Our Great Master, Nichiren Shōnin—Jōgyō Bodhisattva Reborn

Our Great Master, Nichiren Shōnin—Jōgyō Bodhisattva Reborn

Nichiren Shōnin 日蓮聖人 was born in a fisherman family in Kominato on the Bōsō peninsula, present Chiba prefecture, on February 16th, 1222 (the 16th of the 2nd month of the 4th year of Jōkyū era). It is said that on the day of his birth, a lot of Kizui 奇瑞 (auspicious omen) occurred: lotus flowers bloomed in the ocean, spring water gushed out of the ground in the garden, etc. At the time he was born, the country was shaken by civil wars and ravaged by epidemics. As he grew up, he began to wonder why the teachings of Nenbutsu 念仏 (Namu-Amidabutsu 南無阿弥陀仏) and other Buddhist teachings so widespread all over the country could not solve these problems. At the age of twelve Nichiren Shōnin decided to become a priest at the nearby Buddhist temple Seichōji 清澄寺. After twenty years of studying Buddha’s teachings in Kyoto, Nara and other places, he finally understood that the Lotus Sutra is the essence of the teaching and the true intension of Buddha is revealed in Honmon Happon 本門八品 (the chapters 15 to 22 in the latter half of the Lotus Sutra called Honmon 本門). In Honmon Happon, Buddha explains that the quintessence of his teachings is Odaimoku 御題目, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō 南無妙法蓮華経, and it is meant especially for people born in Mappō 末法 period (Latter Day of the Law). Having learned that, on April 28th, 1253, at the age of thirty-two, Nichiren Shōnin made a vow to propagate Odaimoku in the world.

In chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra The Life Span of Buddha 如来寿量品第十六, Buddha reveals that his true identity is the Primordial Buddha living since infinite past and that many other Buddhas were considered his temporary manifestations. After that, he preaches sermons about the true Buddhist teaching and how we should practice it. In chapter 21 The Supernatural Powers of Buddha 如来神力品第二十一, he tells one of his direct disciples Jōgyō Bodhisattva 上行菩薩 (Superior Practice Bodhisattva): “I am about to temporarily vanish from this world, so I am going to entrust you with the propagation of the Lotus Sutra teachings in Mappō period.”

Twenty years after making the vow to propagate Odaimoku in the world, Nichiren Shōnin realized that he was an incarnation of Jōgyō Bodhisattva who had been given an important mission directly from the Primordial Buddha to propagate Odaimoku in Mappō period. It was predicted in the Lotus Sutra that one who would be engaged in propagating the teachings in Mappō period would face many calamities, such as being exiled to a remote island, attempts of execution, etc. However, it is also written that the Guardian Deities of Dharma would protect them each time. Having compared religious persecutions he suffered to the descriptions in the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Shōnin realized that there was no one who fit those prophecies better than himself.

From that time on, being aware of being Jōgyō Bodhisattva reborn, Nichiren Shōnin continued his mission to propagate Odaimoku, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō in Japan until he died at 61 in 1282. Had Nichiren Shōnin not appeared in this world in the Mappō era, we would not have been exposed to the true teaching of the Lotus Sutra. This is why HBS members look up to him as one of our three great masters.

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