Nichiren and His Disciples

Toki Jonin [1 OF 3]

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

Illustration by Brandon Hill.


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.

Toki Jonin [1 OF 3]

Alongside Shijo Kingo and Nanjo Tokimitsu, Toki Jonin of Shimosa Province (present-day Chiba Prefecture) is one of Nichiren Daishonin’s principal disciples. The next three installments will be dedicated to examining his life.

The more than 30 letters that he received from Nichiren reveal that Toki Jonin possessed wide-ranging knowledge, a seeking spirit toward the teachings and an earnest personality. This first installment will cover his family as well as his efforts amid the Tatsunokuchi Persecution and the Dashonin’s exile to Sado Island.

Toki Jonin’s Birthplace and Family

Toki Jonin was a samurai who lived in Wakamiya in Shimosa Province. It is speculated that his father, Toki Chuta Nyudo Rennin, moved the family to Wakamiya from Inaba Province (present-day Tottori Prefecture) in southwestern Japan. It is thought that Jonin had four siblings.

Jonin’s first wife had passed away, and the woman who is referred to as lay nun Toki in Nichiren’s writings is his second wife. Lay nun Toki formerly lived in Suruga Province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture), and, when she married Jonin, she moved to Shimosa together with her only child [who later became one of the six senior priests], Iyo-bo Nitcho (1252–1317). She is considered to have had a son with Jonin, Jyakusen-bo Nitcho (1262–1310), who later became a disciple of Nikko Shonin.

Lay nun Toki selflessly cared for Jonin’s elderly mother who persevered in her faith until her death in her 90s.

Working as a Civil Servant

In Shimosa Province, where Toki Jonin lived, Chiba Yoritane, a powerful vassal of the Kamakura shogunate, had been appointed military governor or constable, charged with safeguarding and maintaining peace and order in the province.

Jonin served as a retainer to Chiba in a role similar to that of a local civil servant. At times, he reported for duty at the governor’s office, and at other times, he was posted in Kamakura to handle various administrative documents. Because of his position, it appears that he had contacts within the shogunate, and, through them, he learned of the inner goings-on of the central government.

He took the name “Jonin”—a different pronun-ciation of his given name, Tsunenobu—after becoming a lay priest. In his writings, Nichiren Daishonin addresses him as lay priest Toki. His wife also became a lay nun.

During this time period, the practice of becoming a lay priest or nun was not uncommon. Though they did not renounce secular life, those who became lay priests or nuns would shave their heads as a gesture of dedication to their Buddhist practice.

Taking Faith

Toki Jonin was one of the earliest disciples of Nichiren Daishonin. It is estimated that he took faith soon after the Daishonin established his teachings in 1253. Together with his wife, Jonin staunchly protected the Daishonin.

Jonin was the recipient of numerous writings by Nichiren, many of which contained important teachings written in classical Chinese. Considering that Jonin enjoyed firm social standing, had economic stability and was well-educated and cultured, the Daishonin must have had high hopes for him to play a central role in conveying his teachings to his followers in Shimosa and beyond.

Jonin collaborated with Ota Jomyo and Soya Kyoshin, also early converts in Shimosa, and had a close friendship with Shijo Kingo of Kamakura.

It is worth noting that in those days only disciples who had been schooled could read the Daishonin’s letters. Thus, it is thought that representative lay disciples, like Jonin and other disciples who had become priests, read Nichiren’s letters so that others could listen to Nichiren’s messages and teachings.

The Many Letters Nichiren Wrote En Route to Sado

In 1271, Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples faced a crisis when he encountered his greatest trial: the Tatsunokuchi Persecution and the subsequent Sado Exile. Despite this harrowing predicament, he wrote letters at every juncture en route to Sado Island.

He proceeded from Tatsunokuchi to Echi in Sagami Province (present-day Kanagawa Prefecture) to the residence of Homma Rokuro Saemon-no-jo Shigetsura, who was the deputy constable of Sado under whose custody he remained. It was soon after his arrival there that Nichiren authored “Letter from Echi” (WND-1, 194), which was the first letter he wrote after the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.

In this writing, the Daishonin quotes the passage from the Lotus Sutra “again and again we will be banished” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 234), which predicts that the votary of the Lotus Sutra will meet with repeated persecution in the Latter Day of the Law. He states in the letter that this passage refers to him and expresses his joy that, because he is reading the Lotus Sutra with his life, he will undoubtedly attain Buddhahood.

Although it seemed for a time that Nichiren might be pardoned, when it became clear that he would in the end be exiled to Sado, Toki Jonin, out of concern for his teacher, sent an attendant to escort the Daishonin. After departing Echi and arriving at the port of Teradomari in Echigo (present-day Niigata Prefecture), the Daishonin wrote “Letter from Teradomari” (WND-1, 206) to Toki Jonin while waiting to be transported to Sado Island.

Citing key passages of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren reveals in this writing that he himself has met with great persecution precisely because he had been unhesitatingly propagating the Lotus Sutra in exact accord with the sutra’s teachings. He rejects out of hand the “unjust criticisms” (WND-1, 209) leveled against him for endeavoring to spread the Mystic Law. He also denounced the erroneous opinions of the True Word school—the very teachings that he later actively refuted.

The Shared Struggle of Mentor and Disciple

These points that Nichiren Daishonin confidently asserts in “Letter from Teradomari” are also elucidated in letters that he later wrote while on Sado as well as after he took up residence at Mount Minobu. From Teradomari, with Sado Island just across the sea, Nichiren began his counterattack of powerfully expressing his ideas and expounding his most important teachings.

The shogunate government not only exiled Nichiren, but it also imprisoned his elder disciple Nichiro and four others in a dungeon in Kamakura. He requested that Toki Jonin have the contents of “Letter from Teradomari” conveyed immediately to them.

Incidentally, before leaving Teradomari Nichiren asked the attendant dispatched by Jonin to return to Jonin.

After Nichiren made the passage to Sado Island, he was placed in a small, dilapidated funerary hut located in a graveyard called Tsukahara.

Upon arriving in Tsukahara, the first letter that Nichiren wrote was “Aspiration for the Buddha Land” (WND-1, 213), which was addressed to Toki Jonin. In this letter, he requested that Jonin gather and preserve his commentaries and folding notebooks containing essential passages from the complete collection of the scriptures.[1]Nichiren Daishonin writes: “I would like you to gather and keep in one place the five folding notebooks I mentioned to you, which contain essential passages from the complete collection of the scriptures and from The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom. Please make sure that the essential passages from the treatises and commentaries are not scattered and lost” (“Aspiration for the Buddha Land,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 214). Nichiren also asks, “Please tell the young priests not to neglect their studies” (WND-1, 214). And in “Letter from Teradomari,” he states, “Those resolved to seek the way should gather and listen to the contents of this letter” (WND-1, 206).

As they read each letter together, Jonin and his fellow practitioners must have deepened their determination to continue fighting alongside their mentor.

A Trustworthy Disciple

During Nichiren Daishonin’s exile to Sado, government authorities engaged in severe harassment and punishment of his disciples, for instance, inciting family members to turn against them, confiscating their land or having them banished from their villages. Due to such harsh treatment, many renounced their faith, and some even turned to criticizing and slandering the Daishonin.

Regarding such persecution, SGI President Ikeda states: “[This] can be viewed as a battle between an offensive and a counteroffensive force. On the offensive side were the devilish forces seeking to undermine the hearts of the Daishonin’s followers; taking the counteroffensive was the Daishonin himself, who sought to protect the faith of his followers and, if anything, aspired for them to use this persecution to establish faith equal to and at one with his own” (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, vol. 3, p. 13).

Toki Jonin courageously took part in this struggle by doing anything he could to support his mentor. In addition to sending needed writing implements, like brushes and ink stones, he also hastily gathered Buddhist texts that were indispensable to Nichiren for writing letters. He also made sincere offerings of money and clothing, and frequently dispatched people to attend to and support the Daishonin.

Regarding the conditions of his exile, Nichiren states: “There is very little writing paper here in the province of Sado, and to write to you individually would take too long. Nevertheless, if even one person fails to hear from me, it will cause resentment. Therefore, I want people with seeking minds to meet and read this letter together for encouragement” (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 306).

One can conclude that when the Daishonin wished to address all of his disciples, he sent such letters to Toki Jonin. For example, he addressed to Jonin writings such as “Letter from Sado,” “Errors of the True Word and Other Schools” and “The Votary of the Lotus Sutra Will Meet Persecution.”

Particularly noteworthy is the work “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” which Nichiren entrusted to Jonin in April 1273. In this writing, the Daishonin expounds that for ordinary people in the Latter Day of the Law to attain enlightenment, the practice of observing one’s mind is none other than embracing the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He teaches that embracing the true object of devotion is in itself enlightenment and then explains the Gohonzon in great detail.

After Nichiren tells Jonin that “[the teaching I have explained in this writing] has never been heard of before and is bound to startle those who read or hear of it” (WND-1, 377), he cautions his disciple to be careful when showing it to others.

We gain a sense of the Daishonin’s trust in Jonin based on such statements as well as the request mentioned earlier tasking him with collecting Nichiren’s commentaries and folding notebooks for safekeeping. It is readily apparent that Jonin, making good use of his work as a civil servant while dedicating himself to his faith as a lay priest, strove sincerely in the shared struggle of mentor and disciple.

Part of the Harmonious Community of Believers

Another important work that Nichiren Daishonin composed while on Sado Island is “The Opening of the Eyes,” which he entrusted to Shijo Kingo of Kamakura. In another writing, he instructed Toki Jonin to read “The Opening of the Eyes” with great care (see “Why No Protection from the Heavenly Gods,” WND-2, 432). In addition, he sent “The Votary of the Lotus Sutra Will Meet Persecution” (WND-1, 447) to Shijo Kingo and Toki Jonin. By doing so, Nichiren may have been endeavoring to ensure that these two would serve as the core people for uniting all practitioners.

President Ikeda said of Nichiren’s disciples during the Sado exile: “Only a gathering of lions can accomplish kosen-rufu. Only a harmonious body of believers can spread the Law in society. I would like to suggest that this genuine harmonious unity came into being at the time of the Sado Exile. It is clear that his more awakened disciples stood up wholeheartedly in the midst of the storm of persecution in response to the Daishonin’s call” (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writing, vol. 3, p. 31).

With Nichiren’s letters of encouragement in hand, Toki Jonin stood up as a central figure, working hard to encourage his fellow members.

To be continued in an upcoming issue.

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


(p. 31)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “I would like you to gather and keep in one place the five folding notebooks I mentioned to you, which contain essential passages from the complete collection of the scriptures and from The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom. Please make sure that the essential passages from the treatises and commentaries are not scattered and lost” (“Aspiration for the Buddha Land,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 214).

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