In the Sutra of the Great Assembly, Shakyamuni Buddha expounded on the three time periods after his passing. He predicted that the periods of the Former, Middle, and Latter Days of the Law were coming in chronological sequence. With regard to the age of the Latter Day of the Law, the sutra states:
During the next five-hundred-year period, within my Law, there shall be battles and disputes, and the Pure Law will disappear.
The sutra indicated that Shakyamuni’s Buddhism would lose its effectiveness in the age of the Latter Day of the Law. Its powers and functions would be lost, and as a result, the salvation of people would not be possible through the practice of his Buddhism.
At the same time, Shakyamuni predicted in the Bodhisattva Medicine King (Yakuo; twenty-third) and the Wondrous Powers (Jinriki; twenty-first) chapters of the Lotus Sutra that the True Buddha would make his advent at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. The true Buddhism for that time would be expounded to the people, so they could practice it instead of the teachings of Shakyamuni. In the Bodhisattva Medicine King chapter, we read:
After my passing, during the last five five-hundred-period, there shall be worldwide propagation.
(Hokekyo, p. 539)
And in the Wondrous Powers chapter, we read:
Like the rays of the sun and the moon that dispel the darkness of phenomena, this person will practice in the world, dispel the darkness of all humanity and lead immeasurable numbers of bodhisattvas to finally attain the one vehicle.(ibid., p. 516)
These two sutra passages prophesize that after the decline of Shakyamuni’s Buddhism, impurities will be rampant within individual persons as well as throughout society at large, and there will be struggles and frequent natural disasters. In this age of the Latter Day of the Law, a noble bodhisattva will emerge with his own great Buddhism. Just like the rays of the sun, he will dispel the people’s darkness and lead the entire universe to the manifestation of the Buddha’s land.
In reality, when the Latter Day of the Law began, throughout the world there were rises and falls of nations as had never been seen before in the history of
mankind. In Japan, internal battles, such as the Jokyu Disturbance were rampant, and a series of unprecedented natural disasters frequently occurred, such as extraordinary weather and earthquakes. Indeed, the age matched the predictions in the sutra that “there shall be battles and disputes” and “the pure Law shall disappear.”
At this time, Nichiren Daishonin was born in the fishing village of Kominato, Province of Awa (present day southern part of Chiba Prefecture) on February 16 in the first year of Jo-o (1222). His childhood name was Zennichimaro. His father’s name was Mikuni no Taifu (Nukina Jiro) Shigetada and his mother’s name was Umegiku. They engaged in fishing for their livelihood. The Daishonin discussed his own birth in His writings as follows:
I was born to a family of fishermen in Kataumi, Tojo Village, Nagasa District, Province of Awa.
(Gosho, p. 1279, “Questions and Answers on the Object of Worship”)
I am the child of a chandala family living near the sea.
(Gosho, p. 482)
I, Nichiren, was born in a province called Awa in the country of Japan. I left a common family, was tonsured, and donned the priest robes.
(Gosho, pp. 1257–258, “Reply to Lay Nun Myoho”)
Nichiren is neither a resident of the central capital nor the son of a general in the rural area. Rather, I was born in a remote province to a common family.
(Gosho, p. 1431, “Letter to the Lay Priest Nakaoki”)
Shakyamuni was born in India to a royal family as the prince of King Shuddhodana. In contrast, the Daishonin was born to “a fisherman’s family” or “a common family.” The Daishonin’s humble origin has three profound and significant points in Buddhism.
(Note: This chapter can be read in its entirety in the book: The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu. For more information, please contact your local temple.)