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Buddhism of the Sun

Strengthening Our Grassroots Network of Bodhisattvas of the Earth for the Peace and Security of Humanity

Ikeda Sensei’s Lecture Series—Installment 85

Members in San Francisco, December 2022. Photo by Sanya Lu.

The renowned scientist Linus Pauling (1901–94), a two-time Nobel laureate (in chemistry and in peace), applauded our Soka movement in his commentary following my lecture titled “In Search of New Principles of Integration”[1] at Claremont McKenna College in California almost 30 years ago.

Dr. Pauling affirmed that the Buddhist concept of the Ten Worlds—especially, the altruistic world or life state of bodhisattva—which I discussed on that occasion, resonated with him deeply. He expressed high hopes for the Soka Gakkai in its efforts to help suffering people and contribute to peace, both of which are essential roles of religion.

• • •

Striving for Worldwide Kosen-rufu

As we approach May 3, Soka Gakkai Day, let us reconfirm the Soka Gakkai’s fundamental mission.

That mission is the worldwide propagation of the Mystic Law—the heart of the Lotus Sutra and the great teaching of universal enlightenment Nichiren Daishonin revealed. It means basing ourselves on the awareness that we are Bodhisattvas of the Earth[2] and working to spread the Mystic Law to help suffering people everywhere become happy and to realize peace and security for all humanity.

The awareness of this profound religious mission is the eternal starting point of the Soka Gakkai.

• • •

Now Is the Time for Youth to Rise to Action

I still vividly recall an occasion some six months before my mentor, Josei Toda, became second Soka Gakkai president. He had resigned as the organization’s general director owing to his business crisis. During these dire times, he explained to me—a young man giving my all to support him—the mission of the Soka Gakkai. It was as if he were conveying his final testament.

His message to me was—Behold our world ravaged by the cruel fires of war! Hear the cries of the nameless people! See the tears of steadfast mothers! Save humanity from suffering! We are the undisputed Bodhisattvas of the Earth who have emerged in accord with our vow to spread the correct teaching in the Latter Day of the Law. We are the true disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. Based on that awareness, the Soka Gakkai must cast off the transient and reveal the true.[3] Our mission is to realize the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law without fail.

Taking to heart my mentor’s conviction that we are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, I firmly resolved—Now is the time for youthful Bodhisattvas of the Earth to rise to action. This is vital if we are to build a path to real and lasting peace and happiness for all humanity. I won’t leave it to others. I will fight. I will stand up. I will speak out. I will forge ahead in the vanguard, through the crashing waves! Whatever it takes, I will ensure that Mr. Toda becomes second Soka Gakkai president!

May 3, 1951, was our day of triumph in this unseen shared struggle of mentor and disciple. It was the day when the Soka Gakkai cast off the transient and revealed the true, when the entire membership stood up with pride as Bodhisattvas of the Earth and, together with Mr. Toda as second president, set forth to fulfill our mission for kosen-rufu in accord with the Buddha’s intent.

• • •

‘The Journey I Resolved to Carry Out From Time Without Beginning’

Then, on May 3, 1960, as a disciple whose heart was one with Mr. Toda, I became third Soka Gakkai president and began taking leadership in that capacity to advance another step toward the substantive realization of kosen-rufu.[4]

On that day, I composed a poem thinking of my mentor:

Under clear blue May skies, 
this day, this moment, 
has finally come
to begin the journey I resolved to carry out 
from time without beginning.

We celebrate May 3 as Soka Gakkai Day, our starting point. Each year, on this anniversary, we of the Soka Gakkai, united by the bonds of mentor and disciple, reaffirm our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth and renew our great vow for kosen-rufu.

By basing ourselves on faith directly connected to Nichiren Daishonin, we will forever advance among the people, sharing their sufferings as our own, and striving to guide them to happiness. We will forever carry on the great spirit of the Lotus Sutra.

One of the major themes of the essential teaching (latter 14 chapters) of the Lotus Sutra is: Who will propagate the Mystic Law after Shakyamuni’s death and lead all people to enlightenment in the Latter Day of the Law in his stead?

This pivotal role falls to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. In this installment, let’s begin by studying a passage from Nichiren’s writing “This Person Advances through the World.”

• • •

Appearing in the Latter Day of the Law, an Age Rife With Suffering

The present time corresponds to the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law. Passages of the sutra clearly state that at this time Bodhisattva Superior Practices[5] will appear and bestow the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo[6] on all the people of Japan. And they reveal that he will face exile and execution. I am also like the envoy of Bodhisattva Superior Practices because I spread this teaching.

The “Supernatural Powers” chapter states, “As the light of the sun and moon can banish all obscurity and gloom, so this person as he advances through the world can wipe out the darkness of living beings” [The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 318]. In this passage from the sutra, in the five-character phrase “this person as he advances through the world,” to whom do you think “this person” refers? I believe that it must be the person who is the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Superior Practices. The sutra states, “After I have passed into extinction, [one] should accept and uphold this sutra. Such a person assuredly and without doubt will attain the Buddha way” [LSOC, 318].

I am sure that you, too, are one who assists Bodhisattva Superior Practices in his propagation efforts. (“This Person Advances through the World,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1011)[7]

Though very brief, this letter notes that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth will emerge in the Latter Day of the Law and strongly implies that the Daishonin corresponds to Bodhisattva Superior Practices, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi regarded this passage as important and underlined it in his copy of Nichiren’s writings.

In the first section, Nichiren says that the present time is when the Bodhisattvas of the Earth emerge, just as the Lotus Sutra teaches. The “time” when they appear is “the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the Law,” and the “land” is Japan, which is in the saha world.[8] In this evil latter age, the Daishonin imparts the teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to all living beings in Japan and, by extension, the entire world. That is proof that Bodhisattva Superior Practices has in fact appeared in order to widely propagate the Lotus Sutra. In addition, the exiles and near execution the Daishonin experienced are exactly as predicted in the Lotus Sutra. That is why he says he is “like the envoy of Bodhisattva Superior Practices” (WND-1, 1011).

• • •

Practicing Buddhism in the Real World

In the second half of this passage, the Daishonin quotes lines from the concluding verse section of “Supernatural Powers of the Thus Come One,” the 21st chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

As the light of the sun and moon
can banish all obscurity and gloom,
so this person as he advances through the world
can wipe out the darkness of living beings. (LSOC, 318)

These words call to mind the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who illuminate the darkness of suffering in the Latter Day with the light of the Mystic Law.

The Daishonin then asks who “this person”—in the phrase “this person as he advances through the world”[9] refers to. In his ensuing answer, he suggests that he himself is “this person” and “the reincarnation of Bodhisattva Superior Practices” (WND-1, 1011). If that is the case, then Nichiren Daishonin is the teacher of the Latter Day of the Law, whom Shakyamuni entrusted with propagating the Lotus Sutra after his passing. And that is why we of the Soka Gakkai respect him as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

“Reincarnation” here does not mean “rebirth.” It is used figuratively to refer to someone who, though separated by place and time, embodies the same spirit and actions of the predecessor, in this case Bodhisattva Superior Practices, spreading the Mystic Law and undergoing persecutions in exact accord with the Lotus Sutra. This person who practices just as the Buddha teaches is described as a “reincarnation” of Superior Practices. As Nichiren states elsewhere, “Though the people are different, the cause is the same” (“Letter from Sado,” WND-1, 305).

In Buddhism, the Law is always fundamental. But if there is no person to practice and spread it, the Law will neither benefit people nor flourish. As Nichiren writes, “The Law does not spread by itself: because people propagate it, both the people and the Law are respectworthy” (Gosho zenshu, new edition, p. 2200 [Gosho zenshu, p. 856]).[10]

A Buddha or bodhisattva is not a supernatural or fictional being. We each possess within us the potential to manifest the life state of a bodhisattva or Buddha. The Bodhisattvas of the Earth, through the power of their vow, are born in this evil age that is filled with suffering people and demonstrate how to stand up as empowered human beings. The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are endowed with the same Buddha virtues as Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment in the distant past but by choice never depart from the reality of the nine worlds.[11]

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth described in the Lotus Sutra are those who, while grappling with their own problems, voluntarily and without pretense leap in among the people of this evil age and strive to encourage and guide them to happiness.

The words “advances through the world” indicate that this real world, society, is the place where the Bodhisattvas of the Earth practice and carry out their activities. Elsewhere, the Daishonin affirms this truth: “A person of wisdom is not one who practices Buddhism apart from worldly affairs” (“The Kalpa of Decrease,” WND-1, 1121).

• • •

Be Practitioners of the Bodhisattva Way

“Advances” in the phrase “this person as he advances through the world” is a translation of the Chinese character gyo, which also means “action” or “practice.” The word “practice” appears in the names of Bodhisattva Superior Practices and the other three leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who are together known as the four bodhisattvas.[12] This underscores how putting practice or action first is the heart of the bodhisattva way. The Daishonin designating himself the votary or practitioner of the Lotus Sutra is also profoundly significant.

In November 1942, the year before his arrest by Japan’s militarist authorities, Mr. Makiguchi also called on members to be true practitioners:

While there is no dispute about the fact that someone who believes [in the Mystic Law] will have their prayers answered and realize benefit, this alone does not constitute bodhisattva practice. There is no such thing as a self-centered Buddha who simply accumulates personal benefit and does not work for the well-being of others. Unless we carry out bodhisattva practice, we cannot attain Buddhahood.[13]

At the end of his letter, Nichiren says in praise, “You, too, are one who assists Bodhisattva Superior Practices in his propagation efforts” (WND-1, 1011). What deep gratitude we owe the Daishonin, who warmly embraces his disciples—connected to him by deep karmic ties—counting them among the gathering of Bodhisattvas of the Earth working for kosen-rufu, an undertaking that brings unsurpassed benefit! We of the Soka Gakkai are all part of this great movement of Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

• • •

The Beings of the Ten Worlds All Emerge From the Mystic Law

These bodhisattvas emerge from the earth of the Wonderful Law, which is hence the great earth of the Ten Worlds. They emerge and come forth from the Wonderful Law, and hence the beings of the Ten Worlds all emerge in this fashion. These living beings of the Ten Worlds are bodhisattvas of the Wonderful Law, and hence all are great beings endowed with profound pity and compassion who benefit all sentient beings in great abundance. … These bodhisattvas embody the pity and compassion that are inherently a part of all living beings of the Ten Worlds. And because the original Law of Myoho-renge-kyo [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] is being transferred to these bodhisattvas, they emerge from the earth in this fashion. Nichiren and his followers, who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, are just such bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth. One should not seek for such bodhisattvas anywhere else. (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 232–33)[14]

Next, let’s study a section from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings commenting on “Emerging from the Earth,” the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

Here, Nichiren freely and dynamically expands on the phrase “emerging from the earth”—which is also the chapter’s title—in terms of the life states of the Ten Worlds.

He states, “These bodhisattvas … emerge and come forth from the Wonderful Law [Mystic Law], and hence the beings of the Ten Worlds all emerge in this fashion” (OTT, 232–33). This is based on a passage from the Lotus Sutra where innumerable bodhisattvas break open the earth and emerge. Those who emerge, Nichiren says, are not only beings of the world of bodhisattva, but also beings of all the Ten Worlds (from hell through Buddhahood), adding that they are all inherently “bodhisattvas of the Wonderful Law [Mystic Law]” (OTT, 233).

We, too, possess all of the Ten Worlds. Even should we find ourselves in a state of hellish suffering, as long as we remain undefeated, continue to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo wholeheartedly and strive with all our might, we can fulfill our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth. We have no need for any pretense. We can strive just as we are. Whatever our present life state or circumstances, we can use everything to help us carry out our bodhisattva practice.

Likewise, we all have different jobs and professions, different stations in life, different talents and personalities. In our own unique spheres and capacities, we are active in society, doing our best to help others. Our beautiful diversity—like the “cherry, plum, peach, and damson” (see OTT, 200)—is vibrant proof of the nobility of our lives as embodiments of the Mystic Law endowed with the Ten Worlds.

Going back to the passage we are studying, the beings of the Ten Worlds who emerge are all bodhisattvas of the Mystic Law, whose behavior and actions express the compassionate impulse to bring benefit to humanity and all living things.

• • •

The Spring Breeze of Compassion

Countless bodhisattvas, some nameless and some famous, appear in the Lotus Sutra—the latter including Maitreya[15] and Manjushri.[16] According to Nichiren, however, the bodhisattvas of the Mystic Law are not any such special, personified beings. He is saying that the living beings of the Ten Worlds inherently possess compassion. All people “embody the pity and compassion that are inherently a part of all living beings” (OTT, 233). In other words, everyone is originally a bodhisattva. Everyone can open the life state of bodhisattva within and work for their own and others’ happiness. The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are actual proof of this.

Nichiren writes, “These great bodhisattvas [who emerged from the earth] are particularly suited to bring benefit to people in the Latter Day of the Law, like fish who are at home in the water or birds that move freely through the sky” (“On the Five Guides for Propagation,” WND-2, 551). The gentle spring breeze of compassion is sure to enfold the great earth of the people where the Bodhisattvas of the Earth forge ahead freely and vibrantly.

In the passage from The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, the Daishonin says that his disciples who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are “just such bodhisattvas who emerge from the earth” (OTT, 233). He solemnly urges them to maintain that pride and awareness. Today, Soka Gakkai members upholding and spreading the Mystic Law are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth and the true champions of kosen-rufu.

• • •

Transforming This Saha World of Ours Into a Buddha Realm

The stage upon which these Bodhisattvas of the Earth emerge is none other than this saha world.

In the “Emerging from the Earth” chapter, Shakyamuni identifies the land where he dwells as “this saha world of mine” (LSOC, 252). These words convey Shakyamuni’s warm affection for this world. The fact that Shakyamuni who attained enlightenment in the distant past refers to it as “this saha world of mine” is a defining feature of the Lotus Sutra. The Bodhisattvas of the Earth join with their teacher Shakyamuni in rising to action to make this saha world of theirs shine as a Buddha realm.

During Shakyamuni’s lifetime there were many different kingdoms or lands in India and throughout the world. But in the saha world, where the innumerable Bodhisattvas of the Earth appear in the “Emerging from the Earth” chapter, there are no boundaries or borders separating those lands. To the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, everyone is part of this precious saha world that is their home, people with whom they share profound karmic ties.

• • •

Awakening to the Roots of ‘Emerging from the Earth’

Also, to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, those who dwell in the saha world are all residents of planet Earth, all global citizens. This bears a strong resemblance to the vision of global citizenship[17] articulated by my mentor, Josei Toda.

In the past, I wrote of this great earth of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, the root of all life, in a poem infused with a prayer for a solution to racial discrimination.[18]

Here is the home, the dwelling place
to which humankind traces
its original existence—
beyond all borders,
beyond all differences of gender and race.
Here is a world offering true proof
of our humanity.

If one reaches back to these fundamental roots,
all become friends and comrades.
To realize this is to “emerge from the earth.”[19]

We, the global citizens of Soka, are expanding our great network of ordinary people who “emerge from the earth” on a global scale.

• • •

Putting the Bodhisattva Spirit Into Action

Voicing his conviction that a commitment to the welfare of others must be our model for building harmonious societies, Dr. Pauling said: “I think it is [important] to strive to attain this realm of human existence—number nine, the bodhisattva state—and act accordingly.”[20] This powerful assertion by the eminent scholar, then 91, was indeed a message to future generations.

It is certainly true that the bodhisattva spirit of steadfast belief in the dignity and worth of the human being is vital if we are to transform our world rife with division and conflict into one where harmony and peace prevail.

No matter how painful and difficult the reality of our world today, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, lauded by Shakyamuni for having “thoroughly forged their resolve” (“General Stone Tiger,” WND-1, 953), never succumb to despair or resignation.

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are bodhisattvas of courage and hope who have emerged in the most trying age of the Latter Day of the Law, in the most challenging realm of this saha world, to strive joyously from today on to tomorrow and into the eternal future.

The “Emerging from the Earth” chapter lists their virtues:

Day and night with constant diligence
They … seek the Buddha way. (LSOC, 260)

Unsoiled by worldly things
like the lotus flower in the water. (LSOC, 263)

Firm in will, in no way timid or immature. (LSOC, 263)

They are clever at difficult questions and answers,
their minds know no fear. (LSOC, 263)

They have firmly cultivated persevering minds. (LSOC, 263)

We ordinary people can freely reveal these brilliant qualities as we dance on the world stage as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

• • •

Never Forget the Dauntless Resolve of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Nichiren Daishonin writes: “When great evil occurs, great good follows. … The great correct Law will spread without fail. What could any of you have to lament? … When Bodhisattva Superior Practices emerged from the earth, did he not emerge dancing?” (“Great Evil and Great Good,” WND-1, 1119).

No matter what happens and however stormy the times, we must never forget the dauntless resolve of proud and courageous Bodhisattvas of the Earth or our mission that accords with the Buddha’s intent—both of which the Daishonin taught us.

My dear friends, let us fortify and expand our gathering of Soka Bodhisattvas of the Earth that embraces the Buddhism of the Sun and compassionately spreads the Mystic Law for the sake of peace and the happiness of all humankind!

Translated from the May 2022 Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.

From the February 2023 Living Buddhism

Songs of Kosen-rufu

Take One Step Forward