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Buddhist Study

Live Life to the Fullest With Clear Purpose

The Buddha’s purpose—Offering respect to each person is the ideal “behavior as a human being” that demonstrates the Lotus Sutra’s philosophy of the equality, dignity and enlightened potential of all people.

Scientific studies suggest that certain basic attitudes can greatly enhance our quality of life. One confirms what we may have long suspected: Having a sense of purpose can improve our health, even prolong our lives.[1] A reason for living, it seems, can help us go on living.

While purposes come in many shapes and sizes, Buddhism teaches the power of having a noble mission in life. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says that Buddhas “appear in the world for one great reason alone”[2]: to teach that everyone possesses the Buddha wisdom and to show them how to cultivate it. He goes on to say, “At the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.”[3]

He affirms that this work will continue far into the future by people who share the same purpose, make the same vow and carry out the same actions as the Buddha.

The Purpose of Nichiren’s Advent

Centuries later, Nichiren Daishonin took it as his ultimate purpose to find and provide a sure way for all people to bring forth their highest potential. This led him to discover the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the seed of Buddhahood for all people and to inscribe the Gohonzon as the object of devotion crystallizing that Law.

He taught that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with a sense of purpose for our own and others’ happiness, we can bring forth our inner enlightened nature. And he worked to ensure that this practice would spread far into the future, for eternity. He considered this to be the reason for his appearance in this world.

In 1279, religious and political authorities severely persecuted farmers in the village of Atsuhara who had embraced Nichiren’s teaching. These farmers, with no social status or authority, persisted in upholding their faith, even at the of risk their lives. This came to be known as the Atsuhara Persecution.

That ordinary people had faith strong enough to endure even the harshest persecution signaled that Nichiren Buddhism would long endure to bring happiness and peace to humanity. In “On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” a letter he wrote on Oct. 1, 1279, Nichiren states:

The Buddha fulfilled the purpose of his advent in a little over forty years, the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai took about thirty years, and the Great Teacher Dengyo,[4] some twenty years. I have spoken repeatedly of the indescribable persecutions they suffered during those years. For me it took twenty-seven years, and the great persecutions I faced during this period are well known to you all.[5]

After 27 years of enduring countless difficulties and persecutions, he declared that he had fulfilled his purpose—to raise successors who, “like roaring lions,”[6] could courageously shoulder the responsibility for kosen-rufu into the future.

Our Behavior Is Most Important

The Nikken sect priests—with whom the Soka Gakkai was affiliated until 30 years ago—long insisted that the purpose of Nichiren’s advent was to inscribe one specific Gohonzon. They held that their religious authority derived from that one Gohonzon, which they deemed all-powerful. The Daishonin, however, never writes about that specific Gohonzon.

What’s more, the way that these priests repeatedly denigrated believers and attempted to destroy the Soka Gakkai shows that they share nothing of Nichiren’s true purpose. In fact, they acted in direct opposition to his teaching and spirit, including using that Gohonzon as a tool to sow confusion among lay believers and gain control over them. Their behavior runs completely counter to Nichiren’s teachings:

What does Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s[7] profound respect for people signify? The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being.[8]

Offering respect to each person is the ideal “behavior as a human being” that demonstrates the Lotus Sutra’s philosophy of the equality, dignity and enlightened potential of all people.

Ikeda Sensei writes:

When our heart and sense of purpose change, everything changes. As we work for the happiness and welfare of others, we enter a path in which our lives come to shine with the greatest possible brilliance. It is just as the Daishonin says when he writes: “If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way.”[9]

Some people may struggle to find a purpose in life, while others may feel they have too many—as a parent, employee, volunteer or in countless other roles. But our prayers and actions that treasure and encourage others, that awaken them to their greatest potential, all align with the Buddha’s purpose. They represent the highest, most fulfilling purpose to which any of us can aspire and serve to enhance all other aims that we cherish.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. Mara Gordon, “What’s Your Purpose? Finding a Sense of Meaning in Life Is Linked to Health,”<accessed Sept. 8, 2021>. ↩︎
  2. The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 64. ↩︎
  3. Ibid., p. 70 ↩︎
  4. The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai (538–97), also known as Chih-i, spread the Lotus Sutra in China and established the doctrine of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.” The Great Teacher Dengyo (767–822), also known as Saicho, was the founder of the Tendai (T’ien-t’ai) school in Japan. He traveled to China where he mastered T’ien-t’ai teachings. ↩︎
  5. “On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 996. 6. Ibid., p. 997. ↩︎
  6. Ibid., p. 997 ↩︎
  7. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, Shakyamuni Buddha in a previous existence, is described in the Lotus Sutra’s 20th chapter. He bowed to everyone he met, expressing profound reverence for them, despite being attacked by arrogant people who threw sticks, staves and rocks at him. This practice to revere all people became the cause for him to attain Buddhahood. ↩︎
  8. “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 852. ↩︎
  9. Translated from the May 19, 2006, Seikyo Shimbun; “On the Three Virtues of Food,” WND-2, 1060. ↩︎

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