20 Life-Changing Buddhist Concepts

The Bodhisattva Opens the Way to Happiness for All

Concept #5: Bodhisattvas of the Earth

HaizhanZheng / Getty Images


Why was I born? What is the purpose of my life? People throughout history, from philosophers to everyday folks, have grappled with such existential questions.

Buddhism’s answer is that we’re here to become absolutely happy as we overcome every kind of challenge, develop resilient, joyful lives and open the way to happiness for all others as well. This is what Buddhism calls the bodhisattva way.

Ikeda Sensei explains:

We must open our eyes to the infinite potential that every person possesses. Religion’s mission, in the broadest sense, is to conquer the ego and motivate us to serve and encourage one another.

The social practice of the bodhisattva way of Mahayana Buddhism, based on the philosophy of the sanctity of life, is to boldly, courageously strive in our daily lives to overcome self-interest, contribute to others and to society, live a good life and elevate ourselves. (America Will Be!, p. 190)

Who Are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth?

In the Lotus Sutra, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are ideal examples of the bodhisattva way. They appear in “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the sutra. Other disciples volunteered to fulfill the mission to propagate the Mystic Law after the Buddha’s passing. In a dramatic turn, however, Shakyamuni Buddha discloses that he has long been training a yet-unknown group of bodhisattvas “who are as numerous as the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers” and who “will be able to protect, embrace, read, recite, and widely spread this sutra” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 252).

At that moment, the ground trembles and splits open, and millions of resplendent bodhisattvas dance forth from the opening, ready to carry out their mission to propagate the Lotus Sutra in the most troubled times after the Buddha’s passing (today).

Sensei says: “It seems that ‘dancing forth’ is a fitting image for the appearance of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. … They don’t come forth reluctantly because Shakyamuni told them to; rather, [they] leap forth and dance exuberantly with the sense: ‘Our time has come at last!’” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 252).

What Are the Attributes of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth?

Nichiren Daishonin was convinced that his personal mission accorded with that of a Bodhisattva of the Earth; he devoted himself to his bodhisattva vow to joyfully spread the Lotus Sutra and lead all people to enlightenment.

He faced intense, life-threatening ordeals to establish his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which, almost 800 years later, continues to empower people around the globe, a testament to its enduring universality.

So how does this ideal of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth relate to our own lives? In the same spirit as these bodhisattvas and Nichiren, we practice Buddhism to live the most fulfilling and beneficial lives for ourselves and others. Let’s take a look at a handful of the many splendid qualities of these bodhisattvas that Nichiren discusses and that we can bring forth in our lives.

1. “The function of fire is to burn and give light” (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 218). As courageous bodhisattvas, we use our suffering as fuel to “burn,” transforming it into the light of wisdom to show others how to move forward in life, undefeated by anything.

2. “The function of water is to wash away filth” (WND-1, 218). We purify our lives by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Remaining unsullied by the delusions and challenges of everyday life and society, we face things head-on, spreading our pure, vibrant attitude to all around us.

3. “The winds blow away dust and breathe life into plants, animals, and human beings” (WND-1, 218). Nichiren Buddhists are never defeated by obstacles. We infuse people with fresh energy by clearing away all negative functions as if they were no more “than dust before the wind” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 280).

4. “The earth produces the grasses and trees, and heaven provides nourishing moisture” (WND-1, 218). Like the earth that supports all plants and the rains that nourish them, we believe that all people are equally endowed with the Buddha nature, and we embrace everyone with warm encouragement while working to build a society of peace, respect and harmonious coexistence in which everyone can prosper.

Sensei says:

We have chosen, in accord with our vow as bodhisattvas, to be born into the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law with all sorts of destinies, or karma—illness, financial hardship, family discord, loneliness, low self-esteem and the list goes on—to help guide others to enlightenment. But by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, striving in our Buddhist practice for ourselves and others, and dedicating our lives to kosen-rufu, our vibrant life force as Bodhisattvas of the Earth and the expansive life state of Buddhahood well forth within us. Our lives will brim with the wisdom, courage, strength, hope and joy to overcome every hardship and daunting obstacle that arises. As we bravely triumph over the onslaughts of karma, we demonstrate the validity of the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism and the tremendous benefit of our Buddhist practice, and further advance kosen-rufu. (March 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 16)

When we awaken to our identity as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, we will find the answers to our questions of why we are here and thus provide hope for others.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Check It Out!

Learn more about the mission and vow of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3. The book is available at bookstore.sgi-usa.org for $6.95.

Aide Aguirre shares her story of awakening to her identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth in episode 27 of the Buddhability podcast series, “On impostor syndrome, deserving success and finding happiness.”

Watch the latest Buddhability video. Alex Edwards, of Jersey City, N.J., shares how his Buddhist practice inspired him to battle his cancer so he could share his music with the world.