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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 10: The Tatsunokuchi Persecution—Part 2

Mount Hood, Oregon. Photo by Chris Anson / Getty Images.

This is the tenth installment of the Soka Gakkai Study Department’s series, “Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion,” published in the January 2023 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

After his arrest on the twelfth day of the ninth month of 1271, Nichiren Daishonin was detained at the residence of Hojo Nobutoki, the military governor of Sado Province. Nichiren was 50.

He later described his predicament in “Letter to Shimoyama”:

In the eighth year of Bun’ei [1271], on the twelfth day of the ninth month, though I was not guilty of the slightest fault, I was exiled to the province of Sado. Ostensibly, I was being banished to a distant region, but secretly it had been decided that I would have my head cut off. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 701)

Around midnight, soldiers took Nichiren from Nobutoki’s residence. He describes the events in detail in “The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra” (see WND-1, 766–69).

They proceeded west from the residence and came to Wakamiya Avenue, where they could see Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine a short distance away. As they crossed the avenue, Nichiren asked the soldiers to stop, telling them, “I merely wish to say my last words to Great Bodhisattva Hachiman”[1] (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 766). He then dismounted his horse and, facing the shrine, called out to the deity: “Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, are you truly a god? … Now I, Nichiren, am the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in all of Japan, and am entirely without guilt” (WND-1, 766–67).

Great Bodhisattva Hachiman was the guardian deity of the Minamoto clan,[2] and Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine was an important religious center in Kamakura. Nichiren reprimanded the bodhisattva: “Each and every one of you gods [who were present at the ceremony of the Lotus Sutra] made this pledge [to protect the votary of the Lotus Sutra at all times]. … Why do you not appear at once to fulfill your solemn oath?” (WND-1, 767). At this, the soldiers must have been shocked.

Attempted Execution

As the party reached Yui Beach and passed another shrine, Nichiren sent a messenger named Kumao to summon Shijo Kingo, one of his leading disciples in Kamakura. Hearing the urgent call, Kingo, still barefoot, rushed to Nichiren’s side with three or four of his brothers.

He said to Kingo:

Tonight, I will be beheaded. This is something I have wished for many years. … In this life, I was born to become a humble priest, unable to adequately discharge my filial duty to my parents or fully repay the debt of gratitude I owe to my country. Now is the time when I will offer my head to the Lotus Sutra and share the blessings therefrom with my deceased parents, and with my disciples and lay supporters, just as I have promised you. (WND-1, 767)

Hearing these words, Kingo and his brothers took hold of Nichiren’s horse and accompanied him to Tatsunokuchi in Koshigoe.

At around 2 a.m., the party arrived at the execution site on the beach at Tatsunokuchi, and the soldiers began to mill around in excitement. Seeing this, Kingo shouted in tears: “These are your last moments!” He was ready to die alongside his mentor. Nichiren’s voice rang out: “You don’t understand! What greater joy could there be?” (WND-1, 767).

Nichiren chronicles the subsequent events in “The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra”: “A brilliant orb as bright as the moon burst forth from the direction of Enoshima, shooting across the sky from southeast to northwest” (WND-1, 767).[3]

The executioner fell to the ground, blinded. The other troops froze in fear. Nichiren said, “You must hurry up and execute me—once the day breaks, it will be too ugly a job” (WND-1, 767).

But no one moved. The assassination attempt had failed.

Six years later, in 1277, Nichiren wrote to express his admiration and appreciation for Kingo’s selfless devotion, evident in his resolve to follow his teacher even into death:

Over and over I recall the moment, unforgettable even now, when I was about to be beheaded and you accompanied me, holding the reins of my horse and weeping tears of grief. Nor could I ever forget it in any lifetime to come. If you should fall into hell for some grave offense, no matter how Shakyamuni Buddha might urge me to become a Buddha, I would refuse; I would rather go to hell with you. For if you and I should fall into hell together, we would find Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra there. (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 850)

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

Hardship Leads to Enlightenment

Ikeda Sensei writes: The more we struggle, the more power we summon up. Faith is the means for drawing forth this hidden treasure. Great hardship leads to attaining enlightenment. Great persecution ensures that we will quickly become Buddhas.

The Daishonin taught this way of life by overcoming each great persecution that he faced. And we can take it that during the Tatsunokuchi Persecution he provided Shijo Kingo with various lessons on this supreme way of life. He did so for his disciples and for the future.

Shijo Kingo was not confused. As a result, mentor and disciple together were able to attain the fruit of Buddhahood. And Tatsunokuchi itself became the Land of Tranquil Light.[4]

From the October 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. Hachiman: Traditionally viewed as the deity of agriculture. As Shinto traditions syncretized with Buddhism, Hachiman came to be regarded as Great Bodhisattva Hachiman. During the Kamakura period, Hachiman was revered as the tutelary god of the Minamoto clan and came to be worshipped widely as the guardian deity of all samurai warriors. ↩︎
  2. Minamoto was a surname given to imperial princes and princesses who had been removed from the imperial family as they were ineligible to succeed to the throne. Over a long period of time, scores of descendants of various emperors were granted the surname, and each of them established their own family bearing the name of the Minamoto clan (also pronounced as Genji). Among them emerged some powerful warrior families. In particular, the bloodline of Emperor Seiwa (dubbed as Seiwa Genji) prevailed in a power struggle against Kanmu Heishi, another group of powerful warrior families diverged from the imperial family. In the process, vast numbers of local warriors from a wide range of regions became retainers of the heads of Seiwa Genji. In 1185, Minamoto no Yoritomo from a prestigious Seiwa Genji family line established the Kamakura Shogunate, which became the first military government of Japan. As such, the Seiwa Genji held unrivaled power and success among other warrior families of the Minamoto clan. ↩︎
  3. Concerning the nature of this bright object, Ikeda Sensei once cited a theory proposed by Japanese astronomer Hideo Hirose (1901–81) that it may have been a fragment from a meteor stream originating from the direction of the constellations Aries and Taurus. There are other theories about the phenomenon but none has been definitively proven. (See August 3, 2001, World Tribune, p. 10) ↩︎
  4. The World of Nichiren’s Writings, vol. 1, p. 234. ↩︎

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