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Nichiren Buddhism - Skeptical Questions and Analysis
I recently discovered a sect of Buddhism called "Nichiren Shoshu" and am not sure what to make of it. Even though I've studied religion all my life, I had never heard of it before. It claims to be based on a key principle called the Lotus Sutra, Buddha's highest teaching. It teaches that chanting "Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge_Kyo" is the secret to radically changing your karma for the better, accelerating the normal process like light speed.
Now, on the one hand, I've gone to a few of their meetings and it does seem to REALLY WORK. I've heard so many valid testimonials in person from those whose lives have been changed by this "Lotus Sutra" of Nichiren, getting solid tangible results, both at their meetings and outside their meetings. Even some of my close personal friends whom are very credible have attested and sworn to it, some of whom are very intellectual and down-to-earth. Now I can tell the difference between a genuine testimonial from the heart and a BS testimonial (like the ones you hear at Amway meetings), and these are the real thing, extremely sincere and believable. The followers have a certainty about it that is undeniable and far more than mere belief or faith.
I've tried it a few times myself and gotten some results, and I'm sure if I did it more my results would be even better.
In fact, a great author on my spiritual discussion list, who wrote a fantastic book on life after death called "Under The Tree" (one of my favorite books), and an expert on Buddhism, meditation, Astral projection, and out of body experiences even admitted that Nichiren Buddhism does work in changing one's karma and getting quick desired results. However, he warned that the results are only short term and temporary, and could result in karmic repercussions if you didn't really deserve the results you got. In addition, he said that this sect had NOTHING to do with Buddhism, as none of the basic concepts of Buddhism are taught in it. Not even meditation or introspection is taught in it, nor free thinking. In fact, its followers tend to be overly zealous and Evangelistic, which is very uncharacteristic of Buddhism.
I find that his warnings about it tend to be true. But of course, it does change lives for the better, so isn't that what really matters?
Nevertheless, here are some logical and historical problems that I see with the claims of Nichiren Buddhism.
1) It's historical claim is that their founder, a guy named Nichiren Shoshu in 13th Century Japan found the last and greatest secret taught by Buddha, the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that chanting "Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo" is the secret to mastering one's karma, luck and fortune.
Now, the thing is, Buddha lived in 400BC or 500BC in India. And this Nichiren Shoshu lived in the 1200's AD in Japan. So how and why should we believe that a guy who lived 1600 or 1700 years after Buddha have discovered a secret teaching that Buddha's original followers never knew about? And if this is Buddha's greatest ultimate teachings, then why was it lost for 1600 or 1700 years? No logical or substantive reason is given. Nor is any circumstantial evidence presented to support this wild claim. We are told merely to believe it because "they say so" or rather, Nichiren claimed it was so. But of course, I never like to believe something just because someone "says so" .
Moreover, the proof they claim (as all religious sects claim) is in the fact that the Lotus Sutra taught in Nichiren Buddhism WORKS. But of course, all religious movements claim that. The Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, even the unpopular "Moonies" all make the claim that once you try their faith and it works, that that is enough proof for all their doctrinal claims. Or that once Jesus or Buddha comes inside you, you just "know" that the faith is true. However, this is highly subjective, as I can try a faith and not get the same results, and moreover, just because something works doesn't mean that every wild bizarre belief of the religion is true as well.
In other words, just because chanting "Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo" works does not prove that this Lotus Sutra was ever taught by the original Buddha of 400-500BC as the Nichiren religion claims.
Anyway, I see no logical or valid reason why Nichiren's fantastic claim is true. And in fact, none has been presented. You are also asked to believe it because they "say so" .
2) As one of my spiritual advisor said, Nichiren Buddhism does not teach any of the basic concepts or principles of traditional Buddhism. Thus, most of its followers know nothing about basic Buddhism, such as the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path. Yet they claim to be "True Buddhism" which in itself is a red flag, as no open minded tolerant faith calls itself the true way.
Their leaders claim that the teachings of traditional Buddhism are unnecessary because this Lotus Sutra of Nichiren is a secret easy charm that completes it all. It's similar to how the Christians claim that Jesus renders the Old Testament laws and testaments unnecessary, as he "fulfills" the Law given unto Moses.
Thus, I find it dubious and extremely IMPLAUSIBLE that Buddha would teach something his whole life and then at the end of his life teach a "Lotus Sutra" that suddenly makes everything he taught for 50 years "unnecessary" . That makes no sense at all.
Therefore, it is logical and valid to claim that Nichiren Buddhism PROBABLY has nothing to do with Buddhism, but is in fact a newer religion.
Yet for some reason, the followers of Nichiren Buddhism believe this fervently without question, and seem to not need any reason to. Are they naÃ¯ve and quick to believe any fantastic claim, as cult followers often do? Maybe, but most of its followers that I've met seem very intelligent, practical, and down-to-earth. And they are good quality type of people. They don't seem like wackos or loonies at all. So what are we to make of them?
They do teach a "Ten Worlds" concept describing the inner states and stages that a person rotates up and down through during his/her spiritual evolution, which makes a lot of sense, is sound, coherent, and which I agree with. However, this "Ten Worlds" concept is not traditional Buddhism, but more of a New Age type concept.
3) The leaders at Nichiren meetings also seem to not answer questions sufficiently or convincingly. When asked the above questions for example, they seem to go off on some tangent, never answering the questions directly or logically. Yet they act as though they've sufficiently answered the question and that the subject is closed, when they haven't.
I'll provide a very interesting yet very bizarre example. There are two organizational groups of Nichiren Buddhism which teach very similar things, yet they are both diametrically opposed to each other. One is called SGI, a layman's organization governed at the grass roots level. The other is governed by a priesthood. Both have community websites that you can find by googling "Nichiren" .
I've been to meetings of both organizations, and found the members of both to be very good quality down-to-earth sincere people. Yet both groups will tell you not to trust the other, as though the other were blasphemous, evil, and bad! This is strange, as both groups basically teach the same thing, and contain the same quality of people!
Now, if you ask each of them as to WHY the other is bad, they will give highly dubious reasons. SGI leaders will claim that the priesthood of the other organization is corrupted by power, greed, and control, losing sight of the original teachings of Nichiren. The priesthood Nichiren group will claim that the SGI group has rebelled against the priesthood that Nichiren established, violating tradition and sacred trust, which is total blasphemy.
Other than that, they give no legitimate reason why the other is "bad" and should never be listened to.
Obviously, to a critical thinker, these reasons are insufficient. Just because an order of priests control a Nichiren organization doesn't mean that it's bad. And likewise, just because a group deviates and defies a traditional priesthood doesn't make it "bad" either. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes violating a tradition or "order" is a good thing, not a bad thing. But no other reasons are given. Yet they act as though this answer is an "end point" ?!
Though these answers are insufficient, nevertheless the leaders act as though they are sufficient and that no further questioning is necessary. That I find bizarre.
Who knows. Are they under some form of mind control?
Though the practice of Nichiren Buddhism does seem to WORK, the above legitimate questions remained unanswered.
Last edited by Winston on August 23rd, 2012, 2:58 am, edited 2 times in total.
I have posted on a Nichiren Group under this title:
Questions my Intellectual Friend Asked About this Buddhism
You will see answers here:
http://groups.google.com/group/alt.reli ... ren/topics
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!
W: Ladislav, I went there and found your post and the responses. Unfortunately, most of the replies there consisted of snobbish nitpicking, and some even attacked me and you. Not what I was expecting and not a good sign. The people who replied were obviously incapable of answering the questions, or had no answers to them.
I will try some of the Nichiren forums I've seen before. If I get any interesting responses, I'll let you know and maybe post them here.
Thanks for trying though.
Winston, I share your skepticism of Nichiren Buddhism. It's funny to see a sort of "evangelical" type of Buddhism. Reciting their mantra might bring some benefits, but if true enlightenment in this life is a person's goal, then there are definitely more powerful methods out there. After all, Buddha spent six years in intense meditation, so why should we expect to have to do any less? I'm not an expert on Buddhism but I've read a lot about it. Nichiren Buddhism might have some value, but on the surface it strikes me as cheap, franchise Buddhism. The real path to enlightenment seems to be the traditional one of finding an enlightened teacher and tenaciously praticing what he teaches you.
You also raised the question of why Buddha didn't teach the Nicheren methods during his lifetime if they were so deep and meaningful. This is a logical criticism, however I have become more flexible about these kinds of issues since I started reading about Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetans believe that there were many enlightened beings both before and after Buddha and in different "heavens" or worlds. There are many methods for attaining enlightenment. The historical Buddha taught some, and some others have been discovered or taught by other enlightened beings since then (the tantric methods of Tibetan Buddhism fall into this category, as do Zen koans).
Those are great points Jackal.
You are right, Nichiren does seem to work and has helped a lot of people. So many of its followers rave about it and I do not think they are dishonest.
Yet it makes no sense, and it's a bad sign that they consider themselves "true Buddhism" which implies that other forms of Buddhism are false. That is negating the deep spiritual wisdom of all the other Buddhist schools. And a huge mistake and very limiting as well. An open minded person doesn't do that.
Plus they offer no proof to back up what they claim other than "If you try it out, you'll see that it works, and that'll be your proof". Sure if I try it, it might help me. But they can't prove their HISTORICAL claims at all.
There is no credible reputable serious Buddhist scholar or religious studies scholar that I know of, that considers Nichiren to be the "original" or "true" Buddhism, at all. And that's another major blow.
A buddhist monk that my parents know in Taiwan told me that Nichiren is a cult that uses very clever Japanese techniques to brainwash their followers. He said that they offer you wonderful things in the beginning, and then require you to be their servant and go to other countries on missionary missions. A friend of mine in Nichiren told me that he was never forced to go overseas to spread the faith though.
How do you know about Nichiren, Jackal? Did you attend their meetings before?
Heck no. I've just read about many types of Eastern religions. However, I would like to eventually find a serious Buddhist teacher and learn from him. I've been reading and meditating on my own for too long, and I should really try and take it to the next level.
First, I am in fact a Lay member of the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism and have been since 1975. Let me try and address some of your questions. We'll start with the easiest one ...
Nichiren "Shoshu" translates the true teachings of Nichiren. "Shoshu" isn't the name of the person. It's strange that no one in one of the meetings you went to clarified that for you (shaking my head).
the Founder was Nichiren DaiShonin (or as the Nichiren Shu sect calls him? Nichiren Shonin"
Benefits ... as one begins to change ones karma faster than just living through the effects of your past causes? Often 'obvious' things tend to occur, much like when one is on a journey and takes a different street on the path.
In reality there are two concepts of 'benefit' within Nichiren Shoshu's definitions of the concept; one is "conspicuous" and the other "inconspicuous" From the writings of the founder to his followers and other people in Japan? We are told that in this current age of the law of the world and causality? only inconspicuous 'benefits' occur, and further that those are the benefits of the followers of the Buddha (called Bodhisattvas) who are praying not for self-aggrandizement, -for the enlightenment of others- -those- are the only actual 'benefits' that you can lay at the door of coming from ones practice of Buddhism. If you win the lottery? don't chalk it up to chanting. If you have a car accident? Don't count that on your practice either, I do find that looking back over events, things seem to have 'worked out' for me, often in ways I did not expect for them to do having had some preconceived notion of what I 'wanted'. The longer you practice the more in a 'left brain' kind of way do you feel your connectivity to all those in your world and therefore your concern for them getting their happiness by practicing. As Nichiren says in one of his letters: "Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy and continue your journey of faith". The rewards of this practice are based upon the comittment to a life time of practice, and it's effect on your left brain, subliminal perception of the world, yourself, and the relationship between, not an intellectual 'comprehension' and not merely chanting a little bit now, or now and then. Part of the practice is to recite portions of the chapters of the Sutra twice daily one part which has the 'ten aspects' of Buddhism ends with "Consistency from beginning to end".
The "Sutra of the Lotus of the Wonderful Law" was indeed preached by Shakyamuni / Siddartha / Gautauma Buddha in the last 8 years of his life in India. He announced that his previous teachings which he had propounded as "expedient means" to raise the people above some base level of thought like ('gee! maybe you should cook your food before you eat it!" , type of stuff) were the expedient means to attempt to get them to the point of being able to receive a higher teaching. He then went on to say that his followers should "honestly discard" his earlier teachings (Expedient Means) for they would be 'as devils' in the time to come, much as if you refused to get out of the diapers once you didn't need them, or take the training wheels off your bike before you took it out on the highway, etc. So any 'miraculous' 'benefits'? Have NOTHING to do with your practice of Buddhism.
Shakyamuni ("Prince of the Shakya tribe") was urging his followers to take off their training wheels. And he didn't get much of a positive reaction to it. The (to be) patriarch of the Zen school asked him a question at one of the lectures on the hillslope and either Gautama didn't hear him or didn't think it merited an answer and reached down in a pond beside him on the hillside and plucked a lotus flower up and held it towards him and smiled. The follower leaped up with an 'I got it!" and split never listening to anything more Gautama said about it. Hence the 'nothing-ness' school of Buddhism (Zen).
After Gautama got such a non response to his pronouncement about this his highest teaching? He gave up and told 'em to please hold on the the the teaching because some years (I forget exactly) after he passed away there would be a more powerful Buddha spring forth in an island country, with "warm and merciful words" and be able to give them the teaching in a way they could actually understand and use them. As it turned out? 1700 years worth. India reached it's highest level of development whilst they practiced the Buddha's teachings, there were even Buddhist monasteries on the shores of the Sea of Galilea. People resist "change" and those in power? (the Hinayana schools? and later the Provisional Mahayana schools?) had / have a vested interest in studiously ignoring the Lotus Sutra. India began a long slide down after they refused to actually follow the guidance of Gautama regarding his highest teaching and it took someone -outside- of the immediate reference of the provisional teachings (Hinayana Buddhism and geographically outside) to 'get it'. Hence the memorization of the teaching because there was not a formal methodology for writing at the time, so to prove you were a master's disciple? You memorized his teaching and spouted it back to him orally, proving you'd carry it on. There's no writing of the -earlier- teachings (Provisional and Actual Hinayana) either ... all of the teachings were transcribed from people parroting them back once a formalized writing concept came into being, you could just as well say that none of the teachings of Siddartha were his for the same reason if you wanted to.
It is our conclusion that Nichiren Daishonin (born "Rencho" the son of a family in the lowest cast, fish dryers) is that figure. Since the family was so poor the only possible way for the kid to get an education? Was for them to put him in a monastery to become a monk. (a school that practices a provisional version of the "Greater Wheel" / Mahayana teachings) and that his pronouncement that just as the word 'Japan" contains all the people and all the rivers and valleys of the country, enlightenment is contained in the 5 characters of Myoho Renge Kyo and that (an over-simplification he had lots more to say about it) chanting the title of the sutra allows one to apprehend a left brain understanding of the contents. After studying at the monastery for a period of time this was his 'thesis' and the concept came to him standing on the cliffs looking out at the sea of Japan at sunrise.
As far as the buzzword "true" buddhism? drives me crazy, most of the gibberish in the teachings of Nichiren that get to the Western world? Come out in "Jinglish" (Japanese and English incomprehensibly jammed together in some awful pretense of actually saying something comprehensive and insisting that they have done). I spent ten years on the "red eye' to Japan while we were developing a solar cell in central Japan and I had to endure it, and the absolute arrogance of the Japanese of today that the West is a primitive culture and doesn't take any 'understanding'. This is (in my opinion) why we will remain an obscure religious school in the West and perhaps it will take a "near death" experience in the west before they figure it out and do something about it.
Also I have found that a biproduct of the practice in the West is (in my opinion) .... I have found after practicing all these years that there is an attraction to this religion not only by those who want to 'do' something but by people who want others to think for them. I think more to the point they use it at some subliminal level as a methodology that would permit them to not have to think or observe and just count on 'the practice' do it all for them so that they don't have to be bothered. The largest percentage of them that I have had interaction with? (there are exceptions to every rule of course). Are some of the most un-observant people I've even met; about people, their reactions to interaction, even as mundane as to 'stuff' around them. It's really quite astounding. There is a predominate faction that act like "because I chant, I don't have to pay attention to the consequences of my actions, I can just stumble though life without thinking.".. I'm sure it's not that conscious a 'thought-process' and is simply subliminal behavior. It's more and more prevalent in the society as a whole but it's virtually endemic in both Nichiren Shoshu members.
Oh and the Ten worlds in a momentary state of existence concept? Is in fact a Buddhist concept and far to complex to go into here. ...
There are 7 major schools of Nichiren Buddhism, the SGI is -not- a Nichiren School but an excommunicated lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu. Who calls themselves a world peace movement. If you have more experience with either or both? I think you'll conclude for yourself that they actually are NOT teaching the same things.
The Religion of Nichiren Shoshu teaches specific non-transient things ... vg how to practice the religion -and nothing else- That makes it non-transient because no matter what changes in society, no matter how unique and different we each are? the "rulebook" of how to practice the religion (you, yourself) isn't subjective and predicated on things you 'thought' were right in a freeze frame snapshot of time. It does not tell you what to eat, what to wear and what to do in your personal and business life. Because all of those things 'change' (hence the transience issue) Eating shell fish in the early days of Christianity was a substantially BAD thing to do because the shellfish were caught at the mouths of rivers and the rivers were used to put raw sewage in and to dispose of it. Yet we have at least two major schools of religions who incorporate dietary laws as 'tenets' of the religions. As soon as you realize that some of their stuff is temporally based guidance that has been construed as an Eternal Truth? You immediately have to wonder which other parts have the same fatal flaw (believe me .. as a young man I started to study for the Anglican priesthood till I started reading the "Gnostic" gospels which the Church blows off as apocrypha and talks about reincarnation which of course doesn't sit well with the one life and off to heaven or hell after death concept.
What the SGI teaches are transient temporally based teachings in a very amateurish "world peace movement" forcibly wrapped around Nichiren's teachings, often with unpleasant results. If you want to join a World Peace movement? Try Unicef. Remember, like I said, even within Nichiren Shoshu, there are cultural issues that (to my mind) are impediments to the practice that are blended in whilst all the while insisting that they are not cultural elements of the actual teachings of Nichiren and if you are of the 'let other people think for me' persuasion? (neither group would like that concept very much) Then you will be unquestioning and one of the Rah Rah cheerleaders. Me? I have never missed morning or evening prayers or chanting once since 1975 because despite the fact that our Priests are fallible humans as is everyone else? The mandate to keep the teaching exactly as it was handed down? keeps me practicing with them, as far as I'm concerned? It's too good a teaching to give up on because people are people and subject to stupidity from time to time.
http://www.lawyersclubindia.com/forum/A ... -31905.asp
A POWERFUL WISH FULFILLING BUDDHIST MANTRA:
MANTRA NAME- "NAMYO HORENGE KYO"
HOW TO CHANT:Chant with eyes open,facing an empty wall,with folded hands,seated on floor cross legged,or on a chair;not while lying down,unless bedridden.
Ask in your mind,wishes of yourself,of others,your country,and so on.
TIME LIMIT:10 mins to 24 hrs.Depends upon you.The more you chant,the more benefits it brings
WHEN TO CHANT:Any time of the day.Start in the morning between 4AM-11 AM.
Who Can Chant?
Anyone can practice chanting because overall itâ€™s a non-religious practice just like meditation. Teens, Parents of 3, Old, Wrinkled, Young, Shabby, Tired, Confused anyone!
A person of any religion can chant it,without having to compromise on his own religious practices like fasting,hawans,going to temples,mosques,churches,etc.
One who chants Nam Myoho Renge Kyo will be filled with the courage of a lion.
Chanting also allows the practitioner to view the contents of his mind. These habitual thoughts are one's karma, the mind's normal reactions to everyday situations. The aim while chanting is to focus the mind. While doing this it's easy to see what kind of thoughts the mind usually contains. Before chanting the mind is like a wild horse. Through chanting, you grab the reigns and steer it towards a definite course.
3. Fulfillment of desire
If you focus on something you want, you will get it. While you are chanting you are focusing all your mental faculties on the object of desire, casting out negative thoughts and distractions, while holding the image of your goal firmly in your mind. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished when a mind is firmly fixed on a single goal.
4. Spiritual awareness increases â€“ you will begin to notice good things that you never did.
5. Curiosity increases
6. Patience and peace of mind increases
By chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo you can attain enlightenment in this lifetime. When you awaken to your Buddha nature, you are free from fear, doubt, suffering and all forms of blame. You begin to understand that your mind is the entity of the mystic law, creating all things, pervading even the smallest particles of dust. You are free, knowing that you are truly in control of your life.
7. Get Rid of Bad Karma and Build Good Karma. Change Defeat into Victory; Loss into Gain; Poison into Medicine.
8. Overcome Your Fears, Painful Memories and Phobias.
9. Relate to People in Your Environment on the Highest Level.
10. Control the Lower Four Worlds of Hell, Hunger, Dominant/Submissive Attitudes and Anger.
11. Find and Keep Actual Love.
12. Understand and Get What You Really Need for Your Happiness. (What Do I want out of life?)Increase the Span of Your Life;
13. Overcome the Sufferings of Birth, Old Age, Sickness, Death and Re-birth.
14. Get Stuff You May Want, Including Freedom, Wealth, Love, Friends, Work Satisfaction and Joy By Buddhafying Yourself.
To learn how to pronounce this mantra correctly,go to you tube videos through google search.
PRECAUTIONS-1. Do not chant for others' ill.The results will boomerang on you only.
2. Pray for others' wishes and happiness too,besides your own,to get maximum benefits.
3. Also pray for your enemies' well being & happiness.Then,they will either become positive towards you,or will go out of your life effortlessly.
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"It takes far less effort to find and move to the society that has what you want than it does to try to reconstruct an existing society to match your standards." - Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
Minor personal note:
A guy upstairs from me my first year at college led a group doing this for hours on end. He was fanatical in his evangelism and also a serious athlete (track). I had no opinion about it at the time except that I wanted to be cool and they didn't seem cool. Also I wasn't sure how to judge whether it was a cult or not before getting deeply involved.
There is an internet rumor that the sect was infiltrated at the top by Japanese intelligence, or at least cooperated with them. Makes sense, given the international reach and network of followers to be recruited for minor tasks. Nothing too shocking here -- Vatican is certainly rife with spies, and hell, I'm Catholic. And World Vision, a Christian charity that presumably does some good things, is a known CIA front. Just passing on a very minor caution.
Positive-minded, selfless (self-forgetting) meditation of many types could be beneficial, especially if practiced with focus. I do not doubt the claims for this practice. Miracles have also resulted from Catholics saying the Rosary. It seems that the unity of mind, mouth, and heart, can achieve a lot, if not interfered with by racing and distracting thoughts.
Yet the benefits of meditation do not eliminate concerns about mindless devotion to a hierarchy. These concerns arise in the Christian congregations as well.
Paul wrote: â€œTherefore, my dear friends... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you ...â€� I take this to mean that the skeptical Winston Wu approach is the one to take when learning spiritual things. You can't put your spiritual journey on autopilot. Learn, but test.