Rev. Hagiwara had difficulty finding the right scroll box in the dark storehouse. The storehouse was new but constructed traditionally: massive earthen walls, tiny windows, no electricity. The dark heavy air was sweet with the smell of fresh expensive cedar timber. I used the flashlight on my phone to help him read the labels. “There it is.” he said pointing at a box for me to take off the high shelf. I handed it to him. He opened the box and slowly unrolled the scroll. Then he casually handed it to me and said, “Here, you hang it up.” We had just eaten lunch. I had not washed my hands. I did not have a pair of white gloves. I held the priceless scroll written by the great priest Gensei Shonin and glanced at the oversized hook hanging precariously on the highest shelf. I took a deep breath, muttered the Odaimoku and climbed the ladder to hang the scroll.
In June Rev. Keiryu Shima, former editor of Nichiren Shu News, asked me to proofread an English translation for his acquaintance Reverend Zensho Hagiwara, who is publishing a book on Gensei Shonin as part of preparations for a celebration on February 18, 2019 commemorating the 350th anniversary of Gensei’s death at, Ryuzoji at Teramachi, Kanazawa City
Gensei Shonin lived in the early Edo period of Japan. He founded Zuiko-ji Temple in Kyoto. He is well known as a great priest within Nichiren Shu, somewhat known as a poet in the rest of Japan, and not at all known outside the country. He is credited with creating the Nichiren Shu services that we know today, synthesizing various styles of medieval Nichiren Buddhist service styles into modern forms.
His poetry is also important. Rev. Hagiwara explained, “Basho’s master was a contemporary and acquaintance of Gensei. He suggested that Basho study Gensei’s Journey to the Sacred Spot, Mt. Minobu (Minobu Michinoki), Gensei’s famous poetic diary of his trip to Minobu to bury his father’s ashes. It had a big influence on Basho’s Oku no Hosoimichi, (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), but that is not widely known.” One example was a Haiku composed as Gensei prostrated himself before the Goshinkotu-do at Minobusan where Nichiren’s ashes rest.
Here remain venerable ashes
When I think of his hardships and sufferings
Tear drops fall on my sleeve.
When he became a priest in 1959, Rev. Hagiwara vowed to complete this book. He first encountered Gensei’s writings in the late summer of 1948 when he first visited Ryuzoji temple which was built by Nichizo. In those days the Jugoen school, established by Nikki, a scholar of Nichiren Shu, was the main facility for training Nichiren Shu priests. After completing his training, he visited second hand bookstores in the central district of Kanazawa, looking for Buddhist books. At Korinbo, he chanced on a book with a dark blue cover and the title printed in gold at the back. It said Sozanshu, Gensei Shonin Chosakusho, meaning Grass Hill, Collection of the Works of Gensei.
For nine years Rev. Hagiwara was the caretaker of the Goshinkotu-do, where Gensei composed that poem. Then in the late autumn of 1954 he left Minobusan and settled in a temple at Hiratsuka to the west of Tokyo. Only sixty Buddhist families were supporting the temple. The post-war land reform had taken away much of its land, making it even more difficult to manage. Eventually the Japanese economy revived. In 1970, with the support of the temple members, they were able to rebuild the residential areas and library.
It was then that Rev. Hagiwara resumed his research into Gensei’s life and works. He learned that Gensei lived mainly in Kyoto and its surrounding region. Gensei’s original works and calligraphies were scattered among several antique shops there. He frequently visited those shops to look for those original works.
In the process, he met many Nichiren Shu priests and scholars who admired and studied Gensei’s wisdom. He came across the following statement: “Nichrien Shonin founded our religious organization, based on faith in the Lotus Sutra which expounds the teaching of the One Vehicle. Sensei kept Nichiren’s teaching. Thanks to these two difficult achievements, the Dharma is expected to continue to exist eternally.”
We all know Nichiren’s hardships and sufferings as he propagated the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Sutra. But what did the phrase “Gensei preserved it” mean? As Rev. Hagiwara collected many original books and calligraphies by Gensei and studied his way of life, he finally discovered Gensei’s greatness as a “preserver of Nichiren doctrine”.
“Every time I see the calligraphies of Gensei,”, Rev. Hagiwara said, “I can imagine him in flesh and blood. They say ‘calligraphy expresses its writer.’ It is a pity to keep the valuable treasures of Gensei within Nichiren Shu, therefore I decided to make all of them public and publish this collection of them.
“Without a doubt, Gensei was among the highest elite in the religious world of the Tokugawa era. Truth shines above time and place. It is our Buddhist obligation to introduce Gensei’s greatness to the public. My lifelong dream will be fulfilled if it helps you to understand him. This ‘Collection of Gensei’s Words and Calligraphy’ has been realized with the goodwill of many people.
Rev. Hagiwara’s book is the first of its kind, the result of 22 concentrated years of collecting and study. He has dedicated it to Gensei, Nichiren and other eminent priests including his predecessor priestess Nikki, as a token of affection and gratitude.
600 volumes of the book will be published in September 2016. Copies will be sent to libraries around the world including Harvard-Yeching, Princeton, Yale, Cambridge and the Library of Congress.The volumes are only in Japanese but Rev. Hagiwara hopes they will lay the foundation for future English language scholarship and translations.
“I shall be delighted if this attempt were to satisfy Nicho, founder of Ryujoji temple, its successive priests and ancestors of its supporter families,” Rev. Hagiwara told me. “And I hope this publication will become the spiritual and cultural center of the surrounding community for another hundred years and beyond.”
After taking pictures I handed the scroll back to Rev. Hagiwara who rolled it up slowly. “We’re lucky to have this opportunity to physically touch and see one of Gensei Shonin’s possessions. You have a link to him now and that carries a deeper meaning. Here, hold my hand,” he said to support him as we walked back down the storehouse stairs. I told Rev. Hagiwara something a friend once heard from his grandmother in Sado. She said “I feel sorry for your generation, you’ll never know why some things are important or tell the difference between real things and false things.”
Rev. Hagiwara shook his head in agreement, “Yes that’s it isn’t it? If you have any compassion for future generations, you must endeavor to study things so you can teach them. Otherwise how will they ever understand the true value of anything in this life?”
Edited by friend and colleague Rev. Shinkyo Warner