Nichiren and His Disciples

Nanjo Tokimitsu–Part 4

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 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.

Nanjo Tokimitsu–Part 4

The previous installment focused on the believers in the Fuji area and how they based themselves on faith and the mentor-disciple relationship to courageously face the intensity of the Atsuhara Persecution (see June 2019 Living Buddhism, pp. 34–37).

This installment focuses on Nanjo Tokimitsu, who was willing to lay down his life to protect Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples during this persecution.

Despite a lack of detailed records of his actions, we can surmise from existing writings that he protected his fellow practitioners during the persecution in conspicuous and inconspicuous ways. For instance, he sheltered a number of practitioners in his own home, while also supplying them with provisions and encouragement.

Appreciation for the Atsuhara Persecution

From around 1274, propagation efforts increased in the Fuji area of Suruga Province (present-day Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture), led by Nichiren Daishonin’s disciple Nikko Shonin. He converted several young priests, who in turn successfully encouraged local farmers and villagers to convert.

In November 1279, Tokimitsu received the following guidance from Nichiren Daishonin in a letter titled “The Dragon Gate”:

My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow . . . In the end, no one can escape death. The sufferings at that time will be exactly like what we are experiencing now. Since death is the same in either case, you should be willing to offer your life for the Lotus Sutra. Think of this offering as a drop of dew rejoining the ocean, or a speck of dust returning to the earth.

“The Dragon Gate,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1003

The Daishonin teaches in this passage that pulsing in the life-or-death struggle against devilish functions is the vow of the oneness of mentor and disciple, and that through such struggles we can connect to the great life condition of the Buddha.

In the postscript of this letter, Nichiren states, “I write this letter in deep gratitude for your dedication throughout the events of Atsuhara” (WND-1, 1003).

“Ordinary farmer believers in Atsuhara were now actually demonstrating their willingness to lay down their lives for their faith in the same selfless spirit that [Nichiren] himself possessed.”

In his lecture on this writing, SGI President Ikeda explains that there are two ways to interpret this passage. There is the translation above, expressing thanks for Tokimitsu’s efforts during the persecution.

The postscript can also be read as, “I write this letter in profound wonderment at the events at Atsuhara.”

President Ikeda explains: “That would be an expression of awe and wonder at the fact that ordinary farmer believers in Atsuhara were now actually demonstrating their willingness to lay down their lives for their faith in the same selfless spirit that he himself possessed. In that sense, this letter could be regarded as the Daishonin’s response to all the Atsuhara followers who had aroused such deep faith, and that he addressed it to Tokimitsu as their representative” (The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 118).

Around 1276, Hei no Sakon Nyudo Gyochi, the deputy chief priest of the local Tendai temple Ryusen-ji in Atsuhara Village, began pressing the young priests who had converted to Nichiren’s teachings, namely, Nisshu, Nichiben, Nichizen and Mikawa-bo Raien, to declare in writing that they would discard the Lotus Sutra and chant only the Nembutsu. He told them that they would have a place to live only if they complied.

Praising the Resolute Actions of “Ueno the Worthy”

Nichiren Daishonin lauded Tokimitsu for his valiant struggles, addressing the letter at the end to “Ueno the Worthy.”

Nichiko Hori—who collaborated with second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda and President Ikeda in compiling into one volume the collected works of Nichiren Daishonin—commented on this title of “Ueno the Worthy.”

Nichiren assured him that, regardless of his present circumstances, because he earnestly strove for the sake of kosen-rufu he was directly advancing on the path of Buddhahood.

He explains: “While ‘Ueno’ would have been sufficient, the Daishonin initially wrote ‘Ueno the Sage,’ but quickly changed his mind, because addressing him as a “sage” would have been excessive. If it were to cause the young Tokimitsu to become arrogant, it would be unproductive for his future . . . One can clearly see in the original document that the Chinese character meaning ‘sage’ has been crossed out and replaced with the character meaning ‘worthy’ (translation from Fuji Nikko Shonin shoden [Detailed Biography of Nikko Shonin of the Fuji School]).

At any rate, Tokimitsu is the only disciple who received the title of “Worthy” from the Daishonin.

In a letter to Tokimitsu dated July 1280, the Daishonin states: “I am extremely grateful that you have provided for the priest of the shrine and his family until now . . . If it seems to be unwise to keep the shrine priest at your residence, I wish you would tell him to come here for a short while. Even if his wife and child remain there, it is most unlikely that anyone will search for them. I feel that it is better to have them stay there until things quiet down (“Protecting the Atsuhara Believers,” WND-2, 882).

The “priest of the shrine” mentioned here is the head priest of the Sengen Shrine located in Atsuhara. He became a disciple of the Daishonin as a result of Nisshu’s propagation efforts. The governor came after this priest and had taken shelter together with his family at Tokimitsu’s residence.

Offering further encouragement to Tokimitsu, Nichiren also states in the same letter: “Though we may suffer for a while, ultimately delight awaits us. It is like the case of a crown prince, the only son of the king. Consider this: How can he possibly fail to ascend the throne?” (WND-1, 882). Considering what the Nanjo family had endured, Tokimitsu must have taken to heart these words of assurance.

The Joys and Sorrows of Birth and Death

On June 15, just prior to receiving the above letter, Tokimitsu and his younger brother, Goro, visited Nichiren Daishonin at Minobu. While there, Tokimitsu received various instructions on protecting his fellow disciples during the Atsuhara Persecution. He also introduced Goro, who had turned 16, to the Daishonin.

On meeting Goro, the Daishonin rejoiced thinking, “What a fine and spirited lad” (“Letter of Condolence,” WND-2, 887).

That fall, Tokimitsu’s wife gave birth to a son. The Daishonin named the baby boy Hiwaka Gozen (Hi of Hiwaka means “sun,” and waka means “young” or “little child”; gozen is an honorific title).

Just 10 days later, however, something un-expected happened. Tokimitsu’s younger brother, Goro, suddenly died on September 5, less than three months since the brothers had called on the Daishonin.

When Nichiren heard news of the death he wrote: “Until now I thought it was something I had dreamed, a mere dream, an illusion. I doubted that it could be true—a mistake, a false report, I thought. But I find the same thing reported in this letter of yours, and now I begin to think it must be true, it must be true” (“On the Sad News of Goro’s Death,” WND-2, 889).

Tokimitsu’s mother, the lay nun Ueno, supported and raised her children quietly after her husband, Hyoe Shichiro, passed away. It is likely that there was very little that Tokimitsu, who was devoted to her, could do to console his mother who must have been distraught from the loss of her youngest son.

Thereafter, the Daishonin often thought of her and offered words of comfort (see March 2019 Living Buddhism, pp. 36–39).

Sincere Offerings Made Amid Financial Distress

Nanjo Tokimitsu had shielded the Daishonin’s disciples during the Atsuhara Persecution by sheltering and supporting them. This made him a marked man in the eyes of the shogunate government, who retaliated by using unreasonable means to harass him and his family.

The Daishonin sent a letter to Tokimitsu in December 1280, stating, “Having had numerous public works (miscellaneous taxes and compulsory unpaid labor) forcibly assigned to your little village, you yourself lack the horse you should be riding, and your wife and children lack the clothing they should be wearing” (“The Wealthy Man Sudatta,” WND-1, 1087).

This was likely the result of Hei no Saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna and other adversaries insidiously plotting against him. Because Tokimitsu was forced to bear undue obligations, the Nanjo family finances, which were not very robust in the first place, were on the brink of collapse.

However, Tokimitsu, who received much guidance from Nichiren, remained unswayed. In fact, by conserving and saving, he was able to offer Nichiren “one thousand coins”(WND-1, 1087). The fact that Tokimitsu was able to continue making offerings and support the Daishonin despite his destitution was a reflection of his sincerity and diligence. Nichiren assured him that, regardless of his present circumstances, because he earnestly strove for the sake of kosen-rufu he was directly advancing on the path of Buddhahood.

Based on the December 2018 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

More in Nichiren And His Disciples

Go to the Nichiren And His Disciples Section »