Shika Kakugen (Nichirens Four Criticisms) (四箇格言)

Shika (or Shiko) Kakugen (or Shika no Kakugen) (Four Criticisms) refers to the criticisms expressed by Nichiren, the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, against other Buddhist sects that existed in his time. His four criticisms (directed at Shingon Buddhism as a threat to the nation, Zen Buddhism as the work of the devil, Nenbutsu Buddhism as infernal doctrine and Ritsu Buddhism as an act of treason) are known, respectively, as "Shingon Bokoku," "Zen Tenma," "Nenbutsu Muken" and "Ritsu Kokuzoku." These criticisms are found in his writings such as Kangyo Hachiman Sho (Buddhist Teachings) and Ongi Kuden Jo (Collection of Sermons).


Nichiren, who believed in the Lotus Sutra as the single most important sutra of Buddhism, criticized Buddhist sects that were not founded on the faith in the Lotus Sutra as denigrating the true teachings of Buddhism. His criticisms are based on the argument that the teachings of Buddha prior to the Lotus Sutra do not show the true way to attain nirvana because they were given as provisional teachings. Nichiren used this argument to criticize the unique teachings of Buddhist sects that existed during his time.

Shingon Bokoku (criticism of Shingon Buddhism as a threat to the nation)

Shingon Buddhism maintains that all Buddhist sutras, including the Lotus Sutra, are teachings of Buddha as a mortal being except for the Great Sun Buddha Sutra (Dainichi kyo), which was preached by Mahavairocana Buddha (Great Sun Buddha, or Dainichi Nyorai in Japanese), the Buddha enlightened by eternal truth, and that the Buddha as a mortal being, who belongs to the realm of unenlightened existence, is inferior even to the servant of Mahavairocana Buddha. Shingon Buddhism further insists that although the Lotus Sutra knows theories about the 3,000 realms of existence, it doesn't know rituals, including symbols and words of truth ("shingon" in Japanese), and that the Great Sun Buddha Sutra, which teaches rituals along with theories, is therefore superior to the Lotus Sutra. According to Nichiren, Shingon Buddhism stole the teaching about the 3,000 realms of existence from the Tendai school of Buddhism and adopted it as its own religious doctrine.

Nichiren also asserted that Shingon Buddhism worshiped the Great Sun Buddha, a fictional Buddha of doubtful origin unrelated to the Buddhist teaching, thereby denigrating Buddha and the Lotus Sutra, which provided the true source of enlightenment. From this, Nichiren concluded that Shingon Buddhism was a threat to the existence of the nation, families and individuals, since it prevented the growth of healthy young boys.

Zen Tenma (criticism of Zen Buddhism as the work of the devil)

According to a Zen Buddhist legend, Buddha twirled a flower in one of his sermons but no one understood the meaning of his gesture except for Mahakasyapa (one of the disciples of Buddha), who grasped the meaning of Buddha's wordless sermon and broke into a smile. Mahakasyapa's smile symbolizes the preaching of Zen Buddhism that the truth is beyond all verbal explanation, and Zen Buddhism maintains that through this wordless sermon Buddha entrusted the eternal truth of Buddhism to Mahakasyapa. In the Daibontenno Monbutsu Ketsugikyo (Sutra on King Mahabrahma's Questions to the Buddha and Clarification of Doubts), it is written that there are Buddhist teachings known as Shobogenzo (literally, True Dharma-eye Treasury), Nehanmyoshin (Fine Mind of Nirvana) and Jissomuso (Undisclosed Subtle Dharma Gate), which were transmitted to Mahakasyapa outside the teachings without the use of written words. Zen Buddhism has handed down its tradition based on this sutra.

However, Zen Buddhism denies the significance of sutras, insisting on the importance of nonverbal truths transmitted outside the teachings. Nichiren criticizes this aspect of Zen Buddhism, arguing that Zen Buddhism is based on excessive confidence in one's mediocre self and will eventually lead to the destruction of Buddhism. In the Nirvana Sutra, it is written that anyone who disobeys the teachings of Buddha is a devil's advocate. Zen Buddhists did, in fact, cite passages from sutras like Daibontenno Monbutsu Ketsugikyo, which contradicts their doctrine about nonverbal truths. Accordingly, Nichiren denounced Zen Buddhism as the work of the devil.

Nenbutsu Muken (criticism of Nenbutsu Buddhism as infernal doctrine)

Nenbutsu Buddhism (including Jodoshu (Pure Land Buddhism) and Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism)) is based on the Three Sutras of Pure Land (the Sutra of Immeasurable Life, the Meditation Sutra and the Amida Sutra) and worships Amida Buddha instead of Buddha himself. In his "Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsushu" (Selection of Genuine Nenbutsu), Honen, the founding father of the Jodoshu Buddhism, even denounces sutras other than the Three Sutras of Pure Land, urging his disciples to throw away, close, ignore and discard unnecessary sutras, thereby denigrating the Lotus Sutra as well.

However, the Pure Land sutras are provisional teachings of Buddha, as shown in his own words in Muryogikyo (Sutra of Infinite Meaning). In Muryogikyo, which is the "opening" sutra to the Lotus Sutra, Buddha states that he has been searching for the truth for more than 40 years but has not yet found it. Also, Dharmakara Bodhisattva (Hozo Bosatsu in Japanese), who is believed to be the incarnation of Amida Buddha, takes 48 oaths, and in his eighteenth oath he promises to lead any sinner or criminal to be reborn in the Pure Land, which is tens of millions of miles away from this world, if only the sinner sincerely believes in Amida Buddha. However, from the list of sinners worthy of salvation, Hozo Bosatsu excludes those who have committed the five mortal sins along with those who have denounced Buddhist teachings. However, Hozo Bosatsu denounces the Lotus Sutra, thus preventing himself from being reborn in the Pure Land. In the Fundamental Rules of the Lotus Sutra, it is written that anyone who criticizes this sutra will be sent to Hell; thus Nichiren argued that Nenbutsu Buddhism was the teaching of Hell.

Ritsu Kokuzoku (criticism of Ritsu Buddhism as an act of treason)

Ritsu Buddhism is based on religious precepts that were practiced during the time when Buddha was still alive; it adopts these precepts, including the 250 precepts of Hinayana Buddhism, as its fundamental religious doctrine. In Japan, Ritsu Buddhism was spread during the middle of the second millennium after the death of Buddha in order to bring about a religious awakening among the masses. Ritsu Buddhism, which is highly individualistic, incorporates religious precepts that were inappropriate for the masses living in the age when Buddhism is in decline, and its teaching would take them away from the reality due to its deceptive practices. Based on such grounds, Nichiren argued that Ritsu Buddhist monks, who preached these precepts and purported themselves to be religiously pure, were traitors who deceived people and would bring the nation to the point of ruin.

Critical considerations

Some critics point out the need to consider various historical aspects in order to study the meaning of Nichiren's Four Criticisms. For example, one must consider the fact that the new Buddhist sects that came into existence during the Kamakura period, such as the Pure Land sect and Rinzai sect, were severely criticized by the existing Buddhist schools, including those of Nara and Heian Buddhism. Under the circumstances in which these old Buddhist schools had connections with those in power, Nichiren's Lotus Sutra Buddhism is also likely to have been subjected to the attacks by those schools.

Soka Gakkai has made the same claim in recent years, insisting that it has attacked other Buddhist sects in the past under similar circumstances and that it will make efforts to cooperate with these sects in the future unless it is subjected to criticism by other sects. Soka Gakkai also recognizes that adopting the Four Criticisms in the contemporary world as they were preached by Nichiren in his time, thereby ignoring the change of the times, would be criticized as self-righteous. Accordingly, Soka Gakkai has abandoned its past interpretation of the Four Criticisms and adopted a positive attitude toward other Buddhist sects instead of directing severe criticism against Nenbutsu, Shingon, Zen and other schools of Buddhism (however, some critics point out that this is merely a political posture and the Nichiren orthodox Buddhism also criticizes Soka Gakkai for its betrayal against Nichiren). The above comments are quoted from an article in the Asahi Shinbun Newspaper dated August 12, 2002.

When a new Buddhist sect is created, it usually evaluates various teachings of Buddha, classifies them according to their nature, chooses the teachings that are best suited to its needs, and adopts them as its doctrine. A Buddhist sect cannot be established without this process. Therefore, no founder of a Buddhist sect can avoid criticizing the teachings of other sects, at least to a certain extent. Nichiren is known to have directed particularly harsh criticisms at other sects, but as some people have pointed out, such criticisms aren't necessarily limited to Nichiren, and that even in contemporary society his religious criticisms raise issues worth studying from various perspectives.

[Original Japanese]