“In worshiping all the deities and Buddhas, the word namu is put ahead of their names. To explain exactly what namu means, namu is a word from India. In China and Japan it is translated as “dedicating one’s life.” “Dedicating one’s life” means to offer one’s life to the Buddha. In accordance with their status, some have wives and children, relatives, fiefs, and gold and silver, while others have no treasure. Whether one has wealth or not, no treasure exceeds the one called life. This is why those known as the sages and worthies of ancient times offered their lives to the Buddha and then became Buddhas.
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However, as for the matter of becoming a Buddha, ordinary people keep in mind the words “earnest resolve” and thereby become Buddhas. When we carefully consider what exactly earnest resolve refers to, it is the doctrine of observing the mind. When we inquire into what exactly the doctrine of observing the mind refers to, it means that offering one’s only robe to the Lotus Sutra is equivalent to peeling off one’s skin; and that in a time of famine, offering the food that is the only means for sustaining one’s life that day to the Buddha is offering one’s life to the Buddha. The blessings from this are in no way inferior to those Bodhisattva Medicine King gained by burning his arms, or the boy Snow Mountains gained by offering his body to a demon. Thus, what is appropriate for sages is offering in actuality [offering one’s life itself for the Law]. What is appropriate for ordinary people is offering in principle [sincerely offering what is important to one’s own life]. This is the teaching called the pāramitā of alms giving5 for the observation of the mind that is set forth in the seventh volume of Great Concentration and Insight.”
The title, The Gift of Rice, derives from the opening passage of the letter, in which Nichiren Daishonin gives thanks for the offerings made. It also indicates the theme for this letter, which addresses the spirit of offering in Buddhism. While sages of old practiced “offering in actuality,” giving their very lives for Buddhism, ordinary people in the present age practice “offering in principle,” giving what sustains or is of value to their lives. There appear to be three underlying themes that Nichiren Daishonin was trying to convey to the recipient. These are:
- Understanding how Buddahood is shown in our lives
- Dignity of life
Whilst there are these 3 distinct themes in the Gift of Rice nothing exists in isolation and are all interconnected, as is every aspect of our lives and the universe.
Ultimately, the Daishonin says, “earnest resolve” is what makes offering, or alms giving, in Buddhism a meaningful act. The Daishonin thus equates the polished rice he has received to life itself.