How has Nichiren Buddhism changed your life?


The Japanese monk Nichiren (1222–1282) founded the form of Buddhism practiced today by the members of the Soka Gakkai. Today he is considered an outstanding figure in Japanese social and religious history.

In Nichiren's time, Japan was in a dire situation. It was shaped by natural disasters, famines, epidemics and the associated humanitarian suffering. A person of great warmth and compassion, Nichiren was an uncompromising critic of the religious and political establishment of his time because those in power were unable to change the disastrous humanitarian situation in Japan for the better. Out of deep concern for the well-being of ordinary people, Nichiren became a relentless opponent of the often corrupt and oppressive social mechanisms. In a feudal society where obeying the authority was paramount, his frank, courageous criticism aroused abundant anger and opposition. But Nichiren was so important his unselfish commitment to the well-being of the people and the peace in the country that he willingly accepted difficulties and persecution by those in power.

Undaunted, he worked all his life to revive Buddhism by making it a source of strength for a dynamic, free and courageous life. He was determined to realize social conditions based on respect for the dignity and equality of all human beings - just as Buddha Shakyamuni had wished for.

Starting from Lotus sutra he founded a concrete practice that opens the way to the realization of Buddhahood for all people: the recitation of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo in front of a character mandala, the so-called Gohonzon (object to contemplate one's own life).

Early years
Nichiren was born into a fishing family in a small coastal community. In 13th century Japan, fishermen were at the bottom of the strict social hierarchy. At the age of 12, he began his training at the local Seicho-ji temple. At the age of 16 he officially entered the local Buddhist order. Nichiren was deeply moved by the hardships and hardships of life with which the people in his village were confronted every day. His concern for people became the driving force behind his search for the core of Buddhist teaching. In one of his letters he describes how he had prayed since childhood to “become the wisest person in all of Japan” - in order to be able to free people from their suffering in some way. After joining the monastic order, Nichiren devoted himself intensively to the study of Buddhist sutras and explanations by Buddhist scholars from the various schools of Buddhism. For this he traveled to the most important Buddhist centers in Japan.

Establishing his teaching and years of persecution
At the age of 32, Nichiren returned to Seicho-ji Temple, where he declared in a lecture on April 28, 1253 that the key to Shakyamuni's enlightenment was in the Lotus sutra to be found. Nichiren defined this essence as Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra, to which he prefixed the syllable "Nam" (German: I dedicate myself). He came to the conclusion that reciting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo the only teaching and practice that can lead all people to enlightenment without exception. The great Buddhist schools of his time felt provoked by this: Nichiren's refutation of the established Buddhist teachings aroused deep hostility among the priests of these schools and their followers - including influential government officials. A time of enormous difficulty began for Nichiren, during which he was constantly exposed to various harassments and persecutions.

After a series of devastating natural disasters, epidemics and deep suffering for the population, Nichiren wrote his most famous treatise in 1260 About establishing the right teaching for peace in the country. In this pamphlet he describes how he is convinced that peace and order can be restored and further catastrophes prevented. According to him, the only key is to bring the dignity of life and happiness of the individual back into focus - based on the principles of Lotus sutra. Commenting on his motivations, he writes, "How should I watch the decline of Buddhist law and not be filled with feelings of compassion and pain?" Lotus Sutra, as a dialogue written treatise before the highest political authorities in Japan and asked them to support a public debate with representatives of other Buddhist schools. The goal: To focus on a teaching that has the power to free people from their suffering and to pacify society. The call for public debate that Nichiren repeated throughout his life has been ignored by those in power. Instead, he was banished to the inhospitable peninsula of Izu.

A crucial crisis
Because of his harsh criticism, Nichiren was repeatedly persecuted by other Buddhist schools and government agencies in the following years. These included armed attacks, ambushes, banishment and, ultimately, an attempt to execute him on Tatsunokuchi Beach. Shortly before the executioner could behead him with his sword, a comet appeared in the night sky with such radiance that the terrified officers stopped the execution. Nichiren was banished to the barren island of Sado shortly afterwards. There he continued to share his teachings with other people under extreme hardship. He also wrote incessantly treatises and letters of encouragement to his followers. From this point on he regarded it as his life's work, the doctrine of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to enable people to free themselves from their suffering on a fundamental level. He began by inscribing the Gohonzon for his followers - a character mandala that embodied the truth of the life (Dharma) to which he was enlightened.

Stay on Mount Minobu
In 1274 Nichiren was acquitted and returned from exile to Kamakura, the political center of Japan at the time. He turned to the government authorities again, telling them not to rely on erroneous teachings any more. However, the rulers rejected his advice for the third time. He then decided to leave Kamakura. From now on he lived at the foot of Mount Minobu. From there he devoted himself to the promotion of successors who should ensure the spread of the teaching after his death. He found many followers and numerous people who supported him. They too were harassed and persecuted. However, her steadfastness gave Nichiren the confidence that his teachings would continue and spread after his death.

On October 13, 1282, Nichiren died of natural causes at the age of 61. He had fulfilled his mission in life: by establishing the doctrine of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and his philosophy of human dignity and self-empowerment, he had opened a path for all people through which they can free themselves from their suffering and lead a happy life.

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