Origins of Buddhism
Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent around 2,500 years ago. Its teachings derive from Shakyamuni, also known as Gautama or Siddhartha, who dedicated his life to finding the means to liberate people from the universal sufferings of life and develop spiritual strength. His teachings were later compiled into sutras, and numerous schools of Buddhism sprang up as his teachings spread after his death.
The Lotus Sutra is highly revered in the Mahayana tradition that reached East Asia. It emphasizes the bodhisattva ideal of helping others to come to a true understanding of life and clarifies that all people possess the life-state of Buddhahood.
After Shakyamuni’s passing, his teachings became splintered and increasingly misunderstood as they spread throughout Asia and beyond. In the 13th century, a Japanese Buddhist reformer, Nichiren Daishonin, declared the Lotus Sutra, taught during the final eight years of Shakyamuni’s life, to be the highest and ultimate teaching of Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra most clearly shows Buddhism as a powerful, life-affirming, egalitarian and humanistic teaching.
Born the son of a fisherman in a time of social unrest and natural catastrophe, Nichiren became a religious acolyte and after a period of intensive study came to realize that the Lotus Sutra constitutes the heart of Buddhist teachings. His great gift to humanity was in giving concrete expression to this life-affirming philosophy by creating a simple yet profound daily practice accessible to all people. Nichiren first chanted the title of the Lotus Sutra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on April 28, 1253, and later inscribed the mandala of the Gohonzon (the physical object of devotion for all humanity). It is the philosophy taught by Nichiren that forms the foundation of the SGI.
Nichiren taught that all the benefits of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be realized by chanting its title [Nam] Myoho-renge-kyo. The universal law of life is expressed as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; reciting this allows each individual to tap into the wisdom of their life to reveal their Buddha nature. Chanting these words and excerpts from the Lotus Sutra is the core of this Buddhist practice, supported by study and helping others reveal their own Buddhahood. Faith, practice and study are the basics of Buddhist practice, pursuing activities for oneself and activities for the sake of others.
The Gohonzon, a scroll practitioners chant to, was inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin and is depicted in Chinese characters embodying the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the life of Nichiren, as well as protective functions of the universe. The fundamental object of respect, the Gohonzon represents the enlightened life of each individual. Down the center are the characters Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and Nichiren’s signature. This indicates the oneness of person and Mystic Law—that the condition of Buddhahood is a potential within and can be manifested by all people. SGI members enshrine a replica of the Gohonzon in their homes as a focal point for their daily practice. The Gohonzon’s strength comes from the practitioner’s faith—the Gohonzon functions as a spiritual mirror. Sitting in front of the Gohonzon and chanting enables a person to recognize and reveal his or her own Buddha nature, the unlimited potential and happiness of their life.
The Japanese word gongyo literally means “assiduous practice.” The practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and recite portions of both the second (Expedient Means) and the sixteenth (Life Span) chapters of the Lotus Sutra in front of the Gohonzon. This is the fundamental practice of Nichiren Buddhism, performed morning and evening.