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Gosho Study

‘On Repaying Debts of Gratitude’

Photo by Sanya Lu.


Nichiren Daishonin wrote this treatise, one of his major works, upon learning of the death of Dozen-bo, the priest at Seicho-ji temple who had been his teacher when he first went to school there as a boy of 12. He wrote it to express his gratitude to Dozen-bo and sent it to two senior priests who were also there when he entered the temple. These priests, Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, later became his followers. He asks them to have the letter read in front of the tomb of his late teacher.

Nichiren writes that showing gratitude is a fundamental aspect of human behavior, stressing in this letter the thanks owed to one’s teacher. He further explains that the best way to repay the teacher is to practice and master the correct Buddhist teaching.

Citing various sutra passages, he explains how the Lotus Sutra is foremost of all sutras and how other doctrines are in error. He explains that only the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate truth, and he teaches that the sutra’s essence, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, is the practice to be propagated in the Latter Day of the Law for the happiness of all people. He concludes by stating that the benefits that he receives for his relentless efforts to help others will surely accumulate in the life of his late teacher.


“What can we say, then, of persons who are devoting themselves to Buddhism? Surely they should not forget the debts of gratitude they owe to their parents, their teachers, and their country. But if one intends to repay these great debts of gratitude, one can hope to do so only if one learns and masters Buddhism, becoming a person of wisdom.” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 690)


Nichiren Daishonin teaches that the most important way to live is to show our gratitude to those who have supported us. In the passage preceding this one, he refers to stories where even animals remember to repay the kindnesses shown them, and how wise men gave their lives to show their gratitude. Therefore, surely those who practice Buddhism should always show their appreciation. Parents who have raised us, teachers who have helped us develop, and the country where our lives are sustained—we should never forget that we are who we are today because of these. This is the first step for leading a life of gratitude.

But how do we repay these kindnesses? The best way, Nichiren says, is to study Buddhism and become wise, which in turn will enable us to lead to happiness those who have helped us. Everyone can overcome the sufferings of birth and death and realize true happiness through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Therefore, exerting ourselves to spread the Mystic Law and to introduce our friends to the practice is the supreme path of showing gratitude and establishing an indestructible self.


“If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years and more, for all eternity, for it has the beneficial power to open the blind eyes of every living being in the country of Japan, and it blocks off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering. Its benefit surpasses that of Dengyo and T’ien-t’ai, and is superior to that of Nagarjuna and Mahakashyapa.

“A hundred years of practice in the Land of Perfect Bliss cannot compare to the benefit gained from one day’s practice in the impure world. Two thousand years of propagating Buddhism during the Former and Middle Days of the Law are inferior to an hour of propagation in the Latter Day of the Law.” (WND-1, 736)


The Buddha is said to possess three virtues: the benevolent functions of sovereign, teacher and parent. In this passage, Nichiren in essence declares that he is the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law because he embodies these three virtues. “Nichiren’s compassion is truly great” indicates the function to nurture people (parent); “it has the beneficial power to open the blind eyes of every living being in the country of Japan” indicates the function to lead people to enlightenment (teacher); and “it blocks off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering” indicates the function to protect people (sovereign).

Nichiren goes on to say that by exerting ourselves in practice in this Latter Day, more so than at other times, we can gain immeasurable benefit. That’s because it can be difficult to cultivate one’s character in favorable, privileged circumstances, such as in the so-called Land of Perfect Bliss. But here in the “impure world” we face many problems and can therefore use them as opportunities to develop ourselves.

Nichiren’s prediction that “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years and more, for all eternity” is being fulfilled today by the SGI. We can all be profoundly grateful that the three founding presidents took up Nichiren’s struggle and laid a foundation for today’s movement.


“Thus the flower will return to the root, and the essence of the plant will remain in the earth. The benefit that I have been speaking of will surely accumulate in the life of the late Dozen-bo.” (WND-1, 737)


Dozen-bo was Nichiren’s first teacher at Seicho-ji temple, where he went to study at age twelve. Years later, Nichiren began to teach about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but Dozen-bo could never bring himself to covert. He was too attached to his senior position at Seicho-ji and too afraid of any persecution that might result.

Nichiren, however, never forgot about his teacher. He believed that if it were not for Dozen-bo, he would never have been able to discover the correct teaching or been able to help all people attain enlightenment. After declaring his conviction that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread throughout Japan, he uses the above analogy to explain how the benefit he is accruing will surely accumulate in Dozen-bo’s life as well.

Nichiren exemplifies the path of a genuine disciple: He showed his gratitude to his teacher by never relenting in his struggle for kosen-rufu and always willingly devoting himself to that cause. Genuine happiness lies in striving in our practice with the spirit that “my victory is the best way to show my gratitude to my mentor.”

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