The Lotus Sutra
The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in Southern Nepal approximately 2500 years ago. Siddhartha was a prince, the son of the tribal leader of the Sakya Clan. He was married. He had one son, Rahula, and lived the life of a nobleman in his country. At the age of 29, having been educated and trained as a prince, Siddhartha left his family. He observed the unsatisfactory qualities of life and sought a solution to them. He decided to become a monk, and began ascetic practices. Studying under many teachers, Siddhartha mastered arduous yogic practices, starving himself and enduring the elements for many years. However, this still offered no release from the suffering and he realised that despite all he had learned he still had not gained what he had sought for so long.
Having abandoned the ascetic way (much to the dismay of his peers) he sat down under a Bo Tree near Uruvela and started meditating; vowing not to leave the spot until he attained enlightenment. During his meditation under the Bo tree, Mara the King of Illusion confronted the prince, trying desperately to dissuade the Buddha from what he had gained. Mara tempted the prince and threatened him, but the prince remained steadfast and refused to bow to the Devil King's illusions. Siddhartha achieved his goal and became the Buddha, the Awakened One.
After his enlightenment, the Buddha returned to the colleagues whom he had left as a monk. Realising that he had reached his goal they praised him and became his faithful students. Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shakya clan) began to explain to them what he had come to realise through his awakening and guided them through his teachings on their own paths to becoming Buddhas. He continued preaching the Dharma until his death. He was eighty years old.
The Lotus Sutra
The formal name of the Lotus Sutra is the Sutra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, and is composed of twenty eight chapters. Shakyamuni Buddha used many skilful ways to bring understanding to listeners according to their circumstances and sensitivities – as expounded in Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sutra various gates of the path to Buddhahood open for those who awaken devotion to the true Dharma.
The first fourteen chapters of the Lotus Sutra are referred to as the theoretical section and the remaining fourteen chapters are known as the essential section. The first half of the Lotus Sutra explains "Obtaining Buddhahood by Two Vehicles". The Two Vehicles are the ways of the sravaka and pratyekabuddha. These two types of practitioner were taught that they didn't possess the ability to attain Buddhahood in pre-Lotus sutras. They were taught this because they were arrogant, and believed that they had achieved the supreme already. However, in the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha reveals that with the way of the Bodhisattva, sravakas and pratyekabuddhas actually can attain Buddhahood. Furthermore, the Buddha also assures many monks, nuns, and lay people of their Buddhahood. -In chapter 12 of the Lotus Sutra, Devadatta, the cousin of the Buddha who tried more than once to kill the Buddha and take over the Sangha (community of believers) can attain enlightenment. Pre-Lotus sutras taught that Devadatta could never attain enlightenment. In the same chapter, the daughter of a Dragon King also achieves Buddhahood. It was believed that the only way women could obtain enlightenment was to reborn as men in their next lifetime. The Lotus Sutra reveals that women are also able to attain Buddhahood in their present lifetime. The Dragon King's daughter is not only a woman, but also non-human - showing that all living beings possess the ability to attain Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra teaches absolute equality among all living beings.
In Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Duration of the Life of the Tathagata" chapter a major revelation is made by the Buddha. Until that point, people believed that Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bo tree at Gaya, India. However, he reveals that he is the eternal Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remotest past. Shakyamuni Buddha has led all living beings in this world since, and will always lead all living beings. The Lotus Sutra explains that the Buddha had appeared in this world under various names in the past and entered into Nirvana (extinction) – Knowing that people would become lazy and sinful, thinking that they could be saved and protected by the Buddha all the time. This is the reason why Shakyamuni Buddha appears to enter into Nirvana. In order to awaken our hearts and have us realise the difficulty of meeting the Buddha. Chapter 16 closes with the Buddha saying “I am always thinking: How shall I cause all living beings to enter into the unsurpassed way and quickly become Buddha?" Shakyamuni Buddha himself vows with great compassion to save and lead all living beings all the time.
Nichiren Shonin (1222-1282), the founder of Nichiren Shu (the Nichiren School) was a Buddhist monk in 13th Century Japan. Nichiren Shonin sought to find the quintessence of the Buddha’s teachings. He was ordained at age 15, and studied greatly, travelling across Japan to read Buddhist scriptures, and learn from various teachers.
Having studied all the Buddhist schools in Japan at the time, Nichiren Shonin came to the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra was the teaching from the Buddha's highest teaching, or heart, and that by chanting the Odaimoku (Namu-myoho-renge-kyo or Devotion to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra) all people could attain enlightenment.
Throughout his life, Nichiren Shonin worked for the happiness of all people, and many of his writings survive to this day. They include letters of encouragement to followers and disciples of his, and also remonstrations with the government at that time. He was a truly great reformer of Buddhism, bringing many people to the Lotus Sutra.
To learn more about Nichiren Shonin's life and the Temples that exist in places of importance relating to his life, please visit our 2008 Pilgrimage Page.
Nichiren Shu is a confederation of lineages from Nichiren Shonin’s major disciples. The Head Temple of Nichiren Shu is Kuon-ji on Mt. Minobu, Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan; where Nichiren Shonin spent the last eight years of his life.
We believe that the Buddha is eternal as found in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, and that Buddhism is available and applicable to all people in any time period. We believe that Nichiren Shonin was the messenger of the Buddha who has guided us in cultivating our Buddha nature, a quality inherent in all beings.The path to true liberation and happiness is found and discovered through a deep level of faith in the Buddha’s message.
The primary practice of Nichiren Shu is chanting the Odaimoku (sacred title), Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The Odaimoku expresses the essence of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and by chanting it we can establish a way of life consonant with the eternal truths preached by the Buddha. We are able to enter into complete enlightenment by the merits transferred to us from the eternal practice of the Buddha.
As part of our daily practice we hold services in the morning and evening. In these we chant portions of the Lotus Sutra as well as chanting Odaimoku and offering prayers.
"Practice and study to strengthen your faith. Without practice and study, Buddhism cannot exist. To practice and to study are caused by your faith. Follow these yourself and influence others to do the same. Even if only a word or a phrase, spread it to others." - Nichiren Shonin.
Supporting practices such as silent meditation and copying of the Lotus Sutra (shakyo) can also be practiced.
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If you would like to learn more about Nichiren Shu Buddhism, please visit the Temple.