Nichiren Buddhism is a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren (1222–1282). 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 focus on the Lotus Sutra and an attendant belief that all people have an innate Buddha nature and are therefore inherently capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. It is also noted for positioning itself in opposition to other forms of Japanese Buddhism—in particular the Zen, Pure Land, esoteric, and Ritsu schools, which Nichiren saw as deviating from the orthodoxy of Mahayana Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism is a comprehensive term covering several major schools and many sub-schools, as well as several of Japan's new religions. Nichiren Buddhists believe that the spread of Nichiren's teachings and their effect on practitioners' lives will eventually bring about a peaceful, just, and prosperous society.
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 major centers of Buddhist study, in the Kyoto–Nara area. He eventually concluded that the highest teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha (563–483BC) 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 maintained that the contemporary teachings of Buddhism taught by other sects (particularly Nembutsu, Zen, Shingon, and Ritsu) 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 and of the priests of the sects he criticized; he was subjected to persecution which included an attempted beheading and at least two exiles. Some Nichiren schools see the incident of the attempted beheading as marking a turning point in Nichiren's teaching, since Nichiren began inscribing the 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, Kuon-ji. Nichiren spent most of the rest of his life here training disciples.
Today, Nichiren Buddhism is not a single denomination (see following lists). 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, Nichirō, Nikō, Nitchō, Nichiji, and Nikkō. Each started a lineage of schools, but Nichiji eventually travelled to the Asian continent (ca. 1295) and was never heard from again, and Nitchō later in life (1302) rejoined and became a follower of Nikkō.
The reasons for the splits are numerous, entangled, and subject to different interpretations depending on which school is telling the story; 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—made a clean break by leaving Kuon-ji in 1289. He had come to the conclusion that Nikō and the others were embarking on paths to heresy that he could not stem.
Kuon-ji eventually became the central temple of today's Nichiren Shu, one of the two largest branches and the one encompassing the numerous minor schools of the Minobu branch into which most of the schools and temples started by Nikō, Nisshō, Nichirō, Nichiji and some by Nikkō have been subsumed. The other dominant branch is centered at Taiseki-ji, the head temple of today's Nichiren Shōshū school. Taiseki-ji, which Nikkō founded in 1290 after leaving Kuon-ji, was the starting point for the other schools of the Kōmon-ha or Fuji-ha, from the locality) branch.
Other traditional Nichiren schools include several sub-schools that call themselves just Hokke Shū, the Honmon Butsuryū Shū, and the Kempon Hokke 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 Kōsei Kai, and Nipponzan Myōhōji Sangha stem from one or another of the Kuon-ji/Minobu branch schools, whereas Sōka Gakkai, Shōshinkai, and Kenshōkai trace their origins to the Nichiren Shōshū school.
Doctrine and practices
Much of Nichiren's underlying teachings are, overtly, extensions of Tendai (Tiantai) thought, especially as passed down from Saichō (also known as Dengyō; 767–822), including much of its worldview and its rationale for criticism of Buddhist schools that do not acknowledge the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. For example, Nichiren Buddhist doctrine adopts or extends Tendai's classification of the Buddhist sutras into five time periods and eight categories, its theory of 3,000 interpenetrating realms within a single life-moment, and its view of the Three Truths. 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 o-daimoku (also: daimoku), the repeated recitation of the mantra (phrase) Nam-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 practitioners worship Buddhist statues or images, and others use the Gohonzon (a mandala Nichiren provided for his followers during his lifetime) as their focal point during prayer; others worship only statues or images of various types; whereas yet others venerate only a particular Gohonzon and transcriptions of it. Some schools (chiefly those stemming from Kuon-ji) keep Shinto shrines in their temple compounds and permit or encourage worship of indigenous Japanese deities, while those stemming from Taiseki-ji (but not Taiseki-ji and Nichiren Shōshū itself) tend to be very strict about their prohibition against worshiping anything exterior, rather they promote using the Gohonzon mandala as a visual representation of every person's inner Buddhahood. Some schools are very nationalistic; others are not and are further strictly pacifist. Further, Nichiren Shoshu and other schools stemming from the priest Nikkō consider Nichiren to be the True (or Original) Buddha, whereas Nichiren Shu and the others descendant from the other six senior priests see him as a saint, great teacher, or prophet.
Nichiren's Contribution to Buddhism
1- Revealing the “Direct Path to Enlightenment”: The path to enlightenment in pre-Lotus Sutra teachings extends gradually throughout many Bodhisattva stages requiring many lifetimes before reaching Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra, however, teaches that Buddhahood is already inherent within one’s current life. The Bodhisattva practice of the Lotus Sutra is based on directly revealing one’s Buddha nature without gradual stages. Nichiren quotes
Those who practice the Lotus Sutra are pursuing through this single act of devotion - the mind that is endowed with all manner of fortunate results. These are present simultaneously and are not acquired gradually over a long period of time. This is like the blossom of the lotus that, when it opens, already possesses a large number of seeds. From this perspective, the Bodhisattva practice (cause) and the revealing of Buddhahood (effect) are inseparable: Anyone who practices this Law [of the Lotus] will obtain both the cause and the effect of Buddhahood simultaneously.
According to Nichiren, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, which integrates all the Buddha’s teachings - is fully contained within its title : “Myoho-Renge-Kyo”: Therefore, one should understand that the [title] of the Lotus Sutra represents the soul of all the sutras Nichiren viewed the words of the sutras as expressions of the mind of the Buddha, and further revealed that all the teachings of the Buddha are encoded within the single phrase of “Myoho-Renge-Kyo”, meaning: the “Wonderful Law of the Life”, or the “Universal Law of Cause and Effect”, also referring to it as the “ultimate reality” of life
The Buddhist way of “attaining enlightenment” requires a dedicated practice of devoting one’s life (namu) to the Universal Law or the Dharma. The Sanskrit word Namu means “devotion to" : The word namu expresses feelings of reverence and a sense of compliance. By including the word Namu (devotion) to Myoho-Renge-Kyo (the Universal Law of Life) Nichiren revealed that the Law of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the direct path to Enlightenment, as it unifies one’s subjective self with the objective reality of life (the Dharma). The teaching of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo can be interpreted as expressing the state of being “one with the Law” and thus manifesting the state of Buddhahood.
2- Establishing the Object of Devotion: For almost 2000 years after Shakyamuni’s passing, followers of the Buddha prayed to figurative statues of him- as their object of devotion. According to Nichiren using statue in prayers was suitable for the former periods of Buddhist practice, while in the current age (the Latter Day of the Law), statues and paintings - depicting the Buddha - will lose their power to benefit people. A parallel to this view (that traditional Buddhist practice in the Latter Day becoming powerless) - is found in the Buddhist eschatology of Mahayana Buddhism’s beliefs about the current age being a time of “decline” and “deterioration of Law” . However, contrary to all other Mahayana sutras regarding this subject, the Lotus Sutra predicted the flourishing of Buddhism in this current period and also far into the future. Given the prevalent belief of the predicted ineffectiveness of traditional practice in the current age - on one hand - and the predicted propagation and flourishing of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren regarded the Lotus Sutra as the valid background for the Object of Devotion in the current age of Buddhism.
In the form of a mandala, Nichiren employed a central teaching of the Lotus Sutra: the emergence of the “Treasure Tower” or the Dharma of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo – to be the central part of the Object of Devotion, and he named this the Gohonzon. Gohonzon means “that which should be fundamentally respected”:this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known. In essence, the Gohonzon can be perceived as an embodiment of the “Life of Buddha”. Chanting to the Gohonzon would resonate with the “Life of Buddha” (or the inherent Buddha nature) of the practitioner. From this perspective the inscribed mandala reflects one’s inner Buddha nature: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself”.
3- Setting a system of verification of beliefs (The Three Proofs):
Many spiritual beliefs and teachings which were spread in society at the time of Nichiren’s appearance were no more than superstitions or groundless views. In order to help ordinary people correctly evaluate the validity of a given doctrine, Nichiren established a set of three criteria, by which a certain teaching should be measured, and consequently accepted or rejected:
In judging the relative merit of Buddhist doctrines, I, Nichiren, believe that the best standards are those of reason and documentary proof. And even more valuable than reason and documentary proof is the proof of actual fact.
The first criterion of “reason” implies that to accept a given teaching, its contents should be consistent and lacking in contradiction. The proof of reason means that a meaningful doctrine should be relevant to the principle of cause and effect.
The second criterion for judging a teaching correct and true is that there should be documentary proof substantiating the essence of the teaching. This requirement for “documentary proof” is like citing credible reference in todays understanding.
However, the third criterion of “Actual Proof” is what Nichiren considered the most important. Even if a given theory sounds reasonable and has some documented grounding or references, if it cannot deliver actual proof (of being effective when applied in the real world) - then it should be discarded. This means that ideas or teachings which are beyond the scope of verification should be rejected as being invalid (a vision almost identical with today’s scientific criteria of examining the truth of given propositions).
The immediate application of this system for considering the validity of beliefs is that it gives researchers a systematic approach and clarity in evaluating religious arguments or doctrines. The reason why Nichiren stressed the importance of Actual Proof is that he considered teachings which cannot be proven (such as promising practitioners they would attain Buddhahood after death) as meaningless. Accordingly, only the doctrines which enable verifiable results in this present lifetime - can be regarded as meaningful teachings.
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;
Tendai is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism, a descendant of the Chinese Tiantai or Lotus Sutra school.
Chappell (1987: p. 247) frames the relevance of Tendai for a universal Buddhism:
Although Tendai (Chin., T'ien-t'ai) has the reputation of being a major denomination in Japanese history, and the most comprehensive and diversified school of Chinese Buddhism, it is almost unknown in the West. This meagre presence is in marked contrast to the vision of the founder of the movement in China, T'ien-t'ai Chih-i (538-597), who provided a religious framework which seemed suited to adapt to other cultures, to evolve new practices, and to universalize Buddhism. History
The Tiantai teaching was first brought to Japan by the Chinese monk Tendai Madenyika in the middle of the 8th century, in what became the short-lived Ritsu school, but it was not widely accepted. In 805, the Japanese monk Saichō returned from China with new Tiantai texts and made the temple that he had built on Mt. Hiei, Enryaku-ji, a center for the study and practice of what became Japanese Tendai.
Philosophically, the Tendai school did not deviate substantially from the beliefs that had been created by the Tiantai school in China. However, what Saichō transmitted from China was not exclusively Tiantai, but also included Zen, esoteric Mikkyō, and Vinaya School elements. The tendency to include a range of teachings became more marked in the doctrines of Saichō's successors, such as Ennin and Enchin. However, in later years, this range of teachings began to form sub-schools within Tendai Buddhism. By the time of Ryōgen, there were two distinct groups on Mt. Hiei: the Sammon, or Mountain Group who followed Ennin, and the Jimon or River Group who followed Enchin.
The Tendai sect flourished under the patronage of the imperial family and nobility in Japan, particularly the Fujiwara clan; in 794, the Imperial capital was moved to Kyoto. Tendai Buddhism became the dominant form of main-stream Buddhism in Japan for many years, and gave rise to most of the developments in later Japanese Buddhism. Nichiren, Hōnen, Shinran, and Dōgen—all famous thinkers in non-Tendai schools of Japanese Buddhism—were all initially trained as Tendai monks. Japanese Buddhism was dominated by the Tendai school to a much greater degree than Chinese Buddhism was by its forebearer, the Tiantai.
Due to its patronage and growing popularity among the upper classes, the Tendai sect became not only respected, but also politically and even militarily powerful. During the Kamakura Period, the Tendai school used its patronage to try to oppose the growth of rival factions—particularly the Nichiren school, which began to grow in power among the merchant middle class, and the Pure Land school, which eventually came to claim the loyalty of many of the poorer classes. Enryaku-ji, the temple complex on Mt. Hiei, became a sprawling center of power, attended not only by ascetic monks, but also by brigades of warrior monks (sōhei) who fought in the temple's interest. As a result, in 1571 Enryaku-ji was razed by Oda Nobunaga as part of his campaign to unify Japan. Nobunaga regarded the Mt. Hiei monks as a potential threat or rival, as they could employ religious claims to attempt to rally the populace to their side. The temple complex was later rebuilt, and continues to serve as the head temple of the Tendai school today.
Tendai Buddhism has several philosophical insights which allow for the reconciliation of Buddhist doctrine with aspects of Japanese culture such as Shinto and traditional aesthetics. It is rooted in the idea, fundamental to Mahayana Buddhism, that Buddha-hood, the capability to attain enlightenment, is intrinsic in all things. Also central to Mahayana is the notion that the phenomenal world, the world of our experiences, fundamentally is an expression of the Buddhist law (Dharma). This notion poses the problem of how we come to have many differentiated experiences. Tendai Buddhism claims that each and every sense phenomenon just as it is is the expression of Dharma. For Tendai, the ultimate expression of Dharma is the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, the fleeting nature of all sense experiences consists in the Buddha's preaching of the doctrine of Lotus Sutra. The existence and experience of all unenlightened beings is fundamentally equivalent and undistinguishable from the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
The Doctrine of Original Enlightenment
Stone (2003: p. 3) holds that:
In the early decades of the twentieth century, Buddhologist Shimaji Daito (1875-1927) introduced to the Japanese academic world a new interpretive category, which he called "original enlightenment thought" (Jpn. hongaku shiso). By this term he meant, in general, those strands of Buddhist thought, most prominent in East Asia and especially in Japan, that regard enlightenment or the ideal state as inherent from the outset and as accessible in the present, rather than as the fruit of a long process of cultivation. More specifically, Shimaji used "original enlightenment thought" to designate the intellectual mainstream of medieval Japanese Tendai Buddhism. In this medieval Tendai context, "original enlightenment thought" denotes an array of doctrines and concepts associated with the proposition that all beings are enlightened inherently. Not only human beings, but ants and crickets, mountains and rivers, grasses and trees are all innately Buddhas. The Buddhas who appear in sutras, radiating light and endowed with excellent marks, are merely provisional signs. The "real" Buddha is the ordinary worldling. Indeed, the whole phenomenal world is the primordially enlightened Tathagata.
Tendai and Esoteric Buddhism
One of the adaptations by the Tendai school was the introduction of esoteric ritual (Mikkyō) into Tendai Buddhism, which was later named Taimitsu by Ennin. Eventually, according to Tendai Taimitsu doctrine, the esoteric rituals came to be considered of equal importance with the exoteric teachings of the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, by chanting Mantras, maintaining Mudras, or performing certain meditations, one is able to see that the sense experiences are the teachings of Buddha, have faith that one is inherently an enlightened being, and one can attain enlightnenment within this very body.
The origins of Taimitsu are found in China, similar to the lineage that Kukai encountered in his visit to China during the Tang Dynasty, and Saicho's disciples were encouraged to study under Kukai. As a result, Tendai esoteric ritual bears much in common with the explicitly Vajrayana tradition of Shingon Buddhist ritual, though the underlying doctrines may differ somewhat.
Tendai and Shinto
Tendai doctrine allowed Japanese Buddhists to reconcile Buddhist teachings with the native religion of Japan, Shinto, and with traditional Japanese aesthetics. In the case of Shinto, the difficulty is the reconciliation of the pantheon of Japanese gods, as well as with the myriad spirits associated with places, shrines or objects, with the Buddhist doctrine that one should not concern oneself with any religious practice save the pursuit of enlightenment. However, priests of the Tendai sect argued that Kami are simply representations of the truth of universal buddhahood that descend into the world to help mankind. Thus, they were seen as equivalent with Buddhas. This doctrine, however, regards Kami as more sacred. While Buddhas represent the possibility of attaining enlightentment through many lifetimes of work and devotion to Dharma, Kami are seen to be manifest representations of universal buddhahood. They exemplify the doctrine that all things are inherently enlightened and that it is possible for a person of sufficient religious faculties to attain enlightenment instantly within this very body. Those Kami that Shinto regards as violent or antagonistic to mankind are considered as simply supernatural beings that are violent and evil.
Tendai and Japanese Aesthetics
The Buddha taught a Middle Way between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. In the context of the Four Noble Truths this meant ceasing the craving (Tanha) of worldly desire and attachment, thus putting an end to suffering (Dukkha). So in Early Buddhism the emphasis, especially for monks and nuns, was on avoiding activities that might arouse worldly desires. Buddhist art and poetry focused on overtly Buddhist themes. This tendency toward renunciation created a potential conflict with mainstream culture in China and Japan when Buddhism was introduced. Shedding worldly pleasures and attachments might seem to require that such flowers of culture as poetry, literature, and visual arts be given up. However, later Mahayana views developed a different emphasis. By claiming that the phenomenal world is not distinct from Dharma, Tendai doctrine allows for the reconciliation of beauty and aesthetics with Buddhist teachings. Things are to be seen just as they are, as expressions of Dharma. Poetry, instead of being a potential distraction, now in fact can lead to enlightenment. Contemplation of poetry, provided that it is done in the context of Tendai doctrine, is simply contemplation of Dharma. This same thing can be said of other forms of art. Therefore, it is possible to construct an aesthetic that is not in conflict with Buddhism.
Notable Tendai scholars
In the history of Tendai school, a number of notable monks have contributed to Tendai thought and administration of Mt. Hiei:
- Saichō - Founder.
- Ennin - Saicho's successor, the first to try to merge esoteric practices with exoteric Tendai School theories (this merger is now known as "Taimitsu"), as well as promote nembutsu.
- Enchin - Gishin (Saicho's disciple)'s successor, junior to Ennin. The first to successfully assimilate esoteric buddhism to Tendai, and a notable administrator as well.
- Annen - Henjō (Ennin's disciple)'s successor, junior to Enchin. An influential thinker who's known having finalized the assimilation of esoteric and exoteric buddhism within Tendai School.
- Ryōgen - Annen's successor, and skilled politician who helped ally the Tendai School with the Fujiwara clan.
Buddhist Texts: Holy Dhammapada
The Dhammapada (Pali, translated: The path of Dharma. Also Prakrit/Sanskrit Dharmapada) is a Buddhist religious scripture, containing 423 verses in 26 categories. According to tradition, these are the answers to questions posed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, most of them deal with ethics. Part of the Tipitaka, the Dhammapada is considered to be one of the most important pieces of Theravada literature.
Holy Saddharma Pundarika
The Lotus Sutra or Sutra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma (Sanskrit: Saddharmapundarika-sutra) is one of the most popular and influential Mahayana sutras in East Asia and the basis on which the Tiantai and Nichiren sects of Buddhism were established. Like all Buddhist texts, it was written several hundred years after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Holy Mahayana Texts
Mahayana sutras are a very broad genre of Buddhist scriptures that were originally put in writing starting in the first century BCE. They form the basis of the various Mahayana schools. Mahayana Buddhists believe that these texts, with the exception of those with an explicitly Chinese provenance, are an authentic account of teachings given during the Buddha's lifetime.
Holy Digha Nikaya
The Sutta Pitaka, the second division of the Tipitaka, consists of more than 10,000 suttas, or discourses, delivered by the Buddha and his close disciples during and shortly after the Buddha's forty-five year teaching career, as well as many additional verses by other members of the Sangha. Over eight hundred sutta translations are available. The Digha Nikaya, or "Collection of Long Discourses" (Pali digha = "long") is the first division of the Sutta Pitaka, and consists of thirty-four suttas, grouped into three vaggas, or divisions.
Holy Sutta Nipata
In the contents of the Suttanipâta we have an important contribution to the right understanding of Primitive Buddhism, for we see here a picture not of life in monasteries, but of the life of hermits in its first stage. We have before us not the systematizing of the later Buddhist church, but the first germs of a system, the fundamental ideas of which come out with sufficient clearness. From the Atthakavagga especially it is evident where Buddha takes his stand in opposition to Philosophy (ditthi = darsana).
Religion and philosophy founded in North Eastern India in the 5th century BC based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha.
One of the major world religions, Buddhism takes as its goal the escape from suffering and the cycle of rebirth and the attainment of nirvana, and it emphasizes meditation and the observance of moral precepts. The Buddha's teachings were transmitted orally by his disciples; during his lifetime he established the Buddhist monastic order (sangha). He adopted some ideas from the Hinduism of his time, notably the doctrine of karma, but also rejected many of its doctrines and all of its gods.
Buddhism's main teachings are summarized in the Four Noble Truths, of which the fourth is the Eightfold Path. Buddhism's two major branches, Mahayana and Theravada, have developed distinctive practices.
In India, the emperor Ashoka promoted Buddhism during the 3rd century BC, but it declined in succeeding centuries and was nearly extinct there by the 13th century It spread south and flourished in Sri Lanka and S.E. Asia, as well as moving through Central Asia and Tibet (see Tibetan Buddhism) to China, Korea, and Japan (see Pure Land Buddhism and Zen).