Q&A on “Teacher of the Law”
The following is study material for the weekly Soka Spirit chanting sessions being held at SGI-USA Buddhist centers across the country.
What does it mean to be a “Teacher of the Law”?
The essential spirit of Buddhism and of a “teacher of the Law” is to help those who are suffering by sharing with them the practice of Buddhism, which will aid them in transforming their hardships into a foundation for lasting happiness and fulfillment.
“Teacher of the Law” is the title of the 10th chapter in the Lotus Sutra. Beginning from this chapter, and through the subsequent four chapters, Shakyamuni reveals the practice for spreading the Lotus Sutra after his passing, a time of confusion about which teachings are correct and which are erroneous. Those who light the way in such a time are teachers of the Law who broadly expound the sutra for the happiness of others (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 200).
Nichiren Daishonin states: “Now Nichiren and his followers, who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, are the greatest among the teachers of the Law . . . we may say that the word ‘Law’ . . . represents the daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo], and the word ‘teacher’ represents Nichiren and his followers” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 82).
SGI President Ikeda explains that teachers of the Law bring together the two qualities of a bodhisattva: “While continuing to deepen their own understanding, teachers of the Law lead others to happiness; and through helping others become happy, they further deepen their understanding” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 2, p. 186).
Does the idea of “teacher of the Law” support
Nichiren Shoshu’s belief that priests are
superior to lay practitioners?
It does not. The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people equally possess the potential for Buddhahood in their lives.
In preaching this sutra, Shakyamuni declares: “At the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (LSOC, 70). And Nichiren encourages his followers, “Anyone who teaches others even a single phrase of the Lotus Sutra is the envoy of the Thus Come One, whether that person be priest or layman, nun or laywoman” (“A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 33).
The priesthood, however, negating this original spirit of equality, asserts that priests are superior to lay believers. For example, Nichijun Fujimoto, the priesthood’s general administrator, said in a 1991 letter to the SGI: “It is only natural that there is an original distinction between priesthood and laity in accord with the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism . . . If lay believers speak as if they are equal to priests, they lack courtesy and propriety and will destroy the order of priesthood and laity” (see Confirming Our Path of Faith, p. 20).
President Ikeda explains: “The lineage of the correct teaching— owing on from Shakyamuni, the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin—is itself a lineage of religious revolution. Shakyamuni taught the equality and the inner potential of all people . . . Nichiren exposed the erroneous teachings of the Buddhist schools of his day and taught a people-centered philosophy that anyone could practice. The SGI is part of this lineage of the correct teaching and of religious revolution” (December 2011 Living Buddhism, p. 32).
Further reading: Lecture on “On the Offering of a Mud Pie,” December 2011 Living Buddhism, pp. 21–35
How is the teacher of the Law related to
the oneness of mentor and disciple?
Regarding the concept of the oneness of mentor and disciple, “oneness” emphasizes mentor and disciple striving together to spread the Law while confronting the obstacles and devilish functions brought on by taking on this greatest of efforts. For instance, in a letter to a disciple, Nichiren says, “Though others may slander us, we are teachers of the Law who take no heed of such a thing” (“On the Offering of a Mud Pie,” WND-2, 501).
The priests of Nichiren Shoshu, in sharp contrast, have a history of avoiding hardship and persecution. During World War II in Japan, they changed religious doctrine and accepted the Shinto talisman to allay intense pressure by the Japanese militarist authorities. At the same time, it was the first and second Soka Gakkai presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, who endured imprisonment for not compromising their belief in Nichiren Buddhism; and President Makiguchi died in prison, a martyr to his beliefs.
The first three Soka Gakkai presidents serve as prime examples as mentors who embody the three qualities of a “correct and good” teacher of the Law: 1) wisdom to see through fundamental evil inherent in life and to reveal the fundamental good of the Mystic Law; 2) courage to dedicate one’s life to Buddhism and to ght against evil; 3) compassion to relieve people’s suffering and to impart joy (see The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 46–48).
A mentor is one who leads by example and inspires others to strive with the same commitment to protect and spread the Law, which enables all people to become Buddhas. President Ikeda says: “Faith based on the shared commitment of mentor and disciple is what enables us to summon up inner strength. When we strive with the same spirit as our mentor who has opened the way for kosen-rufu, we, too, cannot fail to bring forth this courageous spirit in our lives” (Youth and the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 42).
Further reading: Lecture on “Reply to Sairen-bo,” The Hope-Filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 35–56; The New Human Revolution, vol. 24, pp. 157–165
How does the SGI apply the concept of
the “teacher of the Law” to its activities?
Today, the Lotus Sutra’s five practices of a teacher of the Law (embracing, reading, reciting, expounding and copying the Lotus Sutra) are included in the one practice of embracing faith in the Gohonzon. Nichiren says, “Embracing the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in itself encompasses the ve practices” (“The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 833). This means experiencing and sharing with others the joy of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and awakening them to the inherent potential and dignity of their lives.
Even though Nichiren had taught the importance of widely spreading Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism lay in obscurity for centuries in the custody of the priesthood. Embroiled in internal disputes for power and corruption, the priests lost Nichiren’s original spirit and purpose.
It was the Soka Gakkai’s establishment in 1930 that ignited the great struggle to widely spread Nichiren Buddhism for the happiness of all humanity. President Ikeda explains that at one point it had been the priests’ role to share Buddhism with others and ght against the enemies of Buddhism, and the laity’s role to support priests by chanting, making offerings and sharing Buddhism. He points out that today, however, the SGI carries out the functions of both, saying: “Who has advanced kosen-rufu in the present? Who has been the target of persecution? It is none other than the Soka Gakkai. Therefore, we could say that the spirit and practice of the Soka Gakkai are fulfilling both the roles of the priesthood and the teacher of the Law” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 24, p. 161).
Further reading: The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 2, pp. 183–211
For more information, visit www.sokaspirit.org
Peter Karuppiah and Masako Melissa Hirsch contributed to this article.