Chapter New Members

Who Are Bodhisattvas of the Earth?

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A basic tenet of Nichiren Buddhism is that we should strive to reveal our own Buddhahood while also helping others do the same. This ideal is inherent in the state of life called “bodhisattva,” which is characterized by the deep compassion to help others.

Although many descriptions of bodhisattvas appear in Buddhist scriptures, Bodhisattvas of the Earth are first described in “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

In this chapter, countless bodhisattvas express their desire to propagate the Mystic Law after Shakyamuni Buddha’s passing, but he rejects them, saying that those who will “protect, embrace, read, recite and widely preach this sutra”[1]The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 252. already exist in this world. The sutra then depicts an astonishing series of events: The earth splits open and a vast multitude of bodhisattvas emerge from the earth in unison, each emitting a golden hue and possessing the Buddha’s thirty-two features.[2]Buddhist scriptures describe the Buddha as possessing thirty-two special physical features that inspire people to seek and embrace his teachings. On a more fundamental level, the thirty-two features are an expression of the life condition of the Buddha, symbolizing the special inner qualities of his character. They are also each accompanied by an entourage of innumerable bodhisattvas.

Astonished by the sudden and dazzling appearance of these Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the other bodhisattvas ask the Buddha where these impressive disciples came from. Shakyamuni reveals that they are disciples he has been teaching since the unimaginably distant past. Because they have tempered their lives by earnestly practicing the Mystic Law for countless lifetimes, they can spread the Mystic Law in the Latter Day—a time of strife and deep suffering—even while undergoing great persecution. Ultimately, the “earth” that they arise from is the great Law at the core of the Lotus Sutra, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Nichiren perfectly exemplifies a Bodhisattva of the Earth, having endured harsh persecutions in his struggle to spread Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And he urges his disciples to awaken to their innate brilliance and power as well.

He writes: “There should be no discrimination among those who propagate the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo in the Latter Day of the Law, be they men or women. Were they not Bodhisattvas of the Earth, they could not chant the daimoku”; and, “If you are of the same mind as Nichiren, you must be a Bodhisattva of the Earth” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 385).

Bodhisattvas of the Earth are inherently Buddhas. But rather than being satisfied with attaining enlightenment for themselves, they have chosen to willingly go out and actively engage with people amid the harsh realities of society. There, they demonstrate the power of Buddhist practice through winning over all manner of obstacles and helping others do the same. Buddhas, Nichiren teaches, reveal themselves in this world through their actions as bodhisattvas.

Rooted in Nichiren’s example and teaching, and based on the modern-day practice of Nichiren Buddhism as established by Soka Gakkai presidents Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda, SGI members today proudly carry on and spread the bodhisattva way of life.

SGI President Ikeda writes: “You may look at your fellow members who seem to be suffering from such problems as illness or financial hardship and think that they could not possibly be Bodhisattvas of the Earth. In fact, nobody can avoid problems. The point is that once we awaken to the mission of kosen-rufu and begin to engage in it, the life state of a Bodhisattva of the Earth and the great life state of the Buddha well up powerfully from the depths of our being.

“Buddhas are never defeated by misfortune or problems. They transform all their sufferings into joy, expand their life state and do their human revolution” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 19, p. 272)


SGI PRESIDENT IKEDA’S GUIDANCE

The following is an excerpt from The New Human Revolution. SGI President Ikeda appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto.

Shin’ichi [Yamamoto] delved deeper into the true nature of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth: “The essential characteristic of a bodhisattva is their vow. The vow of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth is to propagate the Lotus Sutra. That’s why wholeheartedly chanting to realize our vow of bringing happiness to all around us is important. Strictly speaking, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo without that vow is not the prayer of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.”

The bodhisattva vow brims with the Buddha’s life force, enabling one to triumph over devilish functions.

Shin’ichi wanted every single member to experience great benefits. He wanted each of them to overcome all forms of suffering such as illness and poverty, and become happy. The vow to achieve kosen-rufu is the key to fulfilling such prayers.

We all have various problems and sufferings. Our dedication to kosen-rufu is crucial in surmounting them. For example, if someone suffering from illness vows to overcome that illness in order to gain the strength and life force to freely take action for kosen-rufu, and demonstrate the power of their Buddhist practice to others, that vow will bring forth immense strength to overcome that illness.

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo of course results in benefit. But when the prayer “I want to overcome my illness” is infused with a deep sense of mission, we experience a fundamental transformation within our lives, within our state of being, and that vow triggers a powerful momentum to change our karma. When we chant in earnest based on a vow to achieve kosen-rufu, the life state of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth manifests itself within us, the life state of Nichiren Daishonin begins to pulse within us, and we are able to manifest our innate Buddhahood. This is a revolution of our state of life, and it makes possible a dramatic transformation of our karma. (vol. 24, pp. 49–50)

(p. 9)

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 252.
2. Buddhist scriptures describe the Buddha as possessing thirty-two special physical features that inspire people to seek and embrace his teachings. On a more fundamental level, the thirty-two features are an expression of the life condition of the Buddha, symbolizing the special inner qualities of his character.

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