Nichiren Shu Buddhism


In Japan, there are more than ten religious groups, which claim adherence to Nichiren’s teachings.  Although Nichiren’s teachings are focused on attaining Buddhahood in one’s lifetime, almost all of these sects believe that Nichiren himself could not attain Buddhahood in his lifetime,  (limiting his spiritual identity to that of a Bodhisattva).

Nichiren sects follow the practice of chanting the invocation (Daimoku),

and also theoretically acknowledge the principle of attaining Buddhahood in one’s lifetime, however, their interpretation of the Lotus Sutra restricts the state of Buddhahood to the historical Buddha alone - with no one after him to be called a “Buddha”.

The view that their founder, Nichiren, did not attain Buddhahood - and hence cannot be called a Buddha - is a shared view among these groups such as: Hokke Kempon, Rissho Kosei-Kai, Butsu Ryu Shu and Nichiren Shu.  For example: Nichiren Shu literature explains that no one after Shakyamuni can be called a Buddha “because the word is reserved for Shakyamuni”. This restriction (of “reserving” Buddhahood to one person), however, contradicts the Lotus Sutra’s indication that the word Buddha is not reserved to one person only:

                           “ The Buddhas of future ages,

                              they preach for the sake of the single vehicle(Expedient Means, Ch. 2, p.41).

An example of inconsistency in Nichiren Shu teachings can be found in their Prayer Book - which refers to Nichiren as a Bodhisattva (indicating the founder’s uncompleted goal of becoming a Buddha) - while the same Prayer book (page 20). clearly presents the Founders words:“I, Nichiren, vowed to ...attain Buddhahood”.  

If Nichiren could fulfil his vow in his lifetime, then he can be called a Buddha.  Yet Nichiren Shu implies that Nichiren failed in realising his vow to become a Buddha, and thus he is given by Nichiren Shu priesthood the title of Bodhisattva.

Some Nichiren Shu scholars (for example Rev. Ryuei in various discussions, and others) suggest that Nichiren was successful in realising “some kind of enlightenment”, however, he still should not be called a Buddha (despite Nichiren’s own declared vow to become a Buddha).

Other scholars (Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett, Tricycle discussion, for example, and others) avoid the whole question about the identity of their founder, shrugging shoulder that ‘it is not important’’ - whether Nichiren could realise his vow (to be a Buddha), or not. 

However, for Nichiren himself, attaining Buddhahood was his most important vow:

        “Since childhood, I, Nichiren, have never prayed for the secular things

        of this life but have

        single-mindedly sought to become a Buddha”. WND1 p 839 

        “From the beginning, I pursued my studies because I wanted to master Buddhism

        and attain Buddhahood,WND1 p 25

It is a bizarre situation that Nichiren Shu scholars disregard Nichiren’s own writings on his vow to become a Buddha in his lifetime, and practically deny that their Founder was capable of achieving his goal of becoming a Buddha (through the practice established by him - which they teach their own followers).

The proof of validity or failure of the teaching of the Lotus Sutra rests on whether Nichiren manifested Buddhahood through his practice, or failed to be a Buddha. 

The gist of Nichiren Shu doctrine is: ‘no Buddha after Shakyamuni’

Nichiren letters explain that the real meaning of Shakyamuni’s life is his behaviour as a model for human beings (while Nichiren Shu teachings practically put Shakyamuni above humanity, with no one ever capable of becoming equal to his Buddhahood).

Nichiren Shu regards Shakyamuni as the only person entitled to eternal Buddhahood, elevating him to a level above all other human beings, while Soka Buddhism regards Shakyamuni a manifestation of the Eternal Buddha who opened the way in the Lotus Sutra for other human beings to be like him. 

Nichiren was strongly determined to be equal to Shakyamuni Buddha of the Lotus Sutra, and he declared his vow to become Buddha in his lifetime in several statements of his writings. 

Soka Buddhism regards both Shakyamuni and Nichiren as manifestation of Buddhahood of the Lotus Sutra.  Nichiren appeared in the Latter Day of the Law, turning the wheel of practice of the Lotus Sutra, thus he is called the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

                                           SGI  Buddhism                  N. Shu Buddhism


Nichiren’s Identity :             Buddha                              Bodhisattva

• Object of Devotion :             Mandala Gohonzon           Various forms :

                                                                                  - Shakyamuni statue, or/and

                                                                                  - Mandala Gohonzon with

                                                                                    statue of Nichiren, and

                                                                                  - other added statues             


Author: Safwan Darshams

                                                          Nichiren Shu and SGI Teachings     

                           Nichiren’s Identity         The Three Treasures          Nichiren’s Buddhahood        

                                                         Eternal Buddha and Gohonzon

                                                                Statue or Gohonzon ?