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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 8: Eleven Letters of Remonstrance

Photo by Kieran Stone / Getty Images

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

In the first month of 1268, an event took place that would alter the course of Japanese history and mark a crucial turning point in Nichiren Daishonin’s efforts to spread his teaching. An official letter from the Mongol Empire arrived at the Dazaifu[1] government office in northern Kyushu, which administered diplomatic and military affairs for the region. It was passed on to shogunate officials in Kamakura the following intercalary first month[2] and arrived at the imperial court in the second month.

The letter sought diplomatic relations between Japan and the Mongol Empire but implied the use of military force should Japan not comply.

Neither the shogunate officials nor the imperial court responded. But the shogunate ordered military governors[3] in the western provinces to prepare for an attack, and the imperial court instructed regional temples and shrines to pray for victory over the Mongols.

In the third month of 1268, the 64 year-old regent Hojo Masamura relinquished his position to 18 year-old Hojo Tokimune, son of Hojo Tokiyori and next in line to head the ruling Hojo clan. Masamura assumed the role of Tokimune’s vice-regent.[4] This restructuring was undertaken to deal with the looming national crisis.

Eight years after Nichiren submitted “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” one of the two calamities he warned of in that treatise, foreign invasion, appeared imminent. Nichiren was 47.

Upon hearing of the Mongols’ letter in the fourth month of 1268, Nichiren wrote a short work titled “The Rationale for Writing ‘On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land’” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 161) and sent it to a priest named Hokan, believed to have ties to key figures in the shogunate.

In it, Nichiren cites the great earthquake of the Shoka era and outbreaks of famine and epidemics, and explains his intent in writing “On Establishing the Correct Teaching.” Moreover, he stresses that the Mongols’ letter matches his warning of foreign invasion in that treatise, and he urges government officials to heed his teachings.

Proposal to Meet With the Lay Priest Yadoya

The shogunate did not respond, and in the eighth month of the same year, Nichiren sent a letter to the lay priest Yadoya, who had served as an intermediary when he submitted “On Establishing the Correct Teaching” years before. In it, Nichiren stresses that it will only make matters worse if slanderous Buddhist schools continue to pray to dispel the Mongol threat, and he requests that Yadoya meet with him (see “Letter to the Lay Priest Yadoya,” WND-2, 312). Receiving no response, Nichiren sent a follow-up letter the next month (see Gosho zenshu, new edition, p. 853).

By writing letters in quick succession to shogunate associates, Nichiren demonstrated his fierce resolve and profound compassion to protect his troubled country and save the people at all costs. In each letter, he clarifies that he speaks out not for his own sake but for the nation and the people.

The lay priest Yadoya again did not respond.

Leaders Exist for the People

Then, in the tenth month, Nichiren sent eleven letters: to the regent, Hojo Tokimune, to other government officials and to priests of influential temples in Kamakura, urging them to heed the warnings in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching.” These letters are together known as the eleven letters of remonstrance.[5]

He appeals to Hojo Tokimune to cease lending support to those Buddhist temples teaching erroneous doctrines. He writes: “The fate of the nation depends upon the correctness of its government policies. And the validity of Buddhist teachings may be determined by consulting the bright mirror embodied in the sutra texts” (“Letter to Hojo Tokimune,” WND-2, 314).

Another recipient was Hei no Saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna, a retainer of the Hojo clan who later acquired unrivaled power. To him, Nichiren writes: “You are a veritable roof beam of the nation, you act as hands and feet for the multitude of people” (“Letter to Hei no Saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna,” WND-2, 318).

Nichiren describes to the leaders the proper way to govern and exhorts them to fulfill their responsibilities. Ikeda Sensei explains the significance of these letters: “The Daishonin boldly declared that a nation’s rulers must serve the people and that the people are forever sovereign.”[6]

Buddhist Priests’ Connections to the Military Authorities

The Zen and True Word Precepts schools were closely allied with the military government in Kamakura.

In the fifth year of Kencho (1253), the year Nichiren proclaimed his teaching, Hojo Tokiyori built Kencho-ji[7] temple in Kamakura and invited the priest Rankei Doryu of the Rinzai sect of Zen to become its first chief priest.

Upon its completion, priests prayed for the peace and security of the families of the emperor, the imperial court, the shogun and other senior military government officials. They also conducted a memorial service for the first three shoguns of the Genji clan, Hojo Masako[8] and all deceased members of the Hojo clan. Kencho-ji was the first major Zen temple in Kamakura.[9] From then on, the Zen school developed as a powerful religious force that supported many of the shogunate’s policies.

Later, the True Word Precepts school rose to prominence alongside Zen as another religious influence supporting the military government. That school’s central figure was Ryokan (also known as Ninsho).

Ryokan, active in the Kanto region from 1252, moved to Kamakura in 1261, the year the government exiled Nichiren to Izu. The following year, Ryokan’s teacher, Eizon of Saidai-ji temple in Nara, visited Kamakura and conferred the precepts upon Hojo Tokiyori and other important shogunate officials. In addition, Dokyo, an important figure in the Pure Land tradition, also received the precepts. Thus, the precepts teaching gained widespread respect among people throughout Kamakura, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Ryokan, claiming a wish to save all living beings, promoted a number of public projects, such as road construction and relief for the poor. And the shogunate authorized him to collect tolls at ports and checkpoints along roads. Through the profits from these various enterprises, Gokuraku-ji temple, the base of Ryokan’s activities, accrued tremendous wealth.

While Ryokan did provide health care for the sick and charity for the poor, he also exploited them for their labor. Doryu and Ryokan each received one of Nichiren’s letters of remonstrance.

Exposing Arrogant False Sages

Nichiren alone could see through such priests of government-affiliated Buddhist schools, and he dared to wage a struggle of words to expose them.

Having become Gokuraku-ji’s chief priest the previous year (1267), Ryokan was expanding his influence. To him, Nichiren writes: “A counterfeit sage, a person of overbearing arrogance, in your present existence you will surely be marked out as a traitor to the nation, and in your next existence will fall into the region of hell” (“Letter to Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji,” WND-2, 324).

“A counterfeit sage, a person of overbearing arrogance” refers to “arrogant false sages,” the third of the three powerful enemies.[10] These are ranking clerics who, while enjoying respect in society, harbor malice toward practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and use their influence with secular authorities to persecute them.

Together With His Disciples

Upon sending letters to the 11 key shogunate officials and chief priests, Nichiren also sent a letter to all his disciples, urging them to prepare themselves for persecution (see “Letter to My Disciples and Lay Supporters,” WND-2, 333).

He then goes on to explain why he wrote the letters of remonstrance. Citing a passage from Great Teacher T’ien t’ai’s The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, he writes, “I have used very strong language in my letters, but this is because it is necessary to ‘force others to listen, though it angers them’” (WND-2, 333). Here he is abiding by the principle that causing even those disinclined to listen to hear about the correct teaching enables them to form a connection with the Buddhist law.

He writes: “Do not fear those in authority. Now is the time to break free from the bonds of this realm of birth and death and to obtain the fruit of Buddhahood!” He invites his disciples to “come to my residence at your convenience and examine the contents of the letters in person” (WND-2, 333).

Having already overcome his exile to Izu and the Komatsubara Persecution, Nichiren urges his disciples to follow his example, calling on them to solidify their resolve to stand alongside him in the struggle of words to establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land.

The shogunate officials and Buddhist leaders met Nichiren’s passionate appeals with silence.

Another official message from the Mongol Empire arrived the following year, 1269. With Nichiren’s warnings coming true, growing numbers were listening to what he had to say, and those Buddhist leaders he had criticized regarded him as even more of a threat.

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

Remonstrating With Misguided Authority

From The New Human Revolution: The Daishonin directly challenged the highest ruling official of the day with a letter of remonstration [“Letter to Hojo Tokimune,” WND-2, 134]. The purpose of this petition was to clarify what was true and correct—and what was erroneous—in terms of Buddhism.

The Daishonin knew it would inevitably invite persecution. Fully prepared to face the consequences, he continued to elucidate the truth. His actions derived from his absolute confidence in the true teachings of Buddhism and his compassionate resolve to save Japan’s people from suffering and protect the nation from ruin.

In his lecture, Shin’ichi Yamamoto related how presidents Makiguchi and Toda had inherited this spirit of remonstrating with misguided authority and had fought against oppression under militarism. This, he said, was the brilliant, immortal legacy of the Soka Gakkai.

• • •

The quality of government is vitally important to the people’s lives and happiness. If a government forgets the people, if it is torn this way and that by the personal ambitions and thirst for power of political leaders, or racked by political infighting, then its manner of governing will be devoid of ideals and compassion. When such is the case, the people suffer.[11]

The Heart of the Soka Gakkai Spirit

“While I am alive, through my own efforts, I will introduce 750,000 households.” Josei Toda made this declaration at his inauguration as second Soka Gakkai president on May 3, 1951. Six months later, at the Sixth Soka Gakkai General Meeting, Mr. Toda shared the full text of Nichiren Daishonin’s “Letter to Hojo Tokimune” and offered the following guidance:

In this letter, Nichiren Daishonin forthrightly remonstrates with the entire Japanese nation. Unafraid of authority, uninfluenced by wealth and out of compassion for all people, he bestowed upon them Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the greatest and single most beneficial philosophy of the Latter Day of the Law. The Soka Gakkai has made this spirit its own. The Gakkai spirit is to restore the dignity of the Japanese people by waging a struggle against erroneous and misleading religious beliefs.[12]

Ikeda Sensei took Mr. Toda’s declaration to mean that the Gakkai spirit accords with the spirit of Nichiren Daishonin to save all humankind from suffering through the Mystic Law.

Mr. Toda went on to pledge to accomplish kosen-rufu in Japan and throughout Asia. And Sensei has stated that he is determined to persevere in his mission to fulfill President Toda’s vow even if it should cost him his life.

In his youth, Sensei took on his mentor’s lofty pledge to achieve a membership of 750,000 households and accomplish kosen-rufu in Asia.

Several months after that general meeting, in January 1952, propagation was not progressing as hoped. Mr. Toda asked Sensei, “Won’t you stand up and accomplish this for me?” and assigned him to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter as chapter advisor. In that capacity, Sensei led the effort that introduced 201 new member households in Kamata Chapter in a single month, a record for any Soka Gakkai chapter at that time.

From the August 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. Dazaifu was the seat of the regional government for all of Kyushu and long a trading and diplomatic center responsible for regulating Japan’s contacts with China and Korea. It would also serve as a rallying point in the event of a foreign invasion. ↩︎
  2. In the lunar calendar (lunar solar calendar), it was necessary to adjust for the deviation between the calendar year, determined by the movement of the moon, and the season, determined by the movement of the sun. When that deviation became a full month, the month was repeated and the year set to 13 months. The extra month is referred to as an intercalary month. ↩︎
  3. Officials appointed to each province from among the regime’s trusted retainers and given a degree of administrative, military and police authority in that province. ↩︎
  4. The vice-regent (also translated as cosigner) was an official subordinate to the regent who placed his signature next to that of the regent on official documents. ↩︎
  5. These letters were addressed to: Hojo Tokimune, the lay priest Yadoya, Hei no Saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna, Hojo Yagenta (a follower of Nichiren thought to be a member of the Hojo clan), Doryu of Kencho-ji temple, Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji temple, the Superintendent of Daibutsuden (the Hall of the Great Buddha in Kamakura), Jufuku-ji temple (of the Kencho-ji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen), Jokomyo-ji temple (of the Pure Land and other traditions), Taho-ji temple (thought to have been under the control of Gokuraku-ji at the time) and Choraku-ji temple (of the Pure Land teachings). ↩︎
  6. Daisaku Ikeda, The New Human Revolution, vol. 2, (Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 1995), p. 260. ↩︎
  7. The formal name was Kencho Kokoku Zen-ji. This means Kencho Zen temple for the prosperity of the nation. Kencho was the name of the era (1249–56) in which the temple was built. ↩︎
  8. The wife of the first shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, and mother of the second and third. ↩︎
  9. According to an account from Azuma kagami (The Mirror of Eastern Japan). ↩︎
  10. The three powerful enemies persecute practitioners of the Lotus Sutra. Great Teacher Miao-lo defines them based on a description in “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. ↩︎
  11. Daisaku Ikeda, The New Human Revolution, vol. 6 (Santa Monica, CA: World Tribune Press, 1998), pp. 167–68. ↩︎
  12. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (The Complete Works of Josei Toda), vol. 3, (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1983), p. 450. ↩︎

A Passage to Peace

Highlights of the August 2023 Study Material