Chapter 1: Nichiren Daishonin’s Life and Teachings

1. The Life of Nichiren Daishonin

Nichiren Daishonin (1222–82) dedicated his life to propagating the Mystic Law—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—motivated by an unwavering commitment and compassion to eradicate suffering and enable all people to reveal their innate buddhahood. He encountered unrelenting hardship and persecution throughout his life as he sought to address and put an end to the evils obstructing the happiness of the people.

1) Early Years

The Daishonin was born on February 16, 1222,1 in the coastal hamlet of Kataumi in Tojo Village of Nagasa District in Awa Province (part of present-day Kamogawa City in Chiba Prefecture). He was the son of commoners, his family earning its livelihood from fishing.

At the age of 12, he began his schooling at a nearby temple called Seichoji. During this period, he made a vow to become the wisest person in Japan (see WND-1, 175). He sought to gain the wisdom of the Buddhist teachings for overcoming the fundamental sufferings of life and death and thereby lead his parents and all people to genuine happiness.

At the age of 16, in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the Buddhist teachings, he formally entered the priesthood at Seichoji, receiving instruction from Dozen-bo, a senior priest there. It was shortly thereafter, the Daishonin writes, that he attained “a jewel of wisdom as bright as the morning star” (WND-1, 176). This can be interpreted to mean wisdom regarding the Mystic Law that is the essence of Buddhism.

The Daishonin then traveled to Kamakura, Kyoto, Nara, and other centers of Buddhist learning, carefully studying the sutras and commentaries housed at leading temples such as Enryakuji on Mount Hiei, the headquarters of the Tendai school, and familiarizing himself with the core doctrines of each school. He confirmed that the Lotus Sutra is the foremost among all the Buddhist sutras and that the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to which he had awakened is the essence of the sutra and provides the means for freeing all people from suffering on the most fundamental level. He also awoke to his mission to spread Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the teaching for people in the Latter Day of the Law to attain enlightenment.

[Note: The Latter Day of the Law refers to the age when the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha lose their power to lead people to enlightenment. It was generally regarded to mean the period starting two thousand years after the Buddha’s passing. In Japan, it was believed that this age began in the year 1052.]

2) The Declaration of the Establishment of His Teaching

Through his studies at leading Buddhist centers, the Daishonin confirmed his mission to spread the Mystic Law—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—and the means by which to do so. He embarked on his struggle knowing that he would inevitably encounter great opposition and persecution.

On April 28, 1253, around noon at Seichoji temple, he refuted the Nembutsu and other Buddhist teachings of his day as erroneous and proclaimed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to be the sole correct Buddhist teaching for leading all people in the Latter Day of the Law to enlightenment. This is known as the declaration of the establishment of his teaching. He was 32 years old. From around this time, he adopted the name Nichiren (literally, sun lotus).

The Daishonin’s denunciation of the Nembutsu doctrines on the occasion of declaring his teaching enraged Tojo Kagenobu, who was the local steward (an official of the Kamakura government who had the powers of law enforcement and tax collection) and an ardent Nembutsu believer. Kagenobu planned an armed attack on the Daishonin, but the Daishonin narrowly managed to escape beforehand.

The Daishonin then made his way to Kamakura, the seat of the military government. There, he took up residence in a small dwelling in Nagoe (at a site that later came to be known as Matsubagayatsu) and embarked in earnest on propagating his teaching. While refuting the error of the Nembutsu and Zen teachings, which had gained wide influence among the people of Kamakura, the Daishonin spread the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

It was during this early period of propagation that such well-known disciples as Toki Jonin, Shijo Kingo (Shijo Yorimoto), and Ikegami Munenaka (the elder of the Ikegami brothers) converted to his teaching.

3) Submitting the Treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” and Encountering Persecution

In the period when the Daishonin began his propagation efforts in Kamakura, Japan had been experiencing a series of natural disasters and calamities, including extreme weather, severe earthquakes, famine, fires, and epidemics. In particular, the devastating earthquake of the Shoka era, which struck the Kamakura region in August 1257, destroyed many homes and important buildings in Kamakura.

This disaster prompted the Daishonin to write the treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” (see WND-1, 6–26) to clarify the fundamental cause of people’s suffering and set forth the means by which people could eradicate such suffering. On July 16, 1260, he submitted this treatise to Hojo Tokiyori, the retired regent of the Kamakura military government who was still effectively the country’s most powerful leader. It was the first time that the Daishonin remonstrated with the authorities. This is known as his first remonstration with the government authorities.

In this treatise, he declared that the cause of the successive calamities lay with people’s slander of the correct teaching of Buddhism and their reliance on erroneous doctrines. The most serious root cause, he asserted, was the Nembutsu teaching popularized in Japan by the priest Honen.

The Daishonin urged people to discontinue their reliance on such erroneous teachings and embrace faith in the correct teaching of Buddhism without delay, for this would ensure the realization of a peaceful and prosperous land. Continued reliance on erroneous teachings, he warned, would inevitably result in the country encountering internal strife and foreign invasion—the two calamities of the three calamities and seven disasters yet to occur.

[Note: The three calamities and seven disasters are described in various sutras and differ slightly depending on the source. The three calamities include high grain prices or inflation (especially that caused by famine), warfare, and pestilence. The seven disasters include natural disasters such as extraordinary changes of the stars and planets and unseasonable storms.]

However, the ruling authorities ignored the Daishonin’s sincere remonstration and, with their tacit approval, Nembutsu followers began plotting to persecute the Daishonin.

One evening shortly after the Daishonin submitted his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” a group of Nembutsu believers stormed his dwelling in an attempt to take his life. This is called the Matsubagayatsu Persecution. However, the Daishonin escaped unharmed. After this incident, he left Kamakura for a short period.

On May 12, 1261, the following year, having returned to Kamakura sometime earlier, the Daishonin was arrested by the authorities and sentenced to exile in Ito in Izu Province. This is called the Izu Exile. After being pardoned from exile in February 1263, the Daishonin made his way back to Kamakura.

In 1264, he returned to his home province of Awa to visit his ailing mother. On November 11 of that year, the Daishonin and a group of his followers were on their way to the residence of another follower named Kudo in Amatsu (also in Awa Province). At a place called Matsubara in Tojo Village, they were ambushed by a band of armed men under the command of the local steward, Tojo Kagenobu. In the attack, the Daishonin sustained an injury to his forehead and a broken left hand. One of his followers was killed at the site. This is called the Komatsubara Persecution.

4) The Tatsunokuchi Persecution and Casting Off the Transient and Revealing the True

In 1268, an official letter arrived in Kamakura from the Mongol Empire demanding that Japan become one of its tributaries and threatening military attack should the demand be rejected. With this development, the danger of the calamity of foreign invasion befalling the nation became very real.

This spurred the Daishonin to write eleven letters of remonstration to top government officials, including Regent Hojo Tokimune, and the heads of major Buddhist temples in Kamakura. In the letters, he stated that the impending danger of an invasion was just as he had predicted in his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” and he expressed the hope that the priests of the various Buddhist schools would meet with him in an official public debate.

Neither the government leaders nor the religious establishment heeded the Daishonin’s appeal. Rather, viewing the Daishonin’s community of believers as a threat to the existing power structure, the government began to take repressive measures against it.

Around this time, True Word priests were enjoying growing influence, the government having charged them with the mission of conducting prayers for the defeat of Mongol forces. Ryokan (also known as Ninsho) of Gokurakuji temple in Kamakura, a priest of the True Word Precepts school, was also becoming more influential through his connections with powerful government figures.

The Daishonin fearlessly began to refute the errors of the established Buddhist schools that were exerting a negative influence on the people and society as a whole.

In the summer of 1271, in response to a prolonged drought, the government ordered Ryokan to pray for rain. Learning of this, the Daishonin made a proposal to Ryokan: If Ryokan should succeed in producing rain within seven days, the Daishonin would become his disciple; but if he failed to do so, then Ryokan should place his faith in the Lotus Sutra.

When his prayers failed to produce any rain after seven days had passed, Ryokan asked for a seven-day extension. Again no rain fell, but fierce gales arose instead. Ryokan had clearly lost the challenge.

Rather than honestly acknowledge defeat, however, Ryokan grew even more hostile toward the Daishonin. He contrived to bring accusations against the Daishonin by filing a false complaint with the government in the name of a Nembutsu priest who had close ties with him. He also used his influence with top government officials as well as their wives to have the Daishonin persecuted by the authorities.

Although Ryokan was widely respected among the populace as a devout and virtuous priest, he enjoyed the trappings of power and privilege and colluded with government officials toward self-serving ends.

On September 10 of the same year (1271), the Daishonin was summoned by the government and interrogated by Hei no Saemon-no-jo Yoritsuna (also known as Taira no Yoritsuna), the deputy chief of the Office of Military and Police Affairs (the chief being the regent himself). The Daishonin admonished him and emphasized the proper attitude for the nation’s rulers based on the correct teaching of Buddhism.

Two days later, on September 12, Hei no Saemon-no-jo, leading a group of armed soldiers, conducted a raid on the Daishonin’s dwelling and arrested him, treating him as if he were a traitor. On that occasion, strongly remonstrating with Hei no Saemon-no-jo, the Daishonin stated that in persecuting him they had “just toppled the pillar of Japan” (WND-1, 766) and warned that this would cause the calamities of internal strife and foreign invasion to descend on the land. The events on September 10 and 12 marked his second remonstration with the government authorities.

Late that night, the Daishonin was suddenly taken by armed soldiers to the beach at Tatsunokuchi on the outskirts of Kamakura. This was at the directive of Hei no Saemon-no-jo and others who conspired to have the Daishonin secretly beheaded there. Just as the executioner raised his sword to strike, however, a brilliant orb of light burst forth from the direction of the nearby island of Enoshima, shooting northwest across the sky. The soldiers were terrified, and the attempt to kill the Daishonin had to be abandoned. This is called the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.

This persecution had extremely important significance for the Daishonin. In triumphing over the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, he cast off his transient status as an ordinary, unenlightened person burdened with karma and suffering and, while remaining an ordinary human being, revealed his original, true identity as a buddha possessing infinite wisdom and compassion (the Buddha of beginningless time or eternal Buddha). This is called casting off the transient and revealing the true.

Thereafter, the Daishonin’s behavior was that of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, and he went on to inscribe the Gohonzon for all people to revere and embrace as the fundamental object of devotion.

5) The Sado Exile

While the government was deliberating on his fate following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, the Daishonin was housed for about a month at the residence of Homma Shigetsura (the deputy provincial military governor of Sado) in Echi, Sagami Province (part of present-day Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture). During this period, the Daishonin’s followers in Kamakura were subjected to many forms of persecution, including being unjustly accused of arson, murder, and other crimes.

Eventually, the Daishonin was sentenced to exile on Sado Island (part of present-day Niigata Prefecture). He departed from Echi on October 10, arriving at the graveyard of Tsukahara on Sado on November 1. The dwelling he was assigned there was a small, dilapidated hut called the Sammaido, which had been used for funerary rites. The conditions the Daishonin faced were truly harsh. It was bitterly cold on Sado, and he lacked sufficient food and warm clothing. In addition, he was surrounded by hostile Nembutsu followers who sought to take his life.

The Daishonin’s followers in Kamakura also continued to suffer persecution. Some were even imprisoned or banished or had their lands confiscated. The majority of his remaining followers began to have doubts and discarded their faith out of fear and a desire for self-preservation.

On January 16 and 17, 1272, several hundred Buddhist priests from Sado and nearby provinces on the mainland gathered at Tsukahara with the intent to kill the Daishonin. They were stopped by Homma Shigetsura, who proposed that they engage the Daishonin in a religious debate instead. In the debate that ensued, the Daishonin thoroughly refuted the erroneous teachings of the various Buddhist schools of his day. This is known as the Tsukahara Debate.

In February, a faction of the ruling Hojo clan rose up in rebellion, and fighting broke out in Kamakura and Kyoto, the seat of the military government and imperial capital, respectively. This is known as the Disturbance of the Second Month or the Hojo Tokisuke Rebellion. The Daishonin’s prediction of internal strife had come true just 150 days after declaring it in his remonstration with Hei no Saemon-no-jo at the time of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.

In early summer of that year, the Daishonin was transferred from Tsukahara to Ichinosawa, also on Sado, but his life continued to be threatened by angry Nembutsu followers.

During the Sado Exile, Nikko Shonin, who later became the Daishonin’s successor, faithfully followed and served him and shared his sufferings. The Daishonin also steadily gained followers while on Sado Island, including Abutsu-bo and his wife, the lay nun Sennichi.

The Daishonin composed many important works during his exile on Sado. Of special significance are “The Opening of the Eyes” and “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind.”

“The Opening of the Eyes,” written in February 1272, explains that the Daishonin is the votary of the Lotus Sutra of the Latter Day of the Law who is practicing in exact accord with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. Ultimately, it reveals his identity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law endowed with the three virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent to lead all people in the latter age to enlightenment.

“The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” completed in April 1273, presents the object of devotion of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to be embraced by all people in the Latter Day of the Law in order to attain buddhahood.

In February 1274, the Daishonin was pardoned, and in March he departed from Sado and returned to Kamakura.

Meeting Hei no Saemon-no-jo in April, the Daishonin strongly remonstrated with him, denouncing the government’s actions in ordering priests to pray for the defeat of the Mongols based on the True Word and other erroneous Buddhist teachings. Further, responding to a direct question from Hei no Saemon-no-jo, he predicted that the Mongol invasion would most certainly take place before the year’s end. This marked his third remonstration with the government authorities.

Just as the Daishonin predicted, a large Mongol fleet attacked Kyushu, the westernmost of Japan’s four main islands, in October 1274. This is referred to as the first Mongol invasion.

With this event, the two predictions he had made in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land”—those of internal strife and foreign invasion—had come true.

This was the third time that the Daishonin had directly remonstrated with the government authorities and predicted that disasters would befall the country. Affirming that his predictions had been fulfilled, the Daishonin wrote, “Three times now I have gained distinction by having such knowledge” (WND-1, 579).

6) Taking Up Residence at Mount Minobu

When the government rejected his final remonstration, the Daishonin decided to leave Kamakura and take up residence in Hakii Village on the slopes of Mount Minobu in Kai Province (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture). The local steward was Hakii Sanenaga, who had become a follower of the Daishonin through the propagation efforts of Nikko Shonin.

The Daishonin moved to Mount Minobu in May 1274. His change of residence, however, was by no means a retreat from the world.

He composed many of his major works there, including “The Selection of the Time” and “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude.” In these writings, he elucidated numerous important teachings—in particular, the Three Great Secret Laws (the object of devotion of the essential teaching, the sanctuary of the essential teaching, and the daimoku of the essential teaching).

Through lectures on the Lotus Sutra, he devoted himself to fostering disciples who would carry out kosen-rufu—broadly teaching and spreading the Mystic Law to realize peace and happiness for all people—in the future.

During this period, he also wrote many letters to his lay followers throughout the country, patiently instructing and encouraging them so they could persevere with strong faith, win in life, and attain the state of buddhahood.

7) The Atsuhara Persecution and the Purpose of the Daishonin’s Appearance in This World

After the Daishonin moved to Mount Minobu, Nikko Shonin actively led propagation efforts in the Fuji area of Suruga Province (present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture), successfully convincing many Tendai priests and followers to abandon their old religious affiliations and begin practicing the Daishonin’s teaching.

This prompted harassment and persecution by local Tendai temples, and threats were directed at those who had embraced the Daishonin’s teaching.

On September 21, 1279, twenty farmers who were followers of the Daishonin in Atsuhara, a village in Suruga Province, were arrested on trumped-up charges and taken to Kamakura. At the residence of Hei no Saemon-no-jo, they were subjected to harsh interrogation equivalent to torture. Though they were pressed to abandon their faith in the Lotus Sutra, they all remained true to their beliefs.

Three of the twenty followers arrested—the brothers Jinshiro, Yagoro, and Yarokuro—were ultimately executed, while the remaining seventeen were banished from their places of residence. This series of events is known as the Atsuhara Persecution.

The example of these farmer followers persevering in faith without begrudging their lives convinced the Daishonin that humble, ordinary people without any position in society had developed sufficiently strong faith to withstand great persecutions. In “On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” dated October 1, 1279, in the twenty-seventh year after proclaiming his teaching, he refers to the purpose of his appearance in this world (see WND-1, 996).

While still little more than a child, the Daishonin had vowed to become a person of wisdom who understood the essence of Buddhism and to free all people from suffering at the most fundamental level. The fulfillment of that vow was his life’s guiding purpose. Expounding the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the fundamental Law for the enlightenment of all people, and revealing the Three Great Secret Laws, he established the foundation for kosen-rufu that would endure for all time.

During the Atsuhara Persecution, ordinary people who embraced faith in Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that encompasses the Three Great Secret Laws, dedicated themselves to kosen-rufu without begrudging their lives. Their appearance demonstrated that the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin was a teaching that would be championed by ordinary people, a teaching for the enlightenment of all humanity. The Daishonin thus fulfilled the purpose of his appearance in this world.

At the time of the Atsuhara Persecution, the Daishonin’s followers strove in faith with the united spirit of many in body, one in mind. His youthful disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu, steward of a village neighboring Atsuhara, worked tirelessly to protect his fellow believers.

8) The Daishonin’s Death and Nikko Shonin’s Succession

On September 8, 1282, the Daishonin, who was in declining health, left Minobu, where he had resided for nine years. He departed with the stated intent of visiting the therapeutic hot springs in Hitachi Province (part of present-day Ibaraki and Fukushima Prefectures) at the recommendation of his disciples. When he arrived at the residence of his follower Ikegami Munenaka (the elder of the Ikegami brothers) in Ikegami in Musashi Province (present-day Ota Ward, Tokyo), he began to make arrangements for after his death.

On September 25, in spite of being gravely ill, he is said to have given a lecture to his followers on his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

The Daishonin passed away at Ikegami Munenaka’s residence on October 13, 1282, at the age of 61, bringing to a close his noble life as the votary of the Lotus Sutra.

After the Daishonin’s death, only Nikko Shonin carried on his mentor’s fearless spirit and actions for kosen-rufu. Based on his awareness as the Daishonin’s successor, Nikko Shonin continued to speak out against slander of the Law and to remonstrate with the government authorities. He treasured every one of the Daishonin’s writings, referring to them as honorable writings (Jpn gosho), and encouraged all disciples to read and study them as the sacred scripture for the Latter Day of the Law. He also fostered many outstanding disciples who exerted themselves in Buddhist practice and study.

2. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the essence of Buddhism and the fundamental Law perceived by Nichiren Daishonin for resolving the suffering of all humanity. Here, we will examine a few of the important aspects of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

1) The Fundamental Law That Pervades the Universe and Life

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental Law that pervades the entire universe and all life.

Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, viewed the sufferings of all people as his own and searched for a way to resolve those sufferings. In the process, he awakened to the truth that the eternal, all-pervading, fundamental Law of the universe and life existed within his own being. This realization led to his being known as Buddha, or awakened one. Then, with wisdom and compassion, he expounded numerous teachings, which later were compiled as Buddhist sutras. Among them, the Lotus Sutra teaches the true essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Nichiren Daishonin identified this Law to which Shakyamuni awakened—the Law that can resolve human suffering on a fundamental level and open the way to genuine happiness—as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The Essential Law for Attaining Buddhahood

Buddhas are those who have embodied the Law in their own lives, overcome all suffering, and established an unshakable inner state of absolute happiness.

The Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the essential principle, or means, for attaining buddhahood.

The Eternal Law Inherent in All People’s Lives

Buddhas are awakened to the truth that the Law exists within not only their own lives but also the lives of all people. They realize that this all-pervasive Law transcends the bounds of life and death and can never be lost or destroyed.

The Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is universal, inherent in all people; it is also eternal, persisting throughout the three existences of past, present, and future.

2) The Profound Meaning Reflected in the Name, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

The profound meaning of the fundamental Law is reflected in its name, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Myoho-renge-kyo is the full title of the Lotus Sutra in Japanese and translates as “the Lotus Sutra of the wonderful (mystic) law.”

Because the Law expounded in the Lotus Sutra is difficult to fathom and comprehend, it is called the Mystic Law (myoho).

The lotus (renge) is used as a metaphor to describe the distinctive characteristics of the Mystic Law.

Though it grows in muddy water, the lotus remains unsullied by its environment, producing pure and fragrant blooms. This conjures images of those who have faith in and practice the Mystic Law. Though they live in the real world that is rife with suffering, they remain pure in thought and action, teaching others and guiding them to enlightenment.

In addition, the lotus, unlike other plants, contains a seed pod (the lotus fruit) within its buds, and the flower and fruit grow and appear at the same time. The flower (the cause) and the fruit (the effect) exist together, simultaneously. This is also used to illustrate that the state of buddhahood, though indiscernible, exists even in the lives of ordinary people who have not yet manifested that state of life and, further, that even after one becomes a buddha, one does not lose the life states that characterize an ordinary person.

Kyo, meaning sutra, indicates that the Lotus Sutra (Myoho-renge-kyo) contains the eternal truth—the Mystic Law—and that people should venerate and place their faith in it.

Nam, or namu, is the phonetic rendering in Chinese characters of the Sanskrit word namas, meaning bow or reverence. This term was also translated using the Chinese characters meaning to dedicate one’s life (kimyo). To dedicate one’s life, in this sense, means to devote oneself body and mind to the Law and strive to practice and embody it with one’s entire being.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the very heart and essence of the Buddha, which is expressed in wise and compassionate action to lead all people to enlightenment.

3) Nichiren Daishonin’s Enlightened State of Life

Although the Lotus Sutra teaches the fundamental Law of the universe and life, it does not reveal the exact nature or name of the Law.

Nichiren Daishonin awakened to the truth that the Law expounded in the Lotus Sutra existed in his own life, and he revealed that Law to be Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In other words, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is not simply Myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra, prefaced by the word nam, but the name of the Law itself.

By revealing the Law to be Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Daishonin opened the way in real terms for fundamentally freeing people from suffering and delusion, which arise from ignorance of the true nature of their lives, and helping them build unshakable happiness.

That is why we revere Nichiren Daishonin as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, an age filled with confusion and suffering.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the enlightened life state of buddhahood, or true identity, of the Daishonin, who embodied in his being the Law that pervades the universe and all existence.

Ordinary People Are Themselves the Mystic Law

The life state of buddhahood is also inherent in the lives of unenlightened ordinary people—in every person. All people are inherently and originally Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself.

However, while ignorant of this truth, ordinary people are unable to demonstrate the power and functions of the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that exist within them. To be awakened to this truth is the life state of a buddha; to doubt or be unaware of this truth is the life state of one who is unenlightened. When we have faith in and actually practice Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the power and functions of the Mystic Law are activated and expressed in our lives, and in this way we manifest the life state of buddhahood.

4) The Object of Devotion for Practice, Revealed in the Form of a Mandala

Nichiren Daishonin depicted his own buddhahood, or enlightened life state, in the form of a mandala. He made this the object of devotion (Jpn gohonzon) for our Buddhist practice so that we ordinary people can manifest Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in our lives and attain buddhahood, just as he did.

The Daishonin writes: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (WND-1, 832).

It is important that we revere Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—the fundamental Law and the life state of buddhahood embodied in the Gohonzon—believing and accepting that it is inherent in our own lives. By doing so, we can tap the Mystic Law that resides within us and manifest our inherent buddhahood.

The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings states: “Great joy [is what] one experiences when one understands for the first time that one’s mind from the very beginning has been a buddha. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys” (OTT, 211–12).

When we realize that we are inherently buddhas and Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself, we can bring forth in our lives wonderful benefit and good fortune without measure. There is no greater joy in life.

When we triumph over hardships through our practice of the Mystic Law, we will lead lives of unsurpassed joy while developing a state of eternally indestructible happiness.

3. Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime and Kosen-rufu

1) Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime

Buddhahood is the state of awakening that a buddha has attained. The word enlightenment is often used synonymously with buddhahood. Buddhahood is regarded as a state of perfect freedom, in which one is awakened to the eternal and ultimate truth that is the reality of all things. This supreme state of life is characterized by boundless wisdom, infinite compassion, and undaunted courage.

The fundamental purpose of our Buddhist faith and practice is to attain the life state of buddhahood.

The purpose of practicing Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, in addition to attaining buddhahood in this lifetime on an individual level, is to secure happiness for others as well.

By embracing faith in the Gohonzon and striving sincerely in Buddhist practice for oneself and others, anyone can realize the state of buddhahood in this existence. This is the principle of “attaining buddhahood in this lifetime.”

Practice for oneself means to carry out Buddhist practice for one’s own benefit. Practice for others means to teach and guide others to Buddhist practice so that they, too, can experience benefit. Specifically, practice for oneself and others indicates doing gongyo and chanting daimoku, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, while also reaching out to talk with others about Buddhism, teaching and guiding them and thereby propagating the Mystic Law. (A more detailed explanation appears in chapter 3.)

Nichiren Daishonin wrote:

“If votaries of the Lotus Sutra carry out religious practice as the sutra directs, then every one of them without exception will surely attain buddhahood within his or her present lifetime. To cite an analogy, if one plants the fields in spring and summer, then, whether it be early or late, one is certain to reap a harvest within the year.” (WND-2, 88)

Attaining buddhahood, or becoming a buddha, does not mean becoming some kind of special human being completely different from who we are now, nor does it mean being reborn in a pure land far removed from this world in our next lifetime.

The Daishonin explains the “attain” of attaining buddhahood as follows:

“‘Attain’ means to open or reveal” (OTT, 126). Attaining buddhahood, therefore, simply means revealing our innate buddhahood.

As ordinary people, we can reveal this enlightened state of life just as we are. This is expressed in the Buddhist concepts of “the attainment of buddhahood by ordinary people” and “attaining buddhahood in one’s present form.”

Attaining buddhahood does not mean going to some other world. Rather, it means establishing a state of absolute and indestructible happiness here in the real world.

The Daishonin says that “one comes to realize and see that each thing—the cherry, the plum, the peach, the damson—in its own entity, without undergoing any change, possesses the eternally endowed three bodies [of a buddha]”2 (OTT, 200). As this passage suggests, attaining buddhahood means living in a way in which we make the most of our unique inherent qualities and develop our potential to the fullest.

In other words, in attaining buddhahood our lives are purified, allowing us to give full expression to their inherent workings; we gain a strong inner state that is not swayed by any hardship.

Attaining buddhahood is not the achievement of a final goal. The state of buddhahood is characterized by an unremitting struggle based on faith in the Mystic Law to eliminate evil and generate good. Those who strive tirelessly for kosen-rufu are buddhas.

“The Attainment of Buddhahood by Ordinary People” and “Attaining Buddhahood in One’s Present Form”

The terms “ordinary person” or “common mortal” appear frequently in Buddhist sutras and texts, indicating an unenlightened person. The Lotus Sutra teaches that ordinary people inherently possess the life state of buddhahood and that they can reveal that state of life. That is, it is possible for us to manifest within us that noble life state as ordinary people. This is expressed in such Buddhist terms as “ordinary people are identical with the highest level of being” (OTT, 22) and “an ordinary person is a buddha” (WND-1, 36).

Attaining buddhahood is a process of manifesting the life state of a buddha, which is originally present within all people (the inherent world of buddhahood). A buddha, therefore, is not a special being separate from or superior to human beings. The Daishonin taught that attaining buddhahood is revealing the highest humanity—that is, buddhahood—in our lives as ordinary people.

This is called “attaining buddhahood in one’s present form.” This means that people can realize the life state of a buddha just as they are without having to be reborn and changing their present form as an ordinary person.

Though Mahayana sutras other than the Lotus Sutra teach the attainment of buddhahood, they all require at least two conditions.

The first is that one not belong to any of the following groups, which were deemed incapable of attaining buddhahood: practitioners of the two vehicles (voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones), evil people, and women.

Practitioners of the two vehicles believed that it was impossible for them to attain the elevated life state of the Buddha and so contented themselves with seeking to gain the stage of arhat—the highest stage of awakening in the teachings for the voice-hearers. These practitioners aimed for the annihilation of body and mind in arriving at this stage, in which all earthly desires were completely extinguished, ending the cycle of rebirth into this world. Many Mahayana sutras harshly condemned such practitioners as being unable to attain buddhahood.

These sutras also taught that evil people had to first be reborn as good people, and women be reborn as men, before they could attain buddhahood. Neither evil people nor women were considered able to attain buddhahood as they were. Though these sutras taught the possibility of attaining buddhahood, only a limited number of people could meet the requirements to actually do so.

The second condition for attaining buddhahood in Mahayana sutras other than the Lotus Sutra was that one had to engage in Buddhist practice over repeated cycles of birth and death (known as countless kalpas of practice) in order to free oneself from the life state of an unenlightened, ordinary person and achieve the life state of a buddha.

In contrast, the Lotus Sutra teaches that attaining buddhahood is not a matter of becoming some sort of exceptional or extraordinary being, but that each person can reveal the life state of buddhahood within them just as they are.

Nichiren Daishonin further clarified that the fundamental Law by which all buddhas attain enlightenment is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He also manifested his enlightened state of life that is one with that Law in the form of the Gohonzon—the object of devotion of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

By embracing faith in the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, anyone can reveal the buddhahood inherent in his or her life.

Nichikan wrote, “If we accept and believe in this object of devotion and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to it, then our lives are themselves the object of devotion of three thousand realms in a single moment of life; we are the founder, Nichiren Daishonin.”3

By believing in the Gohonzon and continuing to exert ourselves in faith and practice for the sake of kosen-rufu, we can manifest in our lives as ordinary people the same life state of buddhahood as Nichiren Daishonin.

This is also expressed as the principles of attaining buddhahood in one’s present form and attaining buddhahood in this lifetime.

[Note: Nichikan (1665–1726) was a scholar priest who lived during the Edo period (1603–1868) of Japan. He systematized and placed fresh emphasis on the Buddhist principles of Nichiren Daishonin as inherited and transmitted by his direct disciple and successor, Nikko Shonin.]

“Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment” and “The Sufferings of Birth and Death Are Nirvana”

The idea of attaining buddhahood in one’s present form can be expressed from another distinct perspective as the principles that “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.”

Even ordinary people whose lives are dominated by earthly desires, burdened by negative karma, and afflicted by suffering, can, by awakening to the reality that buddhahood exists within their own lives, manifest the wisdom of a buddha’s enlightenment, liberate themselves from suffering, and realize a state of complete freedom.

A life tormented by earthly desires and suffering can become a life of limitless freedom that shines with enlightened wisdom just as it is. This is the meaning of the principle that earthly desires are enlightenment.

Nichiren Daishonin teaches that the world of buddhahood within us is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

When we believe in the Gohonzon, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and awaken to our true, noble selves, then the wisdom to live out our lives, the courage and confidence to face the challenges of adversity and overcome them, and the compassion to care for the welfare of others will well forth from within us.

The sufferings of birth and death are nirvana means that though we may be in a state of suffering caused by the painful realities of birth and death, when we believe in the Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can manifest in our lives the tranquil life state of a buddha’s enlightenment (nirvana).

The principles of earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana teach us that when we base ourselves on faith in the Mystic Law, we can lead positive, proactive lives, transforming every problem and suffering we have into a cause for growth and happiness.

Relative Happiness and Absolute Happiness

Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900–58) taught that there are two kinds of happiness: relative happiness and absolute happiness. Relative happiness describes a condition in which our material needs are fulfilled and our personal desires satisfied. But desires know no limits; even if we may enjoy a sense of those desires being fulfilled for a time, it is not lasting. Since this kind of happiness is dependent on external circumstances, if those circumstances should change or disappear, then so will our happiness. Such happiness is called relative because it exists only in relation to external factors.

In contrast, absolute happiness is a state of life in which being alive itself is a source of happiness and joy no matter where we are or what our circumstances. It describes a life condition in which happiness wells forth from within us. Because it is not influenced by external conditions, it is called absolute happiness. Attaining buddhahood means establishing this state of absolute happiness.

Living amid the realities of this world, it is inevitable that we will meet with various problems and difficulties. But in the same way that someone who is strong and physically fit can easily climb a mountain, even when carrying a heavy load, those who have established an inner state of absolute happiness can use any challenge they encounter as an impetus for bringing forth powerful life force and calmly overcome adversity. For strong mountain climbers, the steeper and more demanding the ascent, the greater enjoyment they feel in overcoming each challenge on the path to the summit. Similarly, for those who through Buddhist practice have acquired the life force and wisdom to overcome hardships, the real world with all its troubles and challenges is a place for creating value rich in satisfaction and fulfillment.

In addition, while relative happiness, which depends on external factors, disappears with death, the absolute happiness of the life state of buddhahood persists eternally. As the Daishonin says, “Passing through the round of births and deaths, one makes one’s way on the land of the Dharma nature, or enlightenment, that is inherent within oneself” (OTT, 52).

2) Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land and Kosen-rufu

As guidelines for practice in order to secure happiness for oneself and others amid the realities of society, Nichiren Daishonin stressed the importance of establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land and kosen-rufu.

Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land

Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is a teaching that enables people to transform their life condition and develop a state of absolute happiness in the course of this lifetime. In addition, through such a profound inner transformation in each individual, it aims to achieve peace for society as a whole.

The Daishonin sets forth the principle for realizing peace in his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”

“Establishing the correct teaching” means promoting faith in and acceptance of the correct teaching of Buddhism as the foundation for people’s lives and making the Buddhist teaching of respect for the dignity of life the fundamental motivating principle of society. “For the peace of the land” means realizing peace and prosperity in society as well as safety and security for all individuals in their daily lives.

In addition to indicating the nation as a political institution centering on the ruling authorities, “land” in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” refers, on a deeper level, to the basis of people’s daily lives and sustenance. In that sense, it refers to not only the social structure formed by human beings but also the land itself—the natural environment.

The Daishonin’s belief that the people are the central presence in the land may perhaps also be discerned in his frequent usage in the original manuscript of “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” of the Chinese character for “land” (also, “country” or “nation”) written with the element for “people” inside a rectangular enclosure, rather than the characters using the element for “king,” or that suggesting a military domain, inside a rectangular enclosure, which were more commonly used.

The Daishonin also wrote, “A king sees his people as his parents” (WND-2, 809), asserting that those in power should make the people their foundation. He further warned that rulers who “fail to heed or understand the afflictions of the populace” will fall into the evil paths (see WND-2, 92).

While “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” was written to realize peace in Japan at that time, its underlying spirit is to achieve peace and security for the people and, further, to actualize peace for the entire world and happiness for all humanity into the distant future.

The Daishonin wrote this treatise and remonstrated with the ruling authorities out of his wish to put an end to the sufferings of the people of his day. He was showing through his own example that practitioners of Buddhism must not content themselves with a Buddhist practice that consists solely of praying for their own enlightenment. Rather, basing themselves on the principles and spirit of Buddhism, they must actively engage in seeking solutions to the problems and issues facing society.

In “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” the Daishonin wrote, “If you care anything about your personal security, you should first of all pray for order and tranquility throughout the four quarters of the land, should you not?” (WND-1, 24).

The self-centered attitude exemplified by averting one’s gaze from society’s problems and withdrawing into a realm of religious faith alone is sternly repudiated in Mahayana Buddhism.

The Soka Gakkai today is engaged in efforts to resolve global issues through its activities in the areas of peace, culture, education, and human rights, based on the principles and ideals of Nichiren Buddhism. These efforts, too, directly accord with the principle and spirit of establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land articulated by the Daishonin.


The aim of Buddhism is to share and spread the correct teaching that embodies the Buddha’s enlightenment and guide all people toward attaining the life state of buddhahood and actualizing peace and prosperity for all humanity.

For that reason, Shakyamuni Buddha states in the Lotus Sutra, “After I have passed into extinction, in the last five-hundred-year period you must spread it [this teaching] abroad widely throughout Jambudvipa [the entire world] and never allow it to be cut off, nor must you allow [negative forces such as] evil devils, the devils’ people, heavenly beings, dragons, yakshas, kumbhanda demons, or others to seize the advantage!” (LSOC, 330).

This passage states that in the last five-hundred-year period—meaning this present period of the Latter Day of the Law—the Mystic Law should be spread abroad widely throughout the entire world. “Spread abroad widely” here is a translation of the Chinese characters pronounced kosen-rufu in Japanese.

In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddha also entrusts the mission of widespread propagation, or kosen-rufu, in the Latter Day of the Law to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who as his disciples from the unimaginably remote past are the bodhisattvas who have thoroughly forged themselves.

During the preaching of the Lotus Sutra, countless multitudes of such bodhisattvas emerge from the earth. Led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices, they vow to propagate the Mystic Law, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, after Shakyamuni’s passing.

Shakyamuni in turn predicts that after his death these Bodhisattvas of the Earth will appear in this suffering-filled world and like the sun and the moon illuminate the darkness of people’s lives and lead them to enlightenment.

Kosen-rufu Is the Fundamental Spirit of Nichiren Daishonin

In exact accord with the aforementioned passage of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin strove to spread the great Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in the evil age of the Latter Day while enduring numerous life-threatening persecutions.

The Daishonin touches upon to the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law, or kosen-rufu, as follows:

“The ‘great vow’ refers to the propagation of the Lotus Sutra [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo].” (OTT, 82)

“If Nichiren’s compassion is truly great and encompassing, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will spread for ten thousand years and more, for all eternity, for it has the beneficial power to open the blind eyes of every living being in the country of Japan, and it blocks off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering.” (WND-1, 736)

“When I, Nichiren, first took faith in the Lotus Sutra, I was like a single drop of water or a single particle of dust in all the country of Japan. But later, when two people, three people, ten people, and eventually a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, and a million people come to recite the Lotus Sutra [chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] and transmit it to others, then they will form a Mount Sumeru of perfect enlightenment, an ocean of great nirvana. Seek no other path by which to attain buddhahood!” (WND-1, 580)

From these passages we can clearly see that achieving kosen-rufu, the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law, is the fundamental spirit of the Nichiren Daishonin.

The Daishonin also repeatedly urged his followers to dedicate their lives to kosen-rufu, attain buddhahood, and actualize the principle of establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land.

The Soka Gakkai—Making Kosen-rufu a Reality

The Soka Gakkai is the harmonious gathering of Buddhist practitioners who have inherited and carry on the Daishonin’s spirit, spreading the Mystic Law just as he taught in his writings.

The Daishonin wrote, “If you are of the same mind as Nichiren, you must be a Bodhisattva of the Earth” (WND-1, 385). The Soka Gakkai, which has spread the Mystic Law in the same spirit as the Daishonin, is the organization of Bodhisattvas of the Earth fulfilling the mission of kosen-rufu.

Until the appearance of the Soka Gakkai seven hundred years after the Daishonin’s death, no one had been able to widely spread the Mystic Law. It is the Soka Gakkai that has made the predictions of Shakyamuni and Nichiren Daishonin a reality. This is proof that the Soka Gakkai is the organization that has emerged to carry out the mission of kosen-rufu, acting in accord with the Buddha’s intent.

The Soka Gakkai is making kosen-rufu a reality, spreading the Mystic Law throughout the entire world, just as the Lotus Sutra teaches.

  • *1Here, February 16, 1222, indicates the sixteenth day of the second month of 1222 on the lunar calendar, which was used for the purpose of recording dates during premodern times through the 1800s in countries such as Japan and China. The same approach is followed for other premodern dates that appear throughout the text.
  • *2The three bodies of a buddha refer to the Dharma body, the reward body, and the manifested body. The Dharma body is the fundamental truth, or Law, to which a buddha is enlightened. The reward body is the wisdom to perceive the Law. And the manifested body is the compassionate actions a buddha carries out to lead people to happiness.
  • *3Translated from Japanese. Nichikan, Nichikan Shonin mondan shu [The commentaries of Nichikan].