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Ikeda Sensei

Cultivate a New Common Sense

Photo by Simon Berger / Pexels.

Today I want to share with you some of my ideas on history and life. What I desire above all is to raise leaders who are well equipped with the power of intellect. Therefore, I hope that each of you will study broadly and develop your understanding of life, society and the universe, based on your faith in Nichiren Buddhism. This type of learning enables you to cultivate a rich state of life, or inner world, drawing forth profound wisdom and limitless leadership ability from the depths of your life.

When the long-entrenched barriers of “common sense” in people’s hearts are broken down, a new common sense, borne on the wings of lively dialogue, begins to take shape. This signifies the beginning of a new era and of fundamental change in society.

Before Copernicus, the heliocentric theory was outside the realm of common sense, as was the theory of evolution before Charles Darwin. Today, however, those ideas are widely accepted. Likewise, there are currently many misconceptions and prejudices regarding Buddhism. Nevertheless, I am confident that in the future the Buddhist teachings will become a matter of common sense among all people. That will be the time of kosen-rufu. …

Please  be confident that the development of human wisdom will produce an increasing body of evidence pointing to the greatness of Buddhism.

During the struggle for American independence, there was a small, 50-page pamphlet that triggered a momentous change in people’s outlooks. This pamphlet altered the destiny of America and the world. That pamphlet was Common Sense (1776) by Thomas Paine (1737–1809).

This publication shook dispirited and cowardly people from the shackles of their accustomed common sense as colonial subjects. The author appealed to his fellow citizens to take a brave step toward freedom and independence, to never succumb to the authority and power represented by tyrannical rule and hereditary distinctions of class. He asserted that by taking one courageous step forward, they could arrive at a common sense that was new and correct. …

The power of the written word sometimes defies imagination. The cry for freedom in this booklet galvanized the hearts of the people.

We are now advancing toward a new century, a Century of Life in which all people will enjoy the benefits of equality, happiness and freedom to the fullest. The fundamental common sense of Buddhism and of life itself forms the basis for our activities toward this goal.

The road we walk is not level. We must climb a great mountain, a task that invariably requires painful effort. In the world of Buddhism, however, no effort is wasted. All the causes that you make will be engraved in the depths of your life; they are passages in the golden diary of your eternal existence.

Thomas Paine volunteered to serve in the American War of Independence. He was then 39, roughly the same age as many senior leaders of our youth division.

I always place high value on personal initiative. Spontaneity underlies the spirit of autonomy and independence; conversely, taking action only because one is told to amounts to slavery of the spirit. Our movement will be advanced by brave people armed with the spirit of independence who voluntarily strive to fulfill the vow they made in time without beginning. Because they struggle on their own volition, they have no complaints or grievances. The greater the obstacles they face, the greater the courage, wisdom and power they muster from within.

When Paine joined the War of Independence, the American forces, led by General George Washington, were at a grave impasse. They were no match for the enemy forces, and in battle after battle, they were defeated and forced to retreat. Soldiers deserted in droves.

Paine dared to join the army at a time when its defeat seemed certain. In what Paine later called “a passion of patriotism,” he poured his heart into writing a document based on his own experience in the Continental Army. That tract, The American Crisis, begins with the famous sentence “These are the times that try men’s souls.” In this piece, he posed the question: Will we shrink from this moment of crisis on which the war’s outcome hangs, or shall we stand firm and turn the situation to our favor?

He also writes, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”[1] Victory is not easily won. If it is, it will not be a source of pride. What gratification, for instance, could a sumo wrestler derive from defeating a child? Only when one fights and wins over dire circumstances will one’s victory shine brilliantly in history.

On a cold, blizzardy day toward the end of the year, General Washington gathered soldiers who, after successive defeats, had lost their spirit and become thoroughly exhausted. The brave general had Paine’s essay read to these soldiers, as though calling out to them on the front lines of the battlefield. Passion raced through their hearts, and their spirit to carry on the war for justice was revived. Paine’s cry, arising from his soul as he contemplated the desperate situation, filled each soldier with the infinite power of courage and hope.

In this way, the American army righted itself and launched a great offensive. Crossing a frozen river swiftly, they crushed the enemy soldiers who had been caught off guard capriciously celebrating Christmas. This battle changed the course of the war and eventually led to victory and independence. …

In any struggle, the critical point is how a leader inspires others. As you are leaders of kosen-rufu, I ask that you encourage friends of the Mystic Law in such a manner that the powers of faith and life force surge forth in their lives. I hope that your efforts in the struggle of faith will serve to increase the majesty and strength of the Buddhist deities.

From the April 2024 Living Buddhism


  1. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 63. ↩︎

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