Skip to main content

Buddhism of the Sun

For Our Wonderful New Members Part 1

[40]

For Our Wonderful New Members

Nichiren Buddhism Is a Teaching of Mentor and Disciple—Let’s Walk the Great Path to Happiness Together and Win!

LECTURE

Nichiren Buddhism is the supreme way to develop wisdom for achieving happiness and peace. It is a teaching that enriches each person’s life while striving at the same time to elevate the life state of humanity and create a society in which people can live together in harmony.

The Soka Gakkai is growing dynamically as a global religious movement of the 21st century. All of you, our new members who have joined us at this time of the new era of worldwide kosen-rufu, possess a mission imbued with “great good fortune from past existences” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 356), just as Buddhism teaches.

I would like to thank everyone who took the recent Study Department Introductory Exam in Japan (in June 2018). I am certain that your enthusiasm in the noble pursuit of Buddhist study will spread to those around you and contribute to steadily transforming the spiritual foundation of society.

From this month (August 2018), with our new members in mind, I would like to discuss the core principles and practice of Nichiren Buddhism. My intention is to conduct this lecture as if we were seated together in a shady grove cooled by gentle breezes, engaging in a relaxed conversation. I will continue with this theme over several installments, and in this first one, I will focus on the most basic principle of all, mentor and disciple.

■  ■  ■

Communicating the Spirit and Actions of My Mentor

My mentor is second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda. I would not be the person I am today were it not for him. My two serial novels The Human Revolution and The New Human Revolution, which I have spent the better part of my life writing, are nothing other than the fulfillment of a promise that I made to my mentor deep in my heart.

In 1957, I firmly resolved: “It is my mission to leave a record of Mr. Toda’s life for the sake of posterity!”

On August 13 of that year, Mr. Toda called on me to join him in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture. At the time, I was engaged in an ongoing struggle against the devilish nature of authority, as the Soka Gakkai faced persecutions in the form of the Yubari Coal Miners Union Incident[1] and the Osaka Incident.[2]

In one of my conversations with my mentor in Karuizawa, the subject of his newly published novel, The Human Revolution, arose. The novel told the story of its protagonist, modeled on Mr. Toda, striving to advance kosen-rufu together with his mentor, first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, and chronicled the truth and justice of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society), the precursor to the Soka Gakkai.

Mr. Toda confessed with a smile, however, that while he had no trouble writing about Mr. Makiguchi, he found it too difficult to convey his own story fully.

Those words struck me deeply.

Mr. Toda’s novel concluded after describing his courageous struggle while imprisoned by the Japanese militarist authorities and his awakening to his mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.[3] He did not, however, record anything about his tremendous efforts for kosen-rufu after his release from prison.

■  ■  ■

Enabling a Change in the Destiny of All Humankind

The following day, on August 14—the 10th anniversary of my first meeting with my mentor—I vowed deeply to write a continuation of the true history of the Soka Gakkai spirit in Mr. Toda’s place.

Seven years later, in Okinawa on December 2, 1964, I began writing The Human Revolution, the story of Mr. Toda’s life dedicated to kosen-rufu, with the central theme: “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”[4] And for the past 25 years, I have been writing The New Human Revolution, describing the endeavors of disciples to make their mentor’s vision a reality. Now, that literary journey of the shared struggle of mentor and disciple is approaching its culmination. [Editors note: President Ikeda completed writing the final installment of the 30-volume novel on August 6, 2018, which was then published in the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, on September 8, 2018.]

SGI President Ikeda takes a photo of the Port of Yokohama from the Kanagawa Culture Center, Yokohama, Japan, January 2006. Photo by Seikyo Press.

■  ■  ■

The Wish to Help All People to Become Buddhas

It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined you to become my disciple at a time like this. Shakyamuni and Many Treasures[5] certainly realized this truth. The [Lotus Sutra’s] statement, “Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers” [LSOC, 178], cannot be false in any way. (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 217)[6]

This passage from “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life” teaches the deep karmic ties that link mentor and disciple expounded in Buddhism. To receive the “heritage of the ultimate Law of life” mentioned in the title of this writing means, very simply, to inherit the most important teaching for attaining Buddhahood, which is transmitted from the Buddha to ordinary people, from mentor to disciple.

“Expedient Means,” the 2nd chapter of the Lotus Sutra, states the Buddha’s aim “to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (LSOC, 70). Shakyamuni’s true wish was to enable all people to attain the same life state of Buddhahood he had achieved.

Here, I would like to confirm that Buddhism is distinguished by the fact that it is a teaching focused on human beings. A Buddha is an awakened human being—a person, just like the rest of us. The person who is first to awaken to the Law (the Buddha) teaches that Law, seeking to elevate the lives of all human beings. In that respect, the true relationship between the Buddha and ordinary people is not like that between a god and human beings, but a relationship between teacher and student, between mentor and disciple.

People of later ages lost sight of this core message of Buddhism. One way they did so was to limit the attainment of Buddhahood to a certain time and to people of a certain capacity. Another was to turn the Buddha into a deified image, something entirely separate from human beings. The mentor-disciple relationship was completely forgotten.

The Lotus Sutra corrects this distortion. It teaches the ultimate truth of Buddhism, that all people possess the supreme state of Buddhahood within them, and describes the Buddha’s basic efforts to enable all living beings to attain a life state equal to his own. The words “to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (LSOC2, 70) constitute a key sutra passage that revives the humanistic essence of Buddhism.

Elevating the life state of disciples to the same level of the Buddha—this is the fundamental aim of Buddhism and the most important theme of the Lotus Sutra. It is none other than the path of mentor and disciple, the oneness of mentor and disciple.

Precisely because it is grounded in the spirit of mentor and disciple, Nichiren Buddhism is a humanistic teaching, one in which ordinary people take the lead.

■  ■  ■

Sairen-bo Steadfastly Walked the Path of Mentor and Disciple

In “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” which is addressed to Sairen-bo,[7]

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Nichiren has been trying to awaken all the people of Japan to faith in the Lotus Sutra so that they too can share the heritage [of the Law] and attain Buddhahood” (WND-1, 217).

The Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, made a great vow to transmit the heritage for attaining Buddhahood, which he had inherited from Shakyamuni through the Lotus Sutra, to all people living in this evil age.

The passage we are studying this time elucidates the depth of the karmic ties linking Nichiren and his disciples.

It appears that Sairen-bo was being subjected to persecution for embracing the Daishonin’s teachings. Praising him for refusing to be defeated and remaining his disciple, the Daishonin says that he is “like pure gold”[8](WND-1, 217).

Central to the view of life and death taught in the Lotus Sutra is that the karmic bonds shared by mentor and disciple who strive together to realize kosen-rufu endure throughout past, present and future.

He further states, “It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined you to become my disciple at a time like this” (WND-1, 217). The ties of mentor and disciple are not limited to this lifetime, he asserts, but have existed since the distant past, countless lifetimes ago.

■  ■  ■

Joy in Both Life and Death

All of the world’s religions, including Buddhism, teach something about the eternal. Life and death are fundamental concerns of religion. But the view of eternity differs from religion to religion. Buddhism teaches the continuity of life throughout the three existences[9]—past, present and future. However, though the cycle of birth and death continues, that does not mean that it continues as a cycle of suffering.

The Lotus Sutra expounds a view of life that is based on the eternal and fundamental Law of the universe. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, our lives become characterized by supreme joy embodying the four virtues of eternity, happiness, true self and purity.[10]That is, we attain a life state pervaded by joy in both life and death.

Central to the view of life and death taught in the Lotus Sutra is that the karmic bonds shared by mentor and disciple who strive together to realize kosen-rufu endure throughout past, present and future.

In “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” Nichiren cites as evidence a passage from “The Parable of the Phantom City,” the 7th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which states, “Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers” (LSOC, 178).

Shakyamuni is saying that his voice-hearer disciples had been his followers from the remote past, continually born together with him and carrying out bodhisattva practice alongside him in many different Buddha lands. On hearing Shakyamuni’s preaching, they remember that they originally possessed the life state of bodhisattvas, dedicated to Buddhist practice with the wish to relieve the sufferings of all living beings. The role of their mentor, the Buddha, is to remind them of their profound wish as bodhisattvas.

This “profound wish” is the great vow for kosen-rufu. Bodhisattvas vow to carry out the wish of the Buddha, who has compassion and empathy for all people. The fact that they have practiced the bodhisattva way together with their mentor since the remote past indicates that the path to fundamentally relieving the suffering of all people will continue forever.

The Daishonin’s assertion that this “cannot be false in any way” (WND-1, 217) must have reinforced Sairen-bo’s certainty of the deep ties of the mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism.

■  ■  ■

My Unforgettable Encounter With Mr. Toda

I first met Josei Toda on August 14, 1947, more than seven decades ago, at a discussion meeting in Tokyo’s Ota Ward. Young as I was, he spoke to me warmly as if I were an old friend. Our conversation was the turning point that determined the rest of my life.

American scholar of religion Dr. Nicholas Gier (professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Idaho) said that three things about my encounter with Mr. Toda impressed him. The first is that, though I was much younger than Mr. Toda, he treated me as an equal. The second is that he spoke directly and straightforwardly about the true nature of life, without difficult arguments or fancy words. The third point is that I, as a young man, was deeply moved by the fact that Mr. Toda had been arrested and imprisoned for opposing Japan’s militarist government.[11]Dr. Gier went on to say that our encounter followed in the footsteps of the universal humanism that defined Shakyamuni’s interactions with his disciples, fostering their personal development through his own great character and humanity.[12]

In fact, it was because I was inspired by Mr. Toda’s character and felt I could trust him implicitly that I joined the Soka Gakkai 10 days after meeting him. I didn’t know anything about Buddhism. I think many of you today first studied the basics of Buddhism and learned about our movement through your friends in the Soka Gakkai before you joined, and actually had a much more structured and organized introduction to Buddhism than I did.

At any rate, living my life with Mr. Toda and walking the path of mentor and disciple alongside him was the greatest honor of my youth.

In his copy of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi underlined the passage: “Entering into the relation of teacher and [disciple] is the result of a bond that bridges the three existences” (“On the Five Seasonal Festivals,” WND-2, 375). It is not by accident or coincidence that we have come to practice Nichiren Buddhism. It is because of a profound karmic bond that persists throughout past, present and future. And Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda are the ones who led the way in teaching us the correct path of Buddhist faith and practice.

The joy of encountering a rare person of great character, an individual who awakens us to what we are seeking in the depths of our beings—this is the mentor-disciple relationship. The correct teaching of Buddhism is transmitted through such human bonds.

■  ■  ■

Shijo Kingo Exerted Himself Just as Nichiren Daishonin Instructed

No matter how earnestly Nichiren prays for you, if you lack faith, it will be like trying to set fire to wet tinder. Spur yourself to muster the power of faith. (“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1000–01)[13]

This passage teaches that prayer based on the oneness of mentor and disciple is the heart of faith for absolute victory.

Inspired by Nichiren Daishonin’s triumphant return from exile on Sado,[14] his disciple Shijo Kingo,[15] burning with fresh determination to take action, introduced the Daishonin’s teachings to his feudal lord, Ema. But inevitably the three obstacles and four devils[16] appeared, just as Nichiren’s writings say will happen when we exert ourselves in our Buddhist practice. Shijo Kingo found himself being harassed by jealous fellow retainers and fell out of favor with Lord Ema, who had been swayed by the false, defamatory accusations they made against him.

In these circumstances, Shijo Kingo put the Daishonin’s advice into action and continued to serve his lord with sincerity and integrity. Gradually, he regained the trust of Lord Ema, who increased Shijo Kingo’s landholdings to three times what they were before. This was a clear demonstration of the principles of lessening one’s karmic retribution[17]and changing poison into medicine.[18]

At this time, some fellow samurai, resentful of Shijo Kingo’s favor with his lord, attempted to assassinate him. This letter is a response to Shijo Kingo’s report to the Daishonin that he had been attacked but had survived.

SGI President Ikeda in the midst of composing a song, Tokyo, July 1976. Photo by Seikyo Press.

■  ■  ■

Nichiren Prays for His Disciple’s Safety and Victory

After reminding Shijo Kingo that he had overcome this challenge because of his Buddhist practice, Nichiren Daishonin explains on an even more profound level the importance of prayer.

Naturally, as this passage indicates, the Daishonin is praying earnestly for the safety and victory of his disciple.

To have such a Buddhist mentor is indeed a wonderful thing!

At the same time, he is saying that, from the perspective of the oneness of mentor and disciple, the disciple needs to take action with the same spirit and prayer as the mentor.

■  ■  ■

The United Prayers of Mentor and Disciple Are Key

Immediately before the words, “No matter how earnestly Nichiren prays for you,” Nichiren Daishonin writes, “It is the heart that is important” (WND-1, 1000). The “heart” he is talking about in this passage, which members around the world have engraved in the depths of their lives, is “the heart of the oneness of mentor and disciple.”

“I am always praying for your victory; now it is time for you to rouse strong faith,” the Daishonin is saying to his disciples. Praying earnestly and persistently based on the united spirit of mentor and disciple is the key to faith that enables us to overcome every form of adversity and hardship.

In contrast, if mentor and disciple are not aligned in their prayers, they will not bring forth their true strength and potential. In various writings, Nichiren sternly warns: “If teacher and disciple are of different minds, they will never accomplish anything” (“Flowering and Bearing Grain,” WND-1, 909); and “If lay believers and their teacher pray with differing minds, their prayers will be as futile as trying to kindle a fire on water” (“The Eight Winds,” WND-1, 795).

■  ■  ■

Infusing Our Prayers and Our Life With the Vow for Kosen-rufu

Let us consider more deeply what it means for mentor and disciple to take action with the same spirit and prayer.

What lies at the heart of the mentor’s spirit and prayer? It is the mentor’s vow—the great vow for kosen-rufu made by Nichiren Daishonin in order to lead all people in the Latter Day of the Law to enlightenment.

Nichiren writes, “If you are of the same mind as Nichiren, you must be a Bodhisattva of the Earth” (WND-1, 385). As these words indicate, those who stand up with the same spirit as the Daishonin, taking his vow as their own, are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Prayer infused with a vow creates a life infused with a vow.

In modern times, presidents Makiguchi and Toda stood up for kosen-rufu in accord with this teaching of the Daishonin and gave rise to the Soka Gakkai.

■  ■  ■

Becoming Disciples Who Strive Together With Our Mentor

Nichiren Daishonin also states, “Were they not Bodhisattvas of the Earth, they could not chant the daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo]” (WND-1, 385). All of us, as Soka Gakkai members, regardless of how long we’ve practiced, are equally noble Bodhisattvas of the Earth—people who have emerged to carry out kosen-rufu in the Latter Day of the Law based on our vow from the remote past.

Because we all share the mission of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, we are able to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of the Lotus Sutra. Because we chant with our vow for kosen-rufu, we can realize happiness for both ourselves and others. Because we practice Nichiren Buddhism ourselves and teach others to do the same, we can carry out our human revolution, becoming individuals who take action for the benefit of others. Our prayers, which were originally focused on ourselves alone, naturally evolve into prayers infused with the same vow as our mentor.

This is a dramatic transformation from disciples who depend on their mentor for support to disciples who actively strive with their mentor. This is quite distinct from a religion that seeks salvation from a transcendent absolute being. The fundamental principle of Buddhism is to become a compassionate person of action committed to helping all people become happy.

The path of mentor and disciple means the disciple inheriting and carrying on the mentor’s spirit and efforts to build a network of awakened individuals.

■  ■  ■

The “Ticket to a Happy, Healthy Life”

The respected American Buddhist journalist Clark Strand observed that without the oneness of mentor and disciple, the Soka Gakkai could not have become what it is today.[19] He said: “It was . . . the explanation for how, even in the face of great hardship, they [the pioneer members in Japan] had managed to rebuild the happiness of their families and their communities after the disappointments and deprivations of the war. The [mentor-disciple] relationship was, in their minds, quite literally their ticket to a happy, healthy life.”[20] He also noted, “The relationship with a mentor in the Soka Gakkai tradition is fundamentally empowering and life-enhancing for the disciple.”[21] He was of the view that there was no limit to what the Soka Gakkai could achieve in the future as long as this relationship remained alive.

Because Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching based on the path of mentor and disciple, we can awaken to our profound mission from the remote past; we can cause our positive spirit and actions to have an impact on the world around us; and we can call forth an endless stream of capable successors into the distant future.

■  ■  ■

A Source of Great Hope for the 21st Century

The Soka Gakkai is dedicated to upholding the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple, the very heart of Buddhism. It has revived the original humanistic ideal of religion in this corrupt and degenerate age of the Latter Day of the Law, and revealed the true value of the Daishonin’s Buddhism of the people on a global scale. As a result, it has won the trust of leading thinkers around the world, who see our movement as a source of great hope for the 21st century.

November 18, Soka Gakkai Foundation Day—a day on which mentor and disciple renew their vow—is approaching. Let’s each adorn it with wonderful triumphs in our personal human revolution. And, as we continue to expand our network of precious new Bodhisattvas of the Earth, let’s press ahead together on the great path of the oneness of mentor and disciple leading to happiness and victory, and proudly open a grand new and exciting stage of worldwide kosen-rufu!

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

References

  1. Yubari Coal Miners Union Incident: A case of blatant religious discrimination that took place in 1957, in which miners in Yubari, Hokkaido, were threatened with losing their jobs on account of their belonging to the Soka Gakkai. ↩︎
  2. Osaka Incident: The occasion when SGI President Ikeda, then Soka Gakkai youth division chief of staff, was arrested and wrongfully charged with election law violations in a House of Councillors by-election in Osaka in 1957. At the end of the court case, which continued for more than four years, he was fully exonerated of all charges on January 25, 1962. ↩︎
  3. Bodhisattvas of the Earth: The innumerable bodhisattvas who appear in “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, and are entrusted by Shakyamuni with the task of propagating the Law after his passing. In “Supernatural Powers,” the 21st chapter, Shakyamuni entrusts Bodhisattva Superior Practices, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, with spreading the Law in the saha world in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law. ↩︎
  4. Daisaku Ikeda, The Human Revolution, Book 1 (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2004), p. viii. ↩︎
  5. Many Treasures: A Buddha depicted in the Lotus Sutra. Many Treasures appears, seated within his treasure tower, in order to lend credence to Shakyamuni’s teachings in the sutra. According to “Treasure Tower,” the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Many Treasures Buddha lives in the World of Treasure Purity in the east. While still engaged in bodhisattva practice, he pledges that, even after entering nirvana, he will appear with his treasure tower in order to attest to the validity of the Lotus Sutra, wherever it might be taught. ↩︎
  6. “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life” was written by Nichiren Daishonin in 1272, at Tsukahara, during his exile on Sado Island, and addressed to Sairen-bo, who was also exiled there. In it, the Daishonin replies to the latter’s questions about the ultimate Law of life and death that is the key to attaining Buddhahood. ↩︎
  7. Sairen-bo: A former priest of the Tendai school of Buddhism who, for an unknown reason, had been exiled to Sado. There, he met Nichiren Daishonin and converted to his teachings. ↩︎
  8. Nichiren writes to Sairen-bo: “You have followed Nichiren, however, and met with suffering as a result. It pains me deeply to think of your anguish. Gold can be neither burned by fire nor corroded or swept away by water, but iron is vulnerable to both. A worthy person is like gold, a fool like iron. You are like pure gold because you embrace the ‘gold’ of the Lotus Sutra” (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” WND-1, 217). ↩︎
  9. Three existences: Past existence, present existence and future existence. Used to indicate all of time, from the eternal past, through the present, through the eternal future. In Buddhism, they are the three aspects of the eternity of life, linked inseparably by the law of cause and effect. ↩︎
  10. Eternity, happiness, true self and purity are known as the four virtues. Describing the noble qualities of the Buddha’s life, the four are explained as follows: “eternity” means unchanging and eternal; “happiness” means tranquility that transcends all suffering; “true self” means true and intrinsic nature; and “purity” means free of illusion or mistaken conduct. ↩︎
  11. Translated from Japanese. Article in the Seikyo Shimbun, August 18, 1993. ↩︎
  12. Ibid. ↩︎
  13. In October 1279, Nichiren received news that Shijo Kingo had safely survived an attack by jealous rivals. In this letter, he tells Shijo Kingo that as long as he maintains strong faith, he can overcome all enemies, declaring, “Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other” (“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1001). ↩︎
  14. Sado Exile: The Daishonin’s exile to Sado Island in the Sea of Japan from October 1271 through March 1274. After the failed attempt to take his life at Tatsunokuchi, the authorities sentenced him to exile on Sado Island, which was tantamount to a death sentence. However, when his predictions of internal strife and foreign invasion were fulfilled, the government issued a pardon in March 1274, and the Daishonin returned to Kamakura. ↩︎
  15. Shijo Kingo (c. 1230–1300): One of Nichiren’s leading followers. His full name and title were Shijo Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo Yorimoto. As a samurai retainer, he served the Ema family, a branch of the ruling Hojo clan. Shijo Kingo was well versed in both medicine and the martial arts. He is said to have converted to the Daishonin’s teachings around 1256. When he was taken to Tatsunokuchi to be beheaded in 1271, Shijo Kingo accompanied him, resolved to die by his side. ↩︎
  16. Three obstacles and four devils: Various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. The three obstacles are 1) the obstacle of earthly desires, 2) the obstacle of karma and 3) the obstacle of retribution. The four devils are 1) the hindrance of the five components, 2) the hindrance of earthly desires, 3) the hindrance of death and 4) the hindrance of the devil king. ↩︎
  17. Lessening one’s karmic retribution: This term, which literally means, “transforming the heavy and receiving it lightly,” appears in the Nirvana Sutra. As a benefit of protecting the correct teaching of Buddhism, we can experience relatively light karmic retribution in this lifetime, thereby expiating heavy karma that ordinarily would adversely affect us not only in this lifetime, but over many lifetimes to come. ↩︎
  18. Changing poison into medicine: The principle that a life dominated by the three paths of earthly desires, karma and suffering can be transformed into a life replete with the three virtues of the Dharma body, wisdom and emancipation by virtue of the power of the Mystic Law. In other words, any adverse situation can be changed into a positive one through the power of Buddhist practice. This phrase is found in a passage from Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, which mentions “a great physician who can change poison into medicine.” ↩︎
  19. Clark Strand, Waking the Buddha: How the Most Dynamic and Empowering Buddhist Movement in History Is Changing Our Concept of Religion (Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press, 2014), p. 117. ↩︎
  20. Ibid., p. 129. ↩︎
  21. Ibid. ↩︎

For Our Wonderful New Members Part 2

Building Humanity’s Future—The Noble Endeavor of Fostering the Next Generation