The “Buddhism of the Sun”

Why Buddhist humanism is needed even more today.

Buddhist wisdom—Scenes from the North America and Oceania Study Conference, where SGI Vice Study Leader Shinji Shimizu delivered lectures on the lineage and tradition of Buddhist humanism. Photo: Roxy Azuaje.

WESTON, Fla., Feb. 12–15—In the 2,500-year lineage of Buddhist humanism, what single thread has connected the teachers who have revealed and correctly transmitted the Lotus Sutra? It is an unwavering respect for the human being and the dignity of life.

The lineage and transmission of this profound teaching and practice served as the unifying theme of the North America and Oceania Study Conference, held Feb. 12–15 at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida, with some 200 youth leaders from Canada, New Zealand and the United States. SGI Vice Study Leader Shinji Shimizu delivered the lectures, followed by Q-and-A sessions.

On Feb. 13, the participants opened the “Humanism of the Lotus Sutra” exhibition, which illuminates key themes from the Lotus Sutra across its 2,500-year journey through replicas of ancient Buddhist art and artifacts, and panel exhibitions (see March 4 World Tribune, pp. 6–7). The exhibition is now open to all FNCC conference participants.

Photo: Victor Golden.
Photo: Victor Golden.

“Human kind now stands at a crossroads.”

In a message to the conference, SGI President Ikeda encouraged the participants to illuminate the place where they are, fulfilling their vow “with the light of Buddhist wisdom, the light of courage, the light of hope and the light of compassion.”

“The future of humankind now stands at a crossroads,” President Ikeda said. “Will the cycle of mistrust and ill will continue, and people’s hearts and minds become shrouded completely in darkness? Or will there develop solid bonds of trust and mutual respect, opening the way for a future filled with brightness and hope?

“Because this time is so crucial, our mission as those who uphold the Buddhism of the Sun, which is shedding light on the people of the entire world, is all the more important. To the extent that you study and share this Buddhism, the light of the sun of happiness will shine brightly in your communities, throughout society and the world. If you each cause the sun of the Mystic Law to rise in your heart, then we can definitely bring about a great change in our own individual destiny, in the destiny of the land where we live and the destiny of humankind.”

Photo: Roxy Azuaje
Photo: Roxy Azuaje

The “Lotus school” seeks to guide all people to the highest state of life.

During the four-day conference, Mr. Shimizu gave lectures on “The Lineage of Buddhist Humanism”; the “Supernatural Powers of the Thus Come One” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, based on volume 5 of President Ikeda’s Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra series; and Nichiren Daishonin’s letter On Reprimanding Hachiman,” from President Ikeda’s new lecture series “The Buddhism of the Sun—Illuminating the World.”

In the first session, Mr. Shimizu focused on the lineage and tradition of Buddhist humanism, starting from Shakyamuni in ancient India, then to Nichiren Daishonin in 13th-century Japan, and on to the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents and the members of the SGI today.

Buddhist humanism is not abstract; it must be fought for and won in reality. To illustrate, let’s say we see people in the grips of despair. By wholeheartedly encouraging them to keep moving forward, to not give in or let themselves be defeated, we can awaken in them a fresh sense of hope, rouse their courage and help them stand up again with energy and vigor. 

SGI members have now spread the humanism of the Lotus Sutra to 192 countries and territories—a development unprecedented in Buddhist history, Mr. Shimizu said. But, he asked: “What is our place in terms of the Buddhist religion as a whole? Where have we come from and where are we trying to go?”

Mr. Shimizu discussed the concept of the “four teachers of the three countries”—who were identified by Nichiren Daishonin as having revealed and transmitted the Lotus Sutra correctly: Shakyamuni of India, T’ien-t’ai of China, and Dengyo and Nichiren of Japan.

While Buddhism originated in India, it was brought to China and made its way to Japan. Thus, these three countries were regarded as the lands of the transmission and spread of Buddhism. The four teachers symbolize the true line of succession in the effort to realize the Lotus Sutra’s core ideal of universal enlightenment.

President Ikeda elaborates:

The teachings of the “Lotus school” bring forth the infinite power of the Mystic Law in our lives as well as those of others. These teachings also enable all people to realize their fullest potential, creating boundless value in their lives in the midst of an evil and defiled age—like lotus blossoms growing in the muddy water. They enable people everywhere to lead victorious lives as brilliant flowers of humanity—allowing the lotus blossoms of our individual lives and those of others to come into full glorious bloom. In other words, the “Lotus school” is characterized by humanism and value creation, seeking to guide all people to the highest state of life. (Learning from the Writings: The Hope-Filled Teachings, pp. 91–92)

Photo: Laura Mintz.
Photo: Laura Mintz.

A great declaration of ultimate respect for human dignity.

Mr. Shimizu explained that though Buddhist humanism may be thought of in connection to “humanitarianism”—the notion of a moral kindness and benevolence that is extended to all human beings—it carries a deeper meaning.

In On the Treasure Tower,” Nichiren tells his disciple Abutsu-bo that his life is equal to the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha depicted in the Lotus Sutra: “Abutsu-bo is therefore the treasure tower itself, and the treasure tower is Abutsu-bo himself. No other knowledge is purposeful” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 299).

The Daishonin was the first to make a connection between the vast treasure tower described in the Lotus Sutra and the life of a single individual—an assertion that no doubt surprised Abutsu-bo. “It is a great declaration of ultimate respect for human dignity,” Mr. Shimizu said. “Moreover, Nichiren says that if you don’t understand this point, no other ability or knowledge is useful.”

This awareness of the dignity of our lives serves as the foundation for the humanism of Nichiren Buddhism.

This, however, is not a faint idealism that is content with simply asserting that “people are precious.” President Ikeda explains:

The essence of Nichiren Buddhism is respect for and trust in human beings, along with a belief in the infinite potential and preciousness of life. Because of our strong faith in Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, we can advance joyfully on the hope-filled path of human revolution—a path of inner personal transformation leading to change in the world around us. (November 2013 Living Buddhism, p. 26)

“Become a sublime existence as grand as the universe.”

Nichiren inscribed the Gohonzon to enable ordinary people to draw forth this great power to transform their lives from within. He declares: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832).

Mr. Shimizu said that when he reads this passage, he is reminded of the closing scene in the 1940 film The Great Dictator, in which Charlie Chaplin’s character paraphrases a passage from the New Testament’s Gospel of Luke, saying: “The kingdom of God is within man. Not one man, nor a group of men— but in all men—in you, the people.”

Photo: Laura Mintz.
Photo: Laura Mintz.

Mr. Shimizu said the common notion of religion is to link the small self, or the individual, with the vast realm of the eternal, through prayer.

While monotheistic religions seek the eternal in an omnipotent god, Buddhism holds the eternal and universal truth to be a “Law” rather than a being. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, we attune ourselves to this Law that simultaneously permeates the universe and the individual self.

“If one awakens to this Law, then one becomes a sublime existence as grand as the universe,” Mr. Shimizu explained. “One experiences wisdom, compassion and courage equal to the Buddha welling up from within, and one is freed from fundamental ignorance.”

We are the successors to the lineage of Buddhist humanism.

Nichiren Daishonin appeared in the 13th century, during the Latter Day of the Law, precisely when it had been predicted that the original tenets of Buddhism would be lost.

He revived the spirit of the Lotus Sutra and purpose of Buddhism, which is to enable all people to become Buddhas. He instituted the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, so that it could be transmitted to all people in the “ten thousand years and more” after the Buddha’s passing. In this way, he established a “Buddhism of the people,” accessible to all.

Then, in the modern era, the three founding presidents of the Soka Gakkai, surmounting all manner of difficulties, spread the great Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the Gohonzon throughout the world.

The members of the SGI are the successors to this lineage of Buddhist humanism and have inherited the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple—a shared vow to uphold and correctly transmit the Law.

President Ikeda writes:

Buddhist humanism is not abstract; it must be fought for and won in reality. To illustrate, let’s say we see people in the grips of despair. By wholeheartedly encouraging them to keep moving forward, to not give in or let themselves be defeated, we can awaken in them a fresh sense of hope, rouse their courage and help them stand up again with energy and vigor. There are countless examples in the Soka Gakkai of people nobly struggling to overcome difficulties and achieve victory together. This is real living humanism. It is meaningless to talk of humanism without making practical efforts to defeat and thoroughly triumph over the devilish nature within us all.

Sowing the seed of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo might be called the ultimate form of encouragement. It draws forth and awakens the powers of courage and hope slumbering in the depths of people’s lives, and rouses their infinite latent strength, which is none other than the Buddha nature, our inherent Buddhahood. (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, vol. 4, pp. 133–34)

This year’s SGI theme is the Year of Expansion in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu. “But what are we expanding?” Mr. Shimizu asked. “President Ikeda recently encouraged us, stating, “Burning with the faith of the oneness of mentor and disciple, together let’s expand our prayer; expand our state of life and expand our courage” (tentative translation from the Dec. 20, 2015, Seikyo Shimbun).

“Let’s all become suns that illuminate the place where we are right now and the people around us with the light of hope and courage,” Mr. Shimizu said. “The only way to destroy the despair of fundamental darkness is with the sun of our Buddha nature. Indeed, this is the battle of human revolution. It is the struggle for kosen-rufu.”