Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 27: The Mentor-Disciple Relationship Is the Heart of the Soka Gakkai [27.3]

27.3 The 10 Major Disciples of Shakyamuni

Through the example of Shakyamuni’s 10 major disciples, President Ikeda outlines how making efforts to put into practice what our mentor is teaching can help us develop our individuality and ability, and actualize our potential and unique mission.

Shakyamuni had 10 major disciples. Following his guidance and instruction, they were each able, through their Buddhist practice, to develop their own unique character and qualities, which they put to use as their “weapons” in their selfless struggle to propagate Buddhism.

(1) Shariputra was known as “foremost in wisdom.” Originally a follower of a non-Buddhist teacher, he joined Shakyamuni’s community of practitioners along with Maudgalyayana. Shariputra was such an outstanding disciple that he was able to preach the teachings in Shakyamuni’s stead, but unfortunately, he died before Shakyamuni.

(2) Mahakashyapa was known as “foremost in ascetic practices (dhuta).” He seems to have been a quiet, introverted person, but he excelled in performing certain strict disciplinary practices, so he must have been a man of stalwart character. And though he had a rather subdued personality, he played a key role in preserving the community of practitioners after Shakyamuni’s death.

(3) Ananda was known as “foremost in hearing the Buddha’s teachings.” He was Shakyamuni’s personal attendant for many years, so he heard the greatest number of his discourses. He was a genial, kindhearted, and pleasant youth who acted as an advocate for women wishing to renounce secular life and join the Buddhist Order.

(4) Subhuti was known as “foremost in understanding the doctrine of non-substantiality.” He was an even-tempered individual who got along with everyone, a person of well-rounded character.

(5) Purna was known as “foremost in preaching the Law.” His special quality was his eloquence.

(6) Maudgalyayana was known as “foremost in transcendental powers.” One such power is the ability to travel anywhere at will. While his frequent companion Shariputra was oriented toward ideas, Maudgalyayana was an intuitive and passionate man of action.

(7) Katyayana was known as “foremost in debate.” He was a precise logician who focused on debating representatives of other religions and explaining Shakyamuni’s teachings.

(8) Aniruddha was known as “foremost in divine insight.” On one occasion, he fell asleep while Shakyamuni was preaching, and was severely reprimanded by him. Deeply regretting his behavior, he from then on engaged in a practice to avoid sleep, taking it to such an extreme that he eventually went blind. But his loss of physical sight was compensated by his acquisition of divine insight, which afforded him incredibly deep powers of perception and judgment.

(9) Upali was known as “foremost in observing the precepts.” He was from a low caste and had no special talents, but he sincerely upheld Shakyamuni’s teachings. He can be seen as a representative of ordinary people.

(10) Rahula was known as “foremost in inconspicuous practice”—skilled in highly meticulous and precise practice. He was the son of Shakyamuni, born before the latter renounced secular life. Rahula began practicing Buddhism at the age of 15. Though as Shakyamuni’s son he faced many difficulties, he was also very perceptive and sensitive to details, which earned him the respect of all.

The 10 major disciples are described in various scriptures, and by combining those sources, we arrive at this general picture of them. As we can see, Shakyamuni succeeded in bringing the unique qualities and talents of such distinct and different individuals into full flower.

When the new Buddhist group established by the youthful Shakyamuni started out, it lacked any established organization, facilities, or public trust and acceptance. There were only the ties of mentor and disciple. This was the actual starting point of Buddhism.

Responding to Shakyamuni’s message, his disciples devoted themselves to spreading his teachings. Shakyamuni had his followers engage in propagation soon after they joined his group. He instructed them to go forth alone and preach the Law, to embark on their journey of propagation immediately.

Spreading the teachings encompasses all forms of practice in Buddhism. There is no better way to forge character. If we neglect this basic practice of sharing the teachings, we cannot cultivate ourselves as human beings.

All too often when leaders fail to grow as individuals, they resort to using the power of the organization to manipulate the members. This is where the corruption of the organization starts.

Making continuous, dedicated efforts in propagation is the lifeblood of Buddhism. This is Shakyamuni’s teaching and the direct path to attaining Buddhahood that Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, taught his followers at the risk of his life.

The 10 major disciples didn’t set limits on their practice. By throwing themselves heart and soul into their practice and working hard to build the Buddhist Order, they honed their unique qualities and developed their personal skills and fortes.

They engaged in a ceaseless struggle to find ways to put into practice their mentor’s teachings, which they had etched in their beings. For disciples striving to respond to and apply what their mentor taught them, every instant was an earnest struggle, a battle for the sake of the Law from which they refused to retreat a single step.

At the same time, the teacher, by providing opportunities for the disciples to take action, gains a full understanding of their potential and abilities. These are things that are not always obvious through superficial observation.

Only after training and testing ourselves to the limit do we succeed in revealing our true intrinsic nature, making the diamond of our unique personality sparkle from the depths of our lives. It is impossible to fully develop our humanity in the realms of politics or business, and even education has its limits. This is the profound significance of our practice of Nichiren Buddhism, which enables us to polish our lives at the most fundamental level.

From a speech at a youth division leaders meeting, Tokyo, April 20, 1990.

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