The Gift of Rice
- Hakumai Ippyo Gosho -
I have received the sack of rice, the sack of taro and
the basket of river-plants which you were so good as to
send me by your servants.
Man has two kinds of treasure: clothing and food. One sutra
states, "All sentient beings live on food." Man
depends on food and clothing to survive in this world. For
fish, water is the greatest treasure and for trees, the
soil in which they grow. Man's life is sustained by what
he eats. That is why food is his treasure.
However, life itself is the most precious of all treasures.
Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the
value of a single human life. Life is like a lamp, and food
like oil. When the oil is gone, the flame will die out,
and without food, life will cease.
People place the word "Nam" before the names
of all deities and Buddhas in worshiping them. But what
is the meaning of "Nam"? This word derives from
Sanskrit, and means to devote one's life. Ultimately it
means to offer our lives to the Buddha. Some may have wives,
children, retainers, estates, gold, silver or other treasures
according to their status. Others have nothing at all. Yet
whether one has wealth or not, life is still the most precious
treasure. This is why the saints and sages of ancient times
offered their lives to the Buddha, and were themselves able
to attain Buddhahood.
Sessen Doji offered his body to a demon to receive a teaching
composed of eight characters. Bodhisattva Yakuo, having
no oil, burned his elbow as an offering to the Lotus Sutra.
In our own country, Prince Shotoku peeled off the skin of
his hand on which to copy the Lotus Sutra, and Emperor Tenji
burned his third finger as an offering to Shakyamuni Buddha.
Such austere practices are for saints and sages, but not
for ordinary people.
Yet even common mortals can attain Buddhahood if they cherish
one thing: earnest faith. In the deepest sense, earnest
faith is the will to understand and live up to the spirit,
not the words, of the sutras. What does this mean? In one
sense, it means that offering one's only robe to the Lotus
Sutra is equivalent to tearing off one's own skin, and in
a time of famine, offering the Buddha the single bowl of
rice on which one's life depends is to dedicate one's life
to the Buddha. The blessings of such dedication are as great
as those Bodhisattva Yakuo received by burning his own elbow,
or Sessen Doji by offering his flesh to a demon.
Therefore, saints consecrated themselves by offering their
own bodies, whereas common mortals may consecrate themselves
by the sincerity with which they give. The precept of donation
expounded in the seventh volume of the Maka Shikan
in effect teaches the spirit of offering.
The true path of life lies in the affairs of this world.
The Konkomyo Sutra reads, "To have a profound
knowledge of this world is itself Buddhism." The Nirvana
sutra reads, "All scriptures or teachings, from whatever
source, are ultimately the revelation of Buddhist truth."
In contrast, the sixth volume of the Lotus Sutra reads,
"No affairs of life or work are in any way different
from the ultimate reality." In discussing the underlying
significance of these quotations, Miao-lo taught that the
first two sutras are profound, but still shallow when compared
to the Lotus Sutra. Whereas they relate secular matters
in terms of Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra explains that secular
matters ultimately are Buddhism.
The sutras which came before the Lotus Sutra taught that
all phenomena derive from one's mind. The mind is like the
earth, and phenomena are like the plants growing in the
earth. But the Lotus Sutra teaches that the mind is one
with the earth and the earth is one with its plants. The
provisional sutras say that a tranquil mind is like the
moon and a pure heart is like a flower, but the Lotus Sutra
states that the flower and moon are themselves heart and
mind. Therefore, it is obvious that rice is not merely rice
but life itself.
Because the regent would not taste the sumptuous food [of
true Buddhism], there was nothing more I could do, and so
I retired to the forest. I am an ordinary man and find it
hard to endure the winter's cold or the summer's heat. Nor
do I have enough to eat. I could never match the feat of
the man said to have walked ten thousand ri on a
single meal, or that of Confucius and his grandson, who
ate only nine meals in one hundred days. Without food, I
could not long continue to recite the sutra or concentrate
Thus, your offerings are more than mere gifts. Perhaps
the Lord Buddha himself advised you to care for me, or it
might be that your karma from the past has impelled you
to do so. It is impossible to say all I want to in this
With my deep respect.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1.