VOX POPULI: The Sensible Nobility of Failure (Kedakaki Shisonji)

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By JUN KAWASAKI

Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune (1159-1189) is lauded in Japanese history for his brilliant military career that culminated in defeating the Heiji (or Taira — an offspring descendent of Japan’s imperial family that turned out to be a menacing power house for about 75 years) in 1185 at Dan-no-ura inlet situated at the western end of Seto-naikai Sea.

As miscalculations befall the triumphant, he became a fugitive hounded relentlessly in the ensuring years by his elder brother Yoritomo (1149-1199). The sad turnabout eventually drove him to commit “hara-kiri” (disembowelment) at the prime age of 30 — a poignant example of heroic failure.

Yoritomo, while portrayed as a villain, ironically emerges the “successful survivor.” Yoshitsune, nonetheless, is kept absolute in people’s imaginations as the ideal Japanese hero whose life appeals to the national sensibility.

A unique Japanese sense of anguish marks his career from his early youth, when he wandered alone through the streets playing his melancholy flute, until his final years as a hunted fugitive. He became the innocent victim of an overwhelming reality and deceit by the powers-at-be. Alas, betrayed and forced to kill himself at such an early age. It also made the defeat all the more impressive and poignant. As Japan’s quintessential hero, he kept his prestige through the centuries with integrity and as an avid reader of the Lotus Dharma as well.

A parallel turn of events occurred here on the American frontier on June 25, 1876, when Gen. George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) staked his life on a daring maneuver. Overwhelmed in numbers, his engagement was a complete loss at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Completely surrounded and unprotected on an open range, he was killed along with all five companies by warriors of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. If he had won, on the other hand, it’s doubtful that we would remember his name today. By losing and dying he became the most written-about military officer in U.S. history.

Custer’s demise, of course, is at the heart of the irony and popular to this day as a legendary epic of heroic sorrow.

Concurrent thoughts to the foregoing events spring forth regarding the life endured by Nichiren (1222-1282). Following an unresolved pardon from his two-year banishment at Sado, a remote Japan Sea island, he returned to Kamakura. There, he took a direct and final remonstrative stand pertaining to the Lotus Dharma before the rulers in power. Unfortunately and yet as anticipated, his effort was all in vain. Disappointed and with the reality of a task yet to be resolved, he was haunted by how his determination inflicted pain onto his disciples and innocent followers, including imprisonment and repressive sanctions.

Without recourse, on May 12, 1274, Nichiren, accompanied by several disciples, left Kamakura and trekked six days on foot to Minobu — westward to and northward along the Fuji River up into the province of Kai (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture). On arrival and greeted by Sanenaga Hakii, chief lord of the region, he established an interim hermitage in a wooded foothill location. Eventually, the foundation of Nichiren’s Mount Minobu Ku-on-ji monastery was situated at this locale as the grand center of the Lotus Dharma mission. Regardless, the establishment of Mount Minobu saw factitious overtures of malice against Nichiren’s followers come to pass into the 19th century.

Heretofore are recalled thoughts on Nichiren’s pronounced Lotus Dharma restorative resolve (April 28, 1253) surviving a lifetime of persecution. What also ensued was a prolonged time in years into the mid-19th century for the Nichiren sect to be formally recognized by its namesake.

Nonetheless, not to be simplified by “Sho-dai-gyo” chanting, deference awaits to be focused on Nichiren’s undaunted toils succinctly transposed into his treasured 400-plus treatises of compassionate empathy and to its intended path in the long term that offer fruition to a universal Lotus Dharma mission of deliverance for this day. Anjali.

Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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