I HAVE received the sack of polished rice, the sack of yams, and the basket of river laver that you took the trouble to send me by messenger.
Human beings have two kinds of treasure. One is clothing and the other is food. A sutra states, Sentient beings live in dependence on food.1 This passage means that living beings dwell in this world owing to food and clothing. Fish dwell in water and regard water as their treasure. Trees grow on the earth and regard the earth as their treasure. Human beings have life owing to food, and regard food as their treasure.
Life is the foremost of all treasures. It is expounded that even the treasures of the entire major world system cannot equal the value of ones body and life.2 Even the treasures that fill the major world system are no substitute for life. Life is like a lamp, and food is like oil. When the oil is exhausted, the lamp goes out, and without food, life will cease.
In worshiping all the deities and Buddhas, the word namu is put ahead of their names. To explain exactly what namu means, namu is a word from India. In China and Japan it is translated as dedicating ones life. Dedicating ones life means to offer ones life to the Buddha. In accordance with their status, some have wives and children,
relatives, fiefs, and gold and silver, while others have no treasure. Whether one has wealth or not, no treasure exceeds the one called life. This is why those known as the sages and worthies of ancient times offered their lives to the Buddha and then became Buddhas.
The boy Snow Mountains offered his body to a demon to receive a teaching composed of eight characters.3 Bodhisattva Medicine King burned his arms as an offering to the Lotus Sutra. In our own country too, Prince Shotoku peeled off the skin of his hand and copied the Lotus Sutra on it, and the sovereign known as Emperor Tenji4 burned his third finger as an offering to Shakyamuni Buddha. Because these things are the affairs of worthies and sages, they are impossible for us to do.
However, as for the matter of becoming a Buddha, ordinary people keep in mind the words earnest resolve and thereby become Buddhas. When we carefully consider what exactly earnest resolve refers to, it is the doctrine of observing the mind. When we inquire into what exactly the doctrine of observing the mind refers to, it means that offering ones only robe to the Lotus Sutra is equivalent to peeling off ones skin; and that in a time of famine, offering the food that is the only means for sustaining ones life that day to the Buddha is offering ones life to the Buddha.