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The Sutra of True Requital


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter at Mount Minobu on the twenty-eighth day of the seventh month, 1278, when Abutsu-bo Nittoku, one of his lay followers, arrived on his third journey from Sado Island to see the Daishonin. It was addressed to Abutsu-bo's wife, Sennichi-ama, in reply to a letter from her that Abutsu-bo had delivered.

Sennichi-ama's origins are uncertain. Tradition has it that she had served as an attendant to a court lady who accompanied the party of the Retired Emperor Juntoku, when the latter was banished to Sado following the Jokyu Disturbance of 1221. However, more recent research suggests that she was probably a native of Sado Island. While Nichiren Daishonin was in exile on Sado, she and her husband converted to his teaching. They served the Daishonin earnestly, supplying him with food, writing paper and other daily necessities for more than two years until he was pardoned and left the island in 1274. After that, Sennichi-ama three times sent her husband with various offerings to visit the Daishonin at Minobu.

In the first portion of this Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin emphasizes the superiority of the Lotus Sutra from the standpoint of its teaching that women can attain Buddhahood. The provisional teachings, he says, generally deny that women can become Buddhas; only the Lotus Sutra, the supreme teaching expounded during the Buddha's lifetime, clearly reveals that they can do so. The Daishonin declares that the enlightenment of women taught in the Lotus Sutra serves as an example to illustrate that all living beings can attain Buddhahood in their present form.

He then takes up the subject of repaying debts of gratitude owed to one's parents, especially to one's mother. Since the Lotus Sutra is the highest of all sutras and the only one that guarantees the enlightenment of women, he says, it is the only sutra that truly enables one to requite one's mother's kindness. Nevertheless, the women of Japan reject both the Lotus Sutra and its votary, and chant only Namu Amida Butsu, the invocation of Amida Buddha's name. But even Amida, the Daishonin says, will not protect an enemy of the Lotus Sutra. In this way, he shows that the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra is the basis of all Buddhist teachings.

While in exile on Sado, the Daishonin was harshly treated by many of the islanders. However, Sennichi-ama and her husband risked their personal safety to serve him, and maintained their faith despite many difficulties. In the next part of the letter, the Daishonin praises Sennichi-ama's steadfast faith and the devotion she has shown him, not only on Sado but also since his retirement to Minobu, and assures her of the great blessings she will receive.

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