The Lotus Sūtra
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 Śākya Clan. He was married. He had one son, Rāhula, 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 Uruvelā and started meditating; vowing not to leave the spot until he attained enlightenment. During his meditation under the Bo tree, Māra 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. Śākyamuni (the sage of the Śākya 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 Sūtra
The formal name of the Lotus Sūtra is the Sūtra of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma, and is composed of twenty eight chapters. Śākyamuni Buddha used many skilful ways to bring understanding to listeners according to their circumstances and sensitivities – as expounded in Chapter 2 of the Lotus Sūtra various gates of the path to Buddhahood open for those who awaken devotion to the true Dharma.
The first fourteen chapters of the Lotus Sūtra are referred to as the theoretical section and the remaining fourteen chapters are known as the essential section. The first half of the Lotus Sūtra explains "Obtaining Buddhahood by Two Vehicles". The Two Vehicles are the ways of the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha. These two types of practitioner were taught that they didn't possess the ability to attain Buddhahood in pre-Lotus sūtras. They were taught this because they were arrogant, and believed that they had achieved the supreme already. However, in the Lotus Sūtra, Śākyamuni Buddha reveals that with the way of the Bodhisattva, śrāvakas 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 Sūtra, 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 sūtras 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 Sūtra 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 Sūtra teaches absolute equality among all living beings.
In Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sūtra, "The Duration of the Life of the Tathāgata" chapter a major revelation is made by the Buddha. Until that point, people believed that Śākyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bo tree at Gayā, India. However, he reveals that he is the eternal Buddha who attained enlightenment in the remotest past. Śākyamuni Buddha has led all living beings in this world since, and will always lead all living beings. The Lotus Sūtra explains that the Buddha had appeared in this world under various names in the past and entered into Nirvāṇa (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 Śākyamuni Buddha appears to enter into Nirvāṇa. 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?" Śākyamuni Buddha himself vows with great compassion to save and lead all living beings all the time.
Nichiren Shōnin (1222-1282), the founder of Nichiren Shū (the Nichiren School) was a Buddhist monk in 13th Century Japan. Nichiren Shōnin 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 Shōnin came to the conclusion that the Lotus Sūtra was the teaching fully revealing the Buddha's highest teaching, or heart, and that by practicing the Lotus Sūtra, by chanting the Odaimoku (Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō or Devotion to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sūtra), all people could attain enlightenment.
Throughout his life, Nichiren Shōnin 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 Sūtra.
To learn more about Nichiren Shōnin's life and the Temples that exist in places of importance relating to his life, please visit our 2008 Pilgrimage Page.
Nichiren Shū is a confederation of lineages from Nichiren Shōnin’s major disciples. The Head Temple of Nichiren Shū is Kuon-ji on Mt. Minobu, Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan; where Nichiren Shōnin spent the last eight years of his life.
We believe that the Buddha is eternal and always present, as found in the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra, and that Buddhism is available and applicable to all people in any time period. We believe that Nichiren Shōnin was the messenger of the Buddha who can be a guide for 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 Shū is chanting the Odaimoku (sacred title), Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The Odaimoku expresses the essence of the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra, 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. During these services we chant portions of the Lotus Sūtra 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.
We practice other secondary practices such as silent meditation and copying the Lotus Sūtra (shakyō) in order to deepen our faith and understanding of the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha's teachings all of which are part of the Odaimoku.
More articles from previous Temple Newsletters can be found on the Articles Page.
If you would like to learn more about Nichiren Shū Buddhism, please visit the Temple.