Lotus Buddhism / Nichiren Shu and SGI Buddhism

Nichiren Shu and SGI Buddhism

Safwan Zabalawi

In Japan, there are more than ten religious groups, which claim adherence to Nichiren’s teachings. Although Nichiren’s teachings are focused on attaining Buddhahood in one’s lifetime, almost all of those sects believe that Nichiren himself could not attain Buddhahood in his lifetime, (limiting his spiritual identity to that of a Bodhisattva).

Nichiren sects follow the practice of chanting the invocation (Daimoku),

and also theoretically acknowledge the principle of attaining Buddhahood in one’s lifetime, however, their interpretation of the Lotus Sutra restricts the state of Buddhahood to the historical Buddha alone - with no one after him to be called a “Buddha”.

The view of various Nichiren groups that their founder - Nichiren himself - did not attain Buddhahood (and hence cannot be called a Buddha) is a shared view among the groups such as: Hokke Kempon, Rissho Kosei-Kai, Butsu Ryu Shu and Nichiren Shu. For example: Nichiren Shu literature explains that no one after Shakyamuni can be called a Buddha “because the word is reserved for Shakyamuni”(source: Nichiren Shu book Lotus Seeds, page 61).

This restriction (of “reserving” Buddhahood to one person), however, contradicts the Lotus Sutra’s indication that the word “Buddha” is not reserved to one person only:

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

An example of inconsistency in Nichiren Shu teachings can be found in their Prayer Book - which refers to Nichiren’s identity as a Bodhisattva (indicating the founder’s unrealised goal of becoming a Buddha) - while the same Prayer book clearly presents their founder’s words:“I, Nichiren, vowed to …attain Buddhahood”.

If Nichiren could fulfil his vow - which he clearly stated more than once - in his lifetime, then he can be called a Buddha. Yet, Nichiren Shu teachings imply that Nichiren failed in realising his vow to become a Buddha, and thus he is given by Nichiren Shu priesthood the title of “Bodhisattva”.

Some Nichiren Shu scholars (for example Rev. Ryuei in various discussions, and others) suggest that Nichiren was successful in realising “some kind of enlightenment”, however, he still should not be called a Buddha (despite Nichiren’s own declared vow to become a Buddha during his lifetime).

Other scholars (Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett, Tricycle discussion, for example, and others) avoid the whole question about the identity of their founder, shrugging shoulder that ‘it is not important’’ - whether Nichiren could realise his vow (to be a Buddha), or not.

However, for Nichiren himself, attaining Buddhahood was his most important matter:

“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

“From the beginning, I pursued my studies because I wanted to master Buddhism
and attain Buddhahood,”WND1 p 25

The proof of validity or failure of the teaching of the Lotus Sutra rests on whether Nichiren manifested Buddhahood through his practice, or failed to be a Buddha.

Understanding of the world of Buddhahood as reserved to one person only, makes the concept of the Ten Worlds rather just Nine Worlds for all humanity and leaves the World of Buddha empty of people.

Nichiren letters explain that the real meaning of Shakyamuni’s life is his behaviour as a model for human beings (while Nichiren Shu teachings practically put Shakyamuni above humanity, with no one - ever - capable of becoming equal to his Buddhahood).

According to Nichiren, however:

“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

Soka Buddhism regards both Shakyamuni and Nichiren as manifestation of Buddhahood of the Lotus Sutra, which can be expressed also by any human being, devoted to the Law of NamMyohoRengeKyo. Nichiren appeared in the Latter Day of the Law, turning the wheel of practice of the Lotus Sutra, thus he is called the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

SGI Buddhism N. Shu Buddhism
Nichiren’s Identity Buddha Bodhisattva
Object of Devotion Mandala Gohonzon Mandala Gohonzon and statues