It would be several years before the Mongols were able to send another fleet. During that time, Nichiren remained at Mt. Minobu, teaching the community of monks who had come to live with him there. He also wrote many letters during this time, while his six major disciples took care of propagating his teachings throughout the country. Nisshō and his nephew Nichirō led the community back in Kamakura and in Shimōsa Province. Nikō took care of the lay followers in Kazusa Province. Nikkō remained closer to Mt. Minobu, teaching in the provinces of Suruga, Kai, and Izu. Nitchō helped his stepfather Toki Jōnin in Shimōsa. Nichiji worked in Suruga.
In the third month of the first year of the Kenji era (1275), fires spread throughout Kamakura. In response to Shijō Kingo’s report, Nichiren wrote, “A name and its referent correspond to each other, and there is a sage nicknamed Ryōka (Two Fires), who slanders the True Dharma, but is revered by everyone in Kamakura, high and low, as a master.” Here Nichiren was referring to Ryōkan, who he was sure had schemed behind the scenes to have him executed and, when that failed, exiled. Nichiren was certain that Ryōkan and his disciples were continuing to work for the suppression of his teachings and the persecution of his disciples and lay followers. Nichiren went on to say, “The nickname of Two Fires stems from the fire that burnt his own Gokurakuji, transforming it into a temple in hell, and another fire that spread all over Kamakura, destroying the shōgun’s palace. These two fires not only razed the country in this lifetime but also foretells the fate of the corrupt masters and their disciples in future lives, when they will fall together into the Hell of Incessant Suffering and be burned by its raging fires. When an ignorant monk does not listen to a man of wisdom, he invites calamity such as this. It is pitiful.”
Further on in the same letter he wrote, “Watch what happens, hereafter. If those Buddhist monks who speak ill of me pray for the tranquility of Japan, our country will instead collapse further. In the end, the whole of Japan will be tortured and everyone, from the ruler on high down to the masses, will be forced to become slaves of the pigtailed Mongols and have bitter regrets. I have just entreated Brahmā, Indra, the gods of the sun and moon, and the four heavenly kings to punish those who stand against the Lotus Sūtra in this life, not to mention what will happen to them in future lives. Judge for yourself from the results of my prediction whether or not Nichiren is the practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra.”
Shijō Kingo was a zealous disciple and even tried to convert his lord, Ema Mitsutoki, to abandon the nembutsu and take faith in the Lotus Sūtra. Perhaps tired of such exhortations and heeding the advice of Shijō Kingo’s enemies among his retainers, Lord Ema decided to transfer Shijō Kingo from his current fief near Kamakura to one in far off Echigo Province. Angered by the reassignment, Shijō Kingo considered filing a lawsuit with the shōgunate, but Nichiren counseled patience.
In a letter written sometime in the third year of the Kenji era (1277), Nichiren wrote to Shijō Kingo, “You need to consider the matter carefully and be cautious. Your lord is someone from whom you, your father, as well as all your relatives have received favors. Moreover, when I was punished by the shōgunate a few years ago and despised by everyone in Japan, my disciples were deprived of their fiefs while many of my lay followers were banished by their lords or deprived of their fiefs. You, however, were not ill-treated at all by your lord. This was an especially great favor. As such, you should never hold a grudge against him even if you do not receive any more favors from him. Nevertheless, you are unwilling to accept a new fief assignment. Isn’t this the case of you not fully understanding the circumstances?
“It is said that a sage is not affected by the eight winds of gain and loss, fame and infamy, praise and blame, and pleasure and pain. This means that a sage neither takes delight in his crowning hour nor grieves during the depths of despair. Those who are unaffected by the eight winds are protected by the heavenly deities without fail, but not so for those who carry an irrational grudge against their lord, no matter how hard they pray.”
On the ninth day of the sixth month of that same year, Shijō Kingo aroused the wrath of his lord by allegedly behaving disruptively during a lecture given by a Tendai monk named Ryūzo. Ryūzo, as far as Nichiren knew, was a disreputable monk who had supposedly been expelled from Mt. Hiei for cannibalism, and had come to Kamakura where he had become a disciple of Ryōkan. Lord Ema, as it happened, revered Ryōkan and his disciple Ryūzo. Therefore, Lord Ema was very displeased when Shijō Kingo’s enemies reported that NIchiren’s disciple Sammi-bō had interrupted a lecture being given by Ryūzo to initiate a debate and that Shijō Kingo and other armed samurai had been there as well, acting in a provocative manner. Lord Ema immediately demanded that Shijō Kingo submit a written pledge to the effect that he would abandon his faith in the Lotus Sūtra. Of course this was unthinkable.
Upon receiving a letter from Shijō Kingo relating his determination never to abandon the Lotus Sūtra even though he might lose his lands, Nichiren wrote back, “I felt as if I had seen an uḍumbara flower, which is said to bloom only once in 3,000 years.” He further wrote, “I myself may be able to endure attacks with sticks and pieces of wood, withstand rubble and debris thrown at me, vilification, and persecution by the ruler of the country, but how can lay believers who have a wife and children and no knowledge of Buddhism bear these difficulties? Wouldn’t it have been better instead for such people if they had not believed in the Lotus Sūtra? I had been feeling sorry for you thinking that if you couldn’t carry through with your faith, holding it only for temporary comfort, you would be mocked and ridiculed. However, it was wonderful that you showed the steadfastness of your faith throughout my numerous persecutions, including two banishments. Though threatened by your lord, you wrote this written pledge swearing to carry through your faith in the Lotus Sūtra even at the cost of two fiefs in two places. Words cannot describe your commendable aspiration.”
Lord Ema followed through on his threats and Shijō Kingo’s fiefs were confiscated. However, epidemics had begun to spread throughout the land once again. By the ninth month, Lord Ema himself was bedridden and had to call upon Shijō Kingo’s skills as a physician. Despite the murderous jealousy of the other retainers, it seemed as though Shijō Kingo might once again be find himself in his lord’s good graces, if he didn’t die of fever.
Nichiren worried. There were so many things that could go wrong. Lord Ema could die. Or Shijō Kingo’s many enemies might ambush him and strike him down at night or in a careless moment alone. Shijō Kingo’s own angry outbursts could easily lead to his downfall. Nichiren cautioned him to remain humble and calm and to stay on good terms with his younger brothers.
Still, despite Shijō Kingo’s flaws, he was a warm-hearted and loyal follower. Nichiren would never forget how Shijō Kingo had accompanied him to the beach at Tatsunokuchi when he was certain he was about to be executed. No matter what, Nichiren would never abandon Shijō Kingo either. He wrote to him, “If by chance you should fall into hell, I will refuse the invitation of Śākyamuni Buddha to become a buddha. Instead, I will go to hell with you. If we both were to hell, how could it be possible that we would not find Śākyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sūtra there?”
He also told Shijō Kingo to have courage and not despair of the world. “Do not complain to other people about hardship in life. If you abandon everything to become a lay monk because life is too much to bear, you renounce the way of sages…It is not easy to be born as a human being in this world. The chance of this happening, as stated in the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, is as small as the amount of dirt on a fingernail compared to the immeasurable amount of soil on earth. Life as a human being is as fragile as a drop of dew on the grass. It is important, however, to live to earn honor even for a day rather than to live in disgrace for 120 years. Please endeavor so that the people of Kamakura will praise you saying, ‘Shijō Kingo was a good man who served not only his lord and Buddhism, but also ordinary people.’”
Nichiren further cautioned him, “It is useless to stack up a pile of treasure in your storehouse if you are in poor health. Therefore, the value of a healthy body is more precious than treasures in the storehouse. At the same time, however, a healthy body means nothing if your mind is not pure. This is why we can say that our most precious treasure is our mind itself. Upon reading this letter, please try to accumulate the treasure of your mind.”
He ended the letter with the following exhortation, “A wise man named Confucius of China is said to have thought over what he intended to say nine times before he uttered a word. It is also said that Dan, the Duke of Zhou, would interrupt washing his hair, or having a meal, as many as three times in order to see visitors without keeping them waiting. How much more you who have faith in Buddhism should take these examples to heart! Otherwise, you will regret it later. Please do not resent this advice I am giving you. This is the teaching of the Buddha. The essence of Buddhism is the Lotus Sūtra, and the essence of practicing the Lotus Sūtra is shown in the ‘Never Despising Bodhisattva’ chapter. Contemplate why Never Despising Bodhisattva stood on the street to bow to passersby. The true purpose of Śākyamuni Buddha appearing in this world was to teach us how to behave ourselves on a daily basis. Consider this well. The wise are called human beings while the foolish are beasts.”
In the end, Lord Ema recovered and Shijō Kingo fortunes were restored, as his fiefs were returned and enlarged.
The Ikegami brothers, the elder Munenaka and the younger Munenaga, also persevered in their faith. In the spring of the 12th year of the Bun’ei era (1275), their father, Ikegami Yasumitsu, a follower of Ryōkan, demanded that the two brothers abandon their faith in the Lotus Sūtra. When they did not, he disowned the elder, Munenaka, in hopes that the younger, Munenaga, would abandon the Lotus Sūtra in order to become the new heir. Both brothers, however, remained steadfast and supported one another. Nichiren wrote to them, “This is an opportunity for you to endure persecution to see for yourselves the blessings of the Lotus Sūtra.” He also wrote, “Without the efforts of the both of you, you will never be able to attain buddhahood. You two are like the two wings of a bird or the two eyes of a person.”
Concerned that the wives of the brothers might put pressure on them to give in, he wrote, “What is more, your wives are your supporters. Generally speaking, the woman comforts her partner while receiving his support. When a husband enjoys life, his wife also prospers; when a husband is a thief, his wife also becomes a thief. The marital relationship is not limited to this present life but continues to exist forever, life after life, like the body and its shadow, flowers and fruits, or roots and leaves. Insects eat the wood of the trees they live in, and fish drink the water they live in. It is said that orchids sigh when a field dies, and that an oak is pleased when a pine tree prospers. Even plants are like this. It is said there is a bird called hiyoku that has two heads in one body with two mouths feeding the one body. It is also said there is a fish called himoku that only have one eye each so that the male and female stay together without separation throughout life so they can help each other see all around. Thus should be the relationship between a husband and wife. In order to accomplish faith in the Lotus Sūtra, the wife should not regret being with her husband, even if the result is death. If the wife is of one mind with her husband and struggles with him, she will succeed the dragon girl who attained buddhahood in the ‘Devadatta’ chapter of the Lotus Sūtra and become an example of a woman attaining buddhahood in the Latter Age of Degeneration.”
On that occasion the elder brother was restored as heir before long, but was again disinherited by his father in the third year of the Kenji era (1277). By the fall of the following year, however, he was again restored and in addition their father decided to take faith in the Lotus Sūtra as well.
In considering all that had happened, upon hearing of the death of their father the following year, Nichiren wrote to Munenaga, “As you and your elder brother were born in the Latter Age of Degeneration in an outlying country and have faith in the Lotus Sūtra, I was sure that demons would possess the nation’s ruler or your parents and persecute you. But as I expected, despite your father disowning you repeatedly, you two brothers held onto your faith. Are you the reincarnation of the princes Pure Store and Pure Eyes, who led their father King Wonderful Adornment to the Buddha Dharma? Or did this happen through the workings of Medicine King Bodhisattva and Superior Practice Bodhisattva? Your father’s disinheritance was revoked in the end and you were able to carry through with filial piety as before. Are you not filial sons in the truest sense of the word? I am sure the various heavenly beings will give you joy, and the ten female rākṣasī, protectors of the Lotus Sūtra, will accept your prayers. Moreover, there is something heartfelt about you. When my doctrine spreads as widely as predicted in the Lotus Sūtra, I hope to share the joy with you.”
Not all the incidents involving his disciples and lay followers worked out so happily, at least in worldly terms. One of the worst persecutions to befall his followers occurred in the village of Atsuhara in the Fuji District of Suruga Province. Nikkō had originally come from Suruga Province and had great success in converting many monks and farmers there, especially with the help of Nanjō Tokimitsu, the steward of Ueno village. Conflict between those who had become disciples of Nichiren through Nikkō’s efforts and those who continued to cherish the Pure Land teachings came to a head in the ninth month of the second year of Kōan (1279), when Gyōchi, the deputy administrator of Ryūsenji temple, accused Nichiren’s disciples of forcibly invading the abbot’s quarters at Ryūsenji on the 21st and of harvesting rice from fields belonging to the temple. Twenty farmers were arrested and sent to Kamakura. Nichiren’s disciples filed a counter petition denying the charges brought against them and in turn accusing Gyōchi of all manner of wrongdoing such as inciting violence, taking bribes, misappropriating roof tiles, allowing farmers to hunt on temple grounds, and even of poisoning the temple’s pond in order to catch fish to sell in the villages.
In light of the arrest of the farmers, Nichiren wrote a letter to his disciples and followers on the first day of the tenth month and sent it to Shijō Kingo in Kamakura. In it he wrote, “The Buddha revealed his true intent in the Lotus Sūtra after teaching expedients for forty years or so, while the great masters Tiantai and Dengyō took more than thirty and twenty years or so respectively to accomplish their purposes. As I have told you, the difficulties they encountered during those years were indescribable. In my case, it took twenty-seven years, and you all know about the great persecutions I encountered during this period.
“As the practitioners of the True Dharma, you will inevitably be protected by various deities. My disciples and lay followers, therefore, should have the mind of a lion king and should not be afraid of any threat. As the lion king is not afraid of any animal, its offspring are the same. Those who abuse Nichiren are like foxes howling at a lion, while Nichiren’s followers are like roaring lions…Day by day, month by month, strengthen your faith. If you slacken even in the slightest bit, devils will take advantage.
“Now regarding the followers in Atsuhara who are farmers, it is important to encourage them without frightening them. Encourage them to strengthen their determination. Tell them that it would be a miracle to be pardoned as suffering is to be expected. If they complain about hunger, tell them about the worse sufferings in the realm of hungry ghosts. If they grumble that they are cold, tell them about the worse sufferings in the eight cold hells. If they say they are scared, tell them to think about how much worse a pheasant feels upon encountering a hawk or how a mouse feels upon coming across a cat.”
At the end of the letter, he cautioned his followers not to respond to violence with violence. “Even if they cause a commotion by taking up arms against my followers, we should not act likewise. If any follower of mine tries to take up arms, please send me his name at once.”
What was his wish that had been fulfilled after twenty-seven years? What had happened was that ordinary people were at last becoming practitioners of the Lotus Sūtra. On the 15th of the tenth month, Hei no Saemon interrogated the farmers. According to Nikkō, Hei no Saemon even had his thirteen year old son, Iinuma Hangan, shoot the bound farmers with blunt arrows until they chanted nembutsu, but they would not yield and only chanted the daimoku. Exasperated, Hei no Saemon finally beheaded three brothers from among them: Jinshirō, Yagorō, and Yajirō. The surviving farmers still refused to give up their faith. Some time later, they were released.
Upon hearing what had happened, Nichiren wrote to Nikkō, “When JInshirō and other farmers living at Atsuhara who believed in the Lotus Sūtra were unreasonably imprisoned, I heard that they single-mindedly chanted Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō without any concern for their own lives. Indeed, this is not a trivial matter. I wonder if the ten female rākṣasī possessed Hei no Saemon, who interrogated the farmers, and tested them to see if they were true practitioners of the Lotus Sūtra.”
In the same letter he also wrote, “Nāgārjuna and Great Master Tiantai understood the character myō to mean changing poison into medicine. If this interpretation is true, justice will soon prevail and this misfortune will become the starting point for spreading the Lotus Sūtra.”