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Buddhist Study

Devilish Functions

Honing the basics of faith, practice and study are our most powerful tools for discerning and identifying devilish functions. JOCELYN HSU

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that Buddhahood—a truly free, unfettered state of life overflowing with boundless joy and compassion for all people—is gained by deepening our commitment to the happiness of self and others.

The SGI is an organization made up of individuals striving to establish this state of life and united in creating a harmonious community dedicated to spreading this philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism that can uplift humanity and bring about peace and happiness throughout the world.

As we strive to fulfill this most noble mission, we are bound to encounter resistance and obstacles in the form of negative functions, called devilish functions, which can emerge in our lives or in the lives of others.

These functions arise from our fundamental darkness, which shrouds our ability to see the Buddha nature that exists in all people. And devilish functions try to hinder our efforts to advance in our Buddhist practice
and sow disunity among fellow practitioners.

Nichiren Daishonin states:

If you propagate it [Buddhism], devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching. One passage from the same volume reads: “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils[1] emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere . . . One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching.” (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 501)

We do not learn about devilish functions to generate fear or make us hesitant to take on challenges, but to help us meet all obstacles and challenges head-on with courage and wisdom. In fact, when things arise to keep us from advancing in faith, we know that we are on the correct path and that we need to redouble our efforts.

Nichiren also teaches:

All disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the spirit of many in body but one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate Law of life and death. Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren’s propagation. When you are so united, even the great desire for widespread propagation can be fulfilled. But if any of Nichiren’s disciples disrupt the unity of many in body but one in mind, they would be like warriors who destroy their own castle from within. (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” WND-1, 217)

We can cultivate the wisdom to identify devilish functions and the courage to tackle them quickly and resolutely by uniting with fellow practitioners and renewing our commitment to advance the spread of Buddhist ideals throughout society.

In the history of the Soka Gakkai, there have been examples of “warriors who destroy their own castle from within,” or individuals who sow confusion and disunity in the organization, fueled by their own desire for recognition, power and personal wealth.

In the late 1970s, for example, a former Soka Gakkai study department leader joined ranks with a former Soka Gakkai attorney—both had let their self-interest override their commitment to kosen-rufu. Using the media to convey distorted facts and false information about the Soka Gakkai, they publicly attacked the organization, aiming to cause a rift between President Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai members in order to destroy the organization. They made claims such as: “It was really good during the time of second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda. President Ikeda is all right, but we represent President Toda’s successors.” And, “Today’s Soka Gakkai is on the wrong track!”

Rather than announce themselves, devilish functions may appear in obscure and tricky ways, sometimes arising under the guise of common sense and virtuousness, or inconspicuously assailing us in our most vulnerable areas.

Fortunately, we have very reliable ways to discern these devilish functions:

• Develop faith based on a resounding gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every morning and evening.
• Carry out diligent practice by steadily engaging in SGI activities.
• Deepen understanding of Buddhism by regularly studying The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin and President Ikeda’s guidance, including The Human Revolution and The New Human Revolution.

Our most powerful tools for discerning and identifying devilish functions are found in honing the basics of faith, practice and study.

Our consistent Buddhist practice serves as a source of wisdom and courage to protect the harmonious community of believers that is the Soka Gakkai—the only organization dedicated to spreading the ideals of Nichiren Buddhism to transform our world into one of happiness, peace, harmony and respect.

President Ikeda’s Guidance

We are living in the realm of faith. Therefore, we must unite based on the Gohonzon, with faith as our foremost guide. If we allow ourselves to be ruled by our emotions, jealousy and conflict are bound to arise. That is a sign that the devilish functions within us have taken control and we have strayed from the teachings of Buddhism. Uniting together entails a struggle with these inner devils, and achieving unity of purpose is proof that we have done our human revolution, exercising self-mastery and winning over our own negativity. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 30, chapter 1, “Great Mountain” booklet, pp. 6–7)


  1. Three obstacles and four devils: Various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. ↩︎

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