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Buddhist Study

‘Robe, Seat and Room’—Taking Dialogue to the Next Level

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In “The Teacher of the Law,” the 10th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches the importance of spreading the Mystic Law long after his passing, describing the challenging task of doing so in a confusing, strife-filled era, the current Latter Day of the Law.

He introduces the three rules of preaching, also known as the three rules of the robe, the seat and the room, which explain three key aspects of the Buddha’s spirit in spreading the Mystic Law. Shakyamuni states in the sutra: 

If there are good men and good women who, after the thus come one has entered extinction, wish to expound this Lotus Sutra for the four kinds of believers, how should they expound it? These good men and good women should enter the thus come one’s room, put on the thus come one’s robe, sit in the thus come one’s seat, and then for the sake of the four kinds of believers broadly expound this sutra. (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 205)

The imagery of the robe, seat and room helps us easily understand and apply the Nichiren Buddhist approach to carrying out respectful and meaningful dialogues.

—Prepared by World Tribune staff

Ikeda Sensei: An attitude of compassion does not mean looking down on someone from a position of superiority. It is not a vertical but a horizontal relationship. It is a feeling of sympathy toward others as fellow human beings. And it is based on respect.

That’s why it’s called the “room of compassion.” We invite a friend into a compassionate life-space and warmly embrace them; we sit down in the same room and discuss life as equals. We discuss things and learn from one another as fellow human beings, and together we strive to improve our lives. Creating such a warm and welcoming space for dialogue and exchange is in itself shakubuku.[1]

Help each person you talk with feel at ease to share openly. Actively listen to them rather than focusing on our expectations, motives or judgments of them. Even if what they say is different from what we think or believe, we can do our best to listen without interrupting them and try to understand their point of view.

Sensei: In seeking to propagate Buddhism after the Buddha’s passing, difficulties are inevitable. Therefore, it is necessary that we have a spirit of forbearance and patience. We need a spirit to endure. Enduring is neither retreating nor conceding defeat. We have to persevere and win. No matter what happens, we must not become disheartened. Kosen-rufu is a struggle of the spirit. Those who allow themselves to be inwardly defeated cannot be said to possess forbearance.[2]

Like putting on a warm coat to shield us from cold winds, putting on the Buddha’s robe means remaining firm and unswayed by any obstacle or opposition we encounter when sharing Buddhism. It means having the courage to reach out to others and never give up on them, remaining radiant and composed amid any situation.

Sensei: People tend to become attached to or caught up in various things. For example, they may be captivated by fame and social standing. Once they acquire these, they are loath to surrender them. … To sit in the seat of the emptiness of all phenomena, however, means daring to overcome these egoistic attachments and selflessly exert oneself in faith, to devote one’s life to kosen-rufu. The ultimate meaning of “emptiness” or “nonsubstantiality” is found in such faith.

This, of course, doesn’t mean treating our lives carelessly or thoughtlessly. Rather, it means using our precious lives ungrudgingly for the sake of Buddhism.[3]

By practicing Buddhism for ourselves and others, we can overcome our lesser selves, transform our lives and help others do the same. Through such efforts, we find the wisdom to see the enlightened potential of all life. In talking with others about Buddhism, we strive to inspire conviction in this potential that each person possesses.

Sensei: The key point is to pray that your sincerity will be understood by the other person. Wisdom arises from prayer. Prayer gives birth to confidence and joy.

While shakubuku is difficult, when we bear in mind that, through our actions, both the other person and we ourselves will definitely realize tremendous happiness and benefit, nothing could be more joyful. Mr. Toda often said: “We should not agonize over doing shakubuku. We have to do shakubuku with a sense of joy.”

In practice, while some will immediately believe and understand Nichiren Buddhism, there will of course be those for whom this will not be the case. But there is no need to be impatient. Whatever the immediate outcome of our efforts, there is absolutely no doubt about the benefit we receive from having offered earnest prayer and made the effort to conduct dialogue about our Buddhist faith. And precisely because shakubuku is not easy, it affords us opportunities to tap our innate wisdom and grow. If we plant a seed, in time it will definitely flower.

The key point, it seems to me, is to talk to people with a sense of joy and exhilaration to be serving as the Buddha’s envoy.[4]

March 15, 2024, World Tribune, p. 8


  1. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 2, p. 196. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., p. 199. ↩︎
  3. Ibid., p. 203. ↩︎
  4. Ibid., p. 194. ↩︎

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