The Ryūsen-ji Petition Chapter3

The Ryūsen-ji Petition Chapter3


Rumor has it that the government authorities have summoned eminent priests and directed them to conduct prayers for the defeat of the forces of the Mongol state. But an examination of the records reveals that in the Genryaku era [of Emperor Antoku] and the Jōkyū era [of the Retired Emperor Gotoba] the chief priests of Mount Hiei, the prelate of Tō-ji,16 the supervisors and chief officials of the seven major temples of Nara and Onjō-ji, along with various True Word priests, were summoned to the imperial court and in Shishin-den Palace conducted imprecations directed at the late Minamoto no Yoritomo, General of the Right, and the late Hōjō Yasutoki.

Conducting ceremonies of this kind will, if the participants do so for their own sake, bring about their demise, and if they are intended for more forceful aims, they will assuredly cause the downfall of the ruler as well. Hence it was that Emperor Antoku sank beneath the waters of the western sea; Myōun, the chief priest of Mount Hiei, was struck and killed by a stray arrow; the Retired Emperor Gotoba was exiled and abandoned on a barbarian island;17 the prelate of Tō-ji died on Mount Kōya;18 and another chief priest of Mount Hiei19 suffered the shame of being driven out of office. The penalties resulting from such ceremonies appeared before people’s very eyes, worthy men of later times were filled with fear, and the sage of whom we have spoken grieves over these events in his mountain retreat.


This document from the priests Nisshū and Nichiben was submitted to the legal court of the Kamakura government in the tenth month of 1279. Later, it was titled The Ryūsen-ji Petition, but recent consideration of the format and content shows it is not a petition but a letter of vindication submitted to the government.

Nichiren Daishonin reviewed a draft of the document written by Toki Jōnin and revised it, substantially adding to the first part. The first half refers to matters of doctrine and the latter to details of fact.

This document was written during the Atsuhara Persecution. The Atsuhara Persecution refers to a series of oppressive acts and threats against followers of the Daishonin in Atsuhara Village of Fuji District, Suruga Province, that spanned nearly three years and culminated in the execution of three believers on the fifteenth day of the tenth month in 1279 (on the eighth day of the fourth month in 1280 by another account).

Around 1275, after the Daishonin had taken up residence at Minobu, propagation of his teachings began to progress substantially in the Fuji area under Nikkō’s leadership. At Ryūsen-ji, a temple of the Tendai school in Atsuhara, Nikkō converted several of the younger priests—including Shimotsuke-bō, Echigo-bō, and Shō-bō—who became the Daishonin’s disciples and took the names Nisshū, Nichiben, and Nichizen respectively. And these priests converted a number of local farmers. Alarmed at the p.828defection of the priests and lay supporters, Gyōchi, a lay priest and a member of the ruling Hōjō clan who acted as the deputy chief priest of the temple, used his connections with the authorities to suppress their activities and expel the converted priests from the temple. Hence the Daishonin oversaw the completion of the document to be submitted by Nisshū and Nichiben.

The text addresses the complaint Gyōchi has filed against them, countering his false charges. The complaint raises two major points and the text of the document can be divided into two parts accordingly.

The first part refers to the fact that the two calamities—revolt within one’s own domain and invasion from foreign lands—which the Daishonin had prophesized in his 1260 treatise On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land, have in fact come to pass, and asserts that the Daishonin should be regarded as a sage to whom the leadership should turn for the means to protect the nation. Then it points out the futility of True Word prayers conducted for the defeat of the Mongol forces, citing precedents from history. This part ends with the refutation of the provisional sutras, in particular the Amida Sutra.

The latter portion of the document seeks to expose the falsehood of the charges lodged by Gyōchi that a number of armed persons broke into his compound, reaped the rice crop, and carried it off to the compound occupied by Nisshū. In addition, it cites specific examples of Gyōchi’s unpriestly and criminal behavior such as instigating murder and hunting. Lastly, it calls on the authorities to make careful investigation of the charges in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings and the legal codes, and to dismiss Gyōchi from his position and allow Nisshū and Nichiben to occupy their assigned quarters. Such just actions in support of the practitioners of the correct teaching, it says, will bring peace and security to the country.



16. The prelate of Tō-ji most probably refers to the prelate of Omuro (Ninna-ji temple in Kyoto), Prince Dōjo, who was the central figure in conducting True Word prayers for the defeat of Kamakura during the Jōkyū Disturbance in 1221. The original of this text can read either “the prelate [of] Tō-ji” or “the prelate [and] Tō-ji,” but the original of another writing of the Daishonin includes the expression “the chief priest of Mount Hiei and the prelate of Tō-ji.” The translators have adopted this interpretation. The Daishonin referred to Prince Dōjo as the prelate of Tō-ji probably in the sense that Tō-ji represents the True Word school or that the prelate of Omuro virtually dominated Tō-ji as well.

17. Antoku, still a child at the time, drowned in 1185 during a sea battle at Dannoura, where the Taira met their final defeat at the hands of the Minamoto. Myōun was respectively the fifty-fifth and fifty-seventh chief priest of Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai school, on Mount Hiei. When Myōun visited the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa at his palace in 1183, it was attacked by forces led by Minamoto no Yoshinaka, a general of the Minamoto clan, and he was struck and killed by a stray arrow. In 1221, the Retired Emperor Gotoba, together with the reigning emperor and the two retired emperors, attempted to overthrow the military government in Kamakura, but his forces were defeated by those of the Kamakura regent Hōjō Yoshitoki, under the leadership of his eldest son, Yasutoki. Gotoba was exiled to the island of Oki in the Sea of Japan.

18. That “the prelate of Tō-ji,” Prince Dōjo, died on Mount Kōya is described in The Biographies of Eminent Priests of Japan.

19. This refers to Sonkai, the seventy-third chief priest of Enryaku-ji temple on Mount Hiei. He was a son of the Retired Emperor Gotoba. He was driven out of office in 1221.

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