The persecutions Nichiren has faced are the result of karma formed in previous lifetimes. The “Never Disparaging” chapter reads, “when his offenses had been wiped out,” indicating that Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was vilified and beaten by countless slanderers of the correct teaching because of his past karma. How much more true this is of Nichiren, who in this life was born poor and lowly to a chandāla family. In my heart I cherish some faith in the Lotus Sutra, but my body, while outwardly human, is fundamentally that of an animal. It was conceived of the two fluids, one white and one red, of a father and mother who subsisted on fish and fowl. My spirit dwells in this body as the moon is reflected in muddy water, or as gold is wrapped in a filthy bag. Since my heart believes in the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear even Brahmā or Shakra, but my body is still that of an animal. With such disparity between my body and my mind, no wonder the foolish despise me. Without doubt, when compared to my body, my mind shines like the moon or like gold. Who knows what slander I may have committed in the past? I may possess the soul of the monk Superior Intent or the spirit of Mahādeva. Perhaps I am descended from those who contemptuously persecuted Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, or am among those who forgot the seeds of enlightenment sown in their lives.9I may even be related to the five thousand arrogant people,10 or belong to the third group [who failed to take faith in the Lotus Sutra] in the days of the Buddha Great Universal Wisdom Excellence.11 It is impossible to fathom one’s karma.
Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword. Worthies and sages are tested by abuse. My present exile is not because of any secular crime. It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past grave offenses and be freed in the next from the three evil paths.
This letter was written on the twentieth day of the third month, 1272, some five months after Nichiren Daishonin had arrived on the island of Sado to begin his exile there. He addressed it to Toki Jōnin, a samurai serving as a leading retainer to Lord Chiba, the constable of Shimōsa Province, to Saburō Saemon (Shijō Kingo) in Kamakura, and to other staunch followers.
In this letter, he gives an elaborate explanation of karma or destiny, stating that his present difficulties arise from the fact that he slandered the Lotus Sutra in a past existence. Using himself as an example, he elucidates to his disciples the kind of spirit and practice by which they can alter their karma. He adds that persons who try to propagate the correct teaching of Buddhism vigorously will invariably face opposition, and that such opposition in reality presents an opportunity for them to change their karma. Those who have given up their faith and instead criticize are admonished that their actions bear the heaviest consequences. He compares their lack of vision to fireflies who laugh at the sun.