Nichiren and His Disciples

Nanjo Tokimitsu–Part 1

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

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 struggles based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.

Nanjo Tokimitsu–Part 1

When second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda once asked a group of youth division members who among Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples they liked best, the young Daisaku Ikeda responded without hesitation that it was Nanjo Tokimitsu.

According to SGI President Ikeda, Mr. Toda often encouraged youth to learn from Nanjo Tokimitsu’s example and to be good to their parents, using Tokimitsu as a model.

Tokimitsu encountered Nichiren Buddhism at the age of current elementary school division members and deepened his faith while at the age of many youth division members. Because of his outstanding efforts to protect Nichiren and his disciples amid intensely difficult times, both Mr. Toda and President Ikeda looked to him as a model disciple.

In four installments, we will examine how Tokimitsu dedicated his life to fulfilling the vow he made as a youth. This first installment examines his formative years, his family and his role in society.

A Samurai Who Traversed the Foothills of Mount Fuji

Nanjo Tokimitsu (1259–1332) lived in Ueno Village in Fuji District of Suruga Province (present-day Shimojo, Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture).

His father was Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro and his mother was the lay nun Ueno (see February and March 2019 issues of Living Buddhism). His full name was Nanjo Shichiro Jiro Taira no Tokimitsu. Shichiro Jiro means “second son of Shichiro,” therefore he is thought to have been their second son. He had many siblings. Nichiren’s writings and other references indicate that, in addition to his younger brother, Shichiro Goro, he had at least four sisters.

Tokimitsu’s Role in Society

The main branch of the ruling Hojo family owned and directly managed as its family estate vast lands in Suruga Province (present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture), one of which was Ueno Village. It is assumed that Tokimitsu’s father, Hyoe Shichiro, was a retainer or servant of the higher-ranking Hojo family. Having been assigned to manage land in Suruga Province, he moved to the area.

After his father died due to illness, Tokimitsu inherited the family estate, shouldering the responsibility of managing Ueno Village. It is generally understood that he served as steward of Ueno Village. This entailed managing privately owned manors as well as publicly held lands of the Kamakura shogunate, collecting taxes and serving as police and magistrate in the area.

Recent research indicates that because Tokimitsu was a lower-ranking retainer of the main branch of the Hojo family, the actual steward of Ueno Village may have been a member of the Hojo family, with Tokimitsu serving as an administrator under him. In this case, the steward may have compensated Tokimitsu by providing a pension in the form of land use rights and giving him the power and privilege to manage this land and tax its users.

Hyoe Shichiro’s Heart of Faith Continues On

Hyoe Shichiro died on March 8, 1265, when Nanjo Tokimitsu was only 7 years old. Upon hearing this, Nichiren Daishonin traveled from Kamakura to Ueno Village to visit the elder Nanjo’s grave. This was the first time Tokimitsu met the Daishonin.

Despite his family’s staunch devotion to the Pure Land teachings, Hyoe Shichiro had discarded his family’s traditional faith to become a disciple of Nichiren. And he carried out his faith until the end of his life.

Tokimitsu, who looked up to his father, developed the same resolute faith as his father through establishing his own connection with the Daishonin.

Today, there are no existing letters from the Daishonin to the Nanjo family from the period of Hyoe Shichiro’s death until Nichiren’s pardon from exile in 1274. However, it can be thought that due to the strong faith of his mother, the lay nun Ueno, the Nanjo family steadily pursued the path of faith.

Meeting Nichiren After Nine Years

In March 1274, after he was pardoned from his exile on Sado Island, Nichiren Daishonin first returned to Kamakura, then moved in May to Minobu (present-day Minamikoma, Yamanashi Prefecture). Learning of this, the now 16-year-old Tokimitsu visited the Daishonin in late July, carrying various offerings.

Since their last meeting nine years before, Tokimitsu had developed into a fine young samurai. In his letter of appreciation, Nichiren expressed joy in seeing his growth. He states:

I wonder if he [Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro] did not make himself young again and stay behind in the form of his precious, beloved son. Words fail me when I see that not only is there a perfect resemblance, but even his heart is the same. (“Reply to Ueno,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 495)

Nichiren concludes the letter, writing, “I was unable to restrain my tears, thinking how important it is that people have fine children” (WND-2, 495).

By the time of this letter, Tokimitsu’s elder brother, Shichiro Taro, had tragically died in an accident, leaving Tokimitsu to bear the heavy duties of being head of the household and serving as steward of Ueno Village.

In addition, living in an area where most people adhered to the Pure Land teachings, he most likely had to face backlash and pressures from those in his village regarding his family’s faith.

In a letter that the Daishonin sent to Tokimitsu in November 1274, he offers a concise yet stern refutation of the Pure Land teachings, while also taking to task the Zen and True Word schools. He describes his battle to refute the erroneous and reveal the true teachings, stating, “For the past twenty years or more I have never spared my voice in shouting it out loud” (“On the Offering of a Mud Pie,” WND-2, 500). He also writes, “Though others may slander us, we are teachers of the Law who take no heed of such a thing” (WND-2, 501).

Tokimitsu must have engraved deeply in his life his mentor’s spirit to rebuke slander of the Law.

Tokimitsu Meets Nikko

Two months later, the Daishonin wrote Tokimitsu the letter now titled “New Year’s Greeting” (WND-2, 530). In it, he recounts how he had first visited the grave of the late Hyoe Shichiro. And despite being in the area more recently, he was unable to pay his respects a second time. Feeling badly about this, he says that he will send his disciple to recite the verse portion of the “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra at the grave. This disciple dispatched by Nichiren to Ueno Village is thought to have been Nikko (1246–1333).

Nikko and Tokimitsu most likely met for the first time during this first month of 1275. Given the evidence of their joint efforts to spread Nichiren’s teachings, the two must have formed a strong heart-to-heart bond at that time—Nikko was 30, and Tokimitsu, 17.

Under the direction of Nikko, Tokimitsu learned the correct way of faith and introduced Nichiren’s Buddhism to his relatives. The Nanjo residence served as one of the centers of propagation for this region, together with the home of the Takahashi clan in Kajima Village, Fuji Shimokata.

In October that year, upon Nikko’s proposal, Nichiren conferred the Gohonzon upon Tokimitsu

Learning How to Win in Life

Nanjo Tokimitsu inherited the family estate while still a teenager. Having to shoulder considerable responsibility at such a young age must have led him to feel great appreciation for his mother, who raised him and his siblings on her own while instilling in him deep respect for his father.

Nichiren earnestly and thoroughly encouraged this impressionable teen. In “The Four Virtues and Four Debts of Gratitude,” which the Daishonin wrote in 1275, he teaches Tokimitsu about the “four virtues” and the “four debts of gratitude.”

The four virtues are: 1) filial piety toward one’s parents; 2) loyalty to one’s lord; 3) courtesy toward one’s friends; and 4) pity and kindness toward those less fortunate than oneself. The four debts of gratitude of Buddhism are: 1) the debt of gratitude to one’s parents; 2) the debt of gratitude to the ruler of the nation; 3) the debt of gratitude to all living beings; and 4) the debt of gratitude to the three treasures (the Buddha, the Law and the Buddhist Order).

Nichiren Daishonin’s instruction on filial piety toward one’s parents is very clear. He states:

One never in any way disobeys a parent; is always mindful of providing a parent with all manner of good things, and if this happens to be impossible, in the course of a day one at least smiles twice or thrice in their direction. (“The Four Virtues and Four Debts of Gratitude,” WND-2, 636)

Furthermore, he teaches Tokimitsu that of all the sutras the Lotus Sutra alone reveals the enlightenment of women, saying that it is the only sutra that will enable him to repay his debt of gratitude to his mother.

In 1275, Nichiren was 54. Tokimitsu, who was 17, must have been moved by the Daishonin’s earnest wish for him to develop as an individual, keenly feeling in his heart that he could trust Nichiren and the sound Buddhist teachings he was expounding.

He also must have been comforted by Nikko, who, like an older brother, was a constant source of encouragement for him.

Believing in the potential of and developing a single individual and nurturing future division and youth division members—this is the same spirit that SGI members throughout the world today have inherited.

Nichiren’s Disciples Unite With Nikko

In the course of his many years of practicing the Daishonin’s teaching, Tokimitsu deepened his faith and practice, while firmly embracing an extraordinarily important mission. He made many visits to the Daishonin at Minobu, consistently sent offerings to him and single-mindedly spread his teaching. Tokimitsu received over 30 letters from Nichiren, many in which Nichiren expressed appreciation to him for his offerings.

According to a letter dated March 1276, Tokimitsu collaborated with two other disciples named Kissaburo and Taro Tayu in presenting a gift to Nichiren. Nichiren responds, writing: “I have received the taros, river nori, and wasabi, each one of which shows the sincerity of each of you. It is as if a bird were cherishing its eggs, or a cow licking its calf” (“Reply to Nanjo,” WND-2, 655).

The Daishonin likened himself to eggs and a calf, while equating Tokimitsu and his companions to the parent bird and cow, thus according them the highest praise for their sincere offering. The three of them must have been greatly moved when they read these words.

At the end of this letter, he gives detailed direction, stating, “I apologize to Kissaburo and Taro Tayu for writing this on one sheet of paper, and I want you to be sure to have Hoki-bo[Nikko] read it aloud to them” (“Reply to Nanjo,” WND-2, 655).

The disciples’ sincere wish to support their mentor gave rise to unity for kosen-rufu.

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

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