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Tai Chi Philosophy
the wider culture around tai chi - philosophies, ideas  

The Nichiren (New Lotus) School


(1) Preliminary

Since the Lotus of the Good Law was translated and expounded by Kurnarajiva, it has been one of the most popular subjects of Buddhist study along with the Prajna and Nirvana texts. When the philosophy of immanence or the phenomenological doctrine was promulgated on the basis of the Lotus by Chih-i, it was generally known as the T'ien-T'ai School. It was Saichö (Dengyo Daishi, 767-822 AD) who went to China and received the doctrine from this school and on his return in 804 AD founded the school in Japan. His theoretical elucidation of the Lotus doctrine may not be much different from the original Chinese school, but his practical application of the doctrine to the national cult and synthetic treatment of all other Buddhist schools subordinate to his school seem to be the new aspects added by virtue of his genius. Besides the Lotus doctrine, he professed to teach mystic Shingon, Amita-pietism, contemplative Zen, as well as Mahayanistic Vinaya discipline. To him these were subordinate doctrines to the Lotus or at any rate concurrent systems to complete the central doctrine. However, in the course of time, there appeared among his followers some ardent specialists in each of these systems and sometimes the result was separation. In the Heian period (781-1183) the mystic rituals and ceremonial performances promoted by this school in concert with the Shingon School carried the day to satisfy the aristocratic taste of the time. There arose in time a devotional school of Amita-pietism which also flourished in the bosom of the school. Through the influence of the two streams of religious activities a great Buddhist transformation took place in the national life and thoughts of Japan during the period.

The refinement of vernacular literature, mystification of fine arts, development of national architectural and industrial arts, and the graceful manners and customs of the refined class were all due to the influence of Buddhist culture. Probably the Japanese appreciation of universals, tolerance, and thoroughness in research owe a great deal to Buddhist training. But peace often ends in effeminacy. As a rule political corruption and social degeneration in general could not be checked in any way. An opportunity for a military power was now opened and perhaps hatred and struggle among courtiers, clans, territorial lords and partisans were more than we know from history. Already in the closing period of the Heian era all under heaven was weary of war and disorder. By the establishment of the military government at Kamakura, the people in general expected peace and order to be restored, but all in vain. Intrigues and strifes were going on more than ever. The arrival of the 'latter age' of religion was now felt in the public life of the nation. A general reformation in political as well as religious life seemed to be an urgent need. The authority of the two old schools of Tendai and Shingon was waning, or at any rate, was suffering the same fate with the aristocratic classes. The new Amita-pietism of Honen, though gaining ground among the people at large, had no marked influence over the ruling classes. The Zen School of the time, though it seemed appropriate for the knightly training of military people, had as yet no power over the political affairs. A man of keen observation and strong character like Nichiren (1222-1282), if imbued with a firm religious conviction, could not remain without protesting.

To know Nichiren and his school we must first know the Lotus text on which all his ideas and arguments are founded. What is the Lotus text? A text-criticism shows that originally the Lotus text consisted of twenty-one sections and was later enlarged into twenty-eight sections by addition and division. The earliest translation was by Dharniaraksa in 286 AD, the second by Kumarajiva in 406 AD, and the third (complete translation) by Jnanagupta and Dharniagupta in 601 AD Among them, the second was the best in Chinese composition and regarded as authoritative by the best Lotus authorities. In spite of late translation, it represented to proclaim an earlier form of the text than the first translation, judging from some internal evidences, e.g., a quotation by Nagarjuna and the to the like. Besides, elements of the contents of the added or divided chapters were extant in the original form of twenty-one sections. Anyhow, the existing text in twenty-eight sections (Kumarajiva's translation) was used by Chih-i, Saichô and Nichiren himself. It is the only translation of the text used in Japan, either within or without the Nichiren School. Let us review the contents of the text and Karnakur; the standpoint of Nichiren in the Lotus doctrine.

(2) Historical schools

What is historical with the other schools of thought is personal with the Nichiren's Lotus-pietism, for it is Nichiren's personality against that constitutes the feature of the school. It was not accidental that the school was called after the founder's name. Nichiren was born in 1222, the son of a fisherman of Kominato, Awa, the southeastern coast of Japan. He was sent to Kiyozumi, a hill near his home, to live as a novice in a monastery. He was ordained in his fifteenth year. His early problem, "What was the Truth taught by the Buddha?" was not solved there. He proceeded to Kamakura and later passed to Mount Hiei in search of the Truth. His study of ten years (1243-1253) on the mountain convinced him that a revival of Tendai philosophy alone was the nearest approach to the Truth. it.

By Tendai philosophy Nichiren meant not what he found there at hand but what was taught by Dengyo Daishi himself. The original T'ien-T'ai of Chih-i was chiefly theoretical, whereas the Japanese Tendai of Dengyo Daishi was practical as well as theoretical. But after the two great masters, Jikaku and Chisho the practical sides of Tendai were either mystic rituals or Amita-practically faith; that seemed to them most important. The fundamental truth of the Lotus doctrine seemed to be laid aside as if it were a philosophical amusement. Nichiren could not accept this attitude and so returned in 1253 to his old monastery at Kiyozumi where he proclaimed his new doctrine that the Lotus alone could save the people of the depraved age, the essential formula being "Homage to the Text of the Lotus of the True Ideal." It is Dharma-smriti (thought on Dharma) and not Buddha-smriti as was the Amita formula. Dharma is the ideal realized by the original Buddha. All beings are saved through homage to the Lotus of Truth, and this alone, he declared, is the true final message of the Buddha.The abbot and all others opposed him and he had to escape to Kamakura where he built a cottage and lived for a while. He preached his doctrine in streets or in parks, attacking the other schools as violently as ever. He wrote a treatise on the Establishment of Righteousness as the Safeguard of the Nation, which he presented to the Hojo Regent in 1260. His main arguments were against the Amita-pietisnm of Honen, which he considered to he chiefly responsible for the evils and calamities within and without the nation. In the treatise he condemned Honen as the enemy of all Buddhas, all scriptures, all sages and all people. It was the duty of the government, he said, to terminate his heresy even with the sword. His idea of the identification of religion with national life is manifest throughout the work. Nichiren's classification of 'latter age' began with the year 1050,according to the generally accepted calculation of the date of Nirvana. The last of seven calamities, the foreign invasion, was predicted in it. He contended that national peace and prosperity could be attained only through the unification of all Buddhism by the doctrine of the Lotus of Truth. Later, he attacked the religious schools then extant and formulated his views as follows:

Jodo (Amita-pietism) is hell, Zen (meditative intuitionism) is devil, Shingon (mysticism) is national ruin and Ritsu (discipline) is traitorous. These four practically cover all existing schools of his time and were the doctrines that had been subordinate to Tendai.

As Amita-faith propagated by Honen, Shinran and others was most influential among the people at large, the Zen trend of thought, specially appealing to the ruling military class of the time, was probably the second influential doctrine. Owing to the activities of Eisai,' Dogen and Enni in Kyoto, and the Chinese teachers Rankei, Sogen, and Ichinei, in Kamakura, the Zen School was certainly asserting its position in the national life and culture. As to Shingon, the power of mystification which it cherished never lost its hold on the mind of the people; the Shingon School was influential all over Japan. The Ritsu was a school of discipline reformed by Eison who prayed against the Mongol invasion at the Shinto shrine of Iwashimizu by an Imperial order when Emperor Kameyama himself was present and vowed to sacrifice his life for the safety of the nation. Thus the Ritsu must have been quite influential at the Court.

Nichiren's attacks against these schools became more violent than ever when he was mobbed, attacked and banished to Izu in 1261. Even after his return to Kamakura and to his native place to see his ailing mother, he did not refrain from his violent protest against the government as well as the religion, and went so far as to say that Tokiyori, the Hojo Regent who believed in Zen and wore a Buddhist robe, was already in hell and that the succeeding Regent Tokuniune was on the way to hell. Upon the arrival of the Mongolian envoys demanding tribute, he again remonstrated the Regime to suppress the heresies and adopt the Lotus doctrine as the only way out of national calamities. In 1271 he was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. In a miraculous way he escaped the execution and was banished to the remote island of Sado at the end of the same year.

In spite of the hardships and troubles he experienced there, Nichiren wrote several works. In the Eye-opener, his famous vows are found: "I will be the pillar of Japan; I will be the eyes of Japan; I will be the vessel of Japan." Here he became conscious of himself being the Bodhisattva Visistacaritra ('Distinguished Action') with whom the Buddha entrusted the work of protecting the Truth. After three years he was allowed to return to Kamakura in 1274. No moderation, no compromise and no tolerance could be extracted from him in spite of an ardent effort on the part of the government. He retired to Minobu, west of Mount Fuji, and lived peacefully. He died at Ikegami, near Tokyo, in 1282. Nichiren's militant spirit was kept alive by his disciples, six of whom were earnest propagandists. One of them, Nichiji, went to Siberia in 1295 but no further report was heard of him. The school, always colored by a fighting attitude, had many disputes with other religious institutions. In 1532, for example, it had a conflict with Tendai, the mother school, called the war of Tembun. One of the Nichiren sects called Fujufuse Sect ('no give or take') refused to comply with the parish rule conventionally set forth by the government and was prohibited in 1614 along with Christianity by the Tokugawa Shogunate. There are at present eight Nichiren sects, two of which are important: 1. The Nichiren School proper with headquarters in Minobu, 3,600 monasteries under it. 2. The Kenpon-Hokke School otherwise called the Myomanji School which has 580 monasteries.

(3) Philosophical and Religious

Just as the personality of Nichiren constitutes the Nichiren School, the essence of which is the Lotus formula "Homage to the Lotus of Truth," so it is the personality of the Buddha that constitutes the Lotus doctrine. The whole Lotus text may be a drama as Professor Kern imagined, but the Buddha is not only the hero in the play. The Buddha is also the organizer or proprietor of the drama. The Truth of the Lotus text is not an impersonal dead truth; it is the ideal, the Truth blooming, fragrant and bearing fruits as the lotus, the Truth active, the Truth embodied in the Buddha, the Truth-body, the Enlightenment itself, the Enlightened and Enlightenment and Enlightener all combined. So the real Buddha of the text is not that corporeal Buddha who got enlightened under the bodhi tree, preached for the first time at the Deer Park of Benares and entered Nirvana at the Sala grove of Kusinagara at eighty-one years of age. He is the Buddha of immeasurable ages past, ever acting as the Enlightener. By enlightening all beings he exercises benevolence to all. Out of his mercy he teaches the doctrine of expediency. He is in reality the organizer of the drama, yet he himself acts as a hero in the play, leading all the dramatic personnel, even with some of the inferior characters who in time will be able to play a role. The three Vehicles, of course, as well as Devadatta the wicked and Naga the serpent maid, all come under the Buddha's illumination. The world of illumination of the remote Buddha is called the 'realm of origin' and the world of illumination by the incarnate Buddha is called the 'realm of trace.' I used the word 'realm' but it does not mean a separate division or place. It simply indicates the 'activity of the Buddha of original position' or 'that of the Buddha of trace-leaving manifestation.' 'Original position' and 'trace-manifestation' are the problems long discussed in the Lotus schools and all center on the Buddha's personality, a Buddhological question. When it is applied to the Lotus text, the question at the outset will be, "Which Buddha is revealing the Truth?"

It is generally accepted that the first fourteen sections of the text, with an introduction, a principal portion and a conclusion, refer to the realm of trace, while the last fourteen sections also with an introduction, a principal portion and a conclusion, relate to the realm of origin. The object of the Lotus on the whole is a revelation of Truth. In the former sections, chiefly in the section of upaya or the 'expediency,' the Buddha reveals that what he taught before the Lotus, during forty or more years, was only an expedient; more definitely, the teachings for direct disciples (sravakas, i.e., arhat teaching), for the enlightened-for-self (pratyeka-buddha teaching) and for lesser bodhisattvas, i.e., the teaching for the three Vehicles, was for expediency's sake, and indicated clearly that the 'one vehicle for all' (ekayana) is the Truth. In the latter sections, chiefly in the longevity section, the Buddha speaks of his own personality, and reveals that the historical existence which he has now nearly completed is not his real body but shows clearly his Truth-body (Dharma-kaya) to be a true realization of remote ages past.

The former sections refer to the doctrine in which the Truth is revealed; expediency is taught as expedience and Truth as Truth. The latter sections, on the other hand, refer to the personality in which the Buddha himself is revealed; the recent as the manifested person and the remote as the real original person. So far Nichiren agrees with Dengyo Daishi. Nichiren, however, standing on the doctrine of personality, asserts that all teachings before the Lotus are the "trace doctrines of the Trace Buddha" and that only the latter sections are the 'essential original doctrines of the Original Buddha.'

He The established his school on the basis of the original Lotus. Thus his school is called either the Nichiren School after the founder or the Hommon Hokke School after the doctrine.

The difference of the tenets of Dengyo Daishi and Nichiren is further seen in the treatment of the substance of the Lotus text. The Lotus doctrine assumes ten regions, ten thus-aspects and three realms. Dengyo Daishi lays importance on the principle of the realm of trace. The realm of trace treats only the nine regions, teaching the causal states of culture" and therefore considering mind and thought as important factors of training, and finally attributing all the phenomenal worlds to the mere-ideation theory. The threefold view of one mind and the 3,000 worlds immanent in one thought-instant are taught minutely. According to the Nichiren School, the Tendai is too much inclined to the theoretical side of the Truth, thereby forgetting the practical side of it. Nichiren holds that the realm of origin teaches the effective state of enlightenment and the Buddha's person is the center of Truth; the reality of the phenomenal worlds centers in the personality of the Buddha; and all aspirants should be guided to realize the Ideal-body of the Buddha.

The Lotus text reveals the original Buddha whose principle and practice are fully explained in the original portions of the text. What the founder holds important is the Buddha's practice, not his principle. One who understands and practices the practical aspects of that Buddha is a devotee or realizer of the Lotus, just as the bodhisattva of supreme action (Visistacaritra) is placed in the highest position in the text. The Buddhahood (perfect enlightenment) of such an adept will be immediate in this very body.

The original Buddha was like the moon in the sky and all other Buddhas of the Wreath, of the Againa, of the Vaipulya ('developed'), the Prajna ('wisdom'), the Gold Light (Suvarnaprabhasa), the Sukhavati (Pure Land) and the Great Sun (Mahavairocana) were all moons in various waters, and merely reflections of the one central moon. It is only a fool who would try to catch a reflected moon.

The title of the Lotus of the Good Law sums up all these principles and practice of the Buddhas of origin and trace, and, to Nichiren, is the only remedy to procure the reform of the depraved state of the 'latter age,' in spite of all counteractions from existing poisons. The fourfold watchword set forth by Nichiren, as we have seen above, was the renowned object of hatred by all the rest of the Buddhist schools of Japan, for it was against the Amita-pietism of Jodo, the meditative intuitionism of Zen, the ritual mysticism of Shingon and the formalistic discipline of Ritsu. This was the wholesale denunciation of all existing Buddhist schools except the Tendai School of Dengyo Daishi, which he sought to reform and restore to its original form.

To know Nichiren and his school we must first know the Lotus text on which all his ideas and arguments are founded. What is the Lotus text? A text-criticism shows that originally the Lotus text consisted of twenty-one sections and was later enlarged into twenty-eight sections by addition and division. The earliest translation was by Dharniaraksa in 286 AD
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