The Mentor-Disciple Relationship and the Journey of Kosen-rufu
New Series: Nichiren and Disciples
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 showcases how his disciples took action and overcame their various struggles based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.
LAY NUN KONICHI
In times of war, mothers and children are the ones who endure the greatest suffering. The true test of a religion is whether it can offer reassurance and hope to our mothers and children.
This installment features the lay nun Konichi, a bereaved mother who lost her only child. She was able to overcome her profound grief through Nichiren Daishonin’s guidance and encouragement.
A Mother and Her Warrior Son
The lay nun Konichi was a widow who lived in Amatsu of Awa Province, located in present-day Kamogawa City in Chiba Prefecture. In a letter from Nichiren Daishonin to Konichi, he describes her son, Yashiro, a samurai warrior, saying: “Your son especially impressed me. His handsome appearance made him stand out among the others, and in his thoughtful air there seemed no trace of obstinacy” (“Letter to Konichi-bo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 661).
It is unclear when and how Konichi took up faith in the Daishonin’s teachings, but it appears that since his childhood both Yashiro and his mother greatly respected and admired Nichiren (see WND-1, 661).
As a warrior, Yashiro had received orders from his lord to take part in combat. Spiritually tormented by this situation, he decided to receive guidance from Nichiren Daishonin.
He attended the Daishonin’s lecture on the Lotus Sutra, which is thought to have taken place before Nichiren’s exile to Sado (in 1271). At the lecture, Yashiro did not approach Nichiren directly since others were present, but later sent a messenger to convey the following: “I may be speaking with undue familiarity, but there is something about which I would like to seek your counsel in confidence. I know that I should wait until after we have met several times and are better acquainted. However, as I am in the service of a certain warrior, I have little time to spare, and the matter is quite urgent. Therefore, while fully aware that I am being rude, I ask that you grant me an interview” (“Letter to Konichi-bo,” WND-1, 661–62).
Nichiren immediately arranged for Yashiro to visit him, and they seem to have met face-to-face for the first time. Yashiro reported in great detail about his plight, saying with desperation: “Impermanence is the way of the world. No one knows when one may die. Moreover, I am committed to a warrior’s service, and I cannot avoid a challenge to combat that I have lately received. I dread what may await me in my next life. I beg you to help me” (WND-1, 662).
After hearing him out, Nichiren cited sutra passages as he offered advice and encouragement to the young man.
Yashiro then responded: “I can do nothing for my deceased father. But should I die before my widowed mother, I would be an unfilial son. Should anything happen to me, please ask your disciples to look after her” (WND-1, 662).
From these comments, we can surmise that Yashiro was a son who truly cared for his parents and a person of strong faith. And it is thought that following this interaction with Nichiren, Yashiro had survived that particular ordeal.
Warrior–Disciples Face a Grave Dilemma
When we take a closer look into the life of an individual disciple, we can better understand the actions and struggles of Nichiren Daishonin in his quest to establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land.
“Letter to Konichi-bo” offers valuable historical insight into the life of a Kamakura-era warrior, grappling with guilt and anxiety about the afterlife. In stark contrast to the image of the brave and fearless samurai, some warriors constructed Buddhist shrines inside their residences to pray for salvation. Others became monks, hoping to avoid falling into hell.
Nichiren’s warrior–disciples faced a grave dilemma: On the one hand they were upholding the Buddhist teaching of respect for the dignity of life, but on the other hand, their jobs required taking up arms. Due to various factors, including family rank and the social structure of the era, many warriors had to face such a predicament.
People were often at the mercy of the times, and Nichiren saw their struggles as his own. In the treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” the guest says, “Now surely the peace of the world and the stability of the nation are sought by both ruler and subject” (WND-1, 18). These words reflect the sentiments of many samurai warriors of that time.
Like the lay nun Konichi’s story, Nichiren warmly and tenaciously encouraged each person until they could once again stand up based on faith. Such were the tragedies and challenges of the era and the society in which he lived.
A Letter From Konichi
In 1276, several years after that exchange, Nichiren Daishonin received a letter. It was from the lay nun Konichi, conveying to him that her son, Yashiro, still in his youth, had died two years earlier on June 8, 1274, shortly after Nichiren had taken up residence on Mount Minobu.
During those two years, she undoubtedly suffered deep, agonizing sorrow and anguish from losing her only son. But the circumstances keeping her from revealing this news to Nichiren until two years later is unknown. Still, in her letter, she expressed the thought weighing on her mind: “Because my son killed others, I would like you to tell me into what kind of place he may be reborn” (WND-1, 662)—a question that seems to echo her son’s concern while he was alive.
Nichiren’s Wholehearted Encouragement
In his response, Nichiren Daishonin writes: “I had been delighted before I opened your letter, but then, upon reading the sad news, I wished I had not opened it in such a hurry. I felt regret such as Urashima Taro must have experienced upon opening his casket” (“Letter to Konichi-bo,” WND-1, 661).
Instead of simply citing Buddhist scriptures and offering intellectual explanations of Yashiro’s death, Nichiren first sympathizes with the grief-stricken mother, striving to rekindle hope in her heart. Her mentor’s heartfelt words no doubt comforted Konichi as though he were right there with her.
He also recounts his meeting with Yashiro in vivid detail, giving Konichi comfort in knowing how much her son had cared for her.
Nichiren assures her that when one is sincerely remorseful, then even a grave offense can be eradicated through sincere repentance (see WND-1, 662–63). He explains: “Even though your late son, Yashiro, committed evil, if you, the mother who gave birth to him, grieve for him and offer prayers for him day and night in the presence of Shakyamuni Buddha, how could he not be saved? Moreover, because he believed in the Lotus Sutra, he may have become the one who will lead his parents to Buddhahood” (WND-1, 664).
By recognizing Yashiro’s resolute faith, Nichiren affirms that in life, and now in death, Konichi’s son remains her “good friend” who will lead her to Buddhahood.
At the end of his letter, Nichiren cautions Konichi to not be influenced by “evil friends,” or negative influences that slander the Mystic Law. He also encourages her to stay in touch with his disciples in the area, and to ask one of them to read this letter to her whenever she saw them. Finally, he tells her to pay no attention to those who criticize his letter “as mere clever words.”
A Story of Spiritual Revitalization
Inspired by Nichiren Daishonin’s profound conviction, Konichi was able to move forward in life with a renewed sense of hope and continued practicing with sincere devotion. Several years later, she wrote him again, telling him this time that she had overcome her grief.
Nichiren responded, praising her steadfast faith: “The moon of your mind is without shadow and all stain has vanished from your body. You are a Buddha in your present body—how wonderful, how wonderful!” (“Reply to Lay Nun Konichi,” WND-2, 1068). These words reflect the unfettered life state that Konichi had achieved based on her continued dedication to her Buddhist practice. Her strength to keep going no doubt arose out of her inner certitude that the bond with her son transcends life and death.
In another letter written in 1281, Nichiren states: “Honorable Konichi, who out of her great affection for her son became a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra[.] Without fail both mother and child will go to the pure land of Eagle Peak. At that time, how joyful your meeting will be! How joyful it will be!” (“Reply to the Honorable Konichi,” WND-2, 964).
Here, he calls this woman of humble origin “Honorable Konichi,” using an honorific title reserved for high-ranking priests. Based on the perspective of freeing oneself from the suffering of life and death—which is the fundamental aim of Buddhism—she was more than deserving of this title.
No one can avoid the pain and grief of parting with a loved one. But Buddhism teaches that both life and death are expressions of our supremely noble lives. Konichi’s story of spiritual revitalization is proof of this wonderful teaching.
Translated from the May 2017 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.
SGI President Ikeda on the Buddhist View of Life and Death
Of course, as ordinary people, it is a sad and lonely experience when someone dies. Nothing is harder than losing a close family member or loved one. A family member or loved one dying from an illness or in an accident, or a child preceding us in death—these are all tragic, heartbreaking experiences. Only time can heal our grief . . .
The death of a family member or a loved one, however, always has some profound meaning. And we’ll definitely be able to realize this. The day will come when it becomes clear to us. What matters is that we calmly and serenely overcome all of life’s challenges, viewing everything from the perspective of Buddhism.
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Those who have formed a connection to the Mystic Law will unfailingly be protected. For example, were they to die in an accident, a natural disaster, or of illness, those things cannot destroy the inner essence of their life (see “On the Protection of the Nation,” WND-2, 135). From the penetrating perspective of faith in the Mystic Law, those who die while striving for kosen-rufu are all people who have participated in the challenge to transform the karma of humankind and completed their mission in this lifetime. Their death—or “departure for the pure land of Eagle Peak”—is a preparation for their next existence. The deceased who in life formed a connection with the Mystic Law, Nichiren says, watch over their loved ones from that realm of Buddhahood.
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From the Buddhist view that life continues through both birth and death, whether we are living or dead—or, as Nichiren might phrase it, here in the saha world or in the pure land of Eagle Peak—we remain forever comrades in the shared struggle for kosen-rufu. We remain members of the Soka family, fellow members in faith, our lives eternally aspiring on the very deepest level for the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law and a fundamental transformation in the karma of humankind.
If we continue to exert ourselves based on faith in the Mystic Law, we will definitely someday gain a deep inner certitude and conviction in the Buddhist view of life and death, which teaches the eternity of life. Countless SGI members have been able to do so through their practice.
(From Learning From Nichiren’s Writings: The Teachings of Victory, vol. 3, pp. 75–76)