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Ikeda Sensei

Win With a Lion’s Heart (Part 2)

Photo by Collie Coburn / Unsplash.

The following 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. 28, 2009, World Tribune. Part one appears in the Nov. 11, 2022, World Tribune, pp. 2–3.

“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)

A life state equal to the teacher can be realized when disciples “struggle together” with the teacher. This means that it is by casting their lot with the teacher, sharing sufferings and joys, and winning over countless challenges and hardships together, that disciples come to attain the same vast life state, the very same benefits and virtues, as the teacher.   

First Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi said: “If you’ve really grasped with your life what I have said, you’ll be able to express it in your own words, both verbally and in writing, and you’ll also be able to demonstrate it in your actions. Understanding in thought, word and deed is genuine comprehension.” In precisely this manner, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda put Mr. Makiguchi’s teachings into practice with a noble spirit of selfless dedication. “Disciples have to follow the path of a disciple,” Mr. Toda said. “Both in word and deed, we have to reveal our mentor’s teaching with our lives.” This is the true spirit of a disciple in Buddhism. 

When Mr. Toda’s businesses fell into dire financial straits, I gave my all to protect and support him. My sole wish was for him to be able to boldly take the lead of the kosen-rufu movement for the sake of all humanity, and I fought and prayed tirelessly to make that happen. Mr. Toda had read Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings with his entire being and embodied them in his life. This is why I decided that devoting myself selflessly to assist him was the right way for me to gain a true and deep understanding of the profound principles of Buddhism, and I channeled all my youthful energies into this effort. 

“Both in word and deed, we have to reveal our mentor’s teaching with our lives.”

My discussions with Mr. Toda during that painful period of intense struggle also opened the way to many of the important achievements in kosen-rufu that have been realized to date. Each day we spent battling bitter trials and tribulations together, united in spirit, he taught me his lofty state of life, the very innermost essence of his being. I owe him an enormous debt. My appreciation to my mentor is boundless.

Unfortunately, there were other disciples who betrayed Mr. Toda and abandoned their faith the moment his fortunes changed for the worse. There were even some ingrates—people who previously made a great show of being devoted disciples—who suddenly did a complete about-face. They hurled vile insults at Mr. Toda and deserted him in his time of need.

A telling scene takes place in the Lotus Sutra just before Shakyamuni reveals his vow to make all people equal to him. This is the scene where 5,000 arrogant disciples stand up and leave the assembly just as Shakyamuni is about to teach the ultimate truth (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, pp. 63–67). Misguidedly believing they had attained what they in fact had not, these people scorned the Buddha’s teaching. In essence, their lives were pervaded by ignorance and ingratitude. But Shakyamuni does not try to prevent them from leaving. He just lets them go. He calmly carries on preaching, stating, “Now this assembly of mine is free of branches and leaves, made up solely of the steadfast and truthful” (LSOC, 63). He then proceeds to teach the way for all people to attain enlightenment, and his true followers rejoice from the depths of their beings. So unfolds the drama of the Lotus Sutra.

The disciples’ victory is the mentor’s victory.

The spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple is the lifeblood of Buddhism. The Buddha’s vow to make all people equal to him cannot be fulfilled by the Buddha alone. It also depends on how much the disciples who have heard the Buddha’s teaching actually exert themselves in their Buddhist practice with a sense of appreciation and resolve to live up to their teacher’s aspirations for them. This is the key. The way of the oneness of mentor and disciple is not complete unless the flame of gratitude burns in the disciples’ hearts. 

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren Daishonin states: “When teacher and disciples have fully responded to one another and the disciples have received the teaching, so that they gain the awakening referred to where the sutra says, ‘I took a vow, / hoping to make all persons / equal to me, without any distinction between us,’ this is what the sutra calls ‘causing living beings to awaken to the Buddha wisdom’” (p. 30). 

The victory of the disciples is the victory of the teacher. Because we of the Soka Gakkai, following the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple, have fought together with wisdom and strength equal to that of the Buddha, we have been able to realize the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law throughout Japan and the entire world. 

Nichiren sternly warns: “One who understands [that in this world, we owe four debts of gratitude] is worthy to be called human, while one who does not is no more than an animal” (“A Sage and an Unenlightened Man,” WND-1, 122). Those basehearted former disciples who forgot their debt of gratitude to Mr. Toda and cursed and denounced him in terrible betrayal invariably came to miserable and wretched ends. Similarly, those corrupt, self-serving individuals who, in more recent times, maliciously turned on the Soka Gakkai, trampling on the sincerity and support of their fellow members, have also walked a ruinous course to suffering and defeat. In accord with the law of cause and effect, actual proof of right and wrong is clearly revealed. We have seen this with our own eyes.  

The greater appreciation we feel for our mentor, the greater ability and strength we are able to manifest. The moment we vow to repay our debt of gratitude to our mentor, we set forth on a path toward the victory of mentor and disciple on the deepest level of life. We will then be able, together with our mentor, to eternally enjoy a wonderful life state equal to that of the Buddha.

Faith allows us to ‘change poison into medicine.’

The world is now in the midst of a severe economic downturn, bringing hard times to countries everywhere, including Japan. Our members are struggling valiantly with great determination to win. In cold regions, on remote islands and in isolated mountainous communities, they are striving tirelessly to spread the Mystic Law. There are also many members living in areas afflicted by natural disasters who have continued with incredible fortitude and strength to make positive contributions to their community while warmly encouraging and supporting their friends. Everywhere, SGI members are engaged in a great effort to widely share the Buddha’s compassionate teaching that all can equally attain the life state of Buddhahood. They are striving to create a society in which all can win. 

Please don’t ever give in to defeat. Faith in Nichiren Buddhism enables us to transform anything negative into something positive, in accord with the principle of  “changing poison into medicine.” Buddhism is about winning. I want you to be victorious. In the words of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “As the Buddha said, the real victory is the victory of all which involves no defeat.” 

American futurist Dr. Hazel Henderson has offered a vision of a “win-win world.” In our dialogue, we spoke of achieving this goal by transforming human history, moving from a past that operated according to the “law of the jungle” to a future in which everyone wins. To usher in such an age, people must have strength, they must grow, they must be filled with hope, and they must unite.

One of the titles of the Buddha is Victor. Guiding all people toward the towering life state of a paramount victor, a life state that soars as high as the Himalayas, is the lofty Buddhist ideal cherished by Shakyamuni and Nichiren and expressed as “making all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.” This is also the Soka spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple. 

Leading thinkers around the world are beginning to find illumination in the path of the oneness of mentor and disciple found in Buddhism. For example, Dr. Roberto Elias Canese, rector of the Universidad Columbia del Paraguay, has commented: “This philosophy of Buddhism is a positive means for spiritual revitalization. As each person is enabled to bring forth the maximum possible positive energy within their lives, they become individuals who can in turn transmit to others the serenity and wisdom they have acquired from their teacher.”

Dr. Elias Canese has a deep understanding of our movement. The oneness of mentor and disciple brings forth within us the ultimate good that is inherent in all people—the most powerful force for truth and justice. 

Governor Kim Sang Soon of South Korea’s Cheongdo County, which presented me with a certificate of honorary citizenship [in April 1999], has also praised the SGI’s path of the oneness of mentor and disciple. In his speech on that occasion, he remarked that gratitude is what makes us truly human and that people’s desire to show their appreciation for all they have learned and acquired spurs them to ponder the best direction for their lives and how they can best pay tribute to the teachers to whom they are indebted.  

‘I am a lion; may you be a lion, too.’

This year marks the 51st anniversary of Mr. Toda’s death [on April 2, 1958]. In the depths of my being, I still hear his booming voice calling to me, “Daisaku, Daisaku!”
I feel as though I have received my life from my mentor. His spiritual legacy flows within me. 

Soon again it will be March 16, Kosen-rufu Day. It commemorates the solemn ceremony of time without beginning in which Mr. Toda entrusted me and his other youthful successors with the baton of our noble cause. On that day in 1958, Mr. Toda proudly declared before several distinguished guests, “The Soka Gakkai is the king of the religious world!” This is the invincible Soka Gakkai spirit that will shine on forever. I faithfully inherited my mentor’s lofty cause and his powerful conviction; I boldly proclaimed them far and wide throughout the world and proved their validity. 

The curtain is now rising on a magnificent new stage of kosen-rufu, a stage opening out onto the next 50 years. My trusted disciples, blazing with the eternal life force that has been yours since the beginningless past, raise high the great banner of the victory of the oneness of mentor and disciple!

I am a lion;
may you be a lion, too—
our hearts one as mentor and disciple.

Jan.13, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 2–3

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