Nichiren and His Disciples

Toki Jonin [2 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 series shows how his disciples took action and overcame their various hardships based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.

Toki Jonin [2 OF 3]

Toki Jonin was no exception in the struggle against negative karma. Storms of obstacles and devilish functions attacked him mercilessly, especially from the time Nichiren Daishonin was exiled to Sado Island through his residence at Mount Minobu. Having to endure the death of his lord, followed by his mother’s passing and the illness of his wife, Jonin at times could not hold back from lamenting about his circumstances to Nichiren. Regardless, as an honorable disciple, he embraced his mentor’s encouragement and guidance, and lived resolutely during turbulent times.

Nichiren Goes to Mount Minobu

After two years and five months, Nichiren was pardoned from his exile on Sado Island and returned to Kamakura on March 26, 1274. Less than two weeks later, on April 8, he remonstrated for a third time with Hei no Saemon-no-jo, a leading official in the de facto ruling body of Japan. Then on May 12, Nichiren left Kamakura, arriving at Mount Minobu five days later.

Regarding the move to Minobu, SGI President Ikeda says, “I feel the Daishonin wanted to teach his followers that they now had to become the protagonists in the struggle for kosen-rufu” (January 2004 Living Buddhism, p. 43).
Alongside Nichiren’s other leading disciples, such as Shijo Kingo and the Ikegami brothers, Toki Jonin too undoubtedly continued to deepen his awareness as a disciple as he received guidance from the Daishonin.

On the day that he arrived at Minobu, Nichiren addressed “The Way to Minobu” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 480) to Jonin, describing what he witnessed en route. Then, on May 24, he authored and sent to Jonin the important work “Choosing the Heart of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-2, 481) in which he explains that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws[1]The Three Great Secret Laws: The core principles of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching. They are the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the daimoku of the essential teaching and the sanctuary of the essential teaching.—the foundation of his teachings—is the essence of the Lotus Sutra to be widely spread in the Latter Day of the Law.

In this way, the Daishonin made it a point to first write to Jonin at major turning points such as the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, Sado Exile and his move to Minobu. Based on this relationship of trust, Jonin was belived to be in regular communication with Nichiren, updating him on developments in society and details about his other disciples. For example, Jonin believed to be reported on the outbreak of a severe epidemic between 1277 and 1278.

Grief Over Losing His Mother

“In the morning you venture forth to wait on your lord, and in the evening you return to your home, where you do all that can be done for your loving mother, where all your thoughts are of the duties of a filial son” (“On Forgetting the Copy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-2, 658)—Toki Jonin’s daily routine closely resembles that of working people today. It also appears that he had a sincere desire to take good care of his mother who lived with him and his family.

There is a famous episode involving Jonin’s mother, who in 1275 was already in her 90s and whom Jonin’s wife, the lay nun Toki, diligently cared for. Despite her advanced years, his mother pushed herself to weave an unlined robe for Jonin to help him weather the summer heat. It could be that Jonin deemed this robe too precious to wear himself, because in February of that year, he offered it as a gift to the Daishonin.

Upon receiving it, Nichiren wrote: “Perhaps you, her son, thinking you can scarcely repay the debt you owe her for the making of this unlined robe, offered it to me. But I, too, can scarcely repay the kindness of such a gift. On the other hand, it would hardly be right to return it” (“A Mother’s Gift of a Robe,” WND-2, 532). Nichiren also said that he would report this gift to the heavenly deities, ensuring that the offering of this robe will bring enduring benefit. The Daishonin, more than anyone, understood Jonin’s sincerity.

Route of the Mongol invasion of Japan.
The Death of Jonin’s Lord, Chiba Yoritane

The potential invasion by the forces of the Mongol Empire was the foremost national crisis for Japan at the time, and it gripped Toki Jonin’s attention. Following a message that arrived from the Mongols on New Year’s Day in 1268, the government began taking steps to defend the country against an impending attack.

On September 13, 1271—a day after the Tatsunokuchi Persecution—the shogunate government issued an order to all vassals in the Kanto region (which encompassed provinces surrounding Kamakura) who held fiefs in the Kyushu region in southwestern Japan, where the Mongols were expected to land. It said to make haste to Kyushu themselves or to dispatch their deputies to guard their fiefs and defend the country against invasion.

Jonin’s lord, Chiba Yoritane, is thought to have been affected by this order as he held feudal lands in Ogi, Hizen Province (present-day Saga Prefecture). Therefore, it is thought that he departed for this region with many retainers in tow.

Jonin saw off his lord and his colleagues. At that same moment, his mentor, Nichiren, was being exiled to Sado. This must have been a heartrending time for Jonin.

In a letter later addressed to Jonin’s wife in 1276, the Daishonin describes the sadness that soldiers must have felt as their wives and children sent them off to Kyushu to guard against a looming invasion. He writes: “Parting with their wives and children who stayed behind was like bark being ripped from a tree. They pressed their faces together and lamented while gazing into each other’s eyes . . . Tears accompany them, and grief is their companion. How sorrowful they must be!” (‘The Bow and Arrow,” WND-1, 656).

Then, in October 1274, the Mongol forces attacked. Chiba Yoritane was grievously injured and died in August 1275 at the age of 37. Having served Lord Chiba for many years, this must have caused Jonin deep sadness.

Losing His Mother

Just six months later, in February 1276, Toki Jonin’s mother, who had enjoyed a long life, passed away. Though it is only natural that people die, for Jonin it must have been unbearable to lose his mother, given that he had been exceptionally devoted in her care.

Bearing his mother’s cremated remains, Jonin visited Nichiren in Minobu. While enduring grief and traversing dangerous roads, he finally reached his destination.

He is said to have shared with the Daishonin how dignified his mother had been at the time of her passing. He also conveyed how the lay nun Toki—his wife—had taken utmost care of his ailing mother, and that she was now battling the devilish function of illness herself.

Jonin prayed abundantly for his mother’s repose while at Minobu, and received heartfelt encouragement from the Daishonin before departing (see “On Forgetting the Copy of the Sutra,” WND-2, 658–59).

The Lay Nun Toki: A Pillar of Support

Nichiren entrusted Toki Jonin with a letter that he had addressed to the lay nun Toki (“The Bow and Arrow,” WND-1, 656–57) in which he praises her for her support of Jonin, who had traveled to Minobu to see him. Nichiren wrote of the deep gratitude that Jonin felt toward her for taking care of his mother.

Nichiren likely sensed that Jonin had not been able to verbalize his gratitude toward his wife, thus he took it upon himself to convey Jonin’s sentiment to the lay nun so that the couple’s love would deepen.

It appears, however, that Jonin had divulged his genuine feelings about his wife’s efforts to Shijo Kingo as evidenced in another writing addressed to the lay nun from Nichiren in which Kingo is cited as saying that “Toki depends on you [his wife] as a staff to lean on and a pillar for support” (“On Prolonging One’s Life Span,” WND-1, 955).

“The Most Forgetful Person in All Japan”

Upon leaving Minobu, Toki Jonin left behind his personal copy of the Lotus Sutra, which he had taken there with him. The Daishonin entrusted the letter “On Forgetting the Copy of the Sutra” to a disciple that he had dispatched to return the sutra to Jonin. In this letter, he offers stories of forgetfulness through the ages and refers to Jonin as “the most forgetful person in all Japan” (WND-2, 657).

Given his literary style, Nichiren did not let the episode simply pass with humor. He followed by pointing out that the various Buddhist schools had forgotten Shakyamuni’s true aim—the Lotus Sutra—and will as a consequence experience the sufferings of hell. Then he states, “Even worse than them are the greatest forgetters of all” (WND-2, 657). This was in reference to the priests and believers of the Tendai school of the time, upholders of the Lotus Sutra who had forgotten the intent of Shakyamuni and were slandering Nichiren, the votary of the Lotus Sutra, while lending support to Nembutsu and other believers.

Although this encouragement stemmed from his blunder, it was an admonition that penetrated Jonin’s life and certainly did not leave him for the remainder of his days.

Nichiren also lays out in this writing the principle of parents and children attaining enlightenment together. Because Jonin, who had traveled to Minobu with his mother’s ashes, chanted and revealed his enlightened nature, the Daishonin says: “You know that your mother too will quickly be absolved of the karmic impediments that have been accumulated from time without beginning, and the wonderful lotus that is the inner nature of her mind will quickly open its petals” (WND-2, 659).

Could it have been that Jonin, who had been praying earnestly for his mother’s repose, was so relieved and overcome with joy at hearing this that he left behind his copy of the sutra? This letter from the Daishonin, who grasped the heart of this loving son who cared so deeply about his mother, is sure to have lightened Jonin’s regret over leaving behind his important copy of the Lotus Sutra.

Receiving “On the Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice”

The death of his lord in battle, his mother’s passing and his wife’s sickness must have strongly impressed upon Toki Jonin, who had turned 60, the transience of human life. Indeed, he lived during a time when it was difficult for people to live beyond the age of 30 due to war, famine and pestilence. For this reason, Jonin endeavored to practice Buddhism in order to actualize a life condition of absolute happiness that would be indestructible throughout the three existences of past, present and future.

Evidence of this can be found in a letter containing some of Jonin’s questions that were addressed to the Daishonin and entrusted to Nissho in March 1277, soon after the first anniversary of his mother’s passing. In this letter, Jonin voices his worry that despite his good fortune in encountering Buddhism and an extraordinary mentor, because he had not been able to see the Daishonin for some time, he may forget the teachings he had learned. What’s more, he may not be able to eradicate his evil karma, thereby falling into hell for an extended period of time.

He also expresses his wish to abandon worldly affairs so that he could fully serve the Daishonin as his assistant. It appears that despite already being a lay priest, he had a sudden impulse to join the priestly order to fully dedicate himself to Buddhist practice. In addition to his unease that he had not devoted himself adequately to his Buddhist practice, the letter also contained questions regarding the particulars of precepts and rules.

The letter “On the Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice” (WND-1, 783) written in April 1277, is thought to be Nichiren’s response to Jonin’s many questions. Taking into account Jonin’s concerns, Nichiren elucidates that Buddhist practice in the Latter Day of the Law consists of steadfastly chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with conviction in its power.

In surveying Nichiren’s writings after this point, it does not seem that Jonin entered the priestly order. As Nichiren writes to Jonin, “Your mother, obeying the principle of birth and death, set out on her journey to the Yellow Springs” (“On Forgetting the Copy of the Sutra,” WND-2, 658), perhaps he continued to contemplate his mother’s death, while following Nichiren’s guidance to courageously break through his karmic deadlocks amid the realities of daily life.

To be continued in an upcoming issue.

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


(p. 30-33)

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Three Great Secret Laws: The core principles of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching. They are the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the daimoku of the essential teaching and the sanctuary of the essential teaching.

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