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Daily Life

Can We Change the World?

Here are three lessons that any of us can apply today.

Zeynep Sezer / Getty Images

People are searching for a philosophy that can alleviate the sense of powerlessness that pervades modern society. They are yearning for a way to transform the darkness of the times, and to live with dignity and hope.

Nichiren Daishonin wrestled with these same issues in 13th-century Japan, at a time when severe famine, epidemics and natural disasters raged on without end. His profound answer came in the form of the treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” submitted to the de facto military ruler of Japan 762 years ago this month (see sidebar below).

Nichiren Buddhism is said to begin and end with this treatise, as it offers fundamental solutions to society’s complex problems—solutions that are within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Can we change the world? Here are three lessons that can be applied today.

1) Lasting change starts with the resolve to secure peace for all.

If you care anything about your personal security, you should first of all pray for order and tranquillity throughout the four quarters of the land, should you not? (“Establishing the Correct Teaching,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 24)

Buddhism teaches that all life is interrelated. The concept of “dependent origination” holds that nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life. For that reason, our personal security cannot be established in isolation.

Ikeda Sensei writes of Nichiren’s admonition:

For each of us to enjoy a safe and secure life, it is crucial that both the natural environment and the society in which we live are flourishing in peace and stability.

Therefore, if we truly seek personal security, we must first transcend our lesser selves ruled by egoism and work to establish the peace and security of the society in which we live—in other words, “tranquillity throughout the four quarters of the land.” This is the Daishonin’s message.

The Daishonin’s use of the expression “tranquillity throughout the four quarters of the land” also demonstrates that he was concerned with more than just the security of a single country: he was seeking peace for the entire world. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 7, p. 158)

2) When we change, the world changes.

Therefore, you must quickly reform the tenets that you hold in your heart and embrace the one true vehicle, the single good doctrine [of the Lotus Sutra]. If you do so, then the threefold world will become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land ever decline? (WND-1, 25)

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda used the term human revolution to describe a fundamental process of inner transformation whereby we break through the shackles of our “lesser self,” bound by self-concern and the ego, and bring out our “greater self,” which is capable of caring and taking action for the sake of others—ultimately for all humanity.

In addition, Nichiren states that we must “quickly reform the tenets we hold in our hearts,” stressing the urgent need for us to create a society of genuine equality and respect by facing and conquering our own doubts and misgivings about ourselves and others.

“Establishing the correct teaching,” therefore, means establishing within each person’s life the principle of respect for the dignity of life. The way to enact this is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the determination to “establish the correct teaching” in our own hearts. When awakened individuals are guided by this core philosophy, they can produce genuine value in every aspect of society.

Sensei writes:

What we have faith in indicates what we hold most precious, what values we cherish. It establishes our fundamental purpose and direction in life. …

When we transform our hearts and minds, what tenet or ideal should we base them on? According to the Daishonin, it is “the one true vehicle, the single good doctrine” (WND-1, 25). “The single good doctrine” here is the ultimate good taught in the Lotus Sutra—the principle that all people can bring forth their inherent Buddha nature and attain enlightenment. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 7, p. 161)

3) Courageous dialogue to spread the Mystic Law and awaken others’ potential is the direct path to transforming society.

But it is not enough that I alone should accept and have faith in your words—we must see to it that others as well are warned of their errors. (WND-1, 26)

“On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” ends with this statement by the guest in the dialogue—a vow to widely spread the Mystic Law, which enables all people to become Buddhas. The most effective way to carry out this vow is through compassionate, one-to-one dialogue.

Sensei writes:

Though our discussions may not seem to have an immediate effect, they activate the Buddha nature in the person we are talking with. “The seeds of Buddhahood sprout through causation, and for this reason they [the Buddhas] preach the single vehicle [the Mystic Law]” (see “The Properties of Rice,” WND-1, 1117). The only way to bring forth the Buddha nature is through engagement based on the ultimate causation that is the Mystic Law (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo). The more we speak out and share the truth as practitioners of the Mystic Law, the more people we help form a connection with Nichiren Buddhism. …

While courageously challenging our own human revolution, let us create a groundswell of dialogue, reaching out to talk with one person after another, to change society, and bring peace and happiness to all people. …

Our dialogues impart hope. They have the power to revitalize others and awaken them to their inner potential, and they are imbued with courage, conviction and the cause for victory.

Our dialogues for “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land” will build an age of the people through the power of faith in the human being. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 7, pp. 165–66)

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

Our History: July 16, 1260: ‘On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land’

“One reason why the lot of the secular reformer or revolutionist seems to me to be easier is this: that for the most part he conceives of the evils of the world as something external to himself. … If there is evil incarnate, it is always incarnate in the other people—a class, a race, the politicians … and so forth—never in oneself.”[1]

—T.S. Eliot

On July 16, 1260, Nichiren Daishonin presented his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” (in Japanese, Rissho ankoku ron) to the most powerful figure in Japan, the retired regent Hojo Tokiyori. Nichiren had perceived that the teachings being promoted by priests who curried favor with the political elite were the cause of suffering, discord and ongoing calamities in society, and his treatise was a passionate cry for a return to the original purpose of Buddhism—securing the peace and happiness of the people.

Nichiren believed that the teachings of Buddhism should help people overcome the fundamental ignorance of their inherent potential, or Buddha nature, and call it forth, thereby leading fulfilled lives.

In his treatise, which takes the form of a dialogue, Nichiren starts by describing the turmoil he saw around him: “Over half the population has already been carried off by death, and there is hardly a single person who does not grieve” (WND-1, 6). He perceived that the immense suffering of the people was ultimately caused by the corruption of the human spirit.

As Eliot points out, many believe that evils lie solely in others, but the Daishonin teaches that we ourselves must change. He understood that in order to restore peace and security to the country, it was necessary for the people to shed their deep-seated disbelief in and disrespect for human life. Nichiren therefore called on people to “reform the tenets that you hold in your heart” (WND-1, 25).

Nichiren vowed to awaken and empower people to embrace the correct teaching so that they could, on an individual level, transform their destinies, and, on a societal level, bring about an age that respects the dignity of life.

After making his treatise public, he survived numerous acts of oppression, including attempts on his life and repeated exile.

SGI members strive to put Nichiren’s teachings into practice, to “establish the correct teaching for the peace of the land.” This effort involves tenacious dialogue based on fundamental respect for the dignity of each person and fostering successors dedicated to carrying on this task far into the future.


  1. For the Sake of Peace: Seven Paths to Global Harmony, p. 18. ↩︎

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