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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 7: The Komatsubara Persecution

Morondava, Madagascar. Photo by Kieran Stone / Getty Images

This is the seventh installment of the Soka Gakkai Study Department’s series “Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion,” published in the October 2022 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

Sometime after the government pardoned him from exile in Izu in the second month of 1263, Nichiren Daishonin returned to Kamakura.

In the seventh month of the following year, 1264, the first year of the Bun’ei era, a huge comet appeared in the eastern sky. In those days, comets were considered bad omens. Later, in 1268, Nichiren reflected on the comet’s significance when a diplomatic missive arrived from the Mongol Empire demanding fealty from Japan, and the threat of foreign invasion loomed. He calls the comet “an evil portent such as has never been seen before” (“The Rationale for ‘On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,’” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 163) and deepens his conviction that his assertions in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” were correct.

Around the time the comet appeared, Nichiren is thought to have gone to his home province of Awa and stayed at Hanabusa in Saijo[1] near the foot of Mount Kiyosumi (the location of Seicho-ji temple), spreading his teachings there.[2]

Extending His Mother’s Life

Nichiren’s mother seems to have been suffering from illness at the time, and through prayer he was able to cure her and extend her life.

As he wrote years later (in 1275) to his disciple the lay nun Toki, herself battling sickness: “When I prayed for my mother, not only was her illness cured, but her life was prolonged by four years” (“On Prolonging One’s Life Span,” WND-1, 955).

Through his own example, he hoped to inspire the lay nun to summon the courage to overcome her sickness. “Now you too have fallen ill,” the letter continues, “and as a woman, it is all the more timely for you to establish steadfast faith in the Lotus Sutra and to see what it will do for you. … Life is the most precious of all treasures. Even one extra day of life is worth more than ten million ryo[3] of gold” (WND-1, 955).

Attack by Nembutsu Believers

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1264, a large group of Nembutsu followers lying in wait attacked Nichiren and his party around 5 p.m. at a place called Matsubara in Tojo Village.[4] Tojo Kagenobu, the local steward whom Nichiren had fought in court on the side of the wife of the local lord of the manor,[5] had finally resorted to force.

According to tradition, Nichiren was on his way from Hanabusa in Saijo to Amatsu in Tojo Village, at the invitation of a disciple named Kudo. The Tojo family residence lay along the road to Amatsu. Knowing this, Nichiren and his party must have taken great precautions, setting out in the twilight to meet his disciples who were waiting for him.

In “Encouragement to a Sick Person,” written about a month later, he describes the attack:

I was ambushed by several hundred Nembutsu believers and others. I was alone except for about ten men accompanying me, only three or four of whom were capable of offering any resistance at all. Arrows fell on us like rain, and swords descended like lightning. One of my disciples was slain in a matter of a moment, and two others were gravely wounded. I myself sustained cuts and blows, and it seemed that I was doomed. (“Encouragement to a Sick Person,” WND-1, 81)

Tradition holds that, upon hearing of the attack, Kudo rushed to the scene, where he sustained serious injuries, from which he later died. Nichiren himself had his left hand broken and could not fend off a sword strike to the right side of his forehead, which left a 5-inch scar.[6]

Long known as the Komatsubara Persecution,[7] it is, as far as we can tell from Nichiren’s writings, the first persecution in which one of his disciples was killed.

After escaping with his life, Nichiren marveled: “Yet, for some reason, my attackers failed to kill me; thus I have survived until now. This has only strengthened my faith in the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 81). His passionate faith only deepened.

He had gained the conviction that he had read with his very life passages in the Lotus Sutra such as “Since hatred and jealousy toward this sutra abound even when the thus come one is in the world, how much more will this be so after his passing?” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 203) and “It [the Lotus Sutra] will face much hostility in the world and be difficult to believe” (LSOC, 246). As a result, he declared: “I am therefore the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan” (“Encouragement to a Sick Person,” WND-1, 82).

In Nichiren’s time, many claimed to uphold the Lotus Sutra because they recited passages from memory or read it aloud. But none of them had been persecuted as the sutra predicted.

Nichiren had now met the very kind of persecution the Lotus Sutra predicts when it says people “will curse and speak ill of us and will attack us with swords and staves” (LSOC, 232). He therefore became convinced that he alone was reading the Lotus Sutra through his actions, with his very life, and that he was a votary or genuine practitioner of the Lotus Sutra.

Reunion with Dozen-bo

Three days after the attack, on the fourteenth day of the eleventh month, at the priest’s quarters at Hanabusa in Saijo, Nichiren once again met Dozen-bo, his teacher when he had been a young priest. Likely, Dozen-bo, hearing that Nichiren had been seriously hurt, came to check on him.

Despite his injuries, Nichiren welcomed Dozen-bo. He wanted to repay his debt of gratitude to his teacher by telling him about the correct Buddhist teaching. Dozen-bo had never understood the principles of Buddhism and remained a Nembutsu practitioner.

Nichiren recounts Dozen-bo’s question to him:

Because this practice has become so widespread in our time, I simply repeat like others the words Namu-Amida-butsu. In addition, though it was not my idea originally, I have had occasion to fashion five images of Amida Buddha. This perhaps is due to some karmic habit that I formed in a past existence. Do you suppose that as a result of these faults I will fall into hell? (“The Tripitaka Master Shan-wu-wei,” WND-1, 176)

More than 10 years had passed since he had last seen his teacher, and Nichiren initially intended to speak to him warmly and gently. But thinking he might not have another chance to meet him, and considering that Dozen-bo’s brother, Dogi-bo, also a priest at Seicho-ji and a Nembutsu believer, had died a miserable death, he reasoned that if Dozen-bo continued as he was, he might meet a similar fate. Taking pity on him, even though he did not think Dozen-bo would listen, Nichiren spoke to him straightforwardly as a way to repay the kindness his teacher had shown him in his youth.

Nichiren writes:

I explained to him that, by making five images of Amida Buddha, he was condemning himself to fall five times into the hell of incessant suffering. The reason for this, I told him, was that the Lotus Sutra—wherein the Buddha says that he is now “honestly discarding expedient means”—states that the Thus Come One Shakyamuni is our father, while Amida Buddha is our uncle. Anyone who would fashion no less than five images of his uncle and make offerings to them, and yet not fashion a single image of his own father—how could he be regarded as anything but unfilial? (WND-1, 177)

Nichiren explains the matter further, but Dozen-bo does not appear to understand. When Dozen-bo died years later, he still had not discarded his attachment to the Nembutsu teachings. But after this meeting with Nichiren, it seems that Dozen-bo aroused some degree of faith in the Lotus Sutra. Concluding that he has thus repaid his debt of gratitude to Dozen-bo, Nichiren writes:

Even though one may resort to harsh words, if such words help the person to whom they are addressed, then they are worthy to be regarded as truthful words and gentle words. Similarly, though one may use gentle words, if they harm the person to whom they are addressed, they are in fact deceptive words, harsh words. (WND-1, 178)

Letter to Hyoe Shichiro

About a month after meeting Dozen-bo, Nichiren wrote to Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro, a follower living in Ueno Village in Fuji Kamikata District of Suruga Province.[8] This letter is known as “Encouragement to a Sick Person,” which is referenced earlier. At the time, Hyoe Shichiro was seriously ill. Powerful figures of the Hojo clan who believed in the Nembutsu exerted strong influence in Suruga Province, and Hyoe Shichiro’s relatives likely suggested that he return to the Nembutsu faith for the sake of his wife and children.

Understanding his dilemma, Nichiren encourages him that he will have nothing to fear about what happens to him or his family after his death as long as he perseveres in his faith in the Lotus Sutra. He writes:

However great the good causes one may make, or even if one reads and copies the entirety of the Lotus Sutra a thousand or ten thousand times, or attains the way of perceiving three thousand realms in a single moment of life, if one fails to denounce the enemies of the Lotus Sutra, it will be impossible to attain the way. (“Encouragement to a Sick Person,” WND-1, 78)

Fighting against slander that disrespects the Lotus Sutra, he stresses, is essential for attaining Buddhahood.

Finally, Nichiren declares:

Should you depart from this life before I do, you must report to Brahma, Shakra, the four heavenly kings, and King Yama. Declare yourself to be a disciple of the priest Nichiren, the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan. Then they cannot possibly treat you discourteously. (WND-1, 82)

His powerful assertion of being the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in Japan can be read as a statement of compassion intended to give courage to a disciple whose spirit may have waned during his illness. These words must have ignited in Hyoe Shichiro’s heart the flame of a new vow affirming that “in this life and the next, I am a disciple of Nichiren Daishonin.”

Hyoe Shichiro died in the third month of the following year, 1265. This letter, the only one from Nichiren to him that we have today, must have been key to the legacy of faith Hyoe Shichiro had passed on to his wife, the lay nun of Ueno, and his children, including Nanjo Tokimitsu.

Nichiren visited the Nanjo family in 1265 to pay his respects at Hyoe Shichiro’s grave. And it was then he met for the first time his son Nanjo Tokimitsu, who would grow to become a central figure among his followers in the Fuji area. Tokimitsu was 7. Soon after, beginning in 1268, the times began to change dramatically.

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

Rebuking Slander of the Law

Ikeda Sensei writes: In the Latter Day of the Law, because of their inferior capacity, people are controlled by earthly desires, leading to many evil deeds. Because they reject the fundamental great good of the Lotus Sutra, slander of the Law is widespread.

That’s why it is of paramount importance not only to practice the correct teaching oneself but also to rebuke slander of the Law. …

In his personal copy of the Daishonin’s writings, Mr. Makiguchi heavily underlined in red the passage:

However great the good causes one may make, or even if one reads and copies the entirety of the Lotus Sutra a thousand or ten thousand times, or attains the way of perceiving three thousand realms in a single moment of life, if one fails to denounce the enemies of the Lotus Sutra, it will be impossible to attain the way. (“Encouragement to a Sick Person,” WND-1, 78)

The more firmly we denounce slander of the Law, the stronger our Buddha nature becomes. This enables us to vanquish our inner fundamental darkness or ignorance and win powerfully over devilish functions. We can expiate negative causes from the past and change our karma.

We forge the indestructible state of Buddhahood by speaking out with courageous faith at a crucial moment, together with and in the same spirit as our mentor.[9]

From the July 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. Hanabusa in Saijo: Present-day Hanabusa, Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture. ↩︎
  2. Regarding Nichiren’s reason for traveling to his family home, one view has it that it was to visit the grave of his father and another that it was to look after his sick mother, but neither can be verified. ↩︎
  3. A unit of weight in Japan, which was modeled after that of ancient China. One ryo is usually defined as equivalent to about 1.3 ounces, but during the Kamakura period, one ryo of gold was defined as approximately half of the weight. ↩︎
  4. Matsubara in Tojo Village: said to be the present-day site of Hiroba, Kamogawa City. ↩︎
  5. See installment 3 of this series for more details. ↩︎
  6. A biography of Nichiren by Nichido (1283–1341), the fourth chief priest of Taiseki-ji temple, states that “when the wound healed, it left a five-inch-long scar on his right forehead.” (From Fuji shugaku yoshu [The Essential Works of the Fuji School], edited by Nichiko Hori [Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1974], vol. 1, p. 1). ↩︎
  7. There is no mention of the place name Komatsubara in Nichiren’s writings. He states only that the attack took place on “the highway called Matsubara in Tojo” (“Encouragement to a Sick Person,” WND-1, 81). More recently, this event has been referred to as the “Tojo Matsubara Persecution.” ↩︎
  8. Ueno Village in Fuji Kamikata District of Suruga Province: present-day Shimojo, Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture. ↩︎
  9. Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Shori no kyoten: Gosho ni manabu (The Teachings for Victory: Learning from Nichiren’s Writings), vol. 21, (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 2016), pp. 20–22. ↩︎

An 80 Year Tradition of Fighting Injustice

Highlights of the July 2023 Study Material