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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Happiness for Oneself and Others—Transforming Our Life State Through Sharing Buddhism

For Our Wonderful New Members—Part 2 [41]

The American poet Walt Whitman (1819–92) sings vibrantly:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I think whatever I shall meet on the road
I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like
me, I think whoever I see must be happy.[1]

Whitman’s poem is an ode to humanity, brimming with optimism, inspiration and joy.

Creating Moving Human Dramas

This describes all of us. As we walk the “open road” of Soka, we behold the blossoming of beautiful, inspiring “human flowers” (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 142), each striving to fulfill a unique mission, in accord with the principle of “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 200). Though we may come from different cultures, backgrounds and walks of life, we have cultivated wonderful friendships based on mutual respect, giving rise to countless moving human dramas.

Our heart-to-heart encounters with fellow members create a chain reaction of joy. This can be seen at our meetings and activities, where new members convey their fresh resolve on starting their Buddhist practice; where youth boldly express their determination, or are showered in congratulatory applause; where elderly members beam with smiles, friends vow together to change their karma and the lively voices of children resound.

A Compassionate Network Dedicated to People’s Happiness

Some new members have said that they were inspired to join the Soka Gakkai because of the sincerity and concern they were shown by the person who introduced them, and by how that person earnestly prayed for their happiness and spoke to them patiently about the practice. When new members start to practice, everyone in their local organization celebrates their hope-filled new beginning as if it were their own.

The Soka Gakkai is a compassionate network dedicated to people’s happiness. This is our pride as practitioners of a truly humanistic religion.

A religion that lacks the power to actually alleviate people’s sufferings, no matter how long its history or traditions, cannot be called a living religion.

We of the Soka Gakkai, wishing to realize genuine happiness for ourselves and others, and to foster ties of trust with those around us, go out into society and share with others our convictions and experiences in faith. Such active efforts are surely the lifeblood of a humanistic religion.

Bodhisattva Practice Is the Essence of Mahayana Buddhism

One’s own happiness to the exclusion of others is not true happiness. We cannot be happy while others are suffering. Seeking happiness for oneself and others is genuine happiness. The original purpose of Buddhism and the profound wish of the Buddha is to help those who are suffering and enable as many people as possible to become happy.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi said:

While there is no dispute about the fact that someone who believes [in the Mystic Law] will have their prayers answered and realize benefit, this alone does not constitute bodhisattva practice. There is no such thing as a self-centered Buddha who simply accumulates personal benefit and does not work for the well-being of others. Unless we carry out bodhisattva practice, we cannot attain Buddhahood. Working for the welfare of others with the heart of a parent is the mark of both the true believer and the true practitioner.[2]

Mr. Makiguchi spoke these words in 1942, just two years before he died in prison, having steadfastly spoken out for justice against Japan’s militarist authorities, undeterred by persecution.

In this installment, I would like to examine the altruistic practice that lies at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism, from the perspective of working for the happiness of oneself and others. First, let us look at a passage from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings.[3]

Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s Practice of Showing Respect to All

[Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s] bow of obeisance [is] acknowledging the fact that “self” and “others” are in fact not two different things.

For this reason, when the bodhisattva Never Disparaging makes his bow of obeisance to the four kinds of believers, the Buddha nature[4] inherent in the four kinds of believers of overbearing arrogance bows in obeisance to the bodhisattva Never Disparaging. It is like the situation when one faces a mirror and makes a bow of obeisance: the image in the mirror likewise makes a bow of obeisance to oneself. (OTT, 165)

The Lotus Sutra describes the story of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, a bodhisattva still in the early stages of practice, as a model for Buddhist practice in the Latter Day of the Law.

Bodhisattva Never Disparaging greeted each person he encountered with a bow of praise and respect, saying: “I have profound reverence for you, I would never dare treat you with disparagement or arrogance. Why? Because you will all practice the bodhisattva way and will then be able to attain Buddhahood” (LSOC, 308).

But people found this aggravating and reacted with hostility, showering him with abuse, beating him with sticks and staves, and throwing stones and tiles at him. Still, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was not deterred; rather, he would wisely retreat to a safe distance and shout to the effect: “Even so, I respect you. You will all become Buddhas!” (see LSOC, 309). He refused to stop showing respect and reverence to all.

Awakening the Buddha Nature in the Arrogant

The people who rejected Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s greeting and angrily attacked him are known as the arrogant four kinds of believers—namely, arrogant monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. This is because at the core of the refusal to accept the truth taught by the Buddha is arrogance arising from fundamental darkness or ignorance.[5]

This passage from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings employs the simile of a mirror. When we bow before a mirror, the image in the mirror bows back to us.

Likewise, the Buddha nature inherent in the arrogant four kinds of believers bows respectfully to Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, even if they themselves are not aware of it. From the profound perspective of Buddhism, this is the dynamic way that human life interacts.

Mr. Makiguchi underlined this passage, regarding it as very important.

In our efforts to explain Buddhism to others, we may be criticized by those who don’t understand our intentions, but we shouldn’t allow it to bother us. Our sincere prayers for their happiness and our earnest efforts at dialogue are certain to reach their hearts. In the depths of life, our Buddha nature and theirs exchange greetings and call each other forth.

We Are All Supremely Worthy of Respect

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.

The Buddhist Spirit of Reaching Out to Others

Buddhist dialogue isn’t something we engage in only once we’ve attained enlightenment. Rather, it is an integral part of our Buddhist practice, which we carry out by connecting and talking with others in accord with our mentor’s teachings.

Buddhism originated in Shakyamuni taking action to communicate the truth to which he had personally awakened. His efforts to share his enlightenment began when he went to see five old friends. He conversed with them at great length, and eventually one of the friends understood his message. Thereafter, others followed, one after another.

Why do we spread the Law? Shakyamuni called on his disciples: “Go forth for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many.”[6] Our practice doesn’t end with our own enlightenment; its purpose is to realize happiness for both ourselves and others. This is what makes Buddhism a truly humanistic religion.

Introducing Others to Buddhism Is the Practice of Compassion

Another passage from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings states that Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s practice of showing respect to everyone he meets is an expression of his conviction that all people possess the Buddha nature, and that this conviction is based on compassion.[7]

Josei Toda also declared that introducing others to Buddhism is the practice of compassion, saying: “Compassionate action is ‘the work of the Buddha.’ It is also truly noble because, in the process of such efforts, we are able to realize lasting happiness not only for ourselves, but also to open that possibility for others who may be suffering from poverty and want. There is, therefore, no nobler work than this.”[8]Again, it is about happiness for both ourselves and others.

Mr. Toda also observed that it can be very difficult for ordinary people to bring forth compassion. He therefore taught that we can substitute courage for compassion. It takes courage to reach out and share Buddhism with others. Courage gives rise to compassionate action.

Our efforts to introduce others to Buddhism always start from a courageous first step forward, setting in motion waves of inner transformation.

The Original Seed of Attaining Buddhahood

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “All the Buddhas of the three existences and the ten directions have invariably attained Buddhahood through the seeds represented by the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo”[9](“Letter to Akimoto,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1015). The Mystic Law is the original cause for the enlightenment of all Buddhas.

He also writes, “The Lotus Sutra is like the seed, the Buddha like the sower, and the people like the field” (“The Essentials for Attaining Buddhahood,” WND-1, 748). Once the seed of Buddhahood is sown in the lives of living beings, they are certain to attain Buddhahood.

Therefore, the most important part of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism is sowing the seed of Buddhahood in people’s lives. That practice of sowing is nothing special. It is simply reaching out to those in our lives and speaking to them, even just a few words, about the Mystic Law. It is communicating, in our own way, how wonderful the teachings of Buddhism are.

Next, I would like to discuss the significance of sowing the seed of enlightenment, based on a passage from Nichiren’s writing “How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra.”

Using Our Voice

Because one has heard the Lotus Sutra, which leads to Buddhahood, with this as the seed, one will invariably become a Buddha.

Thus, T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo, following this principle, state in their commentaries that one should persist in preaching the Lotus Sutra. …

One should by all means persist in preaching the Lotus Sutra and causing them to hear it. Those who put their faith in it will surely attain Buddhahood, while those who slander it will establish a “poison-drum relationship”[10] with it and will likewise attain Buddhahood.

In any event, the seeds of Buddhahood exist nowhere apart from the Lotus Sutra. (“How Those Initially Aspiring to the Way Can Attain Buddhahood through the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 882)[11]

The Lotus Sutra—in other words, the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo—is the seed for the enlightenment of all Buddhas. Consequently, this passage asserts, even a person living in the defiled age of the Latter Day of the Law who has only just aroused faith in Buddhism will invariably attain Buddhahood upon hearing the Lotus Sutra.

Using the word hear, Nichiren Daishonin singles out the faculty of hearing among the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, because our world is a place where “one gains the way through the faculty of hearing,”[12] he says.

Just hearing about the Lotus Sutra from another person is an external cause that plants the seed of Buddhahood in one’s life, guaranteeing that one will attain enlightenment and realize absolute happiness. Even if one doesn’t listen to what is being said about the Lotus Sutra, or even if one is unable to hear, the “Buddha’s voice” penetrates the depths of one’s being.

Talking about Nichiren Buddhism, which constitutes the heart of the Lotus Sutra, sharing the joy and conviction we’ve experienced through our practice, and enabling others to hear the sound of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo being chanted—all of these actions sow the seed of enlightenment, of Buddhahood, in their lives.

People differ in their personalities and circumstances, and they all have different challenges and problems. But seen with the eyes of the Buddha, they are struggling valiantly amid the sea of the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. Wishing to share the Mystic Law—the “highly effective medicine” for all humankind (see LSOC, 269)—with others, we strive patiently to connect with each person’s life.

Nichiren Daishonin uses the word persist in this passage. “Persist” here does not imply forcing the teaching upon others. Rather, it is daring to act, seeking to create positive bonds with people.

Without worrying about whether the person we are talking to has the capacity to understand, and without being swayed by their reaction, we dare to reach out and talk to them about our practice and the true purpose of our movement. This is what it means to share Buddhism, the essence of which is the practice of sowing the seed of Buddhahood in people’s lives.

All people possess the Buddha nature, but we can’t see it. We can’t even see our own Buddha nature. This is a fact of being human. But we can believe Nichiren’s assertion that “the Buddha dwells within our hearts,” just like “flint has the potential to produce fire” (see “New Year’s Gosho,” WND-1, 1137); in other words, that the Mystic Law is the teaching that enables all people to attain Buddhahood. It is with these eyes of faith that we need to look at people. Whether they heed what we say, we should persist in our sincere efforts to teach them about Buddhism.

In a letter to one of his lay followers, the Daishonin writes: “I entrust you with the propagation of Buddhism in your province. It is stated that ‘the seeds of Buddhahood sprout through causation’” (see “The Properties of Rice,” WND-1, 1117). He is stressing the importance of helping others form a connection with Buddhism in order to summon forth their Buddha nature.

The only way to awaken people’s inherent Buddha nature is by sowing the seed of Buddhahood in their lives. This is because the Buddha nature is activated through forming a connection with Buddhism. This is why we engage in Buddhist dialogue—because it creates the best possible conditions for bringing forth the Buddha nature in people’s lives. And Nichiren tells us that once the seed of Buddhahood is sown, it will never disappear: “If one can establish a relationship with even just one phrase of the Wonderful Law [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo], that relationship will continue unbroken over a million kalpas” (OTT, 219).

Sharing Buddhism Creates Trust

Since I started practicing at the age of 19, I have shared Nichiren Buddhism with many people in my life, from family members and friends to neighbors and acquaintances. Some were responsive and some were not. One person actually returned all the letters I had written to him about Buddhism. There were times when I wondered why so few people were seeking Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

But no one can avoid the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. Deep down, everyone is longing for the Mystic Law, which is the key to overcoming these vicissitudes of existence.

I prayed earnestly and spoke to as many people as possible, wishing to enable them to forge even a small connection with Buddhism, and that everyone I encountered would become happy. Nothing brought me greater joy than when my sincere and steady efforts at dialogue resulted in someone deciding to practice Nichiren Buddhism.

Mr. Toda once joined me when I was introducing Buddhism to someone. I was deeply grateful to have a wonderful mentor who would support me in this way, being the inexperienced youth that I was.

“We create trust when we share Nichiren Buddhism,” Mr. Toda used to say. We pray for the other person’s happiness and speak with them in earnest. Whether they decide to start practicing, our sincerity is sure to reach them.

I have stayed in touch with those friends I shared Nichiren Buddhism with in my youth but who didn’t embrace faith. Back then, I wrote in a poem: “May you find happiness, my friend!”[13] This wish for each of them remains unchanged, even though we took different paths in life.

All my efforts to share Buddhism with others are the golden treasures of my life. And those challenging experiences contributed positively to my later dialogues with world leaders and thinkers.

Envoys of the Buddha

In the passage we are studying, Nichiren Daishonin mentions a “poison-drum relationship” (WND-1, 882). This is based on the principle that even those who react to hearing the Lotus Sutra by slandering or opposing it establish a relationship with the Law that ensures they will eventually attain Buddhahood. The task of spreading the Lotus Sutra—of sowing the seed of Buddhahood—is a struggle of words to engrave in the lives of others the Buddha’s vow and cherished wish to enable all people to become happy.

In a letter to Shijo Kingo, Nichiren cites a passage from “Teacher of the Law,” the 10th chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

The Lotus Sutra states: “If one of these good men or good women in the time after I have passed into extinction is able to secretly expound the Lotus Sutra to one person, even one phrase of it, then you should know that he or she is the envoy of the Thus Come One. He has been dispatched by the Thus Come One and carries out the Thus Come One’s work.” (“The Pure and Far-Reaching Voice,” WND-1, 331)

This passage praises those who share even a single phrase of the Lotus Sutra with another person, saying they are envoys of the Thus Come One, of the Buddha.

Wishing for the Happiness of All People

Josei Toda wrote an editorial titled “The Benefit of Sharing Buddhism With Others” that appeared in the first issue of our organization’s journal Kachi sozo (Value Creation), when it resumed publication after World War II (in June 1946).

In its conclusion, he urged: “Whether they seem interested, let us do our best to help people embrace the Mystic Law and savor boundless happiness in their lives.”[14]As Japan was suffering the aftermath of World War II, Mr. Toda, standing up alone with a great vow for kosen-rufu, was already looking far beyond the confines of his own small country and aspiring to bring happiness to people throughout the world.

Now, more than 70 years later, the banner of Buddhist dialogue is flying all around the globe, in perfect accord with the principle of Bodhisattvas of the Earth emerging in ever-growing numbers (see WND-1, 385).[15]

Sow Seeds of Hope, Happiness and Peace!

Nichiren Daishonin encourages us to “teach others to the best of your ability, even if it is only a single sentence or phrase” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” WND-1, 386).

Without a doubt, all our efforts to fulfill the great vow for worldwide kosen-rufu and carry out our noble mission will shine as “the only memory of [our] present life in this human world” (“Questions and Answers about Embracing the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 64), and the development of our Soka movement will open a great road of hope that will illuminate humanity into the future.

Whatever challenges we may face, let us continue to sow the seeds of the Mystic Law—seeds of hope, happiness and peace—with boundless confidence and courage!

Translated from the September 2018 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass (New York: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1968), pp. 125–27. ↩︎
  2. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), vol. 10 (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1987), p. 151. ↩︎
  3. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings: Nichiren Daishonin’s oral teachings on the Lotus Sutra, recorded and compiled by his disciple and successor Nikko Shonin ↩︎
  4. Buddha nature: The internal cause or potential for attaining Buddhahood inherent in the lives of all living beings. ↩︎
  5. Fundamental darkness: Also, fundamental ignorance or primal ignorance. The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. Darkness in this sense means inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life. ↩︎
  6. See Bhikkhu Bodhi, “Marasamyutta” [5 (5) Mara’s Snare (2)], The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya (Boston: Wisdom Publishing, 2000), p. 198. ↩︎
  7. In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren Daishonin says: “The practice of making a bow of obeisance carried out by the bodhisattva Never Disparaging is based on the teaching that the people he bowed to were ‘all certain to attain Buddhahood’ (chapter 20) and therefore is an expression of pity and compassion.

    Hence, although the people might ‘take sticks of wood or tiles and stones and beat and pelt him’ (ibid.), he nevertheless persisted in his effort, ‘preaching to them forcefully, though it angered them’ (Words and Phrases, volume ten), an action that arose from his feelings of pity and compassion. Since we are taught that the Buddha mind is a mind of great pity and compassion, a bow of obeisance is made in acknowledgment of this pity and compassion” (OTT, 163–64). ↩︎

  8. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (The Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), p. 96. ↩︎
  9. Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam, or namu, being composed of two characters). Nichiren often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings. ↩︎
  10. Poison-drum relationship: A reverse relationship, or a relationship formed through rejection. A bond formed with the Lotus Sutra by opposing or slandering it. One who opposes the Lotus Sutra when it is preached will still form a relationship with it by virtue of opposition, and will thereby attain Buddhahood eventually. A “poison drum” is a mythical drum daubed with poison; this is a reference to a statement in the Nirvana Sutra that once the poison drum is beaten, all those who hear it will die, even if they are not of the mind to listen to it. Similarly, when the correct teaching is preached, both those who embrace it and those who oppose it will equally receive the seeds of Buddhahood, and even those who oppose it will attain Buddhahood eventually. In this analogy, the “death” that results from hearing the correct teaching is the death of illusion or earthly desires. This metaphor is used to illustrate the benefit of even a reverse relationship with Buddhism. ↩︎
  11. Though the circumstances surrounding its composition are unclear, this letter presents the basics of faith in the Lotus Sutra to one of Nichiren’s female disciples, who appears to have formerly been a believer of the Pure Land (Nembutsu) teachings. ↩︎
  12. Nichiren Daishonin writes, “This saha world is a land in which one gains the way through the faculty of hearing … Therefore living beings whose ears are touched by the daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] are living beings who will gain merit” (“The Doctrine of Three Thousand Realms,” WND-2, 87–88). ↩︎
  13. Daisaku Ikeda, “Morigasaki Beach,” Journey of Life: Selected Poems of Daisaku Ikeda (London: I. B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., 2014), p. 7. ↩︎
  14. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), p. 302. ↩︎
  15. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “At first only Nichiren chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but then two, three, and a hundred followed, chanting and teaching others. Propagation will unfold this way in the future as well. Does this not signify ‘emerging from the earth’?” (WND-1, 385). ↩︎

Peace, Culture and Education: The Flowering of a New Humanism—Part 10