The Demise of Nichiren Daishonin and the Succession of Nikko Shonin

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From the time he established true Buddhism, the Daishonin had to overcome severe persecutions while he propagated the mystic Law. The hardships the Daishonin endured resulted in him gradually losing his health. Around the first year of Koan (1278), the Daishonin often looked ill. No one noticed at first. However, the great compassion and mercy of the True Buddha never ceased, and the Daishonin went on to inscribe the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching. He expounded various important doctrines, and prepared for the flourishing of the mystic Law in future ages after his passing. In the Lotus Sutra, we read:

The Tathagata is well and tranquil with few illnesses and few worries.

(Hokekyo, p. 412)

As the Daishonin once stated, even saints and sages are not exempt from illness and worry, but that did not stop his efforts.

The Daishonin seemed to recover; however, during 1281 (the fourth year of Koan), the illness recurred. The Daishonin’s life at this time was one of privation, yet he continued his efforts to teach disciples and lay believers, and he supported them during the persecutions they suffered.

The Gosho, “On the Transmission of the Three Great Secret Laws” (“Sandai hiho bonjo ji”) was written by the Daishonin with the formality of a will in the fifth year of Koan (1282). For the sake of preserving this document, it was sent to Ota Jomyo, a wealthy and stanch believer, who lived at Nakayama in Shimosa Province (presently Ichikawa City in Chiba Prefecture).

While living at Mount Minobu, the Daishonin gradually revealed the most important doctrine of the Three Great Secret Laws through writings such as “The Essentials of the Lotus Sutra” (“Hokke shuyo-sho”), and “Repaying Debts of Gratitude” (“Ho’on-sho”). The two Secret Laws, that is, the Object of Worship of the Essential Teaching and the Daimoku of the Essential Teaching, were described in detail, however, the remaining one Secret Law, namely, the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching was merely named. Within the Gosho, “On the Transmission of the Three Great Secret Laws,” the Daishonin first told us that the establishment of the Actual High Sanctuary was part of his last will and testament.

He made his eternal goal and the manner in which his teachings were to be propagated known to the future disciples. Moreover, he said that the great High Sanctuary would be where the people of the world could extinguish their slanders and attain enlightenment. The High Sanctuary will naturally be established through the harmonious efforts of priests and lay believers for the propagation of

the mystic Law. Their sincere faith and practice will make it possible for the people in the entire world to purify all phenomena and to correct every evil thought through the truth of the true teaching and the merit of the Dai-Gohonzon. In other words, there will eventually be a mystic fusion or oneness between Buddhism and worldly affairs.

It was around the beginning of September in 1282 (the fifth year of Koan). The Daishonin decided to officially appoint his successor to lead all the priests and lay believers and enable his Buddhism to flourish throughout the age of the Latter Day of the Law.

Normally, in Buddhism, a teacher appoints one person specifically as the exclusive, or legitimate, successor. To that person, a close disciple, the Law or the whole of the teachings of a master can be bequeathed. The Great Teacher Tiantai bequeathed his teachings exclusively to one disciple, Chang-an, alone. The Great Master Dengyo bequeathed his teachings specifically to one disciple, Gishin. In his Gosho, “Ichidai shogyo tai’i,” Nichiren Daishonin states:

The Lotus Sutra may not be understood without the transmission of the heritage.

(Gosho, p.92)

The Daishonin clearly stated that the Lotus Sutra is the one true teaching, difficult to believe and difficult to understand. Furthermore, the significance of the Lotus Sutra of the Buddhism of sowing could never be understood without knowing the teachings transmitted between master and disciple.

 

(Note: This chapter can be read in its entirety in the book: The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu.)

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