The Basic Difference between

Nichiren Buddhism and Other Schools of Buddhism

Buddhism is generally classified into two main branches: Theravada and Mahayana. The name “Theravada” - or the “Teachings of the Elders” - is based on the early teachings of the Pali Canon.   The other brach is Mahayana Buddhism, which shares similar beliefs with Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism, but differs by their adoption of the concept of “Bodhisattva”.

This feature of Mahayana Buddhism, as well as its teaching of the ‘possibility to attain Buddhahood’ - are considered to be the central difference between the two branches.

The goal of Theravada teachings is to lead practitioner to become an Arhat (or sage, who can escape the cycle of rebirth). On the other hand, the goal of Mahayana teachings is to lead practitioners to become Buddhas (through practicing the "Bodhisattva way”). Examples of Mahayana schools of Buddhism are: Tibetan, Zen, Amida, and Nichiren Buddhism.    

Mahayana schools vary:  each school has its particular  practice and particular doctrine (sutra) - which would help in the way leading to Buddhahood:

  1. -     Zen aims for gradual cultivation of insight through silent meditation and mind-puzzles. 

  2. -     Amida Buddhism teaches about the attainment of Buddhahood after death and far away.

  3. -     Nichiren Buddhism is about the attainment of Buddhahood in the reality of daily life.

  4. -    Tibetan (Vajrayana) Buddhism incorporates Mahayana teachings with esoteric rituals of

      pre-Buddhist Bon tradition - to aid in the process of awakening.

The reason for the diversity of Buddhist schools lies in the diversity of the Sutras they follow, and which differ markedly in their depth and capacity to lead people to enlightenment.

This fact posed a question for scholars: 

               How to compare and classify the diverse teachings of the Buddha?

Nichiren’s Classification of Buddhism

After studying and comparing the teachings of various Buddhist sutras,

Nichiren (13th century, Japan) came to the conclusion - in harmony with the views of the Tendai school of Buddhism - that the Lotus Sutra integrates and harmonizes all the previous teachings of the Buddha.  The Lotus Sutra was regarded as the most profound and complete teachings of the Buddha (Dharma).  Its rich parables and concepts opened the mind for the potential to understand the principles which lead to Buddhahood:

“In Buddhism, that teaching is judged supreme that enables all people, whether good or evil, to become Buddhas. Surely anyone can grasp so reasonable a standard. By means of this principle, we can compare the various sutras and ascertain which is superior”. WND1 p 156  

Basically, the logic behind Nichiren’s criterion for comparing various sutras was simply based on how truly beneficial is a given teaching in the process of attaining enlightenment.  He rejected the sutras, which differ attainment of Buddhahood.  Some schools promissed Buddhahood after lengthy lifetimes to come, while others thought that Buddhahood exists in a different place away from this earth (where one’s life exists).

Nichiren questioned the capacity of sutra’s teachings, (to lead all people to enlightenment. His argument was that only in the Lotus Sutra this possibility is assured for all people - regardless of gender, intellect or karma - to attain enlightenment as they are.

Accordingly, he regarded all sutras prior to the Lotus Sutra as provisional or preparatory teachings - and the Lotus Sutra as final and complete.  From this perspective, Nichiren classified Buddhism into two categories:

-    Pre-Lotus Sutra teachings (of Theravada and Mahayana) and,

-    Lotus Sutra’s teachings - the final teaching of Buddhism.

This classification of Buddhism (based on the two categories of provisional and final) is - in essence - in agreement with the teachings of all traditional schools of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana streams alike. 

All schools of Traditional Buddhism acknowledge that their current teachings are not final, because Shakyamuni’s sutras (other than the Lotus) predict their own decline in the current age (the Latter Day, Mappo) - leading to the complete disappearance of these Buddhist teachings  : The Dhamma will eventually disappear”. 

Traditional Buddhism’s belief about ‘the Latter Day of the Law’ describes this period of time as the period of “decline and disappearance of Buddhism in the world” . 

This means that the schools of Buddhism - based on pre-Lotus Sutra teachings – are in agreement with Nichiren Buddhism that their teachings (which were preached before the Lotus Sutra) are provisional or not final.  All pre-Lotus, provisional teachings predict the decline of Buddhism in the Latter Day, while the Lotus Sutra predicts a wide spread of its teachings all over the world: “...the great pure Law of the Lotus Sutra will spread far and wide throughout [the whole world].” WND1 p 550

Traditional Buddhism suggests a solution for the problematic belief in the decline and disappearance of Buddhism.  The solution is a proposed popular belief developed to aspire for the emergence of a “Future Buddha”. The purpose of the mythology about a ‘Future Buddha’ is to give birth anew to the lost Dharma (in contrast to the Lotus Sutra, which predicts the flourishing of its teachings, and continual spread of its concept of the Dharma, as being the Eternal Law of Cause and Effect.

Nichiren Buddhism, regards the concept of “Future Buddha” as redundant: because the final Dharma has been already declared in the Lotus Sutra.  Each person who embodies the teachings of the Lotus Sutra becomes a future Buddha.

The Revolutionary Concepts of the Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra refers to its principles as being “difficult to believe”, another expression for describing its depth and its revolutionary teachings.

The main principles of the Lotus Sutra are:


  1. -Attaining Buddhahood in this life time” (a different perspective from previous sutras, which required lifetimes of practice), 

  1. -Enlightenment of all People”, eradicating limitations on attaining Buddhahood, which were set in previous sutras.  Pre-Lotus teachings set varying limitations on attaining enlightenment by the three categories of people: women, evil doers and self-realisation intellectuals (sravka and pratyekabuddha). Gender-limitations on attaining Buddhahood were abolished in the Lotus Sutra.

  1. -The Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds”, which teaches that the lower worlds of sufferings contain the potential for Buddhahood and that the Buddha is an ordinary person who possesses the lower worlds of life (transformed into enlightenment).  This means that all phenomena possess the Buddhanature as their inner potential, and that this true nature (of living beings) is the Wonderful Law of Cause and Effect (Myohorengekyo, which the sutra considers as the final Dharma).

The Lotus Sutra offers other vital principles, such as the concept of the Oneness of Cause (Bodhisattva) and Effect (Buddha), dissolving the distinction between Bodhisattva practice and Buddhahood (a distinction found in pre-Lotus teachings, which advocate many stages of practice separating Bodhisattva from Buddhahood ).


Subduing Evil: One of the most outstanding distinctions of the Lotus Sutra is its prediction of enlightenment of the Buddha’s enemy, Devadatta, identified with Evil. It is perhaps the only document in the history of humanity which offered a vision or a solution to the problem of evil (or the devil). 

In pre-Lotus Sutras, the devil was excluded from enlightenment, condemned to eterbal hell, and in non-Buddhist teachings (such as in the Abrahamic religions) no solution is give either to defeat the devilish functions - except promising to relocate the devil to Hell after the ‘Judgement Day’.

The Lotus Sutra offers the possibility of defeating, subduing and converting the devil to become enlightened and to act to correct the evil karma it created, becoming enlightened to the universal Dharma:

“In Buddhism, that teaching is judged supreme that enables all people, whether good or evil, to become Buddhas”. WND1 p 156

What is common between Traditional Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism

Despite differences, it is equally important to recognise the common goal of all Buddhist schools. What unifies all Buddhist groups is the goal of attaining the state of enlightenment, as means of achieving inner peace and world peace.

Another uniting belief is that Buddhism cannot be practiced in isolation but through a network of Sangha (the Community of Buddha followers).

All Buddhist schools also agree on the teaching of the Three Dharma Seals, which are the basic doctrines of “Impermanence”, “Non-Ego” and “Enlightenment”.  Additionally, Nichiren teachings share with traditional Buddhism the concept of Dependent Origination and the Three Truths: Sunyatta (or non-substantiality), Temporary Existence, and the Middle Way.  In addition, the Buddhist doctrines of non-duality, Inseparability (body and mind) and Interconnectedness (self and environment) are also common.

The word ‘Dharma’ is used to describe the teaching of the Buddha about reality of life and attaining enlightenment.  Traditional Buddhism regards the early sermon on the Four Noble Truths as the Dharma, while the Lotus Sutra regards the final teaching of the Buddha as the Dharma (or the Universal Law : Myoho-Renge-Kyo), described as the “most wonderful unsurpassed Law”: Chapter 3.  It also teaches that following this Law, to which Shakyamuni was enlightened, will enable ordinary people attain the Buddha-state in this lifetime.

A Quick Comparison between Nichiren Buddhism and Traditional Buddhism


Nichiren Buddhism:                                                                   Traditional Buddhism:

The Lotus Sutra                                                                               Pre-Lotus teachings



Chanting the Dhrama                                                                   Meditation and gradual         

Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo,                                              attainment of spiritual development



Mandala “Gohonzon”, (Life of Buddha)                                    Statue of Shakyamuni,

embodying the Person and Dharma                                       embodying the Person    



The Ten Worlds are mutually inclusive.                                The Ten Worlds are separate.

(“Bodhisattva-Buddha” is inseparable state)                      (Bodhisattva distinct from Buddha)




Desires assists in enlightenment                                               (Various views on desires)



The Universal Law of the Life                                                       The Four Noble Truths

    Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo                                                               & the Eightfold path