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Gosho Study

‘Letter to the Brothers’

Garden of Soka—Members gather for a hybrid discussion meeting in Chicago, July 2022. Photo by Susan Forner.


The two brothers to whom this letter was written were sons of Ikegami Yasumitsu, who held an important post in the government’s Office of Construction and Repairs. Yasumitsu was an earnest supporter of Ryokan, an eminent priest in Kamakura who plotted against Nichiren. For more than twenty years, Yasumitsu strongly opposed his sons’ practice of Nichiren Buddhism, going so far as to disown the older one, Munenaka, in 1275.

This letter was Nichiren’s response to the brothers’ report of Munenaka’s disownment. Disownment in samurai society was a severe sanction. It meant not only loss of the right of succession but also meant being deprived of social status and financial resources. To the younger brother, Munenaga, the disownment meant that he would be able to inherit all the family’s wealth and prestige—if he abandoned his faith.

During this trying period, Nichiren wholeheartedly encouraged the brothers and their wives to unite and overcome this challenge. He taught them “faith for overcoming obstacles.” Shortly after receiving this letter, Munenaka was forgiven, only to be disowned a second time in 1277. The brothers continued to follow Nichiren’s guidance and finally converted their father to Nichiren’s teachings the following year.


“A passage in the Six Paramitas Sutra says to become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you.

“Whatever trouble occurs, regard it as no more than a dream, and think only of the Lotus Sutra.” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 502)


Our attitude can take us anywhere, to the highest highs or the lowest lows. The way we lead our lives from one moment to the next—that’s what determines whether we lead a life of happiness or unhappiness.

Referring to the passage “become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you,” Nichiren teaches us the secret to achieving a happy and fulfilled life. Our minds can easily be swayed by what’s going on around us: a bad-hair day, an unreasonable boss, or enduring the overall craziness of the world. If we allow our minds to master us, we’ll never be able to focus on our goals or the life we want to live.

So we need to build an unshakable self, and to do that, we need something unshakable to build upon. That foundation can be found in Buddhist wisdom. By seeking Buddhist wisdom and making it the foundation for our lives, we can find the discipline to master our minds.

A teacher or mentor in Buddhism is one who exemplifies such a life. When we seek to lead our lives based on the oneness of mentor and disciple, we can achieve a deeper level of happiness than what we’ve known before—the happiness of Buddhahood. That’s why Nichiren urges us to “think only of the Lotus Sutra,” that is, to set our minds on practice for self and others and to strengthen our life condition to the point where we can regard all our troubles as temporary, as “no more than a dream.”

In contrast to these fleeting troubles, the Law is eternal. So when we strive for the noble goal of kosen-rufu in the same spirit as the mentor, we can expand our lives limitlessly, overcome all adversity, and create lasting victories lifetime after lifetime.


“It is extremely difficult to meet a person who expounds this sutra exactly as the sutra directs. It is even more difficult than for a one-eyed turtle to find a piece of floating sandalwood, or for someone to hang Mount Sumeru from the sky with the fiber from a lotus stem.” (WND-1, 495)


How rare is it to encounter someone who can teach us correct faith and practice? Nichiren uses two examples to help us understand just how rare: a one-eyed turtle swimming in an open ocean finding the perfect piece of sandalwood to float on and someone hanging a mountain from the sky.

How can we identify a correct teacher, a votary? The sutra teaches that the votary will meet the three powerful enemies.[1] Nichiren, who called forth these enemies yet persevered in his propagation efforts, is certainly “a person who expounds this sutra exactly as the sutra directs.” How fortunate, then, for the two brothers to have met Nichiren and become his disciples! And how wonderful, in modern times, to work for kosen-rufu in the footsteps of the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents! Our good fortune is beyond what we can imagine, something to appreciate each day.


“This trial, more than anything else, will prove your faith genuine, and the ten demon daughters of the Lotus Sutra will surely protect you. The demon who appeared to test the boy Snow Mountains was actually Shakra. The dove saved by King Shibi was the heavenly king Vaishravana. It is even possible that the ten demon daughters have possessed your parents and are tormenting you in order to test your faith.” (WND-1, 497)


There will be times when our faith is tested. Here Nichiren tells the Ikegami Brothers that they are facing just such a test. But if they stay true to their faith despite their father’s disownment of the older brother, they will gain the support of the protective forces of the universe. Now is the time to persevere and fight with strong faith, he tells them.

Encountering difficulties puts us at a crossroads: We can allow our weaknesses to defeat us and give up our faith, or we can summon the conviction that the hardship is a great opportunity to transform our karma. The stronger our faith, the more we will be protected. If we persevere in faith and overcome our doubts, we can surely transform any karma and discover a deeper happiness. The obstacles we face are opportunities to polish our lives and establish an indomitable faith, one unbowed by any hardships. This is the foundation of absolute happiness.


“If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching. One passage from the same volume reads: ‘As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere. … One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching.’ This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers.” (WND-1, 501)


The Mystic Law we practice enables all people to transform their lives; anyone can attain Buddhahood through the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. But because it is such a positive force, negative functions will try to prevent us from believing in it and sharing it with others. “As practice progresses and understanding grows”—as this passage indicates, obstacles appear when we strive in our practice and deepen our understanding of Buddhism.

To defeat such hindrances, we should keep in mind this one secret: “One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them.” How? Through the wisdom and courage we gain from faith. When we recognize devilish functions for what they are and prepare ourselves to face them head-on, they will no longer function as obstacles. If we let them defeat us, however, we will veer from the orbit of faith and happiness. Therefore, when obstacles appear, let’s regard them as opportunities to expand our lives, do our human revolution, and transform our karma, not retreating even a single step.


  1. Three types of enemies: Or three powerful enemies. Three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death. They are: arrogant lay people, arrogant priests and arrogant false sages. ↩︎

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