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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 12: At Echi

Shirakawago Village, Japan. Photo by Torsakarin / Getty Images.

This is the 12th installment of the Soka Gakkai Study Department’s series “Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion,” published in the April 2023 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

Nichiren Daishonin arrived at the residence of Homma Rokuro Saemon-no-jo Shigetsura, the deputy military governor of Sado Province, in Echi,[1] Sagami Province, at around noon on the 13th day of the ninth month in 1271.

That night, Nichiren went out into the garden. In the presence of soldiers stationed there, he faced the moon and, citing passages from the Lotus Sutra, reproached the god of the moon who had vowed to Shakyamuni Buddha to protect the votary of the Lotus Sutra. He said, “Now that you see me in this situation, you should rush forward joyfully” to fulfill that vow (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 768).

Nichiren describes what happened next:

Then, as though in reply, a large star bright as the Morning Star fell from the sky and hung in a branch of the plum tree in front of me. The soldiers, astounded, jumped down from the veranda, fell on their faces in the garden, or ran behind the house. (WND-1, 769)

At dawn on the 14th day around 6 a.m., a man called the lay priest Juro came and said to Nichiren:

Last night there was a huge commotion in the regent’s residence at the hour of the dog [7–9 p.m.]. They summoned a diviner, who said, “The country is going to erupt in turmoil because you punished that priest [Nichiren]. If you do not call him back to Kamakura immediately, there is no telling what will happen to this land.” At that some said, “Let’s pardon him!” Others said, “Since he predicted that war would break out within a hundred days, why don’t we wait and see what happens.” (WND-1, 769)

Though details are unclear, it seems that something led to a disagreement among those close to Hojo Tokimune over how to treat Nichiren.

Encouraging His Disciples One After Another

During Nichiren’s stay in Echi, there was a surge of crimes in Kamakura including arson and murder. People spread unfounded rumors that Nichiren’s disciples had set the fires. The government named 260 of his disciples as suspects, calling for their exile and even for the beheading of those already imprisoned. But as Nichiren later stated, all this was the work of those hostile to him: “It turned out, however, that the fires were set by the observers of the precepts[2] and the Nembutsu believers in an attempt to implicate my disciples” (WND-1, 769).

While being held in Echi, Nichiren wrote to his followers one after another, urging them not to be disheartened by the severe persecutions confronting them.

On the 15th day of the ninth month, he sent a letter to Toki Jonin in Shimosa Province,[3] and on the 21st, he sent another to Shijo Kingo in Kamakura.

On the fifth day of the tenth month, he wrote a letter addressed to three other followers in Shimosa Province—Ota Jomyo, Soya Kyoshin and the Dharma Bridge Kanabara. In it, he explains the Buddhist principle of “lessening karmic retribution” from the Nirvana Sutra (see “Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution,” WND-1, 199). The doctrine of karma teaches that the evil deeds committed in the past will cause one to experience extreme suffering in the present or future. The principle of lessening karmic retribution means that, due to the merit of upholding the Lotus Sutra, one experiences suffering in a lessened form in this lifetime. Therefore, Nichiren says, by experiencing persecution on account of spreading the Lotus Sutra, he is expiating the negative karma he formed by slandering the Law in past lives.

Further, he explains that those who spread the correct Buddhist teaching will naturally experience persecution and that he has been prepared for great difficulties. Citing passages from the Lotus Sutra, he points out that the great opposition he now faces proves that he has been reading the Lotus Sutra with his life. That is, he put the Lotus Sutra into practice just as it taught and as a result experienced persecutions exactly as it predicted.

On the third and ninth days of the same month, he wrote letters to Nichiro and other imprisoned disciples, praising them for reading the Lotus Sutra with their lives and speaking of the benefit they will gain from doing so.

Though plans to execute Nichiren had been abandoned, his situation remained dangerous and unpredictable. He wrote to key figures among his followers in each region, conveying how joyful it was to encounter persecution just as the Lotus Sutra described. He urgently called on them to stand firm and persevere in faith with the same spirit as he, their teacher.

Ultimately, the authorities decided to impose Nichiren’s original sentence—exile to the island of Sado. He left Echi on the 10th day of the 10th month, later noting his route:

Along the way we stopped at Kumegawa[4] in the province of Musashi and, after traveling for twelve days, arrived here at the harbor of Teradomari[5] in the province of Echigo. (“Letter from Teradomari,” WND-1, 206)

Along the journey, which covered approximately 200 miles, the weather was already growing colder.

The Counteroffensive of Faith

Ikeda Sensei: [The major persecution encompassing] the succession of events from the Tatsunokuchi Persecution to the Sado Exile can be viewed as a battle between an offensive and a counteroffensive force. On the offensive side were the devilish forces seeking to undermine the hearts of Nichiren Daishonin’s followers; taking the counteroffensive was the Daishonin himself, who sought to protect the faith of his followers and, if anything, aspired for them to use this persecution as an opportunity to establish faith equal to and at one with his own.

Arguably, this counteroffensive began on September 12 [1271], the day of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, when the Daishonin summoned Shijo Kingo to his side as he was being led to the execution grounds. It might be that the Daishonin’s motivation in doing so was to clearly communicate his spirit to Kingo.

In addition, during his nearly one-month stay at Homma’s residence in Echi following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, the Daishonin exchanged numerous letters with his followers and received frequent visits from them. This continued during his exile on Sado. It was a struggle to strengthen the bonds between mentor and disciple undertaken despite forces seeking to drive them apart.[6]

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

From the December 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. Echi: Present-day northern Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture. ↩︎
  2. Eight precepts or rules of discipline observed by Buddhist lay believers, originally only on six specified days of each month. Among them, the precept of not eating after the noon hour was given particular importance. Traditionally, Buddhist priests observed this precept every day. In 13th-century Japan, however, only the strictest observers of the precepts did so. Such priests were considered “observers of the precepts.” When Nichiren mentions “observers of the precepts” in his writings, he is usually referring to strict observers among followers of the Zen school or the True Word Precepts school of Ryokan. ↩︎
  3. Shimosa Province: Present-day northern Chiba Prefecture and surrounding areas. ↩︎
  4. Kumegawa: Present-day Kumegawa-cho and surrounding area in Higashimurayama, a city located in western Tokyo. ↩︎
  5. Teradomari: A small port in the northern part of present-day Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. It was a launching point for boats traveling to Sado Island. ↩︎
  6. See the July 2003 Living Buddhism, p. 27. ↩︎

Interview With Living Buddhism Illustrator

Highlights of the December 2023 Study Material