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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Ikeda Wisdom Academy: March 2019

On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, Chapters 1 and 2

LA Beach Cities Region Ikeda Wisdom Academy. Photo by Monica Soto Ouchi.

The Ikeda Wisdom Academy is an SGI-USA youth division movement to engage youth leaders in advanced study. Starting in March, a new cycle of the academy will begin, focusing on study of On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series. This month, academy members will study chapters 1 and 2 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 1: Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime—The Fundamental Purpose of Life and a Source of Hope for Humankind

Nichiren Daishonin’s profound teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is a revolutionary concept that turns the prevailing religious model on its head. He teaches that all people have the potential to attain Buddhahood just as they are, in this lifetime. In addition, he established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to conquer the negative and destructive forces within us, and summon forth the limitless power of the Mystic Law, the fundamental law of the universe.

If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings. This truth is Myoho-renge-kyo. Chanting Myoho-renge-kyo will therefore enable you to grasp the mystic truth innate in all life. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 3)

The Profound Meaning of Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

The practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the foundation of Nichiren’s lifetime of teachings. Nichiren Buddhism, unlike the established Buddhist schools of his day, was not dedicated to the worship of a specific god or Buddha. Nichiren established the means for all people to achieve enlightenment, the ideal of the Lotus Sutra, by formulating the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which enables us to activate our inherent Buddha nature and manifest it as the life state of Buddhahood.

In Nichiren Buddhism, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has two aspects: the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in terms of faith and chanting in terms of practice. Chanting in terms of faith refers to the spiritual aspect of our practice. This essentially consists of the struggle we wage in our hearts against our inner delusion or darkness—a battle against the negative and destructive forces within us. It means that through the power of faith—in other words, through strengthening our conviction that we possess the Buddha nature—we can break through the darkness obscuring this awareness, thus revealing the life state of Buddhahood.

Chanting in terms of practice, meanwhile, refers to chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ourselves and also teaching it to others. It means making efforts in word and deed for our own and others’ happiness in the course of our spiritual struggle against inner negativity and illusion. (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 3)

The Significance of Our Existence as Human Beings

As evidenced in many of his writings, Nichiren repeatedly stresses the crucial importance of the heart, or mind. In this inner realm of life, the potential resides for dramatic shifts from evil to good or from good to evil. That is why Nichiren’s teaching of enlightenment can be viewed as a process that begins with inner change. In other words, through the power of faith, we can defeat the negative functions inside us that are governed by the fundamental darkness in all human hearts and manifest the positive functions of life that are one with the Dharma nature—our Buddhahood.

This present lifetime, in which we have been born as human beings, represents a golden opportunity to ensure that our lives no longer transmigrate along the evil paths but instead traverse the paths of good. (Lecture Series, p. 5)

A Teaching of Genuine Humanism

I’ll touch on the significance of Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime from three perspectives.

I’ll start by pointing out that through opening the way for all people to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren established for the first time a teaching of genuine humanism. Opening the way to enlightenment for all people could be called the prerequisite for a genuinely humanistic religion. This, I believe, is the religious or philosophical significance of the principle of attaining Buddha-hood in this lifetime. (Lecture Series, p. 7)

The Significance of Attaining Buddha-hood for Our Lives

Second, by opening the path to attaining Buddha-hood in this lifetime, Nichiren Daishonin made it possible for us to lead lives based on the infinite power of the Mystic Law—that is, to lead solid and secure lives that give us the courage and confidence to be self-reliant. This is the significance of the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime in terms of our individual lives. (Lecture Series, p. 7)

The Significance of Attaining Buddhahood for Humanity

Third, the principle of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is significant in that it offers a source of hope to humanity and opens the way to transforming the destiny of all humankind. This is its collective or universal significance. (Lecture Series, p. 8)

Chapter 2: The Significance of Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—Achieving a Life of Supreme Victory Through Correct Buddhist Practice

“To free oneself from the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning” relates to the fundamental questions of human existence and the original purpose of religion. “To attain unsurpassed enlightenment” constitutes the profound Buddhist response to these questions. “To perceive the mystic truth inherent in all living beings” is this response further refined and deepened based on the philosophy of the Lotus Sutra. And “chanting Myoho-renge-kyo” refers to the practice established by Nichiren to enable all people to translate this Buddhist wisdom into action. The realization of this practice is the fruit of great compassion that aspires for the happiness of all people, and indicates the truly revolutionary nature of Nichiren Buddhism.

Through this passage as a whole, it becomes clear that the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo established by Nichiren is the correct and supreme Buddhist practice. Indeed, the short opening passage succinctly articulates the profound insights of Buddhism distilled over more than two millennia, and the compassion and wisdom for leading all people to enlightenment found in Nichiren Buddhism. (Lecture Series, pp. 11–12)

Attaining a State of Eternal Happiness

Nichiren Daishonin’s reference to “the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning” is premised on the concept of transmigration, according to which living beings undergo an unceasing, suffering-filled cycle of birth and death that continues from the infinite past into the infinite future. Buddhism holds that this never-ending round of suffering ultimately arises from earthly desires, and that a negative cycle of earthly desires, karma and suffering is part and parcel of transmigration. In this sense, “the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning” also represents an interminable succession of illusion and suffering . . .

In Buddhism, there are two basic approaches to liberation from the suffering of this cycle. One view holds that people can free themselves from the endless karmic cycle of birth and death by eradicating earthly desires believed to cause it. The other is the Mahayana approach, in which the essence of life that undergoes transmigration is not viewed as a transient, impermanent phenomenon. (Lecture Series, pp. 12–13)

The Mystic Truth Embraces and Is Inherent in All Things

To “perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings” is to “attain unsur-passed enlightenment”; it is the sole means for freeing oneself from “the sufferings of birth and death endured since time without beginning.” This is Shakyamuni’s starting point, and the entirety of Buddhist thought. The scripture that proclaims this philosophy of the “internal way” is the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people can attain enlighten-ment. The Lotus Sutra could be said to embody the ultimate principle of respect for human dignity.

In this writing, Nichiren Daishonin says that the “mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings” is the “principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena.” This latter principle refers to the inscrutable relationship that exists between ourselves—our minds or each life-moment—and the universe; its meaning is that all phenomena are contained in one’s life and that one’s life pervades all phenomena. (Lecture Series, pp. 13–14)

Naming the Mystic Truth

In “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” as indicated by the passage “the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings is Myoho-renge-kyo,” Nichiren states that this mystic truth that constitutes the fundamental Law of the universe is none other than Myoho-renge-kyo. Strictly speaking, the term Myoho-renge-kyo existed prior to this as the title of the Lotus Sutra, but Nichiren was the first to identify Myoho-renge-kyo as being the name of the principle of the “true aspect of all phenomena,” which the Lotus Sutra teaches is the profound wisdom of all Buddhas. Also, although the “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra expounds the life of the eternal Buddha from the standpoint of Shakyamuni, it was Nichiren who first revealed that the essence of the Buddha’s eternal life—the “heart of the ‘Life Span’ chapter”—is Myoho-renge-kyo (see “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” WND-1, 371).

• • •

Living beings in the nine worlds, repeatedly undergoing birth and death, also follow the rhythm of birth and death of emerging from and submerging back into the great eternal life that is Myoho-renge-kyo. They are embraced by Myoho-renge-kyo, and at the same time possess Myoho-renge-kyo within them. This is why Myoho-renge-kyo is the name of the “mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings.”

It was Nichiren who first declared that Myoho-renge-kyo is to be chanted and spread in the Latter Day of the Law. (Lecture Series, pp. 14–15)

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo To Perceive the Mystic Truth and Establish the Buddhism of the People

The Lotus Sutra is the king of sutras, true and correct in both word and principle. Its words are the ultimate reality, and this reality is the Mystic Law (myoho). It is called the Mystic Law because it reveals the principle of the mutually inclusive relationship of a single moment of life and all phenomena. That is why this sutra is the wisdom of all Buddhas.

Life at each moment encompasses the body and mind and the self and environment of all sentient beings in the Ten Worlds as well as all insentient beings in the three thousand realms, including plants, sky, earth, and even the minutest particles of dust. Life at each moment permeates the entire realm of phenomena and is revealed in all phenomena. To be awakened to this principle is itself the mutually inclusive relationship of life at each moment and all phenomena. (WND-1, 3)

• • •

Thus Nichiren established the means by which all people can awaken to the truth of life and the universe within their own lives and actively manifest that truth. Moreover, this truth is the enlightened wisdom of all Buddhas and is revealed in the Lotus Sutra, which is the highest teaching of Buddhism. By basing ourselves on that truth, we can lead lives of supreme value. Nichiren Buddhism made this realm of truth accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, no matter his or her background. It would be no exaggeration to say that the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Nichiren Buddhism gave rise to a Buddhism of the people. This practice of chanting is indeed the supreme Buddhist practice, making it possible for us to fundamentally transform our lives. (Lecture Series, pp. 15–17)

Salute to the Rise of the Buddhism of the Sun

Nichiren’s life as the Buddha of the Latter Day is a life dedicated to battling evil and vanquishing ignorance. The struggle to free people from all misfortune and misery in the world—from all negative karma and the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death—ultimately entails battling the fundamental darkness or ignorance that gives rise to all evil and suffering.

As Nichiren indicates when he says that the Nam-myoho-renge-kyo he chants for the happiness of self and others toward the realization of kosen-rufu clears “the clouds of ignorance” (see “The Doctrine of Three Thousand Realms,” WND-2, 85), Nam-myoho-renge-kyo truly has the power to dispel life’s darkness. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the sun of Buddhahood rises in our hearts. The ignorance and delusion, like heavy clouds shrouding the sun, are swept away. When the sun of Buddhahood comes to shine within us, the darkness of ignorance vanishes. (Lecture Series, pp. 17–18)

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