Nichikan Shonin

Restorer of Nichiren Shoshu
Both the Gakkai and NST see Nichikan as a restorer of Nichiren Shoshu from a status as nearly a mere family temple and a branch temple of the Yobo-ji Temple in Kyoto, back to being a main temple of some status. For both groups he is something of a hero, though they disagree about how he was a hero. For groups outside of the Taisekiji version of the Nikko lineage of Nichirenism the view of his views is more nuanced. The question to ask is why is that so? How much of this criticism or lionization is warranted?
Nichikan Shonin, the twenty-sixth high priest of the Taisekiji branch of the Fuji School of Nikko's lineage, now known as Nichiren Shoshu, was born to a samurai family on August 7 1665. His father was a retainer of Sakai Utanokami, the lord of Umayabashi in Kozuke Province. His childhood name was Ito Ichinoshin.1 This was a common trait of many of the more aggressive (and thus famous) of the Nichiren monks up until fairly recently. There were two centers for Nichirenism in Japan. One was with the Samurai, rural and small town people, and the other was in the cities.

Biography and Commentary

At the age of fifteen he went to Edo (now Tokyo) to serve at the residence of a different lord. At the age of nineteen he happened to question a devotee of Buddhism who was traveling throughout the country and passed by the gate of the estate where he lived. The pilgrim was traveling with the Lotus Sutra on his back, meditating on Bodhisattva Kannon and chanting the name of Amida Buddha. Ichinoshin pointed out his inconsistency and the pilgrim was at a loss for an answer and departed. It is said that a gateman happened to be watching the scene and suggested that Ichinoshin's questions could be clarified by the seventeenth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, Nissei Shonin (1600-1683), who was lecturing at Jozai-ji temple in Shitaya.

The thing to note here is that Nichikan was, like many people attracted to Nichiren's teachings, attracted to Nichirenism because of the glaring inconsistencies and ambiguities about Japanese Buddhism. These same confusions also lead many ordinary folks to give up on Buddhism or develop a very cynical approach to it. This confusion about Buddhism is what Nichiren had criticized himself. People in Japan were so confused about Buddhism that they went to Shinto priests for marriage, went to Confucianism for their ethics, and only went to Buddhist priests when they died. Zen Monks travelled to China during the Muromachi era to learn about Confucianism. Tendai and Shingon monks spent hours talking about arcane subjects or getting initiated into Tantra. Nembutsu gave up on this world and advocated rebirth in a fantasy realm, and these mendicants that Nichikan met on the road thought they were very adept though they understood nothing.

Ichinoshin attended a lecture given at Jozai-ji temple by the High Priest. His many questions were answered through the lecture and from that point on he resolved to enter the priesthood. He then asked his lord to let him leave for the priesthood, but his master would not allow it. His unyielding spirit toward Buddhism, however, finally drove him to take matters into his own hands and he left his lord's estate and joined the priesthood.

To his great sorrow, the high priest Nissei Shonin had already passed away. He then devoted himself to practicing under Nichiei Shonin (1650-1715) who later became the twenty-fourth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu. At Jozai-ji temple he was given the formal ceremony of tonsure.

It was immediately noticed that his attitude toward the study of Buddhism was earnest and those observing him recognized in him an unprecedented ability at scholarship. In 1689 he entered the Hosokusa Seminary, a seminary in Kazusa Province for priests who wished further study of the Daishonin's teachings. There he made a deeper study of Buddhism and, in 1708, he was designated the twenty-sixth rector of the seminary. His twenty years of study became the basis upon which he would later make the Daishonin's teachings widely known and accomplish his work, the "Six-volume Writings" (Rokkan Sho).

In 1711 he was appointed as the sixth chief instructor of the Head Temple and began to give lectures on the important writings of the Daishonin. His lectures were based upon his profound understanding of the Daishonin's teachings.

Nichikan Shonin worked tirelessly to clarify the Daishonin's teachings because of the number of errors and misconceptions that were spread from the doctrines of the five senior priests who had turned against Nikko Shonin after the Daishonin passed away. He did a great deal to distinguish the correct interpretations of the Daishonin's teachings from misleading ones.

Various "Nichiren" sects mushroomed bringing into question the orthodoxy of true Buddhism. It was in the midst of such confusion that Nichikan Shonin wrote the Rokkan Sho which clarified the essential teaching of the Daishonin. The work is made up of six treatises which clarify the teachings and refute the misconceptions which threatened the orthodoxy of the Daishonin's Buddhism.

Ha Rokkan Sho (Six volume Writings

It may be interesting to note these six treatises and what areas of teachings they address. They are :

  1. The "Sanju Hiden Sho" (The Threefold Secret Teaching), which explains by means of a threefold comparison that the ultimate Law or teaching to be propagated in the Latter Day of the Law is Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.
    The first comparison is between the provisional and true teachings. This comparison reveals that the Lotus Sutra is the true teaching because it carries the entirety of Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment and that the sutras expounded before it are provisional because they are temporary means to lead the people to the Lotus Sutra.
    The second comparison is between the first half and the latter half of the Lotus Sutra. In the latter half or essential teaching, particularly in the Juryo chapter, the eternity of Buddhahood is revealed. The True Cause, True Effect and True Land are also revealed in the Juryo chapter.
    The third comparison is between Shakyamuni's and Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. In Shakyamuni's Buddhism, the attainment of Buddhahood requires an unimaginably long period. In contrast, in the case of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, people can attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. Strictly speaking, they can attain Buddhahood simultaneous with the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the fundamental seed of Buddhahood.
  2. The "Montei Hichin Sho" (Meanings Hidden in the Depths), which clarifies that the ultimate Law secretly transmitted by means of the threefold comparison is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws and discusses the Three Great Secret Laws in detail. These are the Honmon no Daimoku (Supreme invokation), Honmon no Dai-Gohonzon (Supreme object of worship), and Honmon no Kaidan (Supreme Sanctuary).
  3. The "Egi Hammon Sho" (Interpretations Based on the Law), which interprets important passages of the Lotus Sutra from. the standpoint of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of the Three Great Secret Laws and identifies Shakyamuni's Lotus Sutra as the sutra which serves to explain the Daishonin's Buddhism.
  4. The "Mappo Soo Sho" (Teachings for the Latter Day), which sets forth the correct object of worship to be established in the Latter Day of the Law. This treatise explains why the Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin, rather than the image of Shakyamuni Buddha, is the correct object of worship in the Latter Day of the Law.
  5. The "Toryu Gyoji Sho" (The Practice of This School), which explains the correct practice in the Latter Day. It divides the practice into primary practice, or chanting the daimoku, and supporting practice, or reciting the Hoben and Juryo chapters, explaining why these two chapters are recited in gongyo.
  6. The "Toke Sanne Sho" (The Three Robes of This School), which explains the origin and significance of the traditional gray robe, the white surplice and the prayer beads of the Nichiren Shoshu priests.

Lectures on Gosho

Nichikan Shonin also left explanations of the Daishonin's Gosho for posterity, pointing out the true intention and purpose of the Daishonin's treatises, completely clarifying the orthodoxy of Nichiren Shoshu.

He also exerted himself in the construction of temple buildings at Taiseki-ji and provided funds for construction of the five-storied pagoda, which was completed during the time of the thirty-first high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiin Shonin.

In 1718 he received the transfer of the Law from Nichiyu Shonin, becoming the twenty-sixth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu. He, in turn, transferred the Daishonin's teachings to the twenty-seventh high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiyo Shonin in 1720. Nichiyo Shonin passed away three years later, however, so Nichikan Shonin again assumed this responsibility. In 1726, he transferred all the teachings to the twenty-eighth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, Nissho Shonin.

Champion of Taisekiji's lineage

Nichikan was also one of the proponants of the notion of the High Priest as inheritor of Nichiren's teachings, he is quoted by defenders of the High Priest's teachings as follows:

"It is proper that one should make the classification that if looking from the inside the body, **they are really one body.** Because the entirety of the so-called Treasure of the Law becomes the Treasure of the Buddha, it can be said that Ichinen Sanzen is the Buddha who fused his life with the Law of Kuon Ganjo, and the Buddha who can save those who exist in each of the Ten Worlds is called Enbutsu (a well-rounded Buddha). Then again, because the Master and disciple relationship is like the water which is poured from one vessel to another, the Master and disciple are one body. Therefore, ***the Three Treasures are one body.*** If looking at the outside surface, the relative superiority and inferiority of each is clear. That is, a Buddha holds the Law as his Master, while the Priest holds the Buddha as his Master. Therefore, with the Treasure of the Law enshrined in the center, the Treasure of the Buddha is enshrined on the left and the Treasure of the Priest on the right."

He is also credited with writing this passage in his writing "On the Three Robes":

"The Priest to whom we must devote our lives (Namu)...is Namu Nikko Shonin, the Great Leader of the Propagation of the Essential Teachings, the general Head Priest of the ten thousand years of the Latter Day of the Law, and the founder of the Temple who received the conferral of the Law, as well as the Master Nichimoku Shonin, who transmitted the Law and who is the Head Priest of the entire world to which we devote our lives, ***as well as all of the successive masters, who are the direct successors to the conferral of the Law."*** 26th Nichiren Shoshu High Priest, Nichikan Shonin, Toke Sanne Sho [Writing on the Three Robes of this Sect]

Prediction of Death:

At the age of sixty-two he went to Jozai-ji temple in Edo, where he had entered the priesthood in his youth. He lectured on "The True Object of Worship" It is said that all those who were present at the lecture were deeply moved by it.

On the last day of his lecture it was said that he declared,

"In China, Kumarajiva, to prove the correctness of his translation of the Lotus Sutra from Sanskrit into Chinese, predicted that his tongue, which had related Shakyamuni's teachings, would remain un-burnt after cremation. His prophecy came true and the people believed in his translation of the Lotus Sutra after his death. I, Nichikan, cannot work the same miracle, but I wish to say that after eating soba (buckwheat noodles), of which I am most fond, giving a joyful smile and chanting daimoku, I will die. If this happens just as I predict, you must have no doubt in even the shortest phrase of my lecture."

Death

On the night of August 18 of that year, Nichikan Shonin composedly said,

"I shall die, but you should not be disturbed"
After composing a poem of farewell he ate soba to celebrate his departure. He smiled and said,
"How happy a life I have lived in this world!"
He calmly chanted daimoku with his ten disciples surrounding him and peacefully passed away the next morning.

Legacy

Nichikan Shonin is remembered for his constant effort to restore the orthodoxy of the Daishonin's teachings and his effort to keep pure the unbroken lineage of Nichiren Shoshu. His words are often quoted by both priests and lay believers (of Nichiren Shoshu and the Gakkai) even today. Most noted to many believers is Nichikan Shonin's statement concerning the Gohonzon:

The benevolence and power of the Gohonzon are boundless and limitless and the work is immeasurable and unfathomable. Therefore, if you take faith in this Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, even for a while, no prayer will go unanswered, no sin will remain un-forgiven, all good fortune will be bestowed, and all righteousness will be proven.

Further Readings:

Untold History of the Fuji School, expecially:
http://www.sokaspirit.org/downloadable_materials/fuji_school/08_UHFS_Chapter_8.pdf
This page began with this link:
http://www.ezlink.com/~dozer/fc_sgi/bios/nichikan.htm
Don Ross keeps a copy of one of his Gohonzon:
http://campross.crosswinds.net/Gohonzon/CampRoss-ji-19.html
Ikeda 'dialogues' about him here:
http://etherbods.com/sutra/wisdom/wisdom35.shtml
Nichiren Shoshu maintains this list of quotes:
http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/jqpublic/famquotes.html
And also quotes him in this "oko:"
http://www.nstmyosenji.org/overseas/octovers.htm
Allen Billups refers to him (and the 26 warning articles)
http://www.proudblackbuddhist.org/Allan_Billups/Allen%20Dec.%203,%201993%20Rebutall
Gakkai Online "refutes" the above here:
http://www.gakkaionline.net/TIResources/Allegation6.html
He writes on the Gosho here:
http://www.sgi-usa.org/buddhism/library/Nichiren/Gosho/bk_SelectionTime.htm
And the Rissho Ankoku ron:
http://www.nsglobalnet.jp/page/Gosho/Gosho0302.htm
And comments on Gongyo here:
http://www.buddhistinformation.com/the_lotus_sutra_study_center/gongyo.htm

Sources:

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