Triple Gem
Chapter Twelve


Nichiren - Mahayana (Japanese)

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Founder - Nichiren Shonin

Nichiren was born as a fisherman's son called Zennichimaro in February 16, 1222 in Kominato, in what is now Chiba Prefecture, Japan. A time rife with social conflicts and natural calamities, which took a heavy toll, particularly on the ordinary populace. At age eleven, his parents sent him to Seichoji-Temple to study. Shortly after his tonsure at sixteen, he took the name of Rencho and went to Kamakura for further studies. After returning from Kamakura, he traveled to Kyoto and Nara, the old centers of traditional Buddhism in Japan, where he mastered all the sutras and literature of Buddhism. His studies convinced him that the Lotus Sutra represented the perfect culmination of the true teaching of the Buddha that holds the key to transforming peoples suffering and enabling society to flourish.

In 1253, returning to Seicho-ji, Rencho adopted the name Nichiren (Sun-Lotus) when he advocated chanting "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" for the first time. He declared the establishment of a new Buddhism. He established the invocation of the sutras title, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, as the practice to enable people to manifest the Buddhahood inherent in their lives and gain the strength and wisdom to challenge and overcome any adverse circumstances.

Nichiren was critical of the established schools of Buddhism that relied on state patronage and merely served the interests of the powerful while encouraging passivity in the suffering masses. In 1260, Nichiren submitted a petition entitled, On establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land, to the most powerful figure in the government. In it he called the government to task, insisting that the leaders bear responsibility for the suffering of the population and act to remedy it. Nichirens stance, that the state exists for the sake of the people, was revolutionary for its time.

Nichirens claims invited an onslaught of often-violent persecutions from the military government and the established Buddhist schools. A number of his disciples were executed and Nichiren himself narrowly escaped assassination on a number of occasions. He was also sent into exile on two occasions but later pardoned. Throughout, Nichiren refused to compromise his principles to appease those in authority.

In 1271 Nichiren was arrested and taken in the early hours of the morning to a beach named Tatsunokuchi to be beheaded. Notable among these punishments were the persecution at Matsubagayatsu, the exile to Izu peninsula, more persecution at Komatsubara and Tatsunokuchi and the nearly three years of lonely exile to Sado Island. The execution was abandoned, however, when a bright object appeared in the night sky, terrifying the executioners. He was subsequently exiled to the island of Sado, where conditions were especially harsh. Nichiren survived freezing conditions with little food or shelter, coming close to starvation on several occasions. Despite the severity of his situation he continued to write prolifically, sending letters of encouragement and instruction to his disciples, among which are counted some of his most important works.

Throughout these adversities Nichiren Shonin's missionary zeal was unrelenting. His subsequent writing of four more major works demonstrates his resolve. While in exile on Sado Island, Nichiren Shonin completed two works. The "Kaimoku Sho" (Opening the Eyes) expressed Nichiren Shonen's state of mind as a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra. In the "Kanjin Honzon Sho" (The Spiritual Introspection of the Supreme Beings), he expounds on the idea of unity between the Eternal Truths and the Eternal Buddha. To underscore this thesis introduced in this latter work, Nichiren Shonin shortly thereafter rendered a graphic representation of his underlying theology. This representation is the Mandala Gohonzon.

Nichirens legacy lies in his unrelenting struggle for peoples happiness and the desire to transform society into one which respects the dignity and potential of each individual life.

Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is regarded as one of the most important and influential sutras, or sacred scriptures, of Mahayana Buddhism. As Shakyamuni employed a wide variety of means by which to transmit his enlightenment to people of different capacities and circumstances, a broad range of interpretative schools emerged after his passing. The Lotus Sutra was translated by different schools and gained particular prominence as it spread through Central Asia into China, the Korean peninsula and Japan, mainly because of the universality of its message--that all people can attain enlightenment.

The Lotus Sutra describes the existence of an innate and universal truth, known as the Buddha nature, inherent in all life. It teaches profound respect for the dignity of life. The Lotus Sutra is unique among the teachings of Shakyamuni in that it affirms that the attainment of enlightenment is a possibility open to all people without distinction of race, gender, social standing, or education.

Nichiren, living in thirteenth century Japan, studied the Buddhist sutras in depth and emphasized the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra (myoho-renge-kyo, in Japanese), defining the essence of its teaching as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.


The invocation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was established by Nichiren on 28 April 1253. Having studied widely among all the Buddhist sutras, he had concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the ultimate truths of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. But to Nichiren, Myoho-renge-kyo was far more than the title of a Buddhist text, it was the expression, in words, of the Law of life which all Buddhist teachings in one way or another seek to clarify. What follows is a brief and unavoidably limited explanation of some of the key concepts expressed by this phrase.


Gohonzon is the object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism. In Japanese, go means worthy of honor and honzon means object of fundamental respect.

Nichiren defined the universal Law permeating life and the universe as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and embodied it in the form of a mandala. In the Gohonzon, a scroll on which are written Chinese and Sanskrit characters, Nichiren symbolically depicted the oneness of person and Law that the condition of Buddhahood is a potential within and can be manifested by all people.

The Gohonzon's power comes from the worshipper's faith the Gohonzon functions as a spiritual mirror. Sitting in front of the Gohonzon and chanting, a person is able to recognize and reveal his or her own Buddha nature, the creative essence of life.