Lecture in Praise of Nichiren Daishonin
Reverend Shogu Kimura
January 2020 Oko Lecture
Reply to Hyo’e-sakan
(Hyo’e sakan dono-gohenji)
Changes certainly occur when the high tide yields to low tide, when the moon rises and sets, when summer gives way to autumn, or winter turns to spring. The same is true when a common mortal attains Buddhahood. At a critical moment, he definitely will encounter the three obstacles and four devils. The wise will rejoice, while the foolish will retreat.
(Gosho, p. 1184)
When the ocean’s tide ebbs and flows, when the moon rises and sets, and when changes occur as summer gives way to autumn, winter, and spring, something definitely distinctive happens. The same is true when a common mortal attains Buddhahood. The three obstacles and four devils will invariably make their appearance and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.
Explanation of the Major Terms
- Three obstacles and four devils (sansho shima): Three types of obstacles and four types of hindrances that prevent people from performing their Buddhist practice and lead them into the evil paths.
• Three obstacles (sansho):
- The obstacle of karma (go sho): obstacles due to bad karma created by committing any of the five cardinal sins or ten evil acts. Also, obstacles caused by one’s spouse and children.
- The obstacle of retribution (ho sho): obstacles due to retribution for negative actions from the past. Also, obstacles caused by one’s sovereign or parents.
- The obstacle of earthly desires (bonno sho): obstacles arising from the three poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity.
• Four devils (shima):
- The hindrance of earthly desires (bonno ma): obstructions that promote earthly desires and rob people of the Buddha’s spirit of compassion.
- The hindrance of the five components (on ma): obstructions that cause chaotic disharmony in the five components that constitute one’s body and mind.
- The hindrance of death (shi ma): obstructions that cause a cessation in Buddhist practice due to one’s own death or hindrances that cause others to doubt the practice due to the death of a practitioner.
- The hindrance of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven (tenji ma): fundamental obstructions in which the Devil of the Sixth Heaven prevents people from attaining the way of the Buddha.
Background and Summary
This Gosho was written on the 20th day of the 11th month of the third year of Kenji (1277), when Nichiren Daishonin was 56 years of age and living in Minobu. It is a letter addressed to Hyo’e Sakan Munenaga, the younger of the Ikegami brothers who lived in the province of Musashi (presently Ota Ward in Tokyo).
Yasumitsu, the father of the Ikegami brothers, was a devout follower of Ryokan of Gokurakuji Temple of the Shingon-Ritsu sect. The year before this Gosho was written, Yasumitsu, incited by Ryokan, had disowned Munenaka, the older of the brothers who already were disciples of the Daishonin. Yasumitsu pressured his younger son Munenaga to stop his practice, enticing him with the prospect that he would turn over the entire family inheritance to him. At this time, the Daishonin sent the brothers the Gosho, Letter to the Ikegami Brothers (Kyodai-sho), and encouraged them to unite and fight together to defeat the obstacles.
Thereafter, the father pardoned Munenaka from his disownment, but the next year, in the 11th month of the third year of Kenji (1277), Munenaka was once again disowned. Consequently, the Daishonin wrote this Gosho to give guidance to the younger brother, Munenaga, so that he would never slacken in his faith.
In this Gosho, the Daishonin first instructs Munenaga that, if he should waver and renounce his faith as a result of his brother’s second disownment, he and his father would fall into hell. He explained that he and his brother must be thoroughly united and cooperate with each other. Furthermore, in order to be truly filial to their father, they must correct his offenses and lead him to the true teaching of the Buddha.
The Daishonin states that the three obstacles and four devils will compete with one another, without fail, to impede the path, when common mortals are on their way to become Buddhas. Finally, the Daishonin makes reference to how Prince Siddhartha (Shakyamuni) opposed his father’s wishes and entered the priesthood but, in fact, led his father to attain enlightenment. Thus, he encourages Munenaga to carry through the true practice, even if he must initially oppose his father.
Essential Points of the Lecture
A Truly Filial Relationship and Family Harmony
The father, Yasumitsu, tried to cause his younger son Munenaga to renounce his faith and practice in Myoho-Renge-Kyo, and he attempted to place a wedge of alienation between the brothers. His actions were, in fact, the workings of the three obstacles and four devils, intent on robbing the benefits of upholding faith and obstructing the path to attain enlightenment. The Daishonin explains the following in the Gosho, Infusing Life into Wooden or Painted Images (Moku’e nizo kaigen no koto):
Thus, devils are called benefit-robbers.
(Gosho, p. 638)
In the Gosho that we are studying, the Daishonin presents the following strict admonishment: If you follow your parent who is an enemy of the Lotus Sutra and abandon your brother who believes in the Lotus Sutra, you definitely cannot say that you are being filial to your father.
(Gosho, p. 1183, Summarized)
This means that, even if we go against the wishes of our parents, we must thoroughly uphold our faith and practice of true Buddhism. Doing so, in fact, would be truly filial toward them and enable both our parents and ourselves to attain enlightenment.
We must etch these instructions from the Daishonin into our hearts and rouse our courage to do shakubuku to share this Buddhism not only with our parents, but also with our relatives who have yet to embrace faith. Only when spouses, parents, children, and siblings assiduously practice together can there be true family harmony and prosperity throughout the generations. Therefore, we must make the determination to defeat the obstacles and devils that compete with one another to impede our progress. Furthermore, we patiently, persistently, and conscientiously must do shakubuku, and share this Buddhism with our family members who are not yet believers.
Faith to Vanquish the Three Obstacles and Four Devils
As the Gosho passage we are studying states, something remarkable and distinctive occurs, without fail, when the ocean’s tide ebbs and flows, when the moon rises and sets, and when the summer, autumn, winter, and spring give way to each other. In the same way, when common mortals turn into Buddhas, the three obstacles and four devils also will arise without fail. This is precisely the reason why High Priest Nichinyo Shonin instructs us to brace ourselves in the following way:
When various obstacles and devils rise before us—this is precisely when we must tackle them as prime opportunities to change those poisons into medicine and to achieve great benefits. We must increasingly exert significant efforts in our faith and practice.
(Dainichiren, October 2018)
It is true that, as our faith strengthens, the workings of the obstacles and devils also increase in strength to try to impede our progress. This is the time, indeed, when we must take to heart the directions constantly given by the High Priest that “The devil can never defeat the Buddha,” (Selected Gosho Passages on Shakubuku [Shakubuku yomon], p. 206) and vigorously continue to chant Daimoku, as we confront and fight the obstacles and devilish functions. As a result, we will receive the Gohonzon’s benefits and the protection of the guardian deities, and we will be able to defeat the obstacles and devils, without fail. Furthermore, we will be able to gain the great benefit of attaining enlightenment in our present form (sokushin jobutsu).
The actual practice of shakubuku is absolutely necessary to achieve enlightenment for ourselves and for others. We all have acquaintances and friends who are not yet believers of true Buddhism. Unless they embrace true Buddhism, they cannot experience true happiness and they cannot attain enlightenment. Thus, we must, first and foremost, do shakubuku and share this Buddhism with them. To accomplish this, let’s pray and take action right now. Let’s chant Daimoku and challenge ourselves to do shakubuku. Over and over again, we must act to defeat the three obstacles and four devils.
Guidance From High Priest Nichinyo Shonin
The establishment of a membership of 800,000 Hokkeko believers is the vow we pledged in front of the Gohonzon. Thus, the members of all the chapters throughout the country, to the very last one, must devote every effort to achieve this goal, no matter what difficulties and obstacles they may face. In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that all the members of each chapter unite as one, regardless of age and gender. Then, all of them must resolutely do shakubuku with courage, and with the awareness that they are disciples and followers of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, no matter what obstacles that stand in their way.
(Dainichiren, September 2019)
As a result of the Daishonin’s guidance, Munenaga formed the solid unity of itai doshin—many in body, one in mind—with his older brother and wife. They continued to repeatedly shakubuku their father. Consequently, the next year, the first year of Ko’an (1278), the older brother was pardoned of his disownment, and the father, who had opposed true Buddhism for 20 years, finally was able to embrace Myoho-Renge-Kyo. The Ikegami brothers finally were able to achieve a truly filial relationship with their father.
If we apply this matter to our own lives, could we confidently say that the Daishonin would praise us for being wise individuals in our faith and practice? Only one month is left before the end of the year. No matter what, let us successfully achieve our shakubuku objective for this year. To accomplish this, let us carry out shakubuku activities that are appropriate for “The Year of Courageously Advancing Forward.” Let us brilliantly and cheerfully welcome the new year and continue our efforts to successfully achieve our designated objectives for 2021.