Recitation of the Hoben and Juryo Chapters
In the letter that you sent by messenger, you say that
you used to recite one chapter of the Lotus Sutra each day,
completing the entire sutra in the space of twenty-eight
days, but that now you simply read the Yakuo chapter
once each day. You ask [if this is satisfactory, or] if
it would be better to return to your original practice of
reading each chapter in turn.
In the case of the Lotus Sutra, one may recite the entire
sutra of twenty-eight chapters in eight volumes every day;
or one may recite only one volume, or one chapter, or one
verse, or one phrase, or one word; or one may simply chant
the daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, only once a day, or chant
it only once in the course of a lifetime; or hear someone
else chant it only once in a lifetime and rejoice in the
hearing; or rejoice in hearing the voice of someone else
rejoice in the hearing, and so on to fifty removes from
the original individual who first chanted the daimoku.
In such a case, of course, the spirit of faith would become
weak and the feeling of rejoicing much diluted, like the
vague notions that might occur to the mind of a child of
two or three, or like the mentality of a cow or a horse,
unable to distinguish before from after. And yet the blessings
gained by such a person are a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand,
a hundred thousand times greater than those gained by persons
of excellent innate ability and superior wisdom who study
other sutras: persons such as Shariputra, Maudgalyayana,
Monju and Miroku, who had committed to memory the entire
texts of the various sutras.
The Lotus Sutra itself tells us this, and the same opinion
is expressed in the sixty volumes of commentary by T'ien-t'ai
and Miao-lo. Thus, the sutra states [concerning these blessings],
"Even if their quantity were to be measured with the
Buddha wisdom, their limit could not be found." Not
even the wisdom of the Buddha can fathom the blessings such
a person will obtain. The Buddha wisdom is so marvelous
that it can know even the number of raindrops that fall
in this major world system of ours during a period of seven
days or twice seven days. And yet we read that the blessings
acquired by one who recites no more than a single word of
the Lotus Sutra are the one thing alone it cannot fathom.
How, then, could ordinary persons like ourselves, who have
committed so many grave offenses, be capable of understanding
Great as such blessings may be, however, it is now some
twenty-two hundred years and more since the Buddha's passing.
For many years, the five impurities have flourished, and
good deeds in any connection are rare indeed. Now, even
though a person may do good, in the course of doing a single
good deed he accumulates ten evil ones, so that in the end,
for the sake of a small good, he commits great evil. And
yet, in his heart, he prides himself on having practiced
"great good" - such are the times we live in.
Moreover, you have been born in the remote land of Japan,
a tiny island country in the east separated by two hundred
thousand ri of mountains and seas from the country
of the Buddha's birth. What is more, you are a woman, burdened
by the five obstacles and bound by the three obediences.
How indescribably wonderful, therefore, that in spite of
these hindrances, you have been able to take faith in the
Even the wise or the learned, such as those who have pored
over all the sacred teachings propounded by the Buddha in
the course of his lifetime, and who have mastered both the
exoteric and esoteric doctrines, are these days abandoning
the Lotus Sutra and instead reciting the Nembutsu. What
good karma must you have formed in the past, then, to have
been born a person able to recite even so much as a verse
or a phrase of the Lotus Sutra!
When I read over your letter, I felt as though my eyes
were beholding something rarer than the udumbara flower,
something even less frequent than the one-eyed turtle encountering
a floating log with a hollow in it that fits him exactly.
Moved to heartfelt admiration, I thought I would like to
add just one word or one expression of my own rejoicing,
endeavoring in this way to enhance your merit. I fear, however,
that as clouds darken the moon or as dust defiles a mirror,
my brief and clumsy attempts at description will only serve
to cloak and obscure the incomparably wonderful blessings
you will receive, and the thought pains me. Yet, in response
to your question, I could scarcely remain silent. Please
understand that I am merely joining my one drop to the rivers
and the oceans or adding my candle to the sun and the moon,
hoping in this way to increase even slightly the volume
of the water or the brilliance of the light.
First of all, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, whether
one recites all eight volumes, or only one volume, one chapter,
one verse, one phrase, or simply the daimoku or title, you
should understand that the blessings that result are in
all cases the same. It is like the water of the great ocean,
a single drop of which contains water from all the countless
streams and rivers, or like the wish-granting jewel, which,
though only a single jewel, can shower all kinds of treasures
upon the wisher. And the same is true of a hundred, a thousand,
ten thousand or a hundred thousand such drops of water or
such jewels. A single character of the Lotus Sutra is like
such a drop of water or such a jewel, and all the hundred
million characters of the Lotus Sutra are like a hundred
million such drops or jewels.
On the other hand, a single character of the other sutras,
or the name of any of the various Buddhas, is like one drop
of the water of some particular stream or river, or like
only one stone from a particular mountain or a particular
sea. One such drop does not contain the water of countless
other streams and rivers, and one such stone does not possess
the virtues that inhere in innumerable other kinds of stones.
Therefore, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, it is praiseworthy
to recite any chapter you have placed your trust in, whichever
chapter it might be.
Generally speaking, among all the sacred teachings of the
Tathagata, none has ever been known to contain false words.
Yet when we consider the Buddhist teachings more deeply,
we find that even among the Tathagata's golden words there
exist various categories, such as Mahayana and Hinayana,
provisional and true teachings, and exoteric and esoteric
doctrines. These distinctions arise from the sutras themselves,
and accordingly we find that they are roughly outlined in
the commentaries of the various scholars and teachers.
To state the essence of the matter, among the doctrines
propounded by Shakyamuni Buddha in the fifty or more years
of his teaching life, those put forward in the first forty
or so years are of questionable nature. We can say so because
the Buddha himself clearly stated in the Muryogi
Sutra, "In these more than forty years, I have not
yet revealed the truth." And in the Lotus Sutra, the
Buddha himself proclaims concerning its every word and phrase:
"Honestly discarding the provisional teachings, I will
expound only the supreme Way."
Moreover, Taho Buddha appeared from the depths of the earth
to add his testimony, declaring, "The Lotus Sutra ...
All that you [Shakyamuni Buddha] have expounded is the truth."
And the Buddhas of the ten directions all gathered at the
assembly where the Lotus Sutra was being preached and extended
their tongues to give further support to the assertion that
within the Lotus Sutra there is not a single word that is
false. It was as though a great king, his consort and his
most venerable subjects had all with one accord given their
Suppose that a man or a woman who recites even a single
word of the Lotus Sutra should be destined to fall into
the evil paths because of having committed the ten evil
acts, the five cardinal sins, the four major offenses or
countless other grave misdeeds. Even though the sun and
moon should never again emerge from the east, though the
great earth itself should turn over, though the tides of
the great ocean should cease to ebb and flow, though a broken
stone should be made whole or the waters of the streams
and rivers cease to flow into the ocean, no woman who has
put her faith in the Lotus Sutra would ever be dragged down
into the evil paths as a result of worldly offenses.
If a woman who has put her faith in the Lotus Sutra should
ever fall into the evil paths as a result of jealousy or
ill temper or because of excessive greed, then Shakyamuni
Buddha, Taho Buddha and the other Buddhas of the ten directions
would immediately be guilty of breaking the vow they have
upheld over the span of countless major kalpas never to
tell a lie. Their offense would be even greater than the
wild falsehoods and deceptions of Devadatta or the outrageous
lies told by Kokalika. But how could such a thing ever happen?
Thus a person who embraces the Lotus Sutra is absolutely
assured of its blessings.
On the other hand, though one may not commit a single evil
deed in his entire lifetime, but instead observe the five
precepts, the eight precepts, the ten precepts, the ten
good precepts, the two hundred and fifty precepts, the five
hundred precepts, or countless numbers of precepts; though
he may learn all the other sutras by heart, make offerings
to all the other Buddhas and bodhisattvas and accumulate
immeasurable merit; if he but fails to put his faith in
the Lotus Sutra; or if he has faith in it but considers
that it ranks on the same level as the other sutras and
the teachings of the other Buddhas; or if he recognizes
its superiority but constantly engages in other religious
disciplines, practicing the Lotus Sutra only from time to
time; or if he associates on friendly terms with priests
of the Nembutsu, who do not believe in the Lotus Sutra but
slander the Law; or if he thinks that those who insist the
Lotus Sutra does not suit the people's capacity in the latter
age are guilty of no fault, then all the merit of the countless
good acts he has performed throughout the course of his
life will suddenly vanish. Moreover, the blessings resulting
from his practice of the Lotus Sutra will for some time
be obscured, and he will fall into the great citadel of
the Avichi Hell as surely as rain falls from the sky or
rocks tumble down from the peaks into the valleys.
Yet even though one may have committed the ten evil acts
or the five cardinal sins, so long as he does not turn his
back on the Lotus Sutra, he will without doubt be reborn
in the Pure Land and attain Buddhahood in his next existence.
On the other hand, we read in the sutra that even a person
who observes the precepts, embraces all other sutras and
believes in the various Buddhas and bodhisattvas, if he
fails to take faith in the Lotus Sutra, is certain to fall
into the evil paths.
Limited though my ability may be, when I observe the situation
in the world these days, it seems to me that the great majority
of both lay believers and members of the clergy are guilty
of slandering the Law.
But to return to your question: As I said before, though
no chapter of the Lotus Sutra is negligible, among the entire
twenty-eight chapters, the Hoben chapter and the
Juryo chapter are particularly outstanding. The remaining
chapters are all in a sense the branches and leaves of these
two chapters. Therefore, for your regular recitation, I
recommend that you practice reading the prose sections of
the Hoben and Juryo chapters. In addition
it might be well if you wrote out separate copies of these
The remaining twenty-six chapters are like the shadows
that accompany a form or the value inherent in a jewel.
If you recite the Juryo and Hoben chapters,
then the remaining chapters will naturally be included even
though you do not recite them. It is true that the Yakuo
and Devadatta chapters deal specifically with women's
attainment of Buddhahood or rebirth in the Pure Land. But
the Devadatta chapter is a branch and leaf of the
Hoben chapter, and the Yakuo chapter is a
branch and leaf of the Hoben and Juryo chapters.
Therefore, you should regularly recite these two chapters,
the Hoben and Juryo. As for the remaining
chapters, you may turn to them from time to time when you
have a moment of leisure.
Also, in your letter you say that three times each day
you bow in reverence to the seven characters of the daimoku,
and that each day you repeat the words Namu-ichijo-myoden
ten thousand times. However, at times of menstruation you
refrain from reading the sutra. You ask if it is acceptable
to recite the daimoku and the Namu-ichijo-myoden
[without facing the object of worship] at such times. You
also ask whether you should refrain from reading the sutra
merely during your menstrual period, or, if not, how many
days following the end of your period you should wait before
resuming recitation of the sutra.
This is a matter that concerns all women and about which
they always inquire. In past times, too, we find many persons
addressing themselves to this question concerning women.
But because the sacred teachings put forward by the Buddha
in the course of his lifetime do not touch upon this point,
no one has been able to offer any clear scriptural proof
upon which to base an answer. In my own study of the sacred
teachings, though I find clear prohibitions against the
impurity of certain sexual acts or the consumption of meat
or wine or the five spicy foods on specific days of the
month, I have never come across any passage in the sutras
or treatises that speaks of avoidances connected with menstruation.
While the Buddha was in the world, many women in the prime
of life became nuns and devoted themselves to the Buddhist
Law, but they were never shunned on account of their menstrual
period. Judging from this, I would say that menstruation
does not represent any kind of pollution coming from an
external source. It is simply a characteristic of the female
sex, a phenomenon related to the perpetuation of the seed
of birth and death. Or in another sense, it might be regarded
as a kind of chronically recurring illness. In the case
of feces and urine, though these are substances produced
by the body, so long as one observes cleanly habits, there
are no special prohibitions to be observed concerning them.
Surely the same must be true of menstruation. That is why,
I think, we hear of no particular rules for avoidance pertaining
to the subject in India or China.
Japan, however, is a land of the gods. And it is the way
of this country that, although the Buddhas and bodhisattvas
have manifested themselves here in the form of gods, strangely
enough, these gods, in many cases, do not conform to the
sutras and treatises. Nevertheless, if one goes against
them, one is likely to incur actual punishment.
When we scrutinize the sutras and treatises with care,
we find that there is a doctrine called the zuiho bini
precept that corresponds to such cases. The gist of this
precept is that, so long as no seriously offensive act is
involved, then, even though one should depart to some slight
degree from the teachings of Buddhism, one should avoid
going against the manners and customs of the country. This
is a precept expounded by the Buddha. But it appears that
some wise men, unaware of this fact, claim that because
the gods are demonlike beings, they are unworthy of reverence.
And by insisting upon the rightness of their views, it appears
that they do injury to the faith of many believers.
If we go by this zuiho bini precept, then since
the gods of Japan have in most cases desired that prohibitions
be observed regarding the period of menstruation, people
born in this country would probably do well to be aware
of and honor such prohibitions.
However, I do not think that such prohibitions should interfere
with a woman's daily religious devotions. I would guess
that it is persons who never had any faith in the Lotus
Sutra to begin with who tell you otherwise. They are trying
to think of some way to make you stop reciting the sutra,
but they do not feel they can come right out and advise
you to cast the sutra aside. So they use the pretext of
bodily impurity to try to distance you from it. They intimidate
you by telling you that if you continue your regular devotions
during a period of pollution, you will be treating the sutra
with disrespect. In this way they mean to trick you into
committing a fault.
I hope you will keep in mind all that I have said regarding
this matter. On this basis, even if your menstrual period
should last as long as seven days, if you feel so inclined,
then dispense with the reading of the sutra and simply recite
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Also, when making your devotions, you
need not bow facing the sutra.
If unexpectedly you should feel yourself approaching death,
then even if you are eating fish or fowl, if you are able
to read the sutra, you should do so, and likewise chant
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Needless to say, the same principle
applies during your period of menstruation.
Reciting the words Namu-ichijo-myoden amounts to
the same thing. But it is better if you just chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,
as Bodhisattva Vasubandhu and the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai
did. There are specific reasons why I say this.
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 6, page