Nichiren Teachings and The Four Noble Truths


Traditional schools of Buddhism hold - as their fundamental belief - Shakyamuni’s first sermon, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, being:

1-  the truth of suffering of life: dukkah

2 - the truth of the origin of suffering

3 - the truth of the cessation of suffering

4 - the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.


The teaching of the Four Noble Truths was the first teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, but not the last.   Nonetheless, it is accepted in Traditional Buddhism, as the first and the final, despite the fact that many advanced teachings (such as the Buddhanature, and attaining Enlightenment in one’s current form) - are not included in that early teaching of the Four Noble Truths.


Not all Mahayana sutras regard the first sermon of the Buddha as the final Buddhist teaching and examples are “The Profound Secrets Sutra”, and - in particular -  “The Lotus Sutra” , which views the Four Noble Truths as only a “preparatory teaching”.


The final teaching of the Buddha was the revelation of the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra: “The Wonderful Law of Life” - which describes the Law of life (MyohoRengeKyo) - also referred to as the “Universal Law of Cause and Effect”. 


While the Four Noble Truths focuses on “desires” as being the cause of sufferings, Nichiren explains that it is “ignorance” of the Law of life - that is the cause of sufferings.

In fact, the opposite of Enlightenment is Ignorance.  Ignorance leads to sufferings, not desires themselves.   When one is ignorant to the Law of Cause and Effect, then one is ignorant of the consequences of own actions, and thus would experience sufferings. Desires for self-mastery, for learning, for helping others, etc... are positive desires that should be enhanced.


The Four Noble Truths presents an elementary and partial - but not complete - truth on the cause for sufferings.  According to Nichiren:

            “If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death [....]  you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo”  WND1 p 3.


Ignorance to this truth is the real cause of all sufferings.  Ignorance can lead also to ego based attitude such as arrogance, negligence, hatred, despising others ... as well as attachment to earthly desires.  There is a wide spectrum of causes of sufferings, which the Four Noble Truths did not mention (focusing only on earthly desires).


The final teaching of the Buddha was the Dharma of MyohoRengeKyo, the Law of Lotus, which has the power to transform all sufferings into enlightenment in this Lifetime, so that “Living beings enjoy themselves at ease Lotus Sutra., Ch.16


Shakyamuni’s compassion led him to start his teaching from the Four Noble truths and then to gradually teach and prepare his followers for the final truth, being the Dharma or Law of Life (and the mutually inclusive world of Buddha within the life of ordinary people).   


The Lotus Sutra does not despise desires but - on the contrary - declares that the Buddha himself has a “Great Desire”, that to enable people attain Buddhahood in their lifetime.


SGI views on the Four Noble Truths


SGI Buddhism is based on Nichiren teachings of the Lotus Sutra, which revealed the final teaching of the Buddha, being the Dharma or the Law of Lotus.  In his letter, Nichiren explained that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is a specific or limited doctrine, which was aimed at training monks at the start of his teachings.  In this perspective, the Four Noble Truths express only an elementary teaching, focused merely on only one aspect - that of sufferings, among various other aspects of life.


The Four Noble Truths do not encompass the basic Buddhist teaching of the Ten Worlds - or the spectrum of the human mind - which has also the World of Joy and the World of Buddhahood.  


in his article on the subject, Ikeda explains that the Four Noble Truths were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha specifically to his immediate disciples as an elementary and preparatory doctrine to direct them to self-mastery:


“The four noble truths and the eightfold path were directed chiefly to those disciples who had rejected secular life and were wholly engaged in Buddhist practice; they reflect the basic attitude and approach that underlie Shakyamuni's early teachings, which concentrated on predominantly negative views about life and the world so that he could awaken people first to life's harsh realities and then to the inexpressible spiritual experience of nirvana”.


The Causes of Sufferings: According to the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, the cause of sufferings is “Attachment to Desires”.  In Nichiren Buddhism, Attachment to Early Desires - is just one of other causes for sufferings, which include: Arrogance, Negligence, Refusing to believe, Hatred, Vilification, Holding Grudges...and other causes which were not included in the elementary teaching of the Four Noble Truths.


Nichiren’s Buddhism and the teaching of the Eightfold Path


The fourth of the Four Noble truths teaches that the path to emancipation is found in the Eightfold Path to Nirvana. The Eightfold Path is a “code of conduct” of maintaining:


right views, right thinking, speech, action, livelihood, efforts, right mindfulness and concentration. 


However, to form “right” views, or maintain “right” conduct, etc... there must be a “reference” to judge what is “right” and “not right”. 


This reference of wisdom of what is “right and correct” - is one’s inherent Buddhanature  (which was not mentioned in the Four Noble Truths).  Revealing one’s Buddhanature is certain to motivate for what is “right “. A Buddhist practice that ensures revealing one’s Buddhanature - such practice covers all the right actions actions of the whole Eightfold Path - becoming the direct path to enlightenment.


All the requirements of the Eightfold Path will be automatically manifest in one’s daily life when one attains enlightenment (or reveals own Buddhanature).


It is possible to view the Eightfold Path from the perspective of cause and effect.  In terms of Cause and Effect, the “cause” is Buddhanature, while the “effect” is the Eightfold Path.


Nichiren Buddhism suggests going directly to the cause of the matter: revealing one’s Buddhanature in this lifetime. This practice is called the “direct path to enlightenment”

-  based on the devotion and fusion of the individual (Nam) with the Universal Dharma (MyohoRengeKyo).


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Author: Safwan Darshams


                            The Lotus Sutra’s statement on the Four Noble Truths


                                    Limitations of the concept of Four Noble Truths



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