“IF the sun and moon were not in the heavens, how could plants and trees grow? Human beings have both a father and a mother. It is hard for children to grow up when even one parent is missing. Your husband had to leave behind a daughter, a son who is ill, and you, their mother, who suffer from a poor constitution. To whom could he have entrusted his family before leaving this world?
At the time of his extinction, the World-Honored One of Great Enlightenment lamented, “Now I am about to enter nirvana. The only thing that worries me is King Ajātashatru.” Bodhisattva Kāshyapa then asked him, “Since the Buddha’s mercy is impartial, your regret in dying should stem from compassion for all living beings. Why do you single out only King Ajātashatru?” The Buddha replied, “Suppose that a couple has seven children, one of whom falls ill. Though the parents love all their children equally, they worry most about the sick child.”1 T’ien-t’ai, commenting on this sutra passage in his Great Concentration and Insight, said “Even if the parents of seven children are never partial, they are still particularly concerned about the sick one.” In essence, the sutra is saying that, even if there are many children, the parents’ hearts are with the child who is ill. To the Buddha, all living beings are his children. Among them, the sinful man who slays his own parents and becomes an enemy of the Buddha and the sutras is like the sick child.
King Ajātashatru was the ruler of Magadha. He murdered his father, King Bimbisāra, a powerful patron of Shakyamuni Buddha, and became an enemy of the Buddha. In consequence, the heavenly gods forsook him, the sun and moon rose out of rhythm, and the earth shook violently to cast him off. All his subjects defied the Buddha’s teachings, and other kingdoms began to attack Magadha. All this happened because King Ajātashatru took the wicked Devadatta for his teacher. As a result, one day virulent sores broke out all over his body, and it was foretold that on the seventh day of the third month he would die and fall into the hell of incessant suffering. Saddened by this, the Buddha was reluctant to enter nirvana. He lamented, “If I can save King Ajātashatru, I can save all offenders in the same way.”
Your late husband had an ailing son and a daughter. I cannot help thinking that he may have grieved that, if he were to abandon them and leave this world, his aged wife, as feeble as a withered tree, would be left alone, and would probably feel very sorry for these children. In addition, he may also have worried about Nichiren. Since the Buddha’s words are in no way false, the Lotus Sutra is sure to spread widely. In that regard, perhaps your husband felt that certainly something would happen and this priest would become highly respected. When I was exiled contraryto his expectations, he must have wondered how the Lotus Sutra and theten demon daughters could possibly have allowed it to happen. Were he still living, how delighted he would be to see Nichiren pardoned! How glad he would be to see that my prediction has been fulfilled, now that the Mongol empire has attacked Japan and the country is in a crisis. These are the feelings of ordinary people.
Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring. Never, from ancient times on, has anyone heard or seen of winter turning back to autumn. Nor have we ever heard of a believer in the Lotus Sutra who turned into an ordinary person. The sutra reads, “If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will failto attain Buddhahood.”2
Your husband gave his life for the Lotus Sutra. His entire livelihood depended on a small fief, and that was confiscated because of his faith in the Lotus Sutra. Surely that equals giving his life for the Lotus Sutra. Theboy Snow Mountains was able to give his body for half a verse of a Buddhist teaching, and Bodhisattva Medicine King was able to burn his arms as an offering to the Buddha because both were sages, and it was like pouring water on fire. But your husband was an ordinary person, so it was like putting paper in fire. Therefore, he must certainly have received blessings as great as theirs.
He is probably watching his wife and children in the heavenly mirrors of the sun and moon every moment of the day and night. Since you and your children are ordinary persons, you cannot see or hear him; neither can the deaf hear thunder nor the blind see the sun. But never doubt that he is protecting you. Moreover, he may be close at hand.
Just when I was thinking that, if at all possible, I must somehow come and see you, you had a robe sent here to me. This was a totally unexpected circumstance. Since the Lotus Sutra is the noblest of all sutras, I may yet gain influence in this lifetime. If so, rest assured that I will look after your children whether you are still living or are watching from under the sod. While I was in the province of Sado and during my stay here [at Minobu], you sent your servant to help me. In what lifetime could I ever forget what you have done for me? I will repay this debt of gratitude by serving you in the next lifetime. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”
This letter written by the Daishonin to lay nun Myōichi who had lost her husband and was struggling with the difficulties of raising her children alone. He wrote to encourage her, explaining that believers of the Lotus Sutra are as if in the midst of winter, but that winter unfailingly turns to spring. The letter highlights 6 broad aspects:
1. Buddhism is the Foremost Ally of Those Who Are Suffering: It exists to help those suffering the greatest hardships gain the greatest happiness. And it is the responsibility of Buddhist leaders to offer their utmost support in this endeavor. “Winter Always Turns to Spring” is a letter of wholehearted encouragement. We can well imagine that he wrote this letter of heartfelt encouragement to her out of his profound wish that she become happy and attain Buddhahood without fail, seeking to fully dispel any lingering feelings of sorrow and anxiety that remained in her heart. “Winter Always Turns to Spring” is a writing of immense compassion in which each word and phrase is imbued with the Daishonin’s ardent desire to encourage his disciple.
2. Shakyamuni’s Final Wish- Leading Ajatashatru Toward Enlightenment: At the beginning of this letter, Nichiren Daishonin considers how Myoichi’s husband, as he approached death, was no doubt deeply concerned about the family he was leaving behind. In the first half of this letter, he relates how Shakyamuni’s heart was also troubled as he approached death, specifically preoccupied with the fate of King Ajatashatru.
3. Winter Always Turns to Spring : Our Attainment of Buddhahood is Assured Attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime entails a fierce struggle to change our karma, as well as to overcome the various challenges posed to our practice by the three obstacles and four devils, and the three powerful enemies. The trials of winter are unavoidable if we with so soar into brilliant springtime based on faith. The way we attain Buddhahood is summed up in the words, “Winter always turns to spring.” His words are a mighty lion’s roar, proclaiming that his disciples—whose lives are dedicated to enabling others to awaken to and manifest the Buddhahood that inherently exists within them—cannot fail to attain enlightenment.
4. The Trials of Winter Bring Forth Flowers of Victory: The important point here is that the joy of spring is made real by the winter that precedes it. Only by overcoming the trials of winter with the power of faith can we come to savor a springtime of victory. Let us take the example of cherry trees that bloom in spring. The flower buds first form in the summer, and then enter a period of dormancy in autumn. These buds must go through the cold of winter before they can begin their full-fledged growth toward blossoming — a period known as “breaking dormancy.” Winter can function to awaken inherent power and latent potential – this principle a;;lies to both life and Buddhist practice. We can bring brilliant flowers of victory to bloom in our lives when we weather the hardships of winter and emerge triumphant based on our practice of the Mystic Law. Our continuous effort to transform winter into spring is the fundamental path for achieving unsurpassed fulfillment and growth in our lives.
5. Great “Ordinary People” Dedicated to the Mystic Law: Those who always base themselves on faith and practice with the spirit of “not begrudging one’s life” are great “ordinary people.” Myoichi’s husband remained steadfast in faith despite losing the fief.
6. The Bond of Mentor and Disciple are Eternal: True disciples strive to repay their debt of gratitude to their mentor throughout their lives. I have spent my entire life doing so to Mr. Toda. Myoichi, for her part, sent a servant to be of assistance to Nichiren Daishonin, as well as the offering of the robe mentioned in this writing. In response, the Daishonin says to this mother, who was dedicated to kosen-rufu and had withstood great hardships together with him, that he will devote himself to repaying his debt of gratitude to her not only in this lifetime but also in the next. The mintor-disciple bond endures across the three existences.