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Transforming Our Life State Through Sharing Buddhism

A report from the North America and Oceania Study Conference.

Judie Patterson

“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.”[1]

—SGI President Ikeda


In 1942, founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi shared that reaping the benefit of Buddhist practice does not alone constitute the bodhisattva way. Working for the welfare of others, with the heart of a parent, is the mark of a true practitioner.

“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,” said Mr. Makiguchi, who two years later died in prison for standing up to Japan’s militarist authorities. “Unless we carry out bodhisattva practice, we cannot attain Buddhahood.”[2]

During the North America and Oceania Study Conference, held Aug. 23–26 in Weston, Florida, SGI Vice Study Leader Hideyuki Takano lectured on the altruistic practice that lies at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism: practice for oneself and others.

Mr. Takano focused on the theme of propagation outlined in part two of SGI President Ikeda’s five-part sub-series “For Our Wonderful New Members,”[3] which appeared in the May–September 2019 editions of Living Buddhism.

If one bows to a mirror, the image reflected in the mirror will bow back.

[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 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.[4]

Nichiren Daishonin taught the means for all people of the Latter Day of the Law to attain enlightenment: the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging is described as a bodhisattva in the early stages of practice who personifies this way of life.

When Bodhisattva Never Disparaging encountered another person, he would bow to them and say: “I have profound reverence for you. Why? Because you will all practice the bodhisattva way and will then be able to attain Buddhahood.”[5]

People would often react with hostility, hurling abuses at him and even trying to harm him with sticks and staves. Still, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was undeterred. After retreating to a safe distance, he would shout to the effect: “Even so, I respect you. You will all become Buddhas!”

In President Ikeda’s lecture, he describes those who tried to harm Never Disparaging as the four kinds of believers of overbearing arrogance: arrogant monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Their arrogance, he said, stemmed from their fundamental ignorance, which prevented them from recognizing the Buddha nature in themselves and others.

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren used the metaphor of a mirror to describe how, if one bows to a mirror, the image reflected in the mirror will bow back. In the same way, without being aware of it, the Buddha nature inherent in the four kinds of believers of overbearing arrogance bows back to Never Disparaging when he carries out his bodhisattva practice.

Says President Ikeda, “From the profound perspective of Buddhism, this is the dynamic way that human life interacts.”[6]

Sharing Buddhism with others enables us to grapple with our delusions and change our karma.

President Ikeda goes on to say that Never Disparaging’s practice of respecting others is one and the same as our practice of sharing Buddhism. He continues:

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.[7]

Mr. Takano said that in the pioneering days of the Soka Gakkai, members in desperate situations would engage in propagation activities to forge a new path for themselves.

In the same way, whenever he challenged himself to introduce others to Buddhism, his seniors in faith would invariably ask him: What kind of person do you want to become through this challenge? What problem do you want to overcome?

“Indeed, in trying to share Buddhism with others,” he said, “we are in fact engaging in the challenge to change our life condition and change our karma.”

How to embody the spirit of compassion.

In another passage from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren explains that Never Disparaging’s practice of showing respect to others was an expression of his conviction in their Buddha nature—a conviction rooted in compassion.

President Ikeda has often cited these words from President Toda on how to embody this same spirt of compassion:

As ordinary mortals, it can sometimes be difficult for us to summon forth compassion, but we can substitute courage for compassion. The courage to speak the truth is equivalent to compassion. They are two sides of the same coin, and the “heads” side of that coin is courage.[8]

“The obstacles to kosen-rufu are not external, but internal.”

Mr. Takano said that he was 19 years old when, at the urging of his seniors in faith, he began sharing Buddhism, although halfheartedly. He had few friends who weren’t SGI members, so he quickly ran out of people to talk with about the practice.

During this deadlock, a senior in faith, who understood his nature well, used a little bit of reverse psychology and told him that, since sharing Buddhism was difficult for him, he should chant earnestly with the prayer: “I don’t want to have to share this Buddhism with anyone!”

Mr. Takano said he had to make sure that he was hearing correctly, but that’s what was said. So, as he chanted several hours with this prayer, he conclued: It’s better if I share this Buddhism with others, after all. “I made the determination that I was going to give it my all,” he said. “My prayer changed.”

After that, Mr. Takano said that he met people who were suffering and really seeking the practice. “How did my prayer change so dramatically?” He came to understand why this happened sometime later when he read the following guidance from President Ikeda in The New Human Revolution:[9]

What Shin’ichi [Yamamoto] stressed most this day, however, was the importance of eliminating one’s attachment to deluded thinking.

This is because the obstacles to kosen-rufu are not external, but internal. We limit ourselves through our cowardice and weakness, which give rise to a defeatist attitude and make us think that we will never succeed.

We limit ourselves through our cowardice and weakness, which give rise to a defeatist attitude and make us think that we will never succeed. Arrogance, meanwhile, leads to negligence and indolence, which will bring about our downfall.

It is therefore crucial to overcome such negative tendencies and shatter our delusions. Doing so requires tremendous determination. We need to be firmly resolved to achieve our goals and chant to the Gohonzon with a strong pledge to realize kosen-rufu. Furthermore, we need to take courageous action. Taking action creates momentum and power.[10]

A month after he shifted his determination, Mr. Takano introduced a friend to the practice. “So the first step in sharing this Buddhism is to convince ourselves and transform our own hearts,” he said. “I always embark on any attempt to share this Buddhism by earnestly chanting first.”

Persisting in sharing Buddhism does not imply forcing the teaching upon others. Rather, it is daring to act.

Nichiren assures us that, when we talk about the Lotus Sutra to another person, it implants the seed of Buddhahood in their life without fail. President Ikeda writes of such efforts:

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 The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 269)—with others, we strive patiently to connect with each person’s life. Nichiren 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,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1137.)[11]

“I entrust you with the propagation of Buddhism in your province.”

The Daishonin writes to a disciple: “I entrust you with the propagation of Buddhism in your province. It is stated that ‘the seeds of Buddhahood sprout as a result of conditions, and for this reason they preach the single vehicle.’”[12]

In this passage, he discusses the mission and responsibility for accomplishing kosen-rufu in the community. He stresses the importance of planting the seeds of Buddhahood in other people’s lives in order for them to activate their Buddha nature.

President Ikeda encourages us that what’s important is not whether a person starts practicing, but that we engage in dialogue with our friends. “All your efforts toward that end will return as good fortune,” Mr. Takano said. “Let’s thoroughly challenge ourselves to believe in the limitless potential of those we encounter while joyfully engaging with them in dialogues that aim to bring about their happiness as well as our own.”

A recap of SGI Vice Study Leader Hideyuki Takano’s presentation on part 1 of the sub-series “Nichiren Buddhism Is a Teaching of Mentor and Disciple—Let’s Walk the Great Path to Happiness Together and Win!” appeared in the Sept. 20, 2019, World Tribune, pp. 6–8.

“All my efforts to share Buddhism with others are the golden treasures of my life.”

SGI President Ikeda shares his recollection of sharing Buddhism with others in his youth.

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.

[Second Soka Gakkai President Josei] 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!” 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. (June 2019 Living Buddhism, pp. 55–56)


  1. June 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 50. ↩︎
  2. Ibid. ↩︎
  3. The sub-series is part of SGI President Ikeda’s ongoing lecture series “The Buddhism of the Sun—Illuminating the World.” ↩︎
  4. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 165. ↩︎
  5. The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 308. ↩︎
  6. June 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 51. ↩︎
  7. Ibid., p. 53. ↩︎
  8. Nov. 1, 2013, World Tribune, p. 7. ↩︎
  9. President Ikeda appears in The New Human Revolution as Shin’ichi Yamamoto. ↩︎
  10. The New Human Revolution, vol. 17, p. 73. ↩︎
  11. June 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 55. ↩︎
  12. “The Properties of Rice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1117. ↩︎

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