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ANSWERING JOHN WELDON ON NICHIREN BUDDHISM John Weldon, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher for the John Ankerberg Show.

His M.A. thesis for Simon Greenleaf University comprised a critique of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Noel Singleton, RN is an aspiring writer, nurse and medical editor who practices Nichiren Buddhism as a member of the widely respected organization Soka Gakkai International. The following is the concluding portion of an article, “Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, Mystical Materialism for the Masses,” by John F. Weldon characterizing my religion quite critically from the standpoint of Christian apologetics. I have attempted to answer his assertions, which deprecate the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. My remarks are distinguished from his by use of boldface and will be set off with a paragraph break. Some other paragraph breaks are inserted throughout for improved clarity, and I have deleted the numbers that referred to Weldon’s footnotes, not included here. Where clarification of mine seems necessary within Weldon’s commentary, I will set it off with brackets. It should be noted that, whereas Weldon refers to “Nichiren Shoshu” or “NS” throughout, Nichiren Shoshu is in my estimation less relevant than it may have been at the time of Weldon’s thesis (1992). My defense is not of that priestly sect but of the “school” that is Soka Gakkai International, a lay organization thankfully distinct from Nichiren Shoshu; however, I will not labor that point here. Soka Buddhists are, if anything, more sympathetic to Christian and theistic faiths than the priests. While the entire article cries out for rebuttal, I have undertaken a reply only to its latter portion, wherein he attacks most urgently. Dr. Weldon: Jesus Christ and Salvation Statements [in Nichiren Shoshu or Soka Gakkai literature] about Jesus Christ are usually general and given within a Buddhist context. For example: “Because of his love, Jesus of Nazareth is comparable to a Bodhisattva,” that is, one full of compassion who sacrifices himself to help others attain “enlightenment” (i.e., Buddhahood). Thus, Nichiren Shoshu rejects the biblical portrait of Christ’s person and mission, that is, His unique deity (John 1:1; 3:16, 18; 10:30, 33) and His atoning death (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7). For example: “Jesus died on the Cross. This fact shows that he was defeated by opposition, whatever interpretation posterity may have given to this fact….”

Granted, Nichiren Buddhism does not subscribe to the central tenets of Christianity and of course draws little or nothing from the Bible. Weldon further iterates this unsurprising property of a non-Christian religion: While the Bible teaches that “there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:15), who is “the Savior of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10), Nichiren Shoshu teaches that it is Nichiren who is “the true Savior of mankind.” Only he is to be worshiped through the Gohonzon, as he is “the original and eternal Buddha.” According to Nichiren Shoshu, “Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism alone can save all of the people.” To clarify, believers in Nichiren Buddhism scarcely utilize the Christian expressions “Savior” or “Redeemer” (or “deliverance,” etc.) but certainly Nichiren is our eternal master whom we revere as Buddhists revere a Buddha. The ten honorific titles of the Buddha include “Thus Come One” (Sanskrit TATHAGATA), one who embodies the fundamental truth of all phenomena and grasps the law of causality permeating past, present and future) and “Leader of People” (Sanskrit PURUSHADAMYA-SARATHI), one who instructs and leads all people to enlightenment. The ten formal honorific titles, if not deifying Buddha, certainly ascribe transcendent, sacred qualities to him. Just as Baptists do not specifically expect those holy properties in the Lord Jesus, we Buddhists have not longed for a “mediator… between God and men.” Dr. Weldon: But what is salvation? In its true essence, salvation is humanistic for NS, not theological. Salvation is equivalent to lasting personal happiness or satisfaction (“Buddhahood”); it does not involve deliverance from sin and spiritual death as Christianity maintains (Eph. 2:1-4). While “salvation” is not much referred to in Buddhism, and would not be particularly “theological” when it is, the practice of Buddhist faith is aimed at triumph over death and over the suffering we are heir to on account of our actions, so “karma” and “sin” are parallel concepts. Beyond one’s present existence, there is the concern of what state awaits one in the next life and the next, on into the eternal future. Beyond the success or failure of worldly endeavor and acquisition, there is the prospect of enlightenment or Buddhahood, which Weldon grossly minimizes as being mere “lasting personal happiness or satisfaction.” Buddhahood is of much greater significance than that, a state of indestructible wellbeing and life so expansive as to equate to that of the great universe. Mere “lasting personal happiness or satisfaction” along with materialistic gain might be attainable by use of the Dale Carnegie method, but such would hardly suffice as the raison d'etre of our practice of the Wonderful Law! Thus the “salvation” to be had by a correct practice of Buddhist faith is not shallow or somehow inferior to that of the Christian aspiration. But to continue entertaining Weldon and certain contrasts/similarities/parallels:

In a nutshell, [Nichiren Buddhist] “salvation” is from suffering, ignorance, and unhappiness. It results from appropriating the supposed Buddha nature within, achieved by the spiritual mechanics of Nichiren Shoshu: “The true intention of the Daishonin is to save the whole world through the attainment of each individual’s happiness in life.” I believe this represents an inaccurate and unfair characterization of quantitative differences between the respective aims of Buddhism and Christianity. The “suffering, ignorance and unhappiness” from which a Buddhist would be saved is, as I have suggested, not only of the relative or short-term sort but well beyond that and inclusive of the profound – the spiritual – and pertains to eternity just as the Christian notion of separation from God does. The converse, referred to simply as “happiness in life” by Weldon, correspondingly transcends the workaday and the worldly and is applicable to one’s life after death, for we are on a spiritual plane. We are discussing matters of religion, after all, though Weldon apparently would like to consign Buddhism to something less. Nichiren says, “Regarding life and death with abhorrence and trying to separate oneself from them is delusion, or partial enlightenment. To clearly perceive life and death as the essence of eternal life is realization, or total enightenment. Now Nichiren and his disciples who chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo awaken to the ebb and flow of birth and death as the innate workings of life that is eternal.” (On The Orally Transmitted Teachings)* The Buddhist ontology of Ten Worlds (Japanese jikkai) might illuminate this consideration. The Ten Worlds – Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood – designate states of life experienced by sentient beings in accordance with their karma. Hapless flux between the lower six or “evil paths” is the lot, usually, of all ordinary people. Transcending that, practitioners of the Way may rise through the higher states by spiritual effort and only if they have the benefit of Buddhist teaching and training – to be sect-specific, if they accept and use the key provided by Nichiren, the invocation Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Notice that the world of Heaven is just past halfway up the scale! Sometimes alternatively translated “Rapture,” this is the condition of having obtained one’s desires; it is the world of smiling and enjoyment, the “personal happiness or satisfaction” that is accessible to everyone, but which is considered a form of suffering, since it is transient and quite sure to be snatched away – at death, if not by Monday morning. I have elaborated on the distinction Buddhism makes between mundane happiness and enlightenment to clarify that Weldon’s (and others’) facile characterization of the goal and aspiration of Nichiren Buddhism as crassly materialistic or worldly is neither well considered nor informed, but is a convenient scoff, just as we might expect of one who advocates a competing religion. (I suspect he would have his readers presuppose Buddhism to be a lie of Satan, sown in this world to keep men’s eyes off of God.) It is possible Weldon’s misconceptions come of inquiring no

further than the priests of Nichiren Shoshu who, being mired in formality and elitism, lack the compassion to better advise him. But Weldon’s analysis does press on with increasing earnestness: The biblical concept of atonement (John 3:16; 1 John 2:22) is rejected on multiple grounds. First, Christianity’s God is held to be a myth and so its teaching on the atoning death of Christ — God’s Son — is also held to be a myth. There is no Christian God who exists; so he could not, in fact, have a Son to give. Thus, as NS acknowledges, “faith in the saving power of Christ is fundamental to every Christian teaching. Buddhism paints a vastly different picture.” Second, the concept of the miraculous is rejected. The idea of a divine incarnation or of a God who intervenes in history is seen as “irrational, unscientific nonsense.” Yet salvation in Christianity is miraculous from start to finish as can be seen in the doctrines of Christ’s miraculous birth, ministry, death and resurrection, ascension, intercession, and Second Coming. Here Dr. Weldon has touched on a contrast that I will concede – the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin is essentially rationalistic, and a concept of the supernatural -so indispensable to Christianity – is not at all crucial to this life-philosophy. That said, an aspect of nature is of course inscrutable (considering, e.g., “Big Bang” cosmology’s positing of an uncaused singularity, the esoteric and counterintuitive descriptions of quantum theory, or the mind-boggling intricacy of intracellular processes). Third, the concept of substitutionary death for man’s sins violates the heart of major Buddhist doctrine, such as the law of karma — the relationship between cause and effect, and the necessity to atone for one’s own misdeeds by repayment. Fourth, the idea of the Christian atonement is innately repugnant to Buddhists since it implies that ultimate reality is somehow linked to suffering, the very thing Buddhists work so diligently to eradicate. In the Buddhist universe, suffering is an illusion to be dispensed with — forever vanquished by absorption into the ultimate reality of a blissful, if impersonal, Nirvana. It is not something that can be related to ultimate reality (“God”) in any way. True, the “substitutionary death” plan “violates the heart of major Buddhist doctrine” insofar as that heart consists of common sense, and common sense can only be nonplussed at the notion that horrific violence might somehow translate into a good thing, much less the best thing an all-loving Deity could do for humanity. In its very essence, the “substitutionary death” concept appears to represent the historic end-point of the primitive magical religion of animal sacrifice. It may be that “Christian atonement is innately repugnant to Buddhists,” and that Buddhists undertake to eradicate suffering, but Weldon’s attempt to associate the two points is incongruous. He makes it sound as though the Buddhist wishes only to pretend suffering is nonexistent, ignore it or go into denial – whereas the Bodhisattva mission we are enjoined to take on would uproot the sufferings of others in the real world, and create value and happiness in its place.

In conclusion, Nichiren Shoshu clearly offers a system of salvation by merit and personal effort. God is an entirely irrelevant consideration. By chanting, one removes karma, becomes happy, and, finally, attains Buddhahood (“eternal happiness” — although not in a personal, individual sense). Dr. Weldon has apparently incorporated impressions from library-book Buddhism into his version of Nichiren’s teaching, perhaps unaware of the dichotomy known to scholars as the greater and lesser vehicles. He must either be uninformed or willfully obtuse to look at a belief system that ascribes all the meaning of the grand universe to a wonderful living law or Dharma, and to look at a religion whose formal practice includes daily prayers of thanks to the divine powers for their help and protection, and still insist on seeing stark godlessness. I attribute this to Christian prejudice, perhaps proceeding from their Master’s declaration that “none may come to the Father except through me.” While Nichiren Buddhism does stand in contrast to that proverbial arrogance in its encouragement of self-reliant faith (Nichiren having said, “No matter how earnestly Nichiren prays for you, if you lack faith it will be like trying to start a fire with wet tinder. Spur yourself to muster the power of faith,” and “A coward cannot have any prayer answered.”), this “system” departs radically from provisional teachings that leave a person to struggle along through lifetime after lifetime with nothing to lift or propel one but “merit and personal effort.” This Buddhism compares to that of former ages somewhat as a 2013 Lamborghini Aventador might compare to an oxcart. But hereafter Dr. Weldon lapses into dogma and hostility: All this is why President Ikeda emphasizes, “We must seek the source of the meaning in life within man himself, instead of finding it in another transcendental being, God.” It is true that Buddhism is not centrally theistic and that Soka Buddhism (i.e., the Buddhism extolled by Ikeda Sensei) is a pure and sublime form of humanism. Even so, the teaching that the meaning of life is found within and ever within should not be taken for facile atheism; if “God” is the sovereign absolute, the wonderful law of life that finds expression in all things, then we are well advised to seek this in ourselves – though not without an appreciation for its manifestation as the vast cosmos. The thing Weldon is trying to depict as a deficit is actually one of the principle advantages of this perfectly balanced religion and philosophy. But to proceed with his descent into assertions ever more debatable and doctrinaire: Nevertheless, Jesus Himself taught: “This is eternal life, that they may know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent” (John 17:3). And, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Three Problems for NS

In the areas of spirituality, religious claims, and morality, NS Buddhism falls short of what a seeker might legitimately expect of the true religion. First, despite its claims to offer an intelligent spirituality, NS really offers just another occult-based system of religion. Nichiren Shoshu priests and some laypersons have claimed occult and/or shamanistic powers, and part of daily worship involves an offering of ritual prayers to the dead. Dr. Weldon resorts to defamatory language in disparaging a spirituality that apparently is, indeed, too intelligent for him; whereupon the sinister term “occult” must be pulled out for use in what has deteriorated into a fundamentalist diatribe, and we Buddhists must be exposed for our pursuit of “shamanistic powers” – these being words his Christian pupils will identify with the foreboding province of Satan, who, after all, Weldon probably considers to be the author of Buddhism. This scare tactic from one who would instead have us symbolically bathe in and consume blood that has proceeded from the most spectacular and horrific of sacrificial rites, which magic he sees as the only way to avoid damnation, no matter how good and decent our behavior in life. It should be noted that small words can pack the greatest lie-telling power – can take expected and normative prayers “for” the deceased and turn them into ghoulish prayers “to” the dead! But read on as Weldon waxes frantic: The Gohonzon itself is seen as a repository of magical powers available to anyone who recites the incantation and therefore “has the power to bless or curse” its worshiper, depending upon the treatment given it. Last time: The reference to “magical powers” is insulting. If magic is anywhere practiced and passed off as sacred, it is so with the Christian’s Holy Sacrament or Lord’s Supper; with baptism, confession, funeral or marriage rituals and whenever families say an “incantation” over dinner. The Gohonzon is a mandala suitable for focusing a Buddhist’s worship of the wonderful law of the universe. Crucial teachings of Nichiren clarify that all power resides within ourselves: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-Myoho-RengeKyo. The body is the palace of the ninth consciousness, the unchanging reality that reigns over all of life's functions.” – Nichiren, “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon.” [Weldon:] Second, NS’s claim to constitute true Buddhism is false. As Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette concludes, “[Nichiren] was mistaken in his conviction that the Lotus Sutra contained the primitive Buddhism. As a matter of fact, it was a late production, an expression of a form of Buddhism that would scarcely have been recognized by Gautama, or if recognized, would have been repudiated.” Very much like saying Jesus was mistaken in his assertion that His ministry represented a fulfillment of the Mosaic law – or perhaps that Nichiren’s

contemporary Martin Luther was deluded to suppose his Protestantism would be recognized (and not repudiated) by Christ. K.S. Latourette, no scholar of Buddhism, should have known nevertheless that a religion is not a living religion if all it does is pass down a rigid orthodoxy, as this would represent stasis rather than evolution. Nor can NS offer the world the true interpretation of the Lotus Sutra, for the important NS doctrines are absent from the Lotus Sutra and its mythological content is incapable of objective uniform interpretation. Any honest examination will identify Nichiren’s teaching as the very distillate and crystal of the Lotus Sutra. Soka Buddhists study the sacred Sutra and obtain insight from it, but more importantly conduct a practice of faith whereby they are in effect reciting its 28 chapters over and over again, many times per day. Given that mere intellectual grasp of translated words would fail to extract its wondrous transformative power, the chant is the best way for postmodern people to carry out worship based on the essence of Mahayana. This principle is not a “late production” but had been expounded in China for 600 years before Nichiren Daishonin and so is now over 1,400 years old (Chih-i's "Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra" explains that the entirety of the Lotus Sutra is contained in its title). Third, I have talked with NS members who have attempted to utilize chanting to bring about evil: to obtain drugs, commit crimes, or to magically control other people’s decisions. Whereas no one has ever committed evil in Christ’s name. They have told me that “chanting works as well for these things as for any others.” But even when NS members chant for “good” things, the emphasis is far too materialistic. NS maintains that those who chant properly “will surely become rich” and, “Let’s make money and build health and enjoy life to our heart’s content before we die!” Many more examples of such a materialistic attitude could be cited if space permitted. Spoken like someone accustomed to prayers that have no connection to reality, in which one only construes or pretends results, or anticipates results only after one has died and gone to a paradise no one has ever seen. To care about a human need is “far too materialistic” for those whose dogma directs them to despise this world and their own flesh. Give postmodern man a prayer that actually works and one of the first things he will do is apply it to real needs in his daily life! In NS it becomes all too easy to replace spiritual integrity with a goal of personal indulgence. Or – more honestly – to replace poverty with a decent job, failure with fulfillment of one’s dreams, illness with better health, or broken and dysfunctional relationships with much more satisfactory ones. Even so, Nichiren’s wisdom is clear in this

regard as he says, “More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. Strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart!” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure”) If they have not already gathered from life experience, Soka Buddhists soon learn that health is more important than material gain, and the “heart” or spiritual matters are more vital still. In contrast to this entire approach to spirituality, Jesus warned us, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed, for not even when one has abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). After Christianity’s clear condemnations of the occult and materialism and its solid historical support are contrasted with NS’s failings in these areas, the seeker of truth and salvation would be a fool to disregard the claims of Christ for NS’s promised “benefits.” I find in Weldon’s commentary much condemnation and agree that there are contrasts, but as I hopefully have conveyed, it is not the practitioner of this most honest, practical and yet mystic life-philosophy who will have been foolish in the end. Let the seeker of truth approach it experimentally and, accepting no excuses, proceed with the teaching that affords the best proof of its claims. Who has seen God in Heaven, or can document such phenomena as walking on water, raising the dead or transforming water instantly into wine? But such are the “historically supported” claims that Dr. Weldon holds up as preferable over the blessings, tangible and otherwise, to which Soka Buddhists so famously testify. For Jesus also said: “What will a man be profited if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). “Shakyamuni taught that the shallow is easy to embrace, but the profound is difficult. To discard the shallow and seek the profound is the way of a person of courage.” – Nichiren, “On The Selection of the Time.” “A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.” – Nichiren, “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime.”

*All Buddhist scripture quotes are obtained from the SGI-USA online study resource, http://www.sgilibrary.org/writings.php