The San Jose Nichiren Buddhist Temple

3570 Mona Way

San Jose, CA 95130.

Phone (408) 246-0111

sanjosenichiren@yahoo.co.jp

 

Schedule of Events

(all events start at 10 am unless stated otherwise):

 

February 8 – Sunday Service

A Buddhist service is the basic daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the centerpiece of which is the recitation of Odaimoku and whose supporting practices include the recitation of passages from chapter 2 and 16 of the Lotus Sūtra. The daily service (that can also be done at home) can be found here.

 

February 15 - Shodaigyo meditation followed by study class or Shakyo class/Shabutsu Practice.

 

Shodaigyo meditation is a practice involving a period of silent sitting, a longer period of Odaimoku chanting to the rhythm of a taiko drum, and another short period of silent sitting. It is explained in more detail here.

 

Following the service one can participate in either the study class or shabutsu practice.

 

The study class is currently focusing on Nichiren’s major writing The Opening of the Eyes (Kaimoku-shō). The study guide is here. The chapter we will be coveringcovers the meaning of references to the protection of the gods and the hindrances caused by demons. It is here.

 

Alternatively, Shabutsu Practice will also be offered. Shabutsu is the devotional and contemplative practice of drawing of Buddhist images. The temple will provide copying paper, pens, brushes, and sumi ink. No prior art experience is necessarily. One may also practice Shakyō, the copying of passages from the Lotus Sūtra.

 

February 23 – Nehanye and Kotanye

The service on this Sunday will be a dual commemoration of the passing of the historical Śākyamuni Buddha and a celebration of the birth of Nichiren Shōnin.

 

March 1 - Meditation

We begin with some stretching exercises and then do about 20 minutes of silent meditation (as per the tranquility and insight practices taught by T’ien-t’ai Chih-i) followed by some silent walking meditation. Instructions for this can be found here. After this we adjourn to the dining hall for a Buddhist temple style breakfast (rice porridge, takuan, miso soup).

 

March 8 – Sunday Service

A Buddhist service is the basic daily practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the centerpiece of which is the recitation of Odaimoku and whose supporting practices include the recitation of passages from chapter 2 and 16 of the Lotus Sūtra. The daily service (that can also be done at home) can be found here.

 

March 15 - Shodaigyo meditation followed by study class or Shakyo class/Shabutsu Practice.

 

March 22 – Ohigan service.

Ohigan is the service held on or around the vernal equinox as a memorial service for those who have passed away.

 

March 29 – No service.

More rocks thumped against the wall of Nichiren’s hut at Matsubagayatsu. “That’s where he lives!” shouted the one of the rock throwers. “That’s where the enemy of our lord and savior lives! He’s the one who spreads the rumor that chanting the nembutsu is the way to hell!”

Nisshō shook his head and said to Nichiren, “Your Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma has roused the people against us.”

Nichiren responded, “I have merely recited the sūtras. The people should think hard about the cause of the recent calamities. Otherwise, they will only increase. This is my humble opinion. It is up to each person to decide whether to accept my plan to eliminate the slanderers of the True Dharma or not.”

More shouting could be heard from outside. It sounded as though a mob were gathering in front of the hut. “Come out and face us, Nichiren! Are you afraid to meet with with a true monk?”

Nichirō rushed into the room. “Master, there are many townsmen and samurai out front. They have brought monks with them. They said that Dōamidabutsu of the Shinzenkōji temple and Nōan of the Chōanji temple sent them. They want to debate with you!”

Nisshō said to his nephew, “Send them away. Tell them that Nichiren is indisposed and will speak with them at another time when proper arrangements can be made.”

Nichirō was about head outside when Nichiren stopped him with a gesture. “Wait a moment. They are here at the urging of the important leaders of Hōnen’s teachings here in Kamakura. I am prepared to fend off any attack by such followers of expedient teachings.”

Nichiren walked out onto the veranda, the fourth fascicle of the Lotus Sūtra in hand. He surveyed the mob before him, saw the anger in the faces of the merchants, stevedores, farmers, and samurai gathered just behind a handful of monks. Behind the monks and their followers were others who seemed excited and curious. These others did not seem to have any personal stake in the debate that was sure to follow. They were simply there to enjoy the spectacle and most likely hoped there would be a full-blown riot they could talk about for days to come. There were still others, however, who seemed calmer and more thoughtful, as though they were genuinely curious about what Nichiren had to say for himself. These were the ones who might actually be open to the Buddha’s words if they could but hear them and take the teachings to heart. It was for the sake of these that Nichiren exposed himself to the venomous mob and the wrathful monks who led them.

Nichiren addressed them, “Have you come then to debate with me about the relative merits of the Lotus Sūtra and the three Pure Land sūtras? Or are you only hear to hurl abuse – and rocks!”

A couple of the monks raised their hands to quiet the crowd. Once the shouting and heckling had died down, one of them turned to Nichiren and said, “We have been told that you petitioned Lord Saimyōji to withhold alms from those who practice the nembutsu. Furthermore, you are trying to sow fear into the hearts of the people by claiming that those who chant nembutsu will fall into the three evil realms of the hells, hungry ghosts, and animals. Is this true! How dare you hold in contempt the teaching of Śākyamuni Buddha expounded in the three Pure Land sūtras, and slander the forty-eight vows of Amitābha Buddha? It is you who are going to fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering! I decided to come here myself to reveal your error and prevent you from taking anyone with you!”

Nisshō leaned close to Nichiren and whispered, “They probably heard of this from the Lay Monk Lord Gokurakuji.” Nichiren nodded. It seemed to him that Lord Gokurakuji was almost certainly stirring up the people against him. Lord Gokurakuji was Hōjō Shigetoki, the great-uncle of Tokiyori and father of the current regent Nagatoki. He had retired the previous year to Gokurakuji temple and was a devout Pure Land Buddhist. He had also been involved with Tōjō Kagenobu, who was his vassal, in the failed attempt to gain control of Seichōji.

Nichiren responded, “Haven’t you and other disciples of Hōnen disseminated A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow all over Japan spreading the rumor among ignorant people that Hōnen was a wise man who determined that the nembutsu is the true teaching, and that there is no statement in the sūtras allowing us to reopen the gate to the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra and the mantra practices once they have been closed, or to revitalize those teachings and practices again after they have been discarded? This has lead to people condemning the Lotus Sūtra and mantra teachings, saying they are as worthless as last year’s calendar or as worn out as a grandfather’s shoes. Some have even said that reading the Lotus Sūtra is less worthy than listening to music. Those who take up the sole practice of nembutsu are warned that any association with the Lotus Sūtra will hinder their chances of rebirth in the Pure Land. This is to slander the True Dharma of the Lotus Sūtra by turning people away from it. Can you deny this?”

“That is not our teaching,” said the monk. “One can attain rebirth in the Pure Land through the miscellaneous practices as well. A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow does not refute the Lotus Sūtra and mantra practices. It is just that people should choose the way according to their capacity. There is no need to argue about this.”

Nichiren shook his head. “Insisting that rebirth in the Pure Land is possible through miscellaneous practices while claiming to be a disciple of Hōnen is to go against his teachings. I know that you secretly believe that rebirth in the Pure Land is not possible except through the sole practice of nembutsu. Are you not aware of the passages in A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow urging the people to ‘abandon, close, set aside, and cast away’ the Lotus Sūtra and mantra teachings, likening those who believe in them to bandits, and insisting that not even one out of a thousand of those who believe in them will be able to be reborn in the Pure Land?”

The monk sighed and said, “You are wrong. We disciple of Hōnen revere all the sūtras, including the Lotus Sūtra. How can you say we are slanderers of the True Dharma?

Nichiren answered, “You may open all the sūtras and even the Lotus Sūtra, but only to make certain that those sūtras preach the way of difficult practice so as to better promote Hōnen’s teaching. The more you read the sūtras and commentaries, the more grievous your slander of the True Dharma. When I compare the Lotus Sūtra with the three Pure Land sūtras, I see that the former is like the sun and moon or a great ocean whereas the latter are like a firefly or river. The nembutsu is a provisional teaching of the Buddha. Wishing to be reborn into the Pure Land is like trying to cross the ocean aboard a boat carved out of a heavy rock or to climb over a perilous pass carrying a big mountain on your shoulders.”

The monk asserted, “The teachings of the Lotus Sūtra are indeed profound, but our capacity to understand and accept the sūtra are limited. The sūtra is admirable, but not suited to the inferior capacity of we who live in the Latter Age of Degeneration. It is not too late for us to understand the Lotus Sūtra after we are reborn in the Pure Land of Amitābha Buddha even though we may be committing the transgression of slandering the True Dharma. We should, therefore, only chant the nembutsu, be reborn in the Pure Land in the next life, reach the stage of non-retrogression, and attain awakening by listening to the Lotus Sūtra expounded by Amitābha Buddha and his attendants. Moreover, the original vow of Amitābha Buddha does not discriminate between the wise and ignorant, virtuous and evil, and observers and non-observers of Buddhist precepts. If only we single-mindedly chant the name of Amitābha Buddha, he will without fail come to meet us at the moment of death according to his original vow. We only temporarily give up our connection to the Lotus Sūtra in this world in order to attain rebirth in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss and awaken to its teachings there. If people whose capacity is insufficient to understand the profound teaching of the Lotus Sūtra spend time on it in this defiled world without chanting nembutsu at all, they will neither attain the awakening of the Lotus Sūtra nor be reborn in the Pure Land, resulting in a double loss. In the end, such people end up slighting the Lotus Sūtra anyway.”

Nichiren responded, “Your words sound convincing, but when I contemplate them in detail I am sorry to say that you have committed the transgression of slandering the True Dharma. The reason I say this is because of your statement that the Lotus Sūtra is unsuitable for us in the Latter Age of Degeneration. Does this mean it is useless for all the people in the Latter Age to put faith in and practice the Lotus Sūtra? If this is correct, among all the people, those who had faith in the Lotus Sūtra will abandon the faith, those who plan to put faith in the sūtra will abandon the plan, and no one will have the heart of rejoicing at hearing the sūtra which bring incalculable merit. This means committing slander of the True Dharma. When all the people become slanderers of the True Dharma, it is impossible for them to be reborn in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss no matter if they practice nembutsu.”

The monk scowled. “It is impossible to practice the Lotus Sūtra unless one possesses a high capacity to understand it. It only bewilders evil ordinary people in the Latter Age.”

Nichiren said, “You should know that the Great Masters Tiantai and Miaole both urged ordinary people in the Latter Age of Degeneration to have faith in the Lotus Sūtra. Chapter 18 of the Lotus Sūtra the Buddha expounds the merit of the fiftieth person in succession who hears the Lotus Sūtra and rejoices. Great Master Tiantai compares this fiftieth person who rejoices to the nyagrodha tree that can grow a thirty-three foot bud in a single day or to the kalavinka bird whose sings more beautifully than any other bird even before it is hatched. Their merit is a hundred thousand billion times more valuable than the merit of a great saint who only upholds the expedient teachings and practices of the sūtras prior to the Lotus Sūtra. Great Master Tiantai likened the long period necessary to practice the expedient teachings to the slow growth of various plants and trees, and the immediate attainment of buddhahood through the practice of the Lotus Sūtra to the rapid growth of the nyagrodha. He also compared the saints of the expedient teachings to various birds, and ordinary people who intently keep faith in the Lotus Sūtra to the cry of a kalavinka bird in its eggshell that is superior to that of other birds. Commenting on this, the Great Master Miaole said, ‘ Those who misunderstand the Lotus Sūtra are convinced that the practitioner of the sūtra in the advanced stages gains more merit and looks down on the novice practicing the Lotus Sūtra, without knowing the great merit of beginning practitioners of the Lotus Sūtra. Great Master Tiantai, therefore, showed that even through the beginners have not practiced the Lotus Sūtra for long, their merit is so deep that it can reveal the strength of the sūtra.’

“Great Master Miaole also cites a passage from the Heavenly Son Abiding Goodness Sūtra wherein Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva told Venerable Śāriputra, ‘It is better to listen to the Dharma, slander it, and as a result, fall into hell than to make offerings to many buddhas. For even though one slanders the True Dharma and falls into hell, his transgression will become an adverse condition causing him to get an opportunity to listen to the True Dharma after he emerges from hell.’ Great Master Miaole said of this passage, ‘This compares the merit of those who listen to the Dharma to those who make offerings to the Buddha but do so without listening to the Dharma. Listening to the Dharma, even slandering it, can be the seed for buddhahood, though this will take a long time. Needless to say this does not compare to the merit of those who listen to the Dharma, contemplate it, and strive to practice it.’

Great Master Miaole also said, ‘If a phrase of the Lotus Sūtra fills your heart, you can be sure it will help you to reach the other shore of awakening. If you contemplate and practice the Lotus Sūtra, it is sure to be a ship that can cross the great ocean of birth and death and reach the other shore of awakening. Rejoice at hearing the Lotus Sūtra and always expound the sūtra by becoming a master or an attendant. Whether you believe the sūtra or abandon it, the Lotus Sūtra can open the way to buddhahood once you hear it. Whether you follow or disobey the Lotus Sūtra, you will become a buddha in the end because of the merit of having heard the sūtra.’ I think that the phrases, ‘Whether you believe it or abandon it’ and ‘Whether you follow or disobey the Lotus Sūtra,’ are truly impressive.

“These interpretations make it clear that even great bodhisattvas who have thoroughly studied the Mahāyāna sūtras and reached the rank next only to the Buddha are incomparably inferior to those who merely listened to the Lotus Sūtra and made a connection with it, namely ordinary people like ourselves in the Latter Age of Degeneration who are unable to eliminate the defilements or master even one supernatural power.

“You Pure Land Buddhists should be ashamed of yourself for having the capacity only for provisional teachings and not embracing the True Dharma. The result is that you have merely thought of yourselves in seeking to be reborn in the Pure Land, just like the voice-hearers and private-buddhas who were admonished by the Buddha for selfishness when the Expanded and Wisdom sūtras of the Mahāyāna were taught. Both the masters and the disciples who denigrate the Lotus Sūtra in favor of nembutsu will not fail to fall into the burning flames of the Hell of Incessant Suffering!”

The monk, red in the face, shouted, “You, a monk yourself, denounce other monks for committing a transgression! This is a violation of at least two of the ten major precepts of the Brahmā Net Sūtra! You are speaking ill of other bodhisattva practitioners and slandering the Three Treasures in your statements against Amitābha Buddha, the Dharma of the three Pure Land sūtras, and your fellow members of the monastic Sangha. How can you excuse yourself?

Nichiren calmly responded, “The Buddha tells us in the Nirvāṇa Sūtra that a monk who does not correct a bad monk is an enemy of the Dharma but a monk who does correct the bad one is a true disciple. Adhering to this admonition of the Buddha, I am predicting that slanderers of the Dharma will all fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering.

The Pure Land monk was left speechless. He and his fellow monks were obviously not as well versed in the sūtras and commentaries of the Great Master Tiantai and Great Master Miaole as was Nichiren, who had mastered the art of scholarly debate on Mt. Hiei. The lay followers and other monks were silent, waiting expectantly for the lead monk to rebuke Nichiren. But he could think of nothing more to say. No sūtra passage or comment by the Pure Land patriarch’s came to mind. Finally he shook his head and said, “It may be that only the light of Amitābha can make you understand. You are as yet devoid of sincerity, depth, or the determination for rebirth in the Pure Land. I will pray that Amitābha shines his light upon you and forgives your own transgressions and slander of the Dharma. Know that we will be back once we have had time to consult the sūtras and commentaries of the patriarchs. Your vicious lies will be answered.” The monk waved to the others monks and they left in a group. Without the presence of the monks the lay followers also broke up into small groups and drifted off.

For over a month the harassment continued, as passerby threw rocks or sticks at the hermitage, or gathered outside to hurl abuse. People who only knew of Nichiren as the monk who hated Amitābha Buddha and the revered Hōnen looked upon him with disgust and hatred, as if seeing an enemy of their parents, or as wives look upon whores. Sometimes monks would come by to attempt to debate Nichiren and his followers, but they were quickly left without anything intelligible to say. Oftentimes it was enough to just ask them upon what sūtra they based their beliefs on and then to point out that any sūtras taught before the Lotus Sūtra were among those taught during the time when the “core truth had still not been revealed” according to the Infinite Meanings Sūtra. In any case the Lotus Sūtra itself said in chapter ten that it was the most difficult to believe and most difficult to understand, therefore the most profound, of all the sūtras taught at any time by the Buddha.

There were those who came to the hermitage with a genuine spirit of inquiry. Both men and women, monks and laypeople, educated and ignorant, were greeted cordially and allowed to come inside to ask their questions privately. Nichiren knew they were uncertain as to whom to believe. He told them what he himself had come to know, “The Buddha told us to rely on the Dharma and not on people. Accordingly we should not believe in anyone, no matter how great a wise man he appears to be, unless he preaches according to the sūtra, shouldn’t we? The only good friends in the sense of reliable teachers in the Latter Age are the Lotus Sūtra and Nirvāa Sūtra.

The inquirers would ask, “That is strange, commonly a good friend refers to a person. Why do you say these sūtras are good friends?

Nichiren answered, “Usually good friends are persons. However, true good friends do not exist in the Latter Age, so there is much evidence of the Dharma itself as a good friend. In chapter 28 of the Lotus Sūtra the Buddha says, ‘Anyone who keeps, reads and recites this Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, memorizes it correctly, studies it, practices it, and copies it, should be considered to see me, and hear this teaching from my mouth. He should be considered to be making offerings to me.’ According to this passage, the Lotus Sūtra is identical to Śākyamuni Buddha, who would enter nirvāṇa and never appear in front of those who do not believe in the Lotus Sūtra but would always appear in front of those who believe in it as if he were alive in this world even after death.”

The inquirer then asked, “So is the way of the Lotus Sūtra the way of other-power as taught in Pure Land Buddhism, or is the way of self-power as the Zen Buddhists seem to be teaching?”

Nichiren explained, “The ‘self-power’ of the Lotus Sūtra is not what those who do not understand Buddhism think it is. We possess in our hearts all living beings of the ten realms, so we have within ourselves the realm of buddhas, let alone those of all other types of beings. Therefore, to become a buddha now does not mean to be a new one. The ‘other-power’ in the Lotus Sūtra is also not what those who don’t understand Buddhism think it is. For other buddhas are contained within each of us by nature. They also manifest themselves in us ordinary people.”

Puzzled, the inquirer asked, “If the buddhas are not generated anew by our own efforts and not truly other than ourselves, then what or whom should a believer in the Lotus Sūtra regard as the focus of devotion? How should we perform Buddhist rites and what should our daily practice be?”

Nichiren told them, “First of all, the focus of devotion could be eight fascicles, one facicle, one chapter or the title alone of the Lotus Sūtra.  This is taught in the ‘Teacher of the Dharma’ and ‘Supernatural Powers of the Tathāgata’ chapters. Those who can afford to may have the portraits or wooden statues of Śākyamuni Buddha and Many Treasures Buddha made and places on both sides of the Lotus Sūtra. Those who can further afford to may make portraits or wooden statues of various buddhas of the ten directions or Universal Sage Bodhisattva and others.

“As for the manner of performing the rites, standing or sitting practices must be observed in front of the focus of devotion. Outside the practice hall, however, one is free to choose any of the four modes of activity: walking, standing, sitting, or lying down.

“Next, regarding daily practice, the daimoku of the Lotus Sūtra should be chanted, ‘Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō.’ If possible, a verse or phrase of the Lotus Sūtra should respectfully be read. As an auxiliary practice one may say a prayer to Śākyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, the numerous buddhas of the ten directions, various bodhisattvas, followers of the two vehicles, heavenly kings, dragons, or the eight kinds of nonhuman beings who protect Buddhism as one wishes. Since there are many uneducated people today, the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment doctrine may be too difficult to contemplate from the beginning. Nevertheless, those who wish to practice it are encouraged to do so from the start.”

The inquisitor further asked, “What are the merits of chanting only the daimoku?

Nichiren said, “Śākyamuni Buddha appeared in this world to expound the Lotus Sūtra, but he kept the sūtra’s name a secret during the first forty years or so of his teaching. From the age of thirty until seventy or so, the Buddha solely expounded the expedient teachings to prepare the way for the Lotus Sūtra. At the age of seventy-two, the Buddha for the first time called out the title of the Lotus Sūtra. Thus it is incomparably superior to the titles of other sūtras. Moreover, the two Chinese characters of myō and (Wonderful Dharma) in the title of the Lotus Sūtra are equipped with the doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment and the doctrine of the attainment of buddhahood in the remotest past, the essence of the Lotus Sūtra revealed in the ‘Expedients’ and ‘The Duration of the Life of the Tathāgata’ chapters respectively. The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sūtra by the Great Master Tiantai interprets the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō and maintains that everything including the causes and effects of all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and those in the ten realms, and insentient beings such as grasses, plants, tiles, and pebbles are included in the two characters of myō and without exception.

“It is taught in the Lotus Sūtra that the merits of all the sūtras taught during the forty or so years prior are all stored in the one Lotus Sūtra and the threefold bodied buddhas in all the worlds throughout the universe are all manifestations of the one Śākyamuni Buddha. Therefore, one buddha equals all buddhas, and the two characters of myō and include all buddhas. Accordingly the merit of chanting the five-character daimoku of the Sūtra of the Lotus Sūtra of the Wonderful Dharma is enormous indeed. On the other hand, the titles of the various other buddhas and sūtras are expedient teachings, which were opened up to reveal the truth of the Lotus Sūtra. The five-character daimoku of the Lotus Sūtra is the one that opened them to reveal the true teaching, and therefore we should chant the daimoku of the Lotus Sūtra.”

It was midnight on the twenty-seventh day of the eighth month of the first year of the Bunnō era (1260) when the outraged Pure Land devotees made their move against Nichiren and his growing band of monks and lay followers. They might all have died had it not been for the agitated monkeys screeching in the trees. Awakened by the monkeys, Nichiren and the others quickly threw on their robes and rushed out onto the veranda. The glow of dozens of torches approached up the road towards the hermitage. In the light of the flames it seemed as though all the people of Kamakura had risen up against them. There were commoners with clubs and knives and also samurai with swords and bows.

There was no time to pack anything. They rushed back into the hut. Nichiren grabbed the ten fascicles of the threefold Lotus Sūtra and headed out the back way up the side of the ravine. Other monks stayed behind to make an attempt to defend the hut, but it was no use. They were only a handful armed with staves against an uncountable number of foes that rushed out of the darkness to beat at them with sticks or slash at them with swords. Then the main body of the mob arrived, cursing and screaming, maddened with rage at the blasphemers who were trying to arouse the shogunate against the merciful teachings of Hōnen upon which they relied for their salvation. They hurled torches onto the thatched roof of the hermitage even as the last defenders were forced to flee into the nearby pines.

At the top of the ridge overlooking the hermitage, Nisshō, Nichirō, Nikkō and the others caught up to Nichiren. He was looking down at the hut below, now engulfed in flames. “Did everyone get out safely?” he asked.

Nisshō checked and saw that no one was missing. They had all escaped the mob and the fire. Some were badly bruised or cut, but there were no life threatening injuries. Nisshō reported this to Nichiren who was greatly relieved, though he could see that they were all quite shaken.

Nichiren said to them, “Do not be surprised by this! It was only to be expected. The Buddha warned us that things like this would happen. Did he not say of the Lotus Sūtra, ‘Many people hate it with jealousy even in my lifetime. Needless to say, more people will do so after my final nirvāṇa.’

Nichiren laughed. Now we are like Never Despising Bodhisattva. Remember, he said to the people, ‘You will become buddhas,’ and so the people struck him with sticks or threw tiles or stones at him. Now, like him, we have had to run away to a safe distance. Like him, we should bow and praise even our persecutors.”

Nichiren turned to look back down upon the burning hut and the mob surrounding it. Nisshō, Nichirō, Nikkō, and the other monks moved up behind him. Following his lead they all bowed and repeated the words of Never Despising Bodhisattva from chapter twenty of the Lotus Sūtra, “I respect you deeply. I do not despise you. Why is that? It is because you will be able to practice the way of bodhisattvas and become buddhas.”

In his current condition it was hard to remember things that had happened more than two decades ago. Nichiren recalled being ushered into the presence of Hōjō Tokiyori, at that time known as the Lay Monk Lord Saimyōji, in his audience chamber at Saimyōji temple, one of Kenchōji’s sub-temples, at eight in the morning on the sixteenth day of the seventh month of the first year of the Bunnō era (1260). At that meeting hadn’t he told Tokiyori that it is nothing but an evil act of a heavenly devil for him to have stopped seeking refuge in the existing Tendai and Mantra temples and to have put his faith in the new Zen temples instead. He had also submitted the Risshō Anokoku-ron (Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma) to him, pointing out that the practice of the nembutsu is an evil teaching that actually leads people into the Hell of Incessant Suffering. How had that meeting actually gone? Drifting out of consciousness, Nichiren began to dream of that long ago meeting and of the dialogue in his Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma between a traveler seeking to find out why Japan was undergoing such suffering and a master of the Buddha’s teachings who had discovered the cause of the suffering and knew what needed to be done to end it. The half-remembered meeting and the imagined dialogue blended together. His eyes closed and for a moment he forgot his pain, ceased to see his sorrowing disciples and supporters, no longer heard the sound of their chanting. He was back in that audience chamber.

Tokiyori sat upon a dais at the far end of the room flanked by two boy attendants. He was only five years younger than Nichiren but he looked wan and much older than a man in his mid-forties. His head was shaved bare and he wore the robes of a Zen monk. Despite his weakened health he sat upright and at ease. Samurai advisors, functionaries, and guards sat in rows on circular rope mats before him on the left and right sides of the room facing inwards.

Lay Monk Yadoya Mitsunori, Tokiyori’s chamberlain, directed Nichiren to where a sitting cloth had been laid out for guests, at the opposite end of the room from the dais. Nichiren bowed, prostrated himself upon the mat, and then sat up once more. All present in the room turned their gaze upon him. He could not help but feel humbled and self-conscious in their presence. After all, he was an unknown monk of little to no standing dressed in coarse black robes now bleached gray by the sun. Still, Nichiren reminded himself, ‘Although I may be a person of no account and little ability, I have been fortunate to have studied the Mahāyāna. It is said that a blue fly riding on the tail of a fine horse can travel ten thousand miles and a vine of green ivy clinging to a tall pine can climb up to a thousand yards. Likewise, I was born to be a disciple of the Buddha and I have put my faith in the Lotus Sūtra, the king of sūtras, and the Lotus Sūtra says that the person who keeps it is superior to any other living being. Therefore, I need not be afraid to speak to even this man, Lord Saimyōji, the actual ruler of our country, of my sorrow over the decline of the Dharma and to share even a portion of the Buddha Dharma.’ With these thoughts, Nichiren was able to compose himself in the presence of the ruler and his officials and advisors.

The chamberlain took his own seat upon a mat before a small table set in the center of the room, between Nichiren and Tokiyori.  “Lay Monk Lord Saimyōji, I present to you the monk Nichiren who I spoke of before. He has asked me to submit to you this written opinion of his,” here he placed a scroll upon the table, “entitled Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma.”

“Welcome Nichiren,” said Tokiyori. “You must know that I have long been a student of Buddhism, and that the fate of this country is still of great concern to me, even though I am no longer the regent. You must know, however, that this is not the first time such a treatise has been presented. More than 60 years ago the monk Eisai submitted the Kōzen Gokoku-ron (Treatise on Letting Zen Flourish to Protect the State) to Emperor Tsuchimikado. In the time of the Emperor Saga, the Great Master Dengyō, the founder of your Tendai school, wrote the Shugo Kokkai-shō (An Essay on the Protection of the Nation) in which he asserted that only the One Vehicle of the Lotus Sūtra is the true teaching and that all beings have buddha-nature. Tell me, what does your treatise offer that has not already been said by these previous worthy teachers of the Dharma?”

Nichiren bowed low again and then responded, “I thank you for taking the time to see me.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw that Lay Monk Yadoya was giving him a look cautioning him to be brief – and tactful. “As you know, in recent years, strange phenomena have appeared in the sky, natural calamities on earth, famines and epidemics have also spread over all the land. I have been worrying about this deeply. Knowing my limitations, I searched through the sūtras and came to the conclusion that the cause of national calamities comes from the people turning against the True Dharma to side with the false. Therefore, protective deities and sages have abandoned the country and will not return. This has allowed various evils and devils to invade, causing disasters and calamities. How can I not point this out! How can I not be afraid of this! Finally, I could not refrain from composing this written opinion that I am now submitting to you. It is nothing but a way for me to repay what I owe my country.” He bowed again.

The assembled samurai had already been told about Nichiren and his concerns, so there was no show of surprise at his words. They looked to Tokiyori, eagerly awaiting his response to this audacious nobody of a monk.

Finally, the lay monk spoke, “Of course all the people have been grieving over these calamities of recent years. Now that you are here and presenting your own opinion, I would like to ask you in what sūtra is it stated that calamities and disasters occur in succession because the gods and sages have deserted the country. What is your evidence for this?”

Nichiren responded, “Many sūtras state this and I have cited some of them in my written opinion. In particular, I have copied out passages from the Golden Splendor Sūtra, the Great Assembly Sūtra, the Benevolent Kings Sūtra, and the Bhaiajyaguru Sūtra. These sūtras make it clear that the True Dharma is entrusted to the rulers to uphold if a country is to be safe and secure, but if it is not upheld then that failure will be a source of calamities. Who in the world would doubt it? Nevertheless, the blind and disturbed, not knowing what is the true teaching, indiscriminately put faith in false teachings. As a result, the people will abandon the many buddhas and the sūtras, having no more intention to uphold them. Therefore, the gods who protect the country and the sages who teach the truth will abandon the country. This allows evil demons and those with false views to move in, causing calamities and difficulties.”

Now there was shifting and muttering from among the samurai in the audience hall. It was plain that they had taken umbrage to his words. The lay monk remained calm. Speaking for all of them he asked, “Buddhism has been firmly established in this country ever since Prince Shōtoku built the Shitennōji temple after putting down the rebellion of Mononobe Moriya, the leader of those who opposed Buddhism. Since then everyone in Japan from the emperor down to the common people has worshipped Buddhist images and single-mindedly recited the sūtras. You know this as well as I, so who would you claim has slighted the Buddha’s teachings and destroyed the Three Treasures? If you have proof for your allegations, I would like to know of them.”

Nichiren responded, “As you say, Buddhist temples and sūtra repositories stand in rows. Monks are as numerous as bamboo stalks and reeds or rice and hemp plants. Outwardly they have been revered year after year and day after day. In reality, however, the monks are flatterers and crooked in mind. They mislead the people, but both the rulers and their subjects are not wise enough to tell right from wrong.

“It is stated in the Benevolent Kings Sūtra: ‘Many evil monks who wish to win fame and material gain will preach false teachings before such men of power as the king, crown prince, and princes, which will eventually destroy Buddhism and lead the country to ruin. Unable to distinguish right from wrong, the king will put his faith in their teachings and promulgate laws counter to the Buddha’s precepts. This will ruin Buddhism and destroy the country.’

“The Nirvāa Sūtra also warns of evil monks: ‘Bodhisattvas, you should not be afraid of rogue elephants, but you should be afraid of an evil friend. Even if you are killed by rogue elephants, you will not be reborn in the three evil realms, but if your heart is lost to the evil monks, you will be reborn in them without fail.’

“Another passage from the Nirvāa Sūtra describes the corrupt monks in the following words: ‘After the True Dharma has disappeared, during the Age of the Semblance Dharma, there will be monks who will imitate upholding the precepts and will read and recite sūtras to some degree. Yet these monks will cravenly delight in food and drink, nourishing their bodies for a long life. … Although they will wear the kesa, they will nevertheless look like hunters. They will move about with their eyes narrowed, like a cat stalking a mouse. They will continually declare, “I have attained arhatship.” … To the outside world they may appear wise and gracious, but internally they will harbor greed and jealousy. … Their false views will be pursued actively, slandering the True Dharma.’

“Observing the world today in light of these passages, the state of the Buddhist world is exactly as they point out. How can we accomplish anything worthwhile without admonishing the evil monks who slander the True Dharma?”

The assembly grew even more indignant on hearing these words. Was Nichiren daring to challenge their judgment? Was he casting aspersions on the rule of the shogunate?

The lay monk retorted, “Wise kings lead the people by following the principles of heaven and earth, and sagacious rulers govern the country by discerning good from bad. Today all the people in the country revere the monks. If they were evil monks as you claim, wise kings would not trust them. Were they not saintly masters, they would not be revered by men of wisdom and intelligence. Since wise kings and sagacious rulers revere them, we know that these eminent monks are to be greatly respected. How dare you accuse them so falsely? Who would you say are evil monks? I would like to know exactly.”

Nichiren answered, “It was during the reign of the former Emperor Go-Toba, in the Kennin era (1201-1204), that two overly proud monks named Hōnen and Dainichi, possessed by evil spirits, fooled all the people in Japan, high and low. As a result, all the people of Japan became followers of either Pure Land or Zen Buddhism. Imperial patronage of Enryakuji temple decreased unexpectedly while scholars of the Lotus Sūtra and mantra teachings were abandoned. In order to avoid complication, however, my treatise deals only with Hōnen and his false views that were in turn based upon the false interpretations of Buddhism put forth by the Chinese masters Tanluan, Daochuo and Shandao. I have provided citations from Hōnen’s A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow so that you may see that he declared that the people should ‘abandon, close, set aside, and cast away’ all the sūtras except for the three Pure Land sūtras. He also slandered all the holy monks of India, China, and Japan who did not practice Pure Land Buddhism by calling them ‘a group of bandits.’

“Remember that we now live in the Latter Age of Degeneration. There are no saints. The people are led into a blind alley leading to hell, and are forgetting all about the direct way to buddhahood. How sad it is that no one awakens them! What a pity it is that only false faith grows rampant! As a result, everybody from the king down to the common people believe that there are no sūtras except for the three Pure Land sūtras and that there are no buddhas except for Amitābha Buddha with his two attendants.

“How sad it is that in the several decades since the publication of Hōnen’s A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow millions and tens of millions of people have been infatuated by this devilish work and have gone astray from the True Dharma! How can the protective deities not be angry when an inferior teaching is favored and the true one is forgotten? How can devils not take advantage when the one-sided Pure Land teaching is preferred and the perfect true teaching is discarded? Is it not the best way to prevent calamities from overtaking the land to ban the one evil teaching, the source of all troubles, instead of having various devotional services?”

The assembled samurai were now red in the face, snorting in derision. The lay monk quieted them with a gesture and said, “This is terrible! How can you blame the august reign of the past emperor for calamities in recent years? How dare you speak ill of not only such earlier masters as Tanluan, Daochuo, and Shandao but also Hōnen. What you are doing is like blowing back the fur to expose a flaw in the hide or deliberately piercing the skin to cause blood to flow. When one looks for trouble, he will find it. I have never heard such abusive remarks as these. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should watch what you say. You have committed a serious transgression. How can you expect to escape punishment for such words?”

Smiling gently, Nichiren said, “They say that a knotgrass eater gets used to its sharp taste, and an insect living in a privy does not smell its offensive odor. Affected by surroundings, people tend to lose their sense of judgment. So you take good words for bad ones, call the slanderer of the True Dharma a holy man, and suspect the true teacher of being a false one. You are utterly confused and have committed a great transgression. Now listen carefully, I will explain in detail what caused your confusion.

“There were five periods of Śākyamuni Buddha’s expounding of the Dharma comprising provisional and true teachings in the following sequence: first the Flower Garland Sūtra, then the Hīnayāna teachings of the Āgamas, followed by the Mahāyāna teachings of the Expanded sūtras, followed by the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras, and finally the period of the Lotus Sūtra and Nirvāa Sūtra. He began with provisional doctrines that were easier to understand by unprepared people of lesser capacity. Gradually, the Buddha expounded doctrines progressively closer to the truth and more difficult to comprehend, as the listeners became better prepared, until finally he revealed the ultimate truth by expounding the Lotus Sūtra.

“However, the founders of Pure Land Buddhism such as Tanluan, Daochuo, and Shandao took refuge in provisional teachings, which had been taught in the first forty years or so, discarding the Lotus Sūtra, the true intent of the Buddha revealed during the last eight years of his teaching. Certainly they did not know the ultimate truth of Buddhism. Especially Hōnen, who belonged to the school of these masters, did not realize that their Pure Land Buddhism based its doctrine on provisional teachings. Why do I say this? It is because he misled all the people by teaching that they should ‘abandon, close, set aside, and cast away’ all the 637 Mahāyāna sūtras in 2,883 fascicles as well as all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gods. This is solely an arbitrary interpretation of Hōnen without any basis in the Buddha’s teaching whatsoever. His transgression of having uttered false words and abusive language is very grave and without comparison; we cannot reproach him too much.

“The people of today put complete faith in Hōnen’s words and revere his A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow. As a result they revere only the three Pure Land sūtras, discarding all others; and worship only Amitābha Buddha in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss, forgetting all others. Hōnen was an archenemy of all the buddhas and sūtras, a deadly foe of sagacious monks as well as the common people. Yet this evil teaching has spread all over the country.

“You are horrified when I attribute calamities in recent years to Hōnen’s slandering of the True Dharma in years past. My treatise will dispel your fears by citing precedents, showing that I am not without basis. For instance, when Emperor Wuzong of the Tang dynasty ordered that Pure Land Buddhism be propagated the result was not peace but war and disorder. He later severely persecuted Buddhism, destroying many temple and pagodas. As a result, unable to put an end to war and disorder, the emperor died in agony. In Japan, the Retired Emperor Go-Toba, under whose reign Hōnen had spread his false teachings, failed in his attempt to reassert imperial authority in the Jōkyū incident and died in exile on Oki Island. That Pure Land Buddhism is the cause of calamities has been shown in Tang China as well as in Japan. You should not have any doubt of it! In order to avert calamities and disasters in recent years, you must first of all discard the evil practice of nembutsu and take refuge in the good teaching of the Lotus Sūtra, blocking Pure Land Buddhism at its source and cutting it off at the root.”

“Furthermore, I am not the first to request that Pure Land Buddhism be rejected. During the Gennin era (1224-1225) the temples of Enyrakuji on Mt. Hiei and Kōfukuji in Nara repeatedly appealed to the imperial court to suppress Pure Land Buddhism. By orders of the emperor and the shōgun the printing blocks of A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow were confiscated and sent to the Great Hall of Enryakuji, where they were burnt as an act of gratitude to the Buddha for his favors received in past, present, and future lives. Bearers of the portable shrine of Gion ordered Hōnen’s grave to be destroyed and his disciples were banished to remote provinces. They have never been pardoned.”

The assembly seemed mollified. The lay monk said, “It is true that Hōnen  abandoned, closed, set aside, and cast away all the sūtras, together with all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gods. This is clearly stated in his writing. Still, I do not know whether you are suffering from delusion, whether or not your actions are wise, and whether or not you are right when you strongly insist that it is Hōnen’s teachings that are causing the recent calamities and disasters.

“Nevertheless, world peace and tranquility of the nation is what both the sovereign and subjects alike wish for. Now, the prosperity of a nation depends on the Dharma, which is revered by all the people. If the nation is destroyed and its people perish, who will revere the Buddha and who will put faith in the Dharma? Therefore, we should first pray for the peace and tranquility of the nation before trying to establish Buddhism. If you know the means to prevent calamities and disasters, I would like to hear about it.” The samurai nodded in agreement at the lay monk’s words. This seemed most reasonable: first everyone should come together to pray for the nation’s welfare; then, after peace was secured, one could wrangle over the Buddha’s teachings.

Nichiren replied, “I am ignorant and do not know exactly how to address these issues. I would just like to express my humble opinion based upon the sūtras. After contemplating the matter in view of Buddhist teachings, I have come to the conclusion that putting a ban on the slanderers of the True Dharma, and highly esteeming the upholders of the True Dharma, will lead to the tranquility of the nation and world peace.

“According to the Lotus Sūtra, slandering the Mahāyāna sūtras is a greater transgression than committing the five grave offences, such as killing one’s parents, countless times. Therefore such transgressors fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering. According to the Nirvāa Sūtra, even if offerings to perpetrators of the five grave offences is permitted, it is not permitted to give offerings to slanderers of the True Dharma. One who kills even an ant will fall into the three evil realms without fail, but one who eliminates a slanderer of the True Dharma will reach the stage of non-retrogression, and eventually will attain buddhahood. The monk Virtue Consciousness, who expounded the Dharma in the past despite persecution by slanderers of the True Dharma, became Kāśyapa Buddha; and King Virtuous, who killed slanderers to defend the True Dharma, was reborn in this world as Śākyamuni Buddha. The Lotus and Nirvāa sūtras are the essence of Śākyamuni Buddha’s lifetime of teachings taught over the five periods. His warnings in them are of great weight. Who would not obey them?

“It is really sad that the people do not comply with the true commandments of the Buddha. It is indeed a pity that they are misled by the false doctrine of Hōnen. If you wish to bring about the tranquility of the empire as soon as possible, first of all, you had better put a ban on the slanderers of the True Dharma throughout the nation.”

The lay monk asked, “In order to eliminate slanderers of the True Dharma in compliance with the commandments of the Buddha, is it necessary to put them to death as taught in the Nirvāa Sūtra? If so, killing will beget killing. What should we do about transgressions then? I can hardly believe that such is the proper course to take. How can it be justified?”

Nichiren stated in response, “What the Nirvāa Sūtra means is not that we should outlaw disciples of the Buddha at all, but that we should chastise slanderers of the True Dharma. Speaking of the previous lives of Śākyamuni Buddha, the Nirvāa Sūtra states that in his lifetimes as King Sen’yo and King Virtuous he killed slanderers of the True Dharma. However, as Śākyamuni Buddha, he taught that it was enough to withhold offerings from slanderers. Therefore, if all the countries in the world and all the monastics and lay followers stop giving offerings to evil monks who slander the True Dharma, putting all their faith instead in the defenders of the True Dharma, how can anymore calamities or disasters befall us?”

What did the lay monk say to that? Nichiren could not remember. Perhaps that is when he was dismissed. Had the Lay Monk Lord Saimyōji said, “This sounds more like a remonstration than a written opinion. I think we have heard enough for today. We shall read this Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma at our leisure and take it into consideration. We will send you a reply if we believe it merits one. Lay Monk Yadoya will now see you to the gate.” Is that what he had said?

If only he had responded as the traveler did in the treatise. The traveler knelt on the floor, adjusted his kimono, and respectfully said to the master, “There are various schools of Buddhism, each with a doctrine hard to comprehend. I have many questions and cannot tell which is right or wrong. Now you have clearly shown me what is right and what is wrong by quoting many passages from a wide range of sūtras. Thanks to you, I am now free from my earlier prejudices, and can see and hear things clearly.

“After all, peace and tranquility of the nation is what the emperor above and the people below together desire and pray for. Let us immediately stop giving offerings to the icchantika, and instead support the many good monks and nuns for ages to come.”

The master exclaimed in delight, “They say that a dove will become a hawk, and a sparrow will someday turn itself into a clam. How wonderful it is that you have changed your mind so quickly! It is like going into a house of orchids and picking up its scent or like a mugwort plant growing straight among the flax. If you put your faith in my words in dealing with calamities and disasters confronting us today, there is no question that the winds will settle down, the waves will subside, and reap years will return before long.

“However, human minds change with time, and matters change in nature according to circumstances. They are like the moon’s reflection in water moving with the waves or soldiers on a battleground, afraid of swords. You may believe in me now, but you will probably forget me completely. If you wish to bring about peace in our country and pray for happiness in this life, as well as in the future, then waste no time. Think hard and take the necessary measures to thoroughly deal with slanderers of the True Dharma.

“Why do I say this? It is because five of the seven disasters predicted in the Bhaiajyaguru Sūtra have already taken place. There have already been epidemics, irregularities in the constellations, eclipses of the sun and moon, unseasonable storms, and droughts. This leaves just two still to occur: foreign invasion and domestic disturbance. Moreover, two of the three calamities, famine and epidemics, predicted in the Great Assembly Sūtra have indeed fallen upon us, leaving just one yet to come: war and disorder. And each of the various calamities and disasters that the Golden Splendor Sūtra predicts have indeed fallen upon us except one: invasion of our land by foreign bandits. At this moment, six of the seven disasters foretold in the Benevolent Kings Sūtra are seriously confronting us: irregularities in the order of the seasons and the cycles of the sun and moon, stars and comets changing their courses, fires, floods, severe winds, and severe droughts. Only one is yet to come: invasion of our land by foreign armies from the four directions. Moreover the same sūtra warns: ‘When disorder takes over in a country where the True Dharma is lost, the devils will seize control first. When the devils are rampant, the people will suffer and grow wild!’

“Comparing our present situation carefully with this passage, there is no doubt that the devils are rampant and many people are dying. Some of the predicted calamities have already taken place. How can we doubt the possibility of the remaining predictions all being realized? What will you do if the remaining predictions, domestic disturbance and foreign invasion, take place at once as punishment for upholding evil teachings?

“The king governs the empire holding his country together, and the people make a living by cultivating their farmlands. However, if foreign armies invade the country and the people’s lands are plundered by domestic disorder, how can there be anything but terror and confusion? Where can the people escape when they lose their country and homes? If you wish to have peace for yourself, you should first of all pray for the peace of the country.

“People in this world are afraid of the next life to such an extent that they seek refuge in false teachings or revere slanderers of the True Dharma. I hate to see them confuse right and wrong, trying to seek refuge in Buddhism in the wrong way. If they are to put faith in Buddhism, why should they revere the words of false teachings? Should they refuse to change their minds and cling to false teachings, they will soon leave this world and fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering without fail. I am sure of this because, by examining many sūtras, we can see that they all regard slandering the True Dharma as the most serious crime. How sad it is that people should all wander out of the gate of the True Dharma into the prison of an evil teaching! Such ignorance is causing everyone to be reeled in by the rope of evil teachings and caught forever in the net of slandering the True Dharma! In this life such wanderers are lost in the mist of delusions; in the next life they will sink to the bottom of a flaming hell. How sad it is! How terrible it is!

“You should promptly discard your false faith, and take up the true and sole teaching of the Lotus Sūtra at once. Then this triple world will all become the buddha-land. Will the buddha-land ever decay? All the worlds in the universe will become pure lands. Will pure lands ever be destroyed? When our country does not decay and the world is not destroyed, our bodies will be safe and our hearts tranquil. Believe these words and revere them!”

Finally convinced, the traveler said, “In considering the possibility of tranquility in this life and the attainment of buddhahood in a future life, who will not be cautious? Who will not be afraid? Listening to the words of the Buddha carefully taught in the sūtras, I now realize how serious a crime it is to have slandered the Buddha and destroyed the True Dharma. It was not due to my arbitrary opinion that I took refuge only in Amitābha Buddha, throwing away all others, revering only the three Pure Land sūtras, setting aside all others. I only followed the leaders of Pure Land Buddhism. Probably other Pure Land Buddhists everywhere must have done the same. It is clearly stated in the sūtras and is logically obvious that such people’s minds will be worn out in this life and they will all fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering in the next. There is no doubt about it.

“I hope to continue receiving your compassionate instructions so that I may completely eliminate my ignorance, devise the best means to chastise slanderers of the True Dharma at once, and bring about peace in the world soon. Let us first secure tranquility in this life, and then try to attain buddhahood in future lives. I not only believe in this but also will try to lead others in correcting their misconceptions.”

Nichiren opened his eyes again. He was back in the present at the home of Ikegami Munenaka. He remembered well that Hōjō Tokiyori had not at all responded as he had hoped. In fact, he received no response from him at all in regard to the Treatise on Spreading Peace Throughout the Country by Establishing the True Dharma. There were no further inquiries, nor was his advice accepted. There were many others, however, who were not indifferent. They were outraged. It did not take them long to make their displeasure known.

Nichiren looked around at those gathered around him as he lay dying. Several of them had been with him almost from the time he had first dared to speak out. After being forced to leave Seichōji and Kominato he made his way gradually back to Kamakura. His family’s longtime benefactor, the Nun Proprietress who lived by the Nagoe Pass in the southeast of Kamakura, set aside some land for him at the bottom of a ravine on the periphery of the city called Matsubagayatsu, the Valley of Pine Needles. There he lived in a small straw hut where he could contemplate the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment, chant the Lotus Sūtra and its daimoku, continue to study and write about the True Dharma, and most importantly teach any and all who would listen about the supremacy of the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma.

Since his previous stay in Kamakura the Pure Land teachings of Hōnen had become even more firmly entrenched in the life of the city. The giant wooden statue of Amitābha Buddha at Kōtoku-in and the hall in which it was enshrined had been destroyed in a storm. Another fund raising campaign resulted in a new hall and an even grander statue of gilded bronze to replace the old one. Monks and laymen artists crafted wooden images of Hōnen or painted his portrait. Wooden blocks were carved to print A Collection of Passages on the Nembutsu Chosen in the Original Vow so it could be spread throughout the land. It seemed to Nichiren that people revered only the teachings of Hōnen and gave alms only to his disciples. At some temples and prayer halls the monks went so far as to replace the hands of statues of Śākyamuni Buddha with hands carved to form the mudrā appropriate to Amitābha Buddha. Others renovated temples dedicated to Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha, the Medicine Buddha, in order to enshrine Amitābha Buddha. The meritorious practice of copying the Lotus Sūtra was being replaced by the practice of copying the three Pure Land sūtras. Tendai monks were suspending the memorial lectures held for the Great Master Tiantai in order to hold lectures in memory of the so-called Pure Land patriarch Shandao instead.

At the same time, the Zen teachings had continued to receive the patronage of the Hōjō clan. The current regent, Tokiyori, the grandson of Yasutoki, was especially enamored with the Zen teachings. He had commissioned the construction of a new temple on the northern border of Kamakura past the Kamegayatsu Pass called Kenchōji, the Kenchō Era Zen Temple for the Protection of the Nation. It was the first temple to be specifically designated a Zen temple. Its layout and architecture were modeled on the style of the temples and monasteries in China and around it clustered 49 sub-temples. Absent from this enormous complex were any halls for Tendai or mantra practices. The regent installed as its first abbot a Rinzai Zen monk from China named Lanxi Daolong, or in Japanese Rankei Dōryū. At Kenchōji, Rankei introduced the precepts and methods of Zen training. Tokiyori later took the Zen precepts from a monk named Shōichi. Shōichi was a Tendai monk who had spent six years in China and there received transmission in the Rinzai lineage. Once back in Kyōto, Shōichi had founded a new temple named Tōfukuji, where the Tendai, mantra, and Zen teachings were propagated, though Zen was given pride of place. Shōichi came to Kamakura several times at the request of Tokiyori, and for a time was even put in charge of Jufukuji.

Around that time, Jōben, a monk whom Nichiren had studied with at Mt. Hiei, came to join him. Jōben had been impressed by Nichiren’s dedication to the Lotus Sūtra and had his own doubts about those teachings that were leading to its neglect. Though Jōben was one year senior to Nichiren, he became the latter’s disciple and took the name Nisshō. Nisshō sat by him now leading the others in chanting the daimoku. His eyebrows and the stubble on his head had long since turned white, but his face was as composed and thoughtful as ever.

At Nisshō’s side was Nichirō, his nephew. Nichirō was now well into his thirties, but Nichiren remembered the young boy of twelve he had taken under his wing and ordained himself back in those early years at Matsubagayatsu. Nichirō had devoted himself to Nichiren like the most filial of sons, and he had suffered greatly for it at the hands of those opposed to the True Dharma. Over the years he had been beaten, jailed, subject to all manner of deprivation and once had almost died of frostbite due to his eagerness to serve his master. Due to one beating little more than two decades ago, his right arm still hung crooked and useless at his side. Now it was all Nichirō could do to sit upright and chant with composure, though his eyes were swollen and red and his face blotchy and streaked with tears. Nichiren was sorry that Nichirō had to suffer so much, but at the same time he knew that his young disciple had gained immeasurable merit for his sacrifices. So had all of those who had stuck with him through all the disasters and persecutions over the years.

With the help of Nisshō and later Nichirō and a growing band of sympathetic monks, primarily from the Tendai school, Nichiren held regular lectures on the Lotus Sūtra and the works of the Great Master Tiantai, esp. the Great Concentration and Insight. His hut was soon filled with lower and middle-ranking samurai from the eastern provinces who had come to Kamakura on official business. Some, like Toki Tsunenobu, came because they were themselves very well versed in Buddhist teachings, having been educated in temples. Though they had not become monks themselves, these samurai felt a deep longing to know the True Dharma and resolve the great matter of birth and death. In the case of Toki Tsunenobu, he became an “enterer of the Way,” a lay person who took Buddhist vows, received the tonsure, and wore Buddhist robes but who continued to live at home. From then on, he had been known as Toki Jōnin. Other important supporters from the ranks of the samurai who joined him at that time included Shijō Kingo, an irascible but good-hearted physician; Kudō Yoshitaka, the lord of the Amatsu District in Awa; and the Ikegami brothers. Nichiren looked past the monks encircling him to look upon the Ikegami brothers and their families, chanting along with the rest. Nichiren smiled, for the two brothers had remained steadfast when even their own father had tried to turn them against the Lotus Sūtra and even one another. In spite of everything they stood by one another and did not forsake their faith in the Lotus Sūtra.

The persecutions, however, did not begin until some years later. The first few years were relatively easy. Only his small but growing band of followers knew of his denunciation of Pure Land and Zen. He had not yet spoken out publicly in Kamakura, and so there was as yet no resistance to his message. In those early years Nichiren hoped that more and more Tendai monks and followers would eventually rally to him. After all, he was expounding the doctrine of the Lotus Sūtra, the clear mirror that perfectly reflected the True Dharma of Śākyamuni Buddha, supplemented by the commentaries of the great masters Tiantai, Miaole, and Dengyō. He was trying to show that the Lotus Sūtra was not meant only for advanced practitioners but for all people and all the Buddha’s teachings were subsumed within it. Once entering the ocean of the Lotus Sūtra, the prior teachings would no longer be expedients to be dismissed, for they would all take up the flavor of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō due to the wondrous merit of the Lotus Sūtra. There would no longer be any need to speak of nembutsu, or the precepts, or mantras, or Zen meditation. He had taught what the Tendai school should have been teachings all along.

In other ways, those years were also very difficult ones, for disaster struck repeatedly. The years of the Kenchō era (1249-1256) were excessively wet and cold. The final year of that era saw excessive rains, freezing temperatures in spring and summer, violent winds, floods, and landslides that killed many outright and caused a great destruction of crops followed by famine and epidemics. Conditions in Kamakura deteriorated to the point where oxen and horses lay dead on the roadsides and skeletons were scattered in the streets. A great many perished and there was no one untouched by grief. Even the high officials of the shogunate fell ill, and the fifteen-year-old imperial prince who was the current shōgun found himself beset with inflamed lesions. At the age of twenty-nine, citing ill-health, Hōjō Tokiyori retired from the position of regent in the eleventh month to take the tonsure and become a lay monk, though he continued to maintain his power over the Hōjō clan and therefore over the shogunate from behind the walls of his cloister.

In an attempt to control the calamities the imperial court changed the era name to Kōgen in the tenth month. The following year in the third month they changed the name of the era again, this time to Shōka (1257). By doing this they hoped the evils of the old era would be left behind and that initiating a fresh new era would bring with it a better fortune.  The results of these and subsequent era changes was negligible.

In the meantime, some tried to avert disaster by chanting the name of Amitābha Buddha, believing the statement of Shandao that the nembutsu is the sharpest sword to cut off evil karma. Some recited the sūtra of Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha who vowed that he would cure all disease. Some put their faith in the “Previous Life of Medicine King Bodhisattva” chapter of the Lotus Sūtra where it says, “The patient who hears this sūtra will be cured of his disease at once. He will not grow old or die.” Some held the ceremony of giving a hundred lectures on the Benevolent Kings Sūtra according to the statement in that sūtra that seven calamities will transform into seven fortunes if such lectures are given. Some tried to ward off evil by sprinkling water over five vases filled with offerings in accordance with the teachings of the Mantra school. Some practiced Zen meditation and concentrated their minds in order to overcome suffering by perceiving the emptiness of all phenomena with the clarity of viewing a bright moon. Some wrote the names of seven fierce gods on paper and posted them on every gate hoping to escape the epidemics. Others sketched the five mighty bodhisattvas described in the Benevolent Kings Sūtra on paper to hang in every house hoping for protection. Sill others practiced exorcism at the four corners of the city and prayed to the gods of heaven and earth. The rulers, out of compassion, took various benevolent measures to reform the government and relieve the burdens of the people: they pardoned criminals, prohibited the abuse of the peasantry, remitted taxes, stopped burdensome work levies, and combated banditry and piracy. All of these efforts, however, were to no avail as famines and epidemics only grew more rampant. Everywhere one looked were beggars and the dead. Corpses were piled high as watchtowers, and lined up like bridges.

The worst disaster of all during those years occurred around nine o’clock in the evening on the twenty-third day of the eighth month in the first year of the Shōka ear (1257). Nichiren, Nisshō, Nichirō, and other monks were kneeling before the eight fascicles of the Lotus Sūtra that they had enshrined as the main focus of devotion or honzon. They were chanting the daimoku and contemplating the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment when everything began to shake: tables, sūtra boxes, cooking pots, and most alarmingly candles and lanterns. The walls of the hut began to sway and the roof beams creaked. Though the earth was rocking like a fishing boat, Nichiren quickly got to his feet, scooped up the fascicles of the Lotus Sūtra and led the others outside before the hut collapsed on them. The shaking didn’t stop but only intensified. It seemed to go on forever, though it probably only lasted a few minutes. When it finally stopped there was not a shrine or temple left standing in Kamakura. Rocks rolled down from the hills and there were numerous landslides that buried hundreds of people. In the darkness they could hear the crashing of houses collapsing and the screams of the inhabitants. The ground cracked open and water gushed forth. Soon they were surrounded by the glow of fires consuming the wreckage and those buildings that had been left standing. Some of the flames burned with an eerie blue glow. Nichiren and the other monks rushed to join bucket brigades to help put out the fires. Only after the immediate danger of fire and smoke was quelled could they begin searching the wreckage for survivors. Cries of panic, moans of pain, and wracking sobs filled the air. It seemed as though all the land had fallen into the Hell of Incessant Suffering.

Nichiren wondered then, ‘How could this be happening?’ He looked up into the sky, now darkened by dust and smoke, and cried out. Then he looked to the ground in anguish. It was shaking again from aftershocks that would continue sporadically for more than a month. ‘The rulers of Japan have commissioned numerous prayer services but none have prevented these calamities, instead they seem to have only intensified the disasters. Why do the gods not respond to our prayers? Why do the buddhas not give any indication of their divine powers? The sun and moon continue to shine brightly and the stars and planets make their regular circuits in the night sky; here in this country the Three Treasures are revered; and the line of a hundred emperors has not yet come to an end.  So why have things deteriorated so soon? Why is Buddhism in this country so powerless? How did this come about? What is the matter with this country?’

Nichiren left Kamakura in the first month of the second year of the Shōka era (1258) to find the answers to his questions. This time he traveled west to a Tendai temple called Jissōji in Suruga Province to make use of its extensive library. That was when he met Nikkō, who was now one of his six main disciples. He sat beside Nisshō, Nichirō, and the others as they maintained their vigil by their master’s bedside. Nikkō was now in his mid-thirties, strict and uncompromising, but Nichiren remembered the impressionable attendant of only thirteen who had assisted him with his research and later returned with him to Kamakura to dedicate his life to the Lotus Sūtra.

A month after arriving at Jissōji, Nichiren learned of his father’s passing. Old age and sickness had taken him as it had so many others. Nichiren felt the loss keenly. He longed to recite the Verses of Eternity from the sixteenth chapter of the Lotus Sūtra at his father’s grave, but he knew his life would be forfeit if he dared returned to Kominato so long as Tōjō Kagenobu was still the steward. Nichiren chose instead to remain at Jissōji. His concern as a monk was, after all, not simply to pray for the repose of his father but to discover and teach the True Dharma for the welfare of all sentient beings and there was still so much suffering throughout Japan. The earthquake of the year before was followed by a typhoon on the first of the eighth month of the second year of the Shōka era (1258), a serious famine in the third year of the same era (1259), and widespread epidemics in the first year of the Shōgen era (1259), which remained rampant throughout the four seasons in the following year, causing more than half the people to die. Disaffected samurai and nobles murmured against the Hōjō clan and it seemed only a matter of time before intrigues behind closed doors broke out into violent insurrection in the streets. Monks and merchants from China and Korea also spoke of the threat of the Mongols, who had conquered all of northern China as far south as the Yangtze River and reduced Korea to a vassal state. They continued to press hard against the Song dynasty that still ruled the south, and it seemed only a matter of time before the whole known world would be theirs, including the islands of Japan. As if all of that were not bad enough, omens in the skies such as the appearance of a comet in the eighth month of the second year of the Shōka era (1258) and the appearance of a blood-red sun for two days in the third month of the same era (1259) promised worse evils to come. Nichiren was therefore determined to repay the great debt he felt to the country of his birth, to find the cause of all these calamities and present his findings to the rulers so that something could be done to put an end to all the suffering around him.