The Story of Ohashi no Taro
I have received the summer robe, one horseload
of salt, and five sho of oil that you sent.
A robe serves to keep off the cold and the
heat, to hide one's nakedness and to adorn one's body. The
Yakuo chapter in the seventh volume of the Lotus Sutra
says, "Like a naked person who obtains clothing,"
meaning the one [who obtains the Lotus Sutra] will be as delighted
as a naked person who obtains a robe. Among the Buddha's successors,
there was one named Shanavasa, who was born wearing a robe.
This came about because, in a previous existence, he had donated
a robe for the sake of Buddhism. Also, the Lotus Sutra speaks
of "the robe of gentleness and forbearance."
In the K'un-lun Mountains there are no mere
ordinary stones, and in Mount Minobu there is no salt. In
a place where there are no ordinary stones, stones are more
valuable than gems, and in a place where there is no salt,
salt is more precious than rice. Gems for the ruler of a nation
are his ministers of the left and right, and these ministers
of the left and right are called the "salt and vinegar"
of his rule. If we have no miso (salted bean paste)
or salt, it is hard for us to get along from day to day, and
if the nation lacks its ministers of the left and right, it
will be poorly governed.
As for oil, the Nirvana Sutra states: "In
the wind, there is no oil, and in oil, there is no wind."
Oil is the best medicine for curing illnesses caused by the
I do not know how to thank you for the sincerity
you have shown in sending these articles. In the end, it must
be an indication of the depth of the late Lord Nanjo's faith
in the Lotus Sutra. This is what is meant by the statement
that a ruler's sincerity is made known by his minister, while
a father's sincerity is made known by his son. I am sure that
the late Lord Nanjo must by very happy.
In Tsukushi there was a daimyo who was called
Ohashi no Taro. Having incurred the displeasure of the shogun
[Minamoto no Yoritomo], he was imprisoned in a cell dug out
of the hillside at Yuinohama in Kamakura for a period of twelve
When he met with the humiliation of being
arrested and was leaving his domain in Tsukushi, he said to
his wife: "Having taken up bow and arrow to serve my
lord, I do not lament the fact that I have incurred his displeasure.
It is unbearably hard for me to part from you, since we have
been so close to one another from the time of our youth, but
I will say no more of that, either. I regret, however, that
we have had no children, neither a boy nor a girl. Now you
tell me that you are pregnant, and I feel very sorry that
I cannot be here to see whether the child is a girl or a boy.
It also distresses me to think that when the child grows up,
it will have no one to call father. I wish there were something
I could do about this, but I am powerless." So saying,
he took his leave.
The days and months passed, and in time his
wife was safely delivered of a male child. When the boy was
seven years old, she entrusted him to a temple in the mountains,
but the other boys who were his companions in the temple made
fun of him because he had no father. He returned to his home
and asked his mother to tell him about his father, but she
was unable to speak and could do nothing but weep.
The boy pressed her, saying, "Without
the sky, the rain cannot fall, and without the earth, plants
cannot grow. Though I have a mother, if I had not had a father
as well, I could never have been born. Why do you hide my
father's whereabouts from me?"
Confronted in this manner, his mother replied,
"I did not speak of the matter because you were too young.
But this is how things were," [and she told him the truth].
Weeping copiously, the boy said, "Did
my father leave no mementos behind when he went away?"
"There are these," said his mother,
producing a written record of the Ohashi family ancestors
and a letter that the father himself had written for the child
who was still in his mother's womb. Seeing these, the boy
longed more than ever for his father and, unable to do anything
but weep, said, "What am I to do now?"
"When your father set out," his
mother replied, "many followers accompanied him, but
because he had incurred his lord's displeasure, they all deserted
him and went away. Now there is not even anyone to send me
word whether he is still alive or not."
At this the boy flung himself face down and
wept harder than ever, and would not stop even when chided.
The mother said, "The reason I sent you
to the mountain temple was so that you could repay your filial
obligation to your father. You must offer flowers before the
Buddha, recite a volume of the sutra, and in this way fulfill
The boy accordingly hurried back to the temple
and abandoned all thought of returning home. Day and night
he recited the Lotus Sutra, so that in time he not only became
able to read it with ease but even committed it to memory.
When the boy turned twelve, he did not enter
the priesthood, but, binding up his hair, he succeeded in
running away from Tsukushi and journeyed to the city of Kamakura.
There he went to pay his respects before the Hachiman shrine.
After bowing low in reverence, he said, "The Great Bodhisattva
Hachiman was the sixteenth ruler of Japan, and in his original
form he is Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, who preached
the Lotus Sutra in the Pure Land of Eagle Peak. In order to
grant the wishes of all people he has manifested himself as
the deity Hachiman, and I pray that he will now grant my wish
as well. I wish to know whether my father is alive or dead."
At the Hour of the Dog (7:00-9:00 P.M.), he
began reciting the Lotus Sutra and continued reciting through
the Hour of the Tiger (3:00-5:00 A.M.). His beautiful childlike
voice echoed through the sacred hall of the shrine and struck
the hearts of all those who heard it, so that the persons
who had come to pay their respects all forgot to take their
leave but instead gathered around like a crowd at a market
place. When they looked to see who was reciting, the discovered
it was not a priest, nor a woman, but a young boy.
Just at that time, Lady Kyo-no-nii had come
to pay a visit to the shrine. She had come in secret to avoid
the eyes of others, but because the recitation of the sacred
scripture was even more beautiful than usual, she remained
listening until the end. Then she returned home, but she was
so reluctant to depart that she left an attendant behind,
and, on returning, she reported what had happened to the shogun.
The shogun had the boy summoned and set him to reciting the
Lotus Sutra in the image hall attached to his residence.
The following day the boy was once more ordered
to recite the sutra for the shogun. Just then, some persons
began making a commotion at the western gate of the shogun's
palace. When the cause was inquired, a harsh voice shouted,
"Today the prisoner is to be beheaded!"
The boy, hearing this, thought to himself,
"Alas, I do not suppose that my father is still alive,
but when I hear this talk of cutting off someone's head, I
cannot help feeling as though it were some personal sorrow
of my own!" And tears sprang to his eyes.
The shogun, observing this and thinking it
strange, said, "Come, boy, tell my the truth - who are
you?" The boy thereupon revealed all the events of the
past just as they had happened. The greater and lesser lords
who were in attendance, as well as the ladies hidden behind
their curtains of bamboo, all wet their sleeves with tears.
The shogun then summoned Kajiwara and said,
"Have the prisoner Ohashi no Taro brought here!"
But Kajiwara replied, "He has just now been led away
to Yuinohama beach to have his head cut off. The execution
is probably taking place right now." At this the boy,
though in the presence of the shogun, could not help collapsing
"Kajiwara!" said the shogun. "Go
in person as fast as you can, and if the execution has not
yet taken place, bring the prisoner back with you!"
Kajiwara raced off as fast as he could to
Yuinohama. Even before he reached the spot he began shouting
for the execution to cease. He arrived just as the executioner
had drawn his sword in preparation to strike.
Kajiwara brought Ohashi no Taro, still bound
with ropes, to the palace and seated him in the courtyard.
The shogun ordered the prisoner to be handed over to the boy.
The boy rushed down into the courtyard and untied the ropes,
while Ohashi no Taro, not realizing that this was his own
son, could not understand why he had been spared.
The shogun summoned the boy to his side again
and presented him with various gifts. He not only released
Ohashi no Taro into the boy's custody but also restored the
The shogun said, "From past times I have
heard various reports regarding the power of the Lotus Sutra,
and on two instances I have received personal proof of that
power. The first was when my late father was beheaded by the
Lay Priest Prime Minister. My chagrin was beyond expression.
I did not know what god or Buddha to appeal to, but the nun
Myoho of Mount Izu taught me to recite the Lotus Sutra. When
I had recited it a thousand times, the priest Mongaku of Takao
came to me with the head of my late father and showed it to
me. After that I was not only able to revenge myself on my
father's enemies but to become military commander of the warriors
throughout Japan. All of this was due solely to the power
of the Lotus Sutra.
"The second instance is this strange
event today when this boy saved his father. I personally looked
upon this Ohashi no Taro as a thoroughly despicable fellow.
I would have had him beheaded even if it had meant violating
an imperial decree. So great was my hatred for him that I
kept him shut up in a cell dug into the side of a hill for
no less than twelve years. And yet this strange event has
occurred. The power of the Lotus Sutra is marvelous indeed!
As a commander of warriors I have piled up a great many sins,
yet I put my faith in the Lotus Sutra, and so I believe I
will be spared punishment." He spoke these words with
tears in his eyes.
Now when I consider the sincere offerings
that you have sent, I think that, although the late Lord Nanjo
undoubtedly loved you dearly as his son, he probably never
imagined that you would in this way discharge your filial
duty to him by means of your faith in the Lotus Sutra. Even
if he were perhaps guilty of some offense, no matter where
he may be now, your filial devotion will surely be recognized
even by King Emma, as well as by Bonten and Taishaku. And
how could Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra ever abandon
him? Your devotion is no less than that of that young boy
who untied his father's bonds. Thinking of it, the tears come
to my eyes as I write.
As to an impending Mongol attack, I have not
received any word. When I mention this subject, people say
that the priest Nichiren rejoices whenever he hears that the
Mongols will attack our country, but this is unwarranted.
Because I suggested that such a thing would happen, I have
been attacked as a foe or an enemy by people everywhere. Yet
because it is expounded in the sutras, the Mongols are sure
to come. No matter what I say, it is beyond my power to prevent
I was guilty of no fault and wanted simply
to save my country. And yet not only was my advice not heeded,
but I was struck in the face with the fifth volume of the
Lotus Sutra. Bonten and Taishaku witnessed what happened,
and the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman of Kamakura likewise looked
on. But now we live in an age when advice will never be heeded,
and so I have retired to live here among the mountains.
Under the circumstances, I feel great pity
for persons such as you and the others, but there is little
I can do to help. Nevertheless, I pray day and night to the
Lotus Sutra. You, too, must spare no effort in offering up
prayers with firm faith. It is not that my resolve [to save
you] is weak, but that for each of you, the strength of your
own faith will be the decisive thing.
And yet in the end I fear that all the persons
of high rank in Japan will surely be taken prisoner. How pitiful
to think of it!
With my deep respect,
The twenty-fourth day of the intercalary third
Major Writings of Nichiren
Daishonin, Vol. 6, page 147.