Nichiren was a Buddhist monk who lived in 13th-century Japan. The son of a fisherman, Nichiren was born in 1222, a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. Nichiren wondered why the teachings of Buddhism had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people’s suffering and enabling society to flourish.
Nichiren’s philosophy originates in the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism who lived in India some 2,500 years ago. Nichiren discovered that the Lotus Sutra, the penultimate teaching of Shakyamuni, contains the heart of the Buddhist teachings and the truth to which Shakyamuni was awakened. This sutra reveals that a universal principle, called the Buddha nature, is inherent in all life. It affirms that all people are capable of attaining enlightenment.
Nichiren distilled the profound theory of the Lotus Sutra into a practice that could enable every individual to reveal their Buddhahood, or highest state of life, in the midst of day-to-day reality. In its essence, this practice comprises chanting the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or devotion to the Mystic Law that pervades the universe.
Nichiren felt passionately that Buddhism should enable people living in the real world and facing real problems to become empowered and change their lives for the better. Nichiren Buddhism stresses the profound connection between one’s own happiness and the happiness of others. The greatest personal satisfaction and fulfillment in life is realized by working for the happiness of others.
Nichiren’s legacy lies in his unrelenting struggle for people’s happiness and the desire to transform society into one that respects the dignity and potential of each individual.
Key concepts in Nichiren’s philosophy include:
- The inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all life
- The eternity of life
- The unity of life and its environment
- The development of each person’s limitless potential through a process of self-motivated reform or “human revolution”