Nichiren Daishonin went to great lengths to foster his young disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu, who had lost his father at a young age.
The Daishonin first met Tokimitsu when he was just 7, and the two reunited nine years later when Tokimitsu, at 16, visited Nichiren at Mt. Minobu in July 1274.
In his more than 30 letters to Tokimitsu—the largest number among those addressed to any of his followers—the Daishonin taught his young disciple important life lessons, including, ultimately, how to dedicate his life to the great vow for kosen-rufu.
In celebration of SGI-USA Men's Division Day on Aug. 24, and as SGI President Ikeda continually
expresses his great expectations for young people and his desire that his disciples create a youthful SGI, the following excerpted study material centers on the relationship between the Daishonin and Tokimitsu.
President Ikeda writes: "The Daishonin's guidance to Tokimitsu can also be seen as guidance for all young people in the Latter Day of the Law. Even though youth today are unable to meet the Daishonin in person, by studying his writings and exerting themselves for kosen-rufu just as he teaches, they can grow into people who live with the same spirit as he did" (December 2011 Living Buddhism, p. 28).
A compassionate teacher fosters youth.
There is no teacher as wonderful as Nichiren Daishonin. Reading between the lines of this letter ["On the Offering of a Mud Pie"], we can sense his compassionate spirit to warmly watch over Nanjo Tokimitsu in his father's stead.
Indeed, in the many subsequent letters that he wrote to his young disciple, the Daishonin not only teaches him about Buddhist principles but also offers detailed advice to guide him in his life and self-development. In "The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude," for instance, seeking to teach Tokimitsu the proper conduct for a person of wisdom, he outlines the four virtues of ancient China—namely, (1) filial piety toward one's father and mother; (2) loyalty to one's lord; (3) courtesy toward one's friends; and (4) pity and kindness toward those less fortunate than oneself (see The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 636). The Daishonin remarks that even when one cannot do anything concrete for one's parents' benefit, one can at the very least offer them a smile two or three times a day. This is an example of the kind of advice, brimming with the spirit of humanistic education, that the Daishonin frequently gave Tokimitsu to help him become a person of outstanding character.
My mentor, Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, also regularly emphasized the importance of being good sons and daughters, and this has been a constant focus of my guidance, as well. I have consistently called on young people to bring joy to their parents who care for them and to express their heartfelt appreciation to them. I have always believed this to be crucial to the process of youth growing into fine adults.
Later in his youth, Tokimitsu would face great adversity—his home province of Suruga becoming the stage for the Atsuhara Persecution. Throughout, the Daishonin did his utmost to train and foster Tokimitsu, praying for the spiritual and personal growth of his young disciple.
When harassment of the Daishonin's followers in the Suruga area began to intensify, there were evidently people who tried to convince Tokimitsu with seemingly justifiable arguments to abandon his faith. In response, the Daishonin gave Tokimitsu detailed advice on the course of action he should take, instructing him to remain true to his beliefs. At the same time, he instilled a broader vision in his disciple's heart, telling him that someday "the entire Japanese nation will simultaneously take faith in the Lotus Sutra" (WND-1, 800)—a declaration that the time of kosen-rufu would definitely come.
On another occasion during the Atsuhara Persecution, the Daishonin lauded Tokimitsu as "Ueno the Worthy" for his unflagging efforts and urged him to dedicate his life to the "great vow" of kosen-rufu. And later, when the lingering effects of that persecution were still being felt, the Daishonin reassured Tokimitsu with words of hope for the future, writing, "Though we may suffer for a while, ultimately delight awaits us" (WND-2, 882).
When a son was born to Tokimitsu, the Daishonin proposed that he be named "Hiwaka Gozen" (see WND-2, 884). Tokimitsu's happiness, however, was short-lived; tragedy struck soon after when his younger brother Shichiro Goro died suddenly (see WND-2, 887). The government authorities in Kamakura also imposed heavy additional obligations on Tokimitsu (such as punitive taxes on his estate and demands to supply men for unpaid labor for public works), resulting in great economic hardship for him and his family.
In addition, Tokimitsu faced numerous personal challenges, including serious illness. However, with the Daishonin's wholehearted encouragement each time, he was able to surmount every obstacle.
We could say that at each crucial juncture in his turbulent youth, Tokimitsu received guidance from the Daishonin on vital points of faith for prevailing over the particular difficulty confronting him— whether it was persecution arising from his efforts for kosen-rufu or some personal karmic challenge in his own life.
Amid a relentless storm of obstacles and persecution, Tokimitsu staunchly protected his fellow practitioners in Atsuhara. In praise of his efforts, Nichiren declared, "You already resemble the votary of the Lotus Sutra" (WND-1, 1087). Tokimitsu had grown into a fine young leader, forging ahead on the path of kosen-rufu with the same dedicated commitment in faith as the Daishonin.
The Daishonin's guidance to Tokimitsu can also be seen as guidance for all young people in the Latter Day of the Law. Even though youth today are unable to meet the Daishonin in person, by studying his writings and exerting themselves for kosen-rufu just as he teaches, they can grow into people who live with the same spirit that he did.
Mr. Toda once asked me which of the Daishonin's disciples I liked best. When I answered Nanjo Tokimitsu, Mr. Toda smiled and nodded—a moment I count as one of the fond memories of my youth.
Now, in the 21st century, taking to heart the Daishonin's words, "My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow" WND-1, 1003), the young men and women of the SGI in Japan and around the globe are striving energetically to share Nichiren Buddhism with others. They are taking wonderful leadership in our movement, and new youth continue to joyfully join their ranks in growing numbers. I receive countless reports from the youth of their victories and triumphs in their efforts to fulfill the great vow for kosen-rufu. I can imagine how delighted Mr. Toda would surely be to see the brilliant efforts and achievements of so many young "Tokimitsus" throughout the world (December 2011 Living Buddhism, p. 28).
Buddhahood is attained through surmounting difficulties.
Tokimitsu stood up valiantly to confront the harsh oppression directed toward the Daishonin's followers during the Atsuhara Persecution. "The Dragon Gate" is the title of a letter that Nichiren, then 58, wrote to his disciple on Nov. 6, 1279.
Tokimitsu was a youthful successor who had started practicing Nichiren Buddhism as a child. From his teens, he looked up to the Daishonin's leading disciple, Nikko Shonin, as an elder brother, seeking him out for guidance and instruction. Throughout his life, Tokimitsu continued to work tirelessly to propagate the Mystic Law.
This letter was written at the very height of the Atsuhara Persecution. At great personal risk, the 21-year-old Tokimitsu bravely protected his fellow practitioners, offering a number of them shelter in his own home. This led to his being targeted by the authorities in various ways. A short time later, they unjustly levied heavy taxes against him.
Eventually, he found himself in a situation where he could not even afford a horse for himself, and had difficulty adequately clothing his wife and children.
In this letter, Nichiren refers to Tokimitsu [who was also known as Ueno after the village where he lived]—as "Ueno the Worthy" in praise of his dauntless struggle for justice in the face of all obstacles.
In the postscript to this letter, Nichiren speaks of his gratitude or wonderment. The original Japanese is vague, and it thus is difficult to interpret the true meaning. One way the sentence can be read is, "I write this letter in deep gratitude for your dedication throughout the events at Atsuhara" (WND-1, 1003). That is, as words praising Tokimitsu for his efforts during the Atsuhara Persecution and thanking him for his devotion. However, it can also be read as, "I write this letter in profound wonderment at the events at Atsuhara."
That would be an expression of awe and wonder at the fact that ordinary farmer believers in Atsuhara were now actually demonstrating their willingness to lay down their lives for their faith in the same selfless spirit that he himself possessed. In that sense, this letter could be regarded as the Daishonin's response to all the Atsuhara followers who had aroused such deep faith, and that he addressed it to Tokimitsu as their representative.
In either case, this writing praises the selfless efforts of successors and teaches that the great vow or shared commitment of mentor and disciple pulses in this way of practice.
In this letter, the Daishonin emphasizes that attaining Buddhahood entails overcoming many hurdles and difficulties. To make his point, he draws analogies from the ancient Chinese tale of the Dragon Gate waterfall and the history of the Taira clan in Japan. He also gives an example from the Buddhist scriptures on the difficulty of attaining Buddhahood, citing the story of how Shariputra, one of Shakyamuni's 10 major disciples, regressed in his Buddhist practice in a past existence.
Some sources place the legendary Dragon Gate on the upper or middle reaches of the Yellow River. It was held that carp that managed to climb the falls would become dragons. In this letter, the Daishonin describes the Dragon Gate as 100 feet high and 0.6 miles wide. In some of his other writings [see "Letter
to Akimoto" (WND-1, 1021) and "Climbing Up Dragon Gate" (WND-2, 673)], he describes it as being 1,000 feet high and located on Mount T'ien-t'ai. Given these divergences, it is difficult for us to come up with a definitive picture of the falls. Be that as it may, however, the story goes that the force of the current is so intense that most of the carp are unsuccessful in their attempts to climb the falls, no matter how many times they try. Moreover, birds of prey and fishermen lie in wait to catch them. Only a carp that can overcome all these challenges and reach the top of the waterfall can become a dragon with the power to control the rain and thunderclouds. This story is related in the Chinese historical text The Book of the Later Han. In many countries in the East to this day, the expression "climbing the Dragon Gate" is used to indicate surmounting difficult hurdles or high barriers to gain success in society or one's profession.
Through this example, Nichiren highlights for Tokimitsu that remaining steadfast in one's Buddhist practice to the very end is an undertaking fraught with as many difficulties as a carp faces in climbing the Dragon Gate and turning into a dragon. The strong currents of the waterfall that drive the fish back can be likened to the conditions of an evil age defiled by the five impurities as described in the Lotus Sutra; while the birds of prey and fishermen can be likened to the three obstacles and four devils and the three powerful enemies that hinder one's efforts to attain Buddhahood.
Persevering in faith in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law is like swimming upstream against a powerful current. It is hard enough just to resist the insidious forces exerted by our own earthly desires and fundamental darkness. Shakyamuni compared these forces to a strong current or flood.
Nichiren explains that this is even more true in the Latter Day, when even seemingly remarkable human wisdom and ingenuity can be inundated by an inexorable tide of deluded impulses fueled by the three poisons of greed, anger and foolishness—an ever-growing tide that wreaks havoc as a force of evil
Precisely because it is so difficult to carry out faith in the Mystic Law in such an age, the bond of mentor and disciple in Buddhism takes on decisive importance. Likewise, a harmonious community of fellow practitioners solidly united in purpose—in what Nichiren terms "the spirit of many in body, one in mind"—is also indispensable.
The Soka Gakkai possesses the bond of mentor and disciple that is strong enough to withstand any adversity.
And its members—noble ordinary people who are polishing their lives by striving in faith with the same commitment as their mentor—are allied together in solid unity. Moreover, countless members, like magnificent dragons born through the triumphant ascent of the waterfall, are leading lives of profound dignity and confidence forged through continually challenging themselves in their faith and self-development (Learning from the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 117–120).
Precisely because it is so difficult to carry out faith in the Mystic Law in such an age, the bond of mentor and disciple in Buddhism takes on decisive importance. Likewise, a harmonious community of fellow practitioners solidly united in purpose—in what Nichiren terms ‘the spirit of many in body, one in mind’—is also indispensable.