Over the course of several months, I will be writing some introductory posts called “Nichiren workshop” which provide a basic understanding of Nichiren Buddhism, Soka Gokkai, and the practices therein. These are not meant for advanced students, but simply those who are just getting started with Buddhism or are curious and would like to know more.
Nichiren Buddhism is a Japanese sect of Buddhism founded in the 13th century by Nichiren Daishonen, a priest whose revolutionary interpretations of Buddhist scripture earned him both exile and everlasting praise. To members of Soka Gokkai, he is known as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, an iconoclast who risked his life and reputation to lead all of humanity toward enlightenment.
Nichiren, a man of humble birth, taught that the Lotus Sutra contains the most important teachings of the Buddha, which reveal that all human beings have the potential to obtain enlightenment in their current lifetime. Through focusing on the Gohonzon and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (the Mystic Law), every person can awaken their inner Buddhahood and strive toward enlightenment in this lifetime.
The Daishonen teaches that the Lotus Sutra, and its practical interpretation, provides the messages necessary for those living in the Latter Day of the Law to reach enlightenment, and that some of its particular teachings offer a powerful argument for the inner Buddha nature of all beings. Some of the tenets and beliefs of Nichiren Buddhism are below. I will try not to get too deep into Buddhist philosophy, as there are many wonderful books you can explore to understand more (I especially recommend The Opening of the Eyes and The Heart of the Lotus Sutra by Daisaku Ikeda) but simply offer the Daishonen’s main points.
- In the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 16, Buddha reveals that he actually achieved Buddhahood in the incalculable past, not in his present incarnation. This means that Buddhahood is not incompatible with the other nine realms of existence; one can experience Buddha nature and still live as a human, an animal, a deva, or another being. This means that the ten realms are interconnected, not separate, and one can move between and within them, as Buddha has. The Daishonen interprets this as meaning that the ten realms are psychological states that one inhabits, all accessible and chosen by one’s attitudes and behaviors.
- Another component of the ten realms for Nichiren Buddhism is “three thousand realms in a single moment.” Everything we do is connected to everything else. We are one thread in the huge tapestry of the universe and should be mindful that we are always influencing others for good or evil. Thus we should always strive to be responsible, kind, and thoughtful.
- In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha opens the way for many people to become enlightened and explains that women, evil people, and voice-hearers can become enlightened too; enlightenment is open to all. Nichiren tells us that we do not need to work lifetime after lifetime for enlightenment; we can experience it in our lives today, through our connection with the Gohonzon and the Mystic Law.
- Nichiren Buddhism, and Soka Gokkai specifically, is strongly against authoritarianism and against controlling access to spiritual experience by clergy. The Daishonen believes that anyone who seeks enlightenment with diligence and courage should be able to find it, and this is part of the reason that he revealed the Mystic Law and the Gohonzon to the world despite the great personal sacrifice involved.
- The most important moment is now; the past and the future are interpretations of the present, and one should always strive to be mindful of the current situation. Reading Buddhist work, one should apply its meaning to your own life and work to understand how it can help you today, not yesterday or tomorrow.
- Practicing with power and intention. We who are entrusted with the human revolution must fight like lions for justice, not only for the sacred word of the Mystic Law, but for peace, compassion, and equality around the world. When we see injustice, we have a responsibility to speak out, and when we see others misusing or misrepresenting our word, we owe it to ourselves and to our community to prevent such harm.
Nichiren Buddhism has three main components, which are:
- Undertaking faith in Nichiren Buddhism and the Gohonzon
- The practice of chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (daimoku) and the selected sutras twice a day, called gongyo, and;
- Regular study of scripture, called gosho
As part of undertaking faith, members of some groups of Nichiren Buddhism, including Soka Gokka, commit to kosen-rufu, which means sharing an understanding of the Mystic Law through their compassionate acts and their upright behavior.