NICHIREN SHOSHU BUDDHISM
THE PURPOSE OF BUDDHISM
The word “Buddha” is an honorific title meaning “a person enlightened to the ultimate reality of life.” A Buddha understands that all existence, all life, both animate and inanimate, and all occurrences are the expression of one mystic entity permeating every realm of existence without any time restriction. This mystic entity or law is the same as Buddha’s life itself and is the same as our life.
The purpose of the teachings of Buddhism is to enable all people, regardless of our present life condition, to fuse our lives with the life of the Buddha and experience the Buddha nature that exists within our own lives to achieve true happiness. Several things are happening when this occurs: First, we purify our lives, second, we erase our negative karma and, third, we experience enlightenment. Ultimately, the aim is to create a truly peaceful society.
A VERY SHORT HISTORY OF BUDDHISM
The recorded history of Buddhism begins with Siddhartha Gautama, also know as Shakyamuni Buddha, who was born a prince in northern India approximately 3000 years ago; he renounced his throne at the age of 19 to search for the answers to human suffering, including birth, sickness, old age and death. He realized that our earthly desires cause delusions that result in actions that create negative causes in our lives, resulting in an endless stream of suffering. From the age of thirty, when he was awakened to his true identity as a Buddha, for a period of 50 years, he presented numerous teachings to gradually awaken his followers to the eternal nature of their own lives. During the final eight years of his life he taught the Lotus Sutra, which was his ultimate teaching by his own admission.
Many sects of Buddhism branched out from the many sutras (or teachings) taught by Shakyamuni. In Southeast Asia there are numerous sects collectively known as Hinayana (lesser vehicle) or Theraveda Buddhism, which relies heavily on rules by which to live with the purpose of extinguishing earthly desires in order to achieve enlightenment. His Mahayana (greater vehicle) teachings also produced numerous sects, which relied on different forms of meditation to purify the lives of its followers to reach enlightenment. Mahayana spread to the lands north and east of India, through Afghanistan, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan.
NICHIREN SHOSHU BUDDHISM
In the Sutra, Shakyamuni stated that his teachings would gradually lose their power after 2000 years and that the Original Buddha, the True Buddha who has always existed and will always exist, would appear in the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law (the age of 2000 years after Shakyamuni’s passing). Overcoming severe persecutions, this person would reveal the true cause of original enlightenment for all mankind.
True to this prediction, Nichiren Daishonin was born in 1222 and entered the priesthood at the age of 12. Through his meticulous study of all the Buddhist teachings at the temples throughout Japan, he ascertained that the Lotus Sutra is indeed Shakyamuni’s highest teachings and, through his experience of overcoming various persecutions, he realized he was the Original Buddha predicted in the Lotus Sutra.
Nichiren Daishonin left the world with several essential elements that enable us to practice Buddhism in the present age and to realize enlightenment in this life in our present form. The first was his naming of the fundamental law of life as, ”NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO” in the form of seven Chinese characters. He taught that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or repeating this phrase over and over, is the most effective medicine to cure the ills of one’s life and society.
Secondly, he left a body of written work in the form of letters and treatises to his disciples, leaders in the government and various other persons; these are collectively known as the Gosho.
Thirdly, he embodied his enlightenment to this supreme entity in the form of an object of worship, known as the “DAI-GOHONZON.” By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon daily, week after week, and year after year, to develop the world of the Buddha that dwells within each person’s life, enlightenment manifests in that person’s life and extends to every aspect of life. Buddhahood (or enlightenment) is comprised of four virtues: Eternity, which means an eternal, indestructible life condition; Happiness, meaning the absolute joy of being alive; True Self, which indicates a strong, harmonious and independent spirit; and Purity, a life that cannot be tainted by anything, including living in our mundane, impure society.
CAUSE & EFFECT AND KARMA
Buddhism teaches that all life is eternal and that the present moment is a result of causes made in the past and that the future is determined by the causes made and being made in the present moment. Therefore, it is futile to blame someone else for what has happened to you. In Buddhism each individual must take complete responsibility for his or her life. The causes that we have made and lie deep in our lives make our life what it is today. We can go for a complete makeover, but the person we are is still basically unchanged. True happiness can only occur when we make causes that will address and change previous causes we have made. In other words, we must change our own Karma and as we do so, we rid ourselves of our false ideas about the reality of life.
ELEMENTS OF NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO
The seven Chinese characters that comprise the phrase, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, are impossible to translate in totality, but its elements can be examined.
“Nam” is a Sanskrit transliteration meaning total devotion – the merger of body and mind in a moment – (to the mystic law of “Myoho-renge-kyo.”)
“Myo” indicates “mystic” – the deep, mysterious and inscrutable aspect of life.
“Ho” indicates “Law”, the balance in life, evenhanded response to every mental, verbal and action being a cause that has an effect.
“Ren” and “Ge” together mean the lotus flower, which is symbolic of the simultaneous nature of cause and effect. When the lotus blooms its seeds appear at the same time as the flower. Once a cause is made, the effect will inevitably occur in some form at some time. So, in a real sense the two are simultaneous. In the case of touching a heated pan, the effect is immediate. When we don’t study, the result of not getting a good grade takes more time to become apparent. When we have a negative thought about someone, this too has an effect, though it doesn’t appear as predictably as the other examples.
“Kyo” means sound or teaching, as in the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Daishonin explains that all of the Buddhist teachings are embodied in the phrase, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
GOHONZON OR OBJECT OF WORSHIP
The impact of “objects” in our lives is very apparent in every day life. You can’t become a great trumpet player or drummer without the trumpet or drum. Without nourishing food and water our minds and bodies would suffer malnutrition and not function properly. Even to experience love, we need to meet another person that brings this feeling out of our lives. So our object of worship in life is very important for the direction of our life as it becomes integrated in our life. In Nichiren Shoshu, the object of worship, which is over 723 years old, is the Dai-Gohonzon, a wooden object that is inscribed in Chinese and Sanskrit characters and infused with the life of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin. A Practicioner of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism has an altar at home as the center for daily prayers. In the altar is a Gohonzon, a paper scroll, that is a transcription of the Dai-Gohonzon. Down the center is inscribed “Nam-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo Nichiren”, which indicates the oneness of the person and the law.
FAITH, PRACTICE AND STUDY
Daily practice is the cornerstone to develop faith that is based on experience. Study of the teachings is imperative to deepen our understanding of the teachings and to encourage daily practice. In addition, to share Buddhism with other people is vital to increase our own understanding and to develop our daily lives. Compassion is a natural outcome of this practice. In other words, we need to give to others in order to be truly happy. This can be seen in other aspects of life as well.
THE PRIESTHOOD AND HEAD TEMPLE TAISEKIJI
The head temple of Nichiren Shoshu is in Japan near the city of Fujinomiya and is known as Taisekiji. This is where the Dai-Gohonzon has been enshrined for the past 700 years and where successive High Priests have maintained the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin in their purity. The function of the priesthood is to correctly teach Buddhism.
Local temples with a chief priest and an assistant priest allow practitioners to learn about this faith and practice directly from the priesthood.