1) ADHERENCE TO THE SUTRA AND THE HISTORICAL NICHIREN SHÔNIN’S TEACHING
Consider the unique, fair-minded attitude of Nichijû who at the end of life instructed his disciples: “‘If anything, even though recorded in Nichijû’s record, goes against the fundamental intention of the works of the Great Saint, one ought not take it as a basis’; by no means should it go against the Sutra, the Works [of Nichiren Shônin] and the Commentaries which are the fundamental intention of the Great Teachers [Tendai, Dengyô]” (“Nichiun ki”, p. 58, cited in the Kempon Hokke Seiten, p. 639).
In effect, Nichijû, unlike other leaders of various groups, humbled himself before the Sutra and the Patriarch and allowed whatever he said to be corrected in the light of further study. This is the perfect embodiment of the faith that “relies on the Dharma and does not rely on people”, as Nichiren Shônin repeatedly explained based following the injunction of the Great Parinirvana Sutra (Daihatsunehangyô) (Chapter of the Tathagata Nature” (T.12.401b))
Other sects have no real mandate for self-reform and correction; the Kempon Hokke, on the other hand, has such an admonition deriving from its founder: “We adhere directly to the Sutra and Nichiren Shônin”; “We return directly to the doctrine of Nichiren Shônin.” Naturally this does not mean that this ideal has always been carried out in practice, for even in the Kempon Hokke there are those who urge blind adherence to whatever was set before them rather than an objective reading of the Sutra and the words of the historical Nichiren Shônin. Nevertheless, the ideal is there, a constant challenge to us to restore the ancient faith of the Sutra and Nichiren Shônin. Other sects either exalt their supposed secret doctrines, or rely on their possession of historical sites related to the Saint but ignore his clear words, even when their own best scholars know what these words are and what they mean. It is almost as if many sects claiming to derive from Nichiren Shônin are embarrassed by their own eponymous patriarch. Still others actually follow the elaborate and preconceived ideas of their founders for interpreting Nichiren Shônin, somethimes going beyond what Nichiren Shônin said.
2) THE HOMMON IS SUPERIOR TO THE SHAKUMON
The Jûmonryû believed that the Hommon (the second half of the Hokekyô where the Eternal Life of the Buddha Shakyamuni is revealed) is superior to the Shakumon (the first half where the Attainment of Buddhahood by the Two Vehicles and the abstract or ideal Reality of All Dharmas (Data, Phenomena) is shown; over the years I came to believe that this was, indeed, the position of the historical Nichiren Shônin: he strongly asserted this to his favorite disciple (who was probably a relative by blood or marriage) Toki Tsunenobu (1216-1291): (Shôwa Teihon Nichiren Shônin ibun (Abbreviated STN), v. 2, pp. 1518, 1519, 1522 (extant autograph) (When Rev. Kubota sent me the first volume of the works of the famous martyr Jôrakuin Nikkyô I was very pleased to see that he had used the same proof texts to assert the superiority of the Hommon!)
3) THE SPIRIT OF SHAKUBUKU AND SELF-SACRIFICE
The old priests of the Jûmonryû were activists more than theorists and when under the pressure of the anti-Nichiren policies of the hegemons of the late sixteenth century (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu) the priests of the various Nichiren groups gave in and followed the government’s orders to accept official offerings (offerings of non-believers) and to refrain from assertive propagation by criticizing other sects (shakubuku), some of the Jûmonryû priests, most notably Jorakuin Nikkyô Shônin (1551-1620) and the priests and laity of Noda (1635), refused to compromise and suffered for their faith, thus further fulfilling the prophecy of the Sutra often cited by Nichiren Shônin:
“After the Extinction of the Buddha,
In the midst of the frightful evil era,
We shall widely preach it.
Though there shall be people without wisdom,
Bad mouthing and cursing and so on,
As well as those inflicting swords and cudgels,
We shall endure them all.”
“Evil demons shall enter their bodies,
And shall curse and demean us”
“And we shall repeatedly be expelled
Far away from the stupas and temples.”
“We shall not cherish bodily life
But only spare the Supreme Way.”
(From my translation© of the Hokekyô)
From 1609 the true Jûmonryû suffered as an underground sect known by various names such as the Hommon shôgi shu or “Congregation (or Sangha) of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Hommon”, holding the Old Orthodox Doctrine of Nichijû (Nichijû koshôgi) which I sometimes translate as the “Right Old Doctrine.” They refused to give alms to or receive them from other sects; their priests were outlawed and finally died out in the 1780’s. A few of the lay confraternities that followed the old way still survive but I suspect have largely forgotten the real reason for their existence. The underground groups such as the “Confraternity of the Daimoku Inner Realization” (Naishô Daimoku Kô) continued the strict faith as best they could. Sometimes they were driven to extremes such as divorcing non-believing spouses by the harsh conditions of Tokugawa society but in general their simple, strict faith was on the mark. (I wish to say that I am very grateful to Rev. Kubota for having introduced me to their story in his work “Nichijû to deshitachi — Kempon Hokke junkyô shi” (Nichijû and His Disciples — the History of the Kempon Hokke Martyrs): it was this book that convinced me that parts of the Jûmonryû kept alive the faith of the historical Nichiren Shônin).
On a personal note, you might say that I am close to the old strict believers in some ways. I wish to uphold their ideals going back to Nichijû who himself merely wished to return to Nichiren Shônin’s own position; in effect, I am a pragmatic, Sutra-oriented reformer and restorationist.
4) HONEST SELF-CRITICISM AND SELF-REFORM
One of the highest virtues promoted by Nichiren Shônin is honesty and Nichijû Shôshi has provided us with the mandate for self-criticism: it must be admitted that those Jûmonryû priests, like who remained “above ground” in the official Tokugawa temple system were off the mark on the issue of government donations and submission to the authorities. However, their famous writers were fairly good theoretically in grasping Nichiren Shônin’s “metaphysics.” It should also be stated even among these theorists down to modern times there have been some significant variations in emphasis and disagreements on specific points. However, we can say that the Jûmonryû tradition was clearly headed in the right direction even though it was not infallible. As was noted above, it is the self-corrective aspect with the Sutra and the historical Nichiren Shônin as the touchstones of orthodoxy that distinguishes this tradition. We can give some examples of this honest self-criticism and self correction:
During the Tokugawa period the officially-recognized Jûmonryû omitted the martyr Jôrakuin Nikkyô’s name from the list of Myômanji abbots and it was not restored until the Meiji period at the insistence of Rev. Honda Nisshô (Hasegawa, “Jûmon kyôgaku dentô shi”, p. 66). They also drove out the priest Nemmyô of Zenryûji when he challenged and defeated the Itchi-ha priest Ryôgi Nichidatsu (1674-1747) in 1725; over a century later the famous Jûmonryû scholar Eishôin Nichikan (1806-1869), reflecting on Nemmyô angrily accused the authorities of the Jûmonryû (Myômanji and so on) of cowardice and said they would burn in hell (Hasegawa, “Jûmon kyôgaku dentô shi”, p. 114-116).
In light of Nichiren Shônin’s exaltation of honesty and integrity and the Jûmonryû mandate of self-criticism , let us be blunt: our sect has often had a rather sad history in recent times yet Rev. Honda and others were able to in some extent to revive the Jûmonryû tradition and after reluctantly accepting a government-mandated union with the Nichirenshû in the 1940’s due to the war, Rev. Nakagawa Nisshi was able to declare the independence of the Kempon Hokke Sect again. However, we must admit that it is now in a decline in many places held back only by people such as Rev. Kubota. We must pray that it can revive in Japan but It is now our task to restore and transmit its highest ideals to the West.
5) FAITH IN THE DHARMA AND NOT IN TEMPLES OR OBJECTS
We need not be fearful or ashamed of the state of Myômanji or any other particular temple: the main point of the Kempon Hokke, firmly rooted in faith, lies in the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha, not buildings or supposedly efficacious magical objects. That is why we make little of priestly successions and possession of certain temples, even those with an historical connection to Nichiren Shônin: the succession is through the scrolls of the Sutra (kyôgan sôjô), not through some supposed line of priests directly from Nichiren Shônin or through owning a particular temple. Here, too, we see the fulfillment of the Buddha’s admonition, cited above, to “rely on the Dharma,not on people.”
6) THE SMALL GROUP SHALL BELIEVE IN AND DEFEND THE DHARMA
We should not be embarrassed by the relatively small number of believers in the Kempon Hokke, either here or in Japan, for the Great Parinirvana Sutra (Daihatsunehangyô) predicts that those who believe in the True Dharma will be like the earth on a fingernail while those who do not believe will be like the dirt from the worlds of the ten directions (Fascicle 33, “The Chapter of the Bodhisattva Kashyapa”, (T.12..563a)). Those who keep the Truth will be a small minority while those who delude the world and do evil against those defenders of the Truth will be legion.
What we Kempon Hokke beleivers must do is establish in the West the old faith, true to its inner ideals but adjusted to our time and circumstances and corrected, insofar as necessary, to agree with the Sutra text and Nichiren Shônin’s genuine works which have now been thoroughly studied by modern historians. (A really systematic historical and literary study of Nichiren Shônin’s works began only in the Edo Period (1603-1867) and it was only with the investigation of his autographs in the Meiji period (1868-1912) that a good idea of his whole canon could be begin and pave the way for historical and literary studies that have eliminated many forgeries attributed to him). It is only now in the second half of the twentieth century that we have ability to determine with reasonable accuracy what the historical Nichiren Shônin’s teachings were, free of later additions and distortions. Thus it is in this era that more perfectly than ever before we can realize Nichijû’s goal of restoring the historical Nichiren Shônin’s authentic faith.
I hope that the Kempon Hokke believers now left in America will join in this effort; I hope and pray that even if the Kempon Hokke Sect in Japan should fail, there will be enough knowledge of the old and true way of Nichiren Shônin and of the inspiring example of those Jûmonryû teachers and martyrs of long ago that the true faith will live on here, a light in the growing darkness of the Latter Dharma.
H. Graham Lamont