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Nichiren Shoshu

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Nichiren Shoshu

Nichiren Shōshū (日蓮正宗?) is a branch of Nichiren Buddhism based on the teachings of the 13th-century Japanese monk Nichiren Daishōnin (1222–1282). Nichiren Shōshū claims Nichiren Daishōnin as its founder through his disciple Nikkō (1246–1333), the founder of the school's Head Temple Taiseki-ji. It has adherents throughout the world, with the largest concentrations in Indonesia and Japan and many more in Taiwan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Ghana, the Philippines, Europe, and North, Central, and South America.


Nichiren Shōshū is a school of Mahayana Buddhism with its Head Temple, Taiseki-ji, located on the lower slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan. It has a substantial international membership. The denomination's name Nichiren Shōshū means "Orthodox Nichiren School". The denomination is sometimes referred to as "The Fuji School", deriving from Taiseki-ji's location.

Taiseki-ji is visited regularly by Nichiren Shōshū believers from around the world who come to chant to the Dai-Gohonzon, which was described by Nichiren Daishōnin as "the essence of my Buddahood written in Sumi Ink". Unlike other Mahayana Buddhist practices, Nichiren Daishōnin, expounded the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō as a way for anyone to obtain Enlightenment. Previous to the Daishonin's teachings in medieval Japan, only men could become enlightened through study and esoteric means.

Nichiren Shōshū has over 700 local temples and temple-like facilities in Japan. Additionally, there are 22 overseas temples - six in the United States, nine in Taiwan, two in Indonesia - as well as temples in Brazil, France, Ghana, Singapore, and Spain. There are 10 propagation centers - two propagation centers in South Korea as well as others in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Panama, Philippines, and Taiwan.[1]

Nichiren Shōshū claims a direct lineage of successive High Priests from Nikkō, who they believe was chosen by Nichiren to carry on the propagation of his Buddhist practice in the Latter Day of the Law. This direct transmission of the Law is set forth in Nichiren Daishōnin's "One Hundred and Six Articles".

Nichiren Shōshū is currently led by the Sixty-Eighth High Priest, Nichinyo Shōnin (1935–). Nichiren Shōshū priests distinguish themselves from those of most other schools by wearing only white and grey robes and a white surplice, as they believe Nichiren did. The colour of the robes symbolises the way that the lotus flower grows straight and true through the mud. Since the Meiji Era, Nichiren Shōshū priests, like those of many other Japanese Buddhist sects, have been permitted to marry.

Believers are organized in temple-based congregations known as Hokkekō. 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 Daishōnin, called Gosho.

Doctrines and practice

Much of Nichiren Shōshū's underlying teachings are extensions of Tendai (天台, Chinese: Tiantai; Korean: Cheontae) thought. They include much of its worldview and its rationale for criticism of Buddhist schools that do not acknowledge the Lotus Sutra to be Buddhism's highest teaching, as stated by Buddha Shakyamuni. For example, 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).

View of Nichiren Daishōnin's lifetime of teaching

Nichiren Shōshū holds that in revealing and propagating his teachings, Nichiren Daishōnin was fulfilling a prophecy made by the Buddha Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama; 563?–483? BC). Nichiren Shōshū teaches that Nichiren Daishōnin is the True Buddha and that his Dharma, or Mystic Law (Myōhō: mystic in the sense of profound, sublime, or unfathomable), is the True Buddha's ultimate teaching. Nichiren Shōshū's belief of Nichiren Daishōnin being the True Buddha is its reason for referring to him as Nichiren Daishōnin ("Great Sage Nichiren").

Central Practice

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 can a person change, or expiate, bad karma and achieve enlightenment. In this process, the individual chooses to lead others to an enlightened state of being.

Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō is called the Daimoku (題目: "the prayer of the Nichiren sect"[2]), 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 Mystic Law containing the Cause and Effect of the enlightenment of all Buddhas." 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.

The Dai-Gohonzon

The Dai-Gohonzon is a mandala believed by Nichiren Shōshū to have been inscribed by Nichiren Daishōnin in Chinese and Sanskrit characters on October 12, 1279. Its essence is believed to have been “hidden in the depths of the text” (文底秘沈: montei hichin) of Shakyamuni's Lotus Sutra, remaining secret until Nichiren Daishōnin revealed it and gave it a physical form. The most important part of the inscription is the line down its center, which reads Na-mu-myō-hō-ren-ge-kyō Nichi-ren. This signifies that the Law of Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō and the identity of the Original True Buddha (Nichiren Daishōnin), who proclaimed it, are one. They are two facets of a single entity (ninpō-ikka: "oneness of the Person and the Law"). Hence the Dai-Gohonzon is revered as representative of Nichiren Daishōnin and his enlightenment. Every Nichiren Shōshū temple and household possesses a transcription (Gohonzon) of the Dai-Gohonzon.

The Dai-Gohonzon is enshrined in the Hoando (sanctuary) (kaidan; often called an "ordination platform" in other Buddhist schools) at Taiseki-ji. Kaidan can also refer to any place where a Gohonzon is enshrined.

Transcriptions of the Dai-Gohonzon

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

Individual believers, or families, upon initiation into Nichiren Shōshū, make their request to receive a Gohonzon to their local temple Chief priest. These Gohonzons are facsimiles printed on paper and presented as a small scroll, about 7” by 15”. 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 in turn performs Gojukai (acceptance ceremony) for the new member. In this ritual, the recipient vows to sincerely believe in Nichiren Daishōnin’s teachings and to practice and uphold the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws.

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. It is believed that this ceremony endows the Gohonzon with the same enlightened property of the Dai-Gohonzon, thus giving it the same power.

The difference between a Nichiren Shōshū Gohonzon, granted to lay believers by the Priesthood, and all others is that they are the only ones specifically sanctioned and issued by Nichiren Shōshū, as the sole authorized successor in the Heritage of the Law originally established by Nichiren Daishōnin.

Personal Gohonzons are enshrined in a Butsudan (altar). Home altars generally include a candle, a bell, incense, a vessel containing water and an offering of fresh evergreens and fruit.

Unauthorized reproduction of the Gohonzon is prohibited. Upon the death of the last surviving member of a family, the Gohonzon must be returned to a Nichiren Shōshū Temple.

The Significance of the Dai-Gohonzon and the Three Treasures in Nichiren Shōshū

In Nichiren Shōshū, it is believed that the Dai-Gohonzon (and its constituent facets) is the ultimate Buddhist teaching revealed by the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishōnin. Furthermore, the school teaches that inscribing the Dai-Gohonzon for all mankind to worship, fulfilled the purpose of Nichiren Daishōnin's advent.

A fundamental doctrine in Nichiren Shōshū Buddhism is reverence for the Three Treasures, called sambō or sampō (三宝) in Japanese. In Nichiren Shōshū, the Three Treasures are the Buddha (butsu: he who reveals the Law), the Law (: Dharma or "body of teachings"), and the Priesthood (: he who receives from the Buddha, maintains the purity of, and transmits the Law). In Nichiren Shōshū, Nichiren Daishōnin himself is the Treasure of the Buddha; the Mystic Law of Nam-myōhō-renge-kyō is the Treasure of the Law; Nikkō Shōnin, to whom Nichiren Daishōnin directly and specifically entrusted and transferred the entirety of his teachings, was Nichiren Daishōnin's successor, who together with each of the successive High Priests, constitute the Treasure of the Priesthood. The central importance for Nichiren Shōshū believers of revering and expressing gratitude to the Three Treasures in the True Buddhism of Nichiren Daishōnin is explained in the Gosho (letters written by Nichiren Daishonin) "The Four Debts of Gratitude".


The daily practice of Nichiren Shōshū believers consists of affirming and renewing their faith by performing gongyō 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 [J. myō] (Eng. Mystic; Wonderful), the second character of the Daimoku.

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.

The logic behind this is that through thoughts, words, and deeds, every being creates causes, and every cause has an effect. Good causes produce positive effects; bad causes, negative ones (see karma). This law of causality is the universal principle underlying all visible and invisible phenomena and events in one's physical and spiritual daily life. Nichiren Shōshū believers strive to elevate their "life condition" by acting in accordance with this law in their day-to-day lives and by sharing their faith and practice with others, believing their Buddhist practice to be the ultimate good cause for effecting changes in life and attaining enlightenment, and achieving peace in the world.

Nichiren Shōshū priesthood and Sōka Gakkai

After WWII, Sōka Gakkai emerged as a growing lay organization affiliated with and based on the teachings of Nichiren Shōshū, under the leadership of Sōka Gakkai second president Josei Toda. Later development between the two organizations, however, revealed a sequence of doctrinal conflicts, the most serious of which led to the resignation of Daisaku Ikeda, the third president of Sōka Gakkai, in 1979 from his post.[3] Opposition to the Soka Gakkai within Nichiren shoshu priesthood led to the founding of Shoshinkai[4] in the 1980s. In the center of this conflict was what seemed to some Nichiren Shoshu priests to be the attempted control and influence by Sōka Gakkai in the affairs of Nichiren Shōshū. SGI's publicly questioned the legitimacy of then Sixty-Seventh High Priest Nikken Shōnin.[5]

Major Doctrinal Differences between Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai

A basic difference in teachings between SGI and Nichiren Shōshū centers on defining the concept of the Heritage of the Law. Nichiren Shōshū views this doctrine as a transmission by an incumbent High Priest of the entirety of the Law to “one person,” that is, directly to each successive High Priest.[6] The Soka Gakkai teaches that the transmission occurs instead to ordinary people, not to one person only.[7]

Another difference relates to the master/disciple relationship: Nichiren Shōshū, regards the arising of voluntary unity between the Priesthood and the Laity, as the master-disciple relationship. SGI teaches that the mentor is the Gohonzon and the three founders of SGI.[8]

In addition to the above, a fundamental element of dispute is the doctrine of the Three Treasures of Buddhism. The third Treasure relating to ‘the Priest’ is seen by SGI as being the Treasure of Sangha or Community of Believers.[9] This was viewed by Nichiren Shōshū as irreconcilable deviations from the true teachings of Nichiren Daishōnin about the Treasure of the Priests.

Views of Independant Observers

Outside observers describe the dispute as being a process where "Sōka Gakkai began a decisive transformation from an organization run by Ikeda to a group dedicated to Ikeda".[10] Other independent observers view the issue of “authority‘ as the central pint of the conflict: "The priesthood claims that it is the sole custodian of religious authority and dogma, while the Soka Gakkai leadership argues that the sacred 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 priest” [11]

These and other conflicts resulted in a complete disassociation of the two sides after Nichiren Shōshū excommunicated the leaders of the Sōka Gakkai and stripped it of its conditional status as a lay organization of Nichiren Shōshū in 1991. Later, in 1997, Nichiren Shoshu excommunicated all SGI members. From its side, SGI considers disassociation with the Priesthood as its "spiritual independence".[12]

High Priests

1st Nichiren Daishonin October 12, 1282 2nd Nikko Shonin February 7, 1333 3rd Nichimoku Shonin November 15, 1333 4th Nichido Shonin February 26, 1341 5th Nichigyo Shonin August 13, 1369 6th Nichiji Shonin June 4, 1406 7th Nichi a Shonin March 10, 1407 8th Nichi-ei Shonin August 4, 1419 9th Nichiu Shonin September 29, 1482 10th Nichijo Shonin November 20, 1472 11th Nittei Shonin April 7, 1472 12th Nitchin Shonin June 24, 1527 13th Nichi-in Shonin July 6, 1589 14th Nisshu Shonin August 17, 1617 15th Nissho Shonin April 7, 1622 16th Nichiju Shonin February 21, 1632 17th Nissei Shonin November 5, 1638 18th Nichi-ei Shonin March 7, 1683 19th Nisshun Shonin November 12, 1669 20th Nitten Shonin September 21, 1686 21st Nichinin Shonin September 4, 1680 22nd Nisshun Shonin October 29, 1691 23rd Nikkei Shonin November 14, 1707 24th Nichi-ei Shonin February 24, 1715 25th Nichiyu Shonin December 28, 1729 26th Nichikan Shonin August 19, 1726 27th Nichiyo Shonin June 4, 1723 28th Nissho Shonin August 25, 1734 29th Nitto Shonin December 1, 1737 30th Nitchu Shonin October 11, 1743 31st Nichi-in Shonin June 14, 1769 32nd Nikkyo Shonin August 12, 1757 33rd Nichigen Shonin February 26, 1778 34th Nisshin Shonin July 26, 1765 35th Nichi-on Shonin July 3, 1774 36th Nikken Shonin October 3, 1791 37th Nippo Shonin May 26, 1803 38th Nittai Shonin February 20, 1785 39th Nichijun Shonin July 30, 1801 40th Nichinin Shonin August 25, 1795 41st Nichimon Shonin August 14, 1796 42nd Nichigon Shonin July 11, 1797 43rd Nisso Shonin December 3, 1805 44th Nissen Shonin January 7, 1822 45th Nichirei Shonin May 8, 1808 46th Nitcho Shonin January 27, 1817 47th Nisshu Shonin September 22, 1816 48th Nichiryo Shonin May 29, 1851 49th Nisso Shonin May 8, 1830 50th Nichijo Shonin May 1, 1836 51st Nichi-ei Shonin July 9, 1877 52nd Nichiden Shonin June 24, 1890 53rd Nichijo Shonin June 25, 1892 54th Nichi-in Shonin June 2, 1880 55th Nippu Shonin March 4, 1919 56th Nichi-o Shonin June 15, 1922 57th Nissho Shonin August 18, 1923 58th Nitchu Shonin January 26, 1928 59th Nichiko Shonin November 23, 1957 60th Nichikai Shonin November 21, 1943 61st Nichiryu Shonin March 24, 1947 62nd Nikkyo Shonin June 17, 1945 63rd Nichiman Shonin January 7, 1951 64th Nissho Shonin October 14, 1957 65th Nichijun Shonin November 17, 1959 66th Nittatsu Shonin July 22, 1979 67th Nikken Shonin Current Retired High Priest 68th Nichinyo Shonin Current High Priest


Further reading


  • Richard Causton: Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, Rider & Co, London 1988. ISBN 0712622691
  • Basic Terminology of Nichiren Shoshu, Vol. 1, Nichiren Shōshū Shumuin, eds. Dainichiren Publishing Co., 2009. ISBN 4-904429-28-1, ISBN 978-4-904429-28-0
  • Nichiren Shoshu Basics of Practice, Nichiren Shōshū Temple, 2003 (revised). No ISBN.
  • Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism", Seiganzan Myoshinji Temple, 2007 [available for download and online at]
  • The Gosho of Nichiren Daishōnin, Vol. 1, Nichiren Shōshū Overseas Bureau, trans. Dainichiren Publishing Co., 2005. ISBN 4-904429-26-5, ISBN 978-4-904429-26-6
  • The Gosho of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 2: Rissho Ankoku Ron, Nichiren Shōshū Shumuin, trans. Dainichiren Publishing Co., 2009. ISBN 4-904429-26-5, ISBN 978-4-904429-26-6
  • The Doctrines and Practice of Nichiren Shōshū, Nichiren Shōshū Overseas Bureau, 2002. Also available online in its entirety.
  • A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, Nichiren Shōshū International Center (NSIC), Tokyo, 1983. ISBN 4-88872-014-2.(Note: Despite its name, NSIC is no longer affiliated with Nichiren Shoshu; however, the dictionary largely reflects Nichiren Shoshu interpretations of terms and concepts.)


  • Nichiren Shōshū yōgi (日蓮正宗要義: "The essential tenets of Nichiren Shōshū"), Taiseki-ji, 1978, rev. ed. 1999
  • Nichiren Shōshū nyūmon (日蓮正宗入門: "Introduction to Nichiren Shōshū"), Taiseki-ji, 2002
  • Dai-Nichiren (大日蓮), monthly magazine published by Nichiren Shōshū. Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan (numerous issues)
  • Dai-Byakuhō (大白法), the Hokkekō organ newspaper. Tōkyō (numerous issues)

External links

Official websites

  • Official Nichiren Shoshu web site
  • Nichiren Shōshū Temple organization in the US
  • Nichiren Shōshū Temple organization in Indonesia
  • Nichiren Shōshū organization information in English

Relationship between the two organizations

  • Nichiren Shōshū point of view
  • Sōka Gakkai point of view
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