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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

‘Letter to the Brothers’—The Soka Gakkai Tradition of ‘Faith for Overcoming Obstacles’

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series [75]

I love and treasure my young friends of the future division.

You have hopes, dreams and unlimited potential. Your teens are a crucial starting point in life. You may face difficult situations and challenges, but there is no hardship you cannot overcome. All of you possess within the powerful life force to surmount any adversity.

Nichiren Buddhism teaches how each of us, without exception, can tap this fundamental inner strength, bring forth courage and wisdom and, undefeated by life’s hardships, become happy without fail. By sharing this great teaching with people throughout Japan and around the world, the Soka Gakkai has created a growing movement for kosen-rufu, for human happiness and peace.

I would like to address my lecture in this and the following installment to you in particular, the future division members, who will soar dynamically into the future. This time, let us study Nichiren Daishonin’s “Letter to the Brothers,” which is a source of immense strength and inspiration for fearlessly confronting any storm of difficulty.

The Dauntless Struggles of Presidents Makiguchi and Toda

July is the month of mentor and disciple in the Soka Gakkai.

On July 3, 1945, my mentor, Josei Toda, was released from Toyotama Prison in Nakano, Tokyo. He had been arrested and detained two years earlier, along with his mentor, founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, while fighting persecution by Japan’s wartime militarist authorities. Regaining his freedom, Mr. Toda stood up alone as Mr. Makiguchi’s sole spiritual heir and launched a great struggle for kosen-rufu.

Mr. Makiguchi had died eight months earlier (on November 18, 1944) at the Tokyo Detention Center in Sugamo, giving his life for his beliefs.[1] Throughout his imprisonment, he dauntlessly shared Nichiren Buddhism with the prison guards and during interrogations boldly proclaimed the validity of Nichiren’s teachings.

In his final letter from prison, Mr. Makiguchi declared: “It is only natural that the three obstacles and four devils[2] should have assailed me; it is just as the [Lotus Sutra] states.”[3] He was 73 years old when he died, fighting for the truth to the very end with the “heart of a lion king” (“Letter from Sado,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 302).

Kosen-rufu—The Great Vow to Help All People Attain Buddhahood

Kosen-rufu is the great vow to help all people attain Buddhahood. Viewed in the light of Nichiren’s writings, it is inevitable that this great struggle of Soka mentors and disciples to realize happiness and peace for all humanity would be met with obstacles and persecution. On July 3, 1957, I was also arrested on trumped-up charges and jailed by authorities who feared the rise of a powerful new people’s movement.[4]

We encounter obstacles because we practice the correct Buddhist teaching. When they occur, we have a choice: we can wisely see them for the devilish functions they are and challenge them resolutely based on faith, or we can react with fear and retreat. The Daishonin clearly states that genuine practitioners will take the former path. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to go to prison to prove you have genuine faith!

President Makiguchi, President Toda and I, united by the bonds of mentor and disciple, have stood in the forefront of every struggle, determined to shield every single one of our members, our youth, from harm.

May all of you firmly inherit and carry on our resolute spirit of faith to defeat all devilish functions. “Faith for overcoming obstacles”[5] is the proud tradition of the Soka Gakkai.

A Letter of Encouragement to Two Brothers

Believers in the Lotus Sutra should fear those who attempt to obstruct their practice more than they fear bandits, burglars, night raiders, tigers, wolves, or lions—even more than invasion now by the Mongols.[6] This world is the domain of the devil king of the sixth heaven.[7] All of its people have been under the rule of this devil king since time without beginning. (“Letter to the Brothers,” WND-1, 495)

This passage is from “Letter to the Brothers,” which is addressed to the Ikegami brothers. They are thought to have become followers of Nichiren not long after he established his teaching (on April 28, 1253).

After they had practiced steadfastly for many years, a major crisis arose. The brothers’ father was a follower of Ryokan,[8] the chief priest of Gokuraku-ji temple of the True Word Precepts school [who was hostile to Nichiren]. He opposed his sons’ faith in the Lotus Sutra and disowned his elder son, Munenaka, because of it.

In feudal times, disownment meant not only losing the right to inherit the family estate but also being deprived of one’s economic base and social status.

Also, by only disowning his eldest son, the father put his younger son, Munenaga, in the position of having to choose between his faith or becoming the new heir. In this way, he hoped to tempt his younger son and drive a wedge between the two brothers.

Sowing division among people and undermining their will are indeed the workings of devilish functions.

Evil Friends Who Destroy Good Minds

In the passage we are studying, Nichiren states that those who believe in and practice the Lotus Sutra should be more on guard against “those who attempt to obstruct their practice” than against robbers, wild beasts, burglars or foreign invasion (see WND-1, 495).

In Buddhist scriptures, such obstructive individuals are known as “evil friends,”[9] functioning to destroy the minds of sincere practitioners and lead them into evil paths. In particular, it refers to evil priests and ill-intentioned individuals who seek to obstruct and destroy people’s faith.

A Buddhist commentary states: “Evil friends employ enticing words, deception and flattery, clever speech and an affable manner, and in this way cause others to do evil. And in leading them to do evil, they are destroying the good minds that are in them”[10] (“Explaining the Causation of the Ten Worlds,” WND-2, 220–21). Namely, they use clever words to destroy the goodness in people’s hearts.

The Workings of the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven

If we allow ourselves to be swayed by such negative influences, then doubt, uncertainty, confusion and disbelief will creep into our minds. If our resolve is broken, we can lose sight of correct faith.

The ultimate source of these negative workings is the devil king of the sixth heaven.

In this letter, Nichiren tells us that this troubled saha world[11] in which we live is ruled by the devil king of the sixth heaven, and we are his subjects. The devil king uses our family members and people with power and influence as his agents to obstruct the faith of those who embrace the Mystic Law. He seeks to lead people into evil paths by any means possible, confusing their minds by “causing [them] to drink the wine of greed, anger, and foolishness”[12] (see WND-1, 495–96).

Fundamental Ignorance—The Inability to Believe in One’s Innate Buddhahood

In another letter, Nichiren Daishonin asserts that the essence of the devil king of the sixth heaven is the fundamental ignorance or darkness existing in the depths of our lives: “The fundamental darkness manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven” (“The Treatment of Illness,” WND-1, 1113). Fundamental darkness, or fundamental ignorance, refers to the root delusion of human minds—ignorance of the core truth of our lives. In other words, it is the inability to believe that each of us embodies the Mystic Law and is a noble individual who possesses the life state of Buddhahood.

The devil king of the sixth heaven, then, is not a special being that exists outside of us. It is the deluded aspect of the mind that is unable to believe in our inherent dignity and potential. If that ignorance rules us, we can end up rejecting, devaluing and even destroying ourselves. Such are the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven, and we must ensure not to succumb to them.

The ‘Sharp Sword’ of Faith Can Vanquish All Devilish Functions

What has the power to defeat the devil king of the sixth heaven? Only the “sharp sword” of faith. As Nichiren states: “The single word ‘belief’ [or ‘faith’] is the sharp sword with which one confronts and overcomes fundamental darkness or ignorance” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 119–20).

When we see through devilish functions for what they are and confront them by rousing strong faith and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, we can bring forth our innate Buddhahood and vanquish them without fail.

Hardship Is Training for Attaining Buddhahood

Some of you, my young friends, may be wondering why you have to encounter hardships when practicing Buddhism is supposed to bring you benefits. You may think it would have been better not to have started practicing in the first place.

In his letter to the Ikegami brothers, Nichiren writes, “Put into flames, a rock simply turns to ashes, but gold becomes pure gold” (WND-1, 497). This is an expression of his profound confidence in the brothers. He is saying that as practitioners of the Lotus Sutra, they are already people of “gold”; therefore, they should challenge themselves to overcome every difficulty and make their lives shine brightly, powerfully and expansively as “pure gold.”

Of course, a smooth road without any obstacles or ups and downs is easy to follow. But by climbing the hills of challenge that rise in our path we can savor wonderful views when we reach the top.

In other words, obstacles and difficulties are tests of whether our faith is genuine; they are training for attaining Buddhahood.

Mr. Toda put it simply: “Obstacles exist to test and train us. It’s like students of judo who become stronger by being thrown about again and again by their instructor. If we face every obstacle with the readiness to confront it and the determination to win, we’ll be able to overcome the most challenging difficulties.”

Changing Karma Into Mission

Nichiren Buddhism enables us to find deeper meaning in hardships, encouraging us to see them as opportunities for strengthening our faith and our lives. Our faith grows stronger through confronting and challenging our karma head-on. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to establish a serene, unshakable state of happiness.

The established Buddhist schools of Nichiren’s day taught that people’s suffering and hardships were retribution for their negative causes, or bad karma, from past existences. But that explanation could not serve as a force for breaking through and transforming real-life challenges.

Nichiren Buddhism, on the other hand, is a teaching that enables people to change their destiny. That is because the Mystic Law is the fundamental means for overcoming all suffering.

For practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, personal hardships and difficulties are opportunities for changing our destiny or karma. And our mission is to demonstrate that to others through our example, proving the greatness of the Mystic Law. Guided by this vision, we live with the positive spirit of changing karma into mission. In terms of Buddhist doctrine, this is called “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma.”[13] It is the vow of bodhisattvas.

With “changing karma into mission” as their byword, Soka Gakkai members throughout Japan and the world are exerting themselves in faith and practice each day.

Mr. Toda declared: “Rejoice when you encounter hardships. This is the time to demonstrate the power of faith. It’s an opportunity to change your karma. Through overcoming such trials, you can attain boundless, everlasting good fortune.”

Obstacles Will Arise When We Practice the Correct Teaching

If you propagate [this teaching], devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching. One passage from the same volume [the fifth volume of T’ien-t’ai’s[14] Great Concentration and Insight][15] reads: “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere. … One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching.” This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations. (“Letter to the Brothers,” WND-1, 501)

This is the most well-known passage from “Letter to the Brothers.”

“If you propagate [this teaching]” means that when we engage in Buddhist practice, devilish functions that seek to obstruct our faith are certain to arise.

The Daishonin continues: “If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching” (WND-1, 501). Precisely because Nichiren Buddhism is the correct teaching for attaining Buddhahood, devilish functions arise to hinder our practice.

He then cites a passage from T’ien-t’ai’s Great Concentration and Insight, which states: “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere” (WND-1, 501).

The three obstacles are: 1) the obstacle of earthly desires; 2) the obstacle of karma; and 3) the obstacle of retribution.[16] “Obstacle” here means something that blocks or obstructs our Buddhist practice.

The four devils are: 1) the hindrance of the five components; 2) the hindrance of earthly desires; 3) the hindrance of death; and 4) the hindrance of the devil king.[17] A devil is a negative working that saps from within the vibrancy and vitality of practitioners of the correct teaching. The important thing to remember is that these obstacles and devils are both forces that obstruct and hinder our Buddhist practice.

Of them all, the hindrance of the devil king is the most serious. This refers to the devil king of the sixth heaven, also known as the heavenly devil Freely Enjoying Things Conjured by Others, because he takes joy in manipulating and exploiting others to his will. The most fundamental of all devilish functions that can rule human minds, the devil king employs every conceivable means to attack and harass practitioners of the correct teaching. This includes manifesting within figures of power and authority in society and manipulating them to persecute the practitioners of the Mystic Law.

The Daishonin tells us here that our response to such obstructions should be to “be neither influenced nor frightened by them” (WND-1, 501).

‘The Wise Will Rejoice While the Foolish Will Retreat’

Not to be influenced means not to allow ourselves to fall under the sway of devilish functions. Not to be frightened means to defeat them with the wisdom that sees through them and the courage to confront them. When we do this, we can carry out our human revolution and change our karma.

In a separate letter to the younger Ikegami brother, Munenaga, the Daishonin writes: “The three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat” (“The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” WND-1, 637). He is telling Munenaga to see the appearance of the three obstacles and four devils as an opportunity bringing him closer to attaining Buddhahood, and to overcome this challenge with the spirit of faith of the wise who rejoice.

At the end of the passage we are studying, Nichiren writes, “This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations” (WND-1, 501).

Nichiren had already experienced numerous life-threatening persecutions—including the Izu Exile[18] and the Tatsunokuchi Persecution and subsequent Sado Exile[19]—and triumphed over them all. This is what he is referring to when he writes “This statement … applies to me” (WND-1, 501).

He then says that this path of Buddhist practice, the path of shared struggle that he and his disciples traversed must be passed on to future generations as part of the struggle to ensure the eternal perpetuation of the Law.

Nichiren encourages the Ikegami brothers, saying that it is up to them to embody and transmit it as a source of inspiration for future generations. The brothers overcame their obstacles, and with solidly united faith eventually succeeded in converting their father to Nichiren’s teachings.

This passage tells us that our example of defeating all devilish functions and moving forward triumphantly will become the touchstone for securing the foundations for the eternal development of kosen-rufu.

Times of Trouble Reveal Our True Worth

I once had the honor of meeting with the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams, a true champion of human rights and peace (in November 2006, in Tokyo).

When I asked Mrs. Williams what sustained her tireless activities, she replied: “In this work, you need to have the courage of your convictions. You have to just keep at it and keep at it, no matter what people might say, and never give up.”

It is important to have the courage of our convictions in faith, too. Courage is an expression of strong faith.

Hardship and difficulty are unavoidable in life. There may be times when you, my young friends, feel you just can’t go on. But those are the times to demonstrate your true worth as a courageous practitioner of the Mystic Law. Soka lions who stand up with courage at a crucial moment are certain to triumph in the end.

Build an Unshakable Framework of Faith in Your Youth

Youth is a time to build a solid framework of faith that will not collapse in the face of any obstacle. The key is to remain steadfast in faith and practice all your life, whatever happens, and to keep moving forward courageously.

You have countless seniors in faith around the world who are actively working for kosen-rufu in our gathering of “good friends” and leading winning lives—together with the Mystic Law, the Soka Gakkai and trusted fellow members. They are all advancing on the unerring path to happiness.

Make Learning and Health Your Priorities

Aiming toward the Soka Gakkai’s centennial (in 2030), as the successors to our movement, please study, develop yourselves and achieve wonderful growth with learning and health your top priorities. I hope you, my dear young friends, will courageously exert yourselves in your Buddhist practice and forge ahead with unwavering, lifelong commitment in faith.

A wide, open road stretches limitlessly before you. A future filled with hope and exciting victories awaits you.

It will soon be your time to soar forth boldly to lead humanity toward happiness and peace.

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


  1. On November 18, 1944, at the age of 73, President Makiguchi passed away at the Tokyo Detention Center due to malnutrition and old age, his health severely compromised by the privations of his long solitary confinement. Coincidentally, the day of his death was the anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding. ↩︎
  2. Three obstacles and four devils: Various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. The three obstacles are 1) the obstacle of earthly desires, 2) the obstacle of karma and 3) the obstacle of retribution. The four devils are 1) the hindrance of the five components, 2) the hindrance of earthly desires, 3) the hindrance of death and 4) the hindrance of the devil king. ↩︎
  3. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (Collected Writings of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), vol. 10 (Tokyo: Daisanbunmei-sha, 1987), p. 301. ↩︎
  4. In July 1957, President Ikeda, then Soka Gakkai youth division chief of staff, was arrested and wrongfully charged with election law violations during a House of Councilors by-election in Osaka that year. At the end of the court case, which continued for more than four years, he was fully exonerated of all charges, on January 25, 1962. ↩︎
  5. One of the five eternal guidelines of the Soka Gakkai. ↩︎
  6. Mongol forces made two invasion attempts on Japan during the Daishonin’s lifetime, the first in 1274 and the second in 1281. “Letter to the Brothers” was written in 1275, shortly after the first attempt. ↩︎
  7. Devil king of the sixth heaven: Also, devil king or heavenly devil. The king of devils, who dwells in the highest or the sixth heaven of the world of desire. He is also named the heavenly devil Freely Enjoying Things Conjured by Others, one who makes free use of the fruits of others’ efforts for his own pleasure. Served by innumerable minions, he obstructs Buddhist practice and delights in sapping the life force of other beings, the manifestation of the fundamental darkness inherent in life. The devil king is a personification of the negative tendency to force others to one’s will at any cost. ↩︎
  8. Ryokan (1217–1303): Also known as Ninsho. A priest of the True Word Precepts school in Japan. With the patronage of the Hojo clan, Ryokan became chief priest of Gokuraku-ji temple in Kamakura, and commanded enormous influence both among government officials and among the people. He was hostile to the Daishonin and actively conspired with the authorities to have him and his followers persecuted. ↩︎
  9. Evil friends: This refers to evil priests and others who misguide people with false teachings, confusing them, obstructing their Buddhist practice and leading them into evil paths that are a source of suffering. The term “evil friends” is contrasted with “good friends” who help lead people to the correct teaching. ↩︎
  10. A summary of a passage from The Annotation of the Nirvana Sutra by the Great Teacher Chang-an. ↩︎
  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. Greed, anger and foolishness are regarded in Buddhism as the fundamental evils inherent in life that give rise to human suffering. They are known as the three poisons. ↩︎
  13. 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. Applied to our lives, it means to view overcoming problems through Buddhist practice as a means to show the power of the Mystic Law. ↩︎
  14. T’ien-t’ai (538–97): Also known as the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai or Chih-i. The founder of the T’ien-t’ai school in China. ↩︎
  15. Great Concentration and Insight: A record of lectures delivered by T’ien-t’ai and recorded by his disciple Chang-an. Together with The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra and The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, it is regarded as one of the three major works of T’ien-t’ai. ↩︎
  16. Three obstacles are various impediments to our Buddhist faith and practice. The obstacle of earthly desires occurs from impulses and afflictions, such as greed, anger and foolishness (the “three poisons”). The obstacle of karma results from negative karma, such as opposition from those close to one, like a spouse or child (see “Letter to the Brothers,” WND-1, 501). The obstacle of retribution is reflected in the difficult circumstances into which we are born or have come to live; considered to be negative effects stemming from negative karma in past lifetimes. ↩︎
  17. The four devils function to impede or destroy one’s faith. The hindrance of the five components arises from the disharmony among the workings of the body and mind, or the five components. The hindrance of earthly desires arises from afflictions such as the three poisons. The hindrance of death comes when one’s Buddhist practice is cut short due to one’s death, or the death of another practitioner or of someone close. The fourth is the hindrance of the devil king. ↩︎
  18. Izu Exile: Following the Matsubagayatsu Persecution in 1260, the Daishonin reappeared in Kamakura in spring 1261 and resumed his propagation activities. The government arrested him in May 1261 and, without proper investigation, ordered him exiled to Ito in Izu Province (in present-day Shizuoka Prefecture). He was pardoned in February 1263 and returned to Kamakura. ↩︎
  19. Tatsunokuchi Persecution and Sado Exile: On September 12, 1271, the Daishonin was arrested and taken to Tatsunokuchi on the outskirts of Kamakura, where the authorities tried but failed to execute him. He was held in detention at Echi (in present-day Kanagawa Prefecture) for about a month while the government debated what to do with him. He then was 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. ↩︎

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