Chapter 7: The Mission and Practice of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth

This chapter will explain the fundamental spirit and attitude of faith in light of the mission and practice of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, whose aim is to accomplish kosen-rufu.

1. The Mission and Awareness of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are the disciples whom the eternal Buddha had personally instructed and trained.

What is the abiding wish of Shakyamuni, who was revealed to be the eternal buddha in the Lotus Sutra? That wish is expressed as follows at the end of the “Life Span” (16th) chapter: “At all times I [Shakyamuni] think to myself: How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a buddha?” (LSOC, 273).

Nichiren Daishonin refers to this wish in his writings as the compassionate desire of the Buddha.

The Vow of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth and the Buddha’s Entrustment of His Teachings

In the “Emerging from the Earth” (15th) chapter, Shakyamuni urges his disciples to spread the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after his passing, and then he summons forth from beneath the earth those who are qualified to be entrusted with this task. They are known as the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

In the “Supernatural Powers” (21st) chapter, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, responding to Shakyamuni’s appeal to propagate the sutra in that age, make a vow to teach and spread among the people the fundamental Law for attaining buddhahood. They take to heart, inherit as their own, and strive to actualize the great desire of their teacher, the eternal Buddha. This desire shared by mentor and disciples is to achieve kosen-rufu, the widespread propagation of the Lotus Sutra’s teachings. Accepting their pledge, Shakyamuni entrusts to them the future propagation of the Mystic Law.

Had the Bodhisattvas of the Earth not made their appearance, the compassionate desire of the Buddha would not be realized. One person takes a stand with an awareness as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, aims to build a world where people can live in peace and happiness based on the Mystic Law, and enables two, three, and eventually countless people to awaken as well. These individuals will then encourage one another to fully display their distinctive qualities and abilities and will work together actively to achieve these goals. Kosen-rufu is realized through the existence of such an active alliance of unique individuals.

Where there are the powers of faith and practice of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth who persist in fulfilling the vow for kosen-rufu, the boundless powers of the Buddha and the Law inherent in the Mystic Law will clearly emerge, making it possible to transform the suffering-filled saha world into the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, in which the life force of buddhahood is always present.

When the life force deriving from that great vow pervades all three thousand realms of phenomena—the entire universe—a society of great well-being that is embraced in the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha will emerge.

President Ikeda states:

“The heart of the great vow for kosen-rufu and the life state of buddhahood are one and the same. Therefore, when we dedicate our lives to this vow, we can bring forth the supreme nobility, strength, and greatness of our lives. When we remain true to this vow, the limitless courage, wisdom, and compassion of the Buddha flow forth from within us. When we wholeheartedly strive to realize this vow, the ‘poison’ of even the most difficult challenge can be transformed into “medicine,” and karma transformed into mission.” 1

The Great Vow to Propagate the Lotus Sutra

Nichiren Daishonin states, “The ‘great vow’ refers to the propagation of the Lotus Sutra” (OTT, 82). The Lotus Sutra teaches that the lives of all people are endowed with the supremely noble buddha nature. In it, the mission of spreading the Mystic Law, which enables all people to attain buddhahood, throughout Jambudvipa—the entire world—is entrusted to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. The Daishonin dedicated his life to the goal of fulfilling this great vow of propagating the Lotus Sutra, the vow to accomplish kosen-rufu.

The Daishonin awakened to this Law within his own life—the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is the essence of the Lotus Sutra—and he made a great vow to spread it widely. He pledged to become the “pillar,” the “eyes,” and the “great ship” that could protect, support, teach, and guide all people, stating, “This is my vow, and I will never forsake it!” (WND-1, 281). Unperturbed and unbowed by any number of great difficulties, he kept his promise never to retreat in this endeavor while maintaining a noble state of life capable of liberating the people from suffering.

Urging his followers to take up the same task, the Daishonin told them, “My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow” (WND-1, 1003), and entrusted them with the mission of achieving kosen-rufu.

The Soka Gakkai Is Advancing in Accord with the Buddha’s Intent

The Soka Gakkai has emerged in modern times in accord with the Buddha’s intent and has taken responsibility to fulfill the vow for kosen-rufu, succeeding to the will of Nichiren Daishonin. It reveres the Gohonzon, which the Daishonin described as “the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 831), and its members have been exerting themselves in the compassionate practice of spreading faith in it, thereby achieving unprecedented development in the worldwide movement for kosen-rufu. Convinced of this noble mission, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda declared that the organization’s name would be recorded in Buddhist scriptures of the future as “Soka Gakkai Buddha.”

The great vow of Nichiren Daishonin is nothing other than kosen-rufu. This is also the great vow of the mentors and disciples of the Soka Gakkai—the three founding presidents—and the members throughout the world who have fought along with them. They have stood up together with a deep awareness as the Daishonin’s direct disciples and a burning sense of mission as the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

President Ikeda writes:

“Dedicated to the mission of spreading the Mystic Law and realizing kosen-rufu through compassionate propagation, Soka Gakkai members are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth. They are emissaries of the Buddha. When they take action with that awareness, they undergo a profound inner transformation, and the powerful life force to triumph over any storm of karma flows within them.” 2

How can the Bodhisattvas of the Earth be described in today’s world? They are people who live to fulfill the mission of transmitting the fundamental Law for attaining buddhahood in the midst of the most troubled times and social circumstances, allowing those burdened with the greatest misery and hardship to tap the power to build genuine happiness. With the conviction that those who suffer the most have the right to enjoy the greatest happiness, they go to the side of suffering people, teach them the Mystic Law, and together with them walk the path to transforming their destiny. People who act in this way are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

2. Perceiving Evil and Protecting Good

1) Good Friends in the Realm of Buddhism

In Buddhism, the terms “good friend” and “evil friend” are used to indicate persons who have some influence, either good or bad, on one’s thinking and Buddhist practice.

Good friends are those who lead one to the correct teaching or help one practice toward enlightenment. They can include Buddhist teachers and fellow practitioners. Evil friends are those who interfere with or obstruct one’s Buddhist practice, leading one away from enlightenment and toward the evil paths, or suffering. It is important to be close to good friends and to wisely take care not to be deceived or influenced by evil friends.

The human mind can easily be swayed or shaken. In carrying out Buddhist practice, there is a possibility of giving in to one’s weaknesses and failing to apply oneself, thereby losing sight of the Buddha’s correct teaching. That is why it is essential to have good friends who can inspire one’s faith and always direct one on the correct path to buddhahood. Nichiren Daishonin writes:

“Therefore, the best way to attain buddhahood is to encounter a good friend. How far can our own wisdom take us? If we have even enough wisdom to distinguish hot from cold, we should seek out a good friend.” (WND-1, 598)

With regard to evil friends who can obstruct one’s Buddhist practice, the Daishonin quotes the Nirvana Sutra:

“Have no fear of mad elephants. What you should fear are evil friends! Why? Because a mad elephant can only destroy your body; it cannot destroy your mind. But an evil friend can destroy both body and mind. . . . Even if you are killed by a mad elephant, you will not fall into the three evil paths [the realms of hell, hungry spirits, and animals]. But if you are killed by an evil friend, you are certain to fall into them.” (WND-2, 220)

Faith for Transforming Evil Friends into Good Friends

Not only did the Daishonin teach that one should not follow or be influenced by evil friends, he also taught that one should establish faith strong enough to defeat their attempts to impede one’s Buddhist practice and regard them as opportunities to further advance toward one’s attainment of buddhahood.

The stronger one’s faith and practice becomes, the more strongly the three obstacles and four devils and the three powerful enemies will emerge to interfere. If, however, through summoning even stronger faith and using the wisdom gained from the Daishonin’s writings, one can clearly perceive devilish functions for what they are, they will at that point cease to function as devils.

Through challenging and overcoming such obstacles based on faith in the Gohonzon, one will be able to bring forth from within previously untapped power and tremendous potential, strengthen one’s faith, and further develop one’s state of life. In other words, one can transform evil friends into good friends.

In “The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” the Daishonin writes: “Devadatta was the foremost good friend to Thus Come One Shakyamuni. In this age as well, it is not one’s allies but one’s powerful enemies who assist one’s progress” (WND-1, 770), and in the letter titled “Why No Protection from the Heavenly Gods?” he states, “Evil persons too will be good friends to me” (WND-2, 432).

2) Strictness toward Slander and Flexibility toward Culture and Customs

Strictly Admonishing Slander of the Law

“Slander of the Law” means maligning, defaming, or speaking ill of the correct Buddhist teaching. The correct teaching means the truth to which the Buddha awakened, the teaching that enables all people to attain buddhahood. It was expounded by Shakyamuni in the Lotus Sutra, the essence of which Nichiren Daishonin revealed to be Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

This correct teaching represents a view of life and the human being that regards everyone’s life as innately possessing the noble state of buddhahood and replete with unlimited potential. To oppose and disparage this correct teaching or to reject it and refuse to believe in it constitutes slander of the Law.

Such slander is an expression of disbelief in and opposition to the most humane and genuine way of life that aims for the happiness of self and others and a peaceful and tranquil society; it is the root cause of unhappiness and should therefore be strictly admonished.

That said, however, one should not reject or exclude people who don’t recognize or support one’s faith, nor should one try to force one’s beliefs on others.

During the Daishonin’s lifetime, the various Buddhist schools spread erroneous doctrines that disparaged the Lotus Sutra, and slander of the Law became widespread. In his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” the Daishonin defines slander of the Law as the one evil that is the source of both people’s suffering and the instability of society. He strongly advocates building, through faith in the correct teaching, a peaceful society in which people can feel at ease.

In order to attain buddhahood, it is not enough to simply refrain from committing slander oneself. It is also important to strictly admonish and challenge the slander of others, endeavor to correct them, and free them from the path to suffering. This is the compassionate practice of shakubuku, spreading the teachings while challenging and defeating slander.

The Daishonin teaches, “To hope to attain buddhahood without speaking out against slander is as futile as trying to find water in the midst of fire or fire in the midst of water” (WND-1, 747).

To challenge evil influences that spread slander of the Law serves to empower and increase the virtuous forces of the Buddha and to protect oneself from evil, making the attainment of buddhahood possible.

The Precept of Adapting to Local Customs

Buddhism teaches the fundamental principle for living a full and satisfying life. It is a principle accessible to all people regardless of the time or country in which they live, their ethnicity, gender identity, or age. As the Lotus Sutra teaches, all human beings, regardless of how they may differ, have the potential to attain buddhahood, and this is why Nichiren Buddhism in particular recognizes and affords utmost respect to cultural diversity.

The Daishonin refers to a Buddhist principle called the “precept of adapting to local customs,” which teaches that one should respect and abide by the culture and traditions of each country and region, as well as by the customs of the times, to the extent that they do not violate the fundamental teachings of Buddhism.

He writes:

“The meaning of this precept is that, so long as no seriously offensive act is involved, then even if one were to depart to some slight degree from the teachings of Buddhism, it would be better to avoid going against the manners and customs of the country. This is a precept expounded by the Buddha.” (WND-1, 72)

Buddhism aims to uplift and enrich people’s behavior, enabling them to lead a truly humane way of life. The customs and traditions of a society encompass the wisdom of its constituent communities and cultures. Much of that wisdom may accord with the teachings of Buddhism and surely include aspects of Buddhist wisdom. Manners, customs, and traditions that cultivate rich humanity become an entry point for introducing the wisdom of Buddhism.

On the other hand, when introducing the teachings of Buddhism from one culture or society to another, one must take care not to be overly attached to superficial aspects of either culture or inflexible about inessential elements of tradition or formality to the degree that one overlooks the fundamental spirit of Buddhism. To do so would be to confuse the insignificant with the essential and meaningful and constitute a serious error. What is essential is to establish a peaceful and prosperous society through one’s unwavering faith and practice while advancing one’s human revolution and making significant contributions to one’s community.

  • *1Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, “Warera no seigan wa zenminshu no kofuku” [The great vow for the happiness of all humanity],” Seikyo Shimbun, November 9, 2013.
  • *2Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Shin ningen kakumei [The new human revolution], vol. 27 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 2015), 172.