Letter from Sado
This letter is addressed to Toki Jonin. It should also be shown to Shijo Kingo, Tonotsuji Juro, Sajiki
no Ama and my other disciples. Send me the names of those killed in the battles at Kyoto and Kamakura. Also please have those
who are coming here bring me the Geten Sho, volume two of the Hokke Mongu and volume four of the Hokke Gengi, as well as the
collected Imperial reports and edicts.
The most dreadful things in the world are the pain of fire, the flashing of swords and the shadow of
death. Even horses and cattle fear being killed; no wonder human beings are afraid of death. Even a leper clings to life;
no wonder a healthy person struggles to live. The Buddha taught that offering one's little finger for the sutra is more rewarding
than covering an entire galaxy with seven kinds of jewels. Sessen Doji offered his life, and Gyobo Bonji ripped off his own
skin to seek the truth of Buddhism. Since nothing is more precious than life itself, those who dedicate their l ives to the
Buddhist practice are certain to attain Buddhahood. If they are prepared to offer their lives, why should they begrudge any
other treasure for the sake of Buddhism? On the other hand, if one is loath to part with his material possessions, how can
he possibly give away his life, which is far more valuable?
Society dictates that one should repay a great obligation to another even at the cost of his own life.
Many warriors die for their lords, perhaps even more than one would imagine. A man will die to defend his honor; a woman will
die for a man. Fish want to survive; they deplore their pond's shallowness and dig holes to hid in, yet tricked by bait, they
take the hook. Birds in a tree fear that they are too low and perch in the top branches, yet bewitched by bait, they too are
caught in snares. Human beings are equally vulnerable. They give their lives for shallow, worldly matters but rarely for the
noble cause of Buddhism. Small wonder they do not attain Buddhahood.
Buddhism should be spread by the method of either shoju or shakubuku, depending upon the age. These
are analogous to the two worldly arts of the pen and the sword. The bodhisattvas of old practiced the Law as befitted the
times. Sessen Doji offered his own body when told that he would be taught the Law in return. Prince Satta gave his own flesh
and blood to carry out his bodhisattva practice. But should one sacrifice his life at a time when it is not required? In an
age when there is no paper, one should use his own skin. In an age when there are no pens, one should use his own bones. In
an age when society accepts the True Law and honors the percepts while denouncing those who break or ignore them, one should
strictly follow them all. In an age when Confucianism or Taoism is used to assail Buddhism, one should risk his life to debate
with the emperor, as did the priests Tao-an, Hui-yuan and Fa-tao. In and age when people confuse Hinayana and Mahayana, provisional
and true teachings or exoteric and esoteric doctrines, as though unable to distinguish gems from pebbles or cows' milk from
asses' milk, one should strictly differentiate between them, following the example of the Great Teachers T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo.
It is the nature of beasts to threaten the weak and fear the strong. Our contemporary scholars are just
like them. They despise a wise man without power but fear the evil rulers. They are merely servile courtiers. Only by defeating
a powerful enemy can one prove his real strength. When an evil ruler in consort with heretical priests tries to destroy true
Buddhism and banish a man of wisdom, those with the heart of a lion will surely attain Buddhahood as Nichiren did. I say this
not out of arrogance but because I am committed to true Buddhism. An arrogant man will be overcome with fear when he meets
a strong enemy, just like the haughty ashura who shrank and hid himself in a lotus flower blossoming in Munetchi Lake when
reproached by Taishaku. Even a word or phrase of true Buddhism will lead one to the path of enlightenment, if it suits the
times and the capacity of the people. Even though one may study a thousand sutras and ten thousand doctrines, he cannot attain
Buddhahood, should those teachings not fit the times and the people's capacity.
Now, twenty-six years since the battle of Hoji, the Kamakura government is again plagued by internal
strife. Rebellions have already broken out twice on the eleventh and the seventeenth day of the second month of this year.
Neither non-Buddhists nor the enemies of Buddhism can destroy the Buddha's True Law, but the Buddha's disciples definitely
can. As the sutra says, a parasite in the lion's bowels will devour the lion. A man of great fortune cannot be ruined by his
enemies but only by those close to him. The current rebellion is what the Yakushi Sutra means by "the disaster of internal
strife." The Ninno Sutra states, "When the sage departs, the seven types of calamity will invariably arise." The Konkomyo
Sutra states, "The thirty-three heavenly gods become furious because the king permits evil to run rampant." Although Nichiren
is not a sage, he is equal to one, for he embraces the Lotus Sutra exactly as the Buddha taught. Furthermore, since he has
long understood the ways of the world, all the prophecies he wrote have come true without exception. Therefore you should
not doubt what he has told you concerning your future existence.
Nichiren is the pillar, sun, moon, mirror and eyes of the ruling clan of Kanto. On the twelfth day of
the ninth month of last year when I was arrested, I boldly declared that if the country should lose Nichiren, the seven disasters
would occur without fail. Didn't this prophecy come true just sixty and then one hundred fifty days later? And those battles
were only the first signs. What lamenting there will be when the full effect appears People foolishly wonder why Nichiren
is persecuted by the government if he is truly a wise man. Yet it is all just as I expected. King Ajatashatru killed his father
and nearly murdered his mother, for which he was hailed by the six royal ministers. When Devadatta killed an arhat and shed
the Buddha's blood, Kokalika and others were delighted. Nichiren is father and mother to the ruling clan and is like a Buddha
or an arhat to this age. The sovereign and his subjects who rejoice at his exile are truly the most shameless of all. Those
heretical priests who have been bewailing the exposure of their errors may be overjoyed for the moment, but eventually they
will suffer no less than Nichiren and his disciples. Their joy is like Fujiwara Yasuhira's when he killed his brother and
Minamoto Yoshitsune. The devil who shall destroy the ruling clan has already entered the country. This is the meaning of the
passage from the Lotus Sutra which reads, " The devil enters one's body."
The persecutions Nichiren has faced are the result of karma formed in previous lifetimes. The Fukyo
chapter states, "... after expiating his sins," indicating that Bodhisattva Fukyo was vilified and beaten by countless slanderers
because of his past karma. So, too, it is with Nichiren, who in this life was born poor and lowly to a chandala family. In
my heart I cherish some faith in the Lotus Sutra, but my body, while outwardly human, is fundamentally that of an animal,
which once subsisted on fish and fowl and was conceived of the male and female fluids. My spirit dwells in this body like
the moon reflected in a muddy pond or gold wrapped in a filthy bag. Since my heart believes in the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear
even Bonten or Taishaku, but my body is still that of an animal. With such disparity between my body and my mind, no wonder
the foolish despise me. Without doubt, when compared to my body, my mind shines like the moon or gold. Who knows what slander
I may have committed in the past? I may possess the soul of Priest Shoi or the spirit of Mahadeva. Maybe I am descended from
those who contemptuously persecuted Bodhisattva Fukyo or am among those who forgot their original faith in the Lotus Sutra.
I may even be related to the five thousand arrogant people who would not remain to hear the sutra, or belong to the third
and lowest group of Daitsu Buddha's disciples. It is impossible to fathom one's karma. Iron, when heated in the flames and
pounded, becomes a fine sword. Wise men and saints are tested by abuse. My present exile is not because of any crime. It is
solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past heavy slanders and be freed from the three evil paths in the next.
The Hatsunaion Sutra states, "In the coming age, there will be those who enter the priesthood, don surplices
and make a show of studying my teachings. However, being neither diligent nor serious about their practice, they will slander
the Mahayana sutras. You should be aware that these people are the ones who are following the heretical religions of today."
Those who read this passage should reflect deeply on their own practice. The Buddha is saying that those of our contemporary
priests who are lazy and remiss were disciples of the six non-Buddhist teachers in Shakyamuni's day. The followers of Honen
who call themselves the Nembutsu sect not only turn people away from the Lotus Sutra, telling them to "discard, close, ignore
and abandon" it, but advocate chanting only the name of Amida, a Buddha described in the provisional teachings. The followers
of Dainichi, known as the Zen sect, claim that the true teachings of Buddhism have been transmitted apart from the sutras.
They ridicule the Lotus Sutra as nothing more than a finger pointing to the moon or a meaningless string of words. These priests
were certainly followers of the six non-Buddhist teachers, only now they have entered the stream of Buddhism. According to
the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha had enabled everyone to attain enlightenment by teaching the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
Yet, alas, when he illuminated the hundred and thirty-six hells underground, instead of finding them empty, he saw that the
slanderers of Buddhism who were people of incorrigible disbelief were still being confined there by the guards of hell. They
proliferated until they became the people of Japan today.
Since Nichiren himself committed slander in the past, he became a Nembutsu priest in this lifetime,
and for several years he also laughed at those who practiced the Lotus Sutra, saying, "Not a single person has ever attained
Buddhahood through that sutra" or "Not one person in a thousand can reach enlightenment through its teachings." Awakening
from my slanderous condition, I feel like a drunken son, who, in his stupor, strikes his parents but thinks nothing of it.
When he returns to his senses, he regrets it bitterly but to no avail. His offense is extremely difficult to erase. Even more
so are past slanders of the Law, which stain the depth of one's heart. A sutra states that both the crow's blackness and the
heron's whiteness are actually the deep stains of their past karma. The Brahmans and other non-Buddhists refused to recognize
this causality and claimed it was the work of nature, and today, when I expose people's slanders in an effort to save them,
they deny it with every excuse possible and argue back with Honen's words about barring the gates to the Lotus Sutra. From
Nembutsu believers this is scarcely surprising, but even the Tendai and Shingon priests actively support them. On the sixteenth
and the seventeenth day of the first month of this year, hundreds of priests and believers from the Nembutsu and other sects
came to debate with Nichiren. Representing the Nembutsu, Insho-bo said, "Saint Honen did not instruct us to discard the Lotus
Sutra. He simply wrote that everyone should chant the Nembutsu, and its great blessings will assure their ascension to the
pure land. Even the Tendai priests of Onjo-ji and Enryaku-ji temples exiled to this island praise Saint Honen and say how
excellent his teaching is. How do you dare try to refute it?" The local priests are even more ignorant than their counterparts
in Kamakura. They are absolutely pitiful.
How terrible are the slanders Nichiren committed in his past and present existences! Since you have
been born into this evil country and become the disciple of such a man, there is no telling what you may have to endure. The
Hatsunaion Sutra reads, "Men of devout faith, because you committed countless sins and accumulated much evil karma in the
past, you must expect to suffer retribution for everything you have done. You may be reviled, cursed with an ugly appearance,
be poorly clad and poorly fed, seek wealth in vain, be born to an impoverished or heretical family, or be persecuted by your
sovereign." It further states, "It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law that one can diminish in this lifetime
his suffering and retribution." Were it not for Nichiren, these passages from the sutra would virtually make the Buddha a
liar. For none, save Nichiren have experienced all eight sufferings described in the sutra: (1) to be slighted; (2) to posses
an ugly physical form; (3) to lack clothing; (4) to lack food; (5) to seek wealth in vain; (6) to be born to a poor family;
(7) to be born to a heretical family; and (8) to be persecuted by one's sovereign. One who climbs a high mountain must eventually
descend. One who slights another will in turn be despised. One who deprecates those of handsome appearance will be born ugly.
One who robs another of food and clothing is sure to fall into the world of hunger. One who mocks noble men or anyone who
observes the precepts will be born to a poor family. One who slanders a family that embraces the True Law will be born to
a heretical family. One who laughs at those who cherish the precepts will be born a commoner and meet with persecution from
his sovereign. This is the general law of cause and effect.
Nichiren's suffering, however, are not ascribable to this causal law. In the past he despised the votaries
of the Lotus Sutra and ridiculed the sutra itself, sometimes with exaggerated praise and other times with contempt. He has
met all eight of these terrible sufferings for such acts against the Lotus Sutra which is as magnificent as two jewels combined,
two moons shining side by side, two stars conjoined or one Mount Hua placed atop another. Usually these sufferings would torment
a person over many lifetimes, appearing one at a time. but Nichiren has denounced the enemies of the Lotus Sutra so severely
that all eight descended upon him at once. His situation is like that of a peasant heavily in debt to his lord and others.
As long as he remains on the estate, they are likely to defer his debts from one year to the next, rather than mercilessly
hounding him. But as soon as he tries to leave, everyone will rush over and demand that he repay everything at once. Thus
the sutra states, "It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law that one can diminish...his suffering and retribution."
The Lotus Sutra reads, "There are many ignorant people who will vilify and attack us, the votaries of
the Lotus Sutra, with swords, staves and stone... they will denounce us to the sovereign, ministers, Brahmans and other influential
men... we will be banished again and again." Without hell's guards to torment them, slanderers could never emerge from hell.
Were it not for the authorities who now persecute Nichiren, he could not expiate his past sin of slandering the Law. Nichiren
is like Bodhisattva Fukyo who lived in ages past, and the people of this day are like the priests, nuns and lay men and women
who disdained and persecuted Fukyo. The people are different, yet the cause is the same. Different people may kill their parents,
but they all fall into the same hell of incessant suffering. Since Nichiren is making the same cause as Fukyo, he is certain
to become a Buddha equal to Shakyamuni. Moreover, those who now persecute him are like Bhadrapala and the others who persecuted
Fukyo. They will be tortured in the depths of hell for a thousand aeons. I therefore pity them deeply and wonder what can
be done for them. Those who at first disdained and persecuted Fukyo later took faith in his teachings and became his followers.
The greater part of their slander was thus expiated, but even the small part which remained caused them to suffer as terribly
as one who had killed his parents a thousand times over. The people of this age refuse to repent at all and must therefore
suffer for interminable aeons as described in the Hiyu chapter, perhaps even for the duration of sanzen- or gohyaku-jintengo.
There are also those who appeared to believe in Nichiren but began doubting when they saw him persecuted.
They have not only forsaken the Lotus Sutra but actually think themselves wise enough to instruct Nichiren. The pitiful thing
is that these perverse people must suffer in the depths of hell even longer than the Nembutsu believers. Ashura contended
that the Buddha had only eighteen sensory functions but that he himself had nineteen. Brahmans claimed that the Buddha offered
only one way to enlightenment but they had ninety-five. In the same way, the renegade disciples say that although Priest Nichiren
is their teacher, he is too rigid, and they will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more flexible way. In so asserting, they are
being as ridiculous as fireflies laughing at the sun and moon, an anthill belittling Mount Hua, small inlets despising the
boundless sea, or a magpie mocking the Chinese phoenix. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The twentieth day of the third month in the ninth year of Bun'ei (1272)
There is very little writing paper here in the province of Sado, and to write to you individually would
take too long. However, if even one person fails to hear me, it will cause resentment. Therefore, I want all sincere believers
to meet and read this letter together for encouragement. When disaster strikes, our personal troubles seem insignificant.
I do not know how accurate the reports reaching me are, but there must surely be intense grieving over those killed in the
recent battles. What has become of Izawa no Nyudo and Sakabe no Nyudo? Send me news of Kawanobe, Yamashiro, Tokugyo-ji and
the others. Also, please be kind enough to send me the Essentials of Government in the Chen-kuan Era, the Anthology of Tales,
and the Esoteric Teachings of the Eight Sects. Without these, I cannot even write letters.