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The Selection of the Time


"The Selection of the Time" was written at Minobu and dated June 10, 1275, when Nichiren Daishonin was fifty-four years old. It was addressed to one of his followers, Yui, who lived in Nishiyama in Suruga Province.

In March of the previous year, 1274, a government official had arrived at Sado island, where Nichiren Daishonin was living in exile, with a pardon for him. The Daishonin returned to Kamakura in the same month and then went to Mount Minobu in May. In October, the Mongol forces invaded Japan. This first Mongol attack fulfilled the Daishonin's earlier prediction of foreign invasion. In April of the following year, 1275, Mongol emissaries arrived in Japan with a letter from Khubilai Khan expressing his intention to invade Japan again. The Japanese government beheaded the envoys, and, now being on their guard, reinforced their defenses. Japan fell into a state of great unrest and the situation grew increasingly tense.

"Time" in the title "The Selection of the Time" refers to the time when people long for the Buddha to appear and the Buddha responds to their seeking mind. Nichikan Shonin, the twenty-sixth high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, writes in the "Senji Sho Mondan," his annotations on "The Selection of the Time," that the basic aim of this treatise is to establish that the present time is the Latter Day of the Law, and to assert that now is the very time for the Great Law, hidden in the depths of the Juryo (sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, to be spread far and wide.

Following the title we find the words, "Nichiren, disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha." Nichikan Shonin first interprets this to mean that the Daishonin is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Jogyo, the leader of the bodhisattvas of the essential teaching who emerged from out of the earth. In light of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, these are the bodhisattvas taught by Shakyamuni since the remote past of gohyaku-jintengo, the time of his original enlightenment. However, from the standpoint of Nichiren Daishonin's enlightenment, "Bodhisattva Jogyo" is still his transient identity. In this sense, the expression "Nichiren, disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha" indicates the Daishonin's provisional status. However, Nichikan Shonin goes on to say that from a deeper standpoint, "disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha" indicates the Buddha of the True Cause, or the Buddha of kuon ganjo, which is Nichiren Daishonin's true identity.

"The Selection of the Time" begins with the passage, "One who wishes to study the teachings of Buddhism must first learn to understand the time." This passage clarifies a fundamental attitude one should assume in embarking upon the practice of Buddhism. It also underlines the basic theme of "The Selection of the Time." Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism sets forth five guides or criteria for the propagation of Buddhism: namely, a correct understanding of (1) the teaching, (2) the people's capacity, (3) the time, (4) the country and (5) the sequence of propagation. "The Selection of the Time" places the greatest emphasis upon the factor of time.

Following the opening sentence, the Daishonin cites various incidents from the Buddhist and secular traditions in order to stress the importance of time. Time, he says, is an especially important factor in determining when specific Buddhist teachings will be revealed and spread, even more important than the people's capacity. Thus he states, "In the final analysis, the Buddha's preaching of the Lotus Sutra has nothing to do with the capacities of his listeners. As long as the proper time had not yet come, he would on no account expound it."

Subsequently the Daishonin refers to the five five-hundred-year periods described in the Daijuku Sutra which are used to outline the course of Buddhism over the first 2,500 years following Shakyamuni's death. According to this sutra, the fifth five-hundred-year period, which corresponds to the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law, is the time when "the Pure Law will become obscured and lost." The Daishonin declares that after the Pure Law has become obscured and lost, the Great Pure Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will be propagated throughout the entire world. In order to support this assertion, he cites various sutra passages and refers to the writings of T'ien-t'ai, Miao-lo, and Dengyo. Through these teachers' words, the Daishonin explains that they looked forward with longing to the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. Hence he declares, "All those who are determined to attain the Way should take note of these examples and rejoice! Those concerned about their next life would do better to be common people in this, the Latter Day of the Law, than be mighty rulers during the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law. Why won't people believe this? Rather than be the chief priest of the Tendai sect, it is better to be a leper who chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!"

Subsequently, tracing the spread of Buddhism through the three countries of India, China, and Japan, the Daishonin explains what teachings were propagated in the days of Shakyamuni Buddha and in the Former, Middle, and Latter Days of the Law, clarifying that these teachings in each case conformed to their respective time. In the first five hundred years of the Former Day, Mahakashyapa, Ananda and others propagated the Hinayana teachings in India. The second five hundred years of the Former Day saw the advent of Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, and others, who propagated the provisional Mahayana teachings. In the first five hundred years of the Middle Day, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai made his appearance in China and propagated the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra. Toward the end of the Middle Day, the Great Teacher Dengyo propagated the theoretical teaching of the Lotus Sutra in Japan.

The Latter Day is the time when the Pure Law, or Shakyamuni's teachings, will become obscured and lost. Nichiren Daishonin proclaims that in the Latter Day the whole world will be embroiled in quarrels and disputes. Moreover, he again declares that during this period the Great Pure Law will be spread far and wide throughout the entire world.

Nichiren Daishonin then states that one who spreads the teachings of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law is the parent of all people. He, the votary of the Lotus Sutra, is "the father and mother of the present emperor of Japan, and the teacher and lord of the Nembutsu believers, the Zen followers, and the Shingon priests." This declaration means that Nichiren Daishonin is the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law who possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent.

The latter half of the text exposes the errors of the Nembutsu, Zen, and Shingon sects, pointing out these mistakes as the root causes of the difficulties prevailing in Japan at that time. In the "Rissho Ankoku Ron," the Daishonin focused his criticism on the Nembutsu doctrine as a primary source of disaster. In "The Selection of the Time," he reveals the fallacies of Shingon, asserting that among the three sects of the Nembutsu, Zen, and Shingon, the Shingon sect is the most distorted. Shingon prelates had by this time made their way into the confidence of the ruler and other men in positions of authority, who in turn relied on the temples of the sect to offer prayers for subduing enemies. One year before the writing of "The Selection of the Time," a Mongol expeditionary force had attacked Japan. At that time prayers offered by Shingon priests were thought especially efficacious, and the government relied on them to achieve victory over the Mongol forces. To point out the futility of these prayers, the Daishonin refers to the Jokyu Disturbance of 1221 when the imperial court placed faith in the Shingon prayer rituals and was nonetheless defeated by the Kamakura government. Hence we might say that in "The Selection of the Time," the Daishonin intended to point out in the light of Buddhism the government's mishandling of the Mongol invasion and to rectify its mistake.

In addition to its harmful practices, the Daishonin points out, the Shingon sect seriously erred in terms of doctrine. Shingon teachers incorporated T'ien-t'ai's doctrine of ichinen sanzen into their own teaching and then asserted that it is to be found in the Dainichi Sutra, the basic scripture of their own sect. They even went so far as to accuse T'ien-t'ai of stealing the supreme doctrine of the Shingon. They asserted the superiority of the Dainichi Sutra over the Lotus Sutra, and of Dainichi Buddha over Shakyamuni Buddha.

After clarifying the doctrinal errors of the Nembutsu, Zen, and Shingon sects as well as those of Jikaku, the third chief priest of Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai sect, Nichiren Daishonin says, "In China and Japan in the past, sages of outstanding wisdom and ability have from time to time appeared. But none, as an ally of the Lotus Sutra, has faced such powerful enemies within his country as have I, Nichiren. From the facts present before your very eyes, it should be apparent that Nichiren is the foremost person in the entire world."

The Daishonin proceeds to point out that, of all the Buddhist teachings introduced to Japan, none has spread more widely than the Nembutsu. This Nembutsu, the calling on the name of Amida Buddha, is an invocation based on provisional Mahayana teachings. The Daishonin interprets its wide dissemination as a prelude to the spread of the invocation based on the true sutra, that is, the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Because he alone initiated this practice and upheld it fearlessly in the face of persecution, the Daishonin declares himself to be the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in all of Japan.

The Daishonin next clarifies the underlying cause of disasters and portents such as the great earthquake of the Shoka era and the huge comet of the Bun'ei era. These calamities were brought about, he asserts, because the ruler of the nation despises the votary of the Lotus Sutra and instead sides with the Zen, Nembutsu, and Shingon priests who hold misleading doctrines that will destroy the nation. To support this assertion, he cites passages from the Saishoo, Ninno, Shugo, and Rengemen sutras.

The treatise continues, "...in the Buddhist texts it says, 'A sage is one who knows the three existences of life - past, present and future.'" By this account, the Daishonin is a great sage, because, as he says, "Three times now I have gained distinction by having such knowledge." The first time corresponds to his predictions made in the "Rissho Ankoku Ron," which he submitted to Hojo Tokiyori, the most influential person in the ruling clan, on July 16, 1260. In this treatise he said that if the ruler persisted in his support of misleading sects such as Nembutsu, internal strife and foreign invasion would occur.

The second time was on September 12, 1271, immediately before the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, when the Daishonin declared to Hei no Saemon, an influential official of the government, that if the nation were to lose him, Nichiren, the pillar of Japan, internal strife and foreign invasion would occur and bring ruin to the country. Internal strife did actually break out in February of 1272, when the regent's half brother launched a bloody coup d'etat in an attempt to seize power.

The third occasion was on April 8, 1274, after the Daishonin was released from his sentence of banishment to Sado Island and returned to Kamakura. At that time he remonstrated with Hei no Saemon again. Declaring that the Nembutsu, Zen, and Shingon sects held misleading doctrines and that the Shingon sect in particular was a great menace to the country, he predicted that the Mongol invasion would occur within that year. In fact, the Mongol fleet attacked Japan that October. In this way, the Daishonin demonstrated the superior insight of a sage who can perceive past, present, and future.

He further says that, although he is a mere common mortal, because he is the votary of the Lotus Sutra, he deserves to be called the foremost Great Man in Japan. "Great Man" is one of the titles of a Buddha.

In response to this statement, the questioner in this writing criticizes him, saying that his arrogance is beyond measure. The Daishonin replies, in effect, that what seems like arrogance on his part is actually sublime conviction in the superiority of the Law that he embraces. After listing a number of great sages who upheld sutras other than the Lotus Sutra, he asserts that one who firmly believes that there is no path to Buddhahood other than the Lotus Sutra is immeasurably superior to those great sages, citing passages from Dengyo and from the Lotus Sutra to substantiate this. Then he turns to the attitude which a practitioner of this supreme teaching should assume. He says, "Therefore I say to you, my disciples, try practicing as the Lotus Sutra teaches, exerting yourselves without begrudging your lives! Test the truth of Buddhism!"

In conclusion, the Daishonin declares that he himself has lived up to the passage in the Kanji (thirteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra: "We do not hold our own lives dear. We value only the supreme Way." That is, in order to reveal the True Law, he has struggled continually without begrudging his life despite persecution from the three powerful enemies - especially those of the third group, respected priests who induce secular authorities to persecute the votaries of the Lotus Sutra.

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