The faith of Nichiren Buddhism

The faith of Nichiren Buddhism

Even though the Lotus Sutra is at the centre of teachings, Nichiren is revered and the O-daimoku is chanted, there are a variety of views in Nichiren Buddhism about the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and so the forms of devotion are varied. In this section, we share the breadth of the faith in which Buddhists traditionally take refuge – known as the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) – the true nature of the Buddha, the hope for humankind and the way Nichiren’s teaching are translated into everyday words and actions.

The Buddha

The Lotus Sutra reveals the Eternal Original Buddha. All the buddhas of Mahayana Buddhism, whether past, present or future, including Shakyamuni Buddha, are all manifestations of the Original Buddha who is constantly sharing and revealing the Dharma (universal truth) to all living beings.

Within Nichiren Buddhism, there are two schools of thought: those who believe that Shakyamuni Buddha, who appears in chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, is the Original Buddha, and those who believe that Nichiren is the Original Buddha.

The former school of thought underpins many groups such as Nichiren Shu, in which Nichiren is a disciple of the Buddha. The latter interpretation is characteristic of the Fujimonryu School and is the doctrine of the movements such as Nichiren Shōshū and Soka Gakkai.

The Dharma (scriptures)

In the denominations that hold the Lotus Sutra as their main scripture, it is revered as the teaching that can liberate people in the Age of the Decline of the Dharma (the Buddha’s teachings) after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha.

In line with the traditional interpretation of the Lotus Sutra since the time of Zhiyi (a Chinese monk who established a systematic interpretation of the Lotus Sutra), the Lotus Sutra is often studied alongside the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings (as the opening sutra) and the Sutra for Contemplating the Bodhisattva Universal Sage (as the closing sutra). Together they are known as the Threefold Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren’s writings are sometimes regarded as the treasure of the Dharma, and this tendency is strong in the schools that say that Nichiren is the Original Buddha. He wrote over 900 manuscripts, but in addition to the true and lost documents, there are also many counterfeit manuscripts.

All sects agree that the five main writings of Nichiren are the most important. These five teachings are:

  1. Risshō Ankoku-ron (a treatise on spreading peace throughout the country by establishing the true Dharma)
  2. Kaimoku-shō (open your eyes to the Lotus teaching)
  3. Kanjin Honzon-shō (a treatise revealing the spiritual contemplation and the focus of devotion)
  4. Senji-shō (selecting the right time for practising and spreading the Lotus Sutra)
  5. Hōon-jō (an essay on gratitude).

However, the varied understanding of what is true or false has resulted in different interpretations of his writings, which has also led to distinct faiths emerging.

In other movements, the teachings of Shakyamuni are considered unhelpful in the Age of the Decline of the Dharma, and Namu Myoho Renge Kyo revealed by the Original Buddha Nichiren is regarded as the treasure of the Dharma.

The Sangha (community)

The treasure of Sangha has been widely interpreted since ancient times. It can refer to a high priest, a specific group of priests, practitioners including laypeople and more broadly, society.

In the case of non-monastic groups, the treasure of Sangha is often used to refer to a community of Buddhist practitioners who are pursuing ‘awakening’ through the bodhisattva way (our active engagement with the world). In the case of a denomination with an ordained priest, it often refers specifically to the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, Nichiren, as the treasure of the Sangha.


Rissho Kosei-kai’s view

Members of Rissho Kosei-kai take refuge in the Three Treasures of the Lotus Sutra: the Eternal Original Buddha Shakyamuni, the Threefold Lotus Sutra (the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wondrous Dharma, and the Sutra for Contemplating the Bodhisattva Universal Sage), and the community of practitioners who resolved to become awakened through the bodhisattva way. This is because the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren indicate that this is the correct faith of practitioners of the Lotus Sutra today.

The Lotus Sutra (main Buddhist scripture)

We take refuge in the Lotus Sutra because it is a model sutra in which all the characteristics of the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) bodhisattva way are fully expressed, and because, according to Nichiren, it was written for the Age of the Decline of the Dharma after the passing of Shakyamuni.

According to the anthology of Buddhist sutras, known as the Great Collection Sutra, the era after Shakyamuni’s death is divided into five periods of 500 years each. The present age, 2,500 years after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, is one of the Age of the Decline of the Dharma, also called the Time During Which Disputes and Conflicts Are Prevalent. In the Age of the Decline of the Dharma, people will become increasingly more selfish, and conflicts of interest will lead to continuous political, social and cultural tensions. The Lotus Sutra was compiled in anticipation of such a time and was entrusted to us, the disciples of the Buddha of future generations, to embrace and widely share.

“So to this great assembly, I say that those who, after my passing, are able to protect, keep, read and recite this sutra should now pledge themselves by making a vow in the presence of the Buddha. Although extinguished long ago, the Buddha Abundant Treasures, with his great and solemn vow, unleashes a lion’s roar. All of you must know why the Tathagata Abundant Treasures, I myself and my emanated buddhas are gathered here. Any buddha child of mine who is able to protect this teaching must make a great vow so that it will long abide” (Chapter 11 of the Lotus Sutra “Appearance of the Jewelled Stupa”).

In response to this, Nichiren, who already regarded his time (the Kamakura period) as the era of the Age of the Decline of the Dharma, stated that the Lotus Sutra was the teaching that should be expounded.

“The pre-Lotus sutras are likened to river-water and the Lotus Sutra, to a great ocean. Just as ocean water will not decrease even when river-water dries up in a severe drought, the Lotus Sutra will remain unchanged even when the pre-Lotus sutras with four tastes all disappear in the latter age of defilement and corruption without shame” (Shugo Kokka-ron) (a treatise on protecting the nation).

Furthermore, to scholars who said that the merits of the Lotus Sutra had already been lost, he said that this was because they did not know the passage “the truth has not been fully revealed yet” in the Immeasurable Meanings Sutra and the passages in the Nirvana Sutra as follows:

“It is, therefore, stated in the Nirvana Sutra, the application sutra of the Lotus Sutra, ‘I shall entrust the propagation of this supreme Dharma to bodhisattvas, who are skilful in debate. Such Dharma will be able to last forever, continue to prosper for incalculable generations, profiting and pacifying the people’”.

The Eternal Original Buddha Shakyamuni

One of the most important aspects of the Lotus Sutra is to clarify the entity and function of the Buddha in Chapter 16 “The Life Span of the Eternal Tathagata”. This revelation is said to have taken more than 40 years of preparation and growing capacity among the disciples of the Buddha, during the 45 years of Shakyamuni’s teaching.

The Lotus Sutra, an early Mahayana sutra compiled in the form of preaching that was said to have been expounded in the last years of the Buddha’s life, presents the truth of Mahayana Buddhism anew to the representative disciples of the Buddha who became the great arhats (someone who is free from all delusions and has achieved personal enlightenment). It explains that the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, who was born in India, renounced his home life to undertake religious training. He attained perfect enlightenment for the first time in Buddha Gaya, and eventually entered nirvana. He was Buddha manifest and appearing in a temporary form in this world. His entity is the Eternal Original Buddha, an undying universal existence and the life force of the universe.

As for the Buddha’s role and purposes, it is stated that Shakyamuni is said to have attained Buddhahood in eternity, that his life span is limitless, and that he always abides in this ‘Saha’ (earthly) world teaching the Dharma to all living beings. Although the entity of the Buddha is ever-living and immortal, to guide living beings he appears in a mortal body, or sometimes in his own body, and sometimes as another buddha according to the faculties of living beings. Since if the Buddha is always close to us, we will become lazy and will not practise, so he teaches us by hiding himself and arousing a longing and thirst within our hearts.

Nichiren also accepted that it was expounded for the liberation of living beings after the death of Shakyamuni. In Myoho-bikuni Gohenji (a letter to the nun Myoho), he stated as follows, clarifying his devotion to Shakyamuni.

“Expounding that ‘Now this threefold world is all my domain, and the living beings in it are all my children. But now it is filled with disaster and trouble, and only I am able to rescue and protect them’, for all living beings in this country, Shakyamuni Buddha is the ruler, the teacher and the parent”.

For more information on how RK regards the statue of the Original Buddha Shakyamuni as its Gohonzon, please refer to the View on Gohonzon page.

The community of practitioners

Shakyamuni Buddha entrusted the embracing and expounding of the Lotus Sutra to his bodhisattvas (followers) in the Age of the Decline of the Dharma after his death. As Nichiren indicated, this was to be done for each practitioner who can encounter the Lotus Sutra.

RK was founded in 1938 as an independent, non-monastic Buddhist organisation. In Mahayana Buddhism, the community of practitioners, whether ordained or lay, has long been regarded as a sangha, and we have followed this tradition. As mentioned in the section “Significance of O-daimoku”, the core practice of the Lotus Sutra is the practice of teaching by example through the bodhisattva way. We aim to build a peaceful society together by applying the teachings of the Lotus Sutra in our homes, workplaces and communities.

The Buddha attached great importance to harmony between people. This is evident from the fact that the Sangha was often referred to as a harmonious community, Shakyamuni’s Sangha also had in mind the idea of harmony among people. For those of us lay practitioners, who might otherwise struggle with focus, discipline or fall into the wrong path, by joining hands with others of the same faith, teaching and encouraging each other, we can ensure that we are on the path to improvement. Nichiren also described the importance of taking refuge in the Sangha in Itai Doshin Ji (which means ‘many in body, one in spirit’).

“If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people, they will achieve all their goals, whereas if one in body but different in mind, they can achieve nothing remarkable. The more than 3,000 volumes of Confucian and Taoist literature are filled with examples. King Chou of Yin led 700,000 soldiers into battle against King Wu of Chou and his 800 men. Yet King Chou’s army lost because of disunity while King Wu’s men defeated him because of perfect unity. […] Although Nichiren and his followers are few, because they are different in body, but united in mind, they will definitely accomplish their great mission of widely propagating the Lotus Sutra”.