The doctrine of karma is central to Buddhist philosophy. It states that each living being
carries an accumulation of effects from causes made, not only in this lifetime, but throughout
the infinite past. Every word, thought or action is imprinted upon the individual's life and
contributes to his overall destiny, like an invisible balance sheet of debits and credits. The
practice of Buddhism is powerful enough to override this vast accumulation and can minimize its
negative effects, thus the title of this letter--- "Lessening One's Karmic Retribution."
On October 5, 1271, only three weeks after he came close to being executed at Tatsunokuchi,
Nichiren Daishonin drafted this letter and sent it to three of his leading disciples - Ota
Saemon, Soya Nyudo and Kimbara Hokkyo. One of them had perhaps visited the Daishonin while he
was being detained at Echi. Records indicate that they lived in Shimosa, to the northeast of
Kamakura, and this letter was an expression of gratitude for the visit and concern for the
The Daishonin's near execution and detention at Homma Rokurozaemon's mansion were matters of
grave concern to his followers. Immediately after the shogunate government failed to decapitate
Nichiren Daishonin, it could not decide what to do with him, so it temporarily detained him at
the mansion. In the meantime, fanatic adherents of the Nembutsu and other sects set fire to
houses in Kamakura and ascribed the arson to the Daishonin's followers so that the government
would not release him. Thus the government finally decided to exile him to Sado Island. It
seems that when the letter was drafted, the exile had already been determined.
The practitioners of true Buddhism were disheartened. The Daishonin anticipated their distress
and poured out a steady stream of encouraging letters. He explained that the incidents were not
harassment, but were highly significant because they bore out predictions in the Lotus Sutra
and thus substantiated the fact that he was the original Buddha. His sufferings were an
important and inevitable part of that revelation. In this letter, he urges these followers to
erase their own karma by "reading" the Louts Sutra with their lives. He assures them that the
power of the supreme law is so great that it can minimize and even wipe out the effects of
There were two brothers called Suri and Handoku1. Both of them answered to the name Suri
Handoku. You three believers are like them. When any one of you comes, I feel as though all
three of you were with me.
The Nirvana Sutra teaches the principle of lessening karmic retribution. If one's heavy karma
from the past is not expiated within this lifetime, he must undergo the sufferings of hell in
the future, but if he experiences extreme hardship in this life, the sufferings of hell will
vanish instantly. When he dies, he will obtain the blessings of Rapture and Tranquillity, as
well as those of the three vehicles and the supreme vehicle. Bodhisattva Fukyo was not abused
and vilified, stoned and beaten with staves without reason. He had probably slandered the True
Law in the past. The phrase "after expiating his sins"2 indicates that because Bodhisattva
Fukyo met persecution, he could eradicate his sins from previous lifetimes.
The twenty-four successors3 were all emissaries from the Buddha, who had predicted their
advent. Of these, the fifteenth, Bodhisattva Kanadeva, was killed by a Brahman, and the
twenty-fourth, Aryasinha, was beheaded by King Danmira. Buddhamitra and Bodhisattva Nargarjuna
also suffered many persecutions. Yet others propagated Buddhism under the protection of devout
kings, without encountering persecution. This would seem to show that there are both good and
evil countries in the world, and accordingly there are two ways of propagation, shoju and
shakubuku. Persecutions occurred even in the Former and Middle Days of the Law -- even in
India, the center of Buddhism. Now is the beginning of the Latter Day, and this country is far
away from India. I therefore expected that persecutions would arise, and I have long been
I expounded this principle a long time ago; so it should not be new to you. Kangyo-soku is one
of the six stages of practice in the perfect teaching. It means that one does as he speaks and
speaks as he does. Those at the stages of ri-soku and myoji-soku believe in the perfect
teaching, but even though they praise it, their actions fail to reflect their words. For
example, many people study the books of the Three Great Rulers4 and the Five Emperors, but
there is not one case in ten million where society is governed as those ancient Chinese sages
taught. Thus it is very difficult to establish peace in society. One may be letter-perfect in
reciting the Lotus Sutra, but it is far more difficult to practice as it teaches. The Hiyu
chapter states, "They will despise, hate, envy and bear grudges against those who read, recite,
transcribe and embrace this sutra." The Hosshi chapter reads, "Since hatred and jealousy abound
even during the lifetime of the Buddha, how much worse will it!
be in the world after his passing?" The Kanji chapter reads, "They will attack us with swords
and staves...we will be banished again and again." The Anrakugyo chapter states, "The people
will be full of hostility, and it will be extremely difficult to believe." These quotations are
from the sutra, but there is no way of knowing when these prophecies will be fulfilled. In the
past, Bodhisattva Fukyo and Priest Kakutoku read and lived these passages. But aside from the
Former and Middle Days of the Law, now in the Latter Day, in all Japan only Nichiren seems to
have done so. From my present situation, I can well imagine how followers, relatives, disciples
and believers must have grieved when so many of their saints met persecution in the ancient
days of evil kings.
Nichiren has now read the entirety of the Lotus Sutra. Even a single phrase or passage will
assure one's Enlightenment; since I have read the entire sutra, my benefits will be far
greater. Though I may sound presumptuous, my most fervent wish is to enable the whole nation to
attain enlightenment. However, in an age when none will heed me, it is beyond my power. I will
close now to keep this brief.
The fifth day of the tenth month in the eighth year of Bun'ei (1271)
Suri and Handoku: Sons of a Brahman family in Shakyamuni's time, said to be so stupid that they
were unable to distinguish between each other; both would come running when one was called. The
Daishonin compares their closeness to the staunch unity of the three believers from Shimousa.
Lotus Sutra, chap. 20.
The number and ordering of the Buddha's successors differs slightly according to different
documents. The translation here is based on the Daishonin's full list of them which appears in
page 1103 of the Gosho Zenshu.
Books of the Three Great Rulers and Five Emperors: Writings popularly ascribed to eight
legendary emperors of ancient China. Confucius is traditionally thought to have incorporated
them into his work, the Book of Documents, one of his Five Classics. Little is known about the
contents of these works, but the legendary emperors are said to have realized a model
Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. 1, pp. 17-19.