A Response to Reverend Nakamoto’s Sermon of July 2007

A Response to Reverend Nakamoto’s Sermon of July 2007[1]

Rev. Daido Nakamoto of the Nichiren Shoshu sect arrived in New York in June 2007. He replaced Rev. Jisei Nagasaka whose sermons, as shown in this website, had deviated widely from the spirit of Nichiren and had affronted many people in the general community.

Reverend Nakamoto’s first Oko lecture, delivered in July, can be seen as an indicator of his agenda as well as his grasp of Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra reveals the concept of “Nyo ze honmak kukyo to,” the consistency from beginning to end which ties together the manifestations of the true entity of all phenomena consisting of their appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect, and manifest effect. This concept was described quite succinctly by Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, with this anecdote: “Suppose there is a thief in front of us. He is a thief from appearance to manifest effect. That’s consistency from beginning to end in a thief’s life. There is no discontinuity.” In short, the start is everything! Rev. Nakamoto’s July sermon is chilling in terms of its shallowness and lost opportunities.

He began his New York preaching with a lecture on the writing “Two Kinds of Faith” written to Nanjo Tokimitsu. In his lecture Reverend Nakamoto cites Nichiren’s description of Nanjo Tokimitsu’s practice as “faith like flowing water.” Reverend Nakamoto claims that the manifestation of Tokimitsu’s faith can be seen in his frequent contributions which culminated in his donation of land for the site of Taisekiji and his becoming a lay priest at the age of 74. By emphasizing these points Reverend Nakamoto bleaches the significance of Nanjo Tokimitsu and presents an image of faith that has little to do with Nichiren Buddhism; in so doing Reverend Nakamoto clips the very wings of faith.

What type of person was Tokimitsu? What caused his deep faith? Tokimitsu’s faith was like flowing water but flowing water can either trickle or it can surge forward with unstoppable force. Deleting the very drama of Tokimitsu’s life, Reverend Nakamoto presents the trickling version of a suppliant and obedient follower. In fact, however, the faith of Nanjo Tokimitsu poured with unrelenting force and this is why he can be understood as the very crux of practice for all believers and especially for all youth.

Reverend Nakamoto is at fault for neglecting to relate why the Tokimitsu family felt such debts of gratitude to Nichiren that resulted in their many contributions. Yet it is within the very drama of the mentor-disciple relationship that Buddhism lives. These bonds were forged as Nanjo Tokimitsu and his family struggled against the raging onset of sickness, death, and persecution by the Three Powerful Enemies. This essay will focus on how Nichiren encouraged the family through encounters with death.

This story begins with Tokimitsu’s mother, Ueno-ama Gozen, whose life was marked with many sufferings. Her husband, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro, died in 1265. He was still in the prime of his life and was survived by five young sons and daughters with Tokimitsu, the second son, only 7. The depths of the mentor’s concern for his disciple can be seen in one of Nichiren’s letters to her:

When your husband, the late Lord Ueno, preceded you in death… your grief on that occasion was no shallow matter. Had you not been pregnant with his child. I know you would have followed him through fire and water. Yet when this son was safely born, you felt that it would be unthinkable to entrust his upbringing to another so that you could put an end to your life. Thus you encouraged yourself and spent the following fourteen or fifteen years raising your children. (MW-7, 247-48)

The child to whom he refers is Shichiro Goro. The mother looked forward to the growth of Tokimitsu and Shichiro Goro with great hopes. Nichiren describes Shichiro Goro as handsome, intelligent, well-liked by others, and very dutiful toward his mother. Yet at the age of 16 he died unexpectedly.

Compassion is the spirit to suffer alongside and pray with those suffering and Nichiren possessed such a spirit.[2] He joined Ueno-ama Gozen in her grief and continued to offer her encouragement until she regained the will to go on living. During the first year or so after Shichiro Goro’s death, the Daishonin sent approximately 10 letters to the Nanjo family! He responded immediately as soon as he heard the news of Shichiro Goro’s death:

On the matter of the death of Nanjo Shichiro Goro, all people, once born, are certain to die. This is known to all people, both the wise and the foolish, both those of high and low standing. Therefore, when that time comes, one should not lament or be alarmed as though learning this for the first time. I have borne this in mind myself and also taught it to others. But since the time has actually arrived, I cannot help wondering even now whether this [Shichiro Goro’s death] is a dream or fantasy. (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1567) (3)

Although having a correct understanding of life and death, hearing the unexpected report, Nichiren was in disbelief wondering whether it was “a dream or fantasy.” He further wrote the event was “defying reason,” so painful and unreal that “it doesn’t seem real to me [that he has died], and so I do not feel inclined to continue.” Later he writes, “And so, for the first time, I have become convinced of its truth” (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1566). It is clear how side-by-side with the Tokimitsu family Nichiren goes through the psychological steps of grieving.

Reverend Nakamoto does not discuss in his sermon the Buddhist value of compassion which is at the heart of the unfolding relationship between Nichiren and the Tokimitsu family.
Nor does he take the opportunity in his discussion of Nanjo Tokimitsu to convey that a genuine Buddha lives among the people, grieves and suffers with them and shares their hopes and laughter. That’s exactly how Nichiren conducted himself; Reverend Nakamoto should have instructed his followers that they should stir up the same level of compassion. The heart of Nichiren has absolutely no tolerance for cold slogans, theories, or words. He understood that someone battling destiny feels like there is a gale raging through his or her heart. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda states:

When we encounter people in such a state, we should stand with them in the rain, become sopping wet with them and work with them to find a way out of the storm. In the end, that’s probably all another human being can do. Even if the attempt is not totally successful, through making this effort we forge a bond between ourselves and the other person. This is not mere sympathy or sentimentality. The effort to regard someone else’s suffering as your own and thus offer prayer for its resolution creates a life-to-life bond. Through this bond one person touches another’s life.

It was through such actions and state of life that Nichiren built life-to-life bonds with the Tokimitsu family. The family, their hearts made sensitive by sadness, must have keenly felt the Daishonin’s kindness, which pervades each line of the condolence letter he sent to the Nanjo family. How the Daishonin’s warmth must have consoled their grief-stricken hearts! Simply having someone who understands everything can give people the strength to go on living. As the family began to recover Nichiren gave encouragement and clarification of the meaning of her son’s death from the Buddhist perspective. By this example, Nichiren displayed his ability to relate to any human being, never placing himself on a pedestal. Instead he uses the power of words and an unparalleled poetic spirit to touch the canvass of human life:

You must feel that if only he [your son Shichiro Goro] had left word where you could go to meet him, then without wings, you would soar to the heavens, or without a boat, you would cross over to China. If you heard that he was in the bowels of the earth, then how could you fail to dig through the earth? And yet there is a way to meet him readily. With Shakyamuni Buddha as your guide, you can go to meet him in the pure land of Eagle Peak. (MW-7, 262)

With these bonds firmly established Nanjo Tokimitsu proudly walked the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple. This was keenly apparent a few years later when the family was persecuted for their support of Nichiren as they fearlessly protected believers during the Atsuhara persecution. On this matter SGI President Ikeda says:

[Nanjo] Tokimitsu fought as befits a youth — with courage and the fearlessness of a lion — amid the plots of evil priests in collusion with corrupt authorities, amid the intrigues of base traitors and those who had abandoned their faith. The Daishonin says to Tokimitsu: “When those of rank reproach you for your faith, think of them as worthy adversaries of the Lotus Sutra. Consider it an opportunity as rare as the blossoming of the udumbara plant, or the blind turtle encountering a floating sandalwood log, and reply to them firmly and resolutely” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin I, pp. 800-01).

The Daishonin instructs Tokimitsu to fight back with the spirit of youth, responding to unjust persecutions by welcoming them and eagerly taking up the struggle. The Daishonin further states: “Shamelessly pretending friendship, they will try to maneuver you into recanting, with the intention of later laughing at you and letting others ridicule you as well. Let them say all they have to say. Then tell them, ‘Instead of advising me in the presence of many people, why don’t you admonish yourselves first?’ With this remark, abruptly rise from your seat and depart” (WND, 801).

In contrast, Reverend Nakamoto is completely silent on the model Nanjo Tokimitsu sets for youth; there appears to be no concern for his youth. Nor does he talk about the eternal struggle to expand truth and justice over evil forces. There is no analysis about the virtue of courage which is a core facet of Nichiren Buddhism. Reverend Nakamoto had only one opportunity to give his first lecture in New York; his was a great disappointment.

Where is there a modern-day example of Nanjo Tokimitsu? The Sixty-sixth Nichiren Shoshu high priest Nittatsu praised the Soka Gakkai’s sincere efforts for kosen-rufu as comparable to those of Nanjo Tokimitsu. At the ceremony for the dedication of the newly rebuilt main hall of Myoren-ji temple in 1974, Nittatsu stated:

Now, in 1974, exactly 642 years after Nanjo Tokimitsu’s death, there is an outstanding individual of great devotion who has embraced the spirit of Nanjo Tokimitsu. This is Daisaku Ikeda, head of all Nichiren Shoshu lay organizations. Thanks to the efforts of this person, both at the head temple and at branch temples, old buildings have been reconstructed, new temples have been built, believers have been increasing daily, and in one great leap Nichiren Shoshu has become known throughout the world as a major religion. This is by virtue of Daisaku Ikeda’s profound faith and his meritorious accomplishments. Indeed, he may be called the Nanjo Tokimitsu of our age.

[2] This section is taken from a lecture by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on the Gosho “A Letter of Condolence.” The lecture can be found at http://www.sgi-usa.org/buddhism/library/SokaGakkai/Study/LearnGosho/Lecture14.htm.


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