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“My greatest concern now is your illness. Fully convinced that you will recover your health, you should continue moxibustion treatment for three years, as regularly as if you had just begun. Even those who are free from illness cannot escape the transience of life, but you are not yet old, and because you are a votary of the Lotus Sutra, you will not meet an untimely death. Your illness is surely not due to karma, but even if it were, you could rely on the power of the Lotus Sutra to cure it.

King Ajātashatru extended his life by forty years by embracing the Lotus Sutra. Ch’en Chen added fifteen years to his life. You also are a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra, and your faith is like the waxing moon or the rising tide. Be deeply convinced, then, that your illness cannot possibly persist, and that your life cannot fail to be extended! Take care of yourself, and do not burden your mind with grief.”

 

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Though her illness must have left her exhausted and mentally fatigued, the lay nun Toki had continued to support her husband and nurse her mother-in-law. No doubt in her preoccupation with these tasks, she may have neglected to pay attention to getting well. She may even have begun to feel that she might not recover at all. Addressing this anxiety, Nichiren encouraged her by stressing the absolute power of the Mystic Law. He sought to rouse in her the confidence that she would get better and also the determination to do so without fail.  With stern compassion, Nichiren urges the lay nun to concentrate on her own health and recovery.

Nichiren reminds the lay nun Toki twice that she is a votary, or a practitioner, of the Lotus Sutra. Citing the examples of King Ajatashatru and the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai’s older brother Ch’en Chen, he assures her that a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra will never be vanquished by the devil of illness. Those who have dedicated themselves to the great mission of propagating the Lotus Sutra will never be defeated in life, he tells her.  Nichiren offers the lay nun three points for living wisely and enjoying a long, healthy, fulfilling life.

  • “Be deeply convinced”: Have unshakable conviction that we can overcome our problems and will be protected.
  • “Take care of yourself”: Lead a well-balanced and disciplined life so we can take on any problems.
  • “Do not burden your mind with grief”: Live wisely with a strong, positive attitude and refrain from negativity and needless fretting and complaining.

At the end of this letter, Nichiren again stresses this point, writing, “There is nothing to lament when we consider that we will surely become Buddhas”.  Those who remain steadfast in their practice never need to sink into the mire of suffering. Instead of being depressed, they are buoyant and their hearts light as they look to the future. The key is to chant resonantly with joy and with the determination that they have already won. Naturally, in the case of illness, seeking the best medical treatment should always go hand in hand with a strong practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

It’s important to note that the Daishonin’s message isn’t simply: “There are others worse off than you” or “You have it easy.” What he is saying to the lay nun Toki, who may have been feeling rather disconsolate and alone, is, “You are not the only one who is suffering.” By drawing her attention to the plight of others, he seeks to alleviate her pain and turn her gaze outward. He is trying to teach her the spirit of empathy—that is, recognizing and sharing the sufferings of others. By offering examples of others’ suffering, Nichiren teaches her that sorrow is common to all people.

The point is that none of us is free of the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. At the same time, each of us possesses the Buddha nature—the infinite potential within life that enables us to fundamentally overcome that suffering. Opening our eyes to this universal truth is the first step to liberation from suffering.

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