I have received the two sacks of parched
rice you sent. Rice may seem like a very small thing, yet
it is what sustains human life. And the Buddha says that
life is something that cannot be purchased even for the
price of an entire major world system.
Rice is what sustains life. It is like
the oil that sustains the life of the lamp. The Lotus Sutra
is a lamp, and its votary is the oil that sustains it. Or
again, the lay supporters are the oil that sustains the
lamp of the votary.
Among all the hundred flavors, the flavor
of cows milk is the finest. The seventh volume of
the Nirvana Sutra says: "Of all flavors, the finest
is that of milk." When milk is treated, it becomes
cream, and when cream is treated, it eventually becomes
ghee. Of the five flavors represented by this process ghee
is the finest.
If we employ these five flavors as similes
for the various Buddhist teachings, we might say that the
three thousand volumes of the Confucian school and the eighteen
major scriptures of Brahmanism correspond to the flavors
of ordinary foods. In comparison to these, even the Agon
sutras are like the flavor of ghee.
[Among the Buddhist teachings,] the Agon
sutras may be compared to the flavor of milk; the Kammuryoju
and the other sutras of the Hodo period may be compared
to the flavor of cream; the Hannya sutras may be
compared to the flavor of curdled milk; the Kegon
Sutra may be compared to the flavor of butter; and the Muryogi,
Lotus and Nirvana sutras may be compared to the flavor of
Again, if the Nirvana Sutra is compared
to the flavor of ghee, then the Lotus Sutra may be compared
to a lord who rules over the five flavors. Thus the Great
Teacher Miao-lo states: "If we discuss the matter from
the point of view of the doctrines taught, then the Lotus
Sutra stands as the true lord of all the teachings, since
it alone preaches opening the provisional and revealing
This is the reason that it alone is permitted the word myo
or wonderful [in its title].2
And he also says: "Therefore we understand that the
Lotus Sutra is the true lord of the ghee."
These passages of commentary point out
quite rightly that the Lotus Sutra is not to be included
among the five flavors. The main import of these passages
is that the five flavors are used to nourish life. But life
itself is lord over all the five flavors.
The Tendai sect puts forth two views on
this matter. The first is that the Kegon, Hodo, Hannya,
Nirvana and Lotus sutras are all comparable to the flavor
of ghee. This view would seem to be based on the opinion
that the sutras preached previous to the Lotus Sutra and
the Lotus Sutra itself are similar in nature. The scholars
of the world are familiar only with this particular view,
and are not familiar with the doctrine that the Lotus Sutra
is the lord of the five flavors. Hence they are deceived
and led astray by the other sects of Buddhism.
The view that, although the Lotus and other
sutras differ with regard to whether or not they open up
and incorporate the expedient means,3
they all represent the perfect teaching -- this is a doctrine
that reflects the meaning of the theoretical teaching. However,
the view that the various sutras mentioned above correspond
to the five flavors, while the Lotus Sutra represents the
lord of the five flavors -- this is a doctrine that reflects
the essential teaching. This doctrine was touched upon by
Tien-tai and Miao-lo in their writings, but
it was not clearly enunciated. This is why there are few
scholars who are aware of it.
In the passage of commentary by Miao-lo
quoted above, the words "If we discuss the matter from
the point of view of the doctrines taught" refer to
the daimoku or title of the Lotus Sutra, which is what is
meant by "the doctrines taught." The words "opening
the provisional" correspond to the character ge
in the five-character daimoku, Myoho-renge-kyo. The
words "revealing the distant" correspond to the
character ren in the five-character daimoku. The
words "it alone is permitted the word myo"
correspond to the character myo. And the words "This
is the reason" refer to the fact that when we speak
of the Lotus Sutra as the essence of the lifetime teachings
of the Buddha, we have in mind the daimoku of the Lotus
Sutra. Therefore one should understand that the daimoku
of the Lotus Sutra represents the soul of all the sutras;
it represents the eye of all the sutras.
The Lotus Sutra should by rights be employed
in eye-opening ceremonies to insure their effectiveness.
But instead of that, the Dainichi and other sutras
are employed in eye-opening ceremonies for all the various
wooden or painted images of Buddhas. As a result, none of
the Buddha images in the temples and pagodas of Japan, though
their forms resemble that of the Buddha, are really Buddhas
in mind. Rather they have the minds of ordinary beings who
live in the nine lower worlds. The custom of revering stupid
and ignorant teachers as though they were wise men began
Such practices simply waste the funds of
the nation; they do not produce effective prayers. On the
contrary, the Buddhas are thereby transformed; they turn
into devils and demons. This is what is causing distress
to the ruler of the nation and the common people.
And now, because the votary of the Lotus
Sutra and his lay supporters have appeared, people behave
like the many kinds of ordinary beasts who hate the lion,
king of beasts, or like the plants and trees that tremble
before the icy wind. But I will say no more of that.
Why is the Lotus Sutra superior to other
sutras? Why is it needed for the sake of all living beings?
Let me give a simile.
The plants and trees have the earth as
their mother, the sky as their father, the sweet rains as
their food, the wind as their spirit, and the sun and moon
as their wet nurses, and in this way they grow to maturity,
bring forth flowers and bear fruit. in the same manner,
all living beings have the true aspect [of all phenomena]
as their earth, the aspect-free nature4
as their sky, the one vehicle as their sweet rain, and the
pronouncement that the Lotus Sutra is foremost among all
the sutras that the Buddha preached, now preaches or will
preach, as their great wind.5
"Adorned with the power of meditation and wisdom"6
as their sun and moon, they nurture the blessings of perfect
forth the flowers of great pity and great compassion, and
bear the fruit of peaceful Buddhahood. Such is the way that
all living beings are nourished.
Then again, all living beings sustain life
through the things they eat. There are many kinds of food.
Some beings feed on dirt, some feed on water, some eat fire
and some eat wind. The insect called a kalakula8
feeds on wind, the creature called a mole feeds on dirt.
Then there are some demons that eat human skin and flesh,
bone and marrow, some that eat urine and dung, some that
eat lives and some that eat voices. There are fish that
eat stones and the baku9
beast that eats iron. And the gods of the earth, the heavenly
deities, the dragon gods, the deities of the sun and moon,
the heavenly kings Taishaku and Daibonten, the beings of
the two vehicles, the bodhisattvas and the Buddhas taste
and savor the Buddhist Law and make it their body and spirit.
Let me give another simile. Once in the
past there lived a great ruler named King Rinda, a wise
monarch who ruled over the entire land of Jambudvipa. Now
what was it that this king lived on? He listened to the
sound of white horses neighing, and thus nourished the growth
of his body, provided rest and tranquillity for his body
and mind, and ruled over his kingdom. This occurred in the
same way that the creatures called frogs listen to the cries
of their mothers and are thus enabled to grow; that the
autumn bush clover blooms when it hears the crying of the
deer; that the ivory plant puts forth buds when it hears
the sound of thunder; or that the pomegranate flourishes
when it encounters a stone.
This being the case, King Rinda had gathered
together a number of white horses and was taking care of
them. And because these white horses would neigh only when
they caught sight of white swans, he also gathered together
a number of white swans that he kept in his care. As a result,
not only did the king himself enjoy peace and tranquillity,
but the hundreds of officials and the thousands of attendants
who served him also prospered. Throughout the realm, the
wind and rain came in their proper season, and other countries
bowed their heads in submission. This situation continued
for a number of years.
But, perhaps because of an error in his
rule, or perhaps because the rewards accruing from his karma
were exhausted, the thousands and ten thousands of white
swans suddenly disappeared, and the countless numbers of
white horses ceased their neighing. And because the king
could no longer hear the neighing of the white horses, he
was like a flower that wilts or the moon when it is eclipsed.
His skin changed color, his strength waned away, his six
sense organs grew dull and clouded, and he became like a
senile old man. His queen, too, became old and feeble. The
hundreds of officials and the thousands of attendants lamented,
not knowing what to do. The skies clouded over, the earth
trembled, great winds and droughts appeared, and famines
and pestilence occurred, until so many persons had died
that their flesh piled up in mounds and their bones were
like heaps of tiles. Moreover, the country was beset by
attacks from other nations.
At this time the king, lamenting over what
to do, concluded that the only recourse was to pray to the
Buddhas and gods. From times past there had been non-Buddhist
believers in the kingdom, and they were numerous in many
regions of the land. There were also many persons who honored
the Law of the Buddha and regarded it as a treasure of the
state. The king, declaring that he would honor the teachings
of whichever group was successful at attracting the white
swans and causing the white horses to neigh, first commanded
the non-Buddhist believers to try the effectiveness of their
teachings. But though they carried out their efforts over
several days, not a single white swan appeared, and the
white horses failed to neigh.
Then the king ordered the non-Buddhists
to cease their prayers and the Buddhists to make the attempt
with theirs. At that time there was a young monk known as
Bodhisattva Ashvaghosha or Horse Neigh. When he was summoned
before the king, he said, "If Your Majesty will abolish
the erroneous doctrines of the non-Buddhists throughout
the kingdom and work to spread the Law of the Buddha, it
will be easy enough to make the horses neigh!"
The king issued an edict that this should
be done. Then Bodhisattva Ashvaghosha addressed prayers
to the Buddhas of the three existences and the ten directions,
whereupon a white swan immediately appeared. When the white
horses caught sight of the white swan, they whinnied in
a single voice. No sooner had the king heard the single
neigh of the horses than he opened his eyes. As two white
swans, and then hundreds and thousands of them appeared,
the hundreds and thousands of white horses were instantly
filled with joy and began neighing. The kings complexion
was restored to its original state, like the sun recovering
from an eclipse, and the strength of his body and the perceptive
powers of his mind became many hundreds and thousands of
times greater than they had been before. The queen was overjoyed,
the great ministers and high officials took courage, the
common people pressed their palms together in reverence,
and the other countries bowed their heads.
The situation in the world today is no
different from this. The period during the seven reigns
of the heavenly deities and the five reigns of the earthly
deities, that is, the first twelve reigns in Japanese history,
was like the kalpa of formation. The power of good fortune
and the power derived from the keeping of the precepts that
had been accumulated in previous existences were such that,
although the people of the time made no great effort toward
goodness, the country was still well governed and people
lived long lives.
Then came the period of human sovereigns.
During the first twenty-nine reigns, the power derived from
observing the precepts in past existences began to weaken.
Government affairs proceeded poorly, and for the first time
the country was visited by the three calamities and seven
disasters. But because the texts describing how the three
sovereigns and five emperors of antiquity had governed the
world were introduced from China, these could be used in
paying honor to the gods and overcoming the calamities and
disasters that beset the nation.
When Emperor Kimmei, the thirtieth human
sovereign, came to the throne, the power derived from good
fortune and the observance of the precepts in past existences
had further weakened in the country. Many people appeared
who were completely dominated by their evil minds. Good
minds were weakened and evil minds prevailed. The teachings
of the Confucian texts were so ineffectual, and the weight
of peoples offenses was so great, that as a result
the Confucian texts were abandoned and people turned instead
to the Buddhist scriptures.
For example, Moriya paid honor to numerous
gods who had appeared during the seven reigns of the heavenly
deities and the five reigns of the earthly deities, praying
that the Buddhist teachings would not spread and that the
Confucian texts would be honored as they had been before.
Prince Shotoku, on the other hand, took Shakyamuni Buddha,
the lord of teachings, as his object of worship, and adopted
the Lotus Sutra and the other sutras as his scriptures.
The two parties vied for supremacy, but in the end the gods
were defeated, the Buddha emerged victorious, and just as
had happened in India and China, the land of the gods for
the first time became a land of the Buddha. The passage
in the sutra that reads, "Now this threefold world
is all my domain,"10
was in the process of being fulfilled.
During the twenty-some reigns from Emperor
Kimmei to Emperor Kammu, a period of 260 years or more,
the Buddha was looked up to as the sovereign, and the gods
were regarded as his years or more, the Buddha was looked
up to as the sovereign, and the gods were regarded as his
ministers. In this way the world was governed. But although
the Buddhist teachings held a superior place and the gods
an inferior one, the world was not well governed.
People began to question why this should
be so; and in the reign of Emperor Kammu there appeared
a sage known as the Great Teacher Dengyo who pondered the
problem. "The gods have been defeated and the Buddha
has emerged victorious," he asserted. "The Buddha
is looked upon as the sovereign and the gods as his ministers;
the relations between superior and inferior are correctly
ordered in accordance with the rules of propriety, and therefore
the nation should be well governed." How strange, then,
that there is such unrest in the country! With this in mind,
I began to examine all the sutras, and I realized that there
is indeed a reason for such a state of affairs.
"The teachings of Buddhism have been
guilty of a grave error. Among all the sutras, the Lotus
Sutra ought to hold the position of sovereign, with the
other sutras such as the Kegon, Daibon, Jimmitsu
and Agon sutras occupying the position of minister
or attendant or ordinary person. And yet the Sanron sect
asserts that the Hannya sutras are superior to the
Lotus Sutra, the Hosso sect holds that the Jimmitsu
Sutra is superior to the Lotus Sutra, the Kegon sect holds
that the Kegon Sutra is superior to the Lotus Sutra, while
the Ritsu sect proclaims itself the mother of all the other
sects. There is not a single votary of the Lotus Sutra,
and those who do read and recite the Lotus Sutra have been,
contrary to all expectations, derided and dismissed by the
people of the world."
He proclaimed that because of this heaven
was angered and the benevolent deities who would have guarded
the nation found their powers weakened. And he declared
that even though people praise the Lotus Sutra, they destroy
Then the priests of the seven major temples
of Nara, of the fifteen great temples, and of all the temples
and mountain monasteries throughout the country of Japan,
hearing these words, were greatly incensed. "Mahadeva
of India and the Taoist priests of China have appeared in
our country!" they exclaimed. "They have taken
on the form of this little monk known as Saicho! If anyone
should encounter him, break his head in two and cut off
his arms, beat him and curse him!"
But Emperor Kammu, being a wise ruler,
inquired into and clearly perceived the truth of the matter,
and concluded that the six sects of Nara were in error.
For the first time he established a temple on Mount Hiei,
making it the headquarters of the Tendai-Hokke sect. And
he not only founded an ordination platform for the precepts
of perfect and immediate enlightenment, but declared the
Hokke sect to be superior to the six older sects connected
with the seven major temples of Nara and the fifteen great
In effect, the six sects came to be regarded
as mere expedient teachings leading to the Lotus Sutra.
It was like the earlier instance in which the gods yielded
to the Buddha and became mere doorkeepers of Buddhism. Something
like the same situation prevailed in Japan. For the first
time it was made clear in this country that, as the sutra
says, "[among those sutras] the Lotus is the foremost."12
A person who "is able to secretly expound the Lotus
Sutra to one person"13
is the envoy of the Buddha, it declares, and for the first
time such an envoy appeared in this country. For a period
of twenty or more years, during the reigns of the three
emperors Kammu, Heizei and Saga, throughout the entire country
of Japan everyone was a votary of the Lotus Sutra.
But, just as the foul-smelling eranda
tree exists in relation to the fragrant sandalwood, and
just as Devadatta exists in relation to Shakyamuni, so at
the same time as the Great Teacher Dengyo there appeared
a sage known as the Great Teacher Kobo. He journeyed to
China, studied the Dainichi Sutra and the teachings
of the Shingon school, and then returned to Japan.
While the Great Teacher Dengyo was still
alive, Kobo did not forcefully assert his contention that
the Dainichi Sutra is superior to the Lotus Sutra. But after
the Great Teacher Dengyo passed away, which was on the fourth
day of the sixth month in the thirteenth year of the Konin
era (822), he apparently concluded that the time had come
to do so. Thus, in the fourteenth year of the Konin era,
on the nineteenth day of the first month, the Great Teacher
Kobo produced a document in which he ranked the Shingon
teachings first, the teachings of the Kegon Sutra
second, and those of the Lotus Sutra third. He also asserted
that the Lotus Sutra is a doctrine of childish theory, that
Shakyamuni Buddha is in the region of darkness, and that
the men of the Tendai sect are thieves.
In this manner he attempted to deceive
Emperor Saga by placing his own Shingon sect side by side
with the seven older sects14
and asserting that the seven older sects represent mere
expedient teachings, while the Shingon sect represents the
In the period that followed, everyone throughout
the country of Japan became a follower of the Shingon sect.
In addition, a disciple of the Great Teacher Dengyo named
Jikaku journeyed to China, where he made a thorough study
of the secret doctrines of the Tendai and Shingon schools
before returning to Japan. He wrote commentaries on two
works, the Kongocho Sutra and the Soshitsuji
Sutra, and founded a temple called Zento-in on Mount Hiei.
In his commentaries he asserted that the Dainichi
Sutra should be ranked first and the Lotus Sutra second,
and he put forth countless other erroneous statements, just
as Kobo had done earlier. I have touched upon this matter
somewhat in my earlier letters.
This eminent teacher was followed by another,
the Great Teacher Chisho, who propagated his teachings from
the temple known as Onjo-ji. Among all the temples today,
this one appears to me to be causing the greatest damage
to the nation.
Among the three thousand priests of Mount
Hiei there were some who, if Jikaku and Chisho had not insisted
upon the point, would never have acknowledged the superiority
of the Shingon teachings. But all of them had their mouths
stopped and their minds deceived by Jikaku, also known as
the Great Teacher Ennin; no one was able to say a word in
Moreover, the support lent by the ruler
and his ministers surpassed even what it had been in the
time of Dengyo and Kobo, so that Mount Hiei, the seven temples
of Nara and indeed the whole country of Japan joined in
declaring that the Lotus Sutra was inferior to the Dainichi
Sutra. In the various temples where the Lotus Sutra had
earlier been propagated, the teachings of the Shingon sect
were now disseminated, and hailed as superior to the Lotus
Four hundred years or more have passed
since this situation developed. These erroneous opinions
have continued to spread, and five sovereigns,15
from the eighty-first ruler of Japan to the eighty-fifth,
have lost their thrones. Because the Buddhist way has fallen
into decline, the way of the sovereign has likewise declined.
In addition, the major erroneous doctrine
known as the Zen sect and the minor erroneous doctrine called
the Nembutsu sect have joined the great evil doctrine called
Shingon, and these evil sects now stand side by side, holding
sway over the entire country. The goddess Tensho Daijin
has lost heart and no longer protects her charges; Great
Bodhisattva Hachiman has been sapped of his power and authority
and has ceased to guard and defend the nation. In the end
we are doomed to become the prey of foreign lands.
I, Nichiren, viewing this state of affairs
and fearful of the warning about one who "is betraying
about one who "will fall into hell along with...,"17
have attempted to inform the ruler of the nation of the
general situation. But he, led astray by erroneous doctrines,
refuses to believe me. On the contrary, he has become a
Although I try to point out that this country
is full of people who would like to do away with the Lotus
Sutra, no one understands me, and so they merely go on committing
errors of stupidity. And now, in addition, a votary of the
Lotus Sutra has made his appearance, so that the people
of Japan, on top of their stupidity, give way to anger,
favoring erroneous teachings and viewing the correct teaching
with hatred. In a country where the three poisons [of greed,
anger and stupidity] prevail to such a degree, how can there
be peace and stability?
In the kalpa of decline, the three major
calamities will occur, namely, the calamities of fire, water
and wind. And in the kalpa of decrease, the three minor
calamities will occur, namely, famine, pestilence and warfare.
Famine occurs as a result of greed, pestilence as a result
of stupidity, and warfare as a result of anger.
At present the people of Japan number 4,994,828
men and women, all of them different persons but all alike
infected by the three poisons. And these three poisons occur
because of their relationship with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
So all of these people at the same moment set out to curse,
attack, banish and do away with Shakyamuni, Taho and all
the other Buddhas of the ten directions. This is what leads
to the appearance of the three minor calamities.
And now I wonder what karma from past existences
has caused Nichiren and his associates to become the proponents
of the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra? It seems to me that at
present Bonten, Taishaku, the deities of the sun and moon,
the Four Heavenly Kings, Tensho Daijin, Great Bodhisattva
Hachiman and all the major and minor gods of the 3,132 shrines
throughout Japan are like King Rinda of past times, that
the white horses are Nichiren, and the white swans are my
followers. The neighing of the white horses is the sound
of our voices chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. When Bonten,
Taishaku, the deities of the sun and moon, the Four Heavenly
Kings and the others hear this sound, how could they fail
to take on a healthy color and shine with a brilliant light?
How could they fail to guard and protect us? We should be
firmly convinced of this!
In the memorial service held this last
third month, you donated numerous strings of coins. As a
result, this year we have been able to support over a hundred
men at this mountain dwelling, and they are able to read
and recite the Lotus Sutra and discuss its doctrines all
day long. In this latter age and evil period, this represents
the foremost Buddhist practice in the entire Jambudvipa
world. How pleased must the spirits of your departed ancestors
be! Shakyamuni Buddha said that a person who observes filial
piety deserves to be called a World-Honored One. Are not
you yourself just such a World-Honored One?
The matter of the late Daishin Ajari was
surely most regrettable. But we should consider that what
has happened will serve to further spread the teachings
of the Lotus Sutra.
If my life is spared, there are many other
things I want to write to you about on some future occasion.
The seventeenth day of the eighth month
in the second year of Koan (1279), cyclical sign tsuchinoto-u
Reply to Soya Doso
- Shikan bugyoden guketsu, vol. 7. "Opening
the provisional and revealing the distant" refers
to the two doctrines of "opening the provisional
and revealing the true" and "opening the near
and revealing the distant" (see Glossary). The Chinese
character myo means not only wonderful, but mystic and
- "Opening up and incorporating the expedient means"
indicates incorporating the provisional teachings in the
one-vehicle teaching of Buddhahood. This teaching is contained
in the Lotus Sutra. The perfect teaching, which sets forth
the concept of attaining Buddhahood as a common mortal,
appears in both the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings and the
Lotus Sutra. The pre-Lotus Sutra teachings, however, introduce
this concept without providing the principle required
for its realization, while the Lotus Sutra not only provides
this principle, but also offers examples of those who
attain Buddhahood through its practice.
- Aspect-free nature: Here used synonymously with the
true aspect of all phenomena. The Mury6gi Sutra reads:
"These immeasurable meanings are born from a single
Law, and this Law is without marks. That which is without
marks is devoid of marks and does not take on marks. Not
taking on marks, being without marks, it is called the
true mark [i.e., the true aspect of all phenomena]."
The Daishonin defines "the true aspect" as the
- This pronouncement appears in the Hosshi (10th) chapter
of the Lotus Sutra.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 2. It reads: "The Buddha himself
dwells in this great vehicle, and adorned with the power
of meditation and wisdom that go with the Law he has attained,
he uses it to save living beings."
- Perfect enlightenment: See Fifty-two stages of bodhisattva
practice in Glossary.
- Kalakula: Imaginary insects whose bodies were said to
swell up rapidly in a strong wind. They are mentioned
in the Daichido ron.
- Baku: Imaginary tapir-like beasts, according to Chinese
tradition, which are said to eat nightmares. The source
of the "baku eating iron" is unknown.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
- Hokke sh~ku.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 10.
- Ibid. It reads, "If one of these good men or good
women in the time after I have passed into extinction
is able to secretly expound the Lotus Sutra to one person,
even one phrase of it, then you should know that he or
she is the envoy of the Buddha. He has been dispatched
by the Buddha and carries out the Buddha's work."
- Seven older sects: The six sects of Nara (see Glossary)
and the Tendai sect.
- Five sovereigns: Antoku, Gotoba, Tsuchimikadoliuntoku
and Chaky6. During the Battle of Dannoura (1185), Antoku,
at age 8, met his end at the final defeat of the Taira,
when he drowned in the sea. In 1221, after the Jokiyui
Disturbance, the Kamakura shogunate exiled the retired
emperors Gotoba, Tsuchimikado and Juntoku, and deposed
- Nirvana Sutra, vol. 3. See P. 296, n. 9.
- This phrase is found in a passage from Nan-yaeh's Hokekyo
anrakugyo gi, which reads: "if there should be a
bodhisattva who protects evil persons and fails to chastise
them ... then when his life comes to an end, he will fall
into hell along with those evil persons."
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 7.