The Nirvana Sutra teaches the principle of lessening one’s karmic retribution. If one’s heavy karma from the past is not expiated within this lifetime, one must undergo the sufferings of hell in the future, but if one experiences extreme hardship in this life [because of the Lotus Sutra], the sufferings of hell will vanish instantly. And when one dies, one will obtain the blessings of the human and heavenly worlds, as well as those of the three vehicles and the one vehicle. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was not abused and vilified, stoned and beaten with staves without reason. He had probably slandered the correct teaching in the past. The phrase “when his offenses had been wiped out”2 indicates that, because Bodhisattva Never Disparaging met persecution, he was able to eradicate his offenses from previous lifetimes.
The letter clarifies the significance of hardships and obstacles faced by practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and, in the process, explains the principles of changing one’s karma or destiny.
Encountering great hardships for the sake of the Lotus Sutra is the path that leads directly to attaining Buddhahood. Therefore, there is nothing to fear. There is no greater cause for joy. This was no doubt Nichiren’s state of mind following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.
Nichiren Daishonin explains from three perspectives the significance of the great hardships he and his followers encountered. First, he presents the principle of “lessening one’s karmic retribution” pointing out that the current momentous persecutions they are undergoing represent an excellent opportunity to transform their destiny. Second, he cites examples from the past to clarify that those who spread the correct teaching of Buddhism will inevitably experience persecution. Third, he cites various sutra passages to indicate that his having come under harsh attack for propagating the Law signifies that he has read and lived the Lotus Sutra, suggesting that he himself is the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day. He uses his own example of overcoming persecution to explain the meaning of difficulties, which are universal. This letter can be seen as a reply to the fundamental question of why hardships are an inevitable part of human life. It is when we have broken through an obstacle that we can savor a true sense of peace and ease. By contrast, such a state of being will forever elude those who shun difficulties and try to run away from challenges. The principle of lessening one’s karmic retribution set forth explains the quintessential power that resides within us and enables us to withstand hardships.
If people had accumulated such heavy offenses in past lifetimes it would be impossible to expiate all of their evil karma in the course of their present existence, they would have to undergo hellish sufferings in future lifetimes before their retribution could end. But Nichiren’s teaching of the principle of lessening karmic retribution held that a person could expiate even the heaviest negative karma from past lifetimes through receiving retribution in a lighter form in this present existence. The first point is in regard to Nichiren’s declaration that “the sufferings of hell will vanish instantly”. The principle of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds”. Generally, karma is taught as being formed by past causes and manifested as present effects. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that karma can be transformed as a result of manifesting the Buddhahood. The second point is that lessening karmic retribution is also the gateway to attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime. Transforming our karma is nothing other than changing those inner life tendencies that keep us trapped in negativity and unhappiness and solidly putting ourselves on a positive path.
Nichiren Daishonin cites the example of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. Nichiren asserts that the passage “when his offenses had been wiped out” indicates the principle of lessening karmic retribution and changing one’s destiny. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging encountered hardships as a result of practicing the correct teaching, by triumphing over those difficulties and continuing in his practice, he obtained the benefit of eradicating the slander of the Law he had committed in past lifetimes. He attained the vibrant life force that is hallmark of the purification of the six sense organs. This is said to have enabled him to perfectly understand the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and he was later reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha.
In an evil age, the practice of shakubuku serves to protect the Law and as such becomes the driving force for lessening karmic retribution and transforming karma. Even the countless negative causes from past lives that have brought us painful retribution in the present are all in essence the result of ignorance of and disbelief in the Mystic Law. Through the benefit we obtain from our efforts to protect the Law by defeating disbelief and slander, we can conquer the ignorance or darkness in our own lives. 6. Action is the Direct Path to Changing Our Karma In Buddhist practices, the important thing is that one’s words and actions are in harmony. In terms of the six stages of practice, genuine practice only begins at the stage of perception and action. In Nichiren Buddhism, action is of key importance. Because he has encountered just such obstacles, Nichiren declares that he alone has practiced in a way that accords with the sutra’s predictions.