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 on itself rather than on reality - 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 and irrational constructs (such as “the soundless sound of one hand clapping”. 

Zen is considered as 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.  While the Bodhisattva practice aims at becoming a Buddha, the Principles of Zazen sets almost a nihilistic atmosphere of aimlessness, suggesting lack of interest or desire to become a Buddha:

            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”.

Aimlessness” is also encouraged in modern Zen practice:

Master Thich Nhat Hanh book “Silence” teaches that:

Sitting in silence can be wonderfully aimless" page 188

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

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”.

On the other hand, according to SGI literature

        “The important thing is that we believe in our potential,

        strive to reveal our Buddhanature,        

        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 revering the sutras,

Zen literature denies any value for the sutras:

      “Zen claims to be Buddhism, but all the Buddhist teachings

      as propounded in the sutra are to be treated by Zen as mere

      waste paper whose utility consists in wipping off

      the dirt of intellect and nothing more."    Page 8, Introduction to Zen

Zen masters voice conflicting views regarding the sutras.  While rejecting the sutras in principle, some temples teach and recite chapters of various sutras!

Transmission of Buddhism according to Zen master Dogen should be based on “silent transmission”, and which was criticized by Nichiren as being 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” (mind-to-mind transmission of thoughts) fulfils the definition of telepathy or mental communication.

Analysis of various aspects of Zen concepts and koans, are discussed in: www.zenfallacy.com

                                              SGI Buddhism                           Zen Buddhism

Aim :                                    Attaining Buddhahood                Emptiness of Mind

Practice:                              Chanting the Dharma                 Silent meditation

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


            The Origin of Zen               Ikeda on Zen               Zen Problematic Values            

               Chanting & silent Meditation                Why did Nichiren criticise Zen?