History of Nichiren Buddhism

The Fuji Lineage
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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The history of the Fuji Lineage of Nikko is a convoluted story all on its own. It is an important one, however, because the Nichiren Shoshu sect derives from this lineage, and through its one-time lay organization, the Soka Gakkai, the Nichiren Shoshu teachings have spread more widely inside and outside of Japan than any of the other Nichiren sects. Because of this, the idiosyncratic views of Nichiren Shoshu are the only ones commonly known outside Japan, though the major Nichiren schools in Japan view them as misreprentations of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Shonin. A careful examination of the history and claims of Nichiren Shoshu reveal that these teachings are, in fact, based upon a tapestry of unsubstantiated claims. These idiosyncratic views cannot be traced back to Nikko himself, but one must understand the history of Nikko's Lineage and especially the history of Taisekiji Temple to see how Nichiren Shoshu developed.

To recap, in 1290, the Lord of Ueno, Nanjo Tokimtsu, built the Taisekiji Temple at Oishigahara for Nikko who had left Mt. Minobu because of his disputes with Lord Hakii and Niko. Nanjo Tokimitsu, the Lord of Ueno, was the uncle of Nikko's disciple Nichimoku.

In 1291, Nikko moved to the town of Omosu in Kitayama where he founded the Honmonji Temple in February 1298 with the help of Nitcho. He spent the rest of his life at this temple. His lineage is referred to as the Fuji Lineage.

Nikko appointed two sets of six senior disciples to take over for him after his passing. The first set consisted of: Nikke, Nichimoku, Nisshu, Nichizen, Nissen, and Nichijo. They were based at Taisekiji Temple, and Nikko transferred that temple to Nichimoku (1260-1333). The second set consisted of: Nichidai, Nitcho, Nichido, Nichimyo, Nichigo, and Nichijo. They were based at Kitayama Honmonji, and Nikko transferred that temple to Nichidai (1294-1394).

Nikko's relationship with Nissho, Nichiro, and Niko was adversarial. He obviously disapproved of Niko's lax standards and resented being forced to leave Mt. Minobu in 1289. Though he was sympathetic to the plight of Nissho and Nichiro in 1284 when they were being persecuted in Kamakura, he ended up accusing them of betraying Nichiren Shonin by returning to the Tendai fold. Nichiro even visited Nikko at Kitayama Honmonji in an attempt at reconciliation, but his attempt failed. After 1298, Nikko had nothing more to do with Nissho and Nichiro. Of the other two of the six senior disciples, Nitcho joined Nikko at Kitayama Honmonji and Nichiji left to spread the Odaimoku overseas and was never heard from again.

Click here to learn more about the DaiHonzon of Honmon-ji

Nichizon (1265-1345) was a disciple of Nikko, who travelled to Kyoto with Nichimoku and Nichigo who were also Nikko's disciples. Unfortunately, Nichimoku died on the way and Nichigo returned to Fuji with his ashes. Nichizon alone went on to Kyoto. In 1339, he established the Jogyo-in Temple. When Nichizon passed on the Jogyo-in to his disciple Nichi-in, his other disciple Nichidai (not Nikko's disciple) left and founded Juhonji Temple in 1363. Both temples were burned down in 1536 during the Tenmon Persecution. They were united and rebuilt as Yoboji Temple in 1548.

After the death of Nikke (1252-1334), one of the first set of Nikko's disciples, Nanjo Tokimitsu turned his residence in Shimojo into Myorenji Temple.

When Nichimoku left Taisekji Temple for Kyoto, he left Nichido (1283-1341) in charge of the temple. When Nichigo (1272-1353) returned with Nichimoku's ashes he fully expected to take back control of the temple. This resulted in a dispute between Nichigo and Nichido, and eventually Nichigo was forced to leave Taisekiji Temple. He went to Hota where he founded Myohonji Temple around 1343.

Another dispute arose at Kitayama Honmonji because the patron of the temple, Ishikawa Sanetada, wanted to remove Nichidai. He eventually succeeded and replaced him with Nichimyo. Nichidai went to Nishiyama and founded a new temple with the name Honmonji in 1343. That temple is known as Nishiyama Honmonji as opposed to Kitayama Honmonji.

In an attempt to upstage Kityama Honmonji Temple, the Myohonji Temple founded Kuonji Temple in the town of Koizumi in the Fuji District in 1406.

At this point there were five major temples of Nikko's Lineage in the Fuji District: Taisekiji, Kitayama Honmonji, Nishiyama Honmonji, Koizumi Kuonji, and Shimojo Myorenji. These five are known collectively as the Five Fuji Temples. Outside of the Fuji area, there would eventually be three other important temples of the Fuji Lineage: Yanase Jitsujoji, Hota Myohonji, and Yoboji in Kyoto (formerly the Jogyo-in and Juhonji Temples).

The distinctive doctrines that would later characterize the Nichiren Shoshu appeared during the tenure of Nichiu (1409-1482), the ninth high priest of Taisekiji Temple. The first development was the teaching of Nichigen (?-1486) of Nishiyama Honmonji identifying Nichiren Shonin as the Buddha. This theory appeared in the Gonin-shohasho-kenmon which was written sometime between 1470-1479. Nichigen and Nichiu were friends and so it is very likely that Nichiu got the idea that Nichiren Shonin is the True Buddha from Nichigen.

The second development was the first mention of the "Two Transfer Documents" in a work called the Hyaku-gojikka-jo written by Nikkyo (1428-1489?) at Taisekiji Temple in 1480. Nikkyo was originally a priest at Juhonji, but he moved to Taisekiji and became Nichiu's disciples. The Two Transfer Documents are the Ikegami Sojo and the Minobu Sojo. In these alleged writings of Nichiren, he entrusts the Dharma entirely to Nikko. The Two Transfer Documents are considered to be forgeries by the other Nichiren Buddhist schools as well as independent scholars and there are inconsistencies between them, in terms of their content and Taisekiji claims, and in terms of the actual situation at the time of Nichiren Shonin's death.

Click here to see an enlarged image of the Dai-Gohonzon

Finally, it was during Nichiu's time as high priest of Taisekiji that the Daigohonzon first appeared there. Nichijo (d.1493) a contemporary of Nichiu and the head priest of Kitayama Honmonji actually accused Nichiu of forging the Ita-mandara (the Daigohonzon) as well as many other writings. As with the Transfer Documents, there are many reasons why the Ita-mandara is not considered an authentic Nichiren mandala outside of the Nichiren Shoshu and their erstwhile lay organization the Soka Gakkai.

It should be pointed out that the other temples of the Fuji lineage did not go along with the doctrinal innovations of Taisekiji. The Yoboji, for example, signed the Kansho Accord of 1466 along with the other Kyoto temples without saying a word about the distinctive doctrines of Taisekiji. It is worth noting that the high priests of Taisekiji Temple from 1617-1707 all came from Yoboji Temple. So it is doubtful if even all of the high priests of Taisekiji believed in the theory of Nichiren as the True Buddha, the Daigohonzon, and the transfer documents. The Ita-mandara itself was kept in storage until the Meiji Restoration.

Nichikan (1665-1726) was the 26th high priest of Taisekiji Temple and he is considered to be the one who consolidated and systematized the distinct doctrines of Nichiren Shoshu, especially the doctrine that Nichiren Shonin is the Eternal Buddha, not Shakyamuni Buddha. It is Nichikan who reclaimed Taisekiji from Yoboji and is responsible for restoring and developing the disctintive doctrines of Taisekiji which first appeared during the time of Nichiu.

Click here to see this Gohonzon issued by the SGI

In 1874, Taisekiji Temple became part of the Shoretsu Branch of Nichiren Buddhism by the decree of the new Meiji government. In 1876, the eight major temples of the Nikko Lineage seperated from the other Shoretsu Sects and became the Komon-ha. In 1899, the Komon-ha became the Honmon Shu. In 1900, Taisekiji Temple seperated from the Honmon Shu and took the name Nichiren Shu Fuji-ha. In 1912, it finally took the name Nichiren Shoshu. The Honmon Shu became a part of Nichiren Shu in 1941. In 1950, the Yoboji Temple seceded from Nichiren Shu and became Nichiren Honshu. Nishiyama Honmonji also went independent. Shimojo Myorenji and Hota Myohonji joined Nichiren Shoshu. Kitayama Honmonji, Koizumi Kuonji, and Yanase Jitsujoji temples all remained with Nichiren Shu.

Click here to see more of Myorenji Temple

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000.

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