“Letter to Niike”
Read the Gosho “Letter to Niike” carefully, from beginning to end. Nichiren’s intent in writing this letter will be crystal clear. It also becomes quite apparent–and disturbing–how far Rev. Nakamoto’s lecture, given in August 2008, strays from Nichiren Buddhism.
I- The purpose of the writing
Nichiren’s purpose in writing this Gosho is very clearly delineated in its first two paragraphs: the preciousness of practicing Nichiren’s Buddhism and the devastating consequence of following teachers who distort its intent. Nichiren writes as an eternal challenge to each and every disciple to seriously ponder, protect and propagate the vital essence of Nichiren’s Buddhism.
Nichiren writes the letter in 1280 when he is 59 years old and at the very end of his life. All of his energies at this point are focused on eternalizing the spirit of his teachings. It is evident in this writing how he pours out his life to ensure that Niike can clearly discern good from erroneous teachers as well as correct from incorrect teachings. The writing closes in the same spirit with Nichiren’s impassioned plea to Niike to engage in dialogue to clarify the serious message of the writing, “If you do not question and resolve your doubts, you cannot dispel the dark clouds of illusion, any more than you could travel a thousand miles without legs.”
Questions for Rev. Nakamoto:
- If Nichiren stresses the importance to “question and resolve your doubts” why do you refuse to engage in robust public dialogue about Nichiren’s Buddhism with members of the SGI?
- In the writing Nichiren emphasizes that protective entities abandon individuals and the land when Buddhist teachings are corrupted. The stakes are high. If your interpretation of Buddhism is wrong can your followers gain benefit? Will not the country suffer? Shouldn’t you take responsible action to clarify what are the correct teachings through a public debate?
II- The importance of intellect and study
Rev. Nakamoto begins his lecture with one quote from Letter to Niike: “’Knowledge without faith’ describes those who may be knowledgeable about the Lotus Sutra but do not believe in it. These people will never attain Buddhahood. Those of ‘faith without knowledge’ may lack knowledge but believe, and can attain Buddhahood.” The central theme of his lecture is warning his believers about the dangers of “knowledge without faith.”
Unfortunately this has an anti-intellectual bent which is not compatible with Buddhism. For example, whom does Rev. Nakamoto point to as role models of faith? Not to the very learned lay believers to whom Nichiren trusted his most important Gosho, but the brothers Shuddhipanthaka (Suri Handoku) who, according to Rev. Nakamoto, “were stupid and possessed no intellect.” Rev. Nakamoto does not admonish his followers to study deeply. Instead, he offers an easier path:
Thus, there is no reason to be ashamed, even if you do not have a deep understanding of the teachings of true Buddhism and even if you do not excel in the study of Buddhist principles. If you sincerely believe in the Gohonzon and honestly put forth effort in your Buddhist practice based on the directions from our High Priest Nichinyo Shonin, you will attain enlightenment without fail.
In fact Rev. Nakamoto continues to warn about the dangers of “scholarly understanding” and explains that “knowledge and intellectual understanding about Buddhism could cause a person to become arrogant and fall into the evil paths.” The true intent of this line of logic comes to light with his next statement, “People who gain even a slight understanding of the teachings of true Buddhism may develop an arrogant attitude and proceed to scorn the priests and belittle Buddhism.” Furthermore, he claims, anyone who gains a “true and sincere understanding of the teachings expounded by Nichiren Daishonin… would respect the priests.” He continues, “Thus, when we gain some knowledge of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, we must not become arrogant.”
Questions for Rev. Nakamoto:
- Is really the central theme of Letter to Niike the dangers of knowledge without faith? Or, rather, is it Nichiren’s call to “question and resolve your doubts” in the process of clarifying the correct practice of Buddhism?
- You seem to warn your followers about the dangers of an energetic, full study of Buddhism. Is this in accord with Nichiren’s rejoinder, “Exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism.” Shouldn’t you be encouraging your members to study harder rather than study less?
- It seems that your solution to study is your recommendation to attend the Training Course for Overseas Believers, “…to help us learn about the doctrines of true Buddhism. It is important to participate in such activities to improve our knowledge of Buddhism.” Rather than this, wouldn’t it be more important to stress the significance of studying every day or even purchasing the Gosho? Should not the bookstore at your temple be filled with shelves of study material?
- 4. In Letter to Niike Nichiren does not espouse blind obedience or stupidity. This is obvious from the style of the letter: impeccable in its logic, scholarship, and poetic beauty. Clearly Nichiren prizes intellect in his followers. In fact he concludes in this writing, “Have him read this letter again and again and ask whatever questions you wish.” He also states in the writing, “strive ever harder in faith” and “be diligent in developing your faith.” How is this possible without striving and being diligent in study?
III- “The priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra” vs. “priests with perverse wisdom and hearts”
Rev. Nakamoto emphasizes the quote from the Gosho, “No matter what, be close to the priest who knows the heart of the Lotus Sutra, keep learning from him the truth of Buddhism and continue your journey of faith.” It is very clear that Nichiren is here referring singularly to himself, the votary of the Lotus Sutra, and not to Rev. Nakamoto and his colleagues. It is frightening the extent to which Rev. Nakamoto brazenly appropriates this quotation for the purposes of his sect. According to his logic, this quotation gives him authority to claim:
“We must go on tozan pilgrimages to Head Temple Taisekiji and embrace the guidance given by our High Priest Nichinyo Shonin. We must also attend the ceremonies at our local temples, listen to the lectures, strive to uphold correct faith, and never slander the true Law.”
“Furthermore, this passage refers to the treasure of the priest, the successive High Priests who have inherited the transmission of the Lifeblood Heritage of the Law. By extension, it refers to all the Nichiren Shoshu priests who directly provide instruction and guidance to Hokkeko believers in the local temples, as the designated representatives of our High Priest.”
“The Daishonin teaches that, regardless of circumstances, we must seek out the directions of our High Priest. He further instructs us to get as close as possible to Nichiren Shoshu priests and deepen our faith.”
In reality such claims have no basis in any of the writings of Nichiren and specifically not in the Letter to Niike. In contrast, numerous quotations from this Gosho support the exact opposite, warning Niike about rogue priests who destroy the letter and spirit of the Lotus Sutra:
But more than lay men or women, it is the priests with twisted understanding who are the Buddha’s worst enemies.
But more than lay men or women, it is the priests with twisted understanding who are the Buddha’s worst enemies. There are two kinds of understanding, true and perverted.
No matter how learned a person may appear, if his ideas are warped you should not listen to him. Nor should you follow priests merely because they are venerable or of high rank.
Our priests are so base that they are beyond description.
When I observe what people are doing, I realize that although they profess faith in the Lotus Sutra and clasp its scrolls, they act against the spirit of the sutra and thereby readily fall into the evil paths.
The Great Teacher Dengyo stated, “Even though one praises the Lotus Sutra, he destroys its heart.”
Questions for Rev. Nakamoto:
- What is the significance, in your opinion, of why Nichiren makes so many warnings in this writing about rogue priests?
- From Letter to Niike it is obvious that Nichiren emphasized the importance of people with “the wisdom to know the spirit of the Lotus Sutra” and he hoped that Niike would be such a person. What is the significance of Article 15 of the Twenty-Six Admonitions of Nikko Shonin which states, “You should revere a teacher of the Law who engages in its propagation as a sacred priest, even though he may be your junior” (Article 15). Can a “teacher of the Law” be a lay person as well as a priest?
- You claim that the third of the Three Treasures means “priest” — by which you mean you yourself, a male clergyman. Should not the designation of “priest“ refer to members of the Buddhist Order which includes the four kinds of believers–monks and nuns, laymen and lay women–anyone who sincerely protects and propagates the Law? Is it not arrogance to assume that only male clergymen have this designation?
Rev. Nakamoto attempts to make faith and the attainment of Buddhahood a complicated, difficult affair, again pulling one quote out of context: “How can we, of little knowledge, dare to dream that we may attain Buddhahood if we do not have faith?” It is important to note that Nichiren asks this question rhetorically and not to frighten or belittle disciples. In fact, he answers his question very clearly:
“Becoming a Buddha is nothing extraordinary. If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with your whole heart, you will naturally become endowed with the Buddha’s thirty-two features and eighty characteristics. As the sutra says, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinctions between us,’ you can readily become as noble a Buddha as Shakyamuni.”
It is not complicated and does not require traveling on a pilgrimage to Japan. Letter to Niike concludes very simply, “When you long to see me, pray toward the sun and at the same time, my image will be reflected there.”
Letter to Niike is a message of hope, the point of which eludes Rev. Nakamoto. Nichiren makes this very clear in the writing’s opening: “The sum of our worldly misdeeds and evil karma may be as great as Mount Sumeru, but once we take faith in this sutra, they will vanish like frost or dew under the sun of the Lotus Sutra.”