Viśiṣṭacāritra or Bodhisattva Superior Practices (Skt: विशिष्तचारित्र; Chinese: 上行; pinyin: shàng xíng; Japanese: Jōgyō), is a bodhisattva mentioned in the 15th, 21st, and 22nd chapters of the Lotus Sutra. He is one of the four great perfected bodhisattvas who attends Shakyamuni Buddha and protects the Lotus Sutra and its devotees. The other three are Unlimited Practices, Pure Practices, and Firm Practices; together they make up the four great primarily evolved bodhisattvas. Visistacaritra is also believed to represent the "true self" characteristic of Buddhahood, which is the selflessness of Nirvana.
In Nichiren Buddhism
In most Nichiren Buddhist schools, Nichiren is considered to be the reincarnation of Viśiṣṭacāritra because he is believed to have fulfilled the role of that Bodhisattva Superior Practices during his lifetime. This is because he revealed what he held to be the Superior Practice of chanting the title (daimoku) of the Lotus Sutra, or Nam(u)-myoho-renge-kyo, which would quickly allow all beings to attain enlightenment in their present lifetime, no matter what their capacities.
In Nichiren Shoshu
In Nichiren Shoshu Nichiren is revered as 'The Buddha of True Cause' because, they believe, he revealed the 'cause' of Buddhahood: chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Whereas Shakyamuni is seen as 'The Buddha of True Effect' as he only revealed the 'effect' of Buddhahood. This is based on the passage in Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra that reads:
"Originally I [Shakyamuni Buddha] practiced the bodhisattva way, and the life that I acquired then has yet to come to an end"
Nichiren Shoshu, and also Soka Gakkai, interpret the passage to mean that Shakyamuni must have practiced something to attain Buddhahood, but in the Lotus Sutra he did not reveal what that practice was. Whereas Nichiren taught the daimoku, Nam(u)-myoho-renge-kyo, which leads all beings to Buddhahood. Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu conclude that it was because of the daimoku that Shakyamuni attained Buddhahood in the remote past.
In Nichiren Shu and Kempon Hokke
In Nichiren Shu and Kempon Hokke, Nichiren is revered as Bodhisattva Superior Practices, as they believe he fulfilled the prediction in the Lotus Sutra: that of revealing the sutra's essence, Namu-myoho-renge-kyo. This is based on what Nichiren wrote in his 'The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind' [which all schools regard as one of his Major Writings]:
Showing profound compassion for those unable to comprehend the gem of the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, the Buddha wrapped it within the five characters [of Myoho-renge-kyo], with which he then adorned the necks of the ignorant people of the latter age.
- Kato 1993, p. 372
- Reeves 2008, p. 280
- McCormick, Ryuei M. "The Bodhisattvas of the Earth" Nichirenscoffeehouse.net. Nichiren's Coffeehouse and Gohonzon Gallery, 2002. Web. 21 Feb. 2011.
- "About Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism". Nichiren Shoshu Temple.
- "'True Buddha'". Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism.
- Daishonin, Nichiren. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. Soka Gakkai. p. 376. ISBN 9784412010246.
- Reeves, Gene (2008). The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic. Somerville: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-571-3.