Lotus Buddhism / Zen and Nichiren Buddhism

Zen and Nichiren Buddhism

Safwan Darshams

The origin of Zen is attributed to Bodhidharma, a historical figure who - around the year 500 AD - is said to have spent 9 years in silence “facing the rock wall of a cave that’s about a mile from the Shaolin Temple. Thus he won the title “the wall-gazing brahmin”.

Obviously, this legend cannot be taken literally, as gazing silently at a wall in a cave for 9 years expresses mental disconnection with reality. Nevertheless - being adopted and celebrated in Zen literature throughout history - the story seems to convey a message about the spirit of Zen.

The practice of lengthy silent “wall gazing” points to a tendency for abstract thinking and escapism from reality life in which many people are in need of help and wisdom. Zen “tendency for abstraction” is also expressed by the practice of koan (or self-enquiry puzzles), which in various cases requires dwelling on imaginary and irrational constructs (such as “the soundless sound of one hand clapping”, “the gateless gate” and the “mind of no-mind” - found in Zen literature.

Zen is considered as a Mahayana tradition, which is essentially based on the Bodhisattva practice aiming for attaining Buddhahood. This requires dedicated efforts for self-mastery and actions of compassion among the people with whom we are connected. While the Bodhisattva practice aims at becoming a Buddha, the Principles of Zazen sets almost a nihilistic atmosphere of aimlessness, suggesting lack of interest or desire to become a Buddha, as master Dogen teaches:

Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good
or bad. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind. Have no
design on becoming a Buddha”.

“Aimlessness” is also encouraged in modern Zen practice: Master Thich Nhat Hanh book “Silence” teaches that:

“Sitting in silence can be wonderfully aimless" page 188


In contrast, however, to Zen ‘having no design on becoming a Buddha’, Nichiren urges his followers to make a vow to attain Buddhahood: ”My wish is that my disciples make a great vow” WND1 p 1003

Another example can shed the light on the ‘basic belief’ in Zen, as presented in Alan Watt’s article on what Zen is, and is not :

“Now then, if one must try to say something about what Zen is, I must make it emphatic that
Zen, in its essence, is not a doctrine. There’s nothing you’re supposed to believe in”.

On the other hand, according to SGI literature:

“The important thing is that we believe in our potential,
strive to reveal our Buddhanature,
grow as human beings, becoming happy and helping others to do the same.
Irrespective of how people treat us, t he important thing is to chant with an unwavering belief
in the Buddha-nature of everyone, ourselves and other people.
This in itself can be extremely challenging, involving a real change of heart”.

Zen contradictions: Contrary to all Buddhist traditions revering the sutras, Zen literature denies any value for the sutras, viewed by most Zen masters as as “waste papaer” :

“Zen claims to be Buddhism, but all the Buddhist teachings as propounded in the sutra are to be treated by Zen as mere waste paper whose utility consists in wipping off the dirt of intellect and nothing more." Page 8, Introduction to Zen.

But while rejecting the sutras in principle, some Zen masters wrote books on sutras, and while rejecting voice as a vehicle to convey the truth, all Zen masters use their voice to convey their guidance.

Transmission of Buddhism according to Zen master Dogen should be based on “silent transmission”, and which was criticized by Nichiren as being inconsistent with the fact that Zen masters themselves depended on their voice and also on recorded literature - to teach their disciples. Zen concept of “silent transmission of information” (mind-to-mind transmission of thoughts) fulfils the definition of Telepathy. Nowhere the Buddh indicated that Buddhism can be propagated by mind-to-mind telepathy.

Quick comparison:

SGI Buddhism Zen Buddhism
Aim Focus on Attaining Buddhahood Focus on "Emptiness"
Practice Chanting the Dharma Silent meditation
Object of Devotion Mandala Gohonzon Unspecified