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1) Nichiren

Japanese Buddhist reformer. Born 1222, died 1282.

Born into poverty, Nichiren searched for years through the existing branches of Buddhism in Japan, until he finally concluded (in 1253) that the supreme Buddhist religious text was the Lotus sutra. In particular, he placed great weight on the ritually repeated phrase Namu-Myoho-renge-kyo ("Praise to the Lotus sutra") as basis for enlightenment.

Because of his controversial behaviour, and his intolerance towards other Buddhist sects, he was exiled to the remote island of Sado in 1271. He claimed that the Mongol invasions, which he had foretold, were retribution for failure to recognise his teachings as the truth.

2) Nichiren Buddhism

A number of Japanese Buddhist sects, influenced by the teachings of Nichiren (1, above). Nichiren Buddhism counts several established/traditional faiths, as well as a number of neoreligious movements.

Common to the Nichiren sects is a devotion to the Lotus sutra above all other Buddhist religious texts, a tendency towards religious intolerance, and the assertion that Japan is destined to be the center of a coming world-wide Buddhist faith.

The main sects within Nichiren are Nichiren-shu and Nichiren-Sho-shu; the latter was the source of the Soka Gakkai movement, but a breach has since occurred between the two.


Nichiren (1222-1281) was a Japanese Buddhist prophet and preacher, and the founder of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism.

Born the son of a fisherman in the village of Kominato on the Pacific coast of the Boso Peninsula, Nichiren entered the nearby monastery of Kiyosumi-dera at age 11, and after four years of study received the orders of a Buddhist monk. Dissatisfied with the mongrelized version of Tendai Buddhism propounded at Kiyosumi-dera, the intense young monk decided it was his life's mission to uncover the true teachings of the original, historical Buddha, Gautama (or Sakyamuni). To this end he undertook to study all the Buddhist schools and doctrines existing in Japan.

Over the next 20 years, Nichiren traveled Japan, studying Pure Land Buddhism in Kamakura, Zen Buddhism in Kyoto, Tendai on Mount Hiei, Shingon on Mount Koya, and Rinzai in Nara. Finally, after two decades of feverish study, Nichiren announced his final conclusion, in 1253. Harkening back to the teachings of Tendai founder Saicho, Nichiren proclaimed that true Buddhism was to be found only in the Lotus Sutra. All other doctrines or teachings were either mere transitional steps on the way to the true teachings of the Lotus Sutra, or false.

His doctrine established, Nichiren returned to Kiyosumi-dera to proclaim his findings to his old master, but was not received kindly, and was driven off on pain of death by to local lord, who also did not appreciate his teachings. Nichiren then took up living in a hut in Kamakura and preaching vociferously on one of the busiest street-corners in the city. A series of natural disasters that hit Japan in the late 1250s convinced Nichiren that he was living in an age of moral degeneration, and his constant harangues against all other sects of Buddhism soon earned him many enemies among established Buddhist institutions and the government authorities.

In 1260, Nichiren published a short pamphlet, Rissho Ankoku Ron ("The Establishment of Righteousness and the Pacification of the Country"), in which he declared that the unfortunate state of Japan was a result of the Japanese people's refusal to follow true Buddhism and their support of false sects. The only hope was for Japan to accept Nichiren's doctrine as the national faith and banish all the other sects. If this were not done, Nichiren prophesied, Japan would be invaded by a foreign power.

By now Nichiren was gathering followers and was increasingly perceived as a threat to order. Thus, the bakufu exiled him to deserted part of the Izu-hanto, in present-day Shizuoka prefecture, in 1261. Pardoned in 1263, Nichiren returned to Kamakura and renewed his attacks. When tensions with the Mongols increased sharply in 1268, Nichiren believed his prophecy was about to come true and renewed his calls for the renunciation of all other sects and a renewed spirit of self-sacrifice on the part of the whole nation and decication to the Lotus Sutra.

Enraged, the entrenched Buddhist authorities had Nichiren arrested and condemned to death, in 1271. At the last moment the sentence was commuted to exile, according to legend by a miracle that stayed the hand of the executioner. Nichren was sent packing to the distant isle of Sado, where he wrote his major work Kaimokusho ("The Opening of the Eyes") in 1272.

Pressure from Nichiren's zealous followers and the fact that his prophecy came true with the First Mongol Invasion earned him another pardon in 1274. This time, the government listened politely to what Nichiren had to say, but still took no substantive action on his many recommendations for purifying Japanese Buddhism. Tired, indignant, and perhaps a bit broken in spirit, Nichiren gave up and retired with his closest followers to Mount Minobu to write his final works. He died near where Tokyo is today in 1281, on the eve of the Second Mongol Invasion.

Nichiren had two famous disciples, who carried on his teachings after his death. Nichiji went on a mission to Siberia and was never heard from again. Nisshin wandered the streets of Kyoto, beating on a drum and demanding at the top of his lungs the elimination of all other Buddhist sects. When he ignored all warnings to desist, a brass pot was jammed on his head to keep him quiet.

Nichiren is a fascinating character: obstinate, unyielding, and utterly intolerant, yet also deeply passionate and genuinely patriotic. His influence in shaping the doctrine and spirit of Japanese Buddhism has been immense, and his teachings remain among the most popular to this day. Over the centuries, Nichiren has become one of Japan's great folk-heroes, and a plethora of tales have developed around his many supposed adventures, exploits, and miraculous doings.

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