Nichiren Teachings and The Four Noble Truths

Traditional schools of Buddhism hold - as their fundamental belief - Shakyamuni’s first sermon, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, being:

1-  the truth of suffering of life: dukkah

2 - the truth of the origin of suffering

3 - the truth of the cessation of suffering

4 - the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering.

The teaching of the Four Noble Truths was the first teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, but not the last.   Nonetheless, it is accepted in Traditional Buddhism, as the first and the final.

Not all Mahayana sutras regard the first sermon of the Buddha as the final Buddhist teaching and examples are “The Profound Secrets Sutra”, and - in particular -  “The Lotus Sutra” , which views the Four Noble Truths as only a “preparatory teaching”.

The final teaching of the Buddha was the revelation of the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra: “The Wonderful Law of Life” - which describes the Law of life (MyohoRengeKyo) - also referred to as the “Universal Law of Cause and Effect”. 

While the Four Noble Truths focuses on “desires” as being the cause of sufferings, Nichiren explains that it is “ignorance” of the Law of life - that is the cause of sufferings.  This means that the Four Noble Truths present partial (but not complete) truth on the cause for sufferings. 

Ignorance (as opposed to enlightenment) is the real cause of all sufferings, and (as the Four Noble Truths states) ignorance can be manifest as attachment to earthly desires  - but not only.  Other causes of sufferings manifest in the mental attitudes of ignorant people, the worst of which is arrogance, followed by negligence, hatred, despising others, holding grudges - and other causes which lead to sufferings. 

The final teaching of the Buddha was the Dharma of MyohoRengeKyo, the Law of Lotus, which has the power to transform all sufferings into enlightenment in this Lifetime, so that “Living beings enjoy themselves at ease Lotus Sutra., Ch.16

Shakyamuni’s compassion led him to start his teaching from the Four Noble truths and then to gradually teach and prepare his followers for the final truth, being the Law of life (and the mutually inclusive world of Buddha within the life of ordinary people).   

The Buddha initially started from the elementary teaching about sufferings, but then he developed further teachings in Mahayana sutras, leading people to the possibility of joy and happiness in life.  In particular: the Lotus Sutra does not despise desires but - on the contrary - declares that the Buddha himself has a “Great Desire”, that to enable people attain Buddhahood in their lifetime.

SGI views on the Four Noble Truths

SGI Buddhism is based on Nichiren teachings of the Lotus Sutra, which revealed the final teaching of the Buddha, being the Dharma or the Law of Lotus.  In his letter, Nichiren explained that the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is a specific or limited doctrine, which was aimed at training monks at the start of his teachings.  In this perspective, the Four Noble Truths express only an elementary teaching, focused merely on only one aspect - that of sufferings, among various other aspects of life.

The Four Noble Truths do not encompass the basic Buddhist teaching of the Ten Worlds - or the spectrum of the human mind - which has also the World of Joy and Buddhahood.  

in his article on the subject, Ikeda explains that the Four Noble Truths were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha specifically to his immediate disciples as an elementary and preparatory doctrine to direct them to self-mastery:

“The four noble truths and the eightfold path were directed chiefly to those disciples who had rejected secular life and were wholly engaged in Buddhist practice; they reflect the basic attitude and approach that underlie Shakyamuni's early teachings, which concentrated on predominantly negative views about life and the world so that he could awaken people first to life's harsh realities and then to the inexpressible spiritual experience of nirvana”.

The Causes of Sufferings: According to the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, the cause of sufferings is “Attachment to Desires”.  In Nichiren Buddhism, Attachment to Early Desires - is just one of other causes for sufferings, which include: Arrogance, Negligence, Refusing to believe, Hatred, Vilification, Holding Grudges...and other causes which were not included in the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths - because of its limited scope.

Nichiren’s Buddhism and the teaching of the Eightfold Path

The fourth of the Four Noble truths teaches that the path to emancipation is found in the Eightfold Path to Nirvana. The Eightfold Path is a “code of conduct” of maintaining:

right views, right thinking, speech, action, livelihood, efforts, right mindfulness and concentration. 

All elements of this “Code of Conduct” - express one thing: one’s Buddhanature.

If the individual reveals the mind of Buddha, or Buddhanature, then automatically one’s behaviour, speech, thinking, way of life, awareness etc… would be right and correct.

The Eightfold Path implicitly refers to the that that one has a Buddhanature, which is the origin of what is “right “.  For example : “right thinking” or “right behaviour” indicate that there must be a *reference* - to judge something as being right or not. This reference is one’s Buddhanature.  It is the fusion of the consciousness mind with the inherent Buddhanature that would express right actions of the whole Eightforl Path.

If there is a practice, which enables the individual manifest own Buddhanature - then automatically all the requirements of the Eightfold Path will be manifest in one’s life.

It is possible to view the Eightfold Path from the perspective of cause and effect.  In terms of Cause and Effect, the “cause” is Buddhanature, while the “effect” is the Eightfold Path.

Nichiren Buddhism suggests going directly to the cause of the matter: revealing one’s Buddhanature in this lifetime. This practice is called the Direct Path (to enlightenment).

Nichiren points to fusion of oneself with the Dharma as the“direct path to enlightenment”

a practice based on the devotion (Nam) to the Dharma (MyohoRengeKyo).

The direct path to enlightenment leads to the individual’s determination or fusion (Nam) with the Law of Cause and Effect (Myohorengekyo). This fusion is what makes our views right, our behaviour correct, our speech meaningful, our life balanced and our mind focused on what is valuable.


Author: Safwan Darshams

The Lotus Sutra’s statement on the Four Noble Truths

Limitations of the concept of Four Noble Truths

Frequently Ased Question