The Gonan-e Ceremony becomes truly 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.
Tatsunokuchi Persecution was one of the four major persecutions Nichiren
Daishonin underwent in order to attest to the validity of the 20-line verse of
the Encouraging Devotion (Kanji, thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
Basically, the “20-line verse of the Encouraging Devotionchapter”
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.
is the Tatsunokuchi Persecution that led Nichiren Daishonin to discard his
transient identity as Bodhisattva Jogyo and proclaim his true identity as the
True 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
Gokurakuji 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.
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.
Daishonin used the interrogation as an opportunity to warn the government that
if it continued to support incorrect teachings and heretical priests, then an
outbreak of internal strife and also foreign invasion would surely occur.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Daishonin escaped the execution but did not escape the original plan to banish
him, and he was sent to Sado Island on October10, 1271.
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
“The Opening of the Eyes” ("Kaimoku-sho") the Daishonin
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 Lotus Sutra? (Gosho, p. 541; M.W., Vol. 2, p. 120)
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” the Daishonin states:
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. (Gosho, p. 563; M.W.,
Vol. 2, p. 177)
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
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:
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. (Gosho, p. 1063; M.W.,
Vol. 1, pp.186–87)
Daishonin also states in “On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings”:
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. (Gosho, p.
670; M.W., Vol. 1, p. 99)
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