Soka Spirit

Nichiren Buddhism Is a Religion of Dialogue

Soka Spirit

Young women engage in dialogue at the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center, Weston, Fla., November 2017. Photo by YVONNE NG.


Only through dialogue can we spread the ideals, philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. In fact, kosen in the word kosen-rufu means to “proclaim or declare widely.” SGI President Ikeda says, “Without the practice of dialogue, kosen-rufu, or the widespread propagation of Buddhism, cannot be achieved” (November 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 44).

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that all people equally and inherently possess the Buddha nature and therefore are worthy of utmost respect. However, in the Soka Gakkai’s interactions with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, especially during 1990 and 1991, Nikken, the high priest, and the priesthood went directly against this teaching. Holding on to the idea that priests are superior to lay followers, the priesthood refused repeated requests by leaders of the Soka Gakkai to meet and discuss the claims they had made against the organization.

The priests claimed that the Soka Gakkai leaders were “unworthy of an audience with the high priest” and went so far as to say that “to assert that everyone is essentially equal and promote harmonious unity between priests and laity assuming their equality is a sign of gross arrogance and one of the [gravest offenses in Buddhism]—namely, that of causing disunity in the Buddhist Order.”

President Ikeda writes: “Dialogue is the mark of Buddhist humanism, and rejecting it is a rejection of the very spirit of Nichiren Daishonin. The Soka Gakkai has succeeded in broadly expanding the realm of kosen-rufu through its continuous grass-roots efforts centered on dialogue, in such forms as home visits, small group gatherings and discussion meetings” (see The New Human Revolution, vol. 30, “Vow” chapter, installment 57, published on www.worldtribune.org).

SGI members have consistently put into practice the spirit of Buddhist humanism taught in the Lotus Sutra, which overturns the teachings of previous sutras that deemed persons of the two vehicles, women and evil people, incapable of attaining Buddhahood.[1]In the pre–Lotus Sutra Mahayana teachings, persons of the two vehicles—who sought only personal salvation without striving to save others—women and evil people were deemed unable to attain enlightenment. Nichiren Daishonin clearly emphasizes the spirit of equality taught in the Lotus Sutra in statements such as:

Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment countless kalpas ago, the Lotus Sutra that leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from one another. To chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death. This is a matter of the utmost importance for Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters, and this is what it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra. (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 216)

By pursuing compassionate and courageous dialogue based on the Daishonin’s teaching, SGI members are creating mutual understanding and harmony within the SGI organization as well as in their families, places of work and society.

The Daishonin’s landmark treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” provides a roadmap for carrying out genuine dialogue. Presented as a conversation between Nichiren and his guest, the discussion starts with the host sincerely listening to the guest’s concerns about the plight of a society that is plagued by conflict and natural disasters. Nichiren then assures him, saying: “We can lament together. Let us discuss the question at length” (WND-1, 7). As the conversation progresses and their opposing views about how to resolve this plight become more pronounced, the host thoroughly examines each of the guest’s doubts, responding to each point with composure and clarity.

Even when the guest becomes agitated and threatens to leave after the host corrects his mistaken views, the host responds warmly, urging the guest to stay, and patiently addresses the guest’s questions with reason and logic. The two continue to exchange views on how to resolve the issues confronting society, guided by the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, and conclude by vowing to work together toward establishing peace. The treatise ends with the guest resolving: “It is not enough that I alone should accept and have faith in your words—we must see to it that others as well are warned of their errors” (WND-1, 26).

Through this discussion between the host and guest, we can learn key aspects of Buddhist dialogue: expressing compassion and respect; showing genuine interest and concern; and, at the same time, persevering with the conviction to share Buddhist ideals for the happiness of the other person and for peace.

Other writings by Nichiren in the format of dialogue include “Conversations Between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man” and “On the Four Stages of Faith and the Five Stages of Practice.”
Fueled by belief in the Buddha nature of all people, the aim of dialogue in Buddhism is to challenge our own limitations, while forging a powerful wish to advance our lives toward establishing peace in society. When we share and spread conviction in our own and others’ potential for Buddhahood, we can transcend all differences and bring forth the courage to fear no difficulties and the wisdom to transform reality.

President Ikeda calls on us as follows:

While courageously challenging our own human revolution, let us create a groundswell of dialogue, reaching out to talk with one person after another, to change society and bring peace and happiness to all people . . .

Our dialogues are a struggle to revive the power of human beings.

Our dialogues change society, unite the world and shape the future.

Our dialogues impart hope.

They have the power to revitalize others and awaken them to their inner potential, and are imbued with courage, conviction and the cause for victory.

Our dialogues for “establishing the correct teaching for the peace
of the land” will build an age of the people through the power of faith
in the human being. (January 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43)

The more we engage in Buddhist dialogue with those around us, the more we help form and strengthen the connections people have with Nichiren Buddhism. By carrying out this vital aspect of Buddhist practice, we are bringing forth our inner Buddhahood and carrying out the work of the Buddha to create a peaceful world based on equality and the respect for the dignity of life.

(p. 10)

Notes   [ + ]

1. In the pre–Lotus Sutra Mahayana teachings, persons of the two vehicles—who sought only personal salvation without striving to save others—women and evil people were deemed unable to attain enlightenment.

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