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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 11: Casting Off the Transient and Revealing the True

Inje, South Korea. hurpork08 / Getty Images.

This is the 11th installment of the Soka Gakkai Study Department’s series “Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion,” published in the February 2023 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal. 

After Nichiren Daishonin survived the attempt to behead him at Tatsunokuchi, the soldiers took him to Echi[1] in Sagami Province. He was 50 at the time. 

The Tatsunokuchi Persecution was a pivotal event for Nichiren. Until that time, he appeared as an ordinary person burdened by karma and suffering—his transient or superficial identity. But upon overcoming this persecution, he “cast off” that transient self and, while remaining an ordinary person, opened and fully revealed his true identity—a Buddha with boundless compassion and wisdom. This process is referred to as “casting off the transient and revealing the true.”[2]

Later, while in exile in Sado, Nichiren wrote:

On the twelfth day of the ninth month of last year [1271], between the hours of the rat and the ox (11 p.m. to 3 a.m.), this person named Nichiren was beheaded. It is his soul that has come to this island of Sado and, in the second month of the following year, snowbound, is writing this to send to his close disciples. (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 269)

Simply put, he says that his previous self came to an end at Tatsunokuchi and he arrived in Sado with a new awareness and conviction.[3]

Ikeda Sensei explains: “Put another way, while remaining an ordinary person, he manifested the eternal Thus Come One, which is one with the eternal Mystic Law, the fundamental Law of the universe. … He brilliantly manifested the life of the eternal Buddha within the life of an ordinary person.”[4]

Sensei goes on to apply this principle to us all: “When we dedicate our lives to kosen-rufu, overcoming painful suffering and persevering in faith, we, too, can actualize the principle of casting off the transient and revealing the true. As ordinary people, we can bring forth the same life of the Buddha that the Daishonin had.”[5]

After revealing his true identity, Nichiren’s actions became those of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. He then for the first time inscribed the Gohonzon, the object of devotion for all people to respect and base their spiritual practice on.

Nichiren’s Stay at Echi

Following the failed execution attempt, the shogunate spent the next month or so debating what would become of Nichiren and his disciples.

Nichiren arrived at the residence of Homma Rokuro Saemon-no-jo Shigetsura in Echi at around noon on the thirteenth day of the ninth month in 1271. Shigetsura was the deputy military governor of Sado Province.[6]

There, Nichiren ordered sake for the soldiers who had escorted him. These were the very troops who had intended to behead him, yet he now thanked them, an act epitomizing his magnanimous state of life. When it came time for them to leave, some pressed their palms together and said reverently, “We hated you, because we had been told that you slandered Amida Buddha, the one we worship. But now that we have seen with our own eyes what has happened to you, we understand how worthy a person you are, and will discard the Nembutsu that we have practiced for so long” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 768).

After the soldiers left, Shigetsura’s retainers took over as guards, and Shijo Kingo also left.

At about eight that evening, a messenger from the shogunate arrived with a written order from the regent. Shigetsura’s deputy told Nichiren what happened:

The messenger said that, since the lord of Musashi [Hojo Nobutoki] had left for a spa in Atami this morning at the hour of the hare (5–7 a.m.), he set off at once and rode for four hours to get here because he feared that something might happen to you. The messenger has left immediately to take news to the lord in Atami tonight. (WND-1, 768)

The letter accompanying the order the messenger carried read, “This person is not really guilty. He will shortly be pardoned. If you execute him, you will have cause to regret” (WND-1, 768).

Who decided to secretly behead Nichiren is not known. But likely Hojo Nobutoki tacitly agreed for him to be taken to Tatsunokuchi and then slipped away to avoid responsibility.

The Soka Gakkai ‘Casts Off the Transient and Reveals the True’

Soon after his inauguration [in 1951] as second Soka Gakkai president, Josei Toda wrote an essay titled “The History and Conviction of the Soka Gakkai.” In it, he recalled the words of the founder and first president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who said, “[The Soka Gakkai] must cast off the transient and reveal the true.”[7]

During World War II, the military government imprisoned Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda on charges of lèse-majesté (disrespect for the emperor) and violating the repressive Peace Preservation Law.[8] From the day of his release in July 1945, President Toda said he could say in his heart to his mentor, who had died in prison, as follows:

I am now aware that we have all appeared in this world with the great mission to propagate Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or the Lotus Sutra of the seven characters, in the Latter Day of the Law. If I define our status in accord with this conviction, we are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth.[9]

He then observed:

We are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and in terms of our faith and practice, we are the followers and disciples of Nichiren Daishonin. … This conviction is the central belief of the Soka Gakkai and is now beginning to spread throughout its membership. This indeed is “casting off the transient and revealing the true,” is it not?[10]

Most members at the time suffered from illness or financial hardships. Each responded to their mentor’s vow and came to hold the same conviction that they were Bodhisattvas of the Earth and Nichiren’s direct disciples, here to accomplish kosen-rufu. President Toda declared that this proved that the Soka Gakkai had cast off the transient and revealed its true identity.

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

From the November 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. Echi: Present-day Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture. ↩︎
  2. Originally, the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai used this term to explain how Shakyamuni reveals his true status as a Buddha in the “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, stating that he discarded his provisional identity as the Buddha who attained enlightenment for the first time in India in his present lifetime, and revealed the enlightenment he attained numberless major world system dust particle kalpas in the past. The Chinese character for “casting off” also means to open up. Hence, in the case of Nichiren, this principle means that, while remaining an ordinary person, he was able to open and reveal from within his true identity as a Buddha free of all delusion. ↩︎
  3. Nichiren later stated, “As for my teachings, regard those before my exile to the province of Sado as equivalent to the Buddha’s pre-Lotus Sutra teachings” (“Letter to Misawa,” WND-1, 896). He thereby categorized his teachings in a way similar to how Shakyamuni’s teachings are divided into the expedient, pre-Lotus Sutra and the true teachings of the Lotus Sutra. ↩︎
  4. The World of Nichiren’s Writings, vol. 1, p. 231.  ↩︎
  5. Ibid. ↩︎
  6. The office of deputy military governor entailed being posted to the military governor’s fief (in this case, Sado) to manage political and military affairs on their behalf. ↩︎
  7. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (The Complete Works of Josei Toda), vol. 3 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbun-sha, 1989), pp. 119–20. ↩︎
  8. Enacted in 1925 and completely revised in 1941. In the name of protecting the Japanese “national polity,” the government used this law to suppress thought and speech it perceived as opposing its wartime policies. The law dealt harsh punishment to violators, including the death penalty. ↩︎
  9. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (The Complete Works of Josei Toda), vol. 3 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbun-sha, 1989), p. 120. ↩︎
  10. Ibid. ↩︎

Human Values in a Changing World

Highlights of the November 2023 Study Material