In his current condition it was hard to remember things that had happened more than two decades ago. Nichiren recalled being ushered into the presence of Hōjō Tokiyori, at that time known as the Lay Monk Lord Saimyōji, in his audience chamber at Saimyōji temple, one of Kenchōji’s sub-temples, at eight in the morning on the sixteenth day of the seventh month of the first year of the Bunnō era (1260). At that meeting hadn’t he told Tokiyori that it is nothing but an evil act of a heavenly devil for him to have stopped seeking refuge in the existing Tendai and Mantra temples and to have put his faith in the new Zen temples instead. He had also submitted the Risshō Anokoku-ron (Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma) to him, pointing out that the practice of the nembutsu is an evil teaching that actually leads people into the Hell of Incessant Suffering. How had that meeting actually gone? Drifting out of consciousness, Nichiren began to dream of that long ago meeting and of the dialogue in his Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma between a traveler seeking to find out why Japan was undergoing such suffering and a master of the Buddha’s teachings who had discovered the cause of the suffering and knew what needed to be done to end it. The half-remembered meeting and the imagined dialogue blended together. His eyes closed and for a moment he forgot his pain, ceased to see his sorrowing disciples and supporters, no longer heard the sound of their chanting. He was back in that audience chamber.
Tokiyori sat upon a dais at the far end of the room flanked by two boy attendants. He was only five years younger than Nichiren but he looked wan and much older than a man in his mid-forties. His head was shaved bare and he wore the robes of a Zen monk. Despite his weakened health he sat upright and at ease. Samurai advisors, functionaries, and guards sat in rows on circular rope mats before him on the left and right sides of the room facing inwards.
Lay Monk Yadoya Mitsunori, Tokiyori’s chamberlain, directed Nichiren to where a sitting cloth had been laid out for guests, at the opposite end of the room from the dais. Nichiren bowed, prostrated himself upon the mat, and then sat up once more. All present in the room turned their gaze upon him. He could not help but feel humbled and self-conscious in their presence. After all, he was an unknown monk of little to no standing dressed in coarse black robes now bleached gray by the sun. Still, Nichiren reminded himself, ‘Although I may be a person of no account and little ability, I have been fortunate to have studied the Mahāyāna. It is said that a blue fly riding on the tail of a fine horse can travel ten thousand miles and a vine of green ivy clinging to a tall pine can climb up to a thousand yards. Likewise, I was born to be a disciple of the Buddha and I have put my faith in the Lotus Sūtra, the king of sūtras, and the Lotus Sūtra says that the person who keeps it is superior to any other living being. Therefore, I need not be afraid to speak to even this man, Lord Saimyōji, the actual ruler of our country, of my sorrow over the decline of the Dharma and to share even a portion of the Buddha Dharma.’ With these thoughts, Nichiren was able to compose himself in the presence of the ruler and his officials and advisors.
The chamberlain took his own seat upon a mat before a small table set in the center of the room, between Nichiren and Tokiyori. “Lay Monk Lord Saimyōji, I present to you the monk Nichiren who I spoke of before. He has asked me to submit to you this written opinion of his,” here he placed a scroll upon the table, “entitled Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma.”
“Welcome Nichiren,” said Tokiyori. “You must know that I have long been a student of Buddhism, and that the fate of this country is still of great concern to me, even though I am no longer the regent. You must know, however, that this is not the first time such a treatise has been presented. More than 60 years ago the monk Eisai submitted the Kōzen Gokoku-ron (Treatise on Letting Zen Flourish to Protect the State) to Emperor Tsuchimikado. In the time of the Emperor Saga, the Great Master Dengyō, the founder of your Tendai school, wrote the Shugo Kokkai-shō (An Essay on the Protection of the Nation) in which he asserted that only the One Vehicle of the Lotus Sūtra is the true teaching and that all beings have buddha-nature. Tell me, what does your treatise offer that has not already been said by these previous worthy teachers of the Dharma?”
Nichiren bowed low again and then responded, “I thank you for taking the time to see me.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Lay Monk Yadoya was giving him a look cautioning him to be brief – and tactful. “As you know, in recent years, strange phenomena have appeared in the sky, natural calamities on earth, famines and epidemics have also spread over all the land. I have been worrying about this deeply. Knowing my limitations, I searched through the sūtras and came to the conclusion that the cause of national calamities comes from the people turning against the True Dharma to side with the false. Therefore, protective deities and sages have abandoned the country and will not return. This has allowed various evils and devils to invade, causing disasters and calamities. How can I not point this out! How can I not be afraid of this! Finally, I could not refrain from composing this written opinion that I am now submitting to you. It is nothing but a way for me to repay what I owe my country.” He bowed again.
The assembled samurai had already been told about Nichiren and his concerns, so there was no show of surprise at his words. They looked to Tokiyori, eagerly awaiting his response to this audacious nobody of a monk.
Finally, the lay monk spoke, “Of course all the people have been grieving over these calamities of recent years. Now that you are here and presenting your own opinion, I would like to ask you in what sūtra is it stated that calamities and disasters occur in succession because the gods and sages have deserted the country. What is your evidence for this?”
Nichiren responded, “Many sūtras state this and I have cited some of them in my written opinion. In particular, I have copied out passages from the Golden Splendor Sūtra, the Great Assembly Sūtra, the Benevolent Kings Sūtra, and the Bhaiṣajyaguru Sūtra. These sūtras make it clear that the True Dharma is entrusted to the rulers to uphold if a country is to be safe and secure, but if it is not upheld then that failure will be a source of calamities. Who in the world would doubt it? Nevertheless, the blind and disturbed, not knowing what is the true teaching, indiscriminately put faith in false teachings. As a result, the people will abandon the many buddhas and the sūtras, having no more intention to uphold them. Therefore, the gods who protect the country and the sages who teach the truth will abandon the country. This allows evil demons and those with false views to move in, causing calamities and difficulties.”
Now there was shifting and muttering from among the samurai in the audience hall. It was plain that they had taken umbrage to his words. The lay monk remained calm. Speaking for all of them he asked, “Buddhism has been firmly established in this country ever since Prince Shōtoku built the Shitennōji temple after putting down the rebellion of Mononobe Moriya, the leader of those who opposed Buddhism. Since then everyone in Japan from the emperor down to the common people has worshipped Buddhist images and single-mindedly recited the sūtras. You know this as well as I, so who would you claim has slighted the Buddha’s teachings and destroyed the Three Treasures? If you have proof for your allegations, I would like to know of them.”
Nichiren responded, “As you say, Buddhist temples and sūtra repositories stand in rows. Monks are as numerous as bamboo stalks and reeds or rice and hemp plants. Outwardly they have been revered year after year and day after day. In reality, however, the monks are flatterers and crooked in mind. They mislead the people, but both the rulers and their subjects are not wise enough to tell right from wrong.
“It is stated in the Benevolent Kings Sūtra: ‘Many evil monks who wish to win fame and material gain will preach false teachings before such men of power as the king, crown prince, and princes, which will eventually destroy Buddhism and lead the country to ruin. Unable to distinguish right from wrong, the king will put his faith in their teachings and promulgate laws counter to the Buddha’s precepts. This will ruin Buddhism and destroy the country.’
“The Nirvāṇa Sūtra also warns of evil monks: ‘Bodhisattvas, you should not be afraid of rogue elephants, but you should be afraid of an evil friend. Even if you are killed by rogue elephants, you will not be reborn in the three evil realms, but if your heart is lost to the evil monks, you will be reborn in them without fail.’
“Another passage from the Nirvāṇa Sūtra describes the corrupt monks in the following words: ‘After the True Dharma has disappeared, during the Age of the Semblance Dharma, there will be monks who will imitate upholding the precepts and will read and recite sūtras to some degree. Yet these monks will cravenly delight in food and drink, nourishing their bodies for a long life. … Although they will wear the kesa, they will nevertheless look like hunters. They will move about with their eyes narrowed, like a cat stalking a mouse. They will continually declare, “I have attained arhatship.” … To the outside world they may appear wise and gracious, but internally they will harbor greed and jealousy. … Their false views will be pursued actively, slandering the True Dharma.’
“Observing the world today in light of these passages, the state of the Buddhist world is exactly as they point out. How can we accomplish anything worthwhile without admonishing the evil monks who slander the True Dharma?”
The assembly grew even more indignant on hearing these words. Was Nichiren daring to challenge their judgment? Was he casting aspersions on the rule of the shogunate?
The lay monk retorted, “Wise kings lead the people by following the principles of heaven and earth, and sagacious rulers govern the country by discerning good from bad. Today all the people in the country revere the monks. If they were evil monks as you claim, wise kings would not trust them. Were they not saintly masters, they would not be revered by men of wisdom and intelligence. Since wise kings and sagacious rulers revere them, we know that these eminent monks are to be greatly respected. How dare you accuse them so falsely? Who would you say are evil monks? I would like to know exactly.”
Nichiren answered, “It was during the reign of the former Emperor Go-Toba, in the Kennin era (1201-1204), that two overly proud monks named Hōnen and Dainichi, possessed by evil spirits, fooled all the people in Japan, high and low. As a result, all the people of Japan became followers of either Pure Land or Zen Buddhism. Imperial patronage of Enryakuji temple decreased unexpectedly while scholars of the Lotus Sūtra and mantra teachings were abandoned. In order to avoid complication, however, my treatise deals only with Hōnen and his false views that were in turn based upon the false interpretations of Buddhism put forth by the Chinese masters Tanluan, Daochuo and Shandao. I have provided citations from Hōnen’s A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow so that you may see that he declared that the people should ‘abandon, close, set aside, and cast away’ all the sūtras except for the three Pure Land sūtras. He also slandered all the holy monks of India, China, and Japan who did not practice Pure Land Buddhism by calling them ‘a group of bandits.’
“Remember that we now live in the Latter Age of Degeneration. There are no saints. The people are led into a blind alley leading to hell, and are forgetting all about the direct way to buddhahood. How sad it is that no one awakens them! What a pity it is that only false faith grows rampant! As a result, everybody from the king down to the common people believe that there are no sūtras except for the three Pure Land sūtras and that there are no buddhas except for Amitābha Buddha with his two attendants.
“How sad it is that in the several decades since the publication of Hōnen’s A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow millions and tens of millions of people have been infatuated by this devilish work and have gone astray from the True Dharma! How can the protective deities not be angry when an inferior teaching is favored and the true one is forgotten? How can devils not take advantage when the one-sided Pure Land teaching is preferred and the perfect true teaching is discarded? Is it not the best way to prevent calamities from overtaking the land to ban the one evil teaching, the source of all troubles, instead of having various devotional services?”
The assembled samurai were now red in the face, snorting in derision. The lay monk quieted them with a gesture and said, “This is terrible! How can you blame the august reign of the past emperor for calamities in recent years? How dare you speak ill of not only such earlier masters as Tanluan, Daochuo, and Shandao but also Hōnen. What you are doing is like blowing back the fur to expose a flaw in the hide or deliberately piercing the skin to cause blood to flow. When one looks for trouble, he will find it. I have never heard such abusive remarks as these. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should watch what you say. You have committed a serious transgression. How can you expect to escape punishment for such words?”
Smiling gently, Nichiren said, “They say that a knotgrass eater gets used to its sharp taste, and an insect living in a privy does not smell its offensive odor. Affected by surroundings, people tend to lose their sense of judgment. So you take good words for bad ones, call the slanderer of the True Dharma a holy man, and suspect the true teacher of being a false one. You are utterly confused and have committed a great transgression. Now listen carefully, I will explain in detail what caused your confusion.
“There were five periods of Śākyamuni Buddha’s expounding of the Dharma comprising provisional and true teachings in the following sequence: first the Flower Garland Sūtra, then the Hīnayāna teachings of the Āgamas, followed by the Mahāyāna teachings of the Expanded sūtras, followed by the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras, and finally the period of the Lotus Sūtra and Nirvāṇa Sūtra. He began with provisional doctrines that were easier to understand by unprepared people of lesser capacity. Gradually, the Buddha expounded doctrines progressively closer to the truth and more difficult to comprehend, as the listeners became better prepared, until finally he revealed the ultimate truth by expounding the Lotus Sūtra.
“However, the founders of Pure Land Buddhism such as Tanluan, Daochuo, and Shandao took refuge in provisional teachings, which had been taught in the first forty years or so, discarding the Lotus Sūtra, the true intent of the Buddha revealed during the last eight years of his teaching. Certainly they did not know the ultimate truth of Buddhism. Especially Hōnen, who belonged to the school of these masters, did not realize that their Pure Land Buddhism based its doctrine on provisional teachings. Why do I say this? It is because he misled all the people by teaching that they should ‘abandon, close, set aside, and cast away’ all the 637 Mahāyāna sūtras in 2,883 fascicles as well as all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gods. This is solely an arbitrary interpretation of Hōnen without any basis in the Buddha’s teaching whatsoever. His transgression of having uttered false words and abusive language is very grave and without comparison; we cannot reproach him too much.
“The people of today put complete faith in Hōnen’s words and revere his A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow. As a result they revere only the three Pure Land sūtras, discarding all others; and worship only Amitābha Buddha in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss, forgetting all others. Hōnen was an archenemy of all the buddhas and sūtras, a deadly foe of sagacious monks as well as the common people. Yet this evil teaching has spread all over the country.
“You are horrified when I attribute calamities in recent years to Hōnen’s slandering of the True Dharma in years past. My treatise will dispel your fears by citing precedents, showing that I am not without basis. For instance, when Emperor Wuzong of the Tang dynasty ordered that Pure Land Buddhism be propagated the result was not peace but war and disorder. He later severely persecuted Buddhism, destroying many temple and pagodas. As a result, unable to put an end to war and disorder, the emperor died in agony. In Japan, the Retired Emperor Go-Toba, under whose reign Hōnen had spread his false teachings, failed in his attempt to reassert imperial authority in the Jōkyū incident and died in exile on Oki Island. That Pure Land Buddhism is the cause of calamities has been shown in Tang China as well as in Japan. You should not have any doubt of it! In order to avert calamities and disasters in recent years, you must first of all discard the evil practice of nembutsu and take refuge in the good teaching of the Lotus Sūtra, blocking Pure Land Buddhism at its source and cutting it off at the root.”
“Furthermore, I am not the first to request that Pure Land Buddhism be rejected. During the Gennin era (1224-1225) the temples of Enyrakuji on Mt. Hiei and Kōfukuji in Nara repeatedly appealed to the imperial court to suppress Pure Land Buddhism. By orders of the emperor and the shōgun the printing blocks of A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow were confiscated and sent to the Great Hall of Enryakuji, where they were burnt as an act of gratitude to the Buddha for his favors received in past, present, and future lives. Bearers of the portable shrine of Gion ordered Hōnen’s grave to be destroyed and his disciples were banished to remote provinces. They have never been pardoned.”
The assembly seemed mollified. The lay monk said, “It is true that Hōnen abandoned, closed, set aside, and cast away all the sūtras, together with all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gods. This is clearly stated in his writing. Still, I do not know whether you are suffering from delusion, whether or not your actions are wise, and whether or not you are right when you strongly insist that it is Hōnen’s teachings that are causing the recent calamities and disasters.
“Nevertheless, world peace and tranquility of the nation is what both the sovereign and subjects alike wish for. Now, the prosperity of a nation depends on the Dharma, which is revered by all the people. If the nation is destroyed and its people perish, who will revere the Buddha and who will put faith in the Dharma? Therefore, we should first pray for the peace and tranquility of the nation before trying to establish Buddhism. If you know the means to prevent calamities and disasters, I would like to hear about it.” The samurai nodded in agreement at the lay monk’s words. This seemed most reasonable: first everyone should come together to pray for the nation’s welfare; then, after peace was secured, one could wrangle over the Buddha’s teachings.
Nichiren replied, “I am ignorant and do not know exactly how to address these issues. I would just like to express my humble opinion based upon the sūtras. After contemplating the matter in view of Buddhist teachings, I have come to the conclusion that putting a ban on the slanderers of the True Dharma, and highly esteeming the upholders of the True Dharma, will lead to the tranquility of the nation and world peace.
“According to the Lotus Sūtra, slandering the Mahāyāna sūtras is a greater transgression than committing the five grave offences, such as killing one’s parents, countless times. Therefore such transgressors fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering. According to the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, even if offerings to perpetrators of the five grave offences is permitted, it is not permitted to give offerings to slanderers of the True Dharma. One who kills even an ant will fall into the three evil realms without fail, but one who eliminates a slanderer of the True Dharma will reach the stage of non-retrogression, and eventually will attain buddhahood. The monk Virtue Consciousness, who expounded the Dharma in the past despite persecution by slanderers of the True Dharma, became Kāśyapa Buddha; and King Virtuous, who killed slanderers to defend the True Dharma, was reborn in this world as Śākyamuni Buddha. The Lotus and Nirvāṇa sūtras are the essence of Śākyamuni Buddha’s lifetime of teachings taught over the five periods. His warnings in them are of great weight. Who would not obey them?
“It is really sad that the people do not comply with the true commandments of the Buddha. It is indeed a pity that they are misled by the false doctrine of Hōnen. If you wish to bring about the tranquility of the empire as soon as possible, first of all, you had better put a ban on the slanderers of the True Dharma throughout the nation.”
The lay monk asked, “In order to eliminate slanderers of the True Dharma in compliance with the commandments of the Buddha, is it necessary to put them to death as taught in the Nirvāṇa Sūtra? If so, killing will beget killing. What should we do about transgressions then? I can hardly believe that such is the proper course to take. How can it be justified?”
Nichiren stated in response, “What the Nirvāṇa Sūtra means is not that we should outlaw disciples of the Buddha at all, but that we should chastise slanderers of the True Dharma. Speaking of the previous lives of Śākyamuni Buddha, the Nirvāṇa Sūtra states that in his lifetimes as King Sen’yo and King Virtuous he killed slanderers of the True Dharma. However, as Śākyamuni Buddha, he taught that it was enough to withhold offerings from slanderers. Therefore, if all the countries in the world and all the monastics and lay followers stop giving offerings to evil monks who slander the True Dharma, putting all their faith instead in the defenders of the True Dharma, how can anymore calamities or disasters befall us?”
What did the lay monk say to that? Nichiren could not remember. Perhaps that is when he was dismissed. Had the Lay Monk Lord Saimyōji said, “This sounds more like a remonstration than a written opinion. I think we have heard enough for today. We shall read this Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma at our leisure and take it into consideration. We will send you a reply if we believe it merits one. Lay Monk Yadoya will now see you to the gate.” Is that what he had said?
If only he had responded as the traveler did in the treatise. The traveler knelt on the floor, adjusted his kimono, and respectfully said to the master, “There are various schools of Buddhism, each with a doctrine hard to comprehend. I have many questions and cannot tell which is right or wrong. Now you have clearly shown me what is right and what is wrong by quoting many passages from a wide range of sūtras. Thanks to you, I am now free from my earlier prejudices, and can see and hear things clearly.
“After all, peace and tranquility of the nation is what the emperor above and the people below together desire and pray for. Let us immediately stop giving offerings to the icchantika, and instead support the many good monks and nuns for ages to come.”
The master exclaimed in delight, “They say that a dove will become a hawk, and a sparrow will someday turn itself into a clam. How wonderful it is that you have changed your mind so quickly! It is like going into a house of orchids and picking up its scent or like a mugwort plant growing straight among the flax. If you put your faith in my words in dealing with calamities and disasters confronting us today, there is no question that the winds will settle down, the waves will subside, and reap years will return before long.
“However, human minds change with time, and matters change in nature according to circumstances. They are like the moon’s reflection in water moving with the waves or soldiers on a battleground, afraid of swords. You may believe in me now, but you will probably forget me completely. If you wish to bring about peace in our country and pray for happiness in this life, as well as in the future, then waste no time. Think hard and take the necessary measures to thoroughly deal with slanderers of the True Dharma.
“Why do I say this? It is because five of the seven disasters predicted in the Bhaiṣajyaguru Sūtra have already taken place. There have already been epidemics, irregularities in the constellations, eclipses of the sun and moon, unseasonable storms, and droughts. This leaves just two still to occur: foreign invasion and domestic disturbance. Moreover, two of the three calamities, famine and epidemics, predicted in the Great Assembly Sūtra have indeed fallen upon us, leaving just one yet to come: war and disorder. And each of the various calamities and disasters that the Golden Splendor Sūtra predicts have indeed fallen upon us except one: invasion of our land by foreign bandits. At this moment, six of the seven disasters foretold in the Benevolent Kings Sūtra are seriously confronting us: irregularities in the order of the seasons and the cycles of the sun and moon, stars and comets changing their courses, fires, floods, severe winds, and severe droughts. Only one is yet to come: invasion of our land by foreign armies from the four directions. Moreover the same sūtra warns: ‘When disorder takes over in a country where the True Dharma is lost, the devils will seize control first. When the devils are rampant, the people will suffer and grow wild!’
“Comparing our present situation carefully with this passage, there is no doubt that the devils are rampant and many people are dying. Some of the predicted calamities have already taken place. How can we doubt the possibility of the remaining predictions all being realized? What will you do if the remaining predictions, domestic disturbance and foreign invasion, take place at once as punishment for upholding evil teachings?
“The king governs the empire holding his country together, and the people make a living by cultivating their farmlands. However, if foreign armies invade the country and the people’s lands are plundered by domestic disorder, how can there be anything but terror and confusion? Where can the people escape when they lose their country and homes? If you wish to have peace for yourself, you should first of all pray for the peace of the country.
“People in this world are afraid of the next life to such an extent that they seek refuge in false teachings or revere slanderers of the True Dharma. I hate to see them confuse right and wrong, trying to seek refuge in Buddhism in the wrong way. If they are to put faith in Buddhism, why should they revere the words of false teachings? Should they refuse to change their minds and cling to false teachings, they will soon leave this world and fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering without fail. I am sure of this because, by examining many sūtras, we can see that they all regard slandering the True Dharma as the most serious crime. How sad it is that people should all wander out of the gate of the True Dharma into the prison of an evil teaching! Such ignorance is causing everyone to be reeled in by the rope of evil teachings and caught forever in the net of slandering the True Dharma! In this life such wanderers are lost in the mist of delusions; in the next life they will sink to the bottom of a flaming hell. How sad it is! How terrible it is!
“You should promptly discard your false faith, and take up the true and sole teaching of the Lotus Sūtra at once. Then this triple world will all become the buddha-land. Will the buddha-land ever decay? All the worlds in the universe will become pure lands. Will pure lands ever be destroyed? When our country does not decay and the world is not destroyed, our bodies will be safe and our hearts tranquil. Believe these words and revere them!”
Finally convinced, the traveler said, “In considering the possibility of tranquility in this life and the attainment of buddhahood in a future life, who will not be cautious? Who will not be afraid? Listening to the words of the Buddha carefully taught in the sūtras, I now realize how serious a crime it is to have slandered the Buddha and destroyed the True Dharma. It was not due to my arbitrary opinion that I took refuge only in Amitābha Buddha, throwing away all others, revering only the three Pure Land sūtras, setting aside all others. I only followed the leaders of Pure Land Buddhism. Probably other Pure Land Buddhists everywhere must have done the same. It is clearly stated in the sūtras and is logically obvious that such people’s minds will be worn out in this life and they will all fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering in the next. There is no doubt about it.
“I hope to continue receiving your compassionate instructions so that I may completely eliminate my ignorance, devise the best means to chastise slanderers of the True Dharma at once, and bring about peace in the world soon. Let us first secure tranquility in this life, and then try to attain buddhahood in future lives. I not only believe in this but also will try to lead others in correcting their misconceptions.”
Nichiren opened his eyes again. He was back in the present at the home of Ikegami Munenaka. He remembered well that Hōjō Tokiyori had not at all responded as he had hoped. In fact, he received no response from him at all in regard to the Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma. There were no further inquiries, nor was his advice accepted. There were many others, however, who were not indifferent. They were outraged. It did not take them long to make their displeasure known.