Thoughts on “The Two Kinds of Illness”

The priest Nichiren Daishonin frequently traded correspondence with practitioners in 13th century Japan, and we’re lucky enough to have translated compilations to study. One letter I read today is, “The Two Kinds of Illness” with this excerpt:

However, if one tries to use the Hinayana teachings to cure the three poisons and eighty thousand illnesses that arise from slandering the Mahayana sutras, such as the Flower Garland, Wisdom, and Mahāvairochana sutras, these illnesses will merely become worse and never be cured. They can be treated only with the Mahayana teachings. Moreover, if one attempts to use the Flower Garland, Wisdom, and Mahāvairochana sutras, or the teachings of the True Word and Three Treatises schools to cure the three poisons and eighty thousand illnesses that arise when the practitioners of the various Mahayana sutras oppose the Lotus Sutra, those sicknesses will become all the more serious. To illustrate, the flames emitted by burning wood or coal can easily be extinguished by water, but if one pours water over a fire produced by burning oil, it will only burn more intensely, the flames mounting still higher.

Having already written about physical illnesses as the first kind of illness, Nichiren dove into the second, illnesses of the mind. While I anticipated that this referred to mental illness, it may be more aptly referred to as illness of the heart. In particular, Nichiren speaks to the results of false sages of ritual and institutional Buddhism misleading innocent practitioners and leading them away from their own Buddhahood. Because the original Buddha, Shakyamuni, delivered Buddhism through Expedient Means, the depth and essence of Buddhism was revealed gradually.

Shakyamuni determined that at the time of awakening to his enlightenment, and his many lifetimes of enlightenment, the people were not ready to absorb the full extent of this nirvana state. Revealing Buddhism beyond the capacity and the time would only drive people away from their own Buddhahood. So he gave oral sermons which were later compiled into the different Sutras by his disciples.

Concepts like “the middle way” are therefore useful because they point to an effect of Buddhist practice, but there is not a true practice of “the middle way” so it is limiting to the practitioner. Ultimately, if all you are attempting to do is practice the middle way as you read about in Tibetan Buddhism, you’re ignoring the true teachings that the Buddha revealed long after this one.

Buddhist sages and great teachers, of course, couldn’t be ignorant to Expedient Means as they’re not a secret in Buddhist practice. Rather, for their own vanity and the gain of their temples, they declared that the later teachings were either too difficult to practice, or they ignored this truth. This causes great suffering, and ultimately, this “illness of the mind” that Nichiren writes about here.

So if this illness is caused by fake sages, how could they possibly cure this? In actuality, their attempts would only aggravate the issue, because disciples would sincerely practice ineffective Buddhism even when the truth is available.

If you believe that Buddhism is just a philosophy to respect others, then you miss the fact that in order to truly respect others, it takes great effort and you also need to respect yourself. The true Buddhism of today is such a practice – it is chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.


Buddhist Next Door


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