In your letter you write: “Since I took faith in this sutra [the Lotus], I have continued to recite the ten factors of life4 and the verse section of the ‘Life Span’ chapter and chant the daimoku without the slightest neglect. But how great is the difference between the blessings received when a sage chants the daimoku and the blessings received when we chant it?” To reply, one is in no way superior to the other. The gold that a fool possesses is no different from the gold that a wise man possesses; a fire made by a fool is the same as a fire made by a wise man.
However, there is a difference if one chants the daimoku while acting against the intent of this sutra. There are various stages in the practice of this sutra [and various forms of slander exist accordingly]. Let me sum them up by quoting from volume five of The Annotations on “The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra”: “In defining the types of evil,The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra states briefly, ‘Expound among the wise but not among the foolish.’5 One scholar6 enumerates the types of evil as follows: ‘I will first list the evil causes and then their effects. There are fourteen evil causes: (1) arrogance, (2) negligence, (3) wrong views of the self, (4) shallow understanding, (5) attachment to earthly desires, (6) not understanding, (7) not believing, (8) scowling with knitted brows, (9) harboring doubts, (10) slandering, (11) despising, (12) hating, (13) envying, and (14) bearing grudges.’” Since these fourteen slanders apply equally to priesthood and laity, you must be on guard against them.
Bodhisattva Never Disparaging of old said that all people have the Buddha nature and that, if they embrace the Lotus Sutra, they will never fail to attain Buddhahood. He further stated that to slight a person is toslight the Buddha himself. Thus, his practice was to revere all people. He revered even those who did not embrace the Lotus Sutra because they too had the Buddha nature and might someday believe in the sutra. Therefore, it is all the more natural to revere those priests and lay people who do embrace the sutra.
The fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra states, “If there were a person who spoke only one word to curse the lay persons or monks or nuns who uphold and preach the Lotus Sutra, then his offense would be even graver than that of cursing Shakyamuni Buddha to his face for the space of a kalpa.”7 The Lotus Sutra also states, “[If anyone sees a person who accepts and upholds this sutra and tries to expose the faults or evils of that person], whether what he speaks is true or not, [he will in his present existence be afflicted with white leprosy].”8 Take these teachingsto heart, and always remember that believers in the Lotus Sutra should absolutely be the last to abuse one another. All those who keep faith in the Lotus Sutra are most certainly Buddhas, and one who slanders a Buddha commits a grave offense.
When one chants the daimoku bearing in mind that there are no distinctions among those who embrace the Lotus Sutra, then the blessings one gains will be equal to those of Shakyamuni Buddha. A commentary states, “Both the beings and the environment of the Avīchi hell exist entirely within the life of the highest sage [Buddha], and what is more, the life and the environment of Vairochana [Buddha] never transcend the lives of common mortals.”9 You can surmise the significance of the fourteen slanders in the light of the above quotations.
Written near the end of 1276, this letter was a reply to the lay priest Matsuno Rokurō Saemon. This letter explains the fourteen slanders, citing Miao-lo’s Annotations on “The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra.” These slanders are referred to originally in the “Simile and Parable” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Asked if there is a difference in benefits derived when a sage chants the daimoku and when an ordinary person chants it, the Daishonin answers in the negative. “However, there is a difference,” he continues, “if one chants the daimoku while acting against the intent of this sutra.” He explains “the intent” of the sutra by referring to the fourteen slanders.
The Daishonin continues to explain the differences between people in terms of wisdom, intelligence (or other innate individual qualities for that matter) do not affect the results they can obtain from the practice. What differs the benefits obtained from the practice is whether they commit slander; leading to perhaps the most significant passage in this Gosho, the importance of which concerns, in the first instance, our thoughts, attitude and actions toward others. The differences in benefits received are not a question of innate qualities that we are born with instead they are a question of choice: we choose from one moment to the next our attitude and actions toward other human beings. This Gosho emphasises the importance of choosing wisely.
As the Daishonin explains, slander is a question of “…acting against the intent of this sutra”, which can occur even while “…one chants the daimoku”. In other words, no matter how deep-seated our faith or practice might be, if we commit slander we are still committing a “grave offense”. It is this quality that gives slander its insidious nature, its capacity to deprive us of the benefits of the practice even while we see ourselves as making great efforts for our human revolution and kosen rufu. The Daishonin warns Lord Matsuno – and all of us – to be on guard against slander, and in this light it is easy to see why: how deceived will we feel if we commit slander while we are otherwise making great efforts?
The first problem is to be able to understand and identify slander, this “…act against the intent of the sutra”. Quoting from the Hokke Mongu Ki to convey the variety of forms that slander can take, the Daishonin proceeds to name the fourteen slanders:
- wrong views of the self,
- shallow understanding,
- attachment to earthly desires,
- not understanding,
- not believing,
- scowling with knitted brows,
- harboring doubts,
- envying, and
- bearing grudge
The first ten of the fourteen slanders concern one’s attitude and action toward the Law, that is, the Buddha’s teachings; the last four concern those toward people who believe in and practice that Law.
What qualities do these different forms of slander have in common? In one sense they all represent short cuts which allow a person to tell themselves that they are right, and that the faults and problems lie with others. This is obviously easy and attractive to do, and is convenient: you can feel good about yourself without any need to feel a personal obligation toward problems concerning others. In this sense, it gives you a simple life.
On the other hand, life is not so simple. Human inter-relationships are complex, and the moment we give in to this tendency to blame the problems on others, we will not be seeing life, and ourselves, as we really are, and in this sense will be acting “against the intent of the sutra”. If anything is against what Buddhism teaches, it is the idea that the things in life which are wrong are somebody else’s fault, and therefore somebody else’s responsibility. But this point, which seems so clear and simple in theory, in daily life is very difficult indeed to grasp. This underlines the incredible value of chanting daimoku, and the way in which the Gohonzon acts as a mirror when we do, showing our lives and our actions as they really are, showing how natural it is that our responsibility lies not just with ourselves but includes all those around us, and showing the easy and convenient choice of blaming others for our problems as the illusion it really is.
Emphasizing the importance of unity among believers, the Daishonin says, “Always remember that believers in the Lotus Sutra should absolutely be the last to abuse one another.” The reason he gives is that “all those who keep faith in the Lotus Sutra are most certainly Buddhas, and one who slanders a Buddha commits a grave offense.” In other words, he warns against the last four of the fourteen slanders: “despising, hating, envying, and bearing grudges against” fellow believers.