Oko April 2011
I would like to thank you for attending today’s Oko ceremony despite your busy schedule. I have offered your sincere Gokuyo to the Gohonzon, and sincerely prayed to the Gohonzon for the further development in faith; eradication of your sins and negative karma from this and infinite past lifetimes; to enjoy a safe and long life; for peace and harmony to reign in your home; for all matters to proceed forth smoothly; and for the successful achievement of all your great objectives in this and future existences.
For those who have requested for Toba, I have offered my sincere prayers to the Gohonzon for the peace and happiness of your late relatives, friends, and ancestors.
Letter to the Brothers
If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. Were it not for these, there
would be no way of knowing that this is the true teaching. One passage from the same volume reads, “ As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge, vying with one another to interfere… You should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If you fall under their influence, you will be led into the paths of evil. If you are frightened by them, you will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism.” This quotation not only applies to Nichiren but also is the guide for his disciples. Reverently make this teaching your own and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations.
This gosho, “Letter to the Brothers”, was written in April 1276, when Nichiren Daishonin was 55 years old. It was addressed to the Ikegami brothers, Munenaka and Munenaga, who resided in the Musashi province (present day Ota Ward in Tokyo). The older brother Munenaka converted to Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism near the same time as Shijo Kingo, three years after Nichiren Daishonin established True Buddhism in 1256. The younger brother Munenaga, is believed to have already converted prior to this gosho, since his name is never mentioned in any other gosho prior to this one.
Munenaka was a strong believer in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, while Munenaga was less devout and not as strong in faith as his older brother. This gosho was written when the Ikegami clan was facing a serious crisis. The Ikegami brother’s father, Yasumitsu, was a strong follower of the Ritsu sect of Nembutsu Buddhism. In order to force the brothers to abandon their practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, Yasumitsu disowned the elder son, Munenaka effectively disinheriting him of the family wealth. By disowning the eldest brother, the inheritance would then pass to the younger brother, Munenaga. Yasumitsu’s intention was to create disunity between the brothers thus forcing them to abandon Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. During this period of Japan’s history, to be disinherited from one’s family would bring great hardship and suffering to the individual effectively leaving them subject to economic and social sanctions and any means of support for themselves or their families.
In this gosho, Nichiren Daishonin explains three ways believers should view obstacles:
1) Strong faith gives one the opportunity to purge himself of bad karma from the past;
2) The Buddhist gods are testing his faith; and
3) The function of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven has possessed his parents or others in order to obstruct his practice.
I would like to continue last month’s discussion about obstacles and how we can overcome those we face when we practice this Buddhism.
The passage that I read today mentions a passage in the fifth volume of the Maka-Shikan:
“As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge, vying with one another to interfere… You should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If you fall under their influence, you will be led into the paths of evil. If you are frightened by them, you will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism.”
This passage reminds us that as we strive more in our practice of true Buddhism, it is certain various difficulties and hardships will occur around us.
The following three reasons describe why these obstacles and devils emerge:
1) By preaching and practicing this Buddhism, obstacles and devils will definitely emerge;
2) Why do these obstacles and devils emerge? Because Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is the only correct practice; and
3) By further striving in this practice and gaining further knowledge, the three obstacles and four devils will definitely emerge.
What are the three obstacles and four devils? Though I explained this last month, I would like to review this again.
The three obstacles are the obstacles of earthly desires, karma, and retribution.
1.The obstacle of earthly desires is an impediment to Buddhist practice because of earthly desires that arise from the three poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity.
2.The obstacle of karma is a barrier created by committing the five cardinal sins and the ten evil acts. Karma is the accumulation of causes made through our words thoughts and deeds, the effects of which can be seen as our lives current situations. One’s spouse or children may become obstacles to one's practice and an example of hindrances caused by karmic action.
3.Retribution comes in the form of an obstruction created from those in power or national authority and may include one’s parents. This retribution will manifest as the result of evil acts committed in one’s past lives.
All three of these obstacles have the ability to obstruct one’s practice and path to enlightenment.
In the gosho “The Problem to be Pondered Night and Day”, Nichiren Daishonin quotes the Hosho Ron of Bodhisattva Saramati:
Those who are ignorant and unable to believe in the True Law, who hold false views and are arrogant, suffer such hindrances in retribution for the slanders of their former lives.
(MWND Vol. 5, p. 168)
This gosho explains that people who cannot accept true Buddhism will be affected by the creation of obstacles as retribution for past actions. The retribution the brothers are receiving from their father is a direct result of the karma they created in their past life times of slandering the true Law. The brother’s sufferings are so great as a result of deep and heavy past actions and from their false views and extreme arrogance.
The four devils are: earthly desires, the five components, death, and the sixth heaven.
1. The devil of earthly desires is an evil function that reinforces earthly desires stemming from greed, anger, and stupidity and deprives a Buddhist practitioner of wisdom.
2. The devil of the five components is a disruption of the harmony or balance of the five components (form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness), which constitute a human’s mind. This is a devil that obstructs one in performing Buddhist practice.
4. The devil of death signifies the interruption of Buddhist practice due to the practitioner’s death. It also functions to provoke doubt about the validity of Buddhism in the minds of others due to this death.
5. Finally, the devil of the sixth heaven signifies the king devil who lives in the sixth heaven of the world of desire. This devil finds pleasure in interfering with Buddhist practice and sapping the practitioner’s energy. This is the most powerful devilish function.
Nichiren Daishonin states in the gosho “Letter to Misawa”:
When a common mortal of the Latter Day of the Law is ready to attain Buddhahood, having realized the true meaning of all the Buddha's teachings and understood the profound teaching of the Maka Shikan, this devil is greatly surprised. He says to himself, "This is most vexing. If I allow this person to remain in my domain, he will not only free himself from the sufferings of birth and death but lead others to enlightenment as well. Moreover, he will take over my realm and change it into a pure land. What shall I do?" The devil then summons all his underlings from the threefold world of desire, form and formlessness and tells them, "Each of you now go and harass that votary, according to your respective skills. If you should fail to make him abandon his Buddhist practice, then enter into the minds of his disciples, patrons and the people of his land and thus try to persuade or threaten him. If these attempts are also unsuccessful, I myself will go down and enter the mind and body of his sovereign to persecute that votary. Together, how can we fail to prevent him from attaining Buddhahood?" (MWND Vol. 3, p. 252)
This means that the devil of the sixth heaven is determined to prevent the person from developing themselves as Buddhists and attain enlightenment.
Why is the devil of the sixth heaven so vent on obstructing our enlightenment? Nichiren Daishonin states in “Letter to Misawa”:
… having realized the true meaning of all the Buddha's teachings and understood the profound teaching of the Maka Shikan, this devil is greatly surprised. He says to himself, "This is most vexing. If I allow this person to remain in my domain, he will not only free himself from the sufferings of birth and death but lead others to enlightenment as well. Moreover, he will take over my realm and change it into a pure land. What shall I do?" (MWND Vol. 3, p. 252)
Nichiren Daishonin also tells us in a separate passage from “Letter to the Brothers”
This world is the province of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. All of its people have been related to him since time without beginning.
(MWND Vol. 1 p. 135~6)
Both of these passages mean that the six paths of the threefold world we live in is also the residence of this Devil of the Sixth Heaven. This devil wants all of the people in the world of desire to be delusional. He wants this land to be the impure land. He also wants no one to accumulate good fortune, gain happiness, and attain enlightenment. He doesn’t want anyone to leave the impure land, and see his minions leave him for good. So he does everything in his power to prevent anyone from leaving his realm.
To understand the types of devils and its functions, we must know the ten armies of the devil. It is mentioned in the Treatise on the Great Sutra on the Perfection of Wisdom (Dai chido-ron), written by Bodhisattva Nagarjuna. It reveals that there are ten types of devils.
The functions of these devils that obstruct our practice are as follows:
1) The various desires of a human being
3) Hunger and thirst
7) Suspicions or regret
9) Meaningless reputation through one’s greed
10) Despise people through one’s arrogance
These devils don’t appear outside of us but are instead all within us.
These devils, as well as obstacles, do not rise up in front of you and say, “Hi, I’m an obstacle and I’m going to do this” or “Hi, I’m the devil and I’m going to do that.” If they actually did that, how comfortable it would be for us to prepare for upcoming difficulties. But we all know that’s not going to happen. When these obstacles or devils arise, they come in different forms that have adapted to particular current times. Overwhelmed with what is happening on the surface, we don’t realize that it is the obstacles and devils that are functioning. Especially the devils that are inside of us.
Regardless of what is happening outside, if we continue to strive in our faith and practice, we are able to recognize these obstacles and devils, and rouse our faith and practice to overcome the obstacles and devils that will obstruct our enlightenment and happiness.
Nichiren Daishonin continues in the Maka Shikan: “You should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If you fall under their influence, you will be led into the paths of evil. If you are frightened by them, you will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism.”
The troubles the brothers had in their time may not be comparable to the problems we may have presently, but the common thing regardless of the time is that these obstacles will prevent us from practicing this Buddhism, doing shakubuku, and prevent us from going to the local temple and the Head Temple. We must not be influenced nor frightened by them or we will certainly head towards the three evil paths of hell hunger and animality or the fourth evil path of anger.
The Ikegami brothers were able to overcome this family crisis through continuing practice and strictly following Nichiren Daishonin’s guidance with strong faith.
Nichiren Daishonin tells them:
“… you might give in to your father’s opposition and desert the Lotus Sutra against your will. Remember that should this happen, you are certain to fall into the hell of incessant suffering and drag your parents into it as well, causing all of you indescribable grief. To grasp this requires a great seeking spirit.” (MWND Vol. 1, p. 138)
By admonishing the father’s slander, the situation in the Ikegami clan changed dramatically, and in the end, the father converted to Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. Had the family been influenced and abandoned the practice, they would have fallen into the hell of incessant suffering.
Through the Ikegami clan’s ordeal, you will notice the greater the obstacle, the greater merit they will receive. We must keep in mind to further strive with strong faith in our daily lives. We must keep in mind the following as well, “We must understand whatever difficulty should come, peace will come as well.” (Gosho p. 1762) This means that even in the ordinary circumstances of our daily life, we won’t know what situation or circumstance may arise in front of us. We must be unwavering in the face of anything that comes up. Our unwavering faith doesn’t develop quickly, but comes from an endless devotion to our daily practice.
We must further keep in mind this quote from Nichiren Daishonin:
“ Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken even a bit, demons will take advantage.” (MWND Vol. 1, p. 241~2)
Many of you are well aware of the circumstances regarding Japan. Although this is the collective karma of the people in Japan, I am certain no one wanted to be in these situations. High Priest Nichinyo Shonin offered His Expression of Sympathy for those affected by these natural disasters. We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the disasters that are happening abroad, as well as things that are happening in our own neighborhood.
In closing, I wish for further development of faith and greater health and happiness for each and everyone here today. Thank you very much.