Letter to Nichimyo Shonin
Once there was a person named Gyobo Bonji.1
He traveled from country to country for twelve years in
search of the teachings of a Buddha. In those days none
of the three treasures -- the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood
-- had yet appeared. Nevertheless, Bonji continued his quest
for Buddhism as desperately as a thirsty man seeks water
or as a starving person looks for food. One day a Brahman2
came to him and said, "I possess a verse of the sacred
teaching. If you are a true seeker of Buddhism, I will impart
it to you." Bonji beseeched him to do so. The Brahman
said, "To prove your sincerity, first peel off your
skin for parchment, break off one of your bones for a writing
brush, grind up its marrow for pigment, and draw your blood
to mix the ink. If you are willing to do all this, I will
teach you the Buddhas verse."
Bonji was overjoyed. He peeled off his
skin, dried it and made parchment of it. When he had done
all the things demanded of him just as he had been told,
the Brahman suddenly vanished. Bonji bewailed his fate,
now gazing up to heaven, now flinging himself to the ground.
The Buddha, feeling his sincerity, emerged from beneath
the earth and taught him: "Practice that which accords
with the Law; do not practice that which contradicts it.
One who practices the Law will dwell in peace and security
both in this life and the next."3
The moment Bonji heard this, he became a Buddha. This teaching
consists of twenty Chinese characters.
Once [in one of his previous existences]
when Shakyamuni was a wheel-turning king4
engaged in bodhisattva practice, he revered an eight-character
phrase which stated: "He who is born is destined to
die. To extinguish this cycle is to enter the joy of nirvana."5
As an offering to the eight characters, he transformed his
own body into a thousand burning candles. Moreover, he inscribed
those characters on stone walls and main roads so that those
who read them would arouse the aspiration for enlightenment.
The light of those candles reached as high as the Trayastrimsha
Heaven,6 where it served
as illumination for Taishaku and the other deities.
In another past existence Shakyamuni was
carrying out bodhisattva austerities in search of Buddhism.
One day a leper said to him, "I possess the true teaching
which consists of twenty characters. If you will massage
my leprous body, embrace and lick it, feeding me two or
three pounds of your own flesh every day. I will impart
the teaching to you." Shakyamuni did exactly as the
leper said. As a result, he obtained the twenty-character
teaching and attained Buddhahood. The teaching went, "The
Tathagata is enlightened to the truth of nirvana, and has
forever freed himself from the sufferings of birth and death.
Anyone who wholeheartedly listens to him will surely obtain
There was once a person called Sessen Doji8
who lived in the Snow Mountains. Although he had mastered
all non-Buddhist teachings, he had not yet encountered Buddhism.
Then, one day, he happened to hear a terrifying demon recite
a verse which began: "All is changeable, nothing is
constant. This is the law of birth and death."9
The demon, however, spoke only the first eight characters
of the verse, leaving the rest unsaid. Although Sessen Doji
was exceedingly glad to have heard the first eight characters,
he felt as though he had been given only half the wish-granting
jewel.10 It was like
a plant which flowers but bears no fruit. When he asked
for the remaining eight characters, the demon replied, "I
have had nothing to eat for several days. I am too dazed
with hunger to preach the remaining eight characters. First
give me some food!" Doji asked, "What do you eat?"
The demon answered, "I feed on the warm flesh and blood
of human beings. Though I can fly anywhere throughout the
four continents in the space of a moment, I can obtain no
warm flesh and blood. Human beings are protected by heaven,
so I cannot kill them unless they commit evil."
Sessen Doji said, "I will make you
an offering of my own body, so teach me the remaining eight
characters." The demon said, "You are a cunning
fellow, arent you? Surely you are trying to deceive
me." Doji replied, "If one is offered gold and
silver in exchange for tiles and stones, should he not accept
it? If I die to no purpose on this mountain, then my body
will be devoured by kites, owls, wolves and tigers, and
will bring me no benefit whatsoever. On the other hand,
if I give my life for the remaining eight characters, it
will be like exchanging filth for food."
The demon was still suspicious. Doji assured
him, saying, "I have guarantors to vouch for my honesty.
Like the Buddhas of ages past, I call upon Bonten, Taishaku,
the gods of the sun and the moon and the Four Heavenly Kings
to be my witnesses." Finally the demon consented to
impart the second half of the verse. Doji removed his deerskin
garment and spread it out for the demon to sit upon. Then
he knelt down and joined his palms together in supplication,
begging the demon to be seated. The fierce demon complied
and began to recite, "Extinguishing the cycle of birth
and death, one enters the joy of nirvana."11
When Doji had learned the entire verse, he inscribed it
on trees and stones. This completed, he cast himself into
the demons mouth. Doji was actually Shakyamuni in
one of his past existences, while the demon was Taishaku
Bodhisattva Yakuo burnt his elbows for
seventy-two thousand years as an offering to the Lotus Sutra.
Bodhisattva Fukyo was for many years abused, humiliated,
beaten and stoned by countless monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen
because he venerated them by uttering the twenty-four characters
which read: "I deeply respect you. I would not dare
despise you or be arrogant, for you will all practice the
bodhisattva way and surely attain Buddhahood."12
Bodhisattva Fukyo was the Lord Shakyamuni in one of his
past lifetimes. King Suzudan performed menial labor in the
service of the hermit Ashi for a thousand years in order
to receive the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. He even
went so far as to make a bed of his own body for his master.
As a result, he was reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha.13
Myoho-renge-kyo consists of eight volumes.
Reading these eight volumes is in effect equal to reading
sixteen, for the sutra was expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha
and verified by Taho Buddha. The sixteen volumes, in turn,
represent innumerable volumes, for their truth was verified
by all the Buddhas of the ten directions. In the same way,
each character in the sutra equals two, for it was uttered
by Shakyamuni and confirmed by Taho. Again, a single character
equals innumerable others, for the validity of the sutra
was attested to by all the Buddhas of the ten directions.
A single wish-granting jewel can cause as many treasures
to rain down as would two such jewels or, even more, a would
innumerable jewels. Likewise, each character in the Lotus
Sutra is like a jewel, and since it stands for innumerable
others, it is like an uncountable number of jewels. The
character myo [of Myoho-renge-kyo] was uttered by
two tongues, the tongues of Shakyamuni and Taho. The tongues
of these two Buddhas are like an eight-petaled lotus flower
one petal overlapping another, on which rests a jewel, the
character of myo.
The jewel of the character myo contains
all the benefits which Shakyamuni Buddha received by practicing
the six paramitas in his past existences: the benefits he
obtained through the practice of almsgiving by offering
his body to a starving tigress14
and by giving his life in exchange for that of a dove;15
the benefits he obtained when he was King Shudama,16
who, in order to observe the precepts, kept his word though
it meant his death; the benefits he obtained as a hermit
called Ninniku17 by
enduring the tortures inflicted upon him by King Kari; the
benefits he obtained as Prince Nose18
and as the hermit Shojari,19
and all his other benefits. We, people in the evil age of
the Latter Day of the Law, have not formed even a single
good cause, but Shakyamuni, [by bestowing upon us the character
myo,] has granted us as many benefits as if we ourselves
had fulfilled all the practices of the six paramitas. This
precisely accords with his statement. "Now this three-fold
world is all my domain. The living beings in it are all
Bound as we common mortals are by earthly desires, we can
instantly attain the same virtues as the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni,
for we receive all the virtues which he accumulated. The
sutra states, "At the start I pledged to make all people
perfectly equal to me, without any distinction between us."21
This means that those who believe in and practice the Lotus
Sutra are equal to Shakyamuni Buddha.
To illustrate, a father and mother unite
in conjugal harmony to give birth to a child. No one can
dispute that the child is the flesh and blood of its parents.
A calf begotten by an ox king will become an ox king; it
will never become a lion king. A cub sired by a lion king
will become a lion king; it will never become a human king
or heavenly king. Now the votaries of the Lotus Sutra are
the children of Shakyamuni Buddha, as the sutra states,
"The living beings in it are all my children."
It is not difficult for them to become kings of the Law
just as Shakyamuni Buddha did.
Unfilial children, however, are not allowed
to succeed their parents. King Yao22
had an heir named Tan Chu, and King Shun had a prince named
Shang Chun. As both sons were lacking in filial piety, they
were disowned by their respective fathers and demoted to
the rank of commoners. Chung Hua and Yu were the children
of commoners, but both were extremely filial. Hearing of
this, King Yao and King Shun summoned Chung Hua and
Yu, respectively, and abdicated their thrones to them. Commoners
became royalty in a day. Just as a commoner can become a
king, so can an ordinary person become a Buddha instantly.
This is the heart of the doctrine of ichinen sanzen.
How, then, can we obtain this benefit?
Should we peel off our skins as Gyobo Bonji did, follow
Sessen Dojis example and offer our bodies to a demon,
or emulate Bodhisattva Yakuo in burning our elbows? As the
Great Teacher Chang-an stated, "You should distinguish
between the shoju23
and shakubuku methods and never adhere solely to one or
the other."24 What
practice one should perform in order to master the True
Law and attain Buddhahood depends upon the times. Were there
no paper in Japan, then you should peel off your skin. Had
the Lotus Sutra not yet been introduced to our country and
the only individual to appear who knew it was a demon, then
you should offer your body to him. Were there no oil available
in our land, then you should burn your elbows. But of what
use is it to peel off ones skin when the country is
abundantly supplied with excellent paper?
Hsuan-tsang journeyed throughout India
in search of the Law for seventeen years, covering a distance
of a hundred thousand ri.25
Dengyo remained in China for only two years, but he traveled
three thousand ri across the billowing sea to arrive
there. They were both men, sages and worthies at that, and
theirs was a more virtuous age. Never have I heard of a
woman who journeyed a thousand ri in search of Buddhism
as you did. True, the dragon kings daughter attained
enlightenment without changing her dragon form, and the
received a prediction that she would become a Buddha in
the future. I am not certain, but they may have been female
forms assumed by Buddhas or bodhisattvas. After all, those
events occurred in the Buddhas lifetime.
A womans nature differs from a mans
just as fire differs from water, fire being hot and water
cold. Fishermen are skilled in catching fish, and hunters
are proficient in trapping deer. A sutra states that it
is a womans nature to be jealous, but no sutra says
that women are good at seeking Buddhism. A womans
mind is compared to a breeze; even if it were possible to
bind the wind, one could never grasp a womans mind.
A womans mind is likened to characters written on
the surface of water; they do not remain a moment. A woman
is compared to a liar; one cannot tell whether a liars
words are true or false. A womans mind is compared
to a river, for all rivers meander.
The Lotus Sutra, however, is the teaching
which contains Shakyamunis declaration that he would
now "honestly discard the provisional teachings."26
It is the sutra of which Taho Buddha said, "All that
you [Shakyamuni Buddha] have expounded is the truth."28
It demands that its believers be "honest and upright,
gentle in mind,"29
"gentle, peaceful and upright,"30
and so on. Those who believe in this sutra, therefore, must
have minds which are as straight as a tight-stretched bowstring
or a carpenters inking line. One may call dung sandalwood,
but it will not have the sandalwoods fragrance. A
liar never becomes a truthful person simply because one
calls him honest. All the sutras are the Buddhas golden
teachings, his true words. When compared with the Lotus
Sutra, however, they are false, flattering, abusive or forked-tongued.31
The Lotus Sutra alone is the truth of truths. Only honest
people are able to take faith in this sutra, a teaching
free from all falsehood. Certainly you are a woman of true
Think of it! Even were one to meet a person
who could cross the ocean carrying Mount Sumeru on his head,
one could never find a woman like you. Even though one might
find a person who could steam sand and make boiled rice
of it, one could never meet a lady of your virtue. Let it
be known that Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha, all the Buddhas
of the ten directions, great bodhisattvas such as Jogyo
and Muhengyo, Bonten, Taishaku, the Four Heavenly Kings
and other deities will protect you and be with you always,
just as a shadow accompanies the body. You are undoubtedly
the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra among the women of
Japan. Therefore, following the example of Bodhisattva Fukyo,
I bestow on you the Buddhist name, Nichimyo Shonin.32
From Kamakura in Sagami Province to the
northern province of Sado is a journey of more than a thousand
ri over treacherous mountains and the raging sea.
The wind and rain make untimely onslaughts; bandits lurk
in the mountains and pirates lie in wait on the sea. The
people at every stage and every post town are as bestial
as dogs or tigers, and you must have felt as though you
were undergoing the sufferings of the three evil paths.
Moreover, we live in troubled times. Since last year our
country has been filled with rebels, and finally, on the
eleventh day of the second month of this year, a battle
broke out.33 It is now
almost the end of the fifth month, but society has not yet
been restored to tranquillity. Nevertheless, despite all
the risks involved, you traveled to Sado carrying your infant
daughter, since her father, from whom you have long been
separated, was not to be depended upon for her care.
I cannot even imagine the hardships you
must have suffered during your journey, much less describe
them in words, so I will lay down my writing brush.
The twenty-fifth day of the fifth month
in the ninth year of Bunei (1272)
- Gyobo Bonji: The name of Shakyamuni when he practiced
bodhisattva austerities in a past existence. This story
appears in the Daichido RotL
- Brahman: A priest of Brahmanism. Since Brahmans belonged
to the hi h class within the ancient Indian caste system
and had the exclusive right 2, est administrating religious
affairs, they were the most highly respected in ttat society.
- Daichido Ron, vol. 16.
- Wheel-turning king: An ideal ruler in Indian mythology.
In Buddhism, wheel-turninK kings are regarded as kings
who rule the world byjustice rather than force. T ey possess
thirty-two distinctive features and rule the four continents
surrounding Mt. Sumeru by turning the wheels which they
were given by heaven at the time of their coronation.
These wheels are of four kinds: gold, silver, copper and
- H5on Sutra, vol. 2.
- Trayastrimsha Heaven: Also called the Heaven of the
Thirty-three Gods. The second of the six heavens of the
world of desire. It is said to be located on a plateau
at the top of Mt. Sumeru, where thirty-three Gods, including
Taishaku, are said to live. Taishaku rules from his palace
in the center, an the other thirty-two gods live on four
peaks, eight gods to a peak, in each of the plateau's
- Nirvana Sutra, vol. 2.o. This passage consists of twenty
- Sessen Doji: The name of Shakyamuni in a previous lifetime.
See also Glossary.
- Nirvana Sutra, vol. 14.
- Wish-granting jewel: See p. 9, n. 24.
- Nirvana Sutra, vol. 14.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 2.o.
- This story is recounted in the Devadatta (12 th) chapter
of the Lotus Sutra, though the name Suzudan is not specifically
mentionecl. Ashi is referred to as a former incarnation
- This story appears in the Konkomyo Saisl:55Sutra. Ina
past existence, as Prince Satta, son of King Makarada,
Shakyamum found an in*ured htiagtress that had given birth
and was too weak with hunger to feed her cut At t mie
he gave his body as an offering to feed her.
- Accordin to the Bosatsu Honj5 Manrot; one day the god
Bishukatsuma disguised himselfas a dove and Taishaku changed
himself into a hawk in order to test King Shibi. The hawk
pursued the dove, which flew into King Shibi's robes for
protection. in order to save the dove, Shibi offered his
own flesh to wl"M 16 -epts, kept his word
- Shudama: Mso called Fumya. The name of Shakyamuni when
he was a king in a past existence engaged in the paramita
of observing precepts. According to the Daichido Rot4
King Fumyb and 99 other kinis, (999 kings according to
another source) had been captured by King Rokuso u and
were about to be killed. King Fumyb asked King Rokusoku
to let him keep a promise he had made to give offerings
to a certain monk. King Rokusoku granted him seven King
Fum - returned to his country, transferrerthe throne to
his son. After g one's promise is the most important ;
the latter was so impressed by Fumyo's other kings, and
also converted to Buddhism.
- This story appears in the,Kengu Sutra. The hermit Ninniku
was ShakyaMuni when he was carrying out the paramita of
forbearance in a past existence. Ninniku once preached
the practice of forbearance to the female attendants of
King Kari of Varanasi. The king assumed that the hermit
had been trying to seduce them and flew into a rage. Being
informed that the hermit was engaged in the practice offorbearance,
the king cut offhis hands, legs, cars and nose. But the
hermit did not flinch. His blood turned into milk and
his body restored itself Seeing this, the king repented
his conduct and thereafter protected the hermit.
- Nose: This story appears in the Kengu Sutra and elsewhere.
Born to a royal family, Prince Nose felt pity for the
poor and suffering people of this country and implored
his father to give all his treasures to them. When
his father had exhausted his treasures, the prince went
into the sea to look for a fabulous wish-granting jewel
owned by the dragon king. He faced many obstacles,
but finally found the jewel, and, bringing it back with
him, caused treasures to rain down upon his people. This
prince was Shakyamuni in a past existence.
- Shojari: The name of Shakyamuni
when he was a hermit practicing the r2marelditation. in
a past existence. According to the Daichido Rot; while
paramita Sho-Jarl was enlaged in
meditation, a bird happened to build a nest in his hair
and laid severa eggs. One day he attained a great insight,
but, being aware of the eggs on his head, he did not move
until they had hatched and the baby birds were
able to fly away.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
- Ibid., chap. 2.
- Yao and Shun: Legendary kin of ancient China, who were
highly respected by the people for their excelent rule.
King Yao abdicated his throne to Ch'ung Hua, who was revered
as King Shun.
- Shodai here does not indicate a method of Buddhist propagation,
but rather, seeVin the Law for one's own enlightenment
as opposed to propagating it to oth er s (% kubuku).
- Nehanffb Sho.
- Ri: See p. 25, IL 72. A hundred thousand ri here is
used metaphorically to mean an extremely long distance.
- Mahaprajapati: A younger sister of Maya, Shakyamuni's
mother. After Maya's death, she married Sh~ddhodana, his
father, and raised Shakyamuni. After Shuddhodana's death,
she renounced secular life and followed Shakyamuni's teachings.
The Kanji (13th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra predicts that
she will become the Buddha Beheld with joy by All Sentient
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 2.
- Ibid. chap. it.
- Ibid.: chap. 16.
- These correspond to the four verbal evils of lying,
flattery (or random and irresponsible speech), defamation
- According to the Fukyo (20th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra,
Bodhisattva Fukyo propagated a teaching consisting of
twenty-four characters and showed respect toward all people
for their innate Buddha nature. He predicted that all
would become Buddhas in the future. in the same spirit,
Nichiren Daishonin gave the recipient of this letter the
Buddhist name Nichimyo Shonin. Nichi of N' h- - from Nichiren,
indicating the sun, and myo is that of Myoho- Ic "Yo
50Tes - h ffe or a Buddha. renge-kyo. honin ere means
- Hojo Tokisuke,.an elder ha brother of the regent, Hojo
Tokinume, had been plotting to seize power, but Tokimune
heard of the plot and swiftly suppressed it by having
his brother killed.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 3, p. 43.
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