Matsuoka Essay

3. Reasons Why Nichikan Disclosed the Theoretical Basis for the Teaching of the Three Great Secrets Laws That Constituted the Heritage of the Law Transferred Orally from One High Priest to Another

What we first need to understand is the reason why the Fuji School’s unique teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws had been kept secret for several hundred years before the days of Nichikan. You may simply say that it is because a new high priest was always instructed by his predecessor to keep this unique teaching secret.But what comes into mind (in terms of the documentary proof of the Three Great Secret Laws) is the ending sentence of Nichiren Daishonin’s writing, “On the Three Great Secret Laws (Sandai Hiho Bonshoji),” which reads, “Now that I perceive that the time has come, I will spread this teaching far and wide. I have been keeping this teaching to myself for many years, but if I did not write down this teaching for future generations, my disciples would surely reprimand me for my mercilessness. If this should happen, I would have endless regrets. Therefore, I have written this secret teaching to you. After reading it once, you should keep it to yourself without showing it to anybody else. The reason why the Lotus Sutra is said to contain one great thing that concerns the purpose of all Buddhas’ advent is that it includes the Three Great Secret Laws. Keep it strictly to yourself” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin [Gosho Zenshu], p. 1023).

According to this passage of Nichiren’s writing, it appears that Nichiren himself wanted to avoid the disclosure of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws. The Three Great Secret Laws were a new teaching that Nichiren himself developed. The Taiseki-ji school, while revering Nichiren as the True Buddha, worships him as the object of devotion in terms of the Person and regards Shakyamuni as a transient Buddha. Based upon this particular position, the Taiseki-ji school in discussing the Three Great Secret Laws, concludes that their entity is nothing but the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary possessed by Taiseki-ji. In Buddhist society in Japan during the mediaeval and Edo period, the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws that Taiseki-ji advocated was an unfamiliar concept. This claim of Taiseki-ji’s as well as the school’s view of Shakyamuni, the object of devotion, and the entity of the Law must have sounded self-righteous and strange. In his “Personal Comment on ‘Essentials of the Lotus Sutra(Shuyo Sho Shiki),’” Nichikan writes, “If the founder had said himself that he should be regarded as the object of devotion, who could trust his statement? Therefore, he kept what he had to say in the depths of his heart, while using the kind of expression that would not astonish the readers of his writings. What our school needs to know is the teaching that he kept in the depths of his heart” (“Collection of Exegeses [Mondan Shu],” p. 799). As Nichikan wrote, Nichiren’s teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws was extraordinarily new to Buddhist society in Japan, as it contained the point that Nichiren himself constituted the object of devotion in terms of the Person. The Taiseki-ji school trusted that Nichiren, recognizing the unusual nature of this teaching, kept it strictly to himself.

If so, why did Nichikan choose to elaborate in detail in The Six-Volume Writings (Rokkan Sho) and other writings concerning this unique doctrinewhich should have been kept in secret?  And as a result, why did he theoretically publicize the central doctrine that was orally transmitted only through the lineage of the successive high priests of the Taiseki-ji school?

In the days when Nichikan lived, the free propagation of religion was restricted by the religious policy of the Tokugawa government. Under such circumstances, various schools of Nichiren Buddhism put out great efforts in the realm of study of Nichiren Buddhism. Nichikan was no exception in this endeavor. He devoted himself to the study of Nichiren Buddhism for many years at Hosokusa Seminary, a school that he created through the joint efforts of his Fuji school and the Eight Chapters school (Happon Ha). After serving as the seminary’s study master, he was invited to become study chief at Taiseki-ji. While still engaged in lecturing on Nichiren’s writings from the unique doctrinal position of Taiseki-ji, he took office as its 26th high priest. This was in the midst of an atmosphere where other Nichiren schools engaged themselves in the study of Nichiren Buddhism. Nichikan, too, must have aimed at establishing the unique Taiseki-ji doctrine. In this context, we can say that he naturally developed his theoretical systematization of the hidden teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws.

However, I would like to point out (using Nichikan’s descriptions) the following three points that necessitated him to reveal the hidden teaching of the Taiseki-ji school.

First, while the various schools of Nichiren Buddhism were involved in heated discussions about the doctrines of Nichiren Buddhism, there appeared a circumstance where Nichiren’s teachings were expounded in a manner that was quite disorderly, in light of Taiseki-ji’s doctrines that had been transferred along the lineage of its successive high priests. Let me cite some leading authors of the writings of various Nichiren schools that Nichikan referred to with his critical eyes in The Six-Volume Writings and so forth: Gyogakuin Nitcho and Ichion’in Nichigyo of the Minobu school and Enmyoin Nitcho of the Rokujo school all expounded the conformity of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra and its theoretical teaching; Chooin Nisson and Ankokuin Nichiko of the No Alms Accepting or Giving (Fujufuse) school that rigorously insists on non-acceptance of alms and non-giving of alms; Jyojuin Nitchu of the Eight Chapters school that regards the essential teaching as superior to the theoretical teaching; Kozoin Nisshin and Jitsuzoin Nisshu of Yobo-ji temple in Kyoto that was under the Fuji school. They were all excellent disputants for their respective Nichiren schools who appeared four hundred and some years after the demise of Nichiren. It seems that they were all influential in the study of Nichiren Buddhism in the Nichiren schools around the time when Nichikan lived.

Nichikan must have felt it necessary for him to elucidate  the theoretical basis of Taiseki-ji doctrine that had been transferred along the lineage of its successive high priests  in order to protect the school. Therefore, he dared to solidify the foundation of the Taiseki-ji school’s doctrine by clarifying the theory behind the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws. This teaching constituted the central doctrine in the oral transmission of the heritage. It can be said that Nichikan developed an indestructible basis for the school’s doctrine so that it could withstand any accusation from other Nichiren schools. To put it another way, Nichikan was prompted to develop the theoretical basis of Taiseki-ji school’s transfer teaching because the doctrinal booklets of Nichiren Buddhism were widely available among all Nichiren schools in the Edo period.

Secondly, Nichikan was concerned that other Nichiren schools had stolen the contents of Taiseki-ji’s transfer documents that expound the comparison between Nichiren’s Buddhism of sowing and Shakyamuni’s Buddhism of the harvest. This can be considered to be one of the reasons why Nichikan developed the theoretical basis of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws. In “The Threefold Secret Teaching (Sanju Hiden Sho),” Nichikan states, with regard to the theory ofichinen sanzen (three thousand realms in a single moment of life) and in terms of the comparison between Nichiren’s Buddhism of sowing and Shakyamuni’s Buddhism of the harvest, “This teaching refers to the purpose of the advent of Founder Nichiren. It constitutes this school’s profound transfer teaching. How could I reveal it lightly?” (EWFS, Vol. 3, p. 50).

Then, Nichikan writes, “However, in recent years, other schools have been secretly quoting our school’s transfer teaching, which has made it impossible for us to keep it to ourselves. Therefore, I now openly quote our transfer teaching” (ibid., Vol. 3, p. 50). So writing, Nichikan refers to a passage from “On the True Cause (Honn’in-myo Sho),” “Question: What is the one great secret Law in the depths of the ‘Life Span’ chapter? Answer: It is the one secret true Law. You should keep it strictly to yourself. Since the teaching expounded by the Buddha in this lifetime is theoretical, his entire Lotus Sutra just reveals the theoretical ichinen sanzen. When you view his essential teaching of the ‘Life Span’ chapter as the teaching based upon the theoretical teaching, you are referring to Shakyamuni’s Lotus Sutra as Buddhism of the harvest. What is hidden in the depths of the ‘Life Span’ chapter is the Mystic Law that Shakyamuni exclusively practiced to attain Buddhahood instantly in the remote past. The actual ichinen sanzen is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself” (ibid., Vol. 3, p. 50).

“On the True Cause,” coupled with “One Hundred Six Articles (Hyaku Rokka Sho),” are said to be the two major transfer documents in the Nikko school. What has survived today about “On the True Cause” is a copy made by Nichiji, the 5th high priest of Taiseki-ji. “On the True Cause” also exists in the form of a copy made by Kozoin Nisshin who is said to have copied it based upon another copy created by Nichizon. There also exists a version copied by Nichiga of Myohon-ji in Hota. “On the True Cause” has been regarded as a secret document in the Nikko school since the ancient times. However, the situation arose during the days of Nichikan, as he put it, that “This document was secretly quoted in other schools’ writings in recent years.” According to a comment by the 59th high priest Nichiko, “other schools” signifies the Eight Chapter school and other schools (ibid., Vol. 3, p. 50). With a strong sense of crisis over the fact that “On the True Cause,” which was supposed to be a secret document in the Nikko school, was leaking to other schools, Nichikan realized that it was not possible any more to keep it only to the Nikko school, and quoting the passage from “On the True Cause,” elucidated ichinen sanzen in terms of the comparison between Nichiren’s Buddhism of sowing and Shakyamuni’s Buddhism of the harvest. Nichikan thus revealed the contents of Taiseki-ji’s heritage or transfer teaching. Such was the circumstance when Nichikan was prompted to clarify the theoretical basis of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws using the Nikko school’s transfer document.

Thirdly, the doctrine advocated by Nisshin of Yobo-ji was very influential to the study concerning Taiseki-ji in the early Edo period, among those student priests of various Nichiren schools that I listed above. Nisshin’s influence was so strong that Taiseki-ji’s traditional secret transfer doctrine was almost covered up by his interpretation of Nichiren Buddhism. Why did Nisshin’s influence exert itself over Taiseki-ji’s teaching? Taiseki-ji had developed a relationship with Yobo-ji during the time of the 14th high priest, Nisshu. As many as nine high priests, from the 15th high priest, Nissho, to the 23rd high priest, Nikkei, came from Yobo-ji temple.

In the meantime, the 17th high priest, Nissei, propounded (just as Nisshin did) that the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha should be built and that the entire Lotus Sutra should be recited as the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, deviating greatly from the traditional teachings of the Taiseki-ji school. This is a well-known fact. The 22nd high priest, Nisshun, strove to restore the orthodox teaching of the Nikko school, and his effort is said to have borne fruit at the time of the 24th high priest, Nichiei (ibid., Vol. 8, p. 256). It was true that Nisshun and others took Yobo-ji’s incorrect teachings out of the Taiseki-ji doctrine, but it did not mean that Nisshun was thorough in his position against Yobo-ji’s teachings. On one hand, Nisshun is said to have promoted a movement to abolish the erection of Shakyamuni’s statue at local temples, but on the other hand, he wrote in his deposition to the magistrate’s office (when Kitayama Honmon-ji appealed to the government in protest of Taiseki-ji’s alleged self-righteous position), “Yobo-ji of Kyoto advocates the erection of Shakyamuni’s statue and the recitation of the entire Lotus Sutra, which Taiseki-ji does not claim is a cause for falling into hell, for the past nine chief priests of Taiseki-ji all the way down to the current one that is myself, came from Yobo-ji temple” (ibid., Vol. 9, p. 33). Nisshun thus sounded favorable to Yobo-ji, most likely to avoid persecution from the government authorities.

As is clear from Nisshun’s position toward Yobo-ji, the Taiseki-ji school did not fully part from Yobo-ji’s doctrines. In this regard, it cannot be said that Taiseki-ji became free from the influence of Yobo-ji. It is not certain whether the following happened while Nichikan was still alive or after his death, but the 25th high priest, Nichiyu criticized Nisshin’s general and specific views of the object of devotion in “Comment on ‘The Object of Devotion (Honzon Sho Ki),’” “This teaching (of Nisshin) is bothersome” and “Nisshin does not refer to the ultimate teaching that differentiates the teaching of sowing from the teaching of the harvest that is hidden in the depths of the ‘Life Span’ chapter” (CC, vol. 3, pp. 381-382). But Nichiyu’s criticism of Nisshin was very limited, and the former did not substantially refute the latter’s view of the object of devotion and practice to it. We should gather from these facts that Nichikan’s relentless attack on Nisshin’s doctrines was based upon his solid determination to dispose of Nisshin’s study and make clear the superiority of Taiseki-ji’s study.

“The spring drizzle is falling ceaselessly.Quietness covers the mountains and our temple. A guest came and we had a dialogue. The guest says, ‘At the beginning of the Eroku time, Nisshin of Kyoto advocated the erection of Shakyamuni’s statue and the recitation of the whole Lotus Sutra, criticizing the position of this school. Since then, one hundred and sixty years have passed. In the meantime, there appeared many scholars of this school, but none has refuted Nisshin’s view. Why?” (EWFS, Vol. 3, p. 138).

This is the preface that Nichikan wrote for his “The Teaching for the Latter Day of the Law (Mappo Soo Sho).” Nisshin’s doctrine of the erection of Shakyamuni’s statue and the recitation of the entire Lotus Sutra temporarily confused the doctrines and formalities of Taiseki-ji. It seems that Nichikan took issue with the silence on the part of the Taiseki-ji school that showed no sign of rebutting Nisshin’s contention. Nisshin came from Nichizon’s lineage within the Nikko school, and he recognized the significance of the teaching of sowing and the teaching of the harvest that is hidden in the depths of the “Life Span” chapter, just as Taiseki-ji did. However, Nisshin expounded the oneness of the teaching of sowing and the teaching of the harvest, while insisting that their beneficial power is different according to the life capacity of the people who uphold these two teachings. Consequently, Nisshin encouraged the erection of Shakyamuni’s statue while criticizing the ideas of Nichiren’s being the True Buddha and Nichiren’s Buddhism of sowing being superior to Shakyamuni’s Buddhism of the harvest.

The 17th high priest, Nissei, who was swayed by Nisshin’s idea of erecting Shakyamuni’s statue, states in his “Zuigi Ron,” “The sage (Nichiren) did not establish Shakyamuni’s statue as an object of devotion, simply because he constantly had to move from one place to another.” By writing this, Nissei insisted that establishing Shakyamuni’s statue was the true intention of Nichiren, thus overshadowing Taiseki-ji’s traditional teaching that the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary should be the basis of the school’s faith. In essence, the direction of Yobo-ji’s study is completely different from that of Taiseki-ji. Therefore, it seems that Nichikan was driven to clearly show, from the standpoint of Taiseki-ji’s transfer heritage, the traditional teaching of the Fuji school that differentiates the teaching of sowing from the teaching of the harvest that is hidden in the depths of the “Life Span” chapter. His intention unavoidably resulted in disclosing the theoretical basis of the secret doctrine that was orally transmitted through the lineage of the successive high priests of Taiseki-ji.

To sum up, I have cited three reasons why Nichikan revealed the theoretical basis for the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws that was transmitted within Taiseki-ji along the lineage of its successive high priests. They are: 1) the study of Nichiren Buddhism was becoming popular among many Nichiren schools; 2) secret writings of the Nikko school were leaking out to other Nichiren schools; 3) it was necessary to wipe the influence of Yobo-ji’s study out of the Taiseki-ji school.

  1. The current priesthood of the Taiseki-ji school contends that Nissei, in his Chronology of Nichiren Shonin (Nichiren Shonin Nenpu) refuted Nisshin’s view of the object of devotion. This contention is a very misleading interpretation of historical data. I would like to take up this subject in a different thesis in the future. In his Chronology of Nichiren Shonin, Nissei opposes “Kai Sho,” in which the object of devotion just in terms of the Law is emphasized with the statement that “We should designate the Lotus Sutra as the object of devotion.” He opposes this statement on the basis of Nisshin’s theory that the Dai-Gohonzon is the Gohonzon for the general while other Gohonzons (where the Person is Shakyamuni who attained Buddhahood in the remote past and the Law is the actual Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) are for the specific” (EWFS, vol. 5, p. 118). However, Nisshin’s view of the object of devotion does not lead to the clarification of the oneness of the Person and the Law in terms of the object of devotion that the Taiseki-ji school regards as the correct teaching of Nichiren Buddhism. Therefore, Nichiko Hori commented on Nisshin’s view of the object of devotion that Nissei adopted as it is, stating, “Teacher Nisshin’s view of the object of devotion in terms of the Law in both a general and a specific sense does not capture the Fuji school’s correct teaching (ibid., p. 118). Adoption of Nisshin’s idea of regarding Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment in the remote past as the object of devotion in terms of the Person leads to the Nichiren–True Buddha teaching. Regarding this, Nichiko commented, “Teacher Nisshin’s idea of building Shakyamuni’s statues is a wrong teaching that is manifested in his view of the meaning the object of devotion. We should not be misled by his teaching” (ibid., p. 118).
  2. Right after this quote, Nichikan states, “Since this teaching does not harm myself, I do not refute it.” This expression seems to show humility toward seniors in faith who were swayed by Nisshin’s doctrines. I can say this because in his “Toke Hosoku Monbatsusho To,” Nichikan cites the part where Nissei discusses his view of the object of devotion and the practice of faith, criticizing it indirectly, “Teacher Nissei was confused by another school’s view. His view is the same as Nisshin’s view. Therefore, Teacher Nissei’s view is not in accord with the original teaching of this school” and “Teacher Nissei’s view in this regard is also based upon another school’s view. It is not a correct view” (WSR, vol. 9, pp. 757 and 763). This statement by Nichikan shows his negative reaction to Nissei’s confusion with another school’s view. It is evidence that Nichikan was concerned about the negative influence of the Nisshin doctrine within the Taiseki-ji school.