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Nichiren Buddhism

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Nichiren Buddhism

Nichiren Buddhism (Japanese: 法華系仏教 Hokke-kei Bukkyo) is a branch of Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren (1222–1282). 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 opposition to any other form of Buddhism, which Nichiren saw as deviating from the Buddhist truth he had discovered. 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, which is thought to hold "extraordinary power".[1]


  • The founder, Nichiren 1
  • Basic teachings 2
  • Nichiren's writings 3
  • Development of Nichiren Buddhism and its major lineages 4
  • Nationalistic interpretations 5
  • Major Nichiren Buddhist schools 6
    • Traditional schools and their head temples 6.1
    • Non-traditional schools 6.2
  • Sources 7
    • Writings of Nichiren 7.1
    • Secondary sources 7.2
    • Japanese 7.3
  • References 8
  • External links 9

The founder, Nichiren

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 KyotoNara 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, Nam(u)-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō, expresses his devotion to that body of teachings.[2] During his lifetime, Nichiren stridently maintained that the contemporary teachings of Buddhism taught by other sects, (particularly the Nembutsu, Zen, Shingon, and Ritsu sects[3]) were 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.

Basic teachings

Nichiren Buddhism is based on the Lotus Sutra. Common to most lineages of Nichiren Buddhism is the chanting of Nam(u) Myōhō Renge Kyō and Nichiren's Gohonzon, which are worshiped. 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[4][5] and the teachings of The Three Proofs[6] 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”,[7] called also “The Three Great Secret Laws”,[8] and Three Jewels.

Nichiren's writings

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.[9][10][11] One of his most important writings the Rissho Ankoku Ron, persevered at Shochuzan Hokekyo-ji, is one of the National Treasures of Japan.[12][13]

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.[14]

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. He had come to the conclusion that Nikō and the others were embarking on paths to heresy that he could not stem.[15]

After the passing of Nichiren 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
  • 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).[16][17]

  • 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 Nichire 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.[18]
The number of adherents to Nichiren's teachings grew steadily during the 14th and 15th century to the extent that whole communities became followers.[19] 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.[20]

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"[21]

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'”.[22]

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”.[19] 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 carry out administrative functions thereby also being controlled by the government taming any missionary activities.

During the [24]

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[25][26] like Sōka Gakkai, Shōshinkai, and Kenshōkai trace their origins to the Nichiren Shōshū school, most notably amongst 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 amongst traditional schools, encompassing the schools and temples tracing their origins to Nikō, Nisshō, Nichirō, Nichiji and also Nikkō. The Reiyūkai, Risshō Kōsei Kai, and Nipponzan-Myōhōji-Daisanga stem, in one form or another, from the Kuon-ji lineage.

Nationalistic interpretations

Both Nichiren and his followers have been associated with fervent Japanese nationalism known as Nichirenism not least between the Meiji period and the conclusion of World War II. [27] [28] [29] [30]

The nationalistic interpretation of Nichiren's teachings are to be found mainly within lay Buddhist movements like Kenshōkai, most notable in this context however are the May 15 Incident, the League of Blood Incident and Tanaka Chigaku's Kokuchūkai. [31] [32] [33]

Major Nichiren Buddhist schools

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

Traditional schools and their head temples

Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese WorldHeritage.

  • Nichiren Shōshū: Sōhonzan Taiseki-ji 日蓮正宗 総本山 大石寺
  • Nichiren Shū: Sozan Minobuzan Kuon-ji 日蓮宗 祖山身延山 久遠寺
  • Honmon Butsuryū Shū 本門佛立宗 大本山宥清寺
  • Kempon Hokke Shu: Sōhonzan Myōman-ji 総本山妙満寺
  • 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
  • Honmon Hokke Shū: Daihonzan Myōren-ji 本門法華宗 大本山妙蓮寺
  • Nichiren Honshū: Honzan Yōbō-ji 日蓮本宗 本山 要法寺
  • Nichiren Shū Fuju-fuse-ha: Sozan Myōkaku-ji 日蓮宗不受不施派 祖山妙覚寺
  • Nichiren Hokke Shū 日蓮法華宗 大本山正福寺
  • Hokke Nichiren Shū 法華日蓮宗 総本山 宝龍寺
  • 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
  • Fuju-fuse Nichiren Kōmon Shū 不受不施日蓮講門宗 本山本覚寺
  • Honke Nichiren Shū (Kyōto) 本化日蓮宗(京都)本山石塔寺
  • Shōbō Hokke Shū 正法法華宗 本山 大教寺
  • Honmon Kyōō Shū 本門経王宗 本山日宏寺
  • Nichiren Kōmon Shū 日蓮講門宗

Non-traditional schools

Groups and organisations that stem from Nichiren Shōshū:

  • [34]
  • Fuji Taisekiji Kenshōkai (also, just Kenshōkai) 富士大石寺顕正会, founded in 1942 and excommunicated from Nichiren Shoshu in 1978[34]
  • Shōshinkai, founded in 1980, Excommunicated in 1981[34]
  • Hokkekō, lay organization closely affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu
  • Honmon Shōshū 本門正宗

Groups and organisations that stem from Nichiren Shu:


Writings of Nichiren

  • 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

Secondary sources

  • Causton, Richard: "Buddha in Daily Life, An Introduction to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin", 1995. ISBN 071267456X
  • Montgomery, Daniel B, Fire In The Lotus - The Dynamic Buddhism of Nichiren. Mandala - HarperCollins, 1991. ISBN 1-85274-091-4
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan. Paul Bowring and Peter Kornicki, eds. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-521-40352-9 (Referred to in text as Cambridge.)
  • Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Kondansha, 1993, ISBN 4-06-205938-X; CD-ROM version, 1999. (Referred to in text as Illustrated.)
  • The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu. Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Bureau, 2002
  • 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
  • The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism. Soka Gakkai, 2002, ISBN 4-412-01205-0 online


  • 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.


  1. ^ ed, Jacob Neusner, (2003). World religions in America : an introduction (3. ed ed.). Louisville, Ky. ;London: Westminster John Knox. p. 225.  
  2. ^ Anesaki, Masaharu, Nichiren, the Buddhist prophet, Cambridge : Harvard University Press (1916), p. 34
  3. ^ cf. "four dictums" (四箇の格言 shika no kakugen) entries in The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 215, and Kyōgaku Yōgo Kaisetsu Shū, p. 54
  4. ^ Lotus Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism page 63, ISBN 0970592000
  5. ^ "SGI Library Online - The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism". Retrieved 2013-10-02. 
  6. ^ "SGI Library Online - The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism". Retrieved 2013-10-02. 
  7. ^ Lotus Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism page 72, ISBN 0970592000
  8. ^ "SGI Library Online - The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism". Retrieved 2013-10-02. 
  9. ^ Stone, Jacqueline I. (1990).Some disputed writings in the Nichiren corpus: Textual, hermeneutical and historical problems, dissertation, Los Angeles: University of California; retrieved07/26/2013
  10. ^ Sueki Fumehiko: Nichirens Problematic Works, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26/3-4, 261-280, 1999
  11. ^ Listing of Authenticated Gosho (Goibun) of Nichiren DaiShonin
  12. ^ "Nichiren and His Time: Rissho ankoku ron". Kyoto National Museum. Archived from the original on 2013-02-11. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Shimpan Bukkyō Tetsugaku Daijiten, p. 1368
  15. ^ "The Fuji Lineage: History of Nichiren Buddhism". Retrieved 2013-10-02. 
  16. ^ Tarabini (undated). A response to questions from Soka Gakkai practitioners regarding the similarities and differences among Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai. from:
  17. ^ Stone, Jaqueline. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism, Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999
  18. ^ Montgomery, Daniel (1991). Fire in the Lotus, The Dynamic Religion of Nichiren, London: Mandala, ISBN 1852740914 , page 175-176
  19. ^ a b "Nichiren Buddhism". Retrieved 2013-10-02. 
  20. ^ Montgomery, Daniel (1991). Fire in the Lotus, The Dynamic Religion of Nichiren, London: Mandala, ISBN 1852740914, page 160
  21. ^ George/Willa Tanabe (1989). The Lotus Sutra in Japanese Culture, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 0824811984
  22. ^ J. Stone, Biographical Studies of Nichiren, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 26/3-4, page 448
  23. ^ "Transcultural Studies". Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  24. ^ Montgomery, Daniel (1991). Fire in the Lotus, The Dynamic Religion of Nichiren, London: Mandala, ISBN 1852740914, page 169
  25. ^ "Soka-gakkai (Japanese religion) - Encyclopedia Britannica". 2013-12-05. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  26. ^ "Soka Gakkai International: The Global Expansion of a Japanese Buddhist Movement - Métraux - 2013 - Religion Compass - Wiley Online Library". Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  27. ^ Revisiting Nichiren; Ruben L. F. Habito and Jacqueline I. Stone
  28. ^ "Japanese Nichiren School Teaching". Manjushri. Retrieved 2014-04-28. 
  29. ^ Tanaka Chigaku
  30. ^ Kodera, Takashi James (March 1979). "Nichiren and His Nationalistic Eschatology". Religious Studies (Cambridge University Press) 15 (1): 41–53.  
  31. ^ Tanaka Chigaku: What is Nippon Kokutai? Introduction to Nipponese National Principles. Shishio Bunka, Tokyo 1935-36
  32. ^ Engaged Buddhism: A Skeleton in the Closet?Brian Daizen Victoria, Senior Lecturer Centre for Asian Studies, University of Adelaide,
  33. ^ Pokorny, Lukas (2011). Neue religiöse Bewegungen in Japan heute: ein Überblick [New Religious Movements in Japan Today: a Survey]. In: Hödl, Hans Gerald and Veronika Futterknecht, ed. Religionen nach der Säkularisierung. Festschrift für Johann Figl zum 65. Geburtstag, Wien: LIT, p. 187
  34. ^ a b c d e "Lotus Sutra Net". Retrieved 2013-10-02. 

External links

  • East Asian Religions: Nichiren Buddhism
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