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Letter to Ichinosawa Nyudo

In the first year of the Kocho era (1261), when the reverse marker of Jupiter was in the sector of the sky with the cyclical sign kanoto-tori, on the twelfth day of the fifth month, I incurred the displeasure of the government authorities and was exiled to the village of Ito in the province of Izu. It is the place where the subcommander of the Imperial Guard Minamoto no Yoritomo was banished. However, before long, in the third year of the Kocho era (1263), the year with the cyclical sign mizunoto-i, on the twenty-second day of the second month, I was pardoned and allowed to return to Kamakura.

Then, in the eighth year of the Bun'ei era (1271), the year with the cyclical sign kanoto-hitsuji, on the twelfth day of the ninth month, I once more incurred the displeasure of the government and was summarily sentenced to have my head cut off. Because of certain circumstances, the execution was temporarily postponed. Instead, I was placed in the custody of the former governor of Musashi, who held the island province of Sado in the north as part of his feudal domain. In accordance with the designs of his retainers, I was sent to that island.

The inhabitants of the island are a wild and barbarous lot, with no understanding of the law of cause and effect. Needless to say, they treated me very roughly. Nevertheless, I did not harbor the slightest resentment against them. The reason is this: Even the ruler of the country of Japan, the lord of Sagami, whom one would expect to have at least some understanding of principles, failed to investigate the circumstances of my case, though I was in fact attempting to aid the nation. Instead, contrary to all reason and justice, he had me condemned to death. Therefore, even the good men among his subjects were not to be counted upon, and so there was surely no point in hating the evil ones.

Since the time I began declaring this teaching, I have resolved to dedicate my life to the Lotus Sutra and to spread my name in the pure lands of the Buddhas of the worlds in the ten directions. Hung Yen took the liver of his dead lord, Duke Yi of Wei, cut open his own stomach and inserted the liver before he died. Yu Jang, because his lord, Chih Po, had suffered disgrace, fell on his sword to avenge the wrong. These men went to such lengths to repay what was no more than a worldly debt of gratitude. The reason why people continue to transmigrate through the six paths for countless kalpas without ever being able to attain Buddhahood is because they begrudge their bodies and do not lay down their lives for the sake of the Lotus Sutra.

The bodhisattva called Kiken for a period of twelve hundred years burned his own body as an offering to the Buddha Pure Bright Excellence of Sun and Moon, and for seventy-two thousand years he burned his arms as an offering to the Lotus Sutra, after which he was reborn as Bodhisattva Yakuo. Bodhisattva Fukyo over a period of many kalpas suffered abuse and ridicule and was attacked with sticks and staves, tiles and rocks, all for the sake of the Lotus Sutra. But was he not reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha? Thus we can see that the path to Buddhahood requires different forms of practice depending upon the age.

In our present day, the Lotus Sutra is of course supreme as it was in the past. And yet, because the way of practicing it differs from age to age, even if one were to retire to the mountain forests and read and recite it, or live in the villages and expound its doctrines, or observe all the various precepts or even burn one's arms in offering, he would nevertheless fail to attain Buddhahood.

It would seem as though the teachings of Buddhism are now flourishing in Japan. And yet there is something strange in regard to these teachings, though people are unaware of it. They are like insects that unwittingly fly into a flame, or birds that enter the mouth of a serpent.

The teachers of the Shingon sect and the adherents of the Kegon, Hosso, Sanron, Zen, Pure Land and Ritsu sects all believe that they have grasped the Law and freed themselves from the sufferings of birth and death. But the founders who first established these sects failed to discern the true meaning of the sutras upon which they based their teachings. They proceeded only in a shallow manner, employing the sutras in a way that fitted with their own ideas. In doing so, they went against the Lotus Sutra, which means that their teachings were not in accord with the true intention of the Buddha. They were unaware of this, however, and as they proceeded to propagate their doctrines, both the rulers of the nation and the common people came to believe in them. In addition, these doctrines spread to other countries, and many years have gone by since they were first propagated. As a result, the scholars of this latter age, unaware that the founders of these sects were in error, look up to those who practice and propagate their teachings as men of wisdom.

If the source is muddy, the stream will not flow clear; if the body is bent, the shadow will not stand upright. Shan-wu-wei and the others who founded the Shingon sect were already destined for hell. Perhaps among them there were some who repented in time and hence managed to avoid falling into hell. Or perhaps there were some who merely propagated the teachings of their own sutras and neither praised nor attacked the Lotus Sutra, and thus, though they could not free themselves from the sufferings of birth and death, were nevertheless able to avoid falling into the evil paths. But the people of this latter age are not aware of these matters, and instead all alike put their faith in these teachings. They are like people who board a damaged vessel and set out upon the great sea, or like people who, drunk with wine, lie down to sleep in the midst of a fire.

When I, Nichiren, perceived this state of affairs, I immediately aroused the aspiration for enlightenment [in order to save them] and began to speak out regarding the matter. I was aware from the beginning that, no matter how I addressed them, the people of the time would probably not believe me, and that I would on the contrary most likely be sentenced to exile or execution.

The nation of Japan today has turned its back on the Lotus Sutra and cast aside Shakyamuni Buddha. For that reason, its people are not only bound to fall into the great citadel of the Avichi Hell in their next existence, but they will surely encounter great troubles in their present existence as well. That is to say, invaders will come from a foreign land, and everyone, from the ruler on down to the common people, will lament with a single voice.

To illustrate, if a thousand brothers join together to slay their parent, the burden of guilt will not be divided among them in a thousand portions. Rather each of every one of the brothers must [receive the full karmic retribution, and all alike will] fall into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering, to remain there for the space of a kalpa. And the same is true of [the people of] this country of Japan.

Since the far-off time of gohyaku-jintengo, this saha world has been the domain of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings. Of the vast earth, the skies, the mountains and seas, the plants and trees, there is not a single portion that belongs to any other Buddha. And all the living beings within it are likewise the children of Shakyamuni.

For example, it is said that at the beginning of the Kalpa of Formation, the god Bonten descends from on high and gives birth to the various beings who inhabit the six paths. Just as Bonten is then the parent of all those beings, in the same way Shakyamuni Buddha is the parent of all living beings in this world. Moreover, the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni is the enlightened teacher for all the living beings in this country of ours. It is thanks to our teacher that we can understand who our parents are. It is owing to Shakyamuni that we can distinguish black from white.

But because of the teachings of men like Shan-tao and Honen, who have been possessed by the Devil of the Sixth Heaven, the practitioners of the Nembutsu proceed to build Amida halls throughout the country. They build Amida halls in each district, each village and each hamlet, or the general populace build Amida halls in their own houses, or people make painted or wooden images of Amida Buddha to put up in their houses and dwellings. The name of Amida is on everyone's lips, some chanting it in a loud voice, some chanting it ten thousand times, some chanting it sixty thousand times [a day]. And persons with a degree of wisdom make haste to encourage them in these practices. This is like adding dried grass to a fire, or loosing winds to blow upon the waters and stir them up.

Of the inhabitants of this country, there is not one who is not a disciple and subject of the Lord Shakyamuni. If a person does not paint or carve a single image of Amida or of any Buddha other than Shakyamuni, or does not chant Amida's name, then, although he may be an evil person, he still has not clearly shown that he has rejected Shakyamuni Buddha. But all those persons who worship Amida Buddha exclusively have already clearly shown that they have rejected Shakyamuni Buddha. Those who chant the vain and profitless formula of the Nembutsu--they are the truly evil ones!

This Buddha, who is neither father nor mother to them, nor sovereign nor teacher, they treat with the kind of tenderness one might show to a beloved wife. At the same time, they cast aside Shakyamuni, our real sovereign, parent and enlightened teacher, and fail to open their mouths to recite the Lotus Sutra, which is like a wet nurse to us. How can they be called anything but unfilial?

And these unfilial persons number not just one or two, a hundred or a thousand; they include not just the inhabitants of one or two provinces. From the ruler on down to the common people, everyone in the entire land of Japan, without a single exception, is guilty of committing three of the cardinal sins!

As a result, the sun and moon change color and glare down on this, the earth shakes and heaves in anger, great comets fill the sky, and huge fires break out all over the land. Yet these persons fail to perceive their error and instead take pride in what they do, saying, "We unceasingly recite the Nembutsu, and in addition we build Amida halls and pay honor to Amida Buddha!"

Such ways may seem wise, but in fact they are worthless. Suppose there is a young couple. The husband is so in love with his wife, and the wife thinks so tenderly of her husband, that they completely forget about their parents. As a result, the parents go about in thin clothing, while the bedroom of the young couple is warm and snug. The parents have nothing to eat, while the young couple's stomachs are full. Such young people are committing the worst kind of unfilial conduct, and yet they fail to see that they are doing wrong. And a wife who would deliberately turn her back on her own mother, a husband who would go against his own father--are they not guilty of an even graver offense?

Amida Buddha dwells in a region ten billion Buddha lands away and has not the slightest connection with this saha world. However one may claim [that such a connection exists], there is no basis for it. It is like trying to mate a horse with an ox, or a monkey with a dog!

I, Nichiren, am the only person who is aware of this. If, begrudging my life, I should refrain from speaking out, I would not only be failing to repay the debt of gratitude I owe to my country, but I would also be acting as the enemy of the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni. On the other hand, I knew from the outset that if I set aside my fears and declared matters exactly as they are, I would be sentenced to death. And even if I should escape the death penalty, I would surely be condemned to exile. So great is the debt of gratitude I owe the Buddha, however, that I have not let myself be intimidated by others but have spoken out on these matters.

Just as I anticipated, I was exiled no less than twice. During the second of these sentences, in the summer of the ninth year of the Bun'ei era (1272), I was sent to a place called Ichinosawa in Ishida Village in the province of Sado. The headman and his men in the region to which I had been assigned, in both official and unofficial matters, treated me with greater malice than if I had been a lifelong enemy of their parents or a foe from some previous existence. But the nyudo of the lodgings where I was put up, as well as his wife and servants, though they seemed fearful at first, privately came to look on me with pity, perhaps because of some bond formed between us in a previous existence.

The rations of food that I received from the headman were very scanty. And since I had a number of disciples with me, we often had no more than two or three mouthfuls of rice to a person. Sometimes we portioned out the food on square trays made of bark, and sometimes we simply received it in the palms of our hands and ate it then and there. The master of the house in private treated us with compassion. Though outwardly he appeared to be fearful of the authorities, at heart he had great pity for us, something that I will never forget in any future lifetime. At the time, he meant more to me than the very parents who gave me birth. However great the obligations I incurred with respect to him, I must endeavor to somehow repay them. Even more, I must not fail to do what I had promised him.

The nyudo was deeply concerned at heart about the life to come, and had for a long time devoted himself to chanting the Nembutsu. Moreover, he had constructed an Amida hall and dedicated his lands in offering to Amida Buddha. He was also afraid of how the steward of the area might react, and so he did not come forward and take faith in the Lotus Sutra. From his point of view, this was probably the most reasonable course to take. But at the same time, he will without doubt fall into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering. I had thought, for example, that even if I were to send him a copy of the Lotus Sutra, he would not be willing to abandon the practice of the Nembutsu out of his fear of worldly opinion, and so it would simply be like adding water to fire. There was no doubt that the flood of his slander of the Law would extinguish the small flame of his faith in the Lotus Sutra. And if he were to fall into hell, I, Nichiren, would in turn be to blame. Thus, while asking myself anxiously again and again what ought to be done, I have so far not sent him a copy of the Lotus Sutra.

[In the midst of all this,] I received word that the copy of the Lotus Sutra that I had earlier intended to send him had been destroyed in a fire at Kamakura. More than ever it seemed as though the nyudo had no connection with the Lotus Sutra, and I wondered at myself for ever having promised to send him a copy.

Moreover, when the nun of Kamakura was leaving Sado to return home, she found herself in difficulty for money to cover her journey. Although reluctant to do so, I asked the nyudo to provide for her expenses, though I regret having made such a request. I could of course simply return the sum of money to him along with interest. But my disciples point out that I would still be failing to keep my original promise. I am faced with difficulties any way I turn, and yet I am afraid that people may think I am given to irresponsible and deceitful behavior. Therefore I feel I have no choice but to send a copy of the entire Lotus Sutra in ten volumes. Since the nyudo's grandmother seems at heart to be more deeply drawn to the sutra than does the nyudo himself, I entrust it to you for her sake.

The things I, Nichiren, say sound like the words of a fool, and so no one heeds them. Nevertheless, I must note that in the tenth month of the eleventh year of the Bun'ei era (1274), cyclical sign kinoe-inu, when the kingdom of the Mongols launched an attack on Tsukushi, the defenders of the island of Tsushima held fast, but So, the vice governor of Tsushima, fled. As a result, the Mongols were able to attack the peasants and other commoners, killing or taking prisoners among the men, and herding the women together and tying them by the hands to their ships or taking them prisoner. Not a single person escaped.

In the attack on the island of Iki the same thing happened. And when the Mongol ships pressed on [to Tsukushi], the magistrate who was in charge of the area, the former governor of Buzen, fled in defeat. Several hundred of the Matsurato men were struck down or taken prisoner, and the population of one costal village after another suffered the same fate as the people of Iki and Tsushima.

And when the Mongols attack the next time, what will it be like? When thousands and millions of fighting men from their country come swarming and pressing upon Japan, what will happen?

Their forces in the north will first of all attack the island of Sado. In no time at all, they will kill the stewards and constables of the area. And when the common people attempt to flee to the northern mountains, they will be killed or taken prisoner, or will perish in the mountains.

We must stop to consider why such terrible things should occur. The reason, as I stated earlier, is that every single person in this country has committed three of the cardinal sins. Therefore, Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and moon and the Four Heavenly Kings have entered into the body of the Mongol ruler and are causing him to chastise our nation.

I, Nichiren, may be a fool, but, having declared myself to be the messenger of Shakyamuni Buddha and the votary of the Lotus Sutra, it is nothing short of amazing that my words go unheeded. And because of this failure, the nation now faces ruin. Not only are my words not heeded, but I have been driven out of province after province, been dragged about, attacked and beaten, or sent into exile, and my disciples have been killed or had their lands taken away from them.

If someone were to mete out such treatment to an actual messenger of his parents, could that person's actions possibly be condoned? And I, Nichiren, am parent to all the people of Japan, I am their sovereign, I am their enlightened teacher! Should they turn against one like me?

It is absolutely certain that those who chant the Nembutsu are destined to fall into the hell of incessant suffering. You may depend on it!

When the Mongols come to make their assault, what will you do? Even if you should put this copy of the Lotus Sutra on your head or hang it around your neck and flee to the northern mountains, the fact remains that over a period of many years you have given support to the Nembutsu believers and have recited the Nembutsu yourself, and in doing so have made yourself the enemy of Shakyamuni Buddha and of the Lotus Sutra.

If at that time you should lose your life, you must bear no resentment toward the Lotus Sutra. And when you are brought before King Emma in his palace, what will you say? At that time, though you may feel foolish in saying so, you will probably declare that you are a follower of Nichiren.

But enough of that. As for this copy of the Lotus Sutra that I am sending, you should ask Gakujo-bo to read it for you regularly. But whatever anyone may say, you must not allow any of the Nembutsu priests, Shingon teachers or observers of the precepts to look at it. And though people may claim to be disciples of Nichiren, if they do not possess some proof of that fact from my hand, you must not trust them.

With my deep respect,
Nichiren

The eighth day of the fifth month
 

  

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