Nichiren Buddhism

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Nichiren Buddhism (日蓮系諸宗派 Nichiren-kei sho shūha) is a branch of Buddhism stemming from the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren (12221282). Nichiren Buddhism itself also comprises several major schools, such as Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu, and many sub-schools, and it has spawned several of Japan's new religious, such as Reiyukai and Sōka Gakkai. Various forms of Nichiren Buddhism have had great influence among certain sections of Japanese society at different times in the country's history, such as among the merchants of Kyoto in Japan's middle ages and among some ultranationalists during the pre-World War II era. Nichiren Buddhism is generally noted for its opposition to other forms of Buddhism and an evangelical streak as evinced by some schools' practice of shakubuku, efforts to convert others by refuting their current beliefs and convincing them of the validity of Nichiren's teachings.


The founder, Nichiren

From the age of 16 until 32, Nichiren studied in numerous temples in Japan, especially Mt. Hiei (Enryakuji) and Mt. Kōya, in his day the Japanese centers of Buddhist study, in the KyotoNara area. He eventually concluded that the highest teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha (563?-483?BC) were to be found in the Lotus Sutra. The mantra he expounded on 28 April 1253, Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō, expresses his devotion to that body of teachings. During his lifetime Nichiren stridently believed that the contemporary teachings of Buddhism taught by other sects (particularly Shingon, Nembutsu, and Zen) were mistaken in their interpretations of the correct path to enlightenment and therefore refuted them publicly and vociferously. In doing so, he provoked the ire of the country's rulers as well as the priests of the sects he criticized and was subjected to persecution, including an attempted beheading and at least two exiles. Some Nichiren schools see the attempted beheading incident as marking a turning point in Nichiren's teaching, since he began to inscribe Gohonzon and wrote a number of major doctrinal treatises during his subsequent three-year exile on Sado Island in the Japan Sea. After a pardon and his return from exile, Nichiren moved to Mt. Minobu in today's Yamanashi Prefecture, where he and his disciples built a temple, Kuonji. Nichiren spent most of the rest of his life here training disciples and looking after lay believers.


Today, Nichiren Buddhism is not a single denomination. It began to branch into different schools within several years of Nichiren's passing, before which Nichiren had named six senior priests (rokurōsō) whom he wanted to transmit his teachings to future generations: Nisshō (日昭), Nichirō (日朗), Nikō (日向), Nitchō (日頂), Nichiji (日持), and Nikkō (日興), each of whom eventually started a lineage of schools. The reasons for this are numerous, entangled, and subject to different interpretations, depending on which school is telling the story—as is usual with religious splits. Suffice it to say that the senior priests had different understandings of what Nichiren's lifetime of teaching was about. Although the former five remained loosely affiliated to varying degrees, the last—Nikkō—decided to leave Kuonji. Kuonji became the central temple of today's Nichiren Shu, one of the major branches, and the starting point for the numerous minor schools of the Minobu branch. Nikkō moved on to found Taisekiji, the head temple of today's Nichiren Shoshu school and the starting point for the minor schools of the Kōmon or Fuji branch. Traditional Nichiren schools include the Kempon Hokke Shū, several sub-schools that call themselves just Hokke Shū, and the Honmon Butsuryū Shū. Several of Japan's "new religions" are also sub-sects of or otherwise based on one or another of the traditional Nichiren schools. The Reiyūkai, Risshō Kōseikai, and Nipponzan Myōhōji Sangha stem from one or another of the Kuonji/Minobu branch schools, whereas Sōka Gakkai, Shōshinkai, and Kenshōkai are breakaways from the Nichiren Shoshu school.

Doctrine and practices

Much of Nichiren Buddhist doctrine is, at least on the surface, a further development or adaptation of Tendai (Chinese: Tiantai) thought, especially as passed down from Saichō, also known as Dengyō (767–822). For example, as in Tendai but in contrast to many other Buddhist schools, most Nichiren Buddhists believe that personal enlightenment can be achieved in this world within the practitioner's current lifetime. Markedly different from Tendai and any other Buddhist lineage is the Nichiren Buddhists' practice of chanting daimoku, the repeated recitation of the mantra (phrase) Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō, in some denominations also pronounced Namu-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō. Most Nichiren schools also recite the Lotus Sutra (in Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese text) to varying degrees in their respective versions of the often daily or twice-daily gongyō service. Other details of Nichiren Buddhist practice can differ widely depending on the school. Some recite the whole Lotus Sutra, while others recite only certain chapters, parts of chapters, or verses. Some worship Buddhist statues or images and the Gohonzon, a mandala Nichiren left behind; others worship only statues or images of various types; whereas yet others worship only a particular Gohonzon and transcriptions of it. Some schools stemming from Kuonji keep Shinto shrines in their temple compounds and permit or encourage worship of indigenous Japanese deities, while those stemming from Taisekiji tend to be very strict on the prohibition of worship of anything other than the Gohonzon or even the mixing of doctrines from other schools. Some schools are virulently nationalistic; others are not and are further strictly pacifist. To understand these differences, readers are urged to look for information on the particular school or schools in which they have an interest.

Nichiren's writings

Nichiren was a prolific writer. His personal communications and writings to his followers as well as numerous treatises detail his view of the correct form of practice for the Latter Day of the Law (Mappō); lay out his views on other Buddhist schools, particularly those of influence during his lifetime; and elucidate his interpretations of Buddhist teachings that preceded his. These writings are collectively known as Gosho (go is an honorific prefix designating respect; sho means writings) in some schools and go-ibun ("left-behind writings") in others. Over 700 of them, some complete and some only in fragments, have been passed down through the centuries in compilations, as copies, and even many in the original. Some are also available in English translation, most notably in Letters of Nichiren and Selected Writings of Nichiren in the Translations from the Asian Classics series from Columbia University Press; more-sectarian translations of some of his writings are also available.

See also: Tendai and Tiantai

Sources and references

  • A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts. Nichiren Shoshu International Center, 1983
  • Selected Writings of Nichiren. Burton Watson et. al., trans.; Philip B. Yampolsky, ed. Columbia University Press, 1990
  • Letters of Nichiren. Burton Watson et. al., trans.; Philip B. Yampolsky, ed. Columbia University Press, 1996
Full disclosure statement: Soka Gakkai retains the copyrights on the foregoing three works and financed their publication; nonetheless, they show some deviation from similar works published under Soka Gakkai's own name.
  • Nichiren Shōshū yōgi (日蓮正宗要義; "The essential tenets of Nichiren Shoshu"), Taisekiji, 1978, rev. ed. 1999 (Japanese)
  • Nichiren Shōshū nyūmon (日蓮正宗入門; "Introduction to Nichiren Shoshu"), Taisekiji, 2002 (Japanese)
  • Nichiren Shōshū-shi no kisoteki kenkyū (日蓮正宗史の基礎的研究; "A study of fundaments of Nichiren Shoshu history"). (Rev.) Yamaguchi Handō. Sankibo Bussho-rin, 1993. ISBN 4-7963-0763
  • The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Bureau, 2002

External links

pt:Budismo de Nitiren de:Nichiren Shoshu


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