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Nichiji Shonin

Renge Ajari Nichiji (1250-1305?) was based at Matsuno in Suruga. He was also the son of a samurai and came from an influential and wealthy family in the service to the Hojo's. He became a novice at Jissoji Temple, where Nikko met Nichiren Shonin. In 1270, he met Nikko and became his disciple. Later Nikko then Nichiji to see Nichiren Shonin in Kamakura, and allowed him to become Nichiren Shonin's direct disciple. In 1280 he founded a practice hall in Mimatsu, his home town. This would later become the Reneiji Temple. After Nichiren's death he also built a lodging temple on Minobu temple grounds.

When Nichiren died he was one of the disciples on hand. He seems to have been one of the monks who actually took his duties in the rotation services after Nichiren's death seriously. But as a direct disciple of both Nichiren's and Nikko's he seems to have been confused by the dispute between Nikko and the other disciples. For In 1289, after Nichiren DaiShonin's death, he worked with four other disciples to help Nippo Shonin to carve a statue of the Daishonin which is still on display at Ikegami Honmonji. He had promised to do this by the 8th anniversary of NichirenDaishonin's death and he kept that promise. Since carving this statue meant siding with Nichijo/Toki Jonin and the other priests in their dispute with Nikko Shonin it was probably for that reason he was condemned along with the other five by Nikko and/or his school as one of the incorrect "five elder priests" though he seems to have tried to stay out of that dispute. The year he carved the statue is exactly the same time period when Nikko left to found Omosu Seminary and Taisekiji.

Journey to China

On the Thirteenth Anniversary of Nichiren's death he made a new vow. He decided to go overseas to fulfill his master's dream of restoring the true teaching of the Buddha to China and India. On October 13, 1294 he attended Nichiren Dai-Shonin's memorial service at Kuonji for the last time. On January 1, 1295 he began his journey to China, turning his temple over to his leading disciple. He then is said to have traveled north to Hokkaido, first preaching to the Ainu and then later crossing over into northern China and Manchuria. It has been argued that he did in fact reach Mongolia. Mike Ryuie says evidence is inconclusive but Daniel Montgomery reports that there is quality circumstantial evidence that he filled his mission. It is not ironic that this is around the same time frame when Nitcho, who also had been Nikko's disciple and sided with the "five elder priests" joined Nikko at Omosu. Nitcho had gotten into a dispute with Toki Jonin Perhaps on some level he was unhappy with the way his former colleague Nikko was writing about him and wanted to win some sort of expiation of this.

Daniel Montgomery (In his "Fire in the Lotus") recounts that in 1936 a Japanese Tourist in Manchuria purchased a silver incense case from a Chinese Antique Shop. There were three poems on it. The incense case had been stolen from a Chinese Buddhist Temple. Mike writes that he is believed to have passed away in Senka, China. This location, Hsuan-Hua has a temple there named Li-Hua which bears marks of his influence. The name means "Mandarin Orange" which is Nichiren's crest. The temple had been founded by a Japanese priest touring the area in the fourteenth century. Nichiji did not found a lineage in Japan, but he did leave a legacy of independent action. He is considered the patron saint of foreign missionaries by the Nichiren Shu. He deserves honor from all of us.

Daniel Montgomery preserves this poem that was more than likely from him and that was found on that incense case:
It is not clear whether awake or asleep, real or imaginary,
I just dreamed a scene of coming back to my home in Matsuno,
Joining the retinue of my teacher Nichiren Shonin.
In the dream I had on my sick bed,
I returned to the old days twenty years ago;
I was bathed in tears as I remembered my parents and my brothers.

The temple at Li Hua had been founded by a Japanese priest who had toured northern China and Mongolia in the Fourteenth century. Daniel Montgomery writes of him

"Many Japanese Monks had gone to China to study; he was the first one to go abroad as a missionary. 'The sun of Buddhism,' Nichiren had said, 'is rising in the east and will shine over the west.' Nichiji, unique in Japanese Buddhism until the twentieth century, had put this maxim into practice, carrying the word from the East to the West."

These documents have been recently validated, and here you can view the story on YouTube:

You Tube story:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIZU7c62ycY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3Ze7-ajmRk&mode=related&search=
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQXrF8S0kKA&mode=related&search=
Thanks Byrd:
http://www.fraughtwithperil.com/blogs/byrd/archives/2007_04.html

Links and footnotes

Mike Ryuie's page on Nichiji Shonin
This page by Rev. Tarabini is even better:
http://www6.ocn.ne.jp/~nichiren/NichijiShoninE.html
Also, Material is borrowed from "Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Tendai Thought" by Jacqueline Illyse Stone.
Fire in the Lotus, by Daniel Montgomery, pages 155-156. ISBN 1-85274-091-4
(It's out of print or I'd provide a link to Amazon)
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