Nichiren Buddhism (in Japanese called Hokke-shū, 法華宗, i.e., "school of the Lotus" (April 28, 1253), originally Nichiren-shū, 日莲宗, "school of Nichiren") is the set of Japanese Mahāyāna Buddhist schools that refer to the figure and teachings of the Buddhist monk Nichiren (日蓮, 1222-1282), who lived in Japan in the 13th century.
These schools arise directly from his historical figure as a reforming monk, ordained according to the monastic platform of the Tendai school.
Their monastic lineage is traced directly back to the Buddha Śākyamuni and the bodhisattva Bhaiṣajyarāja ("King of Medicine," Jap. 藥王 Yakuō) and traces the lineage of the Chinese Tiāntái school back to the founder of the Japanese Tendai school, Saichō, and finally to Nichiren believed in turn to be the manifestation of the bodhisattva Viśiṣṭacāritra (Jap. 上行意 Jōgyō).
The doctrines of these schools have in common the veneration and study of the Lotus Sutra (Sanskrit Saddharmapundarīkasūtra, Jap. 妙法蓮華經 Myōhō renge kyō or Hokkekyō: 法華經), considered the most important and comprehensive Buddhist teaching, the study of related commentaries by the Chinese masters of the Tiāntái school, Zhìyǐ (智顗, 538-597), Guàndǐng (灌頂, 561-632) and Zhànrán (湛然 or Miaole 711-782) as well as Saichō himself.
They also venerate the gohonzon scroll, Nichiren himself and the eternal Buddha represented by Śākyamuni (with the exception of the Nichiren Shōshū, which considers Nichiren himself a buddha and not a bodhisattva). The main practice is the recitation of Nam myōhō renge kyō (called odaimoku or daimoku) before the gohonzon itself.
Although they have been subjected to harsh religious persecution, the vitality of the Nichiren schools of Buddhism is nonetheless demonstrated by the fact that they have always managed to revive and spread, and today represent the relatively most widespread branch of Buddhist teaching in Japan, with more than 35 million followers (roughly 28 percent of Japan's population) and about 7,000 temples and monasteries, along with Nara Buddhism, Jodo-shu and Zen Buddhism (often intertwined with each other and with Shinto in a particular syncretic amalgam called shinbutsu-shūgō).
In the 34 percent of Japanese who declared in 2008 that they were explicitly and solely Buddhist, the Nichiren school thus accounts for the absolute majority. According to other estimates it is only slightly surpassed by the Amidist school.
Together with Zen, it is also one of the most widespread forms of Buddhism in the world outside Asia, especially through the secular Soka Gakkai (and SGI) school, which has about 12 million members (8 million in Japan and 4 million in the rest of the world, 70,000 in Italy).
The emergence of the Schools
Called at birth by the name Zennichimaro (善日麿), from 1238 Zeshō-bō Renchō (是生房蓮長) when he was ordained a monk, and finally from 1253 (when he officially proclaimed daimoku) onward known as Nichiren (日蓮 "sun-lotus"), he was a controversial figure throughout his life, and still is today because of the various religious doctrines based on his teachings, which are reformed and radical compared to pre-existing Buddhism.
Born into an Amidist family, he entered the lineage of Tendai Buddhism and then abandoned it.
Before his death, Nichiren entrusted six of his disciples with the task of organizing the spread of his doctrine and the care of the Kuon-ji monastery he founded on Mount Minobu in Kai province.
The political and military turmoil in Japan at the end of the 13th century did not allow for the constant and simultaneous presence in the Kuon monastery of the six disciples-Nikkō (1246-1333), Niko (1253-1314), Nichiro (1245-1320), Nissho (1221-1323), Nichiji (1250-?), and Nitcho (1252-1317).
Thus Nikkō, managing to ensure a constant presence in Kuon-ji Monastery held the position of abbot from 1285 onward. Following the separation between Niko and Nikkō verged the two main Nichiren scholastic branches: the Nichiren-shū referring to Niko and the Nichiren-shoshu referring instead to Nikkō. It should be kept in mind that the controversy in question is no small one.
The role assigned to the figure of Nichiren by the Nichiren-shoshu (and the secular Soka Gakkai school) is that of the Buddha of the Last Day of the Law and thus he is in fact worshipped in place of the Shakyamuni Buddha, the attitude toward other religious faiths and other Buddhist denominations is far more rigid than that of the Nichiren-shū, which continues instead in the veneration of the Shakyamuni Buddha and is decidedly more tolerant and open toward other Buddhist schools.
And it is precisely the relationship with other Buddhist schools and the role to be assigned to its founder Nichiren that are the dividing lines of all subsequent scholastic separations within Nichiren Buddhism.
Later Nichiju, a former Tendai monk who converted in 1378 to the teachings of Nichiren-shu, decided in 1385 to separate from this school, founding in Kyoto the sub-school called Myomanji-ha, as he considered Nichiren-shū too conciliatory with the other Buddhist schools.
Among those who preferred to place attention (and veneration) on the eternal Buddha were Nichiryu (1385-1464) who founded the Happon-ha school, Nichijin (1339-1419) who founded the Honjoji-ha school, and Nisshin (1444-1528) founder of the Nisshin-monryu.
These schools, along with the Myomanji-ha founded by Nichiju and the Komon-ha (original name of Nichiren-shoshu) founded by Nikko, are part of the Shoretsu-ha, which is a contraction of the Japanese phrase Honsho sakuretsu (the first 14 lower chapters, the second 14 upper chapters) referring to the Lotus Sutra.
After a rocky start, the Nichirenfu school recognized by the governing authorities in 1334, however, risking a second annihilation in the 16th century.
The open hostility by other Buddhist schools toward the Nichiren schools of Buddhism was determined by the fact that the latter claimed to embody the one, authentic teaching of the Buddha Śākyamuni, regarding the other schools as provisional, when not false, teachings.
Certainly every Buddhist school of every period and country has always considered itself to be the bearer of the most authentic or most profound Buddhist teaching; the novelty in this sense of Nichiren Buddhism consisted in making this conviction explicit and openly spread in the practice of proselytizing among lay people and among monks.
All this led the other monastic communities, notably that of the Enryaku-ji monastery on Mt. Hiei, by then transformed as in the West into monastic-chivalric orders (sōhei, 僧兵), to fight openly against the Nichiren monks.
Tensions often went so far as to result in the massacre of rival monks and the burning of their monasteries. Secular authorities supported now this now the other faction according to their own religious convictions.
Having survived numerous persecutions and the Meiji renewal, today they make up a large proportion of Japan's Buddhist schools.
On the other hand, so-called Nichiren Buddhism was born under the banner of contradictions, as also argued by one of Italy's leading experts on Buddhism, Pio Filippani Ronconi, who writes:
"In this hopelessly corrupted view of the world and of men, operated the founder of a fourth devotional sect, the famous Nichiren, "Lotus of the Sun" (1222-82), who returned to the worship (rather than intelligence) of the Sad-dharma-pundarika ("the Lotus of the True Law"), of which he made the banner of his faith: to Namu Butsu he substituted Namu-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō ("honor to the Lotus of the True Law").
Apart from this vigorous devotional stance, the sect he founded was marked by thoroughly non-Buddhist characters, such as total intolerance of other sects and, above all, a vigorous nationalistic attitude so that it has been questioned by many whether his school was to be considered Buddhist!"
Nichiren Buddhism (or Nichiren Buddhism) is based on the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, i.e., "Lotus Sutra of Good Doctrine," title in Japanese 妙法蓮華経, Myōhō-renge-kyō in the expression translated from ancient Chinese, or 法華経, Hokkekyō).
Common to all lineages is the recitation or chanting of the mantra Nam(u) myoho renge kyo as the main practice and the veneration of the scroll called the Gohonzon.
Nichiren Buddhism accepts much of the ideas of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism, revised by Nichiren: the doctrine of the Ten Worlds of Life, the Ten Conditions of Existence, the Ten Talities, the Three Secret Dharmas, the principle of the Three Thousand Worlds in every moment of life (ichinen sanzen) in the Three Worlds, the Three Jewels,
the Three Bodies of the Buddha, (dharmakaya or teaching body, fruition or body eternally visible in the pure lands, and emanation or temporary body), the Threefold Truth (enyū santai), buddhahood as the innate condition (hongaku, or inherent enlightenment) of every sentient being (which only needs to be awakened), and the teaching of the "three tests" for testing the validity of the teaching.
Most of these teachings are the same for all Nichiren schools. Nichiren is often called Shonin ("saint, sage," a title also given to many of his direct students) by the Nichiren-shu, or Nichiren Daishonin ("Nichiren the great saint" or "the great sage"), the Nichiren Shoshu, and the Soka Gakkai, all titles of religious respect.
Veneration to Nichiren, Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra
The teachings of the schools of Nichiren Buddhism basically follow, albeit with numerous drastic doctrinal differences, the doctrine expounded by Nichiren during his preaching and recorded in his writings.
After the Master's death, however, his six direct disciples began to differentiate their teachings, and this led to the emergence of the different schools of Nichiren Buddhism that have in common the practice of daimoku (an invocation in Japanese to the title of the Lotus Sutra, Nam myoho renge kyo) as the only practice for the mappo era and the veneration of the Lotus Sutra (in the Kumārajīva version) considered, as in the Tendai school, to be the complete teaching given by the Buddha Shakyamuni.
Again as in Tendai, special attention is paid to two chapters of this sutra: the second (hoben: skillful means or expedients) and the sixteenth (juryo-hon: Buddha's lifespan).
Specifically, the second chapter deals with the means by which to attain the state of buddhahood (jap. bussho) and the sixteenth chapter with the lifespan of the Buddha who became enlightened in the infinite past therefore he is for himself forever enlightened.
These chapters are sometimes recited as a practice (gongyō) usually in the original language (ancient Japanese or ancient Chinese), but Nichiren-shu also allows reading in one's own language.
The daimoku is often carried out for several hours, and the gongyo traditionally repeated morning and evening (with even five silent prayers in the morning and three in the evening; or four silent prayers, the first of which only in the morning before the reading of the sutra, and the last three in both the morning and evening at the end of the reading of the text).
Initially, the practice agreed upon by the patriarch of Nichiren Shoshu included at least the recitation of Chapter XVI in its complete form, but the Soka Gakkai has reduced it, for its worshippers, to reading excerpts from the two chapters of the Lotus Sutra only once per ceremony (Chapter XVI is recited only in the verse portion called Jiga-ge), also eliminating prayers referring to the patriarchs of Nichiren Shoshu and some Buddhist deities of the school, replaced by prayers of gratitude addressed to the presidents of the Soka Gakkai.
Depending on the Nichiren tradition, the founder is regarded as a manifestation of the bodhisattva Viśiṣṭacāritra (上行菩薩, Jōgyō bosatsu) or "Higher Practices" bodhisattva (named in the Lotus Sutra as one of the four Bodhisattvas of Earth) or, like Shakyamuni, a true Buddha, as a manifestation of the "original eternal Buddha of the last Dharma period" (本仏, Hombutsu), forever enlightened according to the words referred to himself by Shakyamuni in the Lotus Sutra:
"I have not neglected the Buddha's work even for a single moment. Thus, since I attained Buddhahood, an extremely long time has passed. My life has lasted for billions and billions of years, and during all this time I have always lived here and my life has never been extinguished.
I never become extinct, and when I announce my extinction it is only an expedient used to instruct and convert living beings. There is neither birth nor death, there is neither existence in this world nor extinction. It is neither real nor illusory, neither so nor different.
It is not as it is perceived by those who dwell in it. I am the father of this world who saves those who are afflicted and suffering. And this is my constant thought: how can I make all living beings access the supreme path and acquire Buddhahood?"
(Lotus Sutra, Chapter XVI, Lifespan of the Tathāgata) Nichiren also sees Maitreya, the bodhisattva and next future Buddha as a metaphor for pointing to all bodhisattvas and devotees of the Lotus Sutra.
What differentiates, among them, the schools of Nichiren Buddhism is, in the division into two parts (本迹二門, jap. honjaku nimon, cin. běnjī èrmén) of the Lotus Sutra, the consideration of the prevalence or otherwise of the doctrines set forth in the last 14 chapters (本門, jap. honmon, cin. běnmén) over the first 14 chapters (迹門, jap. sakumon, cin. jī mén). According to the Nichiren shū such prevalence does not exist unlike the Nichiren Shōshū for which it does.
This doctrinal differentiation is not insignificant. The second 14 chapters of the Lotus Sutra expound the doctrine of the eternal Buddha (Jap. 本佛 Honbutsu or Hombutsu), an emanation of whom all Buddhas are and represented in the sutra by Sakyamuni.
In the Lotus Sutra, his characteristics are not defined but recall, however, the doctrine of Ādibuddha (本初佛 cin. Běnchūfó, jap. Honshobutsu) or Ādinātha (本初主), also called the original or primordial Buddha, the origin of Buddha nature, and also depicted, in the Dharmakāya form, by the figure of Vairocana.
In accordance with the sutra, according to Nichiren the eternal Buddha is depicted by Sakyamuni, while the other depictions worshipped by the Japanese schools (Amitabha, Vairocana) are temporary emanations of the eternal Sakyamuni and not Buddhas in their own right (moreover, even in the Amidist Jodo-shu itself, Amitabha is considered a "symbolic expression of the ultimate nature" of Shakyamuni, i.e., the eternal Buddha).
Versus Amidism and Shingon who worship a triad or duo of Buddhas - Amida as the fruition body, Vairocana as the Dharma body and Shakyamuni as the Emanation body in Shingon, Amida (main object of worship) as Dharmakaya emanation and Pure Land fruition body and Sakyamuni as Emanation alone in Amidism-Nichiren considers these to be doctrinal errors and sees a single transcendent Buddha with all these characteristics depicted in all three bodies by Sakyamuni, although other Buddhas and bodhisattvas are objects of veneration.
For the Nichiren Shoshu, the last appearance of the eternal Buddha is Nichiren himself; if the Buddha is eternal and anyone can become a Buddha, then the Buddha of the last day of the Law (mappō) can only be the one who preached the correct doctrine of the Lotus Sutra, namely Nichiren.
The Nichiren Shōshū argues that in revealing and propagating his teachings, Nichiren was fulfilling the mission of his advent according to the prophecy made by the historical Buddha Śākyamuni, who allegedly predicted that the "True Buddha" would appear in the "fifth period of five hundred years after Śakyamuni's death."
at the beginning of an evil age called Mappō, and he would spread the extreme Buddhist teaching (of Honmon, or "true" teaching) to enable people of that age to attain enlightenment, since from then on his teachings (of Shakumon, or "provisional" teaching) would lose their power.
The interpretation of Nichiren as the True Buddha and this devaluation of the first chapters of the sutra (which also refer to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path), espoused by the Nichiren Shōshū and the Soka Gakkai, is not shared, however, by the Nichiren shū, which, like the Risshō Kōsei Kai, holds that the eternal Buddha expressed himself in the form of the Buddha Śākyamuni to whom veneration should be offered remaining Nichiren "only" a manifestation of the bodhisattva Viśiṣṭacāritra.
With the detachment from the Nichiren Shoshu, even the Soka Gakkai International began to see Nichiren as a great enlightened master as described in the Nichiren-shu, but not the eternal Buddha himself, a position reserved for Shakyamuni.
It should be borne in mind that apart from the popular aspects that encroach into an almost devotional and almost "theistic" practice, from a doctrinal point of view, found in the treatises and commentaries of these schools, the starting point of all these manifestations is always and only vacuity (Japanese kū) as expressed in the doctrines, of Tiāntái matrix and taken up by the Tendai, referred to in Japanese as enyū santai (圓融三諦) and ichinen sanzen (一念三千) though in Nichiren's particular interpretation.
Daimoku and Gohonzon
The most important practice is the daimoku or odaimoku in front of the gohonzon, that is, the recitation of Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō or Namu myoho renge kyo, written rendering in Sino-Japanese pronunciation (Old Chinese according to the pronunciation of Old Japanese), of the phrase Nánwú miàofǎ liánhuā jīng, which means "I pay homage to the mystic law of the Lotus sutra," or I dedicate my life to the mystic law perfectly endowed by the Lotus sutra.
The odaimoku was proclaimed by Nichiren on April 28, 1253.
The Nichiren-shū (more open to other forms of Buddhism), unlike the Nichiren Shōshū and also the Soka Gakkai, also secondarily practices classical silent Buddhist meditation (analogous to the śamatha-vipassana of Theravada or the zazen of Zen, focusing on breath and contemplation of emptiness) derived from the zhǐguān/shikan practiced by the Tendai school and called joshingyo and jishingyo, while being the recitation of daimoku, often in front of the gohonzon scroll (a maṇḍala depicting, in ancient Chinese characters,
the Lotus Sutra ceremony and Nichiren enlightenment) and joining hands in the greeting posture called gassho (optionally holding a juzu), the main practice of Nichiren Buddhists. Myoho renge kyo is properly the title of the sutra, Nam symbolizing homage; the word ren means precisely lotus, which in Japanese is also translated as hokke, hence the name of Nichiren's school.
According to Nichiren, daimoku has the power to improve the believer's karma and daily life, granting him benefits, virtues and merits, and thus awakening his Buddha nature.
The true meaning of the Gohonzon is that of "Object of worship to observe one's mind" (kanjin no honzon): a definition that is equivalent to that of "Object of worship of faith." Nichiren Daishonin's Gohonzon, according to the interpretation of the Soka Gakkai, is not only the "external" reference point of faith, but life itself "becomes" the Gohonzon when one believes in it and recites Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
In this regard Nichiren writes, "Never seek this Gohonzon outside of yourself. The Gohonzon exists only in the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and recite Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." In summary, the Gohonzon here represents the main element for attaining enlightenment.
The first gohonzon was engraved by Nichiren himself, and it bears the daimoku surrounded by the name of Śākyamuni, that of Viśiṣṭacāritra and other buddhas and bodhisattvas who appear in the Lotus Sutra (e.g., Avalokiteśvara/Kannon, Mañjuśrī, Maitreya );
also contains several names from the Tendai Buddhist tradition, those of some Shinto kami (神) (such as Hachiman-the god of war considered by Nichiren to be a bodhisattva pupil of the Buddha and a protector of dharma as well as, in another gosho,
an emanation of Shakyamuni himself-whom he invoked and rebuked several times to fulfill his vow to protect Japan at the time at risk of Mongol invasion and the devotees and the envoy of the Lotus Sutra, namely Nichiren himself, from the religious persecution of the shōgun and the regent Hojo,
or some deities related to the Sun and Moon), all the characters named in the sutra and arhats of the Buddhist tradition; all these protectors of the mandala are called shoten zenji.
The official gohonzon is kept in temples or, for the personal one (the practice of all Nichiren schools), in an enclosed altar in the homes of worshippers, called butsudan, along with statues of Nichiren's Buddha Shakyamuni of Tahō nyorai (Buddha "Many Jewels" mentioned in the Lotus sutra), sometimes of the four main bodhisattvas of the Lotus sutra (Viśiṣṭacāritra/Jōgyō, Muhengyō, Jyōgyō, Anryūgyō) and ritual objects
. The Nichiren shu refers to the ritual practice of invocations, gongyo and recitation of Nam(u) myoho renge kyo (in the Shu always called Odaimoku) under the name Otsutome.
Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai prohibit photographing and reproducing gohonzon and delivering them without a ceremony by monks or group leaders (called "eye opening"); the former authorized a single photo of the Dai Gohonzon in 1917;
the Nichiren-shu authorizes photography for illustrative purposes and maximum dissemination of the gohonzon, while self-practitioners and independent groups opposed to sectarianism also disseminate images of the gohonzon even on their own websites for those who wish to practice on them, claiming that Nichiren inscribed the first gohonzon for the benefit of all humanity and not just followers.
In addition, in his letters he often described how to make gohonzon for the benefit of practitioners, or painted customized ones for the faithful, who also carried them in special bags around their necks; since the scroll is a "summary" of the Lotus sutra, its reproduction and printing (forbidden instead by the Soka Gakkai) would be authorized by some by the sutra itself as a meritorious act:
"If anyone who believes and understands, accepts, upholds, reads, recites and copies this sutra or has it copied by others, or offers gifts to the sutra scrolls, sprinkling them with flowers, incense and incense powder; or constantly burns fragrant oil extracted from Sumana, champaka or atimuktaka flowers; if he offers such gifts he will earn incalculable merit, unlimited as the boundless sky, and his benefits will also be limitless."
(Lotus Sutra: 17th chapter)
The traditional temple of the Nichiren school consists of a Hondō, the main shrine that holds the Gohonzon in calligraphic and three-dimensional form, a statue of Nichiren with representations behind him of the Buddhas Sakyamuni and Taho Nyorai, a Shakaden (hall dedicated to the Buddha Sakyamuni), a Soshidō (temple dedicated to Nichiren), a Kyakuden (hall for the reception of believers and guests), as well as gardens for meditation, study rooms and living quarters for resident monks.
The Italian Nichiren-shu also conducts live video practices, using new media. The practices observed in Nichiren-shu toward the Lotus Sutra are traditionally listed as follows:
receiving and propagating the Sutra both mentally and physically reading the Sutra silently reading the Sutra orally explaining the Sutra to others copying the Sutra as an act of devotion
Pure Land of Shakyamuni Buddha
The Threefold World where we live (world of sahā) is believed to constitute the Buddha Shakyamuni's immanent Pure Land, but visible only to bodhisattvas. If during his lifetime Nichiren had talked about attaining buddhahood in existence, by the end of his life he realized that the otherworldly aspect, which is fundamental in amidism, for example, needed to be deepened.
He thus took up, in a complementary way, the Tendai doctrine of the transcendent Pure Land as a place of passage awaiting rebirth or attainment of nirvana after death:
it is symbolically represented by the Eagle's Peak or Vulture Peak (named after the Indian mountain Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata where the Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra), which becomes the Pure Land of the Ryozen jodo, literally "Pure Land of the Mountain of Spirit"-where the Buddha Shakyamuni himself resides and welcomes faithful disciples who can be reborn there into the next existence.
Relations with other schools and proselytizing
Of the Tendai school, Nichiren Buddhism rejected the meditative practice of shikan, as it was deemed unsuitable in the present age called mappō (末法), the esoteric practices (密教 mikkyō) of taimitsu (台密),
which were deemed not in keeping with the original doctrines, and the practice of nembutsu (念佛, recitation of the name of Buddha Amitābha/Amida Butsu, i.e., the mantra Nam Amida Butsu) the latter replaced by daimoku (題目, literally "title," but referring to sacred literature such as sūtra, Jap. 経 kyō) that is, from the recitation of the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra, Nam myōhō renge kyō.
In particular, Nichiren's criticisms-useful of expressing himself even with much verbal harshness in order to convert rivals-of the other major Japanese Buddhist schools of the time, reported in the Risshō Ankoku Ron and his letters (gosho), were well known, and they concerned:
vis-à-vis the Jōdo-shū (Western Pure Land school) for placing Amitābha Buddha (阿彌陀佛, Amida Butsu, cosmic and remote past Buddha, held by Nichiren to be a Buddha of provisional teaching) in a preeminent role over Buddha Śākyamuni (釋迦牟尼佛, Shakamuni Butsu) and thus in having changed the value scale of Buddhism itself, preferring the Pure Land sutras to the Lotus sutra;
vis-à-vis Zen Buddhism for forgetting the role of the sutras, Buddhist scriptures and, especially, the Lotus Sutra (with the exception of Dogen who affirms the important role of the sutra); the criticism was directed especially at the more iconoclastic Zen circles that proposed burning the sutras;
towards the Shingon for prevailing the esoteric teachings (密教 mikkyō) of the Vajrayāna of Chinese-Tibetan origin over the original scriptures of the "complete" teaching of the Buddha Śākyamuni i.e., the Lotus Sutra;
vis-à-vis the Tendai school, for accepting, on Japanese soil, the esoteric teachings (mikkyō, referred to in Tendai as 台密 taimitsu) peculiar even to the Shingon, abandoning the genuine teaching of Tian'tai based on the Mahayana sutras.
The most heated confrontation (among the criticisms levelled at Nichiren was that of being intolerant and at odds with Chapter XIV of the sutra),
which generated armed clashes and persecution to the point of risking Nichiren's own life (condemned, pardoned, and exiled for relating natural disasters to government disbelief; Nichiren tells of the celestial phenomenon that enabled him to save himself in a gosho),
was with the Jodo-shu Amidist monks and their practice of Nembutsu (invocation to Amitabha), which had a wide following among the rulers but was considered by Nichiren to be heresy because it was not centered on Shakyamuni Buddha, and not recorded in the Lotus Sutra.
Many disciples of Amidism had modified the statues of Shakyamuni, a practice denounced by the monk, and some followers of Nichiren later did the opposite, or went so far as to destroy the statues and images of rival temples, despite the fact that Nichiren had not prescribed this, focusing on the pre-eminence of the Lotus Sutra and the gohonzon rather than the outward appearance of the statues.
The monk had also had an attempt made on his life by lay followers of Jodo-shu, who on August 27, 1260, set fire to the hut where he lived. Other clashes occurred with the Tendai temples, which considered the schism brought by the Nichiren to their school dangerous.
In addition to the three vehicles (Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajarayana), the three paths to enlightenment are also mentioned in the Lotus Sutra: the path of the śrāvaka or hearers (who become arhats), the path of the pratyekabuddha or solitary buddhas, and finally the path of the bodhisattva/samyaksaṃbuddha; in the sutra the Buddha Shakyamuni reveals that there is no difference, they are just expedients to indicate the one way, the buddhaekayāna, or way to enlightenment of the buddhas, also called great enlightenment (mahābodhi) or perfect enlightenment (anuttarā-samyak-saṃbodhi).
Mahayana denotes as such the union of the various vehicles, while in Nichiren specificity "true Buddhism" is represented by the Lotus sutra itself, which is held to be the center and foundation of buddhadharma. Such buddhekayana is explained to bodhisattvas only, but with the Lotus sutra, Shakyamuni wanted to expound it to everyone.
This claim to represent the fundamental and true teaching, made more explicit in its relations with other types of Buddhism, has often been the cause of much controversy and religious clashes between Nichiren Buddhists and other Japanese schools.
The Nichiren Buddhist also often assumes as a personal duty the active dissemination of dharma according to the school's interpretation: in fact, the way of the Bodhisattva is understood by Nichiren in two mutually integrated aspects: "practice for oneself" (daimoku and gongyo) and "practice for others" or shakubuku; shakubuku (Japanese for "refute") is now understood to mean talking to others about how Nichiren Buddhist practice has had positive effects in one's life in order to persuade them to adhere;
in Nichiren's time it consisted of even aggressive preaching to combat the wickedness of others and the "provisional" teachings of rival schools, as opposed to softer preaching (shoju, in which one seeks to persuade without questioning the beliefs of others), for times and places without powerful enemies.
These two modes of argument are used to convince interlocutors of the goodness of one's positions.Nichiren argued that there are times suitable for Hinayana, others for "provisional" Mahayana doctrines and shoju, and others for "true dharma" and shakubuku.
The three secret laws, the three jewels and the three proofs
The Three Great Secret Laws (Sandai-Hiho) are: the Object of Worship (gohonzon) of the original teaching, the Daimoku of the original teaching, and the shrine of the original teaching (butsudan). The term secret does not mean "esoteric," but hidden in the Lotus Sutra (Nichiren's followers believe he first revealed them).
The Three Great Secret Laws correspond to and are the equivalent of the three cornerstones of Buddhism: precepts (sila), meditation (samādhi), wisdom (prajñā ): the gohonzon corresponds to meditation, the shrine to precepts, and the daimoku to wisdom.
The three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), consist, in Nichiren Buddhism, of the eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutra, and Nichiren with his monks and followers, respectively.
The three tests mean three verifications of the validity of the practice and the school: the documentary test, i.e., whether the teaching is in accordance with the Buddha sutras (especially the Lotus Sutra) and Nichiren's gosho; the theoretical test, i.e., whether the teachings are compatible with reason and common sense, as far as they can go; and the concrete test, i.e.,
verifying on oneself and others the effects of the practice, intimately feeling the change in oneself due to the awakening of Buddha nature, or seeing it around oneself in the improvements of the world.
"Documentary proof and theoretical proof are vital in judging the validity of Buddhist teachings, but concrete proof surpasses both.""
(Nichiren, Gosho "The Three Priests' Prayer for Rain") According to ancient biographies of Nichiren he also manifested the powers of the Buddha or bodhisattva as evidence. He distinguishes four powers (of the Buddha and Law, related to the gohonzon, of faith and practice, proper to the human being), which enable one, if one has faith in the daimoku and the gohonzon, to achieve enlightenment in daily life.
The doctrine of the three thousand worlds
"When we examine the nature of life with absolute enlightenment, we notice that there is no beginning that marks birth, nor is there anything that denotes death."
The Ten Worlds (Mahayana equivalents of the Theravada's six worlds of existence) are mental states inherent in every possible moment of the existence of sentient beings in the world of men (without constituting places outside the world of men).
The doctrine of the "Ten Worlds" differs substantially from that of the "Six Destinies" not only in the number and classes of "realms" described (ten and six) but rather in the fact that the former considers the other nine to be coexisting in the same world (and thus present in the same life of an individual), while the latter while dealing with beings passing from one condition of existence to another does so in the sense of the rebirth of the same;
in the Mahayana (especially in the Chán- and Tendai-derived schools) such rebirth is usually believed to take place in a single physical world. The ten worlds are "Hell" (Sanskrit naraka; Chinese 地獄 dìyù; Japanese jigoku); "Hungry Spirits" (Sanskrit preta; Chinese 餓鬼 èguǐ; Japanese gaki); "Animality" (Sanskrit: tiryagyoni; Chinese: 畜生 chùshēng; Japanese: chikushō); "Asura" (Sanskrit; Chinese 阿修羅 āxiūluó; Japanese ashura):
state of wrath, where the animal instinct of the previous world is controlled and finalized by selfish activities devoid of interest in the other than oneself; "Humanity" (Sanskrit manuṣya; Chinese 人間 rénjiān; Japanese ningen); "Deity" (Sanskrit deva; Chinese: 天上 tiānshàng; Japanese tenjō);
"Śrāvaka" (Sanskrit; Chinese: 聲聞 shēngwèn; Japanese shōmon): hearers of the Dharma, arhat; "Pratyekabuddha" (Sanskrit; Chinese 緣覺 yuánjué, Japanese. engaku): Buddha by itself; "Bodhisattva" (Sanskrit; Chinese 菩薩 púsà, Jap. bosatsu);
"Buddha" (Chinese 佛 fó or fotuo, Jap. butsu or butsuda). In Nichiren's conception they can also coexist in an instant, up to the three thousand worlds in any single moment of existence (ichinen sanzen).
"First to the question of where exactly Hell and the Buddha are located, one sutra states that Hell exists underground and another says that the Buddha resides in the west. But upon careful examination, it turns out that both exist in our five-foot-high body."
(Nichiren) Through the practice of daimoku one can erase even heavy faults (Nichiren himself claims to have accumulated some in his previous lives), even the worst ones, leading through karma to long rebirths even of kalpas in Buddhist "hells" (naraka).
Nichiren Buddhism accepts Buddhist precepts (shila, Japanese kai), such as the six pāramitā, the Bodhisattva precepts (cf. Bodhisattva Vow and Four Bodhisattva Vows), in a particular light, e.g., in the Nichiren school it is sufficient to embrace daimoku to pursue the bodhisattva path without the solemn pronouncement of vows.
They are seen as life's original impulse to come to the aid of others, which practice allows to be remembered and deepened.
Like other Mahayana schools, it is notable for a more flexible approach to the rules of vinaya (Japanese ritsu) and kai (e.g., abstention from alcoholic beverages for lay people is read as abstention from drunkenness rather than from drinks per se, and the precept of vegetarianism in Mahayana schools is also more elastic, and reserved for monks).
The many rules in effect even in the Mahayana were replaced by the "precept of the diamond chalice" (kongo-oki-kai in Japanese): by observing the Lotus Sutra, which contains the merits of past Buddhas and their ascetic and ethical practices, no transgression of the rule can scratch it and it resurfaces with practice, which spontaneously leads to avoidance of forbidden or self-destructive behavior.
"The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the Honmon teaching of the Lotus Sutra, contain all the benefits of the meritorious practices and actions of all Buddhas in the three existences. How then can these five characters not include the benefits gained by observing all the precepts? Once this perfect mystical precept is embraced, a practitioner cannot break it, even if he wanted to. Therefore it is called the precept [of the chalice] of diamond."
(Nichiren, The Teaching, Practice and Testing) "Even a devotee of the Sutra who is incapable, lacks wisdom, has an unclean body or does not observe the precepts, will surely be protected as long as he recites Nam-myoho-renge-kyo."
(Nichiren) In addition to practice, the disposition to compassion (jihi for all beings) and bodhicitta are recommended, which is also to be achieved through the maximum dissemination of the doctrine according to the principle of kosen rufu, understood as "peace and prosperity of the secular world achieved through the dissemination of the Buddha's correct teaching."
The term nichirenism denoted the nationalist ideology of many Nichiren Buddhists especially between the Meiji period and World War II,
although there are currents defending the value of peace and hostile to militarism that was advocated in syncretism with imperial Shintoism (e.g., the ideology of the founders of the Soka Gakkai Tsunesaburō Makiguchi and Jōsei Toda was contrary to the dominant ideology in Japan at the time, advocating the unification of all schools under Shinto in moral support of the war effort).
Modernly, Nichiren Buddhists usually advocate nonviolence and peace, at least this is the official position of groups such as the Soka Gakkai.
According to Nichiren, also influenced by Shintoism, every aspect of life is sacred, and in accordance with Mahayana doctrines, there are no true boundaries between saṃsāra and nirvana, it is merely an expository rhetorical device used by the Buddha.
Even earthly desires themselves, the object to be rid of according to Nikāya Buddhism and the doctrine of the four noble truths, as in other Mahayana schools can be used for beneficial purposes to attain bodhi and awaken the Buddha nature present in every sentient being (衆生 shūjō) by attaining buddhahood:
"The true entity manifesting in all phenomena points to the two Buddhas Shakyamuni and Taho (sitting together in the Precious Tower). Taho represents all phenomena and Shakyamuni represents reality. The two Buddhas also indicate the two principles of object (kyo) and subject (chi) or reality (objective) and wisdom (subjective).
Buddha Taho represents the object and Shakyamuni the subject. Although they are two, they merge into one in Enlightenment. This is the most important teaching. It is the teaching that "earthly desires are Enlightenment" and "the sufferings of life and death are nirvana."
If one recites Nam-myoho-renge-kyo during sexual intercourse between man and woman, earthly desires turn into Enlightenment and birth and death sufferings into nirvana. Sufferings become nirvana when it is understood that the entity of human life is neither generated nor destroyed in its cycle of birth and death.
The Fugen sutra states, "Even without nullifying earthly desires or eliminating the five desires, one can purify all the senses and eradicate all guilt." In the Maka shikan it is stated that "illusions and earthly desires are Enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana."
In the Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra we read, "This is my constant thought: how can I bring all living beings into the highest Way so that they quickly attain Buddhahood." And the Hoben chapter states, "All phenomena are manifestations of the Law and are eternal." The entity of all phenomena is nothing but Nam-myoho-renge-kyo."
(Nichiren Daishonin, The Original Law of Myoho-renge-kyo)
This teaching is summarized by the phrase "earthly desires are enlightenment," in Japanese bonno soku bodai, whereby, through daimoku-putting the goal in the here and now as in Zen and Tendai-desires and delusions (seen with negative connotation in Hīnayāna Buddhism derived from Indian culture) become hoben, skillful means and expedients used by the Buddha to teach all beings to attain enlightenment in less time, Mahayana style and as stated in the Lotus Sutra.
Morally, like other Buddhists, the Nichiren are opposed to abortion, although the Soka Gakkai allows freedom of conscience; the Soka Gakkai is opposed to the death penalty and in favor of a free choice of suicide and euthanasia in cases of serious illness, and the rights of homosexuals;
today's recommended sexual morality for the laity does not condemn non-procreative and extramarital sex but expresses preference for monogamy and fidelity against promiscuous sexuality, promotes respect for women, reiterates the prohibitions of traditional Buddhist precepts (incest, rape, zoophilia), and affirms absolute sincerity in the relationship.
However, Nichiren's teaching is considered by some to be revolutionary and "progressive," as he was the first Japanese thinker to declare that women could attain full enlightenment, and the equal social dignity of women practitioners, which had been debated for centuries in Buddhism (in Japan, women were traditionally held instead to obedience to fathers, husbands, and eldest sons).
The Soka Gakkai reports that Nichiren ascribed the title of Shonin (saint) to several of his female disciples.
Not all desires are positive: negative desires, hindrances and impulses that instead distract from practice are instead named after the demons of the Buddhist tradition, seen by some as spiritual entities by others as symbols of the meditator's fragility (they are also present in the gohonzon as they submit to the Buddha Shakyamuni, some even becoming his followers and vowing in the Lotus Sutra to protect the sutra itself and the Buddha's worshippers, likewise the traitor Devadatta is present);
Nichiren states that the "demon of the sixth heaven" (Tenji-ma, or Māra, the god who tried to divert the Buddha from awakening) is their leader: "When practice progresses and knowledge increases, the three obstacles and the four demons emerge, vying to interfere.
You must not be influenced or frightened by them. If you are swayed, you will be drawn into the bad paths. If you are frightened, you will be prevented from practicing true Buddhism when you meet someone who has turned his heart to good, he tries to hinder you.
The fundamental darkness manifests itself as King Demon of the Sixth Heaven." Metaphorically, it is represented as a king with ten armies, and symbolizes negative thoughts and actions, excesses, contempt, the desire to dominate others, excessive attachment to pleasure, the desire to accumulate wealth, persecution, and the three poisons of the mind (ignorance, greed, and hatred/rage).
The four demons are depictions of hindrances: hindrance due to the five aggregates; hindrance due to delusions and desires; hindrance of death, as one's own untimely death prevents practice, or the death of another practitioner causes doubt in the practitioner; the hindrance of the demon king of the sixth heaven.
"The Daishonin states that the demon king of the sixth heaven attacks the forces of goodness with his "ten armies," listed in the Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom: greed; discouragement; hunger and thirst; love of pleasures; drowsiness and apathy; fear; doubt and regret; anger; lust for fame and wealth; arrogance and contempt for others. These are all demonic functions that arise from our inner selves."
(Daisaku Ikeda, Commentary on the gosho "The Great Battle")
The most fearsome manifestation of the latter impediment, however, is represented and personified by persecution by authorities, family members or others, who become enemies of the devotee.
By the three powerful enemies, Nichiren means precisely three types of human beings who persecute through ignorance or self-interested motives those who propagate the Lotus Sutra, as described in the sutra itself and grouped into:
lay people who are ignorant of true Buddhism and speak ill of the devotees of the Lotus Sutra, attacking them with swords and sticks; arrogant and cunning priests who slander devotees; respected priests who, for fear of losing power, induce the authorities to persecute devotees, as the Buddha was persecuted and opposed even in his previous lives by numerous religious people (Chapter XX of the Lotus Sutra);
but as his persecutors were punished with karmic retribution, the Buddha and Nichiren predict that persecutors of future followers of the sutra will also suffer the same fate.
Finally, with the expression hendoku iyaku ("turning poisons into medicine," taken from Nāgārjuna) Nichiren indicates the transformation of negative experiences into positive ones.
The denominations and the various schools
There are 46 school denominations that refer to Nichiren's teaching; below is a list of a few, the temple (or headquarters) of reference in parentheses:
Hokkenichirenshu (Horyu-ji) Nipponzanmyohoji (Nipponzan myoho-ji) Shobohokkeshu (Daikyo-ji) Soka Gakkai (Tokyo), secular school that separated from Nichiren Shoshu with the 1991 schism
The Nichiren Shu places Nichiren in a high position as the messenger of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha or original, but does not consider him more important than Shakyamuni. The original Buddha occupies the central role in the Nichiren Shu.
Nichiren - referred to as Nichiren Daishonin ("Nichiren Great Teacher"), is the prophet who refocused attention on Shakyamuni so much so that he rebuked other Buddhist schools for emphasizing other Buddhas or esoteric practices or neglecting the Lotus Sutra.
The Lotus Sutra is fundamental in study and practice, and Nichiren's writings, the so-called Gosho (御书) or Goibun (御遗文) are seen as commentaries or guides to the doctrines of Buddhism. They include Nichiren's five major writings in which he establishes doctrine, beliefs and practice, as well as in many other pastoral letters written to his followers.
Nichiren wrote often, and readers can verify or correct their understanding of Nichiren's doctrines of Buddhism through his surviving works. Unlike the Nichiren Shoshu, the Nichiren Shu is much more selective about which Gosho to consider authentic.
Many Gosho that are accepted by the Nichiren Shoshu are not accepted as authentic by the Nichiren Shu because scholars have not been able to guarantee their authenticity.
This does not mean that these Gosho or the alleged oral transmissions (such as the Kuden Ongi) are rejected, but it does mean that they are seen as secondary to the authenticated materials, and it is pointed out that while they may have pastoral value, they cannot be definitively held to be Nichiren teaching.
From the original Nichiren-shu, practicing the original doctrinal teachings, split off the other various schools, which in turn believed they were practicing the true teaching of Nichiren.
At the main temple on Mount Minobu is Nichiren's tomb, where his ashes are kept, considered a sacred place by the faithful.
Nichiren Shō School (日蓮正宗, Nichiren Shōshū)
The first division within the schools of Nichiren Buddhism arose a few years after the founder's death. Before his death, Nichiren entrusted six of his senior disciples with the task of organizing the spread of his doctrine and the care of the Kuon-ji (久遠寺) temple he founded on Mount Minobu in Kai Province.
Japan's political and military turmoil at the end of the 13th century did not allow the constant and simultaneous presence in the Kuon-ji temple by these six disciples-Nikkō (日興, 1246-1333), Nikō (日向1253-1314), Nichirō (日朗, 1245-1320), Nisshō (日昭, 1221-1323), Nichiji (日持, 1250-? ) and Nitchō (日頂, 1252-1317).
Thus Nikkō, managing instead to ensure a constant presence in the Kuon-ji monastery held the position of abbot from 1285. After a few years he was joined by Nikō, who got to be in charge of the training of monks, until he had a bitter doctrinal clash with him concerning the conduct of a prominent lay devotee of the school, Hakiri Sanenaga (波木井実長, 1222-97), lord of the southern part of what is now Kai province, where the Kuon-ji monastery was located.
Sanenaga had in fact paid homage to the Kami (神, the Shinto gods) by violating, according to Nikkō but not Nikō, the teaching of Master Nichiren.
Having lost control of Kuon-ji Monastery in 1289, Nikkō moved to another monastery, Taiseki-ji (大石寺), located in the foothills of Fuji, taking with him the Dai Gohonzon (禦 本尊), a wooden board on which, on October 12, 1279, Nichiren had carved a mandala representing the Dharma, the universe and the life therein.
This doctrinal separation is the focus of the two main Nichiren scholastic branches: the Nichiren-shū, which refers to Nikō, and the Nichiren Shōshū, which instead refers to Nikkō.
The role assigned to the figure of Nichiren by the Nichiren Shōshū is that of the Buddha of the last day of the Law, as stipulated in the Juryō (壽量品 Duration of the Buddha's Life) XVI chapter of the Lotus Sutra, and thus he is in fact worshipped in place of the Buddha Śākyamuni.
The attitude toward other religious faiths and other Buddhist denominations is far more rigid than Nichiren-shū, which continues instead in the veneration of Buddha Śākyamuni and is decidedly more tolerant and open toward other Buddhist schools.
And it is precisely the relationship with other Buddhist schools and the role to be assigned to its founder Nichiren that is the dividing line of all subsequent scholastic separations within Nichiren Buddhism.
The main lay associations
"Association for the Support of the Nation" founded in 1879 by Tanaka Chigaku (田中智學, 1861-1939), a monk of the Nichiren school who renounced his vows to found it.
Tanaka was convinced that Nichiren Buddhism in severe crisis towards the end of the 19th century needed a push from outside the monastic institutions and decided to turn to the laity, gaining great support, which, however, waned at the end of World War I.
In 1922 Tanaka obtained from the imperial government the posthumous title of Risshō Daishi conferred on Nichiren.
Reiyūkai (霊友会) "Association of Spiritual Friends" founded in 1925 by Kotani Kimi (小谷喜美, 1901-1971) a lay devotee of Nichiren Buddhism with shamanic powers and her brother-in-law Kubo Kakutarō (久保角太郎, 1890-1944). The Reiyūkai practices daimoku but claims to worship only the Gohonzon. It celebrates ancestor worship, divination rites and healing practices
"Moreover, the Reiyūkai, with its emphasis on ancestor worship, divination and healing practices is representative of a more spiritualist trend within the Nichiren school."
(Murano Senchu. Reiyūkai, in Encyclopedia of Religions vol.10. Milan, Jaca Book, 2006, p.441)
Also "In addition to the usual Nichiren emphases, Reiyūkai stresses the importance of ancestor worship, features quasi-shamanistic faith-healing practices, and has developed an influential kind of group counseling called hoza (dharma circle)."
(Robert S. Ellwood (1987) and Shimazono Susumu (2005). New Religious Movements in Japan, in Encyclopedia of Religion vol.10. NY, Macmillan, 2006, p. 6574) . It has a strongly spiritualist tendency.
Risshō Kōsei Kai (立正佼成会) Important lay organization founded in 1938 by Niwano Nikkyō (庭野日敬, 1906-1999) and his disciple Naganuma Myokō (長沼妙佼, 1889-1957).
It is the most successful movement born out of a split from the Reiyūkai. Argues that the sole subject of veneration should be the Shakyamuni Buddha while the Gohonzon should be revered but not worshipped.
It combines the study of sutras with moral edification practices of its members, who gather in personal growth sessions (法座, jap. hōza, cin. fǎzuò, from Sanskrit dharmâsana, a place where Dharma is discussed).
With its approximately six million followers and 239 practice sites in Japan, Risshō Kōsei Kai stands as the second largest lay association after the Sōka Gakkai. Outside Japan it presents seven practice centers and is in partnership with the Catholic Church, sharing important common initiatives with the Focolare Movement founded by Chiara Lubich.
The Risshō Kōsei Kai is actively engaged in interreligious dialogue and its former president, Nikkyō Niwano (庭野日敬, 1906 - 1999), was among the founders of the World Conference Religions for Peace (WCRP).
Sōka Gakkai (創価学会) and Soka Gakkai International (SGI)
It is the most widespread and controversial lay Buddhist association of the Nichiren school. It was founded by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi (牧口常三郎, 1871-1944) and Jōsei Toda (戸田城聖, 1900-1958) in 1930 under the name Sōka kyōiku gakkai (創価教育学会, Pedagogical Association for Value Creation).
Makiguchi worked as an educator, and his initial aim was to promote new pedagogical models based on individual responsibility and pragmatism for the purpose of realizing one's potential in both the spiritual and material realms.
He soon became a follower of the Nichiren Shōshū school and felt that he could apply his pedagogical beliefs to the religious doctrines advocated by this school. Hostile to Japanese militarism, Shintoism, and emperor worship, Makiguchi was arrested in 1943 for refusing to comply with a law requiring Japanese citizens to keep in their homes Shinto symbols of good luck for the nation.
He died in prison in 1944. After Makiguchi's death, Tōda, who became president in 1950, relaunched the association, changing its name to Sōka gakkai (創価学会, Values Development Association).
After Tōda's death, who was able to witness directly the great spread throughout the Japanese archipelago of the association he founded, Daisaku Ikeda became president in 1960, who in 1975 founded the international Sōka Gakkai in order to carry out missionary activity throughout the world, an activity that has garnered about one million non-Japanese followers.
In November 1991, concerned about the growing modernism and Westernism (as well as in dispute over doctrinal and worship issues) of the Soka Gakkai, the Nichiren Shōshū openly condemned the association, excommunicating all its members.
Doctrinally, however, the Sōka Gakkai deviates little from the doctrines propagated by the Nichiren shōshū.
In the religious practice of this association, Nichiren according to some has in fact replaced the Buddha Śākyamuni (who is also a pivotal figure), this is because the founder of Nichiren Buddhism is identified, as in other Nichiren Shōshū-derived denominations of Buddhism, with the Buddha of the Last Day of the Law, proclaimed in the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra by the Buddha Śākyamuni.
Like other followers of the Lotus Sutra, they see all Buddhas as manifestations of the eternal Buddha.
The Sōka Gakkai venerates the Gohonzon and practices the recitation and veneration of the title of the Lotus Sutra (Daimoku) and the practice of Gongyō.
Dissemination outside Japan
About 21 million Nichiren Buddhists live outside Japan (35 million live in the Land of the Rising Sun, 27 belong to the traditional schools, 8 to the Soka Gakkai), and a large proportion are Western converts, the rest Japanese immigrants, or Chinese, Taiwanese and others.
4 million belong to the Soka Gakkai (which has 12 million members in all). In the United States it was calculated in one of the censuses that there were more than 215,300, of whom 7 percent were affiliated with Nichiren-shu, 8 percent with Nichiren Shoshu, and 20 percent with the Soka Gakkai;
about 45 percent of the total are former Soka Gakkai members who are still practicing or have stopped practicing while maintaining Nichiren Buddhist beliefs;
15 % practice outside the main organizations, 1 % adhere to minor Nichiren schools, and 4 % practice Nichiren Buddhism along with other Buddhist practices from other schools (Vipassana from Theravada, Zazen from Zen, etc. ). In Italy, the Soka Gakkai has about 70,000 adherents, roughly half of all Italian Buddhists.
The main holidays of the schools of Nichiren Buddhism are as follows. For the Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai:
February 16: Nichiren's birth; March 16: day of kosen rufu; April 28: Proclamation of Nam Myo Ho Renghe Kyo. May 12, August 27, September 12 and November 11: days of remembrance of persecution;
Oct. 12: inscription of the Dai Gohonzon October 13: anniversary of Nichiren's death. For Nichiren-shū:
January 1: O-Shogatsu (Japanese New Year's Day). Feb. 3: Setsubun day (auspicious prayer) Feb. 15: Nirvana day (anniversary of Buddha Shakyamuni's death) Feb. 16: birth of Nichiren March 21 and September 21: Higan festival of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes
April 8: Hanamatsuri (birth of Shakyamuni Buddha) April 28: Rikkyo Kaishu-e (proclamation of the odaimoku Namu Myoho Renge Kyo) May 12, August 27, September 12, October 10 and November 11: Nichiren persecution remembrance days;
July 13 to 15 or mid-August: Urabon/Obon (festival of ancestors and the dead) Oct. 13: Oeshiki (anniversary of Nichiren's death) Dec. 8: Rohatsu (Bodhi or Jodo-e day, anniversary of the abandonment of worldly life and also of Shakyamuni's enlightenment seven years later)