What is the Heritage of the Law in Nichiren Buddhism?
The two views of the meaning of "heritage of the Law".
Vice General Director
The two views of the meaning of "heritage of the Law" between the Soka Gakkai International and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood are diametrically opposed. Heritage (Jap. kechimyaku, or literally, 'blood - pulse' that is often translated as 'lifeblood') is discussed in detail in Nichiren Daishonin's writing, "The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life" (The Writings Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 216-218) While the SGI follows Nichiren Daishonin's ultimate emphasis on the "heritage of the faith" for attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, Nichiren Shoshu contends that people, first of all, need to obediently follow the high priest who supposedly possesses the "living essence of the True Buddha" within his life.
Nowhere in the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, however, is this current contention by Nichiren Shoshu to be found. The ultimate message from Nichiren Daishonin to people in the Latter Day of the Law, which is contained in his writings, is that "We should fully devote ourselves to chanting the Mystic Law, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, with faith, thus revealing our innate Buddhahood. We should continue to practice to the Gohonzon for ourselves and others until the last moment of our lives and attain happiness in this life. We should exert ourselves constantly to strengthen our faith day by day and month after month." This consistent message needs to be etched deeply in our lives, first and foremost, before addressing the topic of the heritage of Nichiren Buddhism.
In Nichiren Buddhism, the primary point is the strength of faith. We need to keep in mind the point Nichiren made to Sairenbo, a former priest of the Tendai sect and recipient of this writing: "The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life," "Even embracing the Lotus Sutra would be useless without the heritage of faith" (WND, vol. 1, p. 218).
Since the idea of heritage was a matter of great interest to Sairenbo, who was versed in the medieval Tendai sect, Nichiren Daishonin put the idea of heritage into perspective for him. The following three points that Nichiren Daishonin stressed about the heritage of his Buddhism are eternal guidelines for our practice today. These have been abandoned in the current Nichiren Shoshu priesthood because of its blind attachment to the absolute authority given to the high priest.
- Having absolute respect for Buddhahood inherent in our life.
- Spreading the Mystic Law in the unity of "many in body but one in mind."
- Constantly strengthening our faith in the beneficial power of the Mystic Law.
Mr. Mikio Matsuoka (formerly known as Yumo Matsuoka), a reformist priest and member of the Association of the Youthful Priests for the Reformation of Nichiren Shoshu, has been engaged in pursuing the origin of the current Nichiren Shoshu concept that the successive high priests of Nichiren Shoshu alone possess the living essence of the Buddha through some sort of transmission within the office of high priest. According to Matsuoka's recent work, The Myths of Nichiren Shoshu, this notion did not exist in the early days of the Fuji school and was introduced later during the time of the 9th high priest Nichiu by Sakyo Nikkyo of Yobo-ji temple school. This was a temple that split from the head temple Taisekiji after third high priest Nichimoku died.
Soon, the leadership of Nichiren Shoshu fell into complete disarray. Juveniles and even an infant, were appointed to the office of high priest. It was under such circumstances that Nikkyo emphasized the absolute authority of the office of high priest. This idea of an exclusive transmission of the heritage through the lineage of the successive high priests began to form the mainstream of thought in the Taiseki-ji school, even though it was not so originally.
In the final analysis, the current Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, without rooting itself in Nichiren Buddhism, is basing itself on the above-imported concept, misguiding its followers and taking them irresponsibly toward disrespect for the original, humanistic message of Nichiren Buddhism.
The moment we set the high priest on a pedestal of infallibility, we are sending out a message that is diametrically opposed to the heart and spirit of Nichiren Daishonin. By asserting this point, we are dispelling our fundamental darkness within.