GUIDANCE
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The Dragon Gate


- Ueno-dono Gohenji -
BACKGROUND:

"The Dragon Gate" was written on November 6, 1279, to young Nanjo Tokimitsu, the lord of the Ueno district. The head temple, Taiseki-ji, is located on part of his former estate. The Daishonin wrote in reply to Tokimitsu's report of the persecution. As the last line of this Gosho indicates, Nanjo Tokimitsu played a crucial role in protecting the Daishonin's followers there. His own home was their main refuge. He courageously hid other believers from the authorities, campaigned for the release of those who had been imprisoned and spared no effort to help their families. "The Dragon Gate" begins with a Chinese tale and then continues with recent historical events to illustrate the difficulty of attaining rank and honor in society. Attaining Buddhahood is much harder, writes the Daishonin.

The last paragraph hints at the anxiety gripping Japan in the wake of epidemics and rumors of war. The reader is told that since death is inevitable, life should be devoted only to the loftiest ambition - enlightenment.

The Dragon Gate

- Ueno-dono Gohenji -

In China there is a waterfall called the Dragon Gate. Its waters plunge a hundred feet, more swiftly than an arrow shot by a strong archer. It is said that thousands of carp gather in the basin below, hoping to climb the falls, and that any which succeed will turn into a dragon. However, not a single carp out of a hundred, a thousand or even ten thousand can climb the falls, not even after ten or twenty years. Some are swept away by the strong currents, some fall prey to eagles, hawks, kites and owls, and others are netted, scooped up, or even shot with arrows by fishermen who line either bank of the wide falls. Such is the difficulty of a carp becoming a dragon.

There were once two major warrior clans in Japan, the Minamoto and the Taira. They were like two faithful watchdogs at the gates of the Imperial Palace. They were as eager to guard the emperor as a woodcutter is to admire the harvest moon as it rises from behind the mountains. They marveled at the elegant parties of the court nobles and their ladies, just as monkeys in the trees are enraptured by the light of the moon and stars glittering in the sky. Though of low rank, they longed to find some way to mingle in court circles. But even though Sadamori of the Taira clan crushed the rebellion of Masakado, he was still not admitted to court. Nor were any of his descendants, including the famous Masamori. Not until the time of Masamori's son, Tadamori, were any of the Taira clan granted permission to enter the court. The next in line, Kiyomori, and his son Shigemori, not only enjoyed life among court nobles but became directly related to the throne when Kiyomori's daughter married the emperor and bore him a child.

Attaining Buddhahood is no easier than for men of low status to enter court circles or for carp to climb the Dragon Gate. Shariputra, for example, practiced bodhisattva austerities for sixty aeons in order to attain Buddhahood, but finally surrendered to his obstacles and slipped back into the paths of the two vehicles. Even some of those taught by Shakyamuni, when he was the sixteenth son of Daitsu Buddha, sank into the world of sufferings for the duration of sanzen-jintengo. Some others taught by him in the even more remote past when he first attained enlightenment suffered for the length of gohyaku-jintengo. All these people practiced the Lotus Sutra, but when persecuted by the Devil of the Sixth Heaven in the form of their sovereigns or other authorities, they forsook their faith and thus wandered among the six paths for countless aeons.

Up until now these events seemed to have no bearing on us, but now we find ourselves facing the same kind of persecution. No matter what, all my disciples must cherish the great desire of attaining enlightenment. We are very fortunate to be alive after the widespread epidemics which occurred last year and the year before. But now with the impending Mongol invasion it appears that few will survive. In the end, no one can escape death. The sufferings at the time of invasion will be no worse than those we are facing now. Since death is the same in either case, you should be willing to offer your life for the Lotus Sutra. Think of this offering as a drop of dew rejoining the ocean or a speck of dust returning to the earth. A passage from the seventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra reads, "Our desire is to share this blessing equally with all people, and we, together with them, will attain Buddhahood."

With my deep respect,

Nichiren

The sixth day of the eleventh month.

Postscript: I write this letter in deep gratitude for the encouragement you are giving those involved in the Atsuhara Persecution.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, page 249.