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Shijo Kingo–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 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.

In June 1277, Shijo Kingo was in grave danger of losing his fief due to slanderous allegations lodged against him that stemmed from his alleged misconduct at the Kuwagayatsu Debate. His lord, Ema Mitsutoki, had threatened to confiscate his lands if he didn’t abandon his practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.

However, without wavering, Kingo resolutely chose the path of faith. This led to a significant shift. That September, Lord Ema fell ill due to an epidemic. Kingo treated and nursed him back to health, subsequently regaining Ema’s trust.

Nichiren Daishonin affirms, “Many people have plotted to undo you, but you have avoided their intrigues and emerged victorious” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 849).

Beware of Pride and Carelessness

Still, Shijo Kingo continued to find himself in a precarious situation. While Ema assigned him greater responsibility, Kingo’s fellow retainers burned with jealousy despite appearing to carry themselves with composure. Thus, Kingo’s life continued to be under threat.

Seeking to help Kingo cement his victory, in the September 1277 letter “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” Nichiren advises him not to be complacent about having regained his lord’s trust. He urges Kingo to act with wisdom and to be ever-vigilant against attacks by rivals.

Nichiren writes in “The Three Kinds of Treasure”:

Inwardly they are no doubt seething with hate. So you should at all times behave unobtrusively in their presence. Pay greater respect to the other retainers of the clan than you have in the past. For the time being, when the sons of members of the Hojo clan are visiting your lord, refrain from calling on him, even if he should summon you. (WND-1, 849)

He goes on to say:

If those sons of the Hojo clan or the wives of those in power should inquire about your lord’s illness, no matter who the person may be, get down on your knees, place your hands properly, and reply thus: “His malady is entirely beyond my poor skill to cure. But no matter how often I decline, he insists that I treat him. Since I am in his service, I cannot help but do as he says.” Leave your sidelocks uncombed, and refrain from wearing well-starched court dress, bright quilted robes, or other colorful clothing. Be patient, and continue in this way for the time being. (WND-1, 849)

As if being by his side and bearing witness to Kingo’s various struggles, Nichiren advised his disciple in detail about how to conduct himself in daily life.

In the same writing, the Daishonin states, “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being” (WND-1, 852).

He teaches that the essence of Buddhism exists in one’s behavior and actions to value and respect each individual. No matter how exceptional the Buddhist teachings may be, it is only through one’s actions that people become convinced of their truth.

Kingo won back his lord’s trust through his strong faith and sincere actions. But if he allowed his rivals to take advantage of him on account of his carelessness or pride, then his efforts to demonstrate the validity of Nichiren’s teachings would be for naught. Thus, Nichiren repeatedly urged him to carry through with wise behavior.

Ikeda Sensei explains why Nichiren counseled Kingo about his behavior. He states:

Being ordinary people, sometimes we complain. Sometimes our emotions get out of hand, or we get carried away and make mistakes.

That is why the Daishonin gives such strict and detailed guidance to Shijo Kingo, warning him not to grow careless or arrogant. His sole wish is to help his beloved disciple lead a life of victory to the very end.

In the same letter, the Daishonin says that we should place importance on our “behavior as a human being” (WND-1, 852) and accumulate the “treasures of the heart” (WND-1, 851). (July 19, 2019, World Tribune, pp. 2–3)

Family Tensions

Nichiren took special care to advise Kingo about his relationships. It is known that Kingo had three or four brothers and many sisters. During the 1271 Tatsunokuchi Persecution, Kingo had rushed to Nichiren’s side with his brothers (see “The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 767).

However, by the Kuwagayatsu Debate of 1277, Kingo was experiencing hostilities with his older brother, and it seems certain circumstances prevented him from associating with his younger brothers. It may be that his brothers began to doubt Nichiren’s teachings when Kingo fell under his lord’s displeasure.

Nichiren sensed that Kingo was in danger and could be attacked at any time. Drawing on a metaphor, he wrote, “A cart, as long as it has two wheels, does not lurch all over the road” (WND-1, 849), to advise Kingo that allying himself with his younger brothers would also contribute to his safety.

In addition to his concerns about Kingo’s relations with his brothers, Nichiren must have also worried that Kingo’s sisters and relatives were also distancing themselves from him.

He wanted Kingo, a central figure among his Kamakura disciples, to achieve victory not only in spreading the teachings but also in his family. Whenever the opportunity arose, Nichiren gave detailed advice on how to interact compassionately with his family.

Night Watchmen of Egara

Moreover, the night watchmen of Egara[1] lived near Shijo Kingo. These four samurai guarded government offices in Egara (present-day Nikaido in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture). When their lords discovered they had taken faith in Nichiren’s teachings, their residences were confiscated.

Nichiren advised Kingo to ally himself with these watchmen and have them frequent his residence. This would undoubtedly deter his rivals from attacking since they did not wish to draw attention to their plot.

It appears, however, that Kingo did not get along with these night watchmen. Nichiren advised him, “However disagreeable it may be to you, you should associate with them amicably” (WND-1, 849–50).

While Kingo had a strong sense of justice, he also struggled to compromise with others. Moreover, he was hot-tempered and invariably wore his emotions on his sleeve. Because he could not deal with the shortcomings of others, he often clashed with them.

Devilish functions that seek to obstruct kosen-rufu appear and take advantage of frictions and fissures that arise among fellow believers. Nichiren emphasized that rather than being controlled by momentary emotions, he needed to resolve to unite with others.

Nichiren concerned himself with each challenge Kingo faced—his relationship with his lord, the defamation and risk of physical attacks by his colleagues, estrangement from his siblings, friction with fellow believers—and he advised him in detail. Understanding his mentor’s heart, Kingo earnestly strove to heed his counsel, regardless of how difficult it was.

Receiving New Fiefs

Following Ema’s recovery from illness, he not only gave Kingo more responsibility, he also rewarded him with more land to manage.

Amazed by this news, especially since Lord Ema’s retainers had shunned Kingo and he had declined estates offered to him earlier, Nichiren writes: “I cannot think it to be true; it is so marvelous that I wonder if it is a dream. I hardly know what to say in reply” (“The Receipt of New Fiefs,” WND-1, 945).

The new estate that Lord Ema granted Kingo was three times the size of Kingo’s existing fief, located in Tono’oka (present-day Iida, Nagano Prefecture). Nichiren learned from a visitor that Kingo’s new estates were in faraway Sado and Echigo Provinces (present-day Niigata Prefecture). Yet it seems that Kingo had been dissatisfied with them. Nichiren patiently explained to Kingo that he could expect to receive a good income from these landholdings and should regard them as a blessing.

He continues, writing: “No matter how poor these estates might be, avoid complaining of it, either to others or to your lord. If you say, ‘They are excellent, excellent lands,’ your lord may add to your fiefs again” (WND-1, 945).

In a letter thought to have been written in April 1278, Nichiren states, “Where there is unseen virtue, there will be visible reward” (“Unseen Virtue and Visible Reward,” WND-1, 907). He explains that Kingo received additional lands because of his sincere wish for his lord’s welfare and because of his sustained strong faith. “This is just the beginning,” Nichiren says, “be confident that the great reward also is sure to come” (WND-1, 907).

Another letter, likely written in September 1278, reveals that Kingo had indeed received an additional estate. Nichiren states: “This is indeed wondrous. This is precisely what is meant by the statement that unseen virtue brings about visible reward” (“The Farther the Source, the Longer the Stream,” WND-1, 940).

He wholeheartedly praises Kingo, saying that his earnest prayer and actions for Lord Ema’s well-being, though often unseen, had resulted in the “visible reward” of his victory.

Moreover, in 1280 Kingo was able to share Nichiren’s teaching with Lord Ema. Hearing of this, the Daishonin writes, “You have been discussing the Buddhist teachings in the presence of your lord, which delights me no end” (“Great Bodhisattva Hachiman,” WND-1, 1080).

Despite the fissure created in the past when Kingo spoke of Nichiren’s teaching to Ema, Kingo’s dedicated and sincere actions had finally garnered strong bonds of trust with his lord. Ema came to listen sincerely to what Kingo had to say.

Diligent Concern For Others

Although the turn in Kingo’s fortunes was welcome news, he still faced several unresolved issues. Nichiren provided Kingo with essential guidelines for achieving victory in each. For instance, he wrote, “More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 851). Underscoring the importance of accumulating treasures of the heart, he teaches that polishing one’s faith and making one’s Buddha nature shine is the basis for victory in all things.

He also urged Kingo: “Live so that all the people of Kamakura will say in your praise that Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo[2] is diligent in the service of his lord, in the service of Buddhism, and in his concern for other people” (WND-1, 851).

Nichiren taught that if Kingo came to exude genuine humanity, he would win in his relationship with his lord, in his practice of Buddhism and in his efforts to gain trust in society.

In 1278, Nichiren wrote to Kingo: “I was most delighted to hear that your lord, who in the past has treated you with enmity, has once more admitted you to the company of those in his service, and that you are called upon to serve him not for a mere day or two but without interruption. I cannot tell you how this pleases me” (“Nine Thoughts to One Word,” WND-2, 730).

Nichiren also heard a report from one of his disciples that boys watching a procession of Lord Ema’s retainers in Kamakura saw Kingo among them and exclaimed: “Ah, there’s a fine fellow, a fine fellow indeed!” (WND-2, 730).

Kingo must have developed a confident stature, having prevailed over a succession of hardships and demonstrating in his life the power of faith.

For Kingo, his relationships with his lord, fellow samurai, siblings and believers were anything but easy. However, he did not turn away from them and challenged each relationship based on faith, thereby demonstrating actual proof of his human revolution. Through this experience, he became a model leader and central figure for believers in Kamakura.

To be continued in an upcoming issue.

Adapted from the January 2020 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. Government offices were located in the Egara section of Kamakura during Nichiren’s time. ↩︎
  2. Shijo Kingo’s full name, including his title, was Shijo Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo Yorimoto. Kingo is a title interchangeable with Saemon-no-jo. ↩︎

Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future

Commentary on Volume 19