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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Our Behavior as Human Beings Is the Heart of Buddhism—Expanding Our Movement With Sincerity, Wisdom and Joy

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series [83]

At the Young Women’s Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, July 2022. Photo by Jolie Tea-Taniguchi.

Throughout his life, my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, treasured young people with all his heart. However difficult, he always kept the promises he made to youth. And when some problem arose, he would say with a smile, “This is a tough one,” and then quietly work behind the scenes to resolve it.

After achieving his lifelong goal of a Soka Gakkai membership of 750,000 households, Mr. Toda, despite his poor health, held a ceremony on March 16, 1958,[1] to entrust every aspect of kosen-rufu to his beloved young disciples and successors. 

Some 6,000 young people, brimming with seeking spirit, would gather for the event from the cold predawn hours. Mr. Toda wanted to thank and encourage them by providing something warm to eat, so he arranged to have them served steaming pork soup. 

The Immortal Ceremony of March 16 

Josei Toda’s deep compassion and concern embraced his young disciples as the immortal March 16 ceremony opened. Filled with emotion, he gazed upon the exuberant young people who would create the future. 

He said: “We have a mission to accomplish kosen-rufu without fail. Today, I entrust that mission to you, the youth. I entrust the future to you. I’m counting on you to realize kosen-rufu!” 

He declared powerfully: “The Soka Gakkai is the king of the religious world!” With that lion’s roar, he awakened the assembled youth to their responsibility to shoulder the future of kosen-rufu. 

A Great Journey to Realize a Lofty Religious Revolution

Kosen-rufu is a great journey to realize a lofty religious revolution, extending beyond any one country to encompass the entire world, and continuing from the present into the eternal future. It is a sacred endeavor to enrich society with the power of the Mystic Law and bring the magnificent flowers of peace and happiness to bloom in people’s lives. 

The youth are the ones who will undertake the great work of kosen-rufu. When young people rise to action, the spiritual baton of our movement will be carried on from one generation to the next. 

Let us begin this time by studying a letter that Nichiren Daishonin wrote to his young disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu, instructing him about sincerity, trustworthiness and respectful behavior.

Delighted by Tokimitsu’s Growth

Third, treating one’s friends with courtesy means that, although one may encounter them ten or twenty times in the course of a single day, one greets them courteously as though they had traveled a thousand or two thousand miles to see one, never showing them indifference. (“The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 636)[2]

“The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude,” addressed to Tokimitsu, was composed in 1275. 

Nichiren had placed great trust in Tokimitsu’s late father, Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro.[3] He deeply mourned the latter’s untimely death [in 1265] and always took a close interest in the welfare of his widow, the lay nun Ueno, and bereaved family. 

Tokimitsu, cherishing the personal encouragement he received as a boy from the Daishonin, had gone to visit him on Mount Minobu[4] in July 1274. This was a short time after Nichiren had moved there following his return from exile on Sado Island[5] and a brief stay in Kamakura. Tokimitsu was now 16 years old[6] and bore a close resemblance to his father. 

The Daishonin was delighted to see his growth, both as a young man and as a practitioner of his teachings. He later wrote to the lay nun Ueno that her having such a fine young son moved him to tears (see “Reply to Ueno,” WND-2, 495).

In another letter several months later, Nichiren assured Tokimitsu that his father would be extremely pleased to see how he had inherited and carried on his firm faith in the Lotus Sutra (see “On the Offering of a Mud Pie,” WND-2, 499–500).

The Daishonin also warmly empathized with Tokimitsu, noting that while some people may share their older years with their fathers, Tokimitsu had lost his father at an early age and thus missed the opportunity to learn from him (see WND-2, 500).

In the following year or so, Nichiren sent several letters to Tokimitsu, advising him that those who practice the correct teaching of Buddhism are certain to encounter great obstacles, and carefully instructing him how to deal with those who might criticize him.

Make Time for Reading and Contemplation

In the letter we are studying, Nichiren Daishonin teaches Tokimitsu about the four debts of gratitude,[7] important principles for Buddhist practitioners, and the four virtues,[8] essential qualities for living with genuine humanity.

In modern terms, the four virtues are cherishing one’s parents, living honestly and earnestly in society, treasuring friends and treating all people with compassion. These guidelines are based on the accepted morality of the time. By introducing the examples of sages and worthies, Nichiren teaches Tokimitsu the best way to live. 

I recall Mr. Toda often saying that our conviction in the greatness of Nichiren Buddhism shouldn’t make us self-righteous. It is especially important, he stressed, to familiarize ourselves with all kinds of learning and literature, and the ideas and perspectives of the world’s great thinkers and philosophers. This is because, he said, they enable us to better understand Buddhism and more broadly appreciate its depth and reach, helping us introduce and transmit its teachings to others.

It was in that spirit that Mr. Toda always urged young people to read first-rate novels and literature. In an editorial titled “Youth, Make Time for Reading and Contemplation,” published in the July 1955 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal, he wrote: “If the habit of reading and contemplation becomes widely established among Japanese youth, it will create an unimaginably brighter future. I call on you, the youth of the Soka Gakkai, to be pioneers in establishing this habit in Japan.”[9]

This is very important guidance and another example of Mr. Toda’s emphasis on the great mission Soka youth have for the future.

Respecting One Another as Fellow Buddhas

In the letter we are studying, Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Treating one’s friends with courtesy means that, although one may encounter them ten or twenty times in the course of a single day, one greets them courteously as though they had traveled a thousand or two thousand miles to see one, never showing them indifference” (WND-2, 636).

We subscribe to the enduring principle of respecting all life, exemplified by the Lotus Sutra passage, “You should rise and greet them from afar, showing them the same respect you would a Buddha” (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 365).[10]

Nichiren declares that we are all Buddhas (see “The Fourteen Slanders,” WND-1, 756).[11] He urges us to acknowledge and respect one another most highly, as illustrated by the two Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures[12] sharing the same seat during the Ceremony in the Air[13] depicted in the Lotus Sutra (see WND-1, 757).[14]

The term Buddha means “awakened one,” a person enlightened to the truth. It is someone awakened to the supreme Law and to the infinitely noble Buddha nature in all living beings. And Buddhism teaches this profound principle that all people are worthy of respect.

That is why the fulfillment of the Buddha’s hopes,[15] the source of his happiness, is everyone awakening to their Buddha wisdom and attaining a state where they shine brilliantly with their innate dignity and help others do the same.

Buddhism does not exist apart from our lives in the real world. Its purpose is to deepen and elevate the way we live. Hence the importance of putting faith into practice in daily life and Buddhism into action in society.

The Daishonin identified the Lotus Sutra passage “You should rise and greet them from afar, showing them the same respect you would a Buddha” as “the foremost point [the Buddha] wished to convey to us” (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 192). Respecting and valuing the people right in front of us, all those we share a connection with, is the most fundamental teaching of Buddhism.

Trustworthiness and Sincerity Are the Treasures of Youth

For young people, especially, trustworthiness and sincerity are precious treasures. We build trustworthiness by working hard to keep all our promises and commitments, and demonstrate sincerity by valuing each person we encounter and acting with courage.

In my youth, I engaged in a very challenging public relations effort on Josei Toda’s behalf. More than once, I was successful in converting someone firmly prejudiced against the Soka Gakkai into an ally, with them saying my sincerity had won them over.

The small day-by-day steps we make in our human revolution eventually build a self as unshakable as a mighty tree.

It’s not a matter of methods or strategies. The key is to always be sincere. 

Just be sincere above all and strive with youthful passion in a free and unfettered way true to yourself. As young people, it is also important to develop your “eyes of faith” so that you can wisely and keenly recognize evil and injustice as you advance kosen-rufu. 

In his final days, Mr. Toda urged us: “Fight adamantly against corruption!” and “Never slacken in your struggle against injustice!”

Greeting Others With a Smile

If you happen to meet someone, even though you may feel reluctant to do so, you should acknowledge them. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, greet them with a smile. (“Reply to Kawai,” Gosho zenshu, new edition, p. 1952)[16]

Now, let us study a letter addressed to a disciple of Nichiren Daishonin named Kawai, who appears for the first time in the recently completed new Japanese edition of the Nichiren Daishonin Gosho zenshu (The Complete Works of Nichiren Daishonin). He seems to have been related to the Nishiyama family, but further details are unknown. 

Most of us have people we get along with well and others we find it hard to deal with. Here, Nichiren recognizes that fact, but says that even when you happen to encounter someone you find challenging, you should have the courage to acknowledge them. Even if you feel disinclined to do so, greet them with a smile, he says.

We don’t know what sort of situation Kawai was in at the time, but we can surmise that the Daishonin is urging him to create a more positive environment, whatever his circumstances, and to overcome his predicament by changing his attitude toward others. 

Valuing Every Encounter

Whether we change our situation for better or worse depends on our actions, which arise from our attitude and determination. Especially when we treasure and appreciate our relationships with those around us, they in turn will function to support and protect us. Nichiren Daishonin teaches that we should interact with others, even those we find difficult, with wisdom and broadmindedness.

This accords with reason and is the key to good human relations. Fully aware of the hardships and challenging circumstances his disciples faced, Nichiren still encouraged them to treat each encounter as a wonderful opportunity to help others form connections to Buddhism.

We Are the Agents of Change

In a letter to another disciple,[17] Nichiren Daishonin writes: “I entrust you with the propagation of Buddhism in your province. It is stated that ‘the seeds of Buddhahood sprout [through causation], and for this reason they [the Buddhas] preach the single vehicle [the Lotus Sutra]’ [LSOC, 75]” (“The Properties of Rice,” WND-1, 1117).

Through our steady efforts to enable one person after another to connect to the teaching of the Mystic Law, we can transform our environment into a Buddha land. We are the agents of change—the ones responsible for this transformation—in line with the Buddhist principle of the oneness of life and its environment.

In Japan and around the world, Soka Gakkai members are actively helping people in their communities and societies form positive connections to Nichiren Buddhism. They are like the smiling host in “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.”[18] In the same way, by warmly embracing others with a smile and striving ceaselessly to win the support and friendship of one person after another, they have blazed today’s magnificent path of worldwide kosen-rufu. 

Win People’s Trust and Praise

Nichiren Buddhism is not a religion of magic or miracles, requiring no effort on our part. It teaches the strict law of cause and effect that governs all life. Each of our experiences of benefit in faith is the product of our daily efforts. 

Always doing our best based on our Buddhist practice is the only way to bring about great change. That’s why it is so important to live in accord with the ultimate law of life and act with wisdom. 

The Lotus Sutra teaches that all living beings possess the Buddha nature. It is a philosophy of respect for the worth and dignity of all. The supreme practice of a Buddhist, therefore, is to respect others’ Buddha nature, just as Bodhisattva Never Disparaging[19] did in showing reverence to everyone he encountered. 

In “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” addressed to Shijo Kingo, Nichiren writes, “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being” (WND-1, 852). This tells us that acting respectfully toward others is the ultimate conclusion of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime teachings.

When Shijo Kingo faced his greatest difficulties, the Daishonin stressed to him that faith in Buddhism means being victorious. He also underscored in various ways that the key to overcoming adversity and attaining victory is to maintain a spirit of gratitude and not be swayed by others’ opinions of you.

Advice Based on Shijo Kingo’s Character

In “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” Nichiren Daishonin advises Shijo Kingo that precisely because he has regained his lord’s trust, he should be circumspect in his behavior and move ahead patiently while working to gain the support of those around him. Mindful of Shijo Kingo’s character, Nichiren also thoroughly cautions him not to display his temper.

He then continues, “Live so that all the people of Kamakura will say in your praise that Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo [Shijo Kingo] is diligent in the service of his lord, in the service of Buddhism, and in his concern for other people” (WND-1, 851). Here, the Daishonin is urging him to show brilliant actual proof of victory, and gain the trust and praise of others.

‘The Treasures of the Heart Are the Most Valuable of All’

Nichiren Daishonin goes on to say that for those fortunate enough to be born human, “More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all” (WND-1, 851). He encourages Shijo Kingo to spend his days steadily accumulating the everlasting treasures of the heart based on his Buddhist practice. 

Nichiren emphasizes that our true purpose as Buddhists is to grow as human beings while persevering in faith and treasuring those around us. He expresses this in the closing passage from “The Three Kinds of Treasure” I cited earlier [which refers to the reason for the Buddha’s appearance in this world] (see WND-1, 852). Namely, he stresses that respect for others—our compassionate “behavior as a human being” to treasure each person—is the ultimate model and fundamental guide for behavior as Buddhists.

Expanding a Movement of ‘Buddhism in Action’

University of Denver professor Ved Nanda, a renowned authority on international law, has expressed his hopes for our activities. He said he was impressed by how the SGI is a movement of “Buddhism in action” that shows people how working to benefit society is an important part of the Buddhist way of life, adding that such efforts embody the compassionate spirit of Buddhism. He also said that the prayers and practice of SGI members, while seeming at first directed toward their own happiness, actually play a crucial part in building peace and happiness in their immediate environment, which in turn extends to the entire world. Praying morning and evening for the welfare of humanity, he asserted, is the first step in becoming a global citizen—a small step from which great change unfolds.[20]

This perspective is very similar to the Middle Way in Buddhism, which Professor Nanda and I discussed in our dialogue.[21]

Today, many leading thinkers around the world speak of the Soka Gakkai—a gathering of Bodhisattvas of the Earth dedicated to the compassionate propagation of Buddhism—as a model for global citizenship. 

Our “behavior as human beings,” respecting and valuing each person we encounter, is being recognized as a gradual yet sure effort to transform society at its foundations.

A Network of Hope and Encouragement

The first challenge we faced at the start of the decade leading up to the Soka Gakkai’s centennial [in 2030] has been the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic. But in Japan and around the world, our members, with dedication and wisdom, have strengthened and broadened our network of hope and encouragement committed to bringing people together. They have woven bonds of sincerity and trust in their communities and societies.

The young people who have endured and triumphed over this challenging trial will surely make even greater strides upon the grand stage of the 21st century unfolding before us.

A New Era of Youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth

I am certain that founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and second President Josei Toda would be absolutely delighted to see our Soka youth playing active roles in the places of their mission.

As we celebrate March 16, Kosen-rufu Day—in a new era where youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth, beautiful human flowers, strive vibrantly on a global scale—I wish to call out once again: My beloved youth, I entrust the future of worldwide kosen-rufu to you!

Translated from the March 2022 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. In early March 1958, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda suggested to his young disciple Daisaku Ikeda that they hold a ceremony that would serve as a trial run or dress rehearsal for kosen-rufu in preparation for the future. On March 16, 6,000 young men and women gathered for the ceremony. During the ceremony, President Toda passed the baton of kosen-rufu to his youthful successors. Later, March 16 came to be known as Kosen-rufu Day. ↩︎
  2. This letter was written by Nichiren Daishonin in 1275, at the age of 54 while residing on Mount Minobu. It was addressed to the 17-year-old [according to the traditional Japanese way of counting] Nanjo Tokimitsu, who lived in Ueno Village in Fuji District of Suruga Province (present-day Shimojo, Fujinomiya City, in Shizuoka Prefecture). Nichiren encourages the young man in faith by explaining the four virtues and the four debts of gratitude. ↩︎
  3. Nanjo Hyoe Shichiro was a retainer of the Kamakura shogunate and resided in Ueno Village in Fuji District of Suruga Province. He is thought to be the first in his family to begin practicing the Daishonin’s teachings. In December 1264, he contracted a serious illness, and Nichiren wrote him a letter, “Encouragement to a Sick Person.” He died in March 1265. When Hyoe Shichiro died, his son Tokimitsu was just 7 years old [according to the traditional Japanese way of counting], and the lay nun Ueno was expecting their youngest son, Shichiro Goro. ↩︎
  4. Mount Minobu: Located in present-day Yamanashi Prefecture. Nichiren Daishonin lived there during the later years of his life, from May 1274 through September 1282, just prior to his death. There, he devoted himself to educating his disciples, directing propagation efforts and writing doctrinal treatises. ↩︎
  5. 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. ↩︎
  6. According to the traditional Japanese custom of counting a person’s age as 1 year from the day of birth ↩︎
  7. In this letter, the Daishonin writes: “The four debts of gratitude of Buddhism are: 1) the debt of gratitude to be paid to one’s father and mother; 2) the debt of gratitude to be paid to the ruler of the nation; 3) the debt of gratitude to be paid to all living beings; and 4) the debt of gratitude to be paid to the three treasures [the Buddha, the Law, and the Order]” (“The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, pp. 636–37). In “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” meanwhile, the Daishonin lists the four debts of gratitude as: 1) the debt of gratitude to one’s parents; 2) the debt of gratitude to one’s teacher; 3) the debt of gratitude to the three treasures of Buddhism; and 4) the debt of gratitude to one’s sovereign (see WND-1, 690). ↩︎
  8. In this letter, Nichiren Daishonin writes: “The four virtues are: 1) filial piety toward one’s father and mother; 2) loyalty to one’s lord; 3) courtesy toward one’s friends; and 4) pity and kindness toward those less fortunate than oneself” (WND-2, 636). ↩︎
  9. Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 1 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1981), p. 159. ↩︎
  10. From “Encouragements of the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy,” the 28th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. ↩︎
  11. Nichiren writes, “All those who keep faith in the Lotus Sutra [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] are most certainly Buddhas” (“The Fourteen Slanders,” WND-1, 756). ↩︎
  12. Many Treasures: A Buddha depicted in the Lotus Sutra. Many Treasures appears, seated within his treasure tower, in order to lend credence to Shakyamuni’s teachings in the sutra. According to “Treasure Tower,” the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Many Treasures Buddha lives in the World of Treasure Purity in the east. While still engaged in bodhisattva practice, he pledges that, even after entering nirvana, he will appear with his treasure tower in order to attest to the validity of the Lotus Sutra, wherever it might be taught. ↩︎
  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 “The 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. Nichiren writes, “You should respect one another as Shakyamuni and Many Treasures did at the ceremony in the ‘Treasure Tower’ chapter” (“The Fourteen Slanders,” WND-1, 757). ↩︎
  15. In “Expedient Means,” the 2nd chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says: “Shariputra, you should know that at the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us, and what I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled. I have converted all living beings and caused them all to enter the Buddha way” (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 70). ↩︎
  16. Tentative translation. “Reply to Kawai” is thought to have been written on April 19, 1280. It is either the concluding fragment of a longer letter, the rest of which has been lost or a very short letter in its own right. ↩︎
  17. From “The Properties of Rice.” Only a fragment of this letter remains, and its recipient and the date of its writing are not known. ↩︎
  18. In “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” the host—Nichiren Daishonin—corrects his guest’s understanding of Buddhism. Enraged, the guest prepares to storm away, whereupon “the host, smiling, restrains [him]” (see WND-1, 16) by continuing to speak with reasoned words. ↩︎
  19. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging appears in “The Bodhisattva Never Disparaging,” the 20th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. This bodhisattva—Shakyamuni in a previous lifetime—lived at the end of the Middle Day of the Law following the death of the Buddha Awesome Sound King. He would bow to everyone he met and say: “I have profound reverence for you, I would never dare treat you with disparagement or arrogance. Why? Because you will all practice the bodhisattva way and will then be able to attain Buddhahood” (LSOC, 308). However, he was attacked by arrogant monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, who beat him with sticks and staves and threw stones at him. The sutra explains that this practice became the cause for Bodhisattva Never Disparaging to attain Buddhahood. ↩︎
  20. Translated from Japanese. From an interview in the November 22, 2021, Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper. ↩︎
  21. Ved Nanda and Daisaku Ikeda, Our World To Make: Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Rise of Global Civil Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dialogue Path Press, 2015), pp. 102–03. ↩︎

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