Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 27: The Mentor-Disciple Relationship Is the Heart of the Soka Gakkai [27.5]

27.5 Walking the Path of a Disciple throughout One’s Life

Referring to Nichiren Daishonin’s conviction that Buddhism in Japan had degenerated because it had strayed from the path of mentor and disciple, President Ikeda declares that the Soka Gakkai and its first three presidents have widely opened the way for kosen-rufu by faithfully following the path of mentor and disciple.

Nichiren Daishonin clearly asserted that Buddhism in Japan had become corrupt and degenerate because disciples failed to respect and follow their mentors.

The Great Teacher Dengyo of Japan established the head temple of the Tendai school of Buddhism at Mount Hiei, which became the center of Japanese Buddhism for many centuries. However, Dengyo’s successors were influenced by the growing popularity of the True Word teachings [that had in recent years entered the country from China] and decided to incorporate them into the doctrine of the Tendai school [which was originally based on the Lotus Sutra].

Referring to one of Dengyo’s successors, the Daishonin writes: “He [Jikaku] felt that his teacher, the Great Teacher Dengyo, had not gone into the matter in sufficient detail, that he had not remained for an extended period in China [to study Buddhism] and hence had acquired only a rough understanding of the True Word doctrines” (WND-1, 570).

In other words, these later successors thought: “We know better than Dengyo. We have studied more than him. Our mentor doesn’t get it.” These were their sentiments. It was a sign of the purest arrogance. They turned their backs on their teacher Dengyo and allowed themselves to be swayed by the popularity of the True Word teachings.

But Dengyo had, in fact, denounced the True Word teachings based on a full and complete understanding of them. This is an important point. The Daishonin outlines this history in “The Selection of the Time.”

Because Dengyo’s successors failed to grasp the greatness of their mentor, Mount Hiei degenerated into a center of the True Word teachings. The Daishonin says that they “acted as archenemies of the founder of their school, the Great Teacher Dengyo” (WND-2, 793).

At the very time they should have been refuting these erroneous teachings, Dengyo’s disciples neglected to do so. Finding fault with their mentor, they justified their actions as right and proper, and so avoided confrontation and possible persecution. These disciples were cunning and self-serving.

Looking back at the T’ien-t’ai school in China, we can see that the same thing happened. After the death of the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, the school’s founder, new scriptures arrived in China from India. Naturally, T’ien-t’ai had not known of these scriptures and, as such, hadn’t specifically rejected them. His disciples later misguidedly embraced the erroneous view that these scriptures were superior to the Lotus Sutra [on which the T’ien-t’ai school had originally been based].

[For instance, in “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” the Daishonin writes: “Since this was a text that T’ien-t’ai had never seen, his followers in these later times, shallow as they were in wisdom and understanding, seemed inclined to accept this allegation (of its superiority over the Lotus Sutra)” (WND-1, 700).]

In “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” the Daishonin declares these disciples to have been foolish and cowardly, ignorant of their teacher’s greatness and unable to properly promote his teachings. This, he says, led to the pure flow of the correct teaching of Buddhism being polluted.


While enjoying the respect they received from people because of the authority of their teacher, in their hearts they disdained their teacher and refused to fight against falsehood—and even worse, came to adopt those falsehoods as their own beliefs.

Those who fail to challenge error are tainted by it. Similarly, those who fail to fight against the devilish nature of authority fall victim to it themselves.

We find this principle clearly stated in the Daishonin’s writings. This process of such degeneration in the realm of Buddhism is not restricted to the past. That is why it is crucial for us to carefully read the Daishonin’s writings today.

It would be a terrible calamity if the spirit of our first two presidents, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, were to disappear from the Soka Gakkai. We would no longer be able to carry out kosen-rufu. We would have completely betrayed our mentors and the Daishonin.

That is why I am taking decisive leadership for our movement and teaching our members the mentor-disciple spirit, determined to live on and press forward undefeated through all.

There were arrogant disciples during the Daishonin’s lifetime, too. They criticized him, saying he invited persecution on himself because of his ill-advised approach. These disciples didn’t understand that being persecuted in spite of one’s innocence proves that one is a genuine practitioner of the Lotus Sutra.

Such people, the Daishonin says, are truly unfortunate, because they will remain in the life state of hell and suffer even more than those of other Buddhist schools of the day who slandered the Lotus Sutra. He writes: “They not only have forsaken the Lotus Sutra, but also actually think themselves wise enough to instruct me. The pitiful thing is that these perverse people must suffer in the Avichi hell1 even longer than the Nembutsu believers” (WND-1, 306).

Such is the gravity of the offense of betraying the path of mentor and disciple. This is the case of the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood under Nikken Abe, which completely ignores not only the Daishonin and Nikko Shonin but all the successive teachers of the school. It is concerned only with its own welfare. The Daishonin’s Buddhism no longer exists within the priesthood, which has turned its back on the path of mentor and disciple and become the archenemy of the Daishonin.


In November 1941, a month before the outbreak of World War II, when Japan was swept up in a tempest of militaristic nationalism, Mr. Toda delivered a lecture titled “The Path of a Disciple.” In it, he described the path of the disciple as follows:

“Nikko Shonin had not the slightest desire to outshine Nichiren Daishonin. Likewise, our duty is to faithfully follow, put into practice, and apply to our daily lives President Makiguchi’s teaching. . . . Mr. Makiguchi is our mentor and we are his disciples. . . . What point can there possibly be in merely imitating his manner of speaking? We would be casting away the precious essence of his spirit. . . . Disciples have to follow the path of a disciple. Both in word and deed, we have to give expression to the mentor’s teaching in our lives.”2

This is Mr. Toda’s message to us. It may seem simple, but when the Soka Gakkai was persecuted during World War II, Mr. Toda was the only one who put it into practice. Mr. Makiguchi’s other disciples not only abandoned their beliefs, but spoke ill of Mr. Makiguchi and Mr. Toda.

The fickleness of the human heart is frightening. These disciples denounced their mentor to protect themselves. Their faith was false and their spirits base and corrupt.


While all the other disciples of President Makiguchi disappeared, Mr. Toda remained true to his beliefs and even went so far as to declare, at the third memorial [second anniversary] of his mentor’s death:

“In your vast and boundless compassion, you let me accompany you even to prison. As a result, I could read with my entire being the passage from the Lotus Sutra: ‘Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers’ (LSOC7, 178). The benefit of this was coming to know my former existence as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, and to absorb with my very life even a small degree of the sutra’s meaning. Could there be any greater happiness than this.”3

What a noble pronouncement! This is the ultimate expression of the Soka Gakkai path of mentor and disciple and the path of Nichiren Buddhism. In the starkest possible contrast to Mr. Makiguchi’s other disciples, Mr. Toda regarded it as a great honor to undergo persecution with his mentor.

Difficulties are to be expected when we propagate the correct teaching of Buddhism. The Lotus Sutra teaches in the “Encouraging Devotion” chapter: “There will be many ignorant people who will curse and speak ill of us” (LSOC13, 232). The Daishonin also stresses this time and again in his writings.

Yet despite this, there are those who, when difficulties occur, are terrified of coming under attack and malign the mentor to whom they owe such a great debt of gratitude. They may use their mentor as a shield as they try to avoid being attacked themselves. This is despicable in the extreme.

I also was alone in supporting Mr. Toda. As his disciple, I did everything I possibly could to assist him. The Soka Gakkai tradition of making February a month of renewed efforts to share Nichiren Buddhism all began from my determination to respond to my mentor.4

In early 1952, although Mr. Toda had become president the previous year, the Soka Gakkai wasn’t making much progress in its propagation efforts. Other leaders senior to me in years of faith and practice made grand statements, but could produce no concrete results. That’s when Mr. Toda decided it was time to set me to this task.

It was a solemn request from my mentor. I agreed without hesitation and, embracing his spirit as my own, launched into action. I quickly broke through the stalemate in propagation and opened the way forward. That was how the great path of kosen-rufu leading to the present was blazed. Mr. Toda used to say that if he called on me, he knew he could sit back and relax. He knew that I would definitely succeed. He had confidence in me. This spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple is the essence of the Soka Gakkai.

I have placed my complete trust in Nichiren Daishonin and Mr. Toda. The Gohonzon, Mr. Toda, and sincerity are my three treasures. I have always won through sincerity.

While living my life with integrity, dedicated to the noblest cause, I have been criticized and disparaged without end. But I have triumphed through my Buddhist faith and practice. I have triumphed as a human being. I am confident that from the perspective of Buddhism and the three existences of past, present, and future, I am the greatest victor of all.

From a speech at a Soka Gakkai Headquarters leaders meeting, Tokyo, February 3, 1998.

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

  • *1Avichi hell: The hell of incessant suffering.
  • *2Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 3 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1983), pp. 383–84.
  • *3Ibid., p. 386.
  • *4This refers to the February Campaign. In February 1952, President Ikeda, then an adviser to Tokyo’s Kamata Chapter, initiated a dynamic propagation campaign. Together with the Kamata members, he broke through the previous monthly record of some 100 new member households by introducing Nichiren Buddhism to 201 new member households.