Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs, and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha (Awakened One). Shakyamuni Buddha, as he was referred to after his enlightenment, is thought to be the first human being to be awakened to the Dharma (Universal Truth).
This Truth is applicable anywhere, anytime, and to anyone. The Dharma is also thought of as an eternal energy / consciousness that permeates everything in the universe. This energy sustains all beings and all things. In chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, this great life-force of the universe becomes known as the Eternal Original Buddha.
Buddhists believe that our lives are prone to suffering caused by our attachments—either to insatiable greed or to trying to avoid what we do not want. When this craving ceases, suffering ceases. When we truly realize this and choose instead to live a balanced life (the Middle Way), the enlightenment attained through the practices of appropriate action, wisdom, and meditation, releases us from mental suffering and removes us from the cycle of rebirth in this world.
The foundation of the Buddhist tradition lies in what is known as the Three Treasures:
- The Buddha (one who has been awakened to the ultimate reality of all things),
- The Dharma (the teachings and methods), and
- The Sangha (community of practitioners—those beings who provide guidance and support).
What Is the One Vehicle?
When the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha moved beyond India, they became separated into two major traditions: Theravada (the Elders) and Mahayana (the Great Vehicle). In Japan, a Mahayana follower named Nichiren concluded that the highest teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha were to be found in the Lotus Sutra. The mantra he expounded in 1253, “Namu Myoho Renge-kyo,” expressed his sincere devotion to that body of teachings. After Nichiren’s passing, varied understandings of his interpretations eventually led to several different branches or schools.
One-Vehicle Buddhism is an outgrowth of the Mahayana tradition (belief that all beings can attain enlightenment through study and practice of the Buddhist teachings), and it specifically refers to a focus on the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
In the context of the Lotus Sutra, it is the recognition of the three vehicles (shravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva) as all being part of the One Vehicle on the path to enlightenment. This is both a very unifying viewpoint and a reinforcement of the importance of appropriate teaching methods for the variety of practitioners we find in the world.
In regard to this One Vehicle, Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, wrote, “All the teachings lead all beings to buddhahood. It may seem like there are two or three different teachings, but these are examples of the Buddha’s use of appropriate means to guide people according to their level of understanding. In truth, there is only one.”
Background of Rissho Kosei-kai
In Japan in 1938, Nikkyo Niwano and Myoko Naganuma were followers of Reiyu-kai, one of the groups affiliated with the Nichiren sect. After attending a meeting in which the leader of that organization made the comment that lectures on and study of the Lotus Sutra were not necessary, they decided to leave Reiyu-kai and form a new organization, Rissho Kosei-kai. They both strongly believed that the Threefold Lotus Sutra contained the highest teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and was therefore an integral part of their spiritual path.
Rev. Niwano realized that the basic teachings of Buddhism and the profound philosophy and high ideals found in the Lotus Sutra were actually complementary halves of a single truth. In short, in the Lotus Sutra, philosophy, ideals, and the practical teachings of Buddhism were perfectly integrated.
Rissho Kosei-kai believes that the integral essence of the Lotus Sutra is so universal and practical that it is in fact common to all the world’s religions and is relevant for people everywhere. Because the Lotus Sutra is a scripture capable of leading humanity from division to unity, from discord to harmony, from conflict to peace, Rissho Kosei-kai reveres it as the primary Buddhist text to study and follow.
Important characteristics of Rissho Kosei-kai:
- It is a Buddhist organization in direct lineage from Shakyamuni Buddha, established on the principle of working for world peace and liberating all beings from suffering.
- It emphasizes the practical application of the Buddha’s teachings. The members, through faith in the Buddha, apply the teachings in their daily lives. They chant the sutra in the morning and evening, study and practice the Buddha’s teachings by attending lectures and Dharma Circle meetings (hoza) in which they receive Dharma guidance for everyday situations. They also participate with others (the Sangha) in ceremonies and significant events. In living the bodhisattva way, all learn from sharing the teachings and guiding others on the path.
Where can the nature of One-Vehicle Buddhism be found in Rissho Kosei-kai?
- Our path is inclusive, welcoming all to study and practice.
- We celebrate the diversity found within the human family, and at the same time we acknowledge our interconnectedness.
- We study and practice the teachings of One-Vehicle Buddhism by which we respect all spiritual traditions and acknowledge them as appropariate means to achieve enlightenment.
- We promote inquiry as a part of our spiritual path, while teaching core Buddhist concepts combined with the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra.
- We work to establish interfaith relationships that are not just intellectually based, but that create a deep human connection with others.
- We recognize the buddha-nature in all, and practice the bodhisattva way to be of benefit to the world.
- We hold Dharma Circle sessions in which we learn to see the Universal Truth at work within the struggles of our daily lives. This gives us the opportunity to practice applying the Dharma, along with the support of the Sangha.
- Chanting the Lotus Sutra is: an expression of gratitude, a purification of the mind, mouth, and body, a gift of service to all beings, and a way to connect with the Universal Truth.
- We study and practice the enlightenment teachings for our own personal growth and to support others on their path.