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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

My Disciples, Win With the Heart of a Lion King!

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

Studying Buddhism enables us to lead lives of unparalleled victory and happiness. Jocelyn Hsu

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 1

“Letter from Sado”—Part 1 of 3

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

The Fundamental Issue of Life and Death

The most dreadful things in the world are the pain of fire, the flashing of swords, and the shadow of death. Even horses and cattle fear being killed; no wonder human beings are afraid of death. Even a leper clings to life; how much more so a healthy person. (“Letter from Sado,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 301)

To fear death and cling to life is the way of living beings. “The pain of fire” indicates accidents or natural disasters, while “the flashing of swords” signifies violence or war. Nothing is more frightening than the shadow of death—the prospect of one’s own demise. This is as true for animals as for human beings. If, however, we do nothing but fear death and cling to life, we cannot savor a truly profound existence. Why are we born? What is the purpose of our lives? Why do we die? Only by earnestly contemplating our own existence can we lead lives of great depth and meaning.

Nichiren takes up the subject of life and death here in order to explain to his followers, who were suffering tremendous hardships, that Buddhism exists to resolve the fundamental problems of human existence. And he further drives home to them that no matter what tempests might blow, they must never lose sight of faith, the foundation of everything.[2]

For What Purpose Should We Use This Irreplaceable Life?

Since nothing is more precious than life itself, one who dedicates one’s life to Buddhist practice is certain to attain Buddhahood. If one is prepared to offer one’s life, why should one begrudge any other treasure for the sake of Buddhism? On the other hand, if one is loath to part with one’s wealth, how can one possibly offer one’s life, which is far more valuable? (WND-1, 301)

[Nichiren] is in effect saying with strict compassion to those of his followers who trembled at the thought of being persecuted and suffering such terrible consequences as having their fiefs confiscated: “Aren’t these present persecutions we are facing an unparalleled chance to give our lives in exchange for Buddhahood? Since the goal of attaining that supreme state of life is just ahead, what can we possibly have to fear?”

This passage also conveys an important spirit that offers lessons for us today. One lesson, as noted above, is that simply clinging to our lives will not result in attaining genuine happiness. Establishing a fundamental purpose and pursuing the correct course in life—ready to face any hardship this might entail—enables us to experience deep joy and fulfillment. If we allow ourselves to be controlled by shallow desires and hold fast to our lesser selves at a crucial moment, then our hearts will wither, and only misery and regret will await us.

Another lesson is that the lofty state of life gained through Buddhist practice is eternal, transcending the limited nature of our present existence. By dedicating this precious lifetime to Buddhism, we are certain to enjoy abundant happiness and benefit in all future lifetimes.[3]

Dedicate This Supreme Life to Buddhism

The way of the world dictates that one should repay a great obligation to another, even at the cost of one’s life. Many warriors die for their lords, perhaps many more than one would imagine. A man will die to defend his honor; a woman will die for a man. Fish want to survive; they deplore their pond’s shallowness and dig holes in the bottom to hide in, yet tricked by bait, they take the hook. Birds in a tree fear that they are too low and perch in the top branches, yet bewitched by bait, they too are caught in snares. Human beings are equally vulnerable. They give their lives for shallow, worldly matters but rarely for the Buddha’s precious teachings. Small wonder they do not attain Buddhahood. (WND-1, 301)

Nichiren, therefore, counsels that rather than giving our lives—the most valuable possession of all—for “shallow, worldly matters,” we should dedicate them to “the Buddha’s precious teachings.”

Jon Wilson

We speak of not begrudging one’s life, but Nichiren Buddhism is definitely not a teaching of reckless self-sacrifice or martyrdom. Mr. Makiguchi, Mr. Toda and I—the first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai—have taken action with the resolve to advance kosen-rufu in such a way that not one member is sacrificed, and we have willingly given our all toward that end. In the future, as well, this must remain the spirit of successive Soka Gakkai presidents.

You absolutely must not throw away your precious lives. To our young men and women, I say: No matter what painful or difficult challenges you may be facing, you must never disrespect or harm your own lives or the lives of others. Each of you is endowed with the wondrous and supremely noble Buddha nature.

In specific terms, how should we practice in order to dedicate this invaluable lifetime to “the Buddha’s precious teachings”? In another writing, Nichiren says with regard to ordinary people attaining Buddhahood in the Latter Day of the Law: “As for the matter of becoming a Buddha, ordinary people keep in mind the words ‘earnest resolve’ and thereby become Buddhas” (“The Gift of Rice,” WND-1, 1125). These words express the spirit of “not begrudging one’s life” in its supreme and highest form. It is the Daishonin’s emphatic declaration that ordinary people of this age can, without having to sacrifice their lives in the manner of the boy Snow Mountains, attain the same benefit that accrues to such selfless dedication through their “earnest resolve.”

As Nichiren writes, “It is the heart that is important” (“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1000). It’s a matter of exerting millions of kalpas of effort in a single moment of life for the sake of Buddhism, for the noble cause of kosen-rufu. For us, not begrudging our lives ultimately means steadfastly chanting Nammyoho- renge-kyo without any fear and wholeheartedly dedicating ourselves to showing actual proof of faith—for the sake of the world, for the sake of the future and for the sake of others.

President Makiguchi described this as “a selfless way of life of great good.” Overcoming both selfishness and fear, and striving for the happiness of both oneself and others characterize such a way of life. He explained, “It is an ordinary way of life, a way of plain humanity— such that anyone who consciously experiences it and comes to realize that it is universally accessible will feel an overwhelming desire to embrace it, and, indeed, will feel compelled to do so.”

Therefore, he asserted that the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society; forerunner of the Soka Gakkai) “was itself living proof of a life of great good.”

In other words, selfless dedication is found in a seemingly ordinary way of life open to anyone. A true example of such dedication can be seen in our daily efforts for kosen-rufu, exerting ourselves body and soul to encourage others and sincerely sharing the greatness of Buddhism with those around us.[4]

“The Latter Day Is the Time for Shakubuku Alone”

Buddhism should be spread by the method of either shoju or shakubuku, depending on the age. These are analogous to the two worldly ways of the literary and the military. (WND-1, 301)

In this passage, Nichiren Daishonin clarifies the Buddhist practice appropriate to the Latter Day of the Law. Shoju means explaining the Law according to each person’s capacity. Shakubuku means directly teaching others the ultimate principle of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo just as it is. … Determining the time in terms of choosing the right method of propagation for a certain age requires that we view things through the insightful lens of Buddha wisdom.

In a lecture he gave on “Letter from Sado,” Mr. Toda discussed [this passage], saying: “We mustn’t misinterpret the meaning of the word age. Nichiren says that we should employ either shoju or shakubuku depending on the age or time, but many erroneously take this to mean that they can arbitrarily decide for themselves what age it is and correspondingly decide which method of propagation. For instance, they think: ‘Since people in society are so critical of Nichiren Buddhism right now, let’s go with shoju,’ or ‘Since everyone’s rather quiet and not making any objection, let’s employ shakubuku.’ This is wrong. Age here refers to the Former Day, the Middle Day and the Latter Day of the Law. … And the Latter Day is the time for shakubuku alone.”

Whenever and wherever we carry out activities, we must never forget to be guided by the spirit to share Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with others.[5]

Practitioners of the Correct Teaching Encounter Resentment and Persecution in the Latter Day

It is the nature of beasts to threaten the weak and fear the strong. Our contemporary scholars of the various schools are just like them. They despise a wise man without power, but fear evil rulers. They are no more than fawning retainers. Only by defeating a powerful enemy can one prove one’s real strength. (WND-1, 302)

The “nature of beasts” refers to the essential character of the likes of Ryokan and other priests of established Buddhist schools during Nichiren’s day. They despised a person of wisdom (Nichiren) and feared evil rulers (the government authorities). This was the spiritual climate in Japan that led to the harsh crackdown on the Daishonin and his followers.

Nichiren, however, boldly confronted this great persecution, declaring, “Only by defeating a powerful enemy can one prove one’s real strength.”[6]

Defeating Injustice by Speaking Out for What Is Right

When an evil ruler in consort with priests of erroneous teachings tries to destroy the correct teaching and do away with a man of wisdom, those with the heart of a lion king are sure to attain Buddhahood. Like Nichiren, for example. I say this not out of arrogance, but because I am deeply committed to the correct teaching. (WND-1, 302)

This describes a perverse alliance between political and religious authorities. The pattern of persecution against those who uphold the correct Buddhist teaching is the same in every age.

Amid a calamitous storm of persecution, Nichiren Daishonin forged ahead with the “heart of a lion king,” refusing to retreat a single step. To have the heart of a lion king means to calmly recognize the “nature of beasts” for what it is and to defeat it. In Buddhism, lion king is another name for a Buddha. Those who stand up with this heart—or spirit—are certain to attain Buddhahood. …

We should keenly reflect on his profound commitment to the Law. When we “treasure the Law more highly than our own lives”—when we overcome attachment to our lesser selves and reveal our greater selves by basing our lives on the Law—we will find the courage to confidently speak out for what is right without fearing anyone. Herein lies the essence of faith. …

To not begrudge one’s life and to live with the heart of a lion king are like two sides of a coin. Unhesitatingly committing yourself to the Law and having the lionhearted courage to battle the enemies of the Lotus Sutra are in essence the same thing. It seems to me the key message of the first half of “Letter from Sado” is that the Daishonin’s disciples should be lion kings, courageous individuals who embody the same selfless spirit as he does. Let us note how emphatically he drives this point home.[7]

The Spirit to Cherish the Correct Teaching Gives Rise to Infinite Courage

Nichiren Daishonin’s assertions about his teaching or his practice are free of arrogance. He observes, “An arrogant person will always be overcome with fear when meeting a strong enemy.” It is just as he says. The true nature of the arrogant is egotism. Being self-centered, when coming face to face with a powerful opponent, they are solely concerned with their own welfare. As a result, they are consumed by fear. In contrast, those with the heart of a lion king always live based on the Law. Because they are not obsessed with themselves, they have an endless supply of courage to take a firm stand against those who seek to destroy the Law.[8]

Carrying Out the Practice That Accords With the Time and Capacity of the People

Even a word or a phrase of the correct teaching will enable one to gain the way, if it suits the time and the capacity of the people. But though one studies a thousand sutras and ten thousand treatises, one will not attain Buddhahood if these teachings are unsuitable for the time and the people’s capacity. (WND-1, 302)

Shakubuku means, with the spirit of a lion king, to denounce error and persist in speaking the truth. Nichiren declares that as long as people have the courage to do so, then even just a word or phrase of the correct teaching will confer the benefit of attaining Buddhahood. But without this fundamental spirit—that is to say, the shakubuku spirit based on cherishing the Law—people cannot reveal their enlightenment, even if they study a thousand sutras or ten thousand treatises. …

“Follow in the footsteps of the teachers who embody the heart of a lion king! Disciples, win with the heart of a lion king!”—this is the motto for the eternal victory of Soka mentors and disciples who read “Letter from Sado” with their lives.[9]

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


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 1.
  2. Ibid., p. 6.
  3. Ibid., p. 7.
  4. Ibid., pp. 8–9.
  5. Ibid., p. 10.
  6. Ibid., p. 12.
  7. Ibid., p. 13.
  8. Ibid., p. 14.
  9. Ibid., pp. 14–15.

March 16—The Coronation Ceremony of Soka Youth

The Brilliant Path of Worldwide Kosen-rufu: Special Edition [1 of 2]