I am fairly ignorant on Nichiren beyond some sources I've been able to find on the internet. Really I just discovered it a few days ago while looking for Buddhist chants on youtube when I came across Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I found listening to it and chanting along to be very powerful, which led me to doing some research about this school I know so little about. Here are some of the questions I currently have:
1. I've read Nichiren was critical of all other Buddhist sects of his time, but I am not sure exactly what. Does anyone have an answer to this or a link explaining more? Specifically I am interested what his criticisms of Zen and Shingon were.
Hi vidyaraja. The crux of Nichiren's criticism of Zen is,
A T this, the unenlightened man looked somewhat mollified and said: “The words of the sutra are clear as a mirror; there is no room to doubt or question their meaning. But although the Lotus Sutra surpasses all the other sutras that the Buddha taught before, at the same time, or after, and represents the highest point in his preaching life, still it cannot compare with the single truth of Zen, which cannot be bound by words or confined in the text of a sutra, and which deals with the true nature of our minds. In effect, the realm where the countless doctrines are all cast aside and where words cannot reach is what is called the truth of Zen.
“Thus, on the banks of the Ajitavati River, in the grove of sal trees, Shakyamuni Buddha stepped out of his golden coffin, twirled a flower, and, when he saw Mahakashyapa’s faint smile, entrusted this teaching of Zen to him. Since then, it has been handed down
without any irregularity through a lineage of twenty-eight patriarchs in India, and was widely propagated by a succession of six patriarchs in China. Bodhidharma is the last of the twenty- eight patriarchs of India and the first of the six patriarchs of China. We must not allow this transmission to be lost, and founder in the nets of doctrine.
“So, in the Sutra of the Buddha Answering the Great Heavenly King Brahma’s Questions, the Buddha says: ‘I have a subtle teaching concerning the eye and treasury of the correct teaching, the wonderful mind of nirvana, the true aspect of reality that is without characteristics. It represents a separate transmission outside the sutras, independent of words or writing. I entrust it to Mahakashyapa.’
“Thus we see that this single truth of Zen was transmitted to Mahakashyapa apart from the sutras. All the teachings of the sutras are like a finger pointing at the moon. Once we have seen the moon, what use do we have for the finger? And once we have understood this single truth of Zen, the true nature of the mind, why should we concern ourselves any longer with the Buddha’s teachings? Therefore, a man of past times has said, ‘The twelve divisions of the scriptures are all idle writings.’
“If you will open and read The Platform Sutra of Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch of this school, you will see that this is true. Once one has heard even a single word and thereby grasped and understood the truth, what use does one have for the teachings? How do you consider this principle?”
The sage replied: “You must first of all set aside the doctrines for the moment and consider the logic of the matter. Can anyone, without inquiring into the essential meaning of the Buddha’s lifetime teachings or investigating the basic principles of the ten schools, presume to admonish the nation and teach others? This Zen that you are talking about is something that I have studied exhaustively for some time. In view of the extreme doctrines that it teaches, I must say that it is a highly distorted affair.
“There are three types of Zen, known respectively as Thus Come One Zen, doctrinal Zen, and patriarchal Zen.72 What you are referring to is patriarchal Zen, and I would therefore like to give you a general idea of it. So listen, and understand what it is about.
“It speaks of transmitting something apart from the teachings. But apart from the teachings there are no principles, and apart from principles there are no teachings. Don’t you understand the logic of this, that principles are none other than teachings and teachings none other than principles? This talk about the twirled flower, the faint smile, and something being entrusted to Mahakashyapa is in itself a teaching, and the four-character phrase about its being ‘independent of words or writ
ing’ is likewise a teaching and a statement in words. This sort of talk has been around for a long while in both China and Japan. It may appear novel to you, but let me quote one or two passages that will clear up your misconceptions.
“Volume eleven of The Supplement to T’ien-t’ai’s Three Major Works states: ‘If one says that we are not to hamper ourselves by the use of verbal expressions, then how, for even an instant in this saha world, can we carry on the Buddha’s work? Do the Zen followers themselves not use verbal explanations when they are giving instruction to others? If one sets aside words and phrases, then there is no way to explain the meaning of emancipation, so how can anyone ever hear about it?’
“Farther on, we read: ‘It is said that Bodhidharma came from the west and taught the “direct pointing to the mind of man” and “perceiving one’s true nature and attaining Buddhahood.” But are these same concepts not found in the Flower Garland Sutra and in the other Mahayana sutras? Alas, how can the people of our time be so foolish! You should all put faith in the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddhas, the Thus Come Ones, tell no lies!’
“To restate the meaning of this passage: if one objects that we are hampering ourselves with doctrinal writings and tying ourselves down with verbal explanations, and recommends a type of religious practice that is apart from the teachings of the sutras, then by what means are we to carry on the Buddha’s work and make good causes in this saha world of ours? Even the followers of Zen, who advocate these views, themselves make use of words when instructing others. In addition, when one is trying to convey an understanding of the Buddha way, one cannot communicate the meaning if one sets aside words and phrases. Bodhidharma came to China from the west, pointed directly to people’s minds, and declared that those minds were Buddha. But this principle is enunciated in various places even in the provisional Mahayana sutras that preceded the Lotus Sutra, such as the Flower Garland, Great Collection, and Great Wisdom sutras. To treat it as such a rare and wonderful thing is too ridiculous for words. Alas, how can the people of our time be so distorted in their thinking! They should put their faith in the words of truth spoken by the Thus Come One of perfect enlightenment and complete reward, who embodies the principle of the Middle Way that is the true aspect of all things.
“In addition, the Great Teacher Miao-lo in the first volume of his Annotations on ‘Great Concentration and Insight’ comments on this situation by saying, ‘The people of today look with contempt on the sutra teachings and emphasize only the contemplation of truth, but they are making a great mistake, a great mistake indeed!’
“This passage applies to the people in the world today who put meditation on the mind and various other things first, and do not delve into or study the teachings of the sutras. On the contrary, they despise the teachings and make light of the sutras. This passage is saying that this is a mistake.
“Moreover, I should point out that the Zen followers of the present age are confused as to the teachings of their own school. If we open the pages of The Continued Biographies of Eminent Priests, we find that in the biography of the Great Teacher Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Zen in China, it states, ‘By means of the teachings one can understand the essential meaning.’ Therefore, one should study and practice the principles embodied in the sacred teachings preached by the Thus Come One in the course of his lifetime and thereby gain an understanding of the substance of the various doctrines
and the nature of the different schools.
“Furthermore, in the biography of Bodhidharma’s disciple, Hui-k’o, the second of the six Chinese patriarchs, it states that the Meditation Master Bodhidharma handed over the four volumes of the Lankavatara Sutra to Hui-k’o, saying: ‘Observing this land of China, I find only this sutra to be of real worth. If you base your practice on it, you will be able to bring salvation to the world.’ Here we see that, when the Great Teacher Bodhidharma came from India to China, he brought the four volumes of the Lankavatara Sutra and handed them over to Hui-k’o, saying: ‘When I observe the situation in this country, I see that this sutra is of outstanding superiority. You should abide by it and put it into practice and become a Buddha.’
“As we have just seen, these patriarchteachers placed primary emphasis on the sutra texts. But if we therefore say that one must rely on the sutras, then we must take care to inquire whether those sutras belong to the Mahayana or the Hinayana, whether they are the provisional teachings or the true teaching.
“When it comes to making use of sutras, the Zen school relies on such works as the Lankavatara Sutra, the Shuramgama Sutra, and the Diamond Wisdom Sutra. These are all provisional teachings that were preached before the Lotus Sutra, doctrines that conceal the truth.
“These various sutras expound partial truths such as ‘the mind itself is the Buddha, and the Buddha is none other than the mind.’ The Zen followers have allowed themselves to be led astray by one or two such sentences and phrases, failing to inquire whether they represent the Mahayana or the Hinayana, the provisional teachings or the true teaching, the doctrines that reveal the truth or the doctrines that conceal it. They merely advance the principle of nonduality without understanding the principle of duality,73 and commit an act of great arrogance, claiming that they themselves are equal to the Buddha. They are following in the tracks of the Great Arrogant Brahman of India and imitating the old ways of the Meditation Master San- chieh of China. But we should recall that the Great Arrogant Brahman, while still alive, fell into the hell of incessant suffering, and that San-chieh, after he died, turned into a huge snake. How frightful, how frightful indeed!
“Shakyamuni Buddha, with his understanding that had penetrated the three existences, and by the light of the clear wisdom-moon of perfect enlightenment and complete reward, peered into the future and, in the Sutra on Resolving Doubts about the Middle Day of the Law, made this prediction: ‘Among the evil monks there will be those who practice meditation and, instead of relying on the sutras and treatises, heed only their own view of things, declaring wrong to be right. Unable to distinguish between what is correct and what is erroneous, all they will do is face monks and lay believers and declare in this fashion, “I can understand what is right, I can see what is right.” You should understand that it is people like this who will destroy my teachings in no time at all.’
“This passage is saying that there will be evil monks who put all their faith in Zen and do not delve into the sutras and treatises. They will base themselves on distorted views and fail to distinguish between false and true doctrines. Moreover, they will address themselves to men and women believers, monks and nuns, declaring, ‘I can understand the doctrines, but other people do not,’ in this way working to spread the Zen teachings. But you should understand that these people will destroy the correct teaching of the Buddha. If we examine this passage and observe the
state of the world today, we see that the two match each other as perfectly as do the two halves of a tally. Be careful! There is much to fear here.
“You spoke earlier of twenty-eight patriarchs of India who orally transmitted this Zen doctrine, but on what evidence is such a statement based? All the texts I have seen speak of twenty-four or, in some cases, twenty-three persons who transmitted the Buddha’s teachings. Where is the translation that establishes the number of patriarchs as twenty-eight? I have never seen such a statement. This matter of the persons who were involved in the line of transmission of the Buddha’s teachings.is not something that one can simply write about arbitrarily. The Thus Come One himself left a clear record of what the line of transmission would be.
“Thus, in A History of the Buddha’s Successors, it states: ‘There will be a monk by the name of Aryasimha living in the kingdom of Kashmir who will strive vigorously to accomplish the Buddha’s work. At that time the ruler of the kingdom will be named Mirakutsu,74 a man who gives himself up wholly to false views and has no reverence or faith in his heart. Throughout the kingdom of Kashmir, he will destroy Buddhist temples and stupas and slaughter monks. He will take a sharp sword and use it to cut off Aryasimha’s head. But no blood will spurt from his neck; only milk will come flowing out. With this, the line of persons who transmit the Law will be cut off.’
“To restate this passage: The Buddha says that, after he passes into nirvana, there will be a succession of twenty- four persons who will transmit his teachings. Among these, the last to carry on the line of transmission will be a monk named Aryasimha, who will work to spread the Buddha’s teachings throughout the kingdom called Kashmir. The ruler of this state will be a man named King Dammira. He will be a person of false views and profligate ways, who has no faith in the Buddha’s teachings and no reverence for the monks. He will destroy Buddhist halls and stupas and use a sword to cut off the heads of the monks. And when he cuts off the head of the monk Aryasimha, there will be no blood in his neck; only milk will come flowing out. The Buddha declares that at this time the line of persons who transmit his teachings will be cut off.
“The actual events did not in any way differ from the Buddha’s predictions; the Venerable Aryasimha’s head was in fact cut off. And as his head fell to the ground, so too did the arm of the king.
“It is a gross error to speak of twenty-eight patriarchs. This is the beginning of the errors of the Zen school. The reason that Hui-neng lists twenty-eight patriarchs in his Platform Sutra is that, when he decided to treat Bodhidharma as the first patriarch of Chinese Zen, he found that there were too many years between the time of Aryasimha and that of Bodhidharma. He therefore arbitrarily inserted the names of three Zen teachers to fill up the interval, so that he could make it seem as though the Law had been transmitted from India to China without any break or irregularity in the line of transmission. It was all a fabrication designed to make people respect the Zen teachings.
“This deception was put forth long ago in China. Thus, the eleventh volume of Three Major Works states: ‘In our [T’ien-t’ai] school, we recognize a transmission through twenty-three patriarchs. How could there be any error in this view? Concerning the claim that there were twenty-eight patriarchs, we can find no translation of a source that supports such a view. Recently Zen priests have even produced carvings in stone and wood
block engravings, each with a sacred verse attached, which represent the seven Buddhas and the twenty-eight patriarchs, handing these down to their disciples. Alas, how can there be such blatant falsehoods! If persons of understanding have any power at all, they should do everything they can to correct such abuses.’
“This text is saying that to assert a transmission through a line of twenty- eight patriarchs and to produce stone carvings and wood-block engravings of them to indicate the line of transmission are highly mistaken undertakings, and that anyone who understands this should work to correct such errors. This is why I say that patriarchal Zen is a gravely erroneous affair." -- Conversation Between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man
The first volume of Great Concentration and Insight states, “There has never been anything to compare to the brightness and serenity of concentration and insight.” The first volume of On “Great Concentration and Insight” states, “From the time when Emperor Ming of the Han dynasty dreamed at night of the Buddha down to the Ch’en dynasty [when the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai lived], there were many who participated in the Zen school and received the robe and bowl that were handed down.” The Supplement to T’ien-t’ai’s Three Major Works explains this by saying, “The handing down of the robe and bowl refers to the succession of Zen patriarchs from Bodhidharma on down.”
The fifth volume of Great Concentration and Insight states, “There is a type called Zen men, but their masters and disciples are blind [to the truth] and lame [in practice], and both masters and disciples will fall into hell.” In the seventh volume we read: “[There are ten ways necessary for understanding and practicing Buddhism correctly. Of these, except one], the nine ways have nothing in common with the ordinary priests of the world who concentrate on the written word, nor do they have anything in common with the Zen masters who concentrate on practice. Some Zen masters give all their attention to meditation alone. But their meditation is shallow and false, totally lacking in the nine ways. This is no empty assertion. Worthy persons of later ages who have eyes to see will understand the truth of what I say.”
The seventh volume of On “Great Concentration and Insight” states: “ ‘Priests who concentrate on the written word’ refers to men who gain no inner insight or understanding through meditation, but concern themselves only with characteristics of the doctrine. ‘Zen masters who concentrate on practice’ refers to men who do not learn how to attain the truth and the corresponding wisdom, but fix their minds on the mere techniques of breath control. Theirs is the kind of [non-Buddhist] meditation that fundamentally still retains outflows. ‘Some Zen masters give all their attention to meditation alone’ means that, for the sake of discussion, T’ien-t’ai gives them a certain degree of recognition, but from a stricter viewpoint they lack both insight and understanding. The Zen men in the world today value only meditation [as the way to realize the truth] and have no familiarity with doctrinal teachings. In relying upon meditation alone, they interpret the sutras in their own way. They put together the eight errors and the eight winds, and talk about the Buddha as being sixteen feet in height. They lump together the five components and the three poisons, and call them the eight errors. They equate the six sense organs with the six transcendental powers, and the four elements with the four noble truths. To interpret the sutras in such an arbitrary manner is to be guilty of the greatest falsehood. Such nonsense is not even worth discussing.”
The seventh volume of Great Concentration and Insight states: “In the past, the Zen master of Yeh and Lo200 became renowned throughout the length and breadth of China. When he arrived, people gathered around him from all directions like clouds, and when he left for another place, they formed a great crowd along the roads. But what profit did they derive from all this bustle and excitement? All of them regretted what they had done when they were on their deathbed.”
In the seventh volume of On “Great Concentration and Insight” we read: “The text speaks of the ‘Zen master of Yeh and Lo.’ Yeh is in Hsiang-chou and was the capital of the Ch’i and Wei dynasties. The founder of Zen caused Buddhism to flourish there and converted the people of the region. The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, out of deference to the people of his time, refrains from naming anyone specifically. Lo refers to the city of Lo-yang.”
The six-volume Parinirvana Sutra says, “The extreme is impossible to see. That is, the extremely evil deeds done by the icchantika are all but impossible to perceive.” Or, as Miao-lo has said, “The third [group] is the most formidable of all. This is because [the second and third ones are] increasingly harder to recognize for what they really are.”
Those without eyes, those with only one eye, and those with distorted vision cannot see these three types of enemies of the Lotus Sutra who have appeared at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. But those who have attained a portion of the Buddha eye can see who they are. “They will address the rulers, high ministers, Brahmans, and householders.” And Tung-ch’un states, “These men will appeal to the government authorities, slandering the Law and its practitioners.”
In the past, when the Middle Day of the Law was coming to an end, Gomyo, Shuen, and other priests presented petitions to the throne in which they slandered the Great Teacher Dengyo. Now, at the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law, Ryokan, Nen’a, and others drew up false documents and presented them to the shogunate. Are they not to be counted among the third group of enemies of the Lotus Sutra?....
.....Again, the men of the Zen school say: “The Lotus Sutra is a finger pointing at the moon, but the Zen school is the moon itself. Once one has the moon, of what use is the finger? Zen is the mind of the Buddha. The Lotus Sutra is the word of the Buddha. After the Buddha had finished preaching the Lotus Sutra and all the other sutras, he held up a single flower and through this gesture conveyed his enlightenment to Mahakashyapa alone. As a token of this tacit communication, the Buddha presented Mahakashyapa with his own robe, which together with the enlightenment has been handed down through the twenty-eight patriarchs of India and so on through the six patriarchs of China.” For many years now, the whole country has been intoxicated and deceived by this kind of falsehood." -- The Opening of the Eyes
This is but an overview of Nichiren's criticism of Zen. In the next post, I will let Nichiren answer your question about Shingon.