Curing Karmic Disease
I see from your letter that you have been
stricken with a painful affliction. Knowing you are in agony
grieves me, but, on the other hand, it is cause for delight.
The Vimilakirti Sutra states, At that time the wealthy
to himself, I am ill, lying on my bed, [yet why does
the World-Honored One, man of great compassion, not take
pity on me?] ... At that time the Buddha said to Monjushiri,
Go visit Vimilakirti and inquire after his illness.
The Nirvana Sutra says, "At that time, the Thus Come
One ... assumed the appearance of one who is ill in body,
and lay on his right side like a sick man. The Lotus
Sutra states, [The Thus Come One is well and happy,]
with few ills and few worries.2
The eight volume of the Maka shikan states, Vimilakirti
lay in his sickbed in Vaishali3
and utilized his illness to expound his teachings . . .
The Thus Come One used his death to teach the eternity [of
life] and clarified the power [of Buddhism] through sickness.
It also says, There are six causes of illness: (1)
disharmony of the four elements;4
(2) improper eating or drinking; (3) inappropriate practice
of seated meditation; (4) attack by demons; (5) the work
of devils; and (6) the effects of karma."
The Nirvana Sutra reads, "There are
three types of people whose illness is extremely difficult
to cure. The first are those who slander the great vehicle;
the second, those who commit the five cardinal sins; and
the third, icchantikas or persons of incorrigible disbelief.
These three categories of illness are the gravest in the
It also states, "One who creates evil
karma in this life . . . will surely suffer [its retribution]
in hell.... By making offerings to the three treasures,
one can avoid falling into hell after death, but will instead
suffer the retribution in this life in the form of the afflictions
of the head, eye or back." The Maka shikan states,
"Even if one has committed grave offenses . . . their
retribution can be lessened in this life. Thus, illness
occurs when evil karma is about to be dissipated."
In his Daichido ron, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna says,
"Question: [...Answer:] If that is so, then none of
sutras from the Kegon to the Hannya haramitsu
is a secret teaching, but the Lotus Sutra is secret....
[The Lotus Sutra is] like a great physician who changes
poison into medicine." Tien-tai explained
the quotation further, saying, "This can be likened
to a skilled physician who changes poison into medicine....
That persons of the two vehicles were given the prophecy
of their enlightenment in this sutra means that it [the
sutra] changes poison into medicine. This is what the Daichido
ron means when it says, The various sutras are
not secret teachings; only the Lotus Sutra is secret.
" The Maka shikan says, "The Lotus Sutra
can cure them [illnesses], which is why it is called
myo or wonderful." Miao-lo says, "Because
it can cure that which is thought to be incurable, it is
called myo or wonderful."5
The Nirvana Sutra states, "King Ajatashatru
of Rajagriha was wicked by nature . . . He killed his father,
and thereafter, in a fit of remorse, he developed a high
Because of the fever from remorse, boils
broke out over his entire body. They were foul and evil-smelling,
repelling all who came near. At that time his mother Vaidehi,
tried to help by applying various medicines, but this only
made the boils worse; there appeared to be no hope of recovery.
The king said to his mother, These boils have a spiritual
cause and do not arise from a disharmony of the four elements.
Even if people say that there is a physician who can cure
them, that could not possibly be... Then the World-Honored
One, the compassionate and merciful teacher, entered into
meditation for the kings sake. While he dwelled in
the meditation, a brilliant ray of light shone forth from
the Buddha. This ray of clear coolness fell upon the body
of the king, and in that instant the boils were healed."
The seventh volume of the Lotus Sutra,
the sutra of the great wisdom of equality, says, "Because
this sutra provides good medicine for the ills of the people
of Jambudvipa. If a person who has an illness is able to
hear this sutra, then his illness will be wiped out and
he will know neither old age nor death."
In light of the above quotations, it would
seem that your illness cannot have originated anywhere outside
the six causes of disease. I will set aside the first five
causes for the moment. Illnesses of the sixth, which result
from karma, are the most difficult to cure. They vary in
severity and one cannot make any fixed pronouncements, but
we know that the gravest illnesses result from the karma
created by slandering the Lotus Sutra. Even Shen Nung, Huang
Ti,7 Hua To8
and Pien Chueh9
threw up their hands, and Jisui, Rusui,10
Jivaka11 and Vimalakirti
likewise kept silent. Such illnesses can only be cured by
the good medicine of Shakyamuni Buddhas Lotus Sutra,
as that sutra itself explains.
The Nirvana Sutra, referring to the Lotus
Sutra, states, "Even the offense of slandering this
correct teaching [will be eradicated] if one repents and
professes faith in the correct teaching.... No teaching
other than this correct teaching can save or protect one.
For this reason one should take faith in the correct teaching."
The Great Teacher Ching-hsi says, "The Nirvana Sutra
is itself pointing to the Lotus Sutra and saying that it
is the ultimate."12
He further says, "[Even if one reviles the correct
teaching and falls into the evil paths, one can create causes
for eventual attainment of the benefit.] It is like the
case of a person who falls to the ground, but who then pushes
himself up from the ground to rise to his feet again. Therefore,
even though one may slander the correct teaching, one will
eventually be saved from the evil paths."13
Bodhisattva Vasubandhu was originally a
scholar of Hinayana Buddhism. In an effort to prevent Mahayana
Buddhism from spreading throughout the five regions of India,
he wrote five hundred treatises on Hinayana doctrines. He
awoke to the error of his views, however, when he talked
with Bodhisattva Asanga.14
Vasubandhu told Asanga that he wanted to cut out his tongue
in order to eradicate the error of his former preaching.
Asanga restrained him, saying, "Instead, use your tongue
to praise Mahayana teachings." Then Vasubandhu immediately
wrote five hundred treatises on Mahayana doctrines in order
to refute Hinayana doctrines. He also vowed that he would
never preach another word of Hinayana teachings for the
rest of his life. In this way he eradicated his past offense
and was later reborn in the heaven where Bodhisattva Miroku
Bodhisattva Ashvaghosha, a native of eastern
India, was thirteenth among the successors of the Buddhas
teachings.16 At one
time Ashvaghosha had been a leader of Brahmanism. However,
when he debated with the Buddhist monk Punyayashas17
over the validity of their respective teachings, he quickly
realized the superiority of Buddhist teachings. Ashvaghosha
was prepared to behead himself in order to pay for his past
offense, saying, "I have been my own worst enemy, leading
myself to hell." But Punyayashas admonished him, saying,
"Do not behead yourself! Instead, use your brains and
your mouth to praise Mahayana teachings." Ashvaghosha
soon thereafter wrote the Daijo kishin ron or "Awakening
of Faith in the Mahayana," in which he refuted all
Brahman teachings as well as Hinayana teachings. This marked
the beginning of the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in India.
The Great Teacher Chi-tsang18
of Chia-hsiang-ssu temple was among the most outstanding
scholars in China. He was the founder of the Sanron school,
and lived in Hui in Wu. Believing that none could equal
him in knowledge, he raised the banner of his pride to the
highest place. He challenged the Great Teacher Tien-tai
to discuss the meaning of the passage which states: "Among
the sutras I have preached, now preach, and will preach,
[this Lotus Sutra is the most difficult to believe and the
most difficult to understand]." In the debate, Chi-tsang
was soundly defeated, and thereupon renounced his misguided
beliefs. In order to expiate his serious offense of the
slander of the correct teaching and those who upheld it,
he gathered more than one hundred eminent scholars and begged
the Great Teacher Tien-tai Chih-che to lecture
to them. Chi-tsang used his body as a bridge for the Great
Teacher Tien-tai to climb onto [the preaching
platform], supporting Tien-tais feet with
his head.19 Moreover,
he served Tien-tai for seven years, cutting
firewood and drawing water for him. He ceased giving lectures
of his own, dispersed his followers and, in order to purge
himself of his great conceit, refrained from reciting the
Lotus Sutra.20 After
the Great Teacher Tien-tais death, Chi-tsang
had an audience with the emperor of the Sui dynasty to pay
his respects. As he was leaving, he clutched His Majestys
knees and tearfully bade him farewell. Sometime later Chi-tsang
looked into an old mirror and, seeing his reflection, condemned
himself for his past errors. All these many acts of penitence
were done to eradicate his evil karma.
The Lotus, the wonderful sutra of the single
vehicle, is the golden words of the three groups of Buddhas.21
Likened to a bright jewel, it ranks highest among all the
sutras which "I have preached, now preach, and will
preach." There are passages in the Lotus Sutra which
say, "Among the sutras, it [the Lotus Sutra] holds
the highest place," and "[. . . among those sutras]
the Lotus is the foremost! The Great Teacher
Dengyo says that [the Hokke (Lotus) sect is] the very one
founded by Shakyamuni Buddha himself.22
I have made a thorough study of the various
Shingon sutras such as the Dainichi, Kongocho and Soshitsuji,
but have found nothing written in them to compare with the
above passages of the Lotus Sutra. The claim [that these
sutras are superior to the Lotus Sutra] appears to be no
more than the prejudiced view held by Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih,
Pu-kung, Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho. Now, more than ever,
we realize that it is the real intent of the Buddhas Shakyamuni
and Dainichi to place the Lotus Sutra above all other sutras.
When the three great teachers Kobo, Jikaku and Chisho, the
founders of the Shingon teachings in Japan, went to China
during the Tang dynasty, they inherited from Hui-kuo23
the deceptions and delusions originally held by the three
Tripitaka masters Shan-wu-wei, Chin-kang-chih and Pu-kung.
Returning to Japan, they propagated the Lotus Sutra and
the Shingon teachings in such a way as to make it seem that
the dim light of fireflies -- the Shingon mandalas of the
two realms25 -- outshone
the brilliant moon of the Lotus Sutra, the supreme vehicle
which surpasses all other sutras of the past, present and
future. Not only that, they slandered the Lotus Sutra, saying
that it was a work of "childish theory" and belonged
to "the region of darkness." However, these comments
were like a dagger turned against those who made them. It
is not the Lotus Sutra but the Dainichi Sutra that is filled
with childish theory and is in the region of darkness. The
founders of the Shingon teachings were warped, to begin
with. So how could their disciples and followers be upright!
Contamination at the source of a river will pollute its
entire length. Because of this, the Land of the Sun has
had a long, dark night and the Sun Tree is now about to
be blighted by an alien frost.
Although you were not in the mainstream
of Shingon, you were still a retainer of a patron of that
teaching. You lived for many years in a house whose family
was dedicated to an erroneous doctrine, and month after
month your mind was infected by the teachers of error. Though
huge mountains may crumble and the great seas dry up, this
offense of yours will not easily pass away. However, because
of the influence of past karmic bonds and the mercy that
the Buddha bestows on you in this lifetime, you have met
me, a priest of humble learning, although you least expected
it, and have determined to reform your ways. Therefore you
will be spared worse suffering in the future, though at
the moment your offense has brought on these boils from
which you suffer.
King Ajatashatru suffered from severe boils
because he committed the five cardinal sins and slandered
the correct teaching. But his boils disappeared instantly
when the light produced by the Buddhas "moon-loving"
meditation illuminated his body. And, though it had been
predicted that the king had only twenty-one days left to
live, his life span was extended forty years. In deep appreciation,
he earnestly requested one thousand arhats to record the
golden words of the Buddhas lifetime,26
thus spreading the Buddhas teachings into the ages
of the Former, Middle and Latter Days of the Law.
Your boils have resulted from only one
offense -- slandering the correct teaching. The beneficent
power of the Mystic Law you now embrace is superior to that
of the "moon-loving" meditation. There is no reason
why your boils cannot be healed and your life span extended.
If these words of mine do not prove to be true, you should
shout, "The Buddha, the eye of the entire world, is
a great liar, and the Lotus, the wonderful sutra of the
single vehicle, is a scripture full of untrue flourishes!
The World-Honored One should give me proof if he cares about
his good name! All the sages and worthies should come to
protect me if they do not want to be untrue to their vows!"
A letter cannot convey all that one would
like to say, and words cannot fully express what is in the
heart. The rest will have to wait until the next time we
With my deep respect,
The third day of the eleventh month
Reply to Ota Nyudo
- Vimalakirti: See p. 89, footnote 63.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 15. This is the answer to a question
addressed to Shakyamuni Buddha by the Bodhisattvas of
the Earth: "Is the World-Honored One in comfort,
with few ailments and few troubles?"
- Vaishali: One of the sixteen major countries in ancient
India. The Licchavi tribe, to which Vimalakirti belonged,
lived here. Vaishali was also one of the VajJi Allied
Nations. Shakyamuni Buddha often visited Vaishah to preach
Buddhism. After the Buddha's passing, the second assembly
for compiling the Buddha's teachings was held there.
- Four elements: See p. 191, footnote 113. 5. Guketsu,
- Moon-loving meditation: Here the boundless compassion
of the Buddha is compared to the moonlight which releases
one from uneasiness and brings him peace of mind.
- Shen Nung and Huang Ti: Two of the Three Rulers, legendary
ideal rulers of ancient China who were skilled in medical
- Hua To: A physician of the Later Han, said to have been
especially skilled in surgical operations. When acupuncture
and medicine proved ineffectual, he performed surgery
under anesthesia. He invented a system of physical exercise
which he himself practiced. As a result, he is said to
have been still vigorous even at the age of one hundred.
- Pien Ch'fleh: A physician of the Spring and Autumn period
(722-481 B.c.) in China. In his boyhood he learned medical
arts and is said to have been skilled in treating almost
all kinds of diseases.
- Jisui and Rusui: A father and son, both excellent physicians,
who are described in the Konkomya Sutra. According
to that sutra, they lived countless aeons ago. At one
time, an epidemic broke out and spread through their country.
jisui was too old to perform medical treatment, but Rusui
mastered his medical art and, in his father's place, saved
the people from the epidemic.
- Jivaka: An Indian physician in Shakyamuni's time. Immediately
after birth he is said to have seized hold of the acupuncture
needle and medicine bag. He had devout faith in Buddhism
and also served as a minister to King Ajatashatru.
- Hokke Mongu Ki.
- Asanga: Elder brother of Vasubandhu. According to tradition,
Vasubandhu heard that his elder brother was ill and went
to visit him. Asanga explained that he had become ill
with grief thinking of the suffering his younger brother
would incur from slandering Mahayana, and persuaded him
to renounce his faith in Hinayana. See also p. 106,
- Heaven where Bodhisattva Miroku lives: Tushita Heaven,
the fourth of the six heavens in the world of desire.
Miroku is described in a sutra as having been reborn in
this heaven after his death.
- Shakyamuni's successors: See Twenty-four successors
in the Glossary.
- Punyayasha: One of the Buddha's twenty-four successors.
A native of Pataliputra in Magadha, he was entrusted with
the teachings by Parshva and, transferred them to Ashvaghosha.
- Chi-tsang (549-623): Also called Chia-hsiang,
after the name of the temple where he lived. He laid the
foundation for the San-lun (Sanron) sect in sixth-century
China but later became a follower of T'ien-t'ai.
- This means that when T'ien-t'ai mounted an elevated
seat for preaching, Chi-tsang carried T'ien-t'ai on his
back and lifted him up.
- That is, Chi-tsang felt he was not qualified to recite
the Lotus Sutra. A passage from the Gosho "Requital
for the Buddha's Favor" reads, ". . . he [Chi-tsang]
said, 'if I were to go on standing before my disciples
and lecturing on the Lotus Sutra, they might suppose that
I have the ability to understand the sutra correctly,
when in fact I do not.' Chi-tsang was both older and more
eminent than T'ien-t'ai, and yet, in the presence of others,
he deliberately put his teacher T'ien-t'ai on his back
and carried him across the river."
- Three sages: Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha and all
the other Buddhas of the ten directions.
- Hokke Shfiku.
- Hui-kuo (746-8o5): The seventh master in the
lineage of esoteric (Shingon) Buddhism. He studied esoteric
teachings under Pu-k'ung. When Kobo came to China from
Japan, Hui-kuo transferred the doctrines of the Womb World
mandala of the Dainichi and the Diamond World mandala
of the Kongogawa Sutra to him.
- Fa-ch'ilan: A Chinese priest of the esoteric teachings.
He transferred the doctrines of the esoteric teachings
to Jikaku and Chisho when they journeyed to China in 838
and in 853, respectively. He wrote many treatises
on the esoteric teachings.
- Two Shingon mandalas: See p.156, footnote
- Reference to the first council, which began the task
of compiling the Buddha's teachings. In the year when
Shakyamuni died, this council was convened, with the support
of King Ajatashatru, in Pippala Cave at Rajagriha in Magadha.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol 2.