Shakubuku
 
 
What is Shakubuku?

Nichiren discussed two methods of propagation, shakubuku and shoju. Often these two methods of propagation are confused. Some teachers use the word shakubuku to describe the method of shoju. In other words, they imply that the definition of shakubuku is the definition of shoju or that there is no difference between the two kinds of propagation. Since such confusion exists, instead of defining the terms ourselves and inviting doubts from our readers, we'll quote Nichiren. Feel free to check the context of the quotes. We think you'll find that Nichiren was even more harsh in his language than we are presenting it.

In the Opening of the Eyes, Nichiren says, "Great Concentration and Insight says: 'There are two ways to spread the Buddha’s teachings. The first is called shōju and the second is called shakubuku. When the "Peaceful Practices" chapter says that one should not speak of the shortcomings of others, it is referring to the shōju method."

From On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings:

Now, in the Latter Day of the Law, who is carrying out the practice of shakubuku in strict accordance with the Lotus Sutra?... Observe what happens should that person thus try to refute the teachers and the doctrines of all the other schools.

From A Conversation Between a Sage and an Unelightned Man:

Shōju is to be practiced when throughout the entire country only the Lotus Sutra has spread, and when there is not even a single misguided teacher expounding erroneous doctrines. At such a time, one may retire to the mountain forests, practice meditation, or carry out the five, the six, or the ten practices. But the time for shakubuku is very different from this. It is a time when many different sutras and teachings spring up here and there like so many orchids and chrysanthemums, when the various schools command a large following and enjoy renown, when truth and error stand shoulder to shoulder, and when Mahayana and Hinayana dispute which is superior. At such a time, one must set aside all other affairs and devote one’s attention to rebuking slander of the correct teaching. This is the practice of shakubuku.

Because Nichiren equates shakubuku with the military in several places in his writings, let us quote from the same source again to clarify his thoughts on that:

The methods of shōju and shakubuku are also like this. When the correct teaching alone is propagated and there are no erroneous doctrines or misguided teachers, then one may enter the deep valleys and live in quiet contentment, devoting one’s time to reciting and copying the sutra and to the practice of meditation. This is like taking up a writing brush and inkstone when the world is at peace. But when there are provisional schools or slanderers of the correct teaching in the country, then it is time to set aside other matters and devote oneself to rebuking slander. This is like taking up weapons on the battlefield.
 
 
Nichiren's View

We've heard several doctrinal arguments against the practice of shakubuku. If you're going to be stuck on those questions, go ahead and skip down the page to those first if you want. We think that the more important and pressing question is the practical one: Should we do it? Is it harmful? Will it get us the results we're looking for?

First off, Nichiren had a point of view on this question. From The Opening of the Eyes:

Question: When you berate the followers of the Nembutsu and Zen schools and arouse their enmity, what merit does that bring?

[Answer:] Chang-an comments on this as follows: "One who destroys or brings confusion to the Buddha’s teachings is betraying them. If one befriends another person but lacks the mercy to correct him, one is in fact his enemy. But one who reprimands and corrects an offender is a voice-hearer who defends the Buddha’s teachings, a true disciple of the Buddha. One who rids the offender of evil is acting as his parent. Those who reproach offenders are disciples of the Buddha. But those who do not oust offenders are betraying the Buddha’s teachings."...

If someone is about to kill your father and mother, shouldn’t you try to warn them? If a bad son who is insane with drink is threatening to kill his father and mother, shouldn’t you try to stop him? If some evil person is about to set fire to the temples and pagodas, shouldn’t you try to stop him? If your only child is gravely ill, shouldn’t you try to cure him or her with moxibustion treatment? To fail to do so is to act like those people who see but do not try to put a stop to the Zen and Nembutsu followers in Japan. [As Chang-an says,] "If one befriends another person but lacks the mercy to correct him, one is in fact his enemy."

We take from that answer that Nichiren was making two points. In the first paragraph quoted, he alludes to a certain sense of loyalty ("defends the Buddha's teachings"). The bulk of his point is about caring about what happens to people and the world. How can you let something that changed your life be denigrated without speaking up on its behalf? And how can you let people go around believing wrong things that can harm them and others without saying anything to try to correct the situation?

So now that we've covered what Nichiren's perspective is, we have some of our own thoughts about the practice.

Shakubuku, as we envision it, isn't just berating and insulting people about their religions. In fact, it shouldn't be that. It's about public intellectual discourse, debate, and the advancement of ideas.

In The Teaching, Practice, and Proof, in preparing one of his disciples for a debate, he says,

When in public debate, although the teachings that you advocate are perfectly consistent with the truth, you should never on that account be impolite or abusive, or display a conceited attitude. Such conduct would be disgraceful. Order your thoughts, words, and actions carefully, and be prudent when you meet with others in debate.

This doesn't mean that everyone politely ignored the shortcomings of other religions. He also says in that same writing just a couple of sentences earlier, "Tell him, 'I fully agree with [Nichiren's] assertion that the Precepts school is traitorous.'" Not exactly the kind of words one would hear at an interfaith seminar. In other words, be as polite as possible but not to the exclusion of being truthful about your views.

As a matter of course, scientists engage in debate. In fact, it's part of the scientific method. Peer review. There needs to be discussion in order for there to be forward progress. If scientists just patted each other on the back and said, "Good job. All views are valid," well, who knows what would happen, actually, but it wouldn't be science. It doesn't work that way. Nor does politics or political activism. In no area of life that we deem important do we allow bad ideas to flourish uncontested while hiding good ideas away in a dark closet. It's not conducive to progress. And furthermore, it's not honest.

 
 
Christianity -- The Major Religion

In our country, and indeed around the world, the largest religion by far, with 2.3 billion adherents, is Christianity. Worldwide, the second largest and fastest growing, is Islam, with 1.8 billion followers. Hinduism is third, with 1.1 billion. Technically, unaffiliated/nonreligious/atheist is third, with 1.2 billion, but that's a subject unto itself. To give you a comparison of how far behind the rest of the religions are from the top 3, Buddhism is next, with less than half a billion adherents, and it gets fewer and fewer from there.

So when we talk about religion, we should be talking about Christianity, maybe Islam. There's nothing more egregious about Christianity than, say, Zoroastrianism, but it would be strange to concentrate on a minority of the population while completely ignoring the largest religion in our country and the world.

 
 
Reason and Intellectual Honesty

Religion isn't benign. What we believe affects what we do. There is a saying, "As a man believes, so will he act." If you didn't believe that, then why practice Buddhism? Isn't that the entire point? We believe that the influence of Buddhist philosophy on our lives and the practice of Buddhism makes us better people. And we don't think another religion is as conducive to this goal as Buddhism, or we would practice the other religion that we deemed to be better than Buddhism. And of course, we have reasons we practice Buddhism. Most of us don't practice this because it was the religion of our parents. In fact, many of us practice this religion in direct opposition to what our parents would want. So, it has to be more than the default religion for us. The bottom line is that we believe it to work, or we wouldn't do it.

Most of us also believe that, naturally, if it works for us, it should work for others as well, and we think that by propagating Buddhism, we are helping other people and working to make people happy and the world a better place.

If we're honest with ourselves about it, the truth is that we believe that our religion has a real effect on our lives. We wouldn't do it if we didn't think so. The practice of Buddhism takes a considerable amount of effort to maintain, much more so than a faith-based religion, so it seems implausible to think a person would practice it without believing it had any effect on their lives.

But the thing is, if religion can have a profoundly positive effect, why can't it have a profoundly negative effect? There's just no reason it can't. What happens if your religion teaches you to be violent and hateful? If people can become better as a result of their religion, why can't they become worse from the influence of their religion?

It's controversial, and we all hate to make people upset, but this just has to be said to make the point. An example must be given. And this is both an example of the point that religion can act as a bad influence and an example of what shakubuku looks like in modern times.

Do you really think conservative Christians woke up one morning and, without being instructed to believe this way, thought "Hey, I've decided to hate all gay people"? It's naive to think people don't read the Bible, the word of God according to them, and follow its teachings. Or that it's mere coincidence that there are so many anti-gay Christians.

It says in the Bible that being gay is an abomination and that a person ought to be killed for it. That's why people believe it to be an abomination. And some people even believe we, as a society, should execute people who are gay. That's what the Bible tells us to do. "If a man lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and they shall surely be put to death."(Leviticus 20:13 English Standard Version) Lest one thinks the New Testament overturns these words, let us turn to Romans 1:26-27 "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

Think that's a bad translation? Switch to the King James Version. "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death" Romans says "And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another..." Think those are isolated references to the topic? Think again. It's also in Genesis, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Jude.

It's not just homosexuality, either. It's sexism, racism, and speciesism.

It is certainly the case that there are historical prejudices codified in the Bible. We're not accusing the Bible of inventing prejudice. We're accusing it of perpetuating and reinforcing it.

The Abrahamic religions in general are especially egregious offenders in two senses 1. Their text is more dark and violent than other religious texts and 2. worse than anything else, it's taught to be the word of God. If it were understood by all that a fallible human being, or human beings, wrote the Bible and that it is not a divine work inspired by a supernatural being, then people could toss it out, or chop it up, or even just point out what's wrong in it without having to couch the obvious problems in it in gentle language or make twisted arguments about the translation and the multiple meanings of a single word (when the entire context of the Bible is dark).

Prejudice isn't the only problem with the Bible. The Bible instructs people to kill other people, and even innocent animals, for all kinds of things from premarital sex to working on Sundays to merely being in the wrong city on the wrong day. It's loaded with hatred and violence from start to finish with only a break here and there for something comparatively sane.

It's true that some people only take from their religion the parts of it that are good. But they are performing a logical contradiction when they do so. They want the Bible to say what they believe, so they cherry pick from it, ignoring those passages they don't agree with or using twisted logic to try to assert that it doesn't really mean what it says.

Not everyone will do this. Some people will read it as is and believe it to be the holy word of God that must be followed. This comes down to the level of the individual. On the one hand, you have the practitioners that choose to follow the more compassionate views of secular society, but in so doing, they have to divorce themselves of logic when they think about religion. On the other hand, you have practitioners that follow the logic: "God said to do this, and God is omniscient, whereas I am a mere human with limited understanding. I therefore must follow what God instructed."

It doesn't make sense that people should have to make a choice between compassion and logic in their religious lives.

They don't. That's why we do shakubuku.

It is of practical importance that we include religion, side-by-side with other topics such as science, politics and ethics, into our debates. This is the teaching we're trying to spread. This is shakubuku. More than anything, it's the teaching that religion can and should be evaluated objectively. As a society, this is the direction we need to move in. We need to recognize religion's power over our lives and have open, even heated, discussion about it.

 
 
But Are People Converted Through that Method?

When we first began propagating the use of religious refutation, people said it wouldn't work, and it would lead to war. One person told us, "You catch more flies with honey." Since then, in the first decade of this century, the New Atheist Movement sprung up, with Sam Harris opening the discussion with his book, The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins making waves with the The God Delusion.

While we're on the subject of Sam Harris, we recommend watching a video (below) of Sam Harris talking about the importance of religious refutation. He doesn't mention this until the end of the video, as he's running out of time, but we should say it in the beginning for the sake of our audience. At the end, he says, "There is no doubt there are spiritual truths, there are spiritual experiences human beings can have." This is not just a passing comment or a platitude for him. He comes from Vipassana Buddhism and, though having discarded his his official affiliation with Vipassana, still strongly argues on behalf of the validity of the experiences one has through meditation and many other Buddhist principles.

As one example, he says in his book, Waking Up:

Religion is a term like sports: Some sports are peaceful but spectacularly dangerous ("free solo" rock climbing); some are safer but synonymous with violence (mixed martial arts); and some entail little more risk of injury than standing in the shower (bowling). To speak of sports as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do or the physical attributes required to do it. What do all sports have in common apart from breathing? Not much. The term "religion" is hardly more useful.

The esoteric doctrines found within every religious tradition are not all derived from the same insights. Nor are they equally empirical, logical, parsimonious, or wise. They don't all point to the same underlying reality -- and when they do, they don't do it equally well.

Making distinctions of this kind, however, is deeply unfashionable in intellectual circles. In my experience, people do not want to hear that Islam supports violence in a way that Jainism doesn't, or that Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated, empirical approach to understanding the human mind, whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding.

 

Did people like Harris, Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson and the others drive everyone away from atheism and toward theism? Quite the contrary.

A couple of decades ago, no one would admit to being an atheist out loud. It's still taboo in some circles, but now a host of TV characters are atheists. Atheism is now part of the conversation about religion, politics, and even sports. It wasn't even in our national discourse before. In addition to being the third largest "religion" in the world, non-religion is the second largest in the US, Canada, Britain, and several European countries.

Between 2005 (when Sam Harris first published The End of Faith followed a year later by Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion) and 2012, the percentage of people in the US who claimed to be convinced atheists rose 4%, from 1% to 5%. In the US in 2004, there were about 2.5 million self-declared atheists and agnostics. By 2012 there were 13 million. In 2018, there are 23 million. All in less than two decades of strident atheists taking the stage to refute mistaken ideologies.

A similar trend is occurring in Britain and Canada.

While Christianity and other religions are growing, they aren't growing faster than the rate at which they're having children. In other words, they aren't converting people from other religions for the most part. Only Islam and atheism are converting people from other religions to their religion. Those two groups also employ the most strident methods of propagation.

Meanwhile, the religion that usually employs the gentlest method of propagation on the planet, the one that typically doesn't say anything bad about other religions, assiduously practicing "peaceful means," is not only the last major religion on the list but is actually going backward according to Pew Research. More people are converting from Buddhism than are being born to Buddhist families or than are converting to it. Buddhism is the fastest declining religion in the world!

Why does it work this way? A few reasons, all due to social factors.

One reason is that the more people hear about others with their same views, the less afraid they are to hold them. Their views are reinforced by the comfort of not being alone.

Another reason is that people think very socially. They tend to adopt views that they hear a lot. So, the more often they hear of a point of view, the more likely they are to adopt it. This helps our species get along with others and survive through social cohesion. It can also cause us to be held back if society doesn't change views when needed.

The third reason is because we want to fit in somewhere. When we find a group of people who share our general outlook, we're more likely to hold firmly to it in order to be part of the group. There is a kind of reward system built in. If you question the group, you might not be liked as much. If you support the views of the group, you will make fast friends. This reward of being liked by others helps spread ideas.

When those on the fence felt alone in their views, they were more likely to shove their concerns about theism away into the deep recesses of their minds in order to get along better in society. But when Richard Dawkins asked staunch atheists to begin to speak out, as he did in The God Delusion, and a movement began to form, more and more people, seeing that there were others, felt emboldened to question their religions by the existence of others like them.

There is a famous classic psychological study called the Asch Conformity Experiment, named after the researcher, Solomon Asch. In the study, subjects where brought into a room with a group of other people. The subject was told that everyone in the room was in the same position as he, that they, too, were all subjects of the experiment. In reality, the rest of the people in the room were all actors.

The actors and the one subject of the experiment were all shown cards with three lines on them of different lengths. The lines were clearly, unambiguously different in length, so there was no room for different perspectives about which was longer or shorter. The experimenter showed the group another card with a line on it and asked the group which of the three lines matched the length of the line on the new card. He would start by getting the answers from the actors so that by the time the true subject was asked his opinion, he would have heard the answers of the rest of the group.

Given the simplicity of the question, the subject should have gotten the answer correct 100% of the time. However, the kink in the plan was that sometimes the actors would unanimously give the wrong answer, and this would confuse the subject. Sometimes the subjects would conform with the group and other times they would give the correct answer even when the group gave an incorrect answer.

So, what were the results? 75% of the people were swayed by the opinion of the group at least some of the time. Only 25% of the people defied the group in every case and consistently gave the correct answer.

What does this mean about propagation of religion? It means that 75% of the people will at least try to get along in whatever the religious climate is in the culture they live in. It also means that the 25% of the population who tend to defy cultural norms have to do it vocally for the sake of supporting those among the 75% who need social support to be confident in their own perceptions. It also means that once you get a large group going your way, giving the correct answers, even those who are unsure what the correct answer is but want to fit in with society will be more likely to also support the correct answers. This is how change happens.

We're not trying to spread atheism. We're trying to spread Buddhism. But all of the same principles that applied to the rise of atheism also apply to Buddhism.

 
 
Spiraling Up

Even if shakubuku isn't the best way to convert the most people, we don't have a choice about whether or not to do it. It's not because Nichiren said to do it or because he said no one could attain enlightenment if they don't do it, both of which are true. It's because of just basic cause and effect. Let us explain.

One of the resultant benefits of religious refutation is maintaining the purity of the teachings. This is especially important for minority religions that would otherwise become overwhelmed by majority opinion. In the case of Nichiren Buddhism, there has always been a threat of Nichiren's Buddhism becoming contaminated by the teachings of Tendai, Shingon, Nembutsu, Zen, and Theravada. In modern times, we can add Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity to that list. Many of the main teachings of those other religions are in direct contradiction to Nichiren Buddhism. If you were to let them become part of the teachings being spread within Nichiren Buddhism, you would lose Nichiren Buddhism. It would morph into something else. This has long been a concern.

Say, for instance, someone believes in the Christian God but they want to chant. You teach them Buddhism as best you can and encourage them to chant. You try to gently nudge them over time toward an understanding of cause and effect and life condition and teach them that they shouldn't look outside of themselves and that we're responsible for our own lives and our own situations, but it's to no avail. They somehow continually work out ways to insert God into their practice of Buddhism. For instance, they might say the Gohonzon is a way to commune with God.

Or you have a situation where a Theravada Buddhist starts practicing Nichiren Buddhism and also practices mindfulness, or maybe even only practices mindfulness meditation while claiming to be a Nichiren Buddhist. At the same time, they constantly say that the main benefit of practicing Buddhism is the realization that the self is an illusion. To be clear, Nichiren Buddhists typically find that the benefit of the realization that the self is an illusion is less impactful on your state of life, on your life condition, than can be achieved from chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. However, prioritizing his practice of mindfulness over his practice of chanting, he remains experientially unaware of the full range of the benefits associated with chanting. In this case, like the other, you try to gently nudge him toward spending as much time or more chanting as practicing silent meditation, but he ignores you and continues on in his own beliefs and practices.

Neither of these situations present much of a problem if it's just those two individuals believing what they want to believe in their private lives. If it was just about them as individuals, they could spend 100 or more years (kalpas?) letting go of their attachments so that they can try to practice Nichiren Buddhism for real without harming anyone or anything but themselves. The problem is that those people teach their friends Buddhism -- wrongly. And that might also not be a problem if they said "this is my personal belief" when they teach their own points of view. However, people tend to mix their points of view about religion with their teaching of Nichiren Buddhism without distinguishing between what is Nichiren Buddhism and what is their personal opinion. The next thing you know you have on your hands a majority of people who think Nichiren Buddhism is a conduit to God, involves the practice of mindfulness meditation, and results primarily in the realization that self is an illusion. That's where we start to have a problem. It's where Nichiren Buddhism gets lost.

Since the day Nichiren died, there has been a dispute in Nichiren Buddhism about whether it's more important to maintain the purity of the teachings or to let people believe whatever they want. This is the primary dispute that Nikko had with Nichiren Shu.

Very briefly, for those who don't know, Nikko was one of the six high priests appointed by Nichiren to take over the propagation of Buddhism after Nichiren's death. Over a period of time, Nikko observed the other priests engaging in activities and practices associated with other forms of Buddhism. It's hard to tell if the priests secretly believed in the other forms of Buddhism or if they did it as a means of propagating Buddhism. What they told Nikko was that by participating in and conducting religious ceremonies of other forms of Buddhism, they were appealing to the people and gaining acceptance among the government and the populace. As these divergences into other religions accumulated, Nikko became more and more impatient and ultimately left the other five priests to form his own temple at the base of Mount Fuji.

Nichiren Shu is the largest delineation of Nichiren Buddhism to have come out of the teachings of the five (or really four, since one priest went with Nikko) other high priests. Nichiren Shoshu is the largest delineation of Nichiren Buddhism to have followed the teachings of Nikko. Nichiren Shu is often referred to as the Minobu School (named after Mt Minobu, where Nichiren retired and set up his temple). Nichiren Shoshu is often called the Fuji school. Because Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu are so similar sounding, for the sake of the reader, we'll call Nichiren Shoshu the Fuji school and Nichiren Shu the Minobu school here.

For centuries, Minobu was the largest sect of Nichiren Buddhism in the world while the Fuji school stubbornly adhered to the spiritual and philosophical strictness of Nichiren and Nikko. Minobu is quite proud of the fact that they were the largest sect of Nichiren Buddhism in Japan and the world before Josei Toda (second president of the Soka Gakkai, who, by the way, employed an even more strident form of shakubuku than we're proposing) came along and spread Fuji school Nichiren Buddhism throughout Japan and then (under the third SGI President Daisaku Ikeda) the world. The way the Minobu school sees things, the fact that they were the largest and most respected sect meant that they were the most correct, fulfilling what they believed to be Nichiren's goal to win the support of the emperor and all of the people of Japan.

Fuji had a different mission and outlook. As they saw it, Minobu was accomplishing this goal by defiling the teachings of Nichiren. Fuji felt that, though they were smaller, they were philosophically more correct.

If you look at these two schools and what they teach today, you can see the upshot of this centuries-long difference in priority. To this day, Fuji is the only major school of Nichiren Buddhism that openly tries to convince its adherents to completely discard interfering or contradicting religious beliefs. The Minobu school says that they have a core doctrine but that they let people believe whatever they want. Fuji has become even more focused on Nichiren, teaching that he is in fact the "true Buddha" (as opposed to Shakyamuni), and urging their practitioners to follow only Nichiren. Minobu, on the other hand, is riddled with a contradicting patchwork philosophy of various religions and includes within it many teachings that diminish the efficacy of the core practice -- chanting to attain enlightenment. Like Theravada Buddhists, they tend to be more focused on intellectual-sounding philosophy and less on the spiritual benefits of the practice, an outcome that would be expected when a practice is less effective at producing actual results.

Were it not for the Fuji school's insistence on religious refutation, the only version of Nichiren Buddhism left in the world would be one in which it was taught that only Shakyamuni could attain the level of true Buddhahood while at the same time everyone else (whether they practice Buddhism or not) is a lesser Buddha (which is the view of pre-Nichiren, pre-ichinen-sanzen, forms of Buddhism). The entire purpose of Nichiren's teachings would be completely lost to the world.

The Soka Gakkai is somewhere in the middle, if anyone is wondering. They accept other religious beliefs but demand loyalty instead to the SGI president and the organization. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, one might conjecture that this is actually a strategy to maintain the purity without telling people they're being religiously strict. Somehow, it's more palatable to society to tell people you demand unrelenting adherence to a person but not to a set of religious beliefs. It's not really clear whether this is their true intent, though, because SGI actively publishes pro-Christian and Muslim points of view that attempt to merge and equate the Abrahamic religions with Nichiren Buddhism.

As it stands now, their core teachings on Buddhism aren't as problematic as Minobu's are, but they also haven't had centuries to veer off course like Minobu has. Just watching them in the last twenty years, you can see their trajectory. They are gradually adopting more and more points of view that contradict the teachings or experiential practices of Nichiren Buddhism. For instance, where their term "Human Revolution" used to refer to attaining Buddhahood through the practice of Buddhism, it now refers to becoming more socially aware of problems in the world, which is not a matter of spirituality at all. Entirely non-spiritual people, people who have never had a spiritual experience, can be just as socially aware as those who have had spiritual experiences. Together with this belief, they have also begun in some places to say that all people are Buddhas, a teaching which was only propagated by Minobu a few decades ago. The Fuji school staunchly rejects that teaching. It's one that sounds pleasant and accepting of other religions but is logically untenable if the word "Buddhahood" has any meaning at all.

And that gets to the heart of the matter. To us it's not so important that we maintain the purity of the teachings. What is important is that what we teach is the deepest, most meaningful, and most rational teaching humanity can dream up. The whole reason we practice Buddhism is because we think it's the best of what religion has to offer. And the reason we practice Nichiren Buddhism is because we think it has the deepest philosophy and the most efficacious practice that Buddhism has to offer.

In short, we're here for the high. Chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo elicits the best feeling there is. If that gets watered down, corrupted, or disappears, there is no reason to even bother practicing, much less propagating, Buddhism.

That's not to say that it can't be made better. Buddhism has been making itself better and better for thousands of years, and there are still things we can do to make it even better.

Good ideas like debate. Bad ideas like it when people don't talk too much and don't think too much. Bad ideas can flourish in an environment in which they aren't questioned. Good ideas like debate because it's where they win out over bad ideas.

If we want our practice of Buddhism to get worse and our teachings to get worse and worse over time, the best thing to do is to let people believe whatever they want to believe. If we want it to get better, we'll foster an environment that encourages analysis, critical thinking, and cool discussion, where ideas are laid out on the table and open to dispute.

People might think that the concern we would have from intellectual discourse is that spirituality would lose to intellectual ideas, that Buddhism would become all about intellectualism, and that the deeper aspects of religion, like the experiential benefit of chanting, would get lost. That's a valid concern. While that tends to be the case for theism, it doesn't have to be the case for Buddhism. Buddhism actually does something real. Theism, prayer, has some valid effects as well, but their religion is not focused on what is real, on the here and now. It's focused on whether there is a God and what he has to say to us. Our religion is not so. It is and has always been focused on what the real effect of the practice is on our lives. If we become good at what we do best, if we become good at making that case, we can easily defend Buddhism's version of spirituality in a rational way. What we mean by spirituality is not what the theist means by it. Our version is not only tenable, it's enlightening. We have already taught science a thing or two about the human mind, and we're not done yet. They still have a lot to learn.

Our true concern shouldn't be that rationality will force us to discard spirituality. Our true concern should be that bad religions will infect Nichiren Buddhism until Nichiren Buddhism becomes so untenable, so internally contradictory, and so ineffective that we become nearly as bad as the worst religions out there. Christianity, for instance, would not be able to survive a true cleansing of ineffective, harmful, and intellectually unsound ideas. However, the majority of the people practice it. We cannot let Christianity infuse Nichiren Buddhism with their bad ideas, or Nichiren Buddhism will become adulterated with their bad ideas, just as Minobu has. If we permit this to happen, the wonderful practice of Nichiren Buddhism will be lost. Then, no matter how many people practice it, it won't matter, since none of the practitioners will experience the true joy of what Nichiren Buddhism has to offer.

We should not allow Nichiren Buddhism to get worse by letting anyone believe any easily-overturned belief they want. We should only let Nichiren Buddhism get better through a focus on the joy of experiencing full Buddhahood and on reducing logical contradictions and being more intellectually sound.

 
 
The Doctrinal Debate
Some people criticize me, saying, "Nichiren does not understand the capacities of the people of the time, but goes around preaching in a harsh manner—that is why he meets with difficulties." Other people say, "The practices described in the 'Encouraging Devotion' chapter are for bodhisattvas who are far advanced in practice; [Nichiren ought to follow the practices of] the 'Peaceful Practices' chapter, yet he fails to do so." Others say, "I, too, know the Lotus Sutra is supreme, but I say nothing about it." Still others complain that I give all my attention to doctrinal teachings. I am well aware of all these criticisms against me. But I recall the case of Pien Ho, who had his legs cut off at the knee, and of Kiyomaro (Pure Man), who was dubbed Kegaremaro (Filthy Man) and almost put to death. All the people of the time laughed at them with scorn, but unlike those two men, those who laughed left no good name behind them. And all the people who level unjust criticisms at me will meet with a similar fate.
~ Nichiren, Letter from Teradomari

We don't think the true heart of the dispute about shakubuku is Nichiren's doctrine. Anyone that undergoes a cursory reading of Nichiren's writings should be able to see very clearly that Nichiren was very keen on religious debate. Because he was just one person against the whole of society, he counted on people changing their minds upon hearing his reasons for subscribing to his views rather than accepting the already-widespread practice and teachings of the Tendai school (which also revered the Lotus Sutra). One has to be extremely biased or engaging in intellectual dishonesty to argue that Nichiren didn't subscribe to the practice of shakubuku. That's why this section was relegated to the bottom of the page. However, since people have tried to find doctrinal reasons to excuse their refusal to employ shakubuku, we're begrudgingly offering a refutation of these claims.

We would also like to offer this suggestion: If you find yourself in a debate with us in which you are in disagreement with Nichiren about something, it's to your advantage to simply say you disagree with Nichiren and present your reasons. In our opinion, if Nichiren is genuinely wrong about something in reality, his point of view on that issue should be refuted and subsequently discarded. However, in the case of shakubuku, we happen to believe he's right, as outlined above.

Plus, it's just more intellectually honest to directly talk about what everyone is actually thinking than to feign blind adherence to Nichiren and then try to twist the words of Nichiren to conform to our personal opinions. Come on. No one really believes Nichiren ever said we shouldn't do shakubuku. This is all just a ruse. But okay. Let's play this game of pretend, where we all sit around the tea table with our stuffed bears and act like we're drinking tea and engaging in a serious doctrinal debate about this subject. Let's go down the line-up of doctrinal arguments we've heard levied against shakubuku and explain why each isn't valid.

 
 
We Have Use Shoju, Too

In The Opening of the Eyes, speaking of the practices of shoju and shakubuku, Nichiren states, "In the passage from On the Nirvana Sutra quoted earlier, Chang-an says, 'You should let your choices be fitting and never adhere solely to one or the other.'”

This is an oft-quoted passage from the gosho. Many Nichiren Buddhists know it by heart, so its meaning has come to be expanded beyond what Nichiren intended. He's technically talking about taking into account the teaching, capacity, time, and country, which we'll be addressing one at a time as we continue through the doctrinal arguments. However, it's often also used to say that we shouldn't refute people's religious beliefs constantly. There are generally times when we should let people be without arguing with them all of the time.

This is actually a valid point, and although Nichiren doesn't mention it specifically, he, himself, provides an example of such behavior. In several letters to his believers, he spoke to them as though he believed what they believed even though we know from other letters he decidedly did not. As an example, at times he refers to Buddhahood as the Pure Land, a place one goes to upon one's death. We know from his doctrinal writing, such as The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind, that he clearly believed that Buddhahood was a condition within and that he generally had difficulty convincing his audience of that point. In that writing, his questioner repeatedly asks him how it's possible that the Ten Worlds exists within oneself. For instance, at one point the questioner says, "The Buddha clearly explained that each of the Ten Worlds has the same Ten Worlds within itself. Nonetheless, I find it difficult to believe that our base hearts could be endowed with the world of Buddhahood." And of course, Nichiren responds to the questioner's doubts at length, making it quite clear what he truly thinks about the matter.

In practice, it would not be helpful to go around berating everyone we meet all of the time. We're not proposing that kind of exchange. We think it's more helpful to look at the way scientists present their ideas. One may not argue with one's family about whether evolution or climate change are real things at every family gathering, but that doesn't stop people from making a public case or publicly refuting the points made by those who are ignorant about or deny the evidence.

There are situations in which one may decide to try to gently persuade, and there are situations in which one may try to strongly state one's case against opposing viewpoints. There may also be certain people who should never debate religion, because they may not be knowledgeable enough or smart enough to do it. That's all fine as long as the schools of Buddhism to which they belong sometimes engage in critical analysis of religion publicly, making the case for why some ideas are better or worse than others.

Even when one is involved in a situation of direct confrontation, as we quoted from Nichiren above, we should try to behave as politely as possible while still making our points. Richard Dawkins displays proper behavior in many of his filmed exchanges with theists.

 

People might say, "What's the point of arguing, though? People never change their minds but instead become even more polarized. As pleasantly as Dawkins made his case, Rabbi Gluck still believes what he always had." You probably won't convince someone to change their minds if they're set in their views, but that isn't the point. The person who is set in their views often presents the best foil for you to make a counter-argument. If you have a "debate" with someone who largely agrees with you or hasn't given the matter much thought, they don't make a worthy opponent to help you present your best points against the opposing side's best points. Arguing with people who are set in their ways helps you to learn what the other side thinks, and it provides you an opportunity to make a case against it for those that are open to being persuaded.

 
 
Use Buddhism to Refute Them

The case has been made that Nichiren never meant for shakubuku to be applied to any religion other than Buddhism. His arguments tend to revolve around the time and the country, so he's generally speaking of the majority opinion of whatever the country is at the time you're trying to propagate Buddhism. Taking all of that together, this argument would posit that in a country where the majority religion is not Buddhism, only shoju should be used. There aren't that many Buddhist countries in the world. There are so few, I can list them here. Japan (possible, depending upon how one counts a believer), Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Laos. Based on this argument, unless you live in one of those countries, you should not employ shakubuku.

Why do they think that was Nichiren's viewpoint? We've heard four reasons: 1. Nichiren rarely ever spoke about any religion other than Buddhism. 2. In The Opening of the Eyes, he says, "When the country is full of evil people without wisdom, then shōju is the primary method to be applied, as described in the 'Peaceful Practices' chapter. But at a time when there are many people of perverse views who slander the Law, then shakubuku should come first, as described in the 'Never Disparaging' chapter.... In the Latter Day of the Law, however, both shōju and shakubuku are to be used. This is because there are two kinds of countries, the country that is passively evil, and the kind that actively seeks to destroy the Law. We must consider carefully to which category Japan at the present time belongs." 3. Nichiren frequently talks about shakubuku in association with enemies or people who slander the Lotus Sutra. 4. Non-Buddhists, knowing little about Buddhism, haven't formed a prejudice against it. Let us address each point.

As for point 1. It only makes sense that Nichiren would talk mostly about the religions that were popular among his audience. It would seem odd for him to talk about Brahmanism when no one, or nearly no one he knew, practiced it. He would not have even known about the Abrahamic religions.

However, he does make a few references to other religions, usually in a passively insulting way, as if no one in his audience would even blink at the assumption that the non-Buddhist teachings were all inferior to Buddhist teachings, which was probably the case in his culture. As an example, he says in The Opening of the Eyes, "Over a period of countless lifetimes, people are deceived as often as there are sands in the Ganges, until they [abandon their faith in the Lotus Sutra and] descend to the teachings of the provisional Mahayana sutras, abandon these and descend to the teachings of the Hinayana sutras, and eventually abandon even these and descend to the teachings and scriptures of the non-Buddhist doctrines."

The Opening of the Eyes isn't anything close to the only place he makes such remarks about non-Buddhist teachings, but it's a more interesting case for the purposes of this argument, because it opens with a rather lengthy dissertation on all of the things wrong with all of the non-Buddhist teachings Nichiren would have been familiar with -- in other words, religious refutation of non-Buddhist teachings.

Furthermore, there are places where Nichiren is debating with an imaginary audience in which he appears to be trying to convince his audience that people need to start refuting the Buddhist teachers of Japan.

For instance, in the Rissho Ankoku Ron the guest interrogates him for claiming that Japan is a country that opposes Buddhism:

Prince Jōgū, having put down the rebellion of Moriya [an opponent of Buddhism], proceeded to construct temples and pagodas. Since that time, from the ruler on down to the common people, all have worshiped the Buddha images and devoted their attention to the scriptures. As a result, in the monasteries of Mount Hiei and the southern capital at Nara, at the temples of Onjō-ji and Tō-ji, throughout the land bounded by the four seas, in the five provinces of the capital area and along the seven marches, Buddha images and Buddhist scriptures have been ranged like stars in the sky, and halls of worship have spread like clouds.... How, then, can anyone say that the teachings of the Buddha’s lifetime are despised, or that the three treasures of Buddhism have ceased to exist?

In The Opening of the Eyes his critical questioner asks, "When you berate the followers of the Nembutsu and Zen schools and arouse their enmity, what merit does that bring?" and "Moreover, it is said in the 'Peaceful Practices' chapter of the Lotus Sutra, 'He should not delight in speaking of the faults of other people or scriptures. He should not display contempt for other teachers of the Law.' It is because you are going against this passage in the sutra that you have been abandoned by heaven, is it not?"

In other words, it seems as though the people of his era were saying to him that shakubuku is not appropriate in his country, since all of Japan was a Buddhist country. He appears to be trying to make the case not that we should only apply shakubuku to Buddhists but that we should include Buddhists in our refutations of bad religions.

Here are some of the things he says about applying religious refutation to non-Buddhists:

One therefore must always consider the country when propagating the Buddhist teachings.... In a country where non-Buddhist teachings have already spread, one should use Buddhism to refute them. For example, the Buddha appeared in India and defeated the non-Buddhists; Kāshyapa Mātanga and Chu Fa-lan went to China and called the Taoists to task.
~ Nichiren, Encouragement to a Sick Person

Here is an example from Letter from Sado:

In an age when Confucianism or Taoism is used to suppress Shakyamuni’s teachings, one should risk one’s life to remonstrate with the emperor, as did the Dharma teachers Tao-an and Hui-yüan and the Tripitaka Master Fa-tao.

Here is an example from Letter from Teradomari:

This passage from the Nirvana Sutra recounts the evil words that the various non-Buddhists spoke against Shakyamuni Buddha because he refuted the scriptures preached by their original teachers, the two deities and the three ascetics.... Observing the situation when the Buddha was in the world and comparing it with the situation since his passing, we may say that the scholars of the various schools in the world today are like the non-Buddhists of the Buddha’s time.... The non-Buddhists, having incorrectly received and transmitted the teachings of the earlier Buddhas, displayed hostility toward the later Buddha, Shakyamuni. The scholars of the various schools today are just the same. In effect, they have let their own way of understanding the Buddha’s teachings lead them into erroneous views."

Here's another example from Letter to Horen:

At present it would appear that the people of Japan put faith in the teachings of the Buddha. But in ancient times, before the Buddhist teachings were introduced to this country, people knew nothing about either the Buddha or his teachings. It was only after the battle between Moriya and Prince Jōgū that some people took faith in Buddhism, though others did not.

The situation was similar in China. After Mātanga had introduced Buddhism to China, he held a debate with the Taoists. When the Taoists were defeated in debate, then for the first time there were people who put their faith in Buddhism, though there were many more who did not.

This is from Letter to Shomitsu-bo:

Long ago, the non-Buddhist doctrines spread throughout the five regions of India and prevailed there for eight hundred or a thousand years, so that everyone, from the wheel-turning kings on down to the common people, bowed their heads in reverence. And yet all its ninety-five schools were from first to last refuted by the Buddha.

And of course, we can't move on without quoting from The Opening of the Eyes again:

Before Buddhism was brought to China, Confucianism and Taoism were rather naive and childish affairs. But in the Later Han, Buddhism was introduced to China and challenged the native doctrines.

As to the second point, the question at hand is what is meant by a "passively evil" country versus a country that "actively seeks to destroy the Law." At face value, "actively seeking to destroy the Law" sounds like there should be mobs of men with torches and pitchforks marching on our Buddhist meetings. However, that sort of activity didn't happen to Nichiren until after he refuted the teachings of Nembutsu and True Word. He didn't decide to do shakubuku because they had done things of that nature. It was for another reason.

He makes this statement in response to a question raised by his imaginary opponent in the writing. The questioner is interrogating him about whether it's appropriate to use shakubuku against "teachers of the Law." In other words, Nichiren thinks his readers might possibly be thinking that the last place you'd practice shakubuku is in a country filled with Buddhist teachers. Here is the question from his imaginary reader:

Question: You insist that the followers of the Nembutsu and Zen schools will fall into the hell of incessant suffering. This shows that you have a contentious heart. You yourself are in danger of falling into the realm of the asuras. Moreover, it is said in the “Peaceful Practices” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “He should not delight in speaking of the faults of other people or scriptures. He should not display contempt for other teachers of the Law.” It is because you are going against this passage in the sutra that you have been abandoned by heaven, is it not?

Nichiren replies with this quote, saying "We must consider carefully to which category Japan at the present time belongs." At this point, the reader is still probably thinking that Japan falls into the category of passively evil, because Nichiren has yet to make his case. He's just saying "let's look at it."

He expands on the matter by first saying that Shakyamuni told us to refute and convert "evil persons who go against the correct teaching." Then he makes his case that the Buddhist priests of Japan have done just that.

He explains a few paragraphs down in The Opening of the Eyes,

Hōnen denied the worth of the Lotus Sutra now that the world has entered the Latter Day of the Law, saying that “not a single person has ever attained Buddhahood” through that sutra, and that “not even one person in a thousand” can be saved by its teachings. Dainichi for his part claimed that the true teachings of Buddhism had been transmitted apart from the sutras. These two doctrines have now spread throughout the entire country.

So, it would seem as though he is saying that if there are teachers in the country who say that no one can attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra, then we should refute them. Otherwise, we should leave them alone and allow them to spread their teachings, however erroneous, throughout the world without saying a word about it.

Are there Christians saying that the Lotus Sutra specifically doesn't lead to enlightenment? No. It's worse than that, because non-Buddhists aren't even up to the level to have such discussions. What they're saying is that there is no such thing as enlightenment. So, they are saying that no teaching leads to enlightenment, Buddhist or otherwise.

What's worse is that the major sects of Buddhism, such as SGI, Nichiren Shu, and Tibetan Buddhism, rather than correcting this mistaken view, have begun to yield to the Christian perspective in order to maintain positive relations.

It's similar to the situation Nichiren describes in his next sentence, "The learned priests of the Tendai and True Word schools fawn on the lay supporters of the Nembutsu and Zen schools the way a dog wags its tail before its master or fear them the way a mouse fears a cat."

This is the practical problem with not practicing shakubuku. You have to stick to your guns about what is true and false or you permit the most powerful and widespread beliefs to erase correct beliefs from human discourse.

We covered in what ways our situation is like Nichiren's to give SGI's interpretation of the passage the benefit of the doubt. However, we do not believe Nichiren's intent was to make the case that you should only do shakubuku when the people are directly attacking the Lotus Sutra. His follow-up defense was specifically related to his particular circumstances in Japan. He was arguing with potential critics.

If that were the only passage in all of the goshos about shakubuku, we wouldn't even be talking about shakubuku, for one thing, but also, we would have to rely on what he says about Japan specifically to figure out if it applies to us. But that is not even close to the only time he discusses the matter. There are dozens of goshos that discuss this subject. And so, taken together, we can get a pretty clear picture of all of the circumstances in which he believes we should do shakubuku and what he envisions a "passively evil" country to look like versus all of the various ways a country might "actively seek to destroy the Law." There isn't just one way.

In Nichiren's view, a country that actively seeks to destroy the Law is a country in which mistaken teachings flourish and interfere with people practicing the Lotus Sutra and thereby attaining enlightenment. This is clear by his numerous descriptions and examples of cases where shakubuku have been appropriately employed.

In On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings he says:

In this age, the provisional teachings have turned into enemies of the true teaching. When the time is right to propagate the teaching of the one vehicle, the provisional teachings become enemies. When they are a source of confusion, they must be thoroughly refuted from the standpoint of the true teaching.

Although Nichiren is talking about the provisional teachings of Buddhism, it makes no sense to think that it would apply to Buddhism but not to a teaching lower than provisional Buddhism. For instance, in On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime he says,

Nevertheless, even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching. “Inferior teaching” means those other than this [Lotus] sutra, which are all expedient and provisional. No expedient or provisional teaching leads directly to enlightenment, and without the direct path to enlightenment you cannot attain Buddhahood, even if you practice lifetime after lifetime for countless kalpas.

He defines an inferior teaching as any that doesn't lead to enlightenment. Does Christianity lead to enlightenment?

In Letter of Petition from Yorimoto, Nichiren quotes his disciple Sammi-ko debating Ryūzō-bō of the Tendai school (emphasis ours):

If you, with your limited knowledge of Buddhist doctrines, preach in an attempt to save people, then surely you and your followers will fall into the hell of incessant suffering. You had better reconsider such preaching from this day forth. I had not felt that I should speak in this way; but I, too, cannot be exempted from the Buddha’s warning that, if one sees a misguided priest sending others into hell with his evil teachings and fails to reproach that priest and expose his errors, then one is oneself betraying the Buddha’s teaching. Moreover, I feel pity that all those, both high and low, who listen to your preaching will fall into the evil paths. Therefore, I am speaking out in this way. Is not a person of wisdom one who admonishes the ruler when the country is endangered or corrects others’ mistaken views? But in your case, no matter what error you may see, you will no doubt refuse to correct it for fear of society’s reaction.

Although Ryūzō-bō is a priest of Japan, he is not one of the priests opposing or slandering the Lotus Sutra, except in the sense of complicity for not speaking out against slanderers. Yet, Sammi-ko still engages him in debate during a question and answer session. And you can see in Sammi-ko's explanation for having called out Ryūzō-bō his understanding of what Nichiren taught him, that if someone sees a "misguided priest," one must speak out for the sake of all of the people that the priest would mislead. That Nichiren quotes Sammi-ko seems to suggest that Sammi-ko didn't misrepresent Nichiren's views. In other words, the criteria for whether to use shakubuku appears to be whether the teaching in question will result in the suffering of the people. That being the case, (using Nichiren's own language) we must consider carefully to which category Christianity at the present time belongs.

And Nichiren makes quite plain in A Conversation between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man in what kind of environment we should employ the practice of shakubuku:

But the time for shakubuku is very different from this. It is a time when many different sutras and teachings spring up here and there like so many orchids and chrysanthemums, when the various schools command a large following and enjoy renown, when truth and error stand shoulder to shoulder, and when Mahayana and Hinayana dispute which is superior. At such a time, one must set aside all other affairs and devote one’s attention to rebuking slander of the correct teaching. This is the practice of shakubuku.

Is it not the case in our time that neither the religious teachers nor the people can tell whether Buddhism is superior to Christianity?

A passively evil country refers to a country that practices the Lotus Sutra and makes minor mistakes. It seems that the time to practice shoju exclusively is a time of peace, when the people listen to reason, and teachers of the Lotus Sutra are held in esteem by the entire nation. In other words, at such a time, there would be no reason to argue with bad or harmful beliefs, because those beliefs are not flourishing throughout the land.

In On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings he says, "Now, when the true and the provisional teachings are utterly confused, it would be equally unnatural for one to seclude oneself in the mountain forests and carry out the peaceful practice of shōju without refuting the enemies of the Lotus Sutra."

In other words, the time to practice shoju is a time when the true and provisional teachings are not confused. This is definitely not that time or that country.

Quoting from the same passage from A Conversation between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man, Nichiren says about the time to employ shoju:

Shōju is to be practiced when throughout the entire country only the Lotus Sutra has spread, and when there is not even a single misguided teacher expounding erroneous doctrines. At such a time, one may retire to the mountain forests, practice meditation, or carry out the five, the six, or the ten practices.

In Encouragement to a Sick Person, he says, "Now is the time when, because the impurity of thought prevails, more people fall into the evil paths with the intention of creating good causes than they do by committing evil.... You should understand from the above that even if one performs a good deed, should it be an act of lesser good that destroys great good, it will cause one to fall into the evil paths."

The time for shakubuku is a time when people cannot distinguish between which acts are good and which are evil. The time for shoju is a time when people can distinguish good from evil.

As to the third point, obviously people who outright oppose the propagation of the Lotus Sutra would be its enemies. However, in the world, we have witting and unwitting enemies.

For instance, in our society, although most Christians don't even know enough about Buddhism to outright oppose it, their teachings inhibit the ability of people to attain enlightenment. One way they do this is by the simple process of keeping people from practicing Buddhism because they're too busy practicing Christianity. Another way they do this is by teaching people that spirituality is gifted to us through devotion to an external force. And, much like other forms of Buddhism, they teach that the heights of spirituality are something lesser than what is in fact possible, thus encouraging people to aspire for something less than Buddhahood. Then, of course, there are the Christians that know enough about Buddhism to outright oppose it.

We're not so far from Nichiren on this point. He says in Letter from Teradomari, "Persons who show no desire to hear or believe in the Lotus Sutra or who say that it does not match their capacity, though they may not actually slander it in so many words, are all to be regarded as persons of hatred and jealousy."

But even if that weren't the case, even if we say it's too harsh to call Christianity an enemy of Buddhism, there is no reason that shakubuku can't be applied to those ideas that aren't direct enemies of Buddhism. Nichiren not only never explicitly states that shakubuku is reserved for hostile aggressors, such as Hei no Saemon, but he says that we should apply shakubuku in any situation in which there are erroneous teachings being spread.

He also says that doing shakubuku is what invites the hostility from opponents. The point is that he isn't saying to wait until opposition arises to start doing shakubuku but that shakubuku is what causes the opposition. When you think about it, that makes the most sense, doesn't it? We're sometimes led to believe that Hei no Saemon tried to have Nichiren arrested and executed because Nichiren was chanting alone in his hut minding his own business. Nichiren was never so deluded as to think he did nothing to invite antagonism, and neither should we be.

In The Opening of the Eyes, he explains,

I understand all too well how, in the end, people have come in this way to fall into the evil paths.

I, Nichiren, am the only person in all Japan who understands this. But if I utter so much as a word concerning it, then parents, brothers, and teachers will surely censure me, and the ruler of the nation will take steps against me. On the other hand, I am fully aware that if I do not speak out I will be lacking in compassion. I have considered which course to take in the light of the teachings of the Lotus and Nirvana sutras. If I remain silent, I may escape persecutions in this lifetime, but in my next life I will most certainly fall into the hell of incessant suffering. If I speak out, I am fully aware that I will have to contend with the three obstacles and four devils. But of these two courses, surely the latter is the one to choose.

Now we're to the last point. Point 4. SGI's definition of shoju says, "The shōju method was generally employed in the Former Day and Middle Day of the Law, but is also used in the Latter Day among those who have little or no knowledge of, or no prejudices against, Buddhism."

So far, no people have made the case that we shouldn't use shoju in the US because there is no prejudice against Buddhism, but we're bringing this up ourselves to get out ahead of it in case it's a belief out there or could become one.

First, as we have established above, doctrinally speaking, the time to exclusively use shoju is not when there is no prejudice but rather when truth and error don't stand shoulder to shoulder, people aren't confused about which is greater and which is lesser, there is not a single misguided teacher in the country, and everyone in the country practices the Lotus Sutra.

Second, even if it were the case that only shoju should be used in cases in which there was no prejudice, anyone that has been practicing Buddhism any length of time and has tried to convert people out in society should know that there is widespread prejudice against Buddhism. Many are not prejudiced, but many are. The reason I say that is because the majority (72%) of people in the US believe in angels , 61% believe in Satan, 64% say they believe in hell. 41% believe in the second coming of Christ, and one who believes in the second coming of Christ probably also has some thoughts about Buddhism that aren't too positive.

Since we started NBAA, we've had people stand outside of our meetings and tell people we're Satanists, had people write that we're Satanic on pictures of us at work, and gotten emails from Christians telling us we're going to burn in hell. We've observed kids who practice Buddhism get harassed by their peers in school, sometimes to the point of denouncing their practice. Shannon herself was taunted in school on occasion for being a Buddhist. Shannon was unfazed by such things at that time, but some kids may not be, and the point is that it happens. We've also been teased and taunted as adults. For instance, one guy made a joke about the fruit on the altar, "Is the scroll going to wake up in the middle of the night and eat it?" Ha ha, right? How clever.

We've had family members try to convert us to Christianity and even attempt to trick us into praying to God. They have also worried aloud -- argued, shouted, and even cried -- about their fears that we will burn in hell for eternity if they can't convince us to stop practicing Buddhism. David's father tried on his deathbed to get David to promise to convert. This might have worked on a new Buddhist or someone less devout.

Even SGI has had this problem, which is why they don't like to get too much media attention. Almost every time the media publishes an article about them, it seems to want to paint them as a money-grubbing cult. Although there are a lot of ways in which we disagree with SGI, as anyone knows we aren't fans, one thing we know SGI is not is money-grubbing. They want to persuade you to take up their cause, yes, and they need money to operate, yes, but they aren't trying to get rich off of you. This is something we're certain about. As to President Ikeda, he is rich because of SGI, but we don't think that's his primary goal, either. But even if he is trying to get rich from you buying his books, SGI is not trying to get rich from your donations. So that is a false perception of them that the US media has been trying to paint for decades. Back in the 90s, Hardcopy aired a show about SGI painting it as a dangerous cult.

And then there's Indiana Jones. Do you remember the scene in which the demonic cult people were all chanting in the Temple of Doom? That's what many people think of when they hear or see chanting.

And it isn't just Christians. Atheists call chanting, and especially the idea of Buddhist enlightenment, "woo." And the Koran teaches that anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Abrahamic religions (doesn't believe in any gods, much less the Abrahamic God) should be killed. In geographic areas where there are majority populations of Muslims mixed together with significant numbers of Buddhists, the Buddhists are killed or there is war.

We don't want to generate a persecution complex in people. We're not Jewish in Nazi Germany. The point is that there aren't many places in the world in which people have never heard of Buddhism and haven't formed prejudices against it.

 
 
Yes, It's the Right Time

Many people say that this isn't the right time to do shakubuku, that Nichiren lived in a different time period than we do. This is a very confusing argument. It's not that we don't know that the Middle Ages in Japan was, in terms of what secular life was like, a very different culture to live in. It's that the argument of "time" is a doctrinal one that has nothing at all to do with the Middle Ages versus modern times. Now, depending on what they mean, we can discuss either the more commonly understood, secular understanding of time periods or the Buddhist doctrinal discussion about time. Separately, it's no problem to debate either view. The problem is that we think that the people who make this argument may have mixed them together when in reality there is no way they can be mixed.

Here's where the confusion is occurring. Nichiren routinely talks about time. In a discussion on when to use shoju or shakubuku, he says in The Opening of the Eyes, "In the passage from On the Nirvana Sutra quoted earlier, Chang-an says, 'You should let your choices be fitting and never adhere solely to one or the other.' And T’ien-t’ai, as we have seen, declared that 'the method chosen should be that which accords with the time.' If it is not, you will be like someone who plants seeds at the end of autumn. Though you may carefully tend the field, you are not likely to harvest any rice or grain." This analogy about harvesting is well-known and frequently used in his writings. Also very well-known is the passage in which says, "the method chosen should be that which accords with the time." There is an entire writing on the subject of time called The Selection of Time.

This is where we think people become confused. They might hear these passages and think they refer to the normal kind of time that they have learned outside of Buddhism. However, Nichiren is talking about different spans of time that are associated with different aspects of culture. Specifically, Nichiren is referring to the Former Day, Middle Day, and Latter Day of the Law. We are currently in the Latter Day of the Law, as was Nichiren. We'll discuss this more further down.

Because the most common source of this claim comes from those that argue that the Middle Ages is a different time period, and because we think that in reality no one actually cares what Nichiren thought for the sake of knowing what he thought, let us start with the secular perspective on time. For the doctrinal discussion of time, please see the next section, "The Teaching, Capacity, Time, and Country."

The argument goes that in Nichiren's time period, especially in Kamakura Japan, people were much more violent physically (they tried to kill Nichiren repeatedly) and much more likely to engage in religious disputes. Compared to the modern world, none of that is true. However, compared to modern America, the first part is true. None of us fear for our lives, at least not from the government.

This seems to be associated with the question of the country. Again, it goes back to the one quote SGI uses from The Opening of the Eyes to defend their general opposition to shakubuku. In short, they are saying that we don't have to endure persecution, so there's no one to fight. However, as we argued earlier, Nichiren didn't believe that persecution was the reason for doing shakubuku but the result of it. Although in our case we probably won't be killed for doing shakubuku, it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Nichiren didn't think, "If I do shakubuku, they'll try to kill me. Therefore, I should do it. If I didn't think they would try to kill me, I wouldn't do it." It seems kind of insane to think like that, right? He didn't. In fact, there is proof that he didn't.

In The Workings of Brahma and Shakra, Nichiren wrote that T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo, who we know engaged in religious debates, did not suffer the same kind of violent persecution from the government that Nichiren did. Thus, the likelihood of persecution is not the deciding factor as to whether one should engage in religious refutation. Here's the passage we're referring to:

The great teachers T’ien-t’ai and Dengyō would appear to have been votaries of the Lotus Sutra, but they did not meet persecutions as severe as the Buddha did in his lifetime. They encountered only minor opposition—T’ien-t’ai from the three schools of the south and seven schools of the north, and Dengyō from the seven major temples of Nara. Neither of them was persecuted by the ruler of the state, attacked by sword-brandishing multitudes, or abused by the entire nation. [According to the Lotus Sutra,] those who believe in the Lotus Sutra after the Buddha’s passing will suffer obstacles more terrible than those of the Buddha. Yet neither T’ien-t’ai nor Dengyō met oppression as harsh as what the Buddha did, let alone persecutions that were greater or more numerous.

One true difference between his time period and ours is that we live in the age of Postmodernism. Most people aren't consciously aware of it, but they do know what the people of this time period believe. Generally speaking, in a postmodern world, people believe that truth is relative, that one person's falsehood is another person's truth. This has interfered with scientific advancement, by the way, and a few scientists have taken aim against postmodernism. As this applies to religion, the view holds that religion should not be openly discussed or debated, since there are no truths to be known and it can only lead to discord. This is in contrast with the Age of Enlightenment, which we just came out of, in which people strongly believed that there are truths to be known and that through debate, evidence, and scientific research, we can find these truths.

Here's a description of this time period from Wikipedia: "Postmodernism is a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late-20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture.... While encompassing a disparate variety of approaches, postmodernism is typically defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward the meta-narratives and ideologies of modernism, and often calls into question various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality. Common targets of postmodern critique include universalist notions of objective reality, morality, truth, human nature, reason, language, and social progress.... Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to self-referentiality, epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, subjectivism, and irreverence."

Notice the term "relativism." The term refers to two important things for us and for religion in general: moral relativism and religious relativism. While the philosophy of moral relativism is a problem for every religion, including Buddhism, and even science and the secular study of ethics, it's tangential to this discussion. Let us zero in on religious relativism.

Religious relativism maintains that there are no truths to be known about religion. What seems to be true for one person or culture may not be true for another person or culture. Nothing about religion can be asserted as objectively true.

Postmodernism is a philosophical position devoid of reason, but then that's not much of an insult to them, since they don't believe in the use of reason. In fact, they think those of us who believe in logic and evidence and reason are from a barbaric past age when people still thought there were things that were objectively true about the universe.

Postmodernism had invaded every aspect of our discourse for several years, decades, actually. Some of it still lingers out there but, fortunately, due to a convergence of events, such as the rise of atheism and science, the rise of anti-science leaders, and the election of Donald Trump, fewer and fewer people seem to be making a case that there is no such thing as objective truth.

Despite the fact that we might find ourselves in a time period in which people mistakenly believe that there is no such thing as truth and that it is therefore pointless and even mean to talk as though there is, the reality of the universe is that there in fact is such a thing as truth. The people might for some reason decide to be less tolerant of reason and evidence, but that is not a reason for us to stop using reason and evidence. There could never be a case in which it could be argued that Buddhism as a whole should discard reason and evidence, even if the entire world were to suddenly decide to outlaw the discussion of such things.

Of all of the religions, Buddhism has been the most closely aligned with reason and with experimental evidence (does this method of meditation work better or worse than this other one?) even during times when other religions were arguing that we should blindly adhere to the words of deities. We, alone, have always stood on the side of reason, and it would be a shame if we ever stopped in any age.

 
 
The Teaching, Capacity, Time, and Country

The teaching, capacity, time, and country, along with the five guides of propagation, primarily discuss when and where a particular religion or philosophy should be propagated. In brief, the theory goes that the people go from lower teachings to higher teachings. In other words, Christianity might have been appropriate two thousand years ago, but today the people should get past that and move on to more profund teachings. Basically, Nichiren argues that in all cases, we should teach the Lotus Sutra, no matter what the country is or what teachings have been taught. None of this has anything to do with our current discussion, because we think there isn't anyone at this point claiming that the United States or the planet as a whole is not suited to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. (Now that it's here, that will probably be the next argument against us.)

The point people are making pertains to the right time and the right country not to propagate the Lotus Sutra but to practice shakubuku. So, let's discuss that.

The time is the same for all of us. In the sense that Nichiren means it, the time is the Latter Day of the Law (Mappo). What that means is that it's been more than 2,000 years since Shakaymuni lived. It means that all of the people around the world, or pretty much everyone, is civilized, knows about art, culture, and language. Buddhism has spread far and wide but has since begun to dwindle away. Some argue that at one time it was the most practiced religion in the world . People will be capable of understanding the deepest of teachings but will not be forthright and intellectually honest enough to engage in civilized discourse with the intent of judging truth from error and responding appropriately. It is because of this last fact that people should be taught the deepest teaching but that the propagation method of shoju alone can't work in this time period. People don't change religions these days by sitting down together with a cup of tea and coming to a consensus about which religion is the deepest and most tenable one.

So, in the sense that Nichiren speaks of, we're all in the same time period no matter what country we live in or whether we live now, 800 years ago, or 800 years into the future. Unless a meteor hits the Earth, wipes out humanity, and we have to start our whole civilization over again from cave man days, we will always be living in the Latter Day of the Law (Mappo).

Nichiren says in On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings, "The four peaceful practices [in the 'Peaceful Practices' chapter] correspond to shōju. To carry them out in this age would be as foolish as sowing seeds in winter and expecting to reap the harvest in spring."

When he uses the word "age," he's referring to the Latter Day of the Law (Mappo). We know this because that's the context of the discussion in that part of the writing.

Since this is in English, chances are that if you're reading this, you live in a Christian country. That's the kind of country you live in in the sense we're talking about here. It's a non-Buddhist, theistic country that has had little exposure to Buddhism. What should one do in that sort of country? We've already discussed this topic extensively above, but well leave you with a final quote from Encouragement to a Sick Person

In a country where non-Buddhist teachings have already spread, one should use Buddhism to refute them. For example, the Buddha appeared in India and defeated the non-Buddhists; Kāshyapa Mātanga and Chu Fa-lan went to China and called the Taoists to task.
 
 
The Lotus Sutra Is Shakubuku

Because of the nature of the opposition, we're doing something that isn't intellectually honest. We're breaking out Nichiren's words and intents into little bits and segments. That's because the opposition is doing that to support their own views, so we in turn have to prove that their definition of this phrase or that doesn't mean what they claim. In this case, there is something Nichiren does in his writing that is clear in his writing but doesn't stand out quite as well when you break all of these sentences out into little bits. In other words, in looking at his writing with a microscope, we're missing the whole animal.

What he does that hasn't been seen yet in this discussion but must be mentioned is merge the practice of the Lotus Sutra with the practice of shakubuku. In other words, in any case in which you would practice the Lotus Sutra, you would practice shakubuku. And the practice of shakubuku is practicing the Lotus Sutra.

In On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings, he says, "With good reason T’ien-t’ai stated, 'The Lotus Sutra is the teaching of shakubuku, the refutation of the provisional doctrines.'... Now, when the true and the provisional teachings are utterly confused, it would be equally unnatural for one to seclude oneself in the mountain forests and carry out the peaceful practice of shōju without refuting the enemies of the Lotus Sutra. One would lose the chance to practice the Lotus Sutra."