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Gosho Study

How can Nichiren Buddhism help me overcome the grief of losing a loved one?

Answer: Because we share deep bonds with the departed, strengthening our lives will lead to their eternal happiness.

The Lavender farm in Aegean Region, Turkey with setting sun giving sunburst from behind a mountain
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This study series focuses on Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples, who faced challenges that we can still relate to today, and his enduring encouragement to them that we can apply to dynamically transform our lives.

Losing a loved one can cause the most profound grief. And while death will come to us all, knowing this offers little consolation when we suffer the loss of someone dear to us.

So, how can we as Buddhists face this deepest of difficulties?

Nichiren Daishonin’s encouragement to the lay nun Ueno, who lost her husband while pregnant with their youngest son, offers insights into how our Buddhist practice can help us face the pains and sorrows of life and live with hope and resilience.

The Lay Nun Ueno—Overcoming Grief and Raising Capable Successors

While initially practitioners of Pure Land teachings, the lay nun Ueno and her husband, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro, made the bold move of converting to Nichiren’s teachings.

The powerful Hojo clan—whom Hyoe Shichiro served as steward of Ueno Village (in present-day Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture)—bore malice toward the Daishonin and his followers. Yet the couple braved oppression and risked their lives to support Nichiren and uphold his teachings.

In 1265, the lay nun was pregnant with the couple’s youngest son when Hyoe Shichiro died from an illness. Having suddenly lost her husband, who had been in the prime of his life and the family’s pillar of support, the young widow was left to give birth to their son and raise their many children alone.

She must have endured deep grief for many years, as evidenced in a letter Nichiren wrote to her nearly a decade after her husband’s passing. The Daishonin consoles and encourages her, saying:

Since your deceased husband was a votary of this [Lotus] sutra, he doubtless attained Buddhahood just as he was. You need not grieve so much over his passing. On the other hand, to grieve is only natural for ordinary people. However, even sages are sometimes sad. Could the lamenting of all the great enlightened disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha at his passing have been meant to show the behavior of ordinary people?

You should by all means perform as much good as you possibly can for the sake of your deceased husband. (“Hell Is the Land of Tranquil Light,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 458)

He assures the lay nun that Hyoe Shichiro had carried through with his faith until the end of his life and without doubt attained Buddhahood. Nichiren also acknowledges that, even though she may understand this with her mind, ordinary people and even sages can be sad to part with loved ones. Shakyamuni Buddha’s leading disciples, he says, also mourned the Buddha’s passing, showing that grieving is natural to all people.

‘Perform as Much Good as You Possibly Can’

As a way to turn her sorrow into a source of hope, Nichiren encourages her to “perform as much good as you possibly can” to create good fortune that will also accrue to her deceased husband. He also teaches in his letter that no matter how much we may be suffering, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can establish lives of eternal and indestructible happiness.

Ikeda Sensei comments on this passage:

The Daishonin reminds us to continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo “as much as we possibly can” (see WND-1, 458)—that is, to transform our grief into prayers for the eternal happiness of the deceased.

I can almost hear Nichiren Daishonin’s warm voice assuring the lay nun, “Your deceased husband is guaranteed to attain Buddhahood, so keep chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for him just as you are.”

You may lose a loved one who has not practiced Nichiren Buddhism themselves. But as long as we, their family members or friends who do practice, continue to chant for them, there is nothing to worry about. We pass on to them the benefits we have accumulated through our Buddhist practice—this is the true meaning of offering prayers for the deceased in Nichiren Buddhism. (September 2020 Living Buddhism, p. 54)

Nichiren’s letters indicate that the lay nun strove diligently in faith until the end of her life, some 30 years after her husband’s passing. In those years, she experienced many trials yet remained unshaken. As a testament to her strong faith, she raised her children, including Nanjo Tokimitsu (see Jan. 14, 2022, World Tribune, p. 9), to be capable successors who continued spreading the Daishonin’s teachings into the future.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Lake Superior, Minnesota

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