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Ikeda Sensei

Be Wise People Who Will Achieve Victory in Your Youth (The Ikegami Brothers Part 1)

The Ikegami Brothers

Helena Lopes / Pexels

The following is from Ikeda Sensei’s series addressing members of the junior high and high school divisions. This installment originally appeared in the June 1, 2019, issue of the Mirai [Future] Journal, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly newspaper for the junior high and high school divisions.

Soka University of America (SUA), Aliso Viejo, California, which opened on May 3, 2001 is a bastion of bright young global citizens illuminating the 21st century with the light of hope. Many graduates of the future division[1] are studying there alongside other talented young people from around the world.

On May 24, 2019, SUA held its 15th commencement ceremony. The song “The Light of Hope,” which SUA students and alumni often sing at commemorative gatherings, contains the lines:

No education surpasses that
Of trials and hardships,
Harsh lessons learned of life.
We’ll go into society
And do the best we can
To shatter the dark of night!

“No education surpasses that of trials and hardships”—this is a lesson that I engraved in my heart in my youth as I studied with my mentor, [second Soka Gakkai President] Josei Toda, at what I call “Toda University.”

I remember him saying to me once: “Dai,[2] suffering is unavoidable in life. Only when you suffer can you understand faith and become a person of substance.”

Hardship is youth’s badge of honor. Those who have experienced struggles and suffering can be a light of hope for others.

The lives of Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples shine with a vital formula for victory—namely, that hardship and difficulty are a springboard for growth and development.

Fine examples of this are the Ikegami brothers, Munenaka and Munenaga, and their wives, who lived in Ikegami in Musashi Province (present-day Ota Ward, Tokyo).

The members of the Ikegami family are believed to have served the Kamakura military government as prominent builders and engineers, overseeing construction and repairs of major government buildings. The father, Yasumitsu, opposed his sons’ faith in the Lotus Sutra and disowned the elder brother, Munenaka, for embracing Nichiren’s teachings. Disownment in the feudal society of the day was an extremely harsh punishment. It not only meant being cut off from inheritance but also losing both one’s social standing and livelihood. By disowning Munenaka and making his younger son first in line to the family’s estate, the father tried to sow division between the two brothers.

As soon as the Daishonin learned of this situation, he sent a letter of encouragement to both of the Ikegami brothers and their wives. In the “Letter to the Brothers,” he writes: “If you propagate [this teaching], devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 501).

“Devils” refer to negative functions that seek to obstruct our Buddhist practice. They cause us to veer off the path of good and happiness, and fall into error and unhappiness.

In the case of the Ikegami brothers, devilish functions manifested in the form of their father’s opposition and attempted to undermine their faith and unity. This is the essential nature of devilish functions.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi taught his disciples that devilish functions arise precisely because one practices the correct teaching exactly as it is taught. June, incidentally, is the month of Mr. Makiguchi’s birthday. [He was born on June 6, 1871].

Both Presidents Makiguchi and Toda, mentor and disciple, were imprisoned by Japan’s militarist authorities during World War II because of their faith in Nichiren Buddhism. In spite of this persecution, however, they remained steadfastly committed to Nichiren’s teachings. Mr. Makiguchi ultimately died in prison for his beliefs.

I’m sure those of you who have taken the Study Department Introductory Exam have learned about the three obstacles and four devils.[3] In the “Letter to the Brothers,” the Daishonin cites a passage from the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai stating that “the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere”[4] (WND-1, 501). In other words, devilish functions will appear in ways that are difficult to discern.

Especially when you’re young, you might often find yourself feeling lost, aimless or unmotivated. The negativity in your heart that gives rise to such feelings can be regarded as the workings of devilish functions. For instance, you might start studying but then quickly become distracted. You might decide to take on a fresh challenge only to be overcome by the temptation to kick back and relax. These examples can be considered the workings of devilish functions within your own life.

How, then, can you defeat them? Since devilish functions arise in confusing forms, it’s important to see them for what they really are. As soon as you identify them as devilish functions, they will disperse.

Citing the words of the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, Nichiren writes, “One should be neither influenced nor frightened by [the three obstacles and four devils]”[5] (WND-1, 501). Bringing forth the life state of Buddhahood will enable you to vanquish devilish functions without being swayed or intimidated by them. Our daily practice of gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are key to strengthening this life force of Buddhahood within us.

When you become stronger in this way, you can transform any obstacle or negative function into a springboard for personal growth. When you advance based on faith, the Daishonin’s warning that devilish functions are certain to emerge becomes a source of powerful encouragement, a source of reassurance that you can achieve great development and victory without fail.

When the elder brother, Munenaka, who remained unwavering in faith along with his younger brother, was disowned for a second time,[6] Nichiren offered him the following guidance, “The three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat” (The Three Obstacles and Four Devils, WND-1, 637).

The two brothers united together in accord with the Daishonin’s words and defeated the devilish functions assailing them. Later, they successfully guided their father to embrace faith in Nichiren’s teachings, an unsurpassed way of repaying one’s gratitude to a parent.

When you are challenging yourself to do something but feel like giving up, I encourage you to regard such moments as opportunities for personal growth. Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the resolve that everything starts from now, that you will achieve a breakthrough in your life and boldly take a step forward.

All of you, my dear young friends of the future division, are wise people who are making causes for victory in your youth. Always remembering the Daishonin’s words “the wise will rejoice,” let’s cheerfully overcome any valley of difficulty and mountain of hardship!


  1. The future division comprises members in elementary, junior high and high school. ↩︎
  2. Dai is an abbreviation of Daisaku, Ikeda Sensei’s first name. ↩︎
  3. 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. ↩︎
  4. 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. ↩︎
  5. T’ien-t’ai, Great Concentration and Insight, vol. 5. ↩︎
  6. The elder brother, Munenaka, was twice disowned by their father, who was a follower of Ryokan, the chief priest of Gokuraku-ji temple of the True Word Precepts school, a person hostile to Nichiren Daishonin. At the same time, their father tempted Munenaga, the younger brother, to abandon his faith in Nichiren’s teaching and take his brother’s place as the next head of the family. Despite these adversities, the brothers persevered in their Buddhist practice. The father later revoked Munenaka’s disownment and, in the end, took faith in the Daishonin’s teaching. ↩︎

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