Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 19: Making the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Our Foundation [19.3]
19.3 A Shared Tradition of Studying the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin
In a discussion with youth division representatives, President Ikeda shares memories of studying the Daishonin’s writings with President Toda and talks about the importance of Buddhist study and the attitude with which to approach it.
President Toda often used to say that when studying the Daishonin’s writings, rather than focusing on the meaning of the words, we should strive to connect with the Daishonin’s towering conviction, his solemn, fervent commitment to kosen-rufu, and his boundless compassion in seeking to lead all people to enlightenment.
It’s fine to just read the Daishonin’s writings a little bit at a time. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand everything at first. What matters is to keep trying to read the Daishonin’s writings and steadily engraving them in your life. Over time, as you repeat that process, you will create a solid core of philosophy in your life. Those who possess such an inner core will not be shaken by life’s never-ending changes.
The ultimate aim of our Buddhist study is to become happy. We practice Nichiren Buddhism not only for our own happiness but to help others become happy, too.
[On hearing that youth division members had studied hard for a recently held study exam]
To be studying the great principles of Nichiren Buddhism is truly admirable. Those who read the Daishonin’s writings every day, even just a little at a time, are able to tap fresh inspiration that will keep their faith healthy and sound.
The Daishonin’s writings are incredibly profound. Each reading brings new discoveries and rouses fresh determinations.
I studied earnestly under the tutelage of Mr. Toda. He trained me thoroughly.
I will never forget the time back in November 1950, when Mr. Toda resigned as general director of the Soka Gakkai to prevent his business troubles from affecting the organization. Many people distanced themselves from him and, in a complete about-face, began criticizing and attacking him. He remained unperturbed, however, and looked calmly toward the future. It was around that time that he began giving lectures for me every morning on the Daishonin’s writings and on a wide variety of other subjects.
Our one-to-one study sessions started just after 8:00 a.m. and lasted about an hour. Mr. Toda was incredibly demanding. He gave his all, and I did my best to keep up. Apart from some unavoidable postponements along the way, Mr. Toda maintained this schedule of instruction for close to a decade, until just before his death. It was this strict yet compassionate training from my mentor that made me the person I am today. It is the foundation on which my life has been built.
The first of the Daishonin’s works we studied was “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” and then we went on to study the rest of his five major writings, “The Opening of the Eyes,” “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” “The Selection of the Time,” and “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind.” Next, we turned to “The Entity of the Mystic Law,” The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, “The Unanimous Declaration by the Buddhas of the Three Existences,” and many other writings.
Mr. Toda’s words always brimmed with great conviction in faith. He also explained the essence of the Daishonin’s teachings in simple, accessible language.
While we were studying “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” he said humorously: “The Mystic Law is like a magic wand! It will produce whatever we pray for, and enable us to become happy without fail.”
Back in those days, being more familiar with Western philosophy from reading the works of writers like Montaigne and Bergson, I still found Buddhism somewhat hard to grasp. These words of Mr. Toda, however, changed that. I realized that, in the chaos and poverty of postwar Japan, everyone was searching for such a sure-fire philosophy. With this seemingly casual, lightly spoken remark, Mr. Toda impressed upon me that Buddhism is not abstract theory, but a practical philosophy for living in the real world.
I recall another occasion, about a month after Mr. Toda had resigned as general director. I was accompanying him to Ito [in Shizuoka Prefecture] on the Shonan train line. On the way, he gave me a private lecture on “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” and as we gazed out at the ocean from the window, he said: “Unless you read the Daishonin’s writings with a life state of faith as vast and expansive as the Pacific, you won’t be able to truly grasp his spirit and intent. It would be making a grave error to try to understand his writings with intellect alone.”
At a time of great personal adversity, Mr. Toda studied the Daishonin’s writings deeply.
Our Buddhist study mustn’t simply be an intellectual pursuit. Engaging in Buddhist study based on faith leads to deepening our conviction and inspiring us to action. This is the way of genuine practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism.
The world and the times are constantly changing. Nothing ever stays the same. How can we perceive the true nature of things amid such ceaseless change?
The Daishonin writes: “When one knows the Lotus Sutra, one understands the meaning of all worldly affairs” (WND-1, 376). The teachings of Buddhism contain the wisdom for correctly perceiving all phenomena, providing a solid understanding of the world and of humanity, a correct understanding of society, and a universal understanding of the times.
Accordingly, people who view the world from the perspective of Buddhism are strong: nothing can shake them. This is also why studying the Daishonin’s writings is so important.
“What defines a practitioner?”—President Makiguchi wrote these words firmly in the margin of his personal copy of the Daishonin’s writings. On the same page, he had underlined in red a passage from “The Opening of the Eyes”: “If there exists a votary [or practitioner] of the Lotus Sutra, then the three types of enemies are bound to exist as well” (WND-1, 278).
As practice progresses, devilish functions arise. They invariably assail those who genuinely uphold the Buddha’s teachings. Battling those devilish functions is what defines a votary, or practitioner, of the Lotus Sutra, and also a Buddha. Mr. Makiguchi grasped this core truth of Buddhism. For this reason, when devilish functions took root within the priesthood, he recognized them for what they were and fought resolutely against them.
Further, during his some 500 days of imprisonment for his beliefs, he declared serenely that everything was unfolding exactly in accord with the Daishonin’s writings.
We study the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism in order to be able to discern the workings of the devilish functions. In that sense, Buddhist study is a “sword” with which we can battle negative functions.
While in prison, Mr. Makiguchi read the Daishonin’s writings with his very life. In doing so, he provided the Soka Gakkai with a model for the eternal future.
He marked the words “Here I will make a great vow” (WND-1, 280) from “The Opening of the Eyes” with a double underline, and beside them inscribed in large characters the words, “Great Vow.”
Because he died in prison, it might be thought that Mr. Makiguchi’s life ended in tragedy, but today countless people around the world are unstinting in their praise for his life and his commitment to that “great vow.”
Let us continue to forge ahead boldly on our path of eternal honor based on the Daishonin’s writings and carrying on the Daishonin’s spirit, just like Mr. Makiguchi did.
From a dialogue series “Conversations with Youth,” published in Japanese in the Daibyakurenge, 1994.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.