Nichiren and His Disciples

Nanjo Tokimitsu–Part 5

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

By the time Nanjo Tokimitsu reached his mid-20s, he had supported fellow practitioners through the Atsuhara Persecution and overcome numerous difficulties. Following Nichiren Daishonin’s passing in October 1282, Tokimitsu went on to live a long life, working alongside fellow disciples to preserve and spread their mentor’s teaching.

Battling the Devil of Death

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 February 1282, when Tokimitsu was 24, he fell gravely ill, perhaps because of the arduous struggles he faced leading up to that point.

Around this time, the Daishonin had also fallen ill, making it hard for him to hold a writing brush. But because of his serious concern for Tokimitsu’s health, he asked Nikko Shonin to deliver to Tokimitsu a letter that he had dictated on February 25.

Three days later, on February 28, Nichiren sent another letter, this time written in his own hand. Nikko, who is mentioned in the letter by the name Hoki-bo, rushed to Tokimitsu’s residence to deliver this letter.

In this letter, Nichiren writes: “[Now you have succeeded your father as his heir, and] without any prompting from others, you too have wholeheartedly embraced these teachings. Many people, both high and low, have admonished or threatened you, but you have refused to give up your faith. Since you now appear certain to attain Buddhahood, perhaps the heavenly devil and evil spirits are using illness to try to intimidate you. Life in this world is limited. Never be even the least bit afraid!” (“The Proof of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1109).

He thoroughly understood everything that his disciple had experienced. Because Tokimitsu’s faith was strong and genuine, devilish functions were vying to disrupt his faith.

It should be noted that this is the only extant letter in which the Daishonin uses the signature, “Nichiren, the votary of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 1108).
According to another letter, it seems that due to Tokimitu’s stalwart faith, those around him also referred to him as a votary of the Lotus Sutra (see “The Workings of Brahma and Shakra,” WND-1, 800). The Daishonin in this letter instructs Tokimitsu to increasingly demonstrate the life condition of a Buddha.

Fiercely Rebuking Devilish Functions

The bold tone of Nichiren in “The Proof of the Lotus Sutra” gives no indication that he was in poor health. In fact, he furiously admonished the devilish functions, declaring: “And you demons, by making this man suffer, are you trying to swallow a sword point first, or embrace a raging fire, or become the archenemy of the Buddhas of the ten directions in the three existences? How terrible this will be for you! Should you not cure this man’s illness immediately, act rather as his protectors, and escape from the grievous sufferings that are the lot of demons? If you fail to do so, will you not have your heads broken into seven pieces in this life and fall into the great hell of incessant suffering in your next life! Consider it deeply. Consider it. If you ignore my words, you will certainly regret it later” (“The Proof of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1109).

These stern words of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law to protect his ailing disciple and battle against the devilish functions of illness must have roused Tokimitsu. With the ardent support of his mentor, he was able to beat back the devil of death and enjoy the benefit of overcoming illness, extending his life for 50 more years.

Nichiren Daishonin’s Passing

Since returning to Mount Minobu, Nichiren’s health continued to decline. Only a few short writings remain from this period, including “The Proof of the Lotus Sutra.”

On September 9, urged by his disciples to seek treatment for his illness, the Daishonin departed Minobu (in present-day Yamanashi Prefecture), where he had lived for nine years, and headed for the hot springs of Hitachi Province (present-day northern Ibaragi Prefecture and southeast Fukushima Prefecture).

Nine days later, he stopped at the home of his disciple Ikegami Munenaka in Musashi Province (present-day Ikegami, Ota Ward, Tokyo), met with many other disciples, and made decisions about matters after his death. It is said that despite his failing health, he gave a lecture on his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

On October 8, he designated as his six principal disciples, also known as the six senior priests: Nikko Shonin, Nichiji, Nitcho, Niko, Nichiro and Nissho. It is likely that Nichiren hoped for these six designated individuals to become leaders in their respective regions after his death and for his followers to unite around them.

On October 13, 1282, the noble life of Nichiren Daishonin came to a close at age 61. He passed away at approximately 8 o’clock in the morning, surrounded by many disciples.

His funeral took place the next day. Tokimitsu made the offering of scattering flowers while other noted disciples, including Shijo Kingo and Toki Jonin, took part in the funeral.

Nichiren’s ashes were carried from Ikegami to Minobu. By some accounts, on this return journey, his ashes were housed for a night at Tokimitsu’s residence, where the entire Nanjo clan gathered to bid their final farewell to their mentor.

Nikko at Mount Minobu

At the start of 1283, on New Year’s Day, it was decided that the six senior priests would take turns protecting Nichiren’s grave. However, none of the five senior priests traveled to Minobu to fulfill their duty.

Nikko Shonin could not bear to watch his mentor’s grave become bereft and dilapidated, and by 1284, he had taken up residence at Minobu.
The following year, another one of the five senior priests, Niko, arrived. Delighted to welcome him, Nikko appointed him the chief instructor of priests at Minobu.

Hakii (or Hakiri) Sanenaga, the steward of Hakii village where Mount Minobu was located, had encountered the Mystic Law through the propagation efforts of Nikko and took faith before the Daishonin’s exile to Sado in 1271.

Though he was at first pleased about Nikko’s move to Minobu, Sanenaga gradually fell under the negative influence of Niko, who had grown extremely jealous of Nikko, and lost Nichiren’s spirit to strictly distinguish between the true and provisional teachings, going so far as to identify himself as a Tendai school priest.

Despite Nikko’s repeated admonitions, Sanenaga ended up slandering the Daishonin’s teaching by erecting a statue of Shakyamuni, making pilgrimages to Shinto shrines, making donations to a Nembutsu pagoda and building a Nembutsu instruction hall.

Realizing that he could no longer preserve Nichiren’s teachings if he remained there, Nikko in late 1288 decided to leave Minobu for good. He describes his sentiments, stating: “Words cannot describe the sense of shame and disappointment I feel at the prospect of departing from this valley of Minobu. But it occurs to me that, no matter where one is, the most important thing is to carry on the correct teaching of the Daishonin and establish it in society” (November 2008 Living Buddhism, p. 80).

Tokimitsu Gains Trust in Society

In 1289, Tokimitsu, then age 31, invited Nikko to Ueno Village, Suruga Province (present-day Shimoyo in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture). And roughly a decade later, Nikko established a school for training and instructing disciples in neighboring Omosu Village. Tokimitsu continued to make sincere offerings just as he had done while Nichiren was alive, supporting Nikko and their fellow practitioners.

Existing historical documents recording the succession of property and the transfer of deeds show that between 1307 and 1309, Tokimitsu gained the title of Saemon-no-jo, which translates to “third-ranked officer of the left division of Imperial Palace guards.” In other words, he belonged to a branch of the government that protected the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.
During the Kamakura era, those in the warrior class were sometimes bestowed titles from the Imperial Court in exchange for helping to defray part of the cost of various functions organized by the Court. These titles served to convey the social standing of the warrior, and those holding this title most likely had good financial resources or connections to the government.

In other words, Tokimitsu’s appointment indicates that he had cemented his social standing as a successful warrior.

Faith Based on the Gohonzon and Nichiren’s Writings

For 50 years after the Daishonin’s passing, Nikko Shonin single-mindedly dedicated his life to correctly spreading his mentor’s teachings. For instance, more than 300 Gohonzon that he transcribed based on Nichiren’s mandala still exist today. Recipients of Gohonzon transcribed by Nikko lived in a wide geographical area including Sado Province, Shimotsuke Province (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture), Sanuki Province (present-day Kagawa Prefecture in the Shikoku region) and Hyoga Province (present-day Miyazaki Prefecture in the Kyushu region), not to mention Suruga Province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) and Kai Province (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture).

Meanwhile, the various schools that originated from the five senior priests made statues of Shakyamuni and other items their objects of devotion. Nichiren conferred many Gohonzon upon his disciples, and over 100 such Gohonzon still exist today. However, nowhere in his writings does he indicate that he ever conferred on his followers any statues of the Buddha.
Moreover, Nikko refers to the Daishonin’s letters and treatises as Gosho, meaning “honorable writings,” and held them in the highest regard. In order to preserve Nichiren’s teachings for future generations, he gathered many of his mentor’s writings, and copied and lectured on them, whether they were correspondences or treatises.

In contrast, the five senior priests did not understand the Daishonin’s intent to impart the greatest teaching to all people regardless of their rank or class. They ended up holding many of their teacher’s writings in contempt.

For example, while in those days formal documents were written in classical Chinese, Nichiren wrote letters using a mixture of Chinese characters and Japanese kana syllabary to help his lay disciples more readily understand his teaching. The five senior priests criticized Nikko for treasuring these letters, contending that the writings, especially those using kana syllabary, brought shame to the Daishonin. Some of the senior priests went so far as to wash away the ink and reuse the paper, while others burned such writings.

Buddhist practice based on Nichiren’s writings and faith in the Gohonzon can be said to accord with the Daishonin’s spirit. Tokimitsu always united with fellow disciples, centered on Nikko Shonin and maintaining an upright faith directly connected to Nichiren.

Learning From Tokimitsu’s Life

Tokimitsu passed away at the age of 74 on May 1, 1332, one year earlier than Nikko Shonin. His was a life dedicated to protecting the correct practice of Nichiren Buddhism through the sincere practice of faith together with Nikko Shonin.

SGI President Ikeda states, “When we look beyond narrow self-gratification and devote our lives to the happiness of all people—only then do we truly carry out the faith of a follower of Nichiren” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 2, p. 118).

Tokimitsu had learned early on about the benefits of a noble life dedicated to faith by learning from his mentor, parents and fellow practitioners. Even after the death of his father, Hyoe Shichiro, Nichiren shared through his letter to Tokimitsu about his father’s noble life and faith, which is sure to have inspired and supported the young man as he awakened to the great vow for kosen-rufu.

This great vow for kosen-rufu that he inherited and developed through the mentor-disciple relationship became the catalyst for leading a life of perseverance and dedication. And based on this vow, Tokimitsu left behind a wonderful legacy that to this day remains a model for practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism.

This is the fifth and final installment on Nanjo Tokimitsu. Adapted from the January 2019 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

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