Nichiren 日蓮
KEY WORD : art history / iconography
An abbreviation of Nichiren Shounin 日連上人 (1222-82). A radical reformer of popular Buddhism and founder of the Nichiren 日蓮 sect (also known as Lotus or Hokke 法華 sect). Born in Awa 安房 (Chiba prefecture), he studied Tendai 天台 Buddhism on Mt. Hiei 比叡 in Kyoto, as well as Shingon 真言 Buddhism at Mt. Kouya 高野 in Wakayama prefecture, and at Touji 東寺 in Kyoto. He later preached on the streets of Kamakura 鎌倉, blaming belief in false religions for the problems facing the country. His RISSHOU ANKOKURON 立正安国論 (Essay of Promotion of Tranquility through True Belief), submitted to the shogunate in 1260, led to his arrest and exile to Izu 伊豆. Although pardoned in 1263, in 1271 Nichiren was arrested for slander and exiled to Sado 佐渡 Island. According to Nichiren he was to be executed on the way, but was miraculously saved by the power of the Lotas Sutra HOKEKYOU 法華経. Pardoned two years later, Nichiren retired to Mt. Minobu 身延 in Yamanashi prefecture, where he opened Kuonji 久遠寺, the present head-temple of the Nichiren sect. He died that same year at Honmonji 本門寺 in Tokyo. After his death, portrait sculptures were produced for temples of the Nichiren sect across the country. Notable examples include the 1288 statue at Honmonji, the 14c image at Myouhonji 妙本寺, and the 1406 portrait at Jougyouji 上行寺 in Kanagawa prefecture. Painted portraits of Nichiren were also made Joukouin 浄光院 in Chiba prefecture, and among the illustrated scrolls of Nichiren's life the Nichiren Shounin Chuugasan 日蓮上人註画讃 painted by Kubota Toutai 窪田統泰 (1536; Hongokuji 本圀寺, Kyoto) is representative. Paintings of Nichiren in the Edo period frequently depicted three dramatic legends concerning his life: 1 Komatsubara-no-hounan 小松原の法難 (Persecution at Komatsubara) in which Nichiren was saved by his rosary when a mounted warrior attempted to slay him; 2 Ryuu-no-kuchi 龍の口 concerns the time when Nichiren, about to be executed at Ryuu-no-kuchi beach near Kamakura, was saved when a miraculous light from the heavens broke the executioner's sword; and 3 the nami 波 (waves) legend during Nichiren's boat trip to Sado, when a storm caused large waves to threaten the boat and Nichiren, standing in the boat's prow, brandished his rosary, and suddenly the words namu myouhou rengekyou 南無妙法蓮華経 appeared and calmed the waves. Kanou Tan'yuu's 狩野探幽 (1602-74) painting of Ryuu-no-kuchi (Honpouji 本法寺, Kyoto) is one of the best-known illustrations of Nichiren's life.


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