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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

“Letter from Sado” Part 1—Triumph With the Heart of a Lion King!

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series [71]

Winter always turns to spring” (“Winter Always Turns to Spring,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 536).

Having weathered the cold days of winter, we enter March, a month filled with the hope of spring.

Spring is the season when everything bursts into life. It is also an important time of fresh starts when many of our precious future division members graduate, begin a new school year or embark on their working lives.[1]

As the world continues to grapple with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, I imagine that you, my dear young friends, have also had to face and persevere through many hardships over the past year.

Turning the Challenges of Youth Into Treasures

Because of the pandemic, you probably could not attend school for extended periods and had to do home learning. I’m sure many of you were frustrated and disappointed by the changes in your schedules, including the cancellation of extracurricular activities and the postponement of school trips and other events.

But from a long-term perspective, the fact that you have encountered such unexpected hardships in the sensitive days of your youth has profound meaning. The time is sure to come when this experience will prove tremendously valuable and useful.

“No education surpasses that of trials and hardships”—I hung this motto on the wall of my room and often repeated it to myself when I was 17 years old. That was during the turbulent period immediately following World War II.

Experiencing unprecedented misfortune or calamity firsthand can make you deeply aware of life’s preciousness, understand others’ pain and suffering, and be ready to reach out to those in need. I therefore hope that you will grow to be fine leaders who work for people’s happiness, each of you shining brilliantly in the realm of your personal mission. With that wish, my wife, Kaneko, and I are praying wholeheartedly every day for your sound growth and successful endeavors.

You are the youthful protagonists who will be leading our movement when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding in 2030. Your generation will carry on our noble work of changing the destiny of all humankind, and usher in a new dawn.

Speaking of dawn, 55 years ago the Soka Gakkai designated 1966 the Year of Dawn, vowing to redouble its efforts for worldwide kosen-rufu. It also designated 1966 as the Year of the High School Division, out of a wish for the development of the future division members. That year, I delivered lectures on Nichiren Daishonin’s writings for high school division representatives on an almost monthly basis. Some top leaders voiced the view that I should prioritize giving guidance to adult leaders. But thinking of the distant future of kosen-rufu, I wanted our high school and other future division members to awaken to their mission and achieve wonderful growth, so I poured all my energies into fostering them.

One of Nichiren’s writings that I studied with the high school division members at the time was “Letter from Sado.” I would once again like to study this writing with you, my dear future division members who will shoulder a new age, focusing on the purpose of faith and how we live as Soka Gakkai members.

A Letter Written Amid Adversity

The way of the world dictates that one should repay a great obligation to another, even at the cost of one’s life. Many warriors die for their lords, perhaps many more than one would imagine. A man will die to defend his honor; a woman will die for a man. Fish want to survive; they deplore their pond’s shallowness and dig holes in the bottom to hide in, yet tricked by bait, they take the hook. Birds in a tree fear that they are too low and perch in the top branches, yet bewitched by bait, they too are caught in snares. Human beings are equally vulnerable. They give their lives for shallow, worldly matters but rarely for the Buddha’s precious teachings. Small wonder they do not attain Buddhahood. (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 301)[2]

Nichiren Daishonin wrote “Letter from Sado” in March 1272 at Tsukahara on Sado Island, where he was exiled, and addressed it to all of his disciples. Let us begin by examining the circumstances of the Sado Exile.[3]

First, as Nichiren declares in this letter, his exile was “not because of any secular crime” (WND-1, 303). He had always acted with absolute integrity and broken no laws or social mores.

Key figures in the Kamakura military government had him unjustly arrested. They were allied with the priest Ryokan of Gokuraku-ji temple[4] and other religious leaders, whose corrupt nature and erroneous teachings the Daishonin had exposed and rebuked. Some officials secretly plotted to have Nichiren beheaded in the middle of the night on September 12, 1271, in what is known as the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.[5] This attempt on his life was ultimately unsuccessful. Unable to execute the Daishonin, they sentenced him to exile on Sado instead.

After arriving on the island on November 1 by the lunar calendar—in December by our modern calendar—Nichiren was taken to a small dilapidated hut in Tsukahara called Sammai-do, which had been used for funerary rites. This was to be his dwelling. Sado is a very cold place in winter, and the Daishonin lacked both warm clothing and sufficient food. Describing the woeful state of Sammai-do, he wrote, “The boards of the roof did not meet, and the walls were full of holes. The snow fell and piled up, never melting away” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 769). With the constant danger of attempts on his life by hostile Nembutsu followers and others, his circumstances were extremely dire.

But the Daishonin fearlessly overcame this great adversity. And his passionate commitment to lead all people to happiness burned ever brighter.

He survived the ordeal on Sado with a truly dazzling life state, declaring: “I, Nichiren, am the richest man in all of present-day Japan” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 268).

Heartfelt Encouragement for His Embattled Disciples

Meanwhile, in Kamakura, the Daishonin’s disciples also faced persecution because of their faith. Some were imprisoned in bleak cave dungeons, banished from their homes or had their lands confiscated.

So harsh was the persecution that Nichiren writes, “In Kamakura, 999 out of 1,000 people gave up their faith when I was arrested” (see “Reply to Niiama,” WND-1, 469).

“Letter from Sado” is his heartfelt encouragement to his embattled disciples at a time when he couldn’t meet them directly. It is filled with his determination to ensure that not one of them abandon their faith.

The Purpose of Life

At the beginning of “Letter from Sado,” Nichiren writes, “The most dreadful things in the world are the pain of fire, the flashing of swords, and the shadow of death” (WND-1, 301). Referring to fire, swords and dying—things that are generally feared—he starts his letter by addressing the all-important subject of life and death.

What people tend to fear the most is death, because nothing is more valuable to them than their lives. Buddhism teaches that even the treasures of the universe are no substitute for life. But, the Daishonin points out, many people surrender their supremely precious lives to repay their debt to their lords—a statement reflecting the values and norms of his times.

Nichiren also gives examples of fish and birds, which, though they value their lives, sometimes lose them due to foolishness. “Human beings are equally vulnerable” (WND-1, 301), he says.

Being “tricked by bait” is not a tendency limited to fish and birds. We human beings can be enthralled by the prospect of immediate gain and end up on a course that leads to our tragic downfall.

The Daishonin indicates that by devoting our lives to “the Buddha’s precious teachings,” we can attain enlightenment (see WND-1, 301). There is no greater good fortune than being born human and encountering the unsurpassed, life-affirming teachings of Buddhism.

To what, then, should we devote our incredibly fortunate lives? And how can we create the greatest value in our lives, which are precious beyond measure? The Daishonin encourages us to use them for the sake of Buddhism, for widely spreading the Mystic Law.

Concretely speaking, this means causing the dignity of our own and others’ lives to shine and helping everyone around us become happy. It means transforming despair into hope, creating happy, harmonious families and building thriving communities and societies. The heart of the Daishonin’s teachings is to dedicate our lives to realizing a world of peace and humanity, protecting the natural environment and changing the destiny of humankind.

Through this letter written 750 years ago, the Daishonin clearly and directly calls on each of us to answer the important question “How should I use my precious life?”

While Buddhism speaks of selfless devotion,[6] this, of course, does not mean treating our lives lightly or carelessly throwing them away. Rather, it means deciding to use our lives for kosen-rufu and the happiness of others, and living fully and vibrantly through all, to the very end.

Therefore, no matter what happens, I want you to value your precious lives. However hard or painful your situation, never give up. Please keep moving forward steadily and wisely, one step at a time.

Everyone Has a Unique Mission

We each have a unique, irreplaceable mission, a purpose for which to devote our life. No one is without a mission, a purpose. Buddhism teaches that all people, without exception, are equally worthy of respect. My mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, said, “We have the great mission of kosen-rufu, which is the reason we were born into this world. As long as we never forget this mission, the goal of world peace will also be realized.”

Youth is the time when we engage in a spiritual journey to find our mission. My encounter with Mr. Toda in the summer of my 19th year marked the start of my life’s mission. Everything that I am today is due to him.

Making Steady Efforts, Day After Day

Dedicating our lives to “the Buddha’s precious teachings” doesn’t mean engaging in some form of special discipline. It is simply doing gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to do our human revolution. It is treasuring and warmly encouraging those around us with the aim of attaining happiness for ourselves and others. It is nothing other than participating consistently in Soka Gakkai activities, something many of your parents and seniors in faith have done day after day. I hope you will challenge yourselves to do gongyo and chant daimoku as you continue to apply yourselves to your studies. Be kind and respectful to your parents and treasure good friends.

Such steady, seemingly ordinary daily efforts are the key to accumulating the “treasures of the heart” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 851). Even if you experience setbacks or problems along the way, you’ll find later that they’ve become treasures—valuable lessons contributing to your growth.

There is no need to worry or be impatient.

The wish of all your seniors in faith, who trust you deeply, is that you will carry out the pure-hearted vow you now cherish together with good friends.

Setting a Courageous Example

It is the nature of beasts to threaten the weak and fear the strong. Our contemporary scholars of the various schools [of Buddhism] are just like them. They despise a wise [person] without power, but fear evil rulers. They are no more than fawning retainers. Only by defeating a powerful enemy can one prove one’s real strength. When an evil ruler in consort with priests of erroneous teachings tries to destroy the correct teaching and do away with a [person] of wisdom, those with the heart of a lion king are sure to attain Buddhahood. Like Nichiren, for example. (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 302)

This is a key passage from “Letter from Sado.”

“Those with the heart of a lion king are sure to attain Buddhahood” (WND-1, 302)—with these words, the Daishonin powerfully urges his disciples to summon “the heart of a lion king” just as he did, and overcome whatever adversity lies in their way.

In this passage, he criticizes “contemporary scholars of the various schools”—the priests of the established Buddhist schools of his day—as exhibiting “the nature of beasts” because they curry favor with “evil rulers,” corrupt leaders who had immense power and influence.

“Only by defeating a powerful enemy can one prove one’s real strength,” he says. We can read this as a statement of his determination to fight boldly, even in the face of attack and persecution, against such formidable opponents and to triumph over them. It represents a vast life state that is the polar opposite of “the nature of beasts.” Nichiren’s disciples must have been deeply encouraged and inspired by their mentor’s courageous example as he unflinchingly confronted the storm of devilish functions.

Always Have ‘The Heart of a Lion King’

The next part, from “When an evil ruler in consort with priests of erroneous teachings … ” onward, is one I personally studied with Mr. Toda and engraved in my heart.

Seventy years ago, just before Mr. Toda was inaugurated as second Soka Gakkai president (on May 3, 1951), I copied this passage into my diary, refreshing my vow as his disciple.[7] This was also a passage I focused on in my lectures on this writing for high school division members 55 years ago that I mentioned earlier.

“Evil rulers” and “priests of erroneous teachings” conspiring to destroy “a person of wisdom” is the pattern of persecution and oppression that seeks to obstruct the progress of kosen-rufu not only in Nichiren’s time, but also in later ages.

The Daishonin declares that those who stand up with “the heart of a lion king” to protect the correct teaching of Buddhism when evil forces combine to oppress it are sure to gain the life state of Buddhahood (see WND-1, 302).

Unless we protect and spread the correct teaching, the way to happiness for all people will be closed. That is why making selfless efforts to share the supreme teaching of the Mystic Law is the Buddhist practice most suited to the Latter Day, and why its practitioners will become Buddhas without fail.

Courage and an Invincible Spirit

Nichiren Daishonin writes “Like Nichiren, for example” (WND-1, 302). He urges his disciples to stand up resolutely with “the heart of a lion king,” just as he, their mentor, has done in courageously battling and triumphing over every hardship and adversity.

In modern times, our first two presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, inherited the Daishonin’s lionlike spirit. They continued to speak out for their beliefs even in the face of persecution by Japan’s militarist authorities during World War II.

While discussing this passage in one of his lectures on “Letter from Sado,” Mr. Toda declared that the Soka Gakkai spirit means working for the happiness of the people of Japan and the entire world.[8]

Summoning “the heart of a lion king” to work for the happiness of people everywhere, no matter the obstacles or difficulties, is the solid history and tradition of the Soka Gakkai.

It is the way of life of Soka Gakkai members to strive together as lions, each taking personal responsibility for our movement. This is the source of our genuine, indestructible unity of “many in body, one in mind.”

In the early days of our movement, and in recent years as well, the Soka Gakkai has repeatedly encountered obstacles and difficulties similar to those described in Nichiren’s writings. My fellow members in every region, including many of your parents, who triumphed over these hardships together with me, are all my precious comrades.

In Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha is often likened to a lion king. A lion king has courage. Courage and an invincible spirit are what define “the heart of a lion king.”

We need courage to battle devilish functions and overcome difficulties. Courageous action is also the starting point for achieving our human revolution and changing our karma, and further, for transforming society and creating world peace.

Leading Lives of Honor and Victory

In November 2000, I visited Singapore, known as the “Lion City,” and spoke about the lion king. Sharing Nichiren’s words “Each of you should summon up the courage of a lion king and never succumb to threats from anyone” (“On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” WND-1, 997), I called on the members to summon their courage, break through all fear and cowardice and keep moving forward.

Our members in Singapore and around the world have become lionhearted champions, surmounting all obstacles and broadening trust for our Soka movement in their societies.

“The heart of a lion king” is the Soka spirit of mentor and disciple. By dedicating your lives to fulfilling the vow of mentor and disciple, you will be able to draw forth “the heart of a lion king” that exists within you. While young, you are taking the first steps on the great path of bringing forth that lionhearted spirit. How fortunate you are! How wonderful that is! You are sure to lead lives of boundless honor and victory.

Strive as Champions of Humanity

The French author Victor Hugo (1802–85) wrote in Les Misérables, one of my favorite novels from the time of my youth: “There is a spectacle greater than the sea, and that is the sky; there is a spectacle greater than the sky, and that is the human soul.”[9] I would like to dedicate to you these words, which are engraved in the base of the statue of Victor Hugo that graces the lobby of Soka University’s main auditorium.

For us, our “soul” is “the heart of a lion king.” It is the life state of Buddhahood. All of you possess hearts more magnificent than the oceans and the skies above. You can therefore live with the greathearted spirit of champions of humanity, of life and of the people.

All of you are practicing the foremost philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism, the lion king of Buddhist teachings, from a young age. The noble “heart of a lion king” beats within you. I call on you, my dear successors, to join me in working for kosen-rufu with that innate courage.

As young lionhearts, speak out bravely for what is right and open the way to victory in the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple!

Translated from the March 2021 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. In Japan, March is the month when school graduations take place. April marks the start of the new school year and is also the month when many new graduates enter the workforce for the first time. ↩︎
  2. Composed on March 20, 1272, at Tsukahara on Sado Island, this letter was addressed to all Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples. In it, Nichiren sought to dispel any doubts that may have arisen in their hearts owing to the Tatsunokuchi Persecution and his subsequent exile to Sado Island some six months earlier, and to offer them guidance and encouragement. ↩︎
  3. Sado Exile: Nichiren’s exile to Sado Island off the western coast of Japan from October 1271, immediately following the Tatsunokuchi Persecution on September 12, 1271, through March 1274. During this perilous time, he composed many important works, including “The Opening of the Eyes” and “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” and offered encouragement to his followers. ↩︎
  4. Ryokan (1217–1303): Also known as Ninsho. A priest of the True Word Precepts school in Japan. With the patronage of the Hojo clan, Ryokan became chief priest of Gokuraku-ji temple in Kamakura and gained great influence. He was hostile to the Daishonin and actively conspired with the authorities to have him and his followers persecuted. ↩︎
  5. Tatsunokuchi Persecution: The failed attempt, instigated by powerful government figures, to behead the Daishonin under the cover of darkness on the beach at Tatsunokuchi, on the outskirts of Kamakura, on September 12, 1271. At the time of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution the Daishonin cast off his transient status and revealed his true identity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law who seeks to lead all people to enlightenment. ↩︎
  6. The concept of selfless devotion to propagating the Law without begrudging one’s life appears in “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. ↩︎
  7. See Daisaku Ikeda, A Youthful Diary: One Man’s Journey from the Beginning of Faith to Worldwide Leadership for Peace (Santa Monica, California: World Tribune Press, 2000), p. 109 (April 27, 1951). ↩︎
  8. See Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 6 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1986), p. 545. ↩︎
  9. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, translated by Julie Rose (London: Vintage, 2008), p. 184. ↩︎

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace—December

Everything Starts With One Person