Letter to Nichimyo Shonin
Once there was a person named Gyobo Bonji. He traveled from country to country for twelve years in search
of the teachings of a Buddha. In those days none of the three treasures -- the Buddha, the Law and the Priesthood -- had yet
appeared. Nevertheless, Bonji continued his quest for Buddhism as desperately as a thirsty man seeks water or as a starving
person looks for food. One day a Brahman came to him and said, "I possess a verse of the sacred teaching. If you are a true
seeker of Buddhism, I will impart it to you." Bonji beseeched him to do so. The Brahman said, "To prove your sincerity, first
peel off your skin for parchment, break off one of your bones for a writing brush, grind up its marrow for pigment, and draw
your blood to mix the ink. If you are willing to do all this, I will teach you the Buddha’s verse."
Bonji was overjoyed. He peeled off his skin, dried it and made parchment of it. When he had done all
the things demanded of him just as he had been told, the Brahman suddenly vanished. Bonji bewailed his fate, now gazing up
to heaven, now flinging himself to the ground. The Buddha, feeling his sincerity, emerged from beneath the earth and taught
him: "Practice that which accords with the Law; do not practice that which contradicts it. One who practices the Law will
dwell in peace and security both in this life and the next." The moment Bonji heard this, he became a Buddha. This teaching
consists of twenty Chinese characters.
Once [in one of his previous existences] when Shakyamuni was a wheel-turning king engaged in bodhisattva
practice, he revered an eight-character phrase which stated: "He who is born is destined to die. To extinguish this cycle
is to enter the joy of nirvana." As an offering to the eight characters, he transformed his own body into a thousand burning
candles. Moreover, he inscribed those characters on stone walls and main roads so that those who read them would arouse the
aspiration for enlightenment. The light of those candles reached as high as the Trayastrimsha Heaven, where it served as illumination
for Taishaku and the other deities.
In another past existence Shakyamuni was carrying out bodhisattva austerities in search of Buddhism. One
day a leper said to him, "I possess the true teaching which consists of twenty characters. If you will massage my leprous
body, embrace and lick it, feeding me two or three pounds of your own flesh every day. I will impart the teaching to you."
Shakyamuni did exactly as the leper said. As a result, he obtained the twenty-character teaching and attained Buddhahood.
The teaching went, "The Tathagata is enlightened to the truth of nirvana, and has forever freed himself from the sufferings
of birth and death. Anyone who wholeheartedly listens to him will surely obtain immeasurable happiness."
There was once a person called Sessen Doji who lived in the Snow Mountains. Although he had mastered all
non-Buddhist teachings, he had not yet encountered Buddhism. Then, one day, he happened to hear a terrifying demon recite
a verse which began: "All is changeable, nothing is constant. This is the law of birth and death." The demon, however, spoke
only the first eight characters of the verse, leaving the rest unsaid. Although Sessen Doji was exceedingly glad to have heard
the first eight characters, he felt as though he had been given only half the wish-granting jewel. It was like a plant which
flowers but bears no fruit. When he asked for the remaining eight characters, the demon replied, "I have had nothing to eat
for several days. I am too dazed with hunger to preach the remaining eight characters. First give me some food!" Doji asked,
"What do you eat?" The demon answered, "I feed on the warm flesh and blood of human beings. Though I can fly anywhere throughout
the four continents in the space of a moment, I can obtain no warm flesh and blood. Human beings are protected by heaven,
so I cannot kill them unless they commit evil."
Sessen Doji said, "I will make you an offering of my own body, so teach me the remaining eight characters."
The demon said, "You are a cunning fellow, aren’t you? Surely you are trying to deceive me." Doji replied, "If one is
offered gold and silver in exchange for tiles and stones, should he not accept it? If I die to no purpose on this mountain,
then my body will be devoured by kites, owls, wolves and tigers, and will bring me no benefit whatsoever. On the other hand,
if I give my life for the remaining eight characters, it will be like exchanging filth for food."
The demon was still suspicious. Doji assured him, saying, "I have guarantors to vouch for my honesty. Like
the Buddhas of ages past, I call upon Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and the moon and the Four Heavenly Kings to be
my witnesses." Finally the demon consented to impart the second half of the verse. Doji removed his deerskin garment and spread
it out for the demon to sit upon. Then he knelt down and joined his palms together in supplication, begging the demon to be
seated. The fierce demon complied and began to recite, "Extinguishing the cycle of birth and death, one enters the joy of
nirvana." When Doji had learned the entire verse, he inscribed it on trees and stones. This completed, he cast himself into
the demon’s mouth. Doji was actually Shakyamuni in one of his past existences, while the demon was Taishaku in disguise.
Bodhisattva Yakuo burnt his elbows for seventy-two thousand years as an offering to the Lotus Sutra. Bodhisattva
Fukyo was for many years abused, humiliated, beaten and stoned by countless monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen because he venerated
them by uttering the twenty-four characters which read: "I deeply respect you. I would not dare despise you or be arrogant,
for you will all practice the bodhisattva way and surely attain Buddhahood." Bodhisattva Fukyo was the Lord Shakyamuni in
one of his past lifetimes. King Suzudan performed menial labor in the service of the hermit Ashi for a thousand years in order
to receive the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. He even went so far as to make a bed of his own body for his master. As
a result, he was reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha.
Myoho-renge-kyo consists of eight volumes. Reading these eight volumes is in effect equal to reading sixteen,
for the sutra was expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha and verified by Taho Buddha. The sixteen volumes, in turn, represent innumerable
volumes, for their truth was verified by all the Buddhas of the ten directions. In the same way, each character in the sutra
equals two, for it was uttered by Shakyamuni and confirmed by Taho. Again, a single character equals innumerable others, for
the validity of the sutra was attested to by all the Buddhas of the ten directions. A single wish-granting jewel can cause
as many treasures to rain down as would two such jewels or, even more, a would innumerable jewels. Likewise, each character
in the Lotus Sutra is like a jewel, and since it stands for innumerable others, it is like an uncountable number of jewels.
The character myo [of Myoho-renge-kyo] was uttered by two tongues, the tongues of Shakyamuni and Taho. The tongues of these
two Buddhas are like an eight-petaled lotus flower one petal overlapping another, on which rests a jewel, the character of
The jewel of the character myo contains all the benefits which Shakyamuni Buddha received by practicing
the six paramitas in his past existences: the benefits he obtained through the practice of almsgiving by offering his body
to a starving tigress and by giving his life in exchange for that of a dove; the benefits he obtained when he was King Shudama,
who, in order to observe the precepts, kept his word though it meant his death; the benefits he obtained as a hermit called
Ninniku by enduring the tortures inflicted upon him by King Kari; the benefits he obtained as Prince Nose and as the hermit
Shojari, and all his other benefits. We, people in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law, have not formed even a single
good cause, but Shakyamuni, [by bestowing upon us the character myo,] has granted us as many benefits as if we ourselves had
fulfilled all the practices of the six paramitas. This precisely accords with his statement. "Now this three-fold world is
all my domain. The living beings in it are all my children." Bound as we common mortals are by earthly desires, we can instantly
attain the same virtues as the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni, for we receive all the virtues which he accumulated. The sutra states,
"At the start I pledged to make all people perfectly equal to me, without any distinction between us." This means that those
who believe in and practice the Lotus Sutra are equal to Shakyamuni Buddha.
To illustrate, a father and mother unite in conjugal harmony to give birth to a child. No one can dispute
that the child is the flesh and blood of its parents. A calf begotten by an ox king will become an ox king; it will never
become a lion king. A cub sired by a lion king will become a lion king; it will never become a human king or heavenly king.
Now the votaries of the Lotus Sutra are the children of Shakyamuni Buddha, as the sutra states, "The living beings in it are
all my children." It is not difficult for them to become kings of the Law just as Shakyamuni Buddha did.
Unfilial children, however, are not allowed to succeed their parents. King Yao had an heir named Tan Chu,
and King Shun had a prince named Shang Chun. As both sons were lacking in filial piety, they were disowned by their respective
fathers and demoted to the rank of commoners. Ch’ung Hua and Yu were the children of commoners, but both were extremely
filial. Hearing of this, King Yao and King Shun summoned Ch’ung Hua and Yu, respectively, and abdicated their thrones
to them. Commoners became royalty in a day. Just as a commoner can become a king, so can an ordinary person become a Buddha
instantly. This is the heart of the doctrine of ichinen sanzen.
How, then, can we obtain this benefit? Should we peel off our skins as Gyobo Bonji did, follow Sessen Doji’s
example and offer our bodies to a demon, or emulate Bodhisattva Yakuo in burning our elbows? As the Great Teacher Chang-an
stated, "You should distinguish between the shoju and shakubuku methods and never adhere solely to one or the other." What
practice one should perform in order to master the True Law and attain Buddhahood depends upon the times. Were there no paper
in Japan, then you should peel off your skin. Had the Lotus Sutra not yet been introduced to our country and the only individual
to appear who knew it was a demon, then you should offer your body to him. Were there no oil available in our land, then you
should burn your elbows. But of what use is it to peel off one’s skin when the country is abundantly supplied with excellent
Hsuan-tsang journeyed throughout India in search of the Law for seventeen years, covering a distance of
a hundred thousand ri. Dengyo remained in China for only two years, but he traveled three thousand ri across the billowing
sea to arrive there. They were both men, sages and worthies at that, and theirs was a more virtuous age. Never have I heard
of a woman who journeyed a thousand ri in search of Buddhism as you did. True, the dragon king’s daughter attained enlightenment
without changing her dragon form, and the nun Mahaprajapati received a prediction that she would become a Buddha in the future.
I am not certain, but they may have been female forms assumed by Buddhas or bodhisattvas. After all, those events occurred
in the Buddha’s lifetime.
A woman’s nature differs from a man’s just as fire differs from water, fire being hot and water
cold. Fishermen are skilled in catching fish, and hunters are proficient in trapping deer. A sutra states that it is a woman’s
nature to be jealous, but no sutra says that women are good at seeking Buddhism. A woman’s mind is compared to a breeze;
even if it were possible to bind the wind, one could never grasp a woman’s mind. A woman’s mind is likened to
characters written on the surface of water; they do not remain a moment. A woman is compared to a liar; one cannot tell whether
a liar’s words are true or false. A woman’s mind is compared to a river, for all rivers meander.
The Lotus Sutra, however, is the teaching which contains Shakyamuni’s declaration that he would now
"honestly discard the provisional teachings." It is the sutra of which Taho Buddha said, "All that you [Shakyamuni Buddha]
have expounded is the truth." It demands that its believers be "honest and upright, gentle in mind," "gentle, peaceful and
upright," and so on. Those who believe in this sutra, therefore, must have minds which are as straight as a tight-stretched
bowstring or a carpenter’s inking line. One may call dung sandalwood, but it will not have the sandalwood’s fragrance.
A liar never becomes a truthful person simply because one calls him honest. All the sutras are the Buddha’s golden teachings,
his true words. When compared with the Lotus Sutra, however, they are false, flattering, abusive or forked-tongued. The Lotus
Sutra alone is the truth of truths. Only honest people are able to take faith in this sutra, a teaching free from all falsehood.
Certainly you are a woman of true words.
Think of it! Even were one to meet a person who could cross the ocean carrying Mount Sumeru on his head,
one could never find a woman like you. Even though one might find a person who could steam sand and make boiled rice of it,
one could never meet a lady of your virtue. Let it be known that Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha, all the Buddhas of the ten
directions, great bodhisattvas such as Jogyo and Muhengyo, Bonten, Taishaku, the Four Heavenly Kings and other deities will
protect you and be with you always, just as a shadow accompanies the body. You are undoubtedly the foremost votary of the
Lotus Sutra among the women of Japan. Therefore, following the example of Bodhisattva Fukyo, I bestow on you the Buddhist
name, Nichimyo Shonin.
From Kamakura in Sagami Province to the northern province of Sado is a journey of more than a thousand ri
over treacherous mountains and the raging sea. The wind and rain make untimely onslaughts; bandits in the mountains
and pirates lie in wait on the sea. The people at every stage and every post town are as bestial as dogs or tigers, and you
must have felt as though you were undergoing the sufferings of the three evil paths. Moreover, we live in troubled times.
Since last year our country has been filled with rebels, and finally, on the eleventh day of the second month of this year,
a battle broke out. It is now almost the end of the fifth month, but society has not yet been restored to tranquillity. Nevertheless,
despite all the risks involved, you traveled to Sado carrying your infant daughter, since her father, from whom you have long
been separated, was not to be depended upon for her care.
I cannot even imagine the hardships you must have suffered during your journey, much less describe them
in words, so I will lay down my writing brush.
The twenty-fifth day of the fifth month in the ninth year of Bun’ei (1272)