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Buddhist Study

Transforming Tendencies That Block Our Happiness

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As a youth, Nichiren Daishonin delved into the doctrines of the popular Buddhist schools of his time. He sought a religious practice that could help people overcome suffering and misery rampant in society.

He found in the Lotus Sutra a teaching that could enable all people, without exception, to reveal their Buddhahood—their highest potential—transform their circumstances and establish lives of complete fulfillment.

Seeing how the four influential Buddhist schools of his day led people to suffering rather than to enlightenment, Nichiren refuted them. His conclusions are succinctly summarized as follows: “Belief in the Nembutsu leads to the hell of incessant suffering; the Zen school is the work of the heavenly devil; True Word is an evil doctrine that will ruin the nation; and the Precepts school is a false creed that is traitorous to the nation” (“Letter to Doryu of Kencho-ji,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 322).

These descriptions have come to be called “the four dictums.” Rather than simply offer refutations, however, the Daishonin compassionately sought to root out negative tendencies in the depths of people’s lives that these teachings failed to address.

Challenging “Unbalanced Religious Archetypes”

Ikeda Sensei says the four dictums point to four “unbalanced religious archetypes” that lead to the disempowerment of people. In light of Nichiren’s teachings, these criticisms can take on positive meaning, helping us to transform mistaken beliefs that cause us to suffer. These contrastive points can be summed up as follows:

1) Seeking salvation through an external, absolute being. The Nembutsu school taught that only by believing in Amida Buddha could one be reborn in the Pure Land of Perfect Bliss, a heavenly place free of suffering far removed from this world. This left people feeling powerless and condemned to suffer in their present life, giving rise to growing pessimism in society.

The power of conviction: Rather than giving in to powerlessness, the Daishonin teaches that, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can bring forth conviction in our ability to create the Buddha land just as we are, right where we are, and genuinely transform our lives and society.

2) Seeking enlightenment only through the mind and satisfaction with one’s own enlightenment. The Zen school denied the Buddha’s teachings, including the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren called out the arrogance of Zen priests who pretended to be sages who had attained enlightenment.

The power of compassion: Buddhist practice dedicated to awakening ourselves and others to our inherent Buddhahood enables us to tap into our greater, compassionate selves and truly become the “master of our minds” (see “Letter to the Brothers,” WND-1, 502).

3) Seeking benefit through occult means. The Kamakura government had turned to True Word prayers, steeped in grandiose formalities and mysterious rituals, for the protection of the nation. Yet reliance on such occult practices only led to confusion in society.

The power of courage: Instead of “outsourcing” our enlightenment to “holier” figures, or seeking magical solutions, Nichiren taught that we can courageously overcome anything by tapping the real power within us.

4) Seeking to control desires with external precepts and rules. While priests of the Precepts school publicly upheld strict rules of discipline (precepts), their corrupt conduct behind closed doors proved their deceitfulness.

The power of wisdom: Rigid rules don’t truly empower people. The Daishonin instead taught that anyone can bring forth the wisdom to win over all manner of negativity by simply embracing faith in the Mystic Law. No matter who they are or how long they have practiced Buddhism, they can bring forth Buddhahood (see “The Teaching, Practice, and Proof,” WND-1, 481–82).

A Religion for All Humanity

Far from dogma or egoism, Nichiren’s criticisms of the Buddhist schools of his day express his compassionate resolve to enable all people to overcome negative tendencies that hinder their happiness. He aimed to establish a genuine religion which, as Sensei says, “harmoniously incorporates the fundamental characteristics of religion without bias or distortion” (June 2002 Living Buddhism, p. 16). Sensei adds:

The modern significance of the four dictums is not limited to the simple refutation of Japanese Buddhist schools, but in fully developing the positive power of human life. This is the Mystic Law of the simultaneity of cause and effect inherent in human life, and to embrace it is to create boundless value.

In establishing and announcing this perfect teaching, the Daishonin raised the curtain on a religion for all humanity. He thus revealed the eternal and fundamental path leading to enlightenment for all humanity. (June 2002 Living Buddhism, p. 17) 

Click here for Sensei’s detailed discussion on “the four dictums.”

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