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 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, for example) avoid the whole question about the spiritual identity of their founder, and their view is 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.

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 of ‘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 an Eternal Buddha who opened the way in the Lotus Sutra for other human beings to be like him.

Nichiren Shu contradicts the text of the Lotus Sutra - in which Shakyamuni made a vow to make all people equal to him.  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.  Soka Buddhism regards Shakyamuni as eternal Buddha and also regards that Nichiren was also a Buddha, who appeared in the Latter Day of the Law to turn the wheel of practice of the lotus Sutra. 

                                           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