Letter to Niike
What joy to have been born in the Latter Day of the Law
and to have shared in the propagation of true Buddhism!
How pitiful are those who, though born in this time, cannot
believe in the Lotus Sutra!
No one can escape death once he is born as a human being,
so why do you not practice in preparation for the next life?
When I observe what people are doing, I realize that although
they profess faith in the Lotus Sutra and clasp its scrolls,
they act against the spirit of the sutra and thereby readily
fall into the evil paths. To illustrate, a person has five
major internal organs, but should even one of them become
diseased, it will infect all the others and eventually he
will die. The Great Teacher Dengyo stated, "Even though
one praises the Lotus Sutra, he destroys its heart."
He meant that even if one embraces, reads and praises the
Lotus Sutra, if he betrays its intent, he will be destroying
not only Shakyamuni but all other Buddha in the universe.
The sum of our worldly misdeeds and evil karma may be as
great as Mount Sumeru, but once we take faith in this sutra,
they will vanish like frost or dew under the sun of the
Lotus Sutra. However, if one commits even one or two of
the fourteen slanders set forth in this sutra, his offense
is almost impossible to expiate. Killing a single Buddha
would be a far greater offense than destroying all living
beings in the universe, and to violate the sutra's spirit
is to commit the sin of destroying all Buddhas. One who
commits any of these fourteen is a slanderer.
Hell is a dreadful dwelling of fire, and Hunger is a pitiful
state where starving people devour their own children. Anger
is strife, and Animality is to kill or be killed. The hell
of the blood-red lotus is so called because the intense
cold of this hell makes one double over until his back splits
open and the bloody flesh emerges like a crimson lotus flower.
And there are hells even more horrible. Once one falls into
such an evil state, even a throne or the title of general
means nothing. He is no different from a monkey on a string,
tormented by the guards of hell. What use are his fame and
fortune then? Can he still be arrogant and persist in his
Stop and ponder! How rare is the faith that moves one to
give alms to a priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra!
He will not stray into the evil paths if he does so even
once. Still greater are the benefits arising from ten or
twenty contributions, or from five years, ten years, or
a lifetime of contributions. They are even beyond the measure
of the Buddha's wisdom. The Buddha taught that the blessings
of a single offering to the votary of this sutra are a hundred
thousand myriad times greater than those of offering boundless
treasure to Shakyamuni for more than eight billion aeons.
When you embrace this sutra, you will overflow with happiness
and shed tears of joy. It seems impossible to repay our
debt to Shakyamuni, but by your frequent offerings to me
deep in these mountains you will repay the merciful kindness
of the Lotus Sutra and Shakyamuni Buddha. Strive ever harder
in faith and never give in to negligence. Everyone appears
to believe sincerely when he first embraces the Lotus Sutra,
but as time passes, he tends to become less devout; he no
longer reveres nor serves the priest and arrogantly forms
distorted views. This is most frightening. Be diligent in
developing your faith until the last moment of your life.
Otherwise you will have regrets. For example, the journey
from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel
for eleven but stop on the twelfth, how can you admire the
moon over the capital? No matter what, be close to the priest
who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra, keep learning from
him the truth of Buddhism and continue you journey of faith.
How swiftly the days pass! It makes us realize how short
are the years we have left. Friends enjoy the cherry blossoms
together on spring mornings and then they are gone, carried
away like the blossoms by the winds of impermanence, leaving
nothing but their names. Although the blossoms have scattered,
the cherry trees will bloom again with the coming of spring,
but when will those people be reborn? The companions with
whom we composed poems praising the moon on autumn evenings
have vanished with the moon behind the shifting clouds.
Only their mute images remain in our hearts. The moon has
set behind the western mountains, yet we shall compose poetry
under it again next autumn. But where are our companions
who have passed away? Even when the approaching Tiger of
Death roars, we do not hear. How many more days are left
to the sheep bound for slaughter?
Deep in the Snow Mountains lives a bird called Kankucho
which, tortured by the numbing cold, cries that it will
build a nest in the morning. Yet, when the day breaks, it
sleeps away the hours in the warm light of the morning sun
without building its nest. So it continues to cry vainly
throughout its life. The same is true of people. When they
fall into hell and suffocate in its flames, they long to
be reborn as humans and vow to put everything else aside
and serve the three treasures in order to attain enlightenment
in their next life. But even on the rare occasions when
they happen to be reborn human, the winds of fame and fortune
blow violently and the lamp of Buddhist practice is easily
extinguished. The squander their wealth without a qualm
on meaningless trifles but begrudge even the smallest contribution
to the Buddha, the Law, and the Priest. This is very serious,
for then they are being hindered by messengers from hell.
This is the meaning of "Good by the inch invites evil
by the yard."
Furthermore, since this is a land whose people slander
the Lotus Sutra, the gods who would be protecting them thirst
for the Law and ascend to heaven, forsaking their shrines.
The empty shrines are the occupied by demons who mislead
the worshippers. The Buddha, his teachings completed, returned
to eternal paradise. Temples and shrines were abandoned
to become the dwellings of devils. These imposing structures
stand in rows, built at state expense, and still the people
suffer. These are not merely my own words; they are found
in the sutras, so you should learn them well.
Neither Buddhas nor gods would ever accept contributions
from those who slander the Law. Then how can we human beings
accept them? The deity of Kasuga Shrine proclaimed through
an oracle that he would accept nothing from those with impure
hearts, though he should have to eat the flames of burning
copper; that he would refuse to set foot in their homes,
though he should have to sit on red-hot copper. He would
rather come down to a miserable hut with weeds choking the
passageway, or to a poor thatched cottage. He declared that
he would never visit the unfaithful even if they hung sacred
festoons for a thousand days to welcome him, but that he
would go to a house where the people believe, no matter
how others might shun their wretchedness. Lamenting that
slanderers overturn this country, the gods abandoned it
and ascended to heaven. "Those with impure hearts"
means those who refuse to embrace the Lotus Sutra, as is
stated in the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra. If the gods
themselves regard alms from slanderers as "flames of
burning copper," how could we common mortals possibly
consume them? If someone were to kill our parents and then
try to offer us some gift, could we possibly accept it?
Not even sages or saints con avoid the hell of incessant
suffering if they accept offerings from slanderers. Nor
should you associate with slanderers, for if you do, you
will share the same guilt as they. This you should fear
Shakyamuni is the father, sovereign and teacher of all
other Buddhas and all gods, of the whole assembly of men
and heavenly beings, and of all sentient beings, What god
would rejoice if Shakyamuni were killed? Today all the people
of our country have proved to be enemies of Shakyamuni,
but more than lay men or women, it is the priests with twisted
understanding who are the Buddha's worst enemies. There
are two kinds of understanding, true and perverted. No matter
how learned a person may appear, if his ideas are warped
you should not listen to him. Nor should you follow priests
merely because they are venerable or of high rank. But if
a person has the wisdom to know the spirit of the Lotus
Sutra, no matter how lowly he may appear, worship him and
serve him as though he were a living Buddha. This is stated
in the sutra. That is why the Great Teacher Dengyo said
that the lay men and women who believe in this sutra, even
if they lack knowledge or violate the precepts, should be
seated above Hinayana priests who strictly observe all 250
commandment. The priests of this Mahayana sutra should therefore
be seated even higher. Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji temple is believed
to be a living Buddha, but men and women who believe in
the Lotus Sutra should be seated high above him. It seems
extraordinary that this Ryokan, who observes the 250 commandments,
should become angry and glower whenever he sees or hears
about Nichiren. The sage, it seems, has been possessed by
a devil. He is like a basically even tempered person who,
when drunk reveals an evil side and causes trouble. The
Buddha taught that giving alms to Mahakashyapa, Shariputra,
Maudgalyayana and Subhuti, who did not yet know of the Lotus
Sutra, would lead one to fall into the three evil paths.
He said that these four great disciples were more base than
wild dogs or jackals. They adamantly upheld the 250 Buddhist
commandments, and their observance of the three thousand
standards was as perfect as the harvest moon. But until
they embraced the Lotus Sutra they were still like wild
dogs to the Buddha. In his comparison, our priests are so
base that they are beyond description.
So flagrantly do the priests of Kencho-ji and Engaku-ji
temples break the code of conduct that it resembles a mountain
which has collapse into rubble. Their licentious behavior
is like that of monkeys. It is utterly futile to look for
salvation in the next life by giving alms to such priests.
There is no doubt that the protective gods have abandoned
our land. Long ago the gods, bodhisattvas, and men of Learning
pledged together in the presence of Shakyamuni that if there
be a land hostile to the Lotus Sutra, they would become
frost and hail in summer to drive the country into famine,
or pestilence to devour the crops; or cause droughts, or
floods to ruin the fields and farms; or become typhoons
and sweep the people to their deaths; or transform themselves
into demons and plague the people. Bodhisattva Hachiman
was among those present. Does he not fear breaking the oath
made at Eagle Peak? Should he break his promise, he would
surely be doomed to the hell of incessant suffering -- a
fearful, terrible thing to contemplate. Until the envoy
of the Buddha actually appeared to expound the Lotus Sutra,
the rulers of the land were not hostile to it, for they
revered all the sutras equally. However, now that I am spreading
the Lotus Sutra as the Buddha's envoy, everyone -- from
ruler to the lowliest subject --has become a slanderer.
So far Hachiman has done everything possible to prevent
hostility toward the Lotus Sutra from developing among our
people, as reluctant to abandon them as parents would be
to abandon an only child, but now in fear of breaking the
pledge he made at Eagle Peak, he has razed his shrine and
ascended to heaven. Even so, should there be a votary of
the Lotus Sutra who would give his life for it, Hachiman
will watch over him. But since both Tensho Daijin and Hachiman
have gone, how could the other gods remain in their shrines?
Even if they did not wish to leave, how could they stay
another day if I reproach them for not keeping their promise?
A person may be a thief and as long as no one knows, he
can live wherever he wishes. But when denounces as a thief
by someone who knows him, he is forced to flee at once.
In the same way, because I know of their vow, the gods are
compelled to abandon their shrines. Contrary to popular
belief, the land has become inhabited by demons. How pitiful!
Many have expounded the various teachings of Shakyamuni,
but until now, no one, not even T'ien-t'ai or Dengyo, has
taught the most important of all. That is as it should be,
for that teaching appears and spreads with the advent of
Bodhisattva Jogyo during the first five hundred years of
the Latter Day of the Law.
No matter what, always keep your faith in the Lotus Sutra
steadfast. Then, at the last moment of your life, you will
be welcomed by a thousand Buddhas, who will take you swiftly
to the paradise at Eagle Peak where you will experience
the true happiness of the Law. If your faith weakens and
you do not attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, do not reproach
me. If you do, you would be like the patient who refuses
the medicine his physician prescribes and takes the wrong
medicine instead. It never occurs to him that it is his
fault, and he blames the physician when he does not recover.
Faith in this sutra means that you will surely attain Buddhahood
if you are true to the entirety of the Lotus Sutra, adhering
exactly to its teachings without adding any of your own
ideas or following the arbitrary interpretations of others.
Attaining Buddhahood is nothing extraordinary.
If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with your whole heart,
you will naturally become endowed with the Buddha's thirty-two
features and eighty characteristics. Shakyamuni stated,
"At the start I pledged to make all people perfectly
equal to me, without any distinction between us" Therefore,
it is not difficult to become a Buddha. A bird's egg contains
nothing but liquid, yet by itself this develops into a beak,
two eyes, and all the other parts which form a bird, and
can fly into the sky. We, too are like the egg, ignorant
and base, but when nurtured by the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
we develop the beak of the Buddha's thirty-two features
and the feathers of his eighty characteristics and are free
to soar into the skies of the ultimate reality. The Nirvana
Sutra states that all people are enclosed by the shell of
ignorance, lacking the beak of wisdom. The Buddha comes
back to this world, just as a mother bird returns to her
nest, and cracks the shell so that all people, like fledglings,
may leave the nest and soar into the skies of enlightenment.
"Knowledge without faith" describes those who
may be knowledgeable about the Lotus Sutra but do not believe
in it. These people will never attain Buddhahood. Those
of "faith without knowledge" may lack knowledge
but believe, and can attain Buddhahood. These are not merely
my own words but are explicitly stated in the sutra. In
the second volume of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha said to
Shariputra, "It is by faith and not by your own intelligence
that you can attain enlightenment." This explains why
even Shariputra, unsurpassed in his intelligence, was able
to attain Buddhahood only by embracing and firmly believing
in the sutra. Knowledge alone could not bring him to enlightenment.
If Shariputra could not reach enlightenment through his
vast knowledge, how can we, of little knowledge, dare to
dream that we may attain Buddhahood if we do not have faith?
The sutra explains that people in the Latter Day of the
Law will be arrogant, though their knowledge of Buddhism
is trifling, and will show disrespect to the Priest, neglect
the Law and thereby fall into the evil paths. If one truly
understands Buddhism, he should show this in his respect
for the Priest, reverence for the Law and offerings to the
Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha is not among us now, so you must
respect the person with enlightened wisdom as you would
the Buddha himself. If you sincerely follow him, your blessings
will be bountiful. If one wishes for happiness in his next
existence, he should renounce his desire for fame and fortune
and respect the priest who teaches the Lotus Sutra as a
living Buddha, no matter how humble that priest's station.
Thus it is written in the sutra.
The Zen sect today violates the five great principles of
humanity -- benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom
and faith. To honor the wise and virtuous, to respect the
elderly and protect the young, are recognized universally
as humane conduct in both Buddhist and secular realms. But
the Zen priests, who are nothing but uneducated rabble,
are not even intelligent enough to distinguish black from
white. They have now donned gaudy priestly garments and
become so conceited that they belittle the learned and virtuous
priests of the Tendai and Shingon sects. They observe none
of the proper manners and think that they rank higher than
all others. These people are so insolent that even the animals
are more respectable. Regarding this, the Great Teacher
Dengyo wrote that the otter shows his respect before eating
the fish he has caught, the crow in the forest carries food
to its parents and grandparents, the dove takes care to
perch three branches lower than its father, wild geese keep
perfect formation when they fly together, and lambs kneel
to drink their mother's milk. He asks, if lowly animals
conduct themselves with such propriety, how can human beings
be so lacking in courtesy? Judging from the words of Dengyo,
it is only natural that the Zen priests should be confused
about Buddhism when they are ignorant even of how men should
behave. They are acting like devils.
Understand clearly what I have taught you here and practice
without negligence all the teachings of the Lotus Sutra's
eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters. When you long to
see me, pray toward the sun and at the same time, my image
will be reflected there. Have the priest who is my messenger
read this letter to you. Trust him as a priest with enlightened
wisdom and ask him any questions you may have about Buddhism.
If you do not question and resolve your doubts, you cannot
dispel the dark clouds of illusion, any more than you could
travel a thousand miles without legs. Have him read this
letter again and again and ask whatever questions you wish.
In expectation of seeing you again, I will conclude here.
The second month in the third year of Koan (1280)
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. I, pp. 253
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