Nichiren the Buddha of JapanPosted on November 19, 2010
by Tim Janakos (ティム・ジャナコス)
(C) 2010 Second American Renaissance Press
Published in The Collected Writings From Soka University of America
Buddhism in Japan has been marked by both the most famous and most infamous of Buddhists. It has many different sects, from the most orthodox to the extremely bizarre and esoteric. Some so-called Buddhist priests, especially during Japan’s Kamakura period acted more like warlords than holymen. In addition, other peaceful Japanese priests were among the most persecuted of priest in the history of Buddhism. One such priest (for some the most hated and for other the most loved) was Nichiren Daishonin. Though he is often the most misunderstood of Buddhist teachers in Japan, his revolutionary legacy is perhaps the greatest proof of the power of Japanese Buddhism.
Nichiren's courage in the face of incredibly violent opposition showed no end. Under intense persecution, he led a philosophical revolution, a "human revolution" that centered on the transformation of an individual's life, which in-turn would transform society. The opposition he faced was tremendous; the fact that he survived this opposition, unlike many other such revolutionaries (as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, and Jesus of Nazareth) is one of the many things that makes his revolution so noteworthy. In addition, his philosophy of life was also unparalleled by any other revolutionary-a philosophy that brought to light the unlimited potential of the individual human being.
Born in 1222, Nichiren Daishonin lived during a time of great tragedy and turmoil in Japan. For example:
On the sixth day of the eighth month of 1256, gale force winds and torrential rains caused floods and landslides, destroying crops and devastating much of Kamakura. In the ninth month of the same year, an epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of the shogun and other important officials. During the fifth, eighth, and eleventh months of 1257, violent earthquakes rocked the city. And the sixth and seventh months witnessed a disastrous drought. The eighth month of the next year, 1258, saw storms destroy crops throughout the nation and floods in Kamakura drowned numerous people. On the sixteenth day of the tenth month, of the same year, Kamakura was visited by heavy rains and severe floods. In the first month of 1258, fires consumed the Jufuku-ji and the Hachiman shrine at Tsurugaoka, and in the eighth month of 1259, a violent rainstorm decimated crops. Throughout this year and the following, 1260, famine and frequent plagues devastated the country. (From Watson’s introduction, Selected Writings… 11)
Not only were there natural disasters plaguing the nation, but the government was also in a state of chaos.
Japan was ruled by the Bakufu, or military government. This government-also known as the Shogunate-consisting almost entirely of samurai, or members of the warrior class, was characterized by factionalism and was rife with plots and schemes. (The Life of.... vii)
With a government that was unprotective and unresponsive to the people, the peoples’ only choice was to be to turn to religion for comfort in trying times. Unfortunately, the state of Buddhism during this time had so deteriorated that it could not offer the people much hope.
One sect's only hope was to promise its practitioner rebirth in the "Pure Land of Bliss" after their death (much like the claims of Catholicism.) Honen (Genku) founded this sect, known as the “pure land” or Jodo sect. "However, it was essentially pessimistic and escapist, in that it taught its adherents to hate the actual world as impure and aspire to the Pure Land after death. History records that a wave of suicides appeared for a time under its influence." (Outline of... 23) (This pessimistic outlook is actually the antithesis of Shakyamuni’s optimistic philosophy.)
Nichiren wrote about this sect, saying, “All the people throughout Japan have been led astray by the wild assertions of Honen, who tells them to ‘discard, close, ignore and abandon’ [all sutras other than the sutras of his sect]” (Nichiren, Letters... 293)
The teachers of Buddhism, in thirteenth century Japan, no longer relied on the Buddhist sutras. They instead relied on commentaries on the sutras. Worse still, they relied on the commentaries of commentaries, which further distanced the practitioners from Shakyamuni’s original teachings.
One such school was the Sanron (Three Writings) Sect, "a Madhyamika school based on the three treatises Chu Ron, Junimon Ron, and Hyaku Ron; it was systematized by Chi-tsang." (Nichiren, Letters... 544)
The Zen Sect went as far as claiming that the true teachings of the Buddha, Shakyamuni were not at all found in the sutras. Instead, Zen claimed that the true teachings had somehow been handed down secretly through the centuries. Nichiren, in one of his letters, later titled "The Selection of the Time," wrote of the Zen sect:
The sect called Zen claims to represent a "special transmission outside the sutras," which was not revealed by the Buddha in the numerous sutras preached during his lifetime, but was whispered in secret to the Venerable Mahakasyapa. (Nichiren, Selected... 218)
Zen used meditations similar to those perfected by the great Buddhist master of China, T'ien-t'ai. However, T'ien-t’ai’s main emphasis in meditation was meditating on the Wonderful Law of The Lotus Blossom Sutra (a.k.a.: the Lotus Sutra), especially on the title: Myo-ho Ren-ge Kyo. This T’ien-t’ai claimed is the source of the Buddha’s wisdom and compassion. In losing site of this focus of meditative practice, the Zen sect lost site of the true purpose of meditating, which was to focus on and manifest the law of life (Myo-ho Ren-ge Kyo), which is implicit in the Lotus Sutra. Zen had also become an isolationist religion, which had lost the Buddha’s spirit of sharing enlightenment with all people. The aristocracy and the samurai class instead kept Zen almost entirely to themselves.
Other sects reduced Buddhism to a form of idol worship (much like many in the west have done with Catholicism) they worshiped Buddha statues and build elaborate pagodas and temples. (Shakyamuni would likely be much appalled to see people worshiping him after his death, as perhaps Jesus would.) In a sense, the chant of the Nembutsu (Chanting the name of a fictitious character from a sutra parable, Amida Buddha) by the Jodo Sect, was a form of Buddha worshiping.
Nichiren however, like the historical Buddha, didn’t have a temple, nor did he have a permanent home. He instead traveled all over Japan on foot helping suffering people, the same way Shakyamuni did in India (after Shakyamuni abandoned his family’s royal luxuries). At a very young age, Nichiren, with concern for the people of his country who were suffering intensely, decided to search the Buddhist sutras for an answer, as to why there were so many problems confronting Japan. Having a great fluency in both Japanese and classical Chinese, Nichiren read both Chinese and Japanese translations of a great number of sutras, which were housed at a few of the largest temples near Kamakura. He also spent many years on Mt. Hiei, the center of Buddhism in Japan for centuries, to study their extensive sutra libraries.
As Nichiren studied, he soon came to understand the time he was living in, as predicted in the sutras. In the Lotus Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra, the Sutra of Immeasurable Meaning (these three sutras known collectively as the Three-Fold Lotus Sutra), as well as in other Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) scriptures (those scriptures taught during the second half of Shakyamuni’s fifty years of teachings), Shakyamuni outlined how his teachings would spread over the coming centuries, how they would be practiced, and what affects they would have on society. Shakyamuni predicted a division of time after his passing into three periods: respectively, the "Former Day, the Middle Day, and the Latter Day of the Law."
He predicted that the final stage of development, "the Latter Day of the Law," would last some ten thousand years and more. The sutras predict that during this period, the developmental Buddhism of Shakyamuni, or Shakyamuni’s "Expedient Means" teachings would no longer have any beneficial value for the people of the Latter Day of the Law. In fact, so-called priests would have by this time so misinterpreted these sutras that these teaching would actually cause great misfortune to the people who incorrectly practiced them.
Buddhist scholars of the Daishonin's day held that the Latter Day of the Law had begun in 1052. In any event, the world into which Nichiren Daishonin was born in 1222 accorded well with the Sutra's descriptions of an impure and evil-ridden age. Japan was being torn by armed strife and ravaged by successive natural disasters, and people had nowhere to turn for relief from their suffering. The dreaded Latter Day was not simply an idea to them but a reality they were experiencing daily. (Outline of.... 78)
After years of analyzing all the sutras, Nichiren Daishonin came to the same conclusion as many of the greatest Buddhist scholars in history (such as Kumarajiva4 [344-413] of India, T'ien-t'ai' [538-597]of China, and Dengyo [767-822]of Japan). He concluded that the Lotus Sutra, represented not only the highest teachings of Buddhism, but was also the true intent of Shakyamuni's fifty or so years of teaching. Nichiren realized that this was the only teaching, which Shakyamuni intended people to practice during the Latter Day of the Law, when society would finally be able to understand and accept this final teaching, and when the karma of the people and society would be so “muddied” that no other medicine would be strong enough to cure them.
Daisaku Ikeda points out that,
...schisms and opposition have usually arisen over differences in choice of a scripture to regard as fundamental or in interpretation of the same scripture. Nichiren Daishonin shows that, if we trace these issues back to the original teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha himself, all such differences resolve themselves. Nonetheless, dissension continues today because some people persist in being more attached to their own authority and advantage than to the truth. (Ikeda-Derbolav 149-150)
In weighing a Buddhist sutra’s superiority or inferiority to all other sutras, Nichiren said one must rely on the “Three Proofs.” Those three proofs are, “Documentary Proof,” “Theoretical Proof,” and most important, “Actual Proof.”
In reviewing the multitude of “Documentary Proof” of the Lotus Sutra’s preeminence, Nichiren quoted the many eminent Buddhist scholars, such as Kumarajiva, T’ien-t’ai, and Dengyo. As T’ien-t’ai stated: “After the Thus Come One attained enlightenment, for forty years and more he did not reveal the truth. With the Lotus Sutra, he for the first time revealed the truth.” (Nichiren, Writings of… 57) Nichiren states, “Among all the sacred teachings expounded by the Buddha in the course of his lifetime, the Lotus Sutra alone holds the position of absolute superiority. It is the guidepost that points the way to the immediate attainment of perfect wisdom, the carriage that takes us at once to the place of enlightenment.” (Nichiren, Writings of… 55)
Of course, anyone can make such verbose claims of a sutra’s superiority. However, this alone does not constitute “Documentary Proof.” Nichiren relied on the same criteria as T’ien-t’ai in determining “Documentary Proof.” As T’ien-t’ai wrote, “all assertions that lack scriptural proof are to be branded as false.” (Nichiren, Writings of… 64) Therefore, both Nichiren and T’ien-t’ai claimed that one could only gain real “Documentary Proof” from the sutras themselves.
In some sutras prior to the Lotus Sutra, one could read phases such as, “this is the greatest sutra yet preached.” In others, one will find, “I have not yet revealed the truth.” Here is a classic example from the Sutra of Immeasurable Meaning,
Because people’s natures and desires are not alike, I preached the Law in various different ways. Preaching the Law in various different ways, I made use of the power of expedient means. But in these more than forty years, I have not yet revealed the truth. (Nichiren, Writings of… 55)
Though some sutras claim to be greater than previously preached sutras, in no other can one read such sweeping statements that it alone is greater than any sutra from the past, present, or future, as the following passages form the Lotus Sutra:
The sutras I have preached number immeasurable thousands, ten thousands, millions. Among the sutras I have preached, now preach, and will preach, this Lotus Sutra is the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand…this sutra is the storehouse of the secret crux of the Buddha…. It has been guarded by the Buddhas, the World-Honored Ones… (Lotus Sutra 207)
This Lotus Sutra is foremost among all that is preached by the Thus Come One. Among all that is preached it is the most profound. And it is given at the very last…this Lotus Sutra is the secret storehouse of the Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones. Among the sutras, it holds the highest place. Through the long night I have guarded and protected it and have never recklessly propagated it. But today for the first time I expound it for your sake. (Lotus Sutra 207)
To put it briefly, all the doctrines possessed by the Thus Come One, and the freely exercised supernatural powers of the Thus Come One, the storehouse of all the secret essentials of the Thus Come One-all these are proclaimed, revealed, and clearly expounded in this sutra. (Lotus Sutra 273)
This Sutra, however, was far too progressive for the time of Shakyamuni. Therefore, he did not let his disciples spread it widely. He instead left it for the time he called “The Latter Day of The Law,” when the capacity of the people would be great enough to understand such egalitarian ideals as “the complete equality of all people,” which this sutra preaches. As Shakyamuni predicted, many would go against this teaching after he passed away, because it would be too difficult for them to fathom. However, he predicted that the “Bodhisattvas of the Earth” would arise during the Latter Day of the Law to propagate this sutra widely, eventually ‘transforming the muddy swamp of the Latter Day, into a land of beautiful lotus blossoms.’
What was it that made this sutra so great? Where is the great “Theoretical Proof?” T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren both detailed many things that made it greater than all other previously preached Buddhist sutras. In the Lotus Sutra, for the first time in his fifty or so years of preaching, Shakyamuni reveals that all people and all living beings are in fact Buddhas, or rather; everyone and everything in the universe possesses a “Buddha nature”-an enlightened quality.
The Lotus Sutra makes the assertion that the goal of Buddhism is to make everyone become a Buddha, by manifesting his or her own latent Buddha nature. Although now many people understand this as a common assertion of Buddhism, one will not find this claim made in any other sutra but the Lotus Sutra.
It was never Shakyamuni’s desire to start a fan club of people who worshiped him. (Nor did any other religious founder wish for this, though those fan clubs are all too prevalent in all religions today.) He instead wanted to make everyone equal to him. As he stated “This is my constant thought: how I can cause all living beings to gain entry to the highest Way and quickly attain Buddhahood.” (Lectures on the Sutra 144 [From the Expedient Means Chapter of the Lotus Sutra])
The Lotus Sutra also debunks many of the misconceptions other sutras perpetuated. One of these is that Shakyamuni first attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, fifty years or so before preaching the Lotus Sutra. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni stated that he became enlightened many billions of kalpas before, in fact, many light years before this planet was even in existence. As he stated, ‘On a mundane planet much like the one we live on today.’
In the “Life Span” chapter, Shakyamuni gives a great analogy to demonstrate the incredible amount of time since he first attained enlightenment. To abbreviate, suppose you take the following enormous amount “T” (T = 10 x 100 x 1,000 x 10,000 x [10 to the 51st power] “nayuta” x [10 to the 64th power] “asogi”.) of “Major World Systems” and crush them to dust.
Now with this enormous pile of dust, travel east and drop one dust particle every time you pass the aforementioned enormous amount “T” of major world systems. Continue in this way, dropping one particle every “T” major world systems, until you have extinguished all the dust particles. After extinguishing all the dust particles, go back and collect every world you passed (both ones that received a dust particle and ones that you bypassed, which did not receive a dust particle.)
Now crush all these bazillions of worlds to dust and let each particle of dust equal a Kalpa. Shakyamuni said, ‘this is when I in-fact first attained enlightenment.’ This, the time of his original enlightenment, became known in Japanese as Go-hyaku Jin-Tengo (not to be confused with Kuan Ganjo, which means “time without beginning”).
Another myth that the Lotus Sutra destroyed is that the purpose of Buddhism was for the practitioners to reach “Nirvana”-a fictitious state, which Shakyamuni created as a resting point for those who could not see themselves ever making it all the way to enlightenment.
Shakyamuni said in verse to one of his top followers:
Shariputra, listen carefully
for the Law the Buddhas have attained,
through the power of countless expedient means
they preach for the benefit of living beings.
The thoughts that are in the minds of living beings,
the different types of paths they follow,
their various desires and natures,
the good and bad deeds they have done in previous existences
-all these the Buddha takes cognizance of,
and then he employs causes, similes, and parables,
words that embody the power of expedient means,
in order to gladden and please them all.
Sometimes he preaches sutras, verses,
stories of the previous lives of disciples,
stories of the previous lives of the Buddha,
of unheard-of things.
At other times he preaches regarding cause and conditions,
uses similes, parables, passages of poetry
For those of dull capacities who delight in a little Law,
who greedily cling to birth and death,
who, despite the innumerable Buddhas,
fail to practice the profound and wonderful way
but are perplexed and confused by a host of troubles-
for these I preach nirvana.
I devise these expedient means
and so cause them to enter into the Buddha wisdom.(Lotus Sutra 34)
This was one of the many “Expedient Means,” which Shakyamuni used to lure ignorant followers, who could not possibly believe they too could ever become Buddhas, or for those who did not have the strength to persevere all the way to enlightenment. As he explained in the above excerpt from the “Expedient Means” Chapter, he used many expedient means in his “Preparatory Teachings” (Which are all of his teachings prior to the Lotus Sutra.) However, he explained that after one is able to understand the Lotus Sutra, one should discard the preparatory teaching.
He said in the Lotus Sutra, “Honestly discarding the provisional, I will now reveal the truth (Nichiren, Writings of… 660).”
Shakyamuni taught the sutras in a progressive order from elementary to more difficult-from inferior to superior. Ending shortly before his death with the Lotus Sutra, which is by far the greatest sutra of all Buddhist sutras. Due to the fact that Shakyamuni taught for 50 or so years, in many places, to many different people, and not all of those people stayed with him during the entire progression, many people thought they had learned the essence of Buddhism, when they in-fact only learned the most rudimentary teachings of Buddhism, such as the “four noble truths.” In addition, these teachings were only applicable to the time periods he called the “Former Day of the Law,” and the “Middle Day of the Law.”
Shakyamuni explained that in the “Latter Day of the Law” all of his preparatory teachings would be worthless, and would in-fact, cause more harm than good.
There are many other things, which Shakyamuni revealed only in the Lotus Sutra, such as the “Ten Factors of life,” the “Ten Worlds,” and a few other major theories, which would take a whole book to explain fully.
What was the “truth” that Shakyamuni was now revealing in the Lotus Sutra? The Law, or Dharma, to which Shakyamuni became enlightened, was a law of life that permeates all life and the entire universe. That law, which is represented in the title of the Lotus Sutra, "Nam Myo-ho Ren-ge Kyo", is the unchanging reality behind all changing phenomena. This law manifests itself both physically and spiritually as the phenomenal universe, or all that we see and experience as reality. This law of life, or if you will, “life itself” is inherently all-powerful and all-knowing. One who is awakened to this law is a Buddha, or in English, an "enlightened one."
A Buddha is an ordinary human being, who has realized that his or her very life, in its truest essence, is by nature omniscient and omnipotent. He or she is one who develops the capacity to manifest that unlimited life-force on a consistent basis, so as to overcome all hardships and obstacles and to help lead others to happiness.
Though some Buddhists have had the false notion that this is a state one can achieve, and they will stay enlightened forever. However, enlightenment is not a destination, it is a constant journey. Like fitness, for example, if one does not keep exercising, their fitness will be lost.
Therefore, enlightenment is a constant process of continuing to manifest the highest human potential through Buddhist practice. Enlightenment is a state of life like happiness or sadness. For example, a “happily” married couple can only stay happy together by each person making efforts to nurture the relationship. Similarly, a Buddha can only stay a Buddha by continuing to manifest his or her Buddha nature, through the continuous practice of a Bodhisattva, which is the compassionate act of leading others to enlightenment, by teaching them how to bring forth their own Buddha nature.
Shakyamuni realized that it would take a long time to get his disciples to understand this idea, to except it, and put it into practice. In fact, it would take many centuries. As he said to one of his head disciples (recorded in the 2nd “Expedient Means” chapter of the Lotus Sutra): "Shariputra, I will say no more, because that which the Buddha has achieved is the rarest and most difficult Law to comprehend." (Lectures on.... 56)
It is for this reason that (in the "treasure tower" chapter of the Lotus Sutra), when asked by his disciples (who wanted to inherit the responsibility of spreading the Lotus Sutra's teachings) if they could be the "votaries of the Lotus Sutra," he refuses their request. He instead gave the task to the millions of "Bodhisattvas of the Earth" in the "Latter Day of the Law."
The Yujutsu [15th-“Emerging from the Earth”] chapter of the Lotus Sutra describes the appearance of an innumerable host of bodhisattvas who well up from the space below the earth and to whom Shakyamuni entrusts the propagation of the Lotus Sutra [in the Latter Day of the Law]. (From Watson’s notes, Letters... 530)
In Shakyamuni’s time, people were so attached to the physical world that they could not possibly understand something being more real than their own shallow perceptions of reality. For this reason, Shakyamuni first had to break them of their attachment to fleeting, transient reality (physical reality). He first taught them (only as an expedient) that attachment caused them suffering. In addition, he had to emphasize that all reality was empty of inherent existence. However, later in the Lotus Sutra (once his top disciples had advanced in their thinking), he refutes this idea.
Daisaku Ikeda describes these two opposing views in his dialogue with Josef Derbolav.
In its attempts to crush the worldly Epicureanism prevailing in India in its time, Hinayana [Vajrayana] insisted that everything was ephemeral, composed of suffering, impure and devoid of a persisting identity or self. While agreeing about the ephemeral nature of the phenomenal world and the individual self, Mahayana Buddhism perceives a greater, lasting self in the world of the law, which is a pure realm filled with joy. While manifesting the changes called life and death, this universal self is immutable and persists through transmigrations.... The teachings of Nichiren Daishonin are concerned with the permanent, immutable Law-the greater self-and with its nature and ways of perceiving it. (Ikeda-Derbolav 153-154)
Because the people of Shakyamuni’s time were suffering so much in their lives, Shakyamuni had to lure them with a temporary resting place on their journey toward enlightenment, which he called "Nirvana."
He says in one parable, in essence, that in order to lead a drunk to a higher path, you must first offer to get drunk with them, (only as an expedient) to get them to follow you down the right path.
However, keeping people drunk on “Nirvana” was never his real aim.
Having people meditate on top of mountains, separated from daily life in society was never his intention. Each stage of the five stages of Shakyamuni’s teachings (outlined by T'ien-t'ai in the Maka Shikan “Great Concentration and Insight”) was designed to break his disciples of their attachments. As his disciples lost their attachment to physical reality or desire, they soon became attached to the idea of emptiness; or some became attached to their quest for Nirvana. Then he had to teach them the "middle way" and then the three paths: "learning, realization, and bodhisattva," as a way to get them to break their attachment to their own selfish pursuit of enlightenment, and eventually to get them to be concerned with helping others-the state of altruism, the path of a bodhisattva.
He says in the "expedient means" chapter of the Lotus Sutra,
...ever since I attained Buddhahood, I have widely expounded my teachings through many stories of past relationships and many parables, and by countless means have led the people to renounce all their attachments." (Lectures on... 44)
However, this was all to lead them to the one path of enlightenment or "Buddhahood."
Nichiren claimed that more important though than the extensive theoretical proof or the extensive documentary proof, which the Lotus Sutra has to offer for its superiority, the “Actual Proof” should be the very determinate of a sutra’s greatness.
Both T’ien-t’ai and Nichiren demonstrated the historical record of how this Sutra, when practiced correctly, had drastically transformed the societies in which it was practiced. This is the main purpose of Buddhism. If Buddhism is to be true to its purpose, it must first transform a person’s life to the point where that person can overcome all of their obstacles, and they must be able to lead an indestructibly happy life. Then from there, it should foster a very peaceful society of happy self-empowered individuals.
For instance, if we look back over the history of Buddhism, we will see in the Buddhist countries where there was a long period of peace and the people led happy lives, there you will find that the Lotus Sutra was the prominent Buddhist scripture.
The many disasters that were occurring in Japan during the Kamakura period were also a form of actual proof. Because many people in Japan at this time were practicing incorrect forms of Buddhism (as Nichiren called them “heretical” forms of Buddhism), they were experiencing the consequences of incorrect Buddhist practice.
It is because of this, that Nichiren led a revolution to correct the mistaken views of the people of Japan, especially those who claimed to be Buddhist scholars.
Nichiren Daishonin, in his lengthy research of the sutras, realized that the suffering and disasters in Japan were being caused by the people’s attachment to “inferior teachings,” teaching that only contained partial truths. "When we try to view the whole in terms of the part, we are bound to arrive at an incomplete and distorted view." (Outline of... 79)
Shakyamuni predicted in the sutras, that when the Buddhist Law (Dharma) was on the verge of disappearing, the people who slandered and distorted that law would experience the "Three Calamities and Seven Disasters" one after another.
The three lesser calamities of high grain prices or inflation (especially that caused by famine), warfare, and pestilence. The seven disasters differ with the Sutra. The Yakushi Sutra [The Medicine Master Sutra] lists them as pestilence, foreign invasion, internal strife, unnatural changes in the heavens, solar and lunar eclipses, unseasonable storms and typhoons, and drought. (From Watson’s notes, Selected…473)
In Nichiren Daishonin's time, as well as the aforementioned natural disasters, there were also many unusual astronomical occurrences, which are well detailed in the book Buddhism and the Cosmos. One, which I will discuss latter, caused such a disturbance in much of Asia that many people committed suicide.
Nichiren Daishonin pointed out that the "Three Calamities" were caused, respectively, by what Buddhism calls the "Three Poisons" (Greed, Anger, and Ignorance).
At the time when Nichiren began teaching his unique teaching, only two of the seven disasters had yet to occur. These were internal strife and foreign invasion. It was for this reason that Nichiren Daishonin decided to start a religious revolution. He believed that if the people of his country did not give up their beliefs in "heretical" teachings, and confess the superiority of the Lotus Sutra, the country was doomed to political disaster and would surely, as the sutras predict, be overrun by foreign invaders.
Japan, prior to this, had not been overrun by foreign invaders for many centuries, perhaps millennia. Therefore, to many people, this seemed to be highly unlikely. However, mystically, eight years after Nichiren submitted a protest letter to leading religious and government leaders (entitled: "Risho Ankoku Ron", or "On Securing the Peace of the Land Through the Propagation of a Correct Teaching"), in which he predicted that the last two disasters would occur (if the government did not correct their mistaken views of Buddhism), the Mongol Empire sent a delegation to Japan demanding Japan's subjugation to Mongol rule. Before this time, Nichiren had already converted many people to his teachings. However, once his prediction had begun to materialize, he gained even more followers, including people within the government.
In the beginning of the Risho Ankoku Ron (On Securing the Peace of the Land Through the Practice of True Buddhism), Nichiren writes,
I have pondered the matter carefully with what limited resources I possess, and have looked a little at the scriptures for an answer. The people of today all turn their backs upon what is right; to a person, they give their allegiance to evil. This is the reason that the benevolent deities have abandoned the nation and departed together, that sages leave and do not return. And in their stead devils and demons come, and disasters and calamities occur. I cannot keep silent on this matter. I cannot suppress my fears. (Nichiren, Writings of… 7)
Following a tradition in both China and Japan of having open debates, as a way of determining the correctness of one form of Buddhism over another, Nichiren began to have open debates with leaders of other sects of Buddhism. Repeatedly he proved false their teachings. Nichiren writes about the practice of Buddhist debate in his letter, later entitled "Repaying Debts of Gratitude":
In China, in the time of the Ch'en emperor [Shu-pao], the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai defeated in debate the Buddhist leaders of northern and southern China, and was honored with the title of Great Teacher while still alive.... In Japan, the Great Teacher Dengyo defeated in debate the leaders of the six sects and became the founder and first leader of the Tendai sect in Japan. (Nichiren, Selected... 282)
“The leaders of established schools of Buddhism were unable to refute his arguments and began plotting in collusion with those in power to persecute the Daishonin both privately and openly (Outline of.... 80).” A few months after he sent his first letters of protest, Nembutsu believers (member of the Jodo sect, who chant the Nembutsu, or the name of Amida Buddha) attacked him in his small makeshift cottage. In addition, a half year latter, after much protest by other sects, the government exiled him from Kamakura to the remote Izu Peninsula for two years. There he continued his propagation efforts and converted many believers to his teachings.
The aggressive behavior of the other sects of Buddhism-which by their claims of being Buddhist should have made them non-violent and considerate of other's beliefs-was very consistent with the predictions in the sutras, about those who would claim to be Buddhists in the Latter Day of the Law, and how distorted their practice of Buddhism would become. It was predicted in the 13th Kanji “Encouraging Devotion” chapter of the Lotus Sutra that the "Votary of the Lotus Sutra" would be beaten with swords and staffs, would be banished, and would face numerous persecutions for attempting to propagate a pure teaching in an impure age.
Ironically, while he was studying this very chapter, Nichiren was attacked in his hut by swordsmen of the government, who took his scroll containing the Kanji chapter and beat him with it. These swordsmen also cut his forehead with a sword.
The sutras predict that in the Latter Days of the Law, "Bodhisattva Jogyo" would appear, the "Votary of the Lotus Sutra". This votary would be able to actualize the teaching of the Lotus Sutra with his life and make them accessible to all people. He would prove the validity of the teachings by overcoming incredible hardships, as the Kanji chapter states.
This is one of the many symbolisms of the lotus blossom, which blooms in a muddy swamp. Nichiren Daishonin's life bloomed in the "muddy swamp" of the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. Another symbolism is that the lotus releases its seeds at the same time that it blooms.
This symbolizes that when someone awakens to their inherent Buddha nature, they simultaneously plant seeds for others, to awaken them to the same nature. In the Lotus Sutra, the millions of “Bodhisattvas of the Earth” are said to spring up from the earth like millions of lotus blossoms.
Nichiren first realized he was the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, or Bodhisattva Jogyo as predicted in the sutra, who would actualize the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, when he was taken one night down to the beach at Tatsunokuchi to be executed. It was in the middle of the night, but just as the executioner was raising his sword to behead the Daishonin, the sky lit up by a big yellow orb.
(Astronomers latter trace this day in 1271 to when Halley's Comet was in its closest orbit to the Earth, and it is believed that some debris or a projectile from the comet could have skimmed the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the sky to light up as it did [Buddhism and the Cosmos].)
This was but one of the many unusual astrological occurrences (one of the seven calamities predicted in the sutras) that happened during Nichiren's life. (In China, it is recorded that this event caused a great scare and many committed suicide-when the night's sky was lit as if it were daylight.)
Needless to say, the executioner was a little frightened by this event, dropped to his knees, and began to pray to the Daishonin. Burton Watson writes that here is where he reveals his true identity as Bodhisattva Jogyo:
[The leader of the "Bodhisattvas of the Earth"] is Jogyo (Visistacarita, Superior Conduct). The other leaders are Muhengyo (Anantacarita, Limitless Conduct), Jyogyo (Visuddhacarita, Pure Conduct) and Anryugyo (Supratisthitacarita, Conduct of Standing Firm)...Nichiren identifies himself with the bodhisattva Jogyo, the leader of the four. (From Watson’s notes, Letters... 530)
Giving up on killing Nichiren, the government instead decided to exile him to Sado Island. On this second exile, he wrote one after another of his major works, "The Opening of the Eyes", where he claimed to be the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, or Bodhisattva Jogyo, the "leader of the leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth." Here, on a snow-covered island, a place the government sent enemies of the state to die, he wrote:
This I will state.... Let all persecutions assail me still I will give my life for the sake of the Law.... Whether tempted by good or threatened by evil, if one casts aside the Lotus Sutra, he destines himself for hell. Here I will make a great vow. Though I might be offered the rulership of Japan if I will only abandon the Lotus Sutra...Though I might be told that my father and mother will have their heads cut off if I do not recite the Nembutsu-whatever obstacles I might encounter, so long as men of wisdom do not prove my teachings to be false, I will never yield! All other troubles are no more to me than dust before the wind. I will be the Pillar of Japan. I will be the Eyes of Japan. I will be the Great Ship of Japan. This is my vow, and I will never forsake it! (Nichiren, Letter… 137-138)
In these last few lines he alludes to the three qualities of a Buddha, the "Parent, Teacher, and Sovereign" of the people.
Even on the island of Sado, where few exiles returned alive, he actively wrote to his disciples on the mainland. In addition, they sent him offerings that kept him alive. He also converted many of the islanders to his sect of Buddhism. However, other Buddhist leaders felt he was still a threat, even in exile, so much so that many were extremely violent toward him and his followers, while he was in exile.
Never the less, after his prediction of foreign invasion began to materialize, the Kamakura government urged the other Buddhist groups not to hurt him, for fear of retribution. They instead requested that all of the other competing sects should have a open debate with the Daishonin.
The debate took place on January 16 and 17, 1272, and it pitted the Daishonin against several hundred priests of the other sects.... The priests proceeded to cite the doctrines of their various sects-Nembutsu, Zen, Shingon and Ritsu. The Daishonin replied in turn, confirming the meaning of what each had said, and then asked questions. Very quickly, he was able to expose their contradictory assertions and scriptural incompatibilities. The priests were speechless, no match for the Daishonin's penetrating understanding of the Sutras. Several of their followers professed belief in the Daishonin's teaching on the spot. (The life of... 64)
After the Mongols finally attacked two islands off Japan, destroying them, the government decided to pardon Nichiren and allow him to establish his own school at Mt Minobu, (Near Mt. Fuji) for fear if they did not, the Mongols may wiped out the entire country. In the end, (shortly after the Kamakura government pardoned the Daishonin from his two and a half year Sado exile) a great storm wiped out most of the Mongol forces.
Many of the Daishonin’s followers and others believed that because the government finally recognized the Daishonin's teachings, Japan was temporarily protected from the seventh disaster.
Even though for a time, during the Daishonin’s life the government finally recognized Nichiren’s Buddhism as an official sect of Buddhism, the leaders of other Buddhist schools were and are still vehemently apposed to the Daishonin's teachings and have used every opportunity until today to openly attack followers of Nichiren Daishonin.
After Nichiren's passing, for some seven hundred years, in collusion with the government, many Buddhist leaders have been persecuting people who practice the Daishonin's Buddhism.
The Hiei sohei…although they were briefly allied with the Nichiren sect against the Pure Land schools, …burned every one of that sect’s [Nichiren's] temples in Kyoto to the ground, in the process slaughtering every Nichiren adherent they could lay their hands on. The Nichiren sect in Kyoto never recovered from that blown (Stevens 37)
In addition, the Japanese Government, not learning it’s lesson in history, once again banned the Daishonin’s Buddhism in the 1930’s and jailed the top leaders of the Soka Gakkai (one of the largest organizations in Japan that practices the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin) for refusing to give up their practice and propagation efforts and for their opposition to Japan's militarism in World War II.
It was only then that the seventh disaster as predicted in the Lotus Sutra finally occurred at the end of World War II, when the US invaded and occupied Japan.
Despite having their founding president die in prison during World War II, the Soka Gakkai finally began to grow after Japan’s new constitution allowed freedom of religion in 1946. Today, the Soka Gakkai has grown to over ten million members in Japan. In addition, along with the Soka Gakkai, most the other Buddhist organizations that grew after World War II also regarded the Lotus Sutra as their main text.
As Stuart Picken writes in his book, Buddhism: Japan’s Cultural Identity, in the section about the growth of new Buddhist groups after World War II, “The three principal Buddhist groups, whose impact has been felt nationwide, share their ancestry in the tradition founded by Nichiren, a tradition that stresses the primacy of the Lotus Sutra.” (73)
Since then, needless to say, we have seen a country grow from a completely demolished country, to an economic world power in less than 50 years. Not only that, it has since not maintained an active military industrial complex, unlike other superpowers.
In addition, Japan is now an aggressor to no other country, which we cannot say for any other superpower.
Nevertheless, despite the tremendous growth of the Soka Gakkai, many Japanese newspapers, out of jealousy perhaps, still regularly criticize the Soka Gakkai. In addition, great jealousy abounds in the other older sect of Buddhism, toward the tremendous growth and prosperity of the Soka Gakkai.
Hilariously though, the most common newspaper articles written about the Soka Gakkai in the post war days read, ‘the Soka Gakkai is an organization for the sick and poor.’ In contrast, today’s critic lament that, ‘the Soka Gakkai is an organization of the rich and powerful.’
It was true that most of the members who joined the Soka Gakkai after the war were sick and poor. Now however, those same people, after practicing the Daishonin’s Buddhism for half a century are among some of the most successful people in Japan. This would appear to be “actual proof” that Nichiren’s Buddhism is working.
Some wonder, however, if it is just coincidence that ever since the early 90’s, Japan has endured much financial and political hardship and now there is much talk in the government about Japan creating nuclear weapons and developing its military. Is it a coincidence, that this has coincided with a period of the greatest persecution against the Soka Gakkai since World War II, especially by the corrupt Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, under the high priest Nikken?
In the early 90s, Nikken in collusion with many rightwing political figures attempted to destroy the Soka Gakkai. They drastically failed however, so instead, Nikken excommunicated the Soka Gakkai’s millions of members from the Temple (Nichiren Shoshu).
This attack and others in the last 10 plus years have included bogus lawsuits, media propaganda, and a host of other unrelenting tactics.
Even though the Soka Gakkai has still continued to grow during the 1990’s and beyond, it unfortunately has been Japan and the Japanese people who have suffered the most, not the Soka Gakkai because of the baseless attacks against the Soka Gakkai.
To truly see how true the prophesies of the sutras are, however, one may need to look at Japan in twenty to fifty years, once the Soka Gakkai has spread perhaps to over a third of the population. One then may be able to see Nichiren’s real lasting impact on Japan.
By then, perhaps, the Japanese economy may experience another big turn around. Whether Japan becomes an aggressor nation again, like the US, Great Britain, Russia and other economically powerful countries, will likely be determined by whether the Lotus Sutra’s teachings spread or diminish in popularity.
The only other large and prosperous, non-aggressor nation in history that one is likely to find is India during the latter years of King Ashoka’s reign, when he converted to Buddhism. This was also a time when the Indian government and most of its citizens revered the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching of Buddhism.
However, once the Lotus Sutra lost its popularity there, the peace of the land slowly diminished as well.
Daisaku Ikeda, the current president of the Soka Gakkai said this about Shakyamuni and Nichiren,
I think we could say that Nichiren Daishonin and Shakyamuni were revolutionaries of the most radical and fundamental kind. Shakyamuni toppled the prevalent notion that ‘people exist for the sake of the gods,’ teaching instead that ‘the gods exist for the sake of the people.’ At the same time, he rejected the Brahman caste, which arrogantly took advantage of people’s belief, and the caste system itself. Proclaiming that all people are equal, he proceeded to put that assertion into practice…. But in later times, the adherents of Buddhism forgot Shakyamuni’s spirit, and consequently Buddhism ceased to be a humanistic teaching. It was then that Nichiren Daishonin appeared, declaring that people don’t exist for the sake of the Buddha; rather, the Buddha exists for the sake of the people…. Since religion is the very foundation of society, it is a revolution in the realm of religion that will rectify all of society’s ills on a fundamental level. (Ikeda, Wisdom of…)
Many other religions make prophecies of what will come in the future, however many are forced to change their story lines once history contradicts the intended outcome. The superiority of the Lotus Sutra to other religious works is that so far the story has gone exactly as planned.
Nichiren Daishonin fulfilled all the prophecies of the “votary of the Lotus Sutra,” when he survived three attempts by the government to kill him. In addition, his teachings are slowly spreading throughout Japan and the world as was predicted in the Lotus Sutra, thanks to the the Millions of “Boddhisatvas of the Earth” who are practicing the Buddhism of Nichiren within the Soka Gakkai International in over 190 countries around the world.
Daishonin, Nichiren. Selected Writings of Nichiren. Trans. By Burton Watson. Columbia University Press. New York. 1990.
Daishonin, Nichiren. Letters of Nichiren. Trans. By Burton Watson. Columbia University Press. New York, 1996
Daishonin, Nichiren. Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, The. Ed-trans. By The Gosho Translation Committee, Soka Gakkai. Japan. 1999.
Derbolav, Josef, and Daisaku Ikeda. Search For A New Humanity Weatherhill. New York. 1992
Ikeda, Daisaku. Buddhism the First Millennium. Trans. By Burton Watson. Kodansha International Ltd.. Tokyo. 1977.
Ikeda, Daisaku, Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, Volume 1
Lectures on the Sutra: The Hoben and Juryo Chapters Trans. Editorial Department. Nichiren Shoshu International Center. Tokyo. 1984
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Lotus Sutra, The. Trans. By Burton Watson. Columbia University Press, New York, 1993.
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Stevens, John. The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei. Shambhala, Boston, 1988.