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THE PRIEST
NIKKO SHONIN
NIKKO SHONIN, also known as Byakuren Aiari Nikko, was Nichiren Daishonin's successor, thus the
second high priest of Nichiren Shoshu and the founder of its head temple, Taiseki.ji He was born at
Kajikazawa in Koma District of Kai Province. His father's name was Oi no Kitsuroku and his mother
belonged to the Yui family in Fuji. His father died while he was a child and his mother married into
another family, so he was raised by his maternal grandfather.

At the age of seven he entered Shijuku-in, a Tendai temple in Suruga Province, where, in addition to
the Tendai doctrine, he studied the Chinese classics, Japanese literature, poetry, calligraphy and other
subjects. Shijuku-in was closely affiliated with Jisso-ji, another Tendai temple in nearby Iwamoto. In
1258 Nichiren Daishonin visited Jisso-ji to do research in its sutra library in preparation for the
writing of his "Rissho Ankoku Ron." Nikko had an opportunity to serve him there, and was moved to
become the Daishonin's disciple. Daishonin gave him the name Hoki-bo Nikko. He was then thirteen.

From that time on, he devotedly served the Daishonin. He joined the Daishonin in his exile on Izu,
where he converted the Shingon priest Kongo-in Gyoman who then took the name Nichigyo and
renamed his temple Daijo-ji (Mahayana temple). Nikko Shonin also went into exile with the Daishonin
on Sado Island. After the Daishonin returned from Sado and had his third remonstration with the
government, he decided to leave Kamakura. At that time, Nikko Shonin arranged with Lord Hakiri
Sanenaga, who was one of his converts and the steward of the area that included Mt. Minobu, for the
Daishonin to live in retirement there.

Nikko Shonin carried out significant propagation efforts centering in Kai, Suruga and Izu, and also
spread to other provinces. As the number of converts, including farmers, increased, so did the
pressure on the Daishonin's followers. First among them to be persecuted were young priests who had
converted to Daishonin’s teaching from Shijuku-ji temple, and thus were expelled. At Ryusen-ji
temple in Atsuhara, the deputy chief priest Gyochi threatened the priests, including Nisshu, Nichiben
and Nichizen, whom Nikko Shonin had converted, and he harassed their lay converts. Eventually
Gyochi had twenty farmers who were believers arrested on September 2I,1279, and three of them
were beheaded on October 15. This incident is known as the Atsuhara Persecution.

In 1282, after the Daishonin's funeral, Nikko Shonin brought his ashes from Ikegami to Minobu and
placed them in a tomb. On the hundredth day following the Daishonin' s death, he held a memorial
service. At that time eighteen priests-the six senior priests and twelve of their disciples were
appointed to attend the tomb on a rotation basis, one of the six seniors or two of his disciples watching
over it each month. The five senior priests other than Nikko Shonin then left for their respective areas.
However, none of them returned to fulfill their obligation of attending the Daishonin's tomb. Under
pressure from the authorities they gradually began to drift away from the orthodoxy of the Daishonin's
teachings and worshiped images of Shakyamuni Buddha, declaring themselves to be priests of the
Tendai sect.

Niko, one of the six senior priests, returned to Minobu around 1285, and Nikko Shonin appointed him
chief instructor of the priests. However, under Niko's influence, Hakiri Sanenaga, the lord of the
Minobu district, commissioned a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, made pilgrimages to Shinto shrines,
contributed to the building of a Nembutsu monument and even had a Nembutsu temple erected. Nikko
Shonin repeatedly warned them that such acts were in flagrant contradiction to the Daishonin's
Buddhism, but to no avail. Feeling that he could no longer protect the Daishonin's teachings at Mt.
Minobu, Nikko Shonin left in the spring of 1289, taking with him the Dai-Gohonzon, the Daishonin's
ashes and other treasures. He stayed for a while at the home of his maternal grandfather in Kawai in
the Fuji District, but soon moved to Nanjo Tokimitsu's estate at the latter's invitation. Nikko Shonin
built a small temple known as the Dai-bo at Oishigahara, a tract of land donated by Lord Nanjo. His
disciples also established their lodging temples surrounding the Dai-bo, which was the beginning of
Taiseki-ji, the head temple of Nichiren Shoshu.

Nikko Shonin later appointed six main disciples (Nichimoku, Nikke, Nisshu, Nichizen, Nissen and
Nichijo) to protect the Dai-Gohonzon at Taisekiji. In 1298 he established the nearby Omosu Seminary,
where he devoted himself to training the six new disciples (Nichidai, Nitcho, Nichido, Nichimyo,
Nichigo and Nichijo), whom he charged with the task of propagation after his death. Shortly before his
death he wrote the "Nikko Yuikai Okimon" (“The 26 Admonitions of Nikko”) as an admonishment to
priests and lay believers to maintain the purity of Nichiren Daishonin's teachings. He transferred the
entirety of the Daishonin's Buddhism to the third high priest, Nichimoku Shonin, and died at the age of
eighty-eight.



Excerpted, and edited from:
A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts,
Nichiren Shoshu International Center, Tokyo 1983
Nikko Shonin
1246 - 1333
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