Nichiren Shu is a confederation of lineages that go back to the original disciples of Nichiren Shonin, a 13th century prophet and reformer. The head temple of Nichiren Shu is located on Mt. Minobu in Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan where Nichiren spent the last 8 years of his life. It is considered the most sacred temple of Nichiren Shu, and many members of Nichiren Shu and other Nichiren organizations make pilgrimages there. The final 35 days of training for new Nichiren Shu ministers is held at Mt. Minobu. The administrative headquarters of Nichiren Shu is located at Ikegami Honmonji in southern Tokyo. It governs the more than 5300 member temples.
Nichiren Shu teaches that the essence of Buddhism is distilled in the Lotus Sutra, the greatest teaching of the Buddha. The primary practice of Nichiren Shu is the chanting of the Odaimoku, “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,” which means “Devotion to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra” in Sino-Japanese. The Odaimoku expresses the essence of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and by chanting it we can establish a way of life consonant with the eternal truths preached by the Buddha.
The focus of devotion used most often in Nichiren Shu is a scroll called the Mandala Gohonzon. It was first inscribed by Nichiren Shonin on July 8, 1273 while he was in exile on Sado Island. The Odaimoku runs down the center of the Mandala Gohonzon and the names of various Buddhas, boddhisattvas, protective “deities” and important people in Nichiren Shonin’s lineage surround it.
The Mandala Gohonzon is used by most Nichiren Shu temples as the center point of the altar, and it is also used by Nichiren Shu members in their butsudan.
The Gohonzon may also be represented by a statue of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni (sometimes flanked by the Boddhistavas of the Earth), a statue of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni and Taho Buddha flanking a tower inscribed with the Odaimoku, or just the Odaimoku alone.
The Mandala Gohonzon is used to help focus our chanting and represents the Buddha nature within us.
Teachings of Nichiren Shonin
Nichiren Shonin provided all people with a way to understand and put into practice the true spirit of Shakyamuni’s teachings. He taught three basic principles based on the essential truths of the Lotus Sutra called the Three Great Hidden Dharmas, and a simple yet profound practice based on those principals.
The Three Great Hidden Dharmas are:
The Essential Focus of Reverence (Gohonzon)
The Lotus Sutra teaches that Shakyamuni Buddha is none other than the embodiment of the Eternal Buddha: the timeless Buddha nature in which all life participates and which all beings are destined to realize as their own true nature. The Gohonzon depicts this insight through the use of Chinese calligraphy and represents the all encompassing life of the Eternal Buddha, not an object or thing.
The Sacred Title
The name of the Lotus Sutra is “Myoho Renge Kyo” which is the essence of the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. When the word “Namu,” meaning “devotion” is added, it becomes “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo” or “Devotion to the Wonderful Truth of the Lotus Flower Teaching.” Because the Odaimoku embodies the essence of the Lotus Sutra, it contains all of the qualities of Buddhahood. This means that by the merit of the five characters, Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo, we can attain Buddhahood by reciting the Odaimoku, Namu Myoho Renge Kyo.
The Precept Platform (Kaidan)