From the author Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick’s Preface to the book:
At the age of 18 I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism. Since that time I have voraciously read everything I could find in English translation connected to Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra, the teachings of Tiantai, and the life and writings of Nichiren Shonin, the founder of the school of Buddhism that I am ordained in as a minister. So this book is the product of my 30 years of research, some might say obsession. However, it would not have begun at all had not my sensei, the Ven. Ryusho Matsuda, asked me to write a book about Nichiren Shonin’s life using as my primary source the seven volumes of the Writings of Nichiren Shonin put out by the Nichiren Shu Overseas Propagation and Promotion Association. To get me started, I was handed two very thick sheaves of notes. One was a collection of passages from the aforementioned seven volumes pertaining to events in Nichiren’s life, and the second consisted of my sensei’s outline of Nichiren’s life based on those passages and other sources. He also provided me with his own translation of the booklet that accompanies a documentary DVD on the life of Nichiren Shonin by Dr. Takashi Nakao. Provided with these materials, I began to marshal my own resources and set to work. The end result is the present book. This book is my attempt, given my own limitations, to present a historical novelization of the life of Nichiren Shonin in order to understand him in the context of his own time and place. I hope that I have at least partially succeeded in conveying some of his spirit so that others will come to appreciate his life, teachings, and sacrifices as I have.
With other books on this website, I’ve selected quotes that help me remember favorite passages. I’m not doing that with this book.
As with Ryuei’s other books written on behalf of the San Jose Nichiren Temple – Lotus World and Lotus Seeds – Lotus in a Sea of Flames takes the reader from the basics of Buddhism, and in this book Japanese culture, to a thorough appreciation of the nuances of the topic. People with little knowledge of Nichiren or even Buddhism in general will find this book very informative and even entertaining.
The scholarly aspect of this historical novel benefits from fact-checking assistance provided by Dr. Jacqueline I. Stone, Professor of Japanese Religions in the Religion Department of Princeton University.
Ryuei has used Nichiren’s deathbed reminiscences as a vehicle to tell Nichiren’s life story. The first and last chapters are particularly well written. The scenes – nearly all based on the writings of Nichiren Shonin – are often very compelling. One of my favorites comes as Nichiren is being taken away to Izu on his first exile.
“I am no magistrate,” said the official. “I am not interested in your arguments. I am only interested in getting you onto that ship, out of Kamakura, and on to Izu. Now keep quiet!”
Nichiren put his palms together and bowed. His disciples cried out to him, some in tears. The guards kept back all but one. Nichiro, now a strong young man of 16, would not be cowed. He slipped past the guards and ran down to the boat just as it was being pushed off into the surf.
“Get back!” screamed the official.
But Nichiro would not get back. Crying for his master as he reached out to him, he waded out into the bay after the boat. Nichiren exhorted him to be calm, but his disciple was too overwrought and would not listen. “Take me with you!” He shouted again and again. Exasperated, the official took an oar and struck the young monk with bone shattering force. Clutching at his broken right arm, Nichiro finally backed away, his face white with pain.
Tears fell from Nichiren’s eyes as he saw his faithful disciple so brutalized. “Nichiro! Calm yourself. Is this how a disciple of the Buddha should act? From now on, when you see the sun setting in the west behind Izu, think of me. When I see the sun rising from the sea, I shall think of you.”
Nichiro nodded. “Forgive me, master.” Becoming faint, he went down on his knees in the water, sweat and tears coursing down his face. One of the guards finally reached him and escorted him back to where Nissho and the other monks were gathered.
As the boat moved away Nichiren began to chant the final verses from the eleventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “It is difficult to keep this sutra. I shall be glad to see anyone keeping it even for a moment.” The rocking of the waves caused his voice to fade in and out, giving the recitation an odd rhythm. The passage ended with, “Anyone who expounds this sutra even for a moment in this dreadful world should be honored with offerings by all gods and men.” From that point on Nichlren knew that he and his disciples had truly become practitioners of the Lotus Sutra as its predictions of hardships that would be faced by the teachers of the True Dharma began to be fulfilled in their own lives.
Each day I recite the Hotoge, those verses from Chapter 11, and I wonder what was the source of the odd rhythm.