Encouragement to a Sick Person
I have heard that you are suffering from illness. Is this true? The uncertainty of this world is such that even the healthy cannot remain forever, let alone those who are ill. Thoughtful persons should therefore prepare their minds for the life to come. Yet one cannot prepare his mind for the next life by his own efforts alone. Only on the basis of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, the original teacher of all living beings, will he be able to do so.
However, the Buddha's teachings are various, perhaps because people's minds also differ greatly. In any event, Shakyamuni taught for no more than fifty years. Among the teachings he expounded during the first forty years and more, we find the Kegon Sutra, which says, "The mind, the Buddha and all living beings - these three things are without distinction"; the Agon sutras, which set forth the principles of suffering, emptiness, impermanence and egolessness; the Daijuku Sutra, which asserts the interpenetration of the defiled aspect and the pure aspect; the Daibon Hannya Sutra, which teaches mutual identification and non-duality; and the Muryoju, Kammuryoju and Amida sutras, which emphasize rebirth in the Land of Perfect Bliss. All these teachings were doubtless expounded in order to save all living beings in the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law.
Nevertheless, for some reason of his own, the Buddha declared in the Muryogi Sutra, "[Expounding the Law in various ways,] I made use of the power of expedient means. But in these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth." Like a parent who has second thoughts about the transfer deed he has written out earlier, he looked back with regret upon all the sutras he had expounded during the past forty years and more, including those which taught rebirth in the Land of Perfect Bliss, and declared [that no matter how earnestly one may practice them,] "...in the end one will never attain supreme enlightenment, even after the lapse of countless, limitless, inconceivable asogi kalpas." He reiterated this in the Hoben chapter of the Lotus Sutra, saying, "Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I will expound only the supreme Way." By "discarding the provisional teachings," he meant that one should discard the Nembutsu and other teachings preached during the period of those forty-some years.
Having thus obviously regretted and reversed his previous teachings, he made clear his true intention, saying, "The World-Honored One has long expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth," and "The Tathagata long kept silence with regard to this essential truth and was in no haste to preach it." Thereupon Taho Buddha emerged from below the earth and added his testimony, declaring what Shakyamuni had said to be true, and the Buddhas of the ten directions assembled in the eight directions, extending their long, broad tongues until they reached the palace in the Brahma Heaven. All the beings of the two worlds and the eight kinds, who were gathered at the two places and three assemblies, without a single exception witnessed this.
Yet, setting aside evil persons and non-Buddhists, who do not believe in Buddhism, even among the followers of Buddhism we find those who [reject this testimony and instead] have devout faith in the provisional teachings preached before the Lotus Sutra, such as the Nembutsu. They devote themselves to reciting it ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand or as many as sixty thousand times each day, but do not chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, not even once in ten or twenty years. [In light of the above sutra passages,] are they not like a person who clings to the transfer deed already nullified by his parent and refuses to accept its revised version? They may appear to others as well as to themselves to have faith in the Buddha's teachings, but if we go by what the Buddha actually taught, they are unfilial persons.
This is why the second volume of the Lotus Sutra states, "Now this threefold world is all my domain. The living beings in it are all my children. Yet this world has many cares and troubles from which I alone can save them. But, even though I teach and instruct them, they neither believe nor accept." This passage means that to us living beings, the Tathagata Shakyamuni is our parent, teacher and sovereign. Amida, Yakushi and other Buddhas may be a sovereign to us living beings, but they are neither a parent nor a teacher. Shakyamuni is the one and only Buddha who is endowed with all three virtues and to whom we owe the most profound debt of gratitude. There are parents and parents, yet none of them can equal him. There are all manner of teachers and sovereigns, but none so admirable as he. Could those who disobey the teaching of the one who is their parent, teacher and sovereign not be abandoned by both heavenly gods and earthly deities? They are the most unfilial of all children. It is for this reason that the Buddha said, "But, even though I teach and instruct them, they neither believe nor accept." Even though they may follow the sutras preached before the Lotus Sutra and practice them for a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand or a hundred thousand kalpas, if they do not believe in the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo even once, they can only be termed unfilial. They will therefore be abandoned by the sacred ones of the three existences and the ten directions and hated by the deities of both heaven and earth. This represents the first [of the five guides for propagation].
Even those people who commit the five cardinal sins, the ten evil acts, etc., or innumerable other wrongdoings may attain the Way if only their faculties are keen. Devadatta and Angulimala are representative of such people. And even those of dull faculties may attain the Way, provided they are free of misdeeds. Shuddhipanthaka is an example. Our faculties are even duller that those of Shuddhipanthaka. We can discern the colors and shapes of things no better than a sheep's eye. In the vast depths of our greed, anger and stupidity, we commit the ten evil acts every day, and although we may not commit the five cardinal sins, we perpetrate similar offenses daily.
Moreover, every single person is guilty of slander of the Law, an offense exceeding even the ten evil acts or the five cardinal sins. Although few people slander the Lotus Sutra with actual words of abuse, there is none who values it. Some appear to value the sutra, but in fact, they do not believe in it as deeply as they do in the Nembutsu or other teachings. And even those with profound faith do not reproach the enemies of the Lotus Sutra. No matter what great good deed one may perform, even if he reads and transcribes the entirety of the Lotus Sutra a thousand or ten thousand times or masters the meditation to perceive ichinen sanzen, should he but fail to denounce the enemies of the Lotus Sutra, he will be unable to attain the Way. To illustrate, it is like the case of someone in the service of the imperial court. Even though he may have served for a decade or two, if he knows someone to be an enemy of the emperor but neither reports him to the throne nor feels personal enmity toward him, all the merit of his past services will be thereby negated, and he will instead be charged with a crime. You must understand that people of this age are slanderers of the Law. This represents the second [of the five guides for propagation].
The thousand years beginning from the day after the Buddha's passing are called the Former Day of the Law, a period when those who upheld the precepts were many, and people attained the Way. The thousand years of the Former Day are followed by the Middle Day of the Law, which also lasts a thousand years. During this period, many people broke the precepts and few attained the Way. The Middle Day is followed by the ten thousand years of the Latter Day of the Law. During this period, people neither uphold the precepts nor break them; only those without precepts fill the country. Moreover, it is called a defiled age, an age rife with disorder. In an uncorrupted age, called a pure age, the wrong is discarded while the right is observed, just as crooked timber is planed according to the markings of a carpenter's line. During the Former and Middle Days of the Law, the five impurities begin to appear, and in the Latter Day, they are rampant. They rage not only like huge waves, whipped by a strong gale, battering the shore, but also like waves crashing one against another. [Among the five impurities,] the impurity of thought is such that, as the Former and Middle Days of the Law gradually pass, people transmit an insignificant heretical teaching while destroying the unfathomable True Law. It therefore follows that more people fall into the evil paths because of errors with respect to Buddhism than because of secular misdeeds.
Now the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law have already passed, and it has been more than two hundred years since the Latter Day began. Now is the time when, because the impurity of thought prevails, more people fall into the evil paths with the intention of creating good causes than they do by committing evil. As for evil acts, even ignorant people may recognize them for what they are, and refrain from committing them. This is like extinguishing a fire with water. But people think that good deeds are all equal in their goodness; thus they adhere to lesser good and do not realize that, in so doing, they bring about major evil. Therefore, even when they see sacred structures related to Dengyo, Jikaku and others that are neglected and in disrepair, they leave them as they are for the simple reason that they are not halls dedicated to the Nembutsu. Instead, they build Nembutsu halls beside those sacred structures, confiscate the lands that have been donated to them and offer them instead to the halls they have erected. According to a passage of the Zobo Ketsugi Sutra, such deeds will bring few benefits. You should understand from the above that even if one performs a good deed, should it be an act of lesser good that destroys great good, then it will cause one to fall into the evil paths.
The present age coincides with the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. Gone completely are those people with the capacity to attain enlightenment through either the Hinayana or provisional Mahayana sutras. There now remain only those whose capacity is suited solely to the true Mahayana sutras. A small boat cannot carry a large rock. Those who are evil or ignorant are like a large rock, while the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana sutras as well as the Nembutsu are like a small boat. If one tries to cure virulent sores with hot-spring baths, because the ailment is so serious, such mild treatment will be to no avail. For us in this defiled age of the Latter Day, embracing the Nembutsu and other teachings is like working rice paddies in winter; it does not suit the time. This represents the third [of the five guides for propagation].
One should also have a correct understanding of the country. People's minds differ according to their land. For example, a mandarin orange tree south of the Yangtze River becomes a triple-leaved orange tree if it is transplanted to the north of the Huai River. Even plants and trees, which have no mind, change with their location. How much more, then, must beings with minds differ according to the place!
A work by the Tripitaka Master Hsuan-tsang called Daito Saiiki Ki, or Record of the Western Regions, describes many countries in India. According to the nature of the country, there are countries whose inhabitants are undutiful to their parents, and others where people observe filial piety. In some countries, anger prevails, while in others, stupidity is rampant. There are countries devoted solely to Hinayana, others devoted solely to Mahayana, and still others where both Mahayana and Hinayana are pursued. There are countries wholly given over to the killing of living creatures, countries wholly given over to thieving, countries where rice abounds, and countries which produce much millet. So great is the variety of countries [in India].
Then, what teaching should our country of Japan learn if its people are to free themselves from the sufferings of birth and death? As for this question, the Lotus Sutra states, "After the passing of the Tathagata, I will cause this sutra to spread widely throughout the continent of Jambudvipa and never allow it to perish." This passage means that the Lotus is a sutra related to the people of Jambudvipa, the continent of the south. Bodhisattva Miroku said, "There is a small country in the eastern quarter whose people are related solely to the Mahayana." According to this passage from his treatise, within Jambudvipa, there is a small country in the eastern quarter where the capacity of the people is especially suited to the Mahayana sutra. Seng-chao in his commentary remarks, "This sutra is related to a small country in the northeast." This indicates that the Lotus Sutra has a connection to a country in the northeast. The Eminent Priest Annen states, "All in my country of Japan believe in the Mahayana." Eshin in his Ichijo Yoketsu says, "Throughout all Japan, all people share the same capacity to attain Buddhahood through the perfect teaching [of the Lotus Sutra]."
Thus, according to the opinions of my virtuous predecessors, such as Shakyamuni Buddha, Bodhisattva Miroku, the Tripitaka Master Shuryasoma, The Tripitaka Master Kumarajiva, the Dharma Teacher Seng-chao, the Eminent Priest Annen and the Supervisor of Monks Eshin, people in the country of Japan have a capacity suited solely to the Lotus Sutra. Those who put into practice even a phrase or a verse of this sutra are certain to attain the Way, for it is the teaching related to them. This may be likened to iron particles drawn by a magnet or dewdrops collecting on a mirror. Other good practices such as the Nembutsu are unrelated to our country. They are like a magnet that cannot attract iron or a mirror that is unable to gather dew. For this reason, Annen states in his interpretation, "If it is not the true vehicle, one is doubtless deceiving both oneself and others." This passages means that one who instructs the people of Japan in a teaching other than the Lotus Sutra is deceiving not only oneself but others, too. One therefore must always consider the country when propagating the Buddhist teachings. One should not assume that a teaching suited to one country must necessarily be suited to another as well. This constitutes the fourth [of the five guides for propagation].
Furthermore, in a country where Buddhism has already spread, one must also take into account the sequence of propagation. It is the rule in propagating Buddhism that one must always learn the characteristics of the teachings that have already spread. To illustrate, when giving medicine to a sick person, one should know what kind of medicine was administered before. Otherwise, different kinds of medicine may conflict and work against one another, killing the patient. Likewise, different teachings of Buddhism may conflict and interfere with each other, destroying the practitioner. In a country where non-Buddhist teachings have already spread, one should use Buddhism to refute them. For example, the Buddha appeared in India and defeated the Brahmans; Kashyapa Matanga and Chu-fa-lan went to China and attacked the Taoists; and Prince Jogu was born in the country of Japan and put Moriya to the sword.
The same principle applies in the realm of Buddhism itself. In a country where the Hinayana has spread, one must vanquish it by means of the Mahayana sutras, just as Bodhisattva Asanga refuted the Hinayana teachings upheld by Vasubandhu. In a country where provisional Mahayana has been propagated, one must conquer it with the true Mahayana, just as the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che defeated the three schools of southern China and the seven schools of northern China. As for the country of Japan, it has been more than four hundred years since the two sects of Tendai and Shingon have spread here. [During this period,] it has been determined that all four categories of Buddhists - priests, nuns, laymen and laywomen - have capacities suited to the Lotus Sutra. All people, whether good or evil, wise or ignorant, are endowed with the benefit of the fiftieth hearer. They are like the K'unlun Mountains, where no worthless stone is to be found, or the mountain island of P'eng-lai, where no harmful potion is known.
However, within the past fifty years or so, a man of flagrant slander named Honen appeared. He deceived all the people by showing them a stone that resembled a jewel and persuading them to discard the jewel they already possessed in favor of it. This is what the fifth volume of the Maka Shikan means when it refers to "treasuring tiles and pebbles and calling them bright jewels." All the people are clutching ordinary rocks in their hands, convinced that they are precious jewels. That is to say, they have discarded the Lotus Sutra to chant the name of Amida Buddha. But when I point this out, they become furious and revile the votary of the Lotus Sutra, thereby increasing all the more their karma to fall into the hell of incessant suffering. Here I have explained the fifth [of the five guides for propagation].
You, heeding my assertion, discarded the Nembutsu and embraced the Lotus Sutra. But by now you must surely have reverted to being a follower of the Nembutsu. Remember that to discard the Lotus Sutra and become a believer in the Nembutsu is to be like a rock from a mountain peak hurtling down to the valley below, or like rain in the skies falling to the ground. There is no doubt that such a person will fall into the great Avichi Hell. Those related to the sons of Daitsu Buddha had to spend the duration of sanzen-jintengo, and those who received the seed of Buddhahood in the remote past, the length of gohyaku-jintengo, [in the evil paths]. This was because they met with very evil companions and discarded the Lotus Sutra, falling back to the provisional teachings such as the Nembutsu. As the members of your family seem to be Nembutsu adherents, they certainly must be urging it upon you. That is understandable, since they themselves believe in it. You should consider them, however, as people deluded by the followers of the diabolical Honen. Arouse strong faith, and do not heed what they say. It is the way of the great devil to assume the form of a venerable monk or to take possession of one's father, mother or brother in order to obstruct one's next life. Whatever they may say, no matter how cleverly they may try to deceive you into discarding the Lotus Sutra, do not assent to it.
Stop and consider. If the passages of proof [offered to support the claim] that the Nembutsu does in truth lead to rebirth in the Pure Land were reliable, then in the past twelve years during which I have been asserting that the Nembutsu believers will fall into the hell of incessant suffering, would they consistently have failed to refute me, no matter with whom they lodged their protests? Their contention must be feeble indeed! Teachings such as those left behind by Honen and Shan-tao have been known to me, Nichiren, since I was seventeen or eighteen. And the arguments that people put forth these days are no improvement.
Consequently, since their teachings are no match for mine, they resort to sheer force of numbers in trying to fight against me. Nembutsu believers number tens of millions, and their supporters are many. I Nichiren, am alone, without a single ally. It is amazing that I should have survived until now. This year, too, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, between the hours of the Monkey and the Cock (around 5:00 P.M.), on the highway called Matsubara in Tojo in the province of Awa. I was ambushed by hundreds of Nembutsu believers. I was alone except for about ten men accompanying me, only three or four of whom were capable of offering any resistance at all. Arrows fell on us like rain, and swords descended like lightning. One of my disciples was slain in a matter of a moment and two others were gravely wounded. I myself sustained cuts and blows, and it seemed that I was doomed. Yet, for some reason, my attackers failed to kill me; thus I have survived until now.
This has only strengthened my faith in the Lotus Sutra. The fourth volume [of the sutra] says, "Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra bound even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it be in the world after his passing!" The fifth volume states, "The people will resent [the Lotus Sutra] and find it extremely difficult to believe." In the country of Japan there are many who read and study the Lotus Sutra. There are also many who are beaten in punishment for attempting to seduce other men's wives, or for theft or other offenses. Yet not one person has ever suffered injury on account of the Lotus Sutra. It is clear, therefore, that those Japanese who embrace the sutra have yet to experience the truth of the above sutra passages. I, Nichiren, alone have read the sutra with my entire being. This is the meaning of the passage that says, "We do not hold our own lives dear. We value only the supreme Way." I, Nichiren, am therefore the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan.
Should you depart from this life before I do, you should report to Bonten, Taishaku, the Four Great Heavenly Kings and Great King Emma. Declare yourself to be a disciple of the priest Nichiren, the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan. Then they cannot possibly treat you discourteously. But if you should be of two minds, alternately chanting the Nembutsu and reciting the Lotus Sutra, and fear what other may say about you, then, even though you may identify yourself as Nichiren's disciple, they will never accept your word. [If that should happen,] do not resent me later. Yet, since the Lotus Sutra answers one's prayers for matters of this life as well, you may still survive your illness. In that case, I will by all means visit you as soon as possible and talk with you directly. Words cannot all be set down in a letter, and a letter will not adequately convey one's thoughts, so I will stop for now.
With my deep respect,
The thirteenth day of the twelfth month in the first year of Bun'ei (1264)
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 19.
Designed by Will Kallander