I. The Two Transfer Documents:

The Nichiren Shoshu claim that Nikko was designated the sole heir of Nichiren Shonin in two transfer documents, allegedly written by Nichiren himself. However, no one outside the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu (including the priests and scholars of other Fuji school lineages of Nikko) gives any credence to their authenticity.

The first is the “Nichiren Ichigo Guho Fuzoku Sho” (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1675) aka “Minobu Sojo” supposedly written at Minobu in September of 1282. It says:

“I transfer this Dharma, which I, Nichiren, have propagated throughout my life to Byakuren Ajari Nikko. He is to be the supreme leader for the propagation of Honmon. When the sovereign accepts faith in this Dharma, the Kaidan of Honmonji Temple must be established at Mount Fuji. You must wait for the time to come. This is what I call the Actual Dharma of the Precept. Above all, my disciples must uphold this document.
The ninth month of the fifth year of Koan
Nichiren
The order of the heritage of the Dharma: Nichiren, Nikko”

 The second is the “Minobu-san Fuzoku Sho” (Gosho Zenshu p. 1675) aka “Ikegami Sojo” supposedly written October 13, 1282. It says:

“I transfer the Venerable Shakyamuni’s teachings of fifty years to Byakuren Ajari Nikko. He is to be the Head Priest of Minobu-san Kuonji Temple. Those priests and lay believers who refuse to accept this are slanderers of the Dharma.
The thirteenth day of the tenth month on the fifth year of Koan at Ikegami, Musashi Province
Nichiren”

The first reference to these transfer documents is in a work called the Hyaku-gojikka-jo written by Nikkyo (1428-1489?) at Taisekiji Temple in 1480. Nikkyo was originally a priest at Juhonji in Kyoto (a precursor of Yoboji Temple), but he moved to Taisekiji and became the disciple of Nichiu, the ninth high priest of Taisekiji. However, there are said to be discrepancies between the text of the transfer letters cited in Nikkyo’s writing and the copies that exist today at Taisekiji.

It is also said that the reference to the Honmonji Temple at Mt. Fuji actually refers to the Nishiyama Honmonji temple which was established in 1343 by Nikko’s disciple Nichidai after he was ousted as the head priest of Kitayama Honmonji. It could be that the“Minobu Sojo” was even forged by a high priest of Nishiyama Honmonji. In any case, the Nichiren Shoshu claim that when theHonmon no Kaidan is finally established, Taisekiji will be renamed Honmonji in order to conform to the wording of the “Minobu Sojo”. Kitayama Honmonji, however, has a much stronger claim if one accepts this because it was founded by Nikko at Mt. Fuji with the name Honmonji.

According to the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, the original copies of the transfer documents were kept in a storehouse at Kitayama Honmonji until March 17, 1581 when they and other treasures were allegedly stolen by followers of Nishiyama Honmonji and the lord of Kai, Takeda Katsuyori and his soldiers. Neither Kitayama Honmonji nor Nishiyama Honmonji were affiliated with Taisekiji at that time. The originals of the two transfer documents were thus lost to history if they in fact ever existed at all.

Besides the absence of the original of these two transfer documents and the supposed discrepancies between the existing copies today and the citations of them in the earliest text to mention them, there is other evidence which would indicate that Nichiren did not designate Nikko as his sole heir. The most important is in Nikko’s own hand. Nikko wrote a record of Nichiren’s funeral called the“Shuso Gosenge Kiroku” which is preserved at Nishiyama Honmonji. The document also has the seals of Nissho, Nichiro, Nikko, and Nichiji on it. According to this document, Nikko  was not given any special place of honor during the funeral. Rather, the two senior disciples Nichiro and Nissho took the lead in the front and rear processions respectively. Also, according to Nikko, he received a horse and some clothes, whereas Nissho received Nichiren’s own annotated copy of the Lotus Sutra (the Chu Hokkekyo) and Nichiro received the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha that Nichiren had kept with him ever since the Izu Exile.

A writing called the “Rembo Cho” which exists in two versions outlines the rotation system concerning the rotation system which the six major disciples were to follow in maintaining Nichiren’s grave and overseeing Kuonji at Mt. Minobu. Nothing is said in either version of Nikko being designated the head priest of Kuonji or the sole heir of Nichiren.

 There are other things written by Nikko which would indicate that he knew nothing of the two transfer letters. One of them is the “Fuji Isseki Monto Zonchi-no-koto” in which Nikko wrotes, “The Master [i.e. Nichiren] who preceded me had not decided on any country or any particular place. It is customary, at least in Buddhism, to choose the most scenic spot and build a temple there. Then, Mt. Fuji is Sugaru (Shizuoka Prefecture) is the supreme mountain in Japan. We should build our temple there.” Why would Nikko write this if he had the “Minobu Sojo” which directed that the Honmonji Temple should be built at Mt. Fuji? It is also odd that in the “Hara dono gohenji” or “Letter to Lord Hara” Nikko laments that he must leave Mt. Minobu because of his disagreements with Niko and the others. He also complains about the distribution of goods after Nichiren’s funeral since he wished to inherit the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. But even in this letter he does not refer to any sole succession or transfer documents nor does he refer to the need to establish a Honmonji Temple at Mt. Fuji nor does he claim that Nichiren had designated him as the chief priest of Kuonji.

What he does say is:

“I can hardly tell you how ashamed I was and how sorry I was for leaving Minobu creek [where Nichiren's tomb is located]. However, on further consideration of the matter, it’s not important where I am; it is important to accede to the teachings of Nichiren Shonin and to spread it all over the world. All of the [other] disciples are against the Master. They disobeyed the teacher [i.e. Nichiren Shonin]. I believe that only I, Nikko, am the one who protects the Shonin’s doctrine and practices according to his original intention…”

Nikko does believe that only he is protecting the teachings and practicing in accord with the true intentions of Nichiren Shonin, but he does not make the claim that Nichiren himself designated him sole heir or successor at Kuonji on Mt. Minobu nor that he received any special mission to establish the Honmonji on Mt. Fuji. This, along with the other evidence, makes it apparent that the transfer documents were the creation of later priests in Nikko’s lineage who used them to bolster their claims of supremacy over their rivals.

II. The Dai-Gohonzon, a.k.a. Ita-Mandala:

The Nichiren Shoshu claim that on October 12, 1279 Nichiren Shonin inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon. This Dai-Gohonzon (above) is allegedly the supreme object of worship for all people. However,  no one outside the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu (including the priests and scholars of other Fuji school lineages of Nikko)  gives any credence to this story.

The legend is that the Dai-Gohonzon was inscribed by Nichiren after the Atsuhara persectution in which laymembers gave their lives to uphold the Odaimoku. The Dai-Gohonzon was dedicated to someone named Yashiro Kunishige. The Dai-Gohonzon was then carved from a log of camphor wood found in a stream at Mt. Minobu by a disciple of Nichiren named Nippo. Supposedly, Nichiren referred to the creation of the Dai-Gohonzon in the “Shonin Gonan Ji” gosho where he says:

 ”The Buddha fulfilled the purpose of his advent in a little over forty years; T’ien-t’ai took about thirty years, and Dengyo, some twenty years. I have repeatedly spoken of the indescribable persecutions they suffered during those years. For me it took twenty-seven years, and the persectuions I faced during this period are well known to you all.”

 There is nothing in this gosho, however, to make it clear what Nichiren was actually referring to. There is certainly no direct reference to any kind of Omandala let alone a Dai-Gohonzon. A gosho called the “Jogyo Shoden Sho” refers to Nippo carving a statue of Nichiren from a log found in a river but this gosho is believed to be a pious forgery.

 The legend of the Dai-Gohonzon goes on to say that Nikko took the wooden carving of the Dai-Gohonzon with him when he left Mt. Minobu. More specifically the legend states that a priest named Hakken-bo, one of Nikko’s disciples, carried it on his back and that it was later deposited at Taisekiji.

The problem is that none of the extant writings of Nikko refer to the Ita-mandala or any kind of specific Dai-Gohonzon carved for all mankind. In fact, Nikko’s writings indicate that he didn’t even approve of wooden mandals like the Dai-Gohonzon. In the aforementioned “Fuji Isseki Monto Zonchi-no-koto”, Nikko states his disapproval of honzons should not be enscribed on planks of wood because it would devalue the hand written Omandalas. He was worried that if sturdier wooden copies were made then the paper Omandala originals would be neglected. On the other hand, in the “Hara dono gohenji” Nikko also states that the use of mandalas was only a temporary expedient until such time as carvings of the Original Buddha flanked by the four Original Disciples, the Four Leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, could be established. Would Nikko have written such things if he had been in possession of the Dai-Gohonzon?

Furthermore, Nikko did leave four authentic Nichiren Omandalas at Kitayama Honmonji where he spent the rest of his life. Those Omandalas were eventually given to other Nikko lineage temples: Myokakuji in Kyoto, Honnoji in Kyoto, Honmonji in Kyoto, and Hokkeji in Kagawa Prefecture. On these, Nikko wrote: “Hanging it up in Honmonji, one should make it the esteemed jewel of the Latter Age.” The reference to Honmonji is most obviously to Kitayama Honmonji and not to Taisekiji. It is also odd that Taisekiji, the other temple founded by Nikko and claimed to be the location of his main lineage by the Nichiren Shoshu, did not receive any of these authentic Nichiren Omandalas. That by itself proves nothing, but it is a curious comment on Nikko’s attitutde towards Taisekiji. Some have suggested that he left Taisekiji and founded Kitayama Honmonji because he did not want to entrust the future of his (really Nichiren’s) teachings to the family of Nanjo Tokimitsu who controlled it as their family temple. In any case, Nikko’s grave is at Kitayama Honmonji and it is oriented not towards Taisekiji and the alleged Dai-Gohonzon, but towards Nichiren’s grave at Mt. Minobu.

The first mention of the Dai-Gohonzon is during the tenure of Nichiu, the ninth high priest of Taisekiji. He allegedly revealed it’s existence  in 1488. Nichiu claimed that it had been given to Taisekiji by Yashiro Kunishige, who the Dai-Gohonzon is edicated to, but Nichijo a contemporary of Nichiu and the head priest of Kitayama Honmonji actually accused Nichiu of forging the Dai-Gohonzon himself. Again, no one has been able to determine who Yashiro Kunishige was. He could not have been one of the Atsuhara peasants who were being persecuted since peasants did not have family names. And why would Nichiren inscribe a Dai-Gohonzon for all mankind to anyone but one of his major disciples or perhaps the ruler of the country? In any case, the story of Yashiro Kunishige bestowing the Dai-Gohonzon contradicts the story that it was kept at Mt. Minobu until Hakken-bo carried it there on his back when Nikko left for the environs of Mt. Fuji.

So where did the Ita-mandala come from if it is not the Dai-Gohonzon inscribed for all mankind by Nichiren Shonin and left to Nikko who brought it to Taisekiji? In the Muromachi period after 1333, board mandalas like the Ita-mandala were used by the Hokke Koshu (Dharma Flower Assemblies) which followed Nichiren’s teachings. In fact, “Hokke (Ko)shu” is written on the Ita-mandala after the name Yashiro Kunishige. It is therefore most likely that the Ita-mandala was carved sometime after 1333 at the earliest.

The question must then be asked, is the Ita-mandala a copy of a Nichiren Omandala at all? In 1910 a photograph was taken of the Ita-mandala with the permission of Taisekiji (see above). This photo was then analyzed by Suzuki Ichiro and Yamanaka Kihachi who had exhaustively studied and analyzed Nichiren’s handwriting on all his extant gosho and Omandalas. In their estimation, the Ita-mandala is from the year 1280 and not 1279. They especially refer to the size of the Odaimoku which got larger in the years 1280-1282. They pointed out that the Ita-mandala is virtually identical to an authenticated Nichiren Omandala found at Myokaiji Temple in Numatsu near Mt. Fuji.

Since the Nichiren Shoshu are not merely claiming that the Ita-mandala is a carved copy of a Nichiren Omandala, but rather that it is the Dai-Gohonzon which all people must worship in order to attain enlightenment the burden of proof is on them. However, Nichiren never makes any reference to having carved or to having commissioned the carving of any such item. While Nichiren does speak of Omandalas and statue arrangements to depict the Gohonzon, it is clear from his writings that he, like other Buddhists, regarded the Gohonzon as the primary reality of the Buddha and/or the Dharma and that such plastic representations were secondary.

Neither Nikko, nor the other five major disciples, nor any of their immediate successors ever mention the existence of a Dai-Gohonzon that was supreme to all the other Omandalas that Nichiren had inscribed and bestowed. This is especially curious, because if Nikko had taken such a treasured item from Mt. Minobu, one would think this would raise some complaint or at least comment. If the Ita-mandala was actually the all important Dai-Gohonzon, it is curious that no mention is made of it until 1488. Furthermore, the earliest text to discuss it at any length is the “Kechu Sho” in 1662, and it is believed that even the references to it in that writing have been tampered with.

 It would seem, therefore, that the Ita-mandala is a “Gohonzon” which was carved in imitation of an authentic Nichiren Omandala from 1280, but there seems to be no concrete evidence that it is The Gohonzon which the Nichiren Shoshu claims it is. In fact, there is evidence to indicate that it was most likely created after the time of both Nichiren and Nikko.

III. Nichiren as the Buddha of True Cause of the Latter Age of the Dharma:

The Nichiren Shoshu claim that Nichiren was not merely the appearance of Bodhisattva Superior Practice, the votary of the Lotus Sutra and the messenger of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha. Rather, they claim that Nichiren himself is the Buddha of True Cause, the Buddha of the Latter Age of the Dharma whose teaching, practice, and example takes precedence over that of Shakyamuni Buddha, who they relegate to the status of the Buddha of True Effect, a provisional Buddha whose purpose was to foretell the appearance of Nichiren. However, no one outside the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu (including the priests and scholars of other Fuji school lineages of Nikko)  gives any credence to this theory.

The beginnings of this theory appeared during the tenure of Nichiu (1409-1482), the ninth high priest of Taisekiji Temple. The first development was the teaching of Nichigen (?-1486) of Nishiyama Honmonji identifying Nichiren Shonin as the Buddha. This theory appeared in the “Gonin-shohasho-kenmon” which was written sometime between 1470-1479. Nichigen and Nichiu were friends and so it is very likely that Nichiu got the idea that Nichiren Shonin is the True Buddha from Nichigen.

Nichiu, a contemporary named Nichiyo, and Nichiu’s disciple Nikkyo all believed that Shakyamuni Buddha as the teacher of the true effect of Buddhahood was too sublime for those at the very beginning stages of practice to comprehend or imitate. Therefore, it was more appropriate to revere and emulate Nichiren Shonin who was the teacher of the true cause for buddhahood. The 26th high priest of Taisekiji refined this teaching further and made it a key dogma of the Taisekiji lineage. He claimed that Nichiren was actually the Buddha of the True Cause who has been enlightened since the infinite past of “kuon ganjo” and was the actual teacher of Shakyamuni Buddha himself in the remote past of “kuon jitsujo.” By contrast, the other Nichiren schools (including the other Fuji lineages of Nikko) do not use the term “kuon ganjo” but understand the remote past of chapter 16 to actually be the beginningless past. Furthemore, the reference in chapter 16 to the bodhisattva practice of Shakyamuni Buddha is taken to refer to the mutual possession of the worlds of bodhisattvahood and budddhahood as Nichiren himself does in Kanjin Honzon Sho. The Nichiren Shoshu, however, take it to refer to Shakyamuni Buddha’s training under the Buddha of Kuon Ganjo.  For support, Nichikan referred to two transmission texts, the “Ryo Kechimyaku Sho,” said to have been written by Nichiren but which scholars believe may be pious forgeries which first appeared in the 15th century. These two writings are the “Hon-in Myo Sho” (“On the Original Cause”) and the “Hyakurokka Soja” (“106 Article Transmission”). These two writings are heavily indebted to medieval Tendai original enlightenment teachings.

Nichiren’s writings make it clear that he saw himself as fulfilling the role of Bodhisattva Superior Practice. They also make it clear that he believed he had achieved enlightenment through the practice of chanting Odaimoku. Yet, nowhere in Nichiren’s writings does he claim to be the Buddha of True Cause, or the Buddha of the Latter Age, or any kind of Buddha who would supercede Shakyamuni Buddha. In fact, Nichiren’s writings clearly indicate that it was the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha of chapter 16 which he wanted people to regard as the Gohonzon.

As for Nikko, it is clear from his writings as well that he regarded Shakyamuni and not Nichiren as the true Buddha. In the “Hara dono gohenji” he writes:

“The teaching of Nichiren is the one that states that if you have abandoned Shakyamuni Buddha who is the Original Lord and Master of the sentient beings of the Triple World [Saha] and if you rely instead on Amida Buddha and give sole respect to Amida Buddha, then you will become a person who is guilty of the five deadly sins; you will fall into the hell of interminable suffering [Avichi Hell], isn’t that true?”

 And in the same letter he says of Shakyamuni Buddha that he is:

“The original intention of the appearance of Nichiren Shonin in this world, the Master Shakyamuni Buddha of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.”

It is evident that Nikko himself revered the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha of chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra as Nichiren Shonin himself taught. This does not mean that Nichiren Shonin did not teach the True Cause. It does not mean that Nichiren Shonin did not attain enlightenment or buddhahood through chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. What it means is that Nikko, like all other Nichiren Buddhists with the exception of the Taisekiji lineage after Nichiu, saw Nichiren as the transmitter of the True Cause for Buddhahood which he himself received from the Eternal Buddha who is one with the Wonderful Dharma which is itself the True Cause and the True Effect. Like us, Nichiren lived the role of a bodhisattva in transmitting this teaching and practice and was able to abide in the world of Buddhahood and bring it forth whenever he chanted and/or contemplated it. Nichiren looked to the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha and taught us to do so as well. Nikko was a true disciple of Nichiren Shonin and followed him in this.

It seems that the lineage of Taisekiji was seduced by the self-serving rhetoric of medieval Tendai original enlightenment thought, which they used to exalt the life and teachings of Nichiren over and above the life and teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. In doing this, they cut Nichiren’s own teaching and practice away from its very basis in Shakyamuni’s teaching and example. By claiming that Nichiren was the True Buddha and that only they understood this, they could claim to be superior not only to other schools of Buddhism but even to all other branches of Nichiren Buddhism, and even superior to the other Fuji lineages like Kitayama Honmonji where Nikko actually spent 36 years of his life. In addition, their claim to the sole transmission of the Dharma for their priesthood, and their claims regarding the Dai-Gohonzon all served to bring power and prestige to Taisekiji, which was otherwise a relatively unknown country temple.

My thanks to Senchu Murano, Jackie Stone, Bruce Maltz, and Chris Holte for providing all this information