Zen and Nichiren Buddhism

The origin of Zen is attributed to Bodhidharma, a historical figure who - around the year 500 AD - is said to have spent 9 years in silence facing the rock wall of a cave that's about a mile from the Shaolin Temple. Thus he won the title "the wall-gazing brahmin".  

Obviously, this legend cannot be taken literally. Nevertheless - being adopted and celebrated in Zen literature throughout history - it seems to convey a message about the spirit of Zen.  The practice of “wall gazing” points to a tendency for focusing the mind inwardly, dwelling on mental abstraction.  Zen tendency for abstraction is also expressed by the practice of koan (or self-enquiry puzzles), which in various cases requires dwelling on imaginary constructs (such as “what is the sound of one hand clapping? Is it ‘soundless sound’?”). 

A sample of three koans will be discussed further, questioning the essence of their values.

Zen is a Mahayana tradition, which is essentially based on the Bodhisattva practice aiming for attaining Buddhahood.  This requires dedicated efforts for self-mastery and actions of compassion among the people with whom we are connected.  Having a determination and a goal of attaining Buddhahood is not what is found in Zen literature.

The ‘Zazen way of Zen’ sets almost the nihilistic atmosphere of aimlessness:

Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind...Have no design on becoming a Buddha”.

In contrast to Zen ‘having no design on becoming a Buddha’, Nichiren urges his followers to make a vow to attain Buddhahood:

My wish is that my disciples make a great vow” WND1 p 1003 and to work for “…bringing salvation to all people...” WND1 p 126

Another example can shed the light on the ‘basic belief’ in Zen, as presented in Alan Watt’s article on what Zen is, and is not

Now then, if one must try to say something about what Zen is, I must make it emphatic that Zen, in its essence, is not a doctrine. There's nothing you're supposed to believe in”.

While, according to SGI literature:  “The important thing is that we believe in our potential, strive to reveal our Buddha nature, grow as human beings, becoming happy and helping others to do the same. Irrespective of how people treat us, the important thing is to chant with an unwavering belief in the Buddha nature of everyone, ourselves and other people. This in itself can be extremely challenging, involving a real change of heart”.

Contrary to all Buddhist traditions, Zen Buddhism is based on transmission of Buddhism apart from the sutras.  Transmission of Zen Buddhism ‘through silence‘  is a concept which was described by master Dogen  and which was criticised by his contemporary Buddhist reformer Nichiren, who questioned the value of rejecting beneficial Buddhist concepts and principles found in recorded teachings.  Nichiren also pointed out that Zen concept of ‘silent transmission beyond the sutras’ is inconsistent with the fact that Zen masters themselves depended on their voice and also on recorded literature - to teach their disciples the concept of ‘rejecting voice transmission and recorded sutras’. 

Zen concept of “silent transmission of information” fulfils the definition of telepathy or mental communication.

Zen foundation is based on an interpretation of the Flower Sermon as being a sermon when Shakyamuni Buddha used telepathy or mind-to-mind communication: www.zenfallacy.com

                                              SGI Buddhism                     Zen Buddhism

Aim :                                    Attaining Buddhahood                 Self perfection

Practice:                              Chanting the Dharma                 Silent meditation

Object of Devotion:            Mandala Gohonzon          Buddha image (or Unspecified)


            The Origin of Zen     Confession of a Zen Master      Ikeda on Zen 


          Dead cat’s head        Dog’s Buddhanature       Master’s Duty of Care   

               Chanting & silent Meditation    Why did Nichiren criticise Zen?