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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Humanism—Action Based on Gratitude Is the Essence of Nichiren Buddhism

To My Beloved Youth—Part 4 [36]

Weston, Florida. Photo by Marc Giannavola.

“As a living extension of my mentor, I will open the second act in the decisive battle for kosen-rufu. I will stand up!” I wrote these words in my diary 60 years ago, on April 2, 1958.[1]

At a young men’s leaders meeting held a few days later, on April 10, I called out: “Let’s be determined to show everyone just how many admirable youth division members have been fostered by second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda and how impressively the Soka Gakkai is developing! Let’s astonish society!”

Now Is the Time to Take Decisive Action

When youth act and speak out boldly, they open the way to a new age. When youth grow and thrive, it stirs waves of joy that spread throughout our Soka Gakkai districts and chapters. It’s up to the youth to take decisive action to realize victory in our efforts for kosen-rufu.

We must always remain a youthful Soka Gakkai, a youthful SGI. Over the last six decades, I have stood at the forefront of our youthful organization and overcome numerous challenges, based on my earnest wish to repay my debts of gratitude.

Now, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of March 16, Kosen-rufu Day, youth division members throughout Japan and the world have risen splendidly into action. They have welcomed many new Bodhisattvas of the Earth into their fold. How happy this surely would make President Toda.

The World Has High Hopes for the Activities of Soka Youth

Nothing is more reassuring or inspiring than seeing young people striving to their fullest and making brilliant achievements. I have tremendous gratitude for the women’s and men’s division members who are giving their all each day to support our youth.

Today, more and more scholars and thinkers around the globe are expressing high expectations for our Soka movement.

Recently, in Argentina, Rector Alicia Bardón of the National University of Tucumán attended an SGI meeting. Afterward, she said she could feel the SGI members’ passionate dedication to peace and saw this as a source of hope for humanity.

Each Person Possesses a Profound Mission

As successors who are carrying on the Soka Gakkai tradition of taking humanistic action based on the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism, you are all the hope of the future and the treasures of humanity. Each of you, without exception, is a Bodhisattva of the Earth born in this world with a profound mission.

The sincere actions of a single young Bodhisattva of the Earth spread ripples of happiness and peace to everyone around them. Buddhist humanism ultimately comes down to our “behavior as human beings” (see “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 852).

In this installment, I would like to explore the Daishonin’s writings with a focus on the humanistic teaching that action based on gratitude is the essence of Buddhism.

Reporting Victory to Our Mentor

Surely they [people who devote themselves to Buddhism] should not forget the debts of gratitude they owe to their parents, their teachers, and their country. But if one intends to repay these great debts of gratitude, one can hope to do so only if one learns and masters Buddhism, becoming a person of wisdom. (“On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” WND-1, 690)[2]

On April 3, 1958, the day after second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda died, that month’s Soka Gakkai Headquarters Leaders Meeting was held as scheduled at the Toshima Civic Hall in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

When I rose to speak, I introduced the above passage from the Daishonin’s writing “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude.”

We were able to encounter Nichiren Buddhism because of Mr. Toda. Nurtured by his compassion, we could learn the path of true humanity. How should we repay our gratitude for this? It was my deep resolve that we disciples must answer this question.

As a youth, I urged: “There is only one way to repay the debt we owe our mentor, President Toda. That is to carry out a great struggle for kosen-rufu, the cause for which he gave his life, so that we can report to him: ‘Sensei! See how much Nichiren Buddhism has spread!’”

The Spirit of Gratitude

In his writings, Nichiren Daishonin repeatedly stresses the importance of Buddhist practitioners understanding and repaying the four debts of gratitude.[3] In “The Opening of the Eyes,” he states:

Persons who study the teachings of Buddhism must also [observe the ideal of filial piety and] understand and repay their obligations [or debts of gratitude]. The disciples of the Buddha must without fail understand the four debts of gratitude and know how to repay them. (WND-1, 228)

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi circled the words “understand and repay their obligations [or debts of gratitude]” in his personal copy of the Daishonin’s writings, indicating the importance he placed on them.

People today may feel that the words obligation or debt of gratitude sound old-fashioned and imply something one-sided that is imposed from above, such as a duty demanded by a superior or a parent.

But in Buddhism, and in Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings in particular, repaying one’s “debts of gratitude” is a universal virtue, rooted in the Buddhist view of life that all things are ultimately interdependent.

“Understanding one’s debts of gratitude” means recognizing and having appreciation for the network we are part of—one that includes our parents and family, everyone in our environment, our mentor, all living things, and further, society and the realm of Buddhism.

The Principle of Action for Restoring Humanity

In other words, understanding and repaying one’s debts of gratitude mean realizing that we are who we are because of everyone in our lives, and striving for the happiness of those around us out of a sense of gratitude. This is what enables us to treasure the person in front of us. When we do so, we free ourselves from the pain of loneliness and forge heart-to-heart connections with other people. We can expand our life state and enrich our own humanity as well as that of others.

Soka Gakkai members’ lives are characterized by such efforts to repay our debts of gratitude and to act with an open spirit that creates good relations among people. The Buddhist teaching of repaying debts of gratitude is a principle of action for restoring humanity to a society where many feel alienated and alone.

Our Debt of Gratitude to Our Parents

I have often encouraged our future division and youth division members to remember the debt of gratitude they owe their parents and to be good to them. This is the teaching of humanism that I learned from my mentor, Josei Toda.

In his “Guidelines for Youth,” Mr. Toda said: “There are so many young people who are incapable of having compassion for their own parents. How can they be expected to care about perfect strangers? The effort to overcome the coldness and indifference in our own lives and attain the same state of compassion as the Buddha is the essence of human revolution.”[4]

Working for the happiness of ourselves and others should start with repaying our debt of gratitude to those closest to us, our parents. This is the first step in achieving our own great human revolution.

These are increasingly difficult times, however. Some people no doubt face complex situations in which they find it hard to love or be good to their parents. But there’s no need to let this be a source of anxiety. Some may only come to appreciate their parents when they become parents themselves. Others may start out by loving or caring for someone else, and through that experience, learn to accept and have compassion for their parents.

The most important thing is to carry out your human revolution. Just continue steadily striving to transform your life state, and become a person who can compassionately embrace and illuminate everyone in your life like the sun.

The Profound and Solemn Mentor-Disciple Relationship

It is noteworthy that in “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” Nichiren Daishonin assigns special importance to repaying one’s debt of gratitude to one’s teacher or mentor.

Dozen-bo[5] was his childhood teacher at Seicho-ji temple. He was a fainthearted person who never completely relinquished his attachment to the Pure Land (Nembutsu) teachings and didn’t stand up for the Daishonin when he was persecuted.

Even so, Nichiren felt gratitude for and treasured his former teacher. When he learned of Dozen-bo’s death, he immediately set about composing “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude” as an expression of gratitude for his teacher and to honor his memory.

The Daishonin personally set an example of repaying the debt of gratitude to one’s teacher. And he declared that the true way for him to show gratitude was to establish the correct teaching of Buddhism in the Latter Day of the Law to enable all people to attain enlightenment, the boundless benefit of which would flow to his teacher.

This indicates just how profound and solemn the mentor-disciple relationship is in Nichiren Buddhism.

Nichiren also teaches that individuals who repay with ingratitude the kindness of those who have helped and supported them will be subjected to the strict workings of the law of cause and effect. Understanding and repaying debts of gratitude is the essence of what makes us human.

A Source of Immeasurable Benefit and Good Fortune

“Former Affairs of the Bodhisattva Medicine King,” the 23rd chapter of the Lotus Sutra, relates a story of repaying the debt of gratitude to one’s teacher.

In a past life, Bodhisattva Medicine King was known as Bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings. On hearing his teacher—a Buddha called Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue—expound the Lotus Sutra, he begins to practice with single-minded dedication. After 12,000 years of doing so, he attains “the samadhi[6] in which one can manifest all physical forms.”

Having attained this wondrous state of life, the bodhisattva vows to repay his debt of gratitude by making an offering to his teacher and the Lotus Sutra. He applies fragrant oils to his skin and sets fire to himself, making an offering of light given off by this flame that burns continuously and illuminates the realm for a period of 1,200 years. The implied message of this story no doubt is that the sincere resolve to repay one’s debt of gratitude illuminates the world and the future boundlessly (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, pp. 322–23).

It is thanks to the Mystic Law that we lead lives of genuine happiness today. And because of the Soka Gakkai, which has taught us about Nichiren Buddhism, we are able to walk the unsurpassed path of challenging our human revolution and changing our karma.

When we live with and practice a spirit of gratitude, we experience tremendous, ever-growing benefit and good fortune.

Bodhisattva Medicine King’s Vow as a Disciple

Bodhisattva Gladly Seen by All Living Beings’ wish to repay his debt of gratitude to his teacher continues even after he makes an offering of burning his body and illuminating the world for 1,200 years. Seeking to keep striving alongside his teacher in his next life, he resolves to be reborn in the same land as him so that he can once again make offerings to repay his debt of gratitude. When Buddha Sun Moon Pure Bright Virtue enters nirvana, Bodhisattva Gladly Seen burns his arms as an offering to his teacher for a period of 72,000 years. As a benefit for this offering, the sutra says, his arms are restored and he attains a golden body, becoming Bodhisattva Medicine King (see LSOC, 325–26).

What an unwavering commitment to repaying one’s debt of gratitude!

The wish to repay one’s debt of gratitude gives rise to a vow, to action, to courage and to victory. Those who are committed to repaying their debt of gratitude can brilliantly polish their lives and bring forth their highest possible state of life.

I will never forget how Mr. Toda likened Mr. Makiguchi’s death in prison for his beliefs to the offerings made by Bodhisattva Medicine King. And he strongly urged us youth to strive in faith with a spirit of gratitude like Bodhisattva Medicine King.

Repaying the debt of gratitude to one’s mentor is the noblest path for a human being. It leads to repaying all four debts of gratitude in the most profound, powerful and lofty way.

Expressing Gratitude by Treasuring All Living Beings

In “On Prayer,” Nichiren Daishonin says with regard to repaying the debt of gratitude to one’s teacher, “The debt of gratitude one owes to a white crow may be repaid to a black crow” (WND-1, 346).

This refers to an old Chinese story about a king resting in the grass who is about to be bitten by a snake, until a white crow pecks him to alert him to the danger.

Wishing to repay this debt of gratitude, the king searches high and low for the white crow, but cannot find it. An adviser suggests that he show gratitude to all the black crows in the land, and that by doing so he will repay his debt to the white crow.

It could be said that the white crow [which is extremely rare] represents a sage and the black crows [which are prevalent] represent all people.

We can repay the debt of gratitude we owe our mentor by working for the happiness of others. A commentary on Nichiren’s writing “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude” states that disciples repay their debts of gratitude “by transmitting the Law and benefiting others.”[7] Dedicating our lives to kosen-rufu through the compassionate propagation of the Mystic Law is the ultimate form of repaying our debts of gratitude.

It is through our “behavior as a human being” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 852) that we repay our gratitude to our mentor. Let us now look at a passage from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings highlighting the spirit of Buddhist practitioners to respect all living beings.

The Proud Tradition of Soka Humanism

In this chapter [“Encouragements of the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy,” the 28th chapter of the Lotus Sutra], Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the foremost point he wished to convey to us. The Buddha preached the Lotus Sutra over a period of eight years, and eight characters sum up the message that he has left behind for living beings in this later age, the Latter Day of the Law. It is in the passage that reads, “Therefore, Universal Worthy, if you see a person who accepts and upholds this sutra, you should rise and greet him from afar, showing him the same respect you would a Buddha” [see LSOC, 365], particularly the eight characters that make up the end of the passage, “you should rise and greet him,” etc. With this passage the words of Shakyamuni Buddha in the sutra come to an end, thus in effect ending the sutra.

The word “should” shows that these words refer to the future. The words “should rise and greet him from afar” indicate that the sutra passage is saying that one should without fail show the practitioners of the Lotus Sutra the kind of respect one would show to a Buddha. (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 192–93)[8]

This is a passage that Josei Toda often spoke about and taught to the youth.

Nichiren Daishonin’s message here is that, if we were to distill the entire Lotus Sutra that Shakyamuni preached over an eight-year period into a single sentence, it would be, “If in the future you see practitioners of the Lotus Sutra, you should show them the same respect you would a Buddha.” It means to respect and treasure those who accept and uphold the Mystic Law. This is the foremost point that Shakyamuni wished to convey to us, Nichiren says (see OTT, 192).

The very essence of Buddhism exists in the act of respecting all children of the Buddha, respecting all human beings.

How lofty and noble indeed is the spirit of faith in the Mystic Law, originating with Shakyamuni and inherited by the Daishonin!

I hope you, my young friends, as the future successors of our movement, will carry on this legacy of humanism, showing people the highest respect, and acting with sincerity and integrity at all times. This is the proud tradition of Soka humanism that will shine on into the eternal future of the Latter Day of the Law.

Respecting and Treasuring Our Fellow Members as Buddhas

In the “Twenty-six Admonitions of Nikko,”[9] Nichiren Daishonin’s direct disciple and successor, Nikko Shonin, refers to this passage from “Encouragements of the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy,” the 28th chapter of the Lotus Sutra: “As for practitioners who treasure the Law more highly than their own lives, even if they are but humble teachers of the Law, you must hold them in great esteem, showing them the same respect you would a Buddha” (Gosho zenshu, p. 1618). In other words, we must always remember to believe in and respect every one of our fellow practitioners, who are teachers of the Law, as Buddhas.

Who today is practicing this humanistic spirit that is the essence of “oneness of mentor and disciple”? It is the members of the Soka Gakkai, who are spreading the Mystic Law around the world.

Those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly to the Gohonzon to realize kosen-rufu, and who make steady efforts in faith, even if they find it difficult to talk to people or to enable others to practice, are truly “practitioners who treasure the Law more highly than their own lives.” They are courageous champions using their precious time to work for the sake of Buddhism and the happiness of others.

That is why I have always respected and treasured as Buddhas our members who are striving selflessly to actualize kosen-rufu in and out of the limelight.

Nichiren writes: “If the Law that one embraces is supreme, then the person who embraces it must accordingly be foremost among all others. And if that is so, then to speak ill of that person is to speak ill of the Law” (“Questions and Answers about Embracing the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 61). Here, he affirms that embracing the unsurpassed Mystic Law is superior to having any social position, recognition or honor. By the same token, slandering those who embrace the Law is equivalent to slandering the Law itself.

That’s why it’s important that as fellow members, we support, respect and help one another. male leaders, in particular, should be respectful of our women’s and young women’s members and convey appreciation for their efforts.

The Eight Pillars of the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu

On January 3 (2018), I visited the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu. A book containing the signatures of SGI leaders, who last November (2017) ratified the Soka Gakkai Constitution in affirmation of their vow for worldwide kosen-rufu, was placed in front of the Gohonzon. I offered my heartfelt prayers that our members around the globe will further advance our movement for kosen-rufu in the united spirit of “many in body, one in mind,” and that each region will enjoy peace, security and prosperity.

Eight pillars adorn both the north and south sides of the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu. They symbolize the eight-character passage that expresses the heart of the Lotus Sutra and of the Soka Gakkai—“You should rise and greet them from afar, showing them the same respect you would a Buddha” (see LSOC, 365).

In sunshine and rain, these solid pillars stand to welcome all who visit the hall, as if paying tribute to their valiant efforts as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

The practice of respecting as a Buddha each person who upholds the Mystic Law is the ultimate message of the Lotus Sutra (see OTT, 192), passed down from Shakyamuni to Nichiren Daishonin, and from Nichiren to the Soka Gakkai.

Youth Will Ensure the Eternal Future of Worldwide Kosen-rufu

All people equally possess the Buddha nature. That is why we respect and value everyone.

The youth of the Soka Gakkai, who uphold this supreme teaching of humanism, will usher in a new age for all people the world over. These youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth, youth of genuine commitment who will change the destiny of humankind, have embarked on a new journey for peace. Their efforts will transform division into unity, the cold darkness of alienation into the warm light of cooperation, and this corrupt, strife-filled world into a peaceful realm aligned with the humanistic principles of Nichiren Buddhism.

Many years ago, Josei Toda introduced a group of young people to members who had gathered in front of the Gohonzon bearing the inscription “For the Fulfillment of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu through the Compassionate Propagation of the Great Law.” He said: “Please cherish the highest hopes for these youth. They are the youth who will carry on our great struggle for kosen-rufu. As long as we have such young people, the Soka Gakkai will be rock-solid.”

With the same spirit as my mentor, I wish to declare: “As long as we have our precious Soka youth, our movement for worldwide kosen-rufu will endure into the eternal future of the Latter Day of the Law!”

Translated from the April 2018 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal, incorporating revisions from a compilation of the subseries “To My Dear Friends of the Youth Division” published in booklet form in Japanese in July 2018.


  1. Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda passed away on April 2, 1958. ↩︎
  2. One of Nichiren Daishonin’s five and ten major writings, dated July 21, 1276, a little more than two years after he had moved to Mount Minobu. It was prompted by the news of the death of Dozen-bo who had been the Daishonin’s teacher at Seicho-ji temple in Awa Province (presentday southern Chiba Prefecture). Nichiren Daishonin wrote this treatise in memory of the deceased Dozen-bo and sent it to Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, his former seniors at Seicho-ji who now regarded Nichiren as their teacher. ↩︎
  3. In “The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude,” Nichiren states: “The four debts of gratitude of Buddhism are 1) the debt of gratitude to be paid to one’s father and mother; 2) the debt of gratitude to be paid to the ruler of the nation; 3) the debt of gratitude to be paid to all living beings; and 4) the debt of gratitude to be paid to the three treasures [the Buddha, the Law, and the Order]” (WND-2, 636–37). ↩︎
  4. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1, (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1991), p. 60. ↩︎
  5. Dozen-bo (d. 1276): A priest of Seicho-ji temple in Awa Province (present-day southern Chiba Prefecture), under whom the Daishonin studied from age When Nichiren first declared his teaching at Seicho-ji (in 1253), his refutation of the Pure Land (Nembutsu) teachings enraged Tojo Kagenobu, the steward of the area and an ardent Nembutsu believer, who ordered his arrest. Dozen-bo helped him escape at that time, but he was nevertheless afraid to oppose Kagenobu. After the Komatsubara Persecution (in 1264), Dozen-bo sent a message to Nichiren asking whether it was possible for him to attain Buddhahood. In response, the Daishonin issued a refutation of the Nembutsu teaching and encouraged Dozen-bo to devote himself to the Lotus Sutra. It seems that Dozen-bo did arouse a measure of faith in Nichiren’s teaching from that time; however, he died without formally converting. ↩︎
  6. Samadhi: A state of intense concentration of mind, or meditation, said to produce inner serenity. The term samadhi is translated as meditation, contemplation or concentration. ↩︎
  7. Nichikan, Commentary on “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude.” ↩︎
  8. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings is a record of lectures that Nichiren Daishonin gave on certain key passages of the Lotus Sutra while he was residing on Mount Minobu. It was recorded by Nikko Shonin. ↩︎
  9. “The Twenty-six Admonitions of Nikko”: Written by Nikko Shonin in 1333. It addresses practitioners of future generations, exhorting them to maintain the purity of Nichiren’ teachings, and outlines the fundamental spirit of faith, practice and study. ↩︎

Q: Given that this is the Year of Soka Victory, what does “victory” mean from a Buddhist perspective?