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Nichiren Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese priest Nichiren (1222–1282) and belongs to the schools of so-called "Kamakura Buddhism". Nichiren Buddhism is a comprehensive term covering several major schools and many sub-schools, as well as several of Japan's new religions. Its many denominations have in common a focus on the chanting and recital of the Lotus Sutra, believed by adherents to imbue auspicious and extraordinary power.
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 its hardline opposition to any other form of Buddhism, which Nichiren saw as deviating from the Buddhist truth he had discovered.
Formal Nichiren Buddhist temple groups are commonly associated with Nichiren Shoshu and Nichiren Shu, while modern 21st century lay groups vary such as Kenshokai, Shoshinkai and Soka Gakkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai and various others are also known.
- 1 Founder
- 2 Basic teachings
- 3 Nichiren's writings
- 4 Development of Nichiren Buddhism and its major lineages
- 5 Major Nichiren Buddhist schools and organisations
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 References
- 8 External links
From the age of 16 until 32, Nichiren, originally a monk of Tendai Buddhism, 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, Namu-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 the Nembutsu, Zen, Shingon, and Ritsu sects) were, to his mind, 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 attempted beheading incident 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.
Nichiren Buddhism is based on the Lotus Sutra. Common to most lineages of Nichiren Buddhism is the chanting of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō or Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō, and veneration of the Gohonzon. The definition of Gohonzon varies between the Nichiren schools.
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. Most 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 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 these writings, including the Ongi Kuden (orally transmitted teachings), are deemed authentic or apocryphal is a matter of debate within the various schools of today's Nichiren Buddhism. One of his most important writings the Rissho Ankoku Ron, preserved at Shochuzan Hokekyo-ji, is one of the National Treasures of Japan.
Development of Nichiren Buddhism and its major lineages
Nichiren Buddhism is not a single denomination (see following lists). Nichiren was originally an ordained Tendai priest and is not known to have established a separate Buddhist school. Nevertheless, his teachings led to the formation of different schools within several years after his passing. Before his death 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.
Separation of various Nichiren schools and lineages
Different interpretations of Nichiren's teachings had led to the establishment of various temples and schools, which however have in common reverence to the two basic doctrines of the chanting and the object of devotion. Although the former five disciples remained loosely affiliated to varying degrees, the last—Nikkō—made a clean break by leaving Kuon-ji in 1289.
The disciple Nikko had come to the conclusion that the remaining five disciples were embarking on heresy and syncretism of various Buddhist practices that he could no longer accept. He then went to the base of Mount Fuji where he would be offered a piece of land by Nanjo Tokimitsu where he would ultimately establish his own school based on orthodoxy, which would later be known as the Taisekiji temple of Nichiren Shoshu. In addition, he is also believed to have erected a Buddhist seminary at Omosu, Suruga province which later affiliated with the Nichiren Shu sect but would continue to retain the circular Crane bird used by Nikko Shonin. Pious legends also recount his journey with the Dai-Gohonzon as he left Mount Minobu, never to return. Consequently, the disciple Nitcho began to share the same complaints and grievances and would later join him in later years.
After the passing of Nichiren, practical 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 Shonin, co-joined later with the disciple Nitcho Shonin.
- 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 disciples 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 Nichiren 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 controversy 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. By 1400, and only being outnumbered by Zen, 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.
By the 16th century Nichiren Buddhism was no longer on the fringe of religious life and a vast number of Kyoto's inhabitants adhered to Nichiren's teachings. The anarchy resulting from the conflict between the shoguns and the emperor resulted in the attacks by the so-called warrior monks from Mount Hiei. In its aftermath "twenty-one Nichiren temples were destroyed by fire … It was estimated that tens of thousands of Nichiren Buddhists lost their lives".
Some researchers compare early Nichiren Buddhism 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'".
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 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 to 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 Shū 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 Shū 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 dependent 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 among those is Sōka Gakkai, which due to its steady growth is regarded today as Japan's largest lay Buddhist organization.
Kuon-ji eventually became the head temple of today's Nichiren Shū, today the largest branch among traditional schools, encompassing the schools and temples tracing their origins to Nikō, Nisshō, Nichirō, Nichiji and Nikkō. The Reiyūkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai, and Nipponzan-Myōhōji-Daisanga stem, in one form or another, from the Kuon-ji lineage.
Several temples located near Mount Fuji continue to follow Nichiren Buddhism, commonly referred to as Fuji-Fusē. The Fuji-lineage is often associated with Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism or organisations formally affiliated with it but is not limited to.
The Fuji-lineage includes the following temples:
- Taisekiji — the Head temple of Nichiren Shoshu (from this temple were derived: the Shoshinkai, Kenshokai (Myoshinko), and Soka Gakkai International.
- Kitayama Honmonji — Nichiren Shu
- Koizumi Kuonji — Nichiren Shu
- Hota Myohonji — Independent temple
- Shimojo Myorenji — Nichiren Shoshu
- Nishiyama Honmonji — the Head Temple of Honmon Shoshu
- Kyoto Yoboji — the Head Temple of Nichiren Honshu
- Izu Jitsujoji — Nichiren Shu
Major Nichiren Buddhist schools and organisations
Major Nichiren Buddhist schools and their head temples
In alphabetical order (Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese Wikipedia).
|Name in English||Japanese|
|Fuju-fuse Nichiren Kōmon Shū||不受不施日蓮講門宗 本山本覚寺|
|Hokke Nichiren Shū||法華日蓮宗 総本山 ja:宝龍寺|
|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|
|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|
|Honke Nichiren Shū (Kyōto)||ja:本化日蓮宗（京都）本山石塔寺|
|Honmon Butsuryū Shū||ja:本門佛立宗 大本山宥清寺|
|Honmon Hokke Shū: Daihonzan Myōren-ji||本門法華宗 大本山妙蓮寺|
|Honmon Kyōō Shū||ja:本門経王宗 本山日宏寺|
|Kempon Hokke Shu: Sōhonzan Myōman-ji||総本山妙満寺|
|Nichiren Hokke Shū||ja:日蓮法華宗 大本山正福寺|
|Nichiren Honshū: Honzan Yōbō-ji||ja:日蓮本宗 本山 ja:要法寺|
|Nichiren Kōmon Shū||日蓮講門宗|
|Nichiren Shōshū:Sōhonzan Taiseki-ji||日蓮正宗 総本山 大石寺|
|Nichiren Shū Fuju-fuse-ha: Sozan Myōkaku-ji||日蓮宗不受不施派 祖山妙覚寺|
|Nichiren Shū: Sozan Minobuzan Kuon-ji||日蓮宗 祖山身延山 ja:久遠寺|
|Shōbō Hokke Shū||正法法華宗 本山 ja:大教寺|
Other Nichiren Buddhist 20th century movements and lay organisations
In alphabetical order (Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese Wikipedia):
- Bussho Gonenkai Kyōdan, founded in 1950 by Kaichi Sekiguchi and Tomino Sekiguchi
- Fuji Taisekiji Kenshōkai (also, just Kenshōkai) ja:富士大石寺顕正会, founded in 1942 and expelled from Nichiren Shoshu in 1978
- Hokkekō, lay organization closely affiliated with Nichiren Shōshū
- Honmon Shōshū 本門正宗
- Kokuchūkai ja:国柱会 (also 國柱会), a nationalist group founded in 1914 by Tanaka Chigaku
- Myōchikai Kyōdan, founded in 1950 by Miyamoto Mitsu
- Myōdōkai Kyōdan, founded in 1951
- Nichiren Buddhist Association of America, founded in 2001, expelled from Soka Gakkai International
- 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
- Shōshinkai, founded in 1980, expelled from Nichiren Shōshū in 1981
- Soka Gakkai, founded in Japan in 1930 by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi and Soka Gakkai International founded in 1975 by Daisaku Ikeda as lay organizations within Nichiren Shōshū. The process of SG/SGI being excluded from Nichiren Shoshu started in 1991, affecting high ranking SG leaders first, and in 1997 all SG/SGI adherents were expelled by Nichiren Shoshu.
- Nichiren Buddhist Association, founded in Malaysia in 2016, split from Soka Gakkai Malaysia (SGM) 
The nationalistic interpretation of Nichiren's teachings are to be found mainly within lay Buddhist movements like Kokuchūkai or Kenshōkai, most notable in this context however are the May 15 Incident, the League of Blood Incident and Tanaka Chigaku's Kokuchūkai. 
Translations of Nichiren's writings
- The Gosho Translation Committee: The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Volume I, Soka Gakkai, 2006. ISBN 4-412-01024-4
- The Gosho Translation Committee: The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Volume II, Soka Gakkai, 2006. ISBN 4-412-01350-2
- Kyotsu Hori (transl.); Sakashita, Jay (ed.): Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 1, University of Hawai'i Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8248-2733-3
- Tanabe Jr., George (ed.), Hori, Kyotsu: Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 2, University of Hawai'i Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8248-2551-9
- Kyotsu Hori (transl.), Sakashita, Jay (ed.): Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 3, University of Hawai'i Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8248-2931-X
- Kyotsu Hori (transl.), Jay Sakashita (ed.): Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 4, University of Hawai'i Press, 2007, ISBN 0-8248-3180-2
- Kyotsu Hori (transl.), Sakashita, Jay (ed.): Writings of Nichiren Shonin, Doctrine 5, University of Hawai'i Press, 2008, ISBN 0-8248-3301-5
- Kyotsu Hori (transl.), Sakashita, Jay (ed.): 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 two works and financed their publication, they show some deviation from similar works published under Soka Gakkai's own name.
- Website for English-language translations of works essential to the study of Nichiren Buddhism (Soka Gakkai) Nichiren Buddhism Library
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