Nichiren Buddhism

Doctrines The Nichiren, Pure Land and Zen schools initially emphasised different facets of Tendai teachings, but they soon outgrew their 'parent', Tendai.
Nichiren (1222-1282), a learned monk and resolute devotee of the Lotus Sutra (Japanese; Myoho-Renge-Kyo or Hoke-Kyo), preached uncompromisingly against other 'evil' forms of Buddhism, including Zen, Shingon and Pure Land. His aim was to restore pure Tendai teaching, which focused on the Lotus Sutra. According to Chinese thought, the Buddha had gradually revealed more and more of the true Dharma during his life. In Nichiren's view, the Lotus Sutra was the only, not just the final, revelation of the truth.
For Nichiren, reciting the mystic phrase 'Namu Myoho Renge Kyo' ('Hail to the Lotus Sutra') was the quintessence of Buddhist practice. If adopted throughout the country it could transform Japan and then the world into a Buddha-land. Nichiren's teachings, though based on a sophisticated knowledge of the Buddhist scriptural tradition, are set out in the form of intriguing vernacular dialogues between a devotee of the Lotus Sutra and an unbeliever, and in letters sent by Nichiren to various disciples during his lifetime. Central to his teaching is the Tendai notion of 'three thousand worlds in one instant of thought'. This conveys the idea that at any moment we can experience hell or, by invoking the power of the Lotus Sutra, the highest enlightenment. Central to Nichiren's doctrine was a mission to convert the shogun, emperor and all the people of Japan to devotion to the Lotus Sutra.

History The 'New Buddhisms' of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) were firmly rooted in traditional Chinese Buddhist doctrines. Nichiren adapted Tendai teachings to Japanese circumstances and spread a simple faith in the transforming power of devotion to the Lotus Sutra among all classes of people. Like the Pure Land contemporaries he loathed, Nichiren suffered persection and exile. His attempts to evangelise the goverment and undermine established forms of Buddhism such as Shingon provoked official outrage. On at least one occasion in 1271 he narrowly, and in his view miraculously, escaped death. Among other punishments he spent 11 years suffering in exile on the remote island of Sado. Though he died in relative obscurity, Nichiren's disciples spread his teachings vigorously and in time Nichiren Buddhism along with Pure Land came to dominate the religious landscape, with popular followings throughout Japan. His followers, who split into many sects, maintained a reputation for uncompromising exclusiveness in their claims to possess the truth of Buddhism. Entire villages became Nichirenite and during civil conflicts Pure Land and Nichiren Buddhists often took sides against each other, carrying banners and chanting their respective mantras.
In the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) the Nichiren sects were among the Buddhist denominations 'tamed' to some extent by incorporation into a nationwide Buddhist parish system designed to ensure religious peace and eradicate the common enemy, Christianity. When Buddhism was disestablished in 1868 temple priests of all sects were obliged to concentrate on funeral and memorial services as their main activity, and there is not much difference in practice between Nichirenite and other forms of Buddhism. The Nichiren tradition is notable for inspiring an unusual number of highly successful 'new religions' in the 20th century including Reiyukai, Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai.

Symbols All Nichiren movements focus in one way or another on the Lotus Sutra and on Nichiren himself as a bodhisattva or Buddha of the present age. The most prominent symbol is the daimoku or 'Great Title' of the Lotus Sutra. Wooden tablets with the daimoku inscribed by Nichiren himself are especially revered. The title of the Lotus Sutra with Nichiren's name below it are in the central position, surrounded by the names of Buddhist and other divinities. The inscription, which constitutes a kind of mandala, is used as an object of devotion in Nichirenite ritual.

Adherents About 80% of today's approximately 120 million Japanese are Buddhist by birth or by choice, and the majority (39%) belong to the Nichiren denominations, including the mass lay organisations or new religions such as Soka Gakkai and Rissho Kosei Kai. The total of Nichiren adherents in Japan is therefore approximately 37 million people. (Extrapolated from Hori (ed.) Japanese Religion, Kodansha 1972)

Main Centre
  Nichiren Shu: Kuonji, Mt Minobu, Yamanashi prefecture
Nichiren Shoshu: Daisekiji, Shizuoka prefecture.
For modern Nichiren movements see SOKA GAKKAI, and RISSHO KOSEI-KAI