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Buddhist Study

Fighting Devilish Functions

Ikeda Sensei says that the first step to battling devilish functions is to establish an indomitable life state through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In this way, we can bring forth our wisdom and courage. Photo by iIvan / getty images

Overcoming adversity enables us to develop the courage, wisdom and resilience needed to achieve the ultimate aim of revealing our Buddhahood and establishing genuine and lasting happiness.

Buddhism describes obstacles in various ways—namely as devilish functions,[1] the three obstacles and four devils[2] and the devil king of the sixth heaven.[3] These negative functions are expressed in diverse and deceptive forms to hinder and destroy our faith.

Ikeda Sensei says:

The struggle against devilish functions polishes and deepens our faith. And with the “sharp sword” of faith that we have polished through such trials, we can triumph over all obstacles and negative workings. That strong faith, that dauntless spirit, is the very essence of the life state of Buddhahood. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 3, p. 22)

The Ikegami Brothers Are Eternal Models of Faith

The Ikegami brothers, who waged an intense 20-year struggle to bring about family harmony, offer wonderful examples of persevering and winning over forces that oppose their faith.

Their father, Yasumitsu, was an ardent supporter of the True Word Precepts priest Ryokan, a chief conspirator against Nichiren Daishonin. Influenced by Ryokan, he functioned as a negative force in demanding that his sons abandon their faith in Nichiren’s teaching. Unsuccessful, Yasumitsu tried to divide the brothers by disinheriting his older son, Munenaka, and enticing the younger son, Munenaga, to renounce his faith and become heir to the family’s wealth. Given the prominence of the family, the outcome of this conflict would have serious consequences.

Nichiren guided the brothers in transforming this complicated situation. Finally, after more than 20 years, inspired by his sons’ noble behavior and longstanding conviction in faith, Yasumitsu himself became a disciple of Nichiren.

The Ikegami brothers’ story teaches us that the key to overcoming the devilish forces that undermine our lasting happiness is found in creating and maintaining unity: the unity of mentor and disciple, and the unity among fellow practitioners.

Faith Based on the Unity of Mentor and Disciple

Nichiren, himself, had endured and prevailed over all manner of persecution. Wanting his disciples to likewise triumph, he urged them to adopt his same spirit to strive in faith no matter the situation.

He writes:

You must persevere through this trial and see for yourselves the blessings of the Lotus Sutra. I, Nichiren, will also emphatically call on the heavenly gods. Now more than ever, you must neither show nor feel any fear. (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 498)

The first step in battling devilish functions is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. As we chant, we establish an indomitable state of life and bring forth the wisdom and courage to view everything as fuel for strengthening our character.
Sensei also explains:

A teacher or mentor in the realm of Buddhism is one who has battled and triumphed over devilish functions. Disciples, meanwhile, learn the essentials of faith from the mentor so that they can begin to do the same. Buddhism as a teaching of the oneness of mentor and disciple is only complete when disciples respond to the mentor’s teaching and spur themselves to take action. (Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 90)

While encouraging the brothers to uphold strong faith, Nichiren also urged them to become good, respectful sons who genuinely cared for their father’s happiness.

Emphasizing the importance of treating others with sincerity and respect, Sensei says:

Our continued efforts to cultivate such harmonious relations in our environment are the key to victory in faith, and they shine with the wisdom of Buddhism. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 3, p. 25)

Uniting the Forces of Good

Negative functions can infiltrate our lives in so many ways. Spreading rumors, holding grudges, feeling contempt and anger toward others, being ruled by fear and following misguided individuals are all telltale signs that devilish functions are at work, causing us to separate from others or sow disunity in our families, in our various communities or among fellow practitioners.

Understanding this, Nichiren addresses not only the brothers but their wives as well, writing to the women:

If both of you unite in encouraging your husbands’ faith, you will follow the path of the dragon king’s daughter and become a model for women attaining Buddhahood in the evil latter age. (WND-1, 502)

Over the many years of striving to maintain unity—an eternal cornerstone of faith—the four succeeded in having the father take faith.

Sensei writes:

Being “one in mind” essentially means for each of us to make the intent of the Buddha our own, which gives rise to true unity.

Negative forces unite to oppose the Lotus Sutra and its practitioners, but their partnership is invariably fragile and fleeting because their aim is not enduring or universal. When the forces of good that champion the eternal Mystic Law are strong, such negative alliances always disintegrate in the end. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 3, p. 27)

The world today faces unprecedented turmoil, divisiveness and distorted views. With its focus on bringing about unity based on genuine respect for each person, this is the time for the true value of Nichiren Buddhism to light the way forward as a transformative and integrative philosophy for elevating and revitalizing our society.


  1. Devil or devilish function: A personification of evil. The Sanskrit word mara, often translated as “devil,” also means killing, death, pestilence or obstacle, and in China it was also translated as “robber of life.” In Buddhism, devils indicate those functions that block or hinder people’s effort to complete their Buddhist practice. ↩︎
  2. The 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. ↩︎
  3. Devil king of the sixth heaven: Also, devil king or heavenly devil. A personification of the most formidable obstacle in faith said to assume various forms, especially as those with authority or power, in order to cause one to discard one’s Buddhist practice. This devil is also named Freely Enjoying Things Conjured by Others, the king who makes free use of the fruits of others’ efforts for his own pleasure. ↩︎

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