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Daily Life

‘The Wise Will Rejoice’

How to achieve victory through an undefeated Buddhist practice.

Illustration by NatuskaDPI / Getty Images.

You should not have the slightest fear in your heart. It is lack of courage that prevents one from attaining Buddhahood, although one may have professed faith in the Lotus Sutra many times since innumerable kalpas ago.

There is definitely something extraordinary in the ebb and flow of the tide, the rising and setting of the moon, and the way in which summer, autumn, winter, and spring give way to each other. Something uncommon also occurs when an ordinary person attains Buddhahood. At such a time, 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,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 637

“I summoned this storm!”—how many of us feel so courageous when blindsided by obstacles? And yet, in the above oft-repeated passage from “The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” Nichiren Daishonin teaches his embattled disciples that embodying such a spirit is the key to overcoming adversity.

Nichiren wrote this letter around 1276 to Ikegami Munenaga, the younger of the two Ikegami brothers. The family were retainers to the Kamakura military government in Musashi Province, and when Munenaga and his elder brother, Munenaka, became Nichiren’s followers, their father, Yasumitsu, staunchly opposed their faith.

The father, a supporter of the True Word school and its chief priest Ryokan, went so far as to pit the brothers against one another and disown the eldest son twice in attempts to strongarm them into abandoning their faith. Yet, at every crucial juncture, the two brothers and their wives united around Nichiren’s encouragement and ultimately persevered, with the father taking faith a year after this writing. 

In his commentary on this letter,[1] Ikeda Sensei states that when we stand up with courage, of our own initiative, our hearts fill with hope and purpose. “Unless one steers straight into the waves, the boat will be capsized,” he continues. “In the same way, we must never give in to or fear devils. The only thing to do is to face them head-on. That’s the way to forge the indestructible life state of Buddhahood.”[2]

In this issue, the World Tribune gleans several points from Sensei’s lecture on “The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” about how an undefeated Buddhist practice opens the way to achieve victory over any obstacle.

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

Ikeda Sensei’s Guidance

1. The appearance of obstacles will become a source of joy.

Though we speak of the three obstacles and four devils appearing, no one wishes to have to face adversity. That is surely a natural human reaction. But Nichiren Daishonin says that the appearance of the three obstacles and four devils is a source of joy. How could that be? It doesn’t seem possible. But it is, in fact, by overcoming the steep hills and inclines of obstacles that we can forge our lives and ascend the summit of Buddhahood, where we can savor the sublime vista of eternity, happiness, true self and purity.[3]

My mentor, Josei Toda, often spoke about the three obstacles and four devils. He said their appearance represented the valleys of training and development that lie in between the hills of benefit that we climb on the way to scaling the highest mountain of Buddhahood.[4]

2. We need to ‘own’ our obstacles as something we ourselves have summoned up. 

The important thing is how we approach the three obstacles and four devils. We need to “own” them, to look at them as something we ourselves have summoned up. It may seem that we are being assailed by the three obstacles and four devils, but the reality is just the opposite. Because we have voluntarily set ourselves to the task of climbing the peak of Buddhahood, they have arisen. The fact that we encounter these obstacles and devilish functions is proof that we are upholding the correct teaching and advancing in the right direction. We are in charge; we are the protagonists. The three obstacles and four devils are trials we must surmount to attain lasting happiness imbued with the noble virtues of Buddhahood. For those who have made this their resolve, the struggle against the three obstacles and four devils is indeed a great joy.[5]

3. When we chant and unite with our fellow members, we can bring forth the same fighting spirit as Nichiren.

The crucial thing when confronting such obstacles is, first, to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. By bringing the life state of Buddhahood to flow vibrantly within us, we can vanquish devilish functions.

The second point is to stay united with our fellow members in the harmonious community of practitioners. We mustn’t allow our lives to be controlled by our environment. Instead, we must engage actively in the realm of faith and practice, advancing together with the mentor, who has selflessly dedicated his life for the Law, and with fellow members in the spirit of many in body, one in mind. When we do so, the same fighting spirit that Nichiren demonstrated when battling devilish functions will well up in our own lives. Coming into contact with the lives of others striving for kosen-rufu will strengthen your own life.[6]

4. Encountering obstacles is what differentiates one as a genuine practitioner.

[Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo] Makiguchi stated, “Encountering obstacles or devilish functions is what distinguishes ‘practitioners’ from mere ‘believers.’” He also said: “People leading lives of minor good who practice faith only for their own benefit will certainly not encounter obstacles, but those leading lives of major good dedicated to altruistic bodhisattva practice will most definitely be assailed by devilish functions. Encountering obstacles and devilish functions is what identifies one as a practitioner.”

The three obstacles and four devils are the functions of fundamental darkness or ignorance arising from our own lives and the lives of others. When we practice the bodhisattva way that draws forth the inherent enlightenment or Dharma nature of ourselves and others, obstacles and devilish functions are bound to make their appearance.

Mr. Makiguchi also said that we should actively seek to bring such devilish functions out into the open. By summoning them forth and vanquishing them, he asserted, we could deepen our faith, acquire immeasurable benefit and change poison into medicine, establishing a life condition of supreme happiness. And through his example of facing persecution and battling obstacles with this spirit, he left a model of faith and practice for all SGI members.[7]

5. When we practice together with the Soka Gakkai, the harmonious community of practitioners carrying out the Buddha’s intent and decree, we will never be defeated.

In the midst of our great campaign in Kansai during the pioneering days of our movement [the Osaka Campaign of 1956], my fellow members and I engraved in our hearts Nichiren’s words “The wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.” In the face of tremendous challenges, we were determined to behave as the wise. 

Precisely because the Soka Gakkai has consistently triumphed over all obstacles and devilish functions it has encountered, our movement has spread to 192 countries and territories and the seeds of the Mystic Law have been sown around the world. I am sure this would make Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda very happy and win the praise of Nichiren and the Buddhas of the ten directions and three existences. 

Therefore, as long as we continue to practice Nichiren Buddhism together with the SGI—the harmonious community of practitioners carrying out the Buddha’s intent and decree—we will never fail to defeat the devilish functions that may assail us.[8]

6. The appearance of the three obstacles and four devils signals the time of kosen-rufu.

[President Toda said:]

The honor each one of us earns through striving as a champion of kosen-rufu is unfathomable and will endow our lives with immeasurable benefit. At the dawn of kosen-rufu, how immense will be the sadness of those who were unable to take part in this great struggle! It is truly significant to be able to encounter an auspicious time. … 

At the time of kosen-rufu, a hundred or two hundred years from now, countless people will look back at those of us who are striving here and now as champions of kosen-rufu, and exclaim in admiration: ‘Look at them! They fought hard for kosen-rufu. They were truly champions of kosen-rufu.’ And there will be untold numbers of us who will be praised by the Gohonzon for our efforts.

Let us be confident that the appearance of the three obstacles and four devils in our lives signals the approaching arrival of the age of worldwide kosen-rufu.[9]

September 1, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 6–7


  1. See The Teachings for Victory, vol. 4. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., p. 136. ↩︎
  3. Known as the four virtues, the noble qualities of the Buddha’s life are explained as follows: “eternity” means unchanging and eternal; “happiness” means tranquility that transcends all suffering; “true self” means true and intrinsic nature; and “purity” means free of illusion or mistaken conduct. ↩︎
  4. See Learning From Nichiren’s Writings: The Teachings for Victory, vol. 4, p. 136. ↩︎
  5. Ibid. ↩︎
  6. Ibid., p. 143. ↩︎
  7. Ibid., p. 142. ↩︎
  8. Ibid., p. 143. ↩︎
  9. Ibid., p. 146. ↩︎

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