1271: Not Nichiren, at the Tatsunokuchi Persecution

Add comment October 17th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1271, the Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren was taken away to be executed by his political foes … only to find them spooked off completing their mission by terrifying heavenly signs.

He’s the founder of the still-extant school of Nichiren Buddhism, his name concatenating the words for Sun (Nichi) and Lotus (Ren) — for he centered his philosophy on the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was a major, and controversial, teacher in the mid-13th century: attributing a series of devastating natural disasters in the 1250s to the enervated spiritual condition of the populace owing to non-Lotus Sutra strains of Buddhism attracted enough enmity that he faced multiple assassination attempts, and was exiled to the Izu Peninsula in 1261. (He was suffered to return a couple of years later.)

Nichiren’s doomsaying got a lot more credible — a lot more dangerous — by the end of that decade when the expanding Mongols reached the coasts of China and Korea and started threatening Japan. He’d literally forecast foreign invasion as a consequence for failing to get your lotus right and the arrival of that very prospect drew followers to Nichiren. He intensified his preaching against the rival, but state-favored, varietals of Buddhism.

Summoned to court for questioning, Nichiren remonstrated effectively with his opponent Hei no Saemon. By the prophet’s own account, “on the twelfth day of the ninth month” of Japan’s lunisolar calendar — corresponding, per this calendar converter, to the 17th of October of 1271 by the Julian calendar — an armed host abducted Nichiren and carried him to Tatsunokuchi for beheading.

Instead the would-be executioners were shaken to their core, as Nichiren described in his autobiographical The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra.

That night of the twelfth, I was placed under the custody of the lord of the province of Musashi and around midnight was taken out of Kamakura to be executed. As we set out on Wakamiya Avenue, I looked at the crowd of warriors surrounding me and said, “Don’t make a fuss. I won’t cause any trouble. I merely wish to say my last words to Great Bodhisattva Hachiman.” I got down from my horsee and called out in a loud voice, “Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, are you truly a god? When Wake no Kiyomaro was about to be beheaded, you appeared as a moon ten feet wide. When the Great Teacher Dengyo lectured on the Lotus Sutra, you bestowed upon him a purple surplice as an offering … If I am executed tonight and go to the pure land of Eagle Peak, I will dare to report to Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, that the Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman are the deities who have broken their oath to him. If you feel this will go hard with you, you had better do something about it right away!” Then I remounted my horse.

Finally we came to a place that I knew must be the site of my execution. Indeed, the soldiers stopped and began to mill around in excitement. Saemon-no-jo, in tears, said, “These are your last moments!” I replied, “You don’t understand! What greater joy could there be? Don’t you remember what you have promised?” I had no sooner said this when a brilliant orb as bright as the moon burst forth from the direction of Enoshima, shooting across the sky from southeast to northwest. It was shortly before dawn and still too dark to see anyone’s face, but the radiant object clearly illuminated everyone like bright moonlight. The executioner fell on his face, his eyes blinded. The soldiers were filled with panic. Some ran off into the distance, some jumped down from their horses and huddled on the ground, while others crouched in their saddles. I called out, “Here, why do you shrink from this vile prisoner? Come closer! Come closer!” But no one would approach me. “What if the dawn should come? You must hurry up and execute me — once the day breaks, it will be too ugly a job.” I urged them on, but they made no response.

The warriors could by no means be persuaded to do their duty in the face of this dread omen. Eventually the lot of them — executioners and former prisoner alike — wandered off together and drank some well-earned sake as comrades. Nichiren’s official pardon arrived the next morning.

The incredible event is known as the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, and (obviously) remembered as a watershed moment in Nichiren’s life.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Japan,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Power,Religious Figures

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Calendar

November 2020
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!