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Ikeda Sensei

You Are Equal to the Buddha (Part 1)

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The following essay was written by Ikeda Sensei as part of his series “The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Mentor-Disciple Relationship,” originally published in the Aug. 21, 2009, World Tribune. This is part one of a two-part essay. 

“Bound as we common mortals are by earthly desires, we can instantly attain the same virtues as Shakyamuni Buddha, for we receive all the benefits that he accumulated. The sutra reads, ‘Hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.’”  (“Letter to the Sage Nichimyo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 323)

Once I start talking about Mr. Makiguchi, I can’t stop,” my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, would often say, referring to his own mentor, first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.

He also said: “Our relationship was one of mentor and disciple, or like parent and child; it is impossible to fathom the depth of the bond I shared with Mr. Makiguchi. I knew his real state of life. No one else did. I used to tell others that they would one day boast of knowing Mr. Makiguchi. And as I predicted, meeting him is today the pride of all of his disciples.” Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda shared exactly the same state of mind when it came to taking the lead for kosen-rufu and dauntlessly battling the three powerful enemies.[1]

In the realm of Buddhism, teachers or mentors in faith seek to enable their disciples to achieve the same life state as they—no, they wish to foster disciples who will be even better people than they are. The love and compassion that mentors feel for their disciples are loftier than the heavens and deeper than the sea—infinitely loftier and deeper than the disciples imagine.

When disciples firmly resolve to live up to the aspirations of their mentor and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and strive earnestly to do so, the same strength as their mentor’s will well forth in their lives. This shared commitment of mentor and disciple is the essence of Buddhism.

Nichiren Daishonin writes to the Sage Nichimyo, one of his female disciples: “Bound as we common mortals are by earthly desires, we can instantly attain the same virtues as Shakyamuni Buddha, for we receive all the benefits that he accumulated. The sutra reads, ‘Hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us’” (“Letter to Sage Nichimyo,” WND-1, 323).

This is a very profound teaching. Through the beneficial power of the Mystic Law, we ordinary people who are burdened with problems and sufferings can, just as we are, bring our lives to shine with the supreme brilliance of Buddhahood. Such is the wonderful, infinitely compassionate teaching of the Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

The quotation cited by Nichiren here, “Hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 70), appears in the “Expedient Means” chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Shakyamuni goes on to add that he has fulfilled his cherished vow to elevate all of his disciples to exactly the same life state of Buddhahood that he has attained.

The Daishonin warmly assures the Sage Nichimyo that, as this sutra passage says, she will attain the same benefits as Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, and he encourages her therefore to continue striving in her Buddhist practice with absolute confidence and peace of mind.

Mr. Toda awakened to the essence of Buddhism while he was imprisoned for his beliefs during World War II. At a meeting once, though overjoyed by the members’ experiences of receiving great benefit through their Buddhist practice, Mr. Toda commented humorously: “The benefits you’ve mentioned still don’t even come close to the kind of benefit that can be obtained through faith. Now, if the benefit I’ve received were, say, equivalent to this entire auditorium, then yours would only be equal to my pinky!” He sought to impress upon the members that they could obtain far greater benefit still. He wanted everyone to equally experience the same immeasurable benefit that he had received in the depths of his life as a result of his thoroughgoing practice of Nichiren Buddhism. This was his dearest wish.

The idea expressed by the phrase “Hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us” is truly revolutionary in the history of religion and philosophy. It represents a great teaching of genuine humanism. Only Buddhism unequivocally proclaims the aim of elevating all people equally to the supreme state of being, of enlightenment, which it expresses as Buddhahood.

People are what matter. They are not a means to an end but an end unto themselves. To try to use people as a means to an end is a function of the devilish nature of power. The heart of Buddhism, in contrast, regards people themselves as the end or goal and directs everything toward their happiness, toward contributing to their welfare. The ultimate power for making this happen is the Mystic Law, which enables all people to equally attain a life state identical to that of the Buddha.

Buddhism is a teaching of hope for humanity.

A key component in making all people equal to the Buddha is the spirit of the oneness of teacher and disciple. If this spirit is forgotten, the Buddha will end up being enshrined as a special being separate from ordinary people. Because this did in fact happen, the true message of Buddhism was gradually lost as it was transmitted eastward from India, through China and to Japan. Nichiren Buddhism, which upholds the essence of the Lotus Sutra, is a teaching of hope that broke free from this path of decline that Buddhism was traveling.

In the passage we are studying, Nichiren writes, “We receive all the benefits that he [Shakyamuni] accumulated” (“Letter to the Sage Nichimyo,” WND-1, 323). In other words, we who embrace the Mystic Law can instantly and fully obtain within us the immense benefit, the towering life state, that Shakyamuni attained over long eons of practice.

Mr. Toda said: 

Firmly believing that there is no distinction between the Gohonzon, the Daishonin and ourselves, we should chant with deep appreciation and gratitude for this in our hearts. When we do so, the rhythm of our lives aligns itself with the rhythm of the universe, and our lives connect with the great life of the universe, thereby enabling us to bring forth incredible life force.

Accordingly, there are no hardships or sufferings in life that we cannot overcome, and there is no way that we will fail to become happy. Mr. Toda also said that if we exert ourselves assiduously in faith, practice and study, we will not remain forever deluded, unenlightened people at the mercy of various sufferings. All of the members of the SGI can bring their lives to shine with the same brilliant life state of the Buddha.

Nichiren Buddhism upholds respect for women.

It is also extremely significant that the Daishonin taught this most important principle of becoming equal to the Buddha to the Sage Nichimyo, one of his female disciples. In those days in Japan, women were thought to have deep negative karma. But in this very letter, Nichiren conferred the highest honor on this disciple by giving her the Buddhist name Sage Nichimyo (Sun Wonderful) and told her that she could attain the same life state as the Buddha. This represents a pioneering declaration of human rights in terms of respect for women and the liberation of women.

I was most fortunate to have engaged in a dialogue with Dr. Austregésilo de Athayde, president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters and one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Deeply impressed by the foresight of Nichiren Buddhism and the humanistic endeavors of the SGI, Dr. Athayde remarked to the effect: “It is thanks to Buddhism that making ongoing efforts to fight discrimination in the pursuit of freedom and equality has been stamped as the duty of all humanity. Buddhism has become a vital force of idealism.” His words are a significant tribute to our movement.

A courageous woman travels to see her mentor.

The Sage Nichimyo is thought to be the same person referred to elsewhere in Nichiren’s writings as the “mother of Oto” (see WND-2, 1030). Separated from her husband while she was still young, Nichimyo steadfastly persevered in her Buddhist practice. She even traveled all the way from Kamakura with her infant daughter, Oto, to the island of Sado, where the Daishonin was exiled. What courage it must have taken for her to make this journey to see her teacher in spite of the many dangers arising from a troubled and lawless age.

In this letter, the Daishonin praises Nichimyo as the “foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra among the women of Japan” (“Letter to the Sage Nichimyo,” WND-1, 325). In light of this passage, he would no doubt also heartily applaud all our SGI members who travel long distances to Japan to attend training courses out of their noble seeking spirit to deepen their understanding of Buddhism for the sake of kosen-rufu. The benefits they receive in doing so are immeasurable.

At any rate, nothing can match the courage of sincere, dedicated women. Mr. Toda used to say: “None are more trustworthy than our sincere members. Women, in particular, are dauntless in a crisis. They’re courageous and unafraid.”

To be continued in an upcoming issue


  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 “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The Great Teacher Miao-lo of China summarizes them as arrogant lay people, arrogant priests and arrogant false sages. ↩︎

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