Letter to Nichimyo Shonin
Once there was a person named Gyobo Bonji.1 He traveled from country to country for twelve years in search of the teachings of a Buddha. In those days none of the three treasures -- the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood -- had yet appeared. Nevertheless, Bonji continued his quest for Buddhism as desperately as a thirsty man seeks water or as a starving person looks for food. One day a Brahman2 came to him and said, "I possess a verse of the sacred teaching. If you are a true seeker of Buddhism, I will impart it to you." Bonji beseeched him to do so. The Brahman said, "To prove your sincerity, first peel off your skin for parchment, break off one of your bones for a writing brush, grind up its marrow for pigment, and draw your blood to mix the ink. If you are willing to do all this, I will teach you the Buddhas verse."
Bonji was overjoyed. He peeled off his skin, dried it and made parchment of it. When he had done all the things demanded of him just as he had been told, the Brahman suddenly vanished. Bonji bewailed his fate, now gazing up to heaven, now flinging himself to the ground. The Buddha, feeling his sincerity, emerged from beneath the earth and taught him: "Practice that which accords with the Law; do not practice that which contradicts it. One who practices the Law will dwell in peace and security both in this life and the next."3 The moment Bonji heard this, he became a Buddha. This teaching consists of twenty Chinese characters.
Once [in one of his previous existences] when Shakyamuni was a wheel-turning king4 engaged in bodhisattva practice, he revered an eight-character phrase which stated: "He who is born is destined to die. To extinguish this cycle is to enter the joy of nirvana."5 As an offering to the eight characters, he transformed his own body into a thousand burning candles. Moreover, he inscribed those characters on stone walls and main roads so that those who read them would arouse the aspiration for enlightenment. The light of those candles reached as high as the Trayastrimsha Heaven,6 where it served as illumination for Taishaku and the other deities.
In another past existence Shakyamuni was carrying out bodhisattva austerities in search of Buddhism. One day a leper said to him, "I possess the true teaching which consists of twenty characters. If you will massage my leprous body, embrace and lick it, feeding me two or three pounds of your own flesh every day. I will impart the teaching to you." Shakyamuni did exactly as the leper said. As a result, he obtained the twenty-character teaching and attained Buddhahood. The teaching went, "The Tathagata is enlightened to the truth of nirvana, and has forever freed himself from the sufferings of birth and death. Anyone who wholeheartedly listens to him will surely obtain immeasurable happiness."7
There was once a person called Sessen Doji8 who lived in the Snow Mountains. Although he had mastered all non-Buddhist teachings, he had not yet encountered Buddhism. Then, one day, he happened to hear a terrifying demon recite a verse which began: "All is changeable, nothing is constant. This is the law of birth and death."9 The demon, however, spoke only the first eight characters of the verse, leaving the rest unsaid. Although Sessen Doji was exceedingly glad to have heard the first eight characters, he felt as though he had been given only half the wish-granting jewel.10 It was like a plant which flowers but bears no fruit. When he asked for the remaining eight characters, the demon replied, "I have had nothing to eat for several days. I am too dazed with hunger to preach the remaining eight characters. First give me some food!" Doji asked, "What do you eat?" The demon answered, "I feed on the warm flesh and blood of human beings. Though I can fly anywhere throughout the four continents in the space of a moment, I can obtain no warm flesh and blood. Human beings are protected by heaven, so I cannot kill them unless they commit evil."
Sessen Doji said, "I will make you an offering of my own body, so teach me the remaining eight characters." The demon said, "You are a cunning fellow, arent you? Surely you are trying to deceive me." Doji replied, "If one is offered gold and silver in exchange for tiles and stones, should he not accept it? If I die to no purpose on this mountain, then my body will be devoured by kites, owls, wolves and tigers, and will bring me no benefit whatsoever. On the other hand, if I give my life for the remaining eight characters, it will be like exchanging filth for food."
The demon was still suspicious. Doji assured him, saying, "I have guarantors to vouch for my honesty. Like the Buddhas of ages past, I call upon Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and the moon and the Four Heavenly Kings to be my witnesses." Finally the demon consented to impart the second half of the verse. Doji removed his deerskin garment and spread it out for the demon to sit upon. Then he knelt down and joined his palms together in supplication, begging the demon to be seated. The fierce demon complied and began to recite, "Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one enters the joy of nirvana."11 When Doji had learned the entire verse, he inscribed it on trees and stones. This completed, he cast himself into the demons mouth. Doji was actually Shakyamuni in one of his past existences, while the demon was Taishaku in disguise.
Bodhisattva Yakuo burnt his elbows for seventy-two thousand years as an offering to the Lotus Sutra. Bodhisattva Fukyo was for many years abused, humiliated, beaten and stoned by countless monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen because he venerated them by uttering the twenty-four characters which read: "I deeply respect you. I would not dare despise you or be arrogant, for you will all practice the bodhisattva way and surely attain Buddhahood."12 Bodhisattva Fukyo was the Lord Shakyamuni in one of his past lifetimes. King Suzudan performed menial labor in the service of the hermit Ashi for a thousand years in order to receive the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. He even went so far as to make a bed of his own body for his master. As a result, he was reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha.13
Myoho-renge-kyo consists of eight volumes. Reading these eight volumes is in effect equal to reading sixteen, for the sutra was expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha and verified by Taho Buddha. The sixteen volumes, in turn, represent innumerable volumes, for their truth was verified by all the Buddhas of the ten directions. In the same way, each character in the sutra equals two, for it was uttered by Shakyamuni and confirmed by Taho. Again, a single character equals innumerable others, for the validity of the sutra was attested to by all the Buddhas of the ten directions. A single wish-granting jewel can cause as many treasures to rain down as would two such jewels or, even more, a would innumerable jewels. Likewise, each character in the Lotus Sutra is like a jewel, and since it stands for innumerable others, it is like an uncountable number of jewels. The character myo [of Myoho-renge-kyo] was uttered by two tongues, the tongues of Shakyamuni and Taho. The tongues of these two Buddhas are like an eight-petaled lotus flower one petal overlapping another, on which rests a jewel, the character of myo.
The jewel of the character myo contains all the benefits which Shakyamuni Buddha received by practicing the six paramitas in his past existences: the benefits he obtained through the practice of almsgiving by offering his body to a starving tigress14 and by giving his life in exchange for that of a dove;15 the benefits he obtained when he was King Shudama,16 who, in order to observe the precepts, kept his word though it meant his death; the benefits he obtained as a hermit called Ninniku17 by enduring the tortures inflicted upon him by King Kari; the benefits he obtained as Prince Nose18 and as the hermit Shojari,19 and all his other benefits. We, people in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law, have not formed even a single good cause, but Shakyamuni, [by bestowing upon us the character myo,] has granted us as many benefits as if we ourselves had fulfilled all the practices of the six paramitas. This precisely accords with his statement. "Now this three-fold world is all my domain. The living beings in it are all my children."20 Bound as we common mortals are by earthly desires, we can instantly attain the same virtues as the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, for we receive all the virtues which he accumulated. The sutra states, "At the start I pledged to make all people perfectly equal to me, without any distinction between us."21 This means that those who believe in and practice the Lotus Sutra are equal to Shakyamuni Buddha.
To illustrate, a father and mother unite in conjugal harmony to give birth to a child. No one can dispute that the child is the flesh and blood of its parents. A calf begotten by an ox king will become an ox king; it will never become a lion king. A cub sired by a lion king will become a lion king; it will never become a human king or heavenly king. Now the votaries of the Lotus Sutra are the children of Shakyamuni Buddha, as the sutra states, "The living beings in it are all my children." It is not difficult for them to become kings of the Law just as Shakyamuni Buddha did.
Unfilial children, however, are not allowed to succeed their parents. King Yao22 had an heir named Tan Chu, and King Shun had a prince named Shang Chun. As both sons were lacking in filial piety, they were disowned by their respective fathers and demoted to the rank of commoners. Chung Hua and Yu were the children of commoners, but both were extremely filial. Hearing of this, King Yao and King Shun summoned Chung Hua and Yu, respectively, and abdicated their thrones to them. Commoners became royalty in a day. Just as a commoner can become a king, so can an ordinary person become a Buddha instantly. This is the heart of the doctrine of ichinen sanzen.
How, then, can we obtain this benefit? Should we peel off our skins as Gyobo Bonji did, follow Sessen Dojis example and offer our bodies to a demon, or emulate Bodhisattva Yakuo in burning our elbows? As the Great Teacher Chang-an stated, "You should distinguish between the shoju23 and shakubuku methods and never adhere solely to one or the other."24 What practice one should perform in order to master the True Law and attain Buddhahood depends upon the times. Were there no paper in Japan, then you should peel off your skin. Had the Lotus Sutra not yet been introduced to our country and the only individual to appear who knew it was a demon, then you should offer your body to him. Were there no oil available in our land, then you should burn your elbows. But of what use is it to peel off ones skin when the country is abundantly supplied with excellent paper?
Hsuan-tsang journeyed throughout India in search of the Law for seventeen years, covering a distance of a hundred thousand ri.25 Dengyo remained in China for only two years, but he traveled three thousand ri across the billowing sea to arrive there. They were both men, sages and worthies at that, and theirs was a more virtuous age. Never have I heard of a woman who journeyed a thousand ri in search of Buddhism as you did. True, the dragon kings daughter attained enlightenment without changing her dragon form, and the nun Mahaprajapati26 received a prediction that she would become a Buddha in the future. I am not certain, but they may have been female forms assumed by Buddhas or bodhisattvas. After all, those events occurred in the Buddhas lifetime.
A womans nature differs from a mans just as fire differs from water, fire being hot and water cold. Fishermen are skilled in catching fish, and hunters are proficient in trapping deer. A sutra states that it is a womans nature to be jealous, but no sutra says that women are good at seeking Buddhism. A womans mind is compared to a breeze; even if it were possible to bind the wind, one could never grasp a womans mind. A womans mind is likened to characters written on the surface of water; they do not remain a moment. A woman is compared to a liar; one cannot tell whether a liars words are true or false. A womans mind is compared to a river, for all rivers meander.
The Lotus Sutra, however, is the teaching which contains Shakyamunis declaration that he would now "honestly discard the provisional teachings."26 It is the sutra of which Taho Buddha said, "All that you [Shakyamuni Buddha] have expounded is the truth."28 It demands that its believers be "honest and upright, gentle in mind,"29 "gentle, peaceful and upright,"30 and so on. Those who believe in this sutra, therefore, must have minds which are as straight as a tight-stretched bowstring or a carpenters inking line. One may call dung sandalwood, but it will not have the sandalwoods fragrance. A liar never becomes a truthful person simply because one calls him honest. All the sutras are the Buddhas golden teachings, his true words. When compared with the Lotus Sutra, however, they are false, flattering, abusive or forked-tongued.31 The Lotus Sutra alone is the truth of truths. Only honest people are able to take faith in this sutra, a teaching free from all falsehood. Certainly you are a woman of true words.
Think of it! Even were one to meet a person who could cross the ocean carrying Mount Sumeru on his head, one could never find a woman like you. Even though one might find a person who could steam sand and make boiled rice of it, one could never meet a lady of your virtue. Let it be known that Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha, all the Buddhas of the ten directions, great bodhisattvas such as Jogyo and Muhengyo, Bonten, Taishaku, the Four Heavenly Kings and other deities will protect you and be with you always, just as a shadow accompanies the body. You are undoubtedly the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra among the women of Japan. Therefore, following the example of Bodhisattva Fukyo, I bestow on you the Buddhist name, Nichimyo Shonin.32
From Kamakura in Sagami Province to the northern province of Sado is a journey of more than a thousand ri over treacherous mountains and the raging sea. The wind and rain make untimely onslaughts; bandits lurk in the mountains and pirates lie in wait on the sea. The people at every stage and every post town are as bestial as dogs or tigers, and you must have felt as though you were undergoing the sufferings of the three evil paths. Moreover, we live in troubled times. Since last year our country has been filled with rebels, and finally, on the eleventh day of the second month of this year, a battle broke out.33 It is now almost the end of the fifth month, but society has not yet been restored to tranquillity. Nevertheless, despite all the risks involved, you traveled to Sado carrying your infant daughter, since her father, from whom you have long been separated, was not to be depended upon for her care.
I cannot even imagine the hardships you must have suffered during your journey, much less describe them in words, so I will lay down my writing brush.
The twenty-fifth day of the fifth month in the ninth year of Bunei (1272)
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 3, p. 43.
Designed by Will Kallander