“It is extremely rare to be born as a human being. Not only are you endowed with human form, but you have had the rare fortune to encounter Buddhism. Moreover, out of the Buddha’s many teachings you have encountered the daimoku, or the title, of the Lotus Sutra and become its votary. Truly you are a person who has offered alms to a hundred thousand million Buddhas in his past existences!
Nichiren is the supreme votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan. In this land only he has lived the twenty-line verse of the “Encouraging Devotion” chapter.1 The eight hundred thousand million nayutas of bodhisattvas pledged with this verse to propagate the Lotus Sutra, but not one of them fulfilled the pledge. The parents who gave life to this extraordinary person, Nichiren, are the most blessed of all people in Japan. It is no doubt because of karmic forces that they became my parents, and I, their child. If Nichiren is the envoy of the Lotus Sutra and the Thus Come One Shakyamuni, then his parents must also share this relationship. They are like King Wonderful Adornment and Lady Pure Virtue with their sons, Pure Storehouse and Pure Eye. Could the two Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures have been reborn as Nichiren’s parents? Or if not, could his parents have been among the eight hundred thousand million nayutas of bodhisattvas or the four bodhisattvas led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices? It is beyond comprehension.
Names are important for all things. That is why the Great TeacherT’ien-t’ai placed “name” first among the five major principles. My giving myself the name Nichiren (Sun Lotus) derives from my own enlightenment regarding the Buddha vehicle. This may sound as though I think I am wise, but there are specific reasons for what I say. The sutra reads, “As the light of the sun and moon can banish all obscurity and gloom, so this person as he advances through the world can wipe out the darkness of living beings.”2 Consider carefully what this passage signifies. “This person as he advances through the world” means that the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law will witness the advent of Bodhisattva Superior Practices, who will illuminate the darkness of ignorance and earthly desires with the light of the five characters ofNam-myoho-renge-kyo. In accordance with this passage, Nichiren, as this bodhisattva’s envoy, has urged the people of Japan to accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra. His unremitting efforts never slacken, even here on this mountain.
The sutra then goes on to say, “After I have passed into extinction, [one] should accept and uphold this sutra. Such a person assuredly and without doubt will attain the Buddha way.”3 Therefore, those who become Nichiren’s disciples and lay believers should realize the profound karmic relationship they share with him and spread the Lotus Sutra as he does. Being known as a votary of the Lotus Sutra is a bitter, yet unavoidable, destiny.
Fan K’uai, Chang Liang, Masakado, and Sumitomo never acted cowardly because they cared so deeply about their honor and abhorred disgrace. But disgrace in this life is nothing. Of far greater concern is the disgrace that appears in the next life. Proceed to the place of practice of the Lotus Sutra, bearing in mind the time when you must face the wardens of hell, and the garment-snatching demoness and the garment-suspending demon will strip off your clothes on the bank of the river of three crossings. The Lotus Sutra is the robe that will keep you from disgrace after this life. The sutra reads, “It is like a robe to one who is naked.”4
Believe in the Gohonzon with all your heart, for it is the robe to protect you in the world after death. No wife would ever leave her husband unclothed, nor could any parents fail to feel pity for their child shivering in the cold. Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra are like one’s wife and parents. You have helped me and thereby saved me from disgrace in this life; in return, I will protect you from disgrace in the next. What one has done for another yesterday will be done for oneself today. Blossoms turn into fruit, and brides become mothers-in-law. Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and be always diligent in your faith.
I cannot thank you enough for your frequent letters. Jakunichi-bō, please convey all these teachings in detail to that believer.”
In this letter, the Daishonin discloses the meaning of his name, Nichiren, implying that it signifies the Buddha who will bring enlightenment to all people in the Latter Day of the Law. He declares that his disciples must also exert themselves to convey the supreme teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to all humankind. Then the Daishonin explains that the demons who, according to legend, strip one of one’s garments at the time of death symbolize death’s stripping one of all pretensions and superficial attainments, whether wealth, power, or knowledge.
The Daishonin explores what the purpose of life is. It is to become happy. What, then is genuine happiness? It is to establish within our lives an indestructible state of supreme dignity through upholding faith in the Mystic Law. The essential aim of Nichiren Buddhism is to polish and forge our lives through faith. This is the path pursued by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. While challenging their own spiritual development they endeavor to lead all people to the sure path for genuine happiness. Bodhisattvas of the Earth follow a path of practice aspiring for the happiness of themselves and others, a path of mission dedicated to advancing kosen-rufu. In “Letter to Jakunichi-bo” Nichiren Daishonin indicates that he is fulfilling the function of Bodhisattva Superior Practices, and he teaches us how noble it is to devote one’s life to propagating the Mystic Law in the same spirit as one’s teacher.
The “Teacher of the Law” chapter of the Lotus Sutra states that those who have gained immeasurable blessings form making offerings to untold Buddhas in past lifetimes voluntarily choose to be born in the human world as “teachers of the Law” out of a desire to lead those who are suffering to enlightenment. These teachers of the Law practice the Lotus Sutra themselves and also share it with others. The Daishonin therefore, says that the votaries of the daimoku, those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and teach others to do the same, are people who truly possess “immeasurable blessings.”
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the practice of transforming lives steeped in the four universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death into lives of supreme inner dignity and worth exuding the fragrance of the four virtues of eternity, happiness, true self and purity. The “paramita of happiness’ means attaining ture inner peace and happiness. The “paramita of true self” means gaining true autonomy or self-identity. The “paramita of purity” means establishing a life-state of genuine purity and integrity embodying the principle of “earthly desires are enlightenment.” The “paramita of eternity” means securing a state of true eternity in the depths of our lives. To establish an inner state pervaded by the four virtues is what it means to make our precious lives as human beings shine to the fullest.
As indicated by the sutra’s assertion that “evil demons will take possession of others,” this ignorance manifests as a function of what is called “the devil king of the sixth heaven.” Only the strong faith of practitioners of the Lotus Sutra who practice with the spirit of fearless dedication can defeat this formidable devil king. He prevailed in the ultimate struggle to reveal his Buddhahood. A crucial requirement for a genuine Buddhist teacher in the Latter Day is the ability to wage an active struggle to vanquish the negative workings inherent in life and bring forth the Buddha wisdom.
He is actually the one who has initiated propagation of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day and as such is the embodiment of Bodhisattva Superior Practices himself. What is Boddhisattva Superior Practices’ mission? The Daishonin says that it is to dispel the “darkness of all living beings,” just as the brightness of the sun and moon illuminates the dark. It seems likely then that one of the reasons that he chose the Chinese character nichi for his name is because of the symbolism it has with the innate illuminating quality of Superior Practices. Because the task of Bodhisatttva Superior Practices is to bring the pure flowers of Buddhajhood to bloom in the human world, this practice is the very image of the lotus flower growing unsoiled by the muddy water, as described in the “Emerging from the Earth” chapter of the Lotus Sutra
Buddha is another name for one who never ceases taking up challenges. The struggles of Bodhisattvas of the Earth who cherish the great desire to lead all people to enlightenment are without end.
Nichiren encourages his followers to emulate his spirit. This is an expression of his wish to enable them, as people who share deep karmic ties with him, to lead lives of absolute victory, free of any regret. Most important is Nichiren’s exhortation to “spread the Lotus Sutra as [Nichiren] does.” To awaken to the depth of the karmic ties we share with our teacher or mentor in Buddhism means we should courageously stand up, here and now, and practice with the same spirit as our teacher.
Truly admirable are those who wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the Law. The important thing, therefore, is to unite in spirit with the teacher of Buddhism who correctly upholds and propagates the Law