What is Enlightenment?
The word enlightenment calls to mind those who practice austerities and thereby gain extraordinary powers beyond the reach of common mortals. Nichiren Daishonin, however, taught that enlightenment, or Buddhahood, is a condition of life accessible to everyone, under any circumstances, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
It is only our inability to believe this— what we call our fundamental darkness or delusion—that prevents us from calling forth our Buddhahood.
Nichiren explains: “When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night.How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-rengekyo” (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4).
We “arouse deep faith” by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with the firm conviction that we already possess Buddhahood. This conviction overrides our habits and preconceived attitudes, enabling us to call forth the Buddha’s courage, compassion and wisdom, which we can apply to any circumstance. Even the daily challenges we face head-on become the means by which we can live fulfilled, happy lives.
Using the analogy of a lion, Nichiren describes how this powerful animal unleashes the same force “whether he traps a tiny ant or attacks a fierce animal” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412). Our inherent Buddhahood is the source of limitless power and wisdom that enables us to tackle any situation, however big or small, and guides us toward the best course of action.
Enlightenment is not a fixed state we someday achieve. Rather, it is a lifelong process of challenge and renewal—a vigilant championing of the inherent dignity of life through thought, word and deed.
Does Nichiren Buddhism work for everyone?
Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the potential for Buddhahood exists in all people without exception. All people also possess the potential for delusion, specifically the delusion that they are incapable of attaining the indestructible happiness that comes with enlightenment. The practice of Buddhism is the means by which to discard delusion and reveal the Buddhahood within.
Awakening the Buddhahood in all people, not merely a select group, is the solemn vow of a Buddha. The Lotus Sutra articulates this vow in a passage we recite morning and evening as part of our Nichiren Buddhist practice, “At all times I think to myself:/ How can I cause living beings/ to gain entry into the unsurpassed way/ and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?” (The Lotus Sutra, p. 232).
Because Buddhism is based on profound universal compassion, adopting its principles will result in benefit for all, regardless of whether they are actually Buddhist practitioners. The greatest fortune, however, derives from real dedication to the three fundamentals, or pillars, of our teaching: faith, practice and study.
What is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo?
The primary practice of Nichiren Buddhism is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. SGI President Ikeda says, “Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo aloud represents a determination and vow to dedicate one’s life to the realm of truth of Myoho-renge-kyo in thought, word and deed” (September–October 2006 Living Buddhism, p. 90).
As the title of the Lotus Sutra, the highest teaching of Shakyamuni,
the phrase Myoho-renge-kyo encompasses all of the concepts expressed in the sutra, including the idea that all of life holds the potential for both absolute happiness and fundamental darkness. In that sense, it conveys the overarching intent of the sutra, that all human beings possess the Buddha nature. Nichiren Daishonin, who lived and taught in 13th-century Japan, appended the word nam—meaning “to dedicate one’s life”—to the beginning of Myoho-renge-kyo and established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to enable all people to overcome suffering and bring forth their inherent life-condition of Buddhahood in this existence, as they are.
When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are not petitioning or beseeching an external being to act in our favor. Rather, we are repeatedly sending out an expression of our determined intention as we bring forth from within ourselves our highest life potential. Our elevated life-state, in turn, elicits the environment’s—indeed the entire universe’s—support for our aims, and causes to arise within us the wisdom to take the best course of action for achieving the objective of our chanting.
Is chanting a form of meditation or is it positive thinking?
Nichiren Daishonin teaches: “A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4).
This passage expresses the main difference between chanting and meditation or positive thinking. Although meditation and positive thinking are valuable for many people, these practices are centered on the mind — calming it and training it — and cannot express the fundamental element of our lives, the highest condition of our lives.
Nichiren Buddhism posits that the Buddhahood inside us far transcends the power of our minds. It is the power of life itself that we tap into to transform our entire lives.
Our thinking does become more positive as a result of chanting, but this is because chanting draws out Buddhahood from the depths of our lives, which naturally changes our ways of thinking. The emergence of Buddhahood becomes the positive basis of every aspect of our lives, including mental and physical.
Chanting is neither traditional meditation, nor positive thinking, though it reaps the benefits of both these practices and much more. The essence of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is that in the very act of doing so we are expressing our Buddha nature.
Many people associate Buddhist religious practice with silent, interior meditation. But the practice of vocalizing, reciting and chanting various teachings has played a vitally important role in the history of Buddhism. Nichiren’s practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo encompasses both. Rather than simply exploring and withdrawing into the private realms of the inner life, our religious practice is focused on bringing forth our highest inner potential in relation to and for the benefit of our fellow humans and human society. Nichiren often quotes the words of an earlier Buddhist philosopher that “The voice does the Buddha’s work.”
The essence of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is expressing our Buddha nature. It is the essential way to reveal our Buddhahood.
What Is “Human Revolution”?
“Human revolution” is a term used by Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai, to describe the process by which individuals gradually expand their lives, conquer negative and destructive tendencies, and ultimately make the state of Buddhahood their dominant life-condition. The idea of revolution as most people understand it usually refers to a political or economic revolution. Such a revolution imposes new ideas upon people at large, and thereby effects change. The goal of human revolution is very different.
Rather than changing society directly, through improving or reforming social or political systems, the object of change lies deep within the life of each individual. As Josei Toda states: “‘The human revolution’ I am talking about…refers to the establishment of one’s ultimate purpose in life and working toward the perfection of self. We carry out our daily lives according to our own views on life and society. However, ‘human revolution’ refers to the change that we bring about in the way we view life, society and the world. A fundamental change occurs in the way one has led his or her life up until that point. The ‘human revolution’ of an individual becomes apparent when he or she establishes an unwavering and absolute conviction in the eternity of life. Rather than focusing on short-term goals which apply only to one’s present lifetime, this conviction becomes the basis for the pursuit of loftier goals and greater good, in contrast to one’s previous satisfaction with the accomplishment of lesser goals and good.”
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has written a twelve-volume account of Josei Toda’s life and the growth of the Soka Gakkai in postwar Japan titled, The Human Revolution. Within these stories we find the keys for building lives of genuine happiness. In the foreword to this novel, President Ikeda writes, “A great revolution of character in just a single person will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of all humankind.”
How do you practice Nichiren Buddhism?
There are three basics in applying Buddhism: faith, practice and study. They are the primary ingredients in the recipe for developing our innate enlightened condition, or Buddhahood. All three are essential. With this recipe, we will experience actual proof of our transformation in the forms of both conspicuous and inconspicuous benefit. The recipe is universal. These basics are the same in every country where this Buddhism is practiced.
Faith — in Buddhism, faith is based on experience. Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhismemphasizes obtaining “actual proof” of the teaching’s power. Faith begins as an expectation or hope that something will happen. At the start of our journey, if we are willing to try the practice and anticipate some result, we will then develop our faith brick by brick as examples of actual proof accrue.
Practice — To develop faith, we must take action. We strengthen our wisdom and vital life force by actualizing our Buddhahood each day in a very concrete way. Practice in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism consists of two parts: practice for ourselves and practice for others. Practice for ourselves is primarily the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Each morning and evening, believers participate in a ritual that, along with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, includes recitation from two significant chapters of the Lotus Sutra chapters which explain that each individual holds the potential for enlightenment and that life itself is eternal. This ritual has been traditionally referred to as gongyo (literally, “assiduous practice”). Practice for others consists of action based on compassion to help give others the means to make fundamental improvements in their lives, similar to what we are undergoing through our own engagement with Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. The development of our compassion through such practice for others is also a direct benefit to us.
Study — To gain confidence that this practice is valid, and to understand why your efforts will bring about a result, it is essential to study the tenets of this Buddhism. The basis of study comes from the founder himself, Nichiren Daishonin. More than 700 years ago, he instructed followers in the correct way to practice; and his writings, which have been preserved and translated into English, give us valuable insight into how this practice will benefit us today.
The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was formed to support practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism and help them teach others about it on a global scale. Today, there are some 12 million members in 190 countries, and the American branch is called SGI-USA.
The SGI has prepared numerous study materials that offer deeper looks at Buddhist theory, as well as practical applications through members’ testimonies. There are also English translations of the original teachings of Buddhism, such as the Lotus Sutra. By helping to build understanding and confidence, the study material provides vital encouragement for us especially at crucial moments.
The basic prayer or chant is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is the name of the Mystic Law that governs life eternally throughout the universe. Nichiren Daishonin revealed this law as the underlying principle contained in Buddhism’s highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. All life is an expression or manifestation of this law. Thus when we chant this Mystic Law, we attune our lives to the perfect rhythm of the universe. The result is increased vital life force, wisdom, compassion and good fortune to face the challenges in front of us.
The translation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is as follows:
Nam — Devotion. By devoting our lives to this law through our faith, practice and study, we will awaken the life-condition of Buddha, or enlightenment, inside ourselves.
Myoho — Mystic Law. As Nichiren Daishonin explained in one of his writings: “What then does myo signify? It is simply the mysterious nature of our life from moment to moment, which the mind cannot comprehend or words express. When we look into our own mind at any moment, we perceive neither color nor form to verify that it exists. Yet we still cannot say it does not exist, for many differing thoughts continually occur. The mind cannot be considered either to exist or not to exist. Life is indeed an elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor non-existence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality. Myo is the name given to the mystic nature of life, and ho, to its manifestations” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 4; see “Suggested Readings”).
Renge — Literally, the “lotus flower,” which seeds and blooms at the same time. This represents the simultaneity of cause and effect. We create causes through thoughts, words and actions. With each cause made, an effect is registered simultaneously in the depths of life, and those effects are manifested when we meet the right environmental circumstances. Life itself is an endless series of causes and simultaneous effects. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the deepest cause we can make in order to produce our desired effect.
Kyo — Sound or teaching. This is how the Buddha has traditionally instructed — through the spoken word, which is heard.
Why do we have to chant? Why not just meditate or think positively?
Why do we have to chant? Why not just meditate or think positively ?
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo reveals our Buddha nature. It directly connects our lives to the fundamental rhythm of the universe that we refer to as the Mystic Law.
Nichiren Daishonin teaches: “If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-rengekyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life” (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 3).
This passage expresses the main difference between chanting and the internalized disciplines of meditation or positive thinking. Although meditation and positive thinking are helpful for many people, these practices are centered on the mind—calming it and training it—and cannot express the fundamental nature of our lives, the enlightened, highest condition of our lives as a whole.
Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the Buddhahood inside us far transcends the power of our minds. It is the power of life itself that we tap into to transform our entire lives.
Our thinking does become more positive as a result of chanting, but this is because chanting draws out Buddhahood from the depths of our lives, which naturally changes our ways of thinking. The emergence of Buddhahood becomes the positive basis of every aspect of our lives, both mental and physical.
Is it OK to try the practice even if I’m not sure I believe in it?
Many people are wary of how some religions tend to emphasize belief without any evidence of how they work. They basically ask for your blind faith. Nichiren Buddhism is different. It is a philosophy and practice of actual proof—belief, or faith, arises from the positive impact the practice has on people’s lives, from how it leads to happiness here and now.
Of course, if you are very new to chanting Nam-myoho-rengekyo, you might not have experienced any conspicuous actual proof yet. But at SGI-USA activities, you have no doubt heard members’ experiences of having received benefit as well as explanations of how the practice works. This can be your starting point—instead of blind faith, you can begin with an expectation that the practice works and therefore be willing to try it.
Nichiren Daishonin established the criteria of “three proofs” that people should apply to determine the validity of a religious practice: documentary proof, theoretical proof and actual proof. Documentary proof means that the teaching should accord with the Buddhist sutras, considered the collective and comprehensive body of wisdom at the time. Nichiren explains in his writings how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sharing it with others actualizes the Lotus Sutra, the highest teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Theoretical proof means that the teaching must accord with reason and logic. Nichiren Buddhism is profoundly based on the principle of cause and effect, of which all phenomena in the universe are an expression. We are not expected to believe in anything that cannot ultimately be explained in light of this principle.
Actual proof means that the teaching actually changes people’s lives for the better, that there is undeniable improvement that anyone can see. Nichiren argued that actual proof is the most important of the three: “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” (“Three Tripitaka Masters Pray for Rain,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 599).
As Nichiren Buddhists, we develop ever-deepening faith through our own experience rather than simply accepting our beliefs from others. Ours is a philosophy of proof, and new members can expect to see actual proof from their practice soon after starting.
What should I do to develop my faith?
Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes three fundamentals of Buddhist practice — faith, practice and study. The practice of Nichiren Buddhism is viewed as a lifetime pursuit of development in these three arenas, a continual challenge for practitioners new and longtime. All three are intrinsically related.
Faith means believing in one’s own Buddha nature, which is revealed and strengthened by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. Practice means chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with continually deepening conviction and sharing the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism with others.
The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin are the core of our study, which is why the SGI-USA’s Buddhist learning program has the overall theme “Live the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin!” We also study the guidance and commentaries of SGI President Ikeda, which are based on Nichiren’s writings and puts them in a modern context.
Among these three fundamentals, faith is considered most important. But it can never be separated from practice and study. Our faith, or growing confidence, naturally leads us to practice and study more. Practice and study, through which we accumulate experiences and wisdom, lead to stronger faith.
This is why Nichiren encourages us to “exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 386). These two sentences sum up exactly what we need to do in order to develop our faith.
How can I know I am a Buddha?
Buddha, as defined in The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, is “one enlightened to the eternal and ultimate truth that is the reality of all things, and who leads others to attain the same enlightenment” (p. 57). It is important to know that the whole idea of the termBuddha is to define the state of life that every person can experience.
In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni’s highest teaching, the true message of Buddhism becomes clear: Every person can live this great life of a Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha, then, represents each of us.
The second Soka Gakkai president, Josei Toda, once said that in the sutras of the future, the Soka Gakkai’s name would be recorded as Soka Gakkai Buddha. This is because the Soka Gakkai is a gathering of ordinary people who, through fulfilling the true intent of Buddhism, will reveal themselves to be Buddhas.
So is it appropriate that we call ourselves Buddhas? Though Buddhahood is inherent in our lives, identifying ourselves as Buddhas only truly befits us when we act as Buddhas, when we live as Buddhas.
Nichiren Daishonin declares, “If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years and more, for all eternity” (“On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” WND-1, vol. 1, p. 736). He is speaking to each of us when he says this, calling us to join him in widely sharing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which has the power to save all people. This is what qualifies us as Buddhas.
Why do we study?
Nichiren Daishonin says, “Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 386). Practitioners study Nichiren Buddhism not only because it helps them deepen their understanding of the philosophy and life itself but it also empowers them to take on all of life’s challenges and further develop their compassion to help others dispel their own suffering.
Without a solid understanding, practicing any philosophy correctly and consistently would be difficult. For Nichiren Buddhists in the SGI, great emphasis is placed on study—it is one of the three pillars of our faith, together with faith itself and practice (both for ourselves and for others).
Through our efforts to grasp the Buddhist teachings,we can build the confidence to continue our practice; and the actual proof we receive from practice in turn deepens our faith. As one example of how it bolsters our faith, the study of Nichiren Buddhism gives us great insight into the workings of life, which helps us understand why things happen to us individually, in our communities and in society.With this knowledge we can take action to transform our lives and the environment from which they are inseparable. The SGI makes a great deal of study material available, including the English translation of more than 400 letters Nichiren wrote to his disciples in the 13th century. All of his extant letters are available for everyone to read in order that they might grasp, from the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, the true intent and purpose of our practice.
What is the Gohonzon? Why do we need it?
The Gohonzon is the object of devotion, in the form of a scroll, that practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism enshrine in their homes and is the focal point of their daily practice of morning and evening sutra recitation and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. (Go means “honorable” and honzon, “object of devotion.”)
“This Gohonzon is the essence of the Lotus Sutra and the eye of all the scriptures,”Nichiren Daishonin states. “It is like the sun and the moon in the heavens, a great ruler on earth, the heart in a human being, the wish-granting jewel among treasures, and the pillar of a house” (“On Upholding Faith in the Gohonzon,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 624).
In the center column of the Gohonzon are the characters “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and under that, “Nichiren,” surrounded by various other Chinese and Sanskrit characters that depict historical and mythological Buddhist figures. Together they represent profound philosophical principles and conditions of life.
Like a musical piece or a painting that reflects the life-state of the person who created it, the Gohonzon reflects Nichiren’s life-state: Buddhahood. It is not merely a symbol, or something to focus on while chanting. Since it embodies the state of enlightenment, Nichiren’s life, it is the actual reality of the Buddha’s life. It is the link between the Buddha state within ourselves and in the environment. It is an instrument to see our true potential and use it. Therefore, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, we call forth our own Buddhahood, tapping our inherent wisdom, compassion and life force. Gradually, day after day, our own life-state is influenced and strengthened through our daily practice to the Gohonzon.
SGI President Ikeda states, “Just as a mirror is indispensable for putting your face and hair in order, you need a mirror that reveals the depths of your life if you are to lead a happier and more beautiful existence” (My Dear Friends in America, p. 94).
Nichiren cautions: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (“The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832). In other words, our faith and practice make the Gohonzon an external stimulus to awaken our internal life of Buddhahood.
Setting Up the Altar and Protecting the Gohonzon
A first step in the practice of Nichiren Buddhism is receiving the Gohonzon and enshrining it in your home. Out of consideration for other members of the household, it is best to take some time to explain to them about your Buddhist practice and thereby gain their support.
Your sponsor and SGI-USA district leaders will help you choose an optimal place in your home to set up an altar, usually made of wood or plastic, in which the Gohonzon will be housed, and plan a time for the enshrinement. These altars come in many designs and sizes, and can be purchased at local SGI-USA bookstores, on-line or in stores that specialize in making altars. They will help with placing the Gohonzon in the altar, carefully making sure that it hangs straight. The Gohonzon may curl forward at the bottom when first unrolled, but it is best not to roll it backward in an attempt to straighten it. In a matter of days, it should straighten as gravity pulls on the lower rod.
Daily practice is a vital part of Buddhism. The altar and surrounding area should be kept clean and, out of respect, we avoid breathing directly on the scroll. We take care when dusting the interior of the altar, and especially avoid touching the face, or white portion, of the Gohonzon.
Traditionally, offerings are made, including evergreens, candles and incense, a bell to ring while chanting and reciting the sutra. We might have an offering dish on which some fresh fruit or other food can be placed. Fresh water is placed in a small cup before the Gohonzon prior to each morning’s sutra recitation, and is removed before the evening recitation. The water may be put into another cup and then consumed.
When offering food, it is customary to ring the bell three times, place our palms together and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo three times as a gesture of deep gratitude. The offering should be removed while still edible.
These traditional offerings serve to honor the Gohonzon (i.e., our own innate potential for enlightenment) and dignify the place where it is enshrined. It is important to note that the appreciation and sincerity we show the Gohonzon is synonymous with showing respect for those qualities within our own lives and, accordingly, will be reflected in our lives as benefit.
Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Whether you chant the Buddha’s name, recite the sutra, or merely offer flowers and incense, all your virtuous acts will implant benefits and roots of goodness in your life.With this conviction you should strive in faith” (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4).
What is Kosen-Rufu?
As SGI President Ikeda explains it: “Kosen means ‘to widely declare.’ Widely implies speaking out to the world, to an ever-greater number and ever-broader spectrum of people.Declare means ‘to proclaim one’s ideals, principles and philosophy.’ The ru of rufu means ‘a current like that of a great river.’ And fu means ‘to spread out like a roll of cloth.’
“The teaching of the Mystic Law has nothing to do with appearance, form or pride. It flows out freely to all humanity the world over. Like a cloth unfolding, it spreads out and covers all. So rufu means ‘to flow freely, to reach all.’
“Just like a cloth, kosen-rufu is woven from vertical and horizontal threads. The vertical threads represent the passing of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching from mentor to disciple, parent to child, senior to junior. The horizontal threads represent the impartial spread of this teaching, transcending national borders, social classes and all other distinctions. Simply put, kosen-rufu is the movement to communicate the ultimate way to happiness—to communicate the highest principle of peace to people of all classes and nations through the correct philosophy and teaching of Nichiren” (June 5, 1998,World Tribune, p. 7).
A passage from the “Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King,” the 23rd chapter of the Lotus Sutra, reads, “After I [Shakyamuni Buddha] have passed into extinction, in the last five hundred year period you must spread it abroad widely [kosen-rufu] throughout Jambudvipa [the world] and never allow it to be cut off” (The Lotus Sutra, p. 288).Nichiren Daishonin made it his lifelong mission to fulfill this injunction of the Buddha—kosen-rufu. He saw the fulfillment of that mission as widely propagating his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which he identified as the essence of the Lotus Sutra. In his “The Selection of the Time,” Nichiren wrote, “Can there be any doubt that, after this period described in the Great Collection Sutra when ‘the pure Law will become obscured and lost,’ the great pure Law of the Lotus Sutra will be spread far and wide [kosen-rufu] throughout Japan and all the other countries of Jambudvipa?” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 550).And in “The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” he wrote, “At the time when the Law has spread far and wide [kosen-rufu], the entire Japanese nation will chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, as surely as an arrow aimed at the earth cannot miss the target” (WND-1, 385).
The Origin of the Fuji School
Nikko Shonin, Nichiren Daishonin’s designated successor, was born on March 8, 1246, in Kai Province (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture) Japan. In 1258 at Jissoji temple in nearby Iwamoto, Nikko met Nichiren Daishonin, who was reviewing various Buddhist scriptures in preparation for writing “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” in the temple’s sutra library, and chose to follow him as his disciple. As the designated successor of Nichiren Daishonin, Nikko established the doctrine that regards Nichiren Daishonin as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law and the great mandala, which Nichiren inscribed, as the object of devotion. The school of Nichiren Buddhism as founded by Nikko is called the Nikko lineage or the Fuji school. Nichiren designated five other priests as seniors in charge of protecting his teachings. The doctrine of the Fuji school may be understood through the concept of the three treasures. Nichiren Daishonin is regarded as the treasure of the Buddha, the Gohonzon as the treasure of the Law and Nikko as the treasure of the Buddhist Community. In contrast, the five senior priests did not view Nichiren Daishonin as the original Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. Contrary to Nichiren’s own teachings, they declared themselves to be priests of the Tendai school and eventually propounded their own teachings that are not consistent with those of Nichiren Daishonin. Nikko refuted those erroneous doctrines in writings such as “The Guidelines for Believers of the Fuji School” (Gosho Zenshu, pp. 1601–09) and “On Refuting the Five Priests” (GZ, 1610–17).” The essential creed of the Nikko lineage is as follows: 1) The Gohonzon as the Basis—The Nikko lineage regards the mandala inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin, that is, the Gohonzon, as the object of devotion. On the contrary, the schools originated from the five senior priests use a variety of objects in worship, including a statue of Shakyamuni. 2) Kosen-rufu—In his “Twenty-six Admonitions,” Nikko states, “Until kosen-rufu is achieved, propagate the Law to the full extent of your ability without begrudging your life” (GZ, 1618). Nikko regarded one’s practice for kosen-rufu as the basis of faith. This spirit of kosen-rufu is evident in the efforts of Nikko and his successor, Nichimoku, in remonstrating repeatedly with the shogunate government and the imperial household. Nikko’s efforts to foster capable disciples and send them throughout Japan also clearly demonstrate his desire for the propagation of Nichiren Buddhism. 3) Direct Connection with Nichiren Daishonin— Nikko regarded Nichiren Daishonin as the original Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law and the fundamental teacher. In so doing, Nikko established the faith of Nichiren Buddhism and inherited Nichiren’s spirit. This contrasts sharply with the attitude of the five senior priests who regarded themselves as T’ien-t’ai’s disciples. They asserted that even in the Latter Day of the Law, Shakyamuni should be regarded as the lord of teachings (the Buddha revered in a particular school) and Nichiren Daishonin merely as a messenger to spread Shakyamuni’s teaching. On the contrary, Nikko acknowledged Nichiren as the lord of teachings in the Latter Day of the Law while viewing Shakyamuni as the lord of teachings in the Former and Middle Days of the Law.
The Life of Nichiren Daishonin
Nichiren Daishonin was born in 1222 in Japan, a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. The common people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the Buddhist teachings had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives.While a young priest, he set out to find an answer to the suffering and chaos that surrounded him. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people’s suffering and enabling society to flourish.
The Lotus Sutra affirms that all people, regardless of gender, capacity or social standing, inherently possess the qualities of a Buddha, and are therefore equally worthy of the utmost respect. Based on his study of the sutra, Nichiren established the invocation, or chanting, of Nammyoho- renge-kyo as a universal practice to enable people to manifest the Buddhahood inherent in their lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances. Nichiren saw the Lotus Sutra as a vehicle for people’s empowerment—stressing that everyone can attain enlightenment and enjoy happiness in their present existence.
Nichiren traveled to Kamakura, Japan’s political capital, where he continued to expound his teachings, gaining both followers and adversaries. His persecutions worsened after he submitted a treatise titled, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” which drew a direct correlation between the national calamities and the practice of erroneous teachings, warning of internal strife and foreign invasion if the nation stayed on its current course. Nichiren was critical of the established schools of Buddhism that relied on state patronage and merely served the interests of the powerful while encouraging passivity in the suffering masses. He called the feudal authorities to task, insisting that the leaders bear responsibility for the suffering of the population and act to remedy it. His stance, that the state exists for the sake of the people, was revolutionary for its time. Nichiren’s claims invited an onslaught of often-violent persecutions from the military government and the established Buddhist schools. He refused to compromise his principles to appease those in authority. Wherever he went, regardless of personal risk, he continued to share Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, converting many people to his teachings. He admonished the government and religious authorities for slandering the Lotus Sutra. As a result, Nichiren was arrested on trumped-up charges on September 12 and sentenced to exile. The chief of military police, Hei no Saemon, attempted to have him executed at Tatsunokuchi. Nichiren’s absolute confidence in his teaching and his role in its propagation, together with the appearance of a bright object in the sky—probably a meteor— caused the military to call off the execution, and Nichiren was sent into exile on the remote and bleak island of Sado.
There he and a single faithful follower, Nikko Shonin, lived in a tumbledown shack, in an area where corpses were abandoned without burial. Nichiren wrote several crucial treatisesduring this period, despite the harsh physical circumstances, which gradually improved as they gained support from among the local populace.
His prophecy of “internal strife” was fulfilled in 1272, as the ruling clan of Japan fell to fighting amongst themselves.
Two years later, pardoned by the government, Nichiren Daishonin returned to Kamakura, to repeat his warning of foreign invasion. Though he was given a hearing this time, and treated more respectfully, he was still not taken seriously.
Sure the government would never heed him, Nichiren left Kamakura in May 1274 to live in retreat at the foot of Mount Minobu, where he continued writing the many letters he sent to individual followers throughout his life. In October that year, the Mongols attempted the invasion he had long predicted. Though Nichiren could only lament the agony it caused the Japanese people, it surely strengthened his determination to lessen human suffering. Throughout the next several years, with Nichiren’s encouragement, his close disciples continued to propagate his teachings, especially converting many in the Atsuhara area. As more people were converted, including priests of other Buddhists schools, tensions from the government and leaders of other Buddhist schools rose toward Nichiren and his followers. Nichiren’s followers endured heavy persecution, displaying their commitment to follow his teachings despite obstacles.
Most notable was the Atsuhara persecution, in which 20 of his followers were arrested and tortured. Unwavering in their faith, three of them were later executed. Moved by the courageous faith of the Atsuhara farmers, on October 12, 1279, Nichiren inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon, of which all Gohonzon are replicas, with the intention of enabling all humanity to attain Buddhahood everywhere and at any time.
Three years later, on October 13, 1282, watched over by disciples chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren passed away in Ikegami, near modern-day Tokyo.
Nichiren Daishonin wrote numerous philosophical treatises and letters of encouragement to his followers. Some of these writings are scholarly, involving doctrine; others are simpler in tone. He presented his thoughts in a variety of ways to recipients from various walks of life: from nobility to peasant farmers to various government officials and Buddhist priests.
Some of the common themes in his writings pertain to the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, the inherent nature of Buddhahood and the importance of courage and perseverance when encountering obstacles. In many writings,Nichiren expresses gratitude to the disciples who supported him in difficult times. And when his disciples suffered, he never hesitated to provide them with the encouragement they needed most.
Through Nichiren’s writings to his disciples, we can see how he lived and cared for others, and we can gain insight into how to live our lives as disciples in the same spirit as Nichiren.