Nichiren ShoShu shallow interpretation of Nichiren Buddhism

Stagnation in the system of Nichiren ShoShu Priesthood in general - is revealed not only in the administrative part of authority they impose on ordinary people, but also in the field of their interpretation of Nichiren’s teachings.  There is no doubt that priests undergo study sessions and have a lot of knowledge about Buddhism, however, some of priests knowledge can be challenged as based on superficial and shallow understanding of Nichiren’s teachings.

Who is the Eternal Buddha?

One of the problems - debated in Buddhism - is the concept of the True or Eternal Buddha.

In the Life Span chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni reveals that he has been a Buddha since “time without beginning”.   Nichiren referred to the doctrine of Eternal or Original Buddhahood always as derived from the Eternal Law.  In his letter The Four Debts of Gratitude Nichiren states that the Law of Myoho-Renge-Kyo, is the Eternal Dharma, and that: ”It is because of the Law that the Buddhas are worthy of respect”.

In this perspective, when discussing the doctrine of the Eternal Buddha, reference to the Law,

or the Eternal Dharma - is important.  However, the importance of the doctrine of Eternal Dharma is lost in the interpretation of various schools of Buddhism, focusing just on the person – without exploring the depth of the concept of Eternal Law - and its value in daily life of ordinary people.

The three schools of Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and SGI have different interpretations of the doctrine of Eternal Buddha:

Nichiren Shu, in this regard, names Shakyamuni as the Eternal Buddha,

Nichiren Shoshu names Nichiren Daishonin as the Eternal Buddha, while:

  1. - SGI literature indicates that the Eternal Buddha is the manifestation of: Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.

SGI teaching that the original world of Buddhahood is NamMyohoRengeKyo, and that any person who perfectly fuses own life with the Law - is a Buddha, this teaching opens the filed of original Buddhahood to all people - and it means in particular that both Shakyamuni and Nichiren were manifestations of the Eternal Buddha.

Both sects of Nichiren Shu and ShoShu run into conflict with their interpretation of whom they call Eternal Buddha.  If Shakyamuni is named the True or Eternal Buddha, then (according to Nichiren Shu) Nichiren ‘s identity is only a Bodhisattva.  This interpretation does not consider the Mutual Possession of Bodhisattva-Buddha, in which there is no distinction between the Bodhisattva of the Lotus Sutra and the Buddha.  Nichiren declared his own spiritual identity as the True Self of the Buddha (Jogyo).

On the other hand, if (according to Nichiren Shoshu priesthood) - only Nichiren was the True Buddha, a question then arises: who was Shakyamuni of the Lotus Sutra? Was not Shakyamuni a True Buddha as well as Nichiren Daishonin? 

Misunderstanding the Oneness of Person and Law:

It is notable that the two interpretations of both Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu of the doctrine of the Eternal Buddha are restricted to a specific historical person of Shakyamuni or Nichiren. 

On the other hand, SGI interpretation of Eternal Buddha (One who manifests the  Eternal Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) does not include a specific person-related name, and this is consistent with SGI teaching of “Buddha is Eternal Life”. 

It is also obvious, on the level of physical reality, that Shakyamuni and Nichiren are names of persons who passed away.  An eternally enlightened human being must have had countless lifetimes, manifestations and names – not just one specific name.  In Buddhism there is a nameless reference to the concept of ‘Enlightened Being‘:  The Tathagata, or ‘One who emerged from the Truth’, translated also as the “Thus Come One”

T’hus Come One’ appears in the Lotus Sutra:

                  “The Buddha said to Shariputra: A wonderful Law such as this,

                   Preached by the Buddhas, The ‘Thus Come Ones’” (Expedient Means, Ch.2, p.30)

This, and other passages, clearly indicate the principle of the oneness of the person (the Thus Come One)  and the Dharma or the Law.  This means that both Shakyamuni and Nichiren were manifestations of the Original eternal Buddhahood.  It also means that any person whose life perfectly manifests the eternal Dharma (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) is a Thus Come One, a Buddha.

According to SGI teachings:

                   “The Original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end is then

                    NamMyohoRengeKyo -Thus-Come-One”. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra 5 (page 164)

                “Just as did Shakyamuni, all Buddhas of the past, present and future has

                become enlightened to, and have taken as their mentor,

                the Buddha of time without beginning:

                NamMyohoRengeKyo -Thus Come One. 

                This is the Buddha of Limitless Joy,

                the Buddha of absolute freedom NamMyohoRengeKyo - Thus Come One. 

               President Toda said: The life of Nichiren Daishonin and our own lives have

               neither beginning nor end.  This is what is termed time without beginning.

                 The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4 p.38

Clearly, an interpretation that clarifies the true identity of both Buddhas, Nichiren and Shakyamuni - opens the way for any human being to manifest also original Buddhahood (or to become a “Thus Come One”: a human being whose life is one with the Eternal Law).  Such an interpretation has the capacity to benefit each person in daily life, through daily practice, making it possible to have a connection with the eternal (called also Kuon, or time without beginning):

Kuon signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon. When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginning-less time”. (p.165)

In SGI reality of practice, the life of the Eternal Buddha is the Gohonzon enshrined at home as the Object of Devotion.


                               The Priesthood’s nonsensical dramatization

           of Nichiren’s persecution

Dominated by a system of priesthood, temples attribute to Shakyamuni or to Nichiren supernatural features, which separate them from the reality of ordinary people.  Here is an example of how Nichiren ShoShu priesthood created an aura about Nichiren through explaining that a “mystic assistance” came to save him during the Matsubagayatsu

Persecution (1260), creating an imaginary story to overwhelm ordinary people:

Morinaka: The Daishonin was narrowly able to escape from this

[attack by the Nembutsu believers] dire predicament. Why was he able to escape? There is a fantastic account which holds that a white monkey took the sleeve of the Daishonin's robe and led him to safety [before the assailants arrived].

Saito: Priests of the Nikken sect, without blinking an eye, have said things like

"The commotion of monkeys [near Nichiren's dwelling] alerted the Daishonin to the danger”. This is certainly an example of the preposterous doctrinal study of the Nikken sect.

Morinaka: P. Ikeda commenting on the Gosho passage ;'Nichiren escaped

persecution [at Matsubagayatsu] because of the action of protective forces of the Lotus Sutra " - GZ 1294 - you once speculated that it may have been because of advanced warning provided by a woman who had gotten wind of the plan in advance.

Ikeda: The Daishonin having avoided the crisis of the Matsubagayatsu was in all likelihood not due any mysterious omen or sign....It is conceivable that information may have reached the Daishonin from a follower who was in daily contact with him, or from an ordinary citizen who was appalled by the violence of the Nembutsu followers.

Again, from Nichiren’s account crediting the  [protective forces] 'ten demon daughters' there are ample grounds to surmise that a female follower may have played a role of some kind in protecting the Daishonin from this crisis.

This is a view that P Toda related to me. In any event, in a letter to Shijo Kingo, the Daishonin remarks: "Your usual prudence and courage as well as your firm faith in the Lotus Sutra, enabled you to survive unharmed(WND1 p 1000)

In his writings, the Daishonin often cites the passage from the commentary of the great teacher Miao-lo of China: “The stronger one’s faith, the greater the protection of the gods” (WND1 p953).  We should bear this passage deeply in mind”.


The World of Nichiren's Writings / Persecutions/ Vol2. p 19.  Daisaku Ikeda, Katsuji Saito, Masaaki Morinaka. 

Copyright Soka Gakkai 2004


Matsubagayatsu Persecution

The priesthood’s explanation makes of Matsubagayatsu Persecution a supernatural and an imaginary story of inter-species communication - that Nichiren was saved by monkeys. 

It implies that the monkeys (who were somehow observing the Nembutsu plotters) -’ somehow understood the plot ‘ and quickly jumped the trees to alert Nichiren!

But this is not just the Priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu who were telling members such stories based on lack of reason  -  it appears that it is a myth created within other Nichiren schools as well to overwhelm ordinary people.  For example, a rival sect to Shoshu, the Nichiren Shu whose High Temple is at Minobu, teaches similar myth in their calendar of events:  

Matsubagayatsu Persecution - On the night of August 27, 1260, just forty one days after Nichiren Shonin submitted his "Rissho Ankoku ron" to the Shogunate, a mob hostile to Nichiren Shonin, attacked the outspoken reformer in his hermitage. They set fire to the building which was located in the Matsubagayatsu section of Kamakura. According to legend (on 27 August 1260) a white monkey miraculously appeared before the sleeping priest, leading him to safety.

This superstitious and shallow teaching does not empower any ordinary person to take Nichiren as a mentor – making of him a mysterious character beyond the capacity of ordinary people to comprehend his mysticism, while - in reality -  he was an ordinary person with the same potentials as any other.

SGI explanation of the same event is based on Nichiren’s own indication that his escape was the result of action of the ‘female god Kishimojin‘.  A courageous female follower determined to alert Nichiren about a planned attack - this is the most likely interpretation of the event, and which is a beneficial teaching for us to act accordingly like her, as “Buddhist gods” to protect others of danger or mishap. 

Such reasonable interpretation brings a direct benefit to ordinary people - urging us to be vigilant and mindful of danger, and to act swiftly, rather than the superstitious sects of Nichiren Shu and ShoShu story-telling (about monkey’s assistance to Nichiren).

Interpretations that lack the value of benefit to ordinary people reflect vagueness and lack of  maturity of the offered perspective.


                                                          Nichiren ShoShu & SGI