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NICHIREN (12221282) was a Japanese Buddhist monk of the Kamakura period (11921282) and eponymous founder of the Nichirenshu (Nichiren sect). In his radical insistence on the priority of the Lotus Sūtra (Skt., Saddharmapuarīka Sūtra; Jpn., Myōhōrengekyō; also known by its abbreviated title, Hokekyō ) over all other teachings and forms of Buddhism, Nichiren established himself as one of the major figures in the history of Japanese Buddhism. His influence persists to this day through the various schools and movements that look to Nichiren as their founder.


Nichiren was born in the village of Kominato in Awa Province (Chibaken), the son of a fisherman and minor manorial functionary. His talents as a youth brought him to the attention of the lord of the manor, who had him enter the Tendai monastery Kiyosumidera (Seichōji) in 1233 in order to begin his formal education. In 1237 he became a monk and adopted the religious name Renchō. Later, Nichiren left the Kiyosumidera for Kamakura, the seat of the military government, where he studied Pure Land Buddhism and Zen. The year 1242 found Nichiren on Mount Hiei, the center of the flourishing Tendai sect, and thereafter he studied on Mount Kōya, the center of the Shingon (Esoteric) school, and in the ancient capital of Nara. Convinced of the inadequacy of the Buddhism of his times, Nichiren returned to the Kiyosumidera in 1253 and began his self-appointed mission to bring what he believed to be true Buddhism to the Japanese. On April 28 of that year he publicly denounced all other forms of Buddhism as incomplete and ultimately false, and advocated a wholehearted faith in the teachings of the Lotus. It was at this time that he adopted the name Nichiren.

The remainder of Nichiren's life was marked by his conflicts with the government and the leaders of the established Buddhist sects. The year 1253 found Nichiren expelled from Kiyosumidera and disseminating his teachings in Kamakura, where he became deeply concerned about the social and political disorder of the times. In 1260 he presented his treatise Risshō ankokuron (Establish the right law and save our country) to the government. In it he ascribed the increase in floods, pestilence, famines, political strife, and conspiracies to the government's refusal to accept the Buddha's true teachings as found in the Lotus and their tolerance of the false doctrines of "heterodox" schools. He admonished the Hōjō rulers (military regents from 1213 to 1333) to abandon these expedient teachings and warned of the inevitability of rebellions and foreign invasions that would result from failure to embrace the true Buddhism. His criticism of the Hōjō family provoked the eldest member, Hōjō Shigetoki, a fervent Nembutsu (i.e., Pure Land) practitioner and a patron of Ryokan, the chief priest of the Shingon-Ritsu temple in Kamakura and one of Nichiren's foremost rivals. It is highly probable that Nichiren's hermitage in Kamakura was destroyed in 1260 by outlaws hired by Shigetoki. In 1261 the government exiled Nichiren to the province of Izu (Shizuoka-ken), only to pardon him in 1263. While visiting his home province in 1264, his old enemy Tōjō Kagenobu, a Nembutsu follower, planned an ambush from which Nichiren narrowly escaped.

In 1268 a Korean envoy arrived in Japan demanding the payment of tribute to the Mongolian ruler, Khubilai Khan. Nichiren submitted a proposal to the government reminding the Hōjō rulers that he had foretold such foreign invasions in his Risshō ankokuron and claiming that only he and, of course, faith in the Lotus, could save the country. Although the government ignored both the request of the envoy and Nichiren's warning, the masses, fearing the threat of invasion by Mongolian troops, turned in greater numbers to Nichiren's school. Concerned over Nichiren's growing popularity, the monks of several established Buddhist sects in Kamakura brought formal charges against Nichiren. These resulted in his arrest and, in 1271, his exile to Sado Island. After more than two years, in 1274, he was pardoned and returned to Kamakura. Soon after, Nichiren retired from public life and secluded himself in a mountain retreat in Minobu (Yamanashi-ken). There he became ill; in 1276 he moved to Ikegami in Musahi Province (Tokyo), where he died in 1282.

Thought and Works

Although Nichiren remained fundamentally within the Tendai tradition, he is known as a reformer, if not a radical, who departed from many of the teachings of Saichō, the founder of that sect. Indeed, he virtually reduced Tendai doctrines to the sole practice of chanting the Daimoku ("sacred title") of the Lotus Sūtra, that is, the recitation of the formula "Namu Myōhōrengekyō " ("Adoration be to the Lotus of Perfect Law"). The Daimoku, according to Nichiren, contains the entire universe and symbolizes absolute truth or, in other words, Śākyamuni Buddha. In his Kanjin honzonshō (The object of worship revealed by the introspection of our minds), written while exiled on Sado Island, Nichiren established Śākyamuni as the true object of worship and the Daimoku as the practice for revealing the absolute truth.

An integral aspect of his method of conversion (shakubuku ) was the condemnation of the popular sects of Buddhism. Nichiren held that by deliberately provoking people and raising their anger he would cause them to evaluate their beliefs. Anger and hatred, in Nichiren's system, were productive and creative emotional states. While at Kiyosumidera Nichiren's denunciations were focused primarily on the proponents of Nembutsu and Zen practices. He criticized Pure Land for engaging in expedient practices that would lead (he claimed) to rebirth in the lowest of hells and for emphasizing the notion of a Western Paradise, a belief, Nichiren held, that discourages people from establishing peace in their present lives. He criticized Zen for stressing a transmission outside scripture and for their belief in the efficacy of "no-words." Nichiren argued that without sūtra s and words the teachings of the Buddha could not be transmitted at all. Later, Nichiren added Ritsu (Vinaya), Shingon, and the esoteric subsects of Tendai to his list of heterodox schools.

Nichiren's exile on Sado Island proved to be a period of great creativity. Among the essays and treatises he wrote during this period was the Kaimokushō (Liberation from blindness). Here he departs from traditional Tendai notions of spiritual filiation by claiming that he is the successor to and reincarnation of the Viśiacāritra Bodhisattva (Jpn., Jōgyō Bosatsu), to whom Śākyamuni is said to have entrusted the Lotus Sūtra and whose reappearance is prophesied in that text. Another work, the Daimandara (Great maala) reiterates this theme. The maala itself, inspirationally revealed to Nichiren, represents all living beings in the Buddha world expressed in the Lotus Sūtra. It depicts the Daimoku surrounded by the names of Śākyamuni, various bodhisattva s led by Viśiacāritra, śr̄avakas, Japanese gods (kami ), and Tendai masters arranged on levels in descending order. The image of Śākyamuni and the Daimandara became the chief objects of worship in Nichiren's thought. Other of Nichiren's writings include 434 essays and epistles and a commentary on the Lotus Sūtra. The original of this commentary, which is still extant, is written on the back pages of a copy of the Triple Lotus Sūtra, a set of three sūtra s including the Myōhōrengekyo (Lotus Sūtra ); the Muryōgikyō, regarded as an introduction to the Lotus; and the Kan Fugen bosatsu gyōhōkyō, an epilogue to the Lotus. Aside from the Risshō ankokuron, the most significant of Nichiren's essays include Kaimokushō, Kanjin honzonshō, Senjishō (Selection of the Proper Time), and Hōonshō (Requitment of Favors).

See Also



Primary Sources

The collected works of Nichiren are available in the Shōwa teihon Nichiren Shōnin ibun, 4 vols., compiled by Minobusan Kuonji (Yamanashi, 19521959). Some of these works have been published in English. These include The Awakening to the Truth; or Kaimokushō, translated by Ehara Ryozui (Tokyo, 1941); Risshō ankokuron; or Establish the Right Law and Save Our Country, translated by Murano Senchu (Tokyo, 1977); and Nyorai metsugo go gohyakusaishi kanjin honzonshō; or, The True Object of Worship Revealed for the First Time in the Fifth of Five Century Periods after the Great Decease of the Tathagata, translated by Murano Senchu (Tokyo, 1954).

Another collection of Nichiren's works is the Nichiren Daishōnin gosho zenshū (Tokyo, 1952). Portions of this work are now being published in English under the title The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishōnin, edited and translated by the Seikyo Times (Tokyo, 1979).

Secondary Sources

Anesaki Masaharu. Nichiren, the Buddhist Prophet (1916). Gloucester, Mass., 1966.

Anesaki Masaharu. Hokekyō no gyōja Nichiren. Tokyo, 1933.

Masutani Fumio. Nichiren. Tokyo, 1967.

Matsunaga, Alicia, and Daigan Matsunaga. Foundations of Japanese Buddhism, vol. 2, The Mass Movement (Kamakura and Muromachi Periods). Los Angeles and Tokyo, 1976. See chapter 3.

Mochizuki Kankō. The Nichiren Sect. Translated by Murano Senchu. Tokyo, 1958.

Motai Kyōkō. Kanjin honzonshō kenkyū josetsu. Tokyo, 1964.

Nichiren Shōnin ibun jiten. Edited by Risshō Daigaku Nichiren Kyōgaku Kenkyūsho. Yamanashi, 1985.

Nichirenshū jiten. Published by the Nichiren Sect Headquarters. Tokyo, 1981.

Ōno Tatsunosuke. Nichiren. Tokyo, 1958.

Renondeau, Gaston. La doctrine de Nichiren. Paris, 1958.

Satomi, Kishio. Japanese Civilization: Its Significance and Realization, Nichirenism and the Japanese National Principles. London, 1933.

Takagi Yutaka. Nichiren. Tokyo, 1970.

Watanabe Hōyō. Nichirenshū shingyōron no kenkyū. Kyoto, 1979.

Yamakawa Chiō. Hokke shisōshijō no Nichiren Shōnin. Tokyo, 1934.

New Sources

Christensen, J. A. Nichiren: Leader of Buddhist Reformation in Japan. Fremont, Calif., 2001.

Hurst, Jane D. Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism and the Soku Gakkai in America: The Ethos of a New Religious Movement. New York, 1992.

Montgomery, Daniel B. Fire in the Lotus: The Dynamic Buddhism of Nichiren. New York, 1991.

Osumi Kazuo. "Buddhism in the Kamakura Period." In The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 3: Medieval Japan. New York, 1990.

Snow, David A. Shakubuku: A Study of the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Movement in America. New York, 1993.

Watanabe HŌyŌ (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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