Letter to Nichimyo Shonin
Once there was a person named Gyobo Bonji. 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 Brahman 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 Buddha’s
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." 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 king
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." 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,
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."
There was once a person called Sessen Doji 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." 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. 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, aren’t 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." When Doji had learned the entire verse, he inscribed it on trees and stones. This completed,
he cast himself into the demon’s 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." 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.
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 tigress and by giving his life in exchange
for that of a dove; the benefits he obtained when he was King Shudama, who, in order to observe the precepts, kept his word
though it meant his death; the benefits he obtained as a hermit called Ninniku by enduring the tortures inflicted upon him
by King Kari; the benefits he obtained as Prince Nose and as the hermit Shojari, 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." 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." 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
Unfilial children, however, are not allowed to succeed their parents. King Yao 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. Ch’ung Hua and Yu were the children of commoners, but both were extremely
filial. Hearing of this, King Yao and King Shun summoned Ch’ung 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 Doji’s 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 shoju and shakubuku
methods and never adhere solely to one or the other." 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 one’s 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. 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 king’s daughter attained enlightenment without changing her dragon form, and
the nun Mahaprajapati 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 Buddha’s lifetime.
woman’s nature differs from a man’s 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 woman’s nature
to be jealous, but no sutra says that women are good at seeking Buddhism. A woman’s mind is compared to a breeze; even
if it were possible to bind the wind, one could never grasp a woman’s mind. A woman’s 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 liar’s
words are true or false. A woman’s mind is compared to a river, for all rivers meander.
The Lotus Sutra,
however, is the teaching which contains Shakyamuni’s declaration that he would now "honestly discard the provisional
teachings." It is the sutra of which Taho Buddha said, "All that you [Shakyamuni Buddha] have expounded is the truth." It
demands that its believers be "honest and upright, gentle in mind," "gentle, peaceful and upright," and so on. Those who believe
in this sutra, therefore, must have minds which are as straight as a tight-stretched bowstring or a carpenter’s inking
line. One may call dung sandalwood, but it will not have the sandalwood’s fragrance. A liar never becomes a truthful
person simply because one calls him honest. All the sutras are the Buddha’s golden teachings, his true words. When compared
with the Lotus Sutra, however, they are false, flattering, abusive or forked-tongued. 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.
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
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. 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
The twenty-fifth day of the fifth month in the ninth year of Bun’ei (1272)