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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

“Letter from Sado” Part 2—Walk the Path of Champions, Undefeated by Adversity!

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series [72]

There are melodies I listened to over and over again in my youth and will never forget.

I was working for my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, as his businesses struggled to stay afloat during the tumultuous postwar period. It was a harrowing time. I tried my hardest to find a way to turn the situation around while also battling with ill health from tuberculosis. In my small apartment, I listened again and again to works by the great composer Beethoven. In particular, his Fifth Symphony (Fate) and the “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony moved me powerfully.

Beethoven’s exhilarating music, expressing his spirit to break through suffering and arrive at joy, inspired me to keep on fighting.

When I first visited Vienna, the capital of classical music, six decades ago in October 1961, I paid homage to Beethoven at his grave in the city’s Central Cemetery.

In May 1981, after I visited the Vienna State Opera and met with the Austrian Vice Chancellor and Minister of Education and the Arts Fred Sinowatz, local members took me to see the Beethoven Museum in Heiligenstadt. It was originally the dwelling where he drafted his will, on the verge of deep despair from struggling with the cruelties of fate that included the loss of hearing, a sense so vital to a musician.

‘My Fate Will Never Crush Me!’

But Beethoven refused to let the relentless blows of fate defeat him. In the end, he gifted humanity joyous music that broke through the darkness of the times. He wrote: “I will boldly meet my fate, never shall it succeed in crushing me. Oh! it is so glorious to live one’s life a thousand times over!”[1]

Those words call to mind the countless Soka Gakkai members who, while giving their all to advance kosen-rufu amid society’s harsh realities, have changed their destiny and developed absolute happiness. Summoning forth the “courage of a lion king,” as Nichiren Daishonin teaches (“On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 997), they have bravely confronted all problems and hardships and forged ahead steadily to victory. They brim with that pride.

Teaching Through Personal Example

Through battling great difficulties, we can expand our life state limitlessly.

As we learned in the previous installment, Nichiren Daishonin triumphed over repeated life-threatening persecutions and opened the way for kosen-rufu in order to relieve the sufferings of humanity for all time. He also taught his disciples, through his own example, the key to powerfully transforming the destiny that assails us in life.

In this installment, let’s study the second half of “Letter from Sado” as we explore together the hope-inspiring principle of changing one’s karma or destiny taught in Nichiren Buddhism.

Faith Is the Ultimate Form of Invincible Spirit

Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword. Worthies and sages are tested by abuse.[2] 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.[3] (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 303)[4]

Nichiren Daishonin states, “Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword” (WND-1, 303). By fighting against adversity, we forge our lives, just like a fine sword.

He also says, “Worthies and sages are tested by abuse” (WND-1, 303). We can tell a true sage or person of wisdom by whether they have endured criticism and slander. Those whom history acclaims as great have almost invariably faced persecution and opposition.

The experience of enduring hardships and difficulties can be seen as a test of our underlying strength. Facing the most trying situations with unflinching determination and perseverance, refusing to retreat a single step, enables us to forge a strong spirit, which becomes a vital driving force for leading a winning life. Faith in Nichiren Buddhism is the ultimate form of this invincible spirit.

Religion to Make People Strong, Good and Wise

In my lecture “Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-First-Century Civilization” at Harvard University,[5] I raised the questions: Does religion make people stronger, or weaker? Does it encourage what is good or what is evil in them? Are they made wiser or less so by religion?

Making people strong, good and wise is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism. In this age of widespread inhumanity, the need is greater than ever before for this human-centered religion.

Everything starts from the inner transformation of the individual. As we steadily practice Nichiren Buddhism, we awaken to the dignity and worth of our lives. We tap our inherent wisdom and strength and strive to create the greatest value, contributing to the welfare and happiness of others and society. The Soka Gakkai is the organization building and expanding this movement of human revolution throughout the world.

Ten years have passed since the devastating March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. While experiencing unprecedented adversity, our members in Tohoku have advanced with the firm resolve to let nothing defeat them.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Though calamities may come, they can be changed into good fortune” (“How the Gods Protect the Place of Practice,” WND-2, 669); “When great evil occurs, great good follows” (“Great Evil and Great Good,” WND-1, 1119); and “Winter always turns to spring” (“Winter Always Turns to Spring,” WND-1, 536). Cherishing the Daishonin’s assurances, our Tohoku members have demonstrated the inherent strength of the human spirit to never give up and have accumulated boundless “treasures of the heart” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 851).

Their indomitable “Tohoku spirit” has inspired people throughout Japan and around the world, and their courageous example shines as a beacon of great hope for the 21st century.

A Noble Life State Equal to the Buddha

In “Letter from Sado,” Nichiren writes, “My present exile is not because of any secular crime” (WND-1, 303). He clarifies that the true reason for having to undergo this ordeal is to transform his karma. He then explains the principle of changing karma based on the workings of cause and effect as taught in Nichiren Buddhism.

The theory of cause and effect taught by the established schools of Buddhism in Nichiren’s day tended to be pessimistic. It focused on the causes one had created in past existences that have resulted in unhappiness and misfortune in this present existence. It taught that the present is fixed and unchangeable.

But the Daishonin set forth the principle of changing one’s karma based on a more fundamental and expansive understanding of cause and effect, as taught in the Lotus Sutra.

Basing ourselves on the Lotus Sutra means recognizing that we and all people possess a noble life state equal to the Buddha. When the sun rises, it dispels the darkness and brightly illuminates the world. Similarly, when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we bring the sun of our inherent Buddhahood from time without beginning to shine within us. As a result, the darkness of fundamental ignorance[6] evaporates, past karma is transformed, and we are filled with the elemental power to conquer all suffering and hardship.

At that moment, the meaning of karma changes. Our life of suffering caused by karma undergoes a major transformation, becoming a life of challenging our negative karma and demonstrating genuine human value and dignity. This is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism, which teaches the principle of “changing karma.” Here, we find the key to revitalizing our lives and creating a brighter future.

Transforming Karma Into Mission

Josei Toda noted that the Lotus Sutra teaches that the Buddha, too, suffered from sickness. Wishing to free all living beings from suffering, Mr. Toda said, the Buddha would need to experience illness just as they did; otherwise, they would not be able to relate to him or listen to what he had to say. In this easily understandable way, he explained a profound Buddhist tenet and perspective on life.

Namely, by dealing with illness and problems and overcoming them, we offer an inspiring example for others, giving them hope and courage.

There is a scene in the Lotus Sutra in which bodhisattvas vow to appear in an evil future age to help lead people to happiness. In other words, they choose of their own free will to take on the karma to be born in a troubled time and, through their example of battling that karma, encourage others who are suffering. This is the principle of “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma.”[7]

Observing the example of these bodhisattvas, people find the courage to stand up and do the same. They discover and awaken to the fact that the power to overcome all adversity is inherent in their own lives. Through this inner power arising from faith in the Mystic Law, they then repel all the karmic suffering assailing them and become people who can inspire and encourage everyone around them.

This way of life grounded in transforming karma into mission is, in contemporary terms, the work of empowering others and fostering their capacity for resilience. That is the power of the bodhisattva vow.

In November 2020, Argentine human rights activist and Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel sent a message congratulating the Soka Gakkai on the 90th anniversary of its founding. In it, he said that the COVID-19 pandemic would require humanity to show great strength of spirit.

“Please, do not stop smiling at life,” he urged. “In the most difficult moments, we have to go on. We are always able to build a better world through the power of hope. … As Soka Gakkai members, you are conveying the meaning of life, and I think that is very important. Yours is a long, never-ending endeavor. … You are paving the way for others to follow in the future.[8]

Soka Gakkai members worldwide hold fast to the hope-filled conviction that we can transform our destiny into mission. Dr. Pérez Esquivel expressed his profound support for the actions of Soka Gakkai members, who are constantly engaged in encouraging others.

And today, a steady stream of successors, young “torchbearers of justice,” continues to emerge in the future division. Each one of you is a capable individual who inspires high hopes. Many thinking people around the world sympathetic to our movement are eagerly looking forward to your growth.

Developing Your Youthful Wings

I’m sure you, my young friends of the future division, have all kinds of problems and worries. But those who have suffered can understand the suffering of others and encourage them. Overcoming pain and hardship makes you stronger and develops your youthful wings so you can soar high. Nothing is ever wasted.

The key is to keep moving forward with patience and courage while wisely conferring with good friends and seniors in faith who care about you.

Above all, remain steadfast in your Buddhist faith and practice all your life. The following passage from “Letter from Sado” teaches the importance of having the “heart of a lion king” to do just that.

The Greatness of the Teacher Who Propagates the Lotus Sutra

There are also those who appeared to believe in me, but began doubting when they saw me persecuted. They not only have forsaken the Lotus Sutra, but also actually think themselves wise enough to instruct me. The pitiful thing is that these perverse people must suffer in the Avichi hell[9] even longer than the Nembutsu believers. … “Though the priest Nichiren is our teacher, he is too forceful. We will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more peaceful way.” In so asserting, they are being as ridiculous as fireflies laughing at the sun and moon, an anthill belittling Mount Hua,[10] wells and brooks despising the river and the ocean, or a magpie mocking a phoenix. (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 306)

When Nichiren wrote “Letter from Sado,” his disciples in Kamakura were also being persecuted. As a result, some began to doubt his teachings and abandoned their faith out of fear.

In the light of the Buddhist scriptures, it was inevitable that those who would persecute the Daishonin, the votary of the Lotus Sutra, would appear. But when he was exiled to Sado Island, some of his disciples, unfortunately, not only abandoned his teachings but claimed they knew better than he and began to criticize him.

These arrogant individuals didn’t genuinely accept Nichiren’s teachings. Instead, they made their own arbitrary claims. Nichiren says they were like the asura who tried to outdo the Buddha by expounding nineteen elements when the Buddha taught only eighteen,[11] or the non-Buddhist teachers who said they had ninety-five ways to attain enlightenment[12] while the Buddha offered only one way (see WND-1, 306). In the same fashion, some of the Daishonin’s disciples at this time criticized him, saying: “Though the priest Nichiren is our teacher, he is too forceful. We will spread the Lotus Sutra in a more peaceful way” (WND-1, 306).

But the Daishonin responded with serene self-assurance, describing such individuals “as ridiculous as fireflies laughing at the sun and moon, an anthill belittling Mount Hua, wells and brooks despising the river and the ocean, or a magpie mocking a phoenix” (WND-1, 306).

A Life State of Boundless Compassion Forged by Enduring Difficulties

Here, Nichiren highlights the immense difference in life state between him and his detractors, employing the comparisons of fireflies to the sun and moon, an anthill to a mountain and wells and brooks to rivers and oceans.

From the day he proclaimed the establishment of his teaching, the Daishonin began his determined struggle to relieve the sufferings of all people for eternity. And he declared that he had not forsaken his vow to do so even after being exiled to Sado, and would never forsake it at any future time.

He continued waging his compassionate struggle for people’s happiness and peace. As he did so, his vision broadened from those around him to everyone in society, from one land to the entire world and from the present into the eternal future.

He described his life as an endless series of obstacles and difficulties: “As mountains pile upon mountains and waves follow waves, so do persecutions add to persecutions and criticisms augment criticisms” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 241). No one was on a par with him in this respect. But he expected to encounter such great obstacles, and, no matter how arrogant individuals attacked him, they could not possibly destroy his vast life state.

Here we see the Daishonin attempting to communicate to his disciples his life state of boundless compassion that was one with his vow to lead all people to happiness. Learning of their mentor’s spirit, his disciples facing persecution in Kamakura must have felt a surge of courage rise in their hearts.

Nichiren Daishonin’s community of fellow practitioners, exemplifying the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple, was built when his disciples stood up with the same vow and unwavering commitment as he.

The Soka Gakkai Advances With the ‘Heart of a Lion King’

Courage is the key to remaining steadfast in faith.

Arrogance is just a manifestation of cowardice. The cowardly cannot vanquish the devilish forces within them. That’s why it’s so important to summon the courageous “heart of a lion king” and fight our hardest.

Our first and second presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, overcame every obstacle and difficulty they encountered with the “heart of a lion king,” just as Nichiren taught, to open the great path for kosen-rufu.

Mr. Makiguchi said: “The harder we fight, the stronger we become, and the faster we can demonstrate the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism.” He also said: “Put to practice in your own life the principle of ‘changing poison into medicine.’”[13]

Soka Gakkai members throughout Japan and around the world have advanced with vibrant courage in precisely this spirit.

The mentors and disciples of the Soka Gakkai, treasuring every word of “Letter from Sado,” have stood up with the very same spirit as the Daishonin and carried out the great struggle for kosen-rufu.

The Entire World Is Your Stage

Based on this Soka Gakkai spirit, we are dedicating our lives to the noble purpose of realizing worldwide kosen-rufu—in other words, world peace. There is no more admirable way of life. You, our future division members, taking part in this admirable effort in your youth, are present on every continent across the globe. The entire world is your stage.

No matter what troubles arise, keep summoning forth the “heart of a lion king” and overcome every obstacle with a spirit of selfless dedication to spreading the Mystic Law. When you have such determined faith, your life will shine with victory and honor.

‘I Fully Entrust Kosen-rufu to You’

You, our young “torchbearers of justice,” are our hope for the future. In closing, I’d like to share with you some words I imparted to high school division members with whom I studied “Letter from Sado” in the past: “I hope you will never forget as long as you live that the Soka Gakkai spirit is the pure spirit to accomplish kosen-rufu. And I hope you will share it with younger members as well. I fully entrust kosen-rufu to you!”

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


  1. Ludwig van Beethoven, Beethoven’s Letters (1790–1826): From the Collection of Dr. Ludwig Nohl, edited and translated by Grace Jane Wallace, vol. 1 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 35. ↩︎
  2. “Abuse” here means verbal abuse or slander. ↩︎
  3. Three evil paths: Also, three evil paths of existence. The realms of hell, hungry spirits and animals, the lowest three of the Ten Worlds. The three evil paths are the realms of suffering into which one falls as a result of evil deeds. “Path” here means state or realm of existence. ↩︎
  4. Composed on March 20, 1272, at Tsukahara on Sado Island, this letter was addressed to all of Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples. In it, he 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. ↩︎
  5. Ikeda Sensei delivered two lectures at Harvard University: “The Age of Soft Power” (September 26, 1991) and “Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-First-Century Civilization” (September 24, 1993). ↩︎
  6. Fundamental ignorance: Also, fundamental darkness. The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. The inability to see or recognize the ultimate truth of the Mystic Law, as well as the negative impulses that arise from such ignorance. ↩︎
  7. Voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma: This refers to bodhisattvas who, though qualified to receive the pure rewards of Buddhist practice, relinquish them and make a vow to be reborn in an impure world in order to save living beings. ↩︎
  8. Translated from Spanish. Article published in Japanese in the November 26, 2020, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper. ↩︎
  9. Avichi hell: The hell of incessant suffering. ↩︎
  10. Mount Hua: One of the five sacred mountains in China. ↩︎
  11. Eighteen elements: The comprehensive concept of the three interrelated categories: the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind), the six objects they perceive and the six consciousnesses, or the sense organs’ functions of perceiving the objects. ↩︎
  12. Based on a passage in The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom. The “ninety-five” ways may be ascribable to the fact that there were ninety-five non-Buddhist schools during Shakyamuni’s day. ↩︎
  13. “Changing poison into medicine” refers to employing the power of the Mystic Law to transform a life of suffering into a life filled with the Buddha’s wisdom and virtues. ↩︎

The Wisdom of Buddhist Humanism—Human Rights

Having a Strong Determination When Chanting