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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Advancing Courageously Toward Kosen-rufu While Making Dynamic Progress in Our Lives

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series [81]

Young men at an outdoor activity in Dallas, July 2022. Photo by Hoss Mcbain

The Year of Youth and Dynamic Progress [2022] is here!

At the start of a new year, fresh resolve and hope fill our hearts and we brim with anticipation and excitement. Of course, there will be both sunny and rainy days ahead, and storms and blizzards of difficulty may await us. But, firmly committed to moving forward, we have nothing to fear.

I am reminded of a soliloquy of Faust, the protagonist of the drama of the same name by the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832):

I now feel brave enough to venture forth
and bear earth’s torments and its joys,
to grapple with the hurricane
and not to quail although the creaking ship break up.[1]

Faust’s words express the spirit to boldly take on life’s turbulent challenges. Isn’t this the same spirit that has pulsed in the Soka Gakkai since its earliest days?

‘Do I Have Courage?’

As we renew our vow with the start of the new year, let us each ask ourselves: “Do I have the courage to take action for kosen-rufu? Do I have a burning passion to do so? Do I have the fighting spirit to make fresh breakthroughs, undeterred by any obstacle or challenge?”

Kosen-rufu is the Buddha’s intent and our great vow. But if we think someone else will accomplish it someday, nothing will ever happen. The wheels of kosen-rufu start to turn only when we decide to stand up ourselves and move forward, even if only an inch or a step.

This is just as true today, as the Soka Gakkai continues to spread its wings as a global religious movement in the run-up to our centennial [in 2030].

It was my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, who, amid the devastation of postwar Japan, stood up alone with a vow to achieve kosen-rufu and began his compassionate, righteous struggle to relieve the suffering of all people.

Seventy years ago, as he looked toward the new year of 1952, Mr. Toda declared that the time of kosen-rufu had come. He called upon the members to strive as “courageous champions of propagation” and “people dedicated to kosen-rufu.”

The Passion and Power of Youth Are the Forces for Dynamic Progress

That was his first new year since becoming second Soka Gakkai president, and Mr. Toda was extraordinarily determined to make it a year of dynamic progress. Above all, he had the highest hopes for and greatest faith in the passion and power of youth.

In his “Guidelines for Youth,”[2] published the previous year [1951], he called to us ardently: “Youth, rise up with courage! Youth, join me in the struggle!”[3] And as we prepared to embark on the new year, he further urged us to be “courageous champions of propagation.”

As a youth, I wanted to reply to his expectations and repay my debt of gratitude to him. One of the first efforts I led was the February Campaign[4] of 1952, in Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter.

At that time, even the largest chapters only managed to introduce Nichiren Buddhism to about 100 new member households per month. Mr. Toda asked me to take the situation in hand, and I responded to his trust by resolutely leading that campaign at the young age of 24. United as one, the Kamata members and I went on to introduce 201 new member households to the practice in a single month, demolishing the previous record and breaking through the stalemate in our nationwide propagation efforts.

The passion of youth fuels the power to soar to new heights. Their efforts are the driving force for fresh dynamic progress. This is an unchanging rule of history.

When we turn to the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, we can see how much trust and hope he placed in his young disciples. In this installment, let us first study a letter addressed to one such youth, Nanjo Tokimitsu, titled “Persecution by Sword and Staff.”

Transmitting the Path of Spiritual Champions

The “Emerging from the Earth” chapter [of the Lotus Sutra] also explains something about me, because it states that Bodhisattva Superior Practices and his followers [the Bodhisattvas of the Earth] will appear in the Latter Day of the Law to propagate the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.[5] I, Nichiren, have appeared earlier than anyone else. How reassuring to think that I will no doubt be praised by bodhisattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers! Be that as it may, commit yourself to the Lotus Sutra and have faith in its teachings. You must not only believe in them yourself but also encourage others to do the same, so that you may save those who were your parents in all your past existences. (“Persecution by Sword and Staff,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 964–65)[6]

When Nichiren Daishonin wrote this letter, one of his disciples in the Atsuhara area near Mount Fuji had been injured in a sword attack, and the Atsuhara Persecution[7] was increasing in severity. Because of the growing danger, Nichiren wished to drive home the essence of faith to Nanjo Tokimitsu, a leading figure among his disciples in the region.

In the letter, he states he has been attacked numerous times, noting that the Komatsubara Persecution[8] and the Tatsunokuchi Persecution,[9] in particular, constituted “persecution by sword and staff” (see WND-1, 964), of which the Lotus Sutra speaks.[10] That is, he had met with life-threatening attacks and survived them. By recounting his own fierce struggles, he endeavored to transmit to the youthful Tokimitsu the path of a spiritual champion who has steadfast faith in the Lotus Sutra. In this, we see his compassion and concern for his disciple.

The Daishonin also goes on to speak of his deep personal connection to “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

That chapter poses the question of who will propagate the Lotus Sutra in this troubled saha world[11] during the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law after Shakyamuni’s death. The Daishonin asserts that it is the Bodhisattvas of the Earth[12] led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices, who appear in this latter age in order to spread “the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (WND-1, 964). The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are indeed champions of kosen-rufu.

He writes, “I, Nichiren, have appeared earlier than anyone else” (WND-1, 964). He emerged alone to take the lead in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law, just as he had vowed in the Ceremony in the Air.[13] That is why he will be “praised by bodhisattvas equal in number to the sands of sixty thousand Ganges Rivers” (WND-1, 964), he declares.

We can read this as expressing Nichiren’s hope that Tokimitsu stand up boldly alongside him in this pioneering endeavor. And we should each take to heart his instruction to “commit yourself to the Lotus Sutra and have faith in its teachings” (WND-1, 964), and pledge to devote ourselves to the shared struggle of mentor and disciple.

Courageous Practice Is the Hallmark of Youth and the Essence of Faith

On August 14, 1947, 75 years ago, I attended a discussion meeting in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, where I met Mr. Toda for the first time. I asked him on that occasion: “What is the correct way of life? The harder I think about it, the more the answer eludes me.” With a smile, he replied that I had asked the most difficult question of all, and he went on to explain at length that the fundamental answer to my question was to be found in Nichiren Buddhism.

Then he said with strong conviction: “It’s fine to think about what is the correct way of life, but you’d be putting your time to better use if you try practicing the Daishonin’s Buddhism. You are young. If you do so, someday you’ll definitely find yourself quite naturally following the correct path through life!”

Take a chance and try practicing Nichiren Buddhism! You’re still young!—the faith he had in me became a ray of hope illuminating my 19-year-old life.

In addition, when I learned that Mr. Toda had spent two years in prison for his beliefs during World War II at the hands of the militarist authorities, I felt I could trust him and decided to start practicing Nichiren Buddhism.

Looking back now, I can see that his encouragement echoes the Daishonin’s spirit in the words: “Commit yourself to the Lotus Sutra and have faith in its teachings” (WND-1, 964).

Practice is the life of faith. To practice with one’s whole being, to take action with courage, is the heart of a living faith. No matter how knowledgeable one may be, one cannot truly understand faith without putting it into action.

Courageous practice is the hallmark of youth. It is the direct route to breaking through the shell of our ego and ascending the lofty summit of mission; it is the springboard to a higher, more expansive life state.

Soka Gakkai founding president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi often urged people: “Have courage and dare to test the practice of Nichiren Buddhism for yourself!”

Buddhism for Building Happiness for Ourselves and Others

Nichiren continues: “You must not only believe in them [the teachings of the Lotus Sutra] yourself” (WND-1, 964). He is telling Tokimitsu that it is not enough to simply practice himself, but that, while deepening his faith and growing, he must also reach out to others and help them practice and become happy too.

When, through practice, we gain conviction that Nichiren Buddhism is truly wonderful, this will naturally give rise to great joy and prompt us to share Buddhism with others. Our Buddhist practice is for the happiness of both ourselves and others. This is what Nichiren means when he writes: “You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” WND-1, 386).

Let us take action for the welfare of others, for our own and others’ happiness. The purpose of Nichiren Buddhism is to enable all people to become happy.

Advancing With the Gosho and the ‘Two Ways of Practice and Study’

Last year [2021], the Soka Gakkai celebrated the 800th anniversary of Nichiren Daishonin’s birth,[14] and this year we mark the 770th anniversary of his first proclaiming his teaching.[15] It is also the 70th anniversary of the publication of the original Soka Gakkai edition of the Nichiren Daishonin Gosho zenshu (Collected Writings of Nichiren Daishonin) [in 1952], realized by Mr. Toda’s initiative. Since then, we have solidly established the Soka Gakkai tradition of advancing with the Daishonin’s writings and striving in the “two ways of practice and study” (WND-1, 386).

Now, coinciding with these profoundly significant milestones, a revised edition of the Gosho zenshu has been completed. For us, disciples directly connected to the Daishonin, this is a source of unparalleled joy.

Let us next study a passage from the Daishonin’s letter “On Clothing and Food,” which in the revised Japanese edition contains a new portion that has been incorporated for the first time.[16]

We All Have a Unique Mission

When one lights a torch for someone at night, one brings light not only to another person but to oneself as well. Likewise, when one livens other people’s complexions, one livens one’s own too, when one gives them strength, one gives oneself strength too, when one prolongs their lives, one prolongs one’s own life as well. (“On Clothing and Food,” WND-2, 1066)[17]

While its date and other details are unknown, this letter bears the heading “To the lay nun” and is thought to have been written by Nichiren to express his gratitude to a disciple who had sent 1,000 coins to him as an offering.

In the first half of the letter, the Daishonin stresses the importance of food and clothing for sustaining our lives and adds that, by making such material offerings, “one livens people’s complexions, gives them strength, and enables them to prolong life” (WND-2, 1066).

Making offerings, or almsgiving, is one of the six paramitas,[18] six practices of Mahayana bodhisattvas for attaining enlightenment. It is a noble act that sustains the lives of practitioners of the Lotus Sutra and contributes to the flourishing of Buddhism in this world.

The passage describes doing things for others. It means showing care and consideration for those we come in contact with, the people right in front of us, whoever they may be. The starting point is to treasure our connections with those around us.

The Daishonin writes, “When one lights a torch for someone at night, one brings light not only to another person but to oneself as well” (WND-2, 1066). This makes perfect sense.

In “On the Three Virtues of Food,” he employs the same simile: “If one lights a [lantern] for others, one will brighten one’s own way” (WND-2, 1060).

Suppose someone is standing anxiously by the side of a dark road at night. Many see them but pass by without offering to help. One person, however, raises a lantern to illuminate the stranger, saying, “You must have been frightened, but you’re safe now. Let’s walk together!” and then accompanies them on the road.

This scenario portrays the spirit and actions of a bodhisattva.

There is nothing special about such behavior. It is simply responding with sympathy and heartfelt concern for those we encounter who are suffering, reaching out spontaneously to try to do whatever we can to help. It is listening to people’s problems and wholeheartedly encouraging them. Such richly human behavior is the very essence of a bodhisattva.

Today, Soka Gakkai members throughout Japan and around the world, filled with pride as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, are working actively for their own and others’ happiness.

In particular, the women of Soka in each country and region, the radiant suns of our movement, are brightening people’s hearts with the light of compassion and wisdom. They have forged an admirable network of women, each shining with a unique mission in accord with the principle of “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 200). Striving vibrantly among the people as great Bodhisattvas of the Earth, their compassionate spirit equals that of the Buddha, who sought to free all people from suffering.

I think we can say that such actions themselves, inspired by the wish to help others, constitute Buddhist practice for expanding our own state of life.

The Great Benefit of ‘Prolonging One’s Life Through Faith’

Nichiren continues: “Likewise, when one livens other people’s complexions, one livens one’s own too, when one gives them strength, one gives oneself strength too, when one prolongs their lives, one prolongs one’s own life as well” (“On Clothing and Food,” WND-2, 1066).

I can attest to this from my personal experience. I had a weak constitution and contracted tuberculosis, which often left me very tired and feverish. My dearest wish and prayer from the time of my youth was to have robust health. My wife was also very worried about me.

Nevertheless, I spent my days traveling throughout Japan and the world to encourage our members waiting for me to visit. It was exhausting, of course. Wondrously, though, the harder I exerted myself, the more strength sprang from within me, and I was revitalized. The leaders accompanying me often asked where I found all my energy.

I refused to succumb to illness and was determined to carry out my mission and fulfill my responsibilities. I also knew that the more you strive in Soka Gakkai activities, the more it energizes you. Earnest efforts to encourage and inspire others enable you to bring forth courage and strength, while seeing others revitalized gives you fresh hope and inspiration.

From my youth, I gave myself completely to supporting and assisting Mr. Toda. I worked my hardest each day, determined to do my utmost so that I would have not a single regret. I am here today because of the benefits I gained from those efforts, and I am convinced that it is thanks to Mr. Toda that I’ve been able to demonstrate the Buddhist principle of “prolonging one’s life through faith.”[19]

The Merging of Benefiting Oneself and Benefiting Others

The Daishonin’s declaration that “when one gives them strength, one gives oneself strength too” (WND-2, 1066) brilliantly describes how benefiting oneself and benefiting others are one and the same. With these simple words, he illustrates for us the unrivaled way of life in which benefiting oneself and benefiting others are seamlessly and naturally merged.

Here we find no egoism concerned solely with one’s own welfare while disregarding others; no narrow, self-absorbed mindset that places rigid boundaries between self and others. Duty or social propriety are not the motivators. It is a way of life that embodies compassion, the spontaneous desire to help others.

A one-sided focus on benefiting or helping others, however, can easily turn into condescension or self-sacrifice. Precisely because acting for the benefit of others also benefits ourselves, it brings us appreciation and joy.

Without seeking to escape from this suffering-filled saha world, those who strive with sincerity and wisdom, just as they are, for the welfare and happiness of others as well as themselves are living as genuine bodhisattvas. As Nichiren states in a well-known passage: “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 852). Showing respect for all people, behavior exemplified by the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, is the true essence of the Buddha’s teaching.

In his “Guidelines for Youth,” Mr. Toda declared: “The effort to overcome the coldness and indifference in our own lives and attain the same state of compassion as the Buddha is the essence of human revolution.”[20] For us, courage takes the place of compassion. Everything starts from a courageous first step.

In accord with this eternal guideline, our members, as Bodhisattvas of the Earth, have stood up to realize their vow for kosen-rufu. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for themselves and others and striving courageously to achieve their human revolution, they have built a citadel of the people that shines with happiness for all.

A ‘Treasure Land’ Connecting One Life to Another

The French historian Jules Michelet (1798–1874) declared: “Life is lighted and kindled by life, and it is extinguished by isolation. The more life mixes with lives different from itself and the more it joins itself with other existences, the stronger, happier and more fruitful is its own existence.”[21]

Lives affect each other in many subtle ways. Encouraging the people around us may seem unremarkable and ordinary, but without doubt it helps prevent isolation and division; it contributes to the joyful and vibrant development of a “treasure land” where diverse lives can meet and connect.

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren says: “‘Joy’ means that oneself and others together experience joy. … Both oneself and others together will take joy in their possession of wisdom and compassion” (p. 146).

The essential message of Buddhism is that when we recognize the infinitely noble Buddha nature in each person and forge bonds based on a wish to benefit ourselves and others, unsurpassed wisdom for creating happiness and peace will emerge within us.

Bodhisattvas are those who regard action for the benefit of self and others as their guiding principle and set forth to work among the people, among humanity, to spread encouragement and inspiration to all through their unflagging practice of compassion.

Our mission is to start where we are and confidently bring the great light of hope of the Buddhism of the Sun to our families, friends and loved ones, to our neighbors and everyone in our environment. That light can give them courage to live their lives fully. It can provide them with boundless energy, increase their life force and serve as a source of wisdom and strength to overcome any crisis.

Expanding Our Grassroots Movement of Dialogue and Encouragement

Worldwide kosen-rufu is actually a global grassroots movement of dialogue and encouragement.

Encouragement is also empowerment. How bright the future of humanity will be when people the world over encourage each other and awaken to their own great mission and latent potential!

My young successors, and all my beloved fellow Bodhisattvas of the Earth, are walking that path of momentous change. I call on each of you without exception to:

Give a victory cheer of dynamic progress in your life through human revolution! Perform a courageous dance as a proud pioneer of worldwide kosen-rufu! Write a brilliant history of the magnificent victory of the people!

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


  1. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I & II, translated by Stuart Atkins, in Goethe’s Collected Works, vol. 2 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 15. ↩︎
  2. “Guidelines for Youth”: An article addressing the youth, written by second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda and dated September 28, 1951. It originally appeared in the Seikyo Shimbun under the title “Bulletin for Youth Division Group Leaders.” It was reprinted as President Toda’s editorial for the November 1, 1951, issue of the Soka Gakkai study journal, Daibyakurenge, under the title “Guidelines for Youth.” In the article, he stresses the mission of youth in relieving human suffering and establishing genuine happiness and peace for all through a religious revolution. ↩︎
  3. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, “Seinen-kun” (Guidelines for Youth), in Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), p. 59. ↩︎
  4. February Campaign: In February 1952, Ikeda Sensei, then an adviser to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter, initiated a dynamic propagation campaign. Together with the Kamata members, he broke through the previous monthly record of some 100 new member households by introducing Nichiren Buddhism to 201 new member households. ↩︎
  5. Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam, or namu, being comprised of two characters). The Daishonin often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings. ↩︎
  6. In this letter, dated April 1279, the Daishonin instructs the recipient, Nanjo Tokimitsu, in faith; explains the connection between the fifth volume or scroll of the Lotus Sutra and his own life in terms of the persecutions he has experienced while propagating the Lotus Sutra; and declares his mission to lead people in the Latter Day of the Law to enlightenment. ↩︎
  7. Atsuhara Persecution: A series of threats and acts of violence against followers of Nichiren Daishonin in Atsuhara Village in Fuji District, Suruga Province (present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture), starting in around 1275 and continuing until around 1283. ↩︎
  8. Komatsubara Persecution: On November 11, 1264, Nichiren Daishonin was on his way to visit a follower named Kudo in Awa Province. At dusk, he and a group of his followers were ambushed by the local steward and ardent Pure Land (Nembutsu) believer Tojo Kagenobu and his men in Tojo Village. The Daishonin suffered a sword cut on his forehead, and his left hand was broken; one of his followers was killed during the incident and another died of his injuries later. ↩︎
  9. Tatsunokuchi Persecution: On September 12, 1271, the authorities arrested Nichiren and took him to a place called Tatsunokuchi on the outskirts of Kamakura, where they tried to execute him under the cover of darkness. When the execution attempt failed, he was held in detention and then, about a month later, exiled to Sado Island, which was tantamount to a death sentence. However, when his predictions of internal strife and foreign invasion were fulfilled, the government issued a pardon in March 1274, and he returned to Kamakura. ↩︎
  10. “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, elucidating the actions of arrogant lay people, states: “There will be many ignorant people / who will curse and speak ill of us / and will attack us with swords and staves, / but we will endure all these things” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 232). Nichiren states that even Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, who was repeatedly persecuted, was only attacked with “sticks of wood or tiles and stones” (LSOC, 309) so the latter cannot have been said to be persecuted by sword, whereas he, the Daishonin, has “met with persecution by both sword and staff” (WND-1, 964). ↩︎
  11. Saha world: This world, which is full of suffering. Often translated as the world of endurance. In Sanskrit, saha means the earth; it derives from a root meaning “to bear” or “to endure.” For this reason, in the Chinese versions of Buddhist scriptures, saha is rendered as endurance. In this context, the saha world indicates a world in which people must endure suffering. ↩︎
  12. Bodhisattvas of the Earth: The innumerable bodhisattvas that Shakyamuni Buddha calls forth to spread the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after his passing and eternally guide all people to happiness. They emerge from the earth in “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. ↩︎
  13. Ceremony in the Air: One of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, in which the entire gathering is suspended in space above the saha world. It extends from “Emergence of the Treasure Tower,” the 11th chapter, to “Entrustment,” the 22nd chapter. The heart of this ceremony is the emergence of the treasure tower from the earth and Shakyamuni entrusting the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, led by Bodhisattva Supreme Practice, with the propagation of the essence of the Lotus Sutra in the evil latter age after his passing. ↩︎
  14. According to the traditional Japanese way of counting. A person is counted as one year old on the day of their birth. Nichiren Daishonin was born on February 16, 1222. ↩︎
  15. According to the traditional Japanese way of counting. Nichiren Daishonin established his teaching on April 28, 1253. ↩︎
  16. This new portion in the Gosho zenshu new edition is already included in The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2. ↩︎
  17. Addressed to a lay nun who embraced the Daishonin’s teachings but whose identity and location are unknown. The letter is thought to have been composed after the Daishonin moved to Mount Minobu, but the exact date is not known. After expressing his gratitude for the gift of coins he has received from the lay nun, the Daishonin describes how vital food and clothing are for our lives and explains the benefit that accrues to one who makes offerings of such items. ↩︎
  18. Six paramitas: Six practices required of Mahayana bodhisattvas in order to attain Buddhahood. They are: 1) almsgiving, 2) keeping the precepts, 3) forbearance, 4) assiduousness, 5) meditation and 6) the obtaining of wisdom. ↩︎
  19. Prolonging one’s life through faith: This is based on the passage in “Life Span,” the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which reads: “We beg you to cure us and let us live out our lives!” (LSOC, 269). This is in the section that explains the parable of the outstanding physician, who gives “good medicine” to his children who have “drunk poison” (that is, succumbed to delusion), and who implore him to cure their illness. Through taking this good medicine (that is, embracing faith in the wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra), they are cured and able to enjoy many more years of life. ↩︎
  20. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), p. 60. ↩︎
  21. Jules Michelet, The People, translated by John P. McKay (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1973), p. 89. ↩︎

The Wisdom of Buddhist Humanism—Combating Poverty

Everyone Has a Unique Mission