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Click/tap the name of ceremony to read its explanation
Name of Ceremony
|Jan. 1||The Gantan Gongyo|
|Feb. 3||The Setsubun Ceremony|
|Feb. 7||The Koshi-e Ceremony|
|Feb. 16||The Otanjo-e Ceremony|
|Vernal Equinox Day||The Higan-e Ceremony (Spring)|
|Apr. 6-7||The Goreiho Mushibarai Ceremony (in Head Temple)|
|Apr. 28||The Risshu-e Ceremony|
|May. 1||The Daigyo-e Ceremony|
|Jul. or Aug. 15||The Urabon Ceremony|
|Aug. 19||The Kanshi-e Ceremony|
|Sep. 12||The Gonan-e Ceremony|
|Autumnal Equinox Day||The Higan-e Ceremony (Autumn)|
|Nov. 15||The Mokushi-e Ceremony|
|Nov. 19-20||The Gotaie Ceremony (in Head Temple)|
New Year's Day has been celebrated in various ways since ancient times and marks the renewal of a person's determination to open the way happiness. In the Gosho, "Reply to Akimoto" (Akimoto Dono Gohenji), Nichiren Daishonin states:
In considering the order of the five seasonal festivals, we find that they correspond respectively to the five characters of Myoho-Renge-Kyo. New Year's Day celebrates the character Myo. (Shinpen, p. 334)
Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the ultimate Law that activates the original energy of all life and existence. The Muryogi Sutra (Sutra of Infinite Meaning) states that, "All phenomena are derived from the one Law." Our lives are based on the ultimate truth of Myoho-Renge-Kyo, whether we know it or not. Therefore, when we correctly carry out the practice of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, we are making the fundamental cause for unshakeable happiness to grow within our lives.
The Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo was revealed by Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha in the Latter Day of the Law, who possesses the complete understanding of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. The Daishonin was the person who actualized the True Law within his life as the True Buddha. All people can attain enlightenment when they fuse with the life of the True Buddha by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon.
Nichiren Daishonin states:
New Year's Day marks the first day, the first month, the beginning of the year and the start of spring. A person who celebrates this day will gain virtue and be loved by all, just as the moon becomes full gradually, moving from west to east, and the sun shines more brightly traveling from east to west. (Shinpen, p. 1551; M.W., Vol. 1, p. 27l)
Nichiren Daishonin also states, "To accept is easy; to continue is difficult but Buddhahood lies in continuing faith." (Shinpen, p. 775; M.W., Vol. l, p. l27)
Keeping correct faith in the Daishonin's Buddhism with the fresh spirit of one's new year determination is the only way to accumulate great benefit and to achieve great results from one's efforts.
In the Gosho, "The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra," Nichiren Daishonin states, "'Myo' means to revive, that is, to return to life." (Shinpen, p. 360; M.W., Vol. 3, p. 23) The Chinese character "Myo" of Myoho-Renge-Kyo contains many profound meanings and this profundity characterizes Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Myoho has the function of revitalizing the ineffectual teachings of provisional Buddhas. When we believe in and carry out the practice of chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, our lives, which have been poisoned by provisional teachings and negative karma, will change into lives of enlightenment. In Buddhism, the word "revive" means to change our evil nature into a higher life-condition and to attain Buddhahood.
Making determinations and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo indicates the significance of New Year's Day. Even though one may be dressed in beautiful clothes and filled with determination for the new year, without chanting Daimoku, determinations will be short-lived and self-centered. When the festivities are over, one simply returns to a world of delusion and old problems.
In the strictest sense, a genuine New Year's Day Ceremony is carried out only by Nichiren Shoshu priests and believers who are sincerely practicing to the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws. We, who bask in the benefit of the True Buddha's mercy, should recognize New Year's Gongyo as a most profound and auspicious ceremony that encompasses the meaning of the True Buddha's enlightenment of Kuon-ganjo (time without beginning, or eternity).
As Nichiren Shoshu believers, we should put New Year's Gongyo first, before other activities. By performing a vigorous first Gongyo of the year, we become determined to maintain sincere, steadfast faith. We should also strive to develop a confident practice for ourselves and others throughout the year.
Each year the High Priest performs a solemn New Year's Gongyo with priests and believers at the Head Temple, Taisekiji. Through this ceremony, they are able to show their heartfelt appreciation to the Three Treasures of Nichiren Shoshu and pray for worldwide propagation, world peace, and happiness for all humankind. Following Gongyo, the High Priest gives warm guidance to all believers, and each participant receives a cup of sak・from the offerings made to the Dai-Gohonzon. Each local temple also conducts New Year's Gongyo following the Nichiren Shoshu tradition of celebrating New Year's Day.
The Koshi-e Ceremony is conducted at the Head Temple Taisekiji on February 7, the memorial date of Nikko Shonin's death. Local Nichiren Shoshu Temples honor this ceremony also, but usually at a convient date nearest to the 7th.
Nikko Shonin was the only one among Nichiren Daishonin's senior disciples who was capable of directly receiving the Lifeblood of the Law as the Second High Priest. His total dedication to the Daishonin and spirit to preserve his true teachings for future generations have become the eternal foundation of Nichiren Shoshu.
Among the Three Treasures, we respect Nikko Shonin as the first among the Treasure of the Priest because his efforts made it possible for us to encounter the True Law in this present age. Participation in this ceremony shows our appreciation to Nikko Shonin and our determination to follow his spirit in accurately preserving the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin for posterity.
Each year priests of the Head Temple go to the Shojin River to gather dropworts, a fern-like plant, which, together with the memorial tablet, they offer to the Gohonzon. Nikko Shonin led a very austere lifestyle and enjoyed eating dropworts, so this offering is reminiscent of his life. This Nichiren Shoshu tradition has been followed for more than 600 years.
Nikko Shonin was born on March 8, 1246, at Kajikazawa in Koma District of Kai Province, the present Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan. Because his father died when he was a child and his mother remarried into another family, he was raised by his maternal grandfather. At the age of seven, he entered Shijuku-in, a Tendai Temple in Suruga Province, to receive his education. In addition to the Tendai doctrine, he studied many subjects demonstrating a unique aptitude for Japanese and Chinese literature, poetry and calligraphy.
In 1258, Nichiren Daishonin visited Jisso-ji Temple which was closely affiliated with Shijuku-in, to do research in its sutra repository. Nikko Shonin, who was then thirteen years old, had an opportunity to serve the Daishonin. Nikko Shonin was deeply moved by the Daishonin's noble character and, in response to their karmic relationship from the past, became the Daishonin's disciple receiving the name Hoki-bo Nikko.
Less than three years later, Nichiren Daishonin remonstrated with the Kamakura government through his treatise "On Securing the Peace of the Land Through the Propagation of True Buddhism" (Rissho Ankoku Ron). The government and other Buddhist priests were so angered that they banished the Daishonin to exile on the Izu Peninsula. When Nikko Shonin learned of the exile, he set out for Izu on foot in order to join his master. From that time on, he was Nichiren Daishonin's close disciple. He was responsible for converting many priests and lay people from other Buddhist schools. Later, he once again followed the Daishonin into exile, this time to Sado Island where he endured numerous hardships with him.
Through his devoted service, sparing no pain in his efforts to support the Daishonin and the struggle for propagation, Nikko Shonin developed an incomparable understanding of the depth and truth of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism.
His vigorous propagation efforts centered in the Kai, Suruga, Izu, and Totomi areas, where he developed countless strong believers. As the number of converts increased, so did the pressure on the Daishonin's followers culminating in the most tragic incident of martyrdom in Nichiren Shoshu history, the Atsuhara Persecution. But due to Nikko Shonin's leadership for Kosen-rufu, the Atsuhara believers had developed the unshakable faith to chant Daimoku despite the threat of death.
Nichiren Daishonin recognized Nikko Shonin's accomplishments and his profound understanding of True Buddhism. Seeing that his own death was approaching, the Daishonin designated Nikko Shonin as his successor in two different transfer documents. One was written at Mount Minobu in September 1282, transmitting the Lifeblood of the Law to Nikko, and the other in which he entrusted Kuon-ji Temple at Minobu to Nikko Shonin's leadership was written at the Ikegami residence on the day of his death, October 13, 1282.
After the Daishonin's death, the other five senior priests failed to support Nikko Shonin as the legitimate successor to his teachings. They all left Minobu to return to their respective areas. As none of the five priests shared Nikko Shonin's depth of understanding of the true teaching, it was only a matter of time before they compromised the Daishonin's Buddhism by mixing it with elements of other popular teachings. This made it easier for them to survive in a time when provisional and incorrect forms of Buddhism prevailed. They did not understand that their inability to remain true to their master's teaching was an act of slander against the Daishonin himself. They eventually lost sight of the prime point of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism and declared themselves to be priests of the Tendai sect. During this period, Nikko Shonin stayed at Kuon-ji Temple in Minobu and upheld the orthodoxy of the Daishonin's teaching.
Niko, one of the five senior priests, returned to Minobu around 1285, and Nikko Shonin appointed him chief instructor of priests. But in time, Niko allowed Hakiri Sanenaga, the lord of the Minobu area, to commit many acts flagrantly contradictory to the Daishonin's teachings. Nikko Shonin repeatedly warned Niko and Sanenaga about their slanderous behavior, but to no avail.
In 1289, feeling that he could no longer protect the Daishonin's teachings at Minobu, Nikko Shonin sorrowfully decided to leave Minobu taking the Dai-Gohonzon, the Daishonin's ashes and other treasures with him. This was an expression of his conviction as the one person who could protect and realize the purpose of True Buddhism.
Within the next year Nikko Shonin moved to the Fuji area, due to the great support of Nanjo Tokimitsu, where he established the foundation of the Head Temple of Nichiren Shoshu, Taisekiji, as the center for Kosen-rufu. The establishment of Taisekiji at Mount Fuji was in accordance with Nichiren Daishonin's will and was essential in order to provide a sanctuary (kaidan) in keeping with the Three Great Secret Laws of True Buddhism.
Nikko Shonin dedicated the rest of his life to nurturing his disciples, collecting the Daishonin's writings for propagation purposes and remonstrating with the Japanese sovereign for the sake of future generations. He later entrusted Taisekiji to his successor, Nichimoku Shonin, while he stayed in nearby Omosu and founded a seminary for the training of priests.
Nikko Shonin passed away peacefully at the age of eighty-eight on February 7, 1333, at Omosu Seminary.
The Koshi-e Ceremony provides a way by which we, in harmonious unity of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and laity, can show appreciation to Nikko Shonin for his tenacious spirit to attain Kosen-rufu.
Nichiren Daishonin was born on February 16, 1222, at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law to fulfill Shakyamuni's prophesy that the True Buddha would appear and teach the Great Pure Law to save people for the eternal future. The date of the Daishonin's birth has a mystic connection with Shakyamuni's Buddhism because Shakyamuni died on February 15. This indicates that the Daishonin's Buddhism began at the point where the power of Shakyamuni's Buddhism ceased.
THREE PERIODS IN BUDDHISM
In Buddhism, the time following the death of Shakyamuni Buddha is divided into three periods that relate to the effectiveness of his teaching. The first thousand years after his death are called the Former Day of the Law (Shobo). During this period, Shakyamuni's Buddhism prevailed and people could attain enlightenment through its practice.
The second thousand years are called the Middle Day of the Law (Zobo). The efficacy of Shakyamuni's Buddhism began to decline and, although Buddhism was firmly established within society, it gradually lapsed into formality.
The third period, called the Latter Day of the Law (Mappo), extends for 10,000 years and into the future. At the time of Mappo, Shakyamuni's teachings lose the power to lead people to enlightenment. In Mappo, the lives of the people are defiled by the three poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity, causing the world to be filled with conflict and corruption.
PREDICTIONS OF THE BUDDHA OF THE LATTER DAY OF THE LAW
The end of the Heian era and the beginning of the Kamakura era (12th and 13th centuries) were a dark age for the whole world. In Japan, the entire country displayed the human suffering prophesied for the Latter Day of the Law.
Quarrels arose among the adherents of Shakyamuni's teachings, and the Pure Law became obscured. Countless battles and civil wars were fought to satisfy human greed. Morality was lost in the midst of great social upheaval.
Unseasonable weather, crop failures, and natural calamities showed that even nature was affected by the corruption of human life. Due to the Mongol conquests, immeasurable blood was shed throughout Asia. Simultaneously, in the West, religious crusades brought tremendous suffering to countless people. Virtually every kind of misery afflicted the people of the world during this period of history proving Shakyamuni's predictions concerning the Latter Day of the Law.
The advent of the True Buddha was predicted by Shakyamuni Buddha in the Jinriki (twenty-first) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which states: Just as the light of the sun and moon illuminates all obscurity, this person will practice among the people and dispel the darkness of all mankind.
OMENS SURROUND THE BIRTH OF NICHIREN DAISHONIN
The Daishonin was born to a fisherman named Mikuni no Tayu and his wife, Umegiku-nyo, in the small fishing village of Kominato in Tojo in Awa Province, which is now Chiba Prefecture in Japan. His childhood name was Zennichimaro. The Daishonin referred to his birth in several of his Gosho, saying, "I am a fisherman's son," (Shinpen, p. 1279) and "I, Nichiren, am the son of an 'untouchable' family." (Shinpen, p. 482; M.W., Vol. 5, p. l24).
In spite of such humble circumstances surrounding the birth of Nichiren Daishonin, there were many auspicious omens that are recorded in the Gosho, "Transfer Document on the Birth of Nichiren Daishonin" (Ubuyu Sojo no Koto).
One of them concerns a dream that the Daishonin's mother had before his birth, in which she saw herself seated on Mount Hiei, where the head temple of the Tendai sect was located. She was washing her hands in the waters of Lake Biwa. As the sun rose out of the east from behind Mount Fuji, she cradled the sun (in Japanese: Nichi) in her arms. Startled by this dream, she awoke and told it to her husband.
He, too, had an unusual dream in which Bodhisattva Kokuzo, who represents the wisdom of the universe, appeared before him. On his shoulder, the bodhisattva carried a handsome boy. He told the Daishonin's father that this child was Bodhisattva Jogyo, who was destint to be a great leader to save all people.
Kokuzo said, "I will grant this lovely boy to you," and disappeared. Shortly afterward Umegiku-nyo realized that she was pregnant. Umegiku-nyo had another dream the night before the Daishonin's birth in which a blue lotus (Japanese: ren) flower blossomed with pure water springing forth from it. A baby was inside the lotus flower, taking his first bath in the water. The water which sparkled with a golden color, spilled out onto the ground. The grasses shone as trees blossomed and bore fruit. These symbolic dreams presaged the advent of the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
CELEBRATIONS OF THE ADVENT OF NICHIREN DAISHONIN
The Otanjo-e Ceremony (or simply Tanjo-e) celebrates the advent of Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. The ceremony at the Head Temple Taisekiji is held on the 16th of February at both the Mieido Temple and the Five-Story Pagoda. The ceremony at the Five-Story Pagoda is derived from the Hoto (eleventh) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, in which Shakyamuni revealed his most profound teaching. In it, an immense Treasure Tower suddenly emerges from the ground and remains suspended in the air. Taho Buddha, seated inside the Treasure Tower, announces in a huge voice:
Excellent, excellent. You, Shakyamuni, have expounded the Lotus Sutra, the teaching of equality and great wisdom, to this great multitude. Thus it is, what you, Shakyamuni, have expounded is true.
The words of Taho Buddha affirmed the truth of Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the eternal Law of time without beginning or end. (Kuon ganjo).
Nichiren Daishonin states: In the Latter Day of the Law, there is no Treasure Tower other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra. It follows, therefore, that those who chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, irrespective of social status, are themselves the Treasure Tower; that is to say, the Treasure Tower is Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
...Now the entire body of Abutsu Shonin is composed of the five universal elements of earth, water, fire, wind and ku. These five elements are also the five characters of the Daimoku. Therefore, Abutsu-bo is the Treasure Tower itself, and the Treasure Tower is Abutsu-bo himself. (Shinpen, p. 792; M.W., Vol. 1, p. 30)
The Five-Story Pagoda indicates the five characters of Myoho-Renge-Kyo and the five elements, which are the substance of life and the universe itself. The Gohonzon is enshrined in the center of the pagoda, indicating that the core of one's life and the universal Law are the same as Nichiren Daishonin's life, or the true entity of the Law, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
For this reason, Nichiren Shoshu regards the Daishonin's birthday as the date of the appearance in this world of the Gohonzon or Treasure Tower, and this is the reason the ceremony is conducted at the Five-Story Pagoda. The main door of this pagoda faces west, in contrast to all other Japanese five-story pagodas, which face south, showing that the Daishonin's Buddhism will spread to the west, like the sun, which moves from east to west and illuminates the entire world.
NICHIREN DAISHONIN - SOVEREIGN, TEACHER, AND PARENT
The Gosho states, "I, Nichiren, am sovereign, father and mother, and teacher of all people in Japan." (Shinpen, p. 577; M.W., Vol. 2, p. 212) The Daishonin is the teacher and master who embraces the Mystic Law of time without beginning or end. He possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent for all mankind. The virtue of a sovereign is to use his power to protect all living beings and help them prosper. The virtue of a teacher is to instruct people and help them gain wisdom. The virtue of a parent is, even at the cost of one's own life, to compassionately nurture and protect a dear child.
Nichiren Daishonin took on his task at great personal sacrifice. He suffered severe hardships, yet, he single-mindedly struggled to lead the people to the true teachings. In a passage from the Gosho, "The True Entity of Life" (Shoho Jisso Sho), Nichiren Daishonin wrote, "Birds and insects may cry, but they do not shed tears. I, Nichiren, do not cry, but my tears never cease to flow." (Shinpen, p. 667; M.W., Vol. 1, p. 94) The Daishonin wrote the "True Entity of Life" when he himself was undergoing severe hardships during his exile on Sado Island. We can truly feel his boundless compassion in this Gosho. The Daishonin saw that the people were suffering from the effects of their bad karma, and could not cease to shed tears for them. Day and night he prayed for them to lead happy, productive lives.
We recite the following words from the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra every morning and evening during Gongyo: "mai ji sa ze nen, i ga ryo shujo, toku nyu mujodo do, soku joju busshin." This passage means that the Buddha is always trying to open the perfect way for the people to attain enlightenment without delay. Interpreting this from the standpoint of the essence (not the superficial reading) of the Lotus Sutra, it means that from the infinite past to the eternal future, it is the Daishonin's unceasing desire to lead all people - those who embrace True Buddhism as well as those who do not - to the correct path and to enable them to attain enlightenment, the life condition of absolute happiness. We, who already practice this True Buddhism are indeed truly fortunate!
In summary, the Otanjo-e Ceremony commemorates the birth of the Daishonin and celebrates the True Buddha and the appearance of the Great Treasure Tower of the Mystic Law in this world. In order to offer our deepest respect and profound gratitude for this, we the members of Nichiren Shoshu, as a unified body of priests and believers, should sincerely pledge to deepen our faith and propagate the Mystic Law.
The Higan-e Ceremony is widely practiced in all forms of Buddhism in Japan and is usually conducted on March 21 and September 22, the days of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. On these two days, the length of daylight and darkness in a day is exactly the same, and the sun rises due east and sets directly in the west.
The memorial service conducted on these days for our departed ancestors is called the Higan-e Ceremony. The word "higan" is a translation of the Sanskrit word "paramita" (Japanese: haramitsu), and it means "arriving on the other shore," or "to extend." In other words, it signifies "getting across." Buddhism teaches that the world in which we live, called the impure world or saha realm (literally "realm of endurance"), is a place of suffering and troubles. In this schema, the saha world is located on this side of the shore.
The source of all suffering - the three paths of earthly desires, karma and suffering - is likened to a great river. And the life condition of enlightenment is likened to the other shore. In order to cross from this impure world, over the life and death sufferings of the great river, and reach the pure land on the other shore, people must embark upon the boat of the Buddha's teachings. In his writing, Yakuo-bon Tokuisho ("The Glory of the Yakuo Chapter"), Nichiren Daishonin states the following: In the great sea of sufferings of life and death, the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings are but a raft or, at best, a small boat. Even if the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings can transport us from this shore of life and death to another shore of life and death, it cannot take us across the great sea of life and death to the shore of great happiness. (Shinpen, p. 350) Thus, he teaches us that the only way to truly arrive at the other shore is by means of the "great ship," of the Daishonin's Buddhism - faith in the Dai-Gohonzon. Provisional Mahanyana Buddhism, prescribed the practice of the six paramitas to arrive at the other shore.
These represent six methods of practice: almsgiving, keeping the precepts, forbearance, assiduousness, meditation and the obtaining of wisdom. The Daishonin, however, in his writing, "The True Object of Worship" quotes the following passage from the Muryogi Sutra: Even if we do not accomplish the practice of the six paramitas, they will naturally appear before us. (Kanjin no honzon sho), (Shinpen, p. 652; ref., M.W., Vol. 1, p. 64), Through this, he teaches us that we can naturally attain the benefit of the practice of the six paramitas, arrive at the "other shore" while living in this world and attain enlightenment in our present form.
Thus, the fundamental significance of arriving at the "other shore," or higan, is that it is extremely important for us, as living human beings, to attain enlightenment in our present form through the Daishonin's Buddhism. And in a sprit of appreciation, to present memorial offerings in behalf of our ancestors. In other words, the Buddhist practice of Nichiren Shoshu lies in the spirit of perpetual bon and higan memorials, accomplished through our daily practice for ourselves and others. Nichiren Shoshu performs the Higan-e Ceremony as a Buddhist practice for accumulating benefits and amassing virtue in the lives of the believer and the deceased.
The daylight and night time hours of the vernal and autumnal equinox are equal, signifying the inseparability of darkness (ying) and light (yang), as well as the oneness of good and evil. As the sutra expounds, "The Buddha desires the Middle Way." For this reason the benefits of performing positive deeds on these days are superior to those practiced at other times. These days of the equinox present exceptional opportunities for us to arrive at "the other shore" (higan). Moreover, Buddhism expounds the four debts of gratitude one of which is to one's parents and ancestors.
Thus, during the Higan-e Ceremony, we make offerings to the Gohonzon, establish memorial tablets (tobas) for our ancestors and perform memorial services for them. This small good deed becomes a great positive act enabling us to reach "the other shore." This is the true significance of the Higan-e Ceremony.
The Goreiho Mushibarai Ceremony of the Airing of the Sacred Treasures, conducted at the Head Temple Taisekiji every year during the two days of April 6 and 7, is one of Nichiren Shoshu's two great ceremonies, the other being the autumnal Gotai-e Ceremony. A great number of extremely important treasures have been preserved by the priesthood during the long seven hundred year period since the time of our founder Nichiren Daishonin. Once a year, great care must be taken to expel moisture and harmful insects from these treasures so that they may be passed on to later generations far into the future. At the same time, this momentous ceremony provides a chance for the many participating worshippers to deepen their faith.
Here is a brief summary of the activities that occur during the Grand Ceremony of the Airing of the Sacred Treasures in modern times. All of the events begin on April 6 with the Gokaihi Ceremony. After the recitation of the Lotus Sutra and during the chanting of Daimoku at this Gokaihi Ceremony, His Holiness the High Priest himself, conducts the ceremony of cleaning the accumulated dust from the face of the Dai-Gohonzon with heavy paper specially made just for this occasion. This ceremony is followed in the evening by a solemn procession. At this time, the approach road between the Nitenmon Gate and the Mieido is aglow with the blaze of post fires. The High Priest, who has followed a long cortege of priests, majestically faces the Mieido, ascends a prepared dais and begins a sermon on the Gosho. Thereafter, the first day' s activities draw to a close with lectures provided by priests on the propagation of the Law.
At 2:30 a.m. of the second day, April 7, attending priests and members of the faith assemble at Kyakuden (The Reception Hall) to worship at the Ushitora Gongyo Ceremony and pray single-mindedly with the High Priest for the attainment of the worldwide propagation of the Law. Then at 7:00 a.m., the High Priest makes his second appearance at the Mieido to rigorously observe the monthly Oko Ceremony in gratitude to the Second High Priest Nikko Shonin. Subsequently, at 9:00 a.m., the eventful Airing of the Sacred Treasures finally commences at Kyakuden (The Reception Hall). Preceding this, a great number of sacred treasures stored within the Treasure Storehouse are transported into Kyakuden (The Reception Hall). These Sacred Treasures are contained within three large black lacquered chests, each marked with either the Treasure Wheel, the Circular Crane or the Tortoise Shell. Each chest is mounted upon a litter and draped with a sacred gold brocade altar cloth. Carried on priests' shoulders under the direction of the High Priest, these chests, inscribed first with the Treasure Wheel, then the Circular Crane and lastly the Tortoise Shell, are transferred in sequence before those waiting in attendance at Kyakuden (The Reception Hall). There, in the presence of the Chief Lay Representative of the Head Temple, the seal on the chest marked with the Treasure Wheel is broken. The Daishonin' s bones, His living dental framework (Onikuge) and the incense burner, candlestick and evergreen vase that were used by the Daishonin when He prayed for rain, are removed from the chest and placed on a table before the Gohonzon.
Next, as the High Priest and the General Administrator read off the names, various Gohonzons are hung on large frames especially erected in the inner and outer sanctuaries, beginning with the Gohonzon that has been called since ancient times "The Gohonzon inherited from master to disciple (Shi-Shi-Denju-no-Gohonzon)", inscribed by the Daishonin, and continuing with Gohonzons inscribed by the Second High Priest Nikko Shonin, the Third High Priest Nichimoku Shonin and other successive High Priests of Nichiren Shoshu. Finally, the wide Gohonzon of the Transferal of the Law which Nikko Shonin bestowed on Nichimoku Shonin at the time of the establishment of Taisekiji, is hung in the middle of the outer sanctuary and at this time, the recitation of the Lotus Sutra and the chanting of Daimoku is conducted.
After the Airing of the Gohonzons is completed, we move next to the handwritten scroll documents. During this Ceremony, Gosho written by Nichiren Daishonin, as well as documents and letters written by Nikko Shonin, Nichimoku Shonin and others are exposed for ventilation. After His Holiness the High Priest ascends the central dais and recites the Lotus Sutra, he reads The Minobu Transfer Document and The lkegami Transfer Document (ancient copies), as well as The Articles of Procedure After Nikko, that is the document written by Nikko Shonin in which he transfers the Law to Nichimoku Shonin. Following this, the names of Gosho with which most people are familiar are read, such as In Celebration of Spring, Three Shingon Masters Pray for Rain, The Kalpa of Decrease, Treasures Have No Value Compared With the Law, The Glft of Rice, King of the Lions Gosho, The Bodies and Minds of Ordinary Beings, In Remonstrance of Bodhissattva Hachiman and Offering of Three Blades of Straw. In 1967, twenty-six of the Daishonin's scroll manuscript Gosho were designated Important National Cultural Assets.
In addition to these, there are many other manuscripts, including a great number copied by Nikko Shonin, such as the Rissho Ankoku Ron, Capturing the Essential Teachings of the Lotus Sutra, On the Four Stages of Faith and Five Stages of Practice and The Eight Volumes of the Lotus Sutra, as well as copies of letters and Gosho, such as Reply to Lord Ueno and Reply to Kubo-ama and letters written to other disciples. There are epistles by Nichimoku Shonin and Nichido Shonin, Nichido Shonin's Godendodai, which is a draft manuscript known as the oldest extant writing about the life of the Daishonin, as well as Nichikan Shonin's manuscript of the Rokkan-sho. Symbolizing the weight of seven hundred years of history and tradition, these copious Sacred Treasures are truly a magnificent sight.
The Gosho and other documents brought before the participating believers are aired at the hands of the priests. Many priests sit before a long table in front of the inner sanctuary, fan the unscrolled parchments with Japanese folding fans, and then re-roll them. Handling these irreplaceable Sacred Treasures scrupulously with white-gloved hands to prevent any possible damage, the priests store them once again in the lacquer chests in proper succession, which brings the ceremony to a close.
After the Daishonin's death, five of the six elder disciples, including Nissho and Nichiro said, "The letters which the Daishonin wrote using Japanese syllabic characters (called kana, rather than scholarly Chinese characters) were in acknowledgment for Gokuyo (offerings) or for the purpose of leading complaining believers, and if we leave these for future generations, they'll bring disgrace upon the Daishonin." Thus, the five elder priests either tore up or burned some of the Daishonin's letters. In the final analysis, it can only be said that these five elder priests, who had not received the transmission of the Living Essence of the Law, did not quite understand the following: "The Daishonin is the True Buddha who came to save all existence in the Latter Day of the Law, and therefore, the words He spoke and the writings He left behind are the Buddna's Golden Words, teachings to be greatly revered." Besides admonishing them for their misunderstanding, the Daishonin's legitimate successor Nikho Shonin worked to collect the Gosho that had been widely dispersed, and to catalogue and write explanations of the major works for future generations. He even went so far as to take up the brush and make copies of the Gosho, to prevent the Daishonin's sacred teachings from being lost.
It is only because the successive Masters who have inherited the dignified spirit of "Persevering to ensure that the Law of Myoho-Renge-Kyo will be transmitted for all eternity" from Nikko Shonin, even at the risk of their very lives, as well as because of protection by members of the faith, that we are able to behold these most holy of sacred teachings today.
With the belief that through this Goreiho-Omushibarai-e, the Grand Ceremony of the Airing of the Sacred Treasures, this sect's Living Tradition of the Daishonin's Buddhism has been correctly transmitted without the slightest error, we must instill within ourselves that great spirit of protection of the True Law. It must also be said that this ceremony profoundly signifies our faith in this one and only, absolute pure Supreme Law, and our pledge that the Law of Myoho-Renge-Kyo will thoroughly take root in society and continue to spread throughout the entire world.
In the early morning of April 28, 1253, Nichiren Daishonin, age 32, stood alone in Kasagamori forest at the top of Seicho-zan Mountain waiting for dawn. As the sun rose above the Pacific Ocean, Nichiren Daishonin joined his hands in prayer and began to chant the Daimoku: "Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo..."
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NICHIREN DAISHONIN
Zennichi-maro entered the priesthood at Seicho-ji Temple in Awa Province (now Chiba Prefecture) when he was twelve years old. He studied hard under his master Dozen-bo and excelled. As an acolyte, he had prayed to Kokuzo, the bodhisattva who represents the wisdom of the universe, to become the wisest priest in all of Japan. At the age of sixteen, he was formally ordained and given the name Zesho-bo Rencho. He moved to Kamakura to further his studies and for more than a decade, he assiduously researched Buddhist doctrines at centers such as Kyoto and Nara.
Young Zesho-bo Rancho found the answers he had been seeking and confidently came to understand that the root of all people's suffering is their faith in inferior, powerless, heretical teachings. He realized that the only true teaching in the Latter Day of the Law was Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo hidden in the depths of the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
Zesho-bo Rencho began to realize that he was born with the mission of Bodhisattva Jogyo, who was predicted in the Lotus Sutra to propagate the True Law of the Latter Day. He also realized that to denounce the misconceptions of the prevailing sects would certainly begin a life of persecutions as was also predicted in the Lotus Sutra.
On April 28, 1253, Zesho-bo Rencho renamed himself Nichiren (Sun Lotus). He then entered the Seicho-ji Temple where priests and believers had gathered to hear his first sermon. He was already known as one accomplished in both practice and study of Buddhism. They waited for him in Jibutsudo Hall. He began his first sermon to establish True Buddhism. His clear voice resounded throughout the hall, easily winning over and influencing his audience through his righteous bearing, fluent speech, and tremendous knowledge. But as his sermon progressed, the attitude of those in the hall changed, first to surprise and then to intense hostility.
In that sermon, the Daishonin carefully clarified the characteristics of those living in the Latter Day of the Law, and told them that Shakyamuni's Buddhism no longer held any power to relieve their suffering. He further uncompromisingly declared that all of the other Buddhist sects propagated at that time could not help them. He indicted Nembutsu as a teaching that would cause people to fall into a state of hell. He especially condemned the teachings of Zen Buddhism as a devilish source of trouble. He thus explained why there was confusion in society, upheaval and disintegration of the public order, why the hearts of the people were demoralized, and the country plagued by natural disasters. Nichiren Daishonin told them that these conditions were caused by faith and practice of heretical religions. Because he knew that only Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo was able to save people in the Latter Day of the Law, the Daishonin admonished them to give up Nembutsu, Zen, and other provisional teachings immediately and to take faith in the True Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
A steward of the area, Tojo Kagenobu, who was a confirmed Nembutsu believer became furious after hearing this and ordered his warrior to arrest the Daishonin. Nichiren Daishonin managed to narrowly escape with the help of two of his seniors, Joken-bo and Gijo-bo. After converting his parents and giving them the Buddhist names Myonichi to his father and Myoren to his mother, he headed for Kamakura to launch his lifelong propagation activities.
THE POWER AND THE COMPASSION OF NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO
During his lifetime, Tojo Kagenobu, whose ignorance of the meaning of the Daishonin's sermon turned to hatred and anger, fell into a hellish life condition. He is said to have died in a fit of mental anguish. Nonetheless, due to the absolute compassion that characterizes the Mystic Law, even this kind of negative relationship to the Daishonin's teachings can be a cause through which one will eventually be able to attain enlightenment. In other words, according to the power and compassion of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the Buddhism of Sowing, people who slander, like Kagenobu, must fall into hell once in their lifetime. They do, however, find their way to True Buddhism through their negative connection to it. This is the way and power of the Law encompassed by the Daishonin's Buddhism.
The Daishonin's declaration and establishment of True Buddhism encompasses all believers and slanderers and both good and evil. The ultimate significance of the Daishonin's declaration lies in the fact that the seed of enlightenment, the Mystic Law, was sown for all humankind and the entire universe.
The Daishonin's absolute mercy, the essence of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, is capable of permeating all lands, people, and the five components of life: form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness. Thus by voicing the Mystic Law on April 28, 1253, the seed was sown for these three realms of existence to become the manifestation of enlightenment. The Mystic Law is absolute and not dependent upon the awareness of the people, be they believers or slanderers.
The significance of the annual Risshu-e Ceremony is to express our gratitude to Nichiren Daishonin. Through his profound mercy, he overcame tremendous obstacles to establish True Buddhism for all eternity. So we commemorate this day by making the determination to follow the Daishonin's example of teaching everyone about Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
Since the early days of Buddhism, the Urabon Ceremony is a time set aside for people to pray for the peace and happiness of the deceased. "Ura" (Sansksrit: ullam) of Urabon means "the agony of being hung upside down." It is a metaphor for the suffering of starvation and thirst one undergoes in the world of hunger. The misery of the life-condition of hunger is likened to being hung upside down. When one is hung upside down, it is impossible to help oneself. One's thirst cannot be quenched and one's horrible frustration is never completely satisfied in this position. "Bon" (Sanskrit: bana) means a tray or vessel of food to ease the pain of suffering. In other words, Urabon is the ceremony for those who can no longer help themselves. Its purpose is with the assistance of the priest to relieve their suffering by making an offering to the Buddha on their behalf.
The traditional dates for observing the Urabon Ceremony are July 15 and August 15. In Nichiren Shoshu, we offer daily prayers for the deceased during the fifth prayer of Gongyo. Thus in a sense, we are performing a daily memorial service for those who have passed on. It is very significant, however, that we also observe the Urabon Ceremony.
The origin of this ceremony is found in the Bussetsu Urabon Sutra (Sutra of the Festival of the Dead). This sutra tells about the experience of Maudgalyayana (Japanese: Mokuren), one of Shakyamuni's major disciples. Among Shakyamuni's ten major disciples, he was known as the one foremost in occult power. According to this story, Maudgalyayana's mother died when he was very young, and he regretted that he had not shown great devotion to her while she was alive.
Maudgalyayana wondered about his deceased mother's state. Using the occult power he had gained from his austere Buddhist practice, he searched the entire universe for her. To his astonishment, she had fallen into the world of hunger. This was the effect of having begrudgingly given the Buddha an offering while she was alive. Therefore, she was in total agony. Maudgalyayana immediately tried to use his occult power to send her food. Each time he did, the food changed into flames as soon as she put it in her mouth. Even more concerned, he sent her water to put out the flames. But the water immediately turned to oil so that the flames only blazed more furiously. As a result, his mother now totally on fire, suffered even more than before. She could only cry for help.
Maudgalyayana then realized that, even with occult powers, he could do nothing to help her. He went to see Shakyamuni Buddha for guidance. Shakyamuni gently said:
Maudgalyayana, if you always do good, you will be able to receive benefits from your deeds. But if you sow the seed of evil, you will harvest evil grain. Your mother was blinded by her selfish interest in the past. She was not aware of how great it is to benefit others.
Unfortunately, she is still dominated by her selfish interest and will have to continue to suffer. This is the concept of the law of causality, of karmic retribution. The most important thing for your mother is that first you attain enlightenment in accordance with the correct teaching of the Buddha. If you do so, your mother's greedy nature will also be transformed. In any case, however, on July 15 of this year, invite priests from the ten directions and sincerely offer abundant food and drink to them. By doing so, you will save your mother from the incessant hell of hunger.
Maudgalyayana faithfully followed Shakyamuni's guidance. Through his offerings to the priests on July 15, Maudgalyayana relieved the sufferings of his mother for one kalpa, an immeasurably long, yet limited period of time. He was delighted with this accomplishment and asked Shakyamuni how he could help others benefit not only their deceased parents but seven generations into the past. Shakyamuni replied that they should carry out this Buddhist ceremony for the deceased each year. This is the origin of the Urabon Ceremony.
When we participate in this, there are some important points to remember. Maudgalyayana could not save his mother through his occult powers because they were based upon Hinayana Buddhism (literally, the "lesser vehicle"). He could only help her by following the Buddha's guidance to make sincere offerings to the priests whose prayers were based upon the Lotus Sutra. Even so, Maudgalyayana succeeded in relieving her sufferings for only one kalpa, not for eternity. Further, Shakyamuni told Maudgalyayana that he must first attain enlightenment through the correct teachings, and then his mother's enlightenment would be guaranteed. In the Urabon Gosho, Nichiren Daishonin writes:
Maudgalyayana's deceased parents live on in him. When Maudgalyayana's life attains Buddhahood, so will the lives of his parents. (Shinpen, p. 1376)
Eventually, Maudgalyayana did practice the supreme teaching of the Lotus Sutra and, as the Buddha Tamalapattra or "Sandalwood Fragrance" (Japanese: Tamaraba Sendanko), his supreme enlightenment enabled both his parents to attain enlightenment.
Now, however, in the Latter Day of the Law, the Lotus Sutra that Maudgalyayana practiced to help his mother is of no use. He practiced the teachings of Shakyamuni's "Buddhism of the Harvest" a transient teaching that benefits only those who enjoyed a past bond with Shakyamuni Buddha. If we practice these transient teachings, we cannot help ourselves or our deceased relatives. It might even harm the deceased in the same way Maudgalyayana's well-meaning occult practice further tortured his mother.
By contrast, the Lotus Sutra of the Latter Day of the Law is the Gohonzon, inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin, the True Buddha. Only the Gohonzon of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo enables all human beings in the Latter Day of the Law to attain enlightenment. Anyone who chants Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon and fuses his life to it through correct practice can attain Buddhahood. The benefits of enlightenment are such that they are perfectly shared with others, including our deceased relatives, with whom we share a karmic bond.
Buddhism teaches that there are five guidelines for the propagation of the religion. These guidelines are a correct understanding of the teaching to be propagated, the receptivity of the people, the proper time to propagate, the laws and customs of the nation, and the sequence of propagation.
Nichiren Shoshu affirms that Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the true teaching to be propagated. As the number of people who turn to True Buddhism as a way to increase happiness grows, it is clear that there is great receptivity among the people here and abroad. From our studies of the Lotus Sutra and the writings of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, it is also clear that this is the Latter Day of the Law and the proper time to spread his teachings. Consequently, the efforts of both lay believers and priests have been directed to fulfilling the Buddha's will, which is to "accomplish worldwide Kosen-rufu and never allow its flow to cease."
We must understand that the spirit and purpose of this ceremony go beyond simple remembrance of the deceased. It recognizes the eternally profound meaning of life and death in the light of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. If we understand this, we can honor the traditions of the nation in which we live, and maintain our determination to live wisely. This we do not only for ourselves and others, who remain among the living, but also for the sake of those who have passed on and those who are yet to come. We can then validate the truth and relevance of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings and, through propagation, begin to relieve the suffering of those who needlessly grieve because they do not understand that, even in the face of apparent death, life is eternal.
Since no single part of the universe is separate from all of the rest, Buddhism teaches that we must help the insentient world achieve enlightenment, too. Most important, however, we ourselves must first attain enlightenment through our practice to the Gohonzon, so as to remove the delusions afflicting us in the Latter Day of the Law. We send the benefits of enlightenment to the deceased to ease their present suffering and ensure that they may be reborn in a high life condition. This is the significance of the Urabon Ceremony.
The Gonan-e Ceremony becomes very significant when a believer studies its deep meaning in the lineage of True Buddhism. Specifically the Gonan-e Ceremony commemorates the Tatsunokuchi Persecution. Studying this event helps believers realize the meaning of Nichiren Daishonin's advent, the hardships he suffered in order to prove the validity of the Lotus Sutra and the reasons why Nichiren Shoshu can be called True Buddhism.
The Tatsunokuchi Persecution was one of the four major persecutions Nichiren Daishonin underwent in order to attest to the validity of the twenty-line verse of the Kanji chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Basically, the "twenty-line verse of the Kanji chapter" predicts the difficulty of propagating the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law (Mappo). It also predicts the persecution that the votary of the Lotus Sutra will undergo.
It is the Tatsunokuchi Persecution that led Nichiren Daishonin to discard his transient identity as Bodhisattva Jogyo and proclaim his true identity as the Original Buddha of Kuon-ganjo. The Tatsunokuchi Persecution was so named because it took place on the outskirts of Kamakura at Tatsunokuchi Beach on September 12, 1271.
Prior to the event, Japan had been in a prolonged drought, and the government asked Ryokan, a priest of the Shingon-Ritsu sect, of Gokuraku-ji Temple to pray for rain. The Daishonin challenged Ryokan that if his prayers could produce rain in seven days he would follow Ryokan. He also said that if Ryokan could not, he must correctly embrace the Lotus Sutra and follow him. Arrogantly, Ryokan publicly agreed.
However, his prayers could not produce rain, and instead what occurred was a prolonged damaging gale. Ryokan became very embarrassed and instead of keeping his public agreement, he began to spread rumors about Nichiren Daishonin in hopes of influencing people in the government. This led to a summons by Hei no Saemon, the deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs, to question the Daishonin on September 10, 1271.
Nichiren Daishonin used the interrogation as an opportunity to warn the government that if it was to continue to practice incorrect teachings and follow heretical priests, then an outbreak of internal strife and also foreign invasion would surely occur.
Even though Hei no Saemon was extremely irritated by the Daishonin, he could not find anything to lawfully charge him with, so he let him go. However, two days later, government officials decided to charge Nichiren Daishonin with treason, and sent Hei no Saemon along with several hundred warriors to Matsubagayatsu to arrest him.
Upon finding the Daishonin, one of the warriors, Shofu-bo, took a scroll of the fifth volume of the Lotus Sutra from the Daishonin's robe and struck the Daishonin across his face. After he was captured, the Daishonin was taken to be sentenced. The regent sentenced the Daishonin to be exiled to Sado Island.
Immediately he was put under the supervision of Hojo Nobutoki, the constable of Sado Province. While being escorted by Hei no Saemon and his men from Nobutoki's place to a steward of the deputy constable of Sado, Hei no Saemon decided on his own to behead the Daishonin before the group reached its destination.
As the party passed Hachiman Shrine at Tsurugaoka, the Daishonin reprimanded great Bodhisattva Hachiman for not protecting the Votary of the Lotus Sutra, as the Bodhisattva had promised.
The Daishonin had sent a messenger to Shijo Kingo, who hurried to be by his side, determined to die with his master. Shijo Kingo began weeping with deep despair at the thought of losing him. The Daishonin scolded him saying that there is no greater fortune than to give one's life for the Lotus Sutra.
About to be executed, Nichiren Daishonin chanted the Daimoku with perfect composure. At that very moment when the Daishonin was about to be beheaded, a luminous object shot across the sky from the southeast. The soldiers were so frightened that they immediately scattered and hid.
Nichiren Daishonin escaped the execution but did not escape the original plan to banish him and he was sent to Sado Island on October 10, 1271.
Before the Daishonin's advent, there had been no one in all of India, China, or Japan who practiced as the Lotus Sutra taught. Had the Daishonin not undergone major and minor persecutions, then Shakyamuni's prediction in the sutra would have proven false, and Shakyamuni Buddha would have been known as a man of great falsehood.
In "The Opening of the Eyes" (Kaimoku Sho) the Daishonin writes:
At such a time, if the three powerful enemies predicted in the Lotus Sutra did not appear, then who would have faith in the words of the Buddha? If it were not for Nichiren, who could fulfill the Buddha's prophecies concerning the votary of the Louts Sutra? (Shinpen, p. 541; M.W., Vol. 2, p. 120)
Nichiren Daishonin wrote in "Letter to Misawa" (Misawa Sho), "As for my teachings, regard those before my exile to Sado as equivalent to the Buddha's pre-Lotus Sutra teachings." The Tatsunokuchi incident is regarded as the time at which Nichiren Daishonin cast off his transient role as the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jogyo and revealed his true identity as the Original Buddha. In the Gosho, "The Opening of the Eyes" (Kaimoku Sho) the Daishonin states:
On the twelfth day of the ninth month of last year, between the hours of the Rat and the Ox (11:00 PM to 3:00 AM) this person named Nichiren was beheaded. It is his soul that has come to this island of Sado and in the second month of the following year, snowbound, is writing this to send to his close followers. The description of the evil age in the Kanji chapter seems terrifying, but because I have dedicated myself to the True Law, I Nichiren, have nothing to be terrified about. Those observing me will be awe-struck. (Shinpen, p. 563; M.W., Vol. 2, p. 177)
The Daishonin teaches that to meet persecution or hardships for the sake of the Law is a means to offer a Buddhist apology and eradicate evil karma. We must therefore realize that without facing persecutions and hardships for the sake of Kosen-rufu, we cannot eradicate our evil karma and surmount our difficulties.
The Daishonin went on to express his delight to face persecutions and viewed those who persecuted the Votary of the Lotus Sutra as good influences (zenchishiki). In the Gosho "On the Buddha's Behavior" (Shuju Onfurumai), he again expresses these sentiments:
Devadatta, more than anyone else, proved the validity of Shakyamuni's teaching. In this age as well, it is not one's friends but one's enemies who assist his progress. ... For me, my best allies in the attainment of enlightenment are Hei no Saemon and Regent Hojo Tokimune, as well as Tojo Kagenobu and the priests Ryokan, Doryu and Doamidabutsu. I am grateful when I think that without them, I could not have proven myself the Votary of the Lotus Sutra. (Shinpen, p. 1063; M.W., Vol. 1, pp. 186-87)
The Daishonin also states in "On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings":
What is more, once you become a follower of the Lotus Sutra's True Votary whose practice accords with the Buddha's teachings, you are bound to face the three powerful enemies. Therefore, from the very day you take faith in this teaching, you should be fully prepared to face the three kinds of persecutions which are certain to be more terrible now after the Buddha's passing. (Shinpen, p. 670; M.W., Vol. 1, p. 99)
It is during the Gonan-e Ceremony that we reflect on the Daishonin's strong determination to uphold and propagate the Law no matter how strong the three powerful enemies may seem. With the spirit of "single-mindedly yearning to seek the Buddha without begrudging our lives," and the spirit of "the Law to be propagated is more important than the bodies of the votaries themselves," let's strive to grasp the significance of this ceremony and repay the debt of gratitude we owe the Daishonin.
Nichimoku Shonin, the Third High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, was born to Niida Shigetsuna in Izu Province in 1260, the same year Nichiren Daishonin presented the "Rissho Ankoku Ron" to remonstrate with the Kamakura government. He was originally named Torao-maru and was the fifth of six sons.
In September 1272, at the age of twelve, he entered Enzo-bo Temple at Mount Soto (also called Mount Izu) near his home in order to study. In 1274, he witnessed a debate between Nikko Shonin, who was propagating Nichiren Daishonin's teachings in that area, and Shikibusozu, an influential priest of Enzo-bo Temple and master of the Shingon sect. As a result of the latter's sound defeat, Torao-maru converted to Nichiren Daishonin's teachings. Two years later, after studying under Nikko Shonin, Torao-maru was ordained at Mount Minobu. He was given the name Kunaikyo-no-Kimi, which was later changed to Nichimoku.
Nichimoku Shonin sincerely served the Daishonin while learning the profundities of his teachings. Legend has it that in his devoted service to Nichiren Daishonin, he carried buckets of water on his head from a stream to the temple at Mount Minobu several times a day. As a result, a permanent impression marked the spot on his head where the buckets had rested. Incidentally, this indentation appears on his painted image as a testimony to his devoted service.
Nichimoku Shonin, the Third High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, was a strong man and a skilled debater, and there is a famous story regarding his excellent ability.
During the time Nichiren Daishonin stayed at Ikegami Munenaka's home on the way to Hitachi, a student priest at Mount Hiei named Nikaido-Ise Hoin came to see Nichiren Daishonin Disregarding Nichiren Daishonin's poor health, Hoin challenged the Daishonin to a debate. Hoin, the son of a Kamakura government official, and hiding behind his father's authority, showed complete disrespect to Nichiren Daishonin. All of the disciples were surprised at Nikaido-Ise's lack of etiquette, but Nichiren Daishonin firmly replied: "It is an easy task for Nichimoku. Let him do it."
The debate lasted ten rounds and covered ten crucial points. In each round, Nichimoku Shonin reduced Hoin to submission on all points. Witnesses to the debate were astonished and deeply impressed. When Nichiren Daishonin heard the report, he smiled and said, "He has done well. It has happened just as I told you."
After Nichiren Daishonin's death, Nichimoku Shonin served Nikko Shonin as he had Nichiren Daishonin. In 1289, the Second High Priest left Mount Minobu because of a conflict with the major land owner of that area, Hakiri Sanenaga, who had committed four slanderous acts against the Daishonin's teachings. Nichimoku Shonin accompanied him to Mount Fuji, where the Head Temple Taisekiji now stands.
Nikko Shonin recognized the superiority of Nichimoku Shonin over the other priests, some of whom were Nichimoku Shonin's seniors, and appointed him the first of his six main disciples. After the completion of the Head Temple, Nikko Shonin bestowed the Ozagawari Gohonzon upon him. It is presently enshrined in the Grand Reception Hall at Taisekiji. This special Gohonzon indicated the transfer of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings from Nikko Shonin to Nichimoku Shonin.
After it was presented, Nikko Shonin retired to the Omosu area and Nichimoku Shonin built Renzo-bo Temple at Taisekiji, which served as a place of worship as well as his residence. He protected the Head Temple as its chief until he officially became High Priest, in 1332, at which time Nikko Shonin transferred to him all of the treasures of that office, including the Dai-Gohonzon.
Today, Nichimoku Shonin is remembered for his spirit to practice and propagate True Buddhism even at the risk of his own life. According to one account, Nichimoku Shonin remonstrated more than forty-two times with the Kamakura government and the imperial court at Kyoto on behalf of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin. In the entire history of Nichiren Shoshu, he was the first to exhort the imperial court.
In 1333, the Kamakura shogunate collapsed and imperial rule was restored. Nichimoku Shonin was seventy-four at the time and tried once again to accomplish the Kosen-rufu of Japan by exhorting the imperial court to take faith in True Buddhism, knowing that if it did, the entire country would follow suit.
In spite of his advanced age and the bad weather, he prepared to remonstrate with the imperial court. Then, in October, Nichimoku Shonin transferred all of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings to Nichido Shonin in case of his death.
He started for Kyoto in the mid-November snow. The journey and task proved too much for him and he fell seriously ill. He was taken through the icy cold and cutting wind to an inn at Tarui in Mino Province. Nichimoku Shonin died calmly, on November 15, 1333, while chanting Daimoku.
We observe Nichimoku Shonin's memorial to remind ourselves to wholeheartedly propagate Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism with every word and deed.
Because it was thought that November 15 was a particularly auspicious day, it was selected as a celebration of childhood as well. The Shici-go-san, or Children's Ceremony, has been celebrated on November 15 in Japan since the seventeenth century. Originally, children aged three, five, and seven celebrated on their birthdays, but later this tradition was changed to November 15.
In Nichiren Shoshu, this children's ceremony has deep significance. Because children are the treasure of their parents and society, it is most important that they establish their connection to the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws. The children of Nichiren Shoshu believers must continue the heritage of their parents' faith in order to propagate the Daishonin's Buddhism worldwide. All children aged seven and under are invited to participate as attending parents join with the priest to pray for the prosperity and happiness of each child.
It is said that when the time for Kosen-rufu approaches, Nichimoku Shonin will appear to finish the task. Although his tenure as High Priest was very short, no one has matched his spirit in successfully challenging erroneous beliefs, whether held by those in authority or everyday people.
This ceremony conveys our gratitude for his unparalleled effort in fourteenth-century Japan, and also carries with it our hopes for the children of tomorrow, that they may grow to be as skilled in Buddhism and as strong in faith, wisdom, and knowledge as Nichimoku Shonin when they assume the leadership in the future.
Nichiren Daishonin passed away serenely at the Ikegami Munenaka residence in Ikegami (present-day Tokyo) on October 13, 1282, while many of his close disciples and believers chanted Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. According to the "Document of Nichiren Daishonin's Passing," written by Nikko Shonin, the Daishonin passed away at about eight o'clock in the morning. At the same time, there was an earthquake and the cherry trees in the garden bloomed out of season. This account of the earthquake awakens us to the realization that the physical passing of the True Buddha, whose life is the life of the universe itself, is to be mourned. The blooming cherry tree reminds us that it is to be celebrated because the life of the Daishonin remains the same - immortal and always present.
The Oeshiki Ceremony - also called Otai'e - is the celebration of the eternal life of Nichiren Daishonin. The Head Temple Taisekiji as well as local temples of Nichiren Shoshu decorate the altar with colorful paper cherry blossoms. Traditionally the "Rissho Ankoku Ron" is read which is a symbolic reaffirmation of the determination to undergo all hardships in order to achieve the absolute will of the Daishonin - Kosen-rufu.
There are three important points to keep in mind about the Oeshiki Ceremony. The first is that the wondrous life of Nichiren Daishonin has existed eternally and will continue to exist through the perfect transmission of the Three Great Secret Laws. The second point is the concept of oneness, which is an essential concept in Buddhism. The third point to remember is that the will of the Buddha is Kosen-rufu.
The very life of the Daishonin is Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, embodied in the Dai-Gohonzon. The Person and the Law were embodied in human form, but the body matured, aged and passed away leaving behind the Dai-Gohonzon for humankind.
The Daishonin states in his "Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings" (Ongi Kuden), "There is nothing that exists on this earth eternally; whether something exists or not solely depends on time." (Shinpen, p. 1746)
Although his body definitely passed away, Nichiren Daishonin's essential life remained one with the universe, retaining the power to influence the world. The Jigage portion of the Juryo chapter reads: "I let people witness my nirvana as a means to save them. But in truth, I do not die. I am here always, teaching the Law."
The True Buddha exists eternally, but because of human nature, when the Buddha is incarnate right here in our midst, we forget everything else and spend all our time thinking of him. Therefore, he must teach us and then leave, or we would be forever distracted from the task of achieving our own enlightenment.
The following passage from the Gosho makes the point clear that the life of the True Buddha lives in the Gohonzon, "I Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi." (Shinpen, p. 685; M.W. Vol. 1, p. 120)
The essence of the Gohonzon has been handed down to us in tangible form by each successive High Priest from Nichiren Daishonin to Nikko Shonin, to Nichimoku Shonin and each one thereafter to the present High Priest, Nikken Shonin.
The second important point to remember is that at the core of Buddhist doctrine is the revelation of the concept of oneness. The fact that at the time of the Daishonin's death there was an earthquake and the cherry trees bloomed out of season are in keeping with the Buddhist concept of oneness. It entails the oneness of common mortal and Buddha, the oneness of life and its environment, the oneness of body and mind and the oneness of death and birth. They cannot be separated from each other. Therefore, at the moment of the True Buddha's physical death, the earth shook in farewell, but the cherry trees bloomed out of season in welcome. Thus, the Daishonin's passing reveals the principle of oneness.
The "Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings" (Ongi Kuden) states, "When we chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, our ignorance changes to revelation because of the Mystic Law." (Shinpen, p. 1746)
After his passing, the Buddha's life is manifested in the mandala that simultaneously contains the ten life-conditions. In other words, the Buddha's life is none other than the Gohonzon, the purpose of the Daishonin's advent into this world.
The third point involves the absolute necessity of the disciples to carry on the pure Heritage after the Daishonin's passing by maintaining a pure practice. Of the Daishonin's six senior disciples, Nikko Shonin was the only one who understood the deep meaning of the Daishonin's life and teaching. Only he kept the vow to protect and propagate the true teaching as it was taught.
Consequently, today, only Nichiren Shoshu carries out the true meaning of the Oeshiki Ceremony and has held it according to the doctrine and correct faith for more than 700 years.
The reason for the Daishonin's advent was presaged by his desire to secure peace through the propagation of the True Law. This underlying principle is manifested in his Gosho, "On Securing the Peace of the Land Through the Propagation of True Buddhism" (Rissho Ankoku Ron).
Nichiren Daishonin's will was inherited by Nikko Shonin, Nichimoku Shonin, and each of the successive High Priests who, themselves, remonstrated with the government. Thus the tradition was established in Nichiren Shoshu to read the "Rissho Ankoku Ron" and other letters and treatise of remonstration called Moshi-jo during the Oeshiki Ceremony to remind us of our tradition and pledge to accomplish Kosen-rufu.
This ceremony is celebrated by local temples at a different time than at Taisekiji. The ceremony is performed in the local temples or propagation centres in the world in October, while Taisekiji celebrates in November. This is because October 13, 1282, on the lunar calendar corresponds to November 21 of the same year on the Julian calendar. Therefore, Taisekiji recognizes the Julian date.
The Oeshiki Ceremony at the Head Temple is performed over two days. The first day, November 20, is called otaiya; the following day is goshoto.
THE AFTERNOON OF THE TWENTIETH, THE CEREMONY BEGINS.
Prayers are offered to the Dai-Gohonzon. In the evening, the Oneri rite is performed. A slow procession of the priests, representing the advent of Nichiren Daishonin, suddenly comes to a halt when it arrives in front of the Mieido Temple. A bell is struck seven, five, and then three times, as six priests run out to greet the High Priest, bowing reverently. This performance symbolizes the disciples asking the True Buddha to enter the temple to expound the Law.
The procession then moves west around the Mieido and enters from the rear. This is done because Nichiren Daishonin is assumed, in this ceremony, to dwell eternally at the Mieido to elucidate True Buddhism. The lay members enter as guests at the front entrance.
After entering the hall, the High Priest takes a seat facing north on an elevated pulpit, the jogyo-za (Bodhisattva Jogyo's seat). He represents Bodhisattva Jogyo, whose emergence from the earth is described in the Yujutsu (fifteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
A priest then asks the High Priest to take the seat of the Buddha. After the High Priest takes his new seat, he burns ceremonial incense and begins his sermon of the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The High Priest's performance in this ritual symbolizes the Daishonin's revelation that Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the essence contained in the depths of the Juryo chapter.
Shortly after the sermon, the san san kudo ceremony is served to the High Priest and six senior priests by six attending priests. (Literally, san san kudo means three times three equals nine.) This is an ancient ceremony in Japanese tradition performed to celebrate a happy event. In this ceremony, the san san kudo serves as a gesture to congratulate the Daishonin and his six main disciples, securing the bond between master and disciples. This ritual concludes the first day.
THE SECOND DAY BEGINS WITH AN EARLY MORNING GONGYO CEREMONY.
At eight in the morning, the priests assemble at the Mieido Temple for a Gosho Oko Ceremony. The High Priest gives a reading of the Gosho "Rissho Ankoku Ron." The six other priests read the public remonstrations (Moshijo) written by the successive High Priests.
This ritual indicates that the essence of the Daishonin's Buddhism is the propagation of the Law. This is a symbolic reaffirmation of the determination to undergo any hardship in order to achieve the Kosen-rufu of substantiation. It means that the enlightenment of all humankind is only possible through the propagation of True Buddhism of the Three Great Secret Laws. The Oeshiki Ceremony ends with the final ritual of taking the paper cherry blossoms down from the altar.