Nichiren and His Disciples

The Mentor-Disciple Relationship and the Journey of Kosen-rufu

Nichiren and Disciples

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Nichiren Daishonin persevered in his efforts to spread the Mystic Law, overcoming a succession of persecutions in order to establish a teaching that could lead all people to absolute happiness. There are numerous examples of the drama of the oneness of mentor and disciple that unfolded between Nichiren and his disciples. This new series shows how his disciples took action and overcame their various hardships based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.


Beginning around July 1260, after Nichiren Daishonin submitted his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” to the authorities, persecutions against him intensified. He endured the Matsubagayatsu Perse-cution, which occurred roughly a month later, followed by his being exiled to the Izu Peninsula from mid-1261 until early 1263. The next year, in November 1264, Nichiren underwent the Komatsubara Persecution, during which he suffered the first fatality among his disciples.

In this installment we will take a closer look at Kudo Yoshitaka, a disciple who was instrumental in protecting Nichiren during the Komatsubara Persecution.

Recipient of “The Four Debts of Gratitude”

Kudo Yoshitaka lived in Tojo Village of Awa Province, which is present-day Kamogawa City in Chiba Prefecture. Nichiren Daishonin wrote a letter to Yoshitaka dated January 16, 1262, and later titled “The Four Debts of Gratitude.” This was during Nichiren’s exile to Izu, where he remained from May 1261 until February 1263. In this letter, Nichiren expresses his tremendous joy at being exiled, because this persecution proves that he is indeed the votary of the Lotus Sutra.

An Ambush Led by Tojo Kagenobu

After being pardoned from exile and returning to Kamukura in 1263, Nichiren Daishonin traveled the following year to his native province of Awa to visit his mother who was seriously ill. As a result of his care and prayers for her, Nichiren’s mother soon recovered, and he stayed in the area, resuming his propagation efforts there.

On November 11, 1264, Nichiren and about 10 of his followers headed for Kudo Yoshitaka’s home. Around 5 in the afternoon, Nichiren and his party were ambushed by the steward of Awa Village, Tojo Kagenobu, and a group of armed men. (This is known as the Komatsubara Persecution.)

Tojo Kagenobu was a staunch Nembutsu believer who harbored deep hatred for Nichiren. This was because Nichiren clearly had refuted Nembutsu, stating that its teaching will lead believers to the hell of incessant suffering.

Not only that, when Kagenobu was in a land dispute with a woman named Oama, she had sought advice from Nichiren. She later became a follower of Nichiren’s teachings (see February 2018 Living Buddhism, pp. 30–33). In the end, Kagenobu suffered a miserable legal defeat, which only fanned his resentment toward Nichiren.

Kagenobu led the vicious attack on Nichiren and his followers, which Nichiren describes, stating: “I was ambushed by several hundred Nembutsu believers and others . . . Arrows fell on us like rain, and swords descended like lightning” and that “only three or four . . . were capable of offering any resistance at all” (“Encouragement to a Sick Person,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 81).

Disciples Fight Back

Greatly outnumbered with no hope of winning, Nichiren and his disciples defended themselves desperately. We can presume that Yoshitaka caught wind of this battle, and this is what led him to rush to their aid. He fought with such ferocity that Kagenobu and his men had to withdraw.

Unfortunately, one of Nichiren’s disciples (traditionally said to be Kyonin-bo) was killed in battle. Two more sustained heavy injuries.

Nichiren himself suffered a deep wound on his forehead and a broken left hand, narrowly escaping the attack. He writes: “It seemed that I was doomed. Yet, for some reason, my attackers failed to kill me; thus I have survived until now” (WND-1, 81).

Yoshitaka was critically injured and later died from his wounds. He fought to protect Nichiren, even at the cost of his own life. Yoshitaka’s faith will shine forever as the epitome of the spirit to “not begrudge even his own being and life” for the sake of the Law (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 221).

Translated from the June 2017 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


The Joy of Reading the Lotus Sutra With One’s Life

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “I cannot possibly express my joy” (“The Four Debts of Gratitude,” WND-1, p. 43) and “For anyone born human, what greater joy could there be?” (WND-1, 43). His joy comes from proving the truth of the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that those who uphold the Mystic Law will inevitably encounter persecutions.

One month after the Komatsubara Persecution, Nichiren describes the ambush and declares confidently that he is the only person who has encountered such great persecutions for the sake of the Law (see “Encouragement to a Sick Person,” WND-1, 81).

Despite the assassination attempts, conspiracies against him and betrayals by his own disciples, there is not a hint of despair or resentment in Nichiren’s writings. Rather, he expresses a powerful sense of mission as a votary of the Lotus Sutra to lead people to enlightenment.

Regarding this, President Ikeda states:

The Daishonin always conducted himself as an ordinary person, fought harsh persecutions as an ordinary person, and in this way revealed the solemn path of attaining Buddhahood. Therefore, his example of overcoming many difficulties is none other than proof of the greatness of the human being. By enduring great persecution, he actualized the principle that “persecutions are themselves attaining Buddhahood” with his own life. He demonstrated the reality of an ordinary person becoming a Buddha, which is the essence of human victory. (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, vol. 2, p. 39)

Nichiren demonstrates that when we are dedicated to fulfilling the great vow for kosen-rufu, we can enjoy the most expansive life state and brim with the joy of reading the Lotus Sutra with our lives.


(pp. 26-27)

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