Issues Regarding Nichiren Shoshu Claims
III. Nichiren as the Buddha of True Cause of the Latter Age of the Dharma:The Nichiren Shoshu claim that Nichiren was not merely the appearance of Bodhisattva Superior Practice, the votary of the Lotus Sutra and the messenger of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha. Rather, they claim that Nichiren himself is the Buddha of True Cause, the Buddha of the Latter Age of the Dharma whose teaching, practice, and example takes precedence over that of Shakyamuni Buddha, who they relegate to the status of the Buddha of True Effect, a provisional Buddha whose purpose was to foretell the appearance of Nichiren. However, no one outside the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu (including the priests and scholars of other Fuji school lineages of Nikko) gives any credence to this theory.
The beginnings of this theory appeared during the tenure of Nichiu (1409-1482), the ninth high priest of Taisekiji Temple. The first development was the teaching of Nichigen (?-1486) of Nishiyama Honmonji identifying Nichiren Shonin as the Buddha. This theory appeared in the "Gonin-shohasho-kenmon" which was written sometime between 1470-1479. Nichigen and Nichiu were friends and so it is very likely that Nichiu got the idea that Nichiren Shonin is the True Buddha from Nichigen.
Nichiu, a contemporary named Nichiyo, and Nichiu's disciple Nikkyo all believed that Shakyamuni Buddha as the teacher of the true effect of Buddhahood was too sublime for those at the very beginning stages of practice to comprehend or imitate. Therefore, it was more appropriate to revere and emulate Nichiren Shonin who was the teacher of the true cause for buddhahood. The 26th high priest of Taisekiji refined this teaching further and made it a key dogma of the Taisekiji lineage. He claimed that Nichiren was actually the Buddha of the True Cause who has been enlightened since the infinite past of "kuon ganjo" and was the actual teacher of Shakyamuni Buddha himself in the remote past of "kuon jitsujo." By contrast, the other Nichiren schools (including the other Fuji lineages of Nikko) do not use the term "kuon ganjo" but understand the remote past of chapter 16 to actually be the beginningless past. Furthemore, the reference in chapter 16 to the bodhisattva practice of Shakyamuni Buddha is taken to refer to the mutual possession of the worlds of bodhisattvahood and budddhahood as Nichiren himself does in Kanjin Honzon Sho. The Nichiren Shoshu, however, take it to refer to Shakyamuni Buddha's training under the Buddha of Kuon Ganjo. For support, Nichikan referred to two transmission texts, the "Ryo Kechimyaku Sho," said to have been written by Nichiren but which scholars believe may be pious forgeries which first appeared in the 15th century. These two writings are the "Hon-in Myo Sho" ("On the Original Cause") and the "Hyakurokka Soja" ("106 Article Transmission"). These two writings are heavily indebted to medieval Tendai original enlightenment teachings.
Nichiren's writings make it clear that he saw himself as fulfilling
the role of Bodhisattva Superior Practice. They also make it clear that
he believed he had achieved enlightenment through the practice of chanting
Odaimoku. Yet, nowhere in Nichiren's writings does he claim to be the Buddha
of True Cause, or the Buddha of the Latter Age, or any kind of Buddha who
would supercede Shakyamuni Buddha. In fact, Nichiren's writings clearly
indicate that it was the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha of chapter 16 which
he wanted people to regard as the Gohonzon.
"The teaching of Nichiren is the one that states that if you have abandoned Shakyamuni Buddha who is the Original Lord and Master of the sentient beings of the Triple World [Saha] and if you rely instead on Amida Buddha and give sole respect to Amida Buddha, then you will become a person who is guilty of the five deadly sins; you will fall into the hell of interminable suffering [Avichi Hell], isn't that true?"And in the same letter he says of Shakyamuni Buddha that he is:
"The original intention of the appearance of Nichiren Shonin in this world, the Master Shakyamuni Buddha of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo."It is evident that Nikko himself revered the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha of chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra as Nichiren Shonin himself taught. This does not mean that Nichiren Shonin did not teach the True Cause. It does not mean that Nichiren Shonin did not attain enlightenment or buddhahood through chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. What it means is that Nikko, like all other Nichiren Buddhists with the exception of the Taisekiji lineage after Nichiu, saw Nichiren as the transmitter of the True Cause for Buddhahood which he himself received from the Eternal Buddha who is one with the Wonderful Dharma which is itself the True Cause and the True Effect. Like us, Nichiren lived the role of a bodhisattva in transmitting this teaching and practice and was able to abide in the world of Buddhahood and bring it forth whenever he chanted and/or contemplated it. Nichiren looked to the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha and taught us to do so as well. Nikko was a true disciple of Nichiren Shonin and followed him in this.
It seems that the lineage of Taisekiji was seduced by the self-serving
rhetoric of medieval Tendai original enlightenment thought, which they
used to exalt the life and teachings of Nichiren over and above the life
and teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. In doing this, they cut Nichiren's
own teaching and practice away from its very basis in Shakyamuni's teaching
and example. By claiming that Nichiren was the True Buddha and that only
they understood this, they could claim to be superior not only to other
schools of Buddhism but even to all other branches of Nichiren Buddhism,
and even superior to the other Fuji lineages like Kitayama Honmonji where
Nikko actually spent 36 years of his life. In addition, their claim to
the sole transmission of the Dharma for their priesthood, and their claims
regarding the Dai-Gohonzon all served to bring power and prestige to Taisekiji,
which was otherwise a relatively unknown country temple.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,