Persecution by Sword and Staff
The greatest of all the persecutions which
I have suffered were the attempted decapitation at Tatsunokuchi1
and the attack at Tojo.2
None of the others were direct attempts on my life. I have
been reviled, denounced, ousted, falsely accused, and struck
across the face, but these were all comparatively minor
incidents. I, Nichiren, am the only person in Japan to be
abused in both body and mind [for the sake of the Lotus
Sutra]. If anyone else has been slandered as I have, it
was not because of the Lotus Sutra. One incident in particular
I can never forget is how Shobo3
seized the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra4
and struck me across the face with it. His attack on me
stemmed from the three poisons.
Once in India there was a jealous woman5
who hated her husband so much that she smashed everything
in the house. Her excessive rage completely altered her
appearance; her eyes blazed like the sun and moon, and her
mouth seemed to belch fire. She looked exactly like a blue
or red demon.6 She seized
the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra which her husband had
been reciting for some years and trampled it savagely with
both feet. Later she died and fell into hell, all of her
except her feet. Though the wardens of hell7
tried to force them down by beating them with iron staves
her feet remained outside of hell as a result of the relationship,
albeit a reverse one, which they had formed with the Lotus
Sutra by trampling on it. Shobo struck me in the face with
the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra because he hated me.
Thus he too has formed a reverse relationship8
with this sutra.
One incident occurred in India, the other
in Japan; one was perpetrated by a woman, and the other
by a man; in one, a pair of feet committed the violence,
and in the other, a pair of hands; one happened because
of jealousy, the other because of the Lotus Sutra. However,
the same fifth scroll of the sutra was involved in both
instances. The womans feet did not enter hell, so
why should Shobos hands fall into the hell of incessant
suffering? The woman, however, hated only her husband and
not the Lotus Sutra itself, whereas Shobo hated both the
Lotus Sutra and me, Nichiren. Therefore his entire body
will enter the hell of incessant suffering. As the sutra
states, "When his life comes to an end, he will enter
the Avichi hell."9
There is no mention of his hands being spared. How pitiful,
how truly pitiful! Eventually, however, he will meet me
again and be able to gain the fruit of Buddhahood, just
as the four kinds of believers who arrogantly persecuted
Bodhisattva Fukyo were ultimately saved by him.10
The fifth scroll contains the heart of
the Lotus Sutra, for it reveals that the dragon kings
daughter attained Buddhahood in her present form. Devadatta
represents the spiritual aspect of enlightenment, and the
dragon kings daughter, the physical aspect. The principle
of attaining Buddhahood in ones present form can be
found nowhere else in the Buddhas entire lifetime
of teachings. The Great Teacher Dengyo enumerated ten outstanding
points in which the Lotus Sutra surpasses all others. One
of them is the sutras "superiority in leading
people to attain Buddhahood in their present form."
This is the most important doctrine of the Tendai sect,
and a section of the Hokke mongu is devoted to this
teaching of attaining Buddhahood in ones present
form. It is also a point of controversy between the Shingon
and Tendai sects. The dragon kings daughter attained
Buddhahood through the power of the Lotus Sutra. Bodhisattva
Monjushiri stated, "I constantly expounded the Lotus
Sutra of the Wonderful Law alone."11
The words "alone" and "constantly" are
the core of this statement. However, the Bodaishin ron12
reads, "Only in the Shingon teachings [can one
attain Buddhahood in ones present form]." Which
is one to accept, "only" or "alone"?
The Muryogi Sutra states, "In these more than
forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth." The
Lotus Sutra reads, "The World-Honored One has long
expounded his doctrines and now must reveal the truth."
Taho Buddha affirmed that only the Lotus Sutra enables one
to attain Buddhahood in ones present form when he
said, "All that you have expounded [in the Lotus Sutra]
is the truth."13
No matter how firmly the sutras preached before the Lotus
Sutra guarantee the attainment of Buddhahood, and no matter
how much the believers in these provisional doctrines may
wildly insist that this is so, it is as easy to refute these
assertions as it is to smash a thousand earthen cooking
dishes with a single hammer. This is what is meant by [Tien-tais
words:] "The Lotus Sutra is the teaching of shakubuku,
the refutation of the provisional doctrines."14
The Lotus Sutra is indeed the most profound teaching.
Ever since Jikaku, scholars of the Tendai
sect have interpreted the passages from Tien-tais
three major works of the Hokke gengi, Hokke mongu and
Maka shikan in one way or another, and have given
plausible explanations. Their views, however, are as useless
to us now as last years calendar or yesterdays
meal. Even if someone should insist that, in the first five
hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law, there exists
a way to enlightenment apart from the daimoku of the Lotus
Sutra, you should take no heed of what he says, even if
it is based on the Buddhas teachings, and even less
so if it is merely some teachers opinion. The Devadatta
chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches that Devadatta was
the teacher of the Thus Come One Shakyamuni in some past
existence. He who was once the teacher is now the disciple,
and he who is now the disciple was formerly the teacher.
On pondering this chapter, I, Nichiren, realized that it
reveals the profound meaning of the Lotus Sutra through
the oneness of past and present and the inseparability of
the one who teaches and the one who learns. Therefore, the
merciful Shakyamuni Thus Come One became the teacher of
the wicked Devadatta, and the wise Monju became the teacher
of the ignorant daughter of the dragon king. Certainly I,
Nichiren, can in no way be inferior to Monju or to Shakyamuni
Thus Come One. The men of Japan are like Devadatta and the
women are like the dragon kings daughter. Whether
by following it or opposing it, they will attain Buddhahood
through the Lotus Sutra. This is the message of the
Next we come to the Kanji chapter.
Only I, Nichiren, have read with my entire being the twenty-line
verse15 from this chapter,
which the eight hundred thousand million nayutas of bodhisattvas
proclaimed in a single voice. Since the Buddhas death,
who else in the three countries of India, China and Japan
has ever read this verse as I have? No one even claims to
have done so, nor do I believe that anyone has. The verse
reads, "[There will be many ignorant people who will]
... attack us with swords and staves." Perhaps others
have been beaten with staves, but I have never heard of
any who were injured by the sword.
We know that Bodhisattva Fukyo was attacked
with staves, as is written in the sutra, "[Some ...
would take] sticks of wood or tiles and stones [and beat
and pelt him, ]" but he was not persecuted by the sword.
Tien-tai, Miao-lo and Dengyo also escaped persecution
by sword and staff, as the sutra states, "Swords and
staves will not touch him."16
I, Nichiren, however, have been attacked by both. As I mentioned
before, I was attacked with a sword at Matsubara in Tojo
and later at Tatsunokuchi. No one else has been thus assaulted
[for the sake of the Lotus Sutra] even once, but I, Nichiren,
have been so assaulted twice. As for being attacked with
staves, I have already been struck in the face by Sho-bo
with the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra. It is the very
scroll used as a staff that carries the passage that [votaries
of the Lotus Sutra] will be attacked with staves. What a
miraculous prediction of the sutra! Sho-bo hit me before
dozens of people, and, though I knew it was for the sake
of the Lotus Sutra, being human, I felt miserable and ashamed.
Had I had the strength, I would have wrested the weapon
from his hand, trampled it to pieces, and thrown them away.
However, it was in fact the fifth scroll of the Lotus Sutra
This brings to mind a story.17
A father, anxious about his sons future, thrashed
the boy with a bow made of a zelkova tree because he refused
to study. At the time, the son resented his fathers
action and hated the zelkova bow. However, he applied himself
to his studies so much that eventually he [mastered Buddhism],
thereby achieving emancipation himself and benefiting others.
In retrospect, he saw that he owed his achievements to his
fathers thrashings. It is said that he erected a stupa
made of a zelkova tree for the repose of his deceased father.
It is the same with me, Nichiren. When
I attain Buddhahood, how will I be able to forget my obligation
Much less can I forget the thanks I owe
to the scroll of the Lotus Sutra [with which he struck me].
When I think of this, I cannot restrain my tears of gratitude.
The Yujutsu chapter also explains something
about me, because it states that Bodhisattva Jogyo and his
followers will appear in the Latter Day of the Law
to propagate the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.18
I, Nichiren, have appeared earlier than anyone else. How
reassuring to think that I will surely be praised by bodhisattvas
equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers!19
Be that as it may, commit yourself to the Lotus Sutra and
have faith in its teachings. You must not only believe in
them yourself but also encourage others to do the same,
so that you may save your parents in all your past existences.
From the time that I was born until today,
I, Nichiren, have never known a moments ease; I have
thought only of propagating the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra.
I do not know how long I or anyone else may live, but without
fail, I will be with you at the time of your death and guide
you from this life to the next. All the Buddhas of the past,
present and future attain enlightenment between the hours
of the Ox and the Tiger.20
In all three countries of India, China and Japan, the place
of Buddhist practice is located to the northeast, in the
direction of the demon gate.21
These are profound teachings of Buddhism, which are reverently
transferred from teacher to disciple. I will explain in
more detail later.
With my deep respect,
As you crave food when hungry, seek water
when thirsty, long to see a lover, beg for medicine when
ill, or as a beautiful woman desires powder and rouge, so
should you put your faith in the Lotus Sutra. If you do
not, you will regret it later.
The twentieth day of the fourth month in
the second year of Koan (1279), cyclical sign tsuchinoto-u
Reply to Lord Ueno
- Tatsunokuchi: Site of an attempt made by the deputy
police chief Hei no Saemon to execute Nichiren Daishonin
on September 12, 1271.
- Tojo: Place in Nichren Daishonin's native province of
Awa. On November 11, 1264, the Daishonin was ambushed
by Lord Tojo Kagenobu and his men. In the melee
he recieved a swordcut on his forehead and had his hand
- Shofu-bo: Originally a follower of Nichiren Daishonin
who later abondoned his faith. Although details
are unknown, it is thought that around the time of the
Izu exile, he started doubting the Daishonin and finally
turned against him. When Hei no Saemon and
his men went to arrest the Daishonin on September 1 1271,
he accompanied them as Saemon's chief retainer.
- Fifth Volume of the Lotus Sutra: In those days,
documents were written on a long roll of paper wrapped
around a wooden staff, so they would have had considerable
force if wielded as a weapon. The twenty-eight chapters
of the Lotus Sutra traditionally comprised eight volumes,
with two more volumes for the opening and closing sutras.
The fifth volume includes four chapters from the twelfth
through the fifteenth chapters. A passage from the Kanji
(13th) chapter states that the votaries of the Lotus
Sutra will be attacked by sword and staff.
- Jealous woman: Story recounted in the Hokke Denki
of the Chinese priest Seng-hsiang, a collection of
the biographies of distinguished priests, along with their
- Blue or red demon: Blue demons (Skt Apasmaraka) were
ordinary demons said to disturb human beings. They were
often depicted in statues and images. Red demons (Vetala)
were said to be hell's guardians with ox- or horse-heads.
- Hell's guardians: Demon subjects of Emma, the king of
Hell, who torment those who have fallen into hell with
their iron staves.
- Reverse relationship: Opposite of positive relationship.
A connection with the Lotus Sutra formed by opposing it.
Although one who slanders Buddhism must suffer retribution
for his slander, he nevertheless forms an eternal bond
with Buddhism and can thus ultimately attain Buddhahood.
This principle shows the great power of the Lotus Sutra
which eventually saves everyone who forms a relationship
with it, whether positive or negative.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 3.
- This story is found in the Fukyo (20th) chapter
of the Lotus Sutra. The four kinds of arrogant people
are priests and nuns, lay men and women who slandered
and persecuted Bodhisattva Fukyo when he revered them
for their inherent Buddha nature. What he practiced at
that time was the Lotus Sutra, and because of their slander
of that sutra the people fell into the hell of incessant
suffering. Eventually, however, due to the reverse relationship
they had formed with the Lotus Sutra, they met Bodhisattva
Fukyo again and were able to attain enlightenment.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 12.
- Bodaishin Ron: Treatise attributed to Nagarjuna
and translated by PuVung in China. It teaches the importance
of a seeking mind for enlightenment. Kobo, the founder
of the Japanese Shingon sect, quoted it frequently to
assert the superiority of the esoteric teachings over
the Lotus Sutra. Naga6una's authorship appears doubtful.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. i i.
- Hokke Gengi, vol. 9.
- Twenty-line verse: The verse section of the thirteenth
or Kanji chapter that states that the votaries
of the Lotus Sutra will be attacked by swords and staves.
- Lotus Sutra, chap. 14. This refers to one of the benefits
which bodhisattvas gain as a result of the peaceful ways
of practice set forth in the Anrakugya chapter.
- This story appears in the Sangoku Denki (Biographies
of the Three Countries). The son later became Ensho, a
chief priest of Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai
- Nam-myoho-renge-kyo actually consists of seven Chinese
characters. Sometimes the first two are omitted when referring
to the name of the Law (as distinguished from the invocation).
- Sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers: A typical Indian
expression which appears in many Buddhist sutras, meaning
- Time and direction in ancient Japan were designated
by twelve different animals. The Hour of the Rat corresponded
to the time from 11:00 P.M. to 1: 00 A.M.; the Hour of
the Ox, from 1: 00 to 3: 00 A.M.; and the Hour of the
Tiger, from 3: 00 to 5: 00 A.m. Buddhism traditionally
regards these hours as a crucial interval in which life
moves from the negative (yin) to the positive (yang),
from sleep to waking, or from death to life. Shakyamuni
Buddha, under the Bodhi tree, attained enlightenment during
these hours, and Nichiren Daishonin, at the Tatsunokuchi
Persecution, revealed his true identity as the original
Buddha during the same hours.
In correlating hours with spatial direction,
the hours of the Ox-Tiger correspond to the northeast,
believed to be the location of both Buddhism and demons.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol 2.