|Part of a series on|
|Buddhism in Japan|
Nikkō (日興, 1246–1333), also known as Nikkō Shōnin, is the founder of a major branch of Nichiren Buddhism that includes the present-day Nichiren Shōshū school of Japanese Buddhism. His full Buddhist name was Hawaki-bō Byakuren Ajari Nikkō (伯耆房 白蓮阿闍梨 日興).
Nikko was born at Kajikazawa in Koma District of Kai Province. His father, Oi-no Kitsuroku, died when Nikko was a child. He was raised by his grandfather. As a child, he entered the Tendai temple Shijuku-in, in Suruga Province. He received his education here, which as well as Tendai doctrine, included Chinese classics, Japanese literature, poetry, calligraphy, as well as other subjects.
Conversion to Nichiren's teachings
In 1257, Nichiren visited Jisso-ji Temple, which was closely affiliated with Shijuku-in Temple, to study at the sutra library for His 'Rissho Ankoku Ron' (Eng. Establishing the Correct teaching for the Peace of the Land). Nikko served Nichiren here, and decided to become His disciple.
He served Nichiren closely from then until the latter's passing. According to historical documents of Nichiren Shoshu, Nikkō accompanied Nichiren on his two exiles. Nikko is credited with preserving many of Nichiren's voluminous writings. He was particularly careful to ensure the survival of Nichiren's many letters written in simple language (Kana) for uneducated followers.
As one of Nichiren's senior disciples
On October 8, 1282, Nikkō was one of six senior priests whom Nichiren designated to carry on his faith after his death. According to Nichiren Shōshū doctrine, on October 13 Nichiren further designated Nikkō the chief priest of Kuon-ji, the temple at Mt. Minobu where Nichiren had spent the last years of his life, in a document called Minobu-zan Fuzoku-sho ("Document entrusting Mt. Minobu"); however, the authenticity of this document is disputed by other branches of Nichiren. Later that day, Nichiren died at Ikegami, now part of Tokyo.
Following Nichiren's funeral, Nikkō left Ikegami on October 21 to carry Nichiren's ashes back to Mt. Minobu, arriving on October 25. On the hundredth-day anniversary of Nichiren's death, Nikkō, the other five senior priests, and their disciples conducted a 100th-day memorial service, after which the others departed for the localities where they were active.
From then on Nikkō carried out his duties as chief priest of Kuon-ji, teaching disciples and looking after the laity. Central to his work was attending to Nichiren's tomb, and collecting and cataloging Nichiren's many writings, all to ensure the untainted perpetuation of Nichiren's teachings.
Over the following years, the other five senior priests only rarely returned to Mt. Minobu, and they began to slowly deviate from what Nikkō viewed as Nichiren's orthodox teachings. For example, some started to worship images of Sakyamuni Buddha or to identify themselves as priests of the Tendai school. The steward of the district, a convert of Nikkō's called Hagiri Sanenaga, also began to commit "heresies"—actions such as building a private temple dedicated to the Buddha Amida and visiting Shinto shrines—with assurances from one of the other six senior priests, Mimbu Nikō (民部日向, 1253–1314), that this was acceptable.
These developments eventually led Nikkō to conclude that the spirit of Nichiren could no longer reside at Mt. Minobu, and that Kuon-ji was not the place for perpetuating Nichiren's teachings. As the priest whom Nichiren had selected to be his sole successor as high priest, Nikkō decided it was time to leave.
Nikkō left Mt. Minobu with his disciples in the spring of 1289. Nanjo Tokimitsu, a lay believer residing near Mt. Fuji in today's Fujinomiya, offered them a place to stay, later donating a tract of land for a new temple that became Taiseki-ji Temple. Taiseki-ji is today the head temple of the Nichiren Shōshū school and, since its founding on October 12, 1290, has always been a major center of the Kōmon-ha (興門派, also called the 富士派: Fuji-ha) branch of Nichiren Buddhism, as the schools stemming from Nikkō were traditionally known.
After his involvement with the founding of Taiseki-ji, Nikkō named his disciple Nichimoku (1260–1333) as his successor and retired a few miles away to Omosu, where he founded a seminary and temple, Ikegami Honmon-ji, and concentrated on training disciples until his death in the second lunar month of 1333 at the age of 87.
Legitimacy as Nichiren's successor
Some followers of the Nichiren schools stemming from Nikkō, in particular Nichiren Shōshū, view Nikkō as the sole legitimate successor to Nichiren and therefore the high priest of the school. This is based on a document dated the ninth lunar month of 1282 called the Nichiren ichigo guhō fuzoku-sho ("Document assigning all the teachings spread by Nichiren during his lifetime"). In this document, Nichiren entrusts the "entirety of his lifetime of teaching" to Nikkō and names him the "supreme leader of propagation of the true teaching". Schools stemming from the other five elders, many of which are now amalgamated into Nichiren Shu based at Kuon-ji, reject this claim, as the document does not exist in Nichiren's hand or any of His immediate disciples.
Some of Nikkō's direct disciples also eventually spawned schools that deviated to some degree or another from the doctrines maintained by Taiseki-ji, often due to political pressure or internal power plays. Over their history, these sub-schools, sometimes no more than single temples, have reverted to and separated themselves from Taisekiji repeatedly; in the post-war period.
Original Japanese terms
- The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: "Nikko"
- Nikkō Shōnin Nichimoku Shōnin Shōden (日興上人･日目上人正伝: "Orthodox biography of Nikkō Shōnin and Nichimoku Shōnin"), Taisekiji, 1982
- Nichiren Daishōnin Shōden (日蓮大聖人正伝: "Orthodox biography of Nichiren Daishōnin"), Taisekiji, 1981
- The Life of Nichiren Daishonin. Kirimura, Yasuji. Nichiren Shoshu International Center (no longer connected to Nichiren Shoshu), 1980