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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Ikeda Wisdom Academy: April 2019

On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, Chapters 3 and 4

Philadelphia IWA. Photo by Jonathan Wilson.

The Ikeda Wisdom Academy is an SGI-USA youth division movement to engage youth leaders in advanced study. In March, a new cycle of the academy began, focusing on the study of On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series. This month, academy members will study chapters 3 and 4 of this lecture series.

While the Ikeda Wisdom Academy is a youth leaders study program, all SGI-USA members are invited to utilize this section of Living Buddhism as a guide for their personal study of “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime.”

Chapter 3: “If You Think the Law Is Outside Yourself, You Are Not Embracing the Mystic Law”

When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with conviction that Myoho-renge-kyo is our life itself and battle the darkness of illusion and ignorance within, the infinite benefit of the Mystic Law unfolds in our lives. If we avoid this fundamental battle and doubt the great value of our lives, all the good deeds we perform will become an “endless painful austerity.” The key, then, is to summon the courageous faith that the Mystic Law resides within us.

Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching. “Inferior teaching” means those [Buddhist teachings] other than this [Lotus] sutra, which are all expedient and provisional. No expedient or provisional teaching leads directly to enlightenment, and without the direct path to enlightenment you cannot attain Buddhahood, even if you practice lifetime after lifetime for countless kalpas. Attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is then impossible. Therefore, when you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself. (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 3)

The Mystic Law and Incomplete Teachings

Religion is generally held to be a universal endeavor to connect the human being to the infinite, absolute and sacred. While in a sense this may be true, it seems that many religions postulate from the outset a separation between the secular and the sacred, and between human beings and gods or Buddhas, and thus seek to bridge that gap.

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This perceived separation between the nine worlds and the world of Buddhahood is demolished by the Lotus Sutra’s doctrine of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life”—in other words, the teaching that “the nine worlds have the potential for Buddhahood and that Buddhahood retains the nine worlds” (“The Selection of the Time,” WND-1, 539). (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 22)

Summoning Forth and Manifesting the Buddha Nature

Not only is Myoho-renge-kyo our own Buddha nature, [Nichiren] says, but it is also the Buddha nature of all heavenly deities, voice-hearers, bodhisattvas and so on. Moreover, this Buddha nature is identical to the Mystic Law to which the Buddhas of the three existences—past, present and future—are enlightened.

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The power of such strong, determined chanting calls forth the Buddha nature in all living beings. Not only does the Buddha nature of Brahma and Shakra and of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the universe manifest, but those chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can also sever the chains of fundamental darkness and illusion, and reveal their own Buddha nature. In other words, it is the power of our voices chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that connects our lives with the Mystic Law pervading all phenomena of the three thousand realms. (Lecture Series, pp. 23–24)

Perceiving That One’s Own Life Is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can be likened to a “wish-granting jewel.” How can we develop the boundless state of life that enables us to bring forth whatever strength is necessary? President Toda often used to say, “If you really want to achieve such a state of life, you have to fight with every ounce of your being for the Lotus Sutra, for kosen-rufu!”

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He also often spoke of the spirit of faith we need in order to perceive the Mystic Law within us, saying: “You have to be resolved that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is your own life!” or “Propagating the Mystic Law in the Latter Day means firmly believing that your life is nothing apart from Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!” This is the spirit Nichiren teaches in the passage, “When you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself” (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” WND-1, 3). (Lecture Series, p. 25)

A Universal Religion for the Happiness of All Humankind

Only by communing and fusing with the power of other—which is eternal and transcends our limited, finite selves—can we wholly activate the power of self. At the same time, however, this eternal, all-encompassing power of other actually exists inherently in our lives. Nichiren writes: “People are certainly self-empowered, and yet they are not self-empowered . . . People are certainly other-empowered, and yet they are not other-empowered” (“The Meaning of the Sacred Teachings of the Buddha’s Lifetime,” WND-2, 62). What this means, I believe, is that by relying neither exclusively on the power of other nor on the power of self, we can manifest the power that exists within us yet transcends ourselves. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to do this. (Lecture Series, p. 26)

Chapter 4: Transforming Our Fundamental Attitude—Refusing To Live an “Endless, Painful Austerity”

You must never think that any of the eighty thousand sacred teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime or any of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions and three existences are outside yourself. Your practice of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of the sufferings of birth and death in the least unless you perceive the true nature of your life. If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, then your performing even ten thousand practices and ten thousand good deeds will be in vain. It is like the case of a poor man who spends night and day counting his neighbor’s wealth but gains not even half a coin. That is why the T’ien-t’ai school’s commentary states, “Unless one perceives the nature of one’s life, one cannot eradicate one’s grave offenses.” This passage implies that, unless one perceives the nature of one’s life, one’s practice will become an endless, painful austerity. Therefore, such students of Buddhism are condemned as non-Buddhist. [T’ien-t’ai’s] Great Concentration and Insight states that, although they study Buddhism, their views are no different from those of non-Buddhists.

Whether you chant the Buddha’s name, recite the sutra, or merely offer flowers and incense, all your virtuous acts will implant benefits and roots of goodness in your life. With this conviction, you should strive in faith. (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” WND-1, 3–4)

Studying Buddhism Yet Succumbing to Non-Buddhist Thinking

If we seek enlightenment outside of us, we are not pursuing the path of “observing one’s mind,” which enables us to overcome the fundamental evil of ignorance or darkness. In that case, all our efforts and good deeds to attain enlightenment will be lacking the vital ingredient; they will be every bit as futile as counting a neighbor’s vast riches. Moreover, because none of these efforts will help us eradicate our ignorance, they will only become “an endless, painful austerity.”

This battle against ignorance is the heart of Buddhism. It is said that Shakyamuni’s enlightenment lay in identifying darkness or ignorance as the fundamental cause of the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death—as well as in expounding the way for overcoming this ignorance.

Therefore, as long as we seek the path to enlightenment outside our own lives, whatever practices and good deeds we carry out will deviate from the true essence of Buddhism. Accordingly, Nichiren says: “Such students of Buddhism are condemned as non-Buddhist” (WND-1, 4). (Lecture Series, p. 30)

To Seek Enlightenment Outside Our Lives Is To Be Defeated by Fundamental Darkness

The essence of our practice is to perceive the true nature of our lives. To do this we must wage an inner struggle. If we allow ourselves to be defeated by the three obstacles and four devils, we cannot bring forth our enlightenment. That is why battling the darkness or ignorance within us is an unavoidable part of the process of becoming a Buddha. In other words, whether we continuously battle our innate ignorance is the single most important determinant in whether we attain Buddhahood. As such, it is something we must never forget.

By engaging in this struggle, we can reveal the Buddha wisdom within our lives and thereby confront and overcome our ignorance. But if we fail to undertake this struggle, ignorance will shroud and conceal our Buddha nature. Ignorance deepens and exacerbates the five delusive inclinations of greed, anger, foolishness, arrogance and doubt within us. That is what happens if we succumb to the erroneous view that the Law is outside ourselves. (Lecture Series, pp. 30–31)

Faith for Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime

Practicing Nichiren Buddhism means not being swayed this way and that; it means constructing a self that is solid and resolute like towering Mount Fuji. But if we neglect this task and focus our energies somewhere else, before we’re even aware of it, we can end up veering onto the path of externally seeking the Law.

For example, if we chant to the Gohonzon but always blame other people or our environment for our circumstances, we are avoiding the challenge of tackling our inner darkness or ignorance. By doing so, we are seeking enlightenment outside of us. By changing ourselves on a more profound level, we can begin to improve our situation. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the driving force for that change.

It is also important that we don’t fall into the trap of practicing “dependent faith,” where we pin our hopes on having our prayers answered through the divine or transcendent powers of gods or Buddhas. This is a typical example of viewing the Law as outside oneself. The provisional Buddhas of the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings readily lend themselves to this kind of faith, the essence of which is escapism.

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In addition, it is important that we try to rid our lives of ambiguous, elusive doubt and disbelief as well as grumbling and complaining. The erroneous belief that Myoho-renge-kyo (the Mystic Law) exists outside of our lives has at its core an inability to believe that all people—ourselves and others—possess the Buddha nature. And this disbelief stems from fundamental darkness.

In terms of attitude in faith, this tendency to skeptically regard the Buddha nature as “a nice ideal but one that doesn’t really change reality” will manifest itself as prayer that is vague and lacking in conviction. If our efforts in faith are halfhearted, we cannot change our attitude or fundamentally transform our lives.

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Let’s also strictly guard against slandering our fellow members. Slandering and harboring resentment and jealousy toward others results in denying their Buddha nature. The inability to believe in others’ Buddha nature—just like not believing in our own—causes us to stray off course and seek the Law externally. Our Buddha nature is what fundamentally spurs us to realize happiness for ourselves and others. Not to believe in the Buddha nature is to deny the spirit of the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people have the potential for Buddhahood. Consequently, Nichiren sternly warns that if we go against the spirit of the sutra, not only won’t we accomplish our desire to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, but we will end up committing slander of the Law. (Lecture Series, pp. 31–33)

The Spirit of the First Three Presidents Pulses in the Soka Gakkai

The Soka Gakkai’s founder, President Makiguchi, asserted that Nichiren Buddhism is a “teaching for transforming one’s life.” To believe that the Mystic Law of Myoho-renge-kyo exists within us is to have the confidence that we will definitely become happy and attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. Faith also means actively working for kosen-rufu through sharing Nichiren Buddhism based on the conviction that it holds the key to happiness for both ourselves and others. This genuine faith pervades the Soka Gakkai and the SGI. The greatness of the Soka Gakkai and the first three presidents’ spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple shine in the undertaking of this most difficult of challenges—that of awakening people to the Law within. (Lecture Series, p. 33)

Nanjo Tokimitsu–Part 1

Mentor and Disciple Are Like a Needle and Thread