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April 28, 1253: The Birth of a ‘Religion for All Humanity’

Portland Head Light is a historic lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Photo by Raymond Larose / Getty Images.

In making tough decisions in life, it often comes down to choosing between taking the easy way out or finding the courage to do what’s right, no matter how hard that may be.

The story of Nichiren Daishonin[1] first proclaiming his teaching offers insights into how we all can win over ourselves and find true fulfillment.

It was at noon on April 28, 1253, when Nichiren declared his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He did so at Seicho-ji, a temple in Japan’s Awa Province (present-day Chiba Prefecture).

He taught that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, all people, no matter their social standing or background, can immediately summon forth their Buddha nature and achieve enlightenment, or unshakable happiness, in this lifetime.

This daring act challenged the established Buddhist schools and their many powerful adherents, and Nichiren knew it would bring opposition and persecution.

He began his lecture that day by strongly refuting the Nembutsu, or Pure Land, school of Buddhism, which had wide appeal not only among commoners but among powerful figures in society and government, not to mention many priests. The Nembutsu school taught that devoting oneself to a Buddha named Amida would bring salvation by being reborn in the distant Pure Land of Perfect Bliss, where that Buddha was said to reside. This otherworldly focus left believers feeling powerless to change their circumstances and yearning for a faraway paradise.

This teaching directly contradicts the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people can attain Buddhahood in this world and in this lifetime. Nichiren’s refutation stemmed from his resolve to uproot beliefs and assumptions that cause people to doubt their ability to transform their lives.

Ikeda Sensei explains:

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental path that enables the people of the Latter Day[2] to manifest their Buddha nature. In the sense that it was the Daishonin who opened this path, it could be said that he founded the “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo school of Buddhism.” His teaching, however, goes beyond the narrow margins of a single school, in that its doors are open to all people everywhere. In other words, the Daishonin initiated a religion for all humanity.[3]

Nichiren’s Two Great Vows

Nichiren writes of making two great vows.

When at 12, he vowed to “become the wisest person in Japan.”[4]

And at 32, just before declaring his teaching, he vowed to speak out against slander of the Lotus Sutra and to spread the correct teaching to lead all people to happiness, even if that meant facing endless persecution.

He entered Seicho-ji at age 12 to receive a basic education. Even then, he pondered how to alleviate the suffering of his parents and others around him.

Growing up, he had experienced the chaotic aftermath brought on by a power struggle between a retired emperor and the military government. And he saw how the established Buddhist schools were powerless to address the situation.

Sensei explains:

On the one hand, the age of the Latter Day of the Law, governed by greed and power, was proceeding. On the other, the inability of traditional Buddhism to lead people to happiness had become apparent. In the midst of this, the yearning for a new Buddhism that could serve that purpose and transform the age intensified, as did the Daishonin’s fervent wish to become the “wisest person in all Japan.”[5]

With this wish, Nichiren entered the priesthood at 16. For the next 16 years, he traveled widely and examined Buddhist sutras and teachings in Kamakura, at Mount Hiei (a center of Buddhist learning in Japan) and in other places. His deepening understanding of Buddhism helped him broaden his vow to encompass all of humanity.

In 1253, he returned to Seicho-ji to lecture on his findings from his studies, point out the errors of the Nembutsu school and proclaim a new teaching. Before that, he had thought about the possible outcomes of this daring act, which he describes in “The Opening of the Eyes”:

If I remain silent, I may escape persecutions in this lifetime, but in my next life I will most certainly fall into the hell of incessant suffering. If I speak out, I am fully aware that I will have to contend with the three obstacles and four devils.[6] But of these two courses, surely the latter is the one to choose.[7]

Soon after Nichiren declared his teaching, local government official and ardent Nembutsu believer Tojo Kagenobu ordered an attack on him. He managed to escape this first of many persecutions. Yet, Nichiren never wavered.

He states:

I vowed to summon up a powerful and unconquerable desire for the salvation of all beings and never to falter in my efforts.[8]

A Buddha Is a Person of Courage, Tenacity and Continuous Action

In daily life and in Buddhist practice, we often face crossroads between the path of least resistance or the more arduous path of working toward our dreams and for the happiness and peace of our families and communities.

As Nichiren exemplifies, our Buddhist practice teaches us the importance of battling the negativity that arises in our lives that tries to keep us from advancing toward genuine happiness and fulfillment. Sensei explains:

A Buddha is not a superhuman being; one who has attained this state continues to experience problems, suffering and pain, and is still subject to illness and to temptation by devilish forces. For that reason, a Buddha is a person of courage, tenacity and continuous action who struggles ceaselessly against devilish functions.

No matter how lofty a state we may achieve, without continuous efforts to advance and improve, our faith can be destroyed in a moment.[9]

April 28 is a day to renew our own resolve to live powerfully as Buddhas, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, facing and winning over our obstacles, and deepening our vow to spread this Buddhism with the same heart as Nichiren. Sensei writes:

The Daishonin calls on us to carry on the struggle he initiated, which is the very wellspring of kosen-rufu, and never allow its flow to cease. He also instructs us to enable as many people as possible to receive the boundless benefit of the Mystic Law, for therein lies the brilliant path of peace and happiness for humankind.[10]


  1. Daishonin: Literally, “great sage.” This honorific title refers to Nichiren and shows reverence for him as the Buddha who appeared in the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law to lead people to Buddhahood. ↩︎
  2. Latter Day of the Law: The last of the three periods following Shakyamuni’s death, when Buddhism falls into confusion and Shakyamuni’s teachings lose the power to lead people to enlightenment. It is said to correspond to the present age. ↩︎
  3. “The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings” Dialogue Series, June 2002 Living Buddhism, p. 12. ↩︎
  4. Letter to the Priests of Seicho-ji,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 650. ↩︎
  5. “The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings” Dialogue Series, May 2002 Living Buddhism, p. 41. ↩︎
  6. Three obstacles and four devils: various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. The three obstacles are: 1) the obstacle of earthly desires, 2) the obstacle of karma and 3) the obstacle of retribution. The four devils are: 1) the hindrance of the five components, 2) the hindrance of earthly desires, 3) the hindrance of death and 4) the hindrance of the devil king. ↩︎
  7. “The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 239. ↩︎
  8. Ibid., p. 240. ↩︎
  9. The New Human Revolution, vol. 3, revised edition, p. 163. ↩︎
  10. “The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings” Dialogue Series, May 2002 Living Buddhism, p. 48. ↩︎

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