Meditation in Nichiren Buddhism

Having come to Buddhism through the SGI, I had for a long time remained ignorant of other schools’ practices, and had not even read the Lotus Sutra until I began to look at Nichiren Buddhism – or more precisely the SGI’s practice of Nichiren Buddhism – in a more critical light after taking a more serious look at Nagarjuna, and how his Middle Way influenced T’ien-t’ai, Tendai and subsequently, Nichiren Daishonin.

On one hand, the lay practice of Gongyo and Daimoku can appear incredibly shallow; the lay practitioner being expected to simply believe without any real understanding of what he is doing, or why. Faith is then built upon personal proof to which only the individual can attest. It can sound like any number of new age practices that are doing the rounds.

On the other hand, the doctrine is unfathomably deep. The theory of ichinen sanzen, which forms the core of Nichiren Buddhism is the result of T’ien-t’ai’s beautifully interweaving of Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu’s contemplations on the Three Truths, the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds (dharma realms), and the Ten Factors of life described in Ch2 (skilful, or expedient means) of the Lotus Sutra.

Why should this be a problem? After all, a lot of people overcome their challenges through faith alone. The whole idea of instant enlightenment thanks to the concept of simultaneity of cause and effect as revealed in the Lotus Sutra surely means that anything is fixable in a jiffy, right? Well, I certainly have enjoyed profound growth through Daimoku, especially in terms of compassion, perseverance and courage (got a pilot’s license two years ago), but there are certain aspects of my habitual behaviour that still requires contemplation and understanding to overcome, and Daimoku alone simply hasn’t cut it.

Since I started this blog perhaps a quarter of emails and private comments have been from those who are really struggling with the practice, despite seeking guidance, going to meetings, and practicing assiduously. Most of these people have identified with having experienced anxiety and/or depression.

This phenomenon prompted me to a number of possible causes, and conclusions;

  1. These people need to chant more. I dismiss this idea because chanting more and more can become obsessive, and in the wrong context can form part of a coping behaviour to deal with things we would sooner avoid.
  2. These people need to study more. I’m not really sure anxiety disorder or mental illness is covered in the Gosho – and certainly this is not a topic that the SGI really gets involved in, unless someone can point me out guidance that doesn’t just rely on 1.
  3. The guidance they were receiving was unhelpful (and probably based on 1. and 2.) for individuals suffering from fundamental cognitive delusions, being told that your practice is just not strong enough is likely to cause the gates of your heart to crash shut permanently. I’m truly dismayed that more than one person has recounted this story.
  4. These people are beyond help, and require psychiatric care. I’m glad to say none of these people have been told this – but I don’t think bouncing someone away as beyond help would ever be a useful answer.
  5. There is something more to the practice that we are not aware of – in the end I kept coming back to this thought.

During the past year I would occasionally finish the day’s work in a state of utter mental dissonance. I would be tense, stressed out, and one or more such days preceded my attendance of a district meeting. Being stressed out in addition to trying to conquer social anxiety is not the best state of mind in which to go into a room full of folks and start belting out Nam Myoho Renge Kyo at 110%. I just wanted to lie down – somewhere quiet – and connect with the wisdom and compassion of my Buddhahood.

Rewind to the fifth month of the eighth year in the Bun’ei Era (1271). Nichiren writes A Treatise on the Ten Chapters of the Great Concentration and Insight. In it, he says:

What we should chant all the time as the practice of the perfect teaching is “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo,” and what we should keep in mind is the way of meditation based on the truth of “3000 existences contained in one thought.” Only wise men practice both chanting Namu Myoho Renge-kyo” and meditating on the truth of “3000 existences contained in one thought.” Lay followers of Japan today should recite only “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo.

Meditating on the truth of 3000 existences contained in one thought is a meditation on ichinen sanzen. This meditation refers to that given in the Maka Shikan, a meditation taught by T’ien-t’ai Chih-i (538-597CE), known variably in English as Great Concentration and Insight. However, the feeling at the time, and probably correct, was that this form of meditation was beyond the laity to adhere to. Not only intellectually, the amount of time (the seated meditation is 90 days) required would preclude most non-monks from participating.

So, what does Shikan mean? The two Kanji glyphs that make up the word translate into English as follows:

Shi – stop, halt, cease, detain. In this context Shi describes the Buddhist term Samatha, which although often used synonymously with Samadhi has a subtle difference in nuance. In this context Shi represents the action of developing the mind so as to overcome clinging – to stop the constant chatter, and reveal calmness.

Kan – see, observe, hold. In this context, Kan describes the Buddhist term Vipasyana, to develop wisdom in order to overcome our ignorance. It relates to the right contemplation of phenomena and the insight borne thereof. I suspect this means to focus on the wonder of ichinen sanzen.

While I don’t have 90 days to go sit in a room and contemplate the nature of the universe, the idea of clearing my mind before engaging in Gongyo sounded very productive to me, so I started to look into meditating on the breath, which extended into my every day life through employing mindfulness in many activities to keep my mind in the moment.

But wait – doesn’t that sound a little bit like… Zen?! It’s ironic that Dogen (the founder of Japanese Zen) placed much faith in the Lotus Sutra which he also held in the highest esteem, and yet, due to his differing interpretation of original enlightenment (or more precisely, the manner of its revelation), he and Nichiren would not see eye to eye. I suspect that the idea of silent meditation is not openly encouraged within the SGI because of fears it may lead members to look at practices such as Shodaigyo (a meditation practice of Nichiren Shu) or to look at Zen meditation.

So, while I haven’t really ventured much further into meditative practice than mindfulness, I have found that giving some time to undertake “Shi” can serve as a useful introduction to Gongyo and as a post Gongyo period of reflection.

I have also undertaken contemplative meditations in front of the Gohonzon, but first had to work out what to focus the mind on. I work with the breath around Taho and Shakyamuni Buddha, the characters on the top row of the Gohonzon on either side of the central Daimoku. This is based upon the fusion of reality and wisdom (Jpn kyochi-myogo) that T’ien-t’ai interpreted as Taho Buddha representing ultimate reality (emptiness) and Shakyamuni Buddha representing subjective wisdom (compassion).

Breathing in, I focus on Taho (Many Treasures) Buddha, realising emptiness and interdependence (dealing with any desires or attachments that pop into my mind), and breathing out I focus on Shakyamuni Buddha’s wisdom and compassion radiating out to embrace all living beings, helping me embrace and dissolve harmful emotions of anger etc. I carry out this meditation now most days for about 10 or 15 minutes.

This is helpful for me and helps mentally turn down the house lights and set the stage for the jewel of Daimoku. Or, without Daimoku, I have found it to be a worthwhile practice in it’s own right – especially when my mind has become over stimulated. Most importantly, it has deepened my understanding and dedication to my Buddhist practice, and also promoted a genuine openness to looking outside the SGI “box”.

If any other Nichiren Buddhists have experimented with silent meditative practices I’d be grateful to hear from you!

Acknowledgements to Robin at Fraught with Peril for the translation info of Shikan.

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61 Responses to Meditation in Nichiren Buddhism

  1. Mark Rogow August 5, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    Ikedaism is not Nichiren Daishonin Lotus Sutra Buddhism. Sooner or later [eventually], every disciple and believer of Daisaku Ikeda descends into the Lower Four Worlds, failing to realize the great merits, virtues, and boundless benefits of the Law.

    I have been told by my priest that it is appropriate to contemplate the Gohonzon, Namu Myoho renge kyo, Shakyamuni Buddha of the Juryo Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Taho, and the Four Leaders of the Bodhisatvas of the Earth [Actual Ichinen Sanzen]. Nichiren also teaches that for those of superior capacity, one may contemplate the 3000 Worlds in a Single Moment of Life [theoretical Ichinen Sanzen]. Breath counting and other meditative practices are not only counterproductive for the vast majority of practitioners, according to Nichiren, but harmful in this Latter Age. Again, according to Nichiren, one may very rarely encounter an individual who can be guided to the Lotus Sutra through the provisional teachings but I imagine, one would need to possess great knowledge and wisdom approaching that of Nichiren himself were one to encounter [or even be aware of] such an individual.

    • steve August 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Hello Mark. I wish you would start your comments in a less hectoring fashion. I don’t feel the need to explain my feelings about the SGI again here – but I have to remove your weblink because your approach is unnecessarily inflammatory. Consider a more skilful means and I’m sure people will engage more readily.

      It is interesting to hear that your priest regards the contemplation of the Gohonzon, and actual ichinen sanzen as “appropriate”.

      Breath counting, and mindfulness meditation has been pretty conclusively accepted by health professionals and spiritual practitioners the world over as beneficial to those suffering from anxiety disorder, so I’m unsure how this can be seen as counterproductive and certainly fail to see how it could be harmful. If it eases suffering and allows one to gain more from their practice, then that would seem a positive addition.

      I’m not claiming to be able to carry out Shikan, nor am I claiming to be a “wise man”. However, it is clear to me that to discard the provisional teachings entirely displays such an exclusively dogmatic view of the Lotus Sutra that it paradoxically contradicts much of middle way thought T’ien-t’ai incorporated into this doctrine of ichinen sanzen.

      Is not this constant rebuking and doctrinal infighting akin to the Brahmas considering the point at which the injured deer’s life ends? Is not the Bodhisattva path more about pulling the arrow from the wound? Perhaps I’m getting too old to be obsessed with dogmatic view any longer.

      In that vein, I must away – my grand-daughter wants to play a duet on the kazoo…

    • Ken Ferrara September 2, 2014 at 4:16 am #

      Mark, I have been practicing for 35 years with the Soka Gakkai and know many others in Riverdale and elsewhere who have been practicing at least as long. I’ve never met anyone who practiced earnestly with the Soka Gakkai who “inevitably descended into the Lower Four Worlds”! I have only met individuals who have become ever more convinced of the primacy of the Gohonzon and Nichiren Buddhism and who have devoted themselves ever more passionately over the passage of time with all the vigor they could muster in the cause of Kosen-Rufu! This is the legacy of Daisaku Ikeda, millions of practicioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism scattered throughout the world battling devilish forces every day in the pursuit of world peace and absolute happiness for all!
      Mark, I hope that you will read and reread and reread “On Attaining Buddhahood” and try to objectively apply it to your own precious life. ” If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, any discipline or good deed will be meaningless”. “Unless one perceives the nature of HIS life, he cannot eradicate his evil karma”! …if your mind is impure, your land will also be impure, but if your mind is pure, so is your land…”There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of” your “mind”!

      • steve September 2, 2014 at 7:42 am #

        devoted themselves ever more passionately over the passage of time with all the vigor they could muster in the cause of Kosen-Rufu! This is the legacy of Daisaku Ikeda, millions of practicioners of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism scattered throughout the world battling devilish forces every day in the pursuit of world peace and absolute happiness for all!

        Dear Ken – I’ve approved your comment for now – but as it’s aimed at Mark, who I know practices in an opposing sect – if it starts a flame war I’ll have to remove it. While you may be dedicated to peace, I think this kind of rhetoric is risky at best, open to misinterpretation and adoption by those likely to take a polarised view of the world.

  2. David August 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I would add this to your list of possible causes:

    These people need to chant better, or differently. Instead of thinking about what it is you want, or trying to chant daimoku at the speed of light, trying thinking of nothing in particular, and in this clear-minded way just focus on fusing with the “myo” character. And chant slower, so that you can really taste, really feel the daimoku. Some folks hold that reciting mantras in a slow, focused manner is akin to samatha meditation, although based on my experience, I feel that silent meditation is a more powerful way to calm the mind.

    Chih-i’s (T’ien-t’ai) 90 day meditation was a very specific meditation ritual based on shikan (Ch. chih-kuan), which is essentially samatha and vipassana practiced together holistically rather than individually. Chih-i wrote instructions for practicing shikan on an everyday basis for lay people in “Chih-kuan (shikan) for Beginners” (written for his brother-in-law), and while it is fairly intricate, I still feel it is accessible to lay practitioners. The Zen school distilled this into “skikan taza” which means to them “just sit” or “just meditate” and this is the basic meditation that Zen lay practitioners do today.

    • steve August 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

      Thanks David – I have also found that I can chant for much longer when I chant slowly, with a more relaxed voice – it’s actually more comfortable, and doesn’t ruin my voice. My voice tends to relax into quite a low register and chanting quickly it just becomes unfulfilling. Slower and deeper is far more powerful.

      I didn’t realise Chih-i created the Shikan for Beginners manual for this close family. I actually got an order in for this book already as I read about it on Fraught with Peril, so looking forward to it landing in the next week or so. I have read somewhere that this book forms the basis for Zazen – is that synonymous with skikan taza?

      The more I read, the more untenable the minor variations in the Japanese T’ien-t’ai offshoots become – to me at least. Mix and Match has great dangers in some senses, but then, everything is a remix to some degree – and the wisdom of the person doing it has to be relative, doesn’t it.

      I’ll carry on exploring my meditative practices, but my main “meat and potatoes”, in my heart, is still daimoku – but I do look upon it in a VERY different light to how I did a few months ago – as I’m sure you are aware :)

      • David August 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

        “I have read somewhere that this book forms the basis for Zazen – is that synonymous with skikan taza?”

        More or less. Shikan taza means “just sit.” Zazen just means “seated meditation.” Shikan is Japanese for Chih-kuan which is Chinese for samatha-vipassana (Sanskrit) – all meat on the same bone.

        In the next two posts on my blog, I will discuss the basics of Buddhist meditation and try to clarify many of these terms. (Sorry for plugging myself.)

        You are probably getting the “Dharma Essentials” translation by Dharmamitra. I kind of prefer the translation by Charles Luk in “Secrets of Chinese Meditation” myself. Maybe because it was the first one I read.

      • steve August 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm #

        Thanks for the clarification… the book I’m getting is The Essentials of Buddhist Meditation (Kalavinka Buddhist Classics) – Shramana Zhiyi (Author), Bhikshu Dharmamitra (Translator). Resorted to Amazon as my usual store doesn’t have it. Looking forward to your posts :-)

  3. Matt August 11, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    Rather than chanting slowly and without thinking of anything, I currently regard it as most effective to make a powerful prayer and chant quickly, keeping focus on our prayer. After all, Nichiren suggested we chant with the pace of a galloping horse.

    In any case, I don’t want to negate what works for people. But I wanted to share my own experience. When I make a prayer about a particular situation, such as ‘I am determined to propagate this buddhism with my very actions and gestures, from the depths of my life’, the situation I am chanting about feels different.

    Others I have found effective is ‘to share the profound and independent spirit of my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda’ and: ‘I refuse to live in Samsara and demand to see my own Buddhahood’.

    I’m sure you get the idea. If you want to try it, choose something that works for you. Be patient, chant with determination.

    When I try this, I feel life force surging through my body. I start to see things differently. I have fresh wisdom. And the universe seems to co-operate in unexpected ways.

    This is how a lot of SGI people seem to chant, and they seem to me to be extremely happy! I cannot understand Mark Rogow’s comment above, based on my own personal experience. I suppose we all have to evaluate the evidence in front of our own eyes and listen to what our life is telling us deep down as best we can. We have to try our best to avoid dogma and live based on our faith. Faith and dogma are not the same thing.

    I wish all of you suffering from anxiety the best. Recommitting and pushing ahead helped me really change my anxiety situation. Try to push yourself forward as much as you can, even if it feels like only small changes are possible – and not just in front of the Gohonzon but in terms of everything, such as exercise and making efforts to face situations (gradually, if necessary) that you are afraid of. I believe this has made it possible for me to make good progress – I had a practice full of guilt and anxiety six months ago. Right now, not so much. Of course, I’ve no idea what is on the road ahead but I believe if we persevere we’ll all definitely win. Don’t feel bad, think how many others out there are feeling the same way.

    • steve August 12, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      Thanks Matt.

      I’m keen to learn exactly where Nichiren wrote this recommendation for chanting like a “galloping horse” because I have been unable to locate it.

      People have so many different ideas about what to do with the mind while chanting, there is no clear and consistent doctrine that applies. Some suggest maintaining a clear mind, in which case the practice appears to be aiming for a similar mental state of Samatha. Others advocate focussing on an issue to gain insight (Vipasyana) into something, but then this isn’t really possible in isolation to Samatha. Others actively rely on visualisation, which sounds more like vajrayana practices (which would not be that unusual given the esoteric inclinations within Nichiren Buddhism).

      I always chanted with the simple desire to connect with the Mystic Law – that by some totally unseen mechanism I would magically start to improve – and to as large extent I did. I’m doing things today I never would have dreamed possible 2 years ago. I guess it’s like polishing that old mirror again – I feel like there’s a pretty good shine now, but there’s some real dents in the mirror, which no amount of Brasso is going to shift – I need my leather hammer to bash it straight!

      I think we all have different levels of ability in faith – which I think has some foundation in our basic wiring. Some people are more prone to hypnotism, whereas others gain nothing from it at all. The cynical might say that the ability to develop faith is akin to how gullible you can be, but I tend to disagree, and think this is a narrow view. The ability to modify our thinking in a positive way is a powerful skill and a great blessing. We are all very good at reinforcing negative patterns over time, but to undo them takes something special to happen. Faith, still has a great deal to play, but sometimes it requires a bit of help.

      Like digging up a tree stump, you can’t just keep going with the same tool (unless you really want to tire yourself out un-necessarily). Sometimes you have to put down the spade, pick up an axe, and hack away at a few exposed roots. Then, when you go back to the spade things have a greater chance of coming free. Just my view…

  4. Matt August 12, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Regarding the issue of faith, I was really helped by reading the Gosho passage where Nichiren warns against attachment to the Lotus Sutra. This helped me overcome my tendency to find suffering in aspects of Nichiren Buddhism that seemed to me internally inconsistent. I think faith is one of the most confusing things because faith seems so often to be equivalent to attachment/dogma in the West. But in Buddhism faith and attachment seem more like opposites.

    So I think critical thought definitely has a role and proving the law by changing our circumstances has a role, too – so I think I agree with you if I understand your tools metaphor. But I think that these tools have to be used in the right way. I think my need to find answers and the way that I used to critique Buddhist principles had an unhealthy aspect that went hand in hand with my anxiety. I was letting my anxious need for a logical systematization of Buddhism drive my study, rather than viewing study and critical thought as gradual means of waking up my inherent wisdom. When you adopt the latter view you can avoid the suffering when you encounter an apparent inconsistency and be patient about resolving it.

    This felt like a bit of a prison when I was going through it. If anyone reading this is experiencing anything like that, I urge them to keep going and be patient! I really believe you’ll be happy.

    • steve August 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      Nichiren’s warning against over attachment to the LS is something I don’t remember reading, but then I’ve not fully read V2 of WND yet, and keep dipping in and out as I get time. Given his very exclusive view of the LS, I’m intrigued to see the context.

      Faith is a “view” based on personal knowledge and experience, and is therefore empty and impermanent. This is not to say that faith doesn’t or can’t exist, because clearly we experience it, but it’s important to respect it for what it is – a mental formation (albeit a positive one). As you say, faith very easily turns into attachment to dogma.

      If I have suffered in any way due to becomming disatisfied with apparent inconsistencies between Nichiren/SGI and mainstream Buddhism, then I believe this was probably inevitable and necessary, as it must be for a lot of people. You’re right, for a while, my practice did feel like prison – but this was because the SGI is, for me anyway, a little too much “one in mind”. There is a difference between solidarity and unitarism. The Buddha, and Nichiren both professed reliance on proof over blind faith. I find dogma disturbing, and where I see it then I’m inclined to investigate it.

      Critical thinking is [absolutley] necessary, but is clearly not sufficient alone to reveal one’s Buddhahood. Chanting and/or meditation and taking our practice into daily life are essential to achieve this end. Clearly, as time goes on, faith becomes more based upon personal experience. I also agree that if one goes looking for a school of Buddhism without any inconsistencies then he will be sorely disappointed :)

      The reason for my blog is to explore things which are there to be seen in the hope that other Nichiren Buddhists, rather than become disillusioned or giving up the practice, can see it for what it is – one man’s desire to save humanity from suffering by offering a single practice form of Buddhism that connects anyone, from kings to beggars, with the Mystic Law.

      Of course, he wasn’t the only one, and what he taught might not suit everyone. Of course, one might disagree with that point of view, but then that would be dogma, wouldn’t it 😉 I tend to agree with Zen thinking in this respect that there is but a single Ultimate Law and any/all methods to explain it are expedients. The only way to realise it is through personally experiencing enlightenment. Some teachings are more effective in aiding this than others – from an individual’s point of view. The important thing is to keep exploring and persevere.

      In the meantime, I hope you are well, and its nice to hear from you again!

    • Rich August 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

      I’m so happy to have found this conversation! This is a question I have pondered a lot myself.

      I’m relatively new to the practice, having chanted consistently for about two years. I’m very wary of any kind of dogma, and there does seem to be a lot within the teachings. I also think the benefits of meditation are wonderful, though Daimoku has proved to be a lot easier to do autonomously.

      I have watched videos about the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, and the combination of different meditations and mantra chanting does look very good. The central Mahayana teachings seem to be the same also.

      We all llike something to be neatly wrapped up in a package don’t we? It’s troubling that meditation doesn’t seem to be prescribed anywhere in the package of this practice. Especially when so many practitioners I meet seem to lack mindfulness. Then again, I remind myself that surely the joyful spirit I encounter in most practitioners is even more important than mindfulness. Though at the same time it reminds me of born again Christians, and this again makes me wary; because it can come across as mindless!

      I really would love to meditate more, but I get the impression that within the practice of this Buddhism, it is seen as time that could be better spent doing Daimoku. I suppose I should make my own mind up, but then again, don’t you either accept the advice of your mentor/guide/guru, or find another one?

      Questions, questions, questions….

      • steve August 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

        Hi Rich, thanks for chiming in. I think David puts a good point, but you spell out precisely where I am right now “you either accept the advice of your mentor/guide/guru, or find another one?” – and I think I might now be able to make up my mind.

        As I was saying to a friend earlier about this conversation… it’s a little like debating with a born again christian – By gradually reducing each argument down to it’s core, the kernel is invariably revealed as “because Nichiren said so” – I guess the question I have to ask is weather I want to invest several hours in researching things back to the point I find Nichiren’s “lightbulb” moment (which really doesn’t explain anything other than at what point Nichiren made up his own mind), or spend that time more valuably trying to work on my own practice. The question of whether Nichiren was right or wrong is as unhelpful as it is unprovable in any absolute sense.

        As of today I’m ambivalent regarding the practice, Nichiren, and Ikeda. I see many people who find great comfort, and growth through the practice. I also hear from many people who find the opposite. Of course, the vast majority of people for whom the practice doesn’t work don’t go shouting about it from the highest rooftops, so we never know those statistics.

        I have to confess, the more Matt justifies his position, the more I am inclined to walk away from the SGI and Nichiren Buddhism in general – this is not Matt’s fault in any way, but this discussion has forced me to critically analyse what I’m doing more than at any other time. Anything that can create this passion for a practice rather than a genuine openness to understanding is, in my view, not something I want to be a part of. I am not a great Buddhist scholar, but some of the logical arguments here are just too large to ignore.

        I could go on debating ad infinitum, but this will neither benefit Matt (A Buddhist practitioner who I respect greatly as someone searching deeply for the foundations of his practice) or myself. The compassionate thing here is to end what will inevitably only provide fuel for strong emotions.

  5. Matt August 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    The warning against attachment (NB not “over-attachment”) to the Lotus Sutra is something I remember encountering in WND-1. However, I can’t seem to find it there, and google searches haven’t been successful either. I have a distinct memory of reading it, probably more than once, in my physical copy of WND-1.

    I wonder if you might be helped by suspending the ideas of emptiness and impermanence in your mind and allowing yourself to experience this Buddhism in ways that go beyond those ideas.

    After all, the idea of emptiness and impermanence must themselves be empty and impermanent if they are really true.

    Maybe we tap into something eternal when we chant that cannot be captured by those ideas. I would say that the essence of faith in the lotus sutra is something eternal and not reducible to an empty and impermanent mental construct.

    I cannot agree with you that the lotus sutra is essentially equivalent to the other sutras. When penicillin is available to treat a serious infection, to go around offering homeopathic remedies can have awful consequences. If we say that buddhahood can’t be experienced by certain people, what kind of lives are we creating for ourselves?

    I wish you the very best!

    • steve August 13, 2012 at 12:33 am #

      Hi Matt. I think the only way to go beyond the realisation of emptiness and impermanence is to experience directly the Mystic Law. Emptiness and impermanence are empty insofar that they are a relative viewpoint, but then they are really essential to understanding “Myo”. Nichiren, I think, understood this coming from a Tendai background. Understanding emptiness and impermanence are essential in going into our desires and being able to let go of clinging to them (this is not the same as negating our desires, but accepting and recognising them – simple at the gross level but profoundly enabling when we can uncover our deepest most subtle desires that cause our anxieties).

      I totally agree about tapping into something eternal that cannot be captured or reduced to a mental, or verbal/written format. Like trying to describe the experience of eating a Mango to someone who has never done so – it is simply impossible without using relative references, and even then it will be off the mark.

      I didn’t mean to imply sameness when I said that all sutras are expedients. That would be like saying penicillin is the same as homeopathy. Clearly, the Lotus reveals something deeply profound in principle, but it doesn’t provide a specific practice for attaining enlightenment further than the recitation, reading, copying etc. of the Sutra itself. Nichiren simply made this more accessible to the laity by condensing it into the Gohonzon. Again, that’s not to say this is without merit, but it could only ever be a signpost to enlightenment. It wasn’t even written until around 500 years after the historical Buddha passed into extinction by a group of Buddhists we know little of. If the Lotus Sutra is the Absolute truth, then which translation of the sanskrit or prakrit? It’s all prone to error and interpretation both in translation and then the reading itself. On this basis, it words that have come to us by definition are not an accurate depiction of what was in the Buddha’s mind – how could they be? To believe so would be a matter of faith alone, as it is illogical to rationalise it any other way.

      I also didn’t preclude any group of people from experiencing Buddhahood. We all have that potential, and some of us attain it via other routes than the Lotus Sutra. To believe otherwise is simply delusion.

      I’m not trying to knock down your deeply held beliefs in the Lotus Sutra as a means to salvation, but I do respectfully take exception to it being promoted as the only way – which really brings me back to the original post.

      If you do find that reference, let me know! Take care and have a great week.

  6. Matt August 16, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    Hope you’re well.

    Regarding translation, and knowing the Buddha’s mind, I personally don’t think we should think of ‘the Buddha’ as just one person in history, but as a function that persists through time. So I probably look at the translation issues etc in a very different way to you. You’re right that my seeing it the way I do is a faith issue but is one based on practical experience as well as a little bit of understanding of the way the history of this Buddhism seems to have worked, and the principles we’re practicing themselves.

    Regarding the matter of the exclusivity of the Lotus Sutra, I also might interpret this differently to you. As I see it, you can’t really manifest this function of Buddhahood without seeing all people as essentially Buddhas. So if you were to base your practice on a provisional sutra and take to heart that women cannot achieve Buddhahood in this lifetime, you couldn’t achieve Buddhahood. This is what I think it means that only the Lotus Sutra can lead us to enlightenment. I don’t see it as really meaning the specific one document that Shakyamuni wrote (this document itself identifies other lotus sutras as having been preached before it!), but as meaning that you’ve got to practice in your life the profound principles contained in the Lotus Sutra in order to be enlightened – including originally inherent enlightenment and absolute respect for human life! Hence the SGI advocate engaging the wisdom which is already there in other religions as part of the movement for Kosen Rufu.

    I should say also that I regard the invocation of the Lotus Sutra and its powerful effect as showing that Sutra is more than a mere ‘signpost’. I.e. it doesn’t rely on us to understand and interpret the meaning intellectually, or follow specific directions, in order for it to help us draw out our inherent wisdom. Who can fully explain this? Not me.

    Anyway, good luck with everything! I wish you the best.

    • steve August 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      Hey Matt – hope you are well also. In terms of faith, we both understand the Buddha as described in the 16th chapter – i.e. who achieved enlightenment in the distant past. His/Her mind is inconceivable. Therefore, any attempt to describe it in language will be a compromise.

      I agree that original enlightenment (hongaku) stemming from T’ien-t’ai (based on the Lotus) is core to accepting that we can all experience buddhahood. However, and this is where my belief is more inclusive, this fact does not negate all provisional teachings – it simply provides the good news that we can all attain enlightenment by propagating the Lotus Sutra. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak.

      To discard the many valuable lessons and practices in the provisional sutras smacks of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I see other teachings illuminated in the light of the Lotus, not obscured by it.

      “practice in your life the profound principles contained in the Lotus Sutra in order to be enlightened – including originally inherent enlightenment and absolute respect for human life”

      How do you practice the profound principles of the Lotus Sutra in your life? Exactly what principles do we practice, and how do they manifest? How do you practice original enlightenment exactly? I’ll skip the bit about absolute respect for human life because that is clearly not exclusive to the Lotus Sutra. Forgive my impertinence but these are vague statements and are similar to what I read in SGI material. If anything, the values the SGI espouse, while generally quite noble, are certainly nothing original and certainly not exclusive to the Lotus Sutra.

      If the power of Daimoku or reciting gongyo doesn’t require us to even understand what any of it means, then this is blind faith by any definition. Why even study? For a faith based practice, there sure is a lot of writing coming out of HQ.

      So again, coming back to the Original Post, the ultimate reality is indescribable. The Lotus Sutra doesn’t specifically describe it either. It certainly doesn’t describe a practice for realising it other than reading, copying and reciting the Sutra. It doesn’t say or/and, so does that mean a blind person cannot achieve enlightenment unless she can do all three (read/write/copy)? It doesn’t prescribe the Gohonzon, and it doesn’t preclude meditation.

      Chih-i T’ien-t’ai also developed the idea of the “threefold Lotus Sutra” – 1.) the fundamental Lotus – the one vehicle of the Buddha’s compassionate intent which is beyond human comprehension, 2.) The hidden and secret Lotus, or those teaching in which, due to the immaturity of the audience, his intentions were never fully revealed, and 3.) The Lotus that was preached explicitly – i.e. the written Lotus that we know of.

      Don’t forget, Nichiren would have known this too, and practiced Shikan, and he worshiped the statue of the Buddha that Ito Sukemitsu gave to him while in exile. Do you genuinely believe the SGI has the sole claim to Nichiren buddhism, and that Nichiren is the sole arbiter of one’s salvation through the Lotus Sutra? I think it comes down to personal preference – and if that kind of faith works for you then thats wonderful – but I remain uncomfortable with the proselytising of single practice buddhism, and that is why I remain on the fringe.

      I must thank you for this interesting dialogue – I am really grateful for your ideas.

      • Rich August 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

        Wow, fantastic dialogue! Really interesting conversation. Steve, you have been voicing all of my doubts to the letter! And Matt, you have been voicing my answers to myself in defence of the practice.

        Steve, do you still go to discussion meetings?

  7. Matt August 26, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Hey Steve. How are you? I keep rewriting this reply because I’m unsatisfied with the answers I provide on several of the issues you talk about. I think my understanding is still developing on a lot of these issues. So, here’s my current approach.

    First off, my faith is based on what I actually see in my life and what I feel in my heart. I think this is how it should function for everyone. Nobody needs to feel boxed in. I don’t think that is really in the spirit of the SGI.

    I think the SGI stance on both the provisional sutras and meditation is a practical one based on the long-term aim of propagating a practice that can benefit absolutely anyone who is willing to try it out. This practice emphasizes concrete action to uphold the Lotus Sutra over teachings and practices that might end up detracting from it.

    Nichiren cites Chang-an’s advice to Buddhists in the latter day of the law: “In times like these, it is useless to practice the reading, reciting, and copying [of the Lotus Sutra] or to devote oneself to the methods and practices of meditation. One should practice only the shakubuku method of propagation, and if one has the capacity, use one’s influence and authority to destroy slander of the correct teaching, and one’s knowledge of the teachings to refute erroneous doctrines”.

    Nichiren also relates the story from the Nirvana Sutra, of Shariputra’s attempt to teach someone in the ways of breath-counting – and its result in turning the person into someone of erroneous views. It depends on what is right for the particular person.

    I think the position of both SGI and Nichiren is based on what will be effective in giving absolutely everyone a shot at enlightenment. Based on my own experiences, this makes sense to me.

    Having said all this, I don’t think the position is one of complete rejection of meditation or the provisional sutras. I think that the provisional sutras have their place and that for some people they might be very beneficial. Likewise, I myself have gained benefit from meditation, although I did end up finding other ways of addressing anxiety more useful, such as exercise. It’s not about boxing yourself off, but about understanding what is the really important stuff so that we don’t get distracted from our concrete action in the world as bodhisattvas of the earth, but instead work out for ourselves what can help us be happy and fulfil our missions.

    The idea of putting originally inherent enlightenment into practice might sound vague, but I am always finding it applicable to my own life. If someone strikes me as somehow unworthy, I know I’m not basing my relationship with him or her on our mutual Buddhahood and I have to dig deep to change it. If a situation makes me feel that I am unworthy or ashamed, I know I’m not seeing myself as a Buddha, but basing my identity on some shallow, transient characteristic. (Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to appreciate our concrete positive qualities, too, and to recognise our flaws.) If I have decided that some goal or situation is beyond me, then I know that I am putting limits on my life and that again I am not really seeing myself as a Buddha and I am not practicing the Buddhism of true cause. Obviously this whole thing is a process, but through gradually overcoming our limits and developing our respect for ourselves and others we can uphold the law in our own lives in a concrete sense.

    I am sure there are other implications, too. I hope you are well!

    • steve August 26, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      Hi Matt. Hope you are well also. It’s good to talk things through – I think we all have a better understanding of our feelings and thoughts after a critical discussion.

      First off, my faith is based on what I actually see in my life and what I feel in my heart. I think this is how it should function for everyone. Nobody needs to feel boxed in. I don’t think that is really in the spirit of the SGI.

      Totally with you there :) I think the SGI has to have it’s point of view, though, and that’s fine – if you want to share in that point of view then you will be happy in the SGI. The SGI’s scope is what it is.

      I think the SGI stance on both the provisional sutras and meditation is a practical one based on the long-term aim of propagating a practice that can benefit absolutely anyone who is willing to try it out. This practice emphasizes concrete action to uphold the Lotus Sutra over teachings and practices that might end up detracting from it.

      I think you have hit the nail on the head. It is about propagating a practice that attempts to fit everyone. I guess the real question here is whether you are willing to accept the one-size-fits-all argument when this wasn’t tought by T’ien-t’ai (or Chang-an – Chih-i’s disciple). And as you say in the second sentence, it is uncompromising in it’s exclusivity.

      Nichiren also relates the story from the Nirvana Sutra, of Shariputra’s attempt to teach someone in the ways of breath-counting – and its result in turning the person into someone of erroneous views. It depends on what is right for the particular person.

      The story of the goldsmith and the washerman in the Nirvana Sutra is important I think. If any teaching/dogma turns someone away from the teachings, then either the teaching is incorrect/corrupted or it is being given to the wrong person or at the wrong time. The Lotus Sutra is all embracing, and what it represents, The Law, is the absolute truth. It isn’t a teaching to attain realisation of the Truth as such – it simply reveals that we CAN all experience that truth in our lives. So, my argument would remain – it’s Nichiren’s assertion that Daimoku will connect you with The Law. In a sense, unless you buy into Nichiren as the Buddha of Mappo, then what makes his practice any more effective in making that connection than, say, Zen, or Tibetan Vajrayana practices?

      I think the position of both SGI and Nichiren is based on what will be effective in giving absolutely everyone a shot at enlightenment. Based on my own experiences, this makes sense to me.

      That’s fair enough. I know it helps a great many people – myself included. I’m not disputing it’s efficacy, but like giving the same sized pair of boots to everyone – yes, they’ll all benefit from dry warm feet, and some will find the boots fit incredibly well and will scale great mountains – but others may need to wear some socks!

      Likewise, I myself have gained benefit from meditation, although I did end up finding other ways of addressing anxiety more useful, such as exercise. It’s not about boxing yourself off, but about understanding what is the really important stuff so that we don’t get distracted from our concrete action in the world as bodhisattvas of the earth, but instead work out for ourselves what can help us be happy and fulfil our missions.

      Again, that’s fair enough. We are primarily here as Bodhisattvas – as someone said to me recently, words like attainment and enlightenment are a little final. Awakening is a better way to look at Buddhahood – it’s something we experience as an aside – it cannot be seen as our goal; to do so is simply clinging. Having been fighting CFS for several years, exercising is a contentious topic, but I do walk 4 miles a day which I have been building up to for years despite relapses :) and Daimoku has been part of that – I freely admit.

      If I have decided that some goal or situation is beyond me, then I know that I am putting limits on my life and that again I am not really seeing myself as a Buddha and I am not practicing the Buddhism of true cause.

      I agree very much with your final paragraph. The above quote, though, is where in the past I have found attitudes to be utterly narcissistic (i.e. Look at how happy I have become, so you can do this too). There are some things we are saddled with physically (like a heart defect) that we can’t “chant away” – and the notion that by not investing our whole energy into “chanting it away” we’re passing up the opportunity to be cured is to display a singularly pious lack of compassion.

      Keep practicing!

      • Matt August 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

        Hello again!

        Nichiren’s practice is what has brought me to Buddhism and what gives me faith in the whole thing. So I do have a degree of faith in Nichiren as the Buddha of Mappo, and I do have increasing faith that it can connect anyone to the law.

        I don’t find the SGI practice restrictive – I just feel as though someone has given me the essentials and I can pursue it in the way that’s best for me, and not only that but with support. The other sutras are clearly cited by both Nichiren and SGI, so I don’t see them as excluded, just rightly de-emphasized.

        It is wonderful that you have been so successful in challenging your CFS. Isn’t this an example of refusing to accept limits and expanding the boundaries of one’s life?

        Sometimes what people achieve with faith is especially dramatic, so I’m not sure I agree with setting up any sort of theoretical boundaries for what people can do with daimoku (and concrete action to back it up). I have to say I don’t think it’s narcissistic to inspire others with your victories, but I agree with you that someone’s mission is a matter of deep wisdom, and certainly not a matter for idle speculation by others. The main thing is to achieve our profound desires even in the face of massive obstacles.

        Thanks again for your replies, it has been wonderful to have the opportunity to engage with someone about Buddhism so regularly.

      • steve August 29, 2012 at 9:25 am #

        Hi Matt.

        If one truly believes the buddhist cosmology depicted in documents like the Lotus Sutra, then one has to accept the multiple-buddha concept – that more than a single buddha can appear in any single universe. Their manifest bodies are all of the same dharma body. So, while Nichiren can say “I, Nichiren, am sovereign, teacher, father and mother to all the people of Japan.” and thus proclaim himself, as the de facto Buddha of mappo, he could only really be another emanation of the original Buddha, of which Shakyamuni was also an emanation. Therefore if anything he teaches is at odds with anything previously taught, then it must be viewed carefully. And I think this is where the exclusivity of the practice comes in because [necessarily] it simply cannot sit alongside a good deal of existing teachings because of it’s self proclaimed exclusivity. I’m not saying it cannot connect someone to the law, though.

        I think whether you find the practice restrictive or not depends entirely on where you atr at, personally. This also goes for your feelings regarding the position of the Lotus Sutra compared to all other teachings. Ultimately, it has to work for you, and help you become a happier, more compassionate human being – if it does, then that’s great. But as I said previously, your winning lottery numbers aren’t necessarily mine.

        I feel we could go at this for the rest of our lives, but it will keep coming back to how you view the ultimate law… As something that can only be realised or touched in this lifetime through the Nichiren™ method, or is available through other meditative practices.

        Personally, I think Nichiren was on to something. I practice because I find it incredibly powerful for generating compassionate courage – probably helped by the imagery associated with it (Lions etc). The hardest part of the SGI for me is Sensei worship. I just don’t get the personality cult – never met the guy – never seen him deliver lectures – never seen him at peace demonstrations. I do know he’d like me to donate money to what is already an enormously wealthy political organisation. So, until I know him personally, I can’t regard him as my mentor. I know he is like Marmite – many love him, many hate him – If the SGI wasn’t so utterly Ikeda-centric I’d probably feel differently.

        The act of chanting, however, is not really Smrti – stopping, ceasing to think. The idea, as I understand it, is that by not thinking anything, you “resonate” with the Mystic Law and without any concentration or insight you leap straight to awakened realisation.

        Yes, the practice has helped me challenge the CFS. As you say, it has given me great courage to overcome some profound obstacles. But this has not occurred in isolation from meditative practice. For example, through meditation, truly concentrating single pointedly on someone else’s suffering and visualising the absorption of that suffering into one’s own ego will act to break down our self-centredness. These kinds of practices are designed to fundamentally alter the way our cognition functions. It makes spiritual and scientific sense. It really is a middle way practice. I’m not sure how Daimoku alters the brain to help us instinctively think differently if all we are doing is clearing the mind – remember the Mystic Law doesn’t reprogram us because it’s unable to (i.e. the Mystic Law is not external to us, and doesn’t do things of it’s own volition). Personally I can’t help but visualise when I’m chanting, so that’s perhaps why it helps me cultivate courage? Who knows… Daimoku based faith reminds me of the early Apple adverts… “it just works”.

  8. Matt August 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    For me, what it means for Nichiren to be the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law is that he gave us a concrete practice of the Lotus Sutra and showed us how to uphold those principles in daily life. It doesn’t mean that nobody else manifested Buddhahood. If anything he teaches is at odds with our common sense, reason, or understanding, we should view it carefully – I agree. To do otherwise would not help us develop our capacity.

    As far as what you call the exclusivity of the practice, Nichiren has justified this, citing both the Lotus Sutra and T’ien T’ai in his argument that practices based on the five-paramitas can be harmful for practitioners of the Lotus Sutra who haven’t yet reached the right stage (see the Gosho on Four Stages of Faith). I do not dismiss your (or my) experiences with meditation but there is a strong basis in Buddhism to be wary of propagating it alongside the daimoku.

    I don’t think the effectiveness of daimoku can be explained in the same way you explained the effectiveness of your compassion meditation. I know there has been some interesting research on the effect of mantras on the brain. I do think that any scientific explanation would have a hard time accounting for what myself and others have experienced. Why should this sound have such a profound effect? When I chant with determination to propagate the law, my whole experience of life is sometimes changed in a matter of moments. I have a friend who experienced a profound effect on his very first attempt at chanting. And I have been able to reach others by chanting for them remotely, too. It is a matter of manifesting our Buddhahood. The compassion and courage you talk about unfold from that, as does wisdom. We really do have a practice that goes beyond ordinary understanding.

    I am surprised to see you discuss the mentor-disciple issue in the terms you do. I don’t think the SGI is Ikeda-centric and I haven’t found it to be characterised by ‘Ikeda-worship’. The principle of mentor and disciple is not about worship; in fact worship is directly opposed to the mentor-disciple relationship propounded by the SGI, which as I understand it is about following his example and cultivating one’s intent to help all of humanity. Yes, it can be quite counter-intuitive and it is fine to scrutinize it and to question what the point of it is. For me, I find the principle more intelligible when I think of it in terms of the effect I have had on the people close to me through my practice. As I have developed, those with karmic relationships with me seem to have developed, too.

    I do think it is an act of compassion, if you believe the SGI to be wrong about something, to challenge it, but I believe you misrepresent the issue above, which only muddles things, no matter what the truth of the issue is.

    I also think you should show less disrespect to Nichiren and SGI. Even if they are wrong you shouldn’t allow yourself to belittle the efforts of other human beings to lead others to enlightenment, especially when they have risked their lives to do so (as have Nichiren, Josei Toda, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and others). I am definitely for people speaking their minds and saying what they think is right, but sometimes the way you express your opinions seems to show a lack of gratitude to those who have worked to provide you with what you describe as a powerful practice for developing your compassionate courage.

    I wish you the best, and I thank you again for the time you have put into this conversation, and for your sincere thoughts. Also, you are the cause of most of my Gosho reading in the last two weeks!

    • steve August 29, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      Hi Matt,

      I’m glad that I have been the catalyst for study! I’m sad that you feel I have disrespected Nichiren – it wasn’t my intention to cause offence. I also don’t feel that I have belittled anyone. Daisaku Ikeda has built a formidable organisation, no doubt. I simply stated what is commonly known, and my own personal opinion, which is that my feelings for him are neutral. Simply because I do not want to constantly read his material or venerate him (worship was too strong a word, I accept) does not imply disrespect.

      I did find this today
      http://fraughtwithperil.com/cratkins/2008/11/06/mindful-buddhist-healing/

      Which maybe adds another perspective. I think we have to simply accept that we see things differently, Matt. You clearly get a great deal from a purely faith based practice, as have your friends who have gained benefit from a single session of daimoku, and as I have already said, that is wonderful. Anything that allows you to awaken to the true nature of reality and to manifest compassion for others is praiseworthy.

      However, if Nichiren were ultimately correct in his assertions regarding the capacity of people in the Latter Day that he makes in Four Stages of Faith and Five Stages of Practice then it would mean that anyone not practising his Buddhism today is deluding themselves. There is no other way to avoid this conclusion. I would be interested to hear what characters like the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh (who both personify compassion in the most profound ways) would make of that, and what Daisaku Ikeda genuinely feels about the Buddhism those people practice, but then that is an internal dialogue you and I are never going to hear.

      Do I accept everything Nichiren said and taught? No. Does this mean I am ungrateful to Nichiren? No. To think otherwise is a step towards regarding anyone who does not practise to the letter of the Gosho as misguided. I think when we start to accuse one another of disrespect then we are clinging too strongly to views, and perhaps should step back. Just as I have helped you take more study time, you have helped me to further clarify how I understand Buddhism, and how I should be practising… Have a nice week.

  9. David August 30, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    Just to clarify a point, Nichiren’s use of quotes by T’ien-t’ai (Chih-i), Miao-lo, and Dengyo in “On the Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice,” are taken completely out of context. Nichiren often did this in order to support his specious contention about the exclusive practice based on the Lotus Sutra.

    The fact is that T’ien-t’ai was actually quite critical of Buddhist teachers who propagated exclusive or single practices. He referred to such teachers as purveyors of “extreme” views. He criticized the “Zen” masters of his time for focusing on “meditation alone” while neglecting other Buddhist practices. In several of his works, he mentions that one-sided practice is unbalanced and perhaps even dangerous. The practices that T’ien-t’ai taught were all-inclusive, relying not on meditation alone or chanting alone. For instance in the Lotus Samadhi, Step 7 is reciting the Lotus Sutra, while Step 8 is sitting in meditation.

    I have no doubt that all three of the T’ien-t’ai/Tendai masters Nichiren quotes in this gosho would view him as an extremist. Nichiren simply did not understand the subtlety of T’ien-t’ai teachings. The latter was about as un-dogmatic as one could possibly get.

  10. Matt August 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Hi David,

    Just to be clear, Nichiren first grounds his assertion in the Lotus Sutra directly, and quite convincingly. He then cites T’ien T’ai for further support:

    “There is a danger that a beginner will be led astray by subordinate concerns, and that this will interfere with the primary practice. The beginner should directly give all his attention to embracing this sutra; that is the highest type of offering. If one sets aside formal practices but maintains the principle, then the benefits will be many and far-reaching.”

    This is quite a clear and direct passage which appears to support Nichiren’s view that additions to the practice can be harmful in the first stages. This is obviously perfectly compatible with the stance on zen meditation you outline, but it does provide a good prima facie case that T’ien T’ai is in agreement with Nichiren here. I’d be interested if you have time to explain what about the context would change that.

    It also must be said – I don’t think it is necessarily dogmatic to believe that it is more efficacious to practice in a particular way. When a pharmacist advises against combining certain drugs, or language teacher advises on not beginning the study of two new languages at once, this is not generally seen as dogmatic. It is not the view itself which makes it dogmatic, but the manner in which it is held. I do not interpret the Gosho as being dogmatic, but being based on an open-minded reason and heartfelt faith. I respect your sincere opinion on Buddhist practice but I don’t think I am dogmatic for judging things differently.

    Best wishes.

  11. Matt August 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    I’m glad I was incorrect about your lack of gratitude towards Nichiren. As I stated above, though, my concern was not based on your views, which I have always accepted are different to mine, but on your manner of expression in several places. I am obviously subject to error, but given my reading of the situation I felt it was the right thing to speak up. I am in agreement with you that you don’t have to agree with Nichiren in order to be grateful for a practice which you find beneficial.

    I recognise you feel that we’ve reached the limit of dialogue, and that’s fine. I have to register that I do not find your description of the SGI to accord with ‘what is commonly known’, but perhaps we can save that discussion for another time. Thank you for your time and effort.

    Best of luck with the website and life in general. Keep practicing.

  12. David August 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Matt, the question here is about exclusivity of the practice, i.e. chanting daimoku and reciting the two chapters of the Lotus Sutra only and disregarding other Buddhist practices. The Lotus Sutra makes a lot of statements about how it is the foremost sutra and relying on this sutra only, but you will such statements in all of the Mahayana sutras, and therefore they need to be taken with a grain of salt, as they were standard Buddhist literary devices the composers of the sutras employed. I think we also need to keep in mind that Nichiren had a mystical and mythological understanding of the Lotus Sutra, for instance he believed that the historical Buddha taught the sutra directly, which today we know is not the case.

    The quotes that he presents from “Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra” by Chih-i (T’ien-t’ai) like the one that you included in your reply contradict other statements by Chih-i in his other works, such as this one found in the Mo Ho Chih-kuan, his definitive work on practice:”If people rely exclusively [on either cessation or contemplation, or on only one teaching or practice] to attain understanding, then what was the reason for the Buddha to offer such a variety of teachings? The heavens are not always clear; a doctor does not rely exclusively on powdered medicine; one does not always eat rice.”

    The answer to this contradiction must be that Nichiren is taking these quotes out of context to bolster his contentions. It’s difficult to know either way since the parts of “Word and Phrases” Nichiren quotes have not be translated into English. But this notion is supported by looking at how Nichiren quotes Dengyo. He says, “The Great Teacher Dengyo declared, “I have forthwith cast aside the two hundred and fifty precepts!” Dengyo’s remarks were addressing a quite complicated and involved issue regarding the adoption of the 250 “Hinayana” precepts as opposed to the more esoteric Fang Wang or Bodhisattva precepts that occurred in the course of Dengyo’s attempts to establish Tendai as a fully recognized school of Buddhism in Japan. It had nothing whatsoever to do with any notions of exclusive practice or adhering to the Lotus Sutra only. Denygo and the Tendai school never promoted a single-practice motif. So here, at least to me, it is quite obvious that Nichiren is taking Dengyo’s words out of their original context to support his idea of a single precept of the Lotus Sutra, which Dengyo never advocated.

    I don’t have anything else to add to this discussion. I merely wanted to clarify a few things for the sake of anyone reading this whose mind may be open to the possibility or more than one way of understanding these issues. Sorry to have taken up so much space.

  13. Matt August 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Hi David,

    Please don’t apologise. We’re all entitled to make clarifications, and of course we are all doing it for the same reasons – in the hope that others won’t be misled and end up suffering as a result. I’m grateful for your substantiating your points. You’re welcome to continue to clarify/refute, or not, as you wish.

    I am sure there are many different textually grounded ways to interpret the Lotus Sutra, T’ien T’ai and Dengyo. I am not trying to deny people space to proceed with their own views. My own faith is that Nichiren interpreted these texts/authors from the standpoint of his enlightenment. However, if you can show that his interpretation is really untenable, then obviously that is an important service that you would do for me and others, and I have to take that into account. On the other hand, if you are wrong then I would like to do my best so that people can make their judgement based on a fuller understanding.

    You start out by claiming that the passages Nichiren is citing in this particular Gosho are merely part of the literary devices common to all Sutras. However, this does not seem to be the case, as the passage actually specifies that people in the later stages of practice gain benefit from upholding the precepts. So this particular passage doesn’t appear to be an example of what you’re talking about.

    Then you go on to discuss Nichiren’s citation of Dengyo and T’ien T’ai in order to substantiate your view that Nichiren regularly quotes authors out of context to suit his needs. As you know, Nichiren made a long study of T’ien T’ai and Dengyo’s texts, among others, so would have been quite familiar with the passages you cite.

    So, first up is T’ien T’ai. You cite him as follows:

    “If people rely exclusively [on either cessation or contemplation, or on only one teaching or practice] to attain understanding, then what was the reason for the Buddha to offer such a variety of teachings? The heavens are not always clear; a doctor does not rely exclusively on powdered medicine; one does not always eat rice.”

    My understanding is that actually the immediate context of this quote is actually certain meditative practices. In any case, when the matter of the Lotus Sutra is specifically spoken of, the case really does appear to be different. To re-cite:

    “There is a danger that a beginner will be led astray by subordinate concerns, and that this will interfere with the primary practice. The beginner should directly give all his attention to embracing this sutra; that is the highest type of offering. If one sets aside formal practices but maintains the principle, then the benefits will be many and far-reaching.”

    This really is quite a clear-cut statement. I can definitely understand that you would want to be wary of a de-contextualised quote even when it appears to be especially clear, but your suggestion that the only possible way to resolve the tension is to assume that Nichiren is misrepresenting T’ien T’ai seems to me to be very premature.

    You then refer to Nichiren’s citation of Dengyo. Let’s look at how at the paragraph you mention in full:

    “The Great Teacher Dengyo declared, “I have forthwith cast aside the two hundred and fifty precepts!”18 And the Great Teacher Dengyo was not the only one to do so. Nyoho and Dochu,19 who were disciples of Ganjin, as well as the priests of the seven major temples of Nara, all in like manner cast them aside. Moreover, the Great Teacher Dengyo left this warning for future ages: “If in the Latter Day of the Law there should be persons who keep the precepts, that would be something rare and strange, like a tiger in the marketplace. Who could possibly believe it?””

    You make the point that Dengyo was not talking about abandoning all precepts, but exchanging the Hinayana precepts for Mahayana precepts. In fact, The SGI Gosho volume WND-1 makes exactly the same point as you in footnote 18, so that its readers can be clear on exactly this point. Furthermore, Nichiren was writing in the context of a Buddhist country and amidst widespread knowledge of Buddhist history, so your assumption (if I understand you correctly) that Nichiren, a master of debate and a learned scholar of Buddhism, thought he would be able to deceive his audience on this point, does not seem to me very sound.

    I agree there is a question about what exactly Nichiren is doing in the paragraph, but I can think of more likely explanations than the one you set out. I’m certainly not learned enough to perform a proper exegesis of any Gosho, however, so I would sooner not muddy anyone’s understanding here!

    I really hope you’re well and I wish you success in your own practice. I do of course recognise the value in practices and views outside my own tradition (and I don’t think that this is incompatible with Nichiren’s thinking on the issue, as Steve suggested).

    Incidentally, if anyone has read any of this and wants to engage me privately, my email address is spirulina77@gmail.com

    • steve August 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

      “There is a danger that a beginner will be led astray by subordinate concerns, and that this will interfere with the primary practice. The beginner should directly give all his attention to embracing this sutra; that is the highest type of offering. If one sets aside formal practices but maintains the principle, then the benefits will be many and far-reaching”

      I guess without a full translation being available then it’s hard to define subordinate concerns, primary practice and formal practices – let alone to understanding the context. But then, here we are again, grasping at scripture… like we are told not to!

      There is just no logic in this. On one hand, scripture is quoted out of context to bolster a view, such as above (and without thorough investigation, it’s anything but clear cut) – yet where it is proven beyond all doubt that Nichiren was being economical with the truth we are told not to pay too much attention to minor inconsistencies…

      For example, it took me no more than 5 minutes to check the context of Nichiren’s use of ‘desiring only to accept and embrace the sutra of the great vehicle and not accepting a single verse of the other sutras‘ in Sage and an Unenlightened Man. You can read about that here under the heading Scriptural meanderings. This is a major quote from the Gosho that gets rolled out again and again. If Nichiren was the author of this Gosho, and he was as learned a scholar as history records, then how do you explain such things?

      Of course, none of this invalidates Nichiren’s practice – and that’s my point. The man was clearly a great Bodhisattva. Was he right about everything – that his is the only practice the world should engage in? That has to remain a matter of faith :-)

  14. David September 4, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    Matt,

    “You start out by claiming that the passages Nichiren is citing in this particular Gosho are merely part of the literary devices common to all Sutras.”

    Not exactly, what I said in a nutshell is that there are a lot of statements in the LS that are common to all sutras. I wasn’t referring to any sutra passages quoted in this gosho in particular.

    As Steve points out, without a full translation of the work cited, in this case the Hokke Mongu or “Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra,” or without an objective scholarly commentary that deals with the passage cited, it is difficult to determine what the original context might have been.

    As far as I know the only English translation of this work appears on tientai.net and it is only a partial translation, and as I recall none of it deals with the subject of precepts. Since the author of this site has always refused to reveal his source material or offer his credentials as a translator, I have some doubts as to how reliable it is.

    Now, in the case of one of the quotes I offered: “If people rely exclusively . . . one does not always eat rice,” based on the scholarship of Paul Swanson, one of the foremost experts on T’ien-t’ai Buddhism, we know that this passage appears in the Mo Ho Chih Kuan and the context is Chih-i’s criticism of Buddhist teachers who advocate various one-sided forms of practices.

    You seem to suggest that Chih-i says one thing in regards to meditative practice, but when the Lotus Sutra is concerned, it is different thing altogether. If Chih-i were actually that inconsistent, then it would hardly be worth paying any attention to his teachings. I can understand how someone might get that impression, however the fact remains that Chih-i and the T’ien-t’ai school did not discard other sutras in favor of the LS nor did they set aside formal practices. As far as the precepts go, we are in agreement that everyone in the T’ien-t’ai/Tendai tradition rejected the 250 “Hinayana” precepts.

    Speaking of inconsistencies, have you noticed how in this gosho on the SGI site has footnotes for some of Nichiren’s quotes but not for others? I wonder why.

  15. Matt September 5, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Hi David,

    Your conclusion about the context – that we do not really have one – is exactly what I was trying to put across. Hence it seems unwarranted, to me, for you to dismiss out of hand Nichiren’s interpretation, as though you were simply ‘clarifying’ a matter of fact. I am not trying to deny you your own interpretation.

    It is true that you did not directly dismiss the passages in question as mere literary devices. In any case, I’m glad that this is a point we are in agreement on.

    I disagree with your judgement about the potential inconsistency of T’ien T’ai’s approach. I also disagree with Steve’s judgement about the inconsistency of Nichiren’s citation of the Lotus Sutra that he mentioned. But I don’t get the sense that my engagement with any of this stuff is making you happy! So I am cautious about pressing further. If anyone would like further comments from me or to engage or explore anything with me I will always welcome that (my email again is spirulina77@gmail.com ). However, I want to communicate in an environment where I feel my points and perspectives are equally welcome, even if they are (strongly) disagreed with. Perhaps it is my own fault, but that’s not the feeling I have at the moment.

    I hope both of you are really well, and I am sorry if anything about my manner made either of you defensive or otherwise negatively affected. I originally began posting in this thread to contribute an experience and to offer my own perspectives, at some point I suppose things departed from that.

    Steve, I recognise the suffering you must have gone through (in the past) over the matter of the perceived inconsistency, and I am glad you are not going through that suffering any more. I’ve experienced that feeling in the past myself. Please carry on proving the practice with your victories.

    Best wishes,

    Matt

    • steve September 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

      Hi Matt.

      The point I make regarding desiring only to accept and embrace seems pretty clear cut in every translation I have of the Lotus Sutra. However, please feel free to debate it on that post as this thread has wandered a little!

      You are always welcome and should not worry whether you are making anyone happy :-) Just be yourself. Discussion will always deviate, and is often challenging, but we haven’t fallen prey to Godwin’s Law yet so we’re doing OK.

      Debate can be confused with the ego’s desire to be “right”, but this is to misunderstand debate. Views serve their best purpose when challenged. Only through critical debate can delusion be pealed away and the unconditioned absolute be bought closer. Such views, like a raft, having served a purpose in reaching the shore, can become burdensome to then carry on our backs. The perceived inconsistencies only made me suffer while they were ‘perceived’. Because our debate has only strengthened your faith, then the SGI’s approach to Nichiren Buddhism is right for you Matt, and that is something wonderful especially if it helps your Bodhisattva practice. For me, the debate has had the opposite effect and that is equally wonderful. Seriously, an enlightened view here is to joyfully accept that our truths are relative – because to attempt to do otherwise is clinging to “self” – sorry to use a non SGI/Nichiren explanation, but it’s the best I can do.

      Have a great week.

  16. David September 6, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Matt, it surely was not my intention to make you feel bad about putting forth your point of view, but I am a bit confused about some of your remarks. You say I am welcome to “clarify/refute” and then you sort of criticize me for doing so. I suppose I could have phrased it a bit different, “clarify” does have a ring of a superior attitude to it.

    But here’s the thing: I see a lot of SGI and Nichiren folks comment about what Chih-i (T’ien-t’ai) said or what Dengyo (Saicho) said, and often they don’t really understand the context behind the quotes because they’ve never studied Chih-I, never read his works, they’re just parroting the Gosho or Ikeda. I am not saying that’s you, because I don’t know anything about you. But as a former SGI member I know how study is conducted in the organization, and I know that most people rarely read anything that isn’t officially sanctioned. Frankly, it is difficult to read Chih-i or Nagarjuna or any of the other people Nichiren quotes frequently and arrive at the same conclusions he did, even with the mystical and prophetic twist associated with the Lotus Sutra and the Latter Day of the Law and so on.

    I didn’t pass any judgment on “the potential inconsistency of T’ien T’ai’s approach” because I don’t see an inconsistency. I was trying to say in a non-confrontational way that there was an inconsistency in your argument because it doesn’t make sense that he would say one thing when discussing meditation and then something completely opposite in regards to the Lotus Sutra.

    Sorry, but that’s how I see it. If you disagree, that’s fine. But I don’t understand how it is all right for you to disagree with the “judgments” Steve or myself have, and then take umbrage if we disagree with yours. I think your points and perspectives are welcome. What I sense you really feel is a bit ganged up on and that’s regrettable, but it’s also how the dice have been thrown in this three-way discussion.

    My own reluctance to participate was simply based on my experience that these sort of discussions in Nichiren Buddhism have a tendency to just go round in circles. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about anything, however I hope that people will consider opening their minds a little and try to see the bigger picture because I think there is one.

  17. Matt September 10, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Hey David,

    The point I was making was not that you shouldn’t in principle ‘clarify’, but that that is not an accurate description of what you were doing. If you clarify a context, then that implies that the context is at least known to you. However, while you do present some evidence to support your contention that Nichiren quoted out of context, it is not accurate to describe you as clarifying the context – because you later revealed that you do not know what the precise context is. I don’t dispute that you made a contention and provided some evidence. And I don’t seek to deny you your own interpretation of the evidence available to you. Most importantly, I was not trying to express offence at your refuting/clarification.

    This is one of many misunderstandings that has emerged in this discussion. At this point I feel like I have a choice – either to devote significant effort to clarifying these, or to get on with my life! I am tilting towards the latter. I’ve enjoyed participating in this discussion with both of you and I don’t feel offended by anything. And of course, as Steve says, I should always be myself. The question is: where should I do that, and with whom? The answer, for me, is: with people who find some value in me (and in what I am doing), and in a place where I can make some kind of difference. Somehow, these sorts of people and places actually exist!

    I am very open to continuing this discussion if you are genuinely finding this beneficial. I am especially open to anyone who wants to email me and feels a need to engage me on any claims or points that I’ve made. I’ve provided my email address in several places above. However, what we are doing at the moment is leaning towards ‘being right/wrong on the internet’, and I don’t have any interest in continuing that. I won’t be continuing to check this page.

    I hope you’re both very, very well!

    Matt

  18. steve September 10, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    You know, a good friend of mine died from cancer 2 days ago… for all I know someone at the hospice may have been in the SGI. Does that mean I don’t value what they do in their daily life? Not in the least. But you are right, in that I find no value in our continued disagreement on how to realise the ultimate in our lives. Fare thee well!

    I learnt something incredibly valuable through this dialogue, and I owe you a great debt of gratitude, Matt.

  19. David September 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    I didn’t see any new comments for a while, so I quit checking. Steve, I don’t a subscribe to comments option. That would be helpful.

    Also, Steve, I am very sorry to hear about your friend. As you might imagine news of that sort affects me deeply.

    Matt, I hate to come off like a guy who has to have the last word but to clarify what you said about my clarification, I did not say I was clarifying the context but rather “a point”, something a bit more general. Bad choice of words, I suppose, but then it was just a comment on a blog, not a thesis. Cheerio.

  20. Mark Rogow October 23, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    Hi Matt, Steve, and all. There is one Buddha. Sometimes he shows his own body and sometimes he shows the body of another. Shakyamuni is that Buddha. We do not take Nichiren’s passages out of context of the entire body of his writings nor out of context to what he taught in his Five Major Writings. Anyone can take a passage here and a passage there and justify his or her position. Taking the entire teachings of Nichiren as a whole, especially that which he taught in the Five Major Works [and without utilizing such SGI footnotes as, “Nichiren said that but meant this” and it is IMPOSSIBLE to come to any other conclusion other than, Nichiren Daishonin revered both Shakyamuni Buddha and the twenty-eight chapter Lotus Sutra. Should you care to debate these issues, I will begin:

    http://kemponhokke.blogspot.com/2012/01/identity-of-original-eternal-buddha.html

    • steve October 24, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      Hi Mark, I hope you are well. I decided a while ago not to become too caught up in written views, particularly absolute ones, as it is a source that can often lead to suffering. I have approved your comment so other people can see what happens when we try to make sense in words of the absolute unconditioned reality. Bright blessings for you.

  21. Raye October 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Hello Steve,

    Well, I am happy to have stumbled upon or been “divinely guided” to this site (I find the internet can be a wonderful oracle that way, especially in the middle of the night), as I sit here at nearly 3 am unable to sleep because of my struggles with some of the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism, or more specifically as you and others mention above, SGI Nichiren Buddhism.

    My original search was “Daisaku Ikeda + Dalai Lama”, since one of my greatest discomforts with this path as taught by SGI is the denigration of other spiritual paths, and the promotion of Ikeda as a man of great peace who has meet with leading thinkers and philosophers all over the world, but has not met with any other Buddhist Leaders or leaders of other major faiths? How can one promote peace throughout the world without promoting peace and respect for all faiths?

    I am a transpersonal psychologist, interfaith practitioner and spiritual counselor and am currently dating a man who is an SGI member and 35 year practitioner of NB, who introduced me to the practice about a year ago. Of course when we met I was very interested to learn about and experience this unknown Buddhism practice that he has been practicing most of his life and feels so strongly about. I have several friends who practice other forms of Buddhism and have studied some Tibetan Buddhism. Although these practices never strongly called to me, nevertheless I have great respect and gratitude for the wisdom and universal messages contained in them, as I do for most faiths I have been blessed to study and experience.

    I found that I enjoyed the practice and have now been chanting for about a year. However, I have been troubled and uncomfortable with some of what I perceive as underlying dogma and fundamentalism expressed and promoted by the SGI organization. It is unfortunately a point of great distress in my relationship with this man, who is a devoted disciple of Daisaku Ikeda. Our dialogues often sound like the one above between you and Matt.

    As a transpersonal psychologist I immediately found the basic teachings to be exceptionally sound in terms of dealing with our “fundamental darkness” , what Jung would call our shadow, or can also be referred to as our core wound, etc. In fact, I find the whole teaching of the necessity of facing our fundamental darkness is one of the most profound aspects of this path. It literally requires the practitioner to do their own psychospiritual work, or human revolution. However, I have also experienced in my years of study with many profound Teachers and paths that all paths to enlightenment have their own inherent shadow. Such is the case here I believe (wow, I am just kind of getting some of this as I write, please bear with me). In most cases it is the guru, sensai or spiritual leader who bears the burden of this shadow, as it sound like Nichiren did, and Ikeda has as well. Anywhere there is a Great Light, the Darkness will rise to meet it. Perhaps the challenge here with the fundamentalism in SGI Nichiren Buddhism is for the organization itself to reflect on its fundamental darkness, which as we know, or should know since it is expressed in various SGI study materials, is that that is accomplished through the mirror of our outer world, or through other’s eyes, and that is being reflected all over the place on the internet and through persons such as yourself and other former SGI members.

    I have not really had any opportunity to study the gosho, other than reading an occasional article in one of the SGI mags. I have attended meetings, in which I enjoy chanting with a group, but feel very uncomfortable otherwise, as I almost fear being seen as a heretic were I to mention some of my concerns there, and for the most part, even in a gosho teaching meeting, the depth of the study does not meet my needs. I have found that I have a much richer experience when I am able to have a one on one dialogue with a long time practitioner, and also the dogma seems to be less in that setting, or perhaps it is just that I am connecting with people that are more open to seeing from a broader perspective.

    Although I have been practicing for nearly a year, and have definitely noticed a benefit to the practice, both externally and internally, I have not yet asked for a Gohonzon. I have chanted about it in front of my friend’s and others gohonzons and have not gotten a positive feeling about it. I know that part of the issue for me is about the SGI, and that I must receive it from SGI and must join SGI in order to do that, and I simply cannot get behind an organization and leadership that openly criticizes other faiths. And although I have studied with many powerful Teachers and completely embody the honoring and respect of each faith and lineage in its original form (not mixing up different practices from different faiths within the space of that lineage, like I would not pray the Hail Mary while at a Kosen Rufu gongyo, or chant Daimoku in a Native American sweat lodge), in my personal spiritual space I practice my own “spiritual autonomy”. As an interfaith practitioner I have integrated those teachings that have resonated powerfully with me and helped me in my spiritual healing and growth. (Those in which the “warm boots” fit me the best!) So another aspect of my challenge around having the Gohonzon is the strong teaching around the Gohonzon being housed exclusively of all other spiritual objects (again this seems to be a link to the rejection of other faiths from original teachings of Nichiren). Which I would want to honor, but feeling a conflict that it would need a separate space in my home from my main altar, somehow within me that creates a split from my own internal integration of it. I currently chant to a beautiful statue of Shakyamuni that is enshrined with other very sacred objects on my home altar, which feels very good, but also somewhat incomplete of the full experience of the practice.

    It is probably the case that if I was not dating this SGI gentleman that I would obtain a gohonzon from another source, and would have it on my main altar in its own little butsudan, with great respect to the lineage, but also in integration with my overall spiritual being and be studying Nichiren’s teachings on my own or with other independent practitioners.

    On a slightly different note I did want to mention one other thing from the very top of your original post. As a psychospiritual counselor, I have experience with a phenomena called “spiritual emergency”. This is a state of crisis than can brought about by many different things, one of which is intense spiritual practice. This crisis can take many forms, one of which is some of the symptoms you mention above. Chanting Daimoku is indeed a very powerful practice, one intended to awaken the practitioner and to elicit their fundamental darkness. For those who have never done any kind of practice, and may have underlying emotional, psychological or spiritual issues, traumas, or unknown psychic gifts, it is not at all surprising that it might bring up anxiety, depression and other such “negative” or unpleasant symptoms. When dealing with this type of experience, it is unfortunately common for a lay practitioner to recommend that the person increase the intensity of their practice, when in fact in most cases they need to ease up on them or stop altogether for a period of time if the symptoms become more severe. It is strongly advisable that they seek out an experienced teacher or guide in that practice for advice, and/or also seek other experienced help, such as someone with my background and experience, to help them understand and process the material that is being elicited by the practice.

    I recall asking my friend if anyone ever experienced anything like this when I first began to practice, as I immediately recognized the power of the chanting. He did not really understand my question. It is interesting to read some of the “experiences” with this practice from this perspective, wherein someone who has been chanting for a period of time is suddenly struck with a life altering crisis, which is eventually overcome with the power of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and total faith. Of course they should continue to chant, and faith is a powerful healer, but has anyone ever looked at the possibility that the chanting in fact brought on the crisis? Not that the practice is malevolent at all, but for the reasons I mentioned above. One of the final prayers is “change my destiny”. Well, when you start asking for that, dramatic things are likely to happen.

    Overall this is a very powerful and accessible practice, that I continue to enjoy, benefit from and have indeed recommended to spiritually adept friends to try. The above concerns I think are perhaps unfortunately more centered around the SGI and its precepts than NB itself, and clearly I need to study the gosho (which you also beautifully point out on another post is subject to the interpretations of it) to gain a deeper understanding of the lineage itself, outside the SGI influence. I also find it profoundly confusing that many of the SGI members I have spoken with (including my friend) have never even read the Lotus Sutra! That was the first thing I went out and bought. How can you follow a practice based solely on a specific teaching and never read the original teaching?

    So, I have rambled on quite a bit here, thank you for your kind attention, I feel better just having been able to voice this on a compassionate forum.

    I welcome thoughtful and respectful responses and also offer support to anyone wanting more information about spiritual emergency.

    • steve October 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

      Dear Raye, I think if our faith causes disharmony through a zealous desire for our spouses to also practice, then we must look at the practice very closely. A good and true Buddhist practice would not cause this, so therefore the practice is wrong, the teacher is incompetent, or the student has misunderstood. That’s all well and good me saying this, but then, unless you can both agree on which one of those three it is, then you will also suffer due to disagreement over the diagnosis!

      I feel great empathy with your position. It’s a tough one, no doubt. I think it’s nearly all been said already in this thread regarding the danger of acting upon what we perceive to be an absolute truth.

      There is a huge gap between the uncritical acceptance of everything as a manifestation of the Law due to seeing only emptiness and impermanence – a kind of resigned antinomianism, leading to Laissez-faire approach to spirituality and suffering – and the SGI stance that they are the sole custodians of the one true way to experience samsara as Nirvana. This spectrum is precisely what the Buddha saw. His pragmatic approach became known as the Middle Way, and that is to accept that the true nature of phenomena is emptiness and impermanance, but not to grasp at this or any other dogma, instead tempering this wisdom with compassion and loving kindness.

      Nichiren discovered something wonderful, but I’m not convinced he really understood it because he seemed to proselytise in a way the Buddha never would have. The SGI, imbued with the karma of several further centuries of Feudalism seems only to magnify Nichiren’s “My way or the highway” approach.

      Spiritual Emergency is a good phrase to describe the sometimes disturbing and rapid crumbling of the ego that can take place when we begin to find insight into our suffering. The internal re-organisation that can take place when we discover parts of ourselves that create aversive feelings can rock the boat and cause the ego to swing wildly to accomodate the cognitive dissonance created by a new reality.

      It is certainly an “emergence” of a new spiritual reality! A good topic for an article, and I suspect would be an excellent metaphor for clinging/attachment to the light at the end of the tunnel we sometimes sense when things seem to “click” for the first time. Thank you for writing.

  22. ranjit ray February 4, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    I have read the above posts with great interest. All posts bring up very relevant points. I’ve been a member of the SGI for just over 5 years and while I find there are many “problems” with the organisation I have met and conversed with many caring and compassionate members who have helped me in my process of realization/awakening. I do find the SGI beliefs to be “narrow ” and somewhat inflexible especially with regards to other forms of Buddhism . I was brought up in a family with a Hindu father and a Church of England mother so I’m sure you can imagine some of my issues. I can not watch any of the Ikeda videos without thinking of the enormous differences between Japanese culture and European/North American culture and I believe this creates a lot of misunderstanding.

    • steve February 17, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Hi Ranjit, thanks for commenting. I’m glad you have met some great people. I also met many wonderful people in the SGI. At the end of the day you simply have to make your mind up if it’s right for you, and not to get dragged into superstitious fears about getting squished by the “Mystic Law” if you stop practising – what tosh! I guess you could join a bakery club and learn to make great bread, and meet wonderful people there, to, but if you are gluten intolerant then you’re in for a world of pain. I simply couldn’t stomach the SGI gluten, so I left – but that’s not to say the SGI has and I am sure will achieve some wonderful things.

  23. Rachel February 25, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Hello Buddhas!

    Wow what an amazing chat. I have stumbled over this because I googled: Nichiren Buddhism and meditation.

    I have been practising for five years with the SGI and am fully committed to my practise. I also share a lot of the worries that Steve put in his first post, about chanting more and more becoming obsessive. For me its about striving. Sometimes, the ‘chant more study harder’ philospohy seems like it might just make the striving bit of me grow bigger and bigger! So I have started doing mindfulness meditation before I chant and trying to concentrate soley on the sound of the daimoku during practise, with that kind of ‘gently escort your attention back when your mind wanders’ approach. I have struggled with myself over this, feeling like I shouldn’t have any other practise. But I have come to the conclusion that it is about what is at the centre, what is my honzon. And my constant thought is definately with NMRK.

    There’s a lot of hurtful stuff written and said in all directions amongst people who chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, and that makes me sad. I don’t support any kind of fundamentalism. I think many people both inside and outside the Soka Gakkai misinterpret the phrase ‘correct teaching’. I don’t think the ‘correct teaching’ is about the correct set of intellectual beliefs, I think it is about your heart. I don’t idolise or worship Daisaku Ikeda, but I think he has helped bring the opportunity to chant the daimoku to many people and therefore he has my gratitude. And one of the phrases he and ND both use:, ‘it’s the heart that matters’ or ‘it is the heart that is most important’ is my guide in these matters. We can argue till the cows come home about who is right and who is wrong. That is part of the problem with the human race isn’t it? Surely it’s the heart that matters, not the finer points of theory? We must think so if we believe in the mutual possession, right?

    Peace,

    Rachel

  24. Rachel February 25, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Just backed up and read some of the other comments and wanted to add, as I think this is very important.

    The SGI is just a gathering of people. It is there to support people in their practise, it is NOTHING except that. I agree with the comment above from Raye that it has a shadow side. Of course it does. it has the ten worlds. This is why spiritual independence is so vital. It is so important that we have a direct relationship with the gohonzon. Nothing, no dogma, no teaching, no person, not Nichiren, not Shakyamuni, not Ikeda, must come between us and our direct search for and connection with our own Buddhahood.
    And yes they are all imperfect.They have the ten worlds. The responsibility is ours to live the way that is right for us. it’s no-one elses.
    I do not see this view as incompatible with any of the forms of ND Buddhism I know anything about, and it is the view of the SGI (in its enlightened aspect). It’s so tempting to practise the separate ten worlds and start thinking in terms of who’s got it right, what is correct, but this line of thinking is ultimately a misunderstanding of the core message of personal responsibility and the gem inside each one of us.
    I don’t think there is anything wrong with people enshriing the gohonzon on their altar in whatever why feels right to them. If you could right this shit in a rule book we wouldn’t need this practise. there are no rules, we have to work it out for ourselves. there’s no other way.

  25. Lottie Crow June 27, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    This is such a good site. I want to thank Steve and everyone who contributes. Such interesting debate about the SGI – it’s really got me thinking!

    • steve June 27, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Thank you again :) Thinking is good – but don’t think too much!

      A warm breeze for you!

  26. Kevin July 24, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    I’m just learning about Nichiren, coming from an evangelical Christian background, and you’re article is really helpful to me. I have a lot of mindfulness practices right now, and I don’t really know where chanting fits in. I’m happy to see that someone has already observed what I noticed in my first interactions–enthusiasm and people with a lot of confidence and self-determination with a bit of dogma–and I’m also excited to see that what I’ve already been asking myself, how much of my contemplative practices–which really assist my stress and anxiety issues–should I integrate going forward. I didn’t have time to read the super long thread but if you, the writer of the article, could tell me what kind of conclusions you’ve come to I would appreciate it.

    • steve July 25, 2013 at 8:27 am #

      Dear Kevin, Coming from a Christian background, I expect you will find many aspects of Nichiren buddhism (depending on which organisation you have come into contact with) will make you feel right at home.

      1 The exclusivity (one true path)
      2 Belief in ‘other power’ (as opposed to that which is innate within you) – Nichiren Buddhists talk about your innate Buddhahood, but they also invest a great deal in the ‘Mystic Law’ – which I think is a complete misunderstanding of emptiness, suchness, and cause and effect (mainly the latter). They also elevate Nichiren to a living Buddha – almost saviour-like – figure.
      3 The persecution complex

      All are strong elements of Nichiren buddhism. Forgive me, I don’t wish to sound harsh, but I have written at length on the reasons why I now have no more than a historical or academic interest in Nichiren – his practice is not for me.

      It sounds like you have already begun to connect with nirvana through sitting meditation. I think this is most beneficial, and is the most simple way to gain a deep understanding of your true nature – the nature of the universe. What is less distracting, and more powerful than a calm mind free of attachment to belief or dogma? Meditation in hard – sitting in silence is boring, after all. But read some good introductory books on Buddhism by people like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, maybe start studying the Heart Sutra (or even sit down and read the Lotus Sutra itself, something few Nichiren buddhists ever do), and then sit for half an hour a day (don’t go mad, just do what you can, but DO it), and I promise after a couple of weeks, you will begin to see through Nichiren’s dogma and you will start to let go of your attachments to wrong views.

      I tried to integrate sitting meditation with Nichiren buddhism, but it just didn’t work out. Sitting meditation, based on Zen teachings, is very accepting. Nichiren is not. Most Nichiren buddhists will reject anything other than Daimoku including your interest in anything outside of that – If you ever read the entire collection of Gosho, you will see why his followers today are the way they are. If you want to experience peace, and develop deep understanding, and deep compassion, then keep meditating. If you want to swap a crucifix for a gonhonzon, keep chanting.

      • Bodhi Rolf February 11, 2016 at 1:57 am #

        Thank you, Steve, this reply was the heaven sent answer to the great difficulties that I have encountered in exploring and becoming a member of Nichiren Buddhism, i joined in December of 2015.I must say that the experience reconnected me again with a spontaneous, unexplained awakening to Buddhism that I had after leaving a rather un-progressive Catholic high school where I was relentlessly bullied for my stuttering… Also at that time my mom had converted to Jehovah Witness and she and my sister picked the lock on my door one day when I was out of town and burned the old wooden Buddha I had bought in installments from a kind-hearted shop keeper, and of course my books on Buddhism and Vedanta yoga were also consigned to the flames… All of that to say that I know when I am being messed with….LOL (laughing Buddha)
        In any discussion about the Buddha(Shakyamuni) or Zen or yoga I noticed response and behavior that was much less than loving kindness and more like unbridled blind mind-control and the rejection of creative thinking that I had experienced in my early home life at the hands of JW members. The actual defining moment came at the enshrinement ceremony here in my home, where one member asked the group leader if I were ‘allowed’ to have 2 bowls(bells) on my alter, again LOL!(Laughing Buddha)
        I believe that the enlightenment of the Buddha and that achieved in yoga is beyond the power of anyone to control and manipulate or prescribe the exclusive and only acceptable’ method, all the things that would have actually prohibited or perhaps provoked the Buddha’s awakening unto an unlimited state of enlightenment, while seated in the lotus yoga pose, under the bodhi tree!

      • steve February 11, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

        Dear Rolf, you weren’t specific about the difficulties you’ve encountered exploring and becoming a member of Nichiren Buddhism. Obviously, you had experienced some persecution for your Buddhist beliefs from your family. This is not uncommon, but please bear in mind that religious intolerance can run in both directions. The Rohingya Muslims in Burma have suffered terribly at the hands of so-called Buddhists. It is nice to read that you see that enlightenment is beyond the power of anyone to control, Manipulate, or prescribe. I certainly agree with this point of view, and am now very wary of any organisation or person who believes they have found THE way.

  27. Kevin July 25, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I actually already meditate for about 40 minutes a day, and a longer hour and a half meditation on Saturday.

    Thanks for your insight. I appreciate the alternative perspective.

  28. Chris Wright January 9, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Hi Steve, I’ve just come across your blog and found it very interesting and insightful.
    I attended my first SGI meeting this week, after chanting for a couple of months at home.

    My previous practice was Zen (White Plum – Mauzumi Roshi) so i had been used to zazen style of just sitting, so at first i found chanting quite different ,although the zen group I was apart of (Sheffield) did chant the heart sutra every couple of weeks.

    I’m going to try sitting before and after gongyo, as this may help to mentally ‘gel’ my previous practice and the new experience of chanting the SGI liturgy.

    Best Wishe

    • steve January 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      Dear Chris, thanks for writing. Whatever suits you. There was a time when I would be interested to know what feelings or views led you to move towards Nichiren Buddhism. Personally, I can’t see how the practice of the SGI and Zen Buddhism could ever ‘gel’, except at a very superficial level because of the exclusivity of the former and the inclusivity of the latter. However, these days I think it’s more important to focus on what binds, rather than what separates us :)

  29. David R January 24, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi,

    Good discussion, people. I’ve been practicing non-sectarian Buddhism for a few years now but have been struggling lately; questioning my commitment and practice. I tried solely practicing Pure Land (Amida) for a while but it so wasn’t for me. Amida too take an approach of discouraging other practices and meditations; citing that the Nembutsu is the only practice that will ‘save you’. I started to wonder whether I’d actually joined a Christian Church, not a Buddhist organisation. So I am now going to try practicing Nichiren. There are no SGI centres near me (Northern England) so I won’t be going that route – just practicing at home; the Daimoku and two Sutra Verses (Gongyo? – forgive my ignorance). I will try everything once! ….. But I will certainly not be giving up sitting meditation (I practice Mindfulness of Breathing and some Dhammakaya meditation). I’ll let you know how I get on with Nichiren practice.

    • steve February 2, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

      Dear David. I had to smile reading your comment.

      I started to wonder whether I’d actually joined a Christian Church, not a Buddhist organisation.

      That pretty much sums up why I left the SGI. I’m grateful for the SGI because while I was quite happy practicing Nichiren Buddhism at home, on my own, I suspect that eventually it would have become clear to me that it was a dogmatic and exclusive form of Buddhism – which is anathema. Actually participating in SGI just speeded the process up. I can only speak from my own experience, so you have to make up your own mind. I usually try anything TWICE – just to make sure I was right the first time – but in the case of SGI, once is enough for me 😉

      Sitting practice is my home now. I do chant sometimes, as it can be another path to concentration – but it rarely involves Daimoku – mainly because it still distracts me.

  30. Amy February 5, 2015 at 6:43 am #

    Hello, I dont practice Buddhism but I do practice to accept my shotcomings and self improvement every day. I am certain that hell and heaven are inside you and no external force can give you complete peace and happiness except you. What I have noticed in Nichiren Buddhism is people become obsessed and rely in this practice alone for their happiness and peace. They become dependent on it. I am sure this practice propagates wisdom but just talking and not applying in action cannot help any human being, which ever belief they follow. So just chanting is not enough but actual application in oneslife is a must to attain true happiness. kosen Rufu, I understand is spreading Buddhism but if somebody denies to join this practice, should it be forced? I guess not but some members practice this by constantly badgering you with messages and phone calls and asking you to attend the SGI meetings! Not only that, in my own family both my MIl and Her MIL practice buddhism for more than 10 years and still they have so much anger , uncertainity and fear in themselves which results in conflict between the two. So after 10 years of practice they could resolve relationship Karma till now, I wonder about the wisdom application on their part which is the core of this practice. This is the reason I dont want to join.

    • Pedro August 29, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

      But how can one measures another person karma? And so evaluate ones progress at that karma transformation? Even the Shakyamuni Buddha was born (and grown, and sickened and died) in this crazy and impure world, and it was at this world he could become a Buddha. Could we say NB practice doesnt really works because of the amount of time one takes the change one specific aspects of ones own life? Once we accept – and purpose it for ourselves – the fundamental spirit of buddhism of seeking enlightment (or, peace and happiness in this world and age, right here, right now) for us and the others, so we just enter the way and start walking forward on it. We may want to run on it, we may want do stop to rest a little, we may fell, we may want to give up, or even give up in deed – well, there are countless possibilities and oportunities, each moment, each step. I mean, realize its like life itself. Whole life. In Nichiren Buddhism, Buddha is another name for a person who is awake about the way. Its a very long and unknown and hard way. But a human who strives at the way that leads he/she and humankind at all towards peace and happiness (universal enlightment, the real buddhas purpose) could be celebrated as a wonderful live being, truthfully an world honored one, a tathagata, a buddha! [even if this person is not a buddhist, its important to say it. Nichiren states in his writings about people born in China before Shakyamuni, whose life, views, deeds, did not differ even slightely of that proper of the buddhas. Lets say about King Jr and Gandhi for example, non buddhists walkers of the Great Way]. In deed, at the Lotus Sutra, the buddha praise the practitioners of this era, despite being ordinary people poisoned by greed, anger and foolishness, the buddha praise them as even more noble and worth of offerings than the buddha himself! Its just wonderful to look at life and buddhist practice through the eyes of the Lotus Sutra! Wonrderful, very encouraging, very hopeful, inspiring… hope you build a bridge in your heart to this opportunity and, who knows, help your family for they start to become more consistent and fruitful at their buddhist practice and conquer a plenty of love and mutual comprehension happy and peaceful home!? regards! (srry bout my english)

      • steve September 12, 2015 at 8:14 am #

        Thanks Pedro. It isn’t only Nichiren Buddhism that classifies a Buddha as one who is fully awake. That’s pretty general. I agree, Buddhism is not a destination, or an attainment – but a journey – and the vehicle itself can appear to take many forms – but in truth there is only one. We fail, I think, when we attempt to be prescriptive regarding the object.

  31. Michelo March 11, 2016 at 9:00 am #

    I have stumbled across this site. Thank you all! It provides a great forum for thoughtful discussion, debate and critique sorely needed in the dialogue about SGI, Nichiren Buddhism and its relationship with other forms of buddhism. I have been searching online for some balanced, open, critical and intelligent discussion about the SGI, but all I have encountered so far is extremist rhetoric about SGI being a cult, which is very far from my experience and quite unhelpful in generating a real questioning stance towards Nichiren Buddhism.
    I have been an SGI member for 10 years now. I am deeply appreciative of what it has given me and how I have developed my life through my participation in “faith, practice and study” as a young women. It taught me to be sincere, disciplined, determined, to challenge my weaknesses and limitations. I have accomplished things and become a person I could have only dreamt of being. I gained a community of caring people and felt a sense of purpose and meaning. I truly have gained an immense amount from practicing in the SGI. Yet I have now, after 10 years reached an impasse with aspects of the practice and the SGI, which I have always had deep conflicts about, but attempted to ‘overcome’ through study, increased daimoku and activities. However this just served to create a repression that has become unhealthy and I am finally allowing myself to think freely and to be critical of this practice, which I am finding is surprisingly hard and am noticing feelings of guilt and fear as I do this, which is sad to me as its an indication of perhaps how indoctrinated I have allowed myself to become. My main issues with the SGI are the emphasis on the mentor and disciple relationship, the idea of spreading nichiren buddhism as a means to better the world and rid it of suffering or ‘kosen rufu’. I’m also beginning to struggle with chanting daimoku, which feels energising and invigorating but doesn’t seem to help me to go deeply into myself and find the openness and stillness that meditation does, which my life seems to be longing for. I simply cannot get behind ‘taking’ Daisaku Ikea as my mentor and find it deeply uncomfortable that the emphasis of this buddhism is constantly led back to ‘the mentor and disciple relationship’. I feel that this is completely counterintuitive to my sense of buddhist practice leading me back to myself rather than trying to ’embody the mentor’ . Next Kosen rufu. I just have never been comfortable with the idea being a part of an organisation which is trying to ‘spread’ its teachings and essentially believes that world peace will be manifest through the embracing of Nichiren buddhist values. I struggle with the aims of the organisation to expand its membership, whilst I think this is very far away from extreme criticism of ‘cult’ behaviour, I do find it very problematic as there are simply many ways for people to change, transform and for the world to change. The SGI’s rather evangelical nature has never felt right to me, and although i understand the intention that actions are often distressing to me. I have lived with this cognitive dissonance for some time now and don’t feel i can really sincerely practice Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI which is a source of great grief to me. At the same time I feel a beginning sense of liberation in allowing myself to fully question things i have pushed down for years. Perhaps I have become strong enough through the SGI and Nichiren Buddhism to now start to seek other spiritual practices, and for this I am most grateful. I’d really appreciate any (thoughtful and compassionate) comments about my predicament. Again a deep thank you for this site, its really helped me feel less disturbed about the SGI and some of the rather darker criticisms thrown at it.

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