EARLIER I received a gift of Buddhist articles, and now I learn that the lay nun has come to visit me on this fine horse that you cherish. This is due to your extraordinary kindness. I know such actions must reflect the wishes of Hyōe no Sakan, but more than that they are due, I am sure, to the thoughtfulness of you, his wife.
Long ago there was a bodhisattva named Learned Youth who bought five lotus blossoms for five hundred coins and for a period of seven days and seven nights presented them as an offering to Bodhisattva Fixed Light.1 There was a woman named Gopikā who had two lotus blossoms, and she gave these as her offering, saying, “While we remain ordinary mortals, I pray that this man and I will be reborn as husband and wife in lifetime after lifetime, existence after existence. And when we become Buddhas, may we both do so at the same time!” She never departed from this vow, and for ninety-one kalpas the two were reborn as husband and wife.
As a matter of fact, Bodhisattva Learned Youth in a later incarnation was Shakyamuni Buddha, and Gopikā was his wife, Yashodharā. The “Encouraging Devotion” chapter of the Lotus Sutra states that she will become a Buddha named Endowed with a Thousand Ten Thousand Glowing Marks Thus Come One.
When Prince Siddhārtha entered Mount Dandaka,2 his horse, Kanthaka, was a reincarnation of the deity Shakra. And when Kāshyapa Mātanga and Chu Fa-lan brought the sacred writings to China, the ten demon daughters transformed themselves into a white horse on which the scriptures were transported. And now this horse of yours has followed the path of the Lotus Sutra. After you live out your lifetime of one hundred and twenty years, this horse will carry you to the pure land of Eagle Peak.
With my deep respect,
The second day of the third month in the third year of Kenji , cyclical sign hinoto-ushi
To the wife of Hyōe no Sakan
Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter on the second day of the third month in 1277 to the wife of Ikegami Hyōe no Sakan Munenaga. Munenaga and his elder brother Munenaka had been practicing the Daishonin’s teachings for about twenty years. Both had been opposed by their father on account of their faith, and his opposition became extremely harsh from around the time of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution in 1271. Munenaga had been influenced somewhat by the fact that their father had disowned his elder brother, Munenaka.
The Daishonin looked upon the support and faith of the brothers’ wives as crucial in sustaining them against such opposition. In this letter, he cites tales from Buddhist scripture of offerings sincerely made, in order to praise the wife of Munenaga who sent the lay nun, whose name is unknown, on horseback all the way to Minobu to visit the Daishonin. He compares her actions to those of Yashodharā, the wife of Shakyamuni, who in a past life had made an offering and vowed to attain Buddhahood along with her husband. Referring to horses in Buddhist history that were seen as protective gods, the Daishonin says the horse of Munenaga’s wife is the one that, after she enjoys a long life, will carry her to Eagle Peak.