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Ikeda Wisdom Academy

The Lotus Sutra Is the Great Ship for the Enlightenment of All People

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

In a time of turmoil, the only thing we can rely on is our faith in the Mystic Law.

The Ikeda Wisdom Academy is an SGI-USA youth leaders advanced study movement. While it is a youth leaders study program, all SGI-USA members are invited to use this section as a guide for their personal study of The Teachings for Victory, volume 1.

Chapter 7

“The Supremacy of the Law” —Part 1 of 3

Nichiren Daishonin wrote “The Supremacy of the Law” during a time rife with confusion, misguided beliefs and erroneous teachings, urging his disciple to strengthen her faith. In this lecture, Ikeda Sensei details the “important essentials of faith[1] that Nichiren outlines in this writing.

This time, we will study “The Supremacy of the Law,” a writing Nichiren composed when Japan faced the very real threat of a second invasion by Mongol forces. The times were also characterized by great confusion in society and a prevalence of misguided beliefs and erroneous teachings. In this letter of encouragement, Nichiren urges the recipient—referred to here only as the mother of Oto—to practice the correct teaching of the Lotus Sutra even more strongly and develop into a person of genuine faith. Ultimately, in a time of turmoil, the only thing we can rely on is our faith in the Mystic Law.[2]

Sharing a Common Desire for People’s Happiness

Nichiren Daishonin tells the Sage Nichimyo that the Lotus Sutra is an incomparably noble teaching. He outlines the characteristics of the different Buddhist sutras, referring in particular to the essence of the Mahayana sutras, of which, he points out, the Lotus Sutra is the highest. His message is that those who uphold the Lotus Sutra in the present troubled age are infinitely respectworthy—and, more specifically, that Nichimyo is a remarkable woman for practicing this supreme teaching as his disciple. …

The birth of almost all religions or spiritual traditions can be traced back to a wish for people’s happiness. …

It was [second Soka Gakkai President Josei] Toda’s view that the founders of universal religions in particular … would be sure to find agreement in their shared wish to rid humankind of misery.

The problem, however, is that later heirs to these religious traditions invariably lose sight of the founder’s original goal of people’s happiness. Forgetting the intense struggles waged by the founder, they become increasingly preoccupied with ritual and formality. Eventually, they succumb to self-interest and personal ambition, denigrating the lay believers, the ordinary people. One of the most conspicuous examples of this is the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood, which is notorious for its blatant disregard for the welfare of its lay believers. By acting against Nichiren’s spirit, it has degenerated into a school that espouses erroneous teachings.

The reason Nichiren vigorously refuted the other established Buddhist schools of his day was that their priests had turned their backs on Buddhism’s original purpose and obscured the teaching of universal enlightenment that holds the key to the happiness of all people. He always made the happiness of the people his criterion. … He was unable to ignore the situation where, because of the misguided priests of these schools, people’s grief grew increasingly deeper (see “The Letter of Petition from Yorimoto,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 809). …

Employing the profound wisdom of Buddhism that is the starting point of human revolution, we can greatly contribute to our own happiness as well as the happiness of others, which is the original purpose of all religions. Any religious tradition that forgets to put people first invariably grows self-righteous and dogmatic.[3]

The Great Ship of the Lotus Sutra

In contrast [to the Hinayana sutras], the Mahayana sutras are like those huge vessels that, carrying ten or twenty people and loaded with large quantities of cargo, can sail from Kamakura as far as Tsukushi or Mutsu Province.

But the ship of the true Mahayana sutra is incomparably greater than those ships that are the other Mahayana sutra. Loaded with a hoard of rare treasures and carrying a hundred or a thousand passengers, it can sail all the way to the land of Korea. The sutra called the Lotus Sutra of the one vehicle is like this. (“The Supremacy of the Law,” WND-1, 612–13)

Nichiren Daishonin first acknowledges the positive role played by Confucian and other non-Buddhist teachings in ancient China and then highlights the ultimate superiority of Buddhism. Next, he explains that the Buddhist teachings themselves are also ranked according to merit. …

The expression “superior in content or more profound” doesn’t mean, for instance, that certain sutras are utterly worthless; rather, it indicates each sutra’s relative merit in terms of the whole, in that each has meaning or relevance corresponding to the time and the capacity of the people when it was preached. This means that when a more profound teaching appears in response to the time and people’s capacity, then the pre-existing teachings become shallow and inferior in comparison.

As clarified in this writing, Nichiren bases his evaluation of the different sutras on the criteria of how many people they are capable of leading to happiness and also whether they can serve as a means to free all humankind from suffering. …

In short, the Lotus Sutra, by expounding the principle of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,” is the only teaching that reveals that all people possess within them the potential to become Buddhas. By bringing forth our inner Buddhahood, we attain enlightenment. The Lotus Sutra, therefore, is the great ship for all humankind, possessing infinite passenger capacity and unlimited range.

Moreover, this ship is available to us not only in this lifetime alone. The great ship of the Lotus Sutra, a teaching that enables us to actualize indestructible happiness, will also take us across the sea of the sufferings of birth and death. That is why Shakyamuni declares: “This sutra can save all living beings. … It is like … someone finding a ship in which to cross the water” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, pp. 327–28).[4]

The Lotus Sutra’s Revolutionary Teaching of the Enlightenment of Women

Devadatta was the most evil man in the entire land of Jambudvipa [the whole world], but the Lotus Sutra predicted that he would become the Thus Come One Heavenly King. Although Ajatashatru was a wicked king who killed his own father, he was among those present when the Lotus Sutra was preached, and after hearing only a verse or a phrase, formed a connection with the sutra [that would enable him to attain enlightenment in the future]. The dragon king’s daughter, a woman with a reptile’s body, attained Buddhahood by listening to Bodhisattva Manjushri preach the Lotus Sutra. Furthermore, the Buddha designated the evil era of the Latter Day of the Law as the very time for the Lotus Sutra to be propagated, and bequeathed it to the men and women of that impure age. The Lotus Sutra, the teaching of the one vehicle, is then a sutra as great and as powerful as the ships of the China trade. (WND-1, 613)

In this next section, Nichiren Daishonin touches on the enlightenment of evil people and women. The sutras expounded prior to the Lotus Sutra held that evil people and women were incapable of attaining Buddhahood. Many practitioners therefore felt resigned to that unfortunate fate; but the Lotus Sutra firmly dispels such disconsolation by proclaiming broadly that all people have the potential for Buddhahood. …

Above all, the Lotus Sutra teaches the enlightenment of women, who in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings had been scorned and despised. The dragon king’s daughter, hearing Manjushri preach the Lotus Sutra—the “secret teaching of the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form”—instantly manifests the life state of a Buddha. In doing so, she scored a victory for the happiness of women everywhere.

The enlightenment of the dragon king’s daughter might seem to have no relevance to the enlightenment of men. But Nichiren writes, “All living beings are the dragon king’s daughter as an essential or intrinsic quality” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 230). The enlightenment of the dragon king’s daughter, in other words, is a vital precondition for the enlightenment of all people, because it serves as actual proof of the principle of “attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form.” It could be said to symbolize the enlightenment of all humankind.[5]

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

Genuine Leaders Work for People’s Happiness

Moreover, there is superiority and inferiority not only among the sutras, but also among their adherents. The various teachers of the True Word school, who believe in the Mahavairochana Sutra, are like fire being put out by water, or dew being blown away by the wind when confronted in debate by the votary of the Lotus Sutra. If a dog barks at a lion, its bowels will rot. The asura demon who shot an arrow at the sun had his head split into seven pieces. The True Word teachers are like the dog or the asura, while the votary of the Lotus Sutra is like the sun or the lion. (WND-1, 613)

In this section, Nichiren Daishonin asserts that the practitioners of the different sutras can also be ranked in a corresponding manner to the sutras themselves. …

The true measure of human beings and of the depth and breadth of their lives is found in their wisdom, the beliefs and philosophy from which that wisdom derives, and to what extent they have embodied or actualized their ideals. …

Why does he single out the True Word priests for criticism? We can assume it was because at that time, the entire country was relying heavily on the priests of this school to offer up incantations and prayers for the defeat of the Mongol forces. Also, the esoteric True Word school enjoyed unsurpassed influence and prestige in Japanese society during Nichiren’s day. Even the Tendai school, originally based on the Lotus Sutra, gradually fell under the influence of the esoteric doctrines and rituals of the True Word school. Beguiling people with the mystique of their incantations and prayers, the priests of various schools, especially the True Word school, ingratiated themselves with those in power, gaining patronage and protection. …

The people of Nichiren’s day should have been asking these questions about the established Buddhist schools: Did they benefit the people or merely seek to bolster their own authority and power? Did they lead people to happiness or consign them to misfortune? Did they combat the devilish nature of power or collude with it? But, sadly, the people had no way of knowing the true nature of these schools.

Nichiren scornfully notes that the priests of these various Buddhist schools … deceive people with their seeming virtue and wisdom. Frauds are skilled at duping people. That is why the only real solution lies with people becoming wiser. …

To protect the correct teaching, he speaks out boldly and incisively against erroneous teachings that not only spell suffering for the people but can easily put the entire country on the path to ruin.

Without deeply engraving in our hearts Nichiren’s solemn determination to protect the Law, we cannot be regarded as genuine disciples. This passage vividly conveys Nichiren’s noble commitment to keep on fighting, even if entirely alone, to protect the Lotus Sutra and defend the spirit of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Supporting those who work for the people’s welfare, but denouncing those who discriminate against the people; being open to ideals that benefit humanity, but rejecting those that inflict suffering—this is the spirit of genuine humanism.[6]

The Times Demand a Leadership Revolution

As you know, before the Mongol attack, the arrogance of the people of our day knew no bounds. Since the tenth month of last year [October 1274, when the first Mongol invasion occurred], however, none of them has dared to assume a haughty attitude, for as you have heard, Nichiren alone predicted this foreign invasion. If the Mongols attack our country again, none of the people will have the courage to face them. … In battles soldiers regard the general as their soul. If the general were to lose heart, his soldiers would become cowards. (WND-1, 613)

“We mustn’t permit this situation where people suffer the direst distress because of inept and incompetent leaders! Now is the time for a leadership revolution!”—this was the essence of the Daishonin’s fervent resolve to keep fighting based on his unwavering commitment to the welfare of the people, which is evident in this writing. …

Let us … take as a guideline for leadership the words: “In battles soldiers regard the general as their soul. If the general were to lose heart, his soldiers would become cowards.” Mr. Makiguchi underlined this passage in his copy of Nichiren’s writings, and he constantly embodied it in his own behavior. Mr. Toda and I, too, amid major struggles for kosen-rufu, read this passage together with our fellow members as a source of strength and inspiration for our advance.

The more troubled the times, irrespective of the challenge, the more crucial is the attitude and resolve of those in leadership positions. Are the leaders energetic? Are they brimming with enthusiasm, a passionate fighting spirit? Are they filled with a fearless and tenacious determination to win in the face of even the most difficult trials?

Courage inspires courage. One wave gives rise to a thousand in a ripple effect that powerfully spreads through the entire organization until everyone is emboldened, finally producing an overwhelming groundswell toward victory.[7]

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


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 116.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., pp. 117–18.
  4. Ibid., pp. 119–20.
  5. Ibid., pp. 120–22.
  6. Ibid., pp. 122–23.
  7. Ibid., pp. 124–26.

The Buddhism of the Sun Arrives

Commentary on Volume 29