Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life
- Shoji Ichidaiji Kechimyaku Sho -
I have just carefully read your letter. To reply, the ultimate
law of life and death as transmitted from the Buddha to
all living beings is Myoho-renge-kyo. The five characters
of Myoho-renge-kyo1 were transferred
from the two Buddhas inside the Treasure Tower, Shakyamuni
and Taho, to Bodhisattva Jogyo, carrying on a heritage unbroken
since the infinite past. Myo represents death and ho represents
life. Life and death are the two phases passed through by
the entities of the Ten Worlds, the entities of all sentient
beings which embody the law of cause and effect (renge).
T'ien-t'ai said, "You must realize that the interrelated
actions and reactions of sentient beings and their environments
all manifest the law of simultaneity of cause and effect."2
Sentient beings and their environments" here means
the reality of life and death. The law of simultaneity of
cause and effect is clearly at work in everything that lives
The Great Teacher Dengyo said, "Birth and death are
the mysterious workings of the life essence. The ultimate
reality of life lies in existence and nonexistence."3
No phenomena -- heaven or earth, Yin or Yang4,
the sun and moon, the five planets5,
or any life-condition from Hell to Buddhahood -- are free
from birth and death. Thus the life and death of all phenomena
are simply the two phases of Myoho-renge-kyo. In his Maka
Shikan, T'ien-t'ai says, "The emergence of all things
is the manifestation of their intrinsic nature, and their
extinction, the withdrawal of that nature into the state
Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas, too, are the two phases of
life and death.
Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment countless aeons ago,
the Lotus Sutra which leads all people to Buddhahood,7
and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or
separate from each other. Therefore, to chant Myoho-renge-kyo
with this realization is to inherit the ultimate law of
life and death. To carry on this heritage is the most important
task for Nichiren's disciples, and that is precisely what
it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra. For one who summons
up his faith and chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the profound
insight that now is the last moment of his life, the sutra
proclaims: "After his death, a thousand Buddhas will
extend their hands to free him from all fear and keep him
from falling into evil paths."8
How can we possibly hold back our tears at the inexpressible
joy of knowing that not just one or two, nor only one hundred
or two hundred, but as many as a thousand Buddhas will come
to greet us with open arms!
One who does not have faith in the Lotus Sutra will instead
find his hands firmly gripped by the guards of hell, just
as the sutra warns, "...After he dies, he will fall
into the hell of incessant suffering."9
How pitiful! The ten kings of hell10
will then pass judgment on him, and the heavenly messengers11
who have been with him since his birth will berate him for
his evil deeds.
Just imagine that those thousand Buddhas extending their
hands to all Nichiren's disciples who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
are like so many melons or moonflowers extending their slender
vines. My disciples have been able to receive and embrace
the Lotus Sutra by virtue of the strong ties they formed
with this teaching in their past existences. They are certain
to attain Buddhahood in the future. The heritage of the
Lotus Sutra flows within the lives of those who never forsake
it in any lifetime whatsoever -- whether in the past, the
present or the future. But those who disbelieve and slander
the Lotus Sutra will "destroy the seeds for becoming
a Buddha in this world."12
Because they cut themselves off from the potential to attain
enlightenment, they do not share the ultimate heritage of
All disciples and believers of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
with one mind (itai doshin), transcending all differences
to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which
they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal
transmission of the ultimate law of life and death. Herein
lies the true goal of Nichiren's propagation. When you are
so united, even the great hope for kosen-rufu can be fulfilled
without fail. But if any of Nichiren's disciples should
disrupt the unity of itai doshin, he will destroy his own
castle from within.
Nichiren has been trying to awaken all the people of Japan
to faith in the Lotus Sutra so that they too can share the
heritage and attain Buddhahood. But instead they attacked
me time and again, and finally had me banished to this island.
You have followed Nichiren, however, and met with sufferings
as a result. It pains me deeply to think of your anguish.
Gold can neither be burned by fire nor corroded or swept
away by water, but iron is vulnerable to both. A wise person
is like gold and a fool like iron. You are like pure gold
because you embrace the "gold" of the Lotus Sutra.
The Lotus Sutra reads in part, "Sumeru is the loftiest
of all mountains. The Lotus Sutra is likewise the loftiest
of all the sutras."14
It also states, "The good fortune of the believer cannot
be burned by fire or washed away by water."15
It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have
destined you to become my disciple at a time like this.
Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas certainly realize this truth.
The sutra's statement, "In lifetime after lifetime
they were always born together with their masters in the
Buddha's lands throughout the universe,"16
cannot be false in any way.
How admirable that you have asked about the transmission
of the ultimate law of life and death! No one has ever asked
me such a question before. I have answered in complete detail
in this letter, so I want you to take it deeply to heart.
The important point is to carry out your practice confident
that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the very lifeblood which was
transferred from Shakyamuni and Taho to Bodhisattva Jogyo.
The function of fire is to burn and give light. The function
of water is to wash away filth. The winds blow away dust
and breathe life into plants, animals and human beings.
The earth nourishes the grasses and trees, and heaven provides
nourishing moisture. Myoho-renge-kyo too works in all these
ways. It is the cluster of blessings brought by the Bodhisattvas
of the Earth. The Lotus Sutra says that Bodhisattva Jogyo
should now appear to propagate this teaching in the Latter
Day of the Law, but has this actually happened? Whether
or not Bodhisattva Jogyo has already appeared in this world,
Nichiren has at least made a start in propagating this teaching.
Be resolved to summon forth the great power of your faith,
and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your
faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of your
death. Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate
law and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize
that earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings
of life and death are nirvana. Without the lifeblood of
faith, it would be useless to embrace the Lotus Sutra.
I am always ready to clear up any further questions you
With my deep respect,
Nichiren, the Shramana of Japan
The eleventh day of the second month in the ninth year
of Bun'ei (1272)
- Five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo:
the five characters are myo, ho, ren, ge, kyo. In
the Daishonin's writings, Myoho-renge-kyo is often
substituted for Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
- Hokke Gengi, vol. 7.
- Tendai Hokkeshu Gozu Homon Yosan,
- Yin and Yang: Two universal principles
of ancient Chinese philosophy. Yin is the negative,
dark and feminine principle: Yang is the positive,
bright and masculine principle. Their interaction
was thought to affect the destiny of all things.
- Five planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars,
Jupiter and Saturn. The more distant planets were
undetected in 13th century Japan.
- Maka Shikan, vol. 5.
- Nichiren Daishonin employs the name
of Shakyamuni to denote the Buddha, and the Lotus
Sutra to denote the Gohonzon. Therefore, from the
viewpoint of the Daishonin's Buddhism, this passage
means that the True Buddha of kuon ganjo, the Gohonzon
which leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary
people are in no way different or separate from each
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 28.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
- Ten kings of hell: Symbolic figures
from popular religious tradition. One Chinese concept
viewed hell as a demonic court of law where the dead
were tried for their evil deeds.
- Heavenly messengers:
See p. 199, footnote 52.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
- Transcending all differences among themselves: This
phrase could be rendered literally as "without
any thought of self or other, this or that."
This is not a denial of individuality but rather urges
the bridging of gaps between people which arise from
selfishness and mistrust.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 23.
- Ibid. chap. 7.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. 1, p. 21.