three powerful enemies ［三類の強敵］ ( sanrui-no-gōteki): Also, three types of enemies. Three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death. Miao-lo (711–782) defines them in his work The Annotations on “The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra” on the basis of descriptions in the concluding verse section of the “Encouraging Devotion” (thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In the sutra text, the first type is described as follows: “There will be many ignorant people / who will curse and speak ill of us / and will attack us with swords and staves.” The second type: “In that evil age there will be monks / with perverse wisdom and hearts that are fawning and crooked / who will suppose they have attained what they have not attained, / being proud and boastful in heart.” And the third type: “Or there will be forest-dwelling monks / wearing clothing of patched rags and living in retirement, / who will claim they are practicing the true way, / despising and looking down on all humankind. / Greedy for profit and support, / they will preach the Law to white-robed laymen / and will be respected and revered by the world / as though they were arhats who possess the six transcendental powers. . . .”
Miao-lo summarizes these three as follows: (1) “The arrogance and presumption of lay people” or arrogant lay people; a reference to those ignorant of Buddhism who curse and speak ill of the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and attack them with swords and staves. (2) “The arrogance and presumption of members of the Buddhist clergy” or arrogant priests. These are priests with perverse wisdom and hearts that are fawning and crooked who, though failing to understand Buddhism, boast they have attained the Buddhist truth and slander the sutra’s practitioners. (3) “The arrogance and presumption of those who pretend to be sages” or arrogant false sages. This third category is described as priests who pretend to be sages and who are revered as such, but when encountering the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra become fearful of losing fame or profit and induce secular authorities to persecute them. In On “The Words and Phrases,” Miao-lo sates, “Of these three, the first can be endured. The second exceeds the first, and the third is the most formidable of all. This is because the second and third ones are increasingly harder to recognize for what they really are.”
Nichiren (1222–1282) called them the “three powerful enemies” and identified himself as the votary, or true practitioner, of the Lotus Sutra because he was subjected to slander, attacked with swords and staves, and sent into exile twice by the authorities, just as prophesied in the sutra. In his treatise The Opening of the Eyes, he says: “At such a time, if the three powerful enemies predicted in the Lotus Sutra did not appear, then who would believe in the words of the Buddha? If it were not for Nichiren, who could fulfill the Buddha’s prophecies concerning the votary of the Lotus Sutra?” (243).