One of the most important and widely practiced forms of Japanese Buddhism, Nichiren Shu is also one of the least known outside of Japan. The few books available in the West are either college-level texts or direct translations of works that assume some prior knowledge of this uniquely Japanese school of Buddhism.
Awakening to the Lotus finally explains Nichiren Shu in terms that everyone from the most basic beginner to those with previous experience of Nichiren Buddhist schools can understand. Examining the foundation, the teaching, the practice, and the beliefs of Nichiren Shu, this book can serve both as a handbook for those just beginning to practice Buddhism and as an information resource for those who simply want to learn more about this fascinating school.
Beginning with the basics of general Buddhism, Awakening to the Lotus quickly focuses in on the specific doctrines and teachings of Nichiren Shu. Ceremonies, special events, personal practice, the Lotus Sutra, and the teachings of the founder of the school, Nichiren Shonin, are all covered fully in easy to understand language.
In his Treatise on Spiritual Insight and the Most Venerable One, Nichiren Shonin explained how the Buddha extends his salvation to us:
For those who are incapable of understanding the truth of ichinen sanzen, Lord Sakyamumi Buddha, with his great compassion, wraps this jewel with the five characters of myo, ho, ren, ge, and kyo and hangs it around the neck of the ignorant in the Declining Age of the Dharma. [Writings of Nichiren Shonin: Doctrine 2, p. 164]
Buddha nature is like rich soil that has great potential to bring forth excellent fruit. Nonetheless, in order to make the fruit, you need not only the soil but also seeds, water, and sunshine. This is the function that our Buddhist practice serves. In Nichiren Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra and the Odaimoku are the seeds of Buddhahood that with careful practice will sprout and grow. Eventually the “sprout” will mature and the flower of enlightenment can bloom.
The Eightfold Path is a set of guidelines for our lives that help us develop understanding and compassion. Developing that kind of deeply compassionate life can help release us from suffering. The Eightfold Path is:
… So what exactly do we mean by “right?” It means that we should use our judgment based on the Buddha’s teachings and be mindful of these things when living with others in our society.
The unsatisfactoy nature of life is summarized in Buddhism by the “Four Sufferings,” which are birth (called suffering because it inevitably leads to the next three), old age, sickness and death. A more complete explanation of suffering – and a further expansion on why birth is considered suffering – is found in the “Eight Sufferings.” These eight include the Four Sufferings and adds the suffering of being separated from loved ones and other things one desires to keep, encountering people or circumstances that one dislikes, not being able to get things that one desires, and being attached to things that are impermanent, including one’s own mind and body.
The teachings which had come before Buddhism, Confucianism and Brahmanism, provided a basic moral framework for society. Hinayana Buddhism had introduced the beginning of Buddhist philosophy. Pre-Lotus Sutra Mahāyāna Buddhism had introduced the selfless ethics of the Bodhisattva. However, though Nichiren Shonin’s ethics were based on these systems, Open Your Eyes to the Lotus Teaching also provided a means of comparison between all of the systems. Each of the previous teachings showed only a portion of the truth; they were incomplete in themselves. Only the Lotus Sutra is complete; we can find ethical truths in other systems only when they are viewed through the lens of the Lotus Sutra.