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Ikeda Sensei

Imparting Joy to Others

Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez / Unsplash.

The following essay was written by Ikeda Sensei as part of the series “The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Mentor-Disciple Relationship.” It was originally published in the Nov. 13, 2009, World Tribune. 

“Nichiren declares that the [shared] sufferings that all living beings undergo … all these are Nichiren’s own sufferings.” (“On Reprimanding Hachiman,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 934)

Spring has arrived again, and the Youth Cherry Tree in front of the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Shinanomachi is in fragrant bloom. This grand tree is almost the same age as the Soka Gakkai, which is heading toward the 80th anniversary of its founding in 2010. Cherry trees are also in bloom at the Makiguchi Memorial Hall in Hachioji, Tokyo, at many of our community and culture centers throughout Japan—including the Ota Culture Center in my hometown—and at Soka University and the Soka schools in both Tokyo and Kansai.

April 2, arriving always with the cherry blossoms, is the anniversary of the death of my mentor, Josei Toda. It has been 51 years [as of 2009] since he passed away. Throughout that time, I have continued an ongoing dialogue with him in my heart while waging one struggle after another as his disciple, bound by an eternal and indestructible bond transcending life and death.

In the early days of our movement, Mr. Toda, the second Soka Gakkai president, said: “The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to enjoy happiness throughout the eternity of life. … The activity of the universe itself is the very epitome of compassionate action. Likewise, sharing Nichiren Buddhism with others is an act of compassion. Compassionate action is ‘the work of the Buddha.’ It is also truly noble because, in the process of such efforts, we realize lasting happiness not only for ourselves but also for others who may be suffering from poverty and want. There is, therefore, no nobler work than this.”

It is an extremely admirable act of compassion to help friends who are struggling with the fundamental sufferings of human existence by talking to them about our convictions and guiding them to the realm of faith in the Mystic Law. It is the most respectworthy action of using our voices to do “the Buddha’s work” as envoys of Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

The world needs a philosophy of inner transformation.

In “On Reprimanding Hachiman,” Nichiren writes: “The Nirvana Sutra says, ‘The varied sufferings that all living beings undergo—all these are the Thus Come One’s own sufferings.’ And Nichiren declares that the sufferings that all living beings undergo, all springing from this one cause—all these are Nichiren’s own sufferings” (WND-2, 934).

This passage from the Nirvana Sutra praises the boundless capacity for compassion of the Buddha, who, seeing people suffering, feels those sufferings as if they were his own. The “varied sufferings of all living beings” refers to the different painful problems people experience in life. Shakyamuni Buddha took on these diverse sufferings as his own and sought to resolve them. The Daishonin, however, takes this a step further by referring to the “shared sufferings of all living beings.” He clarifies that all the different sufferings of living beings essentially arise from the same single cause of slander of the Law [disregarding the Buddhahood in oneself and others or distorting that truth], and he boldly declares that he has taken it upon himself to find a way to overcome these sufferings.

Our efforts to teach others about the principles and ideals of Nichiren Buddhism in the Latter Day of the Law—an age rife with the three poisons of greed, anger and foolishness—confront these shared sufferings and open the way for the happiness of others and ourselves.

In another writing, Nichiren observes: “Famine occurs as a result of greed, pestilence as a result of foolishness, and warfare as a result of anger. 

“At present the people of Japan number 4,994,828 men and women, all of them different persons but all alike infected by the three poisons” (“King Rinda,” WND-1, 989).

This passage dynamically portrays the close interrelation between the lives of human beings and events in society and in the environment. Nichiren asserts that famine, pestilence and war occur because of the prevalence of the three poisons in people’s lives.

Viewed from one perspective, then, human history has been a tragic cycle of negative cause and effect, of people hating and wounding one another, fueled by the three poisons. In order to put an end to this sad state of affairs and turn our planet into a realm of peace and coexistence, a powerful philosophy that can transform people’s lives at the most fundamental level is absolutely essential. This philosophy is none other than the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, with its teaching of the great pure Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which we of the SGI chant.

The Daishonin states that the sufferings of all living beings are “the Thus Come One’s [Shakyamuni’s] own sufferings” and “Nichiren’s own sufferings” (“On Reprimanding Hachiman,” WND-2, 934). Both Shakyamuni and Nichiren single-handedly took on the sufferings of all people and devoted their whole lives to teaching and spreading the Law to help people overcome these sufferings.

All it takes is one person. A great history is always made by great individuals, and their work is carried on and spread by successors or disciples who share their spirit.

The main theme of my novel The Human Revolution is summarized in the statement “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind” (p. viii). This also expresses the vow of those who are united by the bonds of the oneness of mentor and disciple in the realm of faith and who practice Nichiren’s teachings in the present age.

Compassion gives rise to wisdom.

What exactly is the Buddha’s compassion? Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom discusses the term generally used in Buddhism for compassion—jihi in Japanese—explaining that the Chinese character for ji, or pity, means imparting joy to people, while hi, or mercy, means relieving them of their sufferings. Opening the way for relieving suffering and imparting joy so that all people may attain enlightenment is an expression of the Buddha’s compassion.

Empathizing with others’ pain and suffering is different from merely feeling pity. Ultimately, the only way for someone to truly overcome their problems is for that person to summon the power from within the depths of their life to stand up strongly on their own to challenge those problems. Mr. Toda pointed out: “You can’t help anyone in a truly meaningful way by just saying how sorry you feel for them. Become leaders who can offer genuine guidance and encouragement based on faith. You should say what needs to be said and then chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together with the person you’re encouraging.” True Buddhist compassion has nothing to do with sentimentality or mere pity. This is because sentimentality or mere pity cannot help the other person achieve victory in life; it cannot truly relieve suffering and impart joy, for it does not solve the fundamental problem in terms of “shared sufferings.” 

“Compassion gives rise to wisdom,” Mr. Toda maintained. “The compassion to want to help others overcome their problems will bring forth the necessary wisdom for us to know the best way to proceed.” 

Buddhism is a struggle to be victorious. So are our lives and our efforts in society. Nichiren encouraged his disciples with both compassion and strictness to spur them to summon forth the power of the Buddha from within and attain happiness without fail.

We can substitute courage for compassion.

The Buddha’s compassion could be described as a passionate, irrepressible wish to awaken people’s lives and help them unlock their inner potential for absolute victory. The Daishonin embarked all alone on his struggle to refute the erroneous and reveal the true in the realm of Buddhism. Enduring all kinds of persecution, including the hatred and jealousy of people throughout the land, he forged ahead to open the supreme path for the enlightenment of all humankind.

Nichiren Daishonin states: “‘Great compassion’ is like the mercy and compassion that a mother feels for her child. At present it is the mercy and compassion of Nichiren and his followers” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 43). When disciples unite their hearts with a teacher of great compassion, they can bring forth the power to relieve others’ suffering and impart joy to them. Consequently, the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple in Buddhism is a source of boundless compassion.

Mr. Toda declared: “The Daishonin is a Buddha of great compassion without compare. We should make his all-embracing compassion known throughout the world.” The direct path to realizing this undertaking is found in our vibrant day-to-day efforts to reach out to others in Buddhist dialogue. 

Since the pioneering days of our movement, our members have empathized with those who were suffering, chanted for their growth and happiness, spoken with great conviction about the principles and ideals of Buddhism, and helped many people fundamentally transform their lives by introducing them to faith in the Mystic Law. No matter how our members were scorned or ridiculed, they never retreated in their efforts, always rushing to the side of those who were suffering and warmly supporting them. They have continuously encouraged others to become happy through practicing Nichiren Buddhism, assuring them that they would be able to overcome all obstacles. These are truly the courageous and persevering efforts of Buddhas.

Mr. Toda said: “As ordinary mortals, it can sometimes be difficult for us to summon forth compassion, but we can substitute courage for compassion. The courage to speak the truth is equivalent to compassion. They are two sides of the same coin, and the ‘heads’ side of that coin is courage.” He also said: “If you share Nichiren Buddhism with others in that spirit of courage and compassion, they cannot fail to listen to you. Even the most stubborn child is no match for a mother’s love.”

Our network of courageous compassion has now spread to 192 countries and territories. Nowhere can we find a more wonderful organization than the SGI in its dedicated efforts to warmly support and bring hope to people everywhere.

Dr. N. Radhakrishnan, a leading Gandhian scholar with whom I have published a dialogue, once said to a group of SGI youth, “Human revolution starts with relieving others’ suffering and imparting joy to them.”

The victory of dialogue over military might, of the people over authority, of conviction over doubt, of compassion over hate and of wisdom over deceit—our practice of Nichiren Buddhism runs at the forefront of actualizing these principles.

By overcoming life’s problems, we become strong.

Youth is a time of never-ending worries and concerns. But only by overcoming life’s problems and obstacles can we become truly strong. If every-thing always goes smoothly, we will grow spoiled and complacent and be unable to build a solid foundation for our lives. Only by experiencing suffering ourselves can we understand the suffering of others and deepen our compassion.

Encountering many hardships and challenges in the course of fulfilling our mission for kosen-rufu is itself an honorable struggle to overcome the “shared sufferings of all living beings.” Our own victories will inspire many people and become a source of hope for our successors. For leaders to experience difficulties and show their triumph over them is an expression of compassion.

The SGI youth, forging ahead with the vibrant spirit to share Nichiren Buddhism with others, are great champions of relieving suffering and imparting joy, challenging the shared sufferings of all humanity.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi stated sternly, “The misguided belief that it’s OK to behave badly or unethically as long as one isn’t breaking the law is the cause of many of the ills afflicting society today, and, as a result, self-righteous hypocrites abound.” Acting selfishly without thinking about the consequences for others, or doing whatever one pleases as long as one doesn’t get caught—such egotism and corruption are rife in society today. Viewed in this light, the altruistic actions of Soka Gakkai members, on a par with the actions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, are indescribably noble. And that’s precisely why we are the targets of envy and abuse.

Mr. Toda declared: “The Soka Gakkai is the most joyful and harmonious realm in the entire universe. We must not allow devilish functions to harm it.”

‘Buddhism has no borders.’

he Soka Gakkai, which Mr. Toda described as more precious than his own life, today receives messages from leaders and thinkers in Japan and around the world conveying their immense support and high hopes for our movement. The times have definitely changed. 

Dr. Marietta Stepanyants, director of the Center for Oriental Philosophy Studies at the Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, has said: “Buddhism represents the unique case of a world religion that has succeeded in spreading its message all over the globe without use of any violence or military expansion. The only means that have been used were words (that is, its teachings) and deeds (the conduct demonstrated by those who have chosen the Buddhist way).” This is truly a keen observation. The history of the transmission of Buddhism—carried out solely through the means of “soft power” in the form of the words and behavior of its practitioners—is a glorious record of triumph of the human spirit.

The victory of dialogue over military might, of the people over authority, of conviction over doubt, of compassion over hate and of wisdom over deceit—our practice of Nichiren Buddhism runs at the forefront of actualizing these principles. Our global movement centering on peace, culture and education is the crystallization of the great compassion and wisdom of Buddhism. Because our movement is based on this towering life philosophy, it has a depth of a completely different quality from other similar movements in the past. No matter how lofty a movement’s ideals, if it lacks a sound life philosophy or view of life and death, it will be hindered by negative emotions like mistrust, jealousy and hatred, and end up splitting into factions and disintegrating. History gives clear testimony to this fact.

Buddhism focuses attention on the heart and mind, or people’s fundamental life condition. It is grounded in the most universal foundation of life itself, transcending all differences such as ethnicity, educational background and worldly titles. This is why it can open a path for creating new value for humanity while directly and boldly forging heart-to-heart and life-to-life bonds free of narrow conventions and prejudices.

“Buddhism has no borders”—this was my mentor’s creed. As his direct disciple, I have stirred a groundswell of humanistic dialogue across the globe. It is important to take action and talk with others. I have striven in the belief that my continued efforts in this sphere would create a steady ripple effect that would someday grow into a great tide capable of changing the course of human history from division to unity, from conflict to harmony and from war to peace. 

Nobuyuki Okuma, a noted Japanese economist, who in his later years served as a professor at Soka University, remarked: “In nations of peace today, there no longer exists the notion that government is all-powerful; instead, something beyond politics guides the direction of government. … The source of pacifist ideas in both the East and West can generally be traced to philosophy or religion.” Philosophical and religious ideals lie at the foundation of human activities and nurture spirituality. The influence of such ideals is absolutely indispensable for the realization of a peaceful nation. Mr. Okuma placed his hopes in the Soka Gakkai’s development for this reason.

Mr. Toda said to the youth: “The life philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism offers fundamental insights into existence. We are guiding all people with this lofty teaching. You should therefore think of yourselves as world-class leaders.” I hope many outstanding leaders dedicated to kosen-rufu and the happiness of the people will emerge from the ranks of our youth division and future division members, who are practicing this unsurpassed philosophy in their youth.

It’s important to regard others’ sufferings and joys as our own.

It is crucial that we advance kosen-rufu. We must not permit devilish functions to hinder or obstruct our movement.

Mr. Toda said, “If we remain steadfast in our Buddhist practice, we’ll win the trust of people from all walks of life and attain a lofty state of being that enables us to confidently guide them in the right direction.”

Leaders need to regard others’ sufferings and joys as their own and do their utmost to sincerely support them. Chanting and reciting the sutra together with them is important. Moreover, we should follow the example of our mentors in faith and take the initiative, resolutely opening the way to victory—this is the noble path of truly humanistic leaders.

The Soka Gakkai is an organization dedicated to overcoming the shared sufferings of all humankind, in exact accord with the Daishonin’s spirit. Living out our lives together with the Soka Gakkai and doing all we can to support and protect it is to progress with “the utmost compassion” (“The Properties of Rice,” WND-1, 1117).

Let’s forge ahead triumphantly in high spirits, further strengthening and expanding our incomparably noble movement. Let’s bring magnificent blossoms of the shared commitment and victory of mentor and disciple to bloom—blossoms of happiness and joy.

With the new century 
as our stage,
let’s cheerfully advance,
armed with philosophy
and compassion.

April 21, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 2–4

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