Letter to the Brothers - Times of Difficulties is Precisely the Opportunity to Attain Buddhahood

If you propagate it, devils will rise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching. Once 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 or 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. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations.

(The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Vol 1, p501)

This is a letter that Nichiren Daishonin wrote to the Ikegami brothers who lived in Ikegami in the province of Musashi (present day Ota Ward in Tokyo) and their wives in which he taught the essence of “faith for surmounting obstacles”. The letter was originally thought to be written in 1275 but recent studies indicate that it was 1276.

It is not clear when the Ikegami brothers took faith in the Daishonin’s teachings but they were generally thought to have been the Daishonin’s earliest followers. The brothers belonged to the Ikegami clan, a prominent samurai family that served as a leading construction contractor for government building projects.

However, after the Daishonin went to live in Mount Minobu, their father opposed their faith in the Lotus Sutra disowned Munenaka, the elder of the two. The guidance in this letter was written in response to the report of this development.

The Daishonin revealed the the true nature of hardships that the brothers were confronting. He explained that hardships arise due to the devil king of the sixth heaven harassing practitioners by negatively influencing those around them.

The Daishonin also explained that practitioners encounter hardships due to their own karma from past lifetimes and that they should in fact be considered a benefit in the form of lessening one’s karmic retribution.

Finally, the Daishonin further explained that hardships can also be seen as an ordeal devised by the heavenly deities - the protective functions of the universe - to test the strength of a person’s faith.

In addition, the Daishonin taught that the appearance of the three obstacles and four devils serves to show that the Ikegami brothers were on the correct path of Buddhist practice and urged them to remain united, and together with their wives, prevailed over the adversity that they were confronting then, based on faith.

Some time after this letter was written, the elder brother was disowned for the second time (after he was reinstated after the first disownment). However, the brothers practiced exactly in accordance with the Daishonin’s teachings and finally wn their father over by successfully converting him to the Daishonin’s Buddhism.


The practice of Buddhism entails a struggle between the forces of the Buddha and devilish functions.

To the beleaguered Ikegami brothers who were confronting one of the most serious crises in their lives, the Daishonin encouraged them that they must on no account be defeated by such negative forces.

The first point that the Daishon encouraged them that they must on no account be beaten be defeated by such negative functions.

The first point that the Daishonin revealed in this passage is that when one carries out one’s Buddhist practice correctly, the working of negative forces will surely appear.

The Daishonin’s Buddhism is a religion of transformation that uphold the universal enlightenment of al people. It is preciously for this reason, when once strives in one’s Buddhist practice based on resolute faith, that negative functions appear to hinder one’s progress in one’s faith and practice.

In this passage the Daishonin cited a message from the Great Teacher T’ien T’ai’s Great Concentration and Insight which reads: “As practice regresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere.” In our context, we can say that when we strive on the two paths of study and practice and when our conviction in faith is about to be further strengthened, that is the crucial when negative forces will appear to hintder us from doing so.

On top of this, the point to note is that the passage stated that the “three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form”.

These negative functions seek to catch practitioners of the Daishonin’s Buddhism off guard, and through various insidious means, they vie with one another to tempt, discourage or exhaust them.

Now, the question is how do we remain unaffected by the three obstacles and four devils? Here, the Daishonin outlined two key ingredients for the find of faith needed to conquer them - (1) “not being influenced by them” and (2) “not being frightened by them”.

“Not being influenced by them” manifest the “wisdom” to see devilish functions for what they are and not be swayed by them, while “not being frightened by them” means to summon forth the “courage” to stand up to them without fear. In terms of our daily practice, it is by carrying out the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge kyo that will enable us to manifest the wisdom and courage from within our lives to defeat such negative forces.

Nichiren Daishon himself set an example by walking along this very path of battling and thoroughly triumphing over devilish functions in exact accordance with the passage from Great Concentration and Insight expounds. Based on the actual proof, the Daishonin stated, “This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations.”

In this way, the Daishonin called forth to his disciples to courageously wage a struggle against all obstacles that appear before us in the shared commitment of mentor and disciple.

SGI President said, “It is because we strive to realise kosen-rufu that devilish functions appear to obstruct us. And their appearance is precisely your opportunity to attain Buddhahood. Struggling against the three obstacles and four devils is the path to Buddhahood. This is the formula for attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime.”

Let’s us strive based on faith that remains undaunted in the face of the three obstacles and four devils and open forth a victorious state of life.

(Translated and adapted from the April 2012 issue of The Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai's monthly study journal.)