Nichiren and His Disciples

Toki Jonin [3 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 [3 OF 3]

Regarding Nichiren Daishonin’s life after his exile to Sado Island, SGI President Ikeda has stated: “The Daishonin dedicated [himself] . . . to fostering genuine disciples who would be ready to face and fight persecution as he did, and to rebuilding the community of those practicing the correct teaching” (July 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 45).

Determined to carry on the efforts of Nichiren, who was battling one struggle after another, disciples arose in various regions and endeavored to spread the Mystic Law, each of them unbending before persecution. This final installment on Toki Jonin examines his efforts during the Atsuhara Persecution, which may be considered a defining moment in Nichiren Buddhism.

A Surge of Propagation

Let’s start by reviewing the history of the Atsuhara Persecution.

After Nichiren Daishonin moved his residence to Mount Minobu, his disciples in the Fuji area of Suruga Province (present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture), led by Nikko Shonin, boldly spread his teachings.

Due to these efforts, priests and laity at leading Tendai school temples in the area—such as Shijuku-in, with which Nikko was affiliated, Jisso-ji and Ryusen-ji—became Nichiren’s disciples one after another.

At Ryusen-ji, many farmers took faith, as did priests such as Shimotsuke-bo and Echigo-bo, who later took on the names Nisshu and Nichiben, respectively. This signified a rise in the tide of propagation.

The deputy chief priest of Ryusen-ji, Gyochi, and others, feeling threatened by this, applied increasing pressure over the course of several years on Nichiren’s disciples. Those who had backslid in their faith in Nichiren’s teaching and betrayed fellow practitioners were also actively scheming behind the scenes.

Gyochi relieved Nisshu and Nichiben of their duties and the two lost their living quarters at Ryusen-ji. However, with the support of their comrades, they remained on the temple grounds and continued to spread the Mystic Law in surrounding areas.

In spring 1278, the priest Gon’yo, the admini-strator of Shijuku-in, expelled Nikko Shonin and several other priests he had converted from the temple. Then in 1279, the persecution reached its peak.

On September 21, 1279, owing to a scheme hatched by Gyochi, 20 farmers who had converted to the Daishonin’s teaching were wrongfully arrested on trumped up charges while harvesting rice. They were immediately taken to Kamakura.

Gyochi had filed a written complaint alleging that, “ . . . a band formed of a number of persons armed with bows and arrows broke into the compound of the chief priest, and that Shimotsuke-bo Nisshu, armed and mounted on a horse, along with a peasant of Atsuhara named Kijiro, set up a notice board and the group then reaped the rice crop and carried it off to the compound occupied by Nisshu” (“The Ryusen-ji Petition,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 825). This was a completely fabricated allegation.\

Thus, the principal focus of the persecution shifted to a court battle. Nikko Shonin headed for Kamakura where he collaborated with Shijo Kingo and others to confront this challenge.

The Creation of the Ryusen-ji Petition

Under the direction of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin, Nissho and Nichiben coauthored a petition (“The Ryusen-ji Petition,” WND-2, 822) in response to Gyochi’s written complaint as part of the mentor and disciple struggle for justice.

Drafts dated October 1279, including an outline and a preliminary draft, are still in existence today. The first half of this petition summarizes the course of the Daishonin’s struggles to establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land, while admonishing that the teachings of the True Word school will lead the nation to ruin. The latter half of the work thoroughly denounces the evil deeds and fabrications of Gyochi.

This petition, consisting of 11 sheets of paper joined together, is still intact today. (It is thought that peeling off the backside of page 10 created page 11 and the contents continue on the backside of page 9).

Recent research shows that of these 11 pages, the text on pages 8, 9 and 10 are now considered to have been written by Toki Jonin. Previously it was thought that these pages had been written by Nikko Shonin.

Maintaining frequent contact with Nichiren, Nikko directed efforts from Kamakura to respond to the persecution. It was under Nikko that Toki Jonin, with his experience working with legal and government documents, applied his knowledge as a civil servant in penning a preliminary draft of “The Ryusen-ji Petition.” This interim draft was then sent to the Daishonin who was in Minobu.

The Daishonin made revisions, but retained the three pages drafted by Toki Jonin. He rewrote the first seven pages and merged them with the last three pages, which were written by Jonin. Moreover, he introduced additional wording to the front and backsides of page 10 and the back of page 9.

Thus, it was through working with Nikko Shonin and others that the Daishonin completed the final draft of “The Ryusen-ji Petition.”

Kai and Suruga Provinces in eastern Japan.
Debate With Priests of the Tendai School

Amid the persecution, Toki Jonin debated two priests of the Tendai School, Ryosho-bo and Shinen-bo, in Shimosa Province (present-day northern Chiba Prefecture) and defeated them. It appears that these two had previously denigrated Nichiren Daishonin (see “The Third Doctrine,” WND-1, 854).

In the debate, Ryosho-bo contended that there are no sutra interpretations that state that one cannot achieve enlightenment through teachings other than the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. He further asserted that disbelief in the Lotus Sutra could not be considered slander. Jonin brilliantly demolished these erroneous viewpoints.

When Jonin reported on the debate, Nichiren responded immediately. In “The Third Doctrine,” the Daishonin discusses the points raised in the debate in detail. He also points out that “were you to debate with others, it would only dilute the effect,” and suggests that Jonin refrain from further debates in Shimosa (see WND-1, 856).

The Daishonin underscored the importance of acting with the time and circumstances in mind, and he may also have been admonishing Jonin to not engage in debates unprepared.
Regarding “The Third Doctrine,” it is now believed, based on research of the Daishonin’s signature from that period, that it was penned on the same day as “On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” which is dated October 1, 1279.

In “The Third Doctrine,” Nichiren requested Jonin gather information on Ota Chikamasa, Nagasaki Tokitsuna and Daishin-bo, individuals who were tormenting his disciples in Atsuhara.
He states in closing, “There is much that I would like to say, but the messenger is in a hurry, so I am writing this at night” (WND-1, 856). Perhaps due to this situation, it appears that each of the 10 pages of the document was cropped unevenly.[1]See Nichiren shonin no goshinka (“Nichiren and His True Work”) by Akira Nakao published by Rinsen Book Company.

There was no time to waste, and from Minobu the mentor sought to protect all of his disciples. Jonin aligned his spirit with his mentor’s and, with conviction, exerted everything he had to wage this battle.

Nisshu and Nichiben Are Evacuated

The Atsuhara Persecution, which Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples confronted with all their might, had at last reached a critical stage. The 20 disciples, who had been taken to Kamakura, endured questioning that was tantamount to torture at the hands of a powerful government official named Hei-no-saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna. These disciples were pressed to discard the Lotus Sutra and chant the Nembutsu instead. However, not one of them renounced their practice, and continued to resoundingly chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, remaining firm in their faith. The leaders of this group of disciples—all farmers—were the three brothers, Jinshiro, Yagoro, and Yarokuro, who were ultimately beheaded.

In November 1279, the Daishonin requested that Toki Jonin and his wife shelter and safeguard Nisshu and Nichiben at their residence in Shimosa (see “Letter to the Lay Nun, Wife of Toki,” WND-2, 869).

Toki Jonin’s stepchild, Iyo-bo Nitcho guided the two to Shimosa. Before his departure, the Daishonin entrusted Nitcho with two letters addressed to Jonin and his wife, respectively.

In the letter to Jonin, the Daishonin instructs him to inform his wife that he was praying for her life to be extended (see “Praying for the Prolonging of Lay Nun’s Life,” WND-2, 1082).

Meanwhile, in his letter to the lay nun Toki, Nichiren discusses entrusting the two priests to her son Nitcho, who is her child from an earlier marriage.

It appears that the lay nun’s health was worsening. The Daishonin likely understood that Jonin would be anxious about having to take the two priests under his care given her declining health. He states: “I am sending the priests Echigo-bo and Shimotsuke-bo along with Iyo-bo. Please ask Jonin to look out for them for the present” (“Letter to the lay Nun, Wife of Toki,” WND-2, 869) and requests Jonin’s wife to ask him on the Daishonin’s behalf.

He then says to her: “The priest Iyo-bo has become an excellent student of Buddhism. You should at all times listen to him regarding the Buddhist teachings” (WND-2, 869).

The Daishonin’s compassionate care is readily apparent in how he carefully considered this family, the couple and the parent and child, despite being in the storm of persecution.

Important Works Exist Today Due to Jonin’s Efforts

There are many important writings addressed to Toki Jonin. Of course, it may be said that in one respect this was because Jonin was quite adept at understanding the teachings. But more than that, it is speculated that because of his solid standing in society and his dependable personality, Nichiren Daishonin judged Jonin to be the most appropriate person for passing on his writings for posterity.

As if not to disappoint his mentor’s expectations, he exerted his utmost to ensure the preservation of Nichiren’s teachings; for example, due to the high-humidity environment, he stored the Daishonin’s writings in well-ventilated containers to prevent the growth of mold. At the end of the original Japanese version of his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” Nichiren indicates that he had entrusted Toki Jonin with a handwritten copy of the work.

In 1299, prior to his death at age 84, Toki Jonin wrote a document concerning the preservation of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings. In it, he states that the documents must under no circumstances be taken from the premises. From one perspective, it may seem as though he were committing the offense of not conveying the Law. However, if someone were to borrow, then lose the writing, then the offense would be even greater. He requests that if someone needed to review the documents, they could do so inside the structure. He states that doing so is acceptable.

He also set down strict instructions that the building he was using to store the Daishonin’s writings be used for the same purpose after his death. It may be said that handwritten copies of such writings as “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind” and “Choosing the Heart of the Lotus Sutra” continue to exist today as the result of Jonin’s extraordinary spirit to safeguard the Law.

In 1968, some writings were found on the back sides of pages containing excerpts of important sutra passages that the Daishonin had noted in his own handwriting. It has been speculated that during that time, because writing paper was scarce, Toki Jonin supplied him with paper no longer needed at his government office. Nichiren used such paper like a notepad.

By delving into research about the paper on which Nichiren wrote notes and drafts of his writings, we can gain insight into Jonin’s role in society. And further research about his life has proven to offer valuable insight into understanding the actual state of society in the Kamakura era.

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

(p. 30-33)

Notes   [ + ]

1. See Nichiren shonin no goshinka (“Nichiren and His True Work”) by Akira Nakao published by Rinsen Book Company.

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