Nichiren Shu Questionable Teachings

Understanding Nichiren’s identity has a great importance to all who regard him as the founder of their school of Buddhism.  Various Nichiren sects show reluctance to identify their founder as a Buddha, based on the assumption that no one can equal Shakyamuni Buddha.  Here, a question arises whether this perspective of considering Shakyamuni as the only Buddha - is consistent with the teaching of the Ten Worlds. 

  1.   The Ten Worlds reduced to Nine: Nichiren teaches that the Ten Worlds apply to all human beings.  Nichiren Shu and other groups practically teach that the world of Buddhahood is empty, reserved only for one person.  This view implies that in reality people live forever in the Nine Worlds; they have no access to be inhabitants of the world of Buddhahood.

Buddhahood is a state of life in the Ten Worlds, and as such, Buddhahood can be expressed equally by many people regardless of any category.  As individuals, we cannot be someone else; each person has own circle of connectedness and specific responsibility and own mission.  We can attain Buddhahood, but we cannot be Shakyamuni, because he had his own global mission, while we have our own missions.  But we can experience happiness, wisdom, lifeforce and enlightenment, without distinction between us and the Buddha.  In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni states:

At the start, I took a vow hoping to make all persons equal to me

Without any distinction between us  (Expedient Means, Ch 2, p.41)

  1.    Alienating the Buddha:  Nichiren Shu scholars argue that acknowledging Nichiren Buddhahood would “subtract” from or “degrade” Shakyamuni’s Buddhahood.  This argument is also used  by various other Nichiren sects.  In fact, their “reserving Buddhahood” to Shakyamuni - makes of Shakyamuni either an alien, a one-off occurrence in the history of humanity, or also a failed teacher who was unable to offer teachings to make people enjoy his sublime state.

  1.    Turning the Wheel of the Law:  A discussion on this subject (from Nichiren Shu point of view) is presented in a series of You-Tube videos published by Choeizan Enkyoji Nichiren Shu Temple.  In this video-interview, speaking about the difference between Nichiren Shu and SGI, Rev. Ryuei MaCormick mentions that the key element in recognising a person as a Buddha is the concept of Turning the Wheel of the Law  (and Nichiren Shu believes that Nichiren did not qualify to fulfil this criterion of ‘Turning the Wheel’). 

Nichiren Shu view, however, is not based on the Lotus Sutra’s definition of this concept.  ‘Turning the Wheel’ of a doctrine means to reveal for people - for the first time - a doctrine which was known only to Buddhas, as the following passages indicate:

Turning the Wheel of the Law

The Sutra defines the concept of “Turning the Wheel” as: declaring a new teaching, unknown before:

                            “In the past at Varanasi

                             You turned the wheel of the Law of the Four Noble Truths

                             Now you turn the wheel of the most wonderful

                             Unsurpassed great Law

                             We never heard before

                             This kind of profound superior Law “. (Simile and Parable, Ch. 3, p.55)

In this and other passages, the Sutra indicates that at each period of time the Buddha teaches a new - unknown before - doctrine.  This teaching is marked as Turning the Wheel.  Based on this understanding of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren’s teachings enabled the Turning the Wheel of the Lotus Sutra itself, which was stagnant, inactive, discarded altogether - until his advent.

Nichiren indicated in the inscription of the Gohonzon that the mandala was never known before.

As Nichiren states in his letters, the Lotus Sutra would have been a useless text without his own appearance and actions, setting its teachings in motion.  The Law of the Lotus Sutra is Myoho-Renge-Kyo and it was turned into activity by the daimoku of NamMyohoRengeKyo.  No one before Nichiren revealed a teaching on how to realize the Great Desire (mai ji sa ze nen) of the Eternal Buddha to make the Sutra work in the lives of ordinary people.  No one had the power to turn the wheel of Daimoku, even if someone thought of it.

The Buddha’s “Great Desire” (Ch. 16) to find a practice to lead all people to Buddhahood - this desire was fulfilled only by Nichiren (through the Daimoku and the Gohonzon). 

Nichiren’s declaration of the invocation of the Law of Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, - establishing a new practice for the Lotus Sutra - turned the wheel of the Law for all people:

        “These [‘wheel treasures’] are the words and sounds that we ourselves utter. 

        And these sounds, our ‘wheel treasures’ are NamMyoHoRenGeKyo” 

        Nichiren, Orally Transmitted Teachings, p.76

  1.      Denying uniqueness of Nichiren’s practice:  Acknowledging the uniqueness of Nichiren’s practice would inevitably lead to acknowledging his state of Buddhahood, teaching people about what was never known before him.  Some scholars in Nichiren Shu claim that Nichiren did not bring anything new - but this is a false understanding of his most important teachings:


1/   The unique teaching of the Daimoku

The Lotus Sutra did not teach the practice of chanting of the Law.  Chanting of the Law was Nichiren’s unique teaching.  In fact, the Lotus Sutra mentioned silent meditation (a practice, which Nichiren dramatically changed into verbal chanting):

Keep company with those who are gentle and peaceful

Constantly praising the practice of sitting meditation

Attaining various states of profound meditation  (Distinction in Benefits, Ch. 17, p.242)

It is clear that Nichiren introduced a new practice of chanting the Law.  Meditation was the practice of the past.  Chanting is the practice of the Latter Day of the Law.

2/   The unique doctrine of Gohonzon

The Lotus Sutra employs the term “never before known” to describe a wheel-turning doctrine, a term Nichiren specifically used to define his teaching of the Object of Veneration in Buddhism:

        “Therefore, this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known,

        it did not appear until more than 2,220 years after the Buddha’s passing’. WND1 p 832

It is worth mentioning that the Sutra’s text describing the Ceremony in the Air - which is depicted in the mandala Gohonzon - excludes the representatives of the lower worlds (and the Buddha’s enemy Devadatta) from attending the Ceremony.  Nichiren, however, chose to give a new dimension to the Ceremony by adding to its depiction in the great mandala all the representatives of the lower worlds.  As Dr Jacqueline Stone mentions in her book on “Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Japanese Buddhism”:

“ Nichir
en’s mandala includes not only Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and deities but also representatives of the evil realms such as raksasa demons and Devadatta.

In including such figures, Nichiren followed not the text of the Lotus Sutra itself  - in which all beings in the six realms of transmigration are removed before the jeweled stupa is opened  - but the principle of the three thousand realms in one thought moment,

according to which even the Buddha realm contains the nine unenlightened states. In short the mandala depicts the

mutual inclusion of the ten 277-278 

The Object of Devotion “unknown before”

The concept of the ‘Object of Veneration in Buddhism’ was not mentioned in the Lotus Sutra.  After Shakyamuni passed away, his disciples regarded his image or statue as the object of devotion to focus on during their practice.  In the statue-form of Object of Veneration (still used by various sects) the apparent focus is on the person, with no depiction of the Dharma

It is significant that Nichiren chose to put the Dharma at the center of the Object of Devotion, creating a huge shift in the orientation of Mahayana Buddhism, focused on Shakyamuni’s person. 

Revelation of the Object of Devotion is one of the Three Great Secret Laws of the Lotus Sutra. To reveal a teaching which profundity was hidden before ordinary people and ‘never known by them before’ - according to the Lotus Sutra - is a work of a Buddha: turning the wheel of the Law for all humanity in this current age.

  1.   Superstitious teaching of the future of Buddhism:  The influence of pre-Lotus Buddhism on Nichiren Shu, can be deduced from a statement, conveyed during a video-interview .  The statement relates to a pre-Lotus concept (found in Theravada and Tibetan beliefs) predicting the future decline of current Buddhism  and the arrival of a “New Buddha Maitreya” - on Earth.  This concept was within what Rev. Ryuei’s said (the last few minutes of the interview) - to the effect that: there can be only one Buddha in one planet in one dispensation, and that you can’t have a Buddha like Shakyamuni until all traces of Buddhism have completely disappeared. But such statements have no substance nor reference or proofs.  It is based on imagination and superstitious belief that “each planet in each solar system has only one Buddha”. 

By adhering to Pre-Lotus teaching of Maitreya (a future Buddha coming from heaven)  and disappearance of Shakyamuni’s teachings, Nichiren Shu scholars portray the Eternal Buddha as transient, and as incapable of teaching the eternal truth, as - according to Nichiren Shu - the teaching of the truth of Buddhism will decline and vanish.

Doomsday predictions: Nichiren Shu shares in the superstitious belief of disappearance and destruction of Buddhism, the doomsday religious predictions.  (There exists also a common belief in the coming back of Jesus after the planet experiences destruction and people are consumed in great suffering). 

Scholars of Nichiren Shu, who predict sufferings and believe in future destruction of Buddhism - believe in the exact opposite of what the Lotus Sutra teaches.

Destruction and disappearance of Buddhism are concepts that do not belong to Nichiren Buddhism. There is no decline of Buddhism in the Lotus Sutra:

In the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law

If someone can uphold this Sutra

It will be as though in the presence of the Buddha

And after the Thus Come One has entered extinction

I will cause it to be widely propagated throughout Jambudvipa

And will see it never comes to an end (Universal Worthy, Ch. 28, p.277)

Other passages (Medicine King) instruct the Buddha’s disciples to spread the Sutra and “never allow it to come to an end”.

The Sutra did not put a ban on anyone to attain Buddhahood equal to Shakyamuni.  The extensive focus on “one single person” or “one single Buddha for each planet” as Nichiren Shu priests teach - is not found anywhere in the Lotus Sutra. 

The concept of Future Buddha Maitreya is based on pre-Lotus teachings :

The Mythology of Maitreya


Author: Safwan Zabalawi (Darshams).

Nichiren Shu and SGI Buddhism

                                            Nichiren Shu  PreLotus Interpretations

                                           The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra


                                             The Three Treasures in Buddhism


                                                    Nichiren’s Buddhahood