Skip to main content

Ikeda Wisdom Academy

The Compassionate Practice of Shakubuku

Young women encourage each other through studying the Ikeda Wisdom Academy study material, New Orleans, March 2022. Photo by Constance Thompson.

Chapter 2

“On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings”—Part 2 of 3

In this lecture, Ikeda Sensei explains the spirit of shakubuku.

Kosen-rufu, or the widespread propagation of the Law, is the “practice of Buddhas” arising out of the profound compassion Buddhas have for all living beings, and it is also the “practice of bodhisattvas” undertaken by disciples who make this compassionate spirit of Buddhas their own.

The true power for spreading the Mystic Law is born when all of us, as practitioners, directly connect our lives to the correct teacher of the Law and the true mentors of kosen-rufu. …

If we faithfully exert ourselves as the Buddha teaches, we can break through any obstacle. Practicing in accord with the Buddha’s teachings means disciples challenging themselves in the same spirit as their teacher or mentor. When we unerringly walk the path of mentor and disciple, we can bring forth unlimited power. The mentor’s lofty and expansive life state can inspire us to win in our own struggles. …

When we bring forth the powers of courageous faith and practice that accord with the Buddha’s teachings, the infinite powers of the Buddha and the Law will manifest without fail. To deepen our understanding of this essential Nichiren Buddhist teaching, let us continue studying “On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings” in this chapter, focusing on the way of faith and practice for advancing with the same spirit as our mentor.[1]

The ‘One Buddha Vehicle’ as the Correct Basis of Faith

I insist that this is wrong. The most important thing in practicing the Buddhist teachings is to follow and uphold the Buddha’s golden words, not the opinions of others.

•   •   •

The Buddha himself concluded that one’s practice accords with the Buddha’s teachings only when one bases one’s faith firmly on the standard of these sutra passages, believing fully that “there is only the Law of the one vehicle.” (“On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 393)

Just before this section, Nichiren Daishonin poses the question: “How should one practice if one is to be faithful to the Buddha’s teachings?” (WND-1, 392). He then explains the correct way of faith in the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law.

The true intent of the Buddha, Shakyamuni, is revealed in the Lotus Sutra. His aim is to clarify that all vehicles are contained in the one Buddha vehicle (see WND-1, 392) and that all people have the potential to attain enlightenment. “All vehicles” indicates the teachings other than the Lotus Sutra expounded by Shakyamuni in accord with the different capacities of the people. They specifically refer to the “three vehicles,” the teachings expounded for the voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones and bodhisattvas, respectively. But Shakyamuni’s true purpose in expounding these teachings was to cultivate the people’s capacity so that he could ultimately teach them the “one Buddha vehicle”—the sole vehicle by which people can attain the state of Buddhahood. As such, it is the only teaching in the Buddha’s vast body of sutras that can lead all humanity to enlightenment in the Latter Day. And it is fully and clearly revealed by Shakyamuni in the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra not only discloses the Buddha’s true intent of helping all people attain Buddhahood but also reveals the name of the great Law that is the key to enlightenment: Myoho-renge-kyo—the wonderful Law, or Mystic Law. It also expounds the principle of the “true aspect of all phenomena,” which serves as the theoretical basis for the universal attainment of Buddhahood. …

The Lotus Sutra also elucidates the great vow of kosen-rufu—the vow to widely spread the correct teaching to enable all living beings to attain Buddhahood. It asserts that devoting one’s life to this great vow or aspiration is the true and eternal bodhisattva way.

The Lotus Sutra thus teaches from a variety of angles that the one vehicle of Buddhahood represents the Buddha’s true intent. In fact, it showcases this supreme teaching from beginning to end. Further, the sutra describes how those who hear and embrace the Lotus Sutra arouse faith in the one vehicle of Buddhahood and cast off the delusion that prevents them from attaining enlightenment. The causality of attaining Buddhahood is thus engraved in their lives, enabling them to manifest the supreme benefit of enlightenment in this lifetime. The Lotus Sutra is the sole sutra that not only provides a concrete teaching but also explains how it should be practiced and the benefit that will ensue from such a practice.

It is imperative, therefore, that those who would practice the Lotus Sutra in accord with the Buddha’s teachings embrace faith solely in that sutra. If they fail to comprehend the Buddha’s true intent and place greater importance on earlier teachings, which the Buddha expounded as expedient means, it could cause them to veer from the path of faith in the one vehicle of Buddhahood. …

The schism in Japanese Buddhism during Nichiren’s time—as characterized by the reference to the “eight or ten schools”—highlighted the danger of the Law’s decline as a result of people losing sight of the one Buddha vehicle. To overcome this danger, Nichiren called on people to embrace faith in the Lotus Sutra—the only sutra that fully expounds the supreme sanctity of life and respect for all people in both principle and practice, thereby opening the way to universal enlightenment.

The decline of the Law also directly threatened the people’s happiness and welfare; it could lead to conditions that would bring about conflict and war (for instance, the calamities of internal strife and foreign invasion that the Daishonin predicted would occur), thus destroying the peace and tranquility of the land and society.

To overcome this danger, the mission of Nichiren’s disciples awakened to the Lotus Sutra’s true teaching is to foster active, self-motivated individuals possessing steadfast faith in the one Buddha vehicle.[2]

The Two Types of Practice—Shoju and Shakubuku

Anyone who practices Buddhism should first understand the two types of practice—shoju and shakubuku. All the sutras and treatises fall into one or the other of these two categories. Though scholars in this country may have studied Buddhism extensively, they do not know which practice accords with the time. … The two millennia of the Former and Middle Days of the Law required the spread of the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana teachings, but the first five hundred years of the Latter Day call for only the Lotus Sutra, the pure and perfect teaching of the one vehicle of Buddhahood, to be spread abroad widely. (WND-1, 394)

In the previous section, Nichiren Daishonin discussed practicing the Buddha’s teachings in the Latter Day in terms of faith. Now, he discusses this in terms of practice. …

Nichiren sets forth the single practice of embracing the “five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo” (accepting and upholding the Gohonzon) as the fundamental practice of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. …

Shoju, here, as indicated in several of the teachings, refers to a practice of solitary and quiet devotion. The Lotus Sutra expounds both shoju, as seen in the “Peaceful Practices” chapter, and shakubuku—that of asserting the truth of the supreme teaching to all people—as seen in “Bodhisattva Never Disparaging,” the twentieth chapter. Fundamentally, both types of practice—shoju and shakubuku—are necessary, depending on the time.

Accordingly, strict adherence to shoju that rejects shakubuku or strict adherence to shakubuku that rejects shoju runs counter to the original teaching of there being two ways of practice. …

In this writing, Nichiren illustrates the importance of the time, noting that even in such endeavors as farming, a clear recognition of the time or season is crucial. In the realm of Buddhism, too, there are appropriate times, respectively, for the Hinayana, the provisional Mahayana or the true Mahayana (Lotus Sutra) teachings to be disseminated for the benefit of humanity (see WND-1, 393).

Time, here, does not simply mean the passage of time. It indicates clearly delineated eras characterized by significant shifts in people’s receptivity to the Law after Shakyamuni’s passing—in other words, it refers to the three time periods known as the Former Day, Middle Day and Latter Day of the Law. It is also a comprehensive recognition of the time that takes into account the spiritual condition of the people, the state of society and of the country, the teachings and beliefs that prevail there, and so on.

Nichiren clarifies that the two millennia of the Former Day and the Middle Day of the Law marked the time for the spread of the Hinayana and provisional Mahayana teachings (see WND-1, 394). During these periods, many people had the capacity to understand the Buddha’s teachings. …

The Latter Day is an age when the correct Buddhist teaching is in danger of being lost; it is an evil age defiled by the five impurities, teeming with negative influences that confuse people’s minds. At such a time, none of the Buddha’s pre-Lotus Sutra teachings have the power to guide the people and the age in the direction of lasting happiness.

The Latter Day is also an age when the devilish nature that slanders the Law and denigrates the one Buddha vehicle is rampant. The Daishonin inscribed the object of devotion, the Gohonzon, which represents the ultimate revelation of the Law (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) in which we should place our faith in order to attain Buddhahood. He also set forth the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a regular practice designed to help us maintain steadfast faith. In this way, he established the Buddhism of sowing that directly activates the innate Buddha nature of people in the Latter Day. Furthermore, he demonstrated through his own actions that the practice of shakubuku is vital in terms of refuting slander of the Law and, as such, constitutes a crucial aspect of Nichiren Buddhism.[3]

A Lofty Spiritual Struggle to Refute the Erroneous and Reveal the True

When one must face enemies, one needs a sword, a stick, or a bow and arrows. When one has no enemies, however, such weapons are of no use at all. In this age, the provisional teachings have turned into enemies of the true teaching. When the time is right to propagate the teaching of the one vehicle, the provisional teachings become enemies. When they are a source of confusion, they must be thoroughly refuted from the standpoint of the true teaching. Of the two types of practice, this is shakubuku, the practice of the Lotus Sutra. With good reason T’ien-t’ai stated, “The Lotus Sutra is the teaching of shakubuku, the refutation of the provisional doctrines.” (WND-1, 394)

In light of their function in the Buddha’s teachings, the provisional sutras were expounded as expedient means to cultivate people’s capacity for understanding and ultimately guide them to the one Buddha vehicle of the Lotus Sutra. In the defiled Latter Day, however, influential Buddhist schools based themselves on different provisional teachings and proclaimed them to be the Buddha’s ultimate teaching. Some even openly slandered the Lotus Sutra and were so blinded by delusion that they instructed others to discard faith in it. In that sense, Nichiren says, the provisional teachings have turned into “enemies of the true teaching,” “enemies of the Lotus Sutra.”

In such an age and land, if one wishes to lead all people to enlightenment through practicing the Lotus Sutra, it is essential, Nichiren declares, to thoroughly refute the error of those who adhere to the provisional teachings and who are influenced by devilish functions to slander the Lotus Sutra. This is the essence of Nichiren’s commitment to shakubuku. …

It is also clear in light of the sutras that one who dares point out the errors of the other Buddhist schools of the day and propagate the Mystic Law is certain to be assailed by the three obstacles and four devils and face opposition from the three powerful enemies. But Nichiren could not ignore the misfortune and suffering that loomed over the people, nor could he turn a blind eye to the correct Buddhist teaching being obliterated. Driven by an irrepressible impulse, he waged a powerful struggle for the happiness of all people, practicing with selfless devotion and valuing the Law more than his own life. This is the true significance of the Daishonin’s shakubuku spirit. …

Expressing genuine concern for all people means upholding a philosophy of respect for others and battling negative functions that cause people suffering, while refusing to condone violence or oppression that threatens human dignity or equality. If we observe views that justify using human lives as a means to an end or that divides and discriminates against people, then we must vigorously denounce the misguided teachings or ideas that form the spiritual soil for such thought. It is a battle against the fundamental darkness or ignorance that plunges people’s lives into suffering and misery. This is the essence of the “battle between the provisional teachings and the true teaching” and the crux of the shakubuku spirit in Nichiren Buddhism. …

It is possible for us to join together with other religions and philosophies that share the values of respecting human beings and the dignity of life in what Mr. Makiguchi termed “humanistic competition” channeled toward eradicating human misery and suffering. Indeed, it is an indispensable requirement of religion in the twenty-first century to denounce all abuses of human dignity.

As SGI members, we engage in a lofty spiritual struggle to refute the erroneous and reveal the true through our daily efforts—respectful conduct toward all people like that epitomized by Bodhisattva Never Disparaging; a strong commitment unshaken by opposition or obstacle; a readiness to stand up against inhumanity and injustice; a wonderful example of winning trust in our immediate environment and promoting understanding of Nichiren Buddhism. I wish to declare that such efforts constitute the practice of shakubuku in modern times.[4]

The Ikeda Wisdom Academy is an SGI-USA youth leaders advanced study movement. While the following material is for this study program, all SGI-USA members can read the following excerpts as part of their personal study of The Teachings for Victory, volume 2, by Ikeda Sensei.


  1. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 2, pp. 21–22. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., pp. 22–25. ↩︎
  3. Ibid., pp. 25–28. ↩︎
  4. Ibid., pp. 28–30. ↩︎

Perspectives on Offerings in Buddhism

District Study Meeting Material