Feature

The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: A Philosophy of Hope

Lessons from the Ikeda Wisdom Academy youth study program.

Los Angeles Photo: David Witkowski.


New York. Photo: Yvonne Ng.
New York. Photo: Yvonne Ng.

On Jan. 29, 2017, district through national youth leaders (2,337 registered) will take the Ikeda Wisdom Academy Exam II, the second and final exam of the advanced youth study program[1]On Jan. 26, 2013, SGI President Ikeda founded the Ikeda Wisdom Academy, an advanced study program for SGI-USA district through national youth leaders based on studying The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, President Ikeda’s groundbreaking six-volume discussion series on the Lotus Sutra. In line with its motto, “Protecting the Mentor & the Teachings,” the academy empowers members to clearly understand the lineage of Buddhism—from Shakyamuni to Nichiren Daishonin to the SGI. To combat today’s rising trend of pervasive powerlessness in society, the youth deepen their awareness and conviction in the humanistic philosophy of Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism. based on SGI President Ikeda’s groundbreaking six-volume discussion series, The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra. The World Tribune spoke with Ikeda Wisdom Academy members about how the academy has impacted their lives.

World Tribune: How has being part of the academy transformed your view on life?

donald-jolly-copyDonald Jolly, Los Angeles: I started reading The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra series around the time when my father passed away, and I had just started my Buddhist practice. I was skeptical of religion and religious leaders, but when I read SGI President Ikeda’s remarks at the start of the series, they spoke to me.

He writes:

Religion must always be for the people. People do not exist for the sake of religion. This must be the fundamental guideline of religion in the twenty-first century. (vol. 1, p. 10)

I never saw religion as existing for the people. The more I studied the series, the more I understood that regardless of whether people saw me as a black man or a gay man from the outside, I am a Bodhisattva of the Earth first and I have a mission to transform my karma.

alces-mickunasAlecs Mickunas, Des Moines, Iowa: For me, the series has inspired me to build a more harmonious family. A year ago, my father became ill, and our family was fighting a lot. At the time, I made the determination to become the “sun” in my family—a presence that could brighten everyone around me. I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for my father’s full recovery and that we could come together as a family. He has since recovered fully, and now everyone in my family has a new sense of appreciation for life.

Before I started practicing Buddhism, I didn’t value my own life or the lives of others. Through understanding the importance of encouraging others to be happy, I learned to respect myself and transcend my ego.

WT: When you scroll down your social media feed, many youth express feelings of anger and fear about their future. In the WLS series, President Ikeda writes: “Some say the prevailing mood in the world today is one of powerlessness . . . At the opposite extreme of this sense of powerlessness lie the Lotus Sutra’s philosophy of ‘three thousand realms in a single moment of life’ and the application of this teaching to our daily lives. This principle teaches us that the inner determination of an individual can transform everything; it gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity inherent in each human life” (vol. 1, pp. 6–7). What does this mean to you?

victoria-hamiltonVictoria Hamilton, Washington, D.C.: Winning in life is a foreign concept for many people, because they don’t believe in themselves or the limitless potential of their own lives. If someone is too scared to run the race because they’re convinced they’re going to lose, then they’re always going to lose in life. Learning to awaken to our Buddhahood is a concept that can wake up the world!

In volume 4 of the series, we learn that Buddhahood has existed eternally in each person’s life regardless of any external variable. The series teaches me that being me is already amazing, and that my life is limited only by the bounds of my effort to raise my life condition and do my human revolution.

anitaampaduAnita Ampadu, Columbus, Ohio: Our Buddhism is about one-to-one dialogue and encouragement. Sensei is always teaching us to treasure the person in front of us. To help the people in our families and in our communities realize the greatness of their own lives is how we will turn the tide of anger and fear. I’ve recently been supporting one young woman who struggles with her lack of confidence and difficult legal struggles. After developing a consistent practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sharing Buddhism with others, she was recently approved for her green card, her life is blossoming and now she supports other young women as a district leader. Seeing her transformation has reaffirmed my conviction in the power of our practice.

Protecting the teachings—The aim of the Ikeda Wisdom Academy is to foster youth who share the same vow as their mentor, SGI President Ikeda, to accomplish kosen-rufu, protect the SGI and widely expand our movement of peace for centuries to come.
Protecting the teachings—The aim of the Ikeda Wisdom Academy is to foster youth who share the same vow as their mentor, SGI President Ikeda, to accomplish kosen-rufu, protect the SGI and widely expand our movement of peace for centuries to come. Los Angeles. Photo: David Witkowski.
WT: President Ikeda writes: “[W]e are living in a ‘Great Interregnum of Philosophy,’ an era in which there is an absence of any guiding philosophy. That is why this is precisely the time to speak of the Lotus Sutra, long known as the king of sutras” (WLS-1, 8). What solutions do you find in the SGI and Sensei’s philosophy that can turn the tide?

Alecs: As a substitute teacher, I’ve observed that children who don’t have positive role models at home or are having difficulties in their families are less likely to succeed. When we show actual proof at home, we’ll have that much more power to transform society. The district discussion meeting is also a family gathering where we can transcend all differences in front of the Gohonzon. At our meetings, we talk about the roots of human suffering and our shared humanity, which creates a safe place where people can be themselves.

Anita: I think it’s shakubuku! The most profound thing about Buddhism for me is that everyone has the same capacity and everyone is equal. Sharing this Buddhism with others awakens them to their true identity, and they no longer have to succumb to all the divisions in the world—they can really see and open their eyes to the interconnectedness of life and their true identities as Buddhas. That awakening opens a new view to the world, and people develop compassion for those with different views and beliefs. At the same time, I experience that sharing Buddhism with others transforms the lack of confidence in my own life and makes me express my compassion for their suffering.

WT: How do you generate hope during hard times?

Victoria: At my lowest points, I’ll pick up the phone to talk to my fellow SGI members, chant and read Sensei’s encouragement. I’ll also visit other young women at their homes, because I always walk away so encouraged by them! It’s hard for us to stay motivated on our own, because we don’t exist in a vacuum. We’re in the Latter Day of the Law, an age of quarrels and disputes. It’s also the time when we, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, have to emerge and we have to emerge dancing! We have to continue to propagate this philosophy of hope and have valuable dialogues with our friends.

“If you look at the world from unenlightened eyes, it’s hard not to be brought down by the world’s tumult, but the Lotus Sutra teaches me that I have to respect every person that I encounter, and that I am a Buddha!”

Donald: Sensei writes: “What is the purpose of faith? It is to transform one’s state of life” (WLS-6, p. 3). For a long time, I struggled with low self-esteem, but I always remind myself that my efforts in supporting other young men and my activities for kosen-rufu, as well as my daily practice in front of the Gohonzon, help me to transform my state of life.

The Lotus Sutra states: “If you see a person who accepts and upholds this sutra, you should rise and greet him from afar, showing him the same respect you would a Buddha” (The Lotus Sutra and its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 365). If you look at the world from unenlightened eyes, it’s hard not to be brought down by the world’s tumult, but the Lotus Sutra teaches me that I have to respect every person that I encounter, and that I am a Buddha! There is nothing greater than knowing this fact and striving to share it with others.

Minneapolis
Minneapolis
WT: It’s becoming more apparent that our gathering of 50,000 youth in 2018 is a crucial event for America to take a stand for peace. President Ikeda describes the state of humanity: “People are searching for something that will satisfy the spiritual emptiness they feel, something that will revive their weary lives and fill them once again with hope and vigor. Humanity is searching for the wisdom that will provide true direction and purpose to the individual and society” (WLS-1, p. 3). What do you feel is the significance of the 50,000 gathering? How do you think this will impact our times?

Anita: Our gathering is a statement to American society that we will be the change we want in society and in the future of America. Through this activity, my hope is that people will unequivocally know the SGI and Sensei. Moving forward, we will solidify what the kosen-rufu movement is all about, and give people a new face of Buddhism in America.

Donald: It has profound significance! To have 50,000 youth gather simply for the sake of world peace is unprecedented. Scientists say that we are at a tipping point with regards to global climate change. I believe this 50,000 youth gathering could be the tipping point for our civilization as a whole. It will be a catalyst to transform our state of negativity and destruction.

Alecs: I think that we live in a time when there is so much fear about basic things like: How are people going to pay their bills? What are youth going to do after college? What is the future of our relationships with other countries? The fear of total annihilation is also on the minds of many people. None of us can be happy if we have to live with that. Gathering 50,000 youth is a great cause for a time when people don’t have to live in that fear. This gathering will fundamentally transform American society to a more peaceful and happy one.

Victoria: Sensei has said that the next two years may be his culminating battle, but they also happen to be the beginning of the rest of our lives. This is the time for us to solidify the foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu. We have to exert ourselves with everything we’ve got. There are so many people who have no hope and are lost in their suffering, but the future is bright as long as we keep raising the next generation of people awakened to their mission for peace. I will polish myself more than ever in the next two years; I’m going to give it all I’ve got!

(pp. 6–7)

Notes   [ + ]

1. On Jan. 26, 2013, SGI President Ikeda founded the Ikeda Wisdom Academy, an advanced study program for SGI-USA district through national youth leaders based on studying The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, President Ikeda’s groundbreaking six-volume discussion series on the Lotus Sutra. In line with its motto, “Protecting the Mentor & the Teachings,” the academy empowers members to clearly understand the lineage of Buddhism—from Shakyamuni to Nichiren Daishonin to the SGI. To combat today’s rising trend of pervasive powerlessness in society, the youth deepen their awareness and conviction in the humanistic philosophy of Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism.