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Encouragement

Transforming Humanity’s Destiny

Photo by Jimmy Chang / Unsplash.

Therefore, I say to you, my disciples, try practicing as the Lotus Sutra teaches, exerting yourselves without begrudging your lives! (“The Selection of the Time,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 583–84)

I once asked my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, why it is important to practice Buddhism “without begrudging one’s life.” His reply was very clear:

Call it humanity’s karma, but society is complex and full of contradictions. Nowhere can we find a fundamental path to happiness for all people. Nichiren Buddhism, however, provides the means for transforming karma on the deepest level. It teaches the path of eternity, joy, true self and purity—of eternal fulfillment and satisfaction. There is no higher path in life than this. That’s why, if you devote yourself wholeheartedly to your Buddhist practice, you will have no regrets.

More than 60 years have passed since I first became Mr. Toda’s disciple. Everything is just as he said. Because I have striven selflessly for worldwide kosen-rufu exactly as my mentor instructed, my heart is filled with the joy of “dedicating oneself to the Law without begrudging one’s life.” Now I wish to pass on the unsurpassed way of this mission to the youth.

The essence of Nichiren Buddhism is found in the spirit of not begrudging one’s life, of selfless devotion to spreading the Law. It is found in unstinting efforts to realize kosen-rufu. The German poet Friedrich von Schiller once wrote, “Who life would win, he must dare to die!” Giving our all for the sake of Nichiren Buddhism and for the sake of others is how we bring our lives to shine to their fullest splendor. This way of life taught in Buddhism in fact lays forth a very important guideline for living in today’s world. In this installment, let’s explore the lofty spirit of “not begrudging one’s life” presented by Nichiren Daishonin in his treatise “The Selection of the Time.”

“If you devote yourself wholeheartedly to your Buddhist practice, you will have no regrets.”

Nichiren Buddhism elucidates a path of absolute victory.

In this writing, the Daishonin proclaims that the Latter Day of the Law—an age in which the Buddha’s true teachings have been lost—is the time for spreading the great pure Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo throughout Japan and the entire world. He also declares that he is the one who will undertake this task. Asserting that the Buddha’s golden words are never false, he adds, “Therefore, I say to you, my disciples, try practicing as the Lotus Sutra teaches, exerting yourselves without begrudging your lives!” (WND-1, 583–84). The Daishonin instructs his followers to devote themselves unstintingly to their Buddhist practice—to triumph over the three powerful enemies in the Latter Day of the Law.[1]

The concept of “not begrudging one’s life” appears in the “Encouraging Devotion” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, when the bodhisattvas make a vow to selflessly spread the Mystic Law after the Buddha’s passing (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 229). In “The Selection of the Time,” Nichiren elucidates the path of shared commitment of mentor and disciple, the path of refuting the erroneous and revealing the true, the path of attaining enlightenment in this lifetime—at the heart of which lies the path of “not begrudging one’s life.” If we give our all unstintingly to our Buddhist practice, proof of victory will be forthcoming—this is the unshakable conviction with which the Daishonin urges his disciples to “try practicing” (WND-1, 584).

In complete accord with this teaching, the first and second Soka Gakkai presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, both continued their selfless efforts to spread the correct teaching of Nichiren Buddhism, refusing to be intimidated by persecution at the hands of Japan’s militarist authorities. As the third president, I have fought with the same dauntless spirit against the three powerful enemies. The Soka Gakkai’s tremendous growth and development are proof of the victory of the first three presidents’ struggles for Buddhism.

Moreover, the spirit of selfless dedication to a cause has profound meaning in terms of one’s life view. As the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee observed, no matter how much civilization advances, the fundamental questions of life and death will always need to be addressed. Why are we born, and why do we die? Where does life come from, and where does it go? Buddhist thought and practice are directed toward answering these questions. Everyone cares about his or her own life. But there are far too many instances of people who, as a result of being excessively concerned for their own welfare, cause others to suffer and fail to realize their own potential. This, as Mr. Toda noted, is humanity’s karma.

The Mystic Law has the power to banish darkness.

In “Letter from Sado,” Nichiren gives the example of fish tricked by bait or birds caught in snares in spite of their best efforts to keep themselves safe from harm (see WND-1, 301). The same kind of fundamental delusion or ignorance lies in the depths of human existence. The distorted life states of greed, anger and foolishness that arise from ignorance are what lead to such human tragedies as famine, war, epidemics and environmental destruction.

Until we can triumph over this inner ignorance, we cannot transform the karma of humanity. Leading thinkers across the globe all agree that the transformation of humanity itself is a pressing imperative for our world today. Indeed, no matter how avidly one may pursue wealth, power, fame or pleasure, such things are ultimately “mere prosperity in a dream, a phantom joy” (“Sovereign, Teacher, and Parent,” WND-2, 36), to use the words of Nichiren. They are fleeting pursuits and do not lead to lasting happiness. In this time of global economic crisis, more and more people are coming to recognize this truth.

Why is disrespect for life so prevalent in contemporary society? From one perspective, we can point to the fact that many people have no cherished goals or ideals to which they would wholeheartedly dedicate themselves or give their lives.

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “He who is not afraid of anything, and who is ready to give his life for a righteous cause, is much stronger than he whom other people fear and who has the lives of other people in his power.”[2]

Those who have a noble, life-affirming cause to which they can dedicate themselves will usually deeply appreciate the value of their own lives as well as the lives of others. Those who lack a lofty cause that enables them to forge and elevate their own lives will tend to be easily swayed by the torrents of ego, desire and fear, and may even end up losing their lives for meaningless, petty matters.

The faith that we uphold in the Mystic Law—the ultimate truth and driving force of the universe—is a great sun of value-creation that enables life to shine its brightest. The Mystic Law contains the powerful function to banish darkness or ignorance in our lives and to bring forth and cultivate our innate wisdom, courage and compassion. Undertaking altruistic actions as bodhisattvas is crucial to doing this. Humanity has been seeking a philosophy and practice that opens the bodhisattva way to all people.

One day of life is more valuable than all the treasures in the universe.

In other words, Nichiren Buddhism is the unsurpassed way for raising the collective life state of humanity—a noble cause that deserves our wholehearted devotion and selfless dedication and will never give us cause for regret. In the passage we are studying, Nichiren is in effect saying to his disciples: “Having encountered this Buddhism, owing to deep karmic ties from the past, try practicing it without begrudging your lives!”

Mr. Toda said: “It has been my honor to be able to give my life to the noble work of kosen-rufu. Any person can become strong and tap great power by dedicating themselves to a lofty purpose.”

Buddhism teaches that life is the most sacred and precious thing there is in the universe. As such, it is a philosophy of peace that upholds the sanctity of life and is opposed to war and violence. It teaches the importance of living with compassion and respect for all life.

One day of life is more valuable than all the treasures in the universe. That is why we shouldn’t waste our lives on “shallow, worldly matters” (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 301) but rather dedicate ourselves unsparingly to the “Buddha’s precious teachings” (WND-1, 301).

The Mystic Law is a principle that leads all humanity in the direction of good. How infinitely profound, great and noble is a life of unstinting devotion to that Law.

To be continued in an upcoming issue

References

  1. The three powerful enemies are three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, described in a section of the “Encouraging Devotion” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The Great Teacher Miao-lo of China summarizes them as arrogant lay people, arrogant priests and arrogant false sages. ↩︎
  2. Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, translated by Peter Sekirin (New York: Scribner, 1997), p. 99. ↩︎

Changing My Destiny