Oeshiki: Celebrating Nichiren Daishonin’s Eternal Life
October is the month we celebrate the passing of Nichiren Daishonin. At local temples this ceremony is called the Oeshiki Ceremony. At the Head temple it is called Gotaie.
Nichiren Daishonin passed away serenely at the Ikegami Munenaka residence in Ikegami (present-day Tokyo) on October 13, 1282, while many of His close disciples and believers chanted Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. According to the “Document of Nichiren Daishonin’s Passing,” written by Nikko Shonin, the Daishonin passed away at about eight o’clock in the morning. At the same time, there was an earthquake and the cherry trees in the garden bloomed out of season. This account of the earthquake awakens us to the realization that the physical passing of the True Buddha, whose life is the life of the universe itself, is to be mourned. The blooming cherry tree reminds us that it is to be celebrated because the life of the Daishonin remains the same – immortal and always present.
At the core of Buddhist doctrine is the revelation of the concept of oneness. The fact that at the time of the Daishonin’s death there was an earthquake as the cherry trees bloomed out of season teaches us the Buddhist concept of oneness. The oneness of the common mortal and Buddha. The oneness of life and its environment, the oneness of body and mind and the oneness of death and birth cannot be separated from each other. Therefore, at the moment of the True Buddha’s physical death, the earth shook in farewell, but the cherry trees bloomed out of season in welcome. Thus, the Daishonin’s passing reveals the principle of oneness.
The Oeshiki Ceremony – also called Otai’e – is the celebration of the eternal life of Nichiren Daishonin. The Head Temple Taisekiji as well as local temples of Nichiren Shoshu decorate the altar with colorful paper cherry blossoms. Traditionally the “Rissho Ankoku Ron” is read which is a symbolic reaffirmation of the determination to undergo all hardships in order to achieve the absolute will of the Daishonin – Kosen-rufu.
There are three important points to keep in mind about the Oeshiki Ceremony. The first is that the wondrous life of Nichiren Daishonin has existed eternally and will continue to exist through the perfect transmission of the Three Great Secret Laws. The second point is the concept of oneness, which is an essential concept in Buddhism. The third point to remember is that the will of the Buddha is Kosen-rufu.
The very life of the Daishonin is Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, embodied in the Dai-Gohonzon. The Person and the Law were embodied in human form, but the body matured, aged and passed away leaving behind the Dai-Gohonzon for humankind.
The Daishonin states in His “Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings,”
There is nothing that exists on this earth eternally; whether something exists or not solely depends on time. (Shinpen, p. 1746)
Although His body definitely passed away, Nichiren Daishonin’s essential life remained one with the universe, retaining the power to influence the world. The Jigage portion of the Juryo chapter reads:
I let people witness my nirvana as a means to save them. But in truth, I do not die. I am here always, teaching the Law.
The True Buddha exists eternally, but because of human nature, when the Buddha is incarnate, their is a tendency to take him for granted. Therefore, he must teach us about Buddhism and then leave, or we will eventually become complacent and void of our yearning for Him and what He represents.
The following passage from the Gosho makes the point clear that the eternal life of the True Buddha lives in the Gohonzon,
I Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi. (Shinpen, p. 685; M.W. Vol. 1, p. 120)
The essence of the Gohonzon has been handed down to us in tangible form by each successive High Priest from Nichiren Daishonin to Nikko Shonin, to Nichimoku Shonin and each one thereafter to the present High Priest, Nikken Shonin.
The second important point to remember is that at the core of Buddhist doctrine is the revelation of the concept of oneness. The fact that at the time of the Daishonin’s death there was an earthquake and the cherry trees bloomed out of season are in keeping with the Buddhist concept of oneness. Oneness refers to the oneness of common mortal and Buddha, the oneness of life and its environment, the oneness of body and mind and the oneness of birth and death. They cannot be separated from each other. Therefore, at the moment of the True Buddha’s physical death, the earth shook in farewell, but the cherry trees bloomed out of season in welcome. Thus, the Daishonin’s passing reveals the principle of oneness.
The “Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings” states,
When we chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, our ignorance changes to revelation because of the Mystic Law. (Shinpen, p. 1746)
After His passing, the Buddha’s life was left for us in the mandala that simultaneously contains the ten life-conditions from Hell to Buddhahood. In other words, the Buddha’s life is none other than the Gohonzon, the purpose of the Daishonin’s advent into this world.
maintaining a pure practice. Of the Daishonin’s six senior disciples, Nikko Shonin was the only one who understood the deep meaning of the Daishonin’s life and teaching. Only He kept the vow to protect and propagate the true teaching as it was taught.
Consequently, today, only Nichiren Shoshu carries out the true meaning of the Oeshiki Ceremony and has held it according to the doctrine and correct faith for more than 700 years.
The reason for the Daishonin’s advent was to secure peace through the propagation of the True Law. This underlying principle is manifested in his Gosho, “On Securing the Peace of the Land Through the Propagation of True Buddhism” (Rissho Ankoku Ron).
Nichiren Daishonin’s will was inherited by Nikko Shonin, Nichimoku Shonin, and each of the successive High Priests who each remonstrated with the government. Thus the tradition was established in Nichiren Shoshu to read the “Rissho Ankoku Ron” and other letters and treatise of remonstration called Moshi-jo during the Oeshiki Ceremony to remind us of this tradition and our pledge to accomplish Kosen-rufu.
This ceremony is celebrated by local temples at a different time than at Taisekiji. The ceremony is performed in the local temples or propagation centers in the world in October, while Taisekiji celebrates in November. This is because October 13, 1282, on the lunar calendar corresponds to November 21 of the same year on the Julian calendar. Therefore, Taisekiji recognizes the Julian date.
The ceremony, celebrating the eternal life of Nichiren Daishonin, at the Head Temple is called Gotaie and it is performed over two days. The first day, November 20, is called “otaiya;” the following day is “gosho to.”
The Afternoon Of The 20th, The Ceremony Begins
Prayers are offered to the Dai-Gohonzon. In the evening, the Oneri rite is performed. A slow procession of the priests suddenly comes to a halt when it arrives in front of the Mieido Temple. A bell is struck seven, five, and then three times, as six priests in the procession run out to greet the High Priest, bowing reverently. This symbolizes disciples asking the True Buddha to enter the temple to expound the Law.
The procession then moves west around the Mieido and enters from the rear. This is done because Nichiren Daishonin is believed to dwell eternally at the Mieido to elucidate True Buddhism. The lay members enter as guests at the front entrance.
After entering the hall, the High Priest takes a seat on an elevated pulpit facing north, which is considered to be bodhisattva Jogyo’s seat. Here the High Priest represents Bodhisattva Jogyo, whose emergence from the earth is described in the fifteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
A priest then asks the High Priest to take the seat of the Buddha. After the High Priest takes His new seat, He burns ceremonial incense and begins His sermon of the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The High Priest’s performance in this ritual symbolizes the Daishonin’s revelation that Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the essence contained in the depths of the Juryo chapter.
Shortly after the sermon, the san san kudo ceremony is served to the High Priest and six senior priests by six attending priests. (Literally, san san kudo means three times three equals nine.) This is an ancient ceremony in Japanese tradition performed to celebrate a happy event. In this ceremony, the san san kudo serves as a gesture to congratulate the Daishonin and His six main disciples, securing the bond between master and disciples. This ritual concludes the first day.
The Second Day Begins With An Early Morning Gongyo Ceremony
At eight in the morning, the priests assemble at the Mieido Temple for a Gosho Oko Ceremony. The High Priest gives a reading of the Gosho “Rissho Ankoku Ron.” The six other priests read the public remonstrations (Moshijo) written by the successive High Priests.
This ritual indicates that the essence of the Daishonin’s Buddhism is the propagation of the Law. This is a symbolic reaffirmation of the determination to undergo any hardship in order to achieve the Kosen-rufu of substantiation. It means that the enlightenment of all humankind is only possible through the propagation of True Buddhism of the Three Great Secret Laws. The Oeshiki Ceremony ends with the final ritual of taking the paper cherry blossoms down from the altar.