Rissho Ankoku Ron

A commentary
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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Predictions of Foreign Invasion and Civil War

Delighted, the Master Said

WNSD1: pp. 138-142

WND: pp. 23-25

 

The host is gratified to hear the guest’s change of heart and states, “If you put faith in my words dealing with the calamities and disasters confronting us today, there is no question that the winds will calm down, the waves will subside, and reap years will return before long.” In essence, Nichiren believes that if his advice is heeded peace and harmony will be restored to the land. Previous sections of this commentary have already dealt with the rationale for this conviction.

 

The host, however, is also concerned that the guest will lose his resolve and not follow through on his plan of action. The host urges the guest neither to backslide into his former complacency and false views nor to put off what needs to be done. He says, “If you wish to bring about peace in our country and pray for happiness in this life, as well as in the future, then waste no time. Think hard and take the necessary measures to thoroughly deal with slanderers of the True Dharma.” Though this was directed to the ruler of a country in regard to the suppression of a movement that Nichiren believed was having a destructive effect on Buddhism and the national welfare of Japan, I believe Buddhist practitioners can take these admonitions to heart today. We also should have the courage of our convictions and the strength of our resolve. Instead of just reading or talking about the True Dharma we should put it into practice. This means acknowledging and rooting out our own false views and bad habits, and constantly endeavoring to live in accord with the teachings in our daily lives. We can do this by developing and sustaining a daily practice so that we keep our minds and hearts centered on the Wonderful Dharma. Empowered and refreshed by a consistent daily practice we can bring the spirit of our devotion to the Wonderful Dharma into every situation we face. With mindfulness and caring we can create peace in our relationships and our environment, and in this way do our part to establish the Wonderful Dharma in the world.

 

The host impresses upon the guest the danger that he believes the nation is still facing. Harkening back to the dire prophecies found in the sutra passages the host cited towards the beginning of the Rissho Ankoku Ron. The Sutra of Golden Light, Great Collection Sutra, Benevolent Kings Sutra, and the Medicine Master Sutra all predicted that portents of evil and grave disasters would appear in any land where the rulers failed to uphold the Dharma. Nichiren points out that two of the disasters spoken of in these sutras have not yet been fulfilled: invasion from abroad and revolt from within. Therefore, he predicts that unless something is done, Japan will soon be faced with war and disorder from external and internal threats.

 

The prediction of foreign invasion seemed on the verge of fulfillment on January 18, 1268 when envoys from Kublai Khan (1215-1294), the Mongol emperor of northern China and Korea, arrived in Japan. The envoys brought with them a letter requesting that Japan acknowledge Kublai Khan as the new emperor of China by sending him yearly tribute or else incur the displeasure of the Mongols. The imperial court took this as an invasion threat, but the shogunate refused to respond to it. Nevertheless, panic swept the nation for several months and Nichiren took the opportunity to resubmit the Rissho Ankoku Ron to the current regent Hojo Tokimune (1250-1284) and to 11 government officials reminding them that he had predicted such a threat eight years before and calling for a public debate in order to argue his point in an official forum. Nichiren’s requests were ignored. Over the next several years more envoys came from the Mongol empire. They were also ignored. Finally, the Mongols attacked the island of Iki and Tsushima with a huge invasion fleet consisting of over 25,000 troops in 900 ships. The invasion failed when the fleet was struck by a seasonal typhoon that has subsequently been called the kamikaze or “divine winds.” Over 200 ships sank with as many as 13,500 aboard and the rest of the invasion force limped back to Korea. When the Mongols sent more envoys in 1275 and 1279 to reiterate their demands and threats the shogunate had them beheaded. In May of 1281 the Mongols again tried to invade Japan, this time with a larger fleet carrying over 100,000 troops. For a time they succeeded in their invasion of Kyushu, but once again their fleet was destroyed by the seasonal typhoons and up to 80% of the fleet sank beneath the waves. That was to be the last attempt by the Mongols to invade Japan. Nichiren, however, was not convinced that Japan would ever truly be out of danger until it returned to the Lotus Sutra. Some have even seen the invasion and occupation of Japan by the U.S. Army in 1945 as a fulfillment of Nichiren’s prophecy in the Rissho Ankoku Ron, believing that Japan’s defeat was a result of it’s misplaced faith in emperor worship rather than the Lotus Sutra. One of those who believed this was Josei Toda (1900-1958) the second president of the Soka Gakkai.

 

The prediction of civil disturbance came to be fulfilled in February 1272 when the regent Hojo Tokimuni had to quell an attempt to overthrow him led by his elder half-brother Hojo Tokisuke (1248-1272). Fighting broke out in both Kamakura and Kyoto between different factions of the Hojo clan. In the end, Tokisuke and his co-conspirators were all killed. Dissatisfaction within the Hojo regency continued however, especially because the Hojo vassals did not feel adequately rewarded for their efforts against the Mongol invaders, even as the rulers lavished support on the Shingon and other temples that had claimed credit for the victories due to their prayers and rituals. In 1333 the Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) was able to overthrow the Kamakuran Shogunate by taking advantage of this situation.

 

Nichiren’s ability to predict foreign invasion and civil war was not based upon any form of psychic power to see the future. Rather, it was the result of reading the sutras and using the process of elimination to see which disasters they predicted had yet to occur. Nichiren had a total faith in the sutras, as they contained the word of the Buddha. Furthermore, Nichiren undoubtedly heard reports of the Mongols conquests in China and Korea, and also must have known about rivalries within the Hojo regency. Nichiren’s role as a prophet was not due to an ability to forecast future events, but rather with his keen understanding of current events and where they were leading, and his conviction that warfare and unrest could be avoided through devotion to the Lotus Sutra.

 

Does it make sense, however, to blame Mongol ambitions or the vagaries of the political fortunes of the ruling classes in Japan on Pure Land piety, or Zen aesthetics, or reliance on Shingon esotericism? Does it make sense to say that natural disaster and warfare can be averted simply by devotion to the correct sutra? If it is only a matter of who one prays to, or what set of beliefs one holds, or what kind of rituals one performs, than I would have to say that such an assertion is nothing more than superstition or religious fanaticism. If, however, these different teachings represent different value systems, and I believe they do, than I think that they can be seen as major contributing factors.

 

The Kamakuran shogunate can perhaps be said to have brought its troubles down upon itself. It is possible that they could have treated the envoys from the Mongols with more consideration and instead of just ignoring them they might have been able to negotiate with Kublai Khan and acknowledged him as the new sovereign of China, and that may have been all that he was seeking. Some historians interpret the intent of his first letter in this way. The Hojo regents might also have given more consideration to the legitimate needs of their own vassals and perhaps even done more to reconcile the imperial court with their rule. In short, the rulers alienated those abroad and those they ruled because of their own arrogant and self-serving attitude. It could be said that their lack of consideration for the welfare of the people and the improvement of their own society was undermined by their hopes for an otherworldly paradise after death as promised by the Pure Land teachings.  Their reliance on the magical benefits and protections supposedly conferred by Shingon rituals also contributed to their complacence. The new Zen teachers in Kamakura were also catering to the needs of the samurai, a warrior class in need of an amoral aesthetic that could make them more efficient in battle. Nichiren was convinced that what was needed to ensure that the rulers governed humanely and effectively in the face of the many challenges facing them was the teaching of the Lotus Sutra that the pure land can be found in this world and that all beings must be treated respectfully because in truth all beings are buddhas in the process of becoming buddhas.

 

Nichiren believed that the proper response of the rulers was to return to the spirit of mutual respect and care for all beings expressed in the Lotus Sutra. In that spirit everyone should pray for the welfare and peace of the whole country. “If you wish to have peace for yourself, you should first of all pray for the peace of the country.” Buddhism, according to Nichiren, cannot be about securing one’s own welfare apart from others, it must always be a practice that embraces all others.


 

 Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2004.

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