Nichiren Teachings and The Four Noble Truths


Traditional schools of Buddhism hold - as their fundamental belief - Shakyamuni’s first sermon: the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, being:

1-  the truth of suffering of life: dukkah

2 - the truth of the origin of suffering

3 - the truth of the cessation of suffering

4 - the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.


The teaching of the Four Noble Truths is respected in Nichiren Buddhism as the first teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, in which he outlined and identified the purpose of his teachings, focused on transforming sufferings in life. This purpose is the most noble in the history of humanity.

Nonetheless, although the Four Noble Truth was merely the first sermon, - it is accepted in Traditional Buddhism, as the first and the final, despite the fact that it was not the final, as many advanced teachings (such as the Buddhanature, and attaining Enlightenment in one’s current form) - were yet to be introduced by the Buddha.


Mahayana sutras such as “The Profound Secrets Sutra”, and - in particular -  “The Lotus Sutra”, view the Four Noble Truths as only a “preparatory teaching” intended specifically to monks voice-hearers, the sravaka disciples.


The Buddha’s expansion of the Four Noble Truths in Mahayana Buddhism


  1.      The Causes of Sufferings: According to the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, the cause of sufferings is “Attachment to Desires”.  Further teachings of the Buddha expanded the scope of the “cause of sufferings” beyond the Four Noble Truths. 


Attachment to materialistic desires - was just one introductory cause of sufferings - among other causes for sufferings, not mentioned in the Four Noble Truths.  Mahayana  Buddhism list other causes of sufferings: Arrogance, Negligence, Self-satisfied judgements, Refusing to believe, Hatred, Vilification, Holding Grudges, Discrimination .... all which were not included in the elementary teaching of the Four Noble Truths.


  1.     Desires are not the cause of sufferings: While the Four Noble Truths focus on “desires” as being the cause of sufferings, the Lotus Sutra teaches that desires for compassion, seeking spirit, healthy lifestyle, wisdom, self-mastery, helping others, etc..  are vehicles for enlightenment, and  such desires do not lead to sufferings.


  1.      The true cause of sufferings: Sufferings are effects of incorrect causes of actions.  Nichiren Buddhism explains that it is “ignorance” of the Dharma, the Law of Life - that is the cause of sufferings

The Law of Life, as expounded in the Lotus Sutra is the Wonderful Law of Cause and Effect.  When one is ignorant of the truth of the Law of Cause and Effect, then one is ignorant of the consequences of own actions, and thus would make actions that lead to sufferings.

            “If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death [....]  you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is [the Dharma, the Law of Life], Myoho-renge-kyo ”  WND1 p 3.


Ignorance to this truth is the real cause of all sufferings, because ignorance of the truth of Cause and Effect leads to ego-based attitude such as arrogance, negligence, despising others ... as well as attachment to earthly desires.  There is a wide spectrum of detailed causes of sufferings, which the Four Noble Truths did not mention (focusing only on earthly desires).


The final teaching of the Buddha was the Dharma of MyohoRengeKyo, the Law of Lotus, which has the power to transform all sufferings into enlightenment in this Lifetime, so that “Living beings enjoy themselves at ease Lotus Sutra., Ch.16


Shakyamuni’s compassion led him to start his teaching from the simple introduction of his focus on “transforming suffering”.  In later stages, the Buddha’s compassion led him to gradually - over more than 40 years - expounded various concepts to prepare his followers for the final truth, being the Dharma or Law of Life. Awakening to the truth  that one’s own life is a manifestation of the Dharma - is what reveals the mind of enlightenment, or the Buddhanature: overcoming sufferings and enjoying a meaningful happy life..


SGI views on the Four Noble Truths


SGI Buddhism is based on Nichiren teachings of the Lotus Sutra, which revealed the final teaching of the Buddha, being the Dharma or the Law of Lotus.  In his letter, Nichiren explained that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is a specific or limited doctrine, which was aimed at training monks at the start of his teachings. 


The sermon of the Four Noble Truths focuses is on the World of Sufferings - and does not encompass the basic Buddhist teaching of the Ten Worlds - or the spectrum of the human mind - which has also the World of Joy and the World of Buddhahood.  


in his article on the subject, p. Ikeda explains that the Four Noble Truths were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha specifically to his immediate disciples as an elementary and preparatory doctrine to direct them to self-mastery:


“The four noble truths and the eightfold path were directed chiefly to those disciples who had rejected secular life and were wholly engaged in Buddhist practice; they reflect the basic attitude and approach that underlie Shakyamuni's early teachings, which concentrated on predominantly negative views about life and the world so that he could awaken people first to life's harsh realities and then to the inexpressible spiritual experience of nirvana”.  Attaining Happiness, Daisaku Ikeda


Nichiren’s Buddhism and the teaching of the Eightfold Path


The fourth of the Four Noble truths teaches that the path to emancipation is found in the Eightfold Path to Nirvana. The Eightfold Path is a “code of conduct” of maintaining:


right views, right thinking, speech, action, livelihood, efforts, right mindfulness and concentration. 


However, to form “right” views, or maintain “right” conduct, etc... there must be a “reference” to judge what is “right” and “not right”. 


This reference of wisdom of what is “right and correct” - was not mentioned in the Four Noble Truths, but in Mahayana teachings of the Buddhanature. Revealing one’s Buddhanature, the mind of wisdom and compassion, is certain to motivate one for what is “right “.  All the requirements of the Eightfold Path will be automatically manifest in one’s daily life when one reveals own Buddhanature.


Buddhism is not about “right” and “wrong” - but about “cause” and “effect”.  A certain cause is judged as “right” only when it leads to beneficial consequences, such as compassionate action and wise approach. 


Instead of the “Eight Fold Path”, Nichiren suggests the practice of the “direct path to enlightenment” based on the devotion (or fusion) of the individual (Nam) with the Universal Dharma (MyohoRengeKyo), and which results in the state of attaining enlightenment in one’s current circumstances.


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Author: Safwan Darshams


                            The Lotus Sutra’s statement on the Four Noble Truths


                                    Limitations of the concept of Four Noble Truths



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