If Nichiren Daishonin lived next door

I’ve been battling of late to come to terms with a whole bunch of discrepancies in Nichiren’s logic, and writings. I’ve written about a couple, but I’m beginning to feel this could form a negative thread of articles that would serve little benefit in sharing.

I guess at the most basic level I have difficulty with “One true Buddhism” exclusivist thinking. I think there is a danger of this kind of thinking leading to divisiveness, and it would seem to be at odds with the most fundamental tenets of Mahayana Buddhism – particularly with the writings of Chih-i (T’ien-t’ai) upon which Nichiren’s philosophy was based.

I wonder sometimes if this isn’t indicative of a fundamental problem with the way Nichiren had to propagate his school of thought in mediaeval Kamakura. Anything other than his Gung-ho rhetoric and he simply would not have been heard.

While the Lotus Sutra does certainly indicate within its very verses that it is foremost, for example Ch10;

Medicine King, now I say to you, I have preached various sutras, and among those sutras the Lotus is foremost!

I wouldn’t want to live in a world where anything but the foremost of something had to be discarded. Imagine if there was but one musician, one currency, one colour, one food, one political truth – and so on… The Lotus Sutra might be considered the ghee of all teachings (a metaphor Nichiren pinched from the Nirvana Sutra), but I still prefer a bit of butter of my toast.

Despite which, it isn’t uncommon for Sutra’s to introduce themselves as the “best yet” – one only has to read the Nirvana Sutra to find it declares itself supreme thus;

Good man, milk comes from the cow, cream is made from milk, curdled milk is made from cream, butter is made from curdled milk, and ghee is made from butter. Ghee is the finest of all… The Nirvana Sutra is comparable to ghee.

For example, while it is difficult to imagine that he hadn’t studied it, his theoretical thought being almost wholly derived from Chih-i (T’ien-t’ai), Nichiren never really talks verbosely about Ku (emptiness, and non-duality) in the Gosho. It’s hardly surprising, because his enemies would have hoisted him up by his own petard.

The very notion of Ku, or emptiness inherently denies the concept of an absolute teaching. The very notion smacks of dualism. Regardless of what Nichiren believed, his style of teaching was just his conceptual view, and therefore essentially interdependent upon infinite other factors – therefore empty. The very concept of dependent origination, or arising, makes the notion of “one true teaching” anathema.

Chih-i said that one truth has many names. All truths merge into one, but to conceptualise this in an exclusive manner, as Nichiren did, is I believe mere attachment and clinging.

If one could de-contextualise Nichiren from mediaeval Kamakura’s politics, superstition, and “win or die trying” religious atmosphere, then I feel one would more easily get to the root of his desire to discover the most expeditious route to enlightenment for the benefit of all humanity.

Personally, I believe Nichiren’s focus was very much on the Middle Way – the “reality” of the three, but not three that he emphasised within Myoho. Essentially, being primarily a faith based practice, the Mystic Law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is a representation of emptiness, impermanence, the middle way, and the law of cause and effect (dependant arising). The Gohonzon takes this further by representing these fundamental concepts within the context of the ten worlds and other factors in the great mandala.

Let’s not forget that Mahayana buddhism was essentially built upon the foundations of Hinayana (of which Theravada is the remaining living practice), and fundamentally shifted the purpose of practice from enlightenment only of the individual to enabling enlightenment for others and reducing their suffering.

Nichiren, I think, demonstrates this Mahayana compassion in bucket-loads, albeit in a cloud of fire and brimstone rhetoric.

He travelled the Bodhisattva Way, and by standing on the shoulders of giants, he produced the Gohonzon, a great gateway to observing the mind – a Dharma Gateway. I use the term ‘a’ as the universe is infinite, and we will never know if the inhabitants of planet Xorg have produced something to rival it. However, it’s arguably the best we have on this world.

I think if Nichiren were around today, he would have been able to use less rhetoric, less castigation of other teachings, and been able to focus more on the heritage and benefits of his own teachings, helping followers investigate and understand his teachings at a more profound level, rather than relying purely upon faith.

Do you think Nichiren Buddhism would be more attractive to many if it was reconstructed away from its historical context?

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