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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Ikeda Wisdom Academy: March 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 9 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.”

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Syllabus – March 2020
The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, Chapter 9
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Chapter 9
The Oneness of Mentor and Disciple—The Eternal Bond of Mentor and Disciple Who Dedicate Their Lives to the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu

SGI President Ikeda explains how the heritage of the ultimate Law of life and death can only be transmitted through the mentor-and-disciple relationship.

The Wish of the Mentor Is the Great Wish for Kosen-rufu

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 and attain Buddhahood. But instead they have persecuted me in various ways and finally had me banished to this island [of Sado]. You [Sairen-bo] 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 sutra states, “Just as among all the mountains, Mount Sumeru is foremost, so this Lotus Sutra is likewise” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 327). It also states, “The good fortune you gain thereby . . . cannot be burned by fire or washed away by water” (LSOC, 329).

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 certainly realized this truth. The 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 Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 217)

At the beginning of the section we are studying in this installment, Nichiren Daishonin reveals the spirit of the mentor in the mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism. He 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 and attain Buddhahood” (WND-1, 217). This passage can be read as expressing the fundamental spirit of the Buddha of the Latter Day, which pervades Nichiren’s life of momentous struggle for kosen-rufu.

This desire to enable all people to equally share in the heritage of attaining Buddhahood is itself the spirit of the Lotus Sutra, and also the great wish, or vow, of the Buddha described in the sutra.

The Lotus Sutra is permeated by the Buddha’s great vow to enable all people to attain Buddhahood. Shakyamuni teaches that a person who inherits and carries on this vow is a genuine bodhisattva and true disciple of the Buddha. He also calls on his followers to widely propagate the Law throughout the world after his passing, stressing the importance of winning in the struggle against negative forces that seek to obstruct the flow of kosen-rufu.

Accordingly, the great vow of the Buddha and the wish of the mentor—for the enlightenment of all people and the happiness of self and others—are none other than the great vow, or wish, for kosen-rufu itself. (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, pp. 80–81)

The True Heritage of Faith Is Open to All People

When considering Nichiren Daishonin’s wish to enable all people to share the heritage for attaining Buddhahood, the most crucial point is that the heritage of Buddhism is open to all. This universally accessible nature of the heritage is so important that it simply cannot be emphasized too strongly. When it is correctly understood, Buddhism can serve as a humanistic and universal religion; when it is not, Buddhism can become narrow and authoritarian, deviating from the original spirit of the Buddha. (Lecture Series, 82)

A Person of “Pure Gold” Upholds the Lotus Sutra Even in the Face of Great Obstacles

Thus in this writing, Nichiren Daishonin clarifies that the spirit and conduct of the mentor in the struggle for kosen-rufu in the Latter Day of the Law consist of the following: the “great vow for kosen-rufu” to enable all people to attain enlightenment and the “selfless action” to triumph over one great obstacle after another.

Nichiren then observes, “You [Sairen-bo] have followed Nichiren, however, and met with suffering as a result” (WND-1, 217). This fact, Nichiren says, qualifies Sairen-bo as a person of “pure gold.” In praising Sairen-bo for being such a dedicated disciple, Nichiren teaches that the all-important heritage in Buddhism flows in the lives of those who practice in the same spirit as the mentor.

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With regard to Sairen-bo encountering persecution on account of his having become Nichiren’s disciple, Nichiren writes, “It pains me deeply to think of your anguish” (WND-1, 217). And he lauds Sairen-bo as a person of “pure gold” because the latter persisted in following Nichiren through thick and thin, without being defeated by difficulties along the way.

Further, Nichiren clearly indicates that Sairen-bo is a person of “pure gold” because he embraces the “‘gold’ of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 217). Embracing the Lotus Sutra specifically means internalizing the great vow of the mentor who has dedicated his life as a votary of the Lotus Sutra and, even in times of adversity, maintaining the same resolute and selfless faith as the mentor.

In other words, a person of “pure gold” is another name for a person of selfless dedication to the Law. Such people are to be exalted, as Nichiren indicates: “If the Law that one embraces is supreme, then the person who embraces it must accordingly be foremost among all others” (“Questions and Answers about Embracing the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 61). (Lecture Series, 83–86)

The Eternal Karmic Ties of Mentor and Disciple

Nichiren Daishonin also tells Sairen-bo of the profound karmic ties they share as mentor and disciple: “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). Nichiren indicates that this mysterious bond can perhaps only be fathomed by the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures.

Further, he explains that the profound karmic ties shared by mentor and disciple who uphold the Lotus Sutra are an indisputable truth, citing a passage from “The Parable of the Phantom City” chapter, “Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers” (LSOC, 178). This passage reveals the depth of the mentor-disciple bond.

To give a brief explanation of its meaning, since the distant time of major world system dust particle kalpas in the past, Shakyamuni’s voice-hearer disciples had constantly been born in various Buddha lands with Shakyamuni as their mentor and carried out bodhisattva practice together.

The important point here is that Shakyamuni’s voice-hearer disciples in the Lotus Sutra were actually bodhisattvas who had undertaken bodhisattva practice in past lifetimes. Through these words of the Buddha, the voice-hearers remember that they originally possessed the life state of bodhisattvas. The Lotus Sutra reveals that since the immeasurable past, the voice-hearers have possessed the “wish that we have had deep in our hearts from the start” (LSOC, 182). That is, the wish to attain supreme enlightenment and free all living beings from suffering. Therefore, the voice-hearers, by recalling their great wish from the distant past, discover and awaken to their identity as living beings who have carried out the same bodhisattva practice as their teacher, Shakyamuni. (Lecture Series, 87)

“Those Persons Who Had Heard the Law Dwelled Here and There in Various Buddha Lands, Constantly Reborn in Company With Their Teachers”

At the third memorial (second anniversary) in November 1946, for his mentor, [founding Soka Gakkai President] Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda said: “In your vast and boundless compassion, you let me accompany you even to prison. As a result, I could read with my entire being the passage from the Lotus Sutra, ‘Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers’ (LSOC, 178). The benefit of this was coming to know my former existence as a Bodhisattva of the Earth and to absorb with my very life even a small degree of the sutra’s meaning. Could there be any greater happiness than this?”

This captures the essence of the mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism.

In those early days of our organization, there were many other Soka Gakkai leaders who proclaimed to be disciples of President Makiguchi. But once the wartime persecution of the Soka Gakkai affected them personally and led to their imprisonment, they did a complete turnaround and recanted their faith. Showing gross ingratitude, there were even some who openly turned against President Makiguchi, cursing at the mentor to whom they were so deeply indebted. The human heart can be frightening.

Only Mr. Toda, President Makiguchi’s true disciple, was unwavering in his awareness of the profound and noble bond of mentor and disciple, speaking with gratitude of President Makiguchi’s “vast and boundless compassion.”

This lofty mentor-disciple relationship is the vital spirit of the Soka Gakkai. If this spirit lives on, our movement will continue to develop eternally. The mentor-disciple spirit of the first three presidents is key to securing the foundations of the kosen-rufu movement for the future. (Lecture Series, 89–90)

The Mentor-Disciple Relationship Is the Essence of the Lotus Sutra

So why is the mentor-disciple relationship valued so highly in Buddhism? Let me reconfirm the Buddhist significance of this relationship.

In general terms, a mentor is someone who teaches one enhanced skills or technical expertise, deeper knowledge, a loftier way of life, a more fulfilling state of mind and so forth. People look up to someone as a mentor when that person helps them in some way to improve or develop themselves.

In the Buddhist teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, based on his awakening to the Law, strove together with his disciples to enable them to achieve their highest potential as human beings. This Law was none other than the Mystic Law, which the Buddha’s disciples could not perceive on their own. Their awareness was clouded by fundamental darkness, and they had no conception of the Law. Therefore, even if they were given theoretical explanations of the Law or told to practice to overcome sufferings, the life state of Buddhahood could not be conveyed to them through such words alone. Rather, it was through being inspired by coming into contact with the Buddha’s character, along with these words of instruction, that they awakened to the Law within their lives. This is how the Law was communicated to them.

And this is why the mentor-disciple relationship holds so much importance in Buddhism. The Law is conveyed through the life-to-life bonds of the mentor-disciple relationship. Based on this Law, it is possible for us to achieve our human revolution.

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In the present age, it is the first three Soka Gakkai presidents who awakened to the great vow for kosen-rufu, the vow of the Buddha, and have striven with the spirit of not begrudging their lives.

As the disciple of Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda, I have won in successive momentous struggles against the three powerful enemies. I have created a history of absolute victory as a disciple. I can proudly report to Mr. Toda that I have won on all fronts. I have no regrets whatsoever. (Lecture Series, 90–95)

Young Phoenixes, Soar Into the Future

Commentary on Volume 14