THE BUDDHA WRITINGS OF NICHIREN DAISHŌNIN~ AN INTRODUCTION ~
by Martin Bradley
Nichiren Daishōnin was born on the 16th of the second month of the first year of Jō.ō (1222 CE) and died on the 13th of the tenth month in the fifth year of Kō.an (1282 CE). He is the founder of the Nichiren Shōshū School and is understood by Nichiren Shōshū believers to be the original Buddha of the final phase of the Dharma of Shākyamuni (mappō).
He was born in the fishing village of Kominato in the Tōjō district of the Awa province – the present-day village of Kominato in the Chiba Prefecture. His father was Mikuni no Taifu; his mother was called Umegikunyo, and they were said to have led a humble existence along the seashore. As a child he was called Zennichi Maro. At the age of twelve, he entered Seichōji Temple under the instruction of the Venerable Dōzen, who gave him the name of Yaku’ ō Maro. At about the same time, Nichiren made a vow to the Bodhisattva Kokūzō that he would become the wisest man in Japan. He took sage-like orders when he was sixteen and was renamed Zeshōbō Renchō. He then left for Kamakura for further studies. Three years later he came back to the Seichōji Temple and left again almost immediately for Kyōto, in order to study and practise the dharma gateways of the Tendai School on Mount Hiei. More precisely, it was at the Onjōji Temple, the Tennōji Temple, and on Mount Kōya where he studied the doctrinal significance of each and every school, as well as reading through all the sutras and other Buddhist writings.
When he was thirty-one, he left Mount Hiei and returned to Seichōji Temple. On the morning of April 28th 1253, in the Hall of Holding to the Buddha (Jibutsutō) in the All Buddhas Monastic Residence (Shobutsubō) of the Seichōji Temple, in front of the whole assembly Nichiren announced his fourfold criterion – “Those who bear in mind the formula of the Buddha Amida (Amitābha) (Nembutsu) bring about the hell of incessant suffering. The school of watchful attention (Zen) is the work of the Great Demon of the Sixth Heaven. The Tantric (Shingon) school entails the ruin of the state, and the Ritsu School are the robbers of the land.” He also announced that all sentient beings could be saved by the recitation of Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō. When Tōjō Kagenobu the local ruler, who was a follower of Nembutsu – the people who bear in mind the formula of the Buddha Amida (Amitābha) – heard this, he flew into a rage and tried to have Nichiren arrested. However, the Venerables Jōken and Gijō, acting as guides, were able to organise his escape, and he made his way back to Kominato.
After taking leave of his parents, he embarked upon his life’s destiny of propagating his teaching. He began his mission in Nagoe no Matsubatani outside Kamakura, where he had built a hermit’s cottage. At that period, he converted numerous people who became his disciples and supporters. In the eleventh month of the fifth year of Kenchō (1253), he was visited by a monk from Mount Hiei called Jōben, who was later to become Nisshō, one of the six elder monks. In 1258, on a visit to the Iwamoto Jissōji Temple, the then thirteen-year-old Nikkō Shōnin became his disciple and was to remain so, until he became the second patriarch after the Daishōnin’s demise in 1282. Among the other disciples, there was Toki Jōnin who was a samurai attached to the Shogunate, as well as other samurai, such as Shijō Kingo, Soya Kyōshin, Kudō Yoshitaka, and the two Ikegami brothers Munenaka and Munenaga.
On the 16th day of the seventh month of the first year of Bun.ō (1260), Nichiren, as a result of the good offices of Yadoya Nyūdō, was able to have his well-known Thesis on Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma (Risshō Ankoku ron)handed over to the regent Hōjō Tokiyori. The argument of this thesis is that if the correct Buddha teaching were established instead of the incomplete doctrines of the time, then the whole country would find peace and stability.
That same year, on the night of the 27th of the eighth month, the followers of Nembutsu and the Shogunate organised an attack on Nichiren’s hermitage at Matsubatani. Fortunately, he was able to escape harm and moved to the estate of Toki Jōnin. On the 12th day of the fifth month of the first year of Kōchō (1261), under the orders of the Shogunate, Nichiren was exiled to the Izu Peninsula. His disciple Nikkō Shōnin, and Funamori Yasaburō and his wife accompanied him and were constantly in attendance. One year and nine months later, he was pardoned, and returned to Kamakura.
In the first year of Bun.ei (1264), the Daishōnin returned to his birthplace in Awa, in order to take care of his mother during her illness. At the same time, he propagated his teaching throughout the whole of the Awa region. In the same year, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, while Kudō Yoshitaka of Amatsu was returning towards his estate, his military escort was attacked by Tōjō Kagenobu, the local ruler, in Komatsubara. Both Kudō Yoshitaka and the Venerable Kyōnin were killed in the struggle. Nichiren was wounded on the forehead.
In 1268, the Mongolian court sent a delegation with a letter from Kublai Khan, demanding that the Shogunate become his vassal. This particular incident was evident proof of the prediction in the Thesis on Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma (Risshō Ankoku ron), which again urged the nation to take refuge in the correct Dharma. At the same time, Nichiren called for a public debate with the monks of all the other schools and sent letters to eleven various religious leaders, but he received no reply whatsoever.
During the eighth year of Bun.ei (1271), there was a terrible drought, from one end of the Japanese archipelago to the other. The then renowned monk Ryōkan performed the prayer ritual for rain but was unable to bring it about, whereas Nichiren Daishōnin’s success is well established in the annals of Japanese history. The defeated Ryōkan left Kamakura for the north. This became an opportunity for the monks of the other schools to provoke the Shogunate with slanderous reports concerning the Daishōnin.
On the tenth day of the ninth month of that same year, Nichiren received a summons from Heinosaemon no Jō Yoritsuna to be interrogated by the Court of Enquiry. At the interrogation, Nichiren Daishōnin severely reprimanded the hypocritical stance of the Shogunate. The outraged Heinosaemon no Jō immediately had Nichiren arrested and taken in the middle of the night to Tatsu no Kuchi to face execution. Just as the executioner’s sword was about to strike, an enormous crystalline pure white light surged up and covered half the sky. In panic, the officials of the Shogunate and the samurai in attendance ran in all directions and hid. No one dared try to execute the Daishōnin. This was the moment when Nichiren Daishōnin reveals the original terrain of the self-received reward body that is used by the Tathāgata of the primordial infinity of the original beginning. It is also referred to as “eradicating the temporary gateway, in order to reveal the original”.
On the tenth day of the eleventh month, he was exiled to the island of Sado. There he began to compose the Thesis on Clearing the Eyes, the Thesis on the Fundamental Object of Veneration for Contemplating the Mind Instigated by the Bodhisattva Superior Practice (Jōgyō, Vishishtachāritra) For the Fifth Five-hundred-year Period After the Tathāgata’s Passing over to Nirvana (Kanjin no Honzon shō), and also completed a number of important theses such as the Thesis on the Unbroken Transmission of the Single Universal Concern of Life and Death, the Thesis on the Significance of the Actual Fundamental Substance (Tōtai Gi Shō), An Account of the Buddha’s Revelations for the Future, and the Thesis on Cultivating Oneself in the Practice as it is Expounded. During Nichiren’s exile, several of his admirers, such as the Venerable Abutsu and his wife, took refuge in his teaching.
At Tsukahara, where Nichiren was forced to spend his exile in the broken-down Sanmaidō Temple, the Nembutsu School challenged him to an open debate, in which each and every argument was completely refuted. At this point, the Venerable Sairen and the Honma family were converted to the Teachings of Nichiren. After two years or so, in 1274, on the 27th day of the third month of the eleventh year of Bun.ei, Nichiren was granted pardon, and he returned to Kamakura.
On the eighth day of the fourth month of the same year, he was summoned a second time by Heinosaemon no Jō to appear before the Shogunate. This time, they calmly admonished Nichiren and told him to treat and see the monks from the other schools as equals. Naturally the reply was that, if the correct Dharma was not held to, then it could not be possible to assure the security of the land. The outcome of this interview was that Nichiren retired to the backwoods to a more hermit-like existence, as had other wise men of the past in China and Japan, when their efforts to save their country went unheeded.
In this case, Nichiren Daishōnin retired to the Hagiri district on Mount Minobu in the province of Kai, which is the present-day Yamanashi prefecture. There he gave lectures on the Dharma Flower Sutra (Hokke-kyō). And, for the preparation and education of his disciples, he went into the subtlest details, so that the Dharma would be protracted into eternity. During this same period, he also wrote the Thesis on Selecting the Time and the Thesis on the Requital of Grace. The senior monk Nikkō promoted propagation in the direction of Mount Fuji; his first major conversion was Nanjō Tokimitsu, then the Matsuno and Kawai no Yui families, and others from among the monks of Ryūsenji Temple in Atsuhara. Nisshū, Nichiben, and Nichizen also took refuge in the teachings of Nichiren Daishōnin. During the same period, a number of the local peasants and farmers did the same.
On the 21st day of the ninth month of the second year of Kō.an (1279), all the followers of Nichiren, both monks and laymen, were harassed and pestered as a single sect. Finally, twenty people, beginning with Jinshirō, were arrested. Heinosaemon no Jō interrogated the prisoners at his private residence and pressured them to change their religion. With profound faith, all of them persisted in reciting the title and theme Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō. Jinshirō, Yagorō, and Yarokurō were beheaded, and the remaining seventeen were banished from Atsuhara. These events are often referred to as the adversity of the Dharma at Atsuhara.
Nevertheless, it was on account of this particular adversity of the Dharma that Nichiren Daishōnin felt that the time had come for him to fulfil his real purpose of coming into the world. On the 12th day of the tenth month of the second year of Kō.an (1279), he inscribed the Fundamental Object of Veneration (gohonzon) of the Altar of the Precept of the original gateway. In order to perpetuate his teaching, Nichiren appointed six elder monks to help him in this task but decided to entrust the succession of the patriarchate to Nikkō. In 1282, while undertaking a journey to the hot springs in Hitachi for rest and recuperation, in the mansion of Ikegami Munenaka, he entered peacefully and auspiciously into nirvana, at the age of 61 years.
Some years ago I wrote in the introduction of one of my catalogues, “Is it the dream that dreams the dreamer, or are we just caught in rather a sticky trap?” The answer, I am afraid to say, is yes, we are. But, however sticky it is or to what extent we feel free depends entirely upon our own efforts.
The idea of presenting these translations of the writings of Nichiren Daishōnin is to show people a teaching that might open the way to their finding some kind of individuation. By individuation, I mean, as C. G. Jung does, a personality that is not divided, that can live in his or her own skin and is reasonably happy. The writings of Nichiren and the practice that accompanies his teaching could well be for many people a way to clean up and put back into their right place some of the elements that constitute our inherent schizophrenia or unenlightenment. What I am referring to is that unhappy voice inside us that says, “There is me, the other people, the other things and places that have nothing to do with how rotten and empty I feel.”
This is not some hard and righteous evangelistic doctrine, although some practitioners may try to affirm that it is. All Buddha teachings and practice are based on universal compassion and a profound respect for all existence. Nevertheless, a sincere study and practice may help some people rediscover that the moon has a face, to become aware of the voices of the children playing at the end of the street, or how caterpillars have transformed the nasturtium leaves into organic pieces of lace. Also, there are not a few people who rediscover the entirety of existence in a single grain of sand.
The object of these translations is to help clear the way for that part of our mind that makes us smile when we read a haiku or look at a painting by Miró or Paul Klee. It is also that part of us that makes us struggle for human rights and dignity.
My intention is not to promote any particular one of the thirty-eight or so number of sects that base their doctrines on the teaching of Nichiren Daishōnin, but to try to make it known that such a Buddha teaching exists.
Remote waterfall on the south end of Buttle Lake, Vancouver Island, BC
Martin Bradley, The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin, ISBN: 2-913122-19-1, 2005,
The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin by Martin Bradley
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.