"Grace, Symbol, and Liturgy: Constructing the Theological Anthropology of Nichiren Daishonin"
Anthony B. Pinn called upon theologians to do theology in "non-traditional ways," by considering overlooked dimensions of African American life and black theology. One way to do this is to consider a non-Abrahamic religious tradition that African Americans practice, such as Nichiren Buddhism. As I am both African American and a Buddhist, failure to consider such overlooked dimensions of African American life and black theology cause people like myself to be excluded. In this article, I examine the writings and liturgical recommendations of Nichiren Daishonin (1222–1282) in order to construct his theological anthropology. Nichiren was a Buddhist monk who publicly broke with the Japanese Tendai tradition in which he had been ordained, by declaring that the best way to express devotion to the teachings contained in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra or The Sūtra on the Lotus Blossom of the Wonderful Law (Lotus Sūtra) was to chant its title in the form of a mantra: Nam-MyōhōRenge-Kyō. I bring Nichiren's writings into dialogue with Karl Rahner's theology of the symbol, as presented by US Hispanic Catholic theologian Miguel Diaz; with feminist theologian Jennifer Beste's work on trauma theory as a challenge to Rahner's theology of grace; and with womanist theologian M. Shawn Copeland's notion of "liturgy of the Spirit." This dialogue shows that for Nichiren, the human being is "Buddha-in-the-world," and has an innate potential to express the life-state of Buddhahood; one primary symbol, the Gohonzon, manifests this potential; and suffering is the result of an innate capacity for "hellish experiences" due to a kind of ignorance known as fundamental darkness. Further, Beste's work on trauma theory and Copeland's notion of "liturgy of the Spirit" show that Nichiren's theological anthropology is concretized in the liturgical practice known as gongyō that he recommended his followers engage in, and demonstrates that Nichiren gives sufficient attention to experiences of brokenness and healing, thereby avoiding the charge of having too positive a theology.