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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

Pursue the Great Path of Mentor and Disciple, Regarding Hardships as a Badge of Honor

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

The supreme purpose of Buddhism is to forge, polish and strengthen our lives.

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 5

“Letter to the Brothers”—Part 2 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.

Hardships Are Proof of Lessening Karmic Retribution

We, who now believe in the correct teaching, in the past once committed the offense of persecuting its practitioners, and therefore are destined to fall into a terrible hell in the future. The blessings gained by practicing the correct teaching, however, are so great that by meeting minor sufferings in this life we can change the karma that destines us to suffer terribly in the future. (“Letter from Sado,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 497)

Nichiren Buddhism—a teaching of changing karma—first recognizes that the cause of all negative karma can be traced to disbelief in and disrespect for the Mystic Law—which is termed “slander of the Law.” This clarification of fundamental evil also illuminates that which constitutes fundamental good. If we are to change our karma, a clear understanding of the basic causality of good and evil in life is vital.

One form that this fundamental evil of slander takes is people denigrating the Lotus Sutra, a teaching of universal enlightenment, because they cannot believe that everyone possesses the Buddha nature. Another manifestation of slander is people maligning and attacking the sutra’s votary, who is dedicated to helping others reveal their Buddha nature. Fundamental good, therefore, is the exact opposite—namely, upholding and preserving the Lotus Sutra’s teachings and fighting together with the votary of the Lotus Sutra against this most basic evil—that of denying people’s Buddha nature.

Receiving the painful retributions we were destined to incur in the future in a lesser form in the present through the “blessings obtained by protecting the Law” (WND-1, 497) is the heart of the Buddhist principle of “lessening one’s karmic retribution.” By experiencing hardships in the course of practicing the Mystic Law in this life, “the sufferings of hell will vanish instantly” (“Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution,” WND-1, 199), and then, completely freed from these grave offenses (see “The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 281), we can realize the sublime life state of Buddhahood. In other words, we can change the inner direction of our lives—moving from the negative cycle of transmigration in the evil paths to the positive cycle of transmigration in the realm of Buddhahood. This is Nichiren’s teaching of changing karma.

Consequently, the hardships we experience in the course of our Buddhist practice as a result of the principle of lessening karmic retribution are the benefits or blessings of protecting the Law. They could also be called proof that we are changing karma.[2]

The Process of Changing Karma Forges and Polishes Our Lives to the Highest Degree

Both of you have continued believing in the Lotus Sutra; thus you are now ridding yourselves of your grave offenses from the past. For example, the flaws in iron come to the surface when it is forged. Put into flames, a rock simply turns to ashes, but gold becomes pure gold. (WND-1, 497)

As this passage indicates, when viewed in terms of the Buddhist principles of lessening karmic retribution and changing karma, hardships take on deeper meaning and come to signify opportunities for forging and developing our faith and our inner state of life.

Elsewhere, Nichiren writes, “Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword” (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 303). The process of confronting and challenging our karma enables us to polish and strengthen our faith. When we are tested by the fires of karma, we can show our true mettle. If we are irresolute, we will be like ash and crumble, but if we maintain a firm resolve, we will become pure gold, our lives growing ever more radiant.

The supreme purpose of Buddhism is to forge, polish and strengthen our lives. Without polishing and developing, people with ability and talent will not shine their brightest. Without training, people of genuine commitment will not be fostered. By striving wholeheartedly for kosen-rufu, we can transform our negative karma from past existence and bring our lives to shine with the brilliance of a gleaming, unbreakable sword.[3]

Heavenly Deities Test One’s Faith

This trial, more than anything else, will prove your faith genuine, and the ten demon daughters of the Lotus Sutra will surely protect you. … It is even possible that the ten demon daughters have possessed your parents and are tormenting you in order to test your faith. (WND-1, 497)

Next, Nichiren Daishonin assures the Ikegami brothers that their demonstration of genuine faith guarantees the protection of the heavenly deities, who vowed in the Lotus Sutra to safeguard the sutra’s practitioners. Having said this, he adds that the heavenly deities at times also seek to test the genuineness of people’s faith. …

Based on this principle, Nichiren suggests that the brothers’ present ordeal—that of the elder brother being disowned by their father because of his Buddhist practice—is likely an instance of the ten demon daughters influencing the brothers’ parents to torment them in order to test their faith. …

In Buddhism, unremitting faith is the cause for attaining enlightenment, and obstacles are viewed as an inevitable consequence of upholding the correct teaching of the Lotus Sutra. The crux of the matter, therefore, is whether, when great hardships or persecutions arise, we are consumed by fear and abandon our faith or muster our courage and remain steadfast.

If our resolve is weak and we discard our faith, it means we have been defeated by the torments of the devil king of the sixth heaven. But if we win over such painful ordeals with firm resolve and maintain unwavering faith, then in hindsight, we may also say we have passed a test by the heavenly deities. In other words, everything depends on our own heart or resolve. The protection of the heavenly deities is in essence nothing more than the power of our own faith.

Second Soka Gakkai President Toda declared:

The Daishonin writes that he regards Hei no Saemon—an archenemy of Buddhism who has unceasingly harassed him—as a good friend or positive influence for his own Buddhist practice. Never fear enemies! Their onslaughts are all just swirling dark winds that help us perfect ourselves and attain Buddhahood.

This is the lionhearted essence of Nichiren Buddhism. It is crucial that we have a fearless spirit, a fearless resolve.

In his writings, Nichiren frequently cites the line from the Great Teacher Miao-lo of China, “The stronger one’s faith, the greater the protection of the gods.” The heavenly deities will unfailingly protect Lotus Sutra practitioners whose faith is genuine. …

The German poet and novelist Hermann Hesse wrote to the effect that only those who have the courage to fulfill their destinies can be called heroes. Those confident that everything begins with their own inner transformation are people of true courage and heroism and can forge lasting happiness for themselves.[4]

Maintaining Steadfast Faith at a Crucial Moment

Any weakness in faith will be a cause for regret. The cart that overturns on the road ahead is a warning to the one behind.

In an age like this no one can help but thirst for the way. You may hate this world, but you cannot escape it. (WND-1, 497)

Ultimately, everything hinges on whether we can realize how fortunate we are to have encountered “a person who expounds this sutra exactly as the sutra directs” (WND-1, 495), and to strive with this teacher to propagate the Mystic Law. If our faith or resolve is weak at a crucial time, we’ll be left with eternal regret.

When we encounter obstacles in the course of our Buddhist practice, we, in fact, find ourselves at a momentous crossroads, a vital juncture that will decide whether we open the gateway to attaining Buddhahood forever through strong faith or close off the path to happiness by forsaking our faith.

Whenever great obstacles confront us, let’s challenge them intrepidly, bearing in mind this passage from Nichiren Daishonin’s treatise “The Opening of the Eyes”: “Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when the crucial moment comes” (WND-1, 283). …

Any time we face hardships is a crucial moment. It is, therefore, essential that we have the dauntless faith to enable us to fight back bravely at such times—for instance, when the three obstacles and four devils strike, when we are challenging ourselves to change our karma or when we are engaged in a win-or-lose struggle for kosen-rufu. We should realize that every day we can learn this spirit of faith from Nichiren’s example. We must never be foolish people who cave in at a crucial moment.

If our faith is weak or shallow, or if we are foolish, we will end up drifting along aimlessly like floating weeds, lacking fundamental purpose. Human beings are animals that seek meaning in life. Through this earnest pursuit, it is possible to give infinitely profound meaning to our existence. …

In this passage from “Letter to the Brothers,” Nichiren further states, “In an age like this no one can help but thirst for the way.” These words reflect society at that time, where people were filled with anxiety and uncertainty toward the future. There were repeated famines, epidemics and natural disasters. Certainly such an age would spur thinking people to seek the Buddha way. The more confused and disordered a society becomes, the more people will seek a profound philosophy on which to base their lives. Nichiren Buddhism is truly the Buddhism of the Sun with the power to illuminate the darkness of the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law. …

Nichiren consistently teaches these cherished disciples to boldly confront devilish functions—negative forces—and to always take the offensive in this struggle. If one is passive or fearful, such negative forces will only grow stronger. He instructs them, “You must never be cowardly” (WND-1, 498). Mr. Toda once also said quite sternly: “What can the fainthearted who shun difficulties possibly accomplish? I’m sure none of my disciples fit that description.” He also declared: “The Soka Gakkai is an organization of lions, a gathering of lions. We have no use for cowards!”[5]

“You Must Grit Your Teeth and Never Slacken in Your Faith”

You must grit your teeth and never slacken in your faith. Be as fearless as Nichiren when he acted and spoke out before Hei no Saemon-no-jo. … Death comes to all, even should nothing untoward ever happen. Therefore, you must never be cowardly, or you will become the object of ridicule. (WND-1, 498)

Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching of mentor and disciple. If the mentor is a lion king, the disciples must also be lion kings. The mentor thus calls on his disciples to learn from and follow his example. …

Nichiren also writes, “Death comes to all, even should nothing untoward ever happen.” This quote has left a deep impression on me in the course of my more than half century of Buddhist practice.

As human beings, we will all have to die sometime. No one can escape this reality. The important thing is how we use this unique and precious existence.[6]

The Meaning of True Filial Devotion

A teacher or mentor in the realm of Buddhism is one who has battled and triumphed over devilish functions. Disciples, meanwhile, learn the essentials of faith from the mentor so that they can begin to do the same. Buddhism as a teaching of the oneness of mentor and disciple is only complete when disciples respond to the mentor’s teaching and spur themselves to take action. …

Faith and filial devotion are normally not in opposition, so there’s no need to choose one at the expense of the other. In fact, Nichiren Buddhism teaches the importance of filial devotion—being a good son or daughter to one’s parents—and also clarifies what filial devotion really means.

Nichiren writes, “In all worldly affairs, it is the son’s duty to obey his parents, yet on the path to Buddhahood, disobeying one’s parents ultimately constitutes filial piety” (WND-1, 499). In this context, our attaining Buddhahood becomes the supreme expression of filial devotion. He further states, “Not only will they [those who hear the Lotus Sutra] themselves attain Buddhahood, but also their fathers and mothers will attain Buddhahood in their present forms” (“What It Means to Hear the Buddha Vehicle,” WND-2, 744). …

We cannot defeat devilish functions if we allow ourselves to be ruled by ego. The way to build a solid and unshakable self is to stand up with the same spirit and commitment as the teacher or leader of kosen-rufu. Those who can find this supreme path of happiness within the depths of their lives will never be defeated.[7]

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


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 63.
  2. Ibid., pp. 81–82.
  3. Ibid., pp. 82–83.
  4. Ibid., pp. 84–85.
  5. Ibid., pp. 86–88.
  6. Ibid., pp. 88–89.
  7. Ibid., pp. 90–92.

In Tribute to the Young Women’s Division 55th Anniversary

Commentary on Volume 27