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Buddhist Study

Cultivating Our “Behavior as Human Beings”


The following article is based on a lecture given at the recent North America and Oceania Study Conference (see pp. 6–8).

Since the Soka Gakkai’s beginnings in 1930, its members have continued spreading the practice and ideals of Nichiren Buddhism in order to help people overcome misery and suffering, and become happy.

The Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, however, which existed for centuries prior to the emergence of the Soka Gakkai, strayed from the essential spirit of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. Consumed by their clerical power, priests began viewing the laity as a means to service their own selfish needs. Their behavior stands in stark contrast to what we find in Nichiren’s writings.

Challenging and overcoming the religious authoritarianism and error of the priesthood, and thereby affirming for posterity the humanistic spirit of Nichiren Daishonin, has become an important legacy of the Soka Gakkai.

Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s Exemplary Behavior

While the Mystic Law may be invisible to the eye, it becomes apparent in the actions of those who uphold it and correctly carry out Buddhist practice. Nichiren writes:

The heart of the Buddha’s lifetime of teachings is the Lotus Sutra, and the heart of the practice of the Lotus Sutra is found in the “Never Disparaging” chapter. What does Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s profound respect for people signify? The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being. (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 851–52)

This passage references the 20th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which explains the practice of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, who resolutely believed in the Buddha nature of all people. He expressed reverence to all those he encountered, and at times, some responded by cursing and attacking him. While escaping harm, he continued showing them respect.

Never Disparaging’s behavior teaches us to always respect others. SGI President Ikeda states:

A Buddha is none other than a human being who embodies the Law. The Law does not exist in some separate realm, apart from the actions of human beings. That is why Buddhism places such emphasis on a person’s behavior and state of life … The foundation for any genuine religious reformation lies in each person’s inner transformation, achieved through actions grounded in respect for others. (September 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 53)

In sharing Buddhism to help one person after another awaken to their limitless potential, we may face those who criticize or respond negatively to us. President Ikeda points out that “Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s practice of showing respect to others is, in fact, the same as our practice of introducing people to Nichiren Buddhism” (June 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 53). (See sidebar.)

The Oneness of Good and Evil

The Soka Gakkai’s religious revolution hinges on the inner transformation and development of each of us as we strive to spread Buddhism and combat negative functions.

This requires an ongoing effort to uproot our fundamental darkness—or ignorance of the fact that each person’s life is essentially a manifestation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This fundamental darkness is the source of the disregard for life, the devaluation and demonization of others, war and nuclear proliferation, societal inequalities, the destruction of our natural environment, food shortages and many other fundamental issues that cause humanity to suffer.

About the oneness of good and evil, Nichiren says, “Regarding the bodhisattva Never Disparaging as a ‘good’ person and the arrogant ones [who persecuted him] as ‘bad’ persons is a sign of ignorance” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 162–63). In other words, the potential for both good and evil exists in our lives.

With faith in the Mystic Law, Nichiren says, we can break through our fundamental darkness and bring forth our fundamental enlightenment. We do this through our daily Buddhist practice and our efforts to connect with others through dialogue.

The SGI’s Spiritual Independence

In November 1991, after the Soka Gakkai had long endeavored to create harmony between the priesthood and laity, it was Nikken Abe, the high priest himself, who cut ties with the Soka Gakkai, excommunicating millions of its members. He refused repeated attempts by Soka Gakkai leaders to hold dialogues.

Driven by arrogance and jealousy, he attempted to destroy the Soka Gakkai and sever the bonds between mentor and disciple. However, the results were the opposite of what he intended.

The Soka Gakkai’s separation from the priesthood, its spiritual independence, became the catalyst for the organization to take flight and greatly develop as a world religion.

President Ikeda says: “Today, in every corner of the world, people are revitalizing their lives through their Buddhist practice and the beneficial power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Their humanistic behavior is touching those around them, while the joy they experience through their practice is spreading, inspiring others to stand up in faith as well” (September 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 57).

Showing People Respect Is the Same as Introducing People to Buddhism

SGI President Ikeda: Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s practice of showing respect to others is, in fact, the same as our practice of introducing people to Nichiren Buddhism.

My mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, always taught us that if we had problems, we should share Buddhism with others, and that in so doing, we would be able to change our own karma.

Sharing Buddhism is not about debating or defeating others in argument. It is encouraging and urging another person to awaken to the fact that we are all supremely respectworthy beings who possess the Buddha nature. This is precisely what Bodhisattva Never Disparaging did. It is also a struggle to break down the icy walls of darkness or ignorance in our own lives, which take the form of apathy, passivity and other negative emotions.

When we talk with others about Buddhism, we are actually grappling with our own ignorance and earthly desires. That’s why it gives us the strength to surmount our own problems, enabling us to solidly transform our state of life and change our karma.

In that sense, sharing Buddhism comes down to overcoming our own cowardice, laziness and delusion, thus enabling us to dispel the darkness or ignorance in our own lives and in the lives of others. (June 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 53)

Calling Forth an Ever-Growing Stream of Youthful Bodhisattvas

Bodhisattvas Emerge!