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The Unity of Husband and Wife


In the first month of 1275, Nichigen-nyo, the wife of Shijo Kingo, informed Nichiren Daishonin that she had turned thirty-three, an age thought to be unlucky for a woman, and sent offerings. This letter, dated the twenty-seventh day of the same month, is the Daishonin's reply. In response to Nichigen-nyo's apprehensions, he assures her that a woman who embraces the Lotus Sutra surpasses all other people, and that if her faith is strong, she will certainly be protected by the Buddhas and Buddhist gods.

The Yakuo (twenty-third) chapter of the Lotus Sutra sets forth ten similes illustrating the superiority of the Lotus Sutra over all the other sutras. Here, the Daishonin interprets them as illustrating the superiority of a votary of the Lotus Sutra over the votaries of all the other sutras. He emphasizes that this applies not only to men but to women as well. Unlike the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, which generally deny that women are capable of attaining Buddhahood, the Lotus Sutra reveals that a woman who embraces its teachings "not only excels all other women but also surpasses all men," thus teaching that women can become Buddhas. However, the Daishonin continues, even among those who embrace the Lotus Sutra, only those with strong faith can receive the protection of the Buddhist gods.

The Daishonin then praises Shijo Kingo as foremost among all Buddhist lay believers; as his wife, Nichigen-nyo is also foremost among the women in Japan. "The wisteria depends on the pine tree, and a woman depends on a man" reflects the structure of Japanese society in the medieval period, when a woman's fortunes were largely determined by her husband. What the Daishonin urges here, however, is that Nichigen-nyo follow her husband in faith. This shared faith of husband and wife is the "unity" referred to in the Gosho's title, and forms the ideal basis of marriage.

Lastly, the Daishonin declares that, through faith in the Lotus Sutra, misfortune will turn into good fortune, and assures Nichigen-nyo that she can enjoy youthful vitality throughout her life.

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