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The Japanese Buddhist Schools and Teaching

Nichiren School

Jap., lit. "School of the Lotus of the Sun". This school is also called New Lotus school, named after its founder Nichiren (1222-1282). Its teaching is based on that of the Lotus Sutra, the title of which alone, according to Nichiren, contains the essence of the Buddhist teachings. The practice advocated by Nichiren consists in reciting the formula, "Veneration to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law" (Jap., Namu myoho renge-kyo). If this formula of veneration is recited with complete devotion, through it buddhahood can be realized in an instant.

The Nichiren school exhibits strong nationalistic tendencies; it envisions an earthly Buddha realm, which, with Japan as its centerpoint, will embrace the whole world. It stresses the sociopo-litical responsibilities of religion.

In the twentieth century, from the original school of Nichiren a number of new schools developed. The Nichiren-shoshu ("True School of Nichiren") draws its doctrine from Nikko, a student of Nichiren's, and venerates Nichiren as "the buddha of the final time." Also, modern Japanese folk religions like Rissho Koseikai, Soka Gakkai, and Nipponzan Myohoji are based on the Nichiren school.

The Nichiren school venerates "three great mysteries" The first, devised by Nichiren himself, is the mandala (go-honzon) preserved on Mount Minobu, said to synthesize the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. In the center of the mandala is the pagoda that is the symbol of the truth of the Buddha (tathagata) in the Lotus Sutra. The pagoda represents the five characters of the title of the Lotus Sutra. Around the "great title" (daimoku) the names of bodhisattvas and other beings are arranged in concentric circles. The second mystery is the daimoku, the title of the sutra itself it is the formula of veneration that embodies the essence of the "lotus teaching". The recitation of this formula brings about a purification of body, speech, and mind and takes the place of the refuge (trisharana) in traditional Buddhism. The third mystery is the kaidan, a kind of sacred platform that originally served for the ordination of monks but was given a symbolic role by Nichiren-Japan itself is seen as the kaidan. This became the central idea of chauvinistic Nichirenism.

(excerpted from "The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion", Shambhala, Boston)


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