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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 4: Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land—Part 1

Jasper National Park, Canada. Photo by Yuin Lu Hoo / Getty Images.

This is the fourth installment of a translation of the Soka Gakkai Study Department’s study text, “Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion,” published in Japanese in the June 2022 issue of the Daibyakurenge.

Not long after Nichiren Daishonin declared the establishment of his teachings in Awa Province [in 1253], Toki Jonin, who resided at Yawatanosho in Shimosa Province (present-day Ichikawa City, Chiba Prefecture), likely took faith in his teachings.

Chiba Yoritane was a samurai lord in Shimosa Province and a retainer of the shogun, Japan’s military ruler. As military governor of the province, he oversaw political and administrative affairs there on behalf of the shogunate. Toki Jonin was an influential retainer of Yoritane, who managed litigation and other provincial business. Jonin frequently traveled between Shimosa and the capital, Kamakura, to fulfill his official duties. From his dealings with retainers posted in the capital, he became knowledgeable about the shogunate’s internal affairs, which he likely conveyed to Nichiren. Besides Toki Jonin, other influential lay supporters of Nichiren emerged in Shimosa, such as Ota Jomyo and Soya Kyoshin, and the region became a focal point of activities to spread the teachings.

At some point, Nichiren moved to Kamakura, the center of the military regime,[1] and is thought to have taken up residence in a small dwelling at Nagoe (see “On Reciting the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 234).

Nagoe lay in the southeastern part of Kamakura. Among the passes leading to Kamakura that were carved out of the hillsides, the pass at Nagoe was particularly important in defending the city against invasion, as it would have been one of the entry points into the city after crossing what is today Tokyo Bay and traversing the Miura Peninsula. In Nagoe, the first regent, Hojo Tokimasa, had his residence, which was inherited by Tomotoki, a son of the second regent, Hojo Yoshitoki. Tomotoki’s family adopted “Nagoe” as its surname after the area where they lived. Sources say that the residences of influential shogunate officials lined the streets. Among these officials was Miyoshi Yasunobu, who served as the first chief administrator of the Board of Inquiry of Kamakura, which oversaw legal proceedings.

The higher grounds above the passes are thought to have been used as cemeteries. At the time, corpses weren’t buried but were usually placed on the ground, covered with straw mats and left to the elements in open-air burials. Around the pass at Nagoe, there are also holes that were dug into cliffs and used as tombs.

Evidence suggests that people fleeing disasters in other regions also settled near Nagoe. While living among and sharing the struggles of ordinary people, particularly those facing the harshest circumstances, Nichiren embarked on his battle for kosen-rufu.

Propagation Starts in Kamakura

Nichiren set about spreading his Lotus Sutra-based teachings in Kamakura, and people gradually started to take faith.

Shijo Kingo (Yorimoto) appears to have been among the first in Kamakura to convert to Nichiren’s teachings. He and his father both served Ema Mitsutoki, who was the first son of Nagoe Tomotoki (see “The Letter of Petition from Yorimoto,” WND-1, 811) and later served Mitsutoki’s son, Ema no Shiro (see “Nine Thoughts to One Word,” WND-2, 730).

Around the time Shijo Kingo took faith, the Ikegami brothers, who lived in Ikegami, Senzoku Village, Musashi Province (present-day Ota Ward, Tokyo), are also thought to have embraced Nichiren’s teaching.

Around this time, Nichiren is thought to have written “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime” (WND-1, 3). In that work he states that the key for achieving enlightenment in this lifetime is to perceive within one’s own life the Law of Myoho-renge-kyo that is inherent in the lives of all people. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo while maintaining earnest faith, he continues, one can manifest the life state of Buddhahood.

In his letter “Sovereign, Teacher, and Parent” (WND-2, 35), which he wrote around the same time, Nichiren explains that the Lotus Sutra is the most outstanding teaching. In addition, he describes the error of those who make Amida Buddha the basis of their faith, because Amida lacks the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent[2] with regard to the people of this saha world.

In other writings during this period as well, he praises the Lotus Sutra, which teaches the inherent dignity of all people and the possibility of building an ideal society. He harshly criticizes the Pure Land teachings as being hostile to and slanderous of the spirit of the Lotus Sutra, because they cast doubt on human capacity and encourage people to escape reality. And he shows that slandering the Law is the fundamental cause of unhappiness and turns his attention to helping people effect change in their lives and in society.

Hojo Tokiyori

Thoroughly considering all he had learned, Nichiren completed his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” and, on the sixteenth day of the seventh month in 1260, submitted it[3] to Hojo Tokiyori (1227–63) through the offices of the lay priest Yadoya, a high-ranking government official.[4]

Hojo Tokiyori, who had served as fifth regent, relinquished his position to Hojo Nagatoki in 1256 at the age of 30, citing illness, and became a priest. He lived at Saimyo-ji temple, which he had founded, and was therefore known as “the lay priest of Saimyo-ji” or “Lord Saimyo-ji.” After becoming a priest, he soon recovered his health and continued to wield actual power as head of the ruling Hojo clan, remaining the most influential figure in the shogunate. For this and other reasons, Nichiren submitted “On Establishing the Correct Teaching” to Tokiyori rather than to the regent of the time, Nagatoki.

Tokiyori focused considerable energy on religious policy, inviting the esoteric Buddhist priest Ryuben to Kamakura from Onjo-ji temple (at the foot of Mount Hiei near Kyoto) and installing him as superintendent of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine.[5] In addition, he had Rankei Doryu (Chin Lanxi Daolong), a visiting Zen monk from China’s Southern Sung Dynasty, serve as the founding priest at Kencho-ji temple and treated the Zen school with special favor.

It is thought that prior to submitting “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” Nichiren met with Tokiyori and pointed out the errors of the Zen school. He states, “[People abandoning support for the older Buddhist temples] had been caused by the heavenly devil. All this I explained when I met with the late lay priest of Saimyo-ji” (“On Meeting with the Late Lay Priest of Saimyo-ji,” WND-2, 1087).

People regarded Tokiyori as an effective ruler because he destroyed rival groups and strengthened the Hojo clan’s power base. He also took steps toward reconciliation among opposing factions by lessening the burdens placed on retainers of the shogun, speeding up court trials, controlling prices and encouraging fiscal restraint.

The Great Earthquake of the Shoka Era

In the eighth month of 1256, intense winds and heavy rains caused the deaths of many people in Japan, and from that point on the frequency of abnormal weather increased. Famine and epidemics followed during this period (1257–61) in what is termed the great famine of the Shoka era.

A major earthquake hit Kamakura on the 23rd day of the eighth month in the first year of Shoka (1257), at around 9 p.m. According to one account, no shrine or temple went undamaged, mountainsides crumbled and houses collapsed; earthen walls were destroyed and water and flames erupted from fissures in the ground.[6] It is known as the great earthquake of the Shoka era.

Nichiren chronicled the disasters that struck by year (see “The Postscript to ‘On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,’” WND-1, 31).

He also writes: “There have been unusual disturbances in the heavens, strange occurrences on earth, famine and pestilence, all affecting every corner of the empire and spreading throughout the land. Oxen and horses lie dead in the streets, and the bones of the stricken crowd the highways. Over half the population has already been carried off by death, and there is hardly a single person who does not grieve” (“On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” WND-1, 6).

These terrible scenes appear to have unfolded before Nichiren’s eyes. He must have felt the people’s suffering with his entire being.

Responding to these disasters, the shogunate in 1259 issued an order forbidding local stewards from stopping displaced people from roaming the countryside to gather what they needed to survive, including yams and other edible plants, and fish and laver from rivers and the sea. The government also ordered Buddhist and Taoist clergy to engage in prayer rituals and Shinto priests to offer prayers at their respective shrines. Despite these measures, the people’s suffering only grew more dire (see “The Rationale for ‘On Establishing the Correct Teaching,’” WND-1, 161).

A Dialogue Between a Host and His Guest

“On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” takes the form of a dialogue between a host, representing Nichiren, and a guest, thought to represent Hojo Tokiyori. Bemoaning the terrible conditions of the time, the guest grieves, “What error has been committed?” to which the host replies: “I have been brooding alone upon this matter, indignant in my heart, but now that you have come, we can lament together. Let us discuss the question at length” (“On Establishing the Correct Teaching,” WND-1, 7).

The host then states: “The people of today all turn their backs upon what is right; to a person, they give their allegiance to evil. This is the reason that the benevolent deities have abandoned the nation and departed together, that sages leave and do not return. And in their stead devils and demons[7] come, and disasters and calamities occur” (WND-1, 7). He bases his responses on the Golden Light Sutra,[8] the Benevolent Kings Sutra[9] and other texts.

The host stresses that disasters continue unabated due to the prevalence of erroneous teachings that slander the correct teaching and that the primary example of this is the exclusivist doctrine of the Pure Land school. He denounces Honen’s work The Nembutsu Chosen Above All, which teaches that all sutras other than the three Pure Land sutras should be eliminated, and calls for the Pure Land teachings to be prohibited, stating: “Rather than offering up ten thousand prayers for remedy, it would be better simply to outlaw this one evil” (WND-1, 15).

Pondering the Cause of Disaster

“What is wrong? What error has been committed?” (“On Establishing the Correct Teaching,” WND-1, 7), Nichiren wrote.

The state of affairs deeply concerned him. Prompted in particular by the great earthquake of the Shoka Era, he sought answers in the Buddhist sutras and began working on a letter of remonstration to express his views to the rulers.

He is said to have traveled around this time to Jisso-ji temple in Iwamoto Village, Kajimanosho in Suruga Province. Jisso-ji is where Nikko Shonin later waged a struggle against wrongdoing. In 1268, he composed a letter to the authorities denouncing the corrupt and authoritarian ways of the chief priest and others at that temple.[10]

In addition to the Lotus and Nirvana sutras, Nichiren read other sutras that focus on protection of the country and explain how to achieve peace and tranquility. He confirmed that the disasters taking place were extraordinary natural occurrences rarely seen in history (see “Letter to Shimoyama,” WND-2, 699–700).

This examination enabled him to write “On the Protection of the Nation” (WND-2, 92) in 1259 and “On Dealing with Disaster” (WND-2, 17) in the second month of the following year.

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

Compassionate Dialogue

Ikeda Sensei writes: The Daishonin’s treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land”—written in the form of a dialogue between a host and his guest—begins with the host listening earnestly to the guest’s anguished concerns. The guest laments the miserable state of society caused by famines, epidemics and other calamities, and he expresses his fervent wish to be able to bring that misery to an end. With the words “I have been brooding alone upon this matter, indignant in my heart,” the host indicates that he shares the guest’s concerns.

This shared concern is the opening for a dialogue on how to free all people from suffering, transform society and create a brighter future for humanity. … Our dialogues start from compassionate prayer for others’ happiness. When we base our lives on the Mystic Law, all of our efforts to reach out to, speak with and enable others to form a connection with Buddhism will help them reveal their own inner potential.[11]

From the April 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. A number of theories exist regarding when Nichiren Daishonin moved to Kamakura: One speculates that he entered the capital in 1251, while another estimates that he went there in 1254. ↩︎
  2. The benevolent functions of sovereign, teacher, and parent that all beings should respect. 1) The virtue of sovereign is the power to protect all living beings; 2) The virtue of teacher is the wisdom and action to instruct and lead them to enlightenment; and 3) The virtue of parent is the compassion and action to nurture and support them. ↩︎
  3. The actual treatise he submitted does not exist any longer; a copy in Nichiren’s own hand (dated 1269) is housed at Hokekyo-ji temple. Nichiren himself produced a number of other copies of “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” from among which only fragments exist today. Later, Nichiren revised the original text. While the original critiques only the Pure Land, or Nembutsu, teachings of Honen, this “expanded manuscript” includes his refutations of various other Buddhist schools, such as True Word. ↩︎
  4. A samurai who served the two regents Hojo Tokiyori and Hojo Tokimune (eighth regent). He advised Tokiyori and is said to have been one of the few people allowed near his deathbed. ↩︎
  5. Today regarded as a Shinto shrine and known as the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine, during the Kamakura period it also served as a Buddhist temple headed by a Buddhist priest. ↩︎
  6. According to an account from Azuma kagami [The Mirror of Eastern Japan]. ↩︎
  7. Devils are evil gods that hinder people’s good deeds. Demons are the spirits of the dead or evil deities who do people harm. ↩︎
  8. This sutra teaches of the protection of the nation by the four heavenly kings and other benevolent deities. The section that Nichiren quotes states that if the ruler fails to protect the correct teaching, the benevolent deities will abandon the nation and calamities and disasters will occur. ↩︎
  9. A sutra that ensures that, by upholding it, the nation will be protected and prosper. Nichiren quotes sections that discuss the cause of disasters and the seven kinds of calamities that result from it. ↩︎
  10. In 1268, Nikko Shonin composed a letter to the authorities titled “The Disgraceful State of Affairs at Jisso-ji Temple,” denouncing the corrupt and authoritarian ways of the chief priest of Jisso-ji. ↩︎
  11. Daisaku Ikeda, A Religion of Human Revolution (Santa Monica, California: World Tribune Press, 2021), pp. 22–24. ↩︎

40 Years of Ikeda Sensei’s Peace Proposals

Highlights of the April 2023 Study Material