2. Young Zennichi-maro

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The Life of Nichiren Daishonin
Part Two- Young Zennichi-maro

Historical Background
Nichiren Daishonin was born in the first year of the Jo’o period
(1222), and 2,171 years1 after the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha.
That means that he was born 171 years after the beginning of
Mappo, or the “Era of the Latter Day of the Law”.
Shakyamuni Buddha predicted the future of Buddhism in the “Sutra
of the Great Assembly” (Daishutsu) Sutra. For the first one thousand
years after Shakyamuni’s death, people could be saved through the
belief, practice and meditation of Shakyamuni’s Buddhism. This
period is, therefore, called Shobo,2 or the “Era of the True Law”. The
next one thousand year period was a time in which great importance
was attached to the formalities of Buddhism with the reading and
reciting of the sutras, listening to sermons on Buddhist Law, sutras
being translated and numerous temples being constructed. For that
reason, this period is called Zoho, or the “Era of Images”. After these
two thousand years transpired, since the capacity of the people had
severely worsened as it became a time of incessant warfare with
Shakyamuni’s Buddhism completely declining to the point that it
could no longer lead people to enlightenment, this period is called
Mappo, or the “Era of the Latter Day of the Law”.
All of Shakyamuni Buddha’s predictions came true. During the time
in which Nichiren Daishonin was born, not only in Japan, but all the
countries throughout the world fell under the darkness of the five
impurities3 and tragedy due to the onslaught of war repeatedly
occurred.
In Europe and the Middle East at this time, European Christians re-
took their sacred city of Jerusalem by force from the Moslems. In
order to increase their influence in the region, the Christians then
initiated the campaign of the Crusades. The offensive maneuvers and
defensive actions of Jerusalem and the entire area holy to both the
Christian and Moslem faiths continued for two hundred years,
between the end of the eleventh to the end of the thirteenth
centuries.
Furthermore, the conqueror Genghis Khan, anything like which had
never before been seen in world history, appeared on the Asian
continent. In 1206, Genghis Khan unified all of Mongolia and then
immediately afterwards conquered all of Central Asia. Even after
Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the Mongol aggression could not be
stopped. Poland, Hungary and all of Eastern Europe were crushed
under the Mongol forces. During this time, the Mongol Empire was
able to acquire a vast area that stretched from what is now Iran to
Turkey on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
From the latter half of the eleventh century in Japan, war between
the Imperial forces and the Samurai class continued, as they
wrestled for power over the nation. When the Imperial Court finally
submitted to Samurai authority, incessant warfare occurred between
different Samurai factions.

The Young Zennichi-maro
For the twelve years that Zennichi-maro grew up under the care of
his mother and father, the nation of Japan was torn from the many
wars that had erupted. Together with this, the suffering of the
common populace had reached the breaking point as it was forced to
endure immense unseasonable snow storms, flooding, meteorites and
widespread famine. One could only imagine how the young Zennichi-
maro viewed his world with all its chaos and tragedy. The heart of
this, a very sensitive and wise Zennichi-maro began to ponder the
reason for the cause of the people’s suffering.
From the time he was a young child, there was no person throughout
the village and area surrounding Kominato that didn’t know of
Zennichi-maro’s excellence in learning. Leaving home to pursue his
studies, Zennichi-maro cherished the great aspiration of someday
becoming “the wisest man in Japan”.
In the first year of Tempuku (1233), when he was twelve years old,
Zennichi-maro formally entered the ancient temple of Seicho-ji4 that
was very close to his village of Kominato. On May 12, Mikuni-no-
Tayu brought his son to Seicho-ji Temple. When Zennichi-maro said,
“Father, I am going to really study hard and become a great priest.”
His father distinctly responded, “Zennichi-maro, there is one thing
that you must never forget. There are many in this world who call
themselves great. However, there is still no one who is regarded as
being truthful. You must become a person of the truth.”Later on in
life, Zennichi-maro became Nichiren Daishonin, who was the only
person to establish the True Buddhist Law to save all mankind.
Zennichi-maro, who had taken the tonsure and formally entered the
temple school of Seicho-ji under the chief priest, Dozen-bo, was
taught mainly how to read and copy the Buddhist sutras together
with basic general elementary education by his seniors Joken-bo and
Gijo-bo.5 Zennichi-maro also exerted himself to the fullest in his
many days of severe Buddhist austerities.
His master, Dozen-bo, was overjoyed at seeing these rare and great
capabilities in the sagacious young Zennichi-maro. Having great
expectations for Zennichi-maro’s future, Dozen-bo warmly observed
his growth.
After a while, numerous questions began to arise within the heart of
this young priest. Zennichi-maro began to wonder why Buddhism
was divided into so many different sects such as Nembutsu, Zen,
Shingon and Ritsu6, even though the teachings of Buddhism had
originated with the one person of Shakyamuni Buddha. Each sect
claimed to purport the highest teaching. Zennichi-maro thought to
himself that there could only be one really true doctrine in Buddhism
and wondered which sect had transmitted the correct teachings.
Even though Zennichi-maro asked his master, Dozen-bo, to show him
which sect of all the different schools of Buddhism contained the true
teaching, Dozen-bo was not able to give him a clear reply.
While still pondering these troubling questions within himself, four
years passed. When Zennichi-maro turned sixteen during the third
year of Katei (1237), he was formally ordained a priest under his
master Dozen-bo, taking the name of Zesho-bo Rencho.
After his ordination, Zesho-bo Rencho zealously carried out the
practice of further Buddhist austerities for many days and,
relentlessly pursued his earnest research in the teachings of
Buddhism.
Already by this time, there was nothing left that neither his master
Dozen-bo, Joken-bo or Gijo-bo could teach Rencho. Rencho etched this
deeply in his heart and simply devoted himself to reading through
all the sutras and other documents stored at Seicho-ji temple.

1. Opinions differ concerning the dates of birth and death. According
to Buddhist tradition in China and Japan, he was born on April 8 of
1029 B.C. and died on February 15 of 949 B.C., but studies of
Buddhism in the West place him nearly five hundred years later.
2. Shobo: This period is also sometimes mistakenly referred to as
Shoho. However, the correct pronunciation of the Chinese characters
should instead read Shobo.
3. Five impurities: Also termed the five defilements, these are the
impurities of the age or era, of desire, of the people, of thought and
of life itself.
4. Seichoji: Also referred to as Kiyosumi-dera (different
pronunciation of the same Chinese characters in the temple’s name).
Seicho-ji Temple is located on Mt. Kiyosumi in Kominato, Chiba
Prefecture.
5. Joken-bo and Gijo-bo: Disciples of Dozen-bo at Seicho-ji temple,
who both assisted Nichiren Daishonin not only as he was receiving
the first of his formal training as a Buddhist priest, but also after the
Daishonin declared the establishment of True Buddhism on April 28,
1253.
6. Nembutsu, Zen, Shingon and Ritsu: Four sects or schools of
Buddhism prevalent throughout Japan during the time of the
Daishonin.

©1995 Nichiren Shoshu Monthly