The Vow

“The World Needs Young People of Conviction and Integrity.” A report on the North America and Oceania Study Conference.

“When young people who have made a great vow for peace become a unifying force for change, the times will move without fail in a positive direction.”[1]December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 37. —SGI President Ikeda 

WESTON, Fla.—On Jan. 26, the 43rd anniversary of the Soka Gakkai International’s founding, 192 representatives gathered at the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center to refresh their vow at the North America and Oceania Study Conference, led by SGI Vice Study Leader Hidetoshi Fukuda.

During the four-day conference, Mr. Fukuda lectured on parts 3–5 of the subseries “A Religion for Human Revolution,” from SGI President Ikeda’s landmark study series “The Buddhism of the Sun—Illuminating the World” (see the December 2017–February 2018 issues of Living Buddhism).

In the first session, Mr. Fukuda pondered why President Ikeda decided to start a subseries on “human revolution” during this time.

In the opening installment, President Ikeda explains that we live in a time when economic disparities are growing, when conflict and civil strife continue unabated, and when there seems to be a resurgence of divisiveness and hostility. Such problems, he said, cannot be solved by external changes alone, whether political, economic or institutional. “Given all of this, what should be the central guiding principles of religion in the 21st century? I assert that they are humanism and human revolution” (see October 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 43).

President Ikeda, in a powerful message to the conference, said that we have entered an era when youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth are appearing around the world, and the most important period of the SGI’s advancement begins from now.

“One cannot overstate the importance of the SGI organization, which is dedicated to actualizing the great desire for kosen-rufu based on the spirit of many in body, one in mind,” President Ikeda continued. “The heritage of the ultimate Law of life flows in abundance when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and practice for the sake of ourselves and others, and advance kosen-rufu with our friends in faith in the SGI. It is in this heritage of faith that we find the courage, wisdom and power needed to surmount all manner of difficulties.”

Aiming toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in September, let’s study, together with President Ikeda, Nichiren Daishonin’s grand declaration: “My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow.”[2]“The Dragon Gate,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1003.

SGI Vice study leader
Hidetoshi Fukuda

Nichiren Daishonin’s Great Vow to Lead All People to Enlightenment

Making a vow—and remaining true to this vow—is the heart and soul of Nichiren Buddhism and the spirit of the SGI.

In the first session of the North America and Oceania Study Conference, SGI Vice Study Leader Hidetoshi Fukuda focused on part 3 of SGI President Ikeda’s “A Religion of Human Revolution” subseries, where he teaches that the vow of Soka mentors and disciples is the driving force for actualizing worldwide kosen-rufu.

President Ikeda writes:

When I encountered [second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda] and decided to devote myself to kosen-rufu at the age of 19, my life changed dramatically. Thanks to my mentor, to whom I owe a profound debt, I was able to commit myself to the lofty goal of kosen-rufu, challenge my human revolution, and walk the supremely noble path of mentor and disciple.

From my own personal experience, I can attest that making a lofty vow in one’s youth is something that will become a treasure for one’s whole life. The challenge to fulfill this vow creates incalculable value. I want to share this joy with as many young people as possible.[3]December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 38.

Nichiren Daishonin’s great vow to lead all people to enlightenment is expressed in this passage from “The Opening of the Eyes”:

I will be the pillar of Japan. I will be the eyes of Japan. I will be the great ship of Japan. This is my vow, and I will never forsake it! [4]“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 280–81.

Thirteenth-century Japan was a time of great turmoil. Despite the Lotus Sutra’s all-embracing message that all people equally and inherently possess the Buddha nature and that everyone can reveal their Buddhahood, many people at that time placed erroneous teachings above that of the Lotus Sutra.

The country, meanwhile, suffered from frequent natural disasters, including earthquakes and extreme weather, while famine and epidemics raged on. Japan also faced the imminent threat of a Mongol invasion.

Deeply confused about what was correct or false, the people clung to teachings that sought salvation in an external power, thereby causing them to slander the correct teaching.

In this spiritual wasteland, Nichiren stood up alone, resolved to become the spiritual pillar of a devastated country and worked to teach people that they can transform their lives based on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Nichiren Buddhism is a religion of human revolution in which we battle our fundamental darkness, earthly desires and weaknesses. Doing so is the means to revealing our Buddhahood and changing our karma into our mission.

“It is a religious practice in which the people rise up to change their own lives, families, communities and even their society, while helping others do the same, so that happiness and peace become a reality,” Mr. Fukuda said.

“The first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai adhered firmly to the Daishonin’s vow. The Soka Gakkai and the SGI have done so as well.”

President Ikeda writes of the Soka Gakkai spirit:

Our pride as Soka Gakkai members is that each of us has taken on the mission to serve as a central pillar.

Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching that empowers people, helping them change from passively seeking relief from their own problems and sufferings to being able to offer support and encouragement to others, becoming the pillars, eyes and great ships of the world. The Soka Gakkai is fostering capable individuals around the world who are serving as the pillars of the people, the eyes of happiness and the great ships of hope.

This is the greatest proof that Nichiren Buddhism is the religion of human revolution, and the genuine example of a religion that exists for the happiness of human beings, which is so needed in the 21st century.

In Nichiren Buddhism, each person becomes an agent for change. When each individual becomes the pillar, eyes and great ship for building peace and happiness, this will give rise to a magnificent global civilization marked by a brilliant flowering of the philosophy of respect for others.[5]December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 39.

Mr. Fukuda likewise stressed that a vow is true only when we carry through with it to the end.

To be sure, Nichiren wrote this treatise in the extreme winter cold while in exile on Sado, where he didn’t have enough to wear or eat. At the same time, adherents of the Pure Land teachings sought to kill him. The Daishonin’s disciples in Kamakura were also being subjected to ruthless oppression, which included having their estates confiscated, being imprisoned or driven off their lands. With most of his disciples abandoning their faith, Nichiren’s community of disciples was destroyed.

Still, the Daishonin declared with lionlike courage: “I will be the pillar of Japan!”[6]See “The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 280.

“This was his declaration that he would never betray his vow,” Mr. Fukuda said. “He affirmed his resolve as a votary of the Lotus Sutra to dedicate his life to propagating the Mystic Law regardless of the persecutions that he may face.”

When we are clear about how we will live our life and the purpose to which we will dedicate it, we can demonstrate our true worth as human beings. And no way of life is more worthwhile than one dedicated to the supreme purpose of working for the happiness of humanity. 

Live true to the Buddha’s great vow.

Nichiren expresses his wish that his disciples carry on in his stead in a letter written to Nanjo Tokimitsu on Nov. 6, 1279:

My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow.[7]“The Dragon Gate,” WND-1, 1003.

At the time of the letter, 20 farmers had become disciples, only to be arrested by the authorities on false charges. Three of them were executed in what came to be known as the Atsuhara Persecution.

Tokimitsu, who was 21 years old at the time, endeavored to protect his comrades in faith. It was in this milieu that the Daishonin said to Tokimitsu and all his disciples, “My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow.”

The “great vow” here is the vow for the enlightenment of all people, which is the great and noble wish of the Buddha; it is the great wish for kosen-rufu.

President Ikeda offers the following guidance regarding this passage:

Needless to say, he is not encouraging people to treat their lives lightly or sacrifice themselves. When we are clear about how we will live our life and the purpose to which we will dedicate it, we can demonstrate our true worth as human beings. And no way of life is more worthwhile than one dedicated to the supreme purpose of working for the happiness of humanity.[8]December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 42.

Specifically, this means leading our lives while practicing and exerting ourselves within the SGI organization. It means to chant for the happiness of our friends and to challenge ourselves to tell them about Buddhism. It’s to visit our fellow members who are suffering and encourage them. It means to go to discussion meetings and to engage in conversations filled with hope.

“When we live for the great goal of kosen-rufu, we’re able to greatly develop our state of life, change our karma and do our human revolution,” Mr. Fukuda said. “We’re able to lead the most wonderful lives where all our wishes are fulfilled. The experiences of countless individuals attest to this.”

“I am a Bodhisattva of the Earth!”

SGI members are Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the very people who vowed to spread the Mystic Law amid difficult times in order to help all people reveal their Buddhahood.

President Ikeda writes of this mission:

Our members, noble Bodhisattvas of the Earth, have purposely taken on arduous struggles to overcome negative karma so that they can help or inspire those facing similar situations to courageously stand up and challenge their circumstances.

“I am a Bodhisattva of the Earth!”—when we return to this eternal vow from time without beginning, we can change all negative karma into mission. Just as the rising sun paints the dark clouds in hues of gold, we can break through our sufferings and shine with the light of joy.[9]November–December 2010 Living Buddhism, p. 14.

In March, the World Youth Division General Meeting will be held in Japan to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March 16 entrustment ceremony. And in September, the SGI-USA youth will gather 50,000 Lions of Justice in nine U.S. cities to usher in an era of hope and respect. “Around the world, we’re united in expanding the ranks of and developing youth,” Mr. Fukuda said.

Our mission as disciples is to proceed along the path of worldwide kosen-rufu that President Ikeda has established and to further expand that path as we actualize kosen-rufu.

“For this purpose,” he said, “let’s not look to anyone else, but decide that we ourselves will be the ones to rise up and become the catalyst for a new expansion and advancement of kosen-rufu. Let’s vow to one another to do this.”



Notes   [ + ]

1. December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 37.
2. “The Dragon Gate,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1003.
3. December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 38.
4. “The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 280–81.
5. December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 39.
6. See “The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 280.
7. “The Dragon Gate,” WND-1, 1003.
8. December 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 42.
9. November–December 2010 Living Buddhism, p. 14.