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):

August 2 - 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).

 

August 16 - 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. This Sunday we will be covering the chapter dealing with Shojū, the way of propagation by embracing the good already being done by others.

 

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.

 

August 23 – 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.

 

August 30 – No service.

Beyond the statue of Śākyamuni Buddha given to him at Izu hung the calligraphic mandala that Nichiren had inscribed a couple of years before in the third month of the third year of the Kōan era (1280). He gazed upon it with a sense of anticipation that soon he would be seeing for himself the Ceremony in the Air of the Lotus Sūtra that the mandala depicted in Chinese characters and Sanskrit bīja or “seed syllables.” When he had become too bedridden to travel, upon reaching the residence of Ikegami Munenaka, he had requested that this mandala be enshrined at his bedside along with the statue of the Buddha. Over the years he had inscribed scores of similar mandalas for his disciples and followers to enshrine as the proper focus of devotion in their temples and practice halls, but only to those who had proven their steadfast faith. Unlike statue arrangements or costly portraits, these mandalas were easy to roll up and hide away in times of persecution. Nichiren’s thoughts drifted back to the time when he had finally revealed to his disciples and followers what the true focus of devotion should be and had inscribed the mandala depicting the focus of devotion of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra for the first time in its most complete form.

After the debate and Nichiren’s successful prediction of the insurrection in the second month of the ninth year of the Bun’ei era (1272), his reputation had increased. Many Tendai and even Mantra monks who lived in the area became his disciples. Many people stopped making offerings to practitioners of the nembutsu and upholders of the precepts and began to bring their offerings to the Sammaidō instead. The monks who practiced nembutsu and those who were followers of Ryōkan’s precept revival sent angry reports back to Kamakura claiming that Nichiren must have known about the conspiracy because he had been in on it from the start, that he and his followers were burning statues of Amitābha Buddha or throwing them into the rivers, and that he ranted at the gods and cursed the shōgunate from the mountaintops day and night. The constable of Sado Province, Hōjō Nobutoki was so alarmed by these stories that he ordered his deputy, Homma Shigetsura, to expel from Sado or imprison those who were found to be supporting Nichiren. After the directive was given, the retainers of the local steward with the help of several nembutsu practitioners kept guard over the Sammaidō in order to prevent anyone from coming to see Nichiren. This resulted in people being imprisoned simply for passing in front of Nichiren’s hut, or expelled from the island for giving offerings to him, or having their wives and children taken as hostages to ensure that they stayed away from Tsukahara.

Abutsu-bō, accompanied by his wife, dared to visit under the cloak of night carrying a chest filled with food and other supplies on his back. The faithful couple slipped past the guards on several occasions but their luck eventually ran out. They too were caught, fined, and for a time banished from their home. In spite of all that, they never wavered in their faith, and in the years ahead continued to support Nichiren and visited him as much as they were able. In the meantime, it seemed as though Nichiren and his disciples would starve to death even as the cold receded and spring began to revive the land.

New orders came in the fourth month just after the sowing of the sprouted rice in the nursery beds at the end of spring. Nichiren and his disciples were transferred to Ichinosawa village in the Ishida District of Sado Island. The village heads treated the exile and his disciples harshly. This was not only because of the orders they were bound to follow but because they personally found those who condemned the practice of nemubtsu more hateful than if they had been enemies of their parents or sworn adversaries from a past life. The amount of food supplied by the headman of the village was meager. Nichiren and his disciples ended up with only three mouthfuls of rice each for their meals.

A farmer known as the Lay Monk Ichinosawa, was given the odious duty of providing lodgings for the exiles. The lay monk was especially uneasy about this since he was a devout practitioner of nembutsu, but he was a kindly man and he was relived when his guests refrained from arguing with him about his Pure Land devotions. On the contrary, Nichiren and his disciples were unfailingly courteous and helpful. In time, the Lay Monk Ichinosawa and the rest of his household began to relax around their unwanted guests. Lay Monk Ichinosawa admitted to himself that he enjoyed hearing the sound of Nichiren and his disciples and followers chanting of the Lotus Sūtra and the daimoku. He did not even mind when other members of his family began to attend Nichiren’s talks. Seeing that the exile and his disciples were not being given enough to eat, the lay monk secretly helped them by giving extra rations from his own stores.

After one such donation, Nichiren said to Lay Monk Ichinosawa, “I will never forget your kindness. Your generosity has saved our lives. I could not be more grateful to you if you and your wife were my own parents.”

The lay monk replied, “It is no trouble. I could not bear it if I were to allow the Buddha’s disciples to starve in my own home. As you know, I am deeply concerned about the life to come. That is why I have practiced the nembutsu for many years now and have even taken the tonsure and become a lay monk. Some years ago I built that nembutsu practice hall over there and donated some of my farmland to the teachers of nembutsu. All of this merit I have dedicated to rebirth in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. Do you really think that it was all for nothing and that I will be unable to attain buddhahood?”

Nichiren sighed. The lay monk was a kind and pious man, but had no deep understanding of Buddhism. He would prefer to use gentle words and reassure him, but that would actually be the crueler act because it would leave him in the grip of the slanderous teachings that caused him to turn away from the Lotus Sūtra. In a soft, but firm tone, Nichiren replied, “For your own sake, I must speak the truth. Buddhahood is not attainable unless you actively put your faith in the Lotus Sūtra. Even though you have built a nembutsu hall, Amitābha Buddha cannot save an enemy of the Lotus Sūtra. In fact, by neglecting the Lotus Sūtra you are going against Amitābha Buddha’s 18th vow that excludes those who slander the True Dharma. You are, in fact, becoming an enemy of Amitābha Buddha by chanting the nembutsu rather than the daimoku.”

The lay monk rubbed his chin. “Ah, well, I certainly have no intention of displeasing Amitābha Buddha. Perhaps I should read the Lotus Sūtra one of these days. But if I become your follower I think the local steward would be very unhappy with me. I may or may not fall into hell in the next life, but he’ll certainly make things hellish for me here and now if he finds out I’ve become your follower.”

Nichiren said, “You worry about the steward, but really all the people in Japan without exception are supposed to be the disciples and subjects of Śākyamuni Buddha. But those who single-mindedly pray to Amitābha Buddha are abandoning Śākyamuni Buddha. Those who cherish Amitābha Buddha, who is not the parent, ruler, or teacher of the people of this world, and conversely abandon Śākyamuni Buddha, who is the parent, ruler, and teacher of this world, are like unfilial children. They are as bad as a young couple who are so in love with each other that they forget about their parents, heating their own bedroom while their parents are out shivering in the cold, or indulging in a banquet while their parents starve. Isn’t this a grave offense?”

“Hmm, yes, I see what you are saying. I will give it some thought. In the meantime, I hope that you are comfortable, for as far as I am concerned you are honored guests for as long as you are to stay here.”

Despite his fears, the Lay Monk of Ichinosawa did not object when his grandmother took up faith in the Lotus Sūtra. He also remained supportive, and relations between Nichiren and himself were always cordial. At one time he even lent money to a nun who had come to visit Nichiren from Kamakura and did not have enough funds to get back home. All he asked in return was that Nichiren have a copy of the Lotus Sūtra inscribed for him so that he could read it for himself, a promise that Nichiren made good on a couple of years later by sending a copy to him in the care of his grandmother.

So it was that Nichiren was able to live more comfortably during the rest of his time on Sado. Back in Kamakura, Nichirō and other disciples were released from prison and together with his more influential lay supporters they began to petition the shōgunate for him to be pardoned. Nichiren did not approve. He wrote to Toki Jōnin telling him, “I believe it is the wish of the gods that I am not released yet, but probably ignorant people will not believe this. It is unfilial of my disciples to go around with anxious faces as though I were wishing to be released. I cannot help such disciples to fare better in the next life. All of you had better keep this in mind.”

Once settled in at Ichinosawa, Nichiren began work on a new essay called Kanjin Honzon-shō (Treatise on the Contemplation of the Mind and the Focus of Devotion). It was completed on the 25th day of the fourth month of the tenth year of the Bun’ei era (1273). He sent it the very next day to Toki Jōnin and the other leaders among his lay followers in Shimōsa Province.

In a cover letter to the treatise, Nichiren wrote to Toki Jōnin, “I have written a little on the doctrine of contemplating the mind. This is of utmost importance to me. You should keep this a secret unless you find someone with unshakeable faith in the Lotus Sūtra, to whom you may show it. Concerning the ultimate teaching of the Buddha for those in the Latter Age, this writing contains many difficult questions with only short answers. Since this is a doctrine never heard of before, it may startle those who hear it. Should you decide to show it to others, you should not have several people read it together sitting side-by-side.

“In the more than 2,200 years after the final nirvāṇa of Śākyamuni Buddha, nobody has ever explained the doctrine contained in this writing. Since we are now in the fifth 500-year period after the Buddha’s final nirvāṇa, the first 500-year period in the beginning of the Latter Age, when the True Dharma should be spread, I have expounded this in the face of public persecution.

“I pray that all my followers who read this writing may feel the joy of visiting, together with me, the Pure Land of Eagle Peak to look up at the faces of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, and the countless emanation buddhas of the ten directions.”

Though it was intended for his most trusted disciples and lay followers, he imagined it as a dialogue with Toki Jōnin. Treatise on the Contemplation of the Mind and the Focus of Devotion was intended as a response to those who felt that he had spoke far too often about doctrinal issues and not said enough about the practice of calming and contemplation. He had spoken of such things before, but not in fully, nor to all of his followers. In a letter written a few months before his exile, he had told a disciple studying on Mt. Hiei the following, “What we should chant all the time as the practice of the perfect teaching is Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō and contemplate the truth of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment. Lay followers of Japan today should just recite Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. As the name has the virtue of reaching the body for which it stands, when one chants Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, one will not fail to receive all the merit of the Lotus Sūtra.” The new treatise was meant to further clarify the connection between chanting daimoku and the contemplation of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment. More than that, it would declare what the true focus of devotion should be for such practice.

Nichiren began the treatise with a review of the doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment and its importance. These were things he had learned when had been a student on Mt. Hiei. He stated that the Tiantai teachings were difficult to understand and hard to believe because they not only claimed that all people could attain buddhahood and that Śākyamuni Buddha is actually the Eternal Buddha, but also claimed that, according to the contemplation of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment, even grasses, trees, and the land itself can manifest buddhahood because even the realm of the environment possesses the ten aspects of causality and thereby can manifest all the ten realms, up to and including buddhahood. This was the reason why statues and portraits could be enshrined and worshipped as the various foci of devotion. “This is acceptable only through Tiantai doctrine. Unless grass and trees possess both matter and spirit and the principle of cause and effect, it does not make sense at all to worship statues and portraits.”

Nichiren imagined the dialogue that followed from that. Toki Jōnin would have asked him, “What is the meaning of contemplating the mind?”

Nichiren answered, “Contemplation of the mind means to observe all ten Dharma-realms, from the hells up to the pure lands of the buddhas, within our own minds. Now just as we cannot see our own faces without a mirror, we cannot see the ten Dharma-reams within our minds without the clear mirrors of the Lotus Sūtra and the Great Calming and Contemplation.”

“I do not dare question the Lotus Sūtra or the Tiantai teachings about the mutual possession of the ten Dharma-realms, but it sounds like calling fire, ‘water,’ and black, ‘white.’ No matter how often we look at each other or gaze upon our reflections, we only see we human beings. We do not see these other realms, so how can we believe this teaching that all ten Dharma-realms are within our minds?”

“When you look at others, you will notice that they are sometimes joyful, enraged, calm, greedy, ignorant, or ingratiating. These are the looks of the heavenly beings, hell-dwellers, human beings, hungry ghosts, beasts, and fighting demons respectively. Thus we can see all six paths of samsāra in people’s faces, from the hells to the heavens. We cannot normally see the four realms of voice-hearers, private-buddhas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas, which are hidden. Nevertheless, we might be able to see them as well if we look carefully.”

“It is not entirely clear to me that all six paths exist within us human beings, but I am beginning to think they seem to as I listen to you. Nevertheless, I cannot see the four realms of the holy ones at all. Can you find them?”

“I shall try to explain as much as possible. We see impermanence everywhere before our very eyes. Therefore, we can understand the principle of impermanence by which the voice-hearers and private-buddhas try to attain awakening, so how can we say their realms are not included in ours? A man, no matter how cruel he may seem to be, loves his wife and children. This shows that even such a person has at least a portion of the bodhisattva realm. The realm that is hardest to see is that of the buddhas, but since we can see the other realms within us, the realm of buddhas must be as well. The reason why we, ordinary people, born in the Latter Age, can put faith in the Lotus Sūtra is that the realm of buddhas is included in the realm of human beings.”

“The Buddha’s teaching about the mutual possession of the ten realms may be clear, but it is difficult to believe that the realm of buddhas is contained within our vulgar minds. However, if we do not believe, there is no doubt that we will become icchantika. We beseech you, out of your great compassion, please help us to believe in it and save us from falling into the Hell of Incessant Suffering.”

“If you cannot believe even the words of the Lotus Sūtra, then how can those who are ranked below the Buddha save you from non-belief? Nevertheless, I shall try because there were some who could not attain buddhahood under the guidance of the Buddha, but were awakened later under the guidance of the patriarchs like Ānanda.

“The mutual possession of the ten realms us as difficult to believe as it is to see fire in a rock and flowers in wood. However, it is not totally impossible because rocks spark when struck together and a tree blooms in spring. You have come to believe that each of the eight realms is contained in the realm of human beings so why can you not believe that the realm of buddhas is also contained within?

“Ancient Chinese rulers, sages such as Yao and Shun, treated all people equally with compassion, providing evidence that at least a portion of the realm of buddhahood is within the realm of humankind. Never Despising Bodhisattva pressed his palms together in respect and bowed to everyone he met because he saw buddhas in them. Born as a human being, Prince Siddhārtha became the Buddha. These examples should convince you to believe that the realm of buddhas exist in the realm of human beings.”

At this point in the treatise, Nichiren warned Toki Jōnin and the other readers to keep what was to follow confidential and not reveal it to others.

In the imagined dialogue, Toki Jōnin could still not believe that the Buddha was within the minds of all beings. “How could it be possible that the Buddha, as great as he is, resides in the minds of ordinary people like us? We also come across passages such as in Aśvaghoṣa’s Awakening of Faith in the Mahāyāna that says, ‘There is nothing but the virtue of purity in the buddha-nature.’ So it would appear that when buddhahood is attained ordinary consciousness is eliminated. It would seem that the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment and the mutual possession of the ten realms is just a biased view of Great Master Tiantai.”

Nichiren responded, “The past sages and patriarchs such as Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu were aware of this essential teaching of the Lotus Sūtra but they did not reveal it because the time was not yet ripe. The other sūtras besides the Lotus Sūtra fail to teach the three causes of buddhahood inherent in all living beings: the buddha-nature, the wisdom to realize it, and the right actions to develop wisdom. So how can those who follow those sūtras know of the seed of buddhahood established on the basis of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment? Without the seed of buddhahood, the attainment of buddhahood would only be a name without a reality.

“The Lotus Sūtra is equipped with the merit of the Buddha accumulated before and after his attainment of buddhahood. Therefore, Śākyamuni Buddha’s attainment of buddhahood is altogether contained in the five characters of the title of the sūtra: myō, , ren, ge, and kyō. Consequently, when we uphold these five characters, the merits that he accumulated before and after his attainment of buddhahood are naturally transferred to us. In the second chapter of the Lotus Sūtra the Buddha said, ‘I once vowed that I would cause all living beings to become exactly as I am. That old vow of mine has now been fulfilled. I lead all living beings into the way to buddhahood.’ Does this not mean, that Śākyamuni Buddha, who has attained perfect and complete awakening, is our flesh and blood, and all the merits he has accumulated before and after attaining buddhahood are our bones? Śakyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, and the emanation buddhas of the ten directions are in our minds, and we, upholders of the Lotus Sūtra, will follow in their footsteps and inherit all the merits of those buddhas. Śākyamuni Buddha who is within our minds is an ancient buddha without beginning, who manifests himself in the three bodies, and attained buddhahood in the remote past of 500 million dust-particle kalpas ago.

“During the time of his teaching the Dharma, the Buddha revealed many provisional and impermanent pure lands presided over by buddhas who are actually his transformations. Therefore, if Śākyamuni Buddha were to die, then all of these buddhas would also die and their lands would disappear. Now, however, when the Eternal Buddha was revealed in the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, this Sahā world became the Eternal Pure Land, indestructible even by the three calamities of fires, floods, and hurricanes, which are said to destroy the world. It transcends the four periods of cosmic change: the kalpas of formation, continuance, dissolution, and reduction to nothingness. Śākyamuni Buddha, the lord and teacher of this pure land, has never died in the past, nor will he be born in the future. All those who receive his guidance are one with this Eternal Buddha. It is because each of our minds is equipped with the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment, including the three categories of the five aggregates, living beings, and the environment.

“The heart of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, was not transmitted even to the most trusted disciples such as Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva or Medicine King Bodhisattva, and certainly not to lower ranking bodhisattvas. Instead the Buddha called out numerous bodhisattvas from underground, for whom he expounded it during the teaching of the eight chapters, beginning with the 15th and ending with the 22nd, and entrusted them with the task of spreading it in the Latter Age of Degeneration.

“The focus of devotion of this transmission of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō from the Eternal Buddha to his original disciples is this: Suspended in the sky above the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha’s Sahā world is a stūpa of treasures, in which Śākyamuni Buddha and Many Treasures Buddha sit to the right and left of Myōhō Renge Kyō. The four bodhisattvas such as Superior Practice, who represent the original disciples of the Eternal Buddha called out from underground, wait upon them. Four more bodhisattvas, including Mañjuśrī and Maitreya, take the lower seats as followers. Other bodhisattvas, great and minor, who had been taught by the Buddha in the Trace Gate or who came from other lands, resemble numerous people sitting on the ground and looking up at the court nobles. Also lined up on the ground are the emanation buddhas who gathered together from the ten directions to praise the Buddha’s teaching and who represent provisional buddhas and their respective lands.

“The focus of devotion such as this was not revealed anywhere else by Śākyamuni Buddha during the more than fifty years that he taught. Though he spent eight years teaching the Lotus Sūtra, this scene was limited to when he taught in the sky above Eagle Peak as recounted in the eight chapters. During the more than two millennia of the Ages of the True Dharma and the Age of the Semblance of the Dharma, statues and portraits were made of Śākyamuni Buddha as he taught the Hīnayāna or provisional Mahāyāna sūtras, but statues and portraits of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha of the ‘The Duration of the Life of the Tathāgata’ chapter of the Lotus Sūtra were never made. Now in the beginning of the Latter Age of Degeneration, is it not time that such statues and portraits were made for the first time?”

In the remainder of the treatise, Nichiren explained what the Buddha intended for the people of the Latter Age. He began by showing that the Buddha’s teaching as a whole can be divided into a preface, main discourse, and epilogue, wherein all the sūtras preceding the Lotus Sūtra are just a preface, the threefold Lotus Sūtra is the main discourse, and the Nirvāa Sūtra is the epilogue. The threefold Lotus Sūtra itself can be divided into a preface, main discourse, and epilogue, with everything from the second chapter of the Lotus Sūtra up to and including the nineteen-line verse in chapter seventeen comprising the main discourse. The Trace Gate and the Original Gate can also be divided into three parts each, with the main discourse of the former being chapters two through nine, and the main discourse of the latter being the one chapter and two-halves, consisting of the latter half of chapter fifteen, all of chapter sixteen, and the former half of chapter seventeen. Finally, all the Buddha’s teachings can be seen as a preface to the great Dharma of the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō, hidden in the lines of the sixteenth chapter. Nichiren asserted, “The teaching of the Original Gate during the lifetime of Śākyamuni Buddha and that which should be spread during the beginning of the Latter Age are both absolutely perfect. However, the former is for attaining awakening, whereas the latter is for sowing the seed of buddhahood. While the former is crystallized in the sixteenth chapter, with half a chapter each preceding and following it, the latter is solely embodied in the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō, the title of the Lotus Sūtra.”

Nichiren insisted that it was time for the bodhisattvas who emerged from underground and their four leaders to appear in order to spread the daimoku, the seed of buddhahood and the expressive actualization of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment, the mutual possession of the ten worlds wherein the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha always and forever embraces all beings and all beings contain within themselves the realm of the Buddha. Nichiren further stated that the earthquakes and comets and other disturbances could not be anything other than omens of the appearance of these bodhisattvas.

He ended the treatise with the following words, “When the sky is clear blue, the land is illuminated, so those who know the Lotus Sūtra can see the reasons for the occurrences in the world. For those who are incapable of understanding the truth of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment, Śākyamuni Buddha, out of great compassion, wraps this jewel with the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō and hangs it around the necks of the ignorant in the Latter age of Degeneration. The four great bodhisattvas will protect such people just as the sage rulers of ancient China were protected by their loyal subjects.”

On Sado there lived a Tendai monk named Sairen-bō. He had also been exiled to the island some time before Nichiren had arrived. He had been very impressed by Nichiren after hearing him successfully debate the other monks at Tsukahara. From that time on he visited Nichiren when he could and the two of them held long discussions about the teaching and practice of the Lotus Sūtra and Tiantai doctrines. When they could not see each other face to face, they would correspond by letters. One day Nichiren, not long after writing Treatise on the Contemplation of the Mind and the Focus of Devotion wrote to Sairen-bō, “Whatever happens to you, have a firm faith and maintain yourself as a practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra and join the ranks of my followers. As long as you are in accord with me, you will be one of the bodhisattvas who emerged from the earth. And if you are determined to be a bodhisattva of the earth, there is no doubt that you have been a disciple of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha since the remotest past. In ‘The Appearance of the Bodhisattvas from Underground’ chapter, the Buddha states, ‘I have been teaching them since the remotest past.’ Those who spread the five characters of myō, , ren, ge, and kyō in the Latter Age of Degeneration should not make a distinction between men and women, for it would be difficult to chant the daimoku unless they were all bodhisattvas of the earth.

“At first only I started chanting the daimoku, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, but then two, three, then one hundred people, gradually began chanting it. This will continue in the future. Isn’t this what emerging from the earth means? When an innumerable number of people emerge from the earth and this Wonderful Dharma spreads extensively, there will be no mistake, just as a shooting star never misses the earth, Japan will be filled with people chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. You should therefore establish your reputation as a practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra, and devote your life to it.

“Tears roll down when I think of the great hardship that I have to endure today, but I cannot stop the tears of joy when I think of attaining buddhahood in the future. Birds and insects cry without shedding tears. Nichiren does not cry but tears keep falling. These tears are shed not for worldly matters. They are solely for the sake of the Lotus Sūtra. Therefore, they could be said to be tears of nectar.

“Have faith in the most honored focus of devotion, the most venerable one in the entire world. Earnestly endeavor to strengthen your faith, so that you may be blessed with the protective powers of Śākyamuni Buddha, Many Treasure Buddha, and the emanation buddhas of the ten directions. Strive to carry out the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, Buddhism will cease to exist. Endeavor yourself and cause others to practice these two ways of practice and study, which stem from faith. If possible, please spread even a word or phrase of the sūtra to others.”

Nichiren still expected that any day a messenger might arrive with new orders for his execution. At the same time, he felt hopeful that eventually slander would be defeated and all would be converted to faith in the Lotus Sūtra. He wrote to his disciples and lay followers, “When all the people under the heavens and various schools of Buddhism are all converted to the one true vehicle, and when only the Lotus Sūtra flourishes and all the people recite Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō in unison, the howling wind will not blow on the branches, falling rain will not erode the soil, and the world will become as good as during the reigns of the sage emperors in China’s golden age. You will see that such times will come when calamities will cease to exist, people will live long, and the people and their faith will become eternal. There should be no doubt about this proof of tranquility in this life.”

On the eighth day of the seventh month of that year he inscribed the great mandala just as he had described it in the Treatise on the Contemplation of the Mind and the Focus of Devotion. He used a piece of silk two and a half feet wide by five and a half feet long. With his brush in large characters he wrote the seven characters of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō down the center to represent the stūpa of treasures. Immediately flanking the daimoku he wrote the names of Śākyamuni Buddha, Many Treasures Buddha, and the four leaders of the bodhisattvas who emerged from underground: Superior Practice, Limitless Practice, Pure Practice, and Steadily Established Practice. At the four corners of the mandala he inscribed the names of the four heavenly kings who guarded the cardinal directions. On either side of the mandala he inscribed the bīja of the two kings of esoteric knowledge, Fudō Myō-ō and Aizen Myō-ō. They were not in the Lotus Sūtra, but Nichiren had received visions of them in the first month of the sixth year of the Kenchō era (1254) when he was still living at Seichōji and he felt assured that they were guardians of the Lotus Sūtra and its practitioners, just as the two fierce kings guarded the gates of the temples. Beneath the two buddhas and the four bodhisattvas he wrote in the names of the bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī, Universal Sage, Medicine King, and Maitreya. On either side of the bodhisattvas were the voice-hearers Śāriputra and Mahākāśyapa. Flanking them, he wrote in the names of Brahmā, Māra, Indra, and the gods of the sun, moon, and stars. Below the gods of the realms of desire and form could be found the ideal ruler known as a wheel turning king, a king of the fighting demons, a dragon king, the Mother-of-Devils and her ten daughters, King Ajātaśatru, and even Devadatta. Below them were the gods of Japan, Amaterasu Ōmikami and the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, and also the past teachers of the Lotus Sūtra: the patriarch Nāgārjuna, and the great masters Tiantai, Miaole, and Dengyō. Nichiren inscribed his own name at the very bottom right below the seven characters of the daimoku. With such a mandala one could see and consider the ten Dharma-realms mutually embracing and embraced. Chanting before it, the practitioner could enter into the true Pure Land of Eagle Peak and meet the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha, the true focus of devotion, the Buddha who always and everywhere transmits the Wonderful Dharma to all beings who receive it with faith and joy and thereby realize that the purity, bliss, eternity, and authenticity of buddhahood is within. At the bottom right of the mandala was written, “This great mandala was revealed for the first time in the world of Jambudvīpa 2,220 odd years after the final nirvāṇa of the Buddha.”

When at last the debate was over, and the crowd had dispersed and gone back to their daily lives, there was a period of calm. During this time, Nichiren devoted himself to putting the finishing touches on Open Your Eyes. When he had finished, he sent Shijō Kingo’s messenger on an errand to deliver it to his disciples and lay followers back in Kamakura. Some of the disciples who had joined him on Sado Island warned him that the new treatise was too strongly worded and might cause trouble, but Nichiren insisted on sending it.

On the eighteenth of the second month of the ninth year of the Bun’ei era (1272), a boat arrived bringing news that there had been fighting in Kyōto and Kamakura. The boatmen decribed the situation there as so chaotic that it was difficult to put into words, since they had never seen or heard anything like it in recent memory.

Homma Shigetsura arrived breathless at the Sammaidō. He pressed his palms together and said to Nichiren, “Save me with your mercy. I have been doubtful of what you told me last month after the debate, but fighting has occurred in Kamakura just as you said. It hasn’t even been thirty days! Hōjō Tokisuke, the shōgunal deputy in Rokuhara in Kyōto, was discovered to have been plotting to take over the shōgunate. He was the older half-brother of Tokimune and has long been jealous of his younger brother. His co-conspirators in Kamakura were found out and killed on the eleventh, and on the fifteenth Tokisuke was himself killed in the fighting in Kyōto. Now I am sure that Mongol forces will attack Japan as you foretold. Now I am sure that your statement that nembutsu devotees are sure to fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering is also true. I will never again chant the nembutsu.”

Nichiren replied, “No matter what you swear, unless the regent, Hōjō Tokimune, accepts what I say, the people of Japan in general will not. If people do not trust me, Japan is sure to be destroyed. Although I have little power, I am a messenger of Śākyamuni Buddha. Such deities as Amaterasu Ōmikami and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman are highly esteemed in japan, but they are merely minor gods compared to Brahmā, Indra, the gods of the sun and moon, and the four heavenly kings. Nevertheless, it is said that murdering a person who served such minor gods is seven and a half times as guilty as killing an ordinary person. Taira no Kiyomori and the former Emperor Go-Toba ruined themselves by murdering those who served the gods. Compared to me, those who serve such deities are insignificant. As I am a messenger of Śākyamuni Buddha, even Amaterasu Ōmikami and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman should prostrate themselves, bowing their heads and pressing their palms together to show respect. Brahmā and Indra should attend the practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra on both sides, and the sun and moon should light the way before and behind him.

“Even if the shōgunate pays heed to me, should it do so improperly, the country will surely be ruined. How much worse is it that people have been turned against me and that I have twice been exiled? There is no doubt that this country will be ruined. As I have been praying for the postponement of national disaster and for the protection of the country, Japan has been at peace until today. However, when the law is violated, punishment cannot be avoided.

“If the shōgunate refuses to accept my words one more time, the buddhas and gods in heaven will make the Great Mongol Empire send their forces to destroy Japan. This is nothing else but the very disaster invited by Hei no Saemon. Once the Mongols invade Japan, you, too, will not be safe on this island.”

Shigetsura’s eyes widened, his jaw worked itself up and down and his lips flapped uselessly, but nothing came out. Once more he bowed deeply, then took his leave without another word. That very night he took the fastest ships available and left Sado, rushing to Kamakura accompanied by his family and retainers.

Abruptly, Nichiren snapped back into the present time. Even now, as his life came to an end, he found himself reflecting on his reasons for daring to speak of himself as a practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra and the messenger of the Buddha whom even the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gods were obligated to watch over and protect. Was this merely presumption? He did not think so. Any doubts he may have had ended on Sado Island when he awakened to the truth about his life and the mission he had been given.

In Open Your Eyes, he had shown through the sūtras and the fulfillment of their teachings in his own life that he was indeed the foremost practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra who would be confronted by the three kinds of enemies. Who else but he had faced the hatred, jealousy, and disbelief that the Buddha predicted would be directed at the Lotus Sūtra and those who upheld it? Who else but he had been abused, threatened with swords and sticks, and banished again and again? Who else but he had been struck with rocks and staves as had Never Despising Bodhisattva? Who else but he had tried to spread the Lotus Sūtra throughout the land when Māra and his hosts had tried to take advantage of the degeneracy of the times by using their wiles to make people slander and neglect it?

Even before arriving on Sado Island, Nichiren had written to Toki Jōnin, his most loyal and insightful supporter, telling him that the story of Never Despising Bodhisattva was the past example of persecution at the hands of the three kinds of enemies. He had said that when future buddhas teach the Lotus Sūtra, it will be Nichiren who will be seen as the Never Despising Bodhisattva of the previous age. In a later letter to his followers written during that exile, he stated that just as Never Despising Bodhisattva had approached all the Buddhists of his time with a twenty-four character greeting assuring them of their future attainment of buddhahood and thus his profound respect, in the same way Nichiren was now spreading the five character title of the Lotus Sūtra in the form of the daimoku. Although the twenty-four characters of Never Despising Bodhisattva and the five characters that he spread differed in wording, both were the same in meaning.

To Shijō Kingo he had written, “In ‘The Teacher of the Dharma’ chapter the Lotus Sūtra the Buddha said, ‘The good men or women who expound even a phrase of the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma to even to one person even in secret after my final nirvāṇa, know this, are my messengers. They are dispatched by me. They do my work.’ He who chants even one word or phrase of the Lotus Sūtra or explains it for people is an envoy of Śākyamuni Buddha. Therefore, I am the person who has come to this country under the decree of Śākyamuni Buddha, though my social standing is humble. Accordingly, those who speak ill of me, even one word, will fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering while those who speak even a word or phrase for me will gain merits superior to that which is received by supporting numerous buddhas.”

Nichiren realized that to say or write these things to others would make him sound self-conceited, but he also knew that aside from himself no one else had fulfilled the Buddha’s predictions. He felt so overjoyed when he thought about how these sūtra passages seemed to have been taught specifically for him that he could not help but praise himself in his talks and writings. But it was a joy for the sake of the Lotus Sūtra, because if the events of his life had not borne out the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra, then those teachings would be rendered false. His life was proof of the infallibility of the Buddha’s predictions.

Reflecting on the past, it seemed that the only true practitioners of the Lotus Sūtra had been Śākyamuni Buddha in India, Great Master Tiantai in China, and Great Master Dengyō in Japan. Even the Buddha had faced hardships, treachery, and abuse in order to teach the Lotus Sūtra. The great masters Tiantai and Dengyō had also faced hostility from rival monks. Considering that for more than twenty years he had been exiled twice, first to Izu and now to Sado, wounded on the forehead in the ambush at Komatsubara, and was almost beheaded at Tatsunokuchi, all because he denounced the provisional teachings and upheld the Lotus Sūtra, Nichiren dared to add himself to their company as the fourth of the four masters in three lands.

There was something deeper though. Who was it that was meant to be the foremost practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra in the Latter Age of Degeneration? Who was it that Śākyamuni Buddha had entrusted to be his messenger. Who had been given a specific transmission of the Wonderful Dharma?

In the beginning of chapter 15, ‘The Appearance of Bodhisattvas from Underground’, the Buddha had declined the offer of the bodhisattvas from the other worlds to uphold the Lotus Sūtra in the Sahā world after the Buddha’s final nirvāṇa. Instead he called upon the billions of bodhisattvas who had been his original disciples from the remotest past who appeared suddenly from where they had been living in the empty space below the Sahā world. Four bodhisattvas named Superior Practice, Limitless Practice, Pure Practice, and Steadily Established Practice were their leaders. In chapter 21, ‘The Supernatural Powers of the Tathāgatas,’ the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha specifically transmitted to Superior Practice Bodhisattva, and to all the other bodhisattvas who had emerged from beneath the earth, all his teachings, supernatural powers, hidden core, and profound achievements that were revealed and expounded explicitly in the Lotus Sūtra. He charged Superior Practice Bodhisattva and the multitude of bodhisattvas who followed him with the five practices of keeping, reading, reciting, expounding, and copying the sūtra.

For more than twenty years Nichiren had been teaching people to chant the daimoku. Since the year before, starting the day before he had left Echi, he had also begun preliminary sketches of a calligraphic mandala that would depict what should be the true focus of devotion for Buddhists in the Latter Age of Degeneration. And yet, according to the Buddha’s statements in the Lotus Sūtra, except for bodhisattvas such as Superior Practice and the other high ranking leaders of the bodhisattvas who emerged from beneath the earth, no one is allowed to appear in the Latter Age of Degeneration to spread the five characters myō, , ren, ge, and kyō, the essence of all phenomena. Furthermore, no one else can depict the proper focus of devotion for Buddhism. This is because the daimoku and the focus of devotion are the quintessence of the actuality of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment doctrine expounded in the ‘Life Span’ chapter in the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra, and it should only be spread by bodhisattva disciples of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha.

Here is what Nichiren had not dared to consider before the exile to Sado. And yet, it was inescapable. On Sado he had thought to himself, ‘I must be the lone forerunner of the bodhisattvas that emerged from beneath the earth. I may even be one of them. I was not at the Ceremony in the Air when the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha transmitted the Wonderful Dharma to Superior Practice Bodhisattva. And yet I have no doubt about its occurrence when I read the Lotus Sūtra. Perhaps I had been there but cannot remember because I am still an ordinary deluded person. And yet, it is clear that in the present I am a practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra. Because of that, it is certain that I will surely visit the place of practice of the Buddha in the future. Considering the past according to the present and future, I must have been at the Ceremony in the Air because the past, present, and future are not separate from one another. Therefore, I am not simply a Tendai monk who has received the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra from the historical Śākyamuni Buddha down through the lineage of Great Master Tiantai and Great Master Dengyō. I must be Superior Practice Bodhisattva, a practitioner of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sūtra and a messenger of the Eternal Śākyamuni Buddha to the suffering people of the Latter Age of Degeneration!’

Winter officially changed to spring with New Year’s Day of the ninth year of the Bun’ei era (1272). Until that time Nichiren was isolated by the mounds of snow that made it nearly impossible to get to Tsukahara. He spent his days writing Open Your Eyes, reading the Great Calming and Contemplation, reciting the Lotus Sūtra, and chanting daimoku. At night he lectured on the differences between the various schools of Buddhism and the profound teaching of the Lotus Sūtra.

Nichiren and his disciples would not have lasted the winter, however, were it not for a man named Abutsu-bō and his wife Sennichi-ama and others like them. At first, these people were greatly angered to learn that the exiled monk was opposed to the practice of nembutsu. Once they had a chance to speak to Nichiren they saw for themselves that he was not a demon but a kindly monk who was greatly concerned about the truth of the Buddha’s teaching in the sūtras. In time, even the relatively uncivilized and ignorant peasants, samurai, and clergy on the island began to become more sympathetic and their offerings of food and clothing enabled Nichiren and his disciples to survive.

As spring came and the snows melted away, travel and communication both within the island and with the mainland resumed. Within days after the beginning of the year, Nichiren was summoned to the constabulary office of Homma Shigetsura. The deputy constable bade him sit. Shigetsura frowned at the exile. He was not pleased to have to deal with such a person. Nevertheless, it was his duty. “I have summoned you here today because there are people here who would like me behead you. There are those, upholders of the precepts and practitioners of the nembutsu, who would be happy to do this themselves, confident that they would not be punished since no exile has ever returned alive from here anyway, and it would seem that your execution was only postponed due the pregnancy of the wife of the regent. I had to deal with a mob of such people yesterday demanding your head.”

Nichiren nodded, “I quite understand. This is hardly surprising. My disciples and I will be watchful. However, I have long determined to give my life for the Lotus Sūtra. I will not give up nor will I bear any grudges. Instead, I will regard my attackers as good friends who are helping me to live the sūtra as it teaches. If I were to be killed for the sake of the Lotus Sūtra so that I could attain buddhahood, it would be like being robbed of a vial of poison and given a precious jewel instead.”

Shigetsura shook his head. “That may be, but it will not happen while I am responsible for you!” He took out a letter and passed it over to Nichiren. “I have received this letter from the shōgunate directing me to keep you alive, because you are considered an important prisoner. Therefore, I told your would-be murderers that I will only permit them to slay you in debate.”

Nichiren read the letter and looked up. “A debate?”

“Yes, it will be scheduled to occur on the sixteenth of this month at the Sammaidō. I will be there with my family, brothers, and retainers to ensure that it is done properly and to keep it civil and peaceful.”

Shigetsura hesitated for a moment, on the verge of dismissing him. He gave Nichiren an appraising look, then said, “You are not what I expected. When I was told that you would be coming here as an exile I imagined that you were some kind of madman. However, sitting here before me you seem quite calm and reasonable. I have heard others say they have found you to be quite compassionate, patient, and gentle. Now, I hear you say you regard your persecutors as good friends. So I can’t help but wonder, why you belligerently claim that followers of Amitābha Buddha and Zen Buddhism will fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering? Doesn’t the Lotus Sūtra say that those who expound it ‘should not point out the faults of other persons or sūtras’ and they ‘should not despise other teachers of the Dharma.’ Haven’t the gods abandoned you because you have not been following these instructions of the sūtra?”

Nichiren smiled and responded, “I must cite the teachings of the Great Master Tiantai in the Great Calming and Contemplation. He said, ‘There are two opposing ways of spreading Buddhism: shakubuku, the way of subduing what is evil, and shōju, the way of accepting what is good. When the ‘Peaceful Practices’ chapter of the Lotus Sūtra says not to criticize others that is the way of accepting, but when the Nirvāa Sūtra speaks of taking up arms and beheading those who are trying to destroy the Buddha Dharma that is the way of subduing.’ The Great Master Miaole said, ‘Regardless of whether it is the past or the present, when the world is full of danger and the True Dharma is hidden, Buddhists should arm themselves, but if the world is at peace they should observe the precepts. Thus, the means of propagation should be chosen according to the condition of the time, it cannot be said to be one way or another.’ Even my own disciples have doubts about my methods and say I am too harsh despite my repeated explanations. That is why I cite the teachings of the great masters Tiantai and Miaole to show that these are not simply my own ideas.”

Shigetsura gave Nichiren a hard look. “It sounds as though this way of subduing is in fact a call to war against those who disagree with your interpretation of the Lotus Sūtra. This would in turn be a call to war against the shōgunate that support the Pure Land and Zen Buddhists that you oppose. How can this be anything but treason?”

Nichiren shook his head. “The Nirvāa Sutra is speaking of the king and his forces who are responsible for defending the true monks. The responsibility of the true disciple of the Buddha is to remonstrate with those who are slandering the Dharma. It is not a matter of starting an insurrection or oppressing others. In any case, even the Nirvāa Sūtra teaches that bodhisattvas should love all people as one would love one’s only child. And though the ‘Peaceful Practices’ chapter emphasizes the gentle way, in the ‘Dhāraṇīs’ chapter it says that ‘anyone who troubles the expounder of the Dharma shall have his head split into seven pieces.’ So both sūtras teach both the way of accepting and encouraging the good in others and the way of subduing evil according to the situation.”

Shigetsura said, “I see. So you are not advocating violence. You are appealing to the authorities to do something about this great evil you fear that is destroying the True Dharma. Still, I think you are quite presumptuous to assume that you alone are in the right and should be following the way of subduing evil.”

Nichiren nodded. “These two ways of propagation, the way of accepting and the way of subduing, are incompatible with each other just as fire and water are. The fire dislikes the water, and the water hates the fire. Those who prefer the way of acceptance tend to laugh at those who practice the way of subduing, and vice versa. However, when the land is full of evil and ignorant people who know nothing of Buddhism, that is when the way of acceptance should take precedence as taught in the ‘Peaceful Practices’ chapter, so that the little good and understanding that people do have may be encouraged. But when there are many cunning people who slander and misrepresent the True Dharma, then the way of subduing evil should take precedence, as when Never Despising Bodhisattva in the Lotus Sūtra tells the other Buddhists of his time that he respects them for they shall become buddhas, even though they respond to this direct teaching of the True Dharma with disbelief and even attack him sticks and rocks.

“It is the same as using cold water when it is hot or fire when it is cold. As there are lands of evil people who do not know the Dharma at all as well as lands of slanderers who destroy the True Dharma by misrepresenting it in this Latter Age of Degeneration, there should be both the way of accepting and the way of subduing. Today, we have to discern whether Japan is a land of people who are simply evil and ignorant or a land of slanderers in order to decide which of these two ways should be used.

“The Great Master Zhang’an taught that whether we follow the way of accepting or the way of subduing must be decided according to the condition of the time. Great Master Tiantai said, ‘It all depends on the time. Sometimes resort to the way of subduing, other times use the way of accepting.’ For instance, we cannot harvest rice by cultivating rice paddies and planting seeds at the end of autumn.

“Today, the false teachings of Pure Land and Zen have spread throughout Japan. The scholar-monks of the Tendai and Mantra schools fear the followers of these new movements and cater to their whims like a dog wagging its tail in front of its master or mice terrified by a cat. To gain the patronage of the rulers they have themselves begun teaching in a way that will lead to the destruction of Buddhism in this country. This is why I have taken up the way of subduing evil.”

“Shigetura persisted in his questioning, “But what good does it do to accuse the followers of Pure Land and Zen of slander, so making enemies of them? Why not just teach the merits of the Lotus Sūtra without criticizing others?”

Nichiren responded, “I can only tell you what the Nirvāa Sūtra teaches. A true disciple of the Buddha must speak out against evil. Great Master Zhang’an explained, ‘Those who destroy Buddhism are those within Buddhism who work against it. Those heartless people who keep friendly relations with evildoers by overlooking their offences are the enemies of the offenders. Those who are kind enough to try and correct them are the upholders of the True Dharma and true disciples of the Buddha. To prevent a friend from committing evil is a friendly act. Therefore, one who accuses transgressors of harming Buddhism is the Buddha’s disciple, and one who does not purge evildoers is an enemy of Buddhism.’ Shouldn’t we warn our parents if someone were trying to kill them? Shouldn’t we prevent an evil drunken child from killing his parents? Shouldn’t we prevent an evil man from setting a pagoda on fire? Should we leave our only child untreated when he is seriously sick? Those who do not reprimand the followers of Zen and Pure Land in Japan are no better than those who do nothing to prevent evil. They are what Great Master Zhang’an meant by ‘heartless people.’ I am like a compassionate parent for all the people of Japan, wherein everyone in the Tendai school has become their worst enemy because they fail to speak out. I am heeding the words of Great Master Zhang’an who said that an act of true friendship is to prevent another from doing evil.”

Shigetsura nodded, though he did not seem entirely convinced. “I think I see what you mean. Well, I look forward to hearing what you and the other monks will have to say for yourselves at the debate.”

In accordance with Homma Shigetsura’s wishes, the grounds at Tsukahara filled up with nembutsu believers accompanied by young monks carrying the three Pure Land sūtras, or copies of the Great Calming and Contemplation, or the three main esoteric sūtras, as well as other sūtras and commentaries, around their necks or under their arms. It seemed as though hundred of monks and lay monks had come not only from Sado Island, but also from the nearby mainland provinces. It was doubtful that anything so exciting as a debate between an infamous exile and the local clergy over the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings had occurred on Sado or in any of the neighboring lands in many years.

The disposition of the mob did not seem at all promising. The nembutsu believers cursed and swore at the sight of Nichiren and his disciples. The monks of the Mantra school turned crimson with anger, and even the Tendai monks who came to defend the practice of the nembutsu or mantra teachings predicted their own victory before the debate had even started. The lay people who were present derided Nichiren loudly. “There’s that infamous shave-pate! There’s the enemy of Amitābha Buddha!” The jeers and shouting could be heard far beyond the field, if there was anyone who had not gone to see the debate in person there to hear them.

After waiting patiently for things to calm down to no avail, Nichiren called out to them, “You have all come here to take part in this debate. It is therefore useless for you to utter such abuse, is it not?” This was greeted with more heckling.

At that point, even Homma Shigetsura and his entourage were fed up with the mob. The deputy constable directed his retainers to evict those who would not keep quiet, which they did by seizing the most abusive, drunk, and disorderly ruffians by the neck and forcibly escorting them away from the site of the debate.

Finally the debate began. Sitting on the veranda of his small hut, Nichiren at first listened quietly to their attempts to explain the nembutsu practice advocated in the Great Calming and Contemplation of the Tiantai school, or the way it was understood and used in the Mantra school. Then he closely questioned them, silencing them in a few words. They were even more hopeless than the monks who practiced the Zen, Pure Land, Mantra, and Tendai teachings in Kamakura. Nichiren had looked forward to the debate, but now that it had begun he found it dull going over the same points he had repeated so many times over the years. Debating with them was like using a sharp sword to cut cucumbers. His opponents became for him like so many blades of grass bowing before the wind. Not only were these monks less knowledgeable about Buddhist doctrine than the monks of Kamakura, let alone Mt. Hiei, but they often made contradictory statements or confused commentaries with sūtras and vice versa.

One monk asked, “Who are you, a latter student of Buddhism in Japan, to presume to contradict the Venerable Shandao, who was an incarnation of Amitābha Buddha? He taught that not even one out of a thousand can attain buddhahood through the Lotus Sūtra but ten out ten and a hundred out of a hundred can be reborn in the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss through the nembutsu.”

Nichiren said, “In knowing the comparative merits of the sūtras I am superior to the likes of Shandao because I follow the tradition of Great Master Tiantai who said, ‘Adopt whatever agrees with the sūtra, and do not believe in that which is not found in the sūtra in word or meaning,’ and the Great Master Dengyō who stated, ‘Rely upon the words of the Buddha in the sūtras, do not believe in what has been transmitted orally.’

“Also, you should know that Shandao went insane and tried to commit suicide. He climbed a willow tree and hurled himself to the ground, but he did not die then. He suffered for two weeks in delirium and then died. Isn’t this the basis for the belief in being reborn in the Pure Land by chanting nembutsu while committing suicide? It seems that when one chants the nembutsu in earnest, one naturally feels the urge to commit suicide.

“Now the 18th of the 48 vows expounded in the Sūtra of Meditation on the Buddha of Infinite Life, that Shandao and Hōnen upheld, states that those who commit the five grave offences or slander the True Dharma are excluded from rebirth in the Pure Land. The Lotus Sūtra teaches that those who slander the Dharma will fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering. So if those who slander the Dharma are excluded from the Pure Land and will fall into the Hell of Incessant Suffering, then how could Shandao and Hōnen not have fallen into hell? And if they fell into hell, then there is no doubt that their disciples and followers will also fall into hell.”

A monk of the Mantra school proclaimed, “Surely you know that the Mahāvairocana Sūtra is superior to the Lotus Sūtra because it teaches the practice of concentrating on a mandala to observe all phenomena and the practice of forming mudrās while uttering mantras?”

Nichiren replied, “Don’t you know that the Lotus Sūtra says that it is the most excellent teaching of all the teachings expounded in the past, present, or future? If the esoteric sūtras were taught before the Lotus Sūtra, then at best they would be equal to the Flower Garland Sūtra, but if taught after then at best they would be equal to the Nirvāa Sūtra. Even if they were taught at the same time, the Lotus Sūtra alone is the perfect teaching. In the esoteric sūtras, the perfect teaching is mixed with expedient teachings. They cannot compete with the Lotus Sūtra.”

The Mantra monk rejoined, “Ah, but the esoteric sūtras were taught by Mahāvairocana Buddha and not by Śākyamuni Buddha, who is merely a transient transformation-body that appeared only to accommodate ordinary deluded beings.”

Nichiren replied, “Well then tell me about Mahāvairocana Buddha. Who were his parents? Where was he born? Where did he die? No sūtra mentions his parents, or where this buddha was born and died, or where he taught. Mahāvairocana Buddha is just a name without substance.”

The Mantra monk asserted, “Mahāvairocana Buddha is the Dharma-body, the reality of all things who has no birth or death. This is what makes him superior to Śākyamuni Buddha.”

Nichiren said, “If you think it over, it is not only Mahāvairocana Buddha who is everlasting. All living beings, even insects such as a mole cricket, an ant, a mosquito, or a horsefly in their true nature have neither birth nor death. This idea that only Mahāvairocana Buddha is eternal and all other beings are impermanent is the same idea embraced by non-Buddhists, isn’t it?

The Mantra monk was not sure how to reply to that. This was getting too theoretical for him. He vaguely understood that the true nature of all beings was the buddha-nature, which was unborn and deathless, and possessed of the qualities of purity, bliss, eternity, and true selfhood. He was not about to back down however. He said, “I do not understand how you can have any doubt of the superiority of the mantra teachings. Great Master Kōbō, the founder of the Mantra school, proved it in his lifetime. When he was about to return to Japan from China, he threw a three-pronged vajra towards Japan, praying that it would land where the teachings of the Buddha should be spread. It flew up in the sky and disappeared in the clouds. When Great Master Kōbō arrived at the foot of Mt. Kōya he found the vajra there. On another occasion, after returning to Japan, he demonstrated the ability to attain buddhahood in one’s very body at the imperial court and transformed himself into Mahāvairocana Buddha. Such incidents displaying the virtue of Great Master Kōbō are too numerous to mention them all. These are just a few. How can anyone not believe in such a virtuous man? That is why I know he can be trusted when he taught that the Mahāvairocana Sūtra and even the Flower Garland Sūtra are both superior to the Lotus Sūtra.”

Nichiren replied, “Your question is reasonable. I, too, respect and believe in these stories of Great Master Kōbō. However, there are cases of people who worked wonders in ancient days but were unable to prove the validity of their teachings by virtue of these wonders. Of non-Buddhists in India, a hermit kept the Ganges River in his ears for twelve years; another swallowed up the ocean in a day; still another grasped the sun and moon with his hand, or transformed the Buddha’s disciples into cows and sheep. They worked such wonders as these, which made them too proud and conceited, piling up the seeds of delusion. So no matter how wonderful Great Master Kōbō was, no wise man should accept his declarations that the Lotus Sūtra is useless compared to the Mahāvairocana Sūtra and the Flower Garland Sūtra or that Śākyamuni Buddha was not awakened compared to Mahāvairocana Buddha.

“Besides, these wonders that you mention are, in fact, too incredible to believe. If he changed into Mahāvairocana Buddha at the imperial court, then in what year and under what emperor’s reign did it happen? Why was such an important incident not recorded in the official records? Furthermore, the Nirvāa Sūtra warns that demons will appear as buddhas in order to destroy the True Dharma. The story about the vajra is especially doubtful. How do we know that someone had not been sent to bury it at Mt. Kōya beforehand? Great Master Kōbō could have done it himself. He often deceived people with such tricks. Therefore, we cannot accept such stories as proof that his teachings are in agreement with the intention of the Buddha.

“As for the assertion that the Lotus Sūtra is inferior to the Mahāvairocana and the Flower Garland sūtra, neither of those sūtras teach the attainment of buddhahood by the followers of the two vehicles, or Śākyamuni Buddha’s attainment of buddhahood in the remotest past, let alone the doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment. Chengguan, the fourth Chinese patriarch of the Flower Garland school, stole the doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment when he was interpreting the teaching in the Flower Garland Sūtra that the mind is like a skillful painter. The founders of the Mantra school also stole the doctrine of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment when interpreting the Mahāvairocana Sūtra’s teaching of the reality of mind. They then claimed that while the Mahāvairocana Sūtra was equal in doctrine to the Lotus Sūtra it was superior in practice because it taught the practice of mudrās and mantras, but really they had already submitted to the doctrine of the Tiantai school and this matter of mudrās and mantras is trivial.”

So it went. Unable to reply when their errors were pointed out or their appeals to authority were exposed, his opponents hurled abusive words, became dumb, or turned pale. Some regretted having chanted nembutsu once it had been so thoroughly refuted in favor of the Lotus Sūtra. Others were so disillusioned that they threw off their kesas and cast away their juzu, swearing never to chant nembutsu again. Before long, most of those who had gathered at Tsukahara returned home. Homma Shigetsura and his family and retainers also prepared to leave.

As Shigetsura stood up from his seat, Nichiren called out to him from across the courtyard. “When are you planning to go to Kamakura?” he asked.

Shigetsura replied, “It may be in the seventh month, when my retainers will have finished working on their farms. Why do you ask?”

Nichiren said, “The real work of a warrior is nothing if not to serve his master with distinction at times of great need, so as to be rewarded with a fief. You say that you are busy working on your farm, but a battle is about to occur. Why do you not hurry to Kamakura to distinguish yourself in war and gain additional fiefs? You have been a brave and honored warrior in Sagami Province. It will be a shame for you, an honorable warrior, to keep yourself busy working on your farm and lose your chance of participating in an important battle.”

Shigetsura’s eyes widened in amazement. He turned and walked away without a word. Those monks and lay followers who had come to debate with Nichiren and were still in the courtyard overheard the exchange and were also taken aback. They looked to one another and murmured about the audacity of Nichiren to speak in such a way, but they also wondered if his prediction would come true.