I have bashed Nichiren Buddhism a few times. However, I've never really explained why. Basically, it stems from my own bad feelings about the practice and what I've learned about Buddhism from scholars, monks and practitioners of other sects never vibed with what I learned growing up. I have come to believe the reason this Buddhist sect is one of the largest ones in the Western world is because it has wrapped up Judeo-Christian ideologies in a Buddhist package so that Westerners can easily and quickly embrace it. But in doing so, some of the main tenets of Buddhism have been lost.
After I left Nichiren Buddhism, I knew that I wasn't going to become a Baptist or anything, and I knew that I need some way to organize the world and my place in it, so I did a lot of reading about other sects and other practices. All of them described Buddhism as the opposite as what I had been taught.
- Nichiren Buddhism has no relationship with priests or monks or scholars of the tradition. In fact, there was a very bitter split with the priests of that sect when I was young. The entire organization is a lay one. The "leader" of the religion is called a president.
- Nichiren Buddhism tells you to embrace your ego and its desires, not push them aside. That goes against at least two of the Four Noble Truths that all Buddhisms are based on.
- I didn't learn about the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path...any of that...through Nichiren Buddhism. I first heard about them in an Intro to Buddhism class my senior year of college. I grew up studying the writings of Nichiren Daishonin and what our President had to say about them. There was very little study of the Lotus Sutra, which is the sutra the sect was based on. Though I appreciated the emphasis on source material, I never got a sense of how we connected to the ancient tradition of Buddhism as a whole. It seemed like it was trying to stay modern.
- I truly think the 80s were traumatizing for me. I dreaded the months of February and August. They were the proselytization campaigns for the organization. They were similar to the on-air fund drives for public radio, but way more intense. 24-hour tozos (chanting marathons); huge competitions over which neighborhood could convert the most people; ceremonies on the hour where people could receive their Gohonzons. No one ever talked about how many of those people were still chanting after a year, after six months even. We were made to believe that our own happiness and worthiness as "good" Buddhists was based on how many people we converted. I was 10 years old and pressured to bring my friend to meetings. I still believe the best and only way to show someone a new way to look at the world is to let them come to you. Religion is too personal a discussion to have on a street corner.
- As I grew older I observed that those with whom I practiced seemed to look at the religion with a Judeo-Christian mindset: If I chant (pray) long (hard) enough, good things will happen. And conversely: Because bad things happened to me, I didn't chant (pray) enough. This just seemed so strange to me because from all that I had read and learned, that was not the way Buddhists were meant to look at the world at all. Nichiren Buddhism did espouse cause and effect and the mirroring of the internal in the external...but it just seemed off.
I'm not saying I'm a "real" Buddhist now...I'm nowhere near it. I'm crazy attached to things, to people. There are times when my ego is controlling everything I do. However, this path feels so much better than the one I grew up with. I know I will have come far in my own practice when I can let go of the anger I feel toward Nichiren Buddhism.
How do I reconcile this venom toward the religion with the love I feel for its practitioners? I don't know...I just do. The religion didn't work for me, but the people I love feel that it works for them. So I accept that. I will not accept them trying to bring me back, however...which they do sometimes. Religion is such a personal thing after all.