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Ikeda Sensei

The Joy of Studying Buddhism

Photo by Thianchai Sitthikongsak / Getty Images.

The progress of our soul is like a perfect poem. It has an infinite idea which once realized makes all movements full of meaning and joy.”[1] These are the words of the renowned Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941).

As human beings, it is absolutely essential for us to earnestly inquire into the validity of various philosophies and, carefully weighing their correctness, superiority and depth, to engrave the best and highest philosophy into our lives.

In the “Twenty-six Admonitions of Nikko,” we are advised, “Followers of this school should engrave the teachings of the Gosho[2] in their lives” (Gosho zenshu, p. 1618).

This autumn [2001] in Japan, amid a growing tide of “expanding dialogue,” the waves of Buddhist study are also rising high as many youth infuse their lives with the great philosophy of Buddhism. 

In October and November [2001], respectively, the Soka Gakkai Study Department will hold an advanced exam for the youth division and the traditional entrance exam open to all members. I hope that the candidates for these two exams as well as those helping them study will make the most of this opportunity to deepen their understanding of the boundless philosophy of the Buddhism of the Sun.

One of the writings in the study curriculum for the youth exam is The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings. This is an important transcript of Nichiren Daishonin’s lectures by his disciple and successor Nikko Shonin.

This oral teaching—compiled through the unity of mentor and disciple—is a profoundly memorable one both for my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, and for me. When I first began studying Buddhism with him, we started with The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings. Mr. Toda was a very strict teacher. He would grill me about the meaning of Buddhist terms we encountered and ask me to explain various passages. I never knew what kind of question he would spring on me next. These study sessions would make me break out in a cold sweat, but today I am eternally grateful for Mr. Toda’s instruction, which was like the rigorous training of a master swordsman.

The actions of a Buddha are dedicated to people’s welfare, to peace and to bringing happiness and salvation to all humanity. Faith is the starting point for our own efforts to conduct ourselves as Buddhas, and study is the driving force for faith. Accordingly, there is no true faith without study; study is the eternal wellspring of faith. 

When I was young, I acquired the habit of recording in my diary Gosho passages that had left a deep impression on me. Only by studying with a burning desire to introduce Buddhism to others can we come in contact with the Daishonin’s spirit. Just memorizing Buddhist teachings and principles in a pedantic, abstract manner is not the way of study within Nichiren Buddhism. That is the behavior of arrogantly conceited hypocrites and pseudo-intellectuals.

I recorded the following determination in my diary one chilly autumn night in 1950.

The battle intensifies daily. No other choice but to forge ahead, cherishing the desire to win.

Work is important, but we must not neglect regular study of the Gosho.[3]

Without a sound grasp of Buddhist teachings, we cannot be called true great practitioners of Buddhism.

With faith as our inspiration and study as our wings, we can win the hearts of millions as we strive to illuminate their minds and gain their understanding. It is important that we each become such champions of kosen-rufu. This is how the Mystic Law spreads. Those who have a solid basis in faith and study are genuine leaders of Soka.

The members’ frightened reaction to the harsh persecution suffered by the Soka Gakkai during World War II keenly drove home to Mr. Toda the need to deepen the members’ grasp of Nichiren’s teachings. He knew that the Gosho clearly described the way to view various difficulties and phenomena encountered in the course of our Buddhist practice and the appropriate action to take depending on the circumstances. And he recognized, with hindsight, that there had been no time to fully impart this understanding to his fellow followers in the Soka Gakkai’s early formative period. In short, the prewar organization was defeated because the membership lacked a firm mastery of Buddhist study.

Allow me to state again that Buddhist study devoid of faith is the mark of hypocrites and pseudo-intellectuals. The pitiful figure of a former Soka Gakkai study department chief who abandoned his faith bears eloquent testimony to this. There was another sad individual who, though holding credentials from a famous university, similarly forsook his faith and embarked on a vicious course of spreading poisonous lies in an attempt to destroy Buddhism and the unity of believers. This is another stark example of Buddhist study without faith—an empty outward show of understanding Nichiren Buddhism.

We must not be deceived. The substance of a person’s faith can only be determined by whether they are acting in accord with the Daishonin’s teachings. It is arrogant and gravely misguided to pride oneself on one’s mastery of the Buddhist teachings if one only focuses on study while neglecting the other vital aspects of faith and practice. Such people are headed for certain ruin.

The American Renaissance thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1806–83), wrote: “The more profound the thought, the more burdensome. Always in proportion to the depth of its sense does it knock importunately at the gates of the soul, to be spoken, to be done.”[4]

Nichiren Buddhism extols the sanctity of life, declaring that “we ourselves are the treasure tower, we ourselves are the Buddha” (see “On the Treasure Tower,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 299). It represents a sure guiding philosophy of peace that offers solutions for our ailing contemporary society.

In the SGI, we always return to the Gosho—the sutra of the Latter Day of the Law—and from there advance, bathed in the light of infinite courage, wisdom and compassion. This is because the Gosho blazes with the brilliant life of Nichiren Daishonin, who endured all manner of persecution while opening the way for kosen-rufu in the ten thousand years and more of the Latter Day.

Through studying Nichiren’s writings, we can also acquire the sharp insight that enables us to perceive the essential nature of things and events, such as the unchanging pattern by which those who uphold truth and justice meet with slander and persecution. The fundamental purpose of our Buddhist study is so that we may stand up to the three powerful enemies,[5] who inevitably appear to hinder the advance of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and realize kosen-rufu without fail. When we internalize the teachings of Buddhism and read them with our lives, we truly become the Buddha of the true aspect of all phenomena, embodying the principle that ordinary people can manifest the supremely noble state of Buddhahood just as they are.

The joy of studying Buddhism deepens our conviction in faith, and that conviction fills us with the courage to discuss Buddhism with others.

Buddhism essentially began by Shakyamuni talking to his friends and convincing them of the truth of the Law to which he had awakened. From its inception, Buddhism has truly been a religion of dialogue. 

The writings of Nichiren Daishonin might also be described as the crystallization of a passionate spirit of dialogue. Several of his treatises—including “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” a conversation between host and guest, and “The Selection of the Time,” part of the study curriculum for the upcoming advanced exam—adopt a dialogue format in which questions and answers are exchanged. In many of the Daishonin’s letters, too, he happily responds to queries from followers and praises them for asking questions.

This tenacious spirit of dialogue, thoroughly grounded in the two ways of practice and study, is the enduring tradition of the SGI. We study, talk to others and study again. This is because the true path of Buddhist practice lies in this vibrant rhythm of study and dialogue fueled by a seeking mind.

Mr. Toda declared: “Begin your study from the most elevated philosophy. If you read and grasp the meaning of the Gosho, you will understand everything else.”

Young seekers, noble comrades in faith, now is the time to study hard and speak out with confidence! Armed with the Gosho, the teachings for all humanity, dance out onto the new stage of history! For the sake of a hope-filled future for humanity! And to bring the brilliant light of humanism to shine over our planet!

April 12, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 2–3


  1. Rabindranath Tagore, “Sadhana—The Realization of Life,” The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore—Plays, Stories, Essays, edited by Sisir Kumar Das (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996), vol. 2, p. 342. ↩︎
  2. Gosho: Works produced by Nichiren Daishonin (1222–82). The Japanese word gosho literally means honorable writings. ↩︎
  3. A Youthful Diary, pp. 54–55. ↩︎
  4. Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1929), vol. 1, p. 632. ↩︎
  5. Three powerful enemies: Three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death. Based on “Encouraging Devotion,” the 13th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Miao-lo defines them as 1) arrogant lay people, 2) arrogant priests and 3) arrogant false sages. ↩︎

This Month in Soka Gakkai History (April)