Nichiren and His Disciples

Shijo Kingo–Part 2

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.

Shijo Kingo–Part 2

After the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, Nichiren Daishonin was exiled to Sado Island. Amid harsh conditions there, Nichiren composed many key treatises outlining core principles of Buddhism and wrote numerous letters of encouragement to his disciples. While many of Nichiren’s disciples were abandoning their faith due to continuous persecution, Shijo Kingo kept his mentor’s undaunted example at Tatsunokuchi in mind and burned with a seeking spirit to never be defeated.

Let’s examine the exchanges of mentor and disciple between Nichiren Daishonin and Shijo Kingo during this time.

Letter From Echi

Following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, Nichiren Daishonin was detained for about a month at the home of Homma Rokuro Saemon-no-jo Shigetsura in Echi, Sagami Province (present-day Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture).

During his detainment in Echi, Nichiren wrote to Shijo Kingo, “I cannot adequately express my gratitude for your frequent letters” (“The Persecution at Tatsunokuchi,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 196). Through this response, we can see that Kingo consistently kept in contact with Nichiren, hoping for his mentor’s safety.

In addition, Nichiren goes on to praise Kingo’s behavior and resolve at Tatsunokuchi to live and die together with him. He writes:

You accompanied Nichiren, vowing to give your life as a votary of the Lotus Sutra. Your deed is a hundred, thousand, ten thousand times greater than that of Hung Yen, who cut open his stomach and inserted the liver of his dead lord, Duke Yi [to save him from shame and dishonor]. When I reach Eagle Peak, I will first tell how Shijo Kingo, like myself, resolved to die for the Lotus Sutra. (WND-1, 196)

He then explains that the place where one undergoes persecution for the sake of the Lotus Sutra is certain to become an eternal Buddha land.

At the end of this letter, Nichiren shares the news that Hojo Tokimune, the lord of Kamakura, will be exiling him to Sado Island. He declares that at Tatsunokuchi, the god of the moon saved his life by appearing as a shining object; in Echi, the god of the stars greeted him; and now, he is certain the god of the sun will protect him next (see WND-1, 196–97).

When people fully dedicate themselves to the Mystic Law with strong resolve, the place where they are becomes the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. Nichiren’s wish was to encourage such ungrudging faith in Kingo.

Bestowing “The Opening of the Eyes”

Nichiren Daishonin was sentenced to exile, departing Echi on October 10, 1271, and arriving in Tsukahara, Sado Island, on November 1.

According to today’s calendar, this would have been sometime in December. Although he narrowly escaped execution at Tatsunokuchi, he now faced the extreme cold and unspeakable conditions of Sado Island.

At the same time, the oppression of his disciples intensified. In fact, anyone who even remotely appeared to sympathize with Nichiren was punished by having their land confiscated, being banished from their villages and disinherited by their families, or receiving financial penalties.

When people fully dedicate themselves to the Mystic Law with strong resolve, the place where they are becomes the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light.

As a result, “999 out of 1,000 people gave up their faith” (see “Reply to Niiama,” WND-1, 469). As this passage suggests, Nichiren and his community of believers received a catastrophic blow to their burgeoning movement.

Nichiren must have sincerely thought about his disciples struggling amid these conditions. And although his life was at risk as an exile, he decided to compose a treatise in which he addresses the doubts of both the public and his disciples, and declares himself to be a votary of the Lotus Sutra. This treatise is “The Opening of the Eyes.”

In his subsequent letter, “The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” we learn that immediately after Nichiren arrived on Sado Island in November 1271, he began putting together “The Opening of the Eyes,” which Shijo Kingo received in February 1272 (see WND-1, 772).

In “The Opening of the Eyes,” Nichiren writes, “In the second month of the following year, snowbound, [Nichiren] is writing this to send to his close disciples” (WND-1, 269). Here, “close disciples” refers to Shijo Kingo, who accompanied him to the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, and more broadly, to all of his disciples who continued to strive alongside him.

In this letter, Nichiren Daishonin declares that he is practicing just as the Lotus Sutra teaches, making him a votary of the Lotus Sutra. He also makes clear that he is the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law who embodies the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent, based on his vow to lead all people to enlightenment.

And in response to the public’s criticism that “if Nichiren is the votary of the Lotus Sutra, why isn’t he receiving the protection of the Buddhist gods?” he explains that the persecution he is undergoing accords exactly with the Lotus Sutra’s text.

“The Opening of the Eyes” as well as “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” written in April 1273, are considered the most important works Nichiren composed during the Sado Exile. Here, Nichiren urges his disciples to open their eyes to the true identity of Nichiren as the Buddha of the Latter Day, establishing the “object of devotion in terms of the person.” This clear imagery of “opening the eyes” must have deeply struck Shijo Kingo.

The letter continues: “I, Nichiren, am the richest man in all of present-day Japan. I have dedicated my life to the Lotus Sutra, and my name will be handed down in ages to come” (WND-1, 268). Amid this life-or-death battle, Nichiren made this lion’s roar of a declaration as a champion of the human spirit.

In the extreme cold, his heart blazed with the vow to save all people. This letter, infused with Nichiren’s unyielding conviction and passionate spirit, must have ignited Kingo’s courage to stand up, and moved him deeply.

The Central Figure of Kamakura

On February 18, 1272, Nichiren Daishonin learned of the internal strife between the factions of the ruling Hojo clan in Kamakura and Kyoto.
In “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” Nichiren predicted that “the calamity of revolt within one’s own domain” (WND-1, 24) would occur. Based on discovering the truth of his prediction, Nichiren wrote “Letter from Sado” in March 1272, which summarizes key points from “The Opening of the Eyes.”

Similar to “The Opening of the Eyes,” while addressing all of his disciples, Nichiren specifically sends “Letter from Sado” to principal disciples such as Toki Jonin and Shijo Kingo. He writes, “I want people with seeking minds to meet and read this letter together for encouragement” (WND-1, 306).
Nichiren intended for his disciples to study his letters and encourage one another, together deepening their faith.

He also wrote, “Send me the names of those killed in the battles at Kyoto and Kamakura” (WND-1, 301). This indicates that Toki Jonin and Shijo Kingo played major roles in gathering information at Nichiren’s request.

Kingo Visits Sado While Serving His Lord

In a letter written to Shijo Kingo’s wife, Nichigen-nyo, in April 1272, we learn that Kingo traveled long distances to visit Nichiren Daishonin at Sado.

Concerned about Nichiren’s well-being, Kingo traversed treacherous mountain paths and rough seas to visit him. How overjoyed he must have been to finally have reached Sado Island and be reunited with his mentor!
Upon Kingo’s arrival to Sado, Nichiren expressed his appreciation to Nichigen-nyo, writing:

Both of you were born as commoners and live in Kamakura, yet you believe in the Lotus Sutra without concern for the prying eyes of others or the danger it may pose to your lives. This is nothing short of extraordinary. … And yet, in such a turbulent world, and when you do not even have servants you can rely on, you have sent your husband here. This shows that your sincerity is deeper even than the earth, and the earthly gods must certainly realize it. It is loftier even than the sky, and the heavenly gods Brahma and Shakra must also be aware of it. (“The Gods Same Birth and Same Name,” WND-1, 315–16)

Kamakura during this time was under the control of the political authorities and corrupt priests of other Buddhist schools that persecuted Nichiren and his disciples. In addition, a civil war was raging. Amid this reality, Kingo and his wife continued to strive in faith based on the Lotus Sutra, and Kingo persevered through a dangerous journey to seek his mentor.

Nichiren praises the pure faith of this couple and assures them that they will be protected by the Buddhist gods. He explains that those who continue to make efforts for kosen-rufu, regardless of whether others are watching, are the most respectworthy and are guaranteed to receive tremendous benefits.

In a letter to Kingo at a later date, Nichiren said:

For you, a lay person pressed for time in your lord’s service, to believe in the Lotus Sutra is itself very rare. Moreover, surmounting mountains and rivers and crossing the great blue sea, you came to visit me from afar. How could your resolve be inferior to that of the man who broke open his bones at the City of Fragrances, or of the boy who threw away his body on the Snow Mountains? (“The Place of the Cluster of Blessings,” WND-1, 1069)

From the language Nichiren uses here, we see how praiseworthy are those who overcome all obstacles and continue to seek their mentor with resolute faith.

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

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