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Reply to Myoho Bikuni Gozen


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at Mount Minobu to a woman called Myoho Bikuni Gozen. "Bikuni," a transliteration of the Sanskrit bhikshuni, means a Buddhist nun. "Gozen" was a title of respect used in addressing women. There seem to have been several women among the Daishonin's followers known as Myoho-ama; this particular Myoho-ama was a widow who lived at Okamiya in Suruga Province. She also received the Gosho, "The One Essential Phrase" (Major Writings, vol. 1, pp. 221-24). Her husband had died in 1278, and the present letter, thought to have been written in 1281, makes clear that she was now virtually alone in the world. Whether because her daughters had married and become part of their husbands' families, or for some other reason, they were apparently of little help to her. She also lived apart from her other relatives, possibly an estrangement stemming from her belief in the Daishonin's teaching. In any event, she appears to have maintained pure and steadfast faith despite the opposition of those around her. In this letter, thanking her for the gift of a summer robe, Nichiren Daishonin praises her strong resolve and likens her to Bodhisattva Fukyo, who patiently endured repeated insults in carrying out his Buddhist practice.

In the main part of the Gosho, the Daishonin likens Myoho-ama to the Buddha's maternal aunt Mahaprajapati, the first Buddhist nun. In the India of Shakyamuni's time, there was no institution of women who had renounced lay life to pursue religious disciplines. Establishing the order of Buddhist nuns was thus a revolutionary step, and Mahaprajapati appears to have played a critical role in it. The Zo-agon Sutra praises her as the foremost nun among the shomon disciples. However, from the viewpoint of the provisional Mahayana teachings, the people of shomon cannot become Buddhas. The Daishonin suggests that, in becoming a nun, Mahaprajapati must have hoped to free herself from the sufferings accompanying a woman's harshly restricted position in society. How distressed she must have been to learn that, by following the way of the two vehicles, she had entered a path that could not even lead her to Buddhahood! The Lotus Sutra, however, repudiates the provisional teachings and declares that Buddhahood is open to all. Thus, in the Lotus Sutra, Mahaprajapati was able to receive Shakyamuni's prediction that she would one day become a Buddha.

Myoho-ama's experience may have been similar to Mahaprajapati's, in that she, too, had no doubt undergone various sufferings because of her sex, and, after taking religious vows, met still further hardships on account of Buddhism. However, the Daishonin points out that because she has taken faith in the Lotus Sutra, she is certain to attain Buddhahood. Therefore, Mahaprajapati's Buddha name -- "Beheld with Joy by All Sentient Beings" -- applies equally well to Myoho-ama.

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