Ongi Kuden Lotus Sutra Nichiren Nichirenism Apocryphal
Sources and Links Transfer Documents The Tendai School Literary Issues Back to index

Issues Around Disputed Gosho


As noted on the "index page" Nichiren wrote a number of Gosho, some of which were disputed by later generations as apocryphal. Such works were always written by chief-monk's of various schools, who asserted "editorial rights" over the content of Nichiren's writings. Some of those accounts are "pious forgeries" such as hagiographies (exaggerated biographies) of Nichiren himself, works memorializing oral teachings, or polemical works meant to "fill in the gaps" on a point of doctrine and attributed to Nichiren or other "founder" disciples or theoreticians of Nichiren, lineages, or branch temples, memorializing their relationship with the "honored founder."


One problem we have with our modern sensitivities is that we are more upset about this issue than people living in the time before the advent of printing presses. For most of the people involved in producing and copying Gosho the works were sacred and their content was sacred, not because it literally was written by Nichiren, but because it represented the "sense" and wisdom of the school. This is even memorialized in the hermeneutics of Buddhism where it it said that we should emphasize the "wisdom" over the literal meaning of the text.

But the result of the presence of forged works is that it muddies the sensibility of later generations who try to apply a "modern" approach to understanding Buddhism. It becomes impossible to be truly "fundamentalist" towards Nichiren Buddhism without cutting out some of the best material. Many of the works discounted as "forgeries" could simply be legitimate works whose originals were lost or which were not catalogued by early disciples due to being treasures of disciples in far away places (such as Sado Island or Kyoto). But for some people, because they are similar to works labelled as forgeries by others they will be put in the same category forever.

Jacqueline Stone writes about all this in her thesis and then examines the background of the subject in her book "Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Kamakura Tendai Buddhism.". Even with her books as a guide the issues remain thorny as her book is "academic" and so can't make judgements on what to make of the information it presents. And while the subject may be new to us people outside of Japan, arguments about the legitimacy of sources have marred the debates between the various schools of Nichiren Buddhism, from at least the 1300's. Disciples not only disagreed about interpretations of particular doctrines or sources, but also disagreed over whether to accept those sources as legitimate. That this was an issue early on is demonstrated by the fact that one of the early disciples, Nikko Shonin mentions it in his work the Twenty Six Warning Articles". It has continued to be a problem over the years as originals were lost or copies of previously unheard of originals surfaced. Nikko Shonin's 26 admonitions, which is dated to the last month of his life (in 1333) has a passage both warning not to forge Gosho and another one warning people not to disparage as inauthentic authentic Gosho.1 Therefore we already should know that by the time of his death the authenticity of Gosho had already become an issue due to this ambition and rivalry of the monks who claimed to be Nichiren's disciples. It also figured into later debates. (See Nichirenism.html).

Gathering Texts

The early disciples made lists of Gosho they knew of, and there were two competing such lists. One was made by Toki Jonin, the Rokunai list. Its content is listed on the Index page.2

The other list was made by Nikko Shonin.

Toki Jonin/Nichijo

Toki Jonin was originally the de-facto leader of Nichiren's lay disciples. He had become a Nyudo (lay priest) while Nichiren was still alive, and had been intimately involved in protecting Nichiren himself, and his disciples during all that time. His home in Shimosa was sufficiently distant from Kamakura to act as a refuge for disciples for whom Kamakura had become too hot. Thus it would seem that his judgement in collecting Gosho would be unimpeachable. But unfortunately there is more to the story. Both his step-son and a real son became priests and both took the name Toki Jonin and therein lies the problem.

As a Jito he was intimately involved in decisions after Nichiren died as well. He seems to have been instrumental in Nikko Shonin departing Minobu. Giving the "coup de grace" to Nikko's authority there during a meeting on the seventh anniversary of Nichiren's passing. (see embedded links for more). His own youngest legitimate son, joined Nikko and helped him found Omosu. And it appears that a few years later he deposed his own step son, Nitcho, mysteriously. Thus his possessions were inherited, not by his own child but by the son of Ota Jomyo named Nichiko.(see page on Nitcho for more on this)

And this is where things get curious. The two Nitcho's found themselves opposed to their own father's dominance of what would be later called the Nakayama school. Toki died in 1305, yet that rivalry continued after his death when Nichiko inherited leadership of the school.

This may have played a role in the penning of both the Risshokan-ji (see risshokanji) and in almost diametrically opposed teachings attributed to either Nikko himself or to Nichijun Sammi who took over at lead theoretician after Nitcho died. Thus both schools had a strong incentive to produce forgeries, and so it should be no surprise that the earliest forgeries or "oral" writings out there, are attributed to either Nichiko (forged Risshokan-jo), or Nichijun Sammi who wrote Oral writings such as the Honnin-myo Kuketsu ("Oral Teachings on the Mystic Principle of the Original Cause"). Suspiciously Nichijun Sammi is also the one who penned the first copies of the two transfer documents that are the basis of the lineage notions of Nichiren Shoshu and the Fuji School.

Because Toki Jonin had no directly granted authority, except as a lay-leader and confidant of Nichiren, and the claim of his school was that of a heritage of action and Gosho that emphasized the written Sutras and "follow the law" were more important to them. Conversely the Nikko school with its claim to an "inheritance" (Kechimyaku) based its claims on oral and transfer documents. The irony is that the Nikko school, which criticized their opponants for claiming to be Tendai monks, adopted a Tendai practice of inheriting teachings. The Nikko schools would thus be "strict" on matters of inheritance, but sometimes lack on real content. The Nakayama School founded by him, would come to be known as very rigorous and spiritually strict. Thus both schools demonstrated that whatever the strengths and weaknesses of their inital legacy they had received directly from Nichiren, each generation would be challenged to reaffirm or fail to live up to that heritage anew.

A Difference of Emphasis

The other gathering was done by Nikko Shonin's and ended up at Taisekiji and also at Kitayama Honmonji and Nishiyama Honmonji and other Nichiren Temples. 3 Like Lord Toki, Nikko Shonin had strong views on what was the most orthodox way to practice Nichiren's Buddhism. However, once he came into conflict with Lord Toki, Niko Shonin and the others, those claims came to be directly in opposition to Toki Jonin, and the other five priests. Nikko's claim to being the most orthodox direct successor of Nichiren, rested, at least initially on his de-facto claim to being Nichiren's right hand. o this day, some disparage this claim by referring to him as being Nichiren's "secretary." For him, Nichiren's legacy involved a considerable corpus of oral teachings that needed to be passed on to his disciples carefully. He too collected Gosho from Nichiren. They would come to rely on those Gosho, including many that were written to the most common and lowly of members. Later it would be alleged that the other priests only valued the major treatises. The "Rokunai" contains a fairly large list, but the numbers of "ordinary Gosho" on it are limited.4

Two ways of Legitimacy

The Fuji School, therefor, because of this legacy plus its relatively isolated location would come to emphasize its orthodoxy as that of the orthodoxy of this lineage. They would interpret the Gosho using meanings that were derived from this oral basis. This lead to the simultaneous evolution of doctrines, while at the same time "canonicity" didn't rest on literal fidelity to Nichiren's writings, but fidelity to the sense of the school as directed by the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu itself. This would lead to occassional reversals or rewrites of doctrine, such as when the 26th High Priest Nichikan Shonin took office. Their claims to orthodoxy didn't rest with the founder directly, but with this "heritage" from the founder. Unfortunately this would also lead them to "make free" with the texts both in selection and interpretation, accepting as legitimate Gosho mostly on content rather than whether or not these Gosho were actually written by Nichiren. And they don't deny this either. This was expressed most directly in Question and Answer number "56" of Questions and Answers on the Sokagakkai Issue"5 when the modern priests would admit that they include Gosho in their canonical texts because of their spirit and usefulness to themselves. They would even go so far as to confound the current high priest with the founder himself on occassion. This also has made it hard to find out which Gosho belonging to the Fuji School are in fact authentic as they consider their treasured originals so sacred they won't let anyone examine them. The result is that legitimate Gosho as well as illegitimate ones have doubts cast on them by those outside the Fuji School who want to discredit its literal heritage.

A Paradox

The teachers of the doctrines of the Nakayama School and the later Nichiren shu would come to claim that their actual formal orthodoxy rested directly with Nichiren's teachings, their sources in the Sutras, and would come to place emphasis on deriving those teachings from those sources that were most proven. While the Fuji School would find itself forced to rely on obviously apocryphal sources and its claims to orthodoxy challenged as being based on "forged teachings". The very strength of its claims to being a direct lineage wouldn't be enough to meet these criticisms directly. They would come to assemble a "canon" without worrying much about issues of whether or not an individual item was "in fact" written by Nichiren or not. What mattered was how the source fit into established "orthodox" doctrines. With Nichiren Shu differences in doctrine were simply differences in doctrine. With the Fuji School Nichiren Shoshu sect, the judgement of such orthodoxy became the role of the head of its school, the High Priest. With Nichiren Shoshu, differences in doctrines could be interpreted as challenges to the authority of the High Priest himself. The doctrines of that school -- under the influence of oral transmissions that have evolved over centuries as they were made to fit changing circumstances -- came to be very different in some ways from the kinds of doctrines you see Nichiren himself teaching. Thus the paradox is that the school which claims the most direct lineage from Nichiren is also the school whose doctrines often proceed from taking Nichiren's words out of context, saying he "says this but means that" and relying on texts which sometimes contradict texts considered genuine.

Along Comes Asai Yorin

For many years, there was no systematic attempt to appraise the Gosho. They were either accepted or rejected based on the prejudices of the various schools. All that began to change with the scholar "Asai Yorin" working at the beginning of the modern "science" age for Japan, He tried to apply textual criticism to determining which Gosho were forgery and which were not. In one sense he was the first to apply modern methods of Literary Criticism to Gosho. Even so, literary criticism, is and was something that is very in line with Nichiren's own approach to Buddhism. One can even say that his "refutations" as contained in his volumous writings such as the Kaimoku Sho or the Ho'on Sho, are masterful examples of literary criticism. However, most Nichiren Scholars and believers accepted writings attributed to Nichiren by their schools as canonical and had never really thought about what distinguished the "pious forgeries" from the genuine items.

Pioneering Investigations

Asai came along when scholars were finding that there were numerous writings, attributed to founding Tendai Teachers, which were not actually written by them. Both Tendai and Shingon had evolved oral transmissions and traditions. It turned out that many of these "pious forgeries" reflected doctrines that had developed over hundreds of years after the original authors had died and been transmitted secretly master to disciple. There were works which seemed to have been written centuries later, mostly in the Kamakura (12th and thirteenth centuries) and the "Muromachi era" (1333-1500's approx), were sometimes attributed to teachers who had lived as much as 500 years before their time. Moreover these works often followed certain forms which "marked them" as distinctive and stylistically different from documents actually written by those authors. But what was disturbing was that similar writings attributed to Nichiren bore similar "earmarks." Tendai centered scholars started painting Nichiren Daishonin as teaching things derived from Tendai thought. This disturbed Nichiren Scholars who preferred the notion that Nichiren's thinking came from direct sources dating to the 9th century. The scholar Asai Yorin fought back by examining all Gosho, and coming to believe that all the ones containing such content were apocryphal. Terry Ruby scans the argument from Jacqueline Stones' Thesis as follows:

"Asai's counter-argument may be summarizes as follows: Keiko, Maeda, Shimaji and Uesugi [the Tendai scholars] were in error, because they had assumed that the essence of Nichiren's doctrine was expressed by those works in the corpus reflecting the influence of medieval Tendai original enlightenment thought. In reality, however these works were not written by Nichiren. They represent the forgeries of later disciples who, influenced by their study on Mt. Hiei or at Tendai centers in Eastern Japan, incorporated into their understanding of Nichiren's writings a doctrine he himself rejected." 6("Some Disputed Writings in the Nichiren Corpus: Textual, Hermeneutical and Historical Problems", by Dr. Jacqueline Ilyse Stone, p. 48)

One could only suspect that many of these works which looked like they'd borrowed from these "kuden" (secret and oral works) and pious forgeries, of later Tendai teachers, were themselves "pious forgeries" that were written for doctrinal reasons of their schools and not by Nichiren himself. This was because some of the sources for these writings were attributed to times just before Nichiren's times or even after his death. Asai Yorin had stirred up a can of worms. These works had been written during a time when there was considerable interaction and rivalry between the Hokke-Tendai and the Nichiren Schools of Kyoto and the "Kanto" or "Eastern Provinces." These rivalries were not only between Nichiren Monks seeking to convert Tendai monks, but also between rival schools and subschools of Nichiren monks.

Asai Yorin did a systematic search of Gosho and in the end rejected a number of Gosho that had previously been accepted as authentic or that had been disputed by some but mostly accepted -- largely on the basis of their content.

Original Enlightenment and Apocrypha

The content he was looking for was what is known as "original enlightenment thinking" or "Chuko Tendai Thinking." The original enlightenment theory evolves from the "Lifespan" chapter of the Lotus Sutra and involves the notion that people are already enlightened 'inately', and just need to figure this out in order for all to be well with the world. Some of these ideas can be seen quoted in "A Tale of Genji" which predates Nichiren's times by an evil monk who had just burned one of the Temples of Tendai, Kiyosumi-dera, in the 1100's at Mt. Hiei. It also was a notion that Asai Yorin wasn't too enthusiastic about as a Nichiren Believer.7

Zaigo moto yori shou nashi
moso tendo yori okoru
shinsho moto kiyokereba
shoju sokibutsu nari
Sinful Deeds are from the outset without substance
They arise from deluded thoughts and perversions
Because the mind-nature is originally pure
Sentient beings are precisely Buddha.

Nichiren had commented on the extreme form of this notion in his Gosho the "Kaimoku sho" when he was explaining why various teachers made the errors they did. Nichiren writes:

The Maka shikan says: "If one lacks faith [in the Lotus Sutra], one will object that it pertains to the lofty realm of the sages, something far beyond the capacity of one’s own wisdom to comprehend. If one lacks wisdom, one will become puffed up with arrogance and will claim to be the equal of the Buddha."8

Enlightenment takes effort, and cheapening it leads to all sorts of abuses. And yet Nichiren Buddhism does indeed teach the attainment of Buddhahood in ones present form. The distinctions were blurred by monks eager to win debating points, convert or impress other monks, or simply trying to express the inward truths they had achieved from their practice.

The ABC's of Apocrypha

Asai Yorin may have been like Schliemann looking for Troy. He may have dug right past his target to find treasures from an earlier time. Later scholars such as Reuben Habito and Jacqueline Stone, writing in works such as Revisiting Nichiren9 or Sueki Fumihiko, writing in "Nichiren's problematical works"10 have applied a more systematic and genuinely scientific approach to the task of classifying Nichiren's writings more systematically. For instance Sueki Fumihiko classifies Nichiren's writings. They realize that there is no magic bullet. For the ABC's of Nichiren Apocrypha:9

Nichiren A: Nichiren’s authentic writings.

The criteria of Nichiren A are as follows:

1. A writing that has or is definitely known to have had a holograph —that is, which exists or is known to have existed in Nichiren’s own handwriting—belongs to Nichiren A.2 Those writings that belong to Nichiren A sometimes contradict one another. In such a case, the reason for the contradiction is assumed to be the fact that they were written during different stages of his life or addressed to different kinds of followers.

2. Among those writings for which no holograph survives, those that do not contradict writings now or formerly existing in a Nichiren holograph can be regarded as authentic.

Nichiren B:

those writings that cannot be determined as Nichiren’s or not; in other words, some scholars regard them as authentic while others do not.

Nichiren B constitutes an ambiguous group between Nichiren A and Nichiren C. The writings belonging to Nichiren B are included in the seihen division of the Shõwa teihon collection, and they are not separated from those of Nichiren A. It was mainly owing to the critical studies following Asai that Nichiren B emerged as a large category distinguished from Nichiren A. Today, in the light of more recent scholarship, any clear-cut division between Nichiren A and Nichiren B has become difficult, and we have to inquire again into the relation between the writings belonging to the two categories. However, this does not mean that the category Nichiren B disappears and merges with Nichiren A. Even positive findings from statistical research using computer analysis do not absolutely guarantee the authenticity of the work in question."

The category B can be divided up into a "disputed but possibly real" and a "disputed but very likely to remain disputed" division, making 4 categories.

Nichiren C:

Nichiren C contains those writings that are generally thought to have been written not by Nichiren himself but by his later followers.

Nichiren C or D

those writings that are regarded as forgeries.

Specially Disputed Gosho:

Gosho not on the Rokunai, or other early lists, include many that have some controversy around them.

The San Dai Hiho sho (Three great Secret Laws)

The San Dai Hiho Sho, is a fundamental teaching of Nichiren's, used by both pro and anti-war factions prior to World War II and elucidating the doctrines of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Land. The most controversial passages relate to the concept of "Obutsu Myogo:"

...When it comes to the Altar of the Precept, it will be when the laws of the state become subsidiary to those of the Dharma of the Buddha and the laws of the king are in a harmony with the Buddha Dharma. The sovereign and his ministers will hold to The Three Esoterically Inaccessable Dharmas so that King Utoku and the Bikkhu Kakutoku of ancient times will be transported to the future. Then through a royal decree and an edict from the Patriarch, would they not then visit the most high and eminent slope, which resembles the pure land of Vulture Peak, and establish the Altar of the Precept? It is only a matter of waiting for when the time is ripe (this is what is called the Dharma of the Altar of the precept in practical terms)...."
Translation source:

The Risshokan-jo

Doctor Stone writes extensively in her book "Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism" about the relationship between The Tendai School and early Nichiren school teachers. And she shows how the Nichiren Hokke [Lotus] school interacted with Tendai in both cooperative and rivalrous fashion. She goes on to show how the notion of "original enlightenment was caught up with the parrallel notion of "Shikan" or awakening through "Kanjin['contemplation of the mind'] was treated by the Tendai Hokke-Shu. She points out that in one of the schools that was in closest competition with the Nichiren Schools in the Eastern Region (Kanto), The Sugiu lineage taught this doctrine, while some other lineages rejected it. They attributed the idea to a monk named Shinga who had taught around 1329, who seems to have found the notion as implicit in the Juryo Chapter (she refers to it as the 'origin teaching'). Coincidently Nichiren had studied from some of the same teachers as this monk.

At any rate, it was made the fourth part of the "fourfold rise and fall doctrine" of the Tendai school and hotly debated by Nichiren school and Tendai School monks. The Nichiren monk (from the Nakayama Lineage) "Jogyoin Nichiyu" who lived from 1298-1374 wrote "To say that when the great teaching of Kanjin rises the great teachings of the origin and trace teaching are superceded is an extremely distorted view."11

She goes on to try to trace the complex relationships between the teachers of the Nichiren Hokke Shu, and the "Senba" lineage of the Tendai Shu (see tendai.html for more). She tells how Nichiro Shonin had a disciple named Daien Ajari Nichiden (1277-1341), who founded the Nakayama School Hondoji main temple, and who wrote an essay Juni innen sho on the twelvefold chain of dependent origination, which roundly criticized the notion of the "fourfold rise and fall." That essay concludes There flourishes a perverted doctrine that makes contemplation of the mind the essence, abolishing the origin and trace teachings...One should abide in Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, in which origin and trace teachings are inconceivably one.12

Jogyoin Nichiyu also studied at Minobu under the teacher Daishin Ajari Nisshin (1271-1346), third abbot of Kuon-ji at Minobu. Nisshin chose another approach to arguments against the "fourfold rise and fall." He transcribed in 1325 the Risshokan jo(On establishing correct contemplation). This work is dated in 1274 and attributed as a writing sent to Sairenbo, a Tendai Monk who had converted while Nichiren lived in Sado Island. This work comments negatively on the issue:

Among those who study Tendai doctrine in the world today, there appear to be many who revere the principle of contemplating the mind and discard the origin and trace teachings of the lotus....Those who abandon the the Lotus Sutra and regard only contemplation as primary are guilty of a grave slander of the Dharma, a great perverted view, an act of devils...The Tendaishu is so deplorable as to assert that because Shingon [i.e. taimitsu] sets forth both the principle and practices of the esoteric teachings, it surpasses the Lotus Sutra thus they find it entirely reasonable that shikan also surpasses the Lotus Sutra. Next, with regard to the argument that when applying the interpretation of kanjin, the origin and trace teachings are to be abandoned: Based on what passage in the Lotus Sutra, or of the commentaries from later teachers are we to abandon the Buddha's teaching? Even if this were the interpretation of T'ien-t'ai,[Chih-i], it violates the golden words of Shakyamuni and goes against the Lotus Sutra. [This view] is absolutely never to be adopted.... If shikan is not grounded in the Lotus Sutra, then the Tendai shikan becomes equivalent to the Daruma[Shu]'s [Shingon] diabolical and false teachings of a seperate transmission outside of the scriptures.13

Dr. Stone then goes on to explain that the Risshokan Jo, like many of the writings attributed to Sairenbo, does not survive in Nichiren's holograph, and that its authenticity is a matter of considerable dispute. She says it is possible that Sairenbo might have heard the doctrine and asked Nichiren about it, but she notes it is suspicious that he didn't mention it more later. She cites the research of Take Kakucho,which suggests that Nisshin was in fact the author of this work. Apparantly the Senba school in the Eastern Japanese region was beginning to teach this doctrine publicly and he wanted to voice his opposition to it. Thus he was voicing the Minobu and Nakayama Hokke-shu's arguments in the personae of Nichiren. This work could therefore well be an early example of a "pious forgery.14 Far from clarifying doctrinal matters, such works could only muddy the water in the long run. This work was first used during debates around 1325. Niko Shonin might have penned his 26 admonitions in 1332 with works like this one in mind. He very well probably had heard of it, and others like it that were being produced by head monks with the arrogance that their transmission of authority gave them the power to speak for Nichiren and even change his words in the process. But his own monks would come up with doctrines resembling the fourfold rise and fall, and would soon be guilty of similar behavior. For that you need to visit other pages.

Letter to Niike

This Gosho seems to have been mostly accepted until the issue of "accepting contributions from slanderers" came into stark relief with the power of Oda Nobunaga and Hideyoshi Toyotomi and their efforts to create what became the Tokugawa Shogunate led to the stark choice between accepting their poison, or going underground or being destroyed. A version of it is listed in the above list, but there seem to have been issues about its authenticity from the beginning. These issues came to stark relief because of the issue of "fujufuse."

You can also find old examples of where Gosho were disputed. For instance these pages (outside my site) include a reproduction of one such complaint about the "Letter to Niike" which was written around 1600.
Refuting Nichio, text of a debate around 1600.

Further Readings

Nichiren's problematic Works:
Additional Sources:
A copy of the Gosho posted to my irgosho
Another copy
Discussions of Fujefuse or apocrypha:
Related discussions on this site:
For more about:
Fuji school's transfer documents: transfer.html

Ongi Kuden Lotus Sutra Nichiren Nichirenism Apocryphal
Sources and Links Transfer Documents The Tendai School Literary Issues Back to index

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  1. See my 26 admonitions page
  2. The information on this comes from several sources. Toki Jonin is discussed at length in "Fire in the Lotus" and I've reproduced some of the discussion on my page on him
  3. This information comes also from a variety of sources. There are whole write ups on Nikko Shonin
  4. The allegation about destruction of Gosho is contained in the "Untold Story of the Fuji School" among other sources.
  5. A Hokkeko member copied all 106 of this volume and posted them to the internet. My write-up is on a webpage:Question and Answer number "56" of Questions and Answers on the Sokagakkai Issue"
  6. Quoted here "Some Disputed Writings in the Nichiren Corpus: Textual, Hermeneutical and Historical Problems", by Dr. Jacqueline Ilyse Stone, p. 48)
  7. The quote from the Tale of Genji is on page 222 of her book
  8. Quote is from the Kaimoku Sho volume II
  9. Revisiting Nichiren
  10. Sueki Fumihiko, "Nichiren's problematical works"
  11. Original Enlightenment page 312
  12. also page 312
  13. This translation appears on page 313
  14. This discussion continues to page 314
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