Nichiren’s Buddhahood

In an exchange of views, which took place on Tricycle magazine online discussion - Rev. Myokei of Nichiren Shu states: ”it really doesn’t matter whether Nichiren Shonin is a Buddha”.

The question about their founder’s identity was presented to various Nichiren Shu scholars.  Instead of an openminded answer, the question was dismissed and the subject was disregarded to escape answering - as being “not importnat”, although - as Nichiren writes - it was the most important matter of his whole life. Nichiren Shu scholars avoid reference to the following passages:

  1.       “I have made a vow that this time I will have an unbending aspiration to Buddhahood

    and never fall back!” page 96, Kaimoku-Sho. Translated and edited by Kyotsu Hori,

    Nichiten Shu Overseas Propagation Promotion Association, 1987

  1.      “Since childhood, I, Nichiren, have never prayed for the secular things

        of this life but have single-mindedly sought to become a Buddha”. WND1 p 839 

  1.      “From the beginning, I pursued my studies because I wanted to master Buddhism

        and attain Buddhahood,”WND1 p 25

Nichiren Shu teachings effectively imply that Nichiren had failed in realising his vow of becoming a Buddha, disregarding what he indicated in his writings.

Nichiren’s Buddhaood from the Lotus Sutra’s perspectives

The Lotus Sutra opened the possibility of emergence of ‘future Buddhas’ after Shakyamuni’s death.  Considering himself as “the actual proof” of the validity of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren writes: 

        “If I, Nichiren, had not been born in the land of Japan,

        then these passages of the sutra would have been mere words

        on the Buddha’s part  - empty of all significance” . WND1 p 671

By reserving the word “Buddha” only to Shakyamuni, Nichiren Shu scholars are  inconsistent with the Sutra’s text:

            The Buddhas of future ages
They preach for the sake of the single vehicle (Expedient Means, Ch.2, p.41)

During a You-Tube published interview, organised by Choeizan Enkyoji Nichiren Shu Temple, Rev. Ryuei commented (min.14 of the video onwards), on SGI recognition of Nichiren as a Buddha, agreeing that Nichiren attained Buddhahood, but cannot be called a Buddha because of a ‘technicality’. 

It appears that this “technicality”, which prevents Nichiren Shu priests from conferring the title of Buddha on Nichiren - comes from traditional (Theravada and provisional Mahayana) “rules of thinking about Buddha”.

Theravada Buddhism is known for making of Shakyamuni a super-being who cannot be equalled.  While the Lotus Sutra clearly teaches that individuals who can be called Buddhas can appear after Shakyamuni, then it is only reasonable for Nichiren Shu scholars to accept the technicality of the clear statement of the Sutra - and not Pre-Lotus views - as a reference.

The Actual Proof of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra: If no example is given to support the Sutra’s statement about the reason why future Buddhas appear in the world, then the Sutra becomes a meaningless text empty of all significance” - as Nichiren stated in his writings.

In various letters, Nichiren mentioned that his life is fused to the Lotus Sutra, and if we take such assertion as true, then all his actions should follow as echoing the Sutra.  The declaration of the practice of chanting the Daimoku and the inscription of the mandala Gohonzon were aimed at opening the door of the Buddha’s wisdom to humanity - a work of a Buddha, as one can find in the Sutra’s text:   

The Buddhas, the World Honoured Ones,

Appear in the world for one great reason

The Buddhas, the World Honoured Ones,

Wish to open the door of Buddha wisdom to all living beings

Shariputra, when the Buddhas of the future

Make their appearance in the world

They too will use countless numbers of expedient means (Expedient Means, Ch.3, p.32)

One of the most significant works accomplished by Nichiren was his writing of the Treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teachings for the Peace of the Land” (Rissho Ankoku Ron), aimed at bringing peace and safety to people - a work relevant only to a Buddha:

To bring peace and safety to living beings

That’s the reason I appear in the world (Simile and Parable, Ch. 3, p. 72)

Taking the Lotus Sutra as his reference, Nichiren states:

        “The secret Law that is the one great reason the Buddhas make their advent

       will be spread for the first time in this country.

       How could Nichiren not be the one who will do this?”  WND1 p. 28

This statement shows that Nichiren identified his life or advent (as a Buddha). 

A deeper consideration of Nichiren’s letters (in particular those after the Tatsunokuchi persecution (during which he was ready to lay down his life) clearly leads to understand his reference to himself as a Buddha:

        It seems to me that on the path to attain Buddhahood it may invariably be when one has

        done something like lay down one’s life that one becomes a Buddha”. WND1 p 25

Nichiren declared himself as perfectly equal to Shakyamuni, who possessed the three features of Buddha: compassion (parent) wisdom (teacher) and action (sovereign):

  1.        “…Shakyamuni Buddha is the father and mother, teacher and sovereign 

to all living beings…”.  WND1 p 810

  1.       “I, Nichiren, am sovereign, teacher, and father and mother to all the people…”. WND1 p 287

  1.    ”... those with the heart of a lion king are sure to attain Buddhahood. Like Nichiren, for example. I say this not out of arrogance, but because I am deeply committed to the correct teaching”.  WND1 p 302 ,

  1.         “Since Nichiren is making the same cause as Never Disparaging, how could it be that he would not become a Buddha equal to Shakyamuni?”  WND1 p 303

The actual proof of Nichiren’s Buddhahood extends further beyond his death in 1282, through the form of the Gohonzon, the mandala which essence embodies the “Buddhanature” or the “Life of Buddhahood”, as well as in his teaching of chanting, the “direct path to Buddhahood”. 

Nichiren Shu misunderstanding

of the “Two Fathers” Argument

A frequently used argument in Nichiren Shu discussion boards on the internet - questioning Nichiren’s identity - points to a letter in which Nichiren mentioned that there can be “only one Buddha”.

A proper understanding of the mentioned letter makes it clear that Nichiren was targeting the illusion of provisional Buddhas such as Amida, and who did not have physical manifestation.  This does not mean that Nichiren was in any way denying his own Buddhahood nor contradicting the Lotus Sutra’s teaching of many Buddhas. 

In 13th century Japan, Nichiren was in a fierce battle with the cult of Amida worship.  The Nembutsu school - based on a belief in an imaginary Buddha Amida - practically diminished the value of the teachings of the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra. 

Nichiren’s focus was on Shakyamuni as the real Buddha who existed in our world - as opposed to the imaginary figure of Amid Sutra. This is why Nichiren refuted having two Buddhas: one real (Shakyamuni)- the other imaginary (Amida):

        Shakyamuni Buddha is the father and mother, teacher and sovereign to all living beings in

        Japan. Amida Buddha does not possess these three virtues. WND1 p810

        “No one has two fathers or two mothers. What sutra says that Amida is the father of this    

        country? What treatise indicates him as its mother? WND1 p810

The expression that there can be “no two Buddhas refers here - specifically - to the “real” person (represented by Shakyamuni) and the “imaginary” figure (represented by Amida) - who never existed in reality.  Refuting the belief in Amida, Nichiren was not saying that Buddhahood is an exclusive right to just one person of Shakyamuni - apart from the rest of humanity. 

                            SGI perspective on Nichiren’s Buddhahood:

SGI Library literature (based on Nichiren own teaching ) explains: 

        “Nichiren revealed and spread the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and inscribed it in the

        form of a mandala Gohonzon, to enable all people in the Latter Day of the Law to attain

        Buddhahood; for this reason he is regarded as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law”. 


Author: Safwan Zabalawi (Darshams)

                                            Nichiren Shu and SGI Buddhism

Nichiren Shu Pre-Lotus Interpretations

                                                   Questionable Teachings                                          


                                                      The Three Treasures