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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Celebrating May 3 A Proud Citadel of Ordinary People With the Mission of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Buddhism of the Sun Installment 49

In 1993, I met with the American astronomer and physicist Robert Jastrow (1925–2008), head of NASA’s theoretical division and a key figure behind the Apollo moon landing program. He presented me with a large color photograph, explaining that it was a picture of Earth taken from Apollo 11 as the spacecraft made its way to the moon. Photographed 50 years ago, in 1969, by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts, it showed our luminous planet floating in the inky darkness of space, its blue oceans and white clouds glistening.

No Borders From Space

When we look at Earth from space, we see no national borders. This image of our beautiful planet, an oasis teeming with life, reminds us of the folly of conflicts between individuals, ethnic groups and nations, and deepens our wish for peace.

Buddhism has an expansive view of the universe. Its description of an infinite number of major world systems[1] resembles today’s view of the Milky Way Galaxy and solar system along with the countless such systems throughout the universe. Among those world systems is our own planet, referred to in Buddhist sutras as the saha world[2] or Jambudvipa.[3]

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth vowed to propagate the Lotus Sutra throughout Jambudvipa, the entire world. And today, the members of the Soka Gakkai, fellow Bodhisattvas of the Earth living together on Mother Earth, our common home, are holding high the banner of Buddhist humanism as they strive earnestly to share the Mystic Law with others.

Worldwide kosen-rufu is progressing and the humanistic philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism is spreading widely, transcending borders and ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences.

I am sure that my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, who advocated the idea of global citizenship, would be delighted to see how vastly our network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth now embraces our planet. While imprisoned by the wartime militarist authorities, Mr. Toda awakened to his identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth and to the profound mission the Soka Gakkai possessed from the remote past. This took place 75 years ago this year (2019).

A Global People’s Movement

As we once again celebrate Soka Gakkai Day, May 3, I wish to reaffirm that the Soka Gakkai is a gathering of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, a great global network of people united by a shared vow for kosen-rufu.

To always stand on the side of the people is the starting point of the Soka Gakkai, a gathering of bodhisattvas who emerged joyfully from the earth.

The appearance today of ordinary people dedicated to practicing the bodhisattva way of celebrating the potential of all people is synonymous with the drama of the magnificent and dynamic emergence of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth at the Ceremony in the Air[4] in the Lotus Sutra.

Possessors of the Original Law From the Remote Past

Thus we may say that the bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth are the bodhisattvas of the essential teaching.[5]The word “essential” or “original” represents the merits handed down from the past of numberless major world system dust particle kalpas ago,[6] the merits that are without beginning and without end.

These bodhisattvas are possessors of the essential or original Law. The original Law is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo … The accepting and upholding of this original Law is expressed in the single word “belief” or “faith.” The single word “belief” is the sharp sword with which one confronts and overcomes fundamental darkness or ignorance.[7]The commentary [T’ien-t’ai’s The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra] says, “Belief means to be without doubt.” You should think about this. (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 119–20)[8]

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, under the heading “Chapter Fifteen: Emerging from the Earth / One important point,” Nichiren Daishonin says, “Nichiren and his followers, who now chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, are all [to be counted among] these bodhisattvas who emerged from the earth” (OTT, 118). This passage is important documentary proof that all Soka Gakkai members are Bodhisattvas of the Earth with a lofty mission.

Anyone who stands up to spread the Mystic Law is a Bodhisattva of the Earth. Such people are bodhisattvas who are one with the eternal Buddha and whose lives brim with “merits that are without beginning and without end” (OTT, 119).

The above passage states that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are “possessors of the essential or original Law” (OTT, 119). They are the “true disciples”[9] who have embraced the original Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and have vowed to dedicate their lives to propagating it in the strife-filled saha world.

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth have diligently exerted and forged their resolve in their Buddhist practice since the remote past.[10]That is why they have voluntarily appeared in the corrupt saha world, living with strength and fortitude in an age rampant with the three poisons.[11] They remain unsullied by the mire of fundamental darkness or ignorance, just like the “lotus flower in the water”[12] (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 263).

How do the Bodhisattvas of the Earth uphold the original Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo? It is through belief, or faith, Nichiren says. They firmly uphold the Law with doubt-free faith; it is always in their lives.

“The single word ‘belief’ is the sharp sword with which one confronts and overcomes fundamental darkness or ignorance” (OTT, 119–20)—let us engrave these words deeply in our lives. The “sharp sword” of faith is what enables us to triumph in every battle against the three obstacles and four devils[13] and the three powerful enemies,[14] and build a strong network of people dedicated to spreading the Mystic Law, the great teaching of respect for the dignity of life, in the saha world.

Emerging From the Realm of the Fundamental Truth of Life

Nichiren Daishonin notes that before they made their appearance, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth dwelled in the “lower region,” which represents the fundamental truth of life, described [by the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai] as “the depths of the Dharma nature, the ultimate region of the profound source”[15] (OTT, 119). It symbolizes a richly abundant realm “beneath the earth” that gives life to and nurtures all things, supporting them on a fundamental level and providing boundless strength.

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth surge forth powerfully from this foundation of all things, emerging as “Solemn, dignified … beings of great and lofty stature” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 253).

Nichiren states, “‘Emerging’ [from the phrase ‘emerging from the earth’] indicates that at the time of kosen-rufu, living beings throughout Jambudvipa [the entire world] will be practitioners of the Lotus Sutra” (Gosho zenshu, p. 834).[16] Wondrously, at this moment, practitioners dedi-cated to the great mission of kosen-rufu are appearing simultaneously around the globe. They are the mentors and disciples of the Soka Gakkai.

The Great Ship of the Mystic Law Crossing the Rough Seas

The Soka Gakkai’s aim is that our grassroots movement will become a “pillar” supporting peace around the world; serve as “eyes” that keenly discern the future and are focused on creating hope; and be a “great ship” with the compassion to take on board all living beings, uniting the world, crossing the rough seas of our times and opening a new page of happiness and peace for humankind.

With the conviction that we are on “a sure course to historic achievement,”[17] our ship sets out eagerly on a hope-filled voyage to spread Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings across the globe, as “the mast of the one true teaching of the Middle Way [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo]”[18] (“A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering,” WND-1, 34) stands in the center.

This simile has profound meaning. If we can ride out the tempestuous seas, eventually the waters will grow calm once more. In the turbulent waves of history, we can see the dauntless ability of humanity to surmount all hardships. Even in the face of conflicts and natural disasters, we can robustly restore and rebuild our lives. Such is the resilience and fortitude of ordinary people. As long as “the mast of the one true teaching of the Middle Way” stands firm, we can keep sailing onward.

The Soka Gakkai Follows the Great Path of the Middle Way

The Soka Gakkai will forever follow the great path of the Middle Way, for that is the essence of Buddhism.

Looking back on the process by which he attained enlightenment, Shakyamuni said he had awakened to the Middle Way, transcending the extremes of hedonism and asceticism.

In “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” Nichiren Daishonin explains the true significance of the Middle Way:

Life is indeed an elusive reality that tran-scends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor nonexistence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality. Myo is the name given to the mystic nature of life. (WND-1, 4)

The Middle Way is neither a neutral or passive state, nor an averaging of two extremes. Rather, it is the process of attaining the way in accord with truth and reason. It is living based on a complete and holistic view of life.

There are many dualities in our world—existence and nonexistence, good and evil, materialism and spiritualism, capitalism and communism, natives and foreigners, the majority and the minority, self and others, and so forth. When we cling to such dualities, we tend to favor one side and reject the other.

The Buddhist view of the Middle Way, however, is entirely different. It does not reject either side, because both involve human beings. Genuine Buddhism is an all-encompassing teaching. Living the great path of the Middle Way is about making positive use of everything and creating fresh value.

Everything Comes Down to the Welfare of the People

At the time that Josei Toda was inaugurated as second Soka Gakkai president, on May 3, 1951, the Korean War was raging. Pained by the misery that conflict caused, Mr. Toda wrote an article titled “Kosen-rufu and the Korean War,” which was published in the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

In it, he expressed his deep sympathy for those whose lives had been torn apart by the war, writing, “I grieve at the thought that war causes countless people to lose their husbands or wives and leaves so many people searching for lost children or parents.” Rather than arguing the rights and wrongs of the ideologies of the opposing sides in the conflict, his only concern was the suffering of those caught up in the tragedy.

Mr. Toda delivered his historic Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons at Mitsuzawa Stadium in Yokohama on September 8, 1957. This declaration, the foremost of his final instructions to the youth division, also shines with the wisdom of the Middle Way. It was a time when both sides in the ongoing Cold War were coolly justifying their possession of growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Toda struck at the heart of the matter—the devilish nature of power that threatened the very survival of humanity—denouncing nuclear weapons as an absolute evil along with the thinking that tried to justify their use. He also saw that the only way to fundamentally resolve the problem was to build a growing solidarity among people who wished and spoke out for peace.

The Middle Way is definitely not an easy path to follow. It is a truly difficult path requiring tremendous wisdom; a great and honorable path traversed by champions of the spirit. This wisdom is born from living according to the principle of always striving to work with, among and for the people.

The Middle Way is a way of life based on an unassailable belief in the dignity of all, valuing each individual and remaining rooted firmly in the soil of the people. It is therefore essentially pacifist. It rejects violent extremism driven by impatience in favor of a steady gradualism that thoroughly respects the nobility of human beings and a philosophy of true humanism.

This World Is the Stage of Action for the Bodhisattvas of the Earth

The sutra reads, “As the light of the sun and moon can banish all obscurity and gloom, so this person as he advances through the world can wipe out the darkness of living beings” [LSOC, 318]. Consider carefully what this passage signifies. “This person as he advances through the world” means that the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law will witness the advent of Bodhisattva Superior Practices, who will illuminate the darkness of ignorance and earthly desires with the light of the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.[19] In accordance with this passage, Nichiren, as this bodhisattva’s envoy, has urged the people of Japan to accept and uphold the Lotus Sutra. (“Letter to Jakunichi-bo,” WND-1, 993)[20]

Nichiren Daishonin cites the passage from the “Supernatural Powers of the Thus Come One” chapter of the Lotus Sutra as documentary proof that he possesses the mission of Bodhisattva Superior Practices.

Particularly noteworthy is the phrase, “This person as he advances through the world.” In other words, it is in this real world, not some distant realm, that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth carry out their activities.

While being interrogated in prison during World War II, founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi quoted from this Lotus Sutra chapter and courageously proclaimed the correctness of Nichiren Buddhism. This is recorded in the official transcript of his interrogations.

In general, Buddhism is regarded as a teaching of transcending the secular realm. This is because it espoused freeing oneself from the real world, which is shrouded by the darkness of ignorance and earthly desires, and is filled with suffering. But far from removing himself from the world, Bodhisattva Superior Practices—the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth entrusted in the Lotus Sutra with propagating Buddhism after Shakyamuni’s death—“advances through” it. That is, he carries out his Buddhist practice amid the realities of this world.

Putting Faith Into Practice in Daily Life and Buddhism Into Action in Society

In “The Kalpa of Decrease,” Nichiren Daishonin writes, “A person of wisdom is not one who practices Buddhism apart from worldly affairs but, rather, one who thoroughly understands the principles by which the world is governed” (WND-1, 1121). Tsunesaburo Makiguchi underlined this passage in his personal copy of Nichiren’s writings.

The wisdom for guiding people to happiness is found within the teachings and practice of Buddhism. Regarding Buddhism and worldly affairs as separate and valuing one over the other is not the Middle Way.

We chant intently before the Gohonzon about the problems we face in our lives, striving hard and tapping all our ingenuity to solve them. When we carry out our Buddhist practice steadfastly within the harsh realities of society and dedicate our lives to kosen-rufu, the wisdom of the Buddha is guaranteed to arise within us. Those who consistently tackle these challenges are truly people of wisdom living in accord with the Middle Way as they put faith into practice in daily life and Buddhism into action in society.

The crux of the phrase “this person as he advances through the world” (LSOC, 318) is “advances”—in other words, practicing or taking action.

“The practice of Myoho-renge-kyo” (OTT, 119), chanting and spreading the Mystic Law, is carried out in the real world. Everything in life has meaning and is part of our Buddhist practice toward achieving our human revolution.

Religion Exists to Help People Become Happy and Improve the World

“Buddhism is a teaching for daily life,” declared Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. He sought to bring the spiritual peace of religion into our personal and social lives. He wrote: “What is the social raison d’être of religion apart from working for the happiness of humanity and making the world a better place? Isn’t there beneficial value in helping people become happy? Isn’t there moral value in improving the world?”[21]

What a powerful declaration this is!

In our personal lecture sessions at what I call “Toda University,” Mr. Toda remarked more than once that the time had come for us to consider everything not only from the standpoint of the well-being of society, but also the destiny of our entire world.

Toynbee’s Encouragement to Act Based on the Middle Way

It was exactly 50 years ago, in 1969, that I received a letter from the eminent British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) asking me to take part in a dialogue with him.

Our dialogue, which spanned more than 40 hours over a two-year period, was published in English under the title Choose Life. I am sure Dr. Toynbee would be delighted to know that its impact has spread around the world.

During our time together, Dr. Toynbee referred to these words by the ancient Roman dramatist Terence: “I’m a man; I don’t regard any man’s affairs as not concerning me.”[22] Dr. Toynbee took the experiences of all people as his own, seeing no one as unrelated to him and so never rejecting or ignoring anyone. That is why he was able to move beyond a Eurocentric view of history and adopt a more unbiased perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations, discovering the enormous power of people and ideas—what he called the “deeper, slower movements that, in the end, make history.”[23]

As our dialogue came to a close, he encouraged me by saying that the Middle Way of Buddhism, which I advocated, was surely the best path to follow. At the inaugural meeting of the SGI (in Guam, on January 26, 1975), I conveyed this insight from Dr. Toynbee. He also called on me to create a dynamic groundswell of dialogue around the world. Voicing his belief that dialogue has an extremely important role to play in promoting harmony among different civilizations, peoples and religions, he urged me, as someone still young, to continue engaging in such dialogues with people in many countries, including the Soviet Union (present-day Russia), the United States and China.

Dr. Toynbee entrusted me with stirring a whirlwind of dialogue through the wisdom of the Middle Way and thereby opening a path to harmony and coexistence.

Because People Are There

I responded with action.

Not long after our dialogue finished, I visited the United States, China and the Soviet Union in quick succession. An icy, forbidding barrier of distrust and division separated those countries during the Cold War, and antagonism between China and the Soviet Union was fierce.

When I left for China, I said to those seeing me off, “I have come this far together with people who have been dismissed as the poor and the sick, without relying on power or money.”

The Soka Gakkai is an organization of ordinary people. I was convinced that, as long as we maintained this solid foundation, we could build bridges of friendship with others, regardless of ideology or political system.

Before my departure to the Soviet Union, some asked why I, the leader of a Buddhist organization, was going to visit a state that rejected religion. I answered unhesitatingly that I was going because there were people there, and I wanted to meet them.
Anywhere there are people, anywhere people are leading their lives on our shared Earth, is a place that is connected to me. It is with this conviction that I have been able to make friends and build trust among my fellow global citizens, transcending national or political divisions and differing value systems, and irrespective of religious beliefs.

Now is the time to make Mother Earth shine ever more brightly with the spiritual treasure of respect for life and for human beings. Let us create a planet where all living things can exist together in beautiful harmony, a world where all are celebrated and can enjoy peace and happiness.

Reach Out to a Friend in Need

The Soka Gakkai is a citadel of ordinary people who have each made a vow to become a beacon of hope for others. It is a network of individuals working together based on the belief that they can create happiness for themselves and others through their own human revolution.

In “Letter to Jakunichi-bo,” Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Those who become Nichiren’s disciples and lay believers should realize the profound karmic relationship they share with him and spread the Lotus Sutra as he does” (WND-1, 994).

Let’s surmount all differences and obstacles and reach out to a friend in need. Filled with the joy that comes from living aware of the profound karmic bonds of mentor and disciple, let’s spread Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism of the Sun among the people.

A New Journey Toward Global Peace

My dear friends, Bodhisattvas of the Earth of the 21st century! My admirable fellow members! The bell has sounded for us to sail forth anew on our voyage to realize worldwide kosen-rufu and peace across the globe.

Working in even stronger unity of purpose, let us encourage one another and continue moving forward together!

Translated from the May 2019 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. Major world system: Also, thousand-millionfold world. One of the world systems described in ancient Indian cosmology. A world consists of a Mount Sumeru, its surrounding seas and mountain ranges, a sun, a moon and other heavenly bodies. One thousand worlds make a minor world system; one thousand minor world systems compose an intermediate world system; and one thousand intermediate world systems form a major world system. In their totality, they are referred to as the three thousand realms. ↩︎
  2. Saha world: This world, which is full of suffering. Often translated as the world of endurance, in Sanskrit saha means the earth; it derives from a root meaning “to bear” or “to endure.” For this reason, in the Chinese versions of Buddhist scriptures, saha is rendered as endurance. In this context, the saha world indicates a world in which people must endure suffering. ↩︎
  3. Jambudvipa: A term from ancient Indian cosmology indicating the entire world. ↩︎
  4. Ceremony in the Air: One of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, in which the entire gathering is suspended in space above the saha world. It extends from “Emergence of the Treasure Tower,” the 11th chapter, to “Entrustment,” the 22nd chapter. The heart of this ceremony is the revelation of the Buddha’s original enlightenment in the remote past and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who are led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices. ↩︎
  5. Essential teaching: The teaching expounded by Shakyamuni from the perspective of his true identity as the Buddha who attained enlightenment countless kalpas ago. It consists of the latter 14 chapters of the Lotus Sutra, from “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter, through “Encouragements of the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy,” the 28th chapter. ↩︎
  6. Numberless major world system dust particle kalpas: An incredibly long period of time described in “Life Span,” the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, to indicate how long ago Shakyamuni Buddha originally attained enlightenment. ↩︎
  7. Fundamental darkness or ignorance: The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. The inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life. ↩︎
  8. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings: A collection of Nichiren Daishonin’s oral teachings on the Lotus Sutra delivered while he lived on Mount Minobu. They were recorded and compiled in two volumes by his disciple and successor, Nikko Shonin. ↩︎
  9. In “Reply to Niiama,” Nichiren writes: “The Buddha declared [to the effect]: ‘ … My true disciples I have kept hidden in the depths of the earth for numberless major world system dust particle kalpas. I will entrust it [propagating the Lotus Sutra] to them.’ So saying, the Buddha summoned Bodhisattva Superior Practices and the other bodhisattvas in the ‘Emerging from the Earth’ chapter and entrusted them with the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 467). ↩︎
  10. In “General Stone Tiger,” Nichiren writes, “Shakyamuni Buddha [entrusted the mission of propagation] to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth … who had thoroughly forged their resolve” (WND-1, 953). ↩︎
  11. The three poisons: greed, anger and foolishness, the fundamental evils inherent in life that give rise to human suffering. In the renowned Mahayana scholar Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, the three poisons are regarded as the source of all illusions and earthly desires. The three poisons are so called because they pollute people’s lives and work to prevent them from turning their hearts and minds to goodness. ↩︎
  12. The passage from “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, reads: “[They are] unsoiled by worldly things / like the lotus flower in the water. / Emerging from the earth … ” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 263). ↩︎
  13. 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. ↩︎
  14. The three powerful enemies: Three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, described in the concluding verse section of “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The Great Teacher Miao-lo of China summarizes them as arrogant lay people, arrogant priests and arrogant false sages. ↩︎
  15. T’ien-t’ai, The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 9. ↩︎
  16. “Oko kikigaki” (The Recorded Lectures); not included in The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1 or 2. ↩︎
  17. A line from the Soka Gakkai song “Kofu ni hashire” (Onward to Kosen-rufu). ↩︎
  18. In “A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering,” Nichiren likens the Lotus Sutra to a ship ferrying all living beings across the sea of the sufferings of birth and death (see WND-1, 34). ↩︎
  19. Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam, or namu, being composed of two characters). Nichiren, however, often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings. ↩︎
  20. Composed in 1279, “Letter to Jakunichi-bo” is addressed to one of Nichiren’s disciples thought to have been a resident in Awa Province (part of present-day Chiba Prefecture), sent via a disciple named Jakunichi-bo. ↩︎
  21. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value Creating Education), in Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1982), vol. 5, p. 356. ↩︎
  22. Terence, “The Self-Tormentor,” in The Comedies, translated by Peter Brown (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 104. ↩︎
  23. Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 213. ↩︎

A Ship to Cross the Sea of the Sufferings of Birth and Death