Nichiren and His Disciples

Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro

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

Photo by Shihina/Getty Images.


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 oneness of mentor and disciple that unfolded between Nichiren and his disciples. This series showcases how his disciples took action and overcame their various struggles based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.

NANJO HYOE SHICHIRO

Nichiren Daishonin wrote many letters to Nanjo Tokimitsu, a disciple who engraved the Nanjo family name in the annals of kosen-rufu. When we trace the history of this family’s faith in Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, however, one figure we cannot overlook is Tokimitsu’s father, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro. Though he was the first to begin practicing, he passed away while Tokimitsu was still young, leaving behind his wife and their many children. Despite his early demise, there is much to learn from the life of this stalwart disciple of the Daishonin.

The First Seed of Kosen-rufu in the Community

Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro was a samurai who lived in Ueno Village in the Fuji District of Suruga Province (in present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture). He was also known as Lord Ueno.

His family hailed from Nanjo Village in Tagata District of Izu Province (in the eastern part of present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) and, therefore, took “Nanjo” as its surname.

The Nanjo clan was a family of vassals who directly served the military ruler of the Kamakura Shogunate. They also served the main branch of the powerful Hojo family. It is thought that Hyoe Shichiro moved to the Ueno area because his family had become retainers of the Hojo clan and had been entrusted with the management of lands encompassing Ueno Village.

His wife, the lay nun Ueno, was the daughter of the lay priest Matsuno Rokuro Saemon, a disciple who lived in Suruga Province. Several sources suggest that the couple had many children who also continued to carry out faith in Nichiren’s teachings. In addition to Jiro Tokimitsu, and another son, Goro, one of their daughters, the lay nun Ren’ani, married Niida Shigetsuna, and their son later took the name Nichimoku Shonin. There are also records of Hyoe Shichiro’s daughter who married Niida Shiro Nobutsuna and another who married Ishikawa Shin Hyoe Yoshisuke. Both couples seemed to have carried out faith in Nichiren’s teaching.

Hyoe Shichiro and his family originally practiced the Pure Land teachings. It is speculated that he became a disciple of Nichiren during the time he lived in Kamakura.

The Hojo clan ruled Suruga Province, where Hyoe Shichiro lived. Ueno Village was located in the Fuji area, which, in particular, was home to many retainers of “the widows of high-ranking officials” who wielded great influence (see “Reply to the Lay Priest Takahashi,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 608). A prime example of this was the widow of the retired regent and de facto leader of the Kamakura shogunate, Hojo Tokiyori. She was also the mother of Hojo Tokimune, the eighth regent, and the daughter of a high government official named Hojo Shigetoki,[1]Hojo Shigetoki: The father of Hojo Nagatoki, the sixth regent of the Kamakura shogunate. an ardent Pure Land believer. She and other widows of high officials despised Nichiren as an adversary of Tokiyori and Shigetoki.

Hence, Hyoe Shichiro was surrounded by Pure Land believers. Despite these circumstances, he became the first in his extended family to take faith in Nichiren Buddhism. His family and relatives must have been astonished by this decision, not to mention his community.

Nichiren’s Encouragement at a Critical Moment

In December 1264, Hyoe Shichiro contracted a serious illness. He was still in the prime of his life. Hearing this, Nichiren Daishonin wrote him a letter titled “Encouragement to a Sick Person.” Nichiren writes: “I have heard that you are suffering from illness. Is this true?” (WND-1, 76).

This is the only extant letter addressed to Hyoe Shichiro. However, this very letter determined not only the course of his life, but also that of his family and kin.

Only about a month earlier, an attempt had been made on the Daishonin’s life during the Komatsubara Persecution. He suffered a cut on his forehead as well as a broken left hand. Kudo Yoshitaka perished while defending Nichiren (to read about Kudo Yoshitaka, please see the April 2018 Living Buddhism, pp. 26–27).

The Daishonin wrote this letter before his wounds had even healed. The lengthy letter contains over 3,800 words and covers seven pages in The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. We can keenly sense Nichiren’s conviction that he is advancing kosen-rufu at the risk of his life, when he writes: “I alone have read the sutra with my entire being. This is the meaning of the passage that says, ‘We care nothing for our bodies or lives but are anxious only for the unsurpassed way.’ I am therefore the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan” (WND-1, 82).

Refuting the Pure Land Teachings

Using his illness as a pretext, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro’s extended family members must have attempted to persuade him to return to the Pure Land teachings. Nichiren Daishonin’s letter indicates that Hyoe Shichiro seemed to be battling fear and doubt.

In “Encouragement to a Sick Person,” Nichiren refutes faith in Pure Land teachings using the “five guides of propagation,” factors that one must correctly understand and consider in spreading Buddhism, which are: 1) the teaching, 2) the people’s capacity, 3) the time, 4) the country and 5) the sequence of propagation. He elucidates that the essence of Shakyamuni’s teaching is found in the Lotus Sutra.

For example, he explains that the Pure Land teachings, although taught by Shakyamuni, are provisional. A teaching that represents minor good can lead people on the path to evil if it goes against a greater good. Because the Pure Land teachings do not accord with the time, they fail to be effective in the Latter Day of the Law. Nichiren admonishes such teachings, saying, “For us in this defiled world of the latter age, embracing the Nembutsu and other teachings is like working rice paddies in winter; it does not suit the time” (WND-1, 79).

Moreover, he states that it is not enough to think one has firm faith in the Lotus Sutra. He declares: “However great the good causes one may make, or even if one reads and copies the entirety of the Lotus Sutra a thousand or ten thousand times, or attains the way of perceiving three thousand realms in a single moment of life, if one fails to denounce the enemies of the Lotus Sutra, it will be impossible to attain the way” (WND-1, 78).

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi underlined this passage in red in his copy of Nichiren’s writings.

“Enemies of the Lotus Sutra” refers to those who become attached to shallow teachings and disparage the Lotus Sutra, which expounds that all people have the ability to attain Buddhahood.

In this letter, the Daishonin strongly refutes the Pure Land priest Honen, who was committing slander by urging people to discard the Lotus Sutra. He offers an example, stating: “It is like the case of someone in the service of the imperial court. Even though he may have served for a decade or two, if he knows someone to be an enemy of the emperor but neither reports him to the throne nor shows personal animosity toward him, all the merit of his past services will be thereby negated, and he will instead be charged with an offense” (WND-1, 79).

The bedridden Hyoe Shichiro learned the essential point for attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime from his mentor: Through battling the fundamental evil of slander of the Lotus Sutra, we can uproot the cause for misery.

The Daishonin encouraged him: “Arouse strong faith, and do not heed what they say. It is the way of the great devil to assume the form of a venerable monk or to take possession of one’s father, mother, or brother in order to obstruct happiness in one’s next life. Whatever they may say, however cleverly they may try to deceive you into discarding the Lotus Sutra, do not assent to it” (WND-1, 81).

Pushing aside opposition from his relatives and mustering “strong faith,” his courageous stance must have left an indelible impression on his wife, the lay nun Ueno, and his son Tokimitsu.

Nichiren further instructs Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro: “Should you depart from this life before I do, you must report to Brahma, Shakra, the four heavenly kings, and King Yama. Declare yourself to be a disciple of the priest Nichiren, the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan. Then they cannot possibly treat you discourteously” (WND-1, 82).

What encouraging words! Hyoe Shichiro’s vow to live out his life and future existences with his mentor put him on the path to karmic transformation that not only impacted him but also his entire family.

Successors Carrying on the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu

Three months after receiving this letter, Hyoe Shichiro passed away on March 8, 1265. The Daishonin had heard that he had “ended his life in the frame of mind of a true believer” (“On the Offering of a Mud Pie,” WND-2, 499).

Hyoe Shichiro’s son Tokimitsu was 7 years old at the time. Meanwhile, his wife, the lay nun Ueno, was still pregnant with the couple’s youngest child, Goro.

Sometime after that, Nichiren personally traveled all the way to Ueno Village from Kamakura to visit Hyoe Shichiro’s grave. In spite of many adversaries who inhabited the area, Nichiren wholeheartedly encouraged this family. It was during this visit that the Daishonin met Tokimitsu for the first time.

Nichiren described Hyoe Shichiro as “a man of feeling” (“Offerings in the Snow,” WND-2, 809). The great vow for kosen-rufu that his father had made and entrusted to his family, the Mystic Law that he had striven to protect—upon meeting Nichiren, all these seeds of faith were planted in the young boy’s heart.

As a result of his father’s efforts, his mother’s prayers and the Daishonin’s support and encouragement, Tokimitsu developed splendidly.

Before long, the young Tokimitsu stood up as a successor and began contributing to the rise of the Buddhism of the people, fighting alongside Nichiren’s trusted disciple Nikko Shonin.

A case in point was the Atsuhara Persecution when Tokimitsu threw himself into the struggle by sheltering at his residence individuals who were being oppressed and persecuted due to their belief in Nichiren’s teaching. Praising his efforts, Nichiren bestowed upon him the name “Ueno the Worthy” (see “The Dragon Gate,” WND-1, 1003).

As a youth, Tokimitsu also overcame a life-threatening illness. After the Daishonin passed away, he gave his life to resolutely protecting his mentor’s teachings, and invited Nikko Shonin, who had left Minobu, to stay at his residence.

Writing of Hyoe Shichiro and how his spirit was reflected in his son’s great achievement, the Daishonin states, “Though his spirit is hidden now in the grasses, I am sure he must be very pleased” (“On the Offering of a Mud Pie,” WND-2, 499–500). Hyoe Shichiro faced his greatest challenges with steadfast faith and the vow for kosen-rufu. Because of this, still today, he remains a wonderful example of how one person standing up in faith can impact the destiny of his family as well as countless future generations.

Translated from the August 2018 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


Start by Raising One Person

It is important to start by raising one person who will have a solid commitment to faith. The key is for that one person to truly experience and understand just how joyous, fulfilling and wonderful the world of Nichiren Buddhism can be. In this way, the individual will become a nucleus.

From this one person, the message of Buddhism will spread to another and then another, expanding outward exponentially and bringing forth an unending stream of capable people who will propagate the Mystic Law. This was my firm conviction and passionate determination based on the principle of emerging from the earth. (July 16, 1999, World Tribune, p. 7)

(pp. 34-37)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hojo Shigetoki: The father of Hojo Nagatoki, the sixth regent of the Kamakura shogunate.

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