Each October I devote an entire month to studying Nichiren’s treatise, “The Opening of the Eyes.” I began this tradition at the urging of my youth division leader in 1974. At that time, we had no English Gosho and had to read excerpts from our publications. Back then the youth division was encouraged to memorize certain passages in both English and Japanese to recite aloud at meetings. Reciting those passages was a pledge of allegiance to Nichiren Buddhism and NSA/SGI. Some may argue that they are one and the same, but in my opinion, they are not, at least not anymore. The Kaimoku Sho is an ode to the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha, and the superiority of the dharma of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
This year’s reading took on major significance for me because of my recent disassociation from the SGI. My separation from the SGI seemed like I was on a glacier that began to crack beneath my feet. A psychological chasm of intellectual and spiritual atrophy appeared before me. My spirit – my very ability to think and speak freely was in danger of being dashed like a fragile sheet of ice falling from a frigid mountain ledge. Trusting the Buddha, I was able regain my balance and continue my march to the summit.


For many years I used “The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin” as my source for studying “The Opening of the Eyes.” This year, I used the “Selected Writings of Nichiren” translated, edited and published by Columbia University Press, with SGI as the copyright holder. Nichiren wrote this seminal work in 1272 during his freezing, death-defying exile to Sado Island. I can’t think of a more intellectually challenging Gosho than this one. Nichiren discusses the merits and faults of Confucianism, Taoism, Brahmanism, Theravada, provisional Mahayana, esoteric and exoteric Buddhism, the Nirvana Sutra, and all saline aspects of the Lotus Sutra. Great pains are taken to clarify the difference and appropriateness of shoju and shakubuku. It is lamentable that Nichiren had not been exposed to the Judeo-Christian traditions so he could have explained and contrasted them in light of his teachings. But if we can recognize the uncanny similarity of the Pure Land teachings that promise salvation in an afterlife paradise with Judeo-Christian mythology, we can draw our own conclusions.
The Gosho itself is very redundant and I can see how some people might lose patience with it. To get the most out of this Gosho, I recommend time and persistence. One needs to use the glossary, a Buddhist dictionary, read the footnotes, the endnotes, and vigorously follow the leads in the bibliography, letting it take you wherever it might lead you. This is why studying “The Opening of the Eyes” requires for me, one full month a year, devoting at least one hour a day to it. The benefit of approaching it in such a manner is that you will learn how Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra stacks up against other forms of Buddhism, other Eastern religions, and by way of inference, the Judeo-Christian traditions. With the huge new shakubuku targets for the SGI, a dynamic working knowledge of this Gosho is crucial. It’s fine to say, “Just chant” or “you can become happy,” but we are living in an age now where many people have a general knowledge of Buddhism and various traditions outside of their birth religion. Not everyone can be a scholar, and it’s usually not necessary to get the point across. Our problem is that many senior leaders and members are completely ignorant of Buddhism. We don’t understand our own sect’s teachings very well, and many don’t know much about Buddhism in general. I would wager that most senior leaders couldn’t pass a college level test on basic Buddhism, even if they had passed the advanced study department exam and were very knowledgeable of Nichiren Buddhism. Why? Because we rely too much on PI’s writings and we arrogantly dismiss other forms of Buddhism as provisional or heretical – not worth knowing. I ask you what the GKI exhibit has to do with Buddhism? As a test of my suspicion, I suggest putting together a few general questions on Buddhist theory, practice, and history that are not Nichiren related and pose them to your seniors, like what is Mindfulness Meditation; What are the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path? Ask basic questions like who is Angulimala and what’s the importance of his attainment? What’s the difference between dhyana and samadhi meditation? You get the idea. Just ask basic questions – nothing tricky or obscure. My hunch is that we won’t know many of the answers. How’s that for practicing the supreme form of Buddhism for the latter day of the Law?
The Opening of the Eyes is important because it provides an example of Nichiren’s spirit to advance the dharma, even at the cost of his own life. In thirteenth century Japan, there was a great deal of confusion and turmoil over Buddhist doctrine. We don’t live in that era and I think it’s an error of judgment to take a shakubuku approach to other religions when we don’t really understand our own teachings very well, let alone the one’s we’re challenging in discussion. I’ve heard members call Tibetan Buddhists slanderers, yet they don’t a clue as to what their belief system is. Ask your seniors why the SGI and PI remain silent on the Tibet issue while you’re at it. Members might verbally attack Zen because Nichiren did so, yet they don’t know what a Koan is or how to meditate, where it originated, and what its history is.
Based on my understanding of the Kaimoku Sho, Nichiren made a strong stand to clarify the errors and ranking of the prevailing schools and sects of his day. In today’s diverse world, we would do well to get off our high horse and treat our fellow Buddhists as equals, not inferiors. When I consider the SGI core doctrines now after 30 years of study, I am appalled at my own stupidity. The obvious contradictions were not obvious to me until I began to pull myself from the dogmatic tar pit that almost swallowed me up. I now know enough about Nichiren Buddhism to say that I know little. Regarding a whole world – no, whole universe of Buddhism outside of our sects narrow slant, I can say that I know nothing. But I’m now beginning to learn.