Letter to Hōren

Now, as it happens, the sentence of exile has been lifted. But I found that there was no safety for me in Kamakura, nor could I remain there for any length of time. And so, beneath the pines and among these mountain rocks, I have hidden my body and set my mind at peace. But except for having the earth itself to eat and the grass and trees to wear, I am cut off from all provisions of food and clothing. What feelings prompted you, I wonder, to come pushing through the wilderness to visit me in such a place?

The other type are people who have slandered the correct teaching in their previous existences, slander it in their present existence, and for existence after existence go on creating karma that will condemn them to the hell of incessant suffering. These people, even though they may curse, will not have their mouths stopped. They are like men who have already been sentenced to execution and are awaiting their turn in prison. While they are in prison, regardless of what evil acts they may commit, they will receive no further punishment other than the death sentence already passed upon them. However, with regard to people who are eventually to be released, if they commit evil acts in prison, then they will receive warnings.

Letter to Hōren


THE “Teacher of the Law” chapter in the fourth volume of the Lotus Sutra states: “If there should be an evil person who, his mind destitute of goodness, should for the space of a kalpa appear in the presence of the Buddha and constantly curse and revile the Buddha, that person’s offense would still be rather light. But if there were a person who spoke only one evil word to curse or defame the lay persons or monks or nuns who read and recite the Lotus Sutra, then his offense would be very grave.”

The Great Teacher Miao-lo commented on this: “The benefits conferred by this sutra are lofty, and its principles are the highest. Therefore, this statement is made with regard to it. Nothing like this is said about any other sutra.”1

With regard to the meaning of this sutra passage, the definition of a kalpa is as follows. Suppose that the span of human life is eighty thousand years, and that it decreases one year every hundred years, or ten years every thousand years. Let us suppose that it decreases at this rate until the life span has reached ten years.

At this point, a person ten years old would be like an eighty-year-old man of today. Then the process would reverse, and after a hundred years, the life span would increase to eleven years, and after another hundred years, to twelve years. After a thousand years it would have increased to twenty years, and this would continue until it once more reached eighty thousand years. The time required to complete this combined process of decrease and increase is called a kalpa. There are various other definitions of a kalpa, but for the time being I will use the word kalpa in the sense defined above.

There are persons who, throughout this period of a kalpa, manifest hatred toward the Buddha by carrying out various activities in the three categories of body, mouth, and mind. Such a person was Devadatta.

The Buddha was the son and heir of King Shuddhodana, and Devadatta was a son of King Dronodana. These two kings were brothers, so Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha.

In the present as in the past, among sages as among ordinary men, trouble arising over a woman has been one of the prime causes of enmity. When Shakyamuni Thus Come One was still known as Prince Siddhārtha, and Devadatta had been designated prince and heir to his father, it happened that a high minister named Yasha had a daughter named Yashodharā. She was the most beautiful woman in all of the five regions of India, a veritable goddess whose fame was known throughout the four seasSiddhārtha and Devadatta vied with each other to win her hand in marriage; hence discord arose between them.

Later, Siddhārtha left his family and became a Buddha, and Devadatta, taking the monk Sudāya as his teacher, left his family to become a monk.

The Buddha observed the two hundred and fifty precepts and abided by the three thousand rules of conduct, so that all heavenly and human beings looked up to him with admiration, and the four kinds of believers honored and revered him. Devadatta, however, did not command such respect from others, so he began to consider whether there was not some way he could gain worldly fame that would surpass that of the Buddha. He came across five criteria by which he might surpass the Buddha and gain recognition from society. As noted in The Fourfold Rules of Discipline, they were: (1) to wear robes of rags; (2) to seek food only by begging; (3) to eat only one meal a day; (4) to sit out always in the open; and (5) to take neither salt nor the five flavors.2 The Buddha would accept robes given to him by others, but Devadatta wore only robes made of rags. The Buddha would accept meals that were served to him, but Devadatta lived on alms alone. The Buddha would eat once, twice, or three times a day, but Devadatta would eat only once. The Buddha would take shelter in graveyards or under trees, but Devadatta sat out in the open all day long. The Buddha would on occasion consent to take salt or the five flavors, but Devadatta accepted none of them. And because Devadatta observed these rules, people came to believe that he was far superior to the Buddha, and that they were as far apart as clouds and mud.

In this way Devadatta sought to deprive the Buddha of his standing. The Buddha was supported by the lay believer King Bimbisāra. Every day the king supplied five hundred cartloads of alms to the Buddha as well as to his disciples, doing so over a period of years without missing a single day. Devadatta, jealous of such devotion and hoping to secure it for himself, won Prince Enemy Before Birth3 over to his side and persuaded him to kill his father, King Bimbisāra.

He himself set out to kill the Buddha, hurling a rock and striking the Buddha with it; such was the deed he carried out with his body. In addition, he slandered and cursed the Buddha, calling him a liar and a deceiver; such was the deed he committed with his mouth. And, in his heart, he thought of the Buddha as a foe from his previous lifetime; such was the deed he engaged in with his mind. The great evil of these three interacting deeds has never been surpassed.

Suppose that a terribly evil man like Devadatta were to engage in these three types of deeds, and for an entire medium kalpa, curse and revile Shakyamuni Buddha, striking him with staves and behaving toward him with jealousy and envy. The enormous guilt he would incur would be weighty indeed.

This great earth of ours is 168,000 yojanas thick, and therefore it is capable of supporting the waters of the four great seas, the dirt and stones of the nine mountains, every kind of plant and tree, and all living beings, without ever collapsing, tipping, or breaking apart. And yet, when Devadatta, a human being whose body measured five feet, committed no more than three cardinal sins, the great earth broke open and he fell into hell; the hole through which he fell still exists in India. The Tripitaka Master Hsüan-tsang stated in the text known as The Record of the Western Regions that when he journeyed from China to India for the sake of his practice he saw it there.

However, it is said that if one neither at heart thinks ill of the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the latter age nor in one’s bearing shows envy toward him, but merely reviles him in a joking manner, then the consequences will be even worse than those brought about by Devadatta when, by committing the three types of deeds, he cursed and reviled the Buddha for an entire medium kalpa. How much worse, then, would the consequences be if the people of the present age were to set about conducting themselves like Devadatta, carrying out these three types of deeds with truly evil hearts over a period of many years—cursing and reviling the votary of the Lotus Sutra, subjecting him to defamation and insult, envying and feeling jealous of him, beating and striking him, putting him to death under false charges and murdering him.


In particular, in the case of the most recent instance of punishment from the government, it was certain that I would be executed, but instead, for some unknown reason, the government authorities banished me to the island province of Sado. Among those sent to Sado, most die; few live. And after I had finally managed to reach my place of exile, I was looked upon as someone who had committed a crime worse than murder or treason.

After leaving Kamakura for Sado, each day I seemed to face growing numbers of powerful enemies. The people I encountered were all advocates of the Nembutsu, and as I made my way through the fields and over the mountains, the sound of the grasses and trees by the wayside rustling in the wind I supposed to be the attacks of my enemies.

At last I reached the province of Sado. There, true to the nature of that northern land, I found the wind particularly strong in winter, the snows deep, the clothing thin, and the food scarce. I well understood then how the mandarin orange tree, uprooted and transplanted to a different locale, can quite naturally turn into a triple-leaved orange tree.35

My dwelling was a dilapidated grass-roof hut in the midst of a field thick with eulalia and pampas grass where corpses were buried. Rain leaked in, and the walls did not keep out the wind. Day and night the only sound reaching my ears was the sighing of the wind by my pillow; each morning the sight that met my eyes was the snow that buried the roads far and near. I felt as though I had passed through the realm of hungry spirits and fallen alive into one of the cold hells.36 I experienced the same thing as Su Wu, who was detained for nineteen years in the land of the northern barbarians and ate snow to keep himself alive, or Li Ling, who dwelled for six years in a rocky cave, clothed in a coat of straw.

Now, as it happens, the sentence of exile has been lifted. But I found that there was no safety for me in Kamakura, nor could I remain there for any length of time. And so, beneath the pines and among these mountain rocks, I have hidden my body and set my mind at peace. But except for having the earth itself to eat and the grass and trees to wear, I am cut off from all provisions of food and clothing. What feelings prompted you, I wonder, to come pushing through the wilderness to visit me in such a place?

Have my departed father and mother perhaps taken possession of you? Or is this some blessing brought about by the World-Honored One of Great Enlightenment? I cannot hold back my tears.

Question: You pointed to the great earthquake of the Shōka era and the great comet of the Bun’ei era,37 and said that our country would face danger from revolt within and invasion from abroad because it failed to heed the Lotus Sutra. May I ask your reasons?

Answer: Heavenly calamities and strange occurrences on earth such as these two are not to be found anywhere in the three thousand or more volumes of non-Buddhist writings. The major comets or major earthquakes described in the Three Records, Five Canons, and Records of the Historian are comets with tails one or two feet in length, ten or twenty feet, or perhaps fifty or sixty feet, but not one with a tail that stretches across the whole sky. The same applies for the magnitude of the earthquakes described therein. And if we examine the Buddhist scriptures, we find that during the entire period since the Buddha passed away no such major portents as these have ever appeared.

Even in India, when King Pushyamitra wiped out the teachings of Buddhism in the five regions of India, burned the temples and stupas in the sixteen great states, and cut off the heads of monks and nuns, no such portents as these appeared. Likewise in China, when the emperor of the Hui-ch’ang era38 abolished over forty-six hundred temples and monasteries and forced 260,500 monks and nuns to return to secular life, there were no manifestations of this kind. In our own country, when the Buddhist teachings were introduced during the reign of Emperor KimmeiMoriya showed enmity toward Buddhism, and later Priest Kiyomori burned the seven major temples of Nara, and the priests of Mount Hiei burned and destroyed Onjō-ji temple, but even then no such comet of such great size appeared.

It seemed to me that it was essential for people to know that an even more portentous event was about to occur in this world of Jambudvīpa. Therefore, I composed a work entitled On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land and presented it to His Lordship, the lay priest of Saimyō-ji. In that document I stated (and here I summarize): “This great portent [great earthquake] is a sign that our country is about to be destroyed by some other country. This will happen because the priests of the Zen, Nembutsu, and other schools are attempting to destroy the Lotus Sutra. Unless the heads of these priests are cut off and cast away at Yui Beach in Kamakura,39 the nation will surely be destroyed.”

Later, when the great comet of the Bun’ei era appeared, I had the proof of disaster in my very hand, and I became more convinced than ever of what was about to take place.

On the twelfth day of the ninth month in the eighth year of the Bun’ei era (1271), when I incurred the wrath of the authorities, I repeated my warning, saying, “I am the pillar of Japan. If you lose me, you lose the country!” I knew that my advice was unlikely to be heeded at that time, but I wanted to give it anyway for future reference.

Again, on the eighth day of the fourth month of last year (1274), when I had a meeting with Hei no Saemon-no-jō, he asked when the Mongol forces would invade Japan. I replied that the sutra texts gave no clear indication of the month and day, but that, since the eyes of heaven were so filled with anger these days, it would surely be no later than the present year.

People may wonder how I happen to know such things. I am a person of little worth, but I am working to spread the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. When the ruler and the ministers and the common people of a country show animosity toward the votary who propagates the Lotus Sutra, then the gods of earth and the gods of heaven, who were present when the Lotus Sutra was preached and who took a vow to protect its votary, will respectively begin to tremble with anger and emit beams of light as a threat to the nation. And if, in spite of all remonstrance, the ruler and his ministers fail to heed the warnings, then in the end the gods will take possession of human beings and will cause revolt within the nation and attack from abroad.

Question: What proof can you offer for these assertions?

Answer: A sutra says, “Because evil people are respected and favored and good people are subjected to punishment, the stars and constellations, along with the winds and rains, all fail to move in their proper seasons.”40

In effect, heaven and earth are a mirror of the nation. In our state now there are heavenly calamities and strange occurrences on earth. One should realize that the ruler of the state must be committing some error. The situation is revealed as though in a mirror, so there is no disputing it. If the ruler is guilty of minor errors only, then only minor calamities will be revealed in the heavenly mirror. But the fact that we are now witnessing major calamities must mean that the ruler is committing major errors.

The Benevolent Kings Sutra speaks of innumerable types of minor disasters, twenty-nine types of medium disasters, and seven types of major disasters. One name for this sutra is Benevolent Kings, but another name is the Mirror of Heaven and Earth. And this sutra can be used as a “mirror of heaven and earth” in which to catch a clear reflection of the nation’s ruler. Moreover, the sutra states, “Once the sages have departed, then the seven disasters are certain to arise.”

One should understand from this that there is a great sage in this country of ours. And one should also understand that the ruler of the nation does not put faith in the sage.

Question: In earlier times, when Buddhist temples were destroyed, why were there no omens such as we see at present?

Answer: Omens are large or small depending upon whether the errors that cause them are grave or minor. The omens that have appeared this time are greatly to be wondered at. They have appeared not just once or twice, not on merely one or two occasions. Rather they have become more and more frequent with the passing of time. From this you should understand that the errors being committed by the ruler of the nation are more serious than those committed by rulers in earlier times, and that it is a graver error for a ruler to persecute a sage than it is for him to kill many common people, or to kill many of his ministers, or to kill his parents.

In Japan at present, the ruler, his ministers, and the common people are committing major offenses such as have not been known in India, China, or anywhere in all of Jambudvīpa in the 2,220 years or more since the passing of the Buddha. It is as though all the people throughout the worlds of the ten directions who are guilty of committing any of the five cardinal sins were to be gathered together in a single spot.

The priests of this country have all become possessed by the spirits of Devadatta and Kokālika; the ruler of the nation has become a reincarnation of King Ajātashatru or King Virūdhaka. And in the case of the ministers and the common people, it is as though someone gathered together evil people like the ministers Varshakāra and Chandrakīrti, or like Sunakshatra and Girika, and had them constitute the people of Japan.

In ancient times, when there were two or three persons guilty of any of the five cardinal sins or of unfilial conduct, the ground where those people were standing split apart, and they were swallowed up. But now the whole country is filled with such people. Therefore, the entire earth under Japan would have to split apart in one instant and the whole country fall into the hell of incessant suffering. There would be no point in its simply opening up to swallow one or two persons.

It is like the case of an aging person who pulls out a white hair here and there. When he becomes truly old, his whole head turns white, and it is no longer any use trying to pull out the hairs one by one. The only thing to do then is to shave off all the hair in one stroke.

Question: Your argument is that, though you are a votary of the Lotus Sutra, your advice is not heeded, and therefore these heavenly calamities and strange occurrences on earth arise. But the eighth volume of the Lotus Sutra states, “Their heads will split into seven pieces.”41 And the fifth volume states, “If people speak ill of and revile him, their mouths will be closed and stopped up.”42 Why is it that though you have been cursed and treated with animosity for many years now these latter things have not occurred?

Answer: By way of answer, let me ask in turn if the people who cursed and reviled and beat Bodhisattva Never Disparaging had their mouths stopped or their heads split apart?

Question: [They did not.] But in that case, the text of the sutra is not consistent with itself, is it?

Answer: There are two types of people who show animosity toward the Lotus Sutra. The first are people who cultivated the roots of goodness in former existences, who in their present existence are searching for some connection with Buddhism, who conceive a desire for enlightenment and are capable of attaining Buddhahood. It is these people whose mouths are stopped or whose heads split apart.

The other type are people who have slandered the correct teaching in their previous existences, slander it in their present existence, and for existence after existence go on creating karma that will condemn them to the hell of incessant suffering. These people, even though they may curse, will not have their mouths stopped. They are like men who have already been sentenced to execution and are awaiting their turn in prison. While they are in prison, regardless of what evil acts they may commit, they will receive no further punishment other than the death sentence already passed upon them. However, with regard to people who are eventually to be released, if they commit evil acts in prison, then they will receive warnings.

Question: Since this is a very important point, may I ask you to explain it in detail?

Answer: It is explained in the Nirvana Sutra and in the Lotus Sutra.



Soya Kyōshin, to whom this letter was addressed, lived in Soya Village in Katsushika District of Shimōsa Province. Sometime around 1260 he converted to the Daishonin’s teachings. Then, around 1271, he became a lay priest, whereupon Nichiren Daishonin bestowed upon him the Buddhist name Hōren (Law Lotus). At the time he received this letter, Kyōshin had been practicing the Daishonin’s Buddhism as one of the leading believers in the area for about fifteen years.

This somewhat lengthy letter was written at Minobu in the fourth month of the first year of Kenji (1275), when the Daishonin was fifty-four years old. It is one among nine extant writings that the Daishonin sent to Kyōshin, two of which were written in classical Chinese, their contents clearly indicating that he was highly educated.

The Daishonin had just received from Kyōshin a written declaration of the sort commonly read aloud at a memorial service, in which he explained that he had recited the Lotus Sutra to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of his father’s death. In addition, Kyōshin mentioned that he had been performing a recitation of the verse section of the sutra’s “Life Span” chapter daily since the time of his father’s passing. In response, the Daishonin tells him that his devotion to the sutra is the truest form of filial piety, since only the Lotus Sutra can lead one’s parents, and all other living beings, to Buddhahood.

Here the Daishonin introduces the ancient Chinese story of the calligrapher Wu-lung and his son I-lung in order to illustrate how immeasurable the merit is that Kyōshin has been transferring to his deceased father through his continued recitation of the verse section of the “Life Span” chapter.

In the story, the calligrapher I-lung transcribes the title of each volume of the Lotus Sutra. As a result, he is able to save his father from his terrible distress in the hell of incessant suffering. But even such benefits as these, the Daishonin encourages Kyōshin, cannot compare to the benefits to be obtained from reciting the sutra. The Daishonin tells him that the verse section of the “Life Span” chapter represents the very heart of the twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and that the benefits to be gained from reciting it can only be calculated and expressed by a Buddha.

The Daishonin also gives his disciple instructions in various other teachings. He discusses the wonderful rewards to be gained by one who praises and makes offerings to the votary of the Lotus Sutra of the Latter Day of the Law. He also discusses the great gravity of the offense incurred by one who slanders the votary.

With regard to specific details about the practice of the Lotus Sutra, the Daishonin points out that the way to practice its teachings will necessarily vary with the times, and that a person of wisdom is one who perceives the times correctly and spreads the teachings accordingly. And he declares that practice in the Latter Day means spreading the Lotus Sutra without begrudging one’s life. Because he himself has carried out precisely this sort of practice, the Daishonin says, he has been persecuted by the authorities and is detested by all the people of Japan. And, he notes, he was earlier forced to live under bitter conditions at a bleak and desolate location in exile on Sado Island and is now dwelling where there are no provisions at all, in an isolated mountain valley called Minobu. The Daishonin mentions how moved he is that Kyōshin has come all the way to see him in such a forsaken place.

Commenting upon his three remonstrations with the Kamakura authorities, the Daishonin proclaims that it is their disregard for his warnings and persecution of him that have brought down upon the country a string of major calamities.

And at the very end of this letter, the Daishonin explains why some people who slander the Lotus Sutra seem not to receive any punishment at all. Those who slander the correct teaching in existence after existence, he says, are condemned to the hell of incessant suffering and will receive no further warnings in this lifetime for their slanderous deeds.

For further details regarding this matter, the Daishonin asks Hōren to refer to the Lotus Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra. It is also discussed in The Opening of the Eyes (pp. 279–80).


1. The Annotations on “The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra.”

2. Sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty.

3. Prince Enemy Before Birth refers to Ajātashatru, king of the state of Magadha in India. According to the Nirvana Sutra, King Bimbisāra, who was impatient for the birth of an heir, ordered that the hermit who was destined to be reborn as his son be killed. It was subsequently foretold that the child would grow up to be the king’s enemy. Hence the child was called Prince Enemy Before Birth.

35. This saying appears in several Chinese classics such as The Records of Yen Tzu. According to these, a mandarin orange tree south of the Yangtze River becomes a triple-leaved orange tree if it is transplanted to the north of the Huai River. It symbolizes the changes people can undergo in response to their environment.

36. The cold hells refer to the eight cold hells said to lie under the continent of Jambudvīpa.

37. Reference is to the major earthquake that devastated the Kamakura area in the eighth month of 1257 and the great comet that appeared in the seventh month of 1264.

38. The emperor of the Hui-ch’ang era refers to Wu-tsung (814–846), the fifteenth emperor of the T’ang dynasty, who was an adherent of Taoism. In 845 he initiated a nationwide drive to destroy Buddhism.

39. Similar statements from the Nirvana Sutra, suggesting that slanderers of the Law should be put to death, are cited in On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land. In that treatise the Daishonin makes it plain that such statements are not meant to be taken literally; the slander itself, rather than the person who commits it, is what must be eradicated.

40. Sovereign Kings Sutra.

41. Lotus Sutra, chap. 26.

42. Ibid., chap. 14.

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