Nichiren Shonin_s motives
Nichiren Shonin’s motives
Nichiren Shonin was born in 1222 in the village of Kominato in Awa province (now a part of Chiba Prefecture that faces the Pacific Ocean). In the previous year, 1221, a major political event happened. The three former or retired emperors (Joko) tried to regain political power from the Kamakura Shogunate. However, the conspiracy ended in failure and the three retired emperors, Gotoba, Juntoku and Tsuchimikado, were each exiled to remote places, Oki Island, Sado Island and Tosa (now, Kochi Prefecture).
It is said that Nichiren Shonin’s father, Shigetada Nukina, was once a samurai in Shizuoka Prefecture. In recent years, a historian developed his theory that Nichiren Shonin was a son of the retired emperor Gotoba who was exiled to Oki Island. However, Nichiren Shonin himself wrote about his birth and childhood as follows, “I am a son of a fisherman.” (Honson Mondo Sho), and “I am the son of a commoner” (Letter to Nakaoki Nyudo).
Nichiren Shonin’s childhood name was Zennichimaro. When Zennichimaro was twelve years old, he entered Kiyozumi-dera temple which was located less than fifteen kilometers from his village to study Buddhism and other subjects. The temple belonged to the esoteric group of the Tendai Shu sect.
There is an anecdote about Zennichimaro just after he entered the temple. The priest Dogibo (brother of Dozenbo who was head priest of Kiyozumi-dera temple) realized that Zennichimaro read classical Chinese books fluently and said, “One day, this boy will be an excellent priest and will revive our Buddhist sect.”
On the basis of this story, it is probable that his family was not poor. His parents sent Zennichimaro to the temple for him to develop his ability and not only to become a good priest but also a distinguished scholar.
Later, Nichiren Shonin himself wrote about his feelings of that time, “I was interested in learning various subjects form my early childhood and when I was twelve years old, I began to have a desire to master Buddhism.” (Ha Ryokan Gosho)
When he was sixteen years old, he became a formal priest and was given the priest name Rencho by his master Dozenbo. At that age, he began to question the condition of the Buddhist world. Later, he wrote about this question in his young age in his ‘Letter to Myohoni’, “There are many Buddhist sects in Japan now such as Kussha-shu, Jojitsu-shu, Hosso-shu, Sanron-shu, Kegon-shu, Shingon-shu, Hokke-Tendai-shu and in addition there were Zen-shu and Jodo-shu sects. However, I presume in my immature mind that the true intention of the Buddha should be only one and it must be summarized in a particular sutra. I must find it among the many Buddhist sutras.”
The young priest Rencho began to learn various teachings of Buddhism under the guidance of his master Dozenbo, but Dozenbo could not give a clear answer to Rencho’s question. So, Rencho decided to go to Kamakura town, the new political capital center of Japan, to study Buddhism more.
Rencho stayed in Kamakura for four years and mainly learned about the doctrines of Jodo-shu and Zen-shu sects. After finishing his studies in Kamakura, he moved to Enryaku-ji temple on Mt. Hie in Kyoto which was the most prestigious temple to study Buddhism and other subjects. He spent eleven years at Enryaku-ji temple. While he was there, he visited many other temples in Kyoto, Nara ad Osaka to study the doctrines and the way of practice of various Buddhist sects until he became thirty-two years old.
Q. What kind of motivation did Nichiren Shonin have and how did he start his missionary work?
A. After devoting himself to his studies at Mt. Hiei and other places for many years, he reached the conviction that among the various Buddhist sutras, the Lotus Sutra is the most important sutra which teaches the real intention of Shakamuni Buddha and in this period, Mappo, chanting the Odaimoku, NamuMyohoRengeKyo which should be considered the soul of the Sutra, and chanting it faithfully not only for oneself but recommending it to others is the most important Buddhist practice for people who do not have the capability to engage in difficult Buddhist practices to receive the holy merit of enlightenment.
Nichiren Shonin returned to his hometown, Kominato, holding firm conviction. On April 28, 1253 (5th year of the Kencho era), he went up to Mt. Kiyosumi and declared the foundation of a new religious sect. (Later, he called his sect Butsuryu Shu or Hokke Shu which means the sect founded by the Buddha himself based on the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.) He faced the morning sun rising far beyond over the Pacific Ocean and chanted NamyMyohoRengeKyo in a loud voice.
From that day, he changed his name from Rencho to Nichiren. ‘Nichi’ in Nichiren means ‘sun’. The word was chosen from the phrase in the Lotus Sutra, “As the bright light of the sun and the moon can clear away all darkness and obscurity, so this practitioner engages in the missionary work and can extinguish the darkness of the people” (Chapter 21). ‘Ren’ in Nichiren means the ‘lotus flower’ that grows in water. The word was also chosen from the Lotus Sutra, “Already for a long time they have practiced the Buddha way, dwelling in transcendental powers and the power of wisdom, skillfully learning the Bodhisattva way, unsoiled by worldly things like the lotus flower in the water.”
The name Nichiren can be said to be a most suitable name for the Bodhisattva who appeared in this defiled world of the Mappo period to guide the people as the messenger of the Buddha.