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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Overcome All Obstacles Through Steadfast Faith!

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

The mentor-disciple relationship is a precious treasure in life. From the standpoint of Buddhism, it is a supremely noble bond. Photo by Luca Manganaro.

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 4

“Letter to the Brothers”—Part 1 of 3

Nichiren Daishonin wrote “Letter to the Brothers” to instill in his followers the spirit to triumph over all devilish functions and attain Buddhahood. In this lecture, Ikeda Sensei uncovers the “formula for total victory[1] that Nichiren outlines in this writing.

“The great undertaking of kosen-rufu is a struggle against devilish functions. We cannot afford to cower at their onslaughts. If we allow them to defeat us, humanity will be forever enveloped in darkness.” This was the powerful declaration of my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda—words that carry an important message for posterity.

Mr. Toda never retreated a single step in battling malicious or destructive forces that sought to block the flow of kosen-rufu; he fought on, determined to put a stop to them. The happiness of all humanity was his goal. Because he wished to rid the world of suffering and misery, he strove tirelessly to vanquish all negative forces that inflicted pain and torment on people. To the very end of his life, he led the way as supreme commander of kosen-rufu.

· · ·

“Letter to the Brothers” is a writing that my mentor and I studied together as a crucial text for learning the correct attitude in faith. In it, Nichiren Daishonin teaches his followers to triumph boldly over all devilish functions—whether they appear as the three obstacles and four devils, or as the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven—and attain Buddhahood. He urges them to do so by striving in faith with the same commitment as his and uniting solidly with their fellow believers.[2]

Great Obstacles Are the Direct Path to Transforming Our Karma and Attaining Buddhahood

The Lotus Sutra is the heart of the eighty thousand teachings and the core of the twelve divisions of the scriptures. The Buddhas throughout the three existences attain enlightenment because they take this sutra as their teacher. The Buddhas of the ten directions guide living beings with the teaching of the one vehicle as their eyes. (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 493)

We can surmise it is because of the gravity of the brothers’ situation that Nichiren begins by outlining the fundamental significance of faith in this way. He teaches that to deeply recognize the supreme value of upholding the Lotus Sutra results in a conviction and joy that produces the strength to overcome any hardship.

He then discusses from various perspectives the serious consequences of abandoning faith in the Lotus Sutra. Forsaking this teaching constitutes such a grave offense because “the Lotus Sutra is the eye of all the Buddhas. It is the original teacher of Shakyamuni Buddha himself, the lord of teachings” (WND-1, 494). In other words, to discard one’s faith is to discard the ultimate teaching.

On a deeper level, abandoning the Lotus Sutra amounts to rejecting the fundamental principles the sutra embodies, such as universal enlightenment, respect for all people and harmonious coexistence. Doing so, therefore, causes the three poisons—greed, anger and foolishness—which prompt people to act in opposition to the ultimate Law—to intensify in people’s lives until eventually darkness dominates and they are destined to wander through the evil paths of existence.

The Daishonin seeks to strongly impress upon the Ikegami brothers an understanding of the Lotus Sutra’s paramount importance, explaining that to discard one word or even one brushstroke (see WND-1, 494) would constitute a serious offense.[3]

It Is Difficult to Encounter a True Teacher

Moreover, it is extremely difficult to meet a person who expounds this sutra exactly as the sutra directs. It is even more difficult than for a one-eyed turtle to find a piece of floating sandalwood, or for someone to hang Mount Sumeru from the sky with the fiber from a lotus stem. (WND-1, 495)

The person or teacher mentioned here is the votary of the Lotus Sutra, a reference specifically to Nichiren. It is something truly extraordinary to have encountered the Daishonin in this saha world during this evil age of the Latter Day, which is defiled by the five impurities.

Likewise, it is equally difficult for those living in the world after the Daishonin’s passing to meet an authentic leader of Buddhism who propagates the Mystic Law, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, exactly as he teaches. For me, there is no greater joy than having been born in this world and becoming the disciple of President Toda, a great teacher of kosen-rufu. …

The mentor-disciple relationship is a precious treasure in life. From the standpoint of Buddhism, it is a supremely noble bond. …

This is because the Law only comes to life in the lives of those who practice it, and its real worth only manifests through their behavior and actions. Unless there are people who correctly uphold the Buddha’s teaching, who practice true to its spirit, nothing of value will be created through that teaching.

Having a teacher in faith is vital to practicing Buddhism correctly. And it is by disciples acting with the same spirit as their mentor that the Law is transmitted. The mentor-disciple relationship is a cornerstone of Nichiren Buddhism.[4]

Beware of Negative Influences

Since this is so, believers in the Lotus Sutra should fear those who attempt to obstruct their practice more than they fear bandits, burglars, night raiders, tigers, wolves, or lions—even more than invasion now by the Mongols. (WND-1, 495)

“Those who attempt to obstruct one’s practice” are known as “negative influences.” What makes them so frightening is that they can corrupt people’s minds and destroy their faith. If practitioners of the Lotus Sutra allow themselves to be swayed by negative influences, to be deceived by evil teachers, thereby losing their commitment to the correct path of faith, they cannot attain the Buddha way.

Conversely, if practitioners remain steadfast in their commitment, they can eventually, through the power of faith, surmount even the greatest difficulties. It is really true, as Nichiren often says, that the heart is most important. To forge the inner strength to withstand negative influences, we must have the wisdom to discern that they are devilish functions and courageously battle them.[5]

Faith Is a Struggle Against the Workings of the Devil King

This world is the domain of the devil king of the sixth heaven. All of its people have been under the rule of this devil king since time without beginning. Not only has he built the prison of the twenty-five realms of existence within the six paths and confined all humankind within it, but also he has made wives and children into shackles, and parents and sovereigns into nets that block off the skies. To deceive the true mind of the Buddha nature, he causes the people to drink the wine of greed, anger, and foolishness, and feeds them nothing but dishes of evil that leave them prostrate on the ground of the three evil paths. When he happens on persons who have turned their hearts to goodness, he acts to obstruct them. (WND-1, 495–96)

The mentor-disciple spirit is a powerful driving force for defeating any form of devilish function. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

In this and the following passages, Nichiren indicates that the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven are the evil influences that we should fear most as practitioners. …

The devil king represents negative forces that manipulate at will the lives of others, that obstruct good and that cause people to fall into evil paths. Devilish functions deprive believers of the Lotus Sutra of the benefit of their Buddhist practice and cut off the flow of wisdom in their lives. They destroy the roots of goodness people have cultivated, causing them to transmigrate through the six paths of the threefold world. The forces of the devil king also devise various schemes to hinder the progress of the Buddha’s forces. The Daishonin lists three specific examples of the insidious workings of the devil king: 1) making wives and children into shackles; 2) making parents and sovereigns into nets that block off the skies; and 3) causing people to drink the wine of greed, anger and foolishness to cloud the true mind of their Buddha nature. These three types of hindrances correspond to the three obstacles—karma, retribution and earthly desires.

In the many momentous persecutions that beset him, Nichiren was actually fighting the negative forces personified by the devil king of the sixth heaven.

In another writing, he says, “The devil king of the sixth heaven has roused the ten kinds of troops and, in the midst of the sea of the sufferings of birth and death, is at war with the votary of the Lotus Sutra to stop him from taking possession of and to wrest away from him this impure land where both ordinary people and sages dwell” (“The Great Battle,” WND-2, 465).

The devil king, commanding his ten armies, wages battle to prevent the votary of the Lotus Sutra from gaining influence in the saha world. And if the votary should succeed in spite of all of these attacks, the devil king will still make every effort to wrest back control. Fully aware of this, Nichiren declares: “It has been twenty or more years now since I found myself in that situation and began the great battle. Not once have I thought of retreat” (“The Great Battle,” WND-2, 465). In other words, his life was a continuous struggle against the forces of the devil king. Kosen-rufu will forever entail an unremitting struggle between Buddhahood and the negative functions inherent in life.

The SGI is the organization that has inherited the true spirit of Nichiren Daishonin. As a result, the more dynamically our noble Soka movement has grown, the more intense have been the onslaughts of the devil king and other negative forces.

President Toda instructed: “Fight fearlessly against devilish functions! Don’t let them cause mischief! Don’t ever give in to them!”[6]

Recognizing Negative Influences

He is determined to make believers in the Lotus Sutra fall into evil, but if he is unsuccessful, he tries to deceive them gradually by luring them toward the Flower Garland Sutra, which resembles the Lotus Sutra. …

This is what the Lotus Sutra means when it says in its fifth volume, “Evil demons will take possession of others.” (WND-1, 496)

The devil king of the sixth heaven resorts to any and all means to prevent those who believe in the Lotus Sutra from attaining Buddhahood. As a simple illustration of this, Nichiren Daishonin cites the actions of priests of various Buddhist schools, asserting that they seek to gradually deceive believers by luring them away from the Lotus Sutra with something that “resembles” it. …

Since these are eminent priests respected in society, people fail to discern their true nature. On the contrary, they esteem these misguided individuals and prize their teachings, allowing “poison to penetrate deeply into their lives” without realizing it and ultimately losing their “true minds.” This causes them to turn away from the Lotus Sutra and even denigrate it. This is the frightening outcome of a society in which people have succumbed to negative influences. People’s normal sensibilities at some point become numbed, and the very fabric of society starts to decay. Yet, people cannot understand the cause for this.

The votary of the Lotus Sutra endeavors to teach people the truth about the poison that has deeply penetrated their lives, but those he seeks to teach, being deluded, perceive him as a villain. Nevertheless, using the power of words and reasoning based on the Lotus Sutra, he strives to reveal the ugly face of slander of the Law and expose for all to see the true nature of erroneous teachers and other negative influences. …

[Nichiren] did not fear criticism or abuse. We even find him proclaiming in other writings: “Let others hate [me] if they will” (see “The Unity of Husband and Wife,” WND-1, 464), and “Let them say what they will” (“The Embankments of Faith,” WND-1, 626). His unshakable commitment and resolve show him to be a true votary of the Lotus Sutra. Because without this resolute spirit, one cannot battle the negative forces inherent in life personified by the devil king of the sixth heaven.[7]

Defeating Fundamental Darkness Through the Power of Faith

The great demon of fundamental darkness can even enter the bodies of bodhisattvas who have reached near perfect enlightenment and prevent them from attaining the Lotus Sutra’s blessing of perfect enlightenment. How easily can he then obstruct those in any lower stage of practice! (WND-1, 496)

Up to this point, Nichiren Daishonin has clarified that the “evil friends” or negative influences that obstruct people’s faith in the Lotus Sutra are personified by “men of wisdom possessed by evil demons” and that these influences are actually the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven.

But if they are people of wisdom, how then can the devil king of the sixth heaven take possession of them? The reason is that they are not defeated from without but from within; they are defeated by the devilish nature known as fundamental darkness innate in life. In another writing, Nichiren states, “Fundamental darkness manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven” (“The Treatment of Illness,” WND-1, 1113). …

The devil king of the sixth heaven is the fundamental negative impulse that resides in the depths of people’s lives. This devilish nature or negativity gives rise to the desire to control others or even take others’ lives and causes destruction and war. To conquer this devilish nature, we need to bring forth our inherent Dharma nature, or fundamental nature of enlightenment, which exists along with our fundamental darkness. Toward that end, it is vital that we continue striving in faith, practicing Nichiren Buddhism ourselves and sharing it with others.

In one of his lectures, President Toda commented on the devil king of the sixth heaven being inscribed on the Gohonzon: “The devil king of the sixth heaven is depicted on the Gohonzon. So when we pray to the Gohonzon, the devil king obeys the Gohonzon. The devil king will issue orders keeping the leaders of his devilish forces in check. The original enlightened potential of the devil king is manifested through the Gohonzon. Indeed, all entities depicted on the Gohonzon display their innate dignified attributes when illuminated by Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”

Continuing, he went so far as to say, “The devil king of the sixth heaven then changes for the first time into an entity that helps and benefits others.” …

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren states, “The single word ‘belief’ is the sharp sword with which one confronts and overcomes fundamental darkness or ignorance” (pp. 119–20). … This means persevering and challenging ourselves in faith throughout our lives. It means seeing devils for what they are and constantly bringing forth the fundamental nature of enlightenment from within. Through faith that grows stronger day by day and month after month (see “On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” WND-1, 997), we can, at a fundamental level, win over the workings of our darkness or ignorance.

This is also why it is important to have a mentor in faith to give us correct direction. President Toda often told me: “If you are a true disciple of mine, then you must carry on in my footsteps to the end without fearing hardship. You must never be defeated.” Day after day, I have fought on, just as my mentor instructed, and I have overcome all devilish functions.

The mentor-disciple spirit is a powerful driving force for defeating any form of devilish function. By contrast, those who lose sight of this spirit and forget their debt of gratitude to their mentor will become increasingly consumed by fundamental darkness until they eventually turn into subjects or followers of the devil king.

To remain fearless no matter what happens, to refuse to succumb to darkness or negativity—this is the spirit of faith needed to battle devilish functions. With this spirit, we can definitely prevail. This is the secret to a victorious life.[8]

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


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 63.
  2. Ibid., pp. 61–63.
  3. Ibid., pp. 63–64.
  4. Ibid., pp. 65–66.
  5. Ibid., pp. 66–67.
  6. Ibid., pp. 67–68.
  7. Ibid., pp. 69–70.
  8. Ibid., pp. 70–72.

A Life of Great Good

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace—June