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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

The Disciples Victory Is the Mentor’s Greatest Wish and Joy

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

Momentous obstacles strengthen the lives of genuine Lotus Sutra practitioners.

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 6

“Letter to the Brothers”—Part 3 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.

Battling devilish functions is the core of the guidance given by the first three Soka Gakkai presidents throughout their struggles for kosen-rufu. This is in exact accord with Nichiren’s teachings. If this spirit of faith to challenge devilish functions is maintained now and in the future, kosen-rufu will definitely be achieved. “Letter to the Brothers” sets forth the formula for this. In this installment, I will discuss the struggle against the three obstacles and four devils, the importance of unity of purpose and faith based on the oneness of mentor and disciple.[2]

“A Guide for My Followers” and “An Axiom of Faith for Future Generations”

The doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life revealed in the fifth volume of Great Concentration and Insight is especially profound. If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching. One passage from the same volume reads: “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere … One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching.” This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations. (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 501)

Obstacles and devilish functions naturally arise to assail those who practice the correct teaching. Here, Nichiren teaches an important point for victory in our Buddhist practice—for only by recognizing this truth and courageously confronting and triumphing over such obstacles will it be possible for us to realize our own inner transformation.

The passage that Nichiren cites from Great Concentration and Insight begins, “As practice progresses and understanding grows,” indicating a stage where practitioners have deepened their understanding of the Lotus Sutra and solidified their practice as a result. The three obstacles and four devils attack precisely because of the genuine efforts by practitioners to transform their lives at the fundamental level. In our own context today, it means such obstacles will appear when we exert ourselves wholeheartedly in the two ways of practice and study and move forward in our lives and in our efforts for kosen-rufu. Nichiren asserts that the three obstacles and four devils arise when we are on the verge of attaining Buddhahood.

Next, the passage states, “The three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere.” These negative functions seek to catch Lotus Sutra practitioners off guard and, through various insidious means, to intimidate, tempt, discourage or exhaust them, or to lull them into complacency.

T’ien-t’ai outlines two key ingredients of the kind of faith needed to battle the three obstacles and four devils head-on: 1) not being influenced by them and 2) not being frightened by them. Those who let themselves be influenced by devilish functions will be drawn toward the evil paths of existence, while those who are intimidated by them will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching. In short, wisdom and courage are the foundation for victory in this struggle—the wisdom to see devilish functions for what they are and not be swayed by them and the courage to stand up to them without fear. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the source of the wisdom and courage needed to defeat such negative forces. The power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Mystic Law, can instantly transform innate darkness or ignorance into the fundamental nature of enlightenment, enabling us to attain a state in which we can regard difficulties along the path of faith as peace and comfort (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 115). …

Momentous obstacles strengthen the lives of genuine Lotus Sutra practitioners. By courageously confronting such challenges, they bring their Buddhahood to shine forth all the brighter. …

Confident that the Ikegami brothers’ courageous Buddhist practice and ultimate victory will become an enduring model for future practitioners, he tells them, “Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations.”[3]

Battling Devilish Functions Is the Essence of Genuine Faith

The three obstacles in this passage are the obstacle of earthly desires, the obstacle of karma, and the obstacle of retribution. The obstacle of earthly desires is the impediments to one’s practice that arise from greed, anger, foolishness, and the like; the obstacle of karma is the hindrances presented by one’s wife or children; and the obstacle of retribution is the hindrances caused by one’s sovereign or parents. Of the four devils, the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven are of this last kind.

In Japan today, many people claim they have mastered the practice of concentration and insight. But is there anyone who has actually encountered the three obstacles and four devils? WND-1, 501)

First, he discusses the “three obstacles,” which function to obstruct Buddhist practice and undermine the good causes one has accumulated. …

In “Letter to the Brothers,” Nichiren offers concrete examples of these three obstacles in a context that has relevance for the Ikegami brothers. He explains that the obstacle of karma corresponds to “hindrances presented by one’s wife or children,” while the obstacle of retribution corresponds to “hindrances caused by one’s sovereign or parents.” I wish to specifically clarify here that people who hinder one’s Buddhist practice—such as spouses or children, authority figures or parents, as Nichiren indicates—are nothing more than “evil friends,” or negative influences; they are not inherently evil in themselves. Ultimately, it is up to individual practitioners whether they remain steadfast or abandon their faith as a result of others’ opposition. When we win over our own selves, we can see everyone as a “good friend,” or a positive influence for our lives. To put an even finer point on this: By bringing about a change in the depths of our own lives, we can also change or exert a positive influence on the lives of others.

Next, Nichiren discusses the “four devils.” The term devil or devilish function in Buddhism derives from the Sanskrit word mara, which was variously translated into Chinese as “murderer,” “robber of life” or “destroyer.” It refers to the negative workings within people’s hearts that seek to destroy their spirit and even deprive them of life itself. …

Discussing this same passage from “Letter to the Brothers,” Mr. Makiguchi declared:

Experiencing attacks by devilish functions is what distinguishes “practitioners” from mere “believers.” …

People leading lives of minor good who practice faith only for their own benefit will certainly not encounter obstacles, but those leading lives of major good dedicated to altruistic bodhisattva practice will most definitely be assailed by devilish functions. …

Just like lotus flowers that bloom unsullied by the muddy water in which they grow, we (the members of the Soka Gakkai) boldly plunge into the midst of forces hostile to the correct teaching—people of small and medium good who commit slander of the Law—and resolutely seek to redress their grave error and wrongdoing. It is only natural, therefore, that the three obstacles and four devils will furiously descend upon us. Indeed, their appearance earns us the name of “practitioners.”

We mustn’t be fainthearted “believers” who only desire minor benefit for ourselves and are too fearful to battle devilish functions. Authentic practitioners throw themselves wholeheartedly into battling the three obstacles and four devils for the great benefits of attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime and advancing kosen-rufu for all people’s happiness. All SGI members are noble “practitioners of the Lotus Sutra” of the modern day.[4]

The secret to faith for battling devilish functions is sharing the mentor’s commitment and solidly uniting in purpose with fellow practitioners.

Unity Is Key to Victory

Now you two brothers are like the hermit and the man of integrity. If either of you gives up halfway, you will both fail to achieve Buddhahood. (WND-1, 501)

You two wives should have no regrets even if your husbands do you harm because of your faith in this teaching. If both of you unite in encouraging your husbands’ faith, you will follow the path of the dragon king’s daughter and become a model for women attaining Buddhahood in the evil latter age. (WND-1, 502)

The secret to faith for battling devilish functions is sharing the mentor’s commitment and solidly uniting in purpose with fellow practitioners. …

The most important thing for the Ikegami brothers was that they remain united. Devilish functions seek to create schisms. Had their father disowned both of them over religious differences, then it would simply have been a matter of them working together to clarify any misunderstanding with him. But in disowning only the elder, their father hoped to tempt the younger with the prospect of gaining the right of succession. It was clearly a scheme to drive a wedge between the two brothers and, as such, a manifestation of the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven.

Only a positive united force could defeat these devilish functions. … Their unity represents an unassailable fortress to keep out devilish functions. …

Women’s faith often proves decisive at a crucial moment. We should thus take Nichiren’s words to heart. As for striving in faith for a happy and harmonious family, there is no need to be impatient with family members who do not practice Nichiren Buddhism. One person upholding faith in the Mystic Law is like a shining sun that illuminates all family members and loved ones, the benefit of their Buddhist practice extending to everyone. The most important thing is to pray and have absolute confidence that your efforts in faith will lead to their happiness.[5]

A Victorious Life Guided by the Principle of the Heart Being Most Important

A passage in the Six Paramitas Sutra says to become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you. Whatever trouble occurs, regard it as no more than a dream, and think only of the Lotus Sutra. (WND-1, 502)

If we base ourselves on our own fickle ever-changing hearts, we cannot make our way up steep ridges buffeted by the fierce winds of devilish functions. We must set our sights on the solid and unshakable summit of attaining Buddhahood and continually seek to master our minds. This is the meaning of the passage “Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you.”

Becoming the master of one’s mind ultimately means basing oneself on the unwavering foundation of the Law. Herein lies the importance of sutras or writings containing the teachings of the Buddha who has awakened to and spreads the Law. For us, as practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, mastering our minds means basing ourselves on the Gohonzon and Nichiren’s writings. And in Buddhism, it is the teacher or mentor who puts the teachings into practice that helps us connect to the Law. Mastering our minds means having a sincere seeking spirit in faith based on the oneness of mentor and disciple, and not being ruled by arrogant egoism or self-centeredness. …

When viewed in terms of the infinite scale of eternity, any event or phenomenon is as fleeting as a passing dream. The Law, in contrast, is eternal. Allowing oneself to be defeated by devilish functions and straying from the Law will be a cause for everlasting regret. In this passage, Nichiren urges his followers to “think only of the Lotus Sutra,” to focus only on kosen-rufu and to remain steadfast in their faith for the sake of eternal victory.[6]

Faith Based on the Oneness of Mentor and Disciple

Nichiren’s teaching was especially difficult to believe at first, but now that my prophecies have been fulfilled, those who slandered without reason have come to repent. Even if in the future other men and women become my believers, they will not replace you in my heart. …

This letter was written particularly for Hyoe no Sakan. It should also be read to his wife and to Tayu no Sakan’s. (WND-1, 502)

Weakness, cowardice, treachery—the human heart can be truly frightening. No doubt this is what prompted Nichiren to write to the Ikegami brothers and their wives, who remained true to the path of mentor and disciple, “Even if in the future other men and women become my believers, they will not replace you in my heart.” These followers who persevered on the great path of kosen-rufu, undaunted by raging tempests and unfazed by those who abandoned their faith, are true disciples, he says in words of the highest praise. The mentor-disciple bond is one of life’s supreme treasures.[7]

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


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 63.
  2. Ibid., p. 99.
  3. Ibid., pp. 99–101.
  4. Ibid., 102–04.
  5. Ibid., 106–07.
  6. Ibid., 107–08.
  7. Ibid., 108–09.

Shine Brightly as Youthful Treasure Towers!

Commentary on Volume 28