Skip to main content

Our History

Shijo Kingo–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 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.

On June 25, 1277, Shijo Kingo was served an official letter from his lord, Ema Mitsutoki, stating that his landholdings would be confiscated. This would place Kingo and his family in an extremely dire situation.

The order stemmed from what became known as the Kuwagayatsu Debate, which took place on June 9, 1277. Around this time, a Tendai school priest named Ryuzo-bo, who was under the patronage of the influential priest Ryokan, boasted that he could defeat anyone in a debate on Buddhist teachings. Sammi-bo, one of Nichiren’s disciples, met Ryuzo-bo’s debate challenge and readily defeated him at Kuwagayatsu.

Kingo, who was simply an observer at the event, received a letter from Lord Ema accusing him of forcibly disrupting the debate. Ema commanded Kingo to renounce his faith in the Lotus Sutra in the form of a written oath, warning that if he did not do so, he would confiscate Kingo’s lands and have him banished from Kamakura.

Ema was a devout follower of Ryokan, and behind his frustration with Kingo was the likeli-hood that Ryuzo-bo’s defeat in the debate had directly damaged Ryokan’s reputation.

Kingo now faced the choice of either having his lands confiscated or renouncing his faith. At this dire crossroads, he boldly decided to maintain his faith. He wrote to Nichiren Daishonin to report the circumstances and included the official letter he had received from Lord Ema, pledging that he would not write the oath to discard his faith that Ema had commanded. Kingo was determined to base himself on faith, no matter what may happen.

The Writing of a Petition to Lord Ema

On receiving Shijo Kingo’s report, Nichiren took up his writing brush to wage a battle of words. To clear up the suspicions against his disciple, he composed an appeal to Lord Ema on behalf of Kingo, known as “The Letter of Petition from Yorimoto” (see The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 803–16).

In it, Nichiren states that the claim that Kingo disrupted Ryuzo-bo’s debate was baseless and spread by those who harbored jealously toward Kingo (see WND-1, 807). He refutes the lies that jealous colleagues had spread about Kingo and describes in detail Sammi-bo’s exchange with Ryuzo-bo (see WND-1, 809). He also describes how Ryuzo-bo and Ryokan had veered from the correct path of Buddhism.

Fully aware that Kingo’s persecution came from Ema’s devout support of Ryokan, Nichiren made sure to thoroughly refute the erroneous teachings and evil actions of Ryuzo-bo and Ryokan.

Nichiren, for instance, recounted how Ryokan had attempted to prove the legitimacy of his teaching by claiming, at a time of drought, that he could make rain fall through prayer. Even after enlisting hundreds of followers to join him in praying for rain for a week, not a drop fell. Much to Ryokan’s chagrin, he received a message from Nichiren that stated: “If one cannot cross a moat ten feet wide, can one cross a moat that is twenty or thirty feet wide? If you cannot bring about rainfall, which is easy, how can you attain rebirth in the pure land and achieve Buddhahood, which is difficult?” (WND-1, 808–09). Pointing out Ryokan’s true nature, the petition also quoted Nichiren as stating that “[Ryokan] made endless false accusations against me [Nichiren] in an attempt to have me executed” (WND-1, 809).

In addition, he recounted why Ryuzo-bo was ousted from his former temple, writing, “While in Kyoto, the priest Ryuzo was feeding morning and evening on human flesh; and when this became known, the priests of Enryaku-ji temple on Mount Hiei rose up against him” (WND-1, 809).

Through this petition, Nichiren exposed the evil nature of these priests to Lord Ema so that he could correct his mistaken belief in their teachings. He also stressed that it was Kingo’s duty as Ema’s subject to correct his lord when mistaken.

Moreover, Nichiren clearly pointed out that Shijo Kingo has been a model of loyalty, writing on his behalf:

My father and myself [Shijo Kingo], have dedicated our lives in service to our lords. … I would obediently follow you even into the next life. If I should attain Buddhahood, I would save my lord as well, and if you were to attain Buddhahood, I expect you would do the same for me. (WND-1, 811)

Through expressing such loyalty, he no doubt wanted to reach Ema’s heart. At the same time, he boldly concluded this petition by expressing Kingo’s refusal to submit an oath to abandon faith in the Lotus Sutra.

In reading this petition that Nichiren wrote on his behalf, Kingo must have taken this as strict encouragement on how to clearly refute the erroneous and reveal the true. He must have felt a deep sense of appreciation to his mentor, who so thoroughly supported him during this most harrowing time, and been determined to reply to his expectations.

Misfortune Changes Into Fortune

Along with the petition, Nichiren sent a personal letter to Kingo” (see “A Warning against Begrudging One’s Fief,” WND-1, 823–26), in which he writes:

During the repeated persecutions I suffered and throughout my two sentences of exile, you have demonstrated your resolve. Though that has been wondrous enough, I have no words sufficient to praise you for having written a pledge to carry through with your faith in the Lotus Sutra, in spite of your lord’s threats and at the cost of your two fiefs. (WND-1, 823)

• • •

The fact that those retainers who resent you are growing more presumptuous is definitely the result of the scheming of the priests Ryokan and Ryuzo. Should you write an oath discarding your faith, they would only become more arrogant, and they would mention it to everyone they meet. Then my disciples in Kamakura would be hounded until not a single one remained. (WND-1, 824)

Nichiren also illustrated a vital point about upholding faith when he declared:

However wretched a beggar you might become, never disgrace the Lotus Sutra. … Even if your fiefs should be confiscated or you yourself driven out, you must think that it is due to the workings of the ten demon daughters, and wholeheartedly entrust yourself to them. (WND-1, 824)

We should never discard our faith or look down on the Mystic Law, he teaches, even should our livelihood be threatened. No matter how difficult our circumstances, we should never be defeated and always persevere in faith.

Nichiren predicted that after the petition was submitted, Ryokan’s evil deeds would come to light and the truth about the Kuwagayatsu Debate would spread throughout Kamakura and perhaps reach the ears of the regent, Hojo Tokimune. If so, Nichiren said, “This would be misfortune changing into fortune” (WND-1, 824).

More than simply clearing Kingo’s name, this petition was a broader effort to expose the evil deeds of the priests who had been persecuting Nichiren and his disciples. It was a way to clarify the distinction between correct and erroneous Buddhist teachings.

Buddhism Is About Winning

Some two months after composing “The Letter of Petition from Yorimoto,” Nichiren sent another letter to Kingo, in which he wrote, “If the opportunity arises, submit to your lord the petition I have written on your behalf” (“The Hero of the World,” WND-1, 839).

Nichiren began this letter writing, “Having glanced through your letter, I feel as relieved as if the day had finally broken after a long night, or as if I had returned home after a long journey” (WND-1, 835). Kingo must have written assuring him of his safety. At the same time, Nichiren cautioned Kingo, writing: “Never submit yourself to writing a pledge, whatever it may concern … [even] if your lord coaxes you with soft words” (WND-1, 839). From Nichiren’s strict admonition, we can sense his concern over Kingo’s tendency to be easily swayed by circumstances.

Nichiren was determined to lead Kingo to a victorious outcome. Through this challenge, he taught the important lesson that “Buddhism primarily concerns itself with victory or defeat, while secular authority is based on the principle of reward and punishment” (WND-1, 835). He also writes: “Buddhism is reason. Reason will win over your lord” (WND-1, 839).

Will one win over devilish functions and attain Buddhahood, or will one be done in by them and lead a life of ambiguity? Buddhist practice is what enables one to win this fundamental battle with devilish functions. Basing life on the Buddhist teachings ensures that one will experience victories in the reality of daily life that lead to absolute happiness.

Buddhism does not contradict society’s laws, systems or traditions, but provides people with the life force and wisdom to flourish and win amid any circumstances.

Nichiren teaches Kingo that although his lord wields the power of secular authority, the power of reason based on the Buddhist Law is what is most effective in leading everyone to victory.

A Rapid Transformation

Without hesitation, Shijo Kingo chose to maintain faith in the Lotus Sutra, placing himself in a precarious situation. As if in reward for his stalwart faith, however, there was a dramatic shift in his lord’s attitude toward him. We learn in the letter titled “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” written to Kingo in September 1277, that Lord Ema had fallen ill during an epidemic. It was only three months after the drama of the Kuwagayatsu Debate when Ema requested that Shijo Kingo, whose medical skills he trusted, treat his illness. Because Kingo had continued sincerely serving his lord based on Nichiren’s guidance, he was called upon to support Ema at this crucial time.

The suspicion that came from the many false claims about Kingo seemed to evaporate when Ema became sick. The underlying trust Ema felt for Kingo had reemerged. Nichiren describes their relationship, writing:

He already looks to you as if you were his own parent, following you as water follows the shape of its container, longing for you as a calf longs for its mother, and relying on you as an elderly person relies on his staff. Is not his regard for you due to the aid of the Lotus Sutra? (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 850)

Distinguishing Between Correct and Erroneous Teachings

As time passed, those who had maliciously plotted against Kingo began receiving the effects of their causes.

For instance, Nichiren writes: “Ryuzo-bo, whom these people count on as their pillar of strength, has already been toppled, and those who spoke falsely of you have contracted the same disease as your lord. Because Ryokan is guilty of a much graver offense, it is more likely that he will meet with or cause a bad accident. Surely, he will not escape unharmed” (WND-1, 848).

He also says to Kingo, “Many people have plotted to undo you, but you have avoided their intrigues and emerged victorious” (WND-1, 849).

In 1278, the year following the Kuwagayatsu Debate, Ryokan plotted to have the Ikegami brothers disowned by their father, but to no avail. Ryokan and his cohorts hatched one evil intrigue after another to persecute Nichiren and his disciples, but failed each time.

During this period, Nichiren led the spread of the Mystic Law from Mount Minobu, calling on his disciples to be the protagonists in the battle for kosen-rufu. Shijo Kingo was certainly a leader among such disciples who took action to respond to their mentor’s call.

To be continued in an upcoming issue.

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

Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future

Ikeda Wisdom Academy: July 2020