Transforming the Land
An essay by SGI President Ikeda, originally published in the April 17 and 24, 2009, issues of the World Tribune.
“From [the] single element of mind spring all the various lands and environmental conditions.” (“The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 843)
In my youth, my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, often sent me to one place or another to raise the banner of kosen-rufu there. I responded to his every call with lightning speed, boldly taking up the challenge—be it in Kamata, Bunkyo, Osaka, Yamaguchi, Sapporo or Yubari. Everywhere I went, I prayed and fought in the spirit of transforming the karma or destiny of that particular place—the spirit of the “threefold transformation of the land.” I strove tirelessly, chanting with firm determination to permeate the area with the Mystic Law. I engaged in dialogue with a pledge to summon forth Bodhisattvas of the Earth. As a result, I have made all of my mentor’s goals and dreams a reality.
The ongoing efforts of each of us to carry out our individual human revolution, or inner transformation, as members of the SGI in the midst of society, are the means by which we can transform the world around us. They represent a modern-day expression of the “threefold transformation of the land,” a teaching expounded in the Lotus Sutra. This is because transforming the land ultimately hinges on people transforming their hearts and minds. Moreover, when the principles of truth and justice triumph, the land, the place where we live, will be positively influenced. That is why the struggle inherent in the “threefold transformation of the land” is actually a fierce battle to ensure that truth prevails.
The phenomenal postwar development of the Soka Gakkai, for instance, played an important role in Japan’s rise from the ashes of defeat—a fact that was also noted with keen interest by the eminent British historian Arnold Toynbee. The wide dissemination of the Mystic Law serves as the fundamental driving force for transforming the world into a realm of peace and prosperity. All of you, my friends in faith, are working together with me to fulfill this great mission that we proudly share. This is the most admirable life possible and the way to accumulate boundless good fortune and benefit.
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “From [the] single element of mind spring all the various lands and environmental conditions” (WND-2, 843). This expresses one of the most profound principles of Buddhism—in other words, the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” which teaches that our heart or mind encompasses all phenomena in the universe. A place can be transformed positively or negatively depending on what is in people’s hearts and minds. It is no exaggeration to say that the human spiritual quest throughout history has been an exploration of this “single element of mind.” And when we closely examine such fundamental problems as war, famine and environmental destruction, we find that they all come back to this one element.
When We Change, Our Environment Changes
Viewed in terms of the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” the land also has a state of being or life condition. Because Buddhism views life and its environment as inseparable, when the hearts of people living in a certain place are troubled and unhappy, the land, their environment, will also be troubled and unhappy. When people’s hearts shine with inner strength and confidence, the land will also flourish and prosper.
In order to make our precious blue planet Earth shine with the light of peace, prosperity and happiness, it is absolutely vital that we master, deepen and polish this single element of the heart or mind. When areas such as science and information technology lose sight of this truth, they will not be able to contribute to human happiness.
In its ultimate expression, faith in the Mystic Law is the “single element of mind” that can enable our lands to truly flourish. Mr. Toda used to say, “Wherever there are people who have faith in the Mystic Law, that place is a Buddha land.” Through their dedicated endeavors, our SGI members around the world are making valuable contributions to their communities and societies. By striving to achieve lives shining with health and happiness, each of them is demonstrating the path to transforming the karma of their respective countries.
A nation’s prosperity is a direct result of its people standing up with confidence and tapping the passion and energy of the youth. In that respect, nothing pleases me more than seeing my fellow members with whom I share such deep bonds—not least the pioneering members in Kansai, who as youth worked alongside me to make the impossible possible so many years ago—enjoying happy and victorious lives.
Osaka—long famed as the “nation’s kitchen” and commercial capital—and invincible Kansai; some scholars have argued that it was the dynamism of the people of Kansai in the decade after World War II that provided the momentum for Japan’s subsequent miraculous economic recovery. Ever-Victorious Kansai helped carry the nation forward. Many leading thinkers, including noted American economist Lester Thurow and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer, have praised the boundless strength and energy of Kansai.
The power of one genuinely committed individual can surpass that of a force of one million. When we change the “single element of mind” and thus transform ourselves, our environment changes. And when our environment changes, the world changes.
The darker and more confused the times, the brighter the wisdom of Buddhism and courageous action based on that wisdom shine. Our progress signals progress for our countries and for the entire world toward a better, more hope-filled future. This is why we must never stop moving forward.
Mr. Toda declared: “Buddhism is a win-or-lose struggle, and genuine Buddhism is to be found in engaging in a wholehearted struggle in society. To be true disciples of the Daishonin, true agents of change, we have to put Buddhism into practice in society and strive as hard as we can for the welfare of others, our country and the world. That’s what the Soka Gakkai is all about.”
The Saha World
The saha world is a place rife with suffering where Shakyamuni Buddha made his appearance. Because it is a land of suffering, saha also means “to endure suffering.” It is also defined as an impure land defiled by earthly desires and illusions.
The Buddha appearing in the saha world indicates that the Buddha does not emerge from or dwell in a pure land, free from suffering. Rather, a Buddha goes to where the people are suffering in order to encourage them and transform the land. Shakyamuni declared, “Ever since then I have been constantly in this saha world, preaching the Law, teaching and converting” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 266).
SGI President Ikeda on Bodhisattvas emerging in the Saha world:
The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are bodhisattvas from the world of truth who have appeared in this saha world. That is, they are courageous people arising from the great Law of the universe, from Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, who have jubilantly appeared among the people.
Therefore, they are never deadlocked. They can limitlessly draw forth life force and wisdom from the world of the Mystic Law, and they can spread the Mystic Law and endure great persecution in the polluted world of the Latter Day.
All those who spread Buddhism in the defiled world of the Latter Day as Nichiren Daishonin taught are, without exception, Bodhisattvas of the Earth. In this day and age, SGI members match the sutra’s description of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth perfectly. (The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, p. 133)
Buddhism Has the Power to Transform the Land
What, precisely, does the “threefold transform-ation of the land” mean? It is a principle of change—of transforming the countries, lands, areas or places where we are into Buddha lands—which is expounded in the “Emergence of the Treasure Tower” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. It derives from Shakyamuni Buddha’s action of purifying the lands throughout the universe in a threefold process.
Leading up to the Ceremony in the Air of the Lotus Sutra, the magnificent, jeweled treasure tower of Many Treasures Thus Come One rises out of the earth, Buddhas gather from throughout the universe, and the entire assembly is suspended in space so that Shakyamuni can begin his preaching in the air.
When the treasure tower first appears, however, its doors remain closed, and Many Treasures Buddha, who is seated inside, cannot be seen by the assembly. The doors cannot be opened until all the Buddhas of the worlds of the ten directions have assembled before the treasure tower. For that to happen, the land has to be cleaned and purified into a place suitable for such a great assembly of Buddhas—that is, transformed into a Buddha land. Shakyamuni thus embarks on what is termed the “threefold transformation of the land.”
In the first transformation, Shakyamuni emits a ray of light from the tuft of white hair between his eyebrows, making visible the Buddhas in their infinite realms throughout the universe. Those already gathered at the assembly are able to see Buddhas and bodhisattvas in countless lands preaching the Law with great and wondrous voices. These multitudes of Buddhas then say to the bodhisattvas who follow them: “Now I must go to the saha world, to the place where Shakyamuni Buddha is, and also offer alms to the treasure tower of Many Treasures Thus Come One” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 212). Having learned of the appearance of the treasure tower, these Buddhas throughout the universe hasten with their followers to gather before it and meet with Shakyamuni and Many Treasures.
Incidentally, in modern terms, we can perhaps think of these innumerable lands described in the sutra as corresponding to the infinite planets of the cosmos.
Accompanied by their bodhisattva followers, the Buddhas who preach the Law in every corner of the universe begin to assemble one after another at Eagle Peak on the earth. What unfolds is a scene of the grandest scale imaginable. In order to prepare a suitable place for all these Buddhas and bodhisattvas, Shakyamuni transforms the ground into lapis lazuli and adorns it with jeweled trees. An exquisite fragrance perfumes the air and beautiful mandarava flowers cover the ground. In this purified land, each of the Buddhas who gather takes their place on a lion seat. These events represent the first transformation, or purification, of the land.
The second transformation takes place because there is not enough room to accommodate the vast multitudes of Buddhas who continue arriving. Shakyamuni therefore also purifies “two hundred ten thousand million nayutas of lands in each of the eight directions,” connecting them to the saha world and forming one Buddha land of inconceivable extent.
Yet even this is still not sufficient to fit all the Buddhas of the universe, so, in the third transformation, Shakyamuni proceeds to purify a further “two hundred ten thousand million nayutas of lands in each of the eight directions,” fusing them with the other already purified lands.
As a result of this threefold transformation, the saha world and a total of four hundred ten thousand million nayutas of lands in each of the eight directions are merged into a single, vast Buddha land, accommodating infinite multitudes of Buddhas of the ten directions who are emanations of Shakyamuni Buddha. Now that these Buddhas are all present, the doors to the treasure tower are opened by Shakyamuni. With Many Treasures Buddha looking on, the entire assembly is lifted into space, and the Ceremony in the Air begins.
In a loud voice, Shakyamuni declares: “Who is capable of broadly preaching the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law in this saha world? Now is the time to do so”(LSOC, 215). It is a call for the future propagation of the Lotus Sutra.
A nayuta is an Indian numerical unit. Explanations differ according to the source. According to one account, it is 100 billion, while another account considers it to be 10 million.
The Lotus Sutra contains extended passages that describe unthinkably long periods of time. President Ikeda explains that the reason that the Buddha presented these narratives of time was so that the listeners’ minds and imaginations would be stimulated.
SGI President Ikeda on Nayuta:
If the Buddha had said, “I became a Buddha ten-to-the-x-hundredth-power years ago,” his listeners could only respond passively, “Yes, we see.” But when this fact is presented to them as a narrative — “five hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million nayuta asamkhya worlds are pulverized to dust, and then one speck of the dust is dropped every five hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a million nayuta asamkhya worlds”—the listeners are forced to form their own image of this incredibly long period, to think for themselves and actively assimilate this information. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 2, p. 4)
The Mentor-Disciple Relationship is the Starting Point
The essence of the “threefold transformation of the land” is a grand drama of teacher and disciples on a universal scale, in which countless disciples gather around their teacher. It is an assembly of capable individuals who pledge to carry out kosen-rufu, or the widespread propagation of the Law, into the far distant future.
In Nichiren Buddhism, the relationship between teacher and disciple is the starting point for all things; it is the source of all genuine victory.
The Ceremony in the Air sets the scene for the subsequent preaching of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra. The “threefold transformation of the land” thus opens the stage for the essential teaching, a drama of teacher and disciples from time without beginning.
Viewed with the Buddha eye and the Dharma eye—the vision that perceives the true nature of reality—Buddha lands are now steadily being constructed in Japan and around the world. The drama of the essential teaching, a glorious paean to the people, is now unfolding. The time has arrived for the disciples of the essential teaching to take their place on the world stage.
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My mentor, Josei Toda, often used to say, “As far as faith is concerned, I’m persistent to the point of obstinacy.” Kosen-rufu is a momentous struggle that requires continuous effort and indomitable resolve. Our dedicated members everywhere have striven tenaciously, with incredible courage and sincerity, amid storms of slander and abuse, to positively transform their environments and communities. Their endeavors truly resonate with the principle of the “threefold transformation of the land.”
Why was it necessary for Shakyamuni Buddha to purify or transform the land in a threefold process? The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai of China identified the three stages involved in this purification as representing the progressive transformation from the Land of Transition to the Land of Actual Reward and to the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light. The Land of Transition is inhabited mainly by practitioners of the two vehicles—namely, the voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones, or persons of learning and realization; the Land of Actual Reward is inhabited by bodhisattvas; and the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light is the land where a Buddha lives.
T’ien-t’ai also interpreted the threefold transformation as corresponding to the eradication of each of the three categories of illusions, respectively—illusions of thought and desire, illusions as innumerable as particles of dust and sand, and illusions about the true nature of existence. He viewed it as being symbolic of triumphing over these illusions and manifesting the state of Buddhahood.
The important point, however, lies in the fact that Shakyamuni proceeded in swift succession, without any interval, to transform first one sphere of lands and then a second and then a third. Great change can only be realized through constant and continual effort.
Our Inner Resolve Can Vanquish Illusions
Viewed on an even deeper level, from the perspective of Nichiren Buddhism, the moment we decide to transform our environment, our lives undergo a tremendous change. This is because when we forge a deep and unwavering resolve to embark on this undertaking, we immediately vanquish all of the three categories of illusions. As a result, our environment, or the land, also changes without fail.
The “threefold transformation of the land” essentially represents the challenge of doing our human revolution to smash through the tiny shell of our lesser self. This means vigorously chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and courageously initiating efforts for kosen-rufu with the same spirit as our teacher or mentor in faith. Victory lies in taking action right here and now, not sometime in the future.
The Three Categories of Illusions
1. Illusions of thought and desire, which are distorted perceptions of the truth and base inclinations such as greed and anger;
2. Illusions innumerable as particles of dust and sand, which are illusions that arise when bodhisattvas try to master innumerable teachings in order to lead others to enlightenment;
3. Illusions about the true nature of existence, which are illusions that prevent bodhisattvas from attaining enlightenment or from awakening to the truth of the Middle Way.
SGI President Ikeda on the three categories of illusion:
1. Illusions of thought and desire: “These illusions could be described as distortions of life itself. They distort the mirror of the heart in which other people are reflected, giving us a skewed image of others . . . Ultimately, illusions of thought and desire produce nothing but prejudice and hatred. In such a frame of mind, you cannot conduct openhearted dialogue with anyone, nor will others approach you with open hearts.”
2. Illusions innumerable as particles of dust and sand that afflict bodhisattvas: “This is something SGI members all experience. Before taking faith, we struggle earnestly just to overcome our own worries and sufferings. After taking faith, however, we increasingly come to worry about the well-being of others.”
3. Illusions about the true nature of existence: “This is the fundamental source of all illusions. If we are ignorant about the nature of our own existence, then we will be ignorant about the nature of other people’s lives, too. On the other hand, when our lives are free of illusion, we can perceive the treasure tower that shines resplendent in all people, in all beings. Such an open heart is the nature of enlightenment.” (see The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, pp. 43–46)
Kosen-rufu Means to Fundamentally Transform Society
From the standpoint of human society, the “threefold transformation of the land” could be deemed as symbolic of the harmonious coexistence of all humankind. In the Lotus Sutra, Buddhas from the infinite worlds of the ten directions gather and mingle peacefully in a single Buddha land. Accordingly, the Ceremony in the Air represents an ideal world in which people from all walks of life, transcending national and cultural differences, come together as one.
From the perspective of life, meanwhile, the Mystic Law is the Law of the universe. Thus, wherever we spread the Mystic Law, all Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the universe will gather joyously to praise and protect us. The teachings subsequently expounded by Shakyamuni in the Ceremony in the Air—which begin with the “threefold transformation of the land”—clearly attest to this.
Kosen-rufu is the process of spreading the Mystic Law in this troubled, strife-filled world. Dedicating our lives to kosen-rufu means taking on the struggle inherent in the “threefold transformation of the land”: the struggle to fundamentally transform society—a place afflicted by the three poisons of greed, anger and foolishness—into a Buddha land.And, further, from the standpoint of life condition or state of being, the “threefold transformation of the land” is a demonstration of the boundless virtues possessed by the two Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures. It also represents the unification or merging of all the Buddhas throughout the three existences of past, present and future who are emanations of Shakyamuni. Buddhas and bodhisattvas from every corner of the universe, seeking the Law and their teacher, travel from afar to assemble in the saha world. This gives us an indication of the towering life state of Shakyamuni, brimming with infinite wisdom and compassion, as he preached the Lotus Sutra. This is a testament to the greatness of the Mystic Law that underlies this life state—a life state that all of us who dedicate our lives to the Mystic Law are also able to attain.
Today, leaders from various spheres around the world are visiting the Soka Gakkai Head-quarters and other Soka Gakkai centers. Guests from diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions are expressing their sincere support and under-standing of the philosophy and activities of the SGI. They deeply appreciate the humanistic ideals and principles we uphold based on the Mystic Law, and are forging close ties of friendship and cooperation with us.
As the representative of our entire membership, I have also received many awards from cities across the globe and academic honors from universities and other institutions of higher learning. The SGI has become a truly magnificent organization, a great harbinger of change in terms of bringing humanity closer together in accord with the principle of the “threefold transformation of the land.”
We Can Make a Difference
We are also now seeing more and more community leaders in each country attending SGI activities or events. Visitors flock to our centers, splendid citadels built with the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple. Through your noble efforts, Nichiren Daishonin’s confident assertion that the Mystic Law will flourish throughout the land is steadily becoming a reality.
Your unstinting efforts to talk with and encourage the members in your groups, districts and chapters, helping them transform their lives, are all part of a wonderful drama of victory that embodies the spirit of the “threefold transformation of the land.” Everything comes down to striving with a sense of joy at each moment, believing that the area we find ourselves in right now—no matter how small or how challenging it might be—is the shining stage on which we can make a difference in this life.
Mr. Toda asserted, “If Japan were filled with people who had the strength and mettle of great champions, it would undoubtedly be rebuilt by their unsurpassed abilities in industry, reconstruction, culture and the arts.” When he spoke of “great champions,” he meant people brimming with dynamism and life force, people challenging their own human revolution and showing actual proof of happiness. When people overflow with the vibrant, positive energy to win, to succeed, they can powerfully transform society and eventually even achieve a profound change in the destiny or karma of the world as a whole.
I gave my all as Mr. Toda’s disciple, completely united with him in spirit.
Speaking out for truth, I helped one person after another bring about a fundamental inner change in their lives. I fought with the determination to permeate every place I went with my mentor’s spirit and life force. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the saha world is in itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, or the Buddha land. The condition of the land is also a manifestation of the “single element of mind.” It arises from our mind, our fundamental attitude, and is contained therein.
I have often spoken of the principle of the “threefold transformation of the land” to people living in places afflicted by earthquakes, typhoons and other natural disasters, and prayed together with them. The relief and reconstruction efforts selflessly undertaken by SGI members during such trials have served to spread hope and courage, and have contributed to building greater community cooperation and unity. I have received many messages of appreciation for the invaluable role our members have played in reconstruction efforts in communities that have been hit by disaster. All these members have done a brilliant job in changing poison into medicine.
“Speaking out for truth, I helped one person after another bring about a fundamental inner change in their lives. I fought with the determination to permeate every place I went with my mentor’s spirit and life force. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the saha world is in itself the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, or the Buddha land. The condition of the land is also a manifestation of the ‘single element of mind.’ It arises from our mind, our fundamental attitude, and is contained therein.”
In our dialogue, Dr. Zhang Kaiyuan, eminent Chinese historian and former president of Huazhong Normal University, spoke of how China had recently overcome a number of disasters, including severe snowstorms and a devastating earthquake in 2008, and gone on to make the Beijing Olympics a resounding success. He remarked: “Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao wrote an inscription to encourage those living in the quake-affected areas that said, ‘Much distress regenerates a nation.’ True to these words, the disaster focused the entire Chinese people, both inside and outside China, on the task of rebuilding their country. Because they rallied together, united and overcame hardship, they were able to triumph over a disaster of the kind that we might experience once in a thousand years.”
The mental strength and inner fortitude of the people are tremendous. Based on the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” it is possible for us to tap this strength without limit. It is Nichiren’s unshakable conviction that, if we each bring forth our inherent power as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, we will manifest a strength greater than that of all of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the ten directions and the three existences; we will definitely change our karma and transform the world around us into an ideal land of peace and security, safeguarded by the protective functions of the universe.
Summon the “Great Power of Faith”
Currently, Japan and the rest of the world are facing a serious financial crisis. However, Nichiren Buddhism teaches us of the “wonderful workings of one mind” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 30). I hope you will be confident, therefore, that with a strong determination in faith never to be defeated, you will find a way through any situation without fail. My wife and I are also wholeheartedly chanting for each of you to be staunchly protected and for you to triumph and prosper in your lives.
In the Lotus Sutra, the process of purifying the lands takes place not once but in three stages; in other words, it was achieved only through repeated efforts. The challenge of transformation thus requires immense patience and perseverance. When things get really tough, let’s always summon “the great power of faith” (LSOC, 59), pray our hardest, keep on trying and challenging ourselves again and again, and thereby open the way to a victorious future!
The Indian poet and educator Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “A country is the creation of man. A country is not all land but all soul. It is only when its people are expressive that a country is fully expressed.”
Today, the Mystic Law has spread to 192 countries and territories. Our Soka movement is recognized widely as an exemplary global network dedicated to the cause of good. Our endeavors in the spirit of the “threefold transformation of the land” as Bodhisattvas of the Earth are beginning to have a meaningful impact on the world.
Kosen-rufu has entered a new stage. Just as Nichiren called out, “My disciples, form your ranks and follow me” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 765), the time has now come for fresh legions of capable individuals to boldly step forward and rise into action. This is the goal of the Year of Youth and Victory.
Holding high the Soka banner of the oneness of mentor and disciple, our members throughout Japan and the entire world are making positive contributions to their communities and societies. I wish to applaud and commend them with all my heart as a great and noble gathering of Buddhas dedicated to actualizing the principle of the “threefold transformation of the land.”