The Risshō Ankoku-ron (Treatise on Instituting the Correct Teaching to Bring Peace to the Country), a classic work of Nichiren Shōnin, was submitted to the Kamakura Shogunate in the first year of Bun'ō (1260). In the years leading up to that time, Japan had been hit by disasters such as epidemics, and famine, starting with the Great Kamakura Earthquake in the first year of Shōka (1257). At such a difficult time, Nichiren Shōnin submitted the Risshō Ankoku-ron, a manifesto (gekibun 檄文) proposing the appropriate policy to bring peace and security to the nation.
It is composed in "drama style", the story progressing in the form of a conversation between a traveler and an innkeeper. An exchange of questions and answers begins when the traveler who stops at the inn mourns the tragedy of recent disasters.
“In recent years, strange phenomena in the sky, natural calamities on earth, famines, and epidemics have occurred and spread over all the land of Japan. Oxen and horses lie dead at crossroads and the streets are filled with skeletons. A majority of the population have perished and everyone has been touched by grief.”
In response to this lamentation, the innkeeper quotes numerous Buddhist scriptures and says, "It seems that people today abandon many Buddhas and sutras, having no intention of upholding them. So the gods who protect the country and the sages who teach the true teaching will abandon the country.” This is a famous idea called Zenjin shakoku-ron 善神捨国論. This theory, which holds that benevolent deities will abandon the country when Buddhism is neglected, may seem like a superstition in modern times, because our thinking today is often human-centred, and we have forgotten the awe of nature and the existence of the unknown and lost our ethics. In this era when ego and self-interest continues to cause the destruction of nature and the proliferation of environmental problems, it is an idea that is worth reviewing.
The traveler argues against this master's opinion, countering "I don't think Buddhism is neglected." In response, the master refers to the doctrine of the “Exclusive Nembutsu” (Senju Nembutsu 専修念仏) popular at that time, which originated from the founder of the Pure Land School, Hōnen Shōnin (1133-1212).
The teaching of Exclusive Nembutsu holds that salvation lies only in abandoning all other beliefs and practices and simply reciting the Nembutsu (calling upon Amida Buddha) in order to be reborn in the Pure Land of Sukhavatī. This idea is explained in Hōnen Shōnin's work “Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow” (Senchaku hongan Nembutsu-shu 選択本願念仏集) and became an explosive trend during the Kamakura period. However, as a result of this trend going too far, Buddhism other than the teaching of the Nembutsu was neglected, and according to the master, the tendency to "ignore all kinds of teachings and gods and Buddhas" became widespread. The master claimed that this was the cause of the devastation and turmoil of society.
The guest, upon hearing this says, “Let us first bring to an end the confusion caused by such beliefs and restore the security and peace of the nation. Then we should find out which teaching of the Buddha should serve as the basis for society.”
The master agreed with this, saying, "We must do so, otherwise the disasters will continue. This is because, of the various disasters predicted in the Buddhist scriptures, while most have already occurred, there are two remaining disasters which have not yet come about - foreign invasion (takoku shinpitsu-nan 他国侵逼難) and domestic conflict (jikai hongyaku-nan 自界叛逆難). If the present situation continues, these two will surely occur."
This warning was later realised in the form of the "Mongol invasion" (genkō 元寇) by the Mongolian army in the 11th year of Bun'ei 11th (1274), and the internal conflict of the Hōjō clan known as the “February Rebellion” (nigatsu sōdō 二月騒動) which occurred in the 9th year of Bun'ei (1272).
With regard to the question of what the basis of Buddhism is in the traveller’s words, "Then we should find out which teaching of the Buddha should serve as the basis for society", the master master replies with a line that suggests the answer:
“You should promptly fix the limited mind of your faith and quickly return to the single good of the true vehicle (jitsujō no ichizen 実乗の一善). If you do that, the three realms will, together, all become domains of the Buddha, and those Buddha realms will not decline. [The land in] all ten directions will entirely come to be jewelled land. How could jewelled land spoil? There will not be decline in the country, and the land will not be destroyed.”
"The single good of the true vehicle (jitsujō no ichizen 実乗の一善)" means “the uniquely good or ‘highest’ teaching of the true vehicle, the vehicle which truly travels the path of the Buddha and carries us to enlightenment”, and refers to the Lotus Sūtra. The Lotus Sūtra is a scripture whose theme is the teaching that the true Pure Land where the Eternal Buddha lives can be realised here in this seemingly painful world where we live. That is why it can be said that it is the most suitable scripture for the ideal of "Risshō Ankoku", that is, "establishing the correct teaching to create a safe and secure country".
As mentioned earlier, the predominant belief and practice at the time was the Exclusive Nembutsu, and the wish for happiness not in this world but after death in the Pure Land (gokuraku jōdo e no ōjō 極楽浄土への往生). It was against this background that, in the Risshō Ankoku-ron, Nichiren Shōnin made the assertion that we should make this world where we live the Pure Land of the Buddha and place the Lotus Sūtra at the centre of our belief in order to do so. Although this assertion of Nichiren Shōnin was based on the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings, the sharpness of his tongue had both pros and cons.
Not only was the Risshō Ankoku-ron ignored by the Shogunate (the hereditary military dictatorship which ruled Japan at the time), he was also subjected to numerous attacks and persecutions as a result. Later however, due to the predictions contained in this work of invasion by other countries and rebellion within the country becoming a reality, Nichiren Shōnin’s foresight and correctness became clear in both name and form, and the number of people who supported him grew.
Nichiren Shōnin continued to revise this work until his later years (his later revised edition is called the “expanded edition” (kōhon 広本)); it was the topic of his last lecture to his disciples before he passed away, and he upheld it throughout his life.
Wooden board with the characters “Risshō Ankoku” in gold above the entrance to Ankokuron-ji Temple.
The first page of the Risshō Ankoku-ron, kept in the Treasure House of Nakayama Hokekyoji Temple, Chiba Prefecture.