Nichiren also known as “Nichiren Shonin” or “Nichiren Daishonin” was a Japanese Buddhist priest who lived during the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Nichiren is known for his sole devotion to the Lotus Sutra, asserting that it was Shakyamuni Buddha’s ultimate teachings and was the exclusive method to attain enlightenment. 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.
Nichiren was born the son of a fisherman in Awa (Chiba Prefecture), and entered the priesthood under Dozen of Seicho-ji Temple. He underwent tonsure at 16 and took the name Zeseibo Rencho. He left on a long study voyage which took him to Mt Hiei near Kyoto, the most important Tendai monastery, where he remained for ten years. He disapproved of the Tendai interpretation of the Doctrine and of the passion for Amida worship, which was rejecting Shakyamuni for Amida. He believed that the true spirit of the Doctrine was to be found in ‘The Lotus of the Wonderful Law’, a Tendai canonical text. But because he believed that not everyone would understand it, he declared that the very essence was in its title and that it corresponded to the Buddha’s state of enlightenment.
If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured through eternity and attain supreme enlightenment in this lifetime, you must awaken to the mystic truth which has always been within your life. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth within you. Myoho-renge-kyo is the king of sutras, flawless in both letter and principle. Its words are the reality of life, and the reality of life is the Mystic Law (Myoho). It is called the Mystic Law because it explains the mutually inclusive relationship of life and all phenomena. That is why this sutra is the wisdom of all Buddhas.
Shakyamuni is another name of the historical founder of Buddhism. He was the son of Shuddhodana, the king of the Shakyas, a small tribe whose kingdom was located in the foothills of the Himalayas south of what is now central Nepal. Shakya of Shakyamuni is taken from the name of this tribe and muni means sage or saint. His family name was Gautama (Best Cow) and his given name was Siddhartha (Goal Achieved), though some scholars say this is a title bestowed on him by later Buddhists in honor of the enlightenment he attained.
The Tendai School
The Japanese Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to the area around Mount Hiei. around 788 AD. It was one of those strange practical jokes of history: Kammu, a devoted Confucian, originally moved the capital in order to get away from the Buddhists. Kammu took a liking to a young priest, and sent him to China in 804 to further his training as a Buddhist priest. While in China, the yound priest Saicho became a follower of the T’ien T’ai school; on his return, he converted the Hiei temple to Tendai, the Japanese name for T’ien T’ai. The Tendai school was based on the Lotus Sutra, which was the foundational text of all Mahayana Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra claims to be the last definitive teaching of Buddha. In it, the Buddha reveals the “Greater Vehicle” (in Sanskrit, Mahayana) which allows for salvation for a larger number of people. Buddhahood is open to all people rather than to a few; the teaching of Buddhist law, then, is of paramount importance.
“The practice of the Lotus Sutra is shakubuku, the refutation of the provisional doctrines.” True to the letter of this golden saying, the believers of all provisional teachings and sects will ultimately be defeated and join the followers of the king of the Law. The time will come when all people, including those of Learning, Realization and Bodhisattva, will enter on the path to Buddhahood, and the Mystic Law alone will flourish throughout the land. In that time because all people chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together, the wind will not beleaguer the branches or boughs, nor will the rain fall hard enough to break a clod. The world will become as it was in the ages of Fu Hsi and Shen Nung in ancient China. Disasters will be driven from the land, and people will be rid of misfortune. They will also learn the art of living long, fulfilling lives. Realise that the time will come when the truth will be revealed that both the Person and the Law are unaging and eternal. There cannot be the slightest doubt about the sutra’s solemn promise of a peaceful life in this world.
Takes on the Establishment
Nichiren Daishonin determined to take on the awesome challenge of confronting the entrenched, established sects and religious authorities. Calling upon the people of his age and the future to take faith in the wonderful mystic law of the Lotus Sutra, he boldly declared the founding of his true Buddhism on April 28th 1253. He taught that the practice which perfectly accords with the times and the capacity of the people is the chanting of the invocation “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo”. Beginning with this declaration, Nichiren Daishonin struggled unceasingly to propagate the heart of the Lotus Sutra, the profound law which he cherished.
Nichiren was convinced that his country could only redeem itself if it returned to the Good Law which he would communicate to the world. He wanted to convert both the government and the people, and began to publish numerous warnings and to preach in the streets of Kamakura, condemning all other schools. His vehemence was such that he was exiled to the Izu peninsula in 1261. Once pardoned, he resumed his attacks. Condemned to death he only just escaped execution in 1271, but he was banished once more. Within three years he was back at Kamakura and with his disciples went to live on Mount Minobu, to the west of Fuji, which has since become a popular shrine.
Each of you should summon up the courage of a lion and never succumb to threats from anyone. The lion fears no other beast, nor do its cubs. Slanderers are like howling jackals, but Nichiren’s followers are like roaring lions. Hojo Tokiyori and Hojo Tokimune, the past and present regents, pardoned me when they found I was innocent of the accusations against me. The regent will no longer take action on any charge without confirming its validity. You may rest assured that nothing, not even a person possessed by a powerful demon, can harm Nichiren, because Bonten, Taishaku, the gods of the sun and moon, the Four Heavenly Kings, Tensho Daijin and Hachiman are safeguarding him. Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken even a bit, demons will take advantage.
The Lotus Sutra is composed of twenty-eight chapters which the faithful believe “transmit the Law” representing the culmination of the essence of the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. The Law is transmitted in beautiful prose and verse in terms of humorous parables, allegories, metaphors, fantastic descriptions of supernatural visions and metaphysical discussion. This panoramic totality gives it dimensions of cosmic proportions in space and time. The variegated nature of the Lotus teachings is associated with Sakyamuni’s inclination to exercise “tactfulness” and “expedience” to accommodate all manner of capacities and temperaments that exist among his listeners. Ultimately these different gateways lead to the Path.
LOTUS SUTRA – Chapter II
“The Buddha appeared in this world to purify all beings
by having them open the treasury of the Buddha-wisdom
which they are unaware of possessing within themselves.
The Buddhas appeared in this world
to show the Buddha-wisdom to them.
The Buddhas appeared in this world
to have them understand what the Buddha-wisdom is.
The Buddhas have appeared in this world
to lead them into the path of the Buddha-wisdom.”
Two broad themes reveal themselves in the Lotus Sutra. The first, developed over the first fourteen chapters, is the reality of intrinsic commonality that prevails in the nature of all human beings. Achieving Enlightenment consists of awakening the seed of Buddhahood in an individual.
The other broad theme, expounded over the remaining fourteen chapters is the eternalness of the Buddha. That the historical Sakyamuni Buddha, born and attaining enlightenment in India. was but a temporal form of the primeval Buddha who was enlightened in the remotest past and lives on eternally with no birth or death. Regardless of the age we live in the Buddha is always among us and points to the Path of Buddhahood.
Second is the matter of capacity. Anyone who attempts to propagate the teachings of Buddhism must understand the capacity and basic nature of the persons he is addressing. The Venerable Shariputra attempted to instruct a blacksmith by teaching him to meditate on the vileness of the body, and to instruct a washerman by teaching him to count his breaths in meditation. Even though he spent over ninety days with them, these pupils of his did not gain the slightest understanding of the Buddha’s Law. On the contrary, they took on erroneous views and ended by becoming icchantika or persons of incorrigible disbelief.
The Buddha, on the other hand, instructed the blacksmith in the counting-of-breath meditation, and the washer of clothes in the meditation on the vileness of the body, and as a result both were able to obtain understanding in no time at all. If even Shariputra, who was counted foremost in wisdom among the major disciples of the Buddha, failed in understanding the capacity of the persons he was instructing, then how much more difficult must it be for ordinary teachers in this, the Latter Day of the Law, to have such an understanding! Ordinary teachers who lack an understanding of capacity shouldn’t