Neither the pure land nor hell exists outside oneself; both lie only within one’s own heart. Awakened to this, one is called a Buddha; deluded about it, one is called an ordinary person. The Lotus Sutrar eveals this truth, and one who embraces the Lotus Sutra will realize that hell is itself the Land of Tranquil Light.
Even if one were to practice the provisional teachings for immeasurable millions of years, if one should turn away from the Lotus Sutra, it would simply always be hell. I did not make this assertion; it was decided by Shakyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, and the emanation Buddhas of the ten directions. To practice the provisional teachings is to be like a person scorched by fire who goes deeper into the flames, or like a drowning person sinking farther toward the bottom of the depths. Those who fail to embrace the Lotus Sutra are like persons going into fire or water. Those who rely on such evil teachers as Hōnen,Kōbō, and other slanderers of the Lotus Sutra and believe in the Amidaor Mahāvairochana Sutra are going farther and farther into the fire or deeper and deeper into the depths of the water. How can they possibly escape agony? They will doubtless fall into the fiery pits of the hell of repeated rebirth for torture, the hell of black cords, and the hell of incessant suffering, or sink into the icy depths of the hell of the crimson lotus and the hell of the great crimson lotus.2 The second volume of the Lotus Sutra reads, “When his life comes to an end he will enter the Avīchi hell, [be confined there for a whole kalpa, and when the kalpa ends, be born there again]. He will keep repeating this cycle for a countless number of kalpas.”3
Your late husband has escaped such agonies, for he was a lay supporter of Nichiren, the votary of the Lotus Sutra. The sutra reads, “If someone . . . should enter a great fire, the fire could not burn him. . . . If one were washed away by a great flood and called upon his name, one would immediately find oneself in a shallow place.”4 It also reads, “The good fortune you gain thereby . . . cannot be burned by fire or washed away by water.” How reassuring! How encouraging!
After all, even if one looks for hell in some faraway place, the iron rods of the wardens of hell and the accusing cries of the demon guards do not exist apart from one. This teaching is of prime importance, but I will impart it to you just as Bodhisattva Manjushrī explained the secret teaching of the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form to thedragon king’s daughter. After hearing it, strive even more earnestly in faith. One who, on hearing the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, makes even greater efforts in faith is a true seeker of the way. T’ien-t’ai states, “From the indigo, an even deeper blue.”5 This passage means that, if one dyes something repeatedly in indigo, it becomes even bluer than the indigo leaves. The Lotus Sutra is like the indigo, and the strength of one’s practice is like the deepening blue.
In the fifth month of the eleventh year of Bun’ei (1274), NichirenDaishonin left Kamakura and went to live in a small dwelling at the foot of Mount Minobu. In the seventh month, the Daishonin wrote this letter to the wife of Nanjō Hyōe Shichirō, or Ueno. She was the mother of Nanjō Tokimitsu, who had succeeded his father as steward of Ueno in Suruga Province. She had raised nine children after her husband’s death in 1265 and was a devoted mother and a sincere follower of the Daishonin. On this occasion she had sent the Daishonin various offerings to commemorate the tenth anniversary of her husband’s death. This letter expresses the Daishonin’s appreciation for her thoughtfulness and devotion and goes on to encourage her by shifting his focus from her late husband’s attainment of Buddhahood to her own attainment of Buddhahood.
The Daishonin in this letter explains that there are eight hot hells, each with sixteen subsidiary hells. The hell of repeated rebirth for torture is the first of the hot hells. There victims are slashed and pounded with swords and iron staves, whereupon their body immediately regenerates; they thus experience the same suffering repeatedly. The hell of black cords is the second of the hot hells. There the occupants are either sawed in half or slashed with red-hot axes. Suffering there is said to be ten times greater than in the hell of repeated rebirth for torture. Those who have committed the five cardinal sins are said to undergo indescribable torture in the lowest and severest hell, the hell of incessant suffering. The hell of the crimson lotus and the hell of the great crimson lotus are two of the eight cold hells. They are so called because the intense cold there makes one double over until one’s back splits open and the bloody flesh blossoms like a crimson lotus flower.
He explains that both the pure land and hell exist within us. To suppose that they exist somewhere else is an illusion. Though in one moment we may experience the misery characterized by the world of hell, in that same moment, through Buddhist practice, we can begin transforming our lives so that we can savor the deep, inexhaustible joy of the world of Buddhahood.
Those who uphold the Lotus Sutra can actualize in their own lives the principle that “hell is itself the Land of Tranquil Light.” In one of his other writings, the Daishonin tells Shijo Kingo that if it were necessary in order to protect him, he would accompany him even to hell. He writes: “For if you and I should fall into hell together, we would find Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra there” (WND-1, 850). The implication here is that if Nichiren Daishonin and Shakyamuni Buddha were both present, hell would no longer be hell; it would become a Buddha land. And if that were so, then the wardens of hell would not attack the followers of the Buddha, nor would King Yama, the king of hell, have any choice but to become a protector of the Lotus Sutra.
The Lotus Sutra is a teaching of changing the place we are right now into a Buddha land. Faith in the Lotus Sutra means undertaking the challenge to do just that. Consequently, the Daishonin’s followers who persevere in the practice of the Lotus Sutra will not possibly suffer in the world of Hell. They are guaranteed to enjoy a state of life of complete freedom. Daishonin wanted to deeply impress this point on the lay nun Ueno. Though she perhaps had already heard a number of times before about this principle of “hell is itself theLand of Tranquil Light,” the Daishonin no doubt wanted her to grasp it on a more profound level and to manifest it in her own life. These passages also convey the Daishonin’s sincere wish that she exert herself in her Buddhist practice with stronger resolve.