April 28 marks the anniversary of the establishment of Nichiren Buddhism on April 28, 1253.
The Japanese monk Nichiren first invoked the chant "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" (literally "I devote myself to the wonderful law of the Lotus Sutra") on April 28, 1253, at Seichoji Temple in what is today Chiba Prefecture, where he had first studied Buddhism as a young boy.
He was 32 at the time, and extensive study of the Buddhist sutras had clarified for him that the Lotus Sutra was the vehicle that would lead all people directly to attain enlightenment, or Buddhahood in this present lifetime. It was at this time that he changed his name to Nichiren, meaning "sun lotus." This indicates that he attained enlightenment as a result of his own efforts.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda comments:
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the sound that awakens the Buddha nature of all humankind. It is the great teaching of supreme hope. Nichiren proclaimed his teaching for the first time in the image hall of his teacher Dozen-bo's quarters at Seicho-ji temple, at around noon. It was out of his profound sense of gratitude to Dozen-bo, whom he wished to lead to the truth, that he decided to first expound his teaching at the place where he had studied Buddhism as a youth . . .
At this important juncture, the Daishonin changed his name from Zesho-bo Rencho--which he took on his ordination as a priest--to Nichiren, written with the Chinese characters for 'sun' and 'lotus.' The sun illuminates the world and the lotus brings forth beautiful blossoms unsullied by the muddy water in which it grows.
Nichiren knew he would meet opposition, as there was great attachment at that time to the practice of Nembutsu, which encouraged people to believe that they could be reborn in a Pure Land after death. By declaring that the practice of the Lotus Sutra would enable people to manifest the Buddha nature in this lifetime, he was challenging the fundamental mindset of the time; that ordinary people were powerless to affect change.
He describes how, "At first, when I alone chanted the daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo], those who saw me, met me, or heard me covered their ears, glared at me with furious eyes, contorted their mouths, clenched their fists, and ground their teeth." Starting from the first day he declared his teaching, Nichiren was repeatedly threatened and attacked, risking his own life in an effort to help people discover the true message of Buddhism--that each person possesses limitless potential within their lives.
Despite being exiled twice and nearly killed on several occasions, Nichiren lived to the age of 61, dying peacefully. Transmission of his teachings and the fulfillment of his vision of peace founded on respect for the sanctity of life has been the guiding inspiration for the first three Soka Gakkai presidents and is the central pillar of SGI members' activities worldwide.