History of Nichiren Buddhism

The Modern Reformers
by Ryuei Michael McCormick

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Gohonzon inscribed by Nissen Shonin, founder of Honmon Butsuryushu

Udana-in Nichiki (1800-1859) was a great scholar and reformer of Nichiren Buddhism who helped to establish the modern education system of the Nichiren Shu. He also taught that the present age demands the practice of shoju rather than shakubuku. He argued that the Rissho Ankoku Ron was no longer applicable to the times and that a new method of propagation would need to be used in a time when religious debate was no longer a convincing or effective means of converting others.

Nagamatsu Seifu Nissen (1817-1890) was originally a priest of the Honmon Hokke Shu, but he left that school due to his disgust with the corruption of the clergy. In 1857, he founded the Butsuryu-Ko in Kyoto. This became the Honmon Butsuryu Shu.

In 1868 the Tokugawa Shogunate fell and the Meiji emperor was restored to power in the Meiji Restoration. Unfortunately, the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate brought with it a backlash against the Buddhist temples which the Tokugawa's had made into an arm of their bureaucracy. The new government was determined to abolish the ideological underpinnings of the Tokugawas and replace it with their own. This meant the suppression of Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism and the promotion of Shinto which became the state religion in 1870. The government destroyed Buddhist temples as part of its violent anti-Buddhist movement which peaked in 1871. The government even demanded that Hachiman and Tensho be removed from the Omandalas of Nichiren Buddhism in their attempts to seperate Buddhism and Shinto. The anti-Buddhist movement also removed the civil laws against Buddhist monks and nuns marrying or eating meat in their attempts to secularize the clergy. They even prohibited the Nichiren Buddhist practice of marching with drums.

As part of their attempts to consolidate and thereby control Buddhism, the government was instrumental in the formation of the modern Japanese Buddhist sects. In 1876, the Itchi Ha lineages formed the Nichiren Shu. The Shoretsu Ha lineages became the Myomanji Ha, Komon Ha, Happon Ha, Honjoji Ha, the Honryuji Ha, and the Fuju Fuse Ha. In 1898, the Myomanji Ha became the Kempon Hokke Shu, the Happon Ha became the Honmon Hokke Shu, the Honryuji Ha became the Honmyo Hokke Shu, and the Honjoji became the Hokke Shu. In 1899, the Komon Ha became the Honmon Shu. In 1900, Taisekiji became independent from the Honmon Shu and called itself the Nichiren Shu Fuji Ha. In 1912, they changed their name again to Nichiren Shoshu. In 1941, the Nichiren Shu, Kempon Hokke Shu, and Honmon Shu were united, but this only lasted until after the war.

Arai Nissatsu (1830-1888) was a disciple of Udana-in Nichiki who became the first superintendent of the Nichiren Shu. In line with the shoju approach, Nissatsu was a member of the Intersectarian Cooperative League which formed in 1868 to resist the suppression of Buddhism by State Shinto. He later helped to form the Society for Harmony and Respect to promote intersectarian understanding, and he also helped to found intersectarian welfare projects. Nissatsu is also said to have taught a revisionist version of Nichiren's Four Admonitions which reads: "Because we contemplate the Buddha, ceaselessly devils are quieted; because our words are true, traitors who would destroy the nation are subdued."

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2000.

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Ryuei's review of The Doctrine of Nichiren with a Sketch of His Life
written by the late Ven. Arai Nissatsu, Abbot of Ikegami Honmonji in 1893

I think this is an excellent article - though it is hampered by the awkwardness of the translation. I would love it if the original Japanese article could be found and retranslated using the newer standards of translating Buddhist terminology. Also, the article does use a lot of Hongaku or Original Enlightenment rhetoric, but I personally don't feel it does so in a way that gets off track with what Nichiren taught in the authenticated writings.

The lead in article on Nichiren's life I have some problems with. It seems to exaggerate Nichiren's polemical attitude - and I wonder if some of it is a translation problem again. On the other hand the author seems to clearly point to Zen as Nichiren's primary polemical traget and that is just not the case if one reads the gosho. So in many respects I think this capsule bio of Nichiren has long since been surpassed by other works - in particular Jackie Stone's chapter on Nichiren's life in her book Original Enlightenment.

Anyway, the "Doctrines of the Nichiren Sect" is well worth reading and it is, I think, a fairly important historical document being, probably, the first ever explanation of Nichiren Buddhism in English by the Ven. Arai Nissatsu, who is an important person in the history of Nichiren Buddhism, or at least Nichiren Shu.
(Complete Text on Google Books includes a faded Nichiren Gohonzon)

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, Ryuei. 2008.

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