Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 20: Encouragement for Youth [20.10]
20.10 To Appreciate and Care for One’s Parents Is the Basis of Genuine Humanity
In a letter to his youthful disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu, Nichiren Daishonin writes: “A person who upholds the Lotus Sutra is repaying the debt of gratitude owed to father and mother” (WND-2, 638). Discussing this passage, President Ikeda teaches young people the importance of having appreciation for one’s parents.
Once during an informal discussion with youth division members, Mr. Toda asked us who among Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples we liked the most. I fondly recall replying without hesitation: “Nanjo Tokimitsu.”
When Tokimitsu was only seven years old,1 his father, a man of great integrity, died of illness. The young boy met the Daishonin for the first time shortly thereafter, when the latter came to pray at his father’s grave, an encounter that would stay with him forever. From that time on, he looked up to the Daishonin as his teacher and, with his mother, strove earnestly in faith.
Tokimitsu studied and trained himself, growing into a fine young man. When he was 16, he went to visit the Daishonin who had moved to Mount Minobu. The Daishonin was no doubt delighted to see what an outstanding youth Tokimitsu had become. He sent him this letter, “The Four Virtues and the Four Debts of Gratitude,” the following year . In it, he instructs Tokimitsu that being a good son to the parents who raised him and repaying the debt of gratitude he owes them is the path of Buddhism.
The direct meaning of the passage “A person who upholds the Lotus Sutra is repaying the debt of gratitude owed to father and mother” (WND-2, 638) is that upholding the Lotus Sutra is itself being good to one’s parents. In other words, the Lotus Sutra has the power to repay the debt we owe them. This passage can also be read as a message to Tokimitsu that those who believe in the Mystic Law must not forget to have appreciation for their parents.
One passage of Mr. Toda’s famous “Guidelines for Youth” reads:
“Our struggle is one that requires that we develop compassion for all living beings. Yet there are so many young people who are incapable of having compassion for their own parents. How can they be expected to care about perfect strangers? The effort to overcome the coldness and indifference in our own lives and attain the same state of compassion as the Buddha is the essence of human revolution.”2
Love and gratitude for one’s parents are the foundation of genuine humanity.
Outstanding people invariably care for and treasure their parents. I have seen this through the friendships I have forged with leaders around the world.
In his letter, the Daishonin reminds Tokimitsu that his mother, when carrying him in her womb, must have undergone suffering that was close to death, while the pain she endured at the time of giving birth to him is almost too great to imagine (cf. WND-2, 637).
Your mothers have undoubtedly endured terrible pain to give birth to you. Giving birth is truly a life-and-death struggle. On that point alone, we should feel and show gratitude to our mothers.
That’s why Mr. Toda was always very stern with those who didn’t treat their parents well. He once thundered at a youth who made his parents worry: “Don’t you know how much pain you’re causing your parents?!”
Immediately after the passage I have quoted, the Daishonin writes: “Even if one does not feel in one’s own heart that one can do so, one can repay it [the debt of gratitude owed to one’s father and mother] through the power of this sutra” (WND-2, 638).
What he means by these words is that the Mystic Law has the power to lead all people to happiness. By chanting deeply with faith in the Mystic Law and powerfully living a good and correct life, we activate the positive functions of the universe and naturally develop a life state in which we can appreciate and treasure our parents.
The parents of many of you are exerting themselves earnestly as Soka Gakkai members, day after day, striving with tenacity and determination for the cause of the highest good. Together with me, they are dedicating their lives to realizing the supremely lofty mission of kosen-rufu.
Though they are working for the highest good, they may sometimes be unjustly scorned and criticized. Patiently enduring such bitter experiences, they are devoting themselves to the welfare of others, to Buddhism, and to society, pressing onward with unflagging fortitude. Their committed efforts make them more admirable than any celebrity or authority.
The Soka Gakkai was built by such great, yet unheralded, ordinary individuals. Steadfastly engaging one person after another in dialogue, they have built the Soka Gakkai into a remarkable global movement for peace, culture, and education.
They have also made such tireless efforts in order to open the way for your victory, motivated by their desire to bring good fortune and benefit to you, their beloved children.
Though they may not say it in words, they are exerting themselves unsparingly for you, chanting, working, and striving as hard as they can. Such is a parent’s love.
You are deeply embraced and staunchly protected by your parents’ prayers for your health, growth, and happiness.
I hope that you will be proud to have such parents. I also hope that you will come to recognize their sincere dedication to their Buddhist practice and to the Soka Gakkai, and that you will become people of great wisdom and substance who respect and appreciate your parents from the bottom of your hearts, and who do your best to repay your debt of gratitude to them.
Perhaps some of you, like Tokimitsu, have lost one or both of your parents. But please remember that they live on in your hearts. When you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, they are there in the Gohonzon. They are always with you at the deepest level of life.
Perhaps some of you have parents who are not Soka Gakkai members, or with whom you have troubled or challenging relationships. In any case, please pray with open hearts for their happiness.
Stand up bravely on your own and live strongly based on faith. Triumph in your youth, and win boldly in life. Study hard, develop your minds and bodies, and become great leaders of kosen-rufu and society.
Trying your hardest now, even if it’s a struggle, is the very best way to repay your debt of gratitude to your parents. Such a sincere attitude will also make the spirit of mentor and disciple shine in your lives.
I hope that you will carry on the spirit of your parents, the Soka Gakkai, and the heritage of Soka mentors and disciples.
From a study series The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Mentor-Disciple Relationship, published in Japanese in September 2010.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.