On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land

On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land

Background

On the twenty-eighth day of the fourth month, 1253, Nichiren Daishonin established the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at Seichō-ji temple in his native province of Awa, and later he returned to Kamakura, the seat of the military government, to begin propagation. In examining the records, we find that in those days the era names were changed frequently. The year 1253 was in the Kenchō era. Three years later, in 1256, the era name changed to Kōgen, and the next year, to Shōka. Then, two years later, in 1259, it was changed to Shōgen, the following year to Bunnō, and the year after that to Kōchō. In the five years from 1256 to 1261, the era name changed five times. An era name was usually changed only on the accession of a new emperor, or when some natural disaster of severe proportions occurred; the frequency of these changes attests to the magnitude of the disasters that struck Japan during this period.

Soon after the Daishonin’s arrival, Kamakura and the country as a whole faced a series of disasters and conflicts that served to emphasize his conviction that the Latter Day of the Law had indeed been entered upon. On the sixth day of the eighth month of 1256, torrential rainstorms caused floods and landslides, destroying crops and devastating much of Kamakura. In the ninth month of the same year, an epidemic swept through the city, taking many lives. During the fifth, eighth, and eleventh months of 1257, violent earthquakes rocked the city, and the sixth and seventh months witnessed a disastrous drought. Most frightful of all was an earthquake of unprecedented scale that occurred on the twenty-third day of the eighth month. The year 1258 witnessed no lessening of natural calamities. The eighth month saw storms destroy crops throughout the nation, and floods in Kamakura drowned numerous people. In the tenth month of the same year, Kamakura was visited by heavy rains and severe floods. In the first month of 1258, fires consumed Jufuku-ji temple, and in 1259, epidemics and famine were rampant, and a violent rainstorm decimated crops.

Nichiren Daishonin sought answers to the cause of these disasters in the scriptural writings of Buddhism. In an effort to clarify it, he went to Jissō-ji temple at Iwamoto in Suruga Province, and he stayed there from 1258 through the middle of 1260. As a major temple of the Tendai school in eastern Japan, Jissō-ji housed many important sutras in its scripture library. The Daishonin pored over them all.

As a result, Nichiren Daishonin found evidence for his theory in such sutras as the Benevolent Kings, Medicine Master, Great Collection, and Golden Light. He quotes passages from these sutras in the present text, On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land, chronologically the first of his five major works.

The work was originally written in classical Chinese and submitted to Hōjō Tokiyori through the offices of high-ranking government official Yadoya Mitsunori on the sixteenth day of the seventh month in the first year of Bunnō (1260). Tokiyori was then living in retirement, but was still the most influential member of the ruling Hōjō clan. The work occasioned no immediate reaction, and no official response was made to the Daishonin. But the members of the government were incensed at the rational but unrelenting attack that the work made on the Pure Land teachings of Hōnen and his followers. Government officials who were Pure Land followers apparently encouraged an attack made on the Daishonin’s dwelling at Nagoe in Kamakura on the twenty-seventh day of the eighth month. The Daishonin narrowly escaped and made his way to the province of Shimōsa to stay at the home of a follower. He returned to Kamakura early in the following year, 1261. He remained continually under the threat of persecution and was summarily banished to Izu on the twelfth day of the fifth month of the same year.

The work consists of a dialogue between a host and a visitor. The host represents Nichiren Daishonin, and the visitor, it is thought, represents Hōjō Tokiyori. At the outset, the host lays the blame for the disasters that have befallen the country on the belief in an erroneous religion, the Pure Land teachings of Hōnen. Presented are numerous scriptural references to disasters that will befall a nation that follows false teachings. The Daishonin puts particular emphasis on a passage in the Medicine Master Sutra that describes seven types of disasters that will strike such a nation. Of these calamities, he points out, five have already occurred, and two, the “calamity of invasion from foreign lands” and the “calamity of revolt within one’s own domain,” have yet to occur. The Daishonin cautions that these will come about if the doctrines of the Lotus Sutra are not followed. Later, the prophecies of internal strife and foreign invasion were fulfilled when Hōjō Tokisuke revolted against his younger half brother, Regent Hōjō Tokimune, in 1272, and when the Mongols attacked Japan twice, in 1274 and 1281.

In terms of its view of the relationship between the people’s religious beliefs and the realization of a peaceful society, On Establishing the Correct Teaching holds an important position in Nichiren Daishonin’s writings. The Daishonin lived at a time of authoritarian government, and he probably felt that through an appeal to the most powerful members of the government he could help bring about a reformation of society. That his appeal was ignored only spurred his unremitting effort to propagate his teaching for the peace and happiness of society, a task he would pursue to the end of his life.

 

1st section( Revealing the root cause of the disaster)

Chapter1(Questioning the origin of the disaster)

ONCE there was a traveler who spoke these words in sorrow to his host:

In recent years, there have been unusual disturbances in the heavens, strange occurrences on earth, famine and pestilence, all affecting every corner of the empire and spreading throughout the land. Oxen and horses lie dead in the streets, and the bones of the stricken crowd the highways. Over half the population has already been carried off by death, and there is hardly a single person who does not grieve.

All the while some put their whole faith in the “sharp sword”1 of the Buddha Amida and intone the name of this lord of the Western Land; others believe that hearing the name of the Buddha Medicine Master will “heal all ills”2 and recite the sutra that describes this Thus Come One of the Eastern Region. Some, putting their trust in the passage in the Lotus Sutra that says, “His illness will be wiped out and he will know neither old age nor death,”3 pay homage to the wonderful words of that sutra; others, relying upon the sutra passage that reads, “The seven disasters will instantly vanish, and the seven blessings will instantly appear,”4 conduct ceremonies at which a hundred priests expound the sutra at a hundred preaching platforms.5 There are those who follow the esoteric teachings of the True Word school and conduct rituals in which they fill five jars with water,6 and others who devote themselves entirely to seated meditation and try to perceive the emptiness of all phenomena as clearly as the moon.7 Some write out the names of the seven guardian spirits8 and paste them on a thousand gates, others paint pictures of the five mighty bodhisattvas9 and hang them over ten thousand thresholds, and still others pray to the heavenly gods and earthly deities in ceremonies conducted at the four corners of the capital and on the four boundaries of the nation. Taking pity on the plight of the common people, the rulers carry out government on the national and local levels in a benevolent manner.

But despite all these efforts, they merely exhaust themselves in vain. Famine and epidemics rage more fiercely than ever, beggars are everywhere in sight, and scenes of death fill our eyes. Corpses pile up in mounds like observation platforms, and dead bodies lie side by side like planks on a bridge.

If we look about, we find that the sun and moon continue to move in their accustomed orbits, and the five planets10 follow the proper course. The three treasures of Buddhism continue to exist, and the period of a hundred reigns has not yet expired.11 Then why is it that the world has already fallen into decline and that the laws of the state have come to an end? What is wrong? What error has been committed?

 

Notes

 

1. Reference is to a passage in Shan-tao’s Praising the Meditation to Behold the Buddha, in which he says that calling on the name of Amida Buddha serves as a sword to cut off earthly desires, karma, and suffering.

2. One of the twelve vows of the Buddha Medicine Master, which appear in the Medicine Master Sutra. As a bodhisattva he made these vows to cure all illnesses and lead all people to enlightenment.

3. Lotus Sutra, chap. 23. This is a reference to a practice of the Tendai school.

4. Benevolent Kings Sutra. This is another reference to the Tendai school, which held a ritual of prayer based on this passage.

5. According to the Benevolent Kings Sutra, a type of ceremony originally held by the god Shakra to defeat the evil king Born from the Crown of the Head.

6. Ritual in which priests of the True Word school placed five jars, colored white, blue, red, yellow, and black, on a platform and put into them, respectively, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, pearls, and crystal. In addition, they placed in these jars the five grains, five herbs, and five types of incense, and then filled them with water and set flowers in them. The ritual of filling the jars in this manner was believed to drive away disasters.

7. Reference is to the practice of the Zen school.

8. The names of the seven guardian spirits appear in the Mysterious Spells for Eliminating the Illnesses of the Five Components Sutra.

9. The five mighty bodhisattvas enumerated in the Benevolent Kings Sutra. According to this sutra, if a ruler embraces the correct teaching of Buddhism, these five powerful bodhisattvas will protect him and the people of his country.

10. Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Saturn.

11. This refers to an oracle said to have been received from Great Bodhisattva Hachiman in the reign of the fifty-first sovereign, Emperor Heizei (r. 806–809). In it Hachiman vowed to protect the nation until the reign of the hundredth sovereign. On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land was written in the reign of the ninetieth sovereign, Emperor Kameyama (r. 1259–1274).

 

 

Chapter2(Revealing the root cause of the disaster)

The host then spoke: I have been brooding alone upon this matter, indignant in my heart, but now that you have come, we can lament together. Let us discuss the question at length.

When a man leaves family life and enters the Buddhist way, it is because he hopes to attain Buddhahood through the teachings of the Buddha. But attempts now to move the gods fail to have any effect, and appeals to the power of the Buddhas produce no results. When I observe carefully the state of the world today, I see people who give way to doubt because of the lack of understanding [on the part of eminent priests]. They look up at the heavens and mouth their resentment, or gaze down at the earth and sink deep into despair.

I have pondered the matter carefully with what limited resources I possess, and have looked a little at the scriptures for an answer. The people of today all turn their backs upon what is right; to a person, they give their allegiance to evil. This is the reason that the benevolent deities have abandoned the nation and departed together, that sages leave and do not return. And in their stead devils and demons come, and disasters and calamities occur. I cannot keep silent on this matter. I cannot suppress my fears.

 

2nd section( What sutras do you base your views ?)

Chapter 1( Questioning the Sutras and Proofs of the Origin of Disasters)

The guest said: These disasters that befall the empire, these calamities of the nation—I am not the only one pained by them; the whole populace is weighed down with sorrow. Now I have been privileged to enter the orchid room12 and listen to these enlightening words of yours. You speak of the gods and sages taking leave, and of disasters and calamities arising in sequence—upon what sutras do you base your views? Could you describe for me the passages of proof?

 

Notes

12. The orchid room indicates the dwelling of a virtuous person.

 

 

Chapter 2( 1st proof of the sutras: The Golden Light Sutra)

The host said: There are numerous passages that could be cited and a wide variety of proofs. For example, in the Golden Light Sutra we read: “[The four heavenly kings said to the Buddha], ‘Though this sutra exists in the nation, its ruler has never allowed it to be propagated. In his heart he turns away from it, and he takes no pleasure in hearing its teachings. He neither makes offerings to it, honors it, nor praises it. Nor is he willing to honor or make offerings to the four kinds of Buddhists who embrace the sutra. In the end, he makes it impossible for us and the other countless heavenly beings who are our followers to hear this profound and wonderful teaching. He deprives us of the sweet dew of its words and cuts us off from the flow of the correct teaching, so that our majesty and strength are drained away. Thus the number of beings who occupy the evil paths increases, and the number who dwell in the human and heavenly realms decreases. People fall into the river of the sufferings of birth and death and turn their backs on the road to nirvana.

“‘World-Honored One, we, the four heavenly kings, as well as our various followers and the yakshas and other beings, observing this state of affairs, have decided to abandon this nation, for we have no heart to protect it. And it is not we alone who cast aside this ruler. All the great benevolent deities who guard and watch over the countless different regions of the country will also invariably reject him. And once we and the others abandon and desert this nation, then many different types of disasters will occur in the country, and the ruler will fall from power. Not a single person in the entire population will possess a heart of goodness; there will be nothing but binding and enslaving, killing and injuring, anger and contention. People will slander each other or fawn upon one another, and the laws will be twisted until even the innocent are made to suffer. Pestilence will become rampant, comets will appear again and again, two suns will come forth side by side, and eclipses will occur with unaccustomed frequency. Black arcs and white arcs will span the sky as harbingers of ill fortune, stars will fall, the earth will shake, and noises will issue from the wells. Torrential rains and violent winds will come out of season, famine will constantly occur, and grains and fruits will not ripen. Marauders from many other regions will invade and plunder the nation, the people will suffer all manner of pain and affliction, and no place will exist where one may live in safety.’”

 

 

Chapter 3(2nd proof of the sutras: The Great Collection Sutra)

The Great Collection Sutra says: “When the teachings of the Buddha truly become obscured and lost, then people will all let their beards, hair, and fingernails grow long, and the laws of the world will be forgotten and ignored. At that time, loud noises will sound in the air, and the earth will shake; everything in the world will begin to move as though it were a waterwheel. City walls will split and tumble, and all houses and dwellings will collapse. Roots, branches, leaves, petals, and fruits will lose their medicinal properties. With the exception of the heavens of purity,13 all the regions of the world of desire will become deprived of the seven flavors14 and the three kinds of vitality,15 until not a trace of them remains any more. All the good discourses that lead people to emancipation will at this time disappear. The flowers and fruits that grow in the earth will become few and will lose their flavor and sweetness. The wells, springs, and ponds will all go dry, the land everywhere will turn brackish and will crack open and warp into hillocks and gullies. All the mountains will be swept by fire, and the heavenly beings and dragons will no longer send down rain. The seedlings of the crops will all wither and die, all the living plants will perish, and even the weeds will cease to grow any more. Dust will rain down until all is darkness and the sun and moon no longer shed their light.

“All the four directions will be afflicted by drought, and evil omens will appear again and again. The ten evil acts will increase greatly, particularly greed, anger, and foolishness, and people will think no more of their fathers and mothers than does the roe deer.16 Living beings will decline in numbers, in longevity, physical strength, dignity, and enjoyment. They will become estranged from the delights of the human and heavenly realms, and all will fall into the paths of evil. The wicked rulers and monks who perform these ten evil acts will curse and destroy my correct teaching and make it difficult for those in the human and heavenly realms to stay there. At that time the benevolent deities and heavenly kings, who would ordinarily take pity on living beings, will abandon this impure and evil nation, and all will make their way to other regions.”

 

 

Chapter 4(3rd of sutras: The Benevolent Kings Sutra)

The Benevolent Kings Sutra states: “When a nation becomes disordered, it is the spirits that first show signs of rampancy. Because the spirits become rampant, all the people of the nation become disordered. Invaders come to plunder the country, and the common people face annihilation. The ruler, the high ministers, the crown prince, the other princes, and the hundred officials all quarrel with one another over right and wrong. Heaven and earth manifest prodigies and strange occurrences; the twenty-eight constellations, the stars, and the sun and moon appear at irregular times and in irregular positions; and numerous outlaws rise up.”

The same sutra also states: “Now when I use the five types of vision to clearly perceive the three existences, I see that in their past existences all the rulers served five hundred Buddhas, and that is the reason that they were able to become emperors and sovereigns. And that also is the reason that all the various sages and arhats are born in their nations and bring great benefits. But if a time should come when the good fortune of these rulers runs out, then all the sages will abandon them and depart. Once the sages have departed, then the seven disasters are certain to arise.”

 

 

Notes

13. The heavens of purity refer to the five highest heavens in the world of form, the second division of the threefold world, located above the world of desire.

14. Sweet, pungent, sour, bitter, salty, astringent, and faint flavors.

15. The power of earth that nourishes grains and fruits, the power of living beings that raise the people and vitalize human society, and the power of the Buddhist Law that brings about peace and happiness.

16. In the Great Collection Sutra, the roe deer is described as a small deer so timid that it flees immediately whenever danger approaches, without giving a thought to the welfare of its parents or others.

 

 

Chapter 5(4th of sutras: The Medicine Master Sutra)

The Medicine Master Sutra states: “If disasters and calamities should befall members of the ruling Kshatriya class and anointed kings,17 such disasters will be as follows: the calamity of disease and pestilence among the populace; the calamity of invasion from foreign lands; the calamity of revolt within one’s own domain; the calamity of irregularities and strange occurrences among the stars and constellations; the calamity of eclipses of the sun and moon; the calamity of unseasonable wind and rain; and the calamity of rain that fails to fall even when the season for it has come and gone.”

 

Notes

17. Anointed kings refer to the rulers of major kingdoms. In ancient India, when the ruler of a powerful kingdom ascended the throne, the rulers of smaller kingdoms and their ministers poured water on his head.

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