Letter from Sado
This letter is addressed to Toki Jonin. It should also
be shown to Shijo Kingo, Tonotsuji Juro1,
Sajiki no Ama2 and my
other disciples. Send me the names of those killed in the
battles at Kyoto and Kamakura. Also please have those who
are coming here bring me the Geten Sho,3
volume two of the Hokke Mongu and volume four of the Hokke
Gengi, as well as the collected Imperial reports and edicts.
The most dreadful things in the world are the pain of fire,
the flashing of swords and the shadow of death. Even horses
and cattle fear being killed; no wonder human beings are
afraid of death. Even a leper clings to life; no wonder
a healthy person struggles to live. The Buddha taught that
offering one's little finger for the sutra is more rewarding
than covering an entire galaxy with seven kinds of jewels.4
Sessen Doji offered his life, and Gyobo Bonji ripped off
his own skin to seek the truth of Buddhism. Since nothing
is more precious than life itself, those who dedicate their
l ives to the Buddhist practice are certain to attain Buddhahood.
If they are prepared to offer their lives, why should they
begrudge any other treasure for the sake of Buddhism? On
the other hand, if one is loath to part with his material
possessions, how can he possibly give away his life, which
is far more valuable?
Society dictates that one should repay a great obligation
to another even at the cost of his own life. Many warriors
die for their lords, perhaps even more than one would imagine.
A man will die to defend his honor; a woman will die for
a man. Fish want to survive; they deplore their pond's shallowness
and dig holes to hid in, yet tricked by bait, they take
the hook. Birds in a tree fear that they are too low and
perch in the top branches, yet bewitched by bait, they too
are caught in snares. Human beings are equally vulnerable.
They give their lives for shallow, worldly matters but rarely
for the noble cause of Buddhism. Small wonder they do not
Buddhism should be spread by the method of either shoju
or shakubuku, depending upon the age. These are analogous
to the two worldly arts of the pen and the sword. The bodhisattvas
of old practiced the Law as befitted the times. Sessen Doji
offered his own body when told that he would be taught the
Law in return. Prince Satta gave his own flesh and blood
to carry out his bodhisattva practice. But should one sacrifice
his life at a time when it is not required? In an age when
there is no paper, one should use his own skin. In an age
when there are no pens, one should use his own bones. In
an age when society accepts the True Law and honors the
percepts while denouncing those who break or ignore them,
one should strictly follow them all. In an age when Confucianism
or Taoism is used to assail Buddhism, one should risk his
life to debate with the emperor, as did the priests Tao-an,
Hui-yuan and Fa-tao.5
In and age when people confuse Hinayana and Mahayana, provisional
and true teachings or exoteric and esoteric doctrines, as
though unable to distinguish gems from pebbles or cows'
milk from asses' milk6,
one should strictly differentiate between them, following
the example of the Great Teachers T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo.
It is the nature of beasts to threaten the weak and fear
the strong. Our contemporary scholars are just like them.
They despise a wise man without power but fear the evil
rulers. They are merely servile courtiers. Only by defeating
a powerful enemy can one prove his real strength. When an
evil ruler in consort with heretical priests tries to destroy
true Buddhism and banish a man of wisdom, those with the
heart of a lion will surely attain Buddhahood as Nichiren
did. I say this not out of arrogance but because I am committed
to true Buddhism. An arrogant man will be overcome with
fear when he meets a strong enemy, just like the haughty
ashura who shrank and hid himself in a lotus flower blossoming
in Munetchi Lake when reproached by Taishaku. Even a word
or phrase of true Buddhism will lead one to the path of
enlightenment, if it suits the times and the capacity of
the people. Even though one may study a thousand sutras
and ten thousand doctrines, he cannot attain Buddhahood,
should those teachings not fit the times and the people's
Now, twenty-six years since the Battle of Hoji7,
the Kamakura government is again plagued by internal strife.
Rebellions8 have already
broken out twice on the eleventh and the seventeenth day
of the second month of this year. Neither non-Buddhists
nor the enemies of Buddhism can destroy the Buddha's True
Law, but the Buddha's disciples definitely can. As the sutra
says, a parasite in the lion's bowels will devour the lion.
A man of great fortune cannot be ruined by his enemies but
only by those close to him. The current rebellion is what
the Yakushi Sutra means by "the disaster of internal
strife.9" The Ninno
Sutra states, "When the sage departs, the seven types
of calamity will invariably arise." The Konkomyo Sutra
states, "The thirty-three heavenly gods become furious
because the king permits evil to run rampant." Although
Nichiren is not a sage, he is equal to one, for he embraces
the Lotus Sutra exactly as the Buddha taught. Furthermore,
since he has long understood the ways of the world, all
the prophecies he wrote have come true without exception.
Therefore you should not doubt what he has told you concerning
your future existence.
Nichiren is the pillar, sun, moon, mirror and eyes of the
ruling clan of Kanto10.
On the twelfth day of the ninth month of last year when
I was arrested, I boldly declared that if the country should
lose Nichiren, the seven disasters would occur without fail.
Didn't this prophecy come true just sixty and then one hundred
fifty days later? And those battles were only the first
signs. What lamenting there will be when the full effect
appears People foolishly wonder why Nichiren is persecuted
by the government if he is truly a wise man. Yet it is all
just as I expected. King Ajatashatru killed his father and
nearly murdered his mother, for which he was hailed by the
six royal ministers. When Devadatta killed an arhat and
shed the Buddha's blood, Kokalika11
and others were delighted. Nichiren is father and mother
to the ruling clan and is like a Buddha or an arhat to this
age. The sovereign and his subjects who rejoice at his exile
are truly the most shameless of all. Those heretical priests
who have been bewailing the exposure of their errors may
be overjoyed for the moment, but eventually they will suffer
no less than Nichiren and his disciples. Their joy is like
when he killed his brother and Minamoto Yoshitsune. The
devil who shall destroy the ruling clan has already entered
the country. This is the meaning of the passage from the
Lotus Sutra which reads, " The devil enters one's body."13
The persecutions Nichiren has faced are the result of karma
formed in previous lifetimes. The Fukyo chapter states,
"... after expiating his sins," indicating that
Bodhisattva Fukyo was vilified and beaten by countless slanderers
because of his past karma. So, too, it is with Nichiren,
who in this life was born poor and lowly to a chandala14
family. In my heart I cherish some faith in the Lotus Sutra,
but my body, while outwardly human, is fundamentally that
of an animal, which once subsisted on fish and fowl and
was conceived of the male and female fluids. My spirit dwells
in this body like the moon reflected in a muddy pond or
gold wrapped in a filthy bag. Since my heart believes in
the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear even Bonten or Taishaku,
but my body is still that of an animal. With such disparity
between my body and my mind, no wonder the foolish despise
me. Without doubt, when compared to my body, my mind shines
like the moon or gold. Who knows what slander I may have
committed in the past? I may possess the soul of Priest
Shoi15 or the spirit
of Mahadeva16. Maybe
I am descended from those who contemptuously persecuted
Bodhisattva Fukyo or am among those who forgot their original
faith17 in the Lotus
Sutra. I may even be related to the five thousand arrogant
people18 who would not
remain to hear the sutra, or belong to the third and lowest
group of Daitsu Buddha's disciples. It is impossible to
fathom one's karma. Iron, when heated in the flames and
pounded, becomes a fine sword. Wise men and saints are tested
by abuse. My present exile is not because of any crime.
It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past
heavy slanders and be freed from the three evil paths in
The Hatsunaion Sutra states, "In the coming age, there
will be those who enter the priesthood, don surplices and
make a show of studying my teachings. However, being neither
diligent nor serious about their practice, they will slander
the Mahayana sutras. You should be aware that these people
are the ones who are following the heretical religions of
today." Those who read this passage should reflect
deeply on their own practice. The Buddha is saying that
those of our contemporary priests who are lazy and remiss
were disciples of the six non-Buddhist teachers in Shakyamuni's
day. The followers of Honen who call themselves the Nembutsu
sect not only turn people away from the Lotus Sutra, telling
them to "discard, close, ignore and abandon" it,
but advocate chanting only the name of Amida, a Buddha described
in the provisional teachings. The followers of Dainichi,
known as the Zen sect, claim that the true teachings of
Buddhism have been transmitted apart from the sutras. They
ridicule the Lotus Sutra as nothing more than a finger pointing
to the moon or a meaningless string of words. These priests
were certainly followers of the six non-Buddhist teachers,
only now they have entered the stream of Buddhism. According
to the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha had enabled everyone to
attain enlightenment by teaching the Juryo chapter of the
Lotus Sutra. Yet, alas, when he illuminated the hundred
and thirty-six hells underground, instead of finding them
empty, he saw that the slanderers of Buddhism who were people
of incorrigible disbelief were still being confined there
by the guards of hell. They proliferated until they became
the people of Japan today.
Since Nichiren himself committed slander in the past, he
became a Nembutsu priest in this lifetime, and for several
years he also laughed at those who practiced the Lotus Sutra,
saying, "Not a single person has ever attained Buddhahood
through that sutra"19
or "Not one person in a thousand can reach enlightenment
through its teachings."20
Awakening from my slanderous condition, I feel like a drunken
son, who, in his stupor, strikes his parents but thinks
nothing of it. When he returns to his senses, he regrets
it bitterly but to no avail. His offense is extremely difficult
to erase. Even more so are past slanders of the Law, which
stain the depth of one's heart. A sutra21
states that both the crow's blackness and the heron's whiteness
are actually the deep stains of their past karma. The Brahmans
and other non-Buddhists refused to recognize this causality
and claimed it was the work of nature, and today, when I
expose people's slanders in an effort to save them, they
deny it with every excuse possible and argue back with Honen's
words about barring the gates to the Lotus Sutra. From Nembutsu
believers this is scarcely surprising, but even the Tendai
and Shingon priests actively support them. On the sixteenth
and the seventeenth day of the first month of this year,
hundreds of priests and believers from the Nembutsu and
other sects came to debate with Nichiren. Representing the
Nembutsu, Insho-bo said, "Saint Honen did not instruct
us to discard the Lotus Sutra. He simply wrote that everyone
should chant the Nembutsu, and its great blessings will
assure their ascension to the pure land. Even the Tendai
priests of Onjo-ji and Enryaku-ji temples22
exiled to this island praise Saint Honen and say how excellent
his teaching is. How do you dare try to refute it?"
The local priests are even more ignorant than their counterparts
in Kamakura. They are absolutely pitiful.
How terrible are the slanders Nichiren committed in his
past and present existences! Since you have been born into
this evil country and become the disciple of such a man,
there is no telling what you may have to endure. The Hatsunaion
Sutra reads, "Men of devout faith, because you committed
countless sins and accumulated much evil karma in the past,
you must expect to suffer retribution for everything you
have done. You may be reviled, cursed with an ugly appearance,
be poorly clad and poorly fed, seek wealth in vain, be born
to an impoverished or heretical family, or be persecuted
by your sovereign." It further states, "It is
due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law that
one can diminish in this lifetime his suffering and retribution."
Were it not for Nichiren, these passages from the sutra
would virtually make the Buddha a liar. For none, save Nichiren
have experienced all eight sufferings described in the s
utra: (1) to be slighted; (2) to posses an ugly physical
form; (3) to lack clothing; (4) to lack food; (5) to seek
wealth in vain; (6) to be born to a poor family; (7) to
be born to a heretical family; and (8) to be persecuted
by one's sovereign. One who climbs a high mountain must
eventually descend. One who slights another will in turn
be despised. One who deprecates those of handsome appearance
will be born ugly. One who robs another of food and clothing
is sure to fall into the world of hunger. One who mocks
noble men or anyone who observes the precepts will be born
to a poor family. One who slanders a family that embraces
the True Law will be born to a heretical family. One who
laughs at those who cherish the precepts will be born a
commoner and meet with persecution from his sovereign. This
is the general law of cause and effect.
Nichiren's suffering, however, are not ascribable to this
causal law. In the past he despised the votaries of the
Lotus Sutra and ridiculed the sutra itself, sometimes with
exaggerated praise and other times with contempt. He has
met all eight of these terrible sufferings for such acts
against the Lotus Sutra which is as magnificent as two jewels
combined, two moons shining side by side, two stars conjoined
or one Mount Hua23 placed
atop another. Usually these sufferings would torment a person
over many lifetimes, appearing one at a time. but Nichiren
has denounced the enemies of the Lotus Sutra so severely
that all eight descended upon him at once. His situation
is like that of a peasant heavily in debt to his lord and
others. As long as he remains on the estate, they are likely
to defer his debts from one year to the next, rather than
mercilessly hounding him. But as soon as he tries to leave,
everyone will rush over and demand that he repay everything
at once. Thus the sutra states, "It is due to the blessings
obtained by protecting the Law that one can diminish...his
suffering and retribution."
The Lotus Sutra reads, "There are many ignorant people
who will vilify and attack us, the votaries of the Lotus
Sutra, with swords, staves and stone... they will denounce
us to the sovereign, ministers, Brahmans and other influential
men... we will be banished again and again."24
Without hell's guards to torment them, slanderers could
never emerge from hell. Were it not for the authorities
who now persecute Nichiren, he could not expiate his past
sin of slandering the Law. Nichiren is like Bodhisattva
Fukyo who lived in ages past, and the people of this day
are like the priests, nuns and lay men and women who disdained
and persecuted Fukyo. The people are different, yet the
cause is the same. Different people may kill their parents,
but they all fall into the same hell of incessant suffering.
Since Nichiren is making the same cause as Fukyo, he is
certain to become a Buddha equal to Shakyamuni. Moreover,
those who now persecute him are like Bhadrapala25
and the others who persecuted Fukyo. They will be tortured
in the depths of hell for a thousand aeons. I therefore
pity them deeply and wonder what can be done for them. Those
who at first disdained and persecuted Fukyo later took faith
in his teachings and became his followers. The greater part
of their slander was thus expiated, but even the small part
which remained caused them to suffer as terribly as one
who had killed his parents a thousand times over. The people
of this age refuse to repent at all and must therefore suffer
for interminable aeons as described in the Hiyu chapter,
perhaps even for the duration of sanzen- or gohyaku-jintengo.
There are also those who appeared to believe in Nichiren
but began doubting when they saw him persecuted. They have
not only forsaken the Lotus Sutra but actually think themselves
wise enough to instruct Nichiren. The pitiful thing is that
these perverse people must suffer in the depths of hell
even longer than the Nembutsu believers. Ashura contended
that the Buddha had only eighteen sensory functions but
that he himself had nineteen. Brahmans claimed that the
Buddha offered only one way to enlightenment but they had
ninety-five. In the same way, the renegade disciples say
that although Priest Nichiren is their teacher, he is too
rigid, and they will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more flexible
way. In so asserting, they are being as ridiculous as fireflies
laughing at the sun and moon, an anthill belittling Mount
Hua, small inlets despising the boundless sea, or a magpie
mocking the Chinese phoenix. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The twentieth day of the third month in the ninth year
of Bun'ei (1272)
There is very little writing paper here in the province
of Sado, and to write to you individually would take too
long. However, if even one person fails to hear me, it will
cause resentment. Therefore, I want all sincere believers
to meet and read this letter together for encouragement.
When disaster strikes, our personal troubles seem insignificant.
I do not know how accurate the reports reaching me are,
but there must surely be intense grieving over those killed
in the recent battles. What has become of Izawa no Nyudo
and Sakabe no Nyudo26?
Send me news of Kawanobe, Yamashiro, Tokugyo-ji27
and the others. Also, please be kind enough to send me the
Essentials of Government28
in the Chen-kuan Era, the Anthology of Tales29,
and the Esoteric Teachings30
of the Eight Sects. Without these, I cannot even write letters.
- Tonotsuji Juro: A staunch believer who lived in
- Sajiki no Ama: A woman believer in Kamakura.
- Geten Sho: A collection of non-Buddhist scriptures.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 23.
- Tao-an (314-385), Hui-yuan (523-592) and Fa-tao
(1086-1147): Priests who dedicated their lives to
- Cows' milk and asses' milk: Cows' milk indicates
the Lotus Sutra while asses' milk, thought to be poisonous,
indicates all other sutras.
- Battle of Hoji: The battle waged in 1247 between
the Hojo and Miura clans for control of the regency.
The Hojo clan emerged victorious.
- Rebellions: They were instigated by Hojo Tokisuke,
an influential commissioner in Kyoto, who attempted
the overthrow of his half-brother, regent Hojo Tokimune.
- Disaster of internal strife: One of the three calamities
and seven disasters.
- Kanto: As used here, it denotes the Kamakura government.
- Kokalika: A clansman of Shakyamuni who entered the
priesthood at the command of the Buddha's father,
King Shuddhodana. Later he fell under Devadatta's
influence and slandered Shakyamuni's close disciples,
Shariputra and Maudgalyayana.
- Fujiwara Yasuhira (1155-1189): The son of Fujiwara
Hidehira, lord of the province of Mutsu in northeastern
Japan. He killed his brother and usurped power for
himself. Minamoto Yoritomo, the Kamakura shogun, ordered
him to kill Yoshitsune, Yoritomo's brother, which
he did to prove his loyalty. Later, however, Yoritomo
had him executed to consolidate his own power in the
northern part of Japan.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 13.
- Chandala (candala): The lowest class, lower than
the caste system, in India, comprised of those whose
profession required them to kill living creatures.
The Daishonin was born to a family of fishermen.
- Shoi: He appeared in the Latter Day of a Buddha
called Shishionno. He is said to have fallen into
hell alive for slandering Bodhisattva Kikon, who propagated
- Mahadeva: A Brahman born about one hundred years
after Shakyamuni. He is said to have committed three
of the five cardinal sins, killing his father, mother
and an arhat. He repented and joined the priesthood
but broke the unity of believers by corrupting orthodox
teachings with his own misconceptions.
- Those who forgot their original faith: Individuals
who, because of the slanders they have committed,
do not remember that they received the seed of enlightenment
from the Buddha in the distant past called gohyaku-jintengo.
- Five thousand arrogant people: The people (priests,
nuns, laymen and laywomen) who thought they had already
mastered Buddhism and left the assembly as Shakyamuni
began to expound the Lotus Sutra.
- Anraku-shu, vol. I.
- Ryogon Sutra.
- Onjo-ji and Enryaku-ji: Onjo-ji (also called Mii-dera)
temple in Kyoto became the headquarters of the Jimon
school of the Tendai sect in 993, when Chisho's latter-day
disciples left Enryaku-ji temple, situated on Mount
Hiei. Enryaku-ji then became the main temple of the
Sanmon school of the Tendai sect.
- Hua: One of the five highest mountains in China.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 13.
- Bhadrapala: One of the central figures in the persecution
of Bodhisattva Fukyo. He is said to have suffered
in an endless hell.
- Izawa no Nyudo and Sakabe no Nyudo: Apparently loyal
followers of the Daishonin in Kamakura. Little is
known about them.
- Kawanobe, Yamashiro and Tokugyo-ji: Followers of
the Daishonin, believed to have been imprisoned in
an underground cell following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.
- Essentials of Government in the Chen-kuan Era (627-649):
(Chin., Chen-kuan Cheng-yao) Written by Wu Ching during
the T'ang dynasty in China, it discusses political
matters between the emperor and his subjects.
- Anthology of Tales: A collection of non-Buddhist
literature. Little is known about it.
- Esoteric Teachings of the Eight Sects: The esoteric
doctrines of the eight major Buddhist sects in medieval
Japan: Kusha, Jojitsu, Ritsu, Hosso, Sanron, Kegon,
Shingon and Tendai.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. I, pp. 33-44.