My Letter to Nichiren

by Ryuei Michael McCormick > Historic Buddha > Mahayana > Lotus Sutra > Blog

This was written to fulfill a homework assignment which was given to me at one of the Shami Seminars I attended while training to become a Nichiren Shu priest. The assignment was to write a letter to Nichiren Shonin about our faith. It was a great assignment because it gave me the opportunity to really reflect on what Nichiren's teachings mean for me personally. I offer it to all those who may have had similar thoughts and experiences so that they will know they are not alone. I also offer it in the hope of challenging people to take a fresh look at the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, the teachings Nichiren Shonin, and the practice of the Three Great Secret Dharmas.

Dear Nichiren,
I am very happy to have this chance to write to you and express my thoughts and feelings about the Lotus Sutra and the Buddha Dharma. I think the best place to begin is by thanking you for all that you have done, even at the risk of your own life, in order to ensure the spread the True Dharma of Myoho Renge Kyo. If not for your efforts, I seriously doubt that anyone would be able to practice the Lotus Sutra today in the way that it is meant to be practiced. In fact, if not for you, I don't think that I would have even heard of the Lotus Sutra, and I am sure that this is true of others as well.

For my part, I have been thinking about what these teachings and practices mean to me. After all, I am living in a vastly different world than the one that you lived in. You lived in a feudal world where Buddhism was the state religion, whereas I am living in an industrialized democracy where church and state are kept separate and where Buddhism is a very small minority religion. Even more importantly, religion of any kind is no longer at the center of public life either here or in Japan. It has long been banished to the periphery of private contemplation and special occasions which nevertheless have no impact on daily life. It does inform morality and ethics, but it no longer has the hold it once did. Certainly no single religion determines the consensus world view of the industrialized world. The consensus view that is the basis of science, government, education and the media is that this universe exploded into existence some 15 billion years ago whereupon this world and the life upon it evolved to the point where conscious human life developed. Humankind is thought to be the highest and only intelligent life in the whole universe. Furthermore, while there is a quantum reality that defies the assumptions of everyday life, there does not seem to be any verifiable alternate realities, incorporeal beings or even a God. Life comes into being at birth and disappears at death with no heaven or hell or rebirth to dread or look forward to. This planet, the life upon it, and the human intellect which has emerged from it are all seen as lonely accidents in a vast universe driven by impersonal natural laws and chaotic random accidents. I would suspect that even those who fight so strongly against this view know in their hearts that it is the more plausible picture of reality. It is a bleak and heartless reality and there is seemingly no defense against it, not even our rage and denial.

So why do I care? What could the Buddha Dharma mean to someone who has grown up in a culture that views life in this way? Why am I religious at all? Is it just a way of deceiving myself so that I will feel better about this terrifying and ultimately meaningless existence that I have been thrust into? Why didn't I become a Christian and try to find meaning in a way that would be more familiar and closer to home? Why pick Nichiren Buddhism, a school that is said to be less sophisticated, less universal and less Buddhist than other schools which have made the transition to America? Why didn't I take up a more respectable and well known form of Buddhism like Zen or Vipassana or Vajrayana Buddhism instead? These are the kinds of questions that I find I must answer if I am to explain to you why I practice Namu Myoho Renge Kyo and why I have spent more than ten years now trying to understand you and the Lotus Sutra. There are so many things I wish to ask you, but first I need to tell you why any of it matters to me in the first place. So please indulge me and allow me to explain what your Buddhism of the Three Great Secret Dharmas means to me.

Frankly, I find that human happiness is very fragile and ephemeral when it exists at all. Everyday I learn about shootings, kidnappings, rapes, incest, physical abuse, substance abuse, natural disasters, disease, wars, exploitation and every manner of misery that seems to surround us from the newspapers or television or even from the lives of the people around me. It amazes me that in the midst of all this desperation and tragedy that there can be any happiness at all, and even when there are moments of genuine joy and happiness it does not seem sustainable. How can any half-aware person possibly feel secure or at ease? In spite of this, I stubbornly believe that life must be ultimately meaningful. Nihilism might be common sense, but I honestly can't say that I share the bleak and impersonal world view that I outlined above, or perhaps I just choose to resist it to the end.

For me religion is the key to a meaningful life. Religious scriptures and the writings and lives of the men and women of the past who have dedicated their lives to religion all testify that it is possible to find ultimate meaning. Despite all the anxieties, uncertainties, frustrations, disappointments, horrors and tragedies they found a way to be loving, compassionate, joyful and at peace with themselves and others.

Perhaps there is nothing other than the physical reality of quantum particles, atoms, molecules, cells, biochemistry and the epiphenomenon of instinct, emotion and consciousness. Perhaps there is no higher order, no pure lands, heavens, hells or ghost realms, no metempsychosis or cause and effect on the moral and personal level. Maybe all of these things are merely conjecture and wishful thinking. Maybe there is nothing more to these metaphysical suppositions than the subjective experience of changing brain states brought on by stress, trances or near death experiences. I do not know if heaven and hell and all the rest are only metaphors or if there is some corresponding objective reality to them, but I do know that there are heavenly and hellish people and experiences.

I know that I have experienced moments of grace and also people of grace. In other words, I have met people and experienced things which seemed to touch some deep inner core of awareness and love within me. These moments and people of grace have allowed me to glimpse the reality which must have inspired the testimony of the scriptures and the stories of the past saints and sages. Because of moments like these and because I have met people who seem to habitually live in this way, I know that there is a deeper and fuller way of living, even if there is no metaphysical reality to back it up. The meaning is in the heightened state of loving-awareness itself and not some objective reality.

So the question for me became: How can I live that way all the time? How can I open myself up to that deeper level of love and awareness? How can I find, cultivate and sustain such a way of living? It seemed to me that the great saints and sages of the past knew how to do this and that by learning more about them and then emulating them I could discover this constant state of loving-awareness for myself.

My search began with Christianity for the simple reason that I had grown up with it and it was therefore very familiar and very accessible. I think that it was in junior high that I first began to be interested in the parables and stories of the Gospels. They seemed to be pointing to that deeper way of living that I was beginning to look for. Unfortunately, aside from a few teachers, both lay and religious, I never found a community or should I say a Church that was actually dedicated to living that deeper meaning. In fact, the average Christian didn't seem to be concerned with the things that I was looking for. Religion for the majority of Christians is simply a way of celebrating special occasions, a way of reinforcing good behavior, an insurance policy against life's hardships and finally a ticket to an eternally blissful afterlife. For others, Christianity seems to have actually reinforced their bigotry, fear, hatred and ignorance. Even those teachers who had gone deeper seemed to have grown beyond the boundaries of Christianity. These teachers were attracted to mystics like Meister Eckhart, the depth psychology of Jung, and the teachings of the Zen Masters.

Through these teachers I was exposed to the koans and anecdotes of Zen Buddhism. I was fascinated to discover a religion totally dedicated to challenging its adherents to go beyond the dead letter of the scriptures to find a deeper meaning in life. Whereas Christianity had failed to go beyond lip service, dogmatism and bigotry, Zen seemed to promise an authentic spiritual life. Of course, at the time, I didn't realize that the average Asian Buddhist was no more authentically Buddhist than the average Western Christian was authentically Christian. Nevertheless, I really wanted to find out more about Zen and the Buddhist teachings and practices it was based on. I wanted to know what it meant to be a Buddhist and how to become one. Unfortunately, in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the 1980's there were not many places where one could go to learn about or practice Buddhism. In fact, I don't think there were any such places at all.

This was partially remedied in my senior year in high school when I ran into the Soka Gakkai. At first I despised them for their greed driven, pushy and very un-Zenlike way of teaching and practicing Buddhism. In fact, at the first SGI meeting I went to, I was positive that they were a cult. I did like the chanting however. There was something very positive and energizing about it. I even began chanting the Odaimoku on my own in order to gain confidence and strengthen my determination to accomplish my goals. Eventually, I did end up joining the Soka Gakkai, after I made sure that there was some truth to what they were telling me about you and the Lotus Sutra. I was still suspicious, but I also saw joining the SGI as my best chance to study and practice Buddhism with other Buddhists as a Buddhist. So, in my first year of college I went to the Soka Gakkai community center in Philadelphia and received my first gohonzon-mandala from a Nichiren Shoshu priest. There, the priest touched me on the head with the Lotus Sutra and I made a vow to always uphold it.

Though I still had very grave reservations about the Nichiren Shoshu doctrines, particularly their exclusive claim to Truth and their claims about your status as the True Buddha, I was very happy to be able to study the principles of the Buddhist world view, especially ichinen sanzen and the nine consciousnesses. I soon saw that many of the supposedly unique teachings of Zen were actually the teachings of Buddhism in general. I also began to see how the teachings and events described in the Lotus Sutra were actually giving me a deeper appreciation of the Gospels. I felt as though I had finally found in the Lotus Sutra the key principles of authentic spirituality, whether Buddhist or otherwise.

The SGI also helped me begin and maintain a strong and consistent Buddhist practice of reciting the Lotus Sutra and the Odaimoku every morning and evening. In many ways, I had finally found the community of fellow religious practitioners I had been looking for. They really supported and encouraged me in my practice.

The time came, however, when I did have to leave them. After two years, their limitations had become very clear to me. Their intolerance, arrogance, and shallow understanding of the principles they were teaching forced me to go elsewhere for a deeper understanding of Buddhism. In the years ahead, I came into contact with Tibetan sanghas, Korean sanghas, Zen sanghas, and many other Nichiren groups. With your invisible guidance (or maybe I could say visible if one can count dreams), I was finally able to join the Nichiren Shu and find a real Master who could teach me in the correct way. Still, the question remains, why did I stay with the Lotus Sutra and the practice of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo all these years, especially since it would have been easier in many ways for me to study Buddhism in some other school?

The answer, for me, lies in the vastness of the Buddha Dharma. The Buddha Dharma is as vast as the human mind and heart which it concerns itself with, and it is easy to get confused and to lose one's way. Fortunately, through your teachings I have been able to realize that the Lotus Sutra is what holds it all together. The Lotus Sutra reveals the essential point which all the other teachings and practices are leading us to: the realization of our own Buddhahood. Furthermore, the practice of the Odaimoku is the one practice which has enabled me to keep a connection with the Dharma, no matter what circumstances I have found myself in. No other practice has enabled me to maintain such a strong and constant awareness of the Three Jewels. For me, it is a form of meditation, a vow to follow the bodhisattva way, a form of repentance for my failings, a manifestation of buddha-nature and a prayer for the enlightenment and happiness of all sentient beings.

When I left the SGI, I finally learned sitting meditation from a Tibetan lineage and then from a Korean school of Buddhism. Finally I was able to practice Buddhism in the time honored way of Sakyamuni Buddha himself, who sat beneath the Bodhi Tree and taught the four foundations of mindfulness to his disciples. For all of its benefits, however, sitting meditation was not enough for me. Perhaps it is because of my impatience, or lack of discipline, or the busy life that I lead. Whatever the reason, sporadic sessions of sitting meditation were not getting me any closer to being the wise and compassionate person that I dreamed of being. In fact, over the years, I learned that I was a lot more selfish and weak and a lot less wise and kind than I had thought. Even in my meditations, I was discovering what an impulsive and undisciplined chaos my mind actually is. This, of course, is what Buddhist meditation is supposed to do in the initial stages. It brings us face-to-face with ourselves as we actually are and not as we imagine ourselves to be. It would take a lot more time on the cushion before the transformative effects of sitting practice could begin to straighten out the all too common mess I had discovered. It would take long retreats and hours of daily meditation practice. If I were willing to live as a monastic, that might be feasible, but that has not been a step that I have ever been prepared to take. Ultimately, I could only despair of my own limits and the limitations of a practice that seemed to require what I could not give.

Realizing this, I also realized the true value of the Odaimoku. What, after all, did I want? As one of my teachers at LaSalle University once asked me, "What was I trying to do to myself?" Did I want to become a cave hermit or a samurai or even a Zen Master? Was I simply trying to impose a role upon myself, or did I want to open up my heart and mind to that deeper meaning which I always felt exists just beyond or perhaps within the mundane? Did I just want to sit and observe the blind, confused and weak core of selfishness within me, or did I want to let it go? Was Buddhism about selflessness or just sitting still for hours on end? In the end, I realized that it was an awakening to the Wonderful Dharma that I was seeking and not sitting meditation as an end in itself.

Whereas sitting meditation practice can seem like blindly stumbling around in a dark cave, the Odaimoku is like a lamp which illuminates the way out. "Namu" is whole hearted dedication. It is a turning away from the constant grasping for self-centered satisfaction and a turning towards the selflessness of the Wonderful Dharma. "Myoho" points to the wondrous, subtle and ineffable true nature of reality which is beyond mere words and concepts. Far from being a name or a label, "Myoho" invites us beyond name and form while at the same time affirming name and form on a deeper level. "Renge" brings all of this out of the realm of the abstract and into the realm of the living qualities that come from keeping the Wonderful Dharma in one's heart at all times. "Renge", the lotus flower, symbolizes the blossoming of Buddhahood in the midst of our ordinary lives, the transformation of the mud of the afflictions into the flowering of enlightenment. "Kyo" means that all the other teachings and practices exist for the sake of leading one to this insight and way of life which is Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.

In my own Buddhist practice, I believe that it is extremely important to cultivate mindfulness and clear awareness just as Sakyamuni Buddha taught in those sutras which are specifically directed to practice. In fact, I would go so far as to say that without the practice of mindfulness, one is not really practicing Buddhism. There are, however, many different ways to cultivate mindfulness and from the very beginning mindfulness of the Dharma was taught as well as mindfulness of the breath. For people such as myself, I have found that mindfulness of the True Dharma in the form of the Odaimoku is a much more realistic and effective practice than mindfulness of the breath, which is the practice of sitting meditation as it is taught today by most Buddhists in America. Though I still value and even enjoy sitting meditation and would never discourage anyone from taking it up, at the same time I find that I do not rely upon it as the sole method of practice. Over the years, I have found that the Odaimoku is a far more suitable and effective way of making the Buddha Dharma the guiding principle of my life.

Certainly, the Odaimoku can all too easily become nothing more than a string of nonsense syllables like "Abracadabra" or degenerate into sentimental piety. For me, however, it is a constant call to return to my highest aspirations and better instincts. It is a constant reminder that there is more to my life than just my own limited views and efforts. The Wonderful Dharma is no abstract principle, it is the awareness of those moments of grace which lift one out of oneself. It is a reminder that these moments are all around us at all times if we would just be open to them. According to the Lotus Sutra, these moments are the actions and presence of the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha. I do not think that there is necessarily any special magic in these Sino-Japanese characters or in addressing life's moments of coherence and meaningfulness as the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha; but I do know that the Odaimoku and the figure of the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha have made me more aware of and better able to relate to the true nature of reality and that is all that they need to do.

This brings me to the Gohonzon. Is Sakyamuni Buddha the only person through whom one can recognize the personal aspect of the Wonderful Dharma? Could devotion to Jesus Christ, or Amitabha Buddha, or YHWH, or Allah, or Krishna, or the Goddess have the same result as devotion to the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha? Personally, I do not see why not. I think that the Wonderful Dharma responds to our sincerity and openness and not to our concepts or terminology. However, I do think that we can be limited and even blinded by our concepts and fixations, and so it behooves us to find the clearest and most inspiring religious ideal or focus of devotion (Gohonzon) that we can.

I have no idea if there is or is not some underlying metaphysical reality or supreme being. I don't know if there is or is not an afterlife or actual rebirth or other planes of existence. I do not know if there really are cosmic bodhisattvas, benevolent deities, guardian angels or demons and other sorts of malevolent spirits. Certainly I have seen no direct evidence or proof of any of these things. Nevertheless, life's strange coincidences as well as the countless impulses and inspirations that we are subject to can certainly make it seem as though we are caught up in all sorts of divine and demonic influences.

According to your understanding of the Lotus Sutra, the life of the Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha embraces all of this. In other words, all of this is the raw material of enlightenment when it is illuminated by the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha. Now this makes sense to me. The all embracing nature of enlightenment is something I can confidently put my trust in, regardless of whether or not there is some supreme being in charge of it all. In this vision of reality, there is always the possibility that all of it will make sense and that this meaningfulness is something that we can awaken to ourselves. In fact, the meaningfulness actually calls out to us and draws us to its discovery and our own transformation. It is reality testifying to itself of itself. This is the Dharma or Truth of which Sakyamuni Buddha said "He who sees the Dharma sees me. He who sees me sees the Dharma."

It is my own firm hope and conviction that reality is meaningful and that this reality speaks to us, guides us and in fact is itself the true nature of our own lives. Like you, I am perfectly comfortable relating to this in the person of Sakyamuni Buddha, because it was Sakyamuni Buddha who made all of this clear in his own life and passed on that insight to us through his teachings and personal example. In Sakyamuni Buddha's life and teachings I don't feel that anything was left out or obscured by myth or superstition or tribal customs. I feel that he, of all the great saviors, sages, prophets and deities, best personifies the eternal and universal nature of the Wonderful Dharma in a way that I can relate to and emulate.

Is my contemplation of the Dharma and dedication to the Eternal Buddha sincere, real and effectively life changing or am I just fooling myself with unreachable ideals and pipe dreams? Am I really living a life that matches my convictions? In the past, those who followed the Buddhist Way took up the precepts, whether the five major precepts of the lay person, or the monastic precepts, or even the bodhisattva precepts. Through the precepts these Buddhists felt that they were able to live an authentically Buddhist way of life. Again, however, I find that I am unable or even unwilling to follow these precepts. It is not that I do not want to live in accord with the precepts; but I know myself only too well. I know how easy it is to violate the spirit and even the letter of the precepts, whether lay or monastic or bodhisattva precepts. In my weakness I find that I am no different than anyone else. Like most others, I have found that I have rarely ever had a totally pure motive or a totally impure motive.

Once again, it seems as though you realized that this is the dilemma of all practitioners who are honest with themselves. You knew and understood the weaknesses and frustrations of people like myself, people that you characterized as those living in the Latter Age of the Dharma who do not have the ability to fulfill the letter and spirit of the precepts as they were fulfilled by the great saints and sages of the past. You realized that the concept of the precept platform, the Kaidan, had to be changed if Buddhism was to have any real meaning in this age for people like us. If I understand you correctly, the new Kaidan is where we take up the sole Diamond Chalice Precept of upholding Namu Myoho Renge Kyo in thought, word and deed to the best of our ability. In other words, we should not be discouraged by our lack of ability, willpower or sincerity. If we were willing, able and wholehearted to begin with, we would already be enlightened and would not need to take the Threefold Refuge. Since we are not able, willing or sincere we must trust in the transformative power of the Wonderful Dharma itself and always keep it in our hearts and minds by reciting it, studying it and doing our best to live in accord with it in spite of our weaknesses. In this way we will steadily gain the strength to do good, refrain from evil and to purify our minds without getting discouraged or burnt-out. We must, then, learn to be forgiving and patient with ourselves and others instead of trying to adhere to a rigid standard of conduct that may or may not be appropriate for ourselves and others. We must trust in the transformative process rather than give up because we are not yet perfect. This principle of the Ordination Platform of the Diamond Chalice Precept has sustained me in my practice all these years in spite of my failings. It is a teaching that transcends mere conduct but which inspires and encourages me to live in a way that is in keeping with the Buddhist way of life that is spelled out in the many precepts.

I return now to my questions. Why be religious at all? Because religion is the search for a life of meaning. Why be a Buddhist? Because the Buddha Dharma is the clearest, most practical and most universal way to live a meaningful life. Why be a Nichiren Buddhist? Because you provided a way whereby even someone like me can make sense of and put into practice the Wonderful Dharma.

All of this does not mean that I have resolved all of my own questions about your teachings, methods of practice and true intentions. There are certain aspects of your teachings that I am not comfortable with. In fact, in the letter we refer to as the Reply to Teradomari, you summarize some of the questions and criticisms of your own immediate disciples, and I must confess that those questions and critiques are the very same ones that I and many other present day Nichiren Buddhists feel. The passage I am thinking of is the following:
Some people criticize me, saying, "Nichiren does not understand the capacities of the people of the time but goes around preaching in a harsh manner - that's why he meets with difficulties." Other people say, "The shakubuku practices described in the Kanji chapter are for bodhisattvas who are far advanced in practice, [not for someone like Nichiren. He ought to follow the shoju methods of] the Anrakugyo chapter, yet he fails to do so." Others say, "I, too, know the Lotus Sutra is supreme, but I say nothing about it." Still others complain that I give all of my attention to doctrinal teachings [and say nothing about the observation of mind].

I am well aware of all these criticisms against me. But I recall the case of Pien Ho, who had his feet cut off, and of Kiyomaro [literally, Pure Man], who was dubbed Kegaremaro [Filthy Man] and almost put to death. All of the people of the time laughed at them with scorn, but unlike those two men, those who laughed left no good name behind them. And all the people who level unjust criticisms at me will meet with a similar fate.
(Letters of Nichiren, p.169)
Well, I certainly hope that you do not feel that I am trying to level unjust criticisms at you. In fact, I think that your response, which might seem a bit dismissive, was actually correct and to the point. With the advantage of hindsight it can be seen by a sympathetic observer that you were indeed in a situation where any compromise would have meant the end of what you were trying to do. If you had not acted as you did, the direct practice of the Lotus Sutra that you were advocating would have been swept away into the morass of other-worldly piety and esoteric syncretism that was killing the true spirit of Buddhism and obscuring the One Vehicle. Today, however, the circumstances are very different and I find that I must reiterate your disciples' questions. Or perhaps I should say, I want to ask if your answer would be the same now that everything else is so different.

The first three questions directed against you all came down to the question of shoju and shakubuku. Unlike your critics, however, I do think that you knew what you were doing when you decided to use shakubuku. I also think that in your writings, especially the Kaimoku Sho, you have provided the criteria for deciding under what circumstances to use shoju and when to use shakubuku. Furthermore in other writings, you make it clear that your followers should not be impolite or abusive, nor should they instigate violence. You also made it clear in the Rissho Ankoku Ron and in the Kaimoku Sho that your concern was to stop the government subsidization and endorsement of false teachings and for others to boycott them. You were not advocating the violent suppression of them.

However, there were times, especially in the Senji Sho, where you did seem to condone violence against others. Was this simply rhetoric that went too far or was it a metaphorical statement that has been misunderstood? Furthermore, there were many times in your writings where you did direct abuse and sarcasm towards particular individuals and even passed on certain rumors about those individuals. Can you justify this as a necessary part of shakubuku? Your actions don't seem compatible with the specific instructions of the Anrakugyo chapter, the example of Bodhisattva Never Despise, or the general Buddhist teachings against wrong speech. Furthermore, these passages in your writings have been used by certain unscrupulous people as justification for their own abusive actions in your name and in the name of the Lotus Sutra. Other Buddhists see these passages as scandalous and use them to prove that your teachings and practices are not authentic Buddhism at all. For this reason, I implore you to help us all understand your true intentions. Even more importantly, I need to understand how you would have us all propagate the Lotus Sutra in the world at this time.

The final question that you mentioned had to do with your inattention to observation of the mind in favor of doctrinal matters. This is especially important here in the West. Westerners are sick of theological debate and empty piety (empty in the Western and not the Buddhist sense that is). For us, Buddhism is an attractive alternative to our Western religions and philosophies precisely because it is about mindfulness and the cultivation of tranquility and insight as well as compassion and loving-kindness. I understand, however, that in your day, sitting meditation was part of the problem and not part of the solution. From what I can gather from your writings, sitting meditation was considered to be a shoju practice. In a writing known as On Practicing the Buddha;s Teachings you stated, "Now when the true and provisional teachings are utterly confused, it would be equally unnatural for one to seclude himself in the mountains, carrying out the easy practice of shoju, and avoid refuting the enemies of the Lotus Sutra." (Letters, p.68) You also argued in the Shishin Gohon Sho, that the people of the Latter Day of the Law are no longer capable of practicing the six perfections, and that instead they should simply recite Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. I am sure that this was confirmed for you when the so called meditation masters of the day banded against you to suppress the Lotus Sutra, thus proving the ineffectiveness of their own practices for gaining insight and compassion.

Today, however, I believe that there are some who have the requisite inclination and dedication to benefit from sitting meditation, and I believe that they are the ones who are most likely to come to the Buddha Dharma. It seems to me as though it is now the time to again emphasize the practice of shikan meditation, both as an expedient means of bringing people to the Buddha Dharma and as an effective practice in its own right. I say this because I believe that the status of Buddhism in the modern world matches the criteria for the shoju approach to propagation and practice as outlined in the Kaimoku Sho. This does not mean that shikan meditation should replace the Odaimoku or become anything more than a supporting practice. All I am saying is that shikan meditation practice should be made available and should be encouraged within the spirit of the Odaimoku for those who seek it. Now, in the Nichiren Shu, there are many teachers who have already begun teaching sitting meditation. There is also the practice of shodaigyo which combines silent meditation and the Odaimoku. Even more importantly, the Nichiren Shu teaches, in accord with the Kanjin Honzon Sho, that the Odaimoku itself is a form of meditation which leads to the observation of mind or kanjin. Still, there are many (at least in the West) who believe that meditation has no place within the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Those who belong to other schools of Buddhism use this impression as a way of belittling our authenticity as a Buddhist tradition. Other Nichiren schools condemn the Nichiren Shu for advocating sitting meditation at all. Finally, those who are interested in Buddhism avoid us because they want to train themselves in Buddhist mindfulness and meditation and they do not believe that they can learn these things from us. Again, I truly wish to know your feelings about the practice of shikan meditation, especially in the form of silent sitting and how it relates or does not relate to the proper practice of the Lotus Sutra.

Another aspect to that last question from the Reply to Teradomari has to do with your emphasis on doctrinal teachings. One of the main emphasis of your mission was to refute the provisional teachings and to reestablish the Lotus Sutra as the king of all sutras and to establish the Three Great Secret Dharmas. This was in accordance with your practice of shakubuku. However, if today is indeed the time for shoju, then isn't it also the time to propagate the One Vehicle in an inclusive rather than an exclusive way. In other words, I believe that the Lotus Sutra requires the context provided by the earlier teachings, and that when this context is lost the Lotus Sutra becomes incomprehensible. I think that it is now the time to investigate the teachings of the Buddha from the ground up. As it has been explained to me, when building a tower, one starts with the foundations and not with the attic. In the Rissho Ankoku Ron, you stated that after alms cease to be given to the icchantikka and are given instead to the true sangha, then "there will be time to dip into the Waters of the Law and to decide which are shallow doctrines and which are deep, and to pay honor to the pillars and beams that support the House of the Buddha." (Selected Writings of Nichiren, p.38) Hasn't this time already arrived? Buddhism is no longer supported by a feudal state, now it must survive on its own merits or not at all.

At this time, those (at least in the West) who are potential supporters and practitioners of the Buddha Dharma must be shown the whole picture and not just a part, even if it is the essential part. Now is the time when the many expedient means of the Buddha might be put to good use by guiding people to the Lotus Sutra as they were meant to do. On the other hand, to ignore the rest of the Buddhist tradition and to stress only the Lotus Sutra at this time only leaves people confused and estranged from the Buddha Dharma itself as well as from the Lotus Sutra. This approach simply drives away those who sincerely want to learn about the Buddha Dharma and who do not react well to those who claim that everything must be taken on faith because it is all too profound to understand. On the other hand, those of us who wish to propagate the Lotus Sutra must be careful. We do not want to unwittingly allow the Lotus Sutra to again become submerged within the thicket of provisional views. It is one thing, for example, to use the Heart Sutra to explain emptiness, it is another to put so much emphasis on it that one forgets the Three Truths and the deep meaning of the Eternal Life of the Buddha as revealed in the Juryohon. So once again, I must ask for your guidance in this. How can we embrace the entirety of the Buddhist tradition without compromising the integrity of the Three Great Secret Dharmas? How can we best utilize the rest of the Buddhist tradition to support and clarify the meaning of the Three Great Secret Dharmas without confusion or error?

Perhaps you are wondering if I would recommend ignoring your four dictums. Strangely enough, I do find them valuable, though I would no longer necessarily apply them to any particular sect anymore than I would refer to a Theravadin as a Hinayana Buddhist. I have discovered that the priests and even the lay followers of any given school are not necessarily bound by the supposed teachings of their lineage. Today in the West, sectarian labels more often obscure rather than describe what any given Buddhist actually thinks or does. In addition, the old sects are becoming obsolete and either dying out or becoming more ecumenical in their teaching, at least here in the West. One last problem with the four dictums, is that your condemnation of Nembutsu did not take into account the keen insights into human nature of Shinran. Your condemnation of Zen did not take into account the deep sincerity and profundity of Dogen. Your condemnation of Ritsu did not make any provision for the need for concrete guidance in regard to lifestyle and ethics that the precepts can provide. In fact, the vacuum left in Japan by the lack of a concrete Buddhist ethic was later filled by Confucianism when a Buddhist ethic might have been preferable. It could even be argued that Buddhist ethics and values, as encoded within the precept tradition, might be a far saner alternative to many other ethical systems available in the world today, whether religious or otherwise. Finally, your condemnation of Shingon could not have foreseen the more advanced and sophisticated forms of Vajrayana that would later be introduced to the world by the Tibetans. In sum, I find that the four dictums can not be applied in the way that you applied them. They simply do not take into account the changes within the traditions that you knew, nor do they take into account the many Buddhist lineages both within and outside of Japan that you were not familiar with.

Nevertheless, I do find the four dictums relevant. For me, they are warnings in regard to common pitfalls that all Buddhist practitioner should beware of. It seems that in your day, these pitfalls seemed to have been exemplified by the four sects which you held up for condemnation. You said that, "Nembutsu leads to the Avichi Hell," I understand this to meant that projecting your salvation onto an Other-power and thereby undermining your own inherent dignity will lead to a hellish existence. You said that, "Zen is the teaching of devils," I understand this to mean that believing that you already have all the answers and are beyond all traditions is a demonically arrogant attitude. You said that, "Shingon will ruin the nation," I understand this to mean that putting stock in the efficacy of spiritual empowerments, initiations and esoteric rituals instead of genuine insight is to destroy true spirituality and the moral basis of civilization. You said that, "Ritsu is traitorous," I understand this to mean that dropping out of society and self-righteously taking on the trappings and precepts of another culture is to become a traitor to oneself and one's community. I guess what I am saying is that I do not think that one can reasonably insist on the letter of the four dictums anymore, but I hope that you can approve of my understanding of the spirit of the four dictums. Again, I would very much like to hear what you think the four dictums should mean in the world today.

I'll end here by sharing with you a little note that I scribbled a long time ago when I was reflecting on how vastly different are the worlds that you and I live in. I share this simply in order to underline why I am so concerned about adapting your teachings and practices without losing their integrity. I really believe that it is necessary to change things, but at the same time I am very worried about the difficulties of doing it correctly.


Your World

My World

World View:

Latter Age of the Dharma











Social Relations:




Majority Illiterate

Majority Literate


State control





Buddhist Rivals:



















Actual Word of the Buddha



Temple Centered/Monastic

Home centered/Lay


Primarily Shakubuku

Primarily Shoju

I ended this note with the following questions and answers:

How can we understand Buddhism?
Through the Lotus Sutra.
How can we understand the Lotus Sutra?
Through the writings of Nichiren.
How can we understand the writings of Nichiren?
Through discernment and post modern deconstruction.

Thank you for time and patience. I realize that my reflections may have rambled on for too long, and I suspect that some of my critiques might strike you as impertinent. I write all of this in the deepest spirit of respect and out of the sincere desire to communicate my deepest appreciation and in order to discover your true intentions in regard to the practice of the Wonderful Dharma so that there will be no misunderstanding. Thank you for indulging me in this.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1999.

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