Nichiren Shōshū

Nichiren Shōshū (English: Orthodox School of Nichiren, Kanji:日 蓮 正 宗) is a branch of Nichiren Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren (1222–1282), claiming him as its founder through his disciple and secretary Nikko Shonin (1246–1333), the founder of Head Temple Taiseki-ji, near Mount Fuji. Nichiren Shōshū has adherents around the world called Hokkeko. The Enichizan Myohoji Temple located in Los Angeles, California serves as the organization's headquarters within the United States.[citation needed]

The sect rejects interfaith and opposes the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha for the present day setting, classifying them as expired, temporal and useless, while upholding the religious teachings of its founder Nichiren as the exclusive permanent method for present day claim to what is termed True Buddhism (Japanese: 正 仏 教).[1][2] Its main object of worship is the Dai Gohonzon, and its logo is the round crane bird (Japanese: Tsuru-no-Maru). Both its leadership and adherents ascribe the honorific title to Nichiren, as the “Original True Buddha” (御 本 仏: “Go-Honbutsu”) and the Dai-Shonin (Great Teacher) while maintaining that the sole legitimate successor to both his ministry and legacy is Nikko Shonin alone and the successive high priests of Nichiren Shōshū, lead by the current High Priest of the sect, Hayase Myoe Ajari Nichinyo Shonin, who ascended to the position on 15 December 2005.[3]

Nichiren Shōshū is a Mahayana Buddhist sect. Its original name is Nichiren School (Shu) of the Fuji area, branch of Taisekiji Temple, indicating the general naming of sects at the time, though not united, and then divided in different localized traditions. After the Meiji restoration, it was given its own name, Nichiren Shoshu, in 1912. Its head temple Taiseki-ji, is located on the lower slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan. Taiseki-ji is visited regularly by Nichiren Shōshū believers from around the world who come to chant to the Dai Gohonzon, which they claimed was described by Nichiren as ”…the essence of my Buddhahood written in Sumi Ink.”[citation needed]

Unlike other Mahayana Buddhist practices, Nichiren expounded the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō as a way for anyone to obtain Enlightenment regardless of one's position in life, condition of circumstances, gender and occupational role as well as not necessarily waiting to be reincarnated into another future existence.[citation needed]

Nichiren Shōshū claims over 700 local temples and additional temple-like facilities (propagation centers) in Japan.[citation needed]. It also claims 24 overseas official designated temples[citation needed] and 678,000 registered members.[citation needed]

Nichiren Shōshū claims a direct lineage, called Yuijo Ichinen Kechimyaku Sojo, of successive High Priests from Nikko Shonin, who they believe was chosen by Nichiren to carry on the propagation of his Buddhist practice in the Latter Day of the Law, a unique aspect claimed among other Nichiren Buddhist sects.[citation needed] This direct transmission of the Law is set forth in the following Nichiren documents:[citation needed]

The current leader of the sect is the 68th High Priest, Nichinyo Shōnin (1935–).[citation needed] Nichiren Shōshū priests distinguish themselves from those of most other schools by wearing only white and grey vestment robes and a white surplice, as they believe Nichiren did. Since the Meiji period, Nichiren Shōshū priests, like other Japanese Buddhist sects, have been permitted to marry.[citation needed]

Lay believers belong to official congregations known as Hokkekō groups, designed to encourage solidarity among fellow members to study the Nichiren Shoshu doctrines and plan one's Tozan pilgrimage to the head temple in Japan. Most attend services at a local temple or in private homes when no temple is nearby. Services are usually officiated by a priest, but lay leaders sometimes fill in when no priest is available. When they gather, believers frequently study Nichiren Shōshū teachings, particularly the various writings of Nichiren, called Gosho. A leader in a local group or district is called Koto while a widely held position on a grander scale was once called So-Koto, now expired and no longer used. The present Dai-Koto leader of the Hokkeko Federation is Mr. Koichiro Hoshino.[citation needed]

The official symbol of Nichiren Shōshū is the crane bird (Tsuru). More specifically, the posture of the crane is in a circular position (Tsuru-no-Maru). Another symbol is the eight wheel of Noble Eightfold Path called Rimbo (Treasure Ring) used by all Buddhist sects, as well as the tortoise crest for Nikko Shonin, who is considered by the school to be the sole and legitimate successor to Nichiren. The Three Friends of Winter combination crest is also present in the temple altars, representing Nichimoku Shonin.[citation needed]

Buddhist Juzu prayer beads with white cords and balls, the only color and format permitted within Nichiren Shoshu practice.

Nichiren Shōshū doctrine extends Tendai's classification of the Buddhist sutras into five time periods and eight categories (五時八教: goji-hakkyō), its theory of 3,000 interpenetrating realms within a single life-moment (一 念 三 千: Ichinen Sanzen), and its view of the Three Truths (三 諦: Santai). In addition, the school holds that in revealing and propagating his teachings, Nichiren was fulfilling a prophecy made by the Shakyamuni Buddha; 563?–483? BC) in the 21st chapter of the Lotus Sutra which states the following:[citation needed]

Like the rays of the sun and the moon that dispel the darkness of phenomena, this person will practice in the world, dispel the darkness of all humanity and lead immeasurable numbers of bodhisattvas to finally attain the one vehicle.[citation needed]

According to the doctrinal beliefs of Nichiren Shoshu, Nichiren instituted the mastery three spiritual disciplines:

Ultimately, Nichiren Shoshu teaches that Nichiren revealed the Three Great Secret Laws:

Nichiren Shōshū teaches that personal enlightenment can be achieved in one's present form and lifetime (即身成仏 sokushin jōbutsu). Chanting Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō is central to their practice. Only by chanting Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō to the Gohonzon is a person believed to change, or expiate, bad karma and achieve enlightenment. In this process, the individual chooses to lead others to an enlightened state of being.[citation needed]

Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō is called the Daimoku (題目: "title"), since it comprises Nam and the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra, Myōhō-Renge-Kyō. It can be understood as a sort of invocation meaning "I submit myself (or "dedicate, commit my life") to the ." The believer's practice (gyōriki: power of practice) and faith (shinriki: power of faith) are believed to call forth the power of the Buddha (butsuriki) and the power of the Dharma (Law) inherent in the Gohonzon (hōriki). This practice and faith are thought to expiate the believer's "negative karma", and bring forth a higher life condition.[citation needed]

Mystic Law containing the Cause and Effect of the enlightenment of all Buddhas

The daily practice of Nichiren Shōshū believers consists of performing gongyō (chanting) twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. Gongyō entails chanting a portion of Chapter 2 (Expedient Means) and all of Chapter 16 (Life Span of the Thus Come One) of the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō to the Gohonzon, while focusing on the Chinese character 妙 [Japanese: myō] (Eng. Mystic; Wonderful), the second character of the Daimoku.[citation needed]

Morning gongyō consists of a series of five sutra recitations followed by silently recited, prescribed prayers. Evening gongyō encompasses only three sutra recitations and the second, third, and fifth of the same silent prayers. This practice, particularly when shared with others, is regarded as the "true cause" for attaining enlightenment. A traditional bell is used to announce prayers for the Buddhist protection gods of Shoten Zenjin as well as to announce the dead relatives prayed for during Gongyo services.[citation needed]

Early photograph that is purported to be the Dai-Gohonzon at Taiseki-ji, printed by historian Kumada Ijō's. From the 1913 book, Nichiren Shōnin, 8th edition, pp. 375.

The Dai Gohonzon (Formally: Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of Essential Teachings) is a calligraphic mandala inscribed with Sanskrit and Chinese characters on a plank of Japanese camphorwood and the supreme object of veneration for the Shōshū school. The Shōshū school claims that Nichiren inscribed it on 12 October 1279 (Japanese: Koan).[citation needed]

The religious importance of this item is that it proclaims the ninpō-ikka or "unity of the Person and the Buddhist Law" and the Dai Gohonzon is revered as the personification of Nichiren himself. Every Nichiren Shōshū temple and household possesses a gohonzon that is a transcription of the Dai Gohonzon.[citation needed]

The Dai Gohonzon is enshrined at the Hoando storage building within the Taiseki-ji Grand Main Temple complex grounds at the foot of Mount Fuji. The image was previously enshrined in the Shohondo modern-style building at exactly the same site, which was demolished in April 1998 due to claims of heresy by the Soka Gakkai, who funded its construction, replacing a more traditional style building.[citation needed] Accordingly, the temple priesthood will only expose the image for constant public veneration once Kosen-rufu is achieved, maintaining the beliefs of Nichiren Shōshū as the primal religion in the world. Unlike the other Gohonzons enshrined at the Head Temple, it is not enshrined with shikimi branches.

Transcriptions of the Dai Gohonzon, made by successive High Priests of Nichiren Shōshū, are called gohonzon (go, honorific prefix indicating respect).[citation needed] Most gohonzons in temples are wood tablets in which the inscription is carved; the tablets are coated with black urushi and have gilded characters.[citation needed] Gohonzons enshrined in temples and other similar facilities are personally inscribed by one of the successive High Priests.[citation needed]

Believers may make a request to receive a personal gohonzon to their local temple chief priest. These gohonzons are facsimiles printed on paper and presented as a small scroll, measuring approximately 7" x 15" inches. The local chief priest sends all requests to the Head Temple. As these requests are granted, gohonzons are then delivered to the recipient's local priest and he bestows them on the individual members. In this ritual, the recipient vows to sincerely believe in Nichiren's teachings and to practice and uphold the gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws.[citation needed]

For former members who have not been active, they are allowed to receive the Kankai or reaffirmation vows. Special Gokuyo or monetary offering is suggested depending on religious services such as the following:[citation needed]

Donation to a Nichiren Shōshū temple is regarded as a personal issue, and is therefore always contained in small white envelopes labeled Gokuyo with a checklist that labels the purpose of ones' donation. In addition, monetary donations from non-members are strongly prohibited.[citation needed]

The difference between a Nichiren Shōshū gohonzon granted to lay believers by the priesthood and all other types is that they are the only ones specifically sanctioned and issued by Nichiren Shōshū.[citation needed] The following gohonzons are issued if deemed worthy of the lay believer upon application:[citation needed]

Regardless of their type, all gohonzons issued by Nichiren Shōshū have been consecrated by one of the successive High Priests in a ceremony conducted in the Hoando building of Taisekiji temple.[citation needed] It is believed that this ceremony endows a gohonzon with the same enlightened property as the Dai Gohonzon, thus giving it the same power. Upon death, the gohonzon must be returned to a Nichiren Shōshū temple. Unauthorized reproduction or photography of the gohonzon is prohibited.[citation needed]

Regarding the Honzon scrolls used by Soka Gakkai, the temple requires that former SGI members return their Honzon back to their former organization before becoming a full–fledged member, since they deem the image a counterfeit copy that brings no auspicious benefits nor sanction from the high temple.[citation needed]

Juzu or Buddhist prayer beads may be used in various bead colors and material providing that they are in the 5 structure used by Nichiren Shōshū, while the cords and dangling pom-pom ornaments are strictly white in color.[citation needed] The long tasseled Juzu beads are reserved for priests, who use them to officiate special ritualized blessings which have also come to represent their primary role in priestly service. Juzu sold at the temple bookstore are automatically shipped every week from Tozan pilgrimages from Japan and have automatically received the eye-opening ceremony.[citation needed] Members who choose to purchase juzu outside of the temple may still use them providing that they have received the eye-opening ceremony performed by their local priest. The rubbing of juzu prayer beads is prohibited during both Gongyo and Shodai services.[citation needed]

No statues or other religious images are used or allowed in an altar of a Nichiren Shōshū believer, while photographs of relatives and friends are also discouraged from the main altar as they form possible distraction during Gongyo prayers.[citation needed] Instead, a Kakocho memorial booklet is granted to a member by the Nichiren Shōshū temple priest that is held by a paperweight, which is commonly inscribed with the names of living or deceased relatives being prayed for. Only a Nichiren Shōshū priest may inscribe names within the book, and members are required to provide both the anniversary death and birth to the temple for further remembrances.[citation needed]

Religious pilgrimages are referred to as Tozan, where a lay believer makes an offering for a "temple stay" which includes food, board and lodging for a number of days in the Taisekiji temple.[citation needed] A group Tozan pilgrimage is less costly than a personal pilgrimage, where the lay believer will shoulder all the cost. Members get to tour the Taisekiji temple grounds, and if permitting are able to witness the Dai Gohonzon or the various ceremonies carried throughout the calendar. Visitation, but not participation in services, of other Nichiren Shu historical temples is also permitted, especially for pious purposes in wanting to see historical artifacts related to Nichiren which are held by the Nichiren Shu sect.[citation needed]

Personal gohonzons are enshrined in a butsudan altar. Not all butsudan shrines are required to have doors, but a white cloth is required to cover an open butsudan if not being used. Home altars generally include a candle, a rin copper bell, incense, a vessel containing water and an offering of fresh evergreens and fruit, sometimes wine or cooked rice depending on special occasions. Food offerings are allowed to be consumed by lay believers. The most popular offerings left by lay believers in Nichiren Shōshū high altars are various fruits and sacks of rice.[citation needed]

The following groups, which had been associated with Nichiren Shoshu, were expelled in the years 1974 (Kenshokai), 1980 (Shoshinkai), and 1991 (Soka Gakkai).

In 1974, a lay group called Myōshinkō from the Myokoji Temple in Shinagawa ward in Tokyo was expelled by High Priest Nittatsu Hosoi from Nichiren Shōshū after holding a public protest against Soka Gakkai for claiming that the Shohondo building was the true and permanent national sanctuary of the Dai Gohonzon as mandated by Nichiren, even without the conversion of Emperor Showa.[4] The group was known for being brazen in confronting Soka Gakkai and being confrontational with the late Nittatsu Shonin, resulting in a lawsuit against him amidst public protest. They are known for reciting two Hiki-Daimoku and one regular, a developed practice that has unknown origins. The group is highly devoted to the Dai Gohonzon enshrined at Taisekiji even without the support or affiliation of Nichiren Shōshū.

The group later changed its name to Fuji Taisekiji Kenshōkai. Kenshōkai has been described as one of the fastest growing denominations of Buddhism in Japan.[5] The Kenshokai uses an enlarged, variant copy transcription of the Dai Gohonzon image from the year 1728 by Nichikan Shonin, the 26th Chief Priest of Head Temple Taisekiji. The image uses the exact same brown ornamental border used by Nichiren Shoshu.

In 1980, a group of Nichiren Shōshū priests and lay supporters called Shōshinkai (English: Correct Faith Group) were expelled from the Head Temple by 67th High Priest Nikken Shonin for questioning the legitimacy of the new head abbot Nikken and for criticising Soka Gakkai's influence on temple affairs.[citation needed] At the time, Soka Gakkai supported Nikken's claim to be the rightful successor of Nittatsu Hosoi as high priest. Shōshinkai continues to refer to itself as the true Nichiren Shōshū. Shōshinkai later founded a dissident association of Nichiren Shoshu priests seeking reformation and began transcribing their own creative version of the Gohonzon rather than taking a transcribed copy from one of the Nichiren Shōshū high priests. Most of them have aged or deceased, and their temples have since reverted back to Nichiren Shoshu administration after their death, having been replaced with younger priests affiliated with the Head Temple Taisekiji. Some of these older priests have also joined other Nichiren sects or made their own, such as the case in Taiwan. [6][7]

The former building of Dai-Kyakuden built by the Soka Gakkai, (English: Grand Reception Hall), built in 1 March 1959, expanded in the year 1964 and demolished in September 1995. Photo circa 19 August 1993.

Nichiren Shōshū excommunicated Soka Gakkai and Soka Gakkai International (SGI) on 28 November 1991.[8][9]

Soka Gakkai had emerged as a lay organization affiliated with one of the temples located in the Taiseki-ji land complex, founded by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who was converted by Sokei Mitani, the principal of Meijiro Kenshin Junior and Senior High School to Nichiren Shoshu on 4 June 1928.[10] The organization grew under second president Jōsei Toda, and continued to base its teachings on Nichiren Shōshū until the development of doctrinal conflicts with the third Soka Gakkai President, Daisaku Ikeda.

As early as 1956, such doctrinal conflicts simmered, evident by the alleged declaration of second president of Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda to the 65th High Priest Nichijun Shonin during the reconstruction of Myoden-ji Temple, claiming the organizational leadership no longer upheld Nichiren Shoshu doctrines.[11]

On 10 May 1974, the Vice-President of Soka Gakkai, Hiroshi Hojo, submitted a written report to Daisaku Ikeda proposing a schism with Nichiren Shōshū, using the example of Protestants and Roman Catholics as "differences".[citation needed] In response, High Priest Nittatsu Hosoi refused the proposal to create a board committee that would overlook temple affairs and its bookkeeping practices, while mentioning his gratitude for the construction of the Shohondo building. Furthermore, Nittatsu acknowledged the possibility of the split, and specifically threatened to place the Dai-Gohonzon back into the Nichiren Shōshū treasury building (御宝蔵: Gohōzō) where only a select few faithful would be able to venerate the image.[citation needed] The climax which ultimately led to the resignation of third president Daisaku Ikeda in 1979 from his post as Sokoto or lay leader went hand in hand with the formal excommunication by High Priest Nikken.[citation needed]

These and other conflicts resulted in a complete and formal disassociation of the two sides after Nichiren Shōshū excommunicated the leaders of the Sōka Gakkai and stripped it of its status as a lay organization of Nichiren Shōshū in 1991. Ultimately, Daisaku Ikeda was excommunicated from the role of Sokoto or lay leader by High Priest Nikken, while the formal decree of excommunication invalidated the tax exempt status of Soka Gakkai under Japanese law due to its lack of temple affiliation.

Further causes of conflict came when the temple priesthood began to notice the construction of Community Centers instead of funding construction of new Nichiren Shōshū temples. On 30 September 1997, Nichiren Shōshū finally excommunicated all remaining SGI members in order to preserve their doctrinal tenets from further dismantlement.[12][13]:69

The Shohondo building which previously housed the Dai Gohonzon was demolished and replaced by the traditional style Hoando on 14 June 1998.

Among other issues contested were whether laypersons can receive Buddhist offerings or Gokuyo, and the conducting of Urabon and Higan-E rituals by Soka Gakkai leaders without Nichiren Shoshu priests officiating the ceremonies. Most significant dispute which arose between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai were the several woodcarved gohonzons utilized by Ikeda in their own headquarters.[citation needed] Ikeda justified his decision to transcribe the gohonzons into wooden platforms due to the aging of the paper material of the original gohonzons, allegedly claiming that they were authorised by High Priest Nittatsu Shonin. The earliest gohonzon transcribed into wooden platform without permission was enshrined at the seventh floor of the Soka Gakkai building at Shinjuku, Tokyo in December 1973.[citation needed] In later years, the following gohonzons transcribed into wood platform were:[citation needed]

Upon the widespread discovery of the woodcarved platforms, Nittatsu denied giving permission to the reproductions, resulting in Soka Gakkai apologizing publicly and ultimately confiscated all the Gohonzons except for one Gohonzon transcribed by Nissho Shonin which the inscription dedicated for widespread propagation. Other issues of contention were the overtaking of the Higan and funeral ceremonies by Soka Gakkai leaders without the officiation of Nichiren Shoshu priests, culminated by the 35th anniversary speech of Daisaku Ikeda deemed highly vulgar to the dignity of the priesthood. Ultimately, the 67th High Priest Nikken Shonin expelled the Soka Gakkai and its senior leaders on 28 November 1991.

In September 1993, the Soka Gakkai officially manufactured its own version of the Honzon scroll for widespread Gohonzon distribution, citing the refusal of Nichiren Shoshu to grant the expelled organization any more Gohonzons from the head temple. The Jo-En-Ji Temple in Tochigi Prefecture, headed by Chief Priest Sendo Narita ultimately granted a woodblock copy of the gohonzon transcribed by the High Priest Nichikan Shonin. The recipient of this original Gohonzon, which reads " is removed, while its Sanskrit characters are stretched and splattered ink marks removed using modern technology. It was first publicly issued on 3 October 1993 and is composed of one single piece and is printed with peony and Fenghuang phoenix background.[15][citation needed]

"Daigyo Ajari Honshobo Nissho of Honmyozan Joenji in Ogusurimura, Shimotsuke Province

Accordingly, aside from the Gohonzon transcription of 26th High Priest Nichikan Shonin used for ordinary propagation, the last remaining Joju wooden Taisekiji Gohonzon is a transcription by 64th High Priest Setsu Mizutani Nissho Shonin which is enshrined in the Dai-Sei-Do Hall of Soka Gakkai in Shinanomachi area, Shinjuku, Tokyo, the main headquarters today of Soka Gakkai International.

Various modern changes continued to occur within the practices of Soka Gakkai, deemed to be unacceptable by Nichiren Shoshu, to which namely the following but are not limited to:

The Shohondo building (English: True Main Hall) of the Taiseki-ji temple, constructed in September 1972, and demolished in April 1998. Photo circa December 1979.

Criticisms of Nichiren Shoshu are published by its former lay organization, Soka Gakkai. In its dissenting group Soka Spirit that questions and opposes Nichiren Shoshu doctrines, Soka Gakkai rejects both the priestly authority of the High Priest of Taisekiji and the intermediary role of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood as relevant or necessary in practicing Buddhism for a contemporary age.[20]

Practitioners from Nichiren Shoshu of America, a predecessor of Soka Gakkai, cite the orthodox beliefs of Nichiren Shoshu that emphasise religious piety, and religious ceremonies that prohibit tolerance and encourage intense censorship of other religious cultures and values, including other Buddhist religions under an atmosphere of ultra-orthodoxy. Chief among these are the prohibitions of members to attend other religious venues, purchase Buddhist religious articles outside of the religious-affiliated stores, and the outright discarding of religious artworks that are not approved by Nichiren Shoshu. [21]

Most significant is the alleged monopoly of Nichiren Buddhism through the devotional Tozan pilgrimages to the Dai Gohonzon, alleging it to be a forgery, unsubstantiated by historical provenance, stolen and hostaged, or outright commercialized for either profit or exclusivity.[22][23]

The opinion of academic researchers such as American author Daniel Alfred Metraux,[24] claims the issue of doctrinal authority as the central point of the conflict:

“The (Nichiren Shoshu) priesthood claims that it is the sole custodian of religious authority and preservation of dogma, while the Soka Gakkai leadership claims that the scriptural writings of Nichiren, not the priesthood, represent the ultimate source of authority, and that any individual with deep faith in Nichiren's teachings can attain enlightenment without the assistance of a Nichiren Shōshū priest.”[25][26]