GUIDANCE
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Letter to Niike

BACKGROUND:

Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter in February 1280 to Niike Saemon-no-jo, a samurai of the Kamakura regime. Niike was so called because he lived in an area by the same name. He and his wife maintained their faith even when all the Daishonin's followers were subject to harsh persecutions.

In this Gosho, the Daishonin teaches us from many angles what faith is and how it should be practiced. First he tells us what great fortune it is to have been born in the Latter Day of the Law with the mission to spread true Buddhism throughout the world. Yet it would be foolhardy to profess faith in the Lotus Sutra and still commit slander. The consequences are a low condition of life, no matter who makes the error. Using the example of the foolish bird Kankucho (Bird Suffering from Cold), the Daishonin admonishes his believers never to lapse into negligence or be tempted by fame or fortune. They should analyze their lives from a deeper perspective and adhere to the wisdom of Buddhism.

After mentioning the deplorable state of the country and the degradation of Buddhist priests, he portrays the purpose of the Lotus Sutra by comparing a common mortal to an egg. Enlightenment exists as a potential within human life, like the fluids in an egg that evolve into a bird. Lastly, he says that the key to enlightenment is faith in the Gohonzon.

Letter to Niike

What joy to have been born in the Latter Day of the Law and to have shared in the propagation of true Buddhism! How pitiful are those who, though born in this time, cannot believe in the Lotus Sutra!

No one can escape death once he is born as a human being, so why do you not practice in preparation for the next life? When I observe what people are doing, I realize that although they profess faith in the Lotus Sutra and clasp its scrolls, they act against the spirit of the sutra and thereby readily fall into the evil paths. To illustrate, a person has five major internal organs, but should even one of them become diseased, it will infect all the others and eventually he will die. The Great Teacher Dengyo stated, "Even though one praises the Lotus Sutra, he destroys its heart." He meant that even if one embraces, reads and praises the Lotus Sutra, if he betrays its intent, he will be destroying not only Shakyamuni but all other Buddha in the universe.

The sum of our worldly misdeeds and evil karma may be as great as Mount Sumeru, but once we take faith in this sutra, they will vanish like frost or dew under the sun of the Lotus Sutra. However, if one commits even one or two of the fourteen slanders set forth in this sutra, his offense is almost impossible to expiate. Killing a single Buddha would be a far greater offense than destroying all living beings in the universe, and to violate the sutra's spirit is to commit the sin of destroying all Buddhas. One who commits any of these fourteen is a slanderer.

Hell is a dreadful dwelling of fire, and Hunger is a pitiful state where starving people devour their own children. Anger is strife, and Animality is to kill or be killed. The hell of the blood-red lotus is so called because the intense cold of this hell makes one double over until his back splits open and the bloody flesh emerges like a crimson lotus flower. And there are hells even more horrible. Once one falls into such an evil state, even a throne or the title of general means nothing. He is no different from a monkey on a string, tormented by the guards of hell. What use are his fame and fortune then? Can he still be arrogant and persist in his false beliefs?

Stop and ponder! How rare is the faith that moves one to give alms to a priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra! He will not stray into the evil paths if he does so even once. Still greater are the benefits arising from ten or twenty contributions, or from five years, ten years, or a lifetime of contributions. They are even beyond the measure of the Buddha's wisdom. The Buddha taught that the blessings of a single offering to the votary of this sutra are a hundred thousand myriad times greater than those of offering boundless treasure to Shakyamuni for more than eight billion aeons. When you embrace this sutra, you will overflow with happiness and shed tears of joy. It seems impossible to repay our debt to Shakyamuni, but by your frequent offerings to me deep in these mountains you will repay the merciful kindness of the Lotus Sutra and Shakyamuni Buddha. Strive ever harder in faith and never give in to negligence. Everyone appears to believe sincerely when he first embraces the Lotus Sutra, but as time passes, he tends to become less devout; he no longer reveres nor serves the priest and arrogantly forms distorted views. This is most frightening. Be diligent in developing your faith until the last moment of your life. Otherwise you will have regrets. For example, the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop on the twelfth, how can you admire the moon over the capital? No matter what, be close to the priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra, keep learning from him the truth of Buddhism and continue you journey of faith.

How swiftly the days pass! It makes us realize how short are the years we have left. Friends enjoy the cherry blossoms together on spring mornings and then they are gone, carried away like the blossoms by the winds of impermanence, leaving nothing but their names. Although the blossoms have scattered, the cherry trees will bloom again with the coming of spring, but when will those people be reborn? The companions with whom we composed poems praising the moon on autumn evenings have vanished with the moon behind the shifting clouds. Only their mute images remain in our hearts. The moon has set behind the western mountains, yet we shall compose poetry under it again next autumn. But where are our companions who have passed away? Even when the approaching Tiger of Death roars, we do not hear. How many more days are left to the sheep bound for slaughter? Deep in the Snow Mountains lives a bird called Kankucho which, tortured by the numbing cold, cries that it will build a nest in the morning. Yet, when the day breaks, it sleeps away the hours in the warm light of the morning sun without building its nest. So it continues to cry vainly throughout its life. The same is true of people. When they fall into hell and suffocate in its flames, they long to be reborn as humans and vow to put everything else aside and serve the three treasures in order to attain enlightenment in their next life. But even on the rare occasions when they happen to be reborn human, the winds of fame and fortune blow violently and the lamp of Buddhist practice is easily extinguished. The squander their wealth without a qualm on meaningless trifles but begrudge even the smallest contribution to the Buddha, the Law, and the Priest. This is very serious, for then they are being hindered by messengers from hell. This is the meaning of "Good by the inch invites evil by the yard."

Furthermore, since this is a land whose people slander the Lotus Sutra, the gods who would be protecting them thirst for the Law and ascend to heaven, forsaking their shrines. The empty shrines are the occupied by demons who mislead the worshippers. The Buddha, his teachings completed, returned to eternal paradise. Temples and shrines were abandoned to become the dwellings of devils. These imposing structures stand in rows, built at state expense, and still the people suffer. These are not merely my own words; they are found in the sutras, so you should learn them well.

Neither Buddhas nor gods would ever accept contributions from those who slander the Law. Then how can we human beings accept them? The deity of Kasuga Shrine proclaimed through an oracle that he would accept nothing from those with impure hearts, though he should have to eat the flames of burning copper; that he would refuse to set foot in their homes, though he should have to sit on red-hot copper. He would rather come down to a miserable hut with weeds choking the passageway, or to a poor thatched cottage. He declared that he would never visit the unfaithful even if they hung sacred festoons for a thousand days to welcome him, but that he would go to a house where the people believe, no matter how others might shun their wretchedness. Lamenting that slanderers overturn this country, the gods abandoned it and ascended to heaven. "Those with impure hearts" means those who refuse to embrace the Lotus Sutra, as is stated in the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra. If the gods themselves regard alms from slanderers as "flames of burning copper," how could we common mortals possibly consume them? If someone were to kill our parents and then try to offer us some gift, could we possibly accept it? Not even sages or saints con avoid the hell of incessant suffering if they accept offerings from slanderers. Nor should you associate with slanderers, for if you do, you will share the same guilt as they. This you should fear above all.

Shakyamuni is the father, sovereign and teacher of all other Buddhas and all gods, of the whole assembly of men and heavenly beings, and of all sentient beings, What god would rejoice if Shakyamuni were killed? Today all the people of our country have proved to be enemies of Shakyamuni, but more than lay men or women, it is the priests with twisted understanding who are the Buddha's worst enemies. There are two kinds of understanding, true and perverted. No matter how learned a person may appear, if his ideas are warped you should not listen to him. Nor should you follow priests merely because they are venerable or of high rank. But if a person has the wisdom to know the spirit of the Lotus Sutra, no matter how lowly he may appear, worship him and serve him as though he were a living Buddha. This is stated in the sutra. That is why the Great Teacher Dengyo said that the lay men and women who believe in this sutra, even if they lack knowledge or violate the precepts, should be seated above Hinayana priests who strictly observe all 250 commandment. The priests of this Mahayana sutra should therefore be seated even higher. Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji temple is believed to be a living Buddha, but men and women who believe in the Lotus Sutra should be seated high above him. It seems extraordinary that this Ryokan, who observes the 250 commandments, should become angry and glower whenever he sees or hears about Nichiren. The sage, it seems, has been possessed by a devil. He is like a basically even tempered person who, when drunk reveals an evil side and causes trouble. The Buddha taught that giving alms to Mahakashyapa, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana and Subhuti, who did not yet know of the Lotus Sutra, would lead one to fall into the three evil paths. He said that these four great disciples were more base than wild dogs or jackals. They adamantly upheld the 250 Buddhist commandments, and their observance of the three thousand standards was as perfect as the harvest moon. But until they embraced the Lotus Sutra they were still like wild dogs to the Buddha. In his comparison, our priests are so base that they are beyond description.

So flagrantly do the priests of Kencho-ji and Engaku-ji temples break the code of conduct that it resembles a mountain which has collapse into rubble. Their licentious behavior is like that of monkeys. It is utterly futile to look for salvation in the next life by giving alms to such priests. There is no doubt that the protective gods have abandoned our land. Long ago the gods, bodhisattvas, and men of Learning pledged together in the presence of Shakyamuni that if there be a land hostile to the Lotus Sutra, they would become frost and hail in summer to drive the country into famine, or pestilence to devour the crops; or cause droughts, or floods to ruin the fields and farms; or become typhoons and sweep the people to their deaths; or transform themselves into demons and plague the people. Bodhisattva Hachiman was among those present. Does he not fear breaking the oath made at Eagle Peak? Should he break his promise, he would surely be doomed to the hell of incessant suffering -- a fearful, terrible thing to contemplate. Until the envoy of the Buddha actually appeared to expound the Lotus Sutra, the rulers of the land were not hostile to it, for they revered all the sutras equally. However, now that I am spreading the Lotus Sutra as the Buddha's envoy, everyone -- from ruler to the lowliest subject --has become a slanderer. So far Hachiman has done everything possible to prevent hostility toward the Lotus Sutra from developing among our people, as reluctant to abandon them as parents would be to abandon an only child, but now in fear of breaking the pledge he made at Eagle Peak, he has razed his shrine and ascended to heaven. Even so, should there be a votary of the Lotus Sutra who would give his life for it, Hachiman will watch over him. But since both Tensho Daijin and Hachiman have gone, how could the other gods remain in their shrines? Even if they did not wish to leave, how could they stay another day if I reproach them for not keeping their promise? A person may be a thief and as long as no one knows, he can live wherever he wishes. But when denounces as a thief by someone who knows him, he is forced to flee at once. In the same way, because I know of their vow, the gods are compelled to abandon their shrines. Contrary to popular belief, the land has become inhabited by demons. How pitiful!

Many have expounded the various teachings of Shakyamuni, but until now, no one, not even T'ien-t'ai or Dengyo, has taught the most important of all. That is as it should be, for that teaching appears and spreads with the advent of Bodhisattva Jogyo during the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law.

No matter what, always keep your faith in the Lotus Sutra steadfast. Then, at the last moment of your life, you will be welcomed by a thousand Buddhas, who will take you swiftly to the paradise at Eagle Peak where you will experience the true happiness of the Law. If your faith weakens and you do not attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, do not reproach me. If you do, you would be like the patient who refuses the medicine his physician prescribes and takes the wrong medicine instead. It never occurs to him that it is his fault, and he blames the physician when he does not recover. Faith in this sutra means that you will surely attain Buddhahood if you are true to the entirety of the Lotus Sutra, adhering exactly to its teachings without adding any of your own ideas or following the arbitrary interpretations of others.

Attaining Buddhahood is nothing extraordinary. If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with your whole heart, you will naturally become endowed with the Buddha's thirty-two features and eighty characteristics. Shakyamuni stated, "At the start I pledged to make all people perfectly equal to me, without any distinction between us" Therefore, it is not difficult to become a Buddha. A bird's egg contains nothing but liquid, yet by itself this develops into a beak, two eyes, and all the other parts which form a bird, and can fly into the sky. We, too are like the egg, ignorant and base, but when nurtured by the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we develop the beak of the Buddha's thirty-two features and the feathers of his eighty characteristics and are free to soar into the skies of the ultimate reality. The Nirvana Sutra states that all people are enclosed by the shell of ignorance, lacking the beak of wisdom. The Buddha comes back to this world, just as a mother bird returns to her nest, and cracks the shell so that all people, like fledglings, may leave the nest and soar into the skies of enlightenment.

"Knowledge without faith" describes those who may be knowledgeable about the Lotus Sutra but do not believe in it. These people will never attain Buddhahood. Those of "faith without knowledge" may lack knowledge but believe, and can attain Buddhahood. These are not merely my own words but are explicitly stated in the sutra. In the second volume of the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha said to Shariputra, "It is by faith and not by your own intelligence that you can attain enlightenment." This explains why even Shariputra, unsurpassed in his intelligence, was able to attain Buddhahood only by embracing and firmly believing in the sutra. Knowledge alone could not bring him to enlightenment. If Shariputra could not reach enlightenment through his vast knowledge, how can we, of little knowledge, dare to dream that we may attain Buddhahood if we do not have faith? The sutra explains that people in the Latter Day of the Law will be arrogant, though their knowledge of Buddhism is trifling, and will show disrespect to the Priest, neglect the Law and thereby fall into the evil paths. If one truly understands Buddhism, he should show this in his respect for the Priest, reverence for the Law and offerings to the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha is not among us now, so you must respect the person with enlightened wisdom as you would the Buddha himself. If you sincerely follow him, your blessings will be bountiful. If one wishes for happiness in his next existence, he should renounce his desire for fame and fortune and respect the priest who teaches the Lotus Sutra as a living Buddha, no matter how humble that priest's station. Thus it is written in the sutra.

The Zen sect today violates the five great principles of humanity -- benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and faith. To honor the wise and virtuous, to respect the elderly and protect the young, are recognized universally as humane conduct in both Buddhist and secular realms. But the Zen priests, who are nothing but uneducated rabble, are not even intelligent enough to distinguish black from white. They have now donned gaudy priestly garments and become so conceited that they belittle the learned and virtuous priests of the Tendai and Shingon sects. They observe none of the proper manners and think that they rank higher than all others. These people are so insolent that even the animals are more respectable. Regarding this, the Great Teacher Dengyo wrote that the otter shows his respect before eating the fish he has caught, the crow in the forest carries food to its parents and grandparents, the dove takes care to perch three branches lower than its father, wild geese keep perfect formation when they fly together, and lambs kneel to drink their mother's milk. He asks, if lowly animals conduct themselves with such propriety, how can human beings be so lacking in courtesy? Judging from the words of Dengyo, it is only natural that the Zen priests should be confused about Buddhism when they are ignorant even of how men should behave. They are acting like devils.

Understand clearly what I have taught you here and practice without negligence all the teachings of the Lotus Sutra's eight volumes and twenty-eight chapters. When you long to see me, pray toward the sun and at the same time, my image will be reflected there. Have the priest who is my messenger read this letter to you. Trust him as a priest with enlightened wisdom and ask him any questions you may have about Buddhism. If you do not question and resolve your doubts, you cannot dispel the dark clouds of illusion, any more than you could travel a thousand miles without legs. Have him read this letter again and again and ask whatever questions you wish. In expectation of seeing you again, I will conclude here.

Respectfully,

Nichiren
The second month in the third year of Koan (1280)

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. I, pp. 253 - 262.