History of Nichiren Buddhism

The Kyoto Lineages
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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By the early 15th century many monks split from the earlier Kyoto temples such as Myokenji and Honkokuji. They objected to the compromises made by the earlier temples with the aristocracy and the shogunate. They hoped to restore the purity of Nichiren Buddhism and they also emphasized the shoretsu doctrine. "Shoretsu" is a term that refers to the doctrine of the superiority of the essential section of the Lotus Sutra over the theoretical section of the sutra. Rather than relying on their own insights or innovations, the Nichiren Buddhist monks strove to prove their orthodoxy by appealing to the authority of the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Shonin. They also refused to compromise with others in order to maintain their doctrinal integrity. Many of them ended up founding lineages which still exist today as minor schools of Nichiren Buddhism. Nichijitsu, Nichijo, Nichiju, Nichijin, Nichiryu, and Nisshin were among the most notable of those who split from the earlier Kyoto temples.

Nichijitsu (1318-1378) and Nichijo (d.1415) were two brothers who left Myokenji Temple after the death of Daigaku Myojitsu's successor Rogen. Together they founded the Myokakuji Temple in Kyoto in 1378. In 1413, Nichijo set forth a series of regulations that forbid giving services to or receiving donations from slanderers of the Dharma. This was the beginning of fuju fuse (no giving and no receiving). This was in reaction to what he felt was the overly conciliatory policies of Myokenji Temple.

Nichiju Shonin Gohonzon [Founder of Myomanji]

Nichiju (1314-1392) was originally a Tendai monk who learned about Nichiren Buddhism from Nichiin, a monk connected with Taisekiji Temple. In 1379 he read the Kaimoku Sho and the Nyosetsu Shugyo Sho and was so impressed that he converted to Nichiren Buddhism. Because Nichiin had already passed away at the time of his conversion, he went to study with Nisshu of Guboji Temple in Mama. Nichijo was even appointed the head of the school there by Nisshu. Later, Nichiju visted Nisson, the Chief Priest of Hommyoji Temple in Nakayama and later went to Kyoto as Nisson's deputy to convert the emperor in 1381. He was well received but unable to convert the emperor, so he went again as Nisson's deputy in 1382. He travelled to Kyoto a third time in 1383 and stayed. On that third occasion he was not acting as Nisson's deputy and there seems to have been a break in their relations. In 1388, after Nisshu passed away, Nichiju declared that he had inherited the Dharma directly from the scrolls of the Lotus Sutra and the teachings of Nichiren. Nichiju followed the shoretsu doctrine. In fact, he taught that only the 16th chapter contained the true teaching. He founded the Myomanji Temple in Kyoto in 1385. It is now the head temple of the Kempon Hokke Shu (founding date 1384).

Nichijin (1339-1419) was a disicple of Nichijo of Honkokuji in Kyoto. He became the head priest of Honjoji Temple in 1369. In 1397 he began to preach the shoretsu doctrine and opposed the Honkokuji Temple which was preaching the doctrine of the unity (itchi in Japanese) of the essential and theoretical sections of the Lotus Sutra. The Honjoji Temple would become the head temple of what is now called the Hokke Shu Jin-Monryu (founding date 1406).

Nichiryu (1385-1464) was originally a disciple of the Chief Priest Nissei at Myohonji Temple (the rebuilt Myokenji Temple). When Nissei died in 1405 the monk Gatsumyo took over. Nichiryu did not approve of Gatsumyo's lax ways and even bested him in a debate. Gatsumyo then forced Nichiryu and his faction out of the temple. Nichiryu then established new temples and taught the doctrine of shoretsu, emphasizing that the true teaching is found only in chapters 15-22 of the Lotus Sutra. For this reason, the school he founded was called the Eight Chapter School (Happon-ha). The Honnoji Temple in Kyoto which Nichiryu founded is now the head temple of the Honmon Hokke Shu (founding date 1423).

Nisshin (1407-1488) of the Nakayama lineage came to be known as the "Pot Wearing Saint" because of the tortures he endured at the hands of Shogun Yoshinori. In 1439 he attempted to convert the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori. As Nisshin was writing his own version of the Rissho Anokoku-ron, he was arrested. For two years he was tortured in prison in an effort to force him to renounce the Odaimoku. On one occasion, it is said that a red-hot iron kettle was jammed on his head. This is known as the Takehara Persecution. In the end, Nisshin was released when Ashikaga Yoshinori was assassinated. Nisshin is credited with founding thirty temples, memorializing high officials on eight occasions, and winning sixty religious debates. Nisshin exemplified the spirit of shakubuku (to break and subdue false views)and fuju fuse even at the risk of his own life and in the face of terrible suffering.

Priests like Nisshin were not the only ones willing to offer their lives for the Lotus Sutra nor were the persectutions confined to Kyoto. In 1436 the Nichiren priests Nisshin (not the "Pot Wearer") and Nichimyo publicly debated a Tendai priest named Shinkai in Kamakura. Ashikaga Mochiuji, the governor of Kamakura, was so incensed that he destroyed all the Nichiren Buddhist temples in the city, exiled the priests, confiscated the lands of any samurai practicing Nichiren Buddhism, and threatened to execute any commoner who did not renounce the Odaimoku. He relented, however, when 60 people volunteered to be executed rather than give up practicing the Odaimoku. This event is known as the Eikyo Persection.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000.

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