An Introduction to NICHIREN SHOSHU BUDDHISM
What is the purpose of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism?
In 1261 in Japan, Nichiren Daishonin, the original Buddha and teacher o all Buddhas, wrote the following to one of his disciples:
“If you want to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured through eternity and attain supreme enlightenment in his 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” [MW Vol.1 pg.3]
What does this mean to people today in the 21st century?
Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism teaches that each person actually has the potential within his or her life to manifest the enlightened life of the Buddha, consisting of the wisdom to perceive the Law of Causality over the three existences of past, present and future, and to experience the actual compassionate life and heart of the True Buddha – a life condition of absolute, indestructible happiness.
If we chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (DAimoku) and awaken our Buddha nature each and every day, a great difference beings to manifest in our daily life. The problems we have with people at work will naturally change. The problems we have with our friends or our families, or in social settings, will change. Our health or the condition of our mind and thinking, our very spirit towards life itself will change for the better. These events are not based on magic or positive thinking and are not ‘coincidences.’ In Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism this is called Hendoku Iyaku, or changing the poison (or difficult or impossible situation) in our own lives into medicine, through daily practice and faith. Simultaneously, we will amass tremendous good fortune for our futures.
How can we have belief in something that sounds so foreign to most Westerners?
In Buddhism there are three kinds of proof – documentary, theoretical and actual. In this introduction to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, we will attempt to address the first two, documentary and theoretical by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo ourselves to the Gohonzon (object of worship in Nichiren Shoshu)
Shakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism who lived in India 3,000 years ago, predicted in the Great Collection Sutra (Daijuku Sutra) that the world would enter an age of strife and religious confusion 2,000 years after his death. (This age actually began around the year 1100.) This was to be an age when Shakyamuni’s own teachings would lose their ability to help people: “The Pure Law would become obscured and lost.” He called this age Mappo, or the ‘Latter Day of the Law.’
However, Shakyamuni made an additional prediction in the Lotus Sutra (which he himself called “the King of all Sutras”). He predicted the appearance of the ‘True Buddhism’ for the latter age of Mappo that would replace his own varied earlier teachings of provisional Buddhism. Shakayamuni taught that the Original (True) Buddha, the master of all Buddhas, would appear in the world to teach this true Buddhism for the people in this later time period. The appearance in 1222 of Nichiren Daishonin, the Original Buddha, and His establishment of the Buddhism of the Three Great Secret Law proved the validity of Shakayamuni’s prediction. The Three Great Secret Laws are called ‘secret’ because they were previously undisclosed. They consist of the true object of worship, the high sanctuary, and the invocation or Daimoku. Nichiren Daishonin states:
“Now in the Latter Day of the Law, neither the Lotus Sutra nor the other sutars lead to enlightenment; only Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo can do so. And this is not merely my own opinion. Shakayamuni , Taho, and all the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions as well as the innumerable Bodhisattvas of the Earth have so determined….A lamp will be useless after the sun rises. How can dewdrops be beneficial once the rain falls?” (MW, Vol.3, p.266; Gosho, p. 1219)
The True Buddhism of the Original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, the teaching of the unlimited truth of enlightenment, was established on April 28, 1253 at Seicho-ji Temple in Toho Village of Awa Province in Japan. On that day Nichiren Daishonin first chanted and taught Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo for the enlightenment of all living beings.
In the infinite past, Kuon-ganjo, the True Buddha named the unlimited Law or true entity of life in the universe as Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Literally “Nam” means devotion and “Myoho-Renge-Kyo” is the title of the Lotus Sutra. A simplified translation means “Devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.”
Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is also called the Mystic Law of cause and effect, because within it is both the cause and effect attaining Buddhahood. “Renge” means Lotus Flowers. The Lotus Flowers produces its flower and seeds at the same time, representing the simultaneity of cause and effect. The cause is to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and the effect is attaining enlightenment within our present lifetime.
Even though Buddhahood exists within our lives already, we need a practical means to manifest it every day. Once we awaken the highest potential within our lives we can manifest immeasurable wisdom and power to challenge and overcome our problems and share our joy with the people in our lives. The depth and significance of chanting Daimoku (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo)
Deepens and blossoms as we continue to practice this Buddhism throughout our lives
Nichiren Daishonin’s Dai-Gohonzon
The Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary, inscribed on October 12, 1279, is the foundation and source of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. With this essential Gohonzon as the object of faith, all people of Mappo can attain enlightenment. By chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon with sincere faith, we are able to fuse our lives with the fundamental law governing all phenomena and the enlightened life of the Original Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin.
The Dai-Gohonzon that Nichiren Daishonin inscribed in the form of mandala is the enlightened life of the true Buddha Himself, possessing the Three Virtues of Sovereign, Teacher and Parent. What do these mean for us? The sovereign, with absolute power, works to protect all the people. The teacher instructs and guides all people so they may attain enlightenment, the state of absolute happiness. The Parent manifests the compassion and mercy to nurture and support all living beings. Through our own various experiences and study of His teachings, we will naturally begin to realize that in fact the Gohonzon is the actual life of the Buddha. Then, our own enlightenment is possible, bringing the Buddha nature embodied in the Gohonzon and one’s own innate dormant Buddha nature into oneness.
What is meant by “Faith” in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism?
In Buddhism, faith is based on the mystic principle of a mutual interaction between the living beings (believers) and the object of worship. For us, faith is reverence towards the Gohonzon as the basis for our belief and as the supreme object of respect. Each believer is then able to manifest enlightened wisdom and behavior in his or her own life.
Taking faith in the Gohonzon is not just based upon emotion, logic, or empirical thinking. When a person begins to practice this Buddhism, faith is simply the effort to practice every day. Over time, one’s strong sincere practice and faith will result in wonderful benefit, enabling each person to go beyond thinking or worrying about pure material gain. We will be able to focus more on sharing our joy of faith with others – helping produce a world without war where people respect all life.
Our practice is chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (that is, Daimoku), and reciting certain portions of Lotus Sutra (Gongyo), every morning and every evening and sharing our experiences of faith with others. As a member of Nichiren Shoshu, we are able to receive the Gohonzon in your own home. In addition, to praying to this Gohonzon, we also attend ceremonies and activities at our local Temples.
The deep desire to seek the truth of Buddhism is expressed as the study of doctrine. Nichiren Daishonin states:
“Expert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism… Both practice and study arise from faith.” (MW, Vol.1,p.95, Gosho, p.668)
The Daishonin teaches that we must work diligently in our Buddhist practice, which emerges from the determination of our faith, and our study of doctrine. Our faith and practice are refreshed and deepened by study. As we gain actual proof of the great fortune of the Gohonzon and an understanding of the doctrine, our faith will deepen without fail.
By having strong faith in Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, all people can attain the life the life condition of absolute happiness, or Buddhahood. As proof, benefit is revealed by the effect of Buddhahood welling up inside the life of the believer. The emergence of the great power of benefit from the Gohonzon will provide absolute proof, leaving no room for doubt. Nichiren Daishonin clarified this life condition as follows:
“Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle? It is written that those who embrace the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra will be protected by Kishimojin and her ten daughters. They will enjoy the happiness of Aizen and the good fortune of Bishamon. Wherever your daughter may frolic or play, no harm will come to her; she will be free from fear like the lion king.”(MW, Vol.1, p.119; Gosho, p.685)
The attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present from does not mean that we will become detached from people in the world or that we won’t have troubles or sufferings. Rather, it is the ability to live a life filled with joy, challenging problems and resolving them. This is the life condition symbolized by the four virtues of Jo, Raku, Ga, and Jo. Jo (eternity) is an indestructible eternal life. Raku (happiness) is a feeling of absolute (not “relative”) happiness from the enjoyment of living itself. Ga (true self) is a strong and harmonious will, undisturbed by any outside influence. Jo (purity) is a pure life, unaffected by outside influences.
If we continue to practice for three years, five years, and so on without impatience, we will all be able to look back on our lives and, without exception, realize that our whole life has elevated, and that we have accomplished immense development. The practice of True Buddhism is a lifelong journey. Nichiren Daishonin teaches us that to begin is easy but to continue is difficult; however, attaining enlightenment lies in continuing faith.
Some believers who start practicing consistently find that obstacles still arise in their lives. This is due to negative karma from past lifetimes coming to the surface. As we continue a persistent practice to the Gohonzon, we will certainly be able to change our negative karma and enjoy happy lives. Nichiren Daishonin stated:
“Because of actual proof, which we accumulate from our daily practice, we must take strong faith in this profound Buddhism.” (Gosho, p.814)
By experiencing the benefit of the Gohonzon, one can be firmly convinced of achieving the life condition of “attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form,” the greatest of all benefits and the purpose of our faith.
Nichiren Shoshu Priesthood and Laity
The immeasurably profound Buddhism established by Nichiren Daishonin was fully inherited by the Second High Priest, Nikko Shonin, and then passed on by him to the Third High Priest, Nichimoku Shonin, and to each successive High Priest, generation after generation, down to the present High Priest. It was correctly transmitted without a single deviation, like a perfect transfer of water from one vessel to another without spilling a single drop. Even a superior teaching will die out if there is no successor in the world to inherit and transmit it correctly. Only one religious body partakes of the pure flow of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddism, ad reveres the Three Treasures: the True Buddha, Law, and Priesthood. This one pre source is Nichiren Shoshu with its Head Temple, Taisekiji, at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Japan.
In Nichiren Shoshu, there are many local Temples. In each of these local Temples, a Chief Priest has been assigned to that Temple by the High Priest. The believers at each local Temple, together, ,ake up a Hokkeko believers organization, and practice together under the guidance of the Chief Priest.
The origins of the Hokkeko go back more than 700 years, to the Daishonin’s time. The Daishonin called the believers during this age the “people of the Hokkeko-shu” (Lotus Group). Among those believers were the highly active Hokkeko members in the Fuji-Atsuhara region. Under the guidance of Nikko Shonin, the Fuji-Atsuhara Hokkeko achieved remarkable progress in propagating Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddism. These efforts met with great repression from governmental authorities in what is called the “Atsuhara Persecution.” Ultimately, seventeen believers would be banished from their lands and three others executed for refusing to renounce their faith. Regarding the fortitude of the Atsuhara Hokkeko, the Daishonin states in the Gosho, Shonin-to Gohenji:
“You (Nikko Shonin) reported to me that when *the Atsuhara believers) were faced with oppression, they chanted Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo with pure, humble minds. I realized the situation was extremely grave.” (Gosho, p.1405)
As this shows, amidst storms of repression that threatened their very lives, the Atsuhara Hokkeko believers steadfastly maintained their faith. Not a single one of them gave up.
This Atsuhara Persecution was the incident that ultimately resulted in the Daishonin’s inscribing the Dai-Gohonzon of the True High Sanctuary on October 12, 1279, for the purpose of saving the world’s people in the future throughout the long era of Mappo
When a Buddha is going to expound the Law, there must first be disciples and believers worthy of receiving that Law and who will protect, propagate and transmit the Law taught by the Buddha, even at the risk of their own lives. When Daishonin saw that the faith of the people of the Hokkeko at that time was so pure that they had no regrets event when giving their own lives for the sake of the Law, He felt that time had arrived at last to inscribe the Dai-Gohonzon, the basis of His Buddism, which up until then, He had kept hidden in His heart. A supplementary inscription on the Dai-Gohonzon reads: “…with great respect for the petitioner of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching, Yashiro Kunishige and the people of the Hokkeko-shu.”
The 65th High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichijun Shonin, stated, “The correct way for believers in this religion to revere the Daishonin is to be the successors to this Hokkeko.”
The Hokkeko organization of believers was established primarily to enable each of us to fulfill our potential and to receive and share with others the Gohonzon’s boundless benefit. This organization was not founded for profit or politics, but on the basis of pure faith. This basic spirit has not changed in more than 750 years.