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Living Based on a Great Vow

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“My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow.” (“The Dragon Gate,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1003)

This passage appears in the letter “The Dragon Gate,” which Nichiren Daishonin addressed to his disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu.

After losing his father and older brother, Tokimitsu had to take on the role of steward of Ueno Village, which must have been a great challenge for a young man still in his teens. Yet, based on sincere faith that he learned from his parents, he also earnestly propagated Nichiren’s teaching in the Ueno and Atsuhara areas alongside Nikko Shonin, another trusted disciple of the Daishonin. Their efforts greatly increased the number of Nichiren’s followers in the region, which caused local authorities, most of whom were devout Nembutsu practitioners, to feel threatened, prompting them to persecute Nichiren’s followers.

The oppression of Nichiren’s disciples culminated in the Atsuhara Persecution in which 20 farmers, who were fairly new converts to Nichiren’s teachings, were arrested on false charges and subjected to interrogations, torture and threats to coerce them into giving up their beliefs. However, due to their courageous faith, none of them recanted and, ultimately, three were executed while 17 were banished from their village.

Amid this dire situation, Tokimitsu continued to protect his fellow believers, often hiding them in his home. As retribution for his actions, authorities levied heavy taxes against him for several years. Despite this hardship, he maintained his support of Nichiren, regularly sending him money and other offerings.

In “The Dragon Gate,” Nichiren also teaches that we must overcome many hardships in carrying out this great vow and attaining Buddhahood.

Nichiren honored him for his sincere and courageous efforts, calling him “Ueno the Worthy.” Nanjo Tokimitsu lived until age 74, having overcome many struggles, and led a full life with his wife and their 13 children, exemplifying how to live a victorious life based on the great vow to propagate the Mystic Law.

In “The Dragon Gate,” Nichiren also teaches that we must overcome many hardships in carrying out this great vow and attaining Buddhahood. He offers the analogy of the Dragon Gate waterfall, where carp try to climb the falls in order to transform into dragons. As they make the climb, they face threats such as being swept away by the current, eaten by birds of prey or caught by fishermen.

Swimming up the powerful waterfall represents the challenge of living in this age in which people are filled with delusions stemming from the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. Nanjo Tokimitsu demonstrated that the key to navigating through these delusions, forging our faith and creating victorious lives is found in carrying out our vow to work for the happiness of ourselves and others no matter the trials we face. When we base our lives on the oneness of mentor and disciple, and treasure the bonds we have with fellow practitioners—all of whom are united by the same great vow—we can bring forth the strength and wisdom to win over all hardships.

SGI President Ikeda says: “The great vow of Buddhism can only be actualized through the persistent challenge of going out into society and earnestly seeking to do whatever we can to inspire and encourage each person we encounter, leaving no stone unturned, so to speak. That is why both [Tsunesaburo Makiguchi] and [Josei Toda] placed such great importance on one-to-one dialogue and discussion meetings. The way to truly fulfill the great vow for kosen-rufu is to continue reaching out in dialogue to the person right in front of us and conveying through our spirit and lives the greatness of the Mystic Law, the key to genuine happiness” (Learning From the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 121–22).

The spiritual baton that is passed on from mentor to disciple and the lifeline of our movement for peace is none other than this great vow for kosen-rufu.

SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance

In this letter, Nichiren Daishonin proclaims: “My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow” (“The Dragon Gate,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1003). This great vow is the great vow of the Buddha—which is ultimately the great vow for kosen-rufu, as Nichiren indicates when he says: “The ‘great vow’ refers to the propagation of the Lotus Sutra” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 82). And it is the noble vow reflected in the Daishonin’s own declaration in “The Opening of the Eyes”: “Here I will make a great vow . . . 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!” (WND-1, 280–81).

In his personal copy of Nichiren’s writings, first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi double-underlined the passage “Here I will make a great vow,” and also wrote “great vow” in large characters in the margin next to it. He lived out his life true to this great vow, never succumbing to the persecution of Japan’s militaristic authorities . . .

Josei Toda, his disciple and future second Soka Gakkai president, accompanied Mr. Makiguchi to prison, carrying out a two-year struggle behind bars before standing alone in the ravaged landscape of postwar Japan to rebuild the Soka Gakkai . . .

Mr. Toda also declared: “No matter what enormous hardships might arise, I will never forsake the great vow for kosen-rufu . . . I will do what I have to do—that is, strive to save the poor and the sick and those who are suffering. For that purpose, I will keep speaking out with all my might.”

In my youth, I stood up alone as Mr. Toda’s loyal disciple and did everything I could to support and assist him. In the course of those struggles, I inherited this great vow from my mentor. The great vow for kosen-rufu is inherited only through the joint struggle of mentor and disciple. My spirit of waging a shared struggle with my mentor has continued to this very day . . .

My keenest wish now, the area where I am challenging myself most, is to enable all people, particularly the youth, to savor and shine with the deep and abiding joy that comes from dedicating one’s life to the great vow for kosen-rufu. I wish this especially for the youth, since it is to them whom we must entrust the future. (Learning From the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 115–17)

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