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Nichiren Shōshū' (日蓮正宗) is a branch of Nichiren Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th century Japanese monk Nichiren (1222–1282). Nichiren Shōshū claims Nichiren as its founder through his disciple Nikkō (1246–1333), the founder of the school's Head Temple Taiseki-ji. It has adherents throughout the world, with the largest concentrations in Indonesia and Japan and many more in Taiwan; South Korea; North, Central, and South America; the Philippines; Europe; and Ghana.
Nichiren Shoshu is one of the larger sects of Nichiren Buddhism with a substantial international membership. Its head temple, Taiseki-ji, is located on the lower slopes of Mount Fuji. The name Nichiren Shōshū is of relatively recent coinage, dating from the Meiji Era (post 1868) and means "Orthodox Nichiren School". Before then the school had been known under a number of names, most notably "The Fuji School" in reference to Taiseki-ji's location. It is one of the Nichiren schools that sees itself in the lineage of Nikko, one of Nichiren's senior priest-disciples, whom Nichiren Shoshu considers to be the second high priest of the sect.
The central point of Buddhist practice within Nichiren Shoshu is the Dai-Gohonzon (Great Gohonzon). All other gohonzons are considered to be copies of the Dai-Gohonzon and to derive their beneficial power from it. Taiseki-ji is often visited by pilgrims from around the world who come for a chance to pray to this gohonzon. Nichiren Shoshu has over 700 local temples and temple-like facilities in Japan, nearly a dozen in the Americas, and several in Europe, Africa, and Asia outside Japan.
Nichiren Shoshu is currently led by High Priest Nichinyo Hayase (1935–). Nichiren Shoshu believers hold that he received the Heritage of the Law from his predecessor in an unbroken line of succession that began with Nichiren.
Nichiren Shoshu priests distinguish themselves from those of most other schools in that they wear only white and gray robes and a white surplice, believing this to be exactly as Nichiren himself did. Since the Meiji Era, Nichiren Shoshu priests, like those of many other Japanese Buddhist sects, have been permitted to marry.
The Nichiren Shoshu faithful are organized in temple-based congregations known as Hokkeko. Most attend services at a local temple, or in private homes when no temple is nearby, at least once a month. Services are usually officiated by a priest, but lay leaders sometimes fill in when no priest is available. When they gather, believers frequently study Nichiren Shoshu teachings, particularly the writings of Nichiren, called Gosho.
Religious study is generally led by the priest, and congregations are usually loosely organized, though specifics differ from temple to temple and region to region.
Doctrines and practice
Much of Nichiren Shoshu's underlying teachings are, overtly, extensions of Tendai (天台, Cn: Tiantai) thought, including much of its worldview and its rationale for criticism of Buddhist schools that do not consider the Lotus Sutra to be Buddhism's highest teaching. For example, Nichiren Shoshu doctrine adopts or extends Tendai's classification of the Buddhist sutras into five time periods and eight categories (五時八教: goji-hakkyō), its theory of 3,000 interpenetrating realms within a single life-moment (一念三千: Ichinen Sanzen), and its view of the Three Truths (三諦: Santai). Because of these similarities, as well as space considerations, this article will confine itself to discussion of the hows and whys of Nichiren Shoshu's central doctrine: How it views Nichiren and his lifetime of teaching, and why its believers practice the way they do.
View of Nichiren's lifetime of teaching
Nichiren Shoshu holds that in revealing and propagating his teachings, Nichiren was fulfilling the mission of his advent according to a prophecy made by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama; 563?–483?BC). Sakyamuni foretold that the True Buddha (久遠元初の御本仏: Kuon Ganjo no go-hombutsu; see Eternal Buddha) would appear in the "fifth five hundred-year period following the passing of Sakyamuni," at the beginning of a later age called Mappō, and spread the ultimate Buddhist teaching (Honmon, or the "true" teaching) to enable the people of that age to attain enlightenment, as by then his own teachings (Shakumon, or the "provisional" teaching) would have lost their power to do so.
In this way, Nichiren Shoshu believes that Nichiren is the True Buddha and that his Dharma, or Mystic Law (Myōhō: mystic in the sense of profound, sublime, or unfathomable), is the True Buddha's ultimate teaching. Nichiren Shoshu's recognition of Nichiren as the True Buddha is its reason for referring to him as Nichiren Daishōnin ("Great Sage Nichiren"), in contrast to the Nichiren Shōnin ("Sage" or "Saint" Nichiren) appellation used by other schools, most of which contend that Nichiren was merely a great priest or saint.
Object of veneration
Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists believe that personal enlightenment can be achieved in one's present form and lifetime (即身成仏 sokushin jōbutsu). Central to their practice is chanting Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō to the object of veneration, called a Gohonzon.
Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is called the daimoku ("title") since it comprises Nam and the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra, Myōhō-Renge-Kyō. It can be understood as a sort of invocation meaning "I submit myself (or "dedicate, commit my life") to the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect." The believer's practice (gyōriki: power of practice) and faith (shinriki: power of faith) are believed to call forth the power of the Buddha (butsuriki) and the power of the Dharma (Law) inherent in the Gohonzon (hōriki) to expiate the believer's negative causes (some people call it "negative karma") and bring forth a higher life condition, a process called zaishō shōmetsu: "eradicating sins and their resulting impediments".
Defining the Gohonzon is a little more complicated. Nichiren Shoshu's fundamental object of veneration (the honzon; note that some refer to it as an object of worship) is called the Dai-Gohonzon ("great" or "supreme" object of veneration). The Dai-Gohonzon is essentially a mandala inscribed by Nichiren in Chinese and Sanskrit characters on 12 October 1279. The most important part of the inscription is the line down its center, which reads Na-mu-myō-hō-ren-ge-kyō Nichi-ren. This signifies that the Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and the Buddha who proclaimed it (Nichiren) are one; i.e., two facets of a single entity (ninpō ikka: "oneness of the person and the Dharma"). Hence the Dai-Gohonzon is revered as the very entity of Nichiren and his enlightenment, and every Nichiren Shoshu temple and household possesses a transcription of it.
The Dai-Gohonzon is enshrined in a sanctuary (kaidan; often called an "ordination platform" in other Buddhist schools) at Taiseki-ji. The sanctuary is both the place where a Gohonzon is enshrined and that where worship services (see Practice, below) take place.
The Dai-Gohonzon, its sanctuary, and the Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo are collectively called the San Dai Hihō (三大秘法: Three Great Hidden, or Secret, Laws) as their existence is believed to have been “hidden in the depths of the text” (文底秘沈: montei hichin) of Sakyamuni's Lotus Sutra and therefore remained secret until Nichiren revealed them. Singly, they are called, respectively, Honmon no Honzon, Honmon no Kaidan, and Honmon no Daimoku, where honmon may be understood to mean "of the ultimate, or 'True', Teaching". They come together in the Dai-Gohonzon, which is called Honmon Kaidan no Dai-Gohonzon ("the Great Object of Veneration of the Sanctuary of the True Teaching") and is believed to embody them collectively as facets of itself. The Dai-Gohonzon is thus revered as the ultimate object of veneration—ultimate because, like no other, it opens up the possibility for all people, and enables all those who venerate it, to attain enlightenment, making it the culmination of Nichiren's lifetime of teaching (一大秘法 Ichi Dai Hihō: One Great Secret Law).
Transcriptions of the Dai-Gohonzon
The transcriptions of the Dai-Gohonzon are called, simply, Gohonzon (go is an honorific prefix indicating respect). Most transcriptions in temples are on wood tablets into which the inscription is carved (the tablets are coated with black urushi and the characters, gilded), while most of those in homes are in the form of a paper scroll. Although Gohonzon enshrined in temples and similar facilities are personally inscribed by the high priest, those in private homes can be either personally inscribed or printed using traditional wood-block printing. Personally inscribed Gohonzon are bestowed upon believers of long standing or in recognition of major accomplishments in faith and have a dedication on the far right naming the recipient. Printed Gohonzon have the dedication "for the recipient" on them.
Regardless of their type, all Gohonzons have been consecrated by one of the successive high priests of Nichiren Shoshu in an Opening of the Eyes Ceremony (開眼式: kaiganshiki; this expression is common among Buddhist schools that use images as objects of veneration) conducted in the Dai-Gohonzon's sanctuary, and all have the same power provided that one believes in the Three Treasures as defined by Nichiren Shoshu. A Nichiren Shoshu priest, acting as proxy for the high priest, bestows the Gohonzon on new believers upon their initiation into the faith at a local temple. Personal Gohonzons are enshrined in the home in a Butsudan (altar). Home altars generally include a candle, a bell, incense, a vessel containing water, and an offering of fresh greens or fruit. When a Gohonzon is bestowed upon an individual, the individual pledges to stand by and protect the Gohonzon throughout life.
Positioning of the Dai-Gohonzon and further differences with other Nichiren schools
The significance of the Dai-Gohonzon (and its constituent facets) in Nichiren Shoshu is that it is regarded by the school as the ultimate Buddhist teaching revealed by the True Buddha, which also makes it the purpose of Nichiren's advent. Altogether, this interpretation of Nichiren's appearance in this world and the meaning of his lifetime of teaching, is the core-most tenet of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. As well as being the point on which the school differs most from other Nichiren schools, it is also the starting point for almost all other differences, including Nikkō's reason for forsaking Mt. Minobu and the other Nichiren schools' reason for disputing Nikkō's legitimacy as Nichiren's successor.
A handy example of derivative differences might be that of the interpretation of the Three Treasures, an important concept common to all forms of Buddhism. Called sambō or sampō (三宝) in Japanese, the Three Treasures are the Buddha (butsu: he who reveals the Law), the Law (hō: Dharma or "body of teachings"), and the Priest (sō: he who receives from the Buddha, maintains the purity of, and transmits the Law). Nichiren Shoshu differentiates itself from other Nichiren schools in that it regards Nichiren himself as the Treasure of the Buddha; the Mystic Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the Treasure of the Law; and Nichiren's successor Nikkō, as primus inter pares among its successive high priests, as the Treasure of the Priest. The other Nichiren schools define another Buddha (usually Sakyamuni) as the Treasure of the Buddha, and Nichiren as the Treasure of the Priest. Nichiren Shoshu considers the Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, and by extension the Dai-Gohonzon (i.e., the embodiment of that law), to be the Treasure of the Law, whereas other schools go only as far as defining Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (i.e., just the invocation) as the Treasure of the Law.
Another important difference arises again out of this last one: Nichiren Shoshu permits worship of only the Dai-Gohonzon (and its transcriptions) because the school sees it as the embodiment of the Treasure of the Law, whereas other schools are often ambivalent on their object of worship, sometimes changing it and even allowing worship of statues or collections of statues and paying homage to various Buddhist and Shinto deities.
Specific doubts about the Dai-Gohonzon's authenticity
Several schools and critics contend that while Nichiren's own writings provide ample evidence that he inscribed several Gohonzon, his writings supply no evidence to support the notion that he inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon.
The daily practice of Nichiren Shoshu believers consists of affirming and renewing their faith by performing gongyō twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. Gongyo is a prayer service—Nichiren Shoshu's form of meditation—that entails reciting certain sections of the Lotus Sutra, held to be Shakyamuni Buddha's highest and most profound teaching, and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon while focusing on the Chinese character myō ("mystic law") at its center. Morning Gongyo consists of a series of five sutra recitations followed by silently recited, prescribed prayers; whereas evening gongyo encompasses only three sutra recitations and the second, third, and fifth silent prayers. This practice, particularly when shared with others, is regarded as the True Cause for attaining the tranquil condition of enlightened life that allows believers to experience and enjoy more meaningfully fulfilled lives and to confidently confront and overcome the challenges of everyday life.
The logic behind this is that through thoughts, words, and deeds, every being creates causes, and every cause has an effect. Good causes produce positive effects; bad causes, negative ones (see karma). This law of causality is the universal principle underlying all visible and invisible phenomena and events in daily life. Nichiren Shoshu believers strive to elevate their life condition by acting in accordance with this law in their day-to-day lives and by sharing their faith with others, believing their Buddhist practice to be the ultimate good cause for effecting changes in life and attaining enlightenment.
Soka Gakkai Split
In 1991, Nichiren Shoshu officially severed ties with its then-largest lay organization, Sōka Gakkai, over doctrinal disputes between the priesthood and the Soka Gakkai leadership. Soka Gakkai now operates as a doctrinally and organizationally independent group. Numerous authorities now classify the Soka Gakkai as a new religion.
The reasons for the split remain highly controversial. For readers researching the dispute, the Wikipedia articles on Sōka Gakkai and Hokkeko might provide some useful information and links in addition to those provided below.
- http://www.nst.org/ Nichiren Shoshu temple organization in the US
- http://www.nsglobalnet.jp/ Nichiren Shoshu web presence
- http://www.nst.org/articles/100Q&ABook.pdf A PDF book describing Nichiren Shoshu's position on doctrinal disputes with the Soka Gakkai.
- http://www.sgi-usa.org/ SGI's web presence
- http://www.sgi-usa.org/studyandpubs/study/docs/BLR_2009_p.49-59_SokaSpirit.pdf A PDF Book describing SGI's version of the controversy with Nichiren Shoshu.
Sources and references
- ↑ The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge: A desk reference for the Curious Mind, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2004. ISBN 0-312-31367-5. pp.516–517
- The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Bureau, 2002. Also available online in its entirety.
- A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, Nichiren Shoshu International Center (NSIC), Tokyo, 1983. ISBN 4-88872-014-2. (Note: Despite its name, NSIC is no longer affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu; however, the dictionary largely reflects Nichiren Shoshu interpretations of terms and concepts.)
- Nichiren Shōshū yōgi (日蓮正宗要義: "The essential tenets of Nichiren Shoshu"), Taiseki-ji, 1978, rev. ed. 1999
- Nichiren Shōshū nyūmon (日蓮正宗入門: "Introduction to Nichiren Shoshu"), Taiseki-ji, 2002
- Dai-Nichiren (大日蓮), monthly magazine published by Nichiren Shoshu. Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan (numerous issues)
- Dai-Byakuhō (大白法), the Hokkekō organ newspaper. Tokyo (numerous issues)