765 years: Since Nichiren Daishonin Established His Teaching
On April 28, 1253, at around noon, Nichiren Daishonin delivered a sermon at Seicho-ji temple in his home province of Awa, declaring Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the teaching that could lead all people to enlightenment in the Latter Day of the Law. Nichiren was motivated by a resolute desire to provide a clear path to enlightenment and happiness that all people could access.
On this day, he set forth for the first time the essential elements of his teachings and gave himself the name Nichiren, composed of the Chinese characters for “sun” and “lotus.” The name reflected his resolve as a votary of the Lotus Sutra to illuminate the way for humankind to overcome any hardship or suffering.
This declaration of the establishment of his teaching took place 765 years ago this month.
The teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means to devote one’s life to the Lotus Sutra principle that all people inherently possess the life state of a Buddha. This stood in stark contrast to the prevailing Buddhist teachings of the time, namely those taught in the Nembutsu school. This school’s teachings, which Nichiren refuted, claimed that one’s only hope for enlightenment was to chant the name of Amida Buddha in order to be reborn in a pure land in the western reaches of the heavens. Furthermore, the Nembutsu priests actively encouraged people to reject the Lotus Sutra, claiming that people lacked the capacity to attain enlightenment in this lifetime. This teaching clearly deviated from the Buddha’s original message of universal enlightenment. But the authorities embraced the Nembutsu practice in part because it encouraged people to resign themselves to their circumstances, offering them no hope for a good life in this world but only salvation in the next, in some imagined paradise.
Nichiren knew that the attitudes the Nembutsu encouraged were destructive to society as a whole. But he also knew that if he spoke the truth, he would face persecution from the ruling authorities and, perhaps, even death. He nevertheless remained fearless.
He wrote of his thoughts at the time:
I, Nichiren, am the only person in all Japan who understands this. But if I utter so much as a word concerning it, then parents, brothers, and teachers will surely censure me, and the ruler of the nation will take steps against me. On the other hand, I am fully aware that if I do not speak out I will be lacking in compassion. I have considered which course to take in the light of the teachings of the Lotus and Nirvana sutras. If I remain silent, I may escape persecutions in this lifetime, but in my next life I will most certainly fall into the hell of incessant suffering. If I speak out, I am fully aware that I will have to contend with the three obstacles and four devils. But of these two courses, surely the latter is the one to choose. (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 239)
From the very first, just as the sutras predicted, Nichiren faced a never-ending storm of obstacles from the ruling authorities, who exiled him twice and attempted to execute him.
SGI President Ikeda discusses Nichiren’s courageous battle to establish his teaching:
The sutras clearly state that one must speak out in order to lead people to enlightenment. This is what Nichiren Daishonin did based on his vow, determining that once he had spoken out, he would never retreat, no matter what great persecutions may befall him. It was as if he had set sail alone into a raging storm. But he had to go. He had to rescue the people whose ship had been wrecked by the tumultuous seas of society. (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, vol. 1, pp. 42–43)
Seven hundred and sixty-five years later, Nichiren’s teaching has spread around world—so broadly that, 24 hours a day, someone is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo somewhere in the world, transforming their lives, families and societies in the process.
Speaking of Nichiren’s unshakable vow, President Ikeda also writes:
Our vow is central to our efforts to spread the Mystic Law in the evil Latter Day. Without a powerful commitment to uphold and spread the correct teaching throughout our lives, we cannot turn back the raging currents of this polluted age; we cannot defeat the destructive and devilish tendencies in human life.
Our vow to work for kosen-rufu serves as a fundamental source of strength, giving us the courage to remain undaunted by even the greatest hardships and trials. When we dedicate ourselves with this vow, then no matter what obstacles and devilish functions arise, our lives will shine with a lofty, invincible spirit. No matter what karma should assail us, our lives will glow with the spirit of invincible champions. (February 2017 Living Buddhism, pp. 17–18)
The force of Nichiren’s vow will surely pervade humanity into the eternal future.