THE BUDDHA WRITINGS OF NICHIREN DAISHÔNIN
by Martin Bradley
It seems that every time we come to die, we are at some time or another confronted with the clear light of the dharma. It is the clear light of the original state which is, as the Collation of the Layers of the Various Teachings of All the Buddhas states, ‘mind just as it is, is light', our fundamental condition, the simultaneity of all time past, present and future as well as every imaginable space. But every time we die there is always something inherent in us that makes us turn away from this fact, so that we find ourselves again in the entanglement of thoughts which bring back old attachments that haul us all the way back to the cycle of living and dying like roach and dace on the hook of a fishing line. However hallucinating and disorientating our experiences in the intermediate state between dying and being reborn made us feel, we come back into the world of humankind all fresh, innocent and clean as though we had come out of a good bath. We are hardly aware that deep down in our psyches lurk many of the older reactions to the pitfalls of life that make us unhappy. As we grow up we usually become less carefree and progressively burdened by our respective karma. We look in all directions for paradisiacal relief either in the flesh or in the mind. There are all manners of heavens, all sorts of hells and all kinds of spaces in between. Nichiren Daishônin's aim was to make us understand that the clear light of the dharma realm is in no way apart from whatever situation we are living at this very moment. This essay and these translations are about the quest for an inner realization and becoming an undivided self.
It is in this spirit of bearing the intention of the Daishônin in mind, which was to make all people aware of the fact that our real identity is life itself and at the same time we can get on with being the persons we think we are in the business of living out our lives.
Probably the best way to introduce a collection of translations of the writings of Nichiren Daishônin would be first to give the reader a résumé of the main events in his life. However before I go a step further I would like to explain the title Daishônin. In most Chinese and Japanese dictionaries the ideogram shô is defined as a sage, wise and good, upright and correct in all his character. In Harajima's Nichiren Daishônin Goshô Jiten, the standard dictionary of Nichiren Shôshû terminology, it says, ‘A person whose knowledge and insight is decidedly superior and thoroughly versed in all principles, therefore such a person is able to discern the correct view of the Buddha wisdom.' This word or ideogram could be translated as ‘holy', if we were to think of this word in its philological context as having an underlying meaning of ‘whole', ‘healthy' or ‘hail' or in latin languages ‘ saint ', ‘ sain ' etc. Placed in front of this word shô we have the ideogram dai , a pictogram of a man with his arms and legs stretched out. This ideogram is defined in what might be the most ancient of dictionaries, the Shuowen jiezi as, ‘enormous as the sky, as huge as the earth and also as vast as humankind, therefore this ideogram is in the shape of a human being, that is why it means universal or great.' So here in contrast to the Buddha whose title might be translated as ‘the enlightener' we have the Daishônin who is the person who is universally holy.
It is in this light I have translated a few of his writings in order to break out of the sectarian limitations of the various schools that propagate something of his teachings. The aim of this book is to make the all pervading enlightened wisdom of Nichiren Daishônin available to a wider reading public.
The Life of Nichiren
Nichiren Daishônin was born on the 16th of the second month of the first year of Jô.ô (1222 CE) and died on the 13 th of the tenth month in the fifth year of Kô.an (1282 CE). He is the founder of the Nichiren Shôshû School and is understood by Nichiren Shôshû believers to be the original Buddha of the final phase of the dharma of Shakyamuni.
He was born in the fishing village of Kominato in the Tôjô district of the Awa province – the present day village of Kominato in the Chiba Prefecture. His father was Mikuni no Taifu; his mother was called Umegikunyo and they were said to have led a humble existence along the seashore. As a child he was called Zennichi Maro. At the age of twelve he entered Seichôji Temple under the instruction of the Venerable Dôzen who gave him the name of Yakuô Maro. About the same time Nichiren made a vow to the Bodhisattva Kokûzô that he would become the wisest man in Japan. He took holy orders when he was sixteen and was renamed Zeshôbô Renchô. He then left for Kamakura for further studies. Three years later he came back to the Seichôji Temple and left again almost immediately for Kyôto in order to study and practise the dharma gateways of the Tendai school on Mount Hiei. More precisely it was at the Onjôji Temple, the Tennôji Temple and on Mount Kôya where he studied the doctrinal significance of each and every school as well as reading through all the sutras and other Buddhist writings.
When he was thirty-one he left Mount Hiei and returned to Seichôji Temple. On the morning of April 28th 1253 in the Hall of Holding to the Buddha (Jibutsutô) in the All Buddhas Monastic Residence (Shobutsubô) of the Seichôji Temple in front of the whole assembly Nichiren announced his fourfold criteria of, ‘Those who bear in mind the formula of Amida Buddha (Nembutsu) bring about the hell of incessant suffering. The school of watchful attention (Zen) is the work of the Great Demon of the Sixth Heaven. The Tantric (Shingon) school entails the ruin of the state and the Ritsu school are the robbers of the land.' He also announced that all sentient beings could be saved by the recitation of Nam myôhô renge kyô. When Tôjô Kagenobu the local ruler, who was a follower of Nembutsu, the people who bear in mind the formula of Amida Buddha, heard this he flew into a rage and tried to have Nichiren arrested. However the Venerables Jôken and Gijô, acting as guides, were able to organise his escape and he made his way back to Kominato.
After taking leave of his parents he embarked upon his life's destiny of propagating his teaching. He began his mission in Nagoe no Matsubatani outside Kamakura where he had built a hermit's cottage. At that period he converted numerous people who became his disciples and supporters. In the eleventh month of the fifth year of Kenchô (1253) he was visited by a monk from Mount Hiei called Jôben who was later to become Nisshô, one of the six elder monks. In 1258 on a visit to the Iwamoto Jissôji Temple the then thirteen year old Nikkô Shônin became his disciple and was to remain so until he became the second patriarch after the Daishônin's demise in 1282. Among the other disciples there was Toki Jônin who was a samurai attached to the Shogunate as well as other samurai such as Shijô Kingo, Soya Kyôshin, Kudô Yoshitaka and the two Ikegami brothers Munenaka and Munenaga.
On the 16th day of the seventh month of the first year of Bun.ô (1260) the Daishônin, as a result of the good offices of Yadoya Nyûdô, was able to have his well known Thesis on Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma handed over to the regent Hôjô Tokiyori. The argument of this thesis is that if the correct Buddha teaching were established instead of the incomplete doctrines of the time, then the whole country would find peace and stability.
That same year on the night of the 27th of the eighth month the followers of Nembutsu and the Shogunate organized an attack on the Daishônin's hermitage at Matsubatani, fortunately he was able to escape harm and moved to the estate of Toki Jônin. On the 12th day of the fifth month of the first year of Kôchô (1261), under the orders of the Shogunate, the Daishônin was exiled to the Izu Peninsula. His disciple Nikkô Shônin and Funamori Yasaburô and his wife, accompanied him and were constantly in attendance. One year nine months later the Daishônin was pardoned and returned to Kamakura. In the first year of Bun.ei (1264) the Daishônin returned to his birthplace in Awa in order to take care of his mother during her illness. At the same time he propagated his teaching throughout the whole of the Awa region. In the same year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month while Kudô Yoshitaka of Amatsu was returning towards his estate his military escort was attacked by Tôjô Kagenobu, the local ruler, in Komatsubara, both Kudô Yoshitaka and the Venerable Kyônin were killed in the struggle, the Daishônin was wounded on the forehead.
In 1268 the Mongolian court sent a delegation with a letter from Kublai Khan demanding that the Shogunate become his vassal. This particular incident was evident proof of the prediction in the Thesis on Securing the Peace of the Realm through the Establishment of the Correct Dharma which again urged the nation to take refuge in the correct Dharma. At the same time Nichiren called for a public debate with the monks of all the other schools and sent letters to eleven various religious leaders but he received no reply whatsoever. During the eighth year of Bun.ei (1271) there was a terrible drought from one end of the Japanese archipelago to the other, the then renowned monk Ryôkan performed the prayer ritual for rain but was unable to do so whereas Nichiren Daishônin's success is well established in the annals of Japanese history. The defeated Ryôkan left Kamakura for the north. This became an opportunity for the monks of the other schools to provoke the Shogunate with slanderous reports concerning the Daishônin.
On the tenth day of the ninth month of that same year the Daishônin received a summons from Heinosaemon no Jô Yoritsuna to be interrogated by the Court of Enquiry. At the interrogation Nichiren Daishônin severely reprimanded the hypocritical stance of the Shogunate. The outraged Heinosaemon no Jô immediately had the Daishônin arrested and taken in the middle of the night to Tatsu no Kuchi to face execution, just as the executioner's sword was about to strike an enormous crystalline pure white light surged up and covered half the sky. In panic the officials of the Shogunate and the samurai in attendance ran in all directions and hid. No one dared try to execute the Daishônin. This was the moment when Nichiren Daishônin reveals the original terrain of the self-received reward body that is used by the Tathâgata of the primordial infinity of the original beginning. It is also referred to as ‘eradicating the temporary gateway in order to reveal the original'. On the tenth day of the eleventh month he was exiled to the island of Sado. There he began to compose the Thesis on Clearing the Eyes, the Thesis on the Instigator's Fundamental Object of Veneration for Contemplating the Mind and also completed a number of important theses such as the Thesis on the Unbroken Transmission of the Single Universal Concern of Life and Death, the Thesis on the Significance of the Actual Fundamental Substance, An Account of the Buddha's Revelations for the Future and the Thesis on Cultivating Oneself in the Practice as it is Expounded. During the Daishônin's exile several of his admirers such as the Venerable Abutsu and his wife took refuge in his teaching.
At Tsukahara where the Daishônin was forced to spend his exile in the broken down Sanmaidô Temple, the Nembutsu school challenged him to an open debate in which each and every argument was completely refuted. At this point the Venerable Sairen and the Honma family were converted to the Teachings of Nichiren. After two years or so in 1274 on the 27th day of the third month of the eleventh year of Bun.ei, Nichiren was granted pardon and returned to Kamakura, the eighth day of the fourth month of the same year he was summoned a second time by Heinosaemon no Jô to appear before the Shogunate. This time they calmly admonished the Daishônin and told him to treat and see the monks from the other schools as equals. Naturally the reply was that if the Correct Dharma was not held to then it could not be possible to assure the security of the land. The outcome of this interview was that the Daishônin, like other wise men of the past in China and Japan, who, when their efforts to save their country went unheeded, retired to the backwoods to a more hermit-like existence.
In this case Nichiren Daishônin retired to the Hagiri district on Mount Minobu in the province of Kai which is the present day Yamanashi prefecture. There he gave lectures on the Dharma Flower Sutra and for the preparation and education of his disciples he went into the subtlest details so that the dharma would be protracted into eternity. During this same period he also wrote the Thesis on Selecting the Time and the Thesis on the Requital of Grace. The Senior Monk Nikkô promoted propagation in the direction of Mount Fuji; his first major conversion was Nanjô Tokimitsu then the Matsuno and Kawai no Yui families and others from among the monks of Ryûsenji Temple in Atsuhara. Nisshû, Nichiben and Nichizen also took refuge in the teachings of Nichiren Daishônin. During the same period a number of the local peasants and farmers did the same.
On the 21st day of the ninth month of the second year of Kô.an (1279), all the followers of Nichiren, both monks and laymen, were harassed and pestered as a single sect, finally twenty people, beginning with Jinshirô, were arrested. Heinosaemon no Jô interrogated the prisoners at his private residence and pressured them to change their religion. With profound faith all of them persisted in reciting the title and theme Nam myôhô renge kyô. Jinshirô, Yagorô an Yarokurô were beheaded and the remaining seventeen were banished from Atsuhara. These events are often referred to as the adversity of the dharma at Atsuhara.
Nevertheless it was on account of this particular adversity of the dharma that Nichiren Daishônin felt that the time had come for him to fulfil his real purpose of coming into the world. On the 12th day of the tenth month of the second year of Kô.an (1279) he inscribed the Fundamental Object of Veneration of the Altar of the Precept of the original gateway. In order to perpetuate his teaching the Daishônin appointed six elder monks to help him in this task but decided to entrust the succession of the patriarchate to Nikkô. In 1282 while undertaking a journey to the hot springs in Hitachi for rest and recuperation he entered peacefully and auspiciously into Nirvana in the mansion of Ikegami Munenaka at the age of 61 years.
Some years ago I wrote in the introduction of one of my catalogues, ‘Is it the dream that dreams the dreamer or are we just caught in rather a sticky trap?' The answer, I am afraid to say, is yes we are, but however sticky it is or to what extent we feel free, depends entirely upon our own efforts.
The idea of presenting these translations of the writings of Nichiren Daishônin is to show people a teaching that might open the way to their finding some kind of individuation. By individuation I mean as C. G. Jung does, a personality that is not divided, that can live in his or her own skin and is reasonably happy. The writings of Nichiren Daishônin and the practice that accompanies his teaching could well be for many people a way to clean up and put back into their right place some of the elements that constitute our inherent schizophrenia or unenlightenment. What I am referring to is that unhappy voice inside us that says, ‘There is me, the other people, the other things and places that have nothing to do with how rotten and empty I feel.'
This is not some hard and righteous evangelistic doctrine, although some practitioners may try to affirm that it is. All Buddha teachings and practice are based on universal compassion and a profound respect for all existence. Nevertheless a sincere study and practice may help some people rediscover that the moon has a face, to become aware of the children's voices playing at the end of the street or how caterpillars have transformed the nasturtium leaves into organic pieces of lace. Also there are not a few people who rediscover the entirety of existence in a single grain of sand.
The object of these translations is to help clear the way for that part of our mind that makes us smile when we read a haiku or look at a painting by Miró or Paul Klee. It is also that part of us that makes us struggle for human rights and dignity.
My intention is not to promote any particular one of the thirty-eight or so number of sects that base their doctrines on the teaching of Nichiren Daishônin, but to try to make it known that such a Buddha teaching exists.
Martin Bradley, The Buddha Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, ISBN: 2-913122-19-1, 2005, Introduction, p. 23