What Is the Origin of Discussion Meetings?
It could be said that the spread of Buddhism began with discussion meetings. According to Buddhist scriptures, after attaining enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha pondered the best way to convey the content of his enlightenment. After much consideration, he decided to first share his awakening with a small group of longtime friends. Over time and after many intimate and informal discussions, his friends, who had initially been skeptical of the Buddha’s enlightenment, went on to become his first five disciples.
This small gathering in which the ties of mentor and disciple were forged between Shakyamuni and his five disciples is known as the first “turning of the wheel of the Law,” which signified the start of the Buddhist Order (sangha) and subsequent spread of Buddhism.
Centuries later, when Nichiren Daishonin in the 13th century set in motion the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law, he did so by first sharing his teaching with a small group of people at Seicho-ji temple (see “Letter to the Priests of Seicho-ji,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 651).
In many of his writings, he urges his followers, who had to endure persecution by secular and religious authorities, to study his letters together and to encourage one another. For instance, he instructs: “Those resolved to seek the way should gather and listen to the contents of this letter” (“Letter from Teradomari,” WND-1, 206); and “In this defiled age you should always talk together” (“The Votary of the Lotus Sutra Will Meet Persecution,” WND-1, 449).
Other letters reveal that Nichiren was involved in arranging gatherings for his disciples. For example, in reading “Letter to Toki,” it is evident that Nichiren had taken it upon himself to secure a place for a commemorative lecture, asking a disciple if he could host it at his home (see WND-2, 1082). At times, Nichiren took the lead in coordinating such gatherings, where ordinary people could readily discuss and learn about the profound teachings of Buddhism.
When the Soka Gakkai was founded in 1930 by first and second Soka Gakkai presidents Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, they immediately launched an unprecedented grass-roots dialogue movement that centered on discussion meetings.
Even as the Japanese militarist government tightened control over its citizens and meetings were held under the strict surveillance of the Special Higher Police, Mr. Makiguchi was not deterred.
“Mr. Makiguchi didn’t submit to the fanatical fascism of his day,” SGI President Ikeda writes. “He continued to hold discussion meetings and confidently engage in dialogue about Nichiren Buddhism right up until his arrest by the authorities” (May 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 15).
Presidents Makiguchi and Toda pressed on fearlessly to spread the humanistic teachings of Buddhism in a time when the dignity of life was viciously trampled upon. In this way, Nichiren’s spirit of never succumbing to the devilish nature of authority also became part of the Soka Gakkai’s legacy, which is being carried on by third president Daisaku Ikeda and the members of the SGI today.
Discussion meetings epitomize the Buddha’s message of valuing each individual while aiming to inspire each person in faith and to instill in all who attend the fighting spirit to protect the dignity of life. In addition, the act of gathering together with fellow practitioners is an integral part of practicing Nichiren Buddhism and the movement for advancing kosen-rufu.
The Soka Gakkai’s worldwide expansion also started with President Ikeda traveling to various countries and meeting with people in small groups and sincerely encouraging each person. Throughout the history of Nichiren Buddhism, discussion meetings have been the starting point of growth and expansion.
President Ikeda urges: “As disciples, it’s not enough that we simply read Nichiren Daishonin’s writings or our mentor’s guidance in quiet solitude. We should have the spirit to gather together in one place with our fellow practitioners. The earnest resolve in making an effort to assemble in this way has the power to defeat negativity and devilish functions. And by joining together with others to study Nichiren’s writings and our mentor’s guidance, we can summon forth lionlike courage to undertake the task of actualizing the great vow of kosen-rufu” (Aug. 3, 2018, World Tribune, p. 8).
As we head toward the historic gathering of 50,000 Lions of Justice on Sept. 23 and beyond, let’s continue our dynamic monthly rhythm of coming together at discussion meetings to refresh our vow for kosen-rufu and then returning to our respective stages of mission to generate ever-greater momentum in spreading throughout our society and the world the empowering, hope-filled philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism.
For more on the significance of discussion meetings, please see the Aug. 3, 2018, World Tribune, pp. 6–7.
SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance
The following excerpts are from The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 2, pp. 94–95.
We don’t speak of the “tradition” of the discussion meeting simply because the pattern of holding such meetings has continued for many years. Rather, with the discussion meeting as the central focus of our activities, we have striven to treasure each person; this spirit to value and respect the individual is the tradition of the SGI. The SGI has unceasingly encouraged people in their ordinary yet valiant struggles. This is the tradition of the discussion meeting.
From a societal viewpoint, the number of people participating in these meetings is not large; nor is any particular attention paid to these meetings. Indeed, no gathering of people is more simple or down-to-earth.
But discussion meetings are grounded in a philosophy that thoroughly explains the Law pervading the universe. They produce a nourishing moisture that nurtures the lives of people from all walks of life, enabling them to blossom. They are pervaded with hope that inspires people—no matter how overwhelmed they may be—with the spirit to stand up and try again.
. . . A young man may rush to get to a meeting after working hard all day. The moment he arrives, he may relax, thinking, “I made it in time,” and suddenly become drowsy. But his drowsiness won’t last long because a perennially kind but firm women’s division district leader is sure to tell him: “Show a little life! You’re still young, after all.”
There are pioneer members who explain the great joy of faith with poignant words infused with rich experience. And there are children in the [elementary school division] who are delightful, even if sometimes they may make a commotion.
There may be a father who comes to a meeting for the first time in ages, attributing his presence to the constant needling of his spouse. And when, beaming, he announces his determination to “finally get serious about my practice,” his wife, amid the applause, smiles tearfully.
There is laughter, there are tears, there is emotion. The SGI discussion meeting is a people’s oasis that reverberates with a spirit of determination and appreciation, where suffering turns into courage, and fatigue gives way to warm fulfillment.
This small gathering is the very image of human harmony. It is a true model of democracy. It has the pulse of kosen-rufu and links faith, family and the community. It is pervaded with the spirit to enable the noble children of the Buddha and their precious friends to become happy. This is the spirit of the Lotus Sutra.