1. The Birth of the Daishonin

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The Life of Nichiren Daishonin
Part One – The Birth of the Daishonin

Historical Background
The story of the life of the Founder of True Buddhism, Nichiren
Daishonin, begins approximately 770 years ago during a period in
Japan called the Kamakura Era (1192-1333). Nichiren Daishonin was
born in the central area of the narrow archipelago of Japan in the
village of Kominato located in Nagasa-gori Tojo-no-go area of the
ancient province of Awa (present day Chiba Prefecture).
There were many fishing villages in Awa Province that faced the
vast Pacific Ocean with its flow of the Japan Current. This current
produced a bountiful supply of fish and other natural marine
products and the area was blessed with an all-year-round mild
climate. In this ancient territory of Awa, lived Mikuni-no-Tayu
Shigetada1 who labored everyday as a fisherman from the village of
Kominato and his wife, Umegiku-nyo. They were to later become the
parents of Nichiren Daishonin. This young husband and wife lead
very complete lives as they strived to do their best in their work
together with the other fishermen of the village.
Life at this time in medieval Japan was far from peaceful. Hojo
Yoshitoki2 seized control of Japan and disputes between his
Kamakura Shogunate government (also referred to as the Kamakura
Bakufu) and the Imperial Court at Kyoto became increasingly intense.
Even amongst the various provinces throughout the country,
discontent flared up as the authorities made a display of their
power3, and hatred and killings between the two forces arose. Both
the Imperial Court and the Kamakura Shogunate denounced each
other4 and numerous murders occurred as bloodshed was retaliated
against with even more bloodshed. Whenever any struggle between
the Imperial and Shogunate powers took place, the common populace
was forced to suffer and quietly endure hardship. As these killings
rampaged on, Mikuni-no-Tayu and Umegiku-nyo came to despise the
conditions of their society of survival of the fittest, and thus thought
only of building a happy family in the village of Kominato, blessed
with its abundant natural surroundings.
One refreshing morning under the rays of the sun during the
beginning of summer when the leaves had finally turned a deeper
green, as one could hear the sounds of the sea beating against the
shore, Mikuni-no-Tayu and Umegiku-nyo had the following
conversation. “Dear, last night I dreamt a most unusual dream”
remarked Umegiku-nyo to her husband as she reached for his hand.
As Umegiku-nyo continued, “I sat myself down atop Mt. Hiei5 and as
I washed my hands in the lake of Omi6, I thought of the sun arising
from behind the distant Mt. Fuji. The sun then entered straight into
my bosom. As I awakened…….”, tears of joy streamed down her
cheeks as she suddenly realized that she was pregnant.
Overjoyed upon hearing Umegiku-nyo’s news, Mikuni-no-Tayu was
astounded at the amazing dream and responded, “Actually, Umegiku-
nyo, I myself also had an incredible dream last night. I dreamt that
Bodhisattva Kokuzo7 appeared before me and on his shoulder was a
robust baby. He told me that this child was Bodhisattva Jogyo8. He
then explained that this child was the great bodhisattva that would
bestow the greatest of treasures and well-being upon all mankind
throughout the world. He would be a great master of the Buddhist
Law that would bring salvation to all living beings forever.
Bodhisattva Kokuzo then said he would give this child to me.”
The couple was astonished that their extraordinary dreams had
become a reality and their hearts were filled with intense emotion.
However, Mikuni-no-Tayu and Umegiku-nyo both realized that this
great joy was something that they could never take lightly and that
they had to be especially careful to make sure the child would be
born safely.

The Birth of Nichiren Daishonin
As they entered the month of February during the first year of Bun’o
(1222), the day quickly approached for Mikuni-no-Tayu and
Umegiku-nyo’s child to be born. At this time, a strange event
occurred in Kominato. A blue lotus plant suddenly sprouted in the
waters off the nearby beach of Kominato and a vivid flower
blossomed. The people throughout the village were astounded and
even today, there is a place along the Kominato coast named Renge-
ga-Fuchi, or “Lotus Pool.”
On the evening of the fifteenth of that month, Umegiku-nyo who was
about to become a mother, had another unusual dream. “I climbed
atop the peak of Mt. Fuji and everything as far as I could see in any
direction was bright, just as if I was looking at the palm of my own
hand. Whether I looked at the past, present or even the future, I
could see everything very clearly. At that time, a bright light flashed
suddenly before me and Bonten, Taishaku, the Four Heavenly Deities
and all the other Shoten Zenjin descended from the sky and declared,
‘the Buddha of Intrinsically Perfect Wisdom is about to appear in this
world to save all mankind and Bodhisattva Jogyo will be reborn as a
common mortal. The birth of this child will occur momentarily.’ ”
(Condensed from the Ubuyu Sojo no Koto, “Aspects Surrounding the
Birth of the Founder”, Gosho Zenshu, p.878)9
Before sunrise in the middle of the night on the sixteenth (of
February), Mikuni-no-Tayu anxiously awaited his new child’s birth.
He opened the wooden outer doors and went out under the eaves of
the house. He noticed that pure natural hot spring water was gushing
forth from the field he had been cultivating. He tasted the water and
saw that it was clear pure water. He thought to himself, “we can
certainly use this water during the birth.” Diverting himself from his
feelings of anxiety, Mikuni-no-Tayu poured all his efforts into
drawing the water.
Shortly afterwards, a healthy baby boy was born. The name of the
newborn child, taken from the mother and father’s unusual dreams,
was Zennichi-maro (literally, “Boy of the Sun of Goodness” or
“Virtuous Sun Boy”).
Near the warm and peaceful village of Kominato, Zennichi-maro
quickly grew up, surrounded by the profound love of his mother and
father. Zennichi-maro was different from the other village children in
the way he played, his attitudes and behavior. Zennichi-maro also
took meticulous care of the sea shells he found and even while he
would play with the other village children, he would always look
upon the birds and insects with compassion. He never purposely
killed any living thing.
At age three and four, as Zennichi-maro was growing up, his father
taught him many things. His mother told Zennichi-maro many old
stories and tales. His dignity and spirit in later years, his noble
wisdom, his bravery, his strong will to overcome any obstacle or
persecution, his healthy stature, big heart and warm affection for
others were all cultivated at this time.

Footnotes:
1. Mikuni-no-Tayu Shigetada: Also known as Nakina Jiro Shigetada.
The father of Nichiren Daishonin, often noted in the Daishonin’s Gosho
simply as Mikuni-no-Tayu. Before moving to Kominato Village in the
Province of Awa (present day Chiba Prefecture, different from Awa
of Shikoku Island) and taking up the profession of fisherman, the
Daishonin’s father had been a Samurai warrior named Nakina Jiro
Shigetada. After moving to Awa, he acquired the name Mikuni-no-
Tayu, probably taken from the area where he lived, a common
practice of the day.
2. Hojo Yoshitoki (1163-1224): The Hojo family which held the title
of Shikken, or Regent of Kamakura from 1200 to 1333, were
descendants of Taira Sadamori who had descended from Prince
Katsubara-shinno (786-853), son of the Emperor Kammu. Hojo
Yoshitoki was the second Regent of Kamakura, son of Hojo Tokimasa
and brother of Masa-ko (governor of Kyoto and wife of Minamoto
Yoritomo, the first Minamoto Shogun or powerful lieutenant-general
and founder of the Kamakura Bakufu.). In 1205, Yoshitoki succeeded
his father as Regent of Kamakura and governed together with his
sister Masa-ko. Due to the great power he held, all authority
throughout Japan, the shoguns and even the emperors were chosen
according to Hojo Yoshitoki’s will. Hojo Yoshitoki was eventually
assassinated at age 62, by a servant of the Imperial Court.
3. Display of power: One very noted incident was the Civil War of the
Jokyu era (1219-1221) also referred to as the Jokyu Disturbance, or
the Jokyu no Ran. After the death of the third and final Minamoto
Shogun, Sanetomo, in 1219, the Hojo clan installed two year old
Fujiwara Yoshitsune as Shogun. However, Hojo Yoshitoki in reality
continued to govern the nation. In 1221, Emperor Juntoku abdicated
the throne in favor of his son, leaving the nation with three retired
or ex-emperors, Go-Toba, Tsuchimikado and Juntoku. Go-Toba and
Juntoku together schemed to rid the nation of the Hojo regime and
usher in the return of Imperial power, ordering all provinces to send
troops to rise in rebellion against the Shogunate government. Even
though several thousand samurai warriors responded to the calls
from the ex-emperors, they were defeated and as a result, the
reigning young Emperor Chukyo was deposed, Juntoku was exiled to
Sado Island, Go-Toba was banished to Oki, Tsuchimikado was exiled
to the Awa area on Shikoku Island. Furthermore, the numerous court
nobles, generals and samurai warriors who had supported the
uprising were brought from Kyoto to Kamakura and executed by the
victorious Hojo who then placed a new emperor, Emperor Go-
Horikawa, on the throne. The Shogunate then proceeded in
distributing the land of the vanquished to their own vassals and
established Shogunal deputies in order to keep the court under
surveillance and control, thus strengthening even more the Hojo
Clan’s hold on the nation which ended up lasting for one hundred
years
4. Denounced each other: On June 6, 1221, the Imperial Court
denounced Hojo Yoshitoki as an outlaw and by June 9, all of eastern
Japan (where the seat of the Kamakura Shogunate and also Nichiren
Daishonin’s birthplace of Kominato were located) declared itself to be
in a state of rebellion.
5. Mt. Hiei: A mountain in western Japan located between the ancient
Imperial capital of Kyoto and Lake Biwa. The head temple of the
Tendai sect of Buddhism, Enryaku-ji, is located atop Mt. Hiei. The
Great Teacher Dengyo went to live on Mt. Hiei in 785 and in 788, he
constructed a small temple Hieisan-ji. Hieisan-ji temple was later
renamed Enryaku-ji.
6. Omi: Present day Shiga Prefecture.
7. Bodhisattva Kokuzo: Also referred to as the “Bodhisattva of Space”
because his wisdom and good fortune were said to be as limitless as
the universe itself. Bodhisattva Kokuzo is a central figure in Shingon
Buddhism, but has been worshipped in Japan since ancient times.
Bodhisattva Kokuzo was the principal and original object of worship
of Seicho-ji temple in Kominato where Nichiren Daishonin took the
tonsure and began his studies and formal training as a Buddhist
priest. Nichiren Daishonin stated in many of his writings that he
prayed to this statue of Bodhisattva Kokuzo to become the wisest
man in all Japan.
8. Bodhisattva Jogyo: Leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who
appear in the Yujutsu (“Emerging from the Earth”, or fifteenth)
chapter of the Lotus Sutra and are appointed the task of propagating
the law of Myoho-Renge-Kyo in the Latter Day of the Law and
receive the essence of the Lotus Sutra from Shakyamuni Buddha
during the Ceremony of the Air.
9. Ubuyu Sojo no Koto (“Aspects Surrounding the Birth of the
Founder”) Explained by Nichiren Daishonin and written down by
Nikko Shonin. Date of compilation unspecified.

©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly