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Nichiren

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Statue of Nichiren at Myôhon-ji in Kamakura
  • Born: 1222
  • Died: 1282
  • Japanese: 日蓮 (Nichiren)

Nichiren was the founder of the Buddhist sect by the same name.

Though born into a family of fishermen, Nichiren managed to become quite well-educated. Developing his own distinctive system of religious beliefs, centered on faith in the Lotus Sutra, and invocation of its name (the chanting of namu myôhô renge kyô), he traveled Japan preaching in public and gathering followers. The Nichiren sect was officially established in 1253.

Like Hônen and Shinran before him, Nichiren was exiled for a time for his beliefs. While in exile on Sado Island, in 1272 he wrote a treatise known as Kaimoku shô ("The Eye-Opener"), in which he writes that there are three types of people everyone should respect: parents, teachers, and sovereigns; comparing these three to aspects of the Buddha, he writes of the sovereign's ability to protect all living beings, the teacher's ability to lead others towards enlightenment, and the parent's ability to treat others with compassion, thus nurturing and sustaining them. The Kaimoku shô also speaks of two ways to spread the faith: through gentle arguments (shôju), and through strong refutation of wrong beliefs (shakubuku); the text concludes with the assertion that Japan, because of its embrace of belief systems which slander the Lotus Sutra, requires the latter.[1]

After his return from his exile, Nichiren spent time at Hongaku-ji, and other Kamakura temples, using them as his bases, from which he would go out to preach in the streets.

Nichiren asserted the supreme importance of the Lotus Sutra, and the danger to Japan if other sutras, and other modes of belief, continued to be practiced. In treatises such as Risshô ankoku ron ("Rectification for the Peace of the Nation"), he directly criticized the writings of Hônen and others, accusing all Buddhist sects but his own of having abandoned the correct way, thus misleading the people, and leading the country into decline. In the Kaimoku shô, he goes so far as to say that Hônen was "possessed by the Devil of the Sixth Heaven."[2] The later years of Nichiren's life coincided with the Mongol Invasions, and he and his followers credited their prayers with helping cause the kamikaze which defeated the Mongol fleets.

In 1282, Nichiren stayed at the villa of Ikegami Munenaka while attempting to recover from an illness; he died later that year, possibly at the villa, which was then established as a temple, the Ikegami Honmonji.

Nichiren's life is related in, among other works, a set of five handscroll paintings (emaki) known as the Nichiren Chûgasan. His followers included Nichiji, Nisshin, and Nichiô.

References

  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 80-81.
  • William de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition, vol 1, Columbia University Press (2001), 284, 296-305.
  1. de Bary, 299.
  2. de Bary, 301.
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