra. How are these two views to be reconciled? The Daishonin makes clear that this is a matter of perspective; no fundamental contradiction exists. One the one hand, when the time comes for the propagation of the Lotus Sutra, disasters arise when people persist in clinging to the provisional teachings that no longer suit the times. On the other hand, when the votary of the Lotus Sutra who is to propagate its teaching points out such errors and is persecuted in consequence, great calamities are sure to result. The Daishonin adds that in denouncing the errors of other sects, he has acted solely out of the bodhisattva spirit of compassion, as expressed by Chang-an: "He who makes it possible for the offender to rid himself of evil thus acts like a parent to the offender."

In the final part of the Gosho, the Daishonin praises Shijo Kingo's devotion to his deceased mother. Citing the story of Yuan-chung and his four adopted brothers, he explains that such filial conduct will never fail to be rewarded. He concludes with expressions of gratitude to Shijo Kingo and his family, whose offerings have helped the Daishonin and his companions survive under the harsh conditions of banishment on Sado. The Daishonin's compassionate concern for his disciples, even amidst his own adversity, stands out clearly in the famous final passage: "I am praying that, no matter how troubled the times may become, the Lotus Sutra and the ten demon daughters will protect all of you, praying as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood or to obtain water from parched ground."

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