Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
In this thesis, the bulk of which is the translation of a heretofore untranslated apocalyptic text of Nichiren (1222-1281), I have sought primarily to make available a translation of the Senji shō, produced in 1274. The fourth of Nichirent's major essays, the Senji shō, or Essay on the Selection of the Proper Time, represented the culmination of his thinking in regard to the Age of the Last Law. In this essay, Nichiren reviewed the history of the Age of the Last Law in Japan, specified the errors to which he believed the Pure Land and Shingon schools had succumbed, and set forth in vivid relief his own understanding of salvation in the Age of the Last Law.
Chapter One offers a brief history of Buddhism up to the time of Nichiren, a biography of Nichiren, establishing his place in the cultural milieu of Kamakura Japan, and a discussion of his interpretation of and teaching on the Age of the Last Law. Developed by Nichiren prior to the writing of the Senji shō, primarily in the Rissho Ankoku Ron (1260) and the Kaimoku shō (1273), the unique understanding of the meaning of historical events in Japan and the rationale he offered for the destruction of Pure Land teachings are expounded in sufficient detail to make his elaboration of the significant themes in the Senji shō more accessible to the reader.
Chapter One, then, helps to develop a contaxt in which the Senji shō may be read. The reader is introduced to the stormy Kamakura period in Japan, given some notion of the complexity of Nichiren himself, and
given insight into the tension at the centre of his teachings concerning the Age of the Last Law.
A proper understanding of the text, however, demands more than a close reading. Nichiren's doctrine evolved from earlier understandings of the Age of the Last Law within Indian and Chinese Buddhism and in sharp contradistinction to the schools which flourished in Kamakura Japan. In Chapter Two, therefore, Nichiren's doctrine of the Age of the Last Law is placed in historical perspective: the Age of the Last Law is
traced through its development in India, its significance in China, and its interpretation in Japan prior to Nichiren. In this chapter, also, special doctrinal differences among the schools of Buddhism in Japan
during Nichiren's own lifetime are elaborated.
Significant for an interpretation of the translation of the
Senji shō is Nichiren's own interpretation of Buddhist history and of the uniqueness of his place in the history of the religion. Thus, Chapter Three contrasts the Nichiren of the Senji shō with the Nichiren of popular knowledge. In particular, this chapter clarifies the way in which the Senji sho adds to the understanding of Nichiren himself, of his school
of Buddhism, and of the history of Japanese Buddhism.
Chapter Four consists of a foreword to the Senji shō and the translation itself. It is the translation and notes which I believe to be the major contribution of the thesis, for within this essay Nichiren can be seen to have brought to final formulation his long struggle to convince the rulers, the intellectuals, and the common people of Japan of the possibility of seeing religious significance in particular periods of historical
Nichiren so enraged the powerful people of his day that they reviled, tortured and banished him. Nevertheless, it can be seen in the full translation of the text of the Senji shō that he communicated his radical understanding with such vigour that he became a powerful new force in Japanese Buddhism. He is here revealed as a forceful opponent and a skilled teacher, gifted with humour and a unique personal vision.
Dollarhide, Kenneth James, "Nichiren's Doctrine of the Age of the Last Law According to the Senji Shō" (1980). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3312.