was born on the sixteenth day of the second month, 1222, in the
village of Kominato on the eastern coast of Awa Province in present-day
Chiba Prefecture. His father’s name was Mikuni no Taifu, and his
mother’s name was Umegiku; they made their living by fishing. As
Nichiren Daishonin said in Letter from Sado, he was “the son of
a chandala family.” The chandala are the lowest group in the Indian
class system, comprising such professions as fisherman, jailer,
and butcher. Nichiren Daishonin is acknowledging that his origins
were of the humblest kind. He was given the childhood name Zennichi-maro
and lived in the fishing village until the age of twelve, when he
left home to study at a nearby temple called Seicho-ji. In those
days temples were the only place where common people could learn
reading and writing.
became interested in and studied Buddhism at Seicho-ji, which belonged
to the Tendai school. There he was placed under Dozen-bo, a senior
priest of Seicho-ji, and received instruction not only in Tendai
doctrines but in True Word and Pure Land ones as well. He was particularly
concerned about the bewildering multiplicity of Buddhist schools
and the doctrinal contradictions within the Buddhist canon. He was
convinced that one sutra among the many that existed must represent
the ultimate truth. He began to wonder where he could find that
truth. Another concern was the fundamental problem of life and death,
which he had wished to solve since his early years. He came to realize
that the answer could only be found in the Buddha’s enlightenment.
In the temple’s
hall of worship, there was a statue of Bodhisattva Space Treasury.
Zennichi-maro prayed before the statue to become the wisest man
in Japan, and his prayer was answered when, as he wrote later, the
“living” Bodhisattva Space Treasury bestowed on him “a great jewel”
of wisdom. At that moment he awakened to the ultimate reality of
life and the universe. But in order to reveal this enlightenment
to the people of the Latter Day of the Law, he had to systematize
his ideas in relation to the whole spectrum of the Buddha’s teachings.
At the age
of sixteen, he resolved to be ordained and took the religious name
Zesho-bo Rencho. Some time later he took leave of his teacher Dozen-bo
and went to Kamakura to further his studies. There he delved into
the teachings of the Pure Land and Zen schools. But Kamakura was
still a new city with only a limited tradition in Buddhism. In 1242,
after three years of study there, Rencho returned to Seicho-ji briefly,
and left again the same year for western Japan. This time he went
to Mount Hiei, the center of the Tendai school and of Buddhism in
general, and later to Mount Koya, the headquarters of the True Word
school, and to other important temples in the Kyoto and Nara areas.
After some ten years of study at Mount Hiei and elsewhere, he concluded
that the true teachings of Buddhism are to be found in the Lotus
Sutra. The Lotus represents the heart of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment;
all other sutras are mere expedients leading up to the Lotus.
returned to Seicho-ji in 1253. There, shortly afterward, very early
on the morning of the twenty-eighth day of the fourth month, he
chanted Nam-myoho- renge-kyo
for the first time, thereby providing the key for all future generations
to unlock the treasure of enlightenment hidden in their hearts.
He also changed his name to Nichiren (Sun Lotus).
At noon on
the same day, he propounded his doctrine at the temple in the presence
of his teacher and other priests and villagers. Rubbing his prayer
beads between his palms, he chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo three times.
Then he declared that none of the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings reveals
the Buddha’s enlightenment, and that all the schools based on those
teachings are misguided. He stated that the Lotus Sutra is supreme,
and that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, is
the only teaching that can lead the people of the Latter Day of
the Law to enlightenment.
Few in the
audience understood the meaning of Nichiren Daishonin’s first sermon,
but people responded angrily, since it appeared to be an attack
upon their own religious beliefs. The steward of the region, Tojo
Kagenobu, a devout follower of the Pure Land school, took steps
to have the Daishonin arrested. Though the Daishonin managed to
escape, he was determined to go to Kamakura to preach. Before departing,
however, he visited his parents and converted them to the new faith.
In the eighth
month of 1253, he settled in a small dwelling at a place called
Matsubagayatsu in the southeast section of Kamakura. At his dwelling
and at the homes of supporters, he began to tell people about the
teachings of the Lotus Sutra. On occasion, he visited temples in
the city to debate with their chief priests. He denounced the beliefs
of the Pure Land school, which teaches that salvation can be gained
merely by invoking the name of Amida Buddha, and also attacked Zen
for its rejection of the sutras.
angered not only religious leaders, but government authorities as
well, since the latter were in many cases ardent patrons of the
Pure Land and Zen schools. Soon he faced fierce opposition, though
he continued his efforts to win converts. It was in those early
years of propagation that such major disciples as Shijo Kingo, Toki
Jonin, Kudo Yoshitaka, and Ikegami Munenaka were converted.
Beginning in 1256, Japan suffered a series of calamities. Storms,
floods, droughts, earthquakes, and epidemics inflicted great hardship
upon the nation. In 1257, a particularly severe earthquake destroyed
many temples, government buildings, and homes in Kamakura, while
in 1259 and 1260 severe famine and plague ravaged the populace.
believed that the time had come for him to explain the basic cause
of these catastrophes. In 1258 he went to Jisso-ji, a temple in
Iwamoto in present-day Shizuoka Prefecture, to consult its copies
of the Buddhist canon, and to assemble incontrovertible proof of
the real cause of the disasters. During his stay there, he met a
thirteen-year-old acolyte, who was so impressed by the Daishonin
that he became his disciple. At this time, the Daishonin gave the
young man the name Hoki-bo. Later, the Daishonin named him Nikko
and designated him as his legitimate successor.
The most powerful
man in the country was Hojo Tokiyori, a former regent of the Kamakura
shogunate who had retired to Saimyo-ji, a Zen temple. On the sixteenth
day of the seventh month, 1260, Nichiren Daishonin presented to
Tokiyori a treatise entitled On Establishing the Correct Teaching
for the Peace of the Land. In it, he attributes the cause of the
recent calamities to the people’s slander of the correct teaching
of Buddhism, and their reliance on false doctrines. The worship
of Amida Buddha, he asserts, is the source of such slander. The
nation will know no relief from suffering unless the people renounce
their mistaken beliefs and accept the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
Quotes from the Gold-en Light, Medicine Master, Benevolent Kings,
and Great Collection sutras are included to substantiate these assertions.
These sutras mention various calamities that will befall any nation
hostile to the correct teaching. Of the seven mentioned in the Medicine
Master Sutra, five had already struck Japan. The Daishonin predicts
that, if the authorities persist in turning their backs on the correct
teaching, the two remaining calamities, foreign invasion and internal
strife, will strike the nation as well. Tokiyori and the government
officials appear to have taken no notice of the treatise. However,
when word of its contents reached the followers of the Pure Land
school, they were incensed. A band of them swarmed down on the Daishonin’s
dwelling at Matsubagayatsu intent on taking his life. The Daishonin
narrowly escaped with a few disciples to Shimosa Province, where
he stayed for a time at the home of Toki Jonin, his follower and
an influential figure in the area. But his sense of mission would
not allow him to remain there long. In less than a year he was back
in Kamakura to resume his preaching.
of the Pure Land school, alarmed at his success in attracting followers,
contrived to have charges brought against him by the Kamakura government.
The regent at the time was Hojo Nagatoki, whose father was Shigetoki,
a lay priest at Gokuraku-ji temple and a confirmed enemy of the
Daishonin. Without investigation or trial, Nagatoki accepted the
charges and on the twelfth day of the fifth month, 1261, ordered
Nichiren Daishonin banished to the desolate coast along the Izu
Peninsula. This was the first government persecution suffered by
Izu was a stronghold
of the Pure Land school, and exile there clearly placed the Daishonin
in great personal danger. Fortunately, however, he was taken in
by Funamori Yasaburo, a local fisherman, and his wife. They treated
him with great kindness. Later he won the favor of Ito Sukemitsu,
the steward of the area, who became a believer in his teaching when
he successfully prayed for the steward’s recovery from illness.
In time the government, apparently at the instigation of the former
regent, Hojo Tokiyori, issued a pardon, and Nichiren Daishonin returned
to Kamakura in the second month of 1263.
In the autumn
of 1264, Nichiren Daishonin, concerned about his aged mother, returned
to his home in Awa. He found his mother critically ill —his father
had died earlier —but he prayed for her recovery and she was able
to overcome her illness and live nearly four years longer. Unfortunately,
word of his return reached the steward, Tojo Kagenobu. When the
Daishonin and a group of followers set out to visit Kudo Yoshitaka,
a supporter in the area, they were attacked by Tojo and his soldiers
at a place called Komatsubara. Although the Daishonin escaped death,
he received a sword wound on his forehead, and his left hand was
In 1268, the
foreign invasion that Nichiren Daishonin had predicted seemed about
to materialize. That year, as mentioned earlier, a letter from the
Mongols arrived in Kamakura demanding that Japan acknowledge fealty
to Khubilai Khan. The Japanese leaders realized that the nation
faced grave danger. Construction of defensive fortifications was
immediately undertaken in Kyushu on the coasts facing Korea, and
every temple and shrine in the country was ordered to offer prayers
for the defeat of the enemy.
who had returned to Kamakura, was convinced that it was time for
him to act. He sent eleven letters of remonstration to top-ranking
officials, including the regent, Hojo Tokimune; the deputy chief
of military and police affairs, Hei no Saemon; and the two most
influential priests in Kamakura at the time, Doryu of the Zen school
and Ryokan of the True Word Precepts school. These letters briefly
restated the declaration made in On Establishing the Correct Teaching
—that unless the government embraced the correct teaching, the country
would suffer the final two disasters predicted in the sutras. All
eleven men chose to ignore the warnings.
In 1271, the
country was troubled by persistent drought. The government, fearful
of famine, ordered Ryokan, the well-known and respected chief priest
of Gokuraku-ji temple, to pray for rain. When Nichiren Daishonin
learned of this, he sent a written challenge to Ryokan offering
to become his disciple if the latter succeeded in bringing on rain.
If he failed, however, Ryokan was to become the Daishonin’s follower.
Ryokan accepted the challenge, but in spite of his prayers and those
of hundreds of assistant priests, no rain fell. In-stead, Kamakura
was struck by fierce gales. Ryokan not only did not become a disciple
of the Daishonin, but actually began to plot against him in collusion
with Hei no Saemon.
the Zen priest Doryu both headed temples that had been founded by
high officials of the Hojo family. Though the founders had died,
their wives still exercised strong influence within the government.
Ryokan and Doryu aroused the anger of these women by telling them
that the Daishonin, in his letters of remonstrance, had spoken disrespectfully
of their deceased husbands. Eventually, as a result of the machinations
of the priests, a list of charges against the Daishonin was submitted
to the government.
On the tenth
day of the ninth month, 1271, Hei no Saemon ordered Nichiren Daishonin
to appear in court to answer the charges. This marked the beginning
of the second phase of official persecution. The Daishonin eloquently
refuted the charges and repeated his predictions of foreign invasion
and strife within the ruling clan. Two days after the investigation,
Hei no Saemon and his soldiers burst into the Daishonin’s dwelling.
Though innocent of all wrongdoing, the Daishonin was arrested and
sentenced to banishment on the island of Sado.
no Saemon was determined to have him beheaded at an execution ground
in Tatsunokuchi on the outskirts of Kamakura. Nichiren Daishonin
and his followers believed that his death was at hand, but at the
last moment the sudden appearance of a luminous object in the sky
so terrified the officials that they called off the execution. Thereafter
the Daishonin declared himself to have been reborn to a new life
as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. A detailed description
of these dramatic events in the Daishonin’s own words can be found
in the letter entitled The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra.
In the tenth
month of 1271, Nichiren Daishonin, accompanied by warrior escorts,
sailed across the Sea of Japan to Sado, his place of exile. The
only friendly person to go with him was his faithful follower Nikko
Shonin. The two were quartered in a dilapidated hut in an area where
the corpses of paupers and criminals were abandoned. They were short
of food and clothing, and had no fire to keep them warm. Huddling
in skins and straw mantles, they somehow managed to survive the
In the first
month of 1272, in response to a challenge from priests in the area,
Nichiren Daishonin engaged in a religious debate with representatives
of other Buddhist schools, who had gathered from around Sado and
from as far away as the mainland. During what has become known as
the Tsukahara Debate, he completely refuted their doctrines and
demolished their positions.
on Sado improved somewhat for the Daishonin as he began to receive
offerings of food and clothing from local people who had converted
to his teachings. However, he faced constant hostility from the
priests and lay believers of other schools. His time was devoted
mainly to preaching and writing. Many of his most important works,
including The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind and The
Opening of the Eyes, date from this period.
On the eighteenth
day of the second month, 1272, a ship reached Sado Island bringing
news that fighting had broken out in Kamakura and Kyoto. It was
a power struggle within the Hojo family. The Daishonin’s prophecy
of dissension within the ruling clan had come true. And before long,
the second disaster he had prophesied, foreign invasion, became
more likely as the Mongols repeatedly sent envoys demanding submission.
In the second month of 1274 Hojo Tokimune, who had never completely
agreed with the severe treatment accorded to the Daishonin, revoked
the edict of banishment. And on the twenty-sixth day of the third
month, two years and five months after he was exiled, Nichiren Daishonin
returned to Kamakura.
On the eighth
day of the fourth month, Nichiren Daishonin was ordered to appear
before the military tribunal. Hei no Saemon was the presiding official,
as he had been three years earlier when charges were brought against
the Daishonin. But this time he behaved with reserve and politeness.
In reply to questioning concerning the possibility of a Mongol attack,
the Daishonin stated that he feared an invasion within the year.
He added that the government should not ask the True Word priests
to pray for the destruction of the Mongols, since their prayers
would only aggravate the situation.
An old Chinese
text says that, if a sage warns his sovereign three times and still
is not heeded, he should leave the country. Nichiren Daishonin had
three times remonstrated with the rulers, predicting crises —once
when he presented On Establishing the Correct Teaching, again at
the time of his arrest and near execution at Tatsunokuchi, and once
more on his return from Sado. Convinced that the government would
never heed his warnings, he left Kamakura on the twelfth day of
the fifth month, 1274. He settled in a small dwelling at the foot
of Mount Minobu in the province of Kai (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture).
the remoteness of the region, his life in Minobu was far from easy.
His followers in Kamakura sent him money, food, and clothing, and
occasionally went in groups to receive instruction from him. He
devoted much of his time to writing, and nearly half of his extant
works date from this period. He also spent much time lecturing and
training his disciples. The lectures on the Lotus Sutra he delivered
at this time were compiled by Nikko Shonin and are known as The
Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings.
In the tenth
month of 1274, five months after Nichiren Daishonin moved to Minobu,
the Mongols launched the attack described earlier. In a letter to
one of his followers, the Daishonin expressed his bitter disappointment
that his advice had been ignored, for he was convinced that, had
it been heeded, the nation would have been spared much suffering.
period, Nikko Shonin was successful in making a number of converts
among the priests and lay people of Atsuhara Village. The priests
of a Tendai temple in the area, angered at his success, began harassing
the converts. Eventually, they arranged for a band of warriors to
attack a number of unarmed farmers of the convert group and arrest
them on false charges of thievery. Twenty of the farmers were arrested
and tortured, and three were eventually beheaded.
known as the Atsuhara Persecution, was significant because, whereas
earlier persecutions had been aimed mainly at the Daishonin, this
time it was his followers who were the victims. In spite of the
threats of the authorities, however, the farmers persisted in their
faith. Nichiren Daishonin was thus convinced that his disciples
and lay followers were now strong enough in faith to risk their
lives for the Mystic Law. This led him to inscribe the object of
devotion for all humankind. The date was the twelfth day of the
tenth month, 1279, nearly twenty-seven years after he had first
By his sixty-first
year, the Daishonin was in failing health. Feeling that death was
near, he designated Nikko Shonin as his legitimate successor. Disciples
and, the regent, followers urged him to visit a hot spring in Hitachi
to improve his health. On the eighth day of the ninth month, 1282,
he left Minobu for Hitachi. When he reached the residence of Ikegami
Munenaka in what is today part of the city of Tokyo, he found he
was too ill to continue. Many of his followers, hearing of his arrival,
gathered at Ikegami to see him. On the morning of the thirteenth
day of the tenth month, 1282, surrounded by disciples and lay believers
reverently chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, he peacefully passed away.
This life history of Nichiren was taken from:
Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. Trans. The Gosho Translation
Committee. Tokyo, Japan: Soka Gakkai, 1999.
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