Nichiren Shoshu

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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 (12221282). Nichiren Shōshū claims Nichiren as its founder through his disciple Nikkō (12461333), the founder of the school's Head Temple Taisekiji. 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 means the correct (or orthodox) school of Nichiren. According to adherents, shortly before his passing Nichiren designated his disciple Nikkō as his sole successor in two documents, the Nichiren Ichigo Guhō Fuzoku-shoTemplate:Ref ("Document entrusting the Law Nichiren propagated throughout his lifetime of teaching"; also called the Minobu sōjōTemplate:Ref: "Succession document [written at] Minobu") dated September 1282, and the Minobu-zan Fuzoku-shoTemplate:Ref ("Document entrusting Mt. Minobu"; also called the Ikegami sōjōTemplate:Ref: "Succession document [written at] Ikegami") dated October 13, 1282. In the former, Nichiren entrusted the Law (i.e., Dharma) of his lifetime of teaching, and the embodiment of that Law, the Dai-Gohonzon to Nikkō, closing with the words "Sequence of the lineage of succession: Nichiren—Nikkō." In the latter, Nichiren named Nikkō chief priest of Kuonji, his temple at Mt. Minobu, and admonished his followers—priest and lay alike—to observe this appointment, in effect entrusting the leadership of his disciples to Nikkō. As the school that stems from Nikkō and his followers, Nichiren Shoshu considers itself the true school of Nichiren Buddhism.

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. Its head temple, Taisekiji, is located on the lower slopes of Mt. Fuji and is visited constantly by pilgrims from around the world. The school denomination Nichiren as its founder and his immediate disciple Nikkō as its defining patriarch, positioning him as primus inter pares among its high priests. Nichiren Shoshu is currently led by High Priest Nikken Abe (1922–), in the school's tradition the 67th in an unbroken lineage of succession (kechimyakuTemplate:Ref, "lifeblood") that began with Nichiren.

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 perform them when no priest is available. When they gather, believers also frequently study Nichiren Shoshu teachings, particularly the writings of Nichiren, called Gosho.


Much of Nichiren Shoshu's underlying teachings are extensions of Tendai (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 (goji-hakkyō), its theory of 3000 interpenetrating realms within a single life-moment (Ichinen Sanzen), and its view of the Three Truths (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 Sakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama; 563?–483?BC). Sakyamuni foretold that the True Buddha (Kuon Ganjo no go-hombutsu; see also 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 lifetime (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 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 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 in Chinese and Sanskrit characters by Nichiren on October 12, 1279. The most important part of the inscription is the line down its center, which reads Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo Nichiren. 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 Taisekiji. The sanctuary is both the place where a Gohonzon is enshrined and that where worship services (see Practice, below) take place.

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, gilted), while most of those in homes are in the form of a paper scroll. All have been consecrated by one of the successive high priests of Nichiren Shoshu in a ceremony conducted in the Dai-Gohonzon's sanctuary. A Nichiren Shoshu priest bestows the Gohonzon on new believers upon their initiation into the faith at a local temple.

The Dai-Gohonzon, its sanctuary, and the Law of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo are collectively called the San Dai HihōTemplate:Ref (Three Great Hidden, or Secret, Laws) as their existence is believed to have been "hidden" between the linesTemplate:Ref 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 worship it, to attain enlightenment, making it the culmination of Nichiren's lifetime of teaching (Ichi Dai HihōTemplate:Ref: the One Great Secret Law).


The daily practice of Nichren 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 Sakyamuni Buddha's highest and most profound teaching, and chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon while focusing on the Chinese character myō ("mystic") at its center. 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.

Core tenet as a source of 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 penultimate 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 coremost 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 SampōTemplate:Ref in Japanese, the Three Treasures are the Buddha (butsu: he who reveals the Law), the Law (: Dharma or "body of teachings"), and the Priest (: 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 Nikko, 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.

Nichiren Shoshu priests also distinguish themselves from those of most other schools in that they wear only white and gray robes and a white surplus, believing this to be exactly as Nichiren himself did.

Friction and split with Soka Gakkai

The Japanese religious group Soka Gakkai is based on Nichiren Shoshu teachings, and Soka Gakkai's teachings share many aspects with those of Nichiren Shoshu. However, in the mid 1970s, differences of interpretation over some core Nichiren Shoshu beliefs arose, and Nichiren Shoshu felt that Soka Gakkai was even introducing newly formulated doctrines of its own. Eventually the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood stripped Soka Gakkai of its status as a lay organization in 1991, in effect excommunicating it. The two are now organizationally and doctrinally separate.

With the resurfacing in 1990 of the split between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai, then the largest lay organization affiliated with the school, a number of controversies erupted about the behavior and attitude of the priesthood. In the mid 1990s a number of priests, citing a desire to reform the school, left Nichiren Shoshu. Aligning themselves with Soka Gakkai, they alleged that the priesthood had become abusive and tyrannical and had strayed from the true teachings of Nichiren.

Controversies involving the priesthood

In 1991, high-level senior priests addressed a document to the Soka Gakkai leadership ("the Noke Document") which contained the following three statements:

  • The high priest, as the one and only recipient of the heritage or lifeblood, should be viewed as an entity of veneration, inseparable from the Dai-Gohonzon of the high sanctuary.
  • Faith toward these two fundamentals [i.e., the Gohonzon and the high priest] must be absolute.
  • The True Buddha Nichiren Daishonin, the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary, and the successive high priests are all essentially one and inseparable. (Dai-Nichiren [Nichiren Shoshu organ magazine], Sept. 1991) .

Needless to say, the doctrine that the high priest, exclusively, is equally venerable as the Gohonzon and Nichiren exists nowhere in the teachings of Nichiren or Nikko. It is a doctrine that varies markedly from the original teachings of the school.

In addition, High Priest Nikken made the following statement in August 1997 at the head temple: Because the high priest is the living Shakyamuni and Nichiren, if you speak ill of him, you will fall into hell.

Almost all these controversies, including ones concerning the high priest, stemmed from allegations raised in Soka Gakkai publications. Despite numerous lawsuits, however, no court established that any of the allegations were true.

Soka Gakkai claims that many Hokkeko members left their temples in the wake of these controversies and aligned themselves with it, alleging that they too had become targets of abuse by the priesthood. However, large numbers of Soka Gakkai members, deciding themselves to remain Nichiren Shoshu believers, also left Soka Gakkai. Of these, many felt the latter had deliberately provoked the split in retaliation for the priesthood's calls for Soka Gakkai to roll back activities and renounce newly formulated religious concepts that they and the priesthood believed were incompatible with traditional Nichiren Shoshu teachings and practice. Objectionable activities included encouraging electioneering (for Komeito) under the notion that it was a facet of Buddhist practice and collection of massive monetary donations as offerings; concepts deemed incompatible include a cult of personality focusing on Soka Gakkai's supreme leader, certain aspects of Soka Gakkai's interpretation of humanism, and Soka Gakkai's negation of the priesthood's role in maintaining the faith and looking after the faithful.

For readers researching the dispute, the Wiki article on Soka Gakkai might provide some useful information and links. The Web also offers numerous sites providing information and commentary, though—as is often the case in such disputes—application of critical eye is warranted.

External links


  • Nichiren Shōshū yōgi (日蓮正宗要義; "The essential tenets of Nichiren Shoshu"), Taisekiji, 1978, rev. ed. 1999
  • Nichiren Shōshū nyūmon (日蓮正宗入門; "Introduction to Nichiren Shoshu"), Taisekiji, 2002


  • The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren Shoshu Overseas Bureau, 2002
  • A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, Nichiren Shoshu International Center (NSIC), Tokyo, 1983. ISBN 4-88872-014-5. (Note: Despite its name, NSIC is no longer affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu; however, the dictionary largely reflects Nichiren Shoshu interpretations of terms and concepts.)

Japanese for Buddhist terms

  1. Template:Note日蓮一期弘法付嘱書
  2. Template:Note身延相承
  3. Template:Note身延山付属書
  4. Template:Note池上相承
  5. Template:Note血脈
  6. Template:Note三大秘法
  7. Template:Note文底秘沈
  8. Template:Note一大秘法
  9. Template:Note三宝

ja:日蓮正宗 ms:Nichiren Shoshu pt:Nichiren Shoshu


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