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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Dedicating Our Lives to the Great Path of Mentor and Disciple

Ikeda Wisdom Academy—Advanced Study for SGI-USA Youth Division

SGI-USA national youth leaders lecture on the Ikeda Wisdom Academy study webinar, March 2021.

The Ikeda Wisdom Academy is an SGI-USA youth division movement to engage youth leaders in advanced study. While it is a youth leaders study program, all SGI-USA members are invited to utilize this section as a guide for their personal study of The Teachings of Victory, volume 1.

Chapter 3

“Letter from Sado”—Part 3 of 3

Nichiren Daishonin wrote “Letter from Sado” amid intense persecution to encourage his disciples facing hardship and to transmit the spirit to safeguard the correct teaching of Buddhism to future generations. In this lecture, Ikeda Sensei dives into “Letter from Sado,” describing it as the “writing for the Soka Gakkai.[1]

A Teaching of Empowerment

In “Letter from Sado,” Nichiren Daishonin outlines the importance of walking the great path of mentor and disciple throughout one’s life. His message is that, just as he has forged ahead in every struggle with the heart of a lion king, his disciples should do likewise, for through such efforts, they will definitely attain Buddhahood. His concern for the well-being of his disciples pervades this writing from beginning to end. He seeks to convey to them that it is precisely in the midst of tremendous hardships that they can fundamentally transform their karma and secure the way to enlightenment. And he calls on them to follow his example of personally engaging in that crucial struggle.[2]

Buddhism Seeks to Free People From the Sufferings of Karma

One who climbs a high mountain must eventually descend. One who slights another will in turn be despised. … One who laughs at those who cherish the precepts faithfully will be born a commoner and meet with persecution from one’s sovereign. This is the general law of cause and effect. (“Letter from Sado,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 305)

The word karma derives from the pre-Buddhist Indian word karman, meaning “action.” In ancient India, liberation from the suffering of negative karma was thought to require special rites performed by priests on behalf of individuals who would then have to wait for the gods to grant salvation.

By contrast, Buddhism radically changed the concept of karma. It rejected the view that one’s destiny is influenced by gods or transcendent beings. As an internally directed teaching—a philosophy that teaches that enlightenment comes from within—Buddhism holds that we create our own destiny. Our present self is the result of our past choices and actions. Our future self will be determined by what we do in the present—whether we accumulate “good karma” or “evil karma.”[3]

The Causality of the Mystic Law Is the Basis for Transforming Our Karma

My sufferings, however, are not ascribable to this causal law. In the past I despised the votaries of the Lotus Sutra. I also ridiculed the sutra itself, sometimes with exaggerated praise and other times with contempt. … This is why I have experienced the aforementioned eight kinds of sufferings. Usually these sufferings appear one at a time, on into the boundless future, but Nichiren has denounced the enemies of the Lotus Sutra so severely that all eight have descended at once. … This is what the sutra means when it states, “It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law.” (WND-1, 305)

Nichiren Daishonin here reveals a more fundamental causality of life. He explains that the reason he has undergone the eight kinds of retribution is not due to the law of karmic retribution, or the general law of cause and effect, as outlined above. Rather, he attributes it to past slander of the Law in the form of denigrating the votaries of the Lotus Sutra. … It is because of this fundamental negative karma formed through having attacked those who uphold this supreme teaching that he has experienced the eight kinds of retribution. He indicates that at the heart of all negative causes that bring suffering to people is slander of the Law.

Therefore, by dedicating ourselves as votaries of the Lotus Sutra—battling the enemies of the sutra and propagating the Mystic Law—we can break free from our negative karma and accumulate fundamental positive karma in our lives.

What Nichiren is explaining here is the causality for attaining Buddhahood—eliminating fundamental evil and powerfully manifesting the world of Buddhahood, the ninth consciousness existing at the deepest level of life. This is the causality of the Mystic Law implicit in the Lotus Sutra—namely, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Even if we are presently suffering some form of karmic retribution, by basing ourselves on this causality of the Mystic Law, we can instantly bring forth the vast life state of Buddhahood. In other words, we can only truly change our karma through the Mystic Law of the simultaneity of cause and effect, which enables us to actualize an inner transformation based on the principle that the nine worlds and the world of Buddhahood are mutually inherent—that is, the nine worlds possess the potential for Buddhahood, while the world of Buddhahood retains the nine worlds. …

Highlighting the difference between these two types of causality, Nichiren says, “Usually these sufferings appear one at a time, on into the boundless future, but Nichiren has denounced the enemies of the Lotus Sutra so severely that all eight have descended at once.” He clarifies the kind of Buddhist practice that allows us to make fundamental positive causes. This is none other than the practice of shakubuku—correcting false views and awakening others to the truth of Buddhism; specifically expressed here as “denouncing the enemies of the Lotus Sutra”—an action that embodies the causality of the Mystic Law and enables us to change our karma. …

“It is due to the blessings obtained by protecting the Law”—this means we can transform our karma by becoming lion kings like Nichiren, earnestly safeguarding the Law by speaking out against those who attack the Lotus Sutra. In other words, Nichiren assures us, through the practice of shakubuku, any painful karmic retribution will vanish “instantly” (see “Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution,” WND-1, 199). Moreover, we can establish the life state of Buddhahood.

For us, “the blessings obtained by protecting the Law” refers to the benefit we gain by struggling for the sake of kosen-rufu together with our mentor.[4]

The Principle of the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple Found in the Lotus Sutra

Were it not for the rulers and ministers who now persecute me, I would be unable to expiate my past sins of slandering the correct teaching.

Nichiren is like Bodhisattva Never Disparaging of old, and the people of this day are like the four categories of Buddhists who disparaged and cursed him. Though the people are different, the cause is the same. Though different people kill their parents, they all fall into the same hell of incessant suffering. Since Nichiren is making the same cause as Never Disparaging, how could it be that he would not become a Buddha equal to Shakyamuni? (WND-1, 305)

We can transform our karma by becoming lion kings like Nichiren.

The appearance of the three powerful enemies constitutes proof that the votaries of the Lotus Sutra are living the teachings of the sutra. It is just such persecution or opposition that enables these votaries to change their karma and attain Buddhahood. … He further indicates that making continued efforts to spread the Law based on the conviction that persecution or opposition directly enables votaries to change their karma accords with the principle by which Bodhisattva Never Disparaging attained Buddhahood, as described in “The Bodhisattva Never Disparaging,” the sutra’s 20th chapter.

Never Disparaging respected and venerated all people and as a result was persecuted by the four categories of Buddhists, or four kinds of believers—monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen. Through encountering unceasing harassment, however, Never Disparaging expiated his negative karma from past existences. The Lotus Sutra describes the benefit he received “when his offenses had been wiped out.” Namely, he purified his six faculties or sense organs and attained the Buddha way, while in a future lifetime he was reborn as Shakyamuni Buddha.

Of course, our ordinary lives may seem quite different from the life of a great predecessor like the Daishonin. That only stands to reason, because we are different individuals, with our own circumstances, personalities, abilities and so on. Nonetheless, if we make the same kind of causes—pursue the same practice and actions—as the courageous votaries of the Lotus Sutra who have gone before us, then we can achieve the same effects or results. This is a view of causality based on the path of mentor and disciple.

While disciples may feel unequal to the mentor in terms of wisdom or compassion, so long as they maintain the same commitment, ideals and dedicated efforts as the mentor, they can definitely attain the mentor’s same expansive life state.

This is the path to attaining Buddhahood based on the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple found in the Lotus Sutra.[5]

The Fearful Nature of the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven

Aside from these people, there are also those who appeared to believe in me, but began doubting when they saw me persecuted. They not only have forsaken the Lotus Sutra, but also actually think themselves wise enough to instruct me. The pitiful thing is that these perverse people must suffer in the Avichi hell even longer than the Nembutsu believers. (WND-1, 306)

Nichiren Daishonin explains that arrogant disciples pose the greatest problem. For the offense of erstwhile followers who do not merely abandon their faith but, out of an inflated opinion of themselves, denigrate their teacher and fellow practitioners is far more serious than that of those who reject and slander the correct teaching from the outset. Their retribution will also be more severe.

Moreover, disciples who have allowed their lives to be consumed by fundamental darkness and ignorance will seek to sway others, potentially causing many to stop practicing. Such is the fearful nature of the devil king of the sixth heaven. In “The Workings of Brahma and Shakra,” Nichiren remarks, “Those possessed by a great devil will, once they succeed in persuading a believer to recant, use that person as a means for making many others abandon their faith” (WND-1, 800). Even though such individuals had the fortune to encounter and take faith in the Mystic Law, they ultimately allowed their lives to be controlled by the devil king of the sixth heaven. The fundamental reason can be traced to arrogance, the essence of which is jealousy and contempt for the mentor. …

The Daishonin awakened to the Law that makes it possible for all people to achieve enlightenment. In terms of the fundamental path of attaining Buddhahood, the teaching of Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day, is absolute. As a teacher, he dedicated himself to fostering and training disciples, and therefore his instruction was often very strict. Some, however, failed to understand his heart and turned against him. Yet no matter how those perverse individuals might have maligned his name, Nichiren remained unperturbed.[6]

A Promise of Victory to Disciples

The renegade disciples say, “Though the priest Nichiren is our teacher, he is too forceful. We will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more peaceful way.” In so asserting, they are being as ridiculous as fireflies laughing at the sun and moon, an anthill belittling Mount Hua, wells and brooks despising the river and the ocean, or a magpie mocking a phoenix. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. (WND-1, 306)

Nichiren Daishonin closes the main body of the text of “Letter from Sado” with a passage expressing the towering conviction of a lion king.

Here, he points out that the arrogant will try to add their personal, arbitrary views to the Buddha’s teaching. …

Among Nichiren’s disciples were similarly arrogant and ignorant people who looked down on him and said disparagingly: “Though the priest Nichiren is our teacher, he is too forceful. We will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more peaceful way.” While it might appear at first that they maintained faith in the Lotus Sutra, they had in fact lost sight of the sutra’s essence. Consequently, they could not appreciate the true greatness of their teacher, Nichiren Daishonin, in propagating the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day.

From the viewpoint of Buddhism, the Sado Exile and other persecutions were ultimately the result of the devil king of the sixth heaven having entered the lives of the ruler and other powerful figures in order to drive a wedge between Nichiren and his followers. When the bonds uniting mentor and disciple are healthy and strong, the power and influence of the Mystic Law increases, the momentum for the eternal perpetuation of the correct teaching strengthens and spreads, and the great path leading to happiness and peace for all humanity—the fundamental goal of Buddhism—opens wide. The devil king, therefore, seeks to prevent this at any cost.

In that sense, the disciples who criticized Nichiren while avoiding hardship themselves had, despite their seeming reasonableness, been utterly defeated by the devil king. They had surrendered the all-important spirit of mentor and disciple to the devilish nature, to their inner fundamental darkness.[7]

The Victory of Disciples Is the Victory of Soka

For me, “Letter from Sado” is a writing of the victory of mentor and disciple, which President Toda and I studied and used as inspiration in overcoming adversity. I vowed that in order to actualize his vision, I would first do my best and take full responsibility.

Toward that end, I resolved to develop my district. I started by visiting members at their homes, holding discussion meetings and stirring a great groundswell of propagation. This is because the future victory of kosen-rufu lies in expanding the unparalleled realm of mentor and disciple of Soka outward from our own districts.

To engage in one-to-one dialogue to convey the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism, to courageously share the noble path of mentor and disciple with others—this is what it means in modern terms to put into practice the spirit of “Letter from Sado.”[8]

The Teachings for Victory, vols. 1 & 2 are available here.


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 1.
  2. Ibid., p. 45.
  3. Ibid., p. 47.
  4. Ibid., pp. 48–49.
  5. Ibid., pp. 50–51.
  6. Ibid., pp. 52–53.
  7. Ibid., pp. 53–54.
  8. Ibid., pp. 55–56.

Seikyo Shimbun—Banner of Joy and Inspiration

Creating a Groundswell of Hope With the “Vast Heart” of Soka