Nichiren Teachings and The Four Noble Truths

Traditional schools of Buddhism hold - as their fundamental belief - Shakyamuni’s first sermon, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, being:

1-  the truth of suffering of life: dukkah

2 - the truth of the origin of suffering

3 - the truth of the cessation of suffering

4 - the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.

The teaching of the Four Noble Truths was the first teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. It is accepted in Traditional Buddhism, however, as the first and the final.

Not all Mahayana sutras regard the first sermon of the Buddha as the final Buddhist teaching and examples are “The Profound Secrets Sutra”, and - in particular -  “The Lotus Sutra” , which views the Four Noble Truths as only a preparatory teaching.

The final teaching of the Buddha was the revelation of the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra: “The Wonderful Law of Life”, through which sufferings are transformed into enlightenment and “ Living beings enjoy themselves at ease”  Ch.16

Shakyamuni’s compassion led him to gradually teach and prepare his followers. He initially started from the elementary teaching “about sufferings”, but then he developed  further teachings in Mahayana sutras, finally leading people to the possibility of enjoying the attainment of happiness and Buddhahood in this lifetime.

SGI views on the Four Nobel Truths

SGI Buddhism is based on Nichiren teachings of the Lotus Sutra, which revealed the final teaching of the Buddha, being the Dharma or the Law of Lotus.  In his letter, Nichiren explained that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is a specific or limited doctrine, which was aimed at training monks at the start of his teachings.  In this perspective, the Four Noble Truths express only an elementary teaching, focused merely on only one aspect - that of sufferings, among various other aspects of life.

The Four Noble Truths do not encompass the basic Buddhist teaching of the Ten Worlds - or the spectrum of the human mind - which has also the World of Joy and Buddhahood.  

in his article Desiring Happiness Ikeda explains how the Four Noble Truths were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha specifically to his immediate disciples as an elementary and preparatory doctrine to direct them to self-mastery:

“The four noble truths and the eightfold path were directed chiefly to those disciples who had rejected secular life and were wholly engaged in Buddhist practice; they reflect the basic attitude and approach that underlie Shakyamuni's early teachings, which concentrated on predominantly negative views about life and the world so that he could awaken people first to life's harsh realities and then to the inexpressible spiritual experience of nirvana”.

The Causes of Sufferings: According to the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, the cause of sufferings is “Attachment to Desires”.  In Nichiren Buddhism, Attachment to Early Desires - is just one of other causes for sufferings, which include: Arrogance, Negligence, Refusing to believe, Hatred, Vilification, Holding Grudges...and other causes which were not included in the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths - because of its limited scope.

Nichiren’s Buddhism and the teaching of the Eightfold Path

The fourth of the Four Noble truths teaches that the path to emancipation is found in the Eightfold Path to Nirvana. The Eightfold Path is a “code of conduct” of maintaining:

right views, right thinking, speech, action, livelihood, efforts,

right mindfulness and concentration. 

All elements of this “Code of Conduct” - express one thing: one’s Buddhanature.

If you reveal your mind of Buddha, or Buddhanature, then automatically your behaviour, speech, thinking, way of life, awareness etc… would be right and correct.

The Eightfold Path silently refer to this fact - that one has a Buddhanature. What does it mean “right thinking”? Right relevant to what? Or: “right behaviour”? There must be a *reference* - to judge something right or not. This reference is one’s Buddhanature.

This means that, if there is a practice, which enables the individual manifest own Buddhanature - then automatically all the requirements of the Eightfold Path will be manifest.

So, in terms of Cause and Effect, the “cause” is Buddhanature, while the “effect” is the Eightfoldpath.

Nichiren Buddhism suggests going directly to the cause of the matter: revealing one’s Buddhanature in this lifetime. This practice is called the Direct Path (to enlightenment).

Nichiren points to fusion of oneself with the Dharma as the“direct path to enlightenment”

a practice based on the devotion (Nam) to the Dharma (MyohoRengeKyo).

The direct path to enlightenment leads to the individual’s determination or fusion (Nam) with the Law of Cause and Effect (Myohorengekyo). This fusion is what makes our views right, our behaviour correct, our speech meaningful, our life balanced and our mind focused on what is valuable.


The Lotus Sutra’s statement on the Four Noble Truths

Limitations of the concept of Four Noble Truths

                   Safwan Zabalawi                                                    Homepage