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The Buddhism of the Sun Arrives

750 Years Since the Tatsunokuchi Persecution by Daisaku Ikeda

“Enoshima in Sagami Province” by artist Katsushika Hokusai, ca. 1830–32. Photo courtesy of the Met.

This month marks 750 years since Nichiren Daishonin was nearly beheaded at Tatsunokuchi Beach near Kamakura, Japan. Reflecting on this incident, Nichiren wrote that he had cast off his transient identity as an ordinary person and revealed his true self as a Buddha. This principle has come to be known as “casting off the transient and revealing the true,” which teaches that through Buddhist practice, all people have the ability to tap into their true identity as Buddhas. The following essay, penned by Ikeda Sensei, was originally published in the March 29 and 30, 2001, issues of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

On September 12, 1271, a noisy mob surrounded Nichiren Daishonin’s dwelling at Matsubagayatsu in Kamakura. Hei no Saemon, the most powerful figure in the military government, stormed the building with several hundred soldiers. Nichiren declared in a ringing voice: “How amusing! Look at Hei no Saemon gone mad! You gentlemen have just toppled the pillar of Japan” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 766).

The arrogant priest Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji temple in Kamakura was behind this act of violence. Nichiren had refuted Ryokan’s erroneous teachings, exposed his hypocrisy and triumphed over him in a contest to pray for rain. Ryokan was no match for Nichiren—not in the teachings he preached, his personal character or the actual proof of his practice. Therefore, his only alternative was to paint the Daishonin as a villain. And so he devised a scheme: He maligned the Daishonin to powerful figures and their wives, spreading incredibly vicious, base lies about him. The military government was already in an uproar over the impending invasion of Japan by the Mongols—the general punishment that the Daishonin had predicted would befall the country, if the government failed to heed his warnings in his treatise, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

True leaders, if they cared for their nation’s fate, would humbly and earnestly listen to the truthful arguments of a great sage. But the rulers of the military government of Nichiren’s day cared little for the happiness of the people. They merely exploited the crisis that the nation faced to strengthen their own hold on power. And they plotted to destroy the person who was the nation’s true treasure, because he stood in their way.

Priests mad with jealousy working hand in glove with authorities blinded by arrogance—this is the pattern those persecutions against the Soka Gakkai, an organization carrying out the Buddha’s intent and decree, have followed.

After Nichiren was apprehended by Hei no Saemon’s men, he was paraded through the streets of Kamakura like a traitor and taken to the residence of Hojo Nobutoki, the constable of Sado Island, where the Daishonin was to be exiled. But Hei no Saemon’s men came and removed him from the premises in the middle of the night. They planned to execute him at Tatsunokuchi. This was not a legal sentence of death—it was an unsanctioned private execution plotted by Hei no Saemon and his cohorts. It all unfolded under the cover of darkness. They were jealous and afraid of the sun of truth. Those intoxicated with power seethed, sharpening their cruel sword.

• • •

On Wakamiya Avenue, en route to the execution grounds at Tatsunokuchi, Nichiren dismounted from his horse and, facing Hachiman Shrine, sternly reproved Great Bodhisattva Hachiman: “Now I, Nichiren, am the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in all of Japan, and am entirely without guilt. … You had better do something about it right away!” (WND-1, 766–67). This was a lion’s roar of rebuke at the heavenly deities—the protective functions of the universe—who had promised to safeguard the practitioner of the correct teaching at the assembly where the Lotus Sutra was preached.

When they reached Yui Beach, Nichiren sent a boy named Kumao to inform Shijo Kingo of his impending execution. Rushing from the house without even stopping to put on his shoes, Shijo Kingo hastened to Nichiren’s side with his three brothers. The Daishonin had called on his most trustworthy disciple to witness this momentous event.

Though Tatsunokuchi is called an execution ground, it seems that there were no special facilities or buildings. A mat was simply spread over the sand for the beheading. The soldier had his sword raised and was ready to perform the execution. Shijo Kingo said, “These are your last moments” (WND-1, 767) and started weeping, but the Daishonin chided him, saying that he should rejoice at such an occasion.

Then it happened. Suddenly, from the direction of Enoshima, an orb as bright as the moon streaked across the sky. The pitch black sky was illuminated like a moonlit night. The soldier holding the sword was blinded by the object’s dazzling brightness and fell to the ground, and the others, struck with fear, ran off into the distance.

• • •

What was this shining object? Research has shown that it may have been a fragment from a meteor stream in the region of the Aries and Taurus constellations. This was the theory of an eminent astronomer, who was a former director of the Tokyo Astronomical Observatory and professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo. He hypothesized that the appearance of the bright object on the night of September 12, 1271, took place around the time the moon set, which he calculated to be 3:44 a.m. [on the 13th day].

• • •

A great light blazed in the darkness at the very moment that Nichiren was about to be beheaded. He called out to the soldiers who had fled, telling them that if they were going to cut off his head they should do it quickly, before the dawn, but they were afraid and would not approach.

Eventually, from far beyond the waves, a dot of crimson began to glow faintly, spreading out to the left and right, and swelling upward until the horizon could be seen. Dawn had arrived. The sun’s rays gained rapidly in strength and radiance, making the sea sparkle and lighting the sky. The clouds were dyed in rainbow colors.

The shining, golden sun rose majestically. This was the moment in which the Buddhism of the Sun broke through the profound negativity of fundamental delusion to illuminate the earth with its brilliance.

• • •

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda often said: “Any place where the Gohonzon is enshrined is an infinitely sacred place. Any place where people have faith dedicated to kosen-rufu is a Buddha land. The spirit of Nichiren Daishonin resides there.”

The most important thing is to carry on the true spirit of the Daishonin and to act in complete accord with his writings.

SGI members around the world, determined to realize the Daishonin’s dream of kosen-rufu, are working hard to transform their respective communities into joyous lands of Tranquil Light. This is the path of a true world religion.

• • •

Nichiren says that since he had given his life at Tatsunokuchi, it was equivalent to a Buddha land (see “The Persecution at Tatsunokuchi,” WND-1, 196). Indeed, his towering state of life as the original Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law was brilliantly revealed at the site of this great persecution. The luminous object that streaked across the sky, frightening the Daishonin’s executioners was an acclamation from the universe celebrating and testifying to the start of his journey into the boundless future. The Tatsunokuchi Persecution was a ceremony in which the Daishonin revealed, on the level of phenomenal reality, a part of the infinite power of the Mystic Law that governs all things in the universe.

Nichiren writes: “The sun and moon are bright mirrors that reflect all that happens in the four quarters of the sky, and therefore the heavenly gods must surely know and understand me! The sun and moon are bright mirrors that reflect all that happens in the worlds in the ten directions, and therefore the Buddhas must surely know and understand me! There should be no particle of doubt [as to whether they will guard me]. (“Errors of the True Word and Other Schools,” WND-2, 437). The great struggle for kosen-rufu is reflected in the bright mirrors of the sun and moon, and all Buddhas and heavenly deities throughout the universe are watching. That is why Nichiren was filled with the unshakable conviction that he was resolutely protected, even as he faced execution at Tatsunokuchi.

• • •

The Daishonin states, “Nichiren triumphed at Tatsunokuchi because the heavenly deities joined forces with him” (Gosho zenshu, p. 843).

That morning, the light of daybreak brilliantly illuminated Tatsunokuchi. It was a dawn of truth and justice breaking through the darkness of conspiracy. It was the triumph of compassion for the people over the demonic aspect of power. It was the triumph of fundamental enlightenment over fundamental delusion. It was the triumph of Buddhahood, which struck fear into the devil king of the sixth heaven who reigns over the earth. It was the jubilant victory of life over the insidious minions of murder, who tried to kill the votary of the Lotus Sutra.

Obstacles lead to enlightenment. Persecutions lead to kosen-rufu. Nichiren teaches us this with his very being. No matter how extreme the threat to our lives, as long as the furnace of strong faith burns hot, we will win, he tells us.

Do not be defeated by persecution, by enemies, by sickness or by your own weakness. Only by winning will the sun of happiness rise. Only by winning will the sun of kosen-rufu rise.

• • •

Later, Nichiren was led from the Tatsunokuchi execution grounds to the residence of Homma Rokuro Saemon of Echi, a retainer of Sado Island’s constable, Hojo Nobutoki. There, the Daishonin ordered sake for the soldiers who had accompanied him, to thank them for their services. As the time came for them to leave, some of the soldiers bowed their heads, joined their palms together in reverence and vowed to the Daishonin to discard the practice of the Pure Land school of Buddhism.

A profoundly humane act can melt the most frozen hearts, like the light of the sun, causing the mighty river of truth and justice to rise and grow in power.

Later, the military government executed five Mongol envoys at Tatsunokuchi. The Daishonin lamented this, saying how pitiful it was that the innocent Mongol envoys had been beheaded (see “The Mongol Envoys,” WND-1, 628). Had the government only heeded his words of warning, he says, it would never have come to this.

• • •

The Buddhism of the Sun that rose from the depths of ignorance on that day over seven centuries ago has now begun to shine ever more brilliantly, illuminating the entire world.

Humanity thirsts for the light of this great philosophy of hope. It is the dawning of a new millennium. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now is the time for us to spread with all our hearts the Mystic Law, the source of limitless vitality, and thereby adorn our lives with victory. Let us send this great light to one person after another, and transform our communities and societies into treasure lands pervaded by human harmony.

The Daishonin says to his disciples in Kamakura: “Though enemies lurk in wait for you, your resolute faith in the Lotus Sutra has forestalled great dangers before they could begin. Realizing this, you must strengthen your faith more than ever” (“General Stone Tiger,” WND-1, 953). Those with resolute faith are true practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism and genuine pioneers of kosen-rufu. They are eternal, unparalleled victors.

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