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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Our Shared Struggle as Bodhisattvas of the Earth Is a Source of Hope for Transforming This Troubled Age

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series [67]

The German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) wrote, “This earth’s the source of all my joys, and this sun shines upon my sorrows.”[1]

With the earth as our stage, we perform the dance of our mission. With the sun as our companion, we impart the light of hope to all. This is how we live as Soka Gakkai members.

The important thing is to make use of the power deep within us and keep moving forward with wisdom and strength.

Right now, the entire world is facing a great crisis due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. But even the bubonic plague, the epidemic that ravaged Europe in the 14th century, once overcome, led to the Renaissance, a great cultural revival and rebirth. Such is the history of humanity—responding to each crisis with courage and wisdom and rising to new heights.

I firmly believe that no matter how deep the darkness, the Buddhism of the Sun will illuminate humankind with its brilliant light.

A Grassroots Movement Uniting the World

Today, Soka Gakkai members are active in every corner of the globe. They are striving confidently, spreading the philosophy of hope and renewal of Nichiren Buddhism. Heads held high and voices lifted in songs of indomitable victory, they are making fresh strides in advancing our unrivaled grassroots movement.

Nichiren Daishonin is surely applauding this gathering of ordinary people, of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, on par with the assembly of the Lotus Sutra. How delighted both founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda would be to see our development!

An Organization Dedicated to Fostering Capable Individuals

The Soka Gakkai was founded on November 18, 1930. This was the publication date of the first volume of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Education), the culmination of his educational philosophy compiled with the support of his faithful disciple, Josei Toda. On that day, the name Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society; forerunner of the Soka Gakkai) made its public debut. The opening words of this great work, a crystallization of the efforts of mentor and disciple, state, “‘Value-creating education’ is a system of methodology for fostering individuals capable of creating value, which is the purpose of life.”[2]

Soka, or value-creating, education is a system for developing people who can create value. It aims to elevate and enrich each person’s character toward that end.[3] And because happiness lies in value creation, Soka education is committed to nurturing people who work for the happiness of others as well as their own. The focus is always on human beings.

Leading a Contributive Life

In Jinsei chirigaku (The Geography of Human Life),[4] the groundbreaking work of his youth, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi expressed the view that humanity’s future direction should be the pursuit of what he called “humanitarian competition.” In contrast to other forms of competition, he explained: “The goals of humanitarian competition are not solely self-interested, but consist of striving to protect and improve both our own and others’ lives. In other words, it means choosing ways that serve and benefit others and that benefit us as well. It means engaging consciously in a collaborative life.[5]

Some 30 years later, in The System of Value-Creating Education, Mr. Makiguchi spoke of a three-step process, moving from a dependent life, to an independent life, and, finally, to a contributive life.[6] The last, a contributive life, is none other than the bodhisattva way of life, the spirit of altruistic practice taught in Mahayana Buddhism.

During World War II, Mr. Makiguchi declared: “There is no such thing as a self-centered Buddha who simply accumulates personal benefit and does not work for the well-being of others. Unless we carry out bodhisattva practice, we cannot attain Buddhahood.”[7] He spoke these words a little more than six months before he was imprisoned with Josei Toda by the wartime militarist government as part of its campaign of religious repression.

“Now is the time for individuals capable of great value creation, people who embody the spirit of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, to come forth!”—this was the vision that Mr. Makiguchi pursued from his youth and clarified further after founding the Soka Gakkai.

An Unparalleled Gathering of Bodhisattvas

On November 18, 1944, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi died in a cold prison cell. By mysterious coincidence, around that time, his successor Josei Toda, who had been pouring his life into reading the Lotus Sutra in his own prison cell, awakened to his identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.

“We are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth who have chosen to be born in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law in accord with our vow for kosen-rufu!” It was thanks to this realization of Mr. Toda that the Soka Gakkai took on its true role as a gathering of capable individuals dedicated to bodhisattva practice, the wish of Mr. Makiguchi since the organization’s founding.

Also, as a result, connecting directly to Nichiren Daishonin, who “alone took the lead in carrying out the task of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 385), the Soka Gakkai has developed into an enduring harmonious community of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, forever dedicated to realizing kosen-rufu by compassionately spreading the Mystic Law.

In this installment, we will begin by studying a passage from “On the Five Guides for Propagation,” and reaffirming how the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are uniquely equipped to lead people to enlightenment in the troubled age of the Latter Day of the Law.

The Mission of Spreading the Mystic Law in the Latter Day

But the great bodhisattvas as numerous as the dust particles of a thousand worlds who emerged from the earth have, first of all, lived in this saha world[8] for an incalculably long period of time; second, they have been disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha since the far distant past, when he first set his mind on and attained enlightenment; and third, these bodhisattvas were the first persons in the saha world to receive the seed of Buddhahood from the Buddha. Therefore, in terms of the bonds of karma from the past that tie them to the saha world, they surpass the other great bodhisattvas. (“On the Five Guides for Propagation,” WND-2, 550)[9]

In this writing, Nichiren Daishonin explains that the Mystic Law—expressed as the “five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo”[10] (WND-2, 549)—is the essential teaching for the enlightenment of all people in the Latter Day of the Law and that none other than the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will spread it in the suffering-filled saha world.

“Supernatural Powers of the Thus Come One,” the 21st chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which describes the grand ceremony in which Shakyamuni entrusts this task to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, begins with the following words, “At that time the bodhisattvas mahasattva[11] who had emerged from the earth, numerous as the dust particles of a thousand worlds … ” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 314).

Hence, the “great bodhisattvas numerous as the dust particles of a thousand worlds” that Nichiren mentions in his letter are the countless Bodhisattvas of the Earth led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices.[12] He then offers three characteristics that define them.

First, they make this troubled saha world their home. They have long taken action based on their vow that this is their destined place and the stage upon which they will fulfill their mission.

Second, they are the direct disciples of the Buddha since his enlightenment in the remote past. They have been constantly striving alongside him in what we might call an eternal journey of the shared struggle of mentor and disciple.

Third, they are the bodhisattvas who were first among all the living beings of the saha world to receive the seed of Buddhahood from the Buddha in the remote past. They in turn sow the seeds of Buddhahood[13] in the hearts of people in the Latter Day of the Law. To boldly lead this effort to spread the Mystic Law, undeterred by any obstacle, is the hallmark of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

The Saha World Is Where We Fulfill Our Mission”

This is the wonderful nature of the “true disciples that the Buddha had kept hidden in the depths of the earth” (see “Reply to Niiama,” WND-1, 467). The Bodhisattvas of the Earth share a strong bond with the Buddha from the remote past. They are bodhisattvas linked by a profound karmic connection and mission, who choose to be born in the Latter Day of the Law. Nichiren Daishonin describes them as “great bodhisattvas … who had been disciples of the Thus Come One Shakyamuni since [he first attained Buddhahood] numberless major world system dust particle kalpas ago. Not even for a moment had they ever forgotten the Buddha” (“On Offering Prayers to the Mandala of the Mystic Law,” WND-1, 415).

In the Lotus Sutra, the inhabitants of the saha world are viewed as having inferior capacity to understand the Law and described as “given to corruption and evil, beset by overbearing arrogance, shallow in blessings, irascible, muddled, fawning and devious, and their hearts are not sincere” (LSOC, 230).

However, it is in this intensely challenging world that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth appear with their vow to spread the Mystic Law.

A Beautiful Flourishing of “Human Flowers”

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are firm in resolve and have no fear. They are patient, persevering and undefeated by any adversity. They engage in courageous dialogue, never intimidated by anyone. And just as a lotus growing in a muddy pond brings forth pure blossoms, they steadfastly practice the bodhisattva way amid the mud and mire of this troubled world.

This is exactly how our members have spread the Mystic Law. The Soka Gakkai is a gathering of Bodhisattvas of the Earth who have risen to action, making this saha world the stage for their endeavors. They have been summoned forth all across the globe.

Josei Toda was convinced that the time had come for the Bodhisattvas of the Earth to emerge and begin work on the substantive realization of kosen-rufu,[14] and called out to members with warm familiarity, “My dear fellow Bodhisattvas of the Earth, let’s take up the challenge!”

Referring to the magnificent spectacle of countless Bodhisattvas of the Earth appearing at the assembly of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin writes that they “ranged themselves in the air like so many stars” (“On Prayer,” WND-1, 344). In other words, they resembled dazzling constellations filling the night sky, each star blazing with its own noble brilliance.

In the Lotus Sutra, we find another beautiful metaphor—that of “human flowers” (LSOC, 142). Just as myriad flowers bloom in splendid profusion when they receive life-giving rain, we, too, can blossom brilliantly when nurtured by the “Dharma rain” of the Buddha’s teaching (see LSOC, 140). We can give full expression to our unique qualities as diverse as the blossoms of the “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 200), and also produce abundant fruits of peace, culture and education in society.

Today, like the stars and the sun, our members are spreading the light of hope throughout their communities and the world. They are blossoming beautifully as “human flowers,” as noble Bodhisattvas of the Earth, in every continent of our planet. This is truly a joyous cause for celebration unprecedented in the history of Buddhism.

Conquering Egotism

One of the themes that the respected British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) and I discussed in our dialogue was how human beings can conquer egotism. Dr. Toynbee commented that “altruism, in contrast to egotism, is a tour de force.[15] In other words, it requires great effort, strength and ingenuity. I completely agree with his assessment.

I spoke to him about the life state of bodhisattva that we all inherently possess, describing it as “the state of altruism—the joy of helping others.”[16]

As Nichiren Daishonin notes, “If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way” (“On the Three Virtues of Food,” WND-2, 1060). When we do something for others, we also benefit ourselves; we brighten both our own and others’ future. Benefitting others leads to benefitting ourselves. When we, as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, pray and take action for the happiness of others, we expand our own state of life and carry out our human revolution together with them.

Engaging in bodhisattva practice, therefore, is a source of unsurpassed joy. It creates a chain reaction of rejoicing. As Nichiren states: “‘Joy’ means that oneself and others together experience joy. … Both oneself and others together will take joy in their possession of wisdom and compassion” (OTT, 146). This is the essential practice of the Lotus Sutra and of Mahayana Buddhism.

In 1951, the year he became second Soka Gakkai president, Josei Toda wrote: “Having encountered this auspicious time [the time for kosen-rufu], we of the Soka Gakkai have made a great vow of selfless devotion and stood up with the powerful conviction that we must engage in a momentous effort to spread the Mystic Law. How fortunate we are to advance on this path that leads to Buddhahood and allows us to savor the joy of living!”[17]

Indeed, the Soka Gakkai appeared in accord with the great vow of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. It is a realm of Buddhas who have persisted in practicing the essence of Mahayana Buddhism, which is to realize happiness for oneself and others.

“Not a One Will Fail to Attain Buddhahood”

[“Expedient Means,” the 2nd chapter of the Lotus Sutra] states, “If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood” [LSOC, 75]. This passage means that, if there are a hundred or a thousand people who uphold this sutra, without a single exception all one hundred or one thousand of them will become Buddhas. (“Wu-lung and I-lung,” WND-1, 1099)[18]

This section is from a letter titled “Wu-lung and I-lung” addressed to the lay nun Ueno, the mother of Nanjo Tokimitsu. In it, Nichiren Daishonin quotes a passage from the “Expedient Means” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood” (LSOC, 75).

These words are a powerful expression of the Buddha’s original vow to enable all living beings to attain Buddhahood. Nichiren also cites them as important documentary proof confirming that the Lotus Sutra is the great teaching of universal enlightenment.

The lay nun Ueno was grieving deeply over the sudden death of her beloved youngest son. In this letter and several others, Nichiren quotes the above Lotus Sutra passage to encourage her.

He also shares these words in a letter to the lay nun Myoichi, who persevered in her Buddhist practice throughout oppression of the Daishonin’s followers and the loss of her husband. They appear immediately after he encourages her with the famous words “winter always turns to spring” (“Winter Always Turns to Spring,” WND-1, 536).[19]

Nichiren Daishonin again cites this passage in a letter to the lay nun Sennichi after the death of her husband, assuring her that “all people who hear the [Lotus Sutra] will, without a single exception, attain Buddhahood” (“The Treasure of a Filial Child,” WND-1, 1042).

“Not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood”—this focus on the happiness of each individual is the heart of the Lotus Sutra. The fact that the Daishonin offered these words to many of his disciples who were struggling with adversity illustrates his deep compassion and resolve to lift their spirits and prevent them from becoming unhappy.

Everyone’s life is different, as are their problems. Today our members around the world embody this compassionate spirit to warmly support and empathize with those who are suffering and guide them to genuine happiness. We pray for the happiness of each person, encouraging them and taking action to help them, even while dealing with our own hardships or storms of destiny. That is why the Soka Gakkai has been able to build a beautiful, vibrant and harmonious realm of Buddhist humanism that could be described as a miracle—a realm imbued with the compassionate spirit of the Buddha.

Creating a World That Values Each Person

The Soka Gakkai has forged a vast grassroots network encompassing 192 countries and territories and developed into a global religious movement. This is of course due to the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism and the powerful benefit of the Gohonzon. But it is also because we treasure each person. Instead of thinking of humanity in the abstract, we actively reach out to and encourage real individuals who are suffering or struggling. Some of them go on to join us in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and taking action for the happiness of someone else in their lives. Our worldwide network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth was built through such earnest, consistent one-to-one encouragement.

As a youth, I became Josei Toda’s disciple and received an incredible amount of personal encouragement and training from him. In turn, I have given my all to support and encourage those I encounter, whatever the time or circumstance.

Buddhism—and the Lotus Sutra, in particular—teaches that all people possess the supremely noble Buddha nature and that anyone can make it shine. Each person’s life is an infinitely precious and respectworthy treasure tower. From the view of the Lotus Sutra, everyone, without exception, possesses innate dignity and worth.

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren Daishonin says, “The treasure towers are none other than all living beings, and all living beings are none other than the complete entities of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (p. 230).

Awaken to the inherent dignity of your life! Together with fellow members around the world, continue to expand our network of people striving to reveal their true and highest potential and cause the dignity of all humanity to shine! This is the grand adventure of kosen-rufu, of striving to actualize the goal of universal enlightenment.

Vanquishing Fundamental Ignorance With the “Sharp Sword” of Faith

This teaching of Nichiren Daishonin resonates with the concept of dignity that is a core principle of human rights. Dr. Donna Hicks, an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, is a strong advocate of this principle. She has been a friend of the Soka Gakkai for many years through her connection with the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Boston.

In a recent interview published in the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, Dr. Hicks said:

Learning and talking about dignity brings us to higher ground—we reach a level of consciousness that’s more expanded than where we were before. And if you stand at that higher ground, you see the value in yourself, others and the world around you. Experiencing these interconnections is tapping into a precious power that could eliminate sufferings and prevent human beings from fighting and harming one another. Dignity plays an essential role in creating a peaceful world. … Buddhism has simplified in the most beautiful way the idea of uncovering our human nature, uncovering our deep inherent value.[20]

Bodhisattvas of the Earth are people of action who embody the Lotus Sutra’s spirit of respect for all people. They are courageous champions who wield the “sharp sword” of faith[21] to vanquish the fundamental ignorance[22] inherent in life, the root of deep-seated mistrust. Battling this innate negativity that causes so much misery and misfortune, they bring about a sunrise that celebrates humanity and life itself and drives away the darkness of all forms of suffering.

This is the mission of the Soka Gakkai. It is also why so many around the world place great hope in our movement.

The time has come when ever-growing numbers of Bodhisattvas of the Earth are dynamically spreading the light of hope around the globe.

Together With Comrades From the Eternal Past

I once presented this poem to my noble fellow members, Bodhisattvas of the Earth:

May each one of you
without exception
adorn your life
in this existence
with happiness.

The mentors and disciples of Soka, summoned by deep mystic bonds, have now assembled here. Passing on the flame of our noble mission to one person and then another, let us continue to expand our great network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

The Soka Gakkai’s 100th anniversary in 2030 is now within sight. This month of our 90th anniversary marks the start of what will be a crucial decade for us to secure the foundation of worldwide kosen-rufu as a powerful force for peace.

Burning with the great vow of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, please continue to forge ahead cheerfully on the journey of happiness and victory, the journey of human revolution and the journey of the shared struggle of mentor and disciple—together with me and with all our comrades from the eternal past!

Translated from the November 2020 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I & II, edited and translated by Stuart Atkins, Goethe’s Collected Works, vol. 2 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 43. ↩︎
  2. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Education), in Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), vol. 5 (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1982), p. 13. ↩︎
  3. Ibid. ↩︎
  4. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi published this work in October 1903, at the age of 32. In contrast to traditional geographical studies, it reflects his unique ideas concerning the connections between locale and the natural environment and human life, arguing for a richly symbiotic relationship between nature and human beings. ↩︎
  5. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Jinsei chirigaku (The Geography of Human Life), in Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), vol. 2 (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1996), p. 399. ↩︎
  6. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Education), in Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), vol. 5 (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1982), p. 185. ↩︎
  7. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), vol. 10 (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1987), p. 151. (Speech at the fifth general meeting of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai on November 22, 1942.) ↩︎
  8. Saha world: This world, which is full of suffering. Often translated as the world of endurance. In Sanskrit, saha means the earth; it derives from a root meaning “to bear” or “to endure.” For this reason, in the Chinese versions of Buddhist scriptures, saha is rendered as endurance. In this context, the saha world indicates a world in which people must endure suffering. ↩︎
  9. Dated March 10, 1275, this letter was addressed to two disciples, Soya Kyoshin and Ota Jomyo. In it, Nichiren Daishonin discusses the spread of Buddhism from India to China and Japan. He applies the principle of five guides for propagation to demonstrate that the ultimate Law or teaching to be spread in the Latter Day is the Mystic Law (or five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo), which the Buddha entrusted to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in the Lotus Sutra. ↩︎
  10. Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam, or namu, comprising two characters). Nichiren often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings. ↩︎
  11. Mahasattva: A “great being,” another term for bodhisattva. ↩︎
  12. Bodhisattva Superior Practices: Leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the innumerable bodhisattvas whom Shakyamuni calls forth in “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, and entrusts with the mission of propagating the Mystic Law in the Latter Day of the Law. Also, one of the four great bodhisattvas along with Boundless Practices, Pure Practices and Firmly Established Practices. ↩︎
  13. Sowing the seeds of Buddhahood: The first of the three phrases of sowing, maturing and harvesting, the process by which a Buddha leads people to enlightenment, likened to the growth and development of a plant. In the phase of sowing, the Buddha plants the seeds of enlightenment in people’s hearts. Nichiren Buddhism is the Buddhism of sowing, focusing on the practice of sowing by teaching the fundamental principle of the seed of enlightenment or Buddhahood, causing people to have faith in it, and then nurturing that seed. ↩︎
  14. The substantive realization of kosen-rufu: This refers to propagating the Daishonin’s teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in society. In other words, it is establishing happiness, peace and security in the real world based on the Mystic Law, through each individual carrying out their personal mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. ↩︎
  15. Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda, Choose Life: A Dialogue (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), p. 304. ↩︎
  16. Ibid., p. 277. ↩︎
  17. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (The Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 3 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1991), p. 128. ↩︎
  18. This letter was written at Minobu on November 15, 1281, and addressed to the lay nun Ueno. ↩︎
  19. In “Winter Always Turns to Spring,” Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring. Never, from ancient times on, has anyone seen or heard of winter turning back to autumn. Nor have we ever heard of a believer in the Lotus Sutra who turned into an ordinary person. The sutra reads, ‘If there are those who hear the Law, then not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood’ [The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 75]” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 536). ↩︎
  20. Article in Seikyo Shimbun, August 25, 2020. (English is based on the original interview transcript.) ↩︎
  21. In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren states, “The single word ‘belief’ [or ‘faith’] is the sharp sword with which one confronts and overcomes fundamental darkness or ignorance” (pp. 119–20). ↩︎
  22. Fundamental ignorance: Also, fundamental darkness. The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. The inability to see or recognize the ultimate truth of the Mystic Law, as well as the negative impulses that arise from such ignorance. ↩︎

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