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The two characters for hell can be interpreted to mean digging a hole in the ground. Can anyone avoid having a hole dug for them when they die? This is what is called “hell.” The flames that burn one’s body are the fires of the hell of incessant suffering. One’s wife, children, and relatives vying for position around one’s body as they move toward the grave are the wardens and demon guards of hell. The plaintive cries of one’s family are the voices of the guards and wardens of hell. One’s two-and-a-half-foot-long walking stick is the iron rod of torture in hell. The horses and oxen that carry one’s body are the horse-headed and ox-headed demons, and the grave is the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering. The eighty-four thousand earthly desires are eighty-four thousand cauldrons in hell. One’s body leaves home for the mountain of death, while the river beside which one’s filial children stand in grief is the river of three crossings. It is utterly useless to look for hell anywhere else.

Those who embrace the Lotus Sutra, however, can turn all this around. Hell becomes the Land of Tranquil Light; the burning fires of agony become the torch of the wisdom of a Thus Come One of thereward body; the dead person becomes a Thus Come One of the Dharma body; and the fiery inferno, the “room of great pity and compassion”6where a Thus Come One of the manifested body abides. Moreover, the walking stick becomes the walking stick of the true aspect, or the Mystic Law; the river of three crossings becomes the ocean of “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana”; and the mountain of death becomes the towering peak of “earthly desires are enlightenment.” Please think of it in this way. Both attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form and “opening the door of Buddha wisdom”7 refer to realizing this and to awakening toit. Devadatta’s changing the Avīchi hell into the blissful Land of Tranquil Light, and the dragon king’s daughter’s attaining Buddhahood without changing her form, were nothing other than this. It is p.458because the Lotus Sutra saves those who oppose it as well as those who follow it. This is the blessing of the single character myō, or mystic.

Bodhisattva Nāgārjuna stated, “[The Lotus Sutra is] like a great physician who can change poison into medicine.”8 The Great TeacherMiao-lo stated, “How can one seek the Land of Eternally Tranquil Lightanywhere apart from Buddhagayā? This sahā world does not exist anywhere outside the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.”9 He also said: “The true aspect invariably manifests in all phenomena, and all phenomena invariably manifest in the ten factors. The ten factors invariably manifest in the Ten Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably manifest in life and its environment.”10

The Lotus Sutra reads, “The true aspect of all phenomena [can only be understood and shared between Buddhas. This reality consists of the appearance, nature . . . and] their consistency from beginning to end.”11The “Life Span” chapter states, “It has been immeasurable, boundless [hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, millions of nayutas of kalpas] since I in fact attained Buddhahood.” In this passage, “I” refers to all beings in the Ten Worlds. Because all beings of the Ten Worlds are inherently Buddhas, they dwell in the pure land. The “Expedient Means” chapter reads, “These phenomena are part of an abiding Law, [and] the characteristics of the world are constantly abiding.” Since it is the way of the world that birth and death are eternally unchanging characteristics of life in the three existences of past, present, and future, there is no need to grieve or to be surprised. The single word “characteristic” represents the eight characteristics, or phases, of the Buddha’s existence. Even these eight phases do not transcend the two words birth and death.To be enlightened in this way is referred to as the attainment ofBuddhahood in one’s present form by the votaries of the Lotus Sutra.

Since your deceased husband was a votary of this sutra, he doubtless attained Buddhahood just as he was. You need not grieve so much over his passing. On the other hand, to grieve is only natural for ordinary people. However, even sages are sometimes sad. Could the lamenting of all the great enlightened disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha at his passing have been meant to show the behavior of ordinary people?

You should by all means perform as much good as you possibly can for the sake of your deceased husband. The words of a wise man of old also teach that “you should base your mind on the ninth consciousness, and carry out your practice in the six consciousnesses.”12 How reasonable it is too! In this letter I have written my long-cherished teachings. Keep them deep within your heart.

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 the fundamental concept of the Ten Worlds, i.e.,:

  • The world of hell;
  • The world of hungry spirits (also called hunger);
  • The world of animals (animality);
  • The world of asuras (anger);
  • The world of human beings (humanity or tranquillity);
  • The world of heavenly beings (heaven or rapture);
  • The world of voice-hearers (learning);
  • The world of cause-awakened ones (realization);
  • The world of bodhisattvas; and
  • The world of Buddhas (Buddhahood).

He further explains the Nine Consciousnesses. “Consciousness” is the translation of the Sanskrit vijnana, which means discernment. The nine consciousnesses are

  • Sight-consciousness (Skt chakshur-vijnana ),
  • Hearing-consciousness (shrota-vijnana),
  • Smell-consciousness (ghrana-vijnana),
  • Taste-consciousness (jihva-vijnana),
  • Touch-consciousness (kaya-vijnana),
  • Mind-consciousness (mano-vijnana),
  • Mano -consciousness (mano-vijnana),  
  • Alaya consciousness (alaya-vijnana), and
  • Amala -consciousness (amala-vijnana). (The Sanskrit is the same for both the sixth and seventh consciousnesses.)

he first five consciousnesses correspond to the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The sixth consciousness integrates the perceptions of the five senses into coherent images and makes judgments about the external world. In contrast with the first six consciousnesses, which deal with the external world, the seventh, or mano -consciousness, corresponds to the inner spiritual world. Awareness of and attachment to the self are said to originate from the mano -consciousness, as does the ability to distinguish between good and evil. The eighth, or alaya -consciousness, exists in what modern psychology calls the unconscious; all experiences of present and previous lifetimes—collectively called karma—are stored there. The alaya -consciousness receives the results of one’s good and evil deeds and stores them as karmic potentials or “seeds,” which then produce the rewards of either happiness or suffering accordingly. Hence it was rendered as “storehouse consciousness” in Chinese. The alaya -consciousness thus forms the framework of individual existence. The Dharma Characteristics (Chin Fa-hsiang; Jpn Hosso) school regards the eighth consciousness as the source of all spiritual and physical phenomena. The Summary of the Mahayana (Shelun; Shoron) school, the T’ient’ai school, and the Flower Garland (Hua-yen; Kegon) school postulate a ninth consciousness, called amala-consciousness, which lies below the alaya-consciousness and remains free from all karmic impurity. This ninth consciousness is defined as the basis of all life’s functions. Hence it was rendered as “fundamental pure consciousness” in Chinese. The ninth, or āmala-consciousness, free from all karmic impurity, is the fundamental purifying force that is the Buddha nature.