Q: What is the connection between lions and Buddhism?
This Q&A series addresses frequently asked questions about Nichiren Buddhism.
For thousands of years, lions have been a symbol of royalty, strength and bravery for people across Africa, Europe and Asia. Known to fear nothing and act without hesitation, they came to be known as “kings of the jungle.” Buddhism, too, incorporated the lion’s symbolism to describe the noble qualities people can develop through Buddhist practice.
In The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, Shakyamuni Buddha is referred to as the “lion of the Shakyas” (p. 54) and the “Sage lion” (p. 176). In contrast to the image of a Buddha always seated in placid meditation, the Lotus Sutra depicts him and his disciples as those with the power of “the lion’s ferocity” (p. 258) who would “stroll about without fear like the lion king” (p. 249).
This doesn’t mean that the Buddha was an intimidating figure. Rather, he possessed an immense state of life characterized by absolute freedom and courage, undaunted by any problem. Shakyamuni fought relentlessly in the midst of society to challenge injustice, bring about equality and alleviate human suffering.
The Chinese characters for the word lion (pronounced shishi in Japanese) hold deep significance as well. While there are variations throughout literature, lion in the Buddhist sutras is written with two characters that can respectively mean “teacher” and “disciple”—both of which are gender neutral.
The Lotus Sutra contains the phrase “to roar the lion’s roar and to make a vow” (LSOC, 231–32). Nichiren explains these words, saying: “The first shi of the word shishi, or ‘lion’ [which means ‘teacher’], is the Wonderful Law that is passed on by the teacher. The second shi [which means ‘child’] is the Wonderful Law as it is received by the disciples. The ‘roar’ is the sound of the teacher and the disciples chanting in unison” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 111). When mentor and disciple are united in their vow to spread the Wonderful or Mystic Law, they can maximize their inherent strength and achieve all their goals. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with this “lion’s roar,” we can take courageous action to win over our problems, make our dreams a reality and awaken others to their great potential by teaching them to practice Nichiren Buddhism.
SGI President Ikeda writes: “As disciples, it’s important that we make our mentor’s heart our own and let our voices ring out powerfully with our shared commitment to realize the highest good.”
“The lion’s roar of mentor and disciple chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has the unrivaled power to knock back all adversity and transform troubled times” (Living the Gosho, p. 5). Practicing Buddhism with the courageous heart of the lion king, with the unity of mentor and disciple, empowers us to overcome all obstacles in our path and create the greatest happiness and harmony in our lives and in society.