Nikkō (priest)

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Nichiren Shoshu doctrines teach that the tortoise shell crest is the symbol attributed to High Priest Nikko Shonin. From a Kosode Kimono, early 19th century.
The Kuon-Ji Temple of Mount Minobu, which Nikko administered as its chief priest.

Nikkō (日興?, 1246 — 7 February 1333; Buddhist name: Hawaki-bō Byakuren Ajari Nikkō (伯耆房 白蓮阿闍梨 日興)), also known as Nikkō Shōnin is a senior disciple of Nichiren and was the former chief priest of Kuon-ji temple in Mount Minobu, Japan. As one of the six senior disciples of Nichiren, he then became the founder of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism within the Mount Fuji vicinity. Nikko is prominently known for enshrining the venerated Dai-Gohonzon mandala. In addition, Nikko is known for inscribing the Ogazawari Gohonzon inside the Dai Kyakuden Hall where the Ushitora Gongyo is performed daily by the Nichiren Shoshu High Priest.

According to the doctrines of the Nichiren Shoshu school, Nikko singularly upheld the doctrine that Nichiren was the True and Eternal Buddha in the Latter Age of the Law (Mappo) and therefore is the sole legitimate successor to the ministry and legacy of Nichiren. His official crest used today is the tortoise shell, a popular symbol of longevity. Nikko is also known for his notable handiwork of keeping meticulous temple records during his lifetime, along with a sternful keeping of a highly organized religious practice, much of recorded research that survives today in both Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu repositories.

Two disputed graves are attributed to Nikko Shonin, one graveyard is located inside the Taisekiji complex, while another is located in Omosu, in Suruga Province where according to pious legends, he established a Buddhist seminary, later defecting to the Nichiren Shu religion. The Koshi-E memorial feast of his death anniversary is commemorated on February 7.

Early life[edit]

Nikkō was born at Kajikazawa in Koma District of Kai Province.[1] His father, Oi-no Kitsuroku was from Totumi province and later moved to Kai province while maintaining his samurai career. Nikko's mother was from the Shizuoka prefecture. He died when Nikkō was a child. He was raised by his grandfather. As a child, he entered the Tendai temple Shijuku-in, in Fujiwakabacho, Iwabuchi. He received his education here, which as well as Tendai doctrine, included Chinese classics, Japanese literature, poetry, calligraphy, as well as other subjects.[1]

Conversion to Nichiren's teachings[edit]

In 1257, Nichiren visited Jisso-ji Temple closely affiliated with Shijuku-in Temple where he studied various Buddhist sutras in its library for his treatise 'Risshō Ankoku Ron' (立正安国論, Eng. Establishing the Correct teaching for the Peace of the Land). Nikkō served Nichiren here, and vowed to become his disciple. In addition, Nikko also accompanied Nichiren on his two exiles. Nikkō is also 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 characters (Kana) for uneducated followers.

One of Nichiren's six senior disciples[edit]

On 8 October 1282, Nikkō became one of the 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 in Yamanashi prefecture, where Nichiren had spent the last years of his life as purportedly recorded in a transfer document called Minobu-zan Fuzoku-sho[1] ("Document entrusting Mt. Minobu"); however, the authenticity of this document is disputed by other branches of Nichiren. Later that same day, Nichiren died at Ikegami, now part of Tokyo.

Following Nichiren's funeral ceremonies, Nikkō left Ikegami on October 21 to carry Nichiren's ashes back to Mount Minobu, arriving on October 25. On the centenarian 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 their own territories where they were most active. Nikkō carried out his duties as chief priest of Kuon-ji, teaching disciples and looking after the laity. Central to his work was attending, cleaning and maintaining Nichiren's tomb, and collecting and cataloguing Nichiren's many writings for preservation and perpetuation.

Later feelings of animosity and regret grew in the following years as Nikko claims that the other five senior priests rarely returned to Nichiren's tomb in Mount Minobu. In addition, Nikko charges that after Nichiren's death, the other disciples slowly began to gradually deviate from what Nikkō viewed as Nichiren's orthodox teachings. Chief among these complaints is the syncretism by some of the disciples to worship images of both Shakyamuni Buddha while admonishing other disciple priests for signing their names of the Tendai school in the subsequent documents notarized and sent to the Kamakura government. Accordingly, Nikko's own converted shakubuku, the steward of the temple district, Hagiri Sanenaga, also began to commit unorthodox practice deemed to be heretical such as building a private temple dedicated to the Amida Buddha, giving monetary donations, a horse and lumber to a nearby Pure Land stupa memorial along with visiting Shintō shrines—with assurances from another senior disciple, Mimbu Nikō (民部日向, 1253–1314), that these were acceptable acts.

Such developments eventually led Nikkō to conclude that Nichiren's enlightened entity no longer reside and continue at Mount Minobu. Furthermore, he felt that Kuon-ji was not the place for perpetuating Nichiren's teachings causing him to pack up his belongings, and allegedly some relics belonging to Nichiren to depart, never to return back. Nikkō left Mount Minobu with a group of select disciples in the spring of 1289. Nanjo Shichijo-jiro Tokimitsu was a lay believer residing near Mount Fuji offered them sanctuary 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 12 October 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.

Upon nearing death, Nikkō named his disciple Nichimoku (1260–1333) as his successor and passed onto him the Ozagawari Gohonzon now enshrined inside the Dai-Kyakuden, along with his Juzu beads made of Crystal and Shimamenu Onyx which are now preserved in the Gohozo building of Taisekiji. Nikko then retired a few miles away to Omosu, Suruga Province where he founded a seminary and temple, Ikegami Honmon-ji now a part of Nichiren Shu, and concentrated on training disciples until his death in the second lunar month of 1333 at the age of 87. Two disputed graves are attributed to Nikko, the first being in the Taisekiji temple complex while the other is at the Buddhist seminary of Omosu, marked by their respective graveyards.

Buddhist articles claimed to have been brought to Taisekiji[edit]

According to the doctrinal beliefs of Nichiren Shoshu, Nikko Shonin left Mount Minobu with several articles pertaining to Nichiren, namely the following:

  • The Dai Gohonzon Mandala
  • Transfer inheritance documents of his legitimacy as chief priest of Kuon-ji and as successor
  • Several Gohonzon mandalas inscribed by Nichiren
  • Partial bones and ashes of Nichiren
  • The Onikuge, a piece of tooth belonging to Nichiren
  • A candlestick, koro incense burner and vase Nichiren used when summoning rain during times of drought for the peasant devotees.

Legitimacy as Nichiren's successor[edit]

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[2] ("Document assigning all the teachings spread by Nichiren during his lifetime"). In this document, Nichiren entrusts the "entirety of his lifetime of teaching[3]" to Nikkō and names him the "supreme leader of propagation of the true teaching[4]". 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[edit]

  1. ^ 身延山付嘱書, also called the Ikegami sōjō (池上相承) "Succession document [written at] Ikegami"
  2. ^ 日蓮一期弘法付嘱書: Nichiren ichigo guhō fuzoku-sho
  3. ^ 日蓮一期の弘法: Nichiren ichigo no guhō
  4. ^ 本門弘通の大導師: Honmon Guzū no Daidōshi


  1. ^ a b The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism: "Nikkō"


  • 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 (a former department of the Soka Gakkai), 1980

External links[edit]