Nichiren and His Disciples

Ota Jomyo

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 hardships based on guidance and encouragement from their mentor.

Ota Jomyo

Ota Jomyo lived in Shimosa Province (part of present-day Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures). He was a disciple of Nichiren Daishonin with a seeking mind in faith. From Nichiren’s letters to him, we can see the great trust and hope that he had for Jomyo.

Jomyo was born in 1222, the same year as Nichiren, and he lived in Nakayama of Yawata-no-sho Manor in Shimosa’s Katsushika County (present-day Nakayama, Ichikawa City, Chiba Prefecture). It appears that he had some wealth, possessing an estate in Etchu Province (present-day Toyama Prefecture). In the historical chronicle Azuma Kagami (literally “Mirror of the East”), a person called Etchu Ota Jiro Saemon-no-jo is mentioned, which suggests that Jomyo may have belonged to a vassal clan with feudal lands in Etchu Province.

It appears he took faith in the Daishonin’s teachings early, around the same time as Soya Kyoshin, another one of Nichiren’s core followers in Shimosa. In addition to their common spiritual practice, the two men were supposedly close in their private lives. Jomyo practiced Nichiren’s teaching alongside Soya Kyoshin and other disciples in the area, centering on Toki Jonin.

Tasked With Replenishing Important Sutras and Texts

From Nichiren’s letter “Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution,” addressed to the three in 1271, we see that Jomyo, Kyoshin and Jonin paid their respects to the Daishonin in Echi, Sagami Province (present-day Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture), where he was being detained following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution (see The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 199). Although it is unclear whether all three of them went together to visit Nichiren there or one of them went as a representative, it is certain that, when their mentor faced his greatest trial, they remained unswayed in faith.

In April 1273, Nichiren wrote “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind” while in exile on Sado Island, and sent it to Toki Jonin. In its cover letter, he writes: “I have written down some of my thoughts concerning the doctrine of observing the mind. I am sending the treatise to Ota [Jomyo], [Soya] Kyoshin-bo and the others” (WND-1, 377).

From this, it is clear that Nichiren had great trust in the faith of Jomyo and those around him.

In March 1275, a year after moving to Mount Minobu, the Daishonin wrote “On the Five Guides for Propagation” (WND-2, 540)[1]One theory is that “On the Five Guides for Propagation” was written even earlier. and sent it to both Soya Kyoshin and Ota Jomyo. In it, he states that, in the course of his undergoing two exiles and a number of major persecutions, many scrolls containing the sacred teachings of the Buddha or commentaries on them had been lost or damaged.

Nichiren then requests the two men assemble and restore these missing texts, stating, “You and he are major figures among my lay supporters” (WND-2, 559). Specifically, he uses the Japanese word danna in the original text of this writing, meaning a lay supporter of a sangha, or Buddhist order, who helps financially to sustain the order. Because the Daishonin refers to the two as dai-danna, or major figures, we can surmise how highly he regarded them.

Deep Bonds Between Mentor and Disciple

Around November 1275, Jomyo became ill and reported this to Nichiren, who responded promptly by writing “On Curing Karmic Disease” (WND-1, 634).

In this letter, the Daishonin encourages him, stating that because Jomyo regretted espousing faith in the erroneous teachings of the True Word school and determined to reform his beliefs, he was experiencing the grave suffering that he would have had to endure in a future existence in a much lighter form in this life. He also says that Jomyo will definitely be cured of his illness and be able to live a long life.

In addition, even after Nichiren retired to Mount Minobu in May 1274, Jomyo and his wife continued donating rice, money and clothing. And each time he received these gifts, the Daishonin expressed his sincere appreciation, explaining the great benefit of making offerings.

For example, when Jomyo’s wife presented him with a winter robe in November 1271, Nichiren responded: “And now here is a woman who donates a robe to the Lotus Sutra. In future lives she will not only escape the sufferings of the eight cold hells, but in her present life she will be spared major calamities. Her benefits will be such that they extend to her sons and daughters, so that they are dressed in robe upon robe, of color upon color!” (“On the Eight Cold Hells,” WND-2, 722).

The content of the letter suggests that Jomyo’s wife had deep faith, as well as an exceptional understanding of Buddhism. The Daishonin’s assurance that the benefits of offerings accrue not only to her, but to their children as well, is certain to have enabled the two to feel joy in having faith in the Lotus Sutra.

Expressing Respect to Jomyo as a “Sage”

In April 1278, Nichiren Daishonin wrote the letter titled “The ‘Expedient Means’ and ‘Life Span’ Chapters,” expressing his recognition of how much Jomyo has developed resolute faith. He writes:

In the past you always mistakenly adhered to these same [True Word] doctrines, but now you have listened to my doctrines and become wise. Not only have you speedily repudiated your earlier beliefs and embraced those of the Lotus Sutra, but in fact you now look on this sutra as dearer to you than life and limb. This is the most wonderful of wonders! Such an occurrence cannot be adequately explained in terms of your present existence alone, but must have its origin in your relationship with the sutra in past existences—only thus can it be understood. Marvelous, truly marvelous! (WND-2, 748)

In other writings, the Daishonin refers to him as “Sage Jomyo” (see “The Woman Who Gave a Piece of Gold,” WND-2, 681) and “the Revered Jomyo.”[2]He is addressed as “the Revered Jomyo” in a writing that is not included in the Gosho zenshu (“The Collected Writings of Nichiren Daishonin”).

Incidentally, prior to receiving the letter “The ‘Expedient Means’ and ‘Life Span’ Chapters,” it appears that Jomyo had written to Nichiren informing him that he had entered his 57th year, which was considered unlucky for men according to the existing customs of that time. Perhaps because of this Jomyo had “experienced many sufferings in both body and mind” (WND-2, 746).

The content of the letter suggests that Jomyo’s wife had deep faith, as well as an exceptional understanding of Buddhism. The Daishonin’s assurance that the benefits of offerings accrue not only to her, but to their children as well, is certain to have enabled the two to feel joy in having faith in the Lotus Sutra.

The Daishonin responds: “Since those who uphold the Lotus Sutra are children of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, how could Brahma, Shakra, the gods of the sun and moon and the host of stars fail to watch over you day and night, morning and evening? What secret teaching could surpass the Lotus Sutra in dispelling all the perils and disasters that may face one in a dangerous year? You can count on it, count on it!” (WND-2, 750).

Thus, Nichiren encourages him that the heavenly deities and protective functions will surely protect those who espouse faith in the Mystic Law and that he will be able to avoid having to endure grave suffering during his critical year. This is sure to have filled Jomyo with courage and hope, and enabled him to advance in his faith.

A Noble Life Dedicated to Spreading Buddhism

In April 1282, based on his deep trust in Jomyo, Nichiren Daishonin sent him a key letter titled “Receiving of the Three Great Secret Laws” (WND-2, 984), in which he explains the three principles that are essential to his teaching of Buddhism.

In writings such as “The Votary of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 447) and “Choosing the Heart of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-2, 481) written on Sado, as well as in various other works, Nichiren gradually revealed the Three Great Secret Laws[3]The Three Great Secret Laws are the core principles of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching. They are the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the daimoku of the essential teaching and the sanctuary of the essential teaching. The Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo embodies all three.and their significance.

The term also appears in “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude”(WND-1, 690). In this writing, Nichiren states his conviction that, although the Three Great Secret Laws have yet to spread, “If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, will spread for ten thousand years and more, for all eternity” (WND-1, 736).

As expressed in this statement, Nichiren Daishonin established a practice to ensure that all people of the Latter Day of the Law have a means to reveal their Buddhahood. And he entrusted his disciples and future successors with the spread of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws and the establishment of an indestructible and lasting foundation for kosen-rufu.

On October 13, 1282, Nichiren passed away, and just roughly six months later, on April 26, 1283, Jomyo’s life also came to an end.[4]There are other theories about the date of Ota Jomyo’s death.

Having received many important writings from Nichiren, Ota Jomyo upheld the same spirit as his mentor and lived a noble life committed to preserving and transmitting his mentor’s teaching and vision for the sake of future generations.

Adapted from the June 2019 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance

In addition to Shijo Kingo in Kamakura, the core followers of [Nichiren] Daishonin in the Shimosa region were Toki Jonin, Ota Jomyo and Soya Kyoshin, all men in their prime.

Toki Jonin gave the Daishonin refuge in his own home following the Matsubagayatsu Persecution, where Pure Land school believers made an attempt on the Daishonin’s life. Several years the Daishonin’s senior, he joined in the struggle to spread the Mystic Law when he was in his mid-forties. Ota Jomyo, who was introduced to Nichiren’s teachings by Toki Jonin, is thought to have been around the same age as the Daishonin. Soya Kyoshin was two years younger than Jomyo. Thus, at the time of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution in 1271, Toki Jonin was around fifty-six years old, Ota Jomyo was about fifty and Soya Kyoshin was about forty-eight.

Because these men rose up to valiantly strive and encouraged their fellow practitioners to do the same, they served as pillars of strength for many followers, who were inspired to persevere in faith amid great persecution.

Where there are such men, others feel reassured. When men stand up, it gives others courage. Their presence is significant and their potential is tremendous. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 10, pp. 316–17)

Notes   [ + ]

1. One theory is that “On the Five Guides for Propagation” was written even earlier.
2. He is addressed as “the Revered Jomyo” in a writing that is not included in the Gosho zenshu (“The Collected Writings of Nichiren Daishonin”).
3. The Three Great Secret Laws are the core principles of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching. They are the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the daimoku of the essential teaching and the sanctuary of the essential teaching. The Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo embodies all three.
4. There are other theories about the date of Ota Jomyo’s death.

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