Skip to main content

Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Ikeda Wisdom Academy: June 2020

The Ikeda Wisdom Academy is an SGI-USA youth division movement to engage youth leaders in advanced study. This month, academy members will study chapter 12 of The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series.

While the Ikeda Wisdom Academy is a youth leaders study program, all SGI-USA members are invited to utilize this section of Living Buddhism as a guide for their personal study of “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Syllabus – June 2020
The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, Chapter 12
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Chapter 12
“Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment” and “the Sufferings of Birth and Death Are Nirvana”—Transforming Illusion and Suffering Into Confidence, Joy and Hope

In the conclusion of “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” Nichiren Daishonin declares the essential elements of faith necessary for people to inherit the ultimate Law and attain Buddhahood in the Latter Day.

Be resolved to summon forth the great power of faith, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of death. Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death, and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment, and that the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. Even embracing the Lotus Sutra would be useless without the heritage of faith.

I will go into particulars again on another occasion.

With my deep respect, Nichiren

The eleventh day of the second month in the ninth year of Bun’ei (1272), cyclical sign mizunoe-saru.

Reply to the Honorable Sairen-bo (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 218)

The Mystic Law is the fundamental principle that allows us to draw forth the limitless power we inherently possess. It enables us to change earthly desires, or deluded impulses, into wisdom, just as a fire burns firewood to produce light. We can also transform a life that has been filled with the sufferings of birth and death into one pervaded by vibrant and unbounded joy—just as spring sunshine can melt ice and snow to create a flowing stream.

Self-transformation—this is the main theme of Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching that actually transforms lives. Everything starts with us, with our own human revolution. This forms the basic underpinning of Nichiren Buddhism and the activities of the Soka Gakkai.

Again, in this closing passage of “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” Nichiren seems to be calling out to us: “Awaken to the vast power you possess! Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the firm belief that you will achieve a wonderful life of great fulfillment! This itself is the true heritage.” He concludes this writing by clarifying that the heritage of faith is the sole means through which we, and indeed all people, can share in the heritage for attaining Buddhahood. (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, pp. 127–28)

The Essence of Faith for Inheriting the Law

First, Nichiren says, “Be resolved to summon forth the great power of faith.” “Be resolved” implies a conscious commitment and determination. It could be said that “the great power of faith” means the ability to continually rededicate ourselves and summon fresh faith in our hearts.

Next, he explains what we need to do in concrete terms of our Buddhist practice, saying, “Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of death.” …

To be truly oneself means to continually polish and develop our lives just as we are, without trying to become someone we are not.

In order to have a correct and steadfast mind at the moment of death, it is crucial that we strive day after day, month after month, with the spirit of faith that “now is the last moment” always living in such a way that we have no regrets. In order for us to attain this state of mind, Nichiren teaches us to deepen our prayers each day, and persevere with a resolve to practice faith wholeheartedly. He also informs us that there is no way to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death apart from correctly practicing Buddhism. This means summoning forth “the great power of faith” and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the happiness of ourselves and others, confident that we will have a correct and steadfast mind at the moment of death. (Lecture Series, 129–30)

Inner Transformation Lies at the Heart of Inheriting the Law

The Buddhism of true cause propagated by Nichiren is a teaching for people to actualize the causality for attaining Buddhahood. People are the foundation. Each person is important. Unless the spirit of valuing each individual is put into practice, any theorizing on the heritage of the Law, no matter how exalted, will be empty.

This also means that those who practice Nichiren Buddhism must have the awareness and confidence that they can definitely change their lives on a profound level. The reason Nichiren says, “Never seek any other way [than this] to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death, and manifest it in your life,” is that the heritage of the Law does not exist apart from faith in the Buddhism of true cause, which enables each person to transform themselves inside and attain Buddhahood in this lifetime based on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. (Lecture Series, 130–31)

The Life State and Benefit of Attaining Buddhahood in One’s Present Form

The concepts “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana” both describe transformative functions inherent in life. “Earthly desires are enlightenment” means that the wisdom for attaining Buddhahood (i.e., enlightenment) appears in lives dominated by earthly desires, or deluded impulses. “The sufferings of birth and death are nirvana” means that the state of true peace and tranquillity of the Buddha (i.e., nirvana) manifests in lives that are wracked by the sufferings of birth and death. (Lecture Series, 131)

The Causality of the “Seeds of Opposites” and the Mystic Law of “Changing Poison Into Medicine”

Many of the Buddhist schools in Nichiren’s day had grown divorced from reality or had succumbed to a narrow elitism with a focus on a small group of practitioners or priests. A probable reason for this is that, viewing good and evil as distinct and separate, they were unable to give hope to people living in an evil and defiled age.

It seems likely that Nichiren emphasized the “seeds of opposites” because he realized, if people were to have genuine hope in life, it was vital for them to have a view of causality that offers the possibility of good coming out of evil—the possibility that something negative can be trans-formed into something positive.

■  ■  ■

It is precisely because we have sufferings that we can earnestly chant to the Gohonzon. The determination to seriously confront our sufferings causes the fundamental power inherent in our lives to emerge that much more strongly.

At the moment we chant, our sufferings—our earthly desires—have already become causes for enlightenment. It could even be said that our earthly desires in fact contain enlightenment. In a sense, earthly desires themselves undergo a qualitative change from “earthly desires that cause suffering” into “earthly desires that can be transformed into enlightenment.” It is the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—the Mystic Law of the simultaneity of cause and effect—that makes this possible. (Lecture Series, 133–35)

We Are Buddhas Just as We Are

There is no attainment of Buddhahood separate from the earthly desires and the sufferings of birth and death of ordinary people. Attaining Buddhahood does not mean becoming some kind of superhuman being who transcends all else. This is a point that second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda consistently emphasized. He once remarked: “‘Earthly desires are enlightenment’ and ‘the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana’ describe a life in which we savor a state of happiness and complete peace of mind, while living with our earthly desires just as they are. … Enlightenment is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Because we have earthly desires, we can experience fulfillment, and because we have fulfillment, we experience happiness. To wake up each morning with a sense of physical well-being, to have a good appetite, to enjoy what we do each day and to not feel worried or anxious about life—to live in this way is enlightenment. It is nothing exceptional. We should not misconstrue ‘earthly desires are enlightenment’ as meaning that we will turn into some truly extraordinary being.”

Mr. Toda was always utterly himself, natural and unpretentious. Outwardly, he was in every way an ordinary person, but his mind was always keenly focused on the advance of the Soka Gakkai. Above all, his sense of responsibility for kosen-rufu was truly a reflection of his towering state of enlightenment. Cherishing a fervent “earthly desire” to achieve kosen-rufu, Mr. Toda demonstrated a commitment to this cause that transcended life and death. He based himself on a vast state of life I would describe as “enlightenment manifesting as responsibility.”

To be truly oneself means to continually polish and develop our lives just as we are, without trying to become someone we are not. In other words, it means that the essence of achieving human revolution is none other than showing actual proof of attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form. That is, the principles of “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana” are actualized in our lives in the midst of our Buddhist practice to keep challenging ourselves through faith. (Lecture Series, 135–37)

The Greatest of All Joys

Striving with the spirit that “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana” is a source of joy. There is no greater joy than developing the profound awareness that “ordinary people are identical with the highest level of being” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 22), and “one is a Buddha in both life and death” (“Hell Is the Land of Tranquil Light,” WND-1, 456).


Our efforts to attain Buddhahood in our present form are always filled with joy. When we tackle our problems head on and summon the wisdom to find a way to surmount them, almost without realizing it we come to savor a state of immense joy, our lives overflowing with a powerful life force that enables us to put everything that has happened into perspective and to take it all in stride.

■  ■  ■

Through the power of the Mystic Law, we come to recognize that, though we may once have been overwhelmed by difficulties, we actually have the inner strength to address and overcome them. By dedicating ourselves to the great objective of kosen-rufu, we come to realize that our own problems and worries can serve as the driving force for changing our lives for the better and thereby prove the validity of Nichiren Buddhism. We come to appreciate that our refusal to be defeated by suffering can be a source of inspiration and encouragement to many others. And by maintaining a fighting spirit for kosen-rufu, we can arrive at the realization that we ourselves are originally Buddhas.

■  ■  ■

We of the SGI who embrace and practice the Mystic Law, though we may experience periods of suffering or illusion, are truly walking the path of champions of unsurpassed wisdom and philosophy. Through our faith in Nichiren Buddhism, we can positively transform all poison through the great beneficial medicine of the Mystic Law. …

The Mystic Law is a precious principle for achieving a life of absolute victory. By basing themselves on the Mystic Law, each individual can lead a life of triumph in which “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” That ever-increasing numbers of people are living with such brilliance as they share in the heritage of the ultimate Law of life and death demonstrates the success of Nichiren Buddhism. (Lecture Series, 137–40)

Dedicate This Supremely Noble Life to Buddhism

What does it mean to be a global citizen?