notes on nichiren daishonin’s letter to the brothers

karasu tengu – from: orientalex 2


If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.

–latin proverb

“After the Buddha has entered extinction we will honor, embrace, recite & preach this sutra. Living beings in the evil age to come will have fewer & fewer good roots. Many will be overbearingly arrogant & greedy for offerings & others for gain, increasing the roots that are not good & moving farther than ever from emancipation. But although it will be difficult to teach & convert them, we will summon up the power of great patience & will read & recite this sutra, embrace, preach & copy it, offering many kinds of alms & never begrudging our bodies or our lives.”

This passage is from the Encouraging Devotion chapter of the Lotus Sutra. This is the same chapter of the Lotus Sutra Nichiren Daishonin quotes from in The Letter to the Brothers,” with the phrase: “Evil demons will take possession of others.” In this little chapter from the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha describes the importance of propagating the Mystic Law. In it we also get an elaborate series of metaphors & ways that our path (to enlightenment) will be obstructed by ignorance, arrogance, greed, delusion & so on. These things are otherwise known as Fundamental Darkness (or the devil of the sixth heaven).

Fundamental darkness is your obstruction, it is my obstruction, it was Nichiren’s obstruction & the two brothers also had an aspect of fundamental darkness inside their lives represented by their own father who tried to obstruct their faith by pitting them against each other. In fact, Nichiren writes that: “This world is the domain of the Devil of the sixth heaven. All of its people have been under the rule of this devil since time without beginning.”  

With this we see the importance of identifying what fundamental darkness is. Fundamental darkness is of course a fundamental ignorance & it is a stubborn illusion obscuring the truth that we all contain the potential for enlightenment. It is also ignorance of the law of Nam-myho-renge-kyo. I believe it is also the forces in our lives that are arrogant, greedy, malicious, selfish & all the others things that threaten to get in our way of enlightenment. Fundamental darkness obstructs our faith, it gets in our way of faith & it get’s in our way of knowing the correct path.

President Ikeda (in this month’s lecture) also reminds us that President Toda said:

“The Devil of the Sixth heaven (fundamental darkness) is depicted on the Gohonzon. So when we pray to the Gohonzon the devil king obeys the Gohonzon. The devil king will issue orders keeping the leaders of his devilish forces in check. The original enlightened potential of the devil king is manifested through the Gohonzon. Indeed all entities depicted on the Gohonzon display their innate dignified attributes when illuminated by Nam-myho-renge-kyo.”  

This clarification reaches deep into the metaphor of changing poison into medicine (Greg Martin speaks of this in this month’s lecture too), which is a concept of transforming fundamental darkness into enlightenment. Changing poison into medicine has to do with taking any negative situation (persons, actions, states of mind, physical, natural obstructions &c.) as a potential for enlightenment. When we fail at tasks, we naturally want to learn a better way. When we get sick, we can see our lives as precious & hence look to find deeper meaning within life & we can thereby gain a sense resolve within our selves. When someone else is unjust to us, the situation can offer a key to understanding human nature, it can also help us to see our own mistakes, or perhaps our own arrogance & shortsightedness. Negative functions can be a turning point from old ways of thinking that are merely reactionary & then a cause for the individual to propel his/her self into a creative & new solution, a new enlightened way of thinking.

When we look at the Gohonzon to identify where fundamental darkness is depicted, let us look at it in the perspective that President Toda speaks of, that is, to see the enlightened potential within it. This should then allow us to look at our lives & see the fundamental darkness within that, therefore urging us to see the enlightened potential of even the worst parts of our selves, the parts that are neglected, parts of our selves that are overly critical of others, in short: the parts of ourselves that need work.

One of our weaknesses that must be faced & transformed is that of misunderstanding. In the Gosho, the Lotus Sutra & Ikeda’s lecture, we are reminded (with wisdom) over & over that these devilish functions will inhabit even an enlightened individual. These individuals can be authorities, teachers & lay-persons alike. We must be aware that we can be easily misguided, misinformed & taken astray by people that might have their own interests over our own (remember the devil king of the sixth heaven is also known as: “he who makes free use of the fruits of others”). This is interesting in that it puts the responsibility of knowing the right way to practice, in the hands of the practitioner. We must understand the ways we can be deceived & we must be aware of when that very deception is coming out of our own lives, in other words, how we might allow ourselves to be deceived. Our responsibility to put forth the correct way is imperative to our own understanding. We probably cannot always be second guessing our teachers either, since this could be a form of churlish arrogance., but we can have a clear sense of where to turn, which is where we’re at right now: looking to the Lotus Sutra, reviewing Nichiren’s encouragements, reading Ikeda, Toda & also we sit among others in faith who can guide us along the correct path to enlightenment. Our potential is there & it can be enhanced, this is brought about with active listening, diligent study, assiduous practice, courageous faith, & friendly dialogue.


Aurelio  Madrid

One thought on “notes on nichiren daishonin’s letter to the brothers

  1. The above explanation give me more understand. May i request for more reference n explanation “this world is the domain……….and makes them reproach their filialy devoted children.
    I hope to hear from you. thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s