Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment countless kalpas ago, the Lotus Sutra that leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from one another. To chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death. This is a matter of the utmost importance for Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters, and this is what it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra.
For one who summons up one’s faith and chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the profound insight that now is the last moment of one’s life, the sutra proclaims: “When the lives of these persons come to an end, they will be received into the hands of a thousand Buddhas, who will free them from all fear and keep them from falling into the evil paths of existence.”5 How can we possibly hold back our tears at the inexpressible joy of knowing that not just one or two, not just one hundred or two hundred, but as many as a thousand Buddhas will come to greet us with open arms!
Concerning one who disbelieves the Lotus Sutra, because the sutra states, “When his life comes to an end he will enter the Avīchi hell,”6 the wardens of hell will surely come for one and take one away by the hands. How pitiful! The ten kings7 of the world of the dead will then pass judgment, and the heavenly messengers8 who have been with one since birth will berate one for one’s evil deeds.
Think of those thousand Buddhas extending their hands to all of Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as melons or moonflowers extending their slender vines. My followers are now able to accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra because of the strong ties they formed with it in their past existences. They are certain to obtain the fruit of Buddhahood in the future. The heritage of the Lotus Sutra flows within the lives of those who never forsake it in any lifetime whatsoever—whether in the past, the present, or the future. But those who disbelieve and slander the Lotus Sutra will immediately “destroy all the seeds for becoming a Buddha in this world.”9 Because they cut themselves off from the potential to attain enlightenment, they do not share the heritage of the ultimate Law of life and death.
This letter, dated the eleventh day of the second month in 1272, was sent by Nichiren Daishonin to Sairen-bō Nichijō, a former Tendai priest who, for reasons that are unclear, was also living in exile on Sado Island. He was a highly educated priest to whom the Daishonin sent several important essays, including The True Aspect of All Phenomena and The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life. He had a number of unresolved questions about Buddhist theory, and he addressed them one by one to the Daishonin, who in turn answered these questions in written form. The Daishonin praised him, saying, “How admirable that you have asked about the transmission of the ultimate Law of life and death!” In his reply, the Daishonin offers a look into the wonder of the Buddha’s own enlightenment, as well as the practical means whereby ordinary people may attain the same end.
In the first paragraph, the Daishonin states that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the heritage of the ultimate Law of life and that the transmission of this Law is made from the Buddha to all living beings. Then he refers to the question of how we can inherit the ultimate Law of life and manifest it within ourselves.
This Law flows in the depths of the lives of those who believe in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, practice in exact accord with them, and chant the daimoku. The Daishonin declares that there is no distinction whatsoever between Shakyamuni Buddha, the Lotus Sutra, and us ordinary people.
Viewed from the standpoint of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, this can be taken as a declaration that there is absolutely no difference or separation between Nichiren Daishonin as the Buddha of the Latter Day, the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—or the Gohonzon which embodies that Law—and ourselves, who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
In terms of time, the heritage—the mystic relationship between the Law and the lives of the people—courses eternally through the past, present, and future, unbroken in any lifetime. In terms of space, the Daishonin proclaims that the heritage of the ultimate Law flows within the lives of his disciples and lay supporters who work in perfect unity for the realization of a peaceful world and happiness for all humanity.
Having stated that the ultimate Law is within the lives of human beings, Nichiren Daishonin further explains how to inherit the Law. He emphasizes the importance of the attitude, “now is the last moment . . . ,” in order to manifest innate Buddhahood, a state that transcends both life and death.
In discussing the thousand Buddhas and the ten kings of hell, he reveals the continuity of cause and effect spanning past, present, and future. Whatever state of life predominates while one is alive will continue in the next life. Whether one can succeed to the heritage of the Law depends entirely on one’s faith. This is why he strictly warns in his conclusion, “Even embracing the Lotus Sutra would be useless without the heritage of faith.”