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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Overcoming Great Obstacles Is the Key to Transforming Our Karma

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

Practicing Buddhism means fighting to achieve victory.

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 2

“Letter from Sado”—Part 2 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]

For what purpose were we born? We were born to become happy and to help others do the same. Crucial to this goal is winning over our weaknesses. We practice Nichiren Buddhism so that we can triumph over ignorance, over our karma, over obstacles and devilish functions, and over the three powerful enemies. Buddhism teaches that we each inherently possess the wisdom and power to win in all areas of our lives. It is a philosophy for victory. We must engage in “Buddhist study for winning” to make this hope-filled philosophy the source of successive victories in our lives. …

In the section we are studying this time, Nichiren describes the lionhearted actions he took to defeat evil rulers and erroneous priests. At the same time, he uses himself as an example to drive home to his disciples the key to faith for changing one’s karma.[2]

The Fulfillment of the Prophecies in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching”

Neither non-Buddhists nor the enemies of Buddhism can destroy the correct teaching of the Thus Come One, but the Buddha’s disciples definitely can. As a sutra says, only worms born of the lion’s body feed on the lion. A person of great fortune will never be ruined by enemies, but may be ruined by those who are close. The current battle is what the Medicine Master Sutra means by “the calamity of revolt within one’s own domain.” The Benevolent Kings Sutra states, “Once the sages have departed, then the seven disasters are certain to arise.” (“Letter from Sado,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 302)

The fundamental cause of the three calamities and seven disasters,[3] which include internal strife, rests with a country losing sight of the correct teaching. When erroneous priests appear and distort the teaching, Buddhism is destroyed from within. Nichiren declares that evil priests who slander the Law are an influence that destroys Buddhism, likening them to “worms born of the lion’s body.”

Confused values stemming from erroneous ideas and beliefs activate and strengthen the workings of the three or four evil paths in people’s lives. Consequently, ruled by anger, greed, foolishness and jealousy, people persecute and try to drive from society those of wisdom who spread the correct teaching. That is the reality of the Latter Day of the Law. When wise individuals are ousted through the collusion of evil rulers and errant priests, a brutish and animalistic spirit pervades society. As a result, internal strife occurs, and the people suffer.

Unless we view things with the eye of the Buddha and the eye of the Law, we cannot truly apprehend the deep-seated reasons for persecutions directed against the correct teaching or the fundamental cause for upheavals and disturbances in society. Practicing Buddhism means fighting to achieve victory. Therefore, we have to stand up with the heart of a lion king and win.[4]

Repaying the Boundless Debt Owed to the Mentor

Ignorant people wonder why Nichiren is persecuted by the rulers if he is truly a wise man. Yet it is all just as I expected. King Ajatashatru tormented his father and mother, for which he was hailed by the six royal ministers. When Devadatta killed an arhat and caused the Buddha to bleed, Kokalika and others were delighted. (WND-1, 303)

Next, Nichiren Daishonin refers to the common criticism people made that, if he were truly a wise person, why then had he been persecuted by the authorities and exiled? This criticism is founded on two assumptions: that a wise person would foresee the threat of persecution and avert it, and that a person of genuine wisdom would surely be respected by society. Nichiren, however, dismisses such views as the thinking of ignorant people.

“It is all just as I expected,” he says, indicating that he had known from the outset he would be persecuted. Buddhas invariably encounter great obstacles and opposition. This is an unchanging principle of Buddhism.[5]

Working to Establish the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land

Nichiren is father and mother to the ruling house and is like a Buddha or an arhat to this age. The sovereign and his subjects who rejoice at my exile are truly the most shameless and pitiable of all. Those slanderous priests who have been bewailing the exposure of their errors may be overjoyed for the moment, but eventually they will suffer no less than myself and my followers. … The demon who will destroy the ruling clan has already entered the country. This is the meaning of the passage from the Lotus Sutra that reads, “Evil demons will take possession of others.” (WND-1, 303)

Attaining Buddhahood means transforming one’s karma.

“Nichiren is father and mother to the ruling house”—what a magnificent declaration! Nichiren Daishonin was not in the least afraid of the powerful. Rather, he boldly proclaims himself to be the father and mother of the Hojo clan that had tried to execute him and had now sentenced him to exile. This was the immense life condition of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

As to the fate of the sovereign and subjects who persecuted him and rejoiced over his misfortunes, Nichiren asserts that they are bound to experience great suffering. This principle is the same in any age. …

Nichiren further declares, “The demon who will destroy the ruling clan has already entered the country.” Rejoicing at a person of justice being tormented is a hallmark of a society in which people have been possessed by evil demons. This means the land is filled with powerful devilish functions that skew people’s faculties of judgment.

Nothing is more fearful than misguided ideas and philosophies. By working to establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land, we can transform society for the better. This is the spirit of Nichiren Buddhism.[6]

The Great Struggle To Transform the Karma of Humankind

Since my heart believes in the Lotus Sutra, I do not fear even Brahma or Shakra, but my body is still that of an animal. With such disparity between my body and my mind, no wonder the foolish despise me. Without doubt, when compared to my body, my mind shines like the moon or like gold. Who knows what slander I may have committed in the past? … Perhaps I am descended from those who contemptuously persecuted Bodhisattva Never Disparaging. … It is impossible to fathom one’s karma. (WND-1, 303)

Attaining Buddhahood means transforming one’s karma. By challenging persecution or other difficult obstacles, we can overcome our karma from previous existences. To persevere with the selfless dedication to Buddhist practice is itself the path to eternal happiness. Great hardships lead directly to changing our karma. That is why we must always remember to have a fighting spirit. Overcoming karma is in fact no simple matter. Hence, Nichiren teaches the importance of being steadfast in our Buddhist practice. Above all, he urges that we be resolved to battle our karma to the very end. …

Bodhisattva Never Disparaging bowed in reverence to the Buddha nature inherent in people’s lives and faithfully practiced the principles expounded in the Lotus Sutra, a teaching of universal enlightenment. As a result, he was cursed and abused, as well as beaten with sticks and pelted with tiles and stones (see LSOC, 309); but such persecution was in fact retribution for his own past offenses. The Lotus Sutra goes on to explain that by persisting in his practice of revering people even amid persecution, he could expiate those offenses and ultimately attain Buddhahood. …

Returning to the text, the Daishonin emphasizes that his own body is “fundamentally that of an animal.” Nevertheless, he infers that, owing to his unwavering faith in the Lotus Sutra, his mind shines with a luminous nobility and is filled with an inner dignity and confidence that make him unafraid of anything. …

“It is impossible to fathom one’s karma,” he says, implying that he must have committed unimaginably grave offenses in past lifetimes. Nichiren was uncompromising with himself. He gazed unflinchingly at the true reality of his life. And, through his rigorous spiritual struggle, he opened the universal path by which all people, all humanity, can change their karma.[7]

Cultivating One’s Life Is the Supreme Benefit

Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword. Worthies and sages are tested by abuse. My present exile is not because of any secular crime. It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past grave offenses and be freed in the next from the three evil paths. (WND-1, 303)

Developing inner strength and fortitude is the supreme benefit of practicing Nichiren Buddhism. A thoroughly forged life ensures our eternal happiness. The Daishonin says that his present ordeal “is not because of any secular crime,” even going so far as to assert that he was exiled solely so that he could change his karma in this lifetime. …

Nichiren vigorously encourages his embattled followers as if shaking them by the shoulders: “You have to change your karma! The power to do so exists within you! Don’t run away from hardships! True victory means winning over your own weaknesses! Great suffering produces great character! Become an enduring victor!”[8]

A Land Pervaded With Slander

The Parinirvana Sutra states: “Those who enter the monastic order, don clerical garments, and make a show of studying my teachings will exist in ages to come. Being lazy and remiss, they will slander the correct and equal sutras. You should be aware that all these people are followers of the non-Buddhist doctrines of today.” Those who read this passage should reflect deeply on their own practice. The Buddha is saying that those of our contemporary priests who wear clerical garments, but are idle and negligent, were disciples of the six non-Buddhist teachers in his day. (WND-1, 303)

Here, Nichiren Daishonin shifts his focus to the karmic retribution that will await those persecuting him and his followers—in other words, the priests who expound erroneous teachings and the people throughout the land whose minds have been poisoned by those teachings. …

According to the Parinirvana Sutra, corrupt priests who are lazy and remiss, and who slander the correct teaching of the Lotus Sutra are the spiritual descendants of those who upheld non-Buddhist doctrines and criticized Shakyamuni’s teachings during his lifetime. Nichiren then goes on to refute the positions of various Buddhist priests of his own time who denigrate the Lotus Sutra. What they all have in common is the self-righteous attitude to groundlessly malign this supreme teaching, turning people away from it in favor of their own doctrines. The Daishonin asserts that these priests must be “followers of the six non-Buddhist teachers” of Shakyamuni’s day. …

What lies at the root of [the negative tendency to disbelieve and slander the correct teaching]? It is the deluded state of mind unable to comprehend the Lotus Sutra’s spirit of respect and reverence for all. In modern terms, it means disregard for the sanctity of life, for human equality and the infinite potential of each person.

Nichiren keenly observed that the erroneous priests of his day and their followers, despite lacking true insight into their own lives, rejected the correct teaching that would have enabled them to develop such insight and denigrated anyone who practiced it.[9]

Buddhism Exists for People’s Happiness

Today, when I expose people’s slanders in an effort to save them they deny it with every excuse possible and argue back with Honen’s words about barring the gates to the Lotus Sutra. From Nembutsu believers this is hardly surprising, but even priests of the Tendai and True Word schools actively support them. (WND-1, 304)

Fine temples, solemn traditions and formalities, and high social standing in society are all rendered meaningless once the spirit to vigorously defend the correct teaching is lost. In that event, authoritarianism sets in and corruption and decline ensue, leaving only a hollow shell of the original intention of the teachings.

Buddhism exists for the sake of people’s happiness. Erroneous teachings and interpretations, however, can plunge people into suffering and misery. To turn a blind eye to such misleading ideas and forget the desire to guide all people to enlightenment is to become an enemy of the people. This cannot be condoned. Nichiren’s practice of shakubuku—of refuting error and revealing the truth—is a struggle to restore the authentic spirit of Buddhism, reviving the true compassionate spirit of Shakyamuni Buddha and elevating the life condition of all people.[10]

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


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 1.
  2. Ibid., p. 24.
  3. The three calamities and seven disasters are catastrophes described in various sutras that lead to the destruction of human society and the world and are generally held to result from slander of the correct teaching.
  4. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, pp. 25–26.
  5. Ibid., pp. 27–28.
  6. Ibid., pp. 28–29.
  7. Ibid., pp. 29–31.
  8. Ibid., pp. 31–32.
  9. Ibid., pp. 32–33.
  10. Ibid., pp. 34–35.

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