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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 its opposition to other forms 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 strong focus on the chanting and recital of said sutra, which is thought to hold "extraordinary power".
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 Kyoto–Nara 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. During his lifetime, Nichiren stridently maintained that the contemporary teachings of Buddhism taught by other sects, (particularly Nembutsu, Zen, Shingon, and Ritsu) 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 incident of the attempted beheading 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.
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 worshipped. 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 and the teachings of The Three Proofs 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”, called also “The Three Great Secret Laws”, and Three Jewels.
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. One of his most important writings, Rissho Ankoku Ron, is one of the National Treasures of Japan.
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.
Different interpretations of Nichiren's teachings had led to the establishment of various temples and schools, however having in common reverence to the two basic doctrines of the chanting and the object of devotion. Although the former five 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.
After the passing of Nichiren differences between the various Nichiren Schools were relatively minor; nevertheless, the following schools formed around Nichiren's disciples:
In the years following Nichiren's death, his and the temples founded by his disciple 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).
"The Itchi-Soretsu controversey 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". The number of adherents to Nichiren's teachings grew steadily during the 14th and 15th century to the extent that whole communities became followers. 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.
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”
Some researchers compare early Nichiren Buddhims 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”.
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 ultimatively 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”. 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 Meiji Restoration from 1868 onwards and in an attempt to eradicate Buddhism Nichiren-temples were forced, just like any other Buddhist school, to focus on funeral and memorial services as their main activity. Therefore Nichiren-Buddhism remained mainly temple based. Most Nichiren schools, referring to their establishment, state the founding of their respective head or main temple, for example, Nichiren Shū the year 1281, Nichiren Shōshū the year 1288 and Kempon Hokke Shu the year 1384. However, most of today's Nichren schools did not form until the late 19th and early 20th century as, also legal, religious bodies. A last wave of merges took place in the 1950s. Following the above mentioned divide between the Ichi-Lineage and Shoretsu-Lineage the most notable division is the one between Nichiren Shū and Nichiren Shōshū. Documents first mentioned and discovered by Taiseki-ji priest Nikkyo in 1488 claimed that Nichiren passed full authority “to Nikkō alone. The original documents have disappeared, but "true copies" are preserved at Taiseki-ji. Other Nichiren bodies ignore them as forgeries”. 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 dependant 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 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.
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, most notable in this context are the May 15 Incident, the League of Blood Incident and Tanaka Chigaku's Kokuchūkai.
Japanese characters preceded by "ja:" link to articles in the Japanese Wikipedia.
Groups and Organisations that stem from Nichiren Shōshū:
Groups and Organisations that stem from Nichiren Shu: