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Nichiren Buddhism

Let's begin our history with the death of Nichiren. On November 13, 1282, surrounded by his disciples and followers, and reciting with them the "Stanzas of Eternity" (Ji Ga Ge) from the 16th Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren expired at the age of sixty one. Before he died he delivered a series of lectures on the "Rissho Anokoku Ron", a treatise which he had delivered 22 years earlier to the ex-Regent Tokiyori (1227-1263), the most powerful man in the feudal military regime (bafuku) at Kamakura. This writing so enraged the civil as well as the leading religious authorities in Kamakura that Nichiren was condemned to a life of exile. The first exile was to Izu (1261-1263) the second exile was to Sado (1271-1274) and the third self-imposed exile (1274-1282) was to Minobusan on the western slope of Mt. Fuji in the province of Kai. He died in Ikegami, near modern Tokyo, in the province of Musashi. Ikegami had been a rest stop on the eastward journey from Minobu to the province of Hitachi. There, in the hot springs of Hitachi, Nichiren had hoped to restore his health. He died knowing that his prophecy of foreign Mongol invasion had come true in 1274 and again in 1281. Shortly after his death, a bloody rebellion almost toppled the Bafuku. Finally, in 1333, the entire Hojo clan ( the last Hojo regent, Takatoki, along with 870 people in his family) would commit suicide in a Zen temple, (Tosho-ji) in Kamakura as the imperial army overtook the city. It was a sad end for the entire Hojo clan who had persecuted Nichiren just a few generations earlier. Before his death, Nichiren designated six of his closest disciples (roku roso, or the six elder monks) to propagate faith in the Lotus Sutra and direct the affairs of local congregations scattered mostly throughout the eastern provinces. The six elders were Nissho (1221-1323), Nichiro (1245-1320), Nikko (1246-1333), Niko (1253-1314), Nitccho (1252-1317) and Nichiji (1250-?). Each of these elders became independent, founding his own propagation center which eventually grew into the head temple of his own line ("monryu") of transmission. The task of converting the Kansai area, and the Imperial capital of Kyoto in particular, fell to a novice named Nichizo (1264-1342), Nichiro's 13 year old nephew. Following Nichiren's instructions, the elders enshrined the cremated remains of their teacher in Kuonji (the "Temple of Eternity") on Mt. Minobu. The elders made arrangements to guard the sacred reliquary, maintain the temple grounds, and provide instruction to younger disciples. These arrangements, however, were short-lived. By the third anniversary of Nichiren's death, the Kuonji complex had fallen into disrepair from neglect. For several reasons, the elders were unable to make the pilgrimage to Minobu to perform their annual month-long custodial duties. Some were too preoccupied with the affairs of their owm congregations or too distant from Minobu to make the long journey. For some like Nissho and Nichiro, whose center for proselityzing activities were located in Kamakura, there was the additional burden of having to restrain their activities lest they provoke government officials bent on testing the solidarity of the Nichiren community now that its leader was dead. The custodial duties naturally fell on Nikko, whose own base of activites in Suruga province was the nearest to Minobu. He was soon joined by Niko who had been active in Nichiren's home province of Awa. The two elders shared the responsibilites of running the Kunoji complex, Nikko taking charge of administrative matters, Niko heading the training of young disciples. The partnership soon collapsed, however, when Nikko objected to Niko's lenient treatment of one lay convert. This layman, according to Nikko, had violated Nichiren's teaching; he was charged on three counts of slander against the Dharma (hobo). The convert in question was a warrior named Nanbu Sanenaga, ( also called Lord Hakiri) a long-time supporter of Nichiren and the benefactor of the land on which the Kuonji stood. Sanenaga, according to Nikko, had worshipped at a Shinto shrine, given alms to Pure Land monks, and installed an incorrect "honzon" (object of worship) for his private worship at home. Sanenaga's explanations did not appease Nikko, while Niko, being less rigid and formalistic, but obviously interested in retaining Sanenaga's support, echoed Nichiren's own words when Nichiren said that "to correct Lord Hakiri is like trying to straighten the horns of a bull. It will kill the bull." Nichiren advised to let Lord Hakiri have some latitude and in time he would do what was ultimately correct. The feud between Nikko and Niko was irreconcilable, and Nikko eventually left Kuonji after Lord Hakiri chose his rival, Niko, as the first chief abbot of Kuonji. Up til that time, there had been no single person who headed Kuonji. The rotating system of elders had failed to maintain the premises so it was deemed necessary to install a permanent abbot to oversee the complex. Unfortunately, Lord Hakiri chose Niko over Nikko. Nikko could not overlook the obvious slur in being passed over in deference to his junior rival. Modern scholars generally downplay the rivalry between Nikko and the rest of the elders. They give reasons other than Sanenaga's three slanderous acts to explain Nikko's departure. They cite the personality conflict between Nikko and Niko, the relative isolation of Nikko from the rest of his collegues, and the Fuji-line (Nikko's) desire to monopolize legitimacy. Nikko would later refer to this first factional rivalry as "Fuji" versus "Kamakura side", under which he included Niko at Minobu, Nissho and Nichiro at Kamakura. There was no mention on the "Kamakura" side of any rivalry toward Nikko. All of the criticisms stem from Nikko's own writings. the others were quite unaware of the depth of the rift until many years later. Sanenaga's "hobo" is downplayed also. The charge that Sanenaga had worshipped at a Shinot shrine is dismissed on several grounds. Nikko maintained that Shinto worship is ineffective and therefore should not be practiced represents only one aspect of Nichiren's "zenjin dhakoku" (benevolent gods forsaking the country) doctrine. The other aspect, equally important to Nichiren, was the notion that Shinot dieties would once more descend to their earthly abodes and offer protection only to practitioners of the Lotus Sutra. Toward the end of Nichiren's life, several of his followers were required to work on the reconstruction of the Hachiman Shrine. They asked his permission and he told them that it was ineffective to rebuild the shrine because the gods had abandonned the rulers of the country. However, he did not forbid them to go as it constituted their manorial duties. When the construction was leveled by a typhoon a short time later, he reminded his followers that it was a sign that the gods had departed because the rulers were turning their backs on the True Dharma. However, Hachiman had answered Nichiren's own call , after Nichiren asked to visit his Shinto shrine on the way to Tatsu-no-Kuchi. Hachiman saved him from being beheaded. Likewise, believers in the Lotus Sutra would also call down such deities in time of need. It is argued that Nichiren made a distinction between worship at a Shinto shrines within the compounds of rival Buddhist temples and those that existed apart. Hence, Nichiren himself visited such independent Shinto shrines, as was the common practice of the times. Even Nikko had a shrine erected in one of his own temples, after Nichiren's death. As for the "honzon" controversy, this too is dismissed by scholars. Sanenaga's honzon was a single statue of the Buddha Sakaymuni. Nikko argued that the proper honzon was a figure of the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha accompanied by the four Eternal Bodhisattvas. Unfortunately, Sanenaga did not have additional funds to commission four more statues, and was put in an embarrassing situation. It was not that he didn't wish to have four more statues, but he simply couldn't afford it. Niko "saved face" for Sanenaga by offering a solution. The solitary statue of the Buddha would be designated as the Eternal Sakyamuni simply by placing a copy of the Lotus Sutra within the statue. Nichiren himself had established a precedent for this arrangement with the statue of Sakyamuni that he had carried throughout his life. Apparently, Sanenaga never forgave Nikko for his intransigent position which caused Sanenaga much embarrassment. These first two charges of "hobo" can be dismissed easily, but the third controversial point concerning alms to the Pure Land monks is more troublesome. If indeed alms were offered, the charges of violating the "fuse" (give nothing) prescription would have to stand. Sanenaga's letter to Nikko explained how he had given a horse to an acquaintance who in turn offered it to a Pure Land monk. He had also delivered a load of wood to a town that had been ravaged by high winds. The wood was used in repair of a Pure Land temple, along with other buildings. Sanenaga claimed that he had no control over the use of the wood, but was bound by his manorial duties to carry out the act of charity on behalf of the stricken town. In one other instance, he had given a horse to another manorial official, who was also a Pure Land monk; the gift was made not in the sense of offering alms to a slanderer but as an obligatory gift between two lay persons. One can admit to the possibility that Sanenaga might have violated the provision of "soji hobo" (action resembling slander). Nikko's real dicision to leave Minobu came soon after he had learned that his collegues in Kamakura had joined other Buddhist and Shino establishments in government-sponsored prayers for the peace and prosperity of the nation. This act was a clear violation of offering "dharma" to a regime headed by a non-believer. Each establishment submitted a document indicating its contribution to the prayer efforts. What was most disturbing for Nikko was that Nissho and Nichiro had signed their documents using the title, "Tendai shamon" (Tendai monk). Such a designation, however, was used commonly by Nichiren's immediate disciples, many of whom had converted from the Tendai sect. In all fairness to Nissho and Nichiro, it should be noted that they had at first protested their involvement in the national prayer efforts but had capitulated only when it became obvious that further protests would lead to offical reprisals, confiscation of believers' property and even death of the priests. Nikko, on the other hand , situated at some distance from the political center, could not fully appreciate the extreme difficulties experienced by the Kamakura elders, though he sympathized in a letter with their plight and noted his relative safety at a distance. In the years immediately following Nichiren's death, the above incident involving prayers for the nation was the only major threat to the Nichirenists in Kamakura. In occured sometime during 1284-1286. Nikko did not leave Minobusan until 1288, upon the news that Niko would be chief abbot. Hence Nichiren scholars are not overly sympathetic to Nikko's decision to leave Minobu, given the disparity in dates for these occurences. In 1285, a bloody coup threatened to topple the Hojo Regime in Kamakura. Thus, civil unrest had diverted the attention of the authorities away from the Nichiren movement. Nichiren's disciples for their part tried not to provoke the government. They adopted less aggressive forms of propaganda, something that Nichiren would neve have done. Nikko's line in Fuji, after he left Minobu, was still aggressive in proselityzing, and they expanded their base in the provinces surrounded Kamakura. By the end of the Kamakura period (1333, the year that Nikko died and the Hojo clan was self-annihilated, as Imperial forces overtook Kamakura) the Nichiren school was firmly rooted in the eastern provinces, gaining converts among the low-ranking warriors and peasant class. There were now six "lines", and a few were contemplating a move to the Imperial capitol at Kyoto. This would be the next important phase of the history of Nichiren's buddhism, after Nichiren's death. (Next.......The Expansion Into Kyoto ) Period of Northen and Southern Courts (1336-1392) The first Nichiren branch to represent the Nichiren school in Kyoto was Nichiro's line from Kamakura. This transplant was accomplished by Nichizo (1269-1342) to whom Nichiren had entrusted the conversion of the Imperial family. The winter before his departure, he had prepared himself rigorously for the task, submerging himself regularly in the sea to combat fatigue and chanting for 100 days. He then visited the important sites related to Nichiren; Ikegami, Kmoinato, St. Kiyosumi, Komatsubara, Tatsu-no Kuchi, Ito on Izu Peninsula, Mt. Minobu, and Sado Island. He finally reached Kyoto and, on April 28th, 1294, he chated the o-daimoku ten times at the Eastern Gate of the imperial Palace. Then he began street-corner preaching. Nichizo concentrated his efforts in the Lower Capital (Shimo-no-kyo) which was heavily populated by townspeople (machishu). The townspeople were merchants, artisans, and craftsmen, servants to imperial and military aristocratic families, lowly officials and warriors. Among his prize converts was Ono Myokaku, a wealthy merchant, after whom the head temple of the Fuju-fuse sect would be named later. Nichizo appealed to the wealthy townspeople. But soon, the religious authorities of the the Tendai monastic complex on Mt. Hiei looked on him with jealousy and uneasiness. persecutions started against him in 1308, whan militant Tendai monks representing the old established schools appealed to the Imperial court to suppress the Nichiren movement. Between 1308 and 1321, the Tendai monks succeeded in exiling Nichizo three times. On his third release in 1321, he found enough support among the twonspeople to establish the first Nichiren temple in Kyoto, the Myokenji. In 1333, forty eight years after his arrival in Kyoto and a year after the 50th year memorial service for Nichiren was held in Myokenji Temple, the Emperor Godaigo was exiled to Iku ilsand after a royalist attempt against the Hojo military regime in Kamakura was esposed. Royalist armies led by Prince Morinaga in Yoshino and Kusunoki Masashige in Osaka continued to fight the Kamakura forces. Nichizo, who prayed for peace on his own, was requested by the Imperial Court to pray for the Imperial cause and Godaigo's safe return. When the Kamakura regime was overthrown and Emperor Godaigo restored imperial rule (Kemmu Restoration), the imperial emissary visited Myokenji with a decree making the temple a "chokuganji", or a temple enjoying imperial recognition at which prayers for the tranquility of the state could be offered. Imperial recognition automatically raised the status of Myokenji to the equal rank of any of the great monastic establishments in Kyoto. It meant that Nichizo's efforts on behalf of Nichiren's teaching, had been officially recognized by the reigning emperor. It was not the complete victory that Nichiren would have wished for, but it was a remarkable achievement by Nichizo. However, there were critics of Nichizo within the Nichiren community, as we shall soon discuss. Other honors came to Myokenji. In 1335, Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358), the first Ashikaga shogun, who had aided the loyalist cause in restoring Godaigo to the throne, designated the Myokenji as a "kiganji", the "bakufu" counterpart of a "chokuganji". Upon Nichizo's death, the abbotship of Myokenji went to Daigaku (?-1364), an ex-Tendai monk of aristocratic background. Under his leadership and throughhis connections in the ruling classes, the Myokenji was able to establish several branch temples in and outside the home provinces around Kyoto. In 1358 , when Daigaku's prayers for rain were answered and Kyoto was saved from a severe drought, th Court promoted him to the highest religious office daisojo) in the monastic supervisory system. Since the Myokenji was already abundantly endowed, he asked for, and received, the posthumous titles of "shonin" (Worthy one) adn "Daibosatsu" (Great Bodhisattva) for Nichizo and Nichiren respectively. The news if Myokenji's phenomenal success encouraged other Nichiren groups of the Kanto area to establish their branches in Kyoto. Soon the Court was so inundated with requests for imperial recognition as Chokuganji that the Myokenji was asked to screen out potential candidates. This turn of events naturally added to Myokenji's prestige within the capital. The next major center of Nichiren proselytizing was also located in the Lower Capital. It also represented the Nichiro line. The Honkokuji, founded by Nichi-jo (?-1369) in 1356, quickly attained a status equal to that of Myokenji. This rise occured apparently because Nichi-jo and other abbots who followed him were of aristocratic origin. Like the Myokenji, it maintained close ties with both the ruling classes and the wealthy townspeople. No one could deny the prosperity nor ignor the impressive credentials amassed by the Myokenji and the Honkokuji. Slowly, however, both within these establishments and among the new arrivals from the Kanot region, questions were raised as to whether these tow temples really represented the spriti and teaching of Nichiren. In particular, many had become critical of their ignoring the "fuju-fuse" practice. Critics inveighed against Nichizo, Daigaku and Nichijo for giving "dharma" offerings to authorities who professed no faith in the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. On a number of occasions, the three had conductied prayer services for the ruling class, chanted incantations to relieve pain and suffering and offered their blessings on ocassions of birth, death or at the celebration of various festivals. In return, they had received glebe lands, temple grounds, as well as ecclesiatical titles. Clearly, in the eyes of the critics, Myokenji and Honkokuji had broken away from the traditional agressive method propagation (shakubuku) and replaced it with a more tolerant persuasive approach (shoju). In response to such criticisms, it may be argued that Nichizo had others were pioneers in a city that had never known Nichiren's teaching. Under these circumstances, giving and receiving became "legal" on the rationale that all non-beleivers who showed any inkling of interest in the Lotus Sutra- whether through giving alms or requesting prayers- held what was designated as a "hidden faith" (nainai no shin) or a "hint of faith" (ippun no shin). Nichiren ahd used similar reasoning in his early years of missionary activity in Kamakura, Izu and Sado. In all probability, however, it may never have occured to Nichizo and others like him that gifts from non-believing authorities could be subject to close scrutiny unde the "fuju-fuse" prescription. Foremost in the minds of these pioneers was how to establish a foothold from which to convert the Imperial family. By the late 1300's two other Kanto branches were represented in Kyoto. Of these, the first to challenge the Myokenji and the Honkokuji's moderate approach to conversion were the representiatives of Nikko's Fuji line. But their fiery polemics weakened very quickly as they too formed ties with the ruling classes. The thrid kanot branch in Kyotowas Nitcho's (one of the six elders) Nakayama line from Nakayama, Awa province. Nichi-ju (1314-1392), who later founded the independent line of Myomanji ( modern day Kempon Hokke), came to Kyoto as a representative of the Nakayama line. Nichi-ju made three trips in four years to Kyoto, all for the purpose of admonishing (kangyo) the authorities to convert. Among the authorities he admonished were the Imperial Regent (kanpaku), Deputy Shoguns (kanrei) in Kyoto and Kamakura, and provincial governor (shugo). On his third visit (1383), he broke off from the Nakayama line and with the help of a prosperous merchant founded the Myomanji in the Lower Capital. Nichi-ju's disciples at the Myomanji carried on the tradition of "shakubuku" (aggressive propagation). In 1398, tow of them, Nichi-nin and Nitchi-jitsu, accompanied by two lay converts and a child, sought audience with Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408). the latter, who had refused a similar request from Nichi-ju, had the group tortured. It is said that the crowd awaiting the arrival of the tortured bodies from Yoshimitsu's court was as large as that which would gather at the Gion Shrine festival (the largest festival in Kyoto). The two surviving disciples later went on to admonish the Emperor Go-Komatsu in 1403 and the successor Shogun Yoshimochi in 1408. The Nichi-ju's line of intense activities of admonishing went hand in hand with an equally rigorous observance of "fuju fuse" practice. Its monks at one point even refused to accept alms offered by devotees of rival Nichiren lines. A phrase from the Lotus Sutra, "grudge not bodily life" (fushaku shimmyo) came to be associated with Nichi-ju's and Myomanji's branch and this slogan won the sympathy and support of Kyoto townspeople. The activities of the branch, moreover, inspired Myokenji and Honkokuji Nichirenists to engage in more aggressive proselytizing.