Nichiren buddhism

21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

This article will cover two movements in Japanese Buddhism: Nichiren-shu and Soka Gakkai. The Nichiren school played a significant role in the formation of the philosophy of Soka Gakkai.


This is one of the main Japanese denominations of Buddhism. It was founded by the monk Nichiren in the middle of the 13th century. Initially, the school was called Hokke-shu. Its modern name Nichiren-shu was adopted in the 1860s. 

A unique soteriological doctrine (the theology of the salvation of man) is the main feature of Nichiren. Following it, a person can be saved while still in this life. In addition, not the individual but the whole society or the state is the object of salvation. Nichiren-shu has resisted secular authority and other Buddhist teachings throughout its history. The doctrine of this school was very different from others.

Nichiren buddhism

Teachings of nichiren-shu

The main dogmatic concept in Nichiren revolves around three great secret laws based on the teachings of one of the main Buddhist schools in Japan, Tendai-shu, concerning the ten interacting worlds of Dharma. These laws help a person to awaken the inner “world of the Buddha”.

  1. Veneration of the Gohonzon (mandala), in the centre of which the full name of the Lotus Sutra is written in Japanese. It is believed that everyone who lives in Japan should have a Gohonzon. The revelation of the Buddha is enclosed in each sign of the inscription, and the entire text is the embodiment of the true essence of the Dharma.
  2. Visiting Kaidan, a place of universal unity. There, the Niсhiren monks help each beginner to understand the essence of the signs of the full name of the Lotus Sutra. In Nichiren, there is also the concept of the “Great Kaidan”, the place of storage of the main state of Gohonzon.
  3. The practice the chanting of daimoku — the phrase Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō (lit. Glory to the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra).

Nichiren’s writings contain elements of Shinbutsu-shūgō. Nichiren considers the authority of the kami (spiritual essence, god in Shintoism) to be proof of the truth of the salvation offered by this school.

History of the school at the time of nichiren

Nichiren formulated his philosophy during his travels through the monasteries of Japan from 1242 to 1251. He comprehended many different sutras and treatises that formed the basis of his teachings.

Initially, Nichiren thought about reviving the Tendai school. But because of the conservative views of the monks, disputes and the esotericization of the doctrine, he decided to found a new religious movement.

Nichiren returned to his Kiyomizu-dera monastery in 1253 and there is an opinion that early in the morning of the 28th day of the 4th lunar month, he climbed a hill, stood there for a long time, looked to the east, and at dawn shouted “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō!”. This day was proclaimed Kaikyo — “Discovery of the teachings.” The year 1253 is considered the date of birth of the phrase daimoku. In the middle of the same day, Nichiren delivered his sermon to other monks. There is no exact information about its content, but the suggestion is it contained sharp criticism and accusations of apostasy from the “true law” of the Amida and Zen schools. Also the declaration of the Lotus Sutra was the only true one in the Mappo era (when the Buddha’s teachings were forgotten, and misfortunes began to occur). His speech did not impress the monks and a local jito ordered Nichiren’s execution. He had to escape from his native monastery.

Nichiren went to the capital city of Kamakura and a house in the south of the capital in the Matsuba-Ha-Yatsu district became his refuge. Nichiren’s sermons became increasingly popular. At the end of 1253, he had a disciple, Joben, who later changed his name to Nissho.

Soon, supporters of Nichiren took to the streets of the capital to deliver sermons. Gradually, the number of followers increased. Nichiren made no distinction between the laity and the clergy — for him all disciples were equal.

In 1261, Nichiren was sent into exile on the Izu peninsula for his crude criticism of the Buddhist church. Ten years later, he was again convicted of slander and exiled to Sado Island. After the verdict, he was sent to Tatsu-no-kuchi, the place where criminals were executed. On the way there, near the statue of the Shinto god of war Hachiman, Nichiren made a speech, declaring himself the first ascetic of the Lotus Sutra and defender of Japan. At the place of execution, he identified himself as the first to sacrifice his life in the name of the Lotus Sutra. Then the brightest ray of light blinded the executioner and guards, and they fearfully fled. Nichiren asked them to come back and finish the job, but they didn’t.

In about the year 1276, Nichiren settled on Mount Minobu. He managed the school through correspondence with his students. In the autumn of 1282, Nichiren went to the hot springs in Hitachi for treatment. On the way, he became ill and, feeling that he would soon die, he called the names of six of his closest students, to whom he entrusted the fate of the school.

History of the school after the death of its founder

Nissho, Nichiro, Nikko, Nicho, and Nichiji were the six monks Nichiren appointed as seniors. Nichiren wished to be buried on Mount Minobu and on 23 January 1283, a service was held in his memory. Many followers were present at the service that day, but the two oldest disciples were not present. This happened because the distance between Minobu and the place of residence of Nichiren’s disciples was considerable. Therefore, it was decided to choose another twelve students. Nichiren wanted the change of the servants of the temple to take place according to the schedule. In different regions of the country, the school was headed by one of the students and they organized meetings on Mount Minobu annually.

These meetings were hampered by two conditions – the persecution of supporters of the school and the inaccessibility of Kuonji. Therefore, the disciple Nikko became the head of the Kuon-ji temple and he was supported by an important secular figure Nambu Sanenaga. At the end of 1285, Nikko received the post of superior of the temple and that status would run for three years. But in early 1286, Nicho and Nambu Sanenaga, who joined him, wanted to help Nikko protect the temple. Because of this, the latter left Minoba. He then resided in Taisekigahara at the foot of Mount Fuji. There he built his home, which later became the Taiseki-ji temple.

In 1289, the movement split. Nikko called Nissho and Nichiro traitors to the name of Nichiren. Later, the Nikko school became known as the Fuji school, and Taiseki-ji became the main temple of Nichiren-shu. For seven hundred years factions did not interact and fought with other movements of the school.

Soka gakkai

This is the largest Japanese organization of Secular Buddhists. Its main difference is that supporters of society take part in the politics of their country and conduct active missionary activities abroad. From 1960 to 1979, the Japanese philosopher and writer Daisaku Ikeda served as president of the organization. Soka Gakkai is often referred to as the new Japanese religious movement.

Followers worship the mandala located in the main temple of the Buddhist school of Nichiren — Taiseki-ji. They believe that this mandala can work miracles and help to achieve enlightenment.

Soka gakkai

History of soka gakkai

Initially, the Soka Gakkai society was an association of enthusiastic teachers – Soka Kyoikugaku Taikei (The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy). It was founded by educator Tsunesaburō Makiguchi in 1930. Makiguchi’s philosophy was based on the teachings of the Nichiren school.

Makiguchi feuded with the authorities because of his humane principles and in 1943, he and other important figures of Soka Gakkai were arrested for resisting the military regime and protesting against the religious policy of the state. Makiguchi died in custody.

Toda Jōsei, released from prison in July 1945, continued Makiguchi’s legacy. and restored the organization of Soka Gakkai. After the war, people from different professions also joined it and in 1951, Toda became its president. In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda succeeded Toda Josei. During his presidency, Soka Gakkai actively spread beyond the borders of Japan and in 1975, the international organization of Soka Gakkai International was created. It became widespread in more than 192 states.

In 1964, supporters founded a centrist, ethical-political party the Komeito (Party of Pure Politics). Purity, well-being and peace were the basic principles of the party. It entered the Japanese parliament as an opposition to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

In 1994, the party ceased its activities.

In 1998, the New Komeito appeared, creating a government alliance with the LDP.

Soon after, Soka Gakkai, having lost contact with the Nichiren school, began to conflict with it resulting in supporters of Soka Gakkai being expelled from the ranks of Nichiren-shu.

Representatives of these two branches of Japanese Buddhism have spread throughout the modern world and branches of Soka Gakkai have appeared in 115 states. Several famous actors and musicians are the followers of Nichiren-shu.