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The Lineage of Nichiren Buddhism

This page is intended to give an overview of the lineage and the branches of Nichiren Buddhism as our lineage is not well known outside Japan. This page will hopefully shed some light on one of the largest lineages of Japanese Buddhism and some of its branches. This page is not meant as a critique of any of the branches of our lineage even though some points of difference will be looked at. It is also not a complete study, by know means, of the history of Nichiren Buddhism. If you would like to study further, please see the references and links to other material contained within the page.

There are over thirty branches in the Nichiren Lineage of Buddhism. Many of these branches are small and may only be in one area or Temple in Japan. The majority of the branches have not left Japan, so only a few have crossed the ocean to the US, Europe or other parts of the world. Most of the branches which have ventured outside Japan, first came to foreign shores through Japanese immigrants. Even though Nichiren Buddhism came to America over a hundred years ago, it is not as well known as other branches of Buddhism such as Zen or Tibetan because of its ethnic ties. The branches of Nichiren Buddhism which came to America are, Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu, Kempon Hokke Shu, Nipponzan Myohoji, Hommon Butsuryu Shu. A few lay organizations also have come to America, including Soka Gakkai, Rissho Kosei Kai and Reiyukai. To understand why and how these branches were born, we must start with a little history.

History

Nichiren Shonin (1222 - 1282) was originally a Tendai monk in the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) of Japan. The Tendai school goes back in history to Chih-i (538 - 597) its founder in China. Chih-i would take the Mahayana Buddhist Canon in China and catorgorize it in a way that is still used today in Mahayana Buddhism. The great master, Chih-i's teaching would influence many schools of Buddhism including Jodo, Zen and Nichiren. The Kamakura period was filled with many atrocities, such as famine, war, class struggle and unstable suppressive government. It was believed by the academic Buddhist community of the Kamakura period that they were entering a time of decline in the Dharma called Mappo. This would influence many teachers as times had become more difficult and enlightenment seemed even more difficult if not impossilbe to acheive in such an age. Looking at the situation of his time Nichiren Shonin wished to help alleviate the suffering of his parents and the people. To this aim, he studied hard and learned everything he could about Buddhist doctrine. He had seen corruption within Buddhism of his time and even in his own lineage of Tendai Buddhism. He set out to reform the Tendai lineage and the Nichiren lineage was born on April 28, 1253.

Of course, we can not go into detail of Nichiren Shonin's life and teachings here, but we can talk about a few of the practices and beliefs of the Nichiren Lineage. Nichiren Shonin taught the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching of the Buddha. Nichiren Buddhists revere the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, revealed in Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra as our teacher and guide. The Lotus Sutra is the center of Nichiren Buddhist practice and all of our practices are based upon it. Nichiren Shonin would prescribe the chanting of the Odaimoku (Namu Myo-ho Renge Kyo) or sacred title as the main practice of his lineage. He would also prescribe chanting chapters of the Lotus Sutra as secondary practice. Through our practice we can elevate our own innate Buddha Nature that all living beings posses. We can touch Buddhahood and eventually become Buddhas in our present lives. As we practice for ourselves and others we follow Nichiren Shonin as Bodhisattvas of the earth, spreading this teaching to all beings to relieve suffering and reveal the Buddha Land here on earth. The Lotus Sutra prescribes two styles for spreading of the Dharma: "Shakabuku" which literally means to break and subdue which is the more aggressive form, the form of debate and "Shoju" to lead by example which is the more passive form. As Nichiren taught that we are in Mappo (the Declining Age of the Dharma), he looked at the situation of his time and the people and prescribed Shakabuku on a whole as the way to teach and spread. Some lineages of Nichiren Buddhism still use this aggressive form while others seeing the changes in the world and its peoples have opted for Shoju on a whole during this current time period.

Before Nichiren Shonin passed away in 1282, he designated six senior disciples as was the custom of his time. The senior disciples in strong faith wanted to look after Nichiren Shonin's mausoleum after his death. They set up a system for taking turns at Mt. Minobu were Nichiren Shonin's ashes were interred per his wishes. Of course because of political situations and travel distance it soon became apparent that this was not to be an easy task. Different disciples ended up far from their brothers and sisters and set out unintentionally creating branches of the Nichiren lineage. Alone, they would interpret what the Buddha and Nichiren Shonin had taught. Even though they were alone, the doctrine stayed relatively similar. This is still true today and most branches of Nichiren Buddhism get along and can agree on the majority of their doctrine. Some groups doctrine changed radically through the years though. These groups took on new doctrine, created by priests and lay members of their lineages.

After the first generation of Nichiren Buddhist, five major branches (school) and several Independent Temples would appear. The five major branches are listed below:

School or Lineage
Founder
Area (map below)
Minobu
Niko
Mt. Minobu
Fuji
Nikko
Omosu
Hama
Nissho
Kyoto
Ikegami
Nichiro
Tokyo
Nakayama
Nichijo (Toki Jonin)
Chiba

The pink areas on the map represent mountain ranges. Much of Japan is hills or mountains. Mt. Minobu sits across the Fuji river valley from the famous Mt. Fuji (Fuji San). It takes half a day to travel in modern times from Tokyo to Mt. Minobu. Imagine the trip when the only transportation was on foot and sometimes if you were lucky on horseback.



japanmap



Even though a very colorful history follows each of these schools, at this point we will concentrate a little more on the major branches which came to America.

The first missionary in the Nichiren lineage is Nichiji Shonin. Nichiji, one of the six senior disciples of Nichiren Shonin, would leave Japan following Nichiren Shonin's directive to spread the Dharma around the world. He traveled to northern Japan and crossed into China. As he traveled through Japan he established many new Temples in the Northern area. We know very little about him after he leaves Japan, even though recently more information has come to the surface as to his missionary work in China. In many overseas Temples we say a prayer to Nichiji Shonin to honor all the missionaries who have traveled around the world to spread the Dharma.

NICHIREN LINEAGES IN AMERICA

monNichiren Shu:

Today's Nichiren Shu (Nichiren order) is a confederation of four of the original schools (Minobu, Hama, Ikegami, Nakayama) and part of the fifth (Fuji). This excludes one of the Fuji schools of Nikko, some of the other smaller Hokke schools and also some of the schools which arose after world war II. Its head Temple is Kuon Ji on Mt. Minobu founded by Nichiren Shonin. Its administrative headquarters is at Honmon Ji in Ikegami (Tokyo). It is sometimes considered liberal in that it gives its Temples considerable autonomy in governing themselves. Nichiren Shu promotes academic freedom and runs Rissho University were many Buddhist ministers receive there education. In 1972 Nichiren Shu introduced the Shingyo Hikkei (members handbook) to help standardize the way different Temples handle liturgy which up to that point was different for each Temple. To this day differences in the style of liturgy can still be seen from Temple to Temple.

With the guidance of Nichiren Shu's Founder Nichiren Shonin, the Nichiren Shu follow the teachings of the Eternal Buddha Shakamuni as shown in the Lotus Sutra. The Nichiren Shu hold these teachings to be the complete teachings of the Buddha. The main practice of Nichiren Shu is the reciting of Odaimoku (Sacred Title), Na-Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo. A number of secondary practices also exist in Nichiren Shu. The Nichiren Shu belongs to the "Nichiren Association" along with other branches such as Kempon Hokke and Nipponzan Myoho Ji. The Nichiren Shu runs and supports hospices, schools in India, world relief organizations and works in many different areas to support world peace and better understanding between cultures.

Nichiren Order of North America is the organization of the Nichiren Shu Temples and Sanghas in North America. Nichiren Shu came to North America in the early 1900's with Japanese immigrants. The LA California Temple was established in may of 1914 quickly followed by the Seattle Washington Temple. A listing of Nichiren Shu Temples and Sanghas in America can be found here on this website. Nichiren Shu Temples offer classes in Basic Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths and the six Paramitas to advanced study in the Lotus Sutra. To learn more about the Nichiren Shu please see the Nichiren Buddhist International Centers website. You can also learn more from the book "Awakening to the Lotus", a guide to history, teachings and practices of Nichiren Shu, also available at the Nichiren Buddhist International Centers web site.

Nichiren Buddhist International website

Nichiren Shu webpage in Japan (in Japanese)

Rissho University webpage

The image above is the crest (mon) of Nichiren Shu. It comes from the family crest of Nichiren Shonin. It is known as the Tachibana or Mandarin Orange Flower.

shoshuNichiren Shoshu:

Nichiren Shoshu is the first of the Fuji schools founded by Nikko. Nikko left Mt. Minobu after having several disagreements with Lord Hakkii, the Lord of the area. He would later leave his newly found Temple in Omosu and found another called Honmon Ji in Kitayama, were he passed away. His mausoleum is at Honmon Ji not even a mile away from the first Temple he founded. The head temple of Nichiren Shoshu and first Temple founded by Nikko is Taiseki Ji located in Omosu near Mt. Fuji. Nichiren Shoshu remained a relatively small lineage until the creation of the Sokka Gakkai (Value Creation Education Society) in 1928. The Soka Gakkai was a lay organization attached to Nichiren Shoshu. Through the use of aggressive proselytizing (Shakabuku) Soka Gakkai would expand Nichiren Shoshu all over the world. Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai separated in the late 90's.

The doctrines of Taiseki Ji would be similar to other Nichiren Buddhist lineages until the 1400's when new doctrine would be introduced to their order. The doctrine of Nichiren Shonin as the original Buddha and Shakamuni as a historical figure appeared during this period. This is now one of the several major doctrinal differences between Nichiren Shoshu and all other Nichiren Schools. Another later doctrine is the superiority of their doctrine over all others. This doctrine limits them greatly from participating in interfaith ministries even with other Nichiren Buddhist and also caused the break of Nichiren Shoshu with the other Nikko founded schools of Nichiren Buddhism which they had been associated with previously. To explain in more detail the differences of Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai, a pdf document containing an article originally written by Rev. Tarabini of the Milan Italy Nichiren Shu Temple can be downloaded here.

A link to their web page: Nichiren Shoshu.

The image above this entry is the crest (mon) of Nichiren Shoshu.

sgiSoka Gakkai:

Most well known of the Nichiren Schools in America. Once a large lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu, because of disagreements between the two organizations, they split in the late 90's. Reasons for the break up are as simple as power struggles between the priesthood and lay leaders of the Soka Gakkai. An example of these disagreements is the issue of community centers being built, without ministers, in the hundreds and very few Temples being built.

Some of Soka Gakkai's members unfortunately can be very negative and aggressive about Nichiren Shoshu or other Nichiren based groups in chat rooms. This can cause others to want to stay distant from the organization or judge them harshly, but this is not necessarily the position of the group as a whole or their doctrine. The Soka Gakkai does have a Buddhist practice based in the Lotus Sutra and has introduced the Dharma to many people around the world.

Founded in 1928 by a school teacher, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. This organization would take Nichiren Shoshu to a new high with its aggressive form of proselytizing, support of world peace , Human Revolution and by appealing to Western materialism in the form of chanting for material things. Nichiren Shoshu would go from being a small branch to one of the larger branches of Nichiren Buddhism because of Soka Gakkai. Their doctrine follows Nichiren Shoshu doctrine, as this was their main source and the teachings of Daisaku Ikeda, their current president and leader. See Nichiren Shoshu and the pdf linked article above for more information.

The image above this entry is the crest of Sokka Gakkai. It represents the Lotus Flower.

taikoNipponzan Myoho Ji:

A relatively new organization of Nichiren Buddhism, their founder Nichidatsu Fuji passed away in 1985 just before his one hundredth birthday. This organization is dedicated to spreading world peace, disarmament of nuclear weapons, the stop of creating stock loads of Biological weapons and the stopping of war in any form. It is known for its peace marches, protests and peace pagodas around the world. Several of the Peace Pagodas exist within the US including the Leverett Peace Pagoda in Massachusetts, the Grafton Peace Pagoda in upstate New York and the Great Smoky Mountain Peace Pagoda in Georgia. Please visit this link to learn more about their organization. The image above this entry is a hand taiko (drum). The Nipponzan Myoho Ji use hand drums while chanting during their peace marches. Many of the other branches of Nichiren Buddhism also use hand drums while chanting. The Nipponzan Myoho Ji belongs to the "Nichiren Association" along with other branches such as Kempon Hokke and Nichiren Shu.

Kempon Hokke Shu:

Founded by Nichiju who left the order of Nakayama in 1384. He founded Myoman Ji in 1389 which is the head Temple of that order. The Kempon Hokke is new to overseas propagation. Kempon Hokke is present in America as a result of the spiritual search of ex-Soka Gakkai members. The Kempon Hokke belongs to the "Nichiren Association" along with other branches such as Nichiren Shu and Nipponzan Myoho Ji.

Independant Movements:

Ex-Soka Gakkai members have started several independant Nichiren Movements within the US. As the disagreements between Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai got heated, many of the followers became disillusioned. Many members of Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai had no knowledge of other Nichiren schools at that time, so they left their lineages and created independant Sanghas. These movements usually have no ties to traditional or new Nichiren Branches.

Other Groups:

Most of the other groups who have come from Japan in the Nichiren lineage are small here in the West. Some of them do not consider themselves Nichiren lineage anymore even though they trace back their beginnings to Nichiren Buddhism. I have included them here since they all have a practice of chanting the Odaimoku, "Na-mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo". Most of them come from the newer groups of Nichiren Buddhism being founded in the 19th century or more recently. These newer branches of Nichiren Buddhism include (Links here are to web pages of these organizations):

hbsHommon Butsuryu Shu

Reiyukai

Rissho Kosei Kai

More Information

Unfortunately the book "Fire in the Lotus" by Daniel B. Montgomery is out of print, but if you can find a copy you will see a very well done history of Nichiren Buddhism from its birth into modern times. Hopefully in the near future one of the many books in Japanese on the history of Nichiren Buddhism will be translated and published in English. For now most of the history is passed down from small articles and teacher to student in the oral tradition.

The differences of Nichiren Shu, Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai, a pdf document containing an article originally written by Rev. Tarabini of the Milan Italy Nichiren Shu Temple is available for download here. You will need a pdf reader, such as adobe acrobat reader to view this document.

Articles by Rev. Ryuei McCormick of the San Francisco Sangha.

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