While there are many special days throughout the year - religious, secular, birthdays and personal anniversaries – which we may attach significance to as new beginnings, most people have universally accepted that New Year’s Day is a day of fresh starts, renewals and making fresh determinations in their lives.
In his New Year Gosho, Nichiren writes “New Year’s Day marks the first day, the first month, the beginning of the year, and the start of spring.” (WND-1, p1137) and we can see from this that New Year’s Day is actually a day of four beginnings – a new day, a new month, a new year, and, according to the old lunar calendar in Japan, a new season.
I’m sure an examination of Nichiren’s life would reveal a lifetime of new beginnings and fresh departures, but as a brief overview we can see four key firsts:
(i) He may have claimed “I, Nichiren, am not the founder of any school” (WND-1. p669), but through his studies, teachings, treaties and letters, he did lead the way in re-focusing attention on the heart of Shakyamuni’s teachings and devotion to the Lotus Sutra - a journey which led to the start of Nichiren Buddhism in Japan.
(ii) He introduced the practice of daimoku to Japan and wrote “In the entire country of Japan, I am the only one who has been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (WND-1, p672)
(iii) He was the first to inscribe the Gohonzon, a mandala based on the “Ceremony in the Air” from the Lotus Sutra and writes “I was the first to reveal as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra this great mandala that even those such as Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu, T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo were unable to express.” (WND-1, p831)
(iv) Finally, Nichiren led the way when it came to propagating the Lotus Sutra and ensuring that the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra would spread far and wide, writing “At first only Nichiren chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but then two, three, and a hundred followed, chanting and teaching others.” (WND-1, p385)
Later in the New Year Gosho, the Daishonin writes:
“The sincerity of making offerings to the Lotus Sutra at the beginning of the New Year is like cherry blossoms blooming from trees, a lotus unfolding in a pond, sandalwood leaves unfurling on the Snow Mountains, or the moon beginning to rise.” (WND-1, p1137)
So what new departures can we initiate on this day of new beginnings, and how can we make sincere offerings to the Lotus Sutra?
In most things the greatest offering we can make is not necessarily financial, but the commitment of ourselves. And, when it comes to the Lotus Sutra, I think the greatest offering we can make is the commitment of our time, our energy, our hearts and our lives.
In his message for the 5th Soka Gakkai HQ Leader’s Meeting in 2014, Daisaku Ikeda recalled a 1954 meeting saying “At that time, President Toda declared that the essence of the Soka Gakkai spirit is “to return to the time of the Daishonin”. What he meant by this, he said, is for each of us to take the Daishonin’s spirit as our own and strive to help others embrace faith in the Mystic Law and realize genuine happiness.” President Ikeda then went on to say that we should ensure that this vow – “embodying the Soka Gakkai spirit and directly connected to the spirit of the Daishonin is transmitted to the future and endures for all eternity” (Newsletter 8982)
Today – New Year’s Day 2015 - is an excellent opportunity for us to do just that and we can make sincere offerings to the Lotus Sutra by renewing our vow to “dedicate our lives to the great vow of kosen-rufu, just like the Daishonin” (Newsletter 8538), making a determination to commit time each day to study the Daishonin’s writings, and chanting with renewed energy to feel the power of our daimoku within our own lives and within our communities throughout 2015.
"The Same As Last Year" (from 1st January 2014)
"New Year Resolutions" (from 1st January 2013)
"Ready, Willing & Able" (from May 2012)