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Nichiren Buddhism or Hokkeshu (Japanese: 法華宗 Hokkeshū) is a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism based on the Lotus Sutra. It is generally derived from the teachings of the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist reformer Nichiren (1222–1282).
The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people have an innate Buddha nature and are therefore inherently capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. 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.
The founder, Nichiren 
From the age of 16 until 32, Nichiren studied in numerous temples in Japan, especially Mt. Hiei (Enryaku-ji) 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?–483?BC) were to be found in the Lotus Sutra. The mantra he expounded on 28 April 1253, known as the Daimoku or Odaimoku, Nam(u)-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.
The basic teachings of Nichiren Buddhism 
Nichiren Buddhism is based on the Lotus Sutra: "According to Nichiren, the Lotus Sutra is the highest teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. In fact, all of the other teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha were taught in order to prepare his disciples for the teachings of the Lotus Sutra". The two outstanding doctrines of the Lotus Sutra, which were the focus of Nichiren’s teachings and practice are: the attainment of Buddhahood by all people in their lifetime, and the eternal life of the Buddha revealed in the Ceremony in the Air of the Lotus Sutra.
The practice of chanting 
The path to enlightenment in pre-Lotus Sutra teachings is based on the gradual practice of the Bodhisattva stages leading to Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra, however, teaches that Buddhahood is already inherent within one’s current life. Nichiren believed, that directly revealing one’s Buddha nature is possible through the practice of the Bodhisattvas who: "do not carry out the practice of gradual progress. They practice the Lotus Sutra". To practice the Lotus Sutra, which title is pronounced as Myoho-Renge-Kyo, in Sino-Japanese. (The Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus), Nichiren added to the title the word Namu [南無] (devotion to), and declared on 28 April 1253, the chanting of the phrase Nam(u) Myoho Renge Kyo as his basic practice for revealing one’s Buddha nature in daily life. The chanting of the essential phrase Nam(u) Myoho Renge Kyo is a common practice between all followers of Nichiren Buddhism.
The object of fundamental respect: Gohonzon 
The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra was revealed in an imagery of a grand ceremony, which Nichiren regarded as the central doctrine of the Lotus Sutra. At the age of 51 Nichiren inscribed this doctrine in a form of a mandala describing it as:"this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known”. In some traditions, the Gohonzon came to be called the Moji-mandala Gohonzon,or the "Mandala Gohonzon" (曼荼羅御本尊). The Gohonzon is described as an object for focus of devotion  in Nichiren’s letter: “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind” which is acknowledged by most followers of Nichiren Buddhism. The Gohonzon is the primary - but not the exclusive - object of devotion in Nichiren Shū and some other Nichiren schools. It is the exclusive object of veneration in the Nichiren Shōshū branch as well as formerly affiliated groups such as Sōka Gakkai.
Other common teachings in Nichiren Buddhism 
In addition to the two main teachings of chanting and the Gohonzon, Nichiren Buddhism expounds the doctrine of the Ten Worlds of life, The Ten Factors of existence, the principle of The Three Thousand Realms in a single moment of life  and the teachings of The Three Proofs for verification of the validity of teachings. All of these teachings are shared and identical in most schools and groups of Nichiren Buddhism, however, different interpretations are found for the doctrine of the ”Three Great Secret Dharmas”, called also “The Three Great Secret Laws”, and Three Jewels.
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) or Goibun. Which of his writings are deemed authentic or apocryphal is also being treated different within the various schools of today's Nichiren Buddhism.
Reception of Nichiren Buddhism 
The emergence of Nichiren Buddhism started an ongoing question in Buddhist circles about its teachings and practice. Nichiren was vocal in criticizing other schools of Buddhism, using the rhetorical style of the day, and accusing them for the disastrous situation in society. Some researchers add that Nichiren strongly criticized the esoteric rituals of other schools: “As Sasaki notes, Nichiren’s view of the shift of authority from GoToba to Yoshitoki was inseparable from his criticism of the esoteric teachings. This criticism begins from about 1269 and develops during the Sado and post-Sado years.”
In response to his criticism Nichiren and his followers were met with harsh reaction from the authorities supported by various Buddhist groups. From Nichiren’s point of view, however, his uncompromising stance was to save people from sufferings: “Even in the case of the Nembutsu priests, the Zen priests, and the True Word teachers, and the ruler of the nation and other men of authority, all of whom bear me such hatred— I admonish them because I want to help them, and their hatred for me makes me pity them all the more”.
After all attempts to silence or kill Nichiren failed, persecution turned towards his followers, the most famous of was the Atsuhara Persecution (1280), where three Nichiren Buddhists were beheaded. Intolerance towards Nichiren Buddhism did not cease after Nichiren’s death (1282), and the most famous persecution was the violent attacks on Nichiren temples in the 16th century, Kyoto, Japan: “Nichiren temples in Kyoto were attacked by the monks from Mt. Hiei (1536)…Twenty one Nichiren temples were destroyed by fire …It was estimated that tens of thousands of Nichiren Buddhists lost their lives”. Intolerance towards Nichiren Buddhism led some researchers to compare it with early Christianity: “Tamura finds Nichiren’s Buddhism to be broadly comparable with Christianity ‘as a religion of prophecy, in its spirit of martyrdom, in its apostolic consciousness, and additionally, in its emphasis upon history”.
The general reception of Nichiren Buddhism changed in time. Even though some groups dissociate themselves from other (Nichiren)-Buddhists most Nichiren Buddhists enjoy a peaceful coexistence with other religious groups in modern times, in societies which are based on freedom of belief.
Non-violence in Nichiren Buddhism 
According to Nichiren's interpretation of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, persecutions which Nichiren Buddhists encountered should be perceived as a natural outcome of abiding by their beliefs, as predicted in various chapters of that Sutra: "There will be many ignorant people, who will curse and speak ill of us and will attack us with swords and staves, but we will endure all these things”. Nichiren encouraged his disciples not to share in violence: “Even if others are clad in armor and instigate, my disciples should never do the same. If there are some who prepare for fighting in our group, please write to me immediately.” Nichiren Buddhism emphasizes the sanctity of life and absolute non-violence: “To deprive a being of life is to commit the gravest kind of sin”, and considers debate or dialogue as the only avenue to resolve disputes: “When in public debate, although the teachings that you advocate are perfectly consistent with the truth, you should never on that account be impolite or abusive, or display a conceited attitude. Such conduct would be disgraceful. Order your thoughts, words and actions carefully and be prudent when you meet with others in debate”.
Today, Nichiren Buddhism is not a single denomination (see following lists). It began to branch into different schools within several years after Nichiren's death, 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 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.
Different interpretations of Nichiren's teachings had led to the establishment of various temples and schools, however having in common reverence to the two basic doctrines of the chanting and the object of devotion. 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.
After the passing of Nichiren differences between the various Nichiren Schools were relatively minor; nevertheless, the following schools formed around Nichiren's disciples:
- The Minobu-School by Nikō
- The Fuji-School by Nikkō
- The Hama-School by Nisshō
- The Ikegami-School by Nichirō
- The Nakayama-School by Toki Jonin (Stepfather of Nitchō)
In the years following Nichiren's death, his and the temples founded by his disciple remained to a varying degree affiliated. By the 14th century a certain split within the Nichiren Schools occurred though. One differentiates between the so-called Ichi-Lineage (meaning unity or harmony) and Shoretsu-Lineage (a contraction of two words meaning superior/inferior).
- The Ichi-Lineage today comprises most of the traditional schools within Nichiren Buddhism, including some Nikkō temples, of which the Nichiren Shū is the biggest representative. In this lineage the whole of the Lotus Sutra, both the so-called essential and theoretical parts, also referred to as the Imprinted Gate, are venerated. While great attention is given to the 2nd and 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra other parts of the sutra, or even the whole sutra, are recited.
- The Shoretsu-Lineage comprises most, not all, temples of the Nikkō-lineage. Today those are most notably Nichire Shōshū and Sōka Gakkai. This lineage underline the supremacy of the essential over the theoretical part of the Lotus Sutra, also referred to as the Original Gate. Therefore almost solely the 2nd and 16th chapters of the Lotus Sutra are recited.
"The Itchi-Soretsu controversey was of no interest to outsiders, but it kept Nichiren theologians on their toes and forced them to define their positions with more clarity. It did result in the formation of new sub-sects, but these gave impetus to missionary enterprises which expanded Nichiren Buddhism and helped spread it throughout the country". The number of adherents to Nichiren's teachings grew steadily during the 14th and 15th century to the extent that whole communities became followers. Only being outnumbered by Zen, 1,400 Nichiren temples had been founded all over Kyoto and although the various sects of Nichiren Buddhism were administratively independent they met in a council to resolve common problems. Based on the tradition set by Nichiren the relationship between the government, other major Buddhist schools and Nichiren-temples remained ambiguous though. The adherents of Nichiren-Buddhism who made this aspect of Nichiren teachings a central pillar of their belief were the followers of the so-called Fuju-fuse lineage. Their services were partly held in secret and ultimatively culminated in the persecution and partly even the execution of its believers in 1668. The majority of official Nichiren-temples were "tamed" during the Edo period to the effect that they were subsumed “into a nationwide Buddhist parish system designed to ensure religious peace and eradicate the common enemy, Christianity”. In this process also known as the Danka system Buddhist-temples were generally not only a centre of Buddhist practice and learning, but were forced carry out administrative functions thereby also being controlled by the government taming any missionary activities.
During the Meiji Restoration from 1868 onwards and in an attempt to eradicate Buddhism Nichiren-temples were forced, just like any other Buddhist school, to focus on funeral and memorial services as their main activity. Therefore Nichiren-Buddhism remained mainly temple based. Most Nichiren schools, referring to their establishment, state the founding of their respective head or main temple, for example, Nichiren Shu the year 1281, Nichiren Shōshū the year 1288 and Kempon Hokke Shu the year 1384. However, most of today's Nichren schools did not form until the late 19th and early 20th century as, also legal, religious bodies. A last wave of merges took place in the 1950s. Following the above mentioned divide between the Ichi-Lineage and Shoretsu-Lineage the most notable division is the one between Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shōshū. Documents first mentioned and discovered by Taiseki-ji priest Nikkyo in 1488 claimed that Nichiren passed full authority “to Nikkō alone. The original documents have disappeared, but "true copies" are preserved at Taiseki-ji. Other Nichiren bodies ignore them as forgeries”. At the time the documents may have served to underline Taiseki-ji's supposed superiority amongst Nikkō-temples, especially in respect to Ikegami Honmon-ji the site of Nikkō's tomb. In the later context of developments the above mentioned claims served as a reason on which, what would later become, Nichiren Shōshū based its orthodoxy on Nichiren-Buddhism in general. Even though there had been efforts by temples of the Nikkō-lineage in the late 19th century to unify into one single separate Nichiren-School the Kommon-ha, today's Nichiren Shōshū comprises only the Taiseki-ji temple and its dependant temples. It is not identical to the historical Nikkō or Fuji-lineage. Parts of the Kommon-ha, the Honmon-Shu, eventually became part of Nichren Shu in the 1950s. New religions like Sōka Gakkai, Shōshinkai, and Kenshōkai trace their origins to the Nichiren Shōshū school, most notably amongst those is Sōka Gakkai which due to its steady growth is regarded today as Japan's largest lay Buddhist organisation.
Kuon-ji eventually became the head temple of today's Nichiren Shu, today the largest branch amongst traditional schools, encompassing the schools and temples tracing their origins to Nikō, Nisshō, Nichirō, Nichiji and also Nikkō. The Reiyūkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai, and Nipponzan-Myōhōji-Daisanga stem, in one form or another, from the Kuon-ji lineage.
Major Nichiren Buddhist schools 
Traditional schools and their head temples 
Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese Wikipedia.
- Nichiren Shōshū: Sōhonzan Taiseki-ji 日蓮正宗 総本山 大石寺
- Nichiren Shū: Sozan Minobuzan Kuon-ji 日蓮宗 祖山身延山 ja:久遠寺
- Honmon Butsuryū Shū ja:本門佛立宗 大本山宥清寺
- Kempon Hokke Shu: Sōhonzan Myōman-ji 総本山妙満寺
- Hokkeshū, Honmon Ryū 法華宗（本門流）大本山光長寺・鷲山寺・本興寺･本能寺
- Hokkeshū, Jinmon Ryū 法華宗（陣門流）総本山本成寺
- Hokkeshū, Shinmon Ryū 法華宗（真門流）総本山本隆寺
- Honmon Hokke Shū: Daihonzan Myōren-ji 本門法華宗 大本山妙蓮寺
- Nichiren Honshū: Honzan Yōbō-ji ja:日蓮本宗 本山 ja:要法寺
- Nichiren Shū Fuju-fuse-ha: Sozan Myōkaku-ji 日蓮宗不受不施派 祖山妙覚寺
- Nichiren Hokke Shū ja:日蓮法華宗 大本山正福寺
- Hokke Nichiren Shū 法華日蓮宗 総本山 ja:宝龍寺
- Hompa Nichiren Shū 本派日蓮宗 総本山宗祖寺
- Honke Nichiren Shū (Hyōgo) 本化日蓮宗（兵庫） 総本山妙見寺
- Fuju-fuse Nichiren Kōmon Shū 不受不施日蓮講門宗 本山本覚寺
- Honke Nichiren Shū (Kyōto) ja:本化日蓮宗（京都）本山石塔寺
- Shōbō Hokke Shū 正法法華宗 本山 ja:大教寺
- Honmon Kyōō Shū ja:本門経王宗 本山日宏寺
- Nichiren Kōmon Shū 日蓮講門宗
Non-traditional schools 
Nichiren Shoshu based groups
- Fuji Taisekiji Kenshōkai (also, just Kenshōkai) ja:富士大石寺顕正会 Excommunicated in the 1970s 
- Soka Gakkai Founded in 1930 by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi, excommunicated in 1991 (leadership) and 1997 (membership) 
- Shōshinkai Founded in 1980, Excommunicated in 1981 
- Honmon Shōshū 本門正宗
Nichiren Shu based groups
- Kokuchūkai ja:国柱会 (also 國柱会) Founded in 1914 by Tanaka Chigaku
- Nipponzan-Myōhōji-Daisanga Founded in 1917 by Nichidatsu Fujii
- Reiyūkai (Spiritual-Friendship-Association) Founded in 1920 by Kakutaro Kubo and Kimi Kotani, Reiyūkai considers itself the grandfather of lay-based new religions devoted to the Lotus Sutra and ancestor veneration. 
- Risshō Kōsei Kai Founded in 1938 by Nikkyō Niwano and Myōkō Naganuma 
Sources and references 
- Fire In The Lotus - The Dynamic Buddhism of Nichiren. Mandala - HarperCollins, 1991. ISBN 1-85274-091-4 (Out of print)
- A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts. Nichiren Shoshu International Center, 1983 (Out of print)
- Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 1, University of Hawai'i Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8248-2733-3
- Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 2, University of Hawai'i Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8248-2551-9
- Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 3, University of Hawai'i Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8248-2931-X
- Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 4, University of Hawai'i Press, 2007, ISBN 0-8248-3180-2
- Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 5, University of Hawai'i Press, 2008, ISBN 0-8248-3301-5
- Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 6, University of Hawai'i Press, 2010, ISBN 0-8248-3455-0
- 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: Although Soka Gakkai retains the copyrights on the foregoing three works and financed their publication, they show some deviation from similar works published under Soka Gakkai's own name.
- The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan. Paul Bowring and Peter Kornicki, eds. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-521-40352-9 (Referred to in text as Cambridge.)
- Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kondansha, 1993, ISBN 4-06-205938-X; CD-ROM version, 1999. (Referred to in text as Illustrated.)
- The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Bureau, 2002
- Lotus Seeds - The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose, 2000. ISBN 0-9705920-0-0
- The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism. Soka Gakkai, 2002, ISBN 4-412-01205-0
- Nichiren Shōshū yōgi (日蓮正宗要義; "The essential tenets of Nichiren Shoshu"). Taiseki-ji, 1978, rev. ed. 1999
- Shimpan Bukkyō Tetsugaku Daijiten (新版 仏教哲学大辞典: "Grand dictionary of Buddhist philosophy, rev. ed."). Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1985. No ISBN.
- 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-X
- Iwanami Nihonshi Jiten (岩波 日本史辞典: "Iwanami dictionary of Japanese history"). Iwanami Shoten, 1999. ISBN 4-00-080093-0 (Referred to in text as Iwanami.)
- Nichiren Shōshū Nyūmon (日蓮正宗入門; "Introduction to Nichiren Shoshu"). Taiseki-ji, 2002
- Kyōgaku Yōgo Kaisetsu Shū (教学解説用語集; "Glossary of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist terms"). (Rev.) Kyōdō Enoki, comp. Watō Henshūshitsu, 2006.
- cf. "four dictums" (四箇の格言 shika no kakugen) entries in The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 215, and Kyōgaku Yōgo Kaisetsu Shū, p. 54
- The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, page 33, ISBN 0970592000
- The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, page 35, ISBN 0970592000
- The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, page 35, ISBN 0970592000
- 52 stages of Bodhisattva practice, http://www.sgilibrary.org/search_dict.php?id=621
- The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol.1 p 419
- Lotos Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism page 4, ISBN 0970592000
- The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, page 50, ISBN 0970592000
- The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, page 74, ISBN 0970592000
- Lotos Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism page 63, ISBN 0970592000
- Lotos Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism page 72, ISBN 0970592000
- Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1999 26/3–4, Placing Nichiren in the “Big Picture” page 389, Dr.J.Stone
- Nalanda Online University http://www.nalanda-university.com/buddhist-ayurveda-encylopedia/nichiren_daishonin.htm
- The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture, George/Willa Tanabe,University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0824811984
- Dr. J. Stone, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26/3-4, Biographical Studies of Nichiren, page 448
- Twenty-line verse of the “Encouraging Devotion” chapter, The Lotus Sutra, ch. 13
- Gosho Zenshu, (Shonin Gonanji 1279) On Persecution Befalling the Buddha
- http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=667&m=3&q=To deprive a being
- The Teachings, Practice and Proof, Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, p. 438
- Shimpan Bukkyō Tetsugaku Daijiten, p. 1368
- http://nichiren-shu.org/NONA/comparison.pdf A response to questions from Soka Gakkai practitioners regarding the similarities and differences among Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai
- Daniel B. Montgomery, Fire in the Lotos , page 175-176
- Daniel B. Montgomery, Fire in the Lotos, page 160
- Daniel B. Montgomery, Fire in the Lotos , page 169
- Everlife Buddhist Education Center
- Nichiren Shu's English website
- Kempon Hokke Shu U.S. site
- Nichiren Shoshu's English website
- Nichiren Shu UK
- Nichiren's Coffeehouse interfaith directory
- Soka Gakkai International
- Nichiren Buddhist Association of America
- ReligionFacts.com on Nichiren Buddhism Contains some inaccuracies; e.g., the photo of an altar is not of a Nichiren Shoshu one.
- Soka Gakkai International Australia
- Online Index
- SGI Association of Canada
- SGI New Zealand
- SGI South Africa
- SGI Iceland
- SGI Brazil
- SGI Suomi (Finland)
- SGI Nederland
- Buddista Italiano
- SokaGakkai International Costa Rica
- Svenska Soka Gakkai International
- Reiyukai Japan and Reiyukai America
- Nichiren Shu in Italy and the rest of Europe
- Honmon Butsuryushu italian official web site
- Honmon Butsuryushu japanese official web site
- The official website for the Western, MA Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist sangha
- Udumbara Foundation (Shoshinkai related organization; unofficial site)
- Official Rissho Kosei Kai Website
- Tricycle: The Buddhist Review: Understanding Nichiren Buddhism.
- Division of Religion and Philosophy University of Cumbria
- Religion Facts
- BBC - Religions