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 the Prayer Book of Nichiren Shu, 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 states the Founders words:“I, Nichiren, vowed to ...attain Buddhahood”.

Some Nichiren Shu scholars (for example Rev. Ryuei in various discussions) suggest that it is possible that Nichiren was successful in realising some kind of enlightenment, however, he still should not be called a Buddha. Other scholars (Rev. Myokei Caine-Barrett, Tricycle discussion) suggest the argument that ‘it is not important’’ - whether Nichiren could realise his vow to be a Buddha, or not. 

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

But my life from the beginning has been based upon firm conviction”. WND2 p 224And:

“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

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.  It is a bizarre situation that Nichiren Shu practically deny that their Founder was capable of achieving his goal of becoming a Buddha in his life.

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

In various references, Nichire Shu focuses on the historical person of Shakyamuni as being the first person who attained Buddhahood, and the last.  Accordingly, because people are incapable of becoming equal to Shakyamuni, then consequently, out of reverence to this exaggerated perception of Shakyamuni Buddha, as beyond the level of ordinary people, Nichiren Shu denies the attainment of the same state of Buddhahood by others - hence the word Buddha is reserved to one person only.  The letters of Nichiren, however, explain that the real meaning of Shakyamuni’s life is his behaviour as a model for human beings, not to worship but to strive to be equal to., and that this is possible.

Nichiren was strongly determined to be equal to Shakyamuni Buddha of the Lotus Sutra, and declared his vow to become Buddha in his lifetime in several statements of his writings.  In other words, what he was saying to his disciples: 

instead of almost-worshipping Shakyamuni, just manifest the spirit of the Buddha; be Shakyamauni yourself in your current life, as I did through my practice.

“If you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with your whole heart, you will naturally become endowed with the Buddha’s thirty-two features and eighty characteristics. As the sutra says, “hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us,” you can readily become as noble a Buddha as Shakyamuni”.

WND 1 p. 1030

                                           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             


                                                          Nichiren Shu and SGI Teachings     

                           Nichiren’s Identity         The Three Treasures          Nichiren’s Buddhahood        

                                                         Eternal Buddha and Gohonzon

                                                                Statue or Gohonzon ?


          Author: Safwan Zabalawi                                                                            Homepage