Commemorating the Tatsunokuchi Persecution
(Gonan-e)
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.

The 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.

It 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.

However, 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.

Nichiren 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.

Even 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 arrest him.

Upon 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.

Immediately, 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.

As 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.

The 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.

About 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.

Nichiren Daishonin escaped the execution but did not escape the original plan to banish him, and he was sent to Sado Island on October10, 1271.

Before 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 falsehood.

In “The Opening of the Eyes” ("Kaimoku-sho") the Daishonin writes:
At 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)

Nichiren 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:
On 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)

The 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 difficulties.

The 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:
Devadatta, 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)

The Daishonin also states in “On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings”:
What 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)

It 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
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