It All Begins with Prayers Infused with Absolute Conviction
This letter can be said to be a crystallization of the mentor-disciple spirit as it was written when both Nichiren Daishonin and his disciples were in the midst of a tumultuous period when harsh persecutions befell both mentor and disciples.
Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter on Sado Island in 1273 to his devoted follower Shijo Kingo, who lived in Kamakura. While Nichiren was exiled to the remote island of Sado after the failed attempt to execute him at Tatsunokuchi, his disciples were confronting intense persecutions from the authorities in the aftermath of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution. Nichiren expresses his deep concern over his disciples’ plight and states that the fact that they are even firmer and more dedicated in their faith in spite of the momentous persecutions they were undergoing had moved him so much that he could barely restrain his tears.
Besides expressing his deep appreciation for the offerings that his disciples sent all the way to the desolate island of Sado where he was banished, Nichiren also encourages his disciples to persevere through the hard times with strong faith and that they would certainly receive the staunch protection of the Buddhist gods (protective function of the universe).
Victory begins with powerful prayers infused with indomitable determination. This is the quintessence of what Nichiren teaches in this passage. As Nichiren states here, “no matter how troubled the times may become” -this letter was written at an especially tumultuous time when Japan was facing the “three calamities and seven disasters”. One year before this letter was written, an internal strife, known as the “Disturbance of the Second Month” took place. Then a year after 1273, foreign invasion took place when the Mongols attacked Japan.
Against such a turbulent backdrop, the community of Nichiren’s disciples was facing outrageous oppressions from the authorities and were forced to live in extreme fear and poverty. At the same time, banished to the desolate island on Sado, Nichiren himself was living under harsh conditions and did not know if he could survive to see the following day. Despite his own predicament, Nichiren offered earnest prayers for the protective functions of the universe to staunchly protect all his disciples. In response to their mentor’s profound compassion, the disciples courageously stood up to take on their challenges. The important point to remember when offering prayers, is to make our inner resolve one and the same with that of our mentor.
Nichiren further states, “I am praying that …. the Lotus Sutra and the ten demon daughters will protect all of you.” In the Lotus Sutra, it is stated that all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and heavenly beings had pledged to staunchly protect those who uphold faith in the Lotus Sutra. Now, how can we activate these protective forces in the universe? Nichiren reaffirms the correct attitude with which we should offer prayers by using the analogy of producing fire from damp wood and obtaining water from parched ground. Both tasks are extremely difficult and can even be viewed as achieving the impossible. However, the point here is that no matter how impossible a task may seem to be, when one is placed in a life and death situation, one will probably discard all reservations and make earnest efforts to achieve it.
Likewise, when offering prayers, it is important to discard all doubts and hesitations. Instead, we should infuse our prayers with the absolute conviction and indomitable resolve that we are going to achieve it no matter what. Only when we offer such prayers will wisdom he manifested, courage arise and conviction be enhanced. And, it is in response to such faith that the powerful protective forces of all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and heavenly beings in the universe are activated.
Key points of the Gosho passage:
- When we meet great difficulties and no matter how troubled our times becomes, it is our pure and determined prayers that will decide whether we can win over our sufferings and become happy.
- Such prayers must be based on the spirit of mentor and disciple. This means having the same determination as our mentor to prove the righteousness of our mentor’s teachings by praying to the Gohonzon until we see the actual proof of victory.
- When we pray with the same conviction of faith as our mentor, “to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” – in other words to make “the impossible become possible” – we will definitely be able to heavenly beings in the universe. activate the protection of all Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and heavenly beings in the universe.