Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 27: The Mentor-Disciple Relationship Is the Heart of the Soka Gakkai [27.1]

27.1 The Mentor-Disciple Relationship Is a Sublime Spiritual Relay

Nichiren Daishonin explains: “The word shishi, or ‘lion,’ is made up of two elements, the first shi, which can be taken to mean a teacher, and the second shi, which can be taken to mean a disciple” (OTT, 168). Those who base their lives on the spirit of mentor and disciple are lions. The way of mentor and disciple is the very essence of Nichiren Buddhism.

To overcome every difficulty and follow through on the path of human revolution and kosen-rufu, we need to firmly embrace the mentor-disciple relationship, which is a source of endless inspiration. The Soka Gakkai’s history attests to this. The noble mentor-disciple relationships shared by first Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, second president Josei Toda, and third president Daisaku Ikeda opened the great path of kosen-rufu in Japan and around the world.

This chapter contains President Ikeda’s guidance discussing the importance of the mentor-disciple relationship.

The first installment features part of an interview President Ikeda gave in conjunction with the publication of a Bulgarian-language edition of his dialogue with the Bulgarian art historian and Sofia University professor Axinia Djourova. In it, he touches on the mentor-disciple relationship in general terms, stressing that it is indispensable in transmitting high ideals to future generations.

There may be many ways to view the relationship between mentor and disciple, teacher and learner, that differ from person to person, or among institutions or nations. I believe that the mentor-disciple relationship is indispensable to positively shaping nations, societies, and the times with unwavering integrity, passion, and energy.

Mentors convey to their disciples all the goals and all the good they wish to accomplish. Why? Because life is limited. We need to pass the baton on to the next generation, and again to the next, to achieve anything of enduring value.

But when those in positions of leadership—be they lawmakers, educators, businesspeople, or notable figures in various fields—fail to do this and become autocratic and self-satisfied, clinging to their own position, it creates a toxic situation. They give in to destructive behavior patterns. They grow ever more arrogant and look down on their protégés and others who seek to succeed them, ultimately bringing about their own and others’ ruin.

What we need to do instead is dedicate ourselves with a spirit of humility to enabling young people, our successors, to surpass us and achieve more than we could. We need to affirm their strengths and their mission. Repeating this process is how humankind grows and develops. It is the way to positive progress. A country, an institution, a person who forgets this truth is certain to end up in unfortunate circumstances and become stuck with no way forward.

We need to give greater attention to passing on, from one generation to the next, the noble treasure of the mentor-disciple relationship, a relationship unique to human beings. We need to revive this relationship and find ways for its true expression. Otherwise, the human race will be condemned to endlessly repeating the same suffering, the same mutual antagonism, the same conflict. This is my fear. This is the result we can expect if we allow the mentor-disciple relationship to perish.

All great revolutions—whether in world history or, for example, in Japan’s Meiji Restoration—came about through the joint struggles of mentors and disciples. The mentors stood up with vision and resolve, but in many cases, they were imprisoned or assassinated, or they died of illness or in battle before they could achieve their aims. The disciples inherited their mentors’ aspirations and worked hard to see them to fruition. There is nothing more beautiful, more inspiring, than this spiritual relay, the passing of the baton to those who will carry on the struggle.

Without the mentor-disciple relationship, anything we undertake just ends with our own lifetime. It becomes nothing more than a small drama and a pursuit for our own self-satisfaction. In contrast, the mentor-disciple relationship enables us to live a life connected to the great flow of humanity, a life like a mighty river, a life that is part of an unending relay race.

Buddhism teaches the oneness of mentor and disciple. This is not a hierarchy, with the mentor above and the disciple below. Mentor and disciple share the same goal and advance together toward it. We also see many tales in the Buddhist scriptures in which the disciple in this lifetime is the mentor in the next.

At the same time, the mentor must show decisive leadership, or harmony is destroyed. Where the mentor is confident and resolute, things always move in a positive direction. Were that not the case, confusion would reign.

Mentors and disciples are like runners in a relay race. They are pressing ahead, passing the baton forward on the shared path of justice, happiness, and peace for all humanity. The mentors run ahead to later pass the baton to the disciples.

Nothing great can be achieved without mentors, and as such, they deserve the highest respect. Disciples put into action what they have learned from the mentor and carry on the work the mentor has left for them to accomplish in the future.

President Toda would often say that disciples should seek to excel their mentors. Only small-minded mentors demand that their disciples follow them and accept everything they say with blind obedience. Genuine mentors urge their disciples to surpass them, to accomplish what they themselves could not accomplish. And genuine disciples earnestly strive to do just that.

From an interview commemorating the publication of the Bulgarian edition of Utsukushiki shishi no tamashii (The Beauty of a Lion’s Heart), published in Japanese in the Seikyo Shimbun, August 10, 2000.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.