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Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion

Installment 15: The Sado Exile—Part 3

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Nichiren Daishonin wrote “The Opening of the Eyes” to reassure his followers at a time when he and they faced government oppression.

He later described “the essential message” of “The Opening of the Eyes” as follows: 

The destiny of Japan depends solely upon Nichiren. A house without pillars collapses, and a person without a soul is dead. Nichiren is the soul of the people of this country. Hei no Saemon has already toppled the pillar of Japan, and the country grows turbulent as unfounded rumors and speculation rise up like phantoms to cause dissension in the ruling clan. Further, Japan is about to be attacked by a foreign country, as I described in my On Establishing the Correct Teaching. (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 772)

Nichiren’s powerful conviction evident here arose from his awareness that as an emissary of Shakyamuni Buddha and a votary of the Lotus Sutra he was widely spreading the supreme teaching of the Mystic Law. It also expresses his strong vow, despite being an exile on Sado, to relieve all people of misery and enable them to become truly happy. In that serene and dignified state of life, we can sense his tremendous compassion. 

In “The Opening of the Eyes” Nichiren explains the beneficial power of upholding and protecting the Mystic Law, citing the Lotus Sutra where it refers to the “blessings obtained by protecting the Law” (WND-1, 281). He explains that he suffered an attempted execution and was being exiled because of karma arising from his offenses in previous lives. Admonishing slander of the Law and protecting the Lotus Sutra brought him persecution and hardship, but these were the results of his negative karma from past lives emerging at once in a much lightened form. In this way, he showed that, by protecting the Lotus Sutra, he was expunging his bad karma that would otherwise have caused him enormous misery for lifetimes to come.

He writes: 

When I vigorously berate those throughout the country who slander the Law, I meet with great difficulties. It must be that my actions in defending the Law in this present life are calling forth retributions for the grave offenses of my past. (WND-1, 282) 

The past “grave offenses” Nichiren refers to correspond to his disbelief in and slander of the Mystic Law. By daring to refer to his negative karma from past slander, he clarified the significance of the hardship and persecution he faced while battling slander of the Law. 

Ikeda Sensei writes: 

By reflecting on slander of the Law, the cause of the gravest negative karma, we can more deeply grasp the true nature of fundamental darkness, the source of all evil in life. Nichiren Buddhism opens the way to changing karma by enabling us to gain profound insight into fundamental evil and to eliminate the root cause that gives rise to it.[1]

In “The Opening of the Eyes” Nichiren calls to his disciples to persevere in faith with the same determination as he: 

Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. 

Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when the crucial moment comes. (WND-1, 283)

He goes on to explain that the Buddhist practice most fitting for the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law is shakubuku—spreading the correct teaching while refuting erroneous teachings. Because he has been carrying out this compassionate practice to relieve people’s suffering and lead them to happiness, Nichiren is fulfilling the role of sovereign, teacher and parent[2] to the people of the Latter Day. 

Nichiren, as an ordinary human being, fully revealed the world of Buddhahood in his life. Thus he opened the way for all people to attain Buddhahood in their present form—that is, to become Buddhas just as they are. Therefore, we can regard the title of this treatise, “The Opening of the Eyes,” as calling on people to open their eyes to Nichiren’s true role and vow. 

In the second month of 1272, the same year Nichiren sent “The Opening of the Eyes” to his disciples, fighting broke out in Kamakura and Kyoto between rival factions of the ruling Hojo clan. Two brothers, Nagoe Tokiaki and Nagoe Noritoki, influential members of the clan but distant from the hereditary lineage of the Hojo regent, were killed in Kamakura on suspicion of treason. Later, Hojo Tokisuke, a deputy official responsible for Western Japan[3] who was a half-brother of the regent Hojo Tokimune, was also killed. These events came to be known as the “Disturbance of the Second Month.”

Nichiren later recalled, “Had I not been exiled, but remained in Kamakura, I would certainly have been killed in the battle” (“A Warning against Begrudging One’s Fief,” WND-1, 824). It is thought that “battle” here refers to this Disturbance of the Second Month.

He had predicted that Japan would be subject to such internal strife, one of the two calamities he described in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.” He later repeated that warning at the time of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, and now, just 150 days later, his prediction had come true. 

(To be continued in an upcoming issue)

Ikeda Sensei writes: The fundamental meaning of “The Opening of the Eyes” is … to “open people’s eyes to Nichiren’s great vow.”

The people of the Latter Day who dedicate their lives to the same vow as the Buddha of the Latter Day are themselves votaries of the Lotus Sutra. The issue of whether one enjoys the protection of the heavenly gods and benevolent deities is secondary. …

As we have said, the “great desire” is the Buddha’s vow as explained in the Lotus Sutra; it is the Buddha’s wish to enable all people to attain enlightenment. And the Daishonin’s vow is to spread the great Law to accomplish this desire. His pledge to be the “pillar of Japan,” and so forth, is entirely consonant with the vow of the Buddha of the “Life Span” chapter.[4]

From the May 2024 Living Buddhism


  1. The Opening of the Eyes: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 136. ↩︎
  2. See previous installment in  the March 2024 Living Buddhism, for a discussion of the three virtues. ↩︎
  3. Hojo Tokisuke held one of two posts known as Rokuhara Tandai, or Rokuhara deputies. These were two officials representing the Kamakura shogunate in Kyoto. Rokuhara Tandai was also the name of the sprawling compound in the Rokuhara district of Kyoto where they were stationed. Tokisuke was responsible for the southern district of the compound; at the time, the official overseeing the northern district was considered the senior deputy. ↩︎
  4. The World of Nichiren’s Writings, vol. 1, p. 13. ↩︎

The Age of Soft Power

Highlights of the May 2024 Study Material