Letter to Shomitsu-bo
With regard to the Dainichi Sutra, Shan-wu-wei,
Pu-k'ung and Chin-kang-chih declared that the principle
of the Dainichi Sutra is the same as the principle
of the Lotus Sutra, but in the matter of mudras and
mantras, the Lotus Sutra is inferior. On the other
hand, the Chinese priests Liang-hsu, Kuang-hsiu and Wei-chuan
declared that the Dainichi Sutra cannot compare to
the Kegon, Lotus or Nirvana Sutra, but is merely
one of the sutras belonging to the Hodo category.
The Great Teacher Kobo of Japan states, "The Lotus
Sutra is inferior even to the Kegon Sutra, and so
of course it cannot compare to the Dainichi Sutra."
He also says: "The Lotus Sutra was preached by Shakyamuni,
while the Dainichi Sutra was preached by the Buddha
Mahavairochana or Dainichi. The lord of teachings who proclaims
the sutra is different in the two cases. In addition, Shakyamuni
Buddha is a mere messenger of Dainichi Buddha. He preached
the exoteric doctrines, which represent no more than the
first step toward the esoteric doctrines." And again
he states, "The Buddha of the Juryo chapter,
which is the heart of the Lotus Sutra, is a Buddha in terms
of the exoteric teachings; but from the point of view of
the esoteric teachings, he is no more than a common mortal
who is bound by and entangled in illusions and desire."
Nichiren, after pondering the matter, has this to say:
The Dainichi Sutra is one of the newer translations
and was transmitted to China by the Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei
of India in the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsung of the T'ang,
in the fourth year of the K'ai-yuan era (716). The Lotus
Sutra is one of the older translations, transmitted to China
by the Learned Doctor Kumarajiva in the time of the Later
Ch'in (384-417). The two are separated by an interval of
more than three hundred years.
A hundred years or more after the Lotus Sutra was brought
to China, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai Chih-che established
in the realm of doctrinal studies the classification of
the five periods and the four teaching. He refuted the doctrinal
interpretations that had been put forward by the scholars
of the preceding five hundred years or more, and through
his practice of meditation he awakened to the truth of ichinen
sanzen, realizing for the first time the principle of
the Lotus Sutra. The Sanron school that had preceded the
Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and the Hosso school that appeared
after his time both taught the doctrine of the eight worlds
but made no mention of the Ten Worlds. So these sects could
not possibly have established the doctrine of ichinen
The Kegon school had its beginnings among the various teachers
of northern and southern China before T'ien-t'ai's advent.
These teachers declared that the Kegon Sutra was
superior to the Lotus Sutra, but at that time they did not
refer to themselves as the Kegon school. It was Fa-tsang
and Ch'eng-kuan, men of the reign of Empress Tse-t'ien,
the consort of Emperor Kao-tsung of the T'ang, who first
began using the term Kegon school.
This school, in its doctrinal interpretations, posits the
five teachings, and, in its mediational practices, sets
forth the principles of the ten mysteries and the six forms.
All these teachings appear to be extremely impressive, and
one might think that by means of them Ch'eng-kuan would
have been able to refute the teachings of T'ien-t'ai. But
in fact what Ch'eng-kuan did was to borrow T'ien-t'ai's
doctrine of ichinen sanzen and define it as the true
intent of the passage in the Kegon Sutra that reads,
"The mind is like a skilled painter." We might
say, then, that the Kegon school was actually defeated by
T'ien-t'ai, or perhaps we should say that it was guilty
of stealing the doctrine of ichinen sanzen. Ch'eng-kuan
was, to be sure, a strict observer of the precepts. Not
a single precept of either the Mahayana or Hinayana codes
did he violate in any way. And yet he stole the doctrine
of ichinen sanzen, a fact that ought to be made known
by word of mouth.
Whether or not the term "Shingon school" was
used in India is a matter of serious doubt. It may simply
be that, because there is a group of sutras known as the
Shingon sutras, Shan-wu-wei and others affixed the term
"school" to the teachings based on these sutras
when they introduced them to China. One should be well aware
of this point.
In particular one should note that, when Shan-wu-wei came
to judge the relative merits of the Lotus Sutra and the
Dainichi Sutra, he set forth the interpretation that
the two are equal in principle but that the latter is superior
in terms of practice. By this he meant that, although the
principle of ichinen sanzen is the same in both the
Lotus and the Dainichi sutras, the Lotus Sutra contains
no mention of mudras and mantras, and is therefore,
in terms of the practices to be carried out, inferior to
the Dainichi Sutra. So long as it lacks actual descriptions
of the formulas for practice, one cannot say that it represents
the esoteric teachings in both theory and practice.
Nowadays many people in Japan, as well as many leaders
of the different sects, subscribe to this opinion of Shan-wu-wei,
including the leaders of the Tendai sect, who should be
the last to do so. In this they are just like the members
of the various sects who, although jealous [of the Nembutsu
believers], have all begun themselves to call out the name
of Amida, and have completely abandoned the particular object
of worship revered in their own sects. So the Tendai priests
have all sunk to the level of Shingon believers.
I am very suspicious of the logic underlying Shan-wu-wei's
argument. This Learned Doctor Shan-wu-wei declares that
the Lotus Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra are equal
in principle but that the latter is superior in terms of
practice. He is taking the doctrine of ichinen sanzen
first enunciated by the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and reading
it into the Dainichi Sutra and on that basis arbitrarily
declaring that the two sutras are alike. But should we accept
such an assertion?
For example, long ago, Hitomaro composed a poem that goes:
How I think of it -
dim, dim in the morning mist
of Akashi Bay,
that boat moving out of sight
beyond the islands.
Ki no Shukubo, Minamoto no Shitagau, and others have praised
this poem, declaring it to be "the father and mother
of poetry." Now suppose someone should announce that
he had composed a poem and, without changing a single syllable,
should proceed to recite this poem by Hitomaro and then
boast that his talent was in no way inferior to that of
Hitomaro. Would anyone be likely to agree with his claim?
Uneducated people like hunters and fishermen might just
possibly do so.
Now this principle of ichinen sanzen that was first
put forward by the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai is the father
and mother of the Buddhas. Yet, a hundred years or so later,
Shan-wu-wei steals this doctrine and proceeds to declare
in his writings that the Dainichi Sutra and the Lotus
Sutra are equal in principle and that the principle they
have in common is this one of ichinen sanzen. Should
any person of wisdom or understanding give credence to such
He further asserts that the Dainichi Sutra is superior
in terms of practice because the Lotus Sutra contains no
mention of mudras and mantras. Now is he speaking
of the relative worth of the Sanskrit versions of the Dainichi
and Lotus sutras? Or is he speaking of the relative worth
of the Chinese versions of these two sutras?
The Learned Doctor Pu-k'ung's translation of the Hokke
Gengi, or Rituals Based on the Lotus Sutra, indicates
that the Lotus Sutra does in fact contain mudras
and mantras. Similarly, the older translation of
the Ninno Sutra by Kumarajiva contains no mudras
or mantras; but the later translation of the same
sutra by Pu-k'ung does contain mudras and mantras.
These various sutras as they existed in India no doubt
had a countless number of such practices associated with
them. But because India and China are far apart and it was
difficult to transport everything, the sutras were abridged
[when they were brought to China].
Although the Lotus Sutra does not mention mudras
and mantras, it has the merit of declaring that persons
in the two realms of shomon and engaku can
attain Buddhahood, and even records the kalpas when this
will happen, the lands where it will take place, and the
names that the various shomon disciples will bear
when they become Buddhas. And it also declares that the
Buddha attained enlightenment in the incomparably distant
past. The Dainichi Sutra may describe mudras
and mantras, but it says nothing about the attainment
of Buddhahood by those of the two vehicles of shomon
and engaku, or the Buddha's original enlightenment
in the far distant past.
If we compare this doctrine of the attainment of Buddhahood
by persons of the two vehicles with the matter of mudras
and mantras, we will see that they are as far apart
in importance as heaven and earth. In all the various sutras
that the Buddha preached in the forty or more years before
he preached the Lotus Sutra, persons of the two vehicles
of shomon and engaku are described as [incapable
of attaining Buddhahood, like] rotten seeds that will never
sprout. They are condemned not merely in a word or two but
in innumerable passages in sutra after sutra. In the Lotus
Sutra, however, all these passages are refuted; and it is
proclaimed that persons of the two vehicles can in fact
As for mudras and mantras, where in any sutra
has one ever encountered a passage condemning them? And
since they have never been condemned, the Dainichi
Sutra, as many other sutras do, feels no hesitation in mentioning
mudras and mantras, and therefore teaches
A mudra is a gesture made with the hand. But if
the hand does not become Buddha, how can mudras made
with the hand lead one to Buddhahood? A mantra is
a motion made with the mouth. But if the mouth does not
become Buddha, how can mantras made with the mouth
lead one to Buddhahood? If the persons of the two vehicles
do not encounter the Lotus Sutra, then even though they
may perform the mudras and mantras of the
twelve hundred and more honored ones for innumerable kalpas,
they will never attain Buddhahood in body, mouth or mind.
One who would declare as superior a text that contains
no mention of the fact that persons in the two vehicles
can attain Buddhahood, though this is a highly superior
teaching, but instead describes mudras and mantras,
though these are a matter of inferior significance, must
be a thief in terms of principle and a heretic in terms
of practice - the kind who regards inferior things as superior.
Because he committed this error, Shan-wu-wei was censured
by Emma, the king of hell. Later he repented of it, revered
the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, and put his faith in the Lotus
Sutra; so he escaped the realm of evil.
The Buddha's original enlightenment in the far distant
past is not even hinted at in the Dainichi Sutra.
And yet this original enlightenment is the source of all
Buddhas. Thus if we take the vast ocean as a symbol of the
Buddha's original enlightenment in the distant past, then
the fish and birds that inhabit it are comparable to the
twelve hundred and more honored ones of the Shingon teachings.
Without the revelation of the Buddha's enlightenment countless
ages ago, the twelve hundred and more honored ones would
become like so many bits of floating weed that lack any
root, or like the nighttime dew that lasts only until the
People of the Tendai sect fail to understand this matter
and thus allow themselves to be deceived by the Shingon
teachers. And the Shingon teachers themselves, unaware that
their own sect is in error, go on vainly accumulating distorted
ideas that can only lead to the evil paths of existence.
The priest Kukai [Kobo] not only failed to understand this
principle, but in addition he borrowed a false interpretation
of the Kegon sect that had already been refuted in the past;
and adopted the erroneous view that the Lotus Sutra is inferior
even to the Kegon Sutra. This is like talking about
the length of turtles' fur or the existence of rabbits'
horns. Since turtles in fact have no fur growing on their
shells, can we argue about how long the fur is? Since rabbits
have no horns on their heads, how can we go about discussing
the existence of such horns?
Even someone [like Shan-wu-wei] who declared that the Lotus
Sutra and the Dainichi Sutra are the same in principle
could not escape the censure of King Emma. How then can
someone who says that the Kegon Sutra is inferior
to the Dainichi Sutra, and that the Lotus Sutra is
in turn inferior to the Kegon Sutra, escape the charge
of slandering the Law? Though the individuals involved may
differ, the slander is the same. From this we can discern
the reason why Kukai's principal disciple, the Administrator
of Monks Kakinomoto no Ki, turned into a blue demon [after
his death]. Unless Kukai has repented of his mistaken opinions
and rectified them, he no doubt still remains in the realm
of evil. What then will be the fate of his followers?
Question: Priest, why do you alone spew forth such evil
words about other people?
Answer: I, Nichiren, am not condemning others. I am only
pointing out the questionable places in their doctrines.
If anyone wants to get angry at me, then let him!
Long ago, the doctrines of Brahmanism spread throughout
the five regions of India and prevailed there for eight
hundred or a thousand years, so that everyone, from the
wheel-turning kings on down to the myriad common people,
bowed his head in reverence. And yet all its ninety-five
schools were from first to last refuted by the Buddha. The
fallacious doctrines of the priests of the Shoron school
prevailed for more than a hundred years, but were later
refuted; and the mistaken opinions of the Buddhist leaders
of northern and southern China, after being accepted for
more than three hundred years, were likewise refuted. In
Japan, the doctrines of the six sects of Nara were refuted
after prevailing for more than two hundred and sixty years;
in fact, the Great Teacher Dengyo refutes them in some of
In Japan, there are five sects that belong to Mahayana
Buddhism, namely, the Hosso, Sanron, Kegon, Shingon and
Tendai sects. There are three Hinayana sects, the Kusha,
Jojitsu and Ritsu sects. Next, though the Shingon, Kegon,
Sanron and Hosso sects derive from Mahayana Buddhism, if
one examines them closely, one will find that in fact they
all belong to the Hinayana.
A sect may be defined as something that encompasses all
the three types of learning, namely precepts, meditation
and wisdom. Leaving aside meditation and wisdom for the
moment, we should note that by means of the precepts they
uphold, the various sects can be clearly divided into those
of Mahayana and those of Hinayana. Neither the To-ji branch
of the Shingon sect, nor the Hosso, Sanron or Kegon sect,
has its own ordination platform for the administering of
the precepts, and therefore they must use the platform at
Todai-ji in Nara. This means that they are binding themselves
to the precepts put forth by the Ritsu sect, a Hinayana
sect, which are no better than donkey's milk or stinking
excrement. In terms of the precepts that they observe, therefore,
all these sects are to be classified as Hinayana.
The Great Teacher Dengyo received instruction in the teachings
of the two sects of Tendai and Shingon [in China] and brought
them back to Enryaku-ji temple on Mount Hiei. But in urging
the establishment of an ordination platform for administering
the precepts, Dengyo referred to the perfect meditation,
perfect wisdom and perfect precepts of the perfect and immediate
enlightenment of the Tendai sect. So it appears that he
did not think it proper to use the term Shingon sect alongside
the name Tendai sect. In the memorial that he submitted
to the imperial court, he refers to the Shikan (concentration
and insight) and Shingon (Vairochana discipline) practices
of the Tendai-Hokke sect. And the oath concerning the precepts
that Dengyo handed down to his disciple Jikaku in fact speaks
of "the Shikan and Shingon of the Tendai-Hokke sect,"
with the term "Shingon sect" clearly omitted.
The Tendai-Hokke sect is known as the Buddha-founded sect,
having been established by Shakyamuni Buddha himself. The
Shingon sect was the invention of common mortals, and its
scholars and teachers of later times were the ones who began
to use the term "sect" to describe themselves.
However, they ascribed the founding of the sect to the Buddha
Dainichi and Bodhisattva Miroku. But only the single sect
devoted to the Lotus Sutra conforms to the true intent of
The Hinayana teachings are divided into two sects, eighteen
sects, or even twenty sects; but in essence they all expound
a single principle, namely, the impermanence of all phenomena.
The Hosso sect teaches that all phenomena arise from the
mind alone but have actual existence. There are countless
different sects belonging to the Mahayana teachings, but
insofar as they subscribe to this view - that the mind alone
produces all phenomena but that phenomena have actual existence
- then they may be regarded as constituting a single sect.
The Sanron sect teaches that all phenomena arise from the
mind alone and are without real existence. Again, there
are countless different Mahayana sects, but insofar as they
subscribe to this view - that the mind alone produces all
phenomena and that phenomena have no real existence - then
they may be regarded as constituting a single sect. So all
these sects stress one or the other of two partial truths
of the Mahayana: that phenomena have actual existence or
that they are non-substantial (ku) in nature.
As for the Kegon and Shingon sects, if we were to speak
generously of them, we could say that they represent the
doctrine of the Middle Way that is independent of non-substantiality
and temporary existence, while if we were to speak strictly
of them, we would have to say that they are on a level with
the two above-mentioned Mahayana views of phenomena. In
terms of their content, the Dainichi Sutra cannot
compare even with the Kegon or Hannya sutras.
But because so many distinguished persons still put their
faith in the Dainichi Sutra, the situation is rather
like that of a king who bestows his love on a woman of humble
station. The Dainichi Sutra is like a woman of humble
station because its principles do not go beyond the doctrine
of the Middle Way that is independent of non-substantiality
and temporary existence. And the scholars and teachers who
have upheld the Dainichi Sutra are comparable to
a king because they command respect and influence among
Since we are now living in the latter age when people are
shallow in wisdom and puffed up with pride, it is unlikely
that anyone will heed the points I have made in the discussion
above. But when a sage or worthy man appears, then the full
truth of the matter will no doubt become clear. Because
I feel pity for you, I have written this letter as a guide.
I hope you will study it when you have time.
The points touched on here are very important matters of
doctrine. When you pay your respects to Bodhisattva Kokuzo,
you should make a regular practice of reading this aloud.
Sent to Shomitsu-bo
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 5, page
[FrontPage Include Component]