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Buddhist Study

Who Is the “Correct Teacher” We Should Seek?


The very essence of Nichiren Buddhism is the way of mentor and disciple. In Buddhism, mentors convey to their disciples their goal of leading all people to absolute happiness in order to create a society of harmony and peace. And they teach their disciples how to accomplish this goal.

Everything in this mentor-disciple relationship hinges on the disciples. When we thoroughly endeavor to put into practice the mentor’s teachings and make the mentor’s goal our own, we can fully reveal our true potential and make our unique qualities shine from the depths of our lives.

In order to fully reveal our potential, then, we must find the best mentor. And when it comes to seeking a correct mentor, Nichiren Daishonin is quite strict. He states: “One should understand that, at present, when it comes to teachers, there is a difference between correct teachers and erroneous teachers, between good teachers and bad teachers. One should shun those who are erroneous or evil, and associate with those who are correct and good” (“Reply to Sairen-bo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 310).

How can we identify a “correct and good teacher” of Buddhism?

SGI President Ikeda explains: “It is the person who chants and spreads the Mystic Law with selfless dedication while battling the three powerful enemies of Buddhism.[1] Correct teachers of the Law can be identified by whether they have encountered hardships and obstacles just like those described in the Lotus Sutra. This is Nichiren’s key focus” (November 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 59).

When we study the life of Nichiren Daishonin, we can clearly see that he was a correct teacher of Buddhism. Based on the humanistic teachings of the Lotus Sutra, he carried out his vow to lead all people to enlightenment, and to establish peace and happiness throughout society. Despite this, he faced unending persecutions and hardships due to false accusations.

However, knowing that he was living in exact accord with the Lotus Sutra filled him with absolute conviction that he was steadily advancing on the best path. It filled him with the powerful resolve to keep challenging and triumphing over the three powerful enemies and all obstacles.

Understanding the history of the Soka Gakkai offers ample evidence that its three founding presidents—Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda—have also lived in exact accord with the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren’s writings and thus qualify as “correct and good” mentors of Buddhism. They have taken on the brunt of all obstacles and persecutions based on the Daishonin’s teachings, while endeavoring to make the Buddha’s teachings accessible to people throughout the world. In the process, they have established an indestructible foundation of faith that will endure for all eternity.

In his letter “Reply to Sairen-bo,” Nichiren teaches that what distinguishes good teachers from bad ones is their ability to conquer the devil king of the sixth heaven. The devil king is a manifestation of fundamental darkness or ignorance that exists in our lives and the destructive impulses that obstruct our Buddhist practice. It also represents power gained through abusive authority and subordination of the weak.

The battle against this devil king is never-ending, and only by continuing to challenge obstacles can we establish the life state of Buddhahood as our dominant life condition.

President Ikeda explains:

True Buddhist teachers set an example of personally battling and triumphing over devilish functions. Those who not only overcome devilish functions in their own lives but also strive to teach and show all people how they can surmount such obstacles are true teachers in Buddhism.

By contrast, individuals who easily give in to devilish functions, no matter how wise or virtuous they might appear, will end up slandering the Law, showing hostility toward the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and destroying Buddhism. (The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 46)

As stated earlier, the person who determines the nature of this mentor-disciple relationship is the disciple. President Ikeda says: “It is when the disciple stands up for kosen-rufu in accord with the mentor’s call and wins in life that mentor and disciple become truly united and one. The lives of mentor and disciple resonate in harmony with one another, and the power of the Buddha and the power of the Law pulse in the life of the disciple.

“There is no path to attaining Buddhahood apart from the path of struggling for kosen-rufu together with one’s mentor” (Ibid., p. 48).

The 3 Requisites of a Mentor in Buddhism

In his lecture on “Reply to Sairen-bo,” SGI President Ikeda offers three requisites of a “correct and good teacher,” which are:

1) Wisdom to see through the devilish nature of fundamental evil inherent in life and reveal the fundamental good of the Mystic Law.

2) Courage to remain dedicated to the correct teaching of Buddhism and to continue fighting against evil without being led astray by devilish functions.

3) Compassion to always be concerned with relieving people’s suffering and imparting joy, and to actively work for the happiness of self and others. (See The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 46–48)


  1. Three powerful enemies: Three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, described in the concluding verse section of “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The Great Teacher Miao-lo of China summarizes them as arrogant lay people, arrogant priests and arrogant false sages. ↩︎

“Creators of Peace”

Q: What does it mean to use the strategy of the Lotus Sutra?