Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, RELIGION ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

The Japanese Buddhist leader Nichiren 日蓮 (1222–1282) taught exclusive devotion to the Lotus Sūtra, a scripture widely revered as the Buddha’s highest teaching. Nichiren asserted that in the present, degenerate age, other teachings, being provisional, have lost their efficacy; only the Lotus Sūtra is profound and powerful enough to lead all men and women to liberation. The form of Lotus practice that he taught—chanting the sūtra’s title or daimoku題目 in the phrase Namu Myōhō-renge-kyō南無妙法蓮華経—was available to all, whether monastics or laity, and regardless of education, ability, or social level. Often celebrated as a man of action, Nichiren was also an innovative thinker who welded some of the subtlest Mahāyāna doctrines to a universally accessible form of practice. Nichiren held that faith in the Lotus Sūtra would enable practitioners to realize buddhahood with this very body (J. sokushin jōbutsu即身成仏) and that spreading that faith would transform the current world into an ideal buddha land. Nichiren’s harsh criticisms of other Buddhist forms drew hostile responses from both government officials and leading prelates; he was twice exiled and attacked repeatedly, while some of his followers were imprisoned, had their lands confiscated, or were even killed. In his lifetime, he could claim at most a few hundred followers. But after his death, Nichiren’s following—known first as the Lotus sect (Hokkeshū 法華宗) and later as Nichirenshū 日蓮宗—would grow to become one of Japan’s major Buddhist traditions. Today, more than forty officially registered religious bodies, both traditional temple organizations and lay Buddhist movements, claim derivation from Nichiren. Some have a significant international presence. Modern critics have often labeled Nichiren intolerant on account of his Lotus exclusivism; at the same time, he set an example of principled resistance to worldly authority that continues to encourage dissenters. Nichiren’s ideal of actualizing the buddha land in this world has also inspired multiple forms of Buddhist social activism.

Keywords: daimoku, gohonzon, Lotus Sūtra, mappō, nenbutsu, Nichiren, shakubuku, “slander of the Dharma,”, sokushin jōbutsu, Tendai

Access to the complete content on Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription. If you are a student or academic complete our librarian recommendation form to recommend the Oxford Research Encyclopedias to your librarians for an institutional free trial.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.