Nichiren Buddhism

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A bronze garden statue of Nicihren Daishonin in the Honnoji Temple of Nichiren Shu in Teramachi Street, Kyoto, Japan
An illustrated image of the Lotus Sūtra, which is highly revered in Nichiren Buddhism. From the Kamakura period, circa 1257. Ink, color, and gold leaf on paper.

Nichiren Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren (1222–1282) and is one of the "Kamakura Buddhism" schools.[1][2] Its teachings derive from the 300 extant letters and treatises written by Nichiren.[3][4]

Within Nichiren Buddhism there are two major divisions which fundamentally differ over whether Nichiren should be regarded as a bodhisattva of the earth, a saint, great teacher—or the actual Buddha of the third age of Buddhism.[5][6][7] Several of Japan's New Religious Movements are Nichiren-inspired lay groups.[8] It is practiced worldwide,[9] with practitioners throughout the United States, Brazil and Europe, as well as in South Korea and southeast Asia.[10] The largest sects are the Soka Gakkai/(Soka Gakkai International), Nichiren Shu, and Nichiren Shoshu.[11]

Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the Lotus Sutra doctrine that all people have an innate Buddha-nature and are therefore inherently capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. Nichiren proposed a classification system that ranks the quality of religions[12][13]:128 and various Nichiren schools can be either accommodating or vigorously opposed to any other forms of Buddhism or religious beliefs.

There are three essential aspects to Nichiren Buddhism:

  1. The undertaking of faith.
  2. The practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo accompanied by selected recitations of the Lotus Sutra and teaching others to do the same.
  3. The study of Nichiren’s scriptural writings called ‘’Gosho.’’[14]

The Nichiren Gohonzon is a calligraphic image which is prominently displayed in the home or temple buildings of its believers. The Gohonzon used in Nichiren Buddhism is composed of the names of key bodhisattvas and Buddhas in the Lotus Sutra as well as Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo written in large characters down the center.[6]:225

After his death, Nichiren left to his followers the mandate to widely propagate the Gohonzon and Daimoku in order to secure the peace and prosperity of society.[15]:99

Traditional Nichiren Buddhist temple groups are commonly associated with Nichiren Shoshu and varying Nichiren Shu schools. There are also modern 21st century lay groups not affiliated with temples such as Soka Gakkai, Kenshokai, Shoshinkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai, and Honmon Butsuryū-shū.

History and Development[edit]

Nichiren and his time[edit]

Nichiren Buddhism originated in 13th-century feudal Japan. It is one of six new forms of Shin Bukkyo (English: "New Buddhism") of "Kamakura Buddhism."[16] The arrival of these new schools was a response to the social and political upheaval in Japan during this time as power passed from the nobility to a shogunate military dictatorship led by the Minamoto clan and later to the Hōjō clan. A prevailing pessimism existed associated with the perceived arrival of the Age of the Latter Day of the Law. The era was marked by an intertwining relationship between Buddhist schools and the state which included clerical corruption.[15]:1–5

By Nichiren's time the Lotus Sūtra was firmly established in Japan. From the ninth century, Japanese rulers decreed that the Lotus Sūtra be recited in temples for its "nation-saving" qualities. It was the most frequently read and recited sutra by the literate lay class and its message was disseminated widely through art, folk tales, music, and theater. It was commonly held that it had powers to bestow spiritual and worldly benefits to individuals.[17][18][19] However, even Mount Hiei, the seat of Tiantai Lotus Sutra devotion, had come to adopt an eclectic assortment of esoteric rituals and Pure Land practices as "expedient means" to understand the sutra itself.[20]:79[21]:385

Development during Nichiren's life[edit]

Nichiren developed his thinking in this midst of confusing Lotus Sutra practices and a competing array of other "Old Buddhism" and "New Buddhism" schools.[22]:544-574 The biographical development of his thinking is sourced almost entirely from his extant writings as there is no documentation about him in the public records of his times. Modern scholarship on Nichiren's life tries to provide sophisticated textual and sociohistorical analyses to cull longstanding myths about Nichiren that accrued over time from what is actually concretized.[23]:441-442[24][25]:334

It is clear that from an early point in his studies Nichiren came to focus on the Lotus Sutra as the culmination and central message of Shakyamuni. As his life unfolded he engaged in a "circular hermeneutic" in which the interplay of the Lotus Sutra text and his personal experiences verified and enriched each other in his mind.[26]:198 As a result, there are significant turning points as his teachings reach full maturity.[27]:239–299 Scholar Yoshirō Tamura categorizes the development of Nichiren's thinking into three periods:

  • An early period extending up to Nichiren's submission of the "Risshō Ankoku Ron" ("Establishment of the Legitimate Teaching for the Protection of the Country") to Hōjō Tokiyori in 1260;
  • A middle period bookmarked by his first exile (to Izu Peninsula, 1261) and his release from his second exile (to Sado Island, 1273);
  • A final period (1274-1282) in which Nichiren lived in Mount Minobu directing his movement from afar.[23]:448-449

Early stage: From initial studies to 1260[edit]

For more than 20 years Nichiren examined Buddhist texts and commentaries at Mount Hiei's Enryaku-ji temple and other major centers of Buddhist study in Japan. In later writings he claimed he was motivated by four primary questions: (1) What were the essentials of the competing Buddhist sects so they could be ranked according to their merits and flaws?[23]:451 (2) Which of the many Buddhist scriptures that had reached Japan represented the essence of Shakyamuni's teaching?[26]:190 (3) How could he be assured of the certainty of his own enlightenment? (4) Why was the Imperial house defeated by the Kamakura regime in 1221 despite the prayers and rituals of Tendai and Shingon priests?[28]:119 He eventually concluded that the highest teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha (c. 563c. 483 BC) were to be found in the Lotus Sutra. Throughout his career Nichiren carried his personal copy of the Lotus Sutra which he continually annotated.[26]:193 The mantra he expounded on April 28th 1253, known as the Daimoku or Odaimoku, Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, expresses his devotion to the Lotus Sutra.[15]:34[23]:451

From this early stage of his career, Nichiren started to engage in fierce polemics criticizing the teachings of Buddhism taught by the other sects of his day, a practice that continued and expanded throughout his life. Although Nichiren accepted the Tendai theoretical constructs of "original enlightenment" (hongaku shisō) and "attaining Buddhahood in one's present form" (sokushin jobutsu) he drew a distinction, insisting both concepts should be seen as practical and realizable amidst the concrete realities of daily life. He took issue with other Buddhist schools of his time that stressed transcendence over immanence. Nichiren's emphasis on "self-power" (Jpn. ji-riki) led him to harshly criticize Honen and his Pure Land Buddhism school because of its exclusive reliance on Amida Buddha for salvation which resulted in "other-dependence." (Jpn. ta-riki)[29]:39[30] In addition to his critique of Pure Land Buddhism, he later expanded his polemics to criticisms of the Zen, Shingon, and Ritsu sects. These four critiques were later collectively referred to as his "four dictums."[31] Later in his writings, Nichiren referred to his early exegeses of the Pure Land teachings as just the starting point for his polemics against the esoteric teachings, which he had deemed as a far more significant matter of concern.[30]:127 Adding to his criticisms of esoteric Shingon, Nichiren wrote detailed condemnations about the Tendai school which had abandoned its Lotus Sutra-exclusiveness and incorporated esoteric doctrines and rituals as well as faith in the soteriological power of Amida Buddha.[32]:3–4

The target of his tactics expanded during the early part of his career. Between 1253 and 1259 he proselytized and converted individuals, mainly attracting mid- to lower-ranking samurai and local landholders[23]:445 and debated resident priests in Pure Land temples. In 1260, however, he attempted to directly reform society as a whole by submitting a treatise entitled "Risshō Ankoku Ron" ("Establishment of the Legitimate Teaching for the Protection of the Country") to Hōjō Tokiyori, the de facto leader of the nation.

In it he cites passages from the Ninnō, Yakushi, Daijuku, and Konkōmyō sutras. Drawing on Tendai thinking about the nonduality of person and land, Nichiren argued that the truth and efficacy of the people's religious practice will be expressed in the outer conditions of their land and society. He thereby associated the natural disasters of his age with the nation's attachment to inferior teachings, predicted foreign invasion and internal rebellion, and called for the return to legitimate dharma to protect the country.[32]:6–7,12[18][33][34] Although the role of Buddhism in "nation-protection" (chingo kokka) was well-established in Japan at this time, in this thesis Nichiren explicitly held the leadership of the country directly responsible for the safety of the land.[27]:250–251

Middle stage: 1261-1273[edit]

During the middle stage of his career, in refuting other religious schools publicly and vociferously, Nichiren provoked the ire of the country's rulers and of the priests of the sects he criticized. As a result he was subjected to persecution which included two assassination attempts, an attempted beheading and two exiles.[35] His first exile, to Izu Peninsula (1261-1263), convinced Nichiren that he was "bodily reading the Lotus Sutra (Jpn. Hokke shikidoku)," fulfilling the predictions on the 13th chapter (Fortitude) that votaries would be persecuted by ignorant lay people, influential priests, and their friends in high places.[27]:252[36]

Nichiren began to argue that through "bodily reading the Lotus Sutra," rather than just studying its text for literal meaning, a country and its people could be protected.[26]:190–192 According to Habito, Nichiren argued that bodily reading the Lotus Sutra entails four aspects:

  • The awareness of Śākyamuni Buddha’s living presence. "Bodily reading the Lotus Sutra" is equivalent to entering the very presence of the Buddha in an immediate, experiential, and face-to-face way, he claimed. Here Nichiren is referring to the primordial buddha revealed in Chapter 16 ("Life Span of the Thus Come One") who eternally appears and engages in human events in order to save living beings from their state of unhappiness.[26]:191–192,201
  • One contains all. Nichiren further developed the Tiantai doctrine of "three thousand realms in a single thought-moment". Every thought, word, or deed contains within itself the whole of the three thousand realms; reading even one word of the sūtra therefore includes the teachings and merits of all buddhas. Chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, according to Nichiren, is the concrete means by which the principle of the three thousand realms in a single thought-moment is activated and assures the attainment of enlightenment as well as receiving various kinds of worldly benefit.[26]:190,192,201
  • The here and now. Nichiren held that the bodily reading of the sūtra must be applicable to time, place, and contemporary events. Nichiren was acutely aware of the social and political turmoil of his country and spiritual confusion of people in the Latter Day of the Law.[26]:193,201
  • Utmost seriousness. True practitioners must go beyond mental or verbal practices and actively speak up against and oppose prevailing thoughts and philosophies that denigrate the message of the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren set the example and was willing to lay down his life for its propagation and realization.[26]:201

His three-year exile to Sado Island proved to be another key turning point in Nichiren's thinking.[37] Here he began inscribing the Gohonzon and wrote several major theses in which he claimed that he was functioning, at first, in the role of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging of the 20th chapter of the Lotus Sutra and, later, as Bodhisattva Superior Practices, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. In his work The True Object of Worship, he identified himself as functioning as the primordial Buddha, one and the same as the eternal Law represented by the invocation Nam-myoho-renge-kyo which he physically embodied as the Gohonzon mandala. This has been described as embodying the same condition or state he attained in a physical object of devotion worship so that others could attain that equivalent condition of enlightenment.[38]:28–30[15]:39–42,61–68[27]:258–259 During this time the daimoku becomes the means to directly access the Buddha's enlightenment.[27]:260

He concludes his work The Opening of the Eyes with the declaration "I will be the pillar of Japan; I will be they eyes of Japan; I will be the vessel of Japan. Inviolable shall remain these vows!"[39] His thinking now went beyond theories of karmic retribution or guarantees of the Lotus Sutra as a protective force. Rather, he expressed a resolve to fulfill his mission despite the consequences.[27]:259 All of his disciples, he asserted, should emulate his spirit and work just like him in helping all people open their innate Buddha lives even though this means entails encountering enormous challenges.[15]:75

Final stage: 1274-1282[edit]

Nichiren’s teachings reached their full maturity between the years 1274 and 1282 while he resided in a hermitage at Mount Minobu located in today's Yamanashi Prefecture. During this time he produced most of the Gohonzon which he sent to followers[40]:377 and authored works constituting half of his extant writings[27]:191[41]:115 including six treatises that were categorized by his follower Nikkō as among his ten most important.[42]

In 1278 the “Atsuhara Affair” (“Atsuhara Persecution”) occurred, culminating three years later.[43]:153[44] In the prior stage of his career, between 1261 and 1273, Nichiren endured and overcame numerous trials that were directed at him personally including assassination attempts, an attempted execution, and two exiles, thereby “bodily reading the Lotus Sutra” (shikidoku 色読). In so doing, according to him, he validated the 13th ("Fortitude") chapter of the Lotus Sutra in which a host of bodhisattvas promise to face numerous trials that follow in the wake of upholding and spreading the sutra in the evil age following the death of the Buddha: slander and abuse; attack by swords and staves; enmity from kings, ministers, and respected monks; and repeated banishment.[43]:154

On two occasions, however, the persecution was aimed at his followers. First, in 1271, in conjunction with the arrest and attempted execution of Nichiren and his subsequent exile to Sado, many of his disciples were arrested, banished, or had lands confiscated by the government. At that time, Nichiren stated, most recanted their faith in order to escape the government’s actions. In contrast, during the Atsuhara episode twenty lay peasant-farmer followers were arrested on questionable charges and tortured; three were ultimately executed. This time none recanted their faith.[43]:155–156 Some of his prominent followers in other parts of the country were also being persecuted but maintained their faith as well.[41]:117

Although Nichiren was situated in Minobu, far from the scene of the persecution, the Fuji district of present-day Shizuoka Prefecture, Nichiren held his community together in the face of significant oppression through a sophisticated display of legal and rhetorical responses. He also drew on a wide array of support from the network of leading monks and lay disciples he had raised, some of whom were also experiencing persecution at the hands of the government.[43]:165, 172

Throughout the events he wrote many letters to his disciples in which he gave context to the unfolding events by asserting that severe trials have deep significance. According to Stone, “By standing firm under interrogation, the Atsuhara peasants had proved their faith in Nichiren’s eyes, graduating in his estimation from ‘ignorant people’ to devotees meriting equally with himself the name of ‘practitioners of the Lotus Sutra.’”[43]:166, 168–169 During this time Nichiren inscribed 114 mandalas that are extant today, 49 of which have been identified as being inscribed for individual lay followers and which may have served to deepen the bond between teacher and disciple. In addition, a few very large mandalas were inscribed, apparently intended for use at gathering places, suggesting the existence of some type of conventicle structure.[23]:446

The Atsuhara Affair also gave Nichiren the opportunity to better define what was to become Nichiren Buddhism. He stressed that meeting great trials was a part of the practice of the Lotus Sutra; the great persecutions of Atsuhara were not results of karmic retribution but were the historical unfolding of the Buddhist Dharma. The vague “single good of the true vehicle” which he advocated in the Risshō ankoku ron now took final form as chanting the Lotus Sutra’s daimoku or title which he described as the heart of the “origin teaching” (honmon 本門) of the Lotus Sutra. This, he now claimed, lay hidden in the depths of the 16th (“The Life Span of the Tathāgata”) chapter, never before being revealed, but intended by the Buddha solely for the beginning of the Final Dharma Age.[43]:175–176, 186

Development of Nichiren Buddhism in medieval Japan[edit]

After Nichiren’s death in 1282 the Kamakura shogunate weakened largely due to financial and political stresses resulting from defending the country from the Mongols. It was replaced by the Ashikaga (Muromachi) shogunate (足利幕府 or 室町幕府, 1336–1573) which in turn was succeeded by the Azuchi–Momoyama period (安土桃山時代, 1573-1600), and finally the Tokugawa shogunate (江戸幕府, 1600-1868). During these time periods, collectively comprising the span known as medieval Japan, Nichiren Buddhism experienced considerable turbulence and decline. After the era, in the modern period, it experienced a revival.[28]:93-95,122[45]:251

Development of the major lineages of Nichiren Buddhism[edit]

Several denominations comprise the umbrella term "Nichiren Buddhism" which was known at the time as the Hokkeshū (Lotus School) or Nichirenshū (Nichiren School).[25]:383[46]:166 The rupture of his teachings into the formation of different schools started within several years after his passing. In 1282, one year before his death, Nichiren named "six senior priests" (rokurōsō) to lead his community: Nisshō (日昭), Nichirō (日朗), Nikō (日向), Nitchō (日頂), Nichiji (日持), and Nikkō (日興). During Nichiren's life each had led communities of followers in different parts of the Kanto region of Japan and these groups, after Nichiren's death, morphed into lineages of schools.[47][27]:303

Nikō, Nichirō, and Nisshō were the core of the Minobu (also known as the Nikō) school. Nikō became the chief abbot of Minobu (Nichiren is considered by this school to be the first). Nichirō's direct lineage was called the Nichirō or Hikigayatsu monryu. Nisshō's lineage became the Nisshō or Hama monryu. Nitchō formed the Nakayama lineage but later returned as a follower of Nikkō. Nichiji eventually traveled to the Asian continent (ca. 1295) to on a missionary journey and some scholarship suggests he reached northern China, Manchuria, and possibly Mongolia.[27]:303[48][49][50]

Nikkō left Kuon-ji in 1289 to establish a center at the foot of Mount Fuji which would later be known as the Taisekiji temple of Nichiren Shōshū. He became the center of what was to be called the Nikkō monryu or lineage.[27]:335-336

Fracture lines between the Minobu and Nikkō groups crystallized over several issues:

Local gods. A deeply embedded and ritualized part of Japanese village life, Nichiren schools clashed over the practice of honoring local kami by lay disciples of Nichiren. Some argued that this practice was a necessary accommodation. The group led by the monk Nikkō objected to syncretism.[27]:335-336
Content of Lotus Sūtra. Some sects argued that all chapters of the sūtra should be equally valued (called Itchi) and others claimed that the latter half was superior to the former half (called Shōretsu). (See below for more details.)
Identity of Nichiren. Some of his later disciples identified him with Visistacaritra, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who were entrusted in Chapter Twenty-Two to propagate the Lotus Sūtra. The Nikkō group identified Nichiren as the original and eternal Buddha.[27]:355[51]:117-119[20]:102-104
Identification with Tiantai school. The Nisshō group began to identify itself as a Tiantai school, having no objections to its esoteric practices, perhaps as an expedient means to avoid persecution from Tiantai, Pure Land, and Shingon followers. This deepened the rift with Nikkō.[52]:141
The Three Gems. All schools of Buddhism speak of the concept of The Three Gems (the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha) but define it differently. Over the centuries the Nichiren schools have come to understand it differently as well. The Minobu school has come to identify the Buddha as Shakyamuni whereas the Nikkō school identifies it as Nichiren. For Minobu the Dharma is Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, the Nikkō school identifies it as Namu-myoho-renge-kyo that is hidden in the 16th "Lifespan" Chapter of the Lotus Sutra (the Gohonzon. Currently Nichiren Shoshu claims this refers to the Dai Gohonzon whereas the Soka Gakkai holds it represents all Gohonzon. The Sangha, sometimes translated as "the priest") is also interpreted differently. Minobu defines it as Nichiren; Nichiren Shoshu as its priesthood; and the Soka Gakkai as the harmonious community of practitioners.[53]:120-123,132[54]:106[55]:71[56]:582-583

The split between the so-called Itchi (meaning unity or harmony) and Shoretsu (a contraction of two words meaning superior/inferior) lineages schools became the most fundamental difference, a cleavage which is reflected to this day.[27]:304-366

  • The Itchi 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 (shakumon or "Imprinted Gate") and theoretical (honmon or "Original Gate") chapters, are venerated. While great attention is given to the 2nd and 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, other parts of the sutra are recited.
  • The Shoretsu lineage comprises most temples of the Nikkō lineage, most notably today's Nichiren Shōshū as well as the lay Sōka Gakkai. This lineage underlines the supremacy of the essential over the theoretical part of the Lotus Sutra. Therefore, solely the 2nd and 16th chapters of the Lotus Sutra are recited.[57]

There were subdivisions in the second group which splintered over whether the entire second half was of equal importance, the eight chapters of the second half when the assembly participates in “The Ceremony of the Air,” or specifically Chapter Sixteen (Lifespan of the Tathāgata).[27]:304-366

Despite these differences, both of the groups asserted the primacy of the Lotus Sutra, commonly traced Nichiren as their founder, centered religious practice on chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, used the Gohonzon in meditative practices, insisted on the need for propagation, and remonstrated with the authorities.[25]:398

Nikkō's claims[edit]

[citation needed]

Latter feelings of animosity and discord grew after the second death anniversary of Nichiren's 100th Day Memorial ceremony (23 January 1283) when the rotation system as agreed upon the "Shuso Gosenge Kiroku" (English: Record document of founder's demise) and Rimbo Cho (English: Rotation Wheel System) to clean and maintain Nichiren's grave, according to Nikko, was being abandoned by the other five senior disciples.

By the third death anniversary of Nichiren (13 October 1284), Nikkō claimed that the other five senior priests no longer returned to Nichiren's tomb in Mount Minobu, citing the deer hoofs and other signs of neglect at the gravesite. In addition, Nikkō made accusatory charges that after Nichiren's death, the other disciples slowly began to gradually deviate from what Nikkō viewed as Nichiren's orthodox teachings.

Chief among these complaints was the syncretic practices of some of the disciples to worship images of both Shakyamuni Buddha. Nikkō admonished other disciple priests for signing their names "Tendai Shamon" of the Tendai Buddhist school in documents they sent to the Kamakura government. Furthermore, Nikkō alleged that the other disciples disregarded some of Nichiren's writings written in Katakana rather than in Classical Chinese syllabary.

Nikkō accused his patron Hagiri Sanenaga, the steward of the temple district, of unorthodox practices deemed to be heretical such as the following:

  1. The crafting of a standing statue of Shakyamuni Buddha as an object of worship.
  2. The donation of noren shrine curtains and horses to the Mishima Taisha Shinto shrine, at the time an honorary shrine of the Hōjō clan shogunate.
  3. The procurement of bamboo lumber for the Shinto Gassan Shrine.
  4. Attendance at a memorial service dedicated to the stupa of Amida Buddha along with giving monetary donations to its Nenbutsu priests in Fukushi ward, Nanbu, Yamanashi prefecture.

Nikō, however, tolerated these controversial acts, claiming that similar incidents occurred previously with the knowledge of Nichiren while he was alive. Hagiri Sanenaga defended his actions claiming that it was customary for his political family to provide monetary donations and make homage to the Shinto shrine of the Kamakura shogunate. Sanenaga sided with Nikō and Nikkō departed from Minobu.

15th through early 19th centuries[edit]

By 1400 Nichiren school temples had been founded all over Kyoto, only being outnumbered by Zen temples. Although the various sects of Nichiren Buddhism were administratively independent they met in a council to resolve common problems.[58] 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.[59]

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.[57]

Nichiren temples were forced, just like those of other Buddhist schools, to focus on funeral and memorial services (Sōshiki bukkyō) as their main activity.[60]:247 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 Nichiren schools did not form until the late 19th and early 20th century as legally incorporated religious bodies. A last wave of mergers 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.

Claims of forged documents[edit]

Documents first mentioned and discovered by Taiseki-ji High Priest Nikkyo Shonin in 1488 claimed that Nichiren passed full authority to Nikkō Shonin alone as successor. This pervading claim notes that such original documents have long disappeared, but a certified copy of these documents are preserved at Taiseki-ji repositories. In contrast, other Nichiren sects vehemently ignore them as forgeries due to not being in existence in its original handwriting of neither Nichiren or Nikko Shonin himself, but rather copied down by Nikko’s extant disciples after his death."[61]

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 Nichiren'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[62][63] like Sōka Gakkai, Shōshinkai, and Kenshōkai trace their origins to the Nichiren Shōshū school.

Kuon-ji Temple in Mount Minobu 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 invariably stems from the Kuon-ji lineage.

The Fuji-lineage[edit]

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.[citation needed]

The Fuji-lineage includes the following temples:

Historical temples and their present affiliation
SECT Historical temple of affiliation
Nichiren Shoshu
  • Taisekiji temple
  • Myorenji temple (Shimojo)
Nichiren Shu
  • Kitayama Honmonji Temple
  • Koizumi Kuonji Temple
  • Izu Jitsujoji Temple
Nichiren Hon-shu
  • Kyoto Yoboji Temple
Independent Temple
(No Affiliation)
  • Hota Myohonji Temple
  • Nishiyama Honmonji Temple

The Yoboji Temple of Kyoto, formerly called Jogyo-in Temple was founded by Nichigo in the year 1339, was one of the two assistant disciples of Nichimoku Shonin, third successor abbot of Nichiren Shoshu. The other assistant was Nichizon. Since the 14th century, the Jogyo-in temple became financially able in sustaining the Taisekiji Temple due to monetary donations collected from both Hokkeko and non-Hokkeko believers, and later sustained the Taisekiji temple by providing candidates for its successive high priests. Due to time travel constraints and lack of communication, neither side addressed the issue of differences. At this time, the Taisekiji temple was impoverished due to their rejection to accept monetary donations from non-believers, a practice still continued until today.[citation needed]

Latter priests sent from Yoboji Temple to Taisekiji Temple again introduced syncretist practices such as the placement of a Shakyamuni Buddha statue in front of the Gohonzon, a practice that was strongly rejected by the time of the 26th High Priest Nichikan Shonin, who reverted to a singular Gohonzon worship, or Gohonzon scroll flanked with two statues of Nichiren Daishonin and Nikko Shonin (English: Three-Gem-Style), often with a copy of the Lotus Sutra contained within the Kyobako box in the front as permitted. Today, the Taisekiji Head Temple no longer accepts priests nor monetary donations from the Yoboji Temple, despite its former fraternal history. It was a part of Nichiren Shu group of schools after the Meiji Restoration and separated from Nichiren Shu in the 1950s to become its own sect, known today as Nichiren Honshu.[citation needed]

Nichiren Buddhism in modern Japanese history[edit]

Nichiren Buddhism went through many reforms in the Meiji Period during a time of persecution when the government attempted to eradicate Buddhism mainstream Japanese Buddhism.[64] As a part of the Meiji Restoration, the interdependent Danka system between the state and Buddhist temples was dismantled which left the latter without its funding. Buddhist institutions had to align themselves to the new nationalistic agenda or perish.[65]:220,226–227[66]:184–185 [67]:237–241[68] Many of these reform efforts were led by lay people.[69][70]:209[71]

The trend toward lay centrality was prominent in Nichiren Buddhism as well, predating the Meiji period.[70]:209[72] Some Nichiren reformers in the Meiji period attempted to inject a nationalistic interpretation of Nichiren's teachings; others called for globalist perspectives. According to Japanese researcher Yoshiro Tamura, the term "Nichirenism" applies broadly to the following three categories:

  1. The ultranationalistic preoccupation with Nichiren that contributed to Japan's militaristic effort before World War II.
  2. Socialist activists and writers during the prewar and postwar eras who promoted a vision of an ideal world society inspired by the Lotus Sutra and according to their own views of Nichiren.
  3. Organized religious bodies that were inspired by Nichiren’s teachings.[18]:424

Nichiren Buddhism as a form of nationalism[edit]

Both Nichiren and his followers have been associated with fervent Japanese nationalism specifically identified as Nichirenism between the Meiji period and the conclusion of World War II.[73][74] The nationalistic interpretation of Nichiren's teachings were inspired by lay Buddhist movements like Kokuchūkai or Kenshōkai and resulted in violent historical events such as the May 15 Incident and the League of Blood Incident.[75][76][77] Among the key proponents of this interpretation are Chigaku Tanaka who founded the Kokuchūkai (English: Nation's Pillar Society). Tanaka was charismatic and through his writings and lecturers attracted many followers such as Kanji Ishiwara.[18]:427–428 Nisshō Honda advocated the unification Japanese Buddhists to support the imperial state.[18]:428[65]:230 Other ultra-nationalist activists who based their ideas on Nichiren were Ikki Kita and Nisshō Inoue.[18]:429

Nichiren Buddhism as a form of socialism[edit]

Nichirenism also includes several intellectuals and activists who reacted against the prewar ultranationalistic interpretations and argued for an egalitarian and socialist vision of society based on Nichiren's teachings and the Lotus Sutra. These figures ran against the growing tide of Japanese militarism and were subjected to political harassment and persecution.[18]:425 A leading figure in this group was Girō Seno who formed the New Buddhist Youth League (Shinkō Bukkyō Seinen Dōmei).

Originally influenced by the ideals of Tanaka and Honda, Giro Seno came to reject ultra-nationalism and argued for humanism, socialism, pacifism, and democracy as a new interpretation of Nichiren's beliefs. He was imprisoned for two years under the National Security Act.[78] The same fate was also endured by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who at the time supported the Japanese war effort of Emperor Showa during World War II but refused the religious dictum of Shinto display towards his religion, Nichiren Shoshu. Makiguchi would found the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai, a lay organization composed of primarily secretaries and teachers until it grew to become Soka Gakkai after World War II.

Nichiren Buddhism within new social and religious movements[edit]

Several Nichiren-inspired religious movements arose and appealed primarily to this segment of society with a message of alleviating suffering salvation for many poor urban workers.[18]:425 Honmon Butsuryū-shū, an early example of lay-based religious movements of the modern period inspired by Nichiren, was founded several years before the Meiji Restoration. Reiyukai, Rissho Koseikai stemming from Nichiren Shu while Kenshokai and Soka Gakkai stemming from Nichiren Shoshu are more recent examples of lay-inspired movements drawing from Nichiren's teachings and life.[18]:433

Nichiren Buddhism in culture and literature[edit]

Accordingly, Nichiren Buddhism has had a major impact on Japan's literary and cultural life. Japanese literary figure Takayama Chogyū and children's author Kenji Miyazawa praised Nichiren's teachings. Another prominent researcher, Masaharu Anesaki was encouraged to study Nichiren which led to the latter's work Nichiren: The Buddhist Prophet which introduced Nichiren to the West.[18]:430–431 Non-Buddhist Japanese individuals such as Uchimura Kanzō listed Nichiren as one of five historical figures who best represented Japan while Tadao Yanaihara described Nichiren as one of the four historical figures he most admired.[18]:430–433

Basic teachings[edit]

The basic practice of Nichiren Buddhism is chanting the invocation Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to a mandala inscribed by Nichiren, called Gohonzon.[79][80] Embracing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo entails both chanting and having the mind of faith (shinjin).[27]:270 Both the invocation and the Gohonzon, as taught by Nichiren, embody the title and essence of the Lotus Sutra,[81] which he taught as the only valid scripture for The Latter Day of the Law,[82] as well as the life state of Buddhahood inherent in all life.[83]

Nichiren considered that in the Latter Day of the Law – a time of human strife and confusion when Buddhism would be in decline – Buddhism had to be more than the theoretical or meditative practice it had become, but was meant to be practiced "with the body", that is, in one’s actions and the consequent results that are manifested.[15]:25 More important than the formality of ritual, he claimed, was the substance of the practitioner's life[15]:107 in which the spiritual and material aspects are interrelated.[84] He considered conditions in the world to be a reflection of the conditions of the inner lives of people; the premise of his first major remonstrance, Rissho Ankoku Ron (Establishing The Correct Teaching for the Peace of The Land), is that if a nation abandons heretical forms of Buddhism and adopts faith in the Lotus Sutra, the nation will know peace and security. He considered his disciples the "Bodhisattvas of the Earth" who appeared in the Lotus Sutra with the vow to spread the correct teaching and thereby establish a peaceful and just society.[15]:22–23

The specific task to be pursued by Nichiren's disciples was the widespread propagation of his teachings (the invocation and the Gohonzon) in a way that would effect actual change in the world's societies[15]:47 so that the sanctuary, or seat, of Buddhism could be built.[85] Nichiren saw this sanctuary as a specific seat of his Buddhism, but there is thought that he also meant it in a more general sense, that is, wherever his Buddhism would be practiced.[86][15]:111 This sanctuary, along with the invocation and Gohonzon, comprise "the three great secret laws (or dharmas)" found in the Lotus Sutra.[87]

Nichiren's writings[edit]

A prolific writer, Nichiren's personal communiques among 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.[88][89][90] One of his most important writings the Rissho Ankoku Ron, preserved at Shochuzan Hokekyo-ji, is one of the National Treasures of Japan.[91][92]

Lists of major Nichiren Buddhist schools and organizations[edit]

The following lists are based on the Japanese Wikipedia article on Nichiren Buddhism.

Major Nichiren Buddhist schools and their head temples[edit]

In alphabetical order (Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese Wikipedia).

Romanized 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
Nichirenshū Fuju-fuse-ha 日蓮宗不受不施派
Shōbō Hokke Shū 正法法華宗 本山 ja:大教寺

Other Nichiren Buddhist 20th century movements and lay organizations[edit]

In alphabetical order (Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese Wikipedia):


Translations of Nichiren's writings[edit]

  • 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
  • Die Schriften Nichiren Daishonins, Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer, trans., Verlag Herder, 2014, ISBN 978-3451334542


Recent scholarship[edit]

  • Bowring, Paul. Kornicki, Peter, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan. eds. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-521-40352-9 (Referred to in text as Cambridge.)
  • Causton, Richard, "Buddha in Daily Life, An Introduction to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin", 1995. ISBN 071267456X
  • The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Bureau, 2002
  • Ikeda, Daisaku, Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, Little, Brown, 1988. ISBN 9780356154985
  • Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kondansha, 1993, ISBN 4-06-205938-X; CD-ROM version, 1999. (Referred to in text as Illustrated.)
  • Lotus Seeds - The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose, 2000. ISBN 0-9705920-0-0
  • Matsunaga, Daigan, Matsunaga, Alicia (1996), Foundation of Japanese buddhism, Vol. 2: The Mass Movement (Kamakura and Muromachi Periods), Los Angeles; Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, 1996. ISBN 0-914910-28-0
  • Montgomery, Daniel B., Fire In The Lotus - The Dynamic Buddhism of Nichiren. Mandala - HarperCollins, 1991. ISBN 1-85274-091-4
  • The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism. Soka Gakkai, 2002, ISBN 4-412-01205-0 online
  • Stone, Jacqueline I., Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism (Studies in East Asian Buddhism), University of Hawaii Press 2003, ISBN 978-0824827717

Early English-language scholarship[edit]

(listed in chronological order)


  • 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.


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