Friday, 1 July 2016

Mentor-Disciple Dialogue #1

Over the past few years, I’ve written about different aspects of the mentor-disciple relationship, and this year I decided to represent the importance of this relationship through a dialogue between a member and a district leader.   

Throughout this short series of dialogues, the MEMBER  represents the doubts and concerns I’ve had about the mentor-disciple relationship over the years, and the DISTRICT LEADER represents my understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship today.
 Dialogue Between A District Leader And A Member .

[Daimoku comes to an end… “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.”]

DL:       Thank you, that was wonderful.  I’m so glad we managed to get together today.  The Mentor-Disciple relationship is such an essential part of our Buddhist practice and I wanted to make time to answer your questions and deal with some of your concerns after last week’s chapter study.

AM:     Thanks, I really appreciate it.  I guess my main question is that the Soka Gakkai seems to be the only Buddhist group that seems to stress the mentor-disciple relationship, so is it just an SGI thing or is it a Buddhist concept?  Also, why does a practice that’s supposed to be focused on human revolution and self-development encourage us to form an attachment to a special person?


DL:       Wow, those are two big questions.  I’ll try and cover the second part later, but let’s have a look at the origin of the Mentor-Disciple relationship first, because any Buddhist school that says it’s not based on the spirit of mentor and disciple has already started to stray from Shakyamuni’s true intention. 

AM:     How come?

DL:       In the middle of the Lotus Sutra, the assembled followers are shocked to learn that Shakyamuni is entrusting this important teaching to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, but Shakyamuni knows that it’s only these disciples from previous lifetimes that truly understand his intent and share his vow “to make all people equal to [him]”  (Burton Watson, Lotus Sutra (2009), LSOC2, p70)

AM:     So our mentor-disciple relationship comes from the Lotus Sutra?

DL:       That’s right.  And in Chapter 7, “The Parable of the Phantom City”, we are introduced to a Buddha from the distant past called Great Universal Wisdom Excellence Thus Come One, whose sixteen sons (including Shakyamuni in a previous existence) follow their father’s example and transmit the same Lotus Sutra they were taught to awaken other living beings.  These sixteen princes totally embrace this spirit of Mentor and Disciple.  Later, after Shakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana, and in some cases even while he was still alive, most schools of Buddhism started to deify him and set themselves the unattainable goal of becoming celestial Buddhas in a long distant future lifetime.  But, once we no longer view the Buddha as a human, the path of mentor and disciple is broken.  That’s why President Ikeda explains “The highest offering to the Buddha is not to worship something reminiscent of the Buddha.  Rather it is to inherit the Buddha’s spirit … as one’s own way of life [upholding] the philosophy that everyone is a Buddha and tirelessly [striving] to save all from suffering” (“Buddhism Day by Day”, p297)

AM:     Did Nichiren feel the same?

DL:       Of course.  As a disciple of Shakyamuni, he was dedicated to clarifying the difference between the provisional and the true teaching of the Buddha, showing that he understood the Buddha’s intent and mission to ensure the Lotus Sutra is protected and preserved for future generations, but he also continues the spirit of equality, when he writes “I and my disciples” (WND – 1, p283) and “Nichiren and his followers” (i.e. WND1,  p395, p479, p618, p1076 and also WND2, p487), fully embracing the oneness of mentor and disciple.  The SGI might be one of the only Nichiren schools following this principle, but that confirms we have stayed true to the spirit and intention of both Shakyamuni and Nichiren. 

 AM:    Wow, I didn’t realise that, but how does that relate to the SGI today?

 DL:      In the same way as Nichiren reaffirmed Shakyamuni’s wonderful teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the two founding presidents of the Soka Gakkai – Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda – refused to compromise their faith when the priesthood asked them to enshrine the Shinto talisman with their Gohonzon, and in May 2014, President Ikeda echoed President Toda’s declaration, that the “essence of the Soka Gakkai spirit is … for each of us to take the Daishonin’s spirit as his own and strive to help others embrace faith in the Mystic Law and realize genuine happiness”  (Newsletter 8982)

  AM:   So why does the mentor-disciple relationship cause confusion?

 DL:      Society can be suspicious of organisations with charismatic leaders – even though SGI members who have left the organisation, and the media, don’t see President Ikeda as charismatic - and  some SGI members’ respect for Sensei can sometimes seem like its deifying him or putting him on a pedestal.  I was initially cynical of the mentor-disciple relationship, especially with the negative publicity in the Japanese media and the framing of the priesthood issue, but this was a valuable lesson for me.  I realized if people misunderstand the mentor-disciple relationship, or the role of the mentor and disciple, they might turn away from the SGI or start to idolize President Ikeda’s greatness, rather than focussing on, and developing, their own potential.  But I know that by chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” – the reality of this relationship will be revealed to them. 

AM:     So what changed your mind?

DL:       I was always moved by Sensei’s sincerity and compassion which shines through in his writings and his down to earth attitude in the HQ videos, but at one meeting, a youth division member answered a question concerning the source of our happiness or benefit, saying “Because you taught us Sensei!” and President Ikeda responded “No.  It’s because Nichiren Daishonin taught us”.  I realised he doesn’t want all the glory.  He doesn’t want us to sit around talking about how great he is, but to share with others how great Nichiren Buddhism is.  And I’ve realised more and more each year that my practice wouldn’t be what it is today without his guidance and inspiration.  


Thursday, 15 October 2015

THE GREAT SPEECH - 75th Anniversary

Charlie Chaplin is most famous for his memorable on-screen character “The Tramp” from the silent era of movies, and when talking movies first began, he tried to buck the trend believing that talking pictures would undermine the artistry of acting.  In 1940 though, after releasing two movies which were soundtracked but still avoided the spoken word, he made his first true talking movie, The Great Dictator, which features one of the greatest speeches of all time.

The movie is a political satire about two identical characters - a Jewish barber and a dictator called Adenoid Hynkel – both played by Chaplin, and after a series of persecutions, mix ups and confusion, the barber finds himself in a situation where people think he is the dictator.  The movie ends with the barber giving a speech, but instead of a message of hate, it is a call for people to open their eyes, stand up and fight oppression and dictators.

Below is a video of this wonderful speech.  Charlie Chaplin may have spent most of his life in silence, but when he did talk he had something important to say, and even though this movie premièred in New York City on 15th October 1940, the words are as fresh and relevant today as they were 75 years ago.

I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an Emperor - that's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible -- Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another; human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there's room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

The way of life can be free and beautiful.  But we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me I say, "Do not despair." The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators die; and the power they took from the people will return to the people and so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers: Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel; who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate; only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers: Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written, "the kingdom of God is within man" -- not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite!! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie! They do not fulfill their promise; they never will. Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people!! Now, let us fight to fulfill that promise!! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men's happiness.

Soldiers: In the name of democracy, let us all unite!!!

Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality.

Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow -- into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Correct Teaching for Peace of the Land

From 1256 to 1257 Japan was facing some of the worst natural disasters and epidemics in its history.  Like most politicians, religious leaders and scholars across Japan, Nichiren was concerned and wanted to find a solution to the problem, and he believed the answers would be found in the Buddhist scriptures. 

At the beginning of 1258, Nichiren went to Jisso-ji temple (a Tendai temple with an extensive library of sutra) and embarked on 18 months of research, during which more and more disasters and epidemics continued to batter Japan and Kamakura.   Nichiren realized, based on his findings in the Buddha’s teachings, that these disasters were a result of the nation turning their back on the correct school of Buddhism and he wrote a treatise in the form of a dialogue between a host (Nichiren) and a guest (Hōjō Tokiyori) about the causes of Japan’s troubles, his predictions of what events would occur next and the way to put an end to this series of disasters and overcome them.

On 16th July 1260 he submitted this treaty “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land”  (“Rissho Ankoku-Ron”) to Hōjō Tokiyori, one of the most influential men in Japan at that time.

It’s important to remember that these were disasters of biblical proportions and one of the key historical sources that attest to their intensity is the fact that the era name changed so many times during this period.  Traditionally the name of an era only changes with the accession of a new emperor, but it will also be changed to try and change the “bad luck” of a period as well.  The fact that some eras only lasted a year, shows just how extreme these conditions were and how devastating the rulers of Japan believed they were as well.

Below is a table showing the key disasters and events in Nichiren’s life, during these FOUR eras that Emperor Go-Fukakusa presided over, and the THREE eras his successor Emperor Kameyama presided over. 





Mar. 1249 –
Oct. 1256
On 28th April 1253, Nichiren Daishonin established his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  Due to risks on his life and for propagation, he moved to a small cottage in Kamakura.

1252-54  was a time of great prosperity in Kamakura and as well as many new temples being built, the Great Buddha statue in honour of Amida Buddha of the Pure Land School was completed at Kamakura.

On 6th August 1256, torrential rainstorms caused floods and landslides, destroying crops and devastating Kamakura, and in Sept. 1256, an epidemic claimed many lives in the city.

Oct. 1256 - Mar. 1257
Just before the start of this new era on September 1st, the leading politician in Kamakura – the 4th Shogun Kujo Yoritsune (also known as Fujiwara Yoritsune) - died at the age of 39.  Six weeks later on October 14th his son and successor (now the 5th Shogun) also died at the age of 18.


Mar. 1257 - Mar. 1259
Many violent earthquakes hit Kamakura in May and November of 1257, including one of the biggest ever to hit the city on 23rd August.  There was also a severe drought in June and July.

At the beginning of 1258 Nichiren went to Jissō-ji temple and began research to find a solution to the disasters facing Japan. 

1258 was no better, and August saw storms destroying crops across the country and floods in Kamakura that killed many people.  Heavy rain in October led to more floods in the city.


Mar. 1259 - Apr. 1260
1259 saw epidemics and famine throughout Japan and yet another violent storm that wiped out that year’s crops.

In 1259 Nichiren writes “On the Protection of the Nation” and in early 1260 “The Causes of Misfortunes” which are seen as preparatory treatises on the nation’s ongoing disasters.





Apr. 1260 - Feb. 1261
More crop failures in 1260 bring widespread starvation and in June all temples are ordered to pray for an end to epidemics.

16th July 1260 Nichiren submits “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” to Hōjō Tokiyori

Annoyed by his findings, on 27th August 1260, Nembutsu believers attack Nichiren’s home but he escapes unharmed.

Piracy was also increasing and becoming a serious problem.


Feb. 1261 - Feb. 1264
Nichiren returned to Kamakura in Spring 1261, but after a serious of unfounded charges of defamation, the government sentenced him to exile on Izu on May 12th.  In February 1263 he was pardoned and returned to Kamakura.

The Kamakura Rebellion saw many conflicts in 1263 which included Imperial Prince Munetaka - the 6th Kamakura Shogun – being deposed and replaced by his 2 year old son!!!


Feb. 1264 - Apr. 1275
On 11th November 1264 Nichiren was attacked by sword and stave at Komatsubara.

In January 1268 the Mongols sent a letter threatening invasion of Japan.  When this was ignored an attack was made on the island of Tsushima (1269) and more envoys were sent in 1271

In 1268,  Nichiren returned to Kamikura and wrote to religious and political leaders calling for a debate on Buddhist teachings now that his predictions regarding civil war and invasion were coming true.

Late spring and early summer of 1271 saw another drought, during the rainy season, with the threat of more failed crops. 

The government asked Ryokan, a priest of the True-Word Precepts School to pray for rain, and he promised it would rain within a week.  When it didn’t, Nichiren promised to become a disciple of Ryokan if Ryokan could make it rain within the next seven days.  This event led to false allegations against him, his near execution on Tatsunokuchi Beach (12th Sept. 1271) and his subsequent exile to Sado Island from October 1271.

There was a civil war in Feb. 1272 and another in Feb. 1274 involving the Regent of Kamikura and his brother. 

Also in Feb. 1274, the Regent gave Nichiren permission to leave Sado Island, and Hei no Saemon wanted to see him to learn more about predictions for a Mongol invasion.  The government wanted Nichiren to pray for Japan, but they still refused to listen to his solution of embracing the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra, so in accordance with the Chinese custom of being rejected three times, Nichiren retired to Mount Minobu, where he continued to write, lecture and encourage his disciples.

Nine months later (19 Nov, 1274) the Mongol forces landed at Hakata Bay near Fukuoka.  After some armed skirmishes and looting, the invaders withdrew to spend the night on their ships.  That night, a storm sank several ships, and the fleet retreated to Korea.   (The Mongols would return again in May 1281)

Friday, 3 July 2015

Mentor-Disciple Origins: Shakyamuni

Siddhartha Gautama
In the Lotus Sutra, after Shakyamuni has repeatedly explained that there is only one vehicle and that the wisdom of the buddhas is difficult to understand and difficult to enter, we come to the Ceremony in the Air.  A treasure tower arises from the ground and we meet Many Treasures Buddha who confirms that what Shakamuni is saying is true.  Everyone wonders who will spread this teaching far and wide, and while various groups within the assembly offer to propagate it, it’s only when the ground opens up and the Bodhisattvas of the Earth (Shakyamuni’s students from previous lifetimes) appear that we see the true disciples of the mentor Shakyamuni. 

In the March 2007 “Art of Living” magazine, Barbara Cahill explains that “Shakyamuni himself established the way forward in the ceremony in the air when he passed the baton of propagation to Bodhisattva Superior Practices and to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.  At that point he made it clear that practice to, and reverence for, the idealised image of a remote and superior Buddha must be replaced by the understanding that the cause for Buddhahood exists in every life.” (p37)

Throughout Shakyamuni’s life, Shariputra and others saw themselves as the disciples of the Buddha, but after the Buddha’s death, rather than propagate the Lotus Sutra, many of them returned to the earlier teachings or started to revere Shakyamuni as a God.   Akemi Baynes explains “When his followers lost the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple, Shakyamuni became merely an object of worship, a godlike being, rather than a model of what an enlightened person can achieve.”  (Art of Living, September 2007, p30-31)

So as well as the confusion among the various teachings, there is also confusion among the various disciples.  This is why it is essential that the disciples of Buddhism, of Shakyamuni and of Nichiren Daishonin, study and understand the heart of their teachings, their practice and their intent.  Disciples who fail to do this will stray from the path of the mentor’s teachings and run the risk of continuing to spread outdated teachings and  ineffective practices, while at the same time causing confusion and hindering, rather than promoting, the spread of Buddhism, especially the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra.

In a dialogue on the Lotus Sutra between President Ikeda, and the Soka Gakkai Study Department chief and vice chiefs (published as “The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: Vol. IV”), they discuss India’s first prime minister’s opinion on why Buddhism died out In India:

Ikeda: [Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister] once discussed the question of why Buddhism died out in India with the French author Andre Malraux.   … At one point in their conversation, Nehru remarked: "The genius of the Buddha has to do with the fact that he is a man. The originator of one of the most profound systems of thought in the history of humanity, an inflexible spirit and the most noble compassion. " … After Shakyamuni's death, however, as Nehru deftly observed, "He became deified, he merged with that multitude, which closed round him," in effect, eclipsing his human side. [Andre Malraux, Anti-memoirs, trans. Terence Kilmartin (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), p. 228.]

Saito: … The problem is that as soon as Shakyamuni was deified, the path he had revealed for human beings to attain enlightenment disappeared.

Ikeda: Yes. Fundamentally, Buddhism is a teaching about how to live, a teaching transmitted from mentor to disciple. … But if the Buddha as the mentor ceases to be a human being and becomes a "god," then, practically speaking, the path of mentor and disciple cannot exist. …

Saito: In Hinayana Buddhism, which emerged relatively early after Shakyamuni's death, the people gradually viewed Shakyamuni as a deity. Consequently they felt  it was enough if they could just strive to attain the enlightenment of persons of learning, or voice-hearers (i.e., the stage of arhat).  In Mahayana Buddhism, other than the Lotus Sutra, which was systematized at a later time as a countermovement to Hinayana, a large number of Buddhas are introduced besides Shakyamuni Buddha. These include, for example, Amida, Mahavairochana and Vairochana. But there is an unbridgeable gap between these Buddhas and actual people. They are presented largely as beings to whom people can entrust their hopes for salvation; not as potential mentors.  Thus, the path of mentor and disciple exists neither in the Hinayana nor in the provisional Mahayana teachings.

Ikeda: When "Shakyamuni the human being" was forgotten, Buddhism ceased to be a teaching about how to live the best possible life. The path of mentor and disciple disappeared.  Consequently, Buddhism declined and became authoritarian.

Saito:  When followers fail to continue along the same path as the mentor, the very life of Buddhism is extinguished. One cannot fail to be impressed by Nehru's wisdom in discerning that Buddhism died out in India when Shakyamuni ceased to be viewed as a human being.”  
(Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: Vol. IV p30 – 33)

Saito: Because direct contact with the Buddha was impossible, in time the concept of the "great Buddha" took on a kind of life of its own. People thought that Shakyamuni alone had attained the Buddha's enlightenment, and that it was far beyond them to ever become Buddhas themselves.

Endo: The enlightenment toward which they strove was the highest enlightenment of voice-hearers - the stage of arhat. The state of the Buddha was seen as unattainable.

Suda: In the meantime, the precepts gradually grew in complexity. Also, to maintain the order, the monks created an air of mystery around their temples, going so far as to expound teachings arrogating authority to themselves.  At the same time, they placed the Buddha on a pedestal rending him inaccessible to ordinary people.

Ikeda: Still, things weren't quite as bad as they could have been as long as Shakyamuni's direct disciples were around. The first compilation of sutras is said to have taken place about a century after Shakyamuni's death. By then Shakyamuni's deification may have already been fairly well advanced. …

Saito: The Sanskrit term that, in the Chinese Buddhist canon, is translated as "World-Honored One" is bhagavat, an ancient Indian literary term. This was apparently an appellation that disciples used in addressing a teacher. But as Shakyamuni's deification became solidified, people came to refer to him instead as the "supreme deity" or as the "god of gods."

Amidha Buddha
Suda: When we come to Mahayana Buddhism, we find an emphasis on a personal Buddha as a "savior" figure who leads people to enlightenment. …  The problem is that as a result of this Mahayana Buddhist movement, people came to make light of Shakyamuni, the originator of Buddhism. Instead, they revered imaginary Buddhas [such as Amida, Vairochana and Mahavairochana] as "gods." Ultimately, this closed off the path whereby people could discover the "Law at one with the Buddha" within their own lives.

Endo: Moreover, the teaching of such Buddhas, rather than encouraging people to place importance on their own inherent strength, only reinforced the tendency to depend on the Buddha's compassion for salvation. The Pure Land or Nembutsu school of Buddhism, in which people seek salvation through the benevolence of Amida Buddha, is a case in point.

Ikeda: In short, both the Hinayana and Mahayana teachings completely deviate from the spirit of Shakyamuni’s teaching to make the Law and the self our foundation. … The Lotus Sutra’s spirit  is to resist the dehumanization of religion and religion's tendency to become divorced from reality but instead to steadfastly redirect religion to focus on the human being.

Suda: I recall the Daishonin's declaration in "On Practicing the Buddha's Teachings" that he has "[launched] the battle between the provisional and the true teachings" and "the battle goes on even today" (WND1, p392).   The true legacy of Buddhism can be found only within unceasing spiritual struggle.

Saito: The Daishonin constantly proclaimed: "Return to Shakyamuni!" …

Endo: He condemns as utterly confused those who try to do away with the actual person Shakyamuni while making much of imaginary Buddhas of uncertain origins. …

Ikeda: That suggests just how strong the tendency of religion is to depart from the human being. And when that happens, religion becomes little more than a means for controlling people.
(Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: Vol. IV p44 – 48)

During this conversation, study department chief, Katsuji Saito also explains “[A]fter Shakyamuni's death the Law necessarily becomes fundamental. That is inevitable. The only way to attain Buddhahood is to have a direct connection with the Law and, in effect, make the Law one's mentor.”  
(Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: Vol. IV p43)

And in “Buddhism Day by Day”, Daisaku Ikeda writes, “The highest offering to the Buddha is not to worship something reminiscent of the Buddha.  Rather, it is to inherit the Buddha’s spirit.  In other words, the highest offering lies in struggling to manifest, as one’s own way of life, even a part of the spirit of the Buddha, who upheld the philosophy that everyone is a Buddha and tirelessly strove to save all from suffering.”  (p297)

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Previously... On Mentor-Disciple Day

Over the last few years I have written several posts on the significance of the SGI’s Mentor-Disciple Day and the mentor-disciple relationship.

Please click on the links below to go to previous posts:

Leaders of the Park (see Part IV)

“Only one person can make a breakthrough,
the second and a third will follow.
This is the formula for victory! 
Become a pioneer of the new era
and shine in your community.”
               Daisaku Ikeda, "To My Friends", 3 July 2014

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Gongyo Style (독경 스타일)


“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is only one phrase or verse, but it is no ordinary phrase, for it is the essence of the entire sutra. ... Included within the title, or daimoku, of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the entire sutra … Truly, if you chant this in the morning and evening, you are correctly reading the entire Lotus Sutra.  Chanting daimoku twice is the same as reading the entire sutra twice, one hundred daimoku equal one hundred readings of the sutra, and one thousand daimoku, one thousand readings of the sutra.  Thus, if you ceaselessly chant daimoku, you will be continually reading the Lotus Sutra.”   (“The One Essential Phrase”, WND-1, p922-923)

So, even though the beginners in Buddhist practice may not understand their significance, by practicing these five characters, they will naturally conform to the sutra’s intent.”   (“On The Four Stages of Faith”, WND-1, p788)

“The Lotus Sutra of the Correct Law says that, if one hears this sutra and proclaims and embraces its title, one will enjoy merit beyond measure.”    (“Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra”, WND-1, p143)
“Only the ship of Myoho-renge-kyo enables one to cross the sea of the sufferings of birth and death.”                                                               (“A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering”, WND-1, p 33)
In 1264, Nichiren Daishonin replied to a question from the wife of Daigaku Saburō concerning how to perform gongyo. 
“You say that you used to recite one chapter of the Lotus Sutra every day, completing the entire sutra in the space of twenty-eight days, but that now you read the “Medicine King” chapter once a day. You ask if you should simply read each chapter in turn, as you were originally doing.” (WND-1, p68)
“Though no chapter of the Lotus Sutra is negligible, among the entire twenty-eight chapters, the “Expedient Means” chapter and the “Life Span” chapter are particularly outstanding. The remaining chapters are all in a sense the branches and leaves of these two chapters. Therefore, for your regular recitation, I recommend that you practice reading the prose sections of the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters.  … As for the remaining chapters, you may turn to them from time to time when you have a moment of leisure.”  (WND-1, p71)

It’s clear from this letter that the Daishonin had already established the daily practice of reciting extracts from these two chapters of the Lotus Sutra…

“To accept, uphold, read, recite, take delight in, and protect all ... twenty-eight chapters of the Lotus Sutra is called the comprehensive practice. 
To accept, uphold, and protect the “Expedient Means” chapter and the “Life Span” chapter is called the abbreviated practice.
And simply to chant one four-phrase verse or the daimoku, and to protect those who do so, is called the essential practice.
Hence, among these three kinds of practice, comprehensive, abbreviated, and essential, the daimoku is defined as the essential practice.   (WND-1, p143)

Friday, 12 June 2015

Nichiren on Sado Island

After being saved from execution at Tatsunokuchi Beach, Nichiren was held at Echi, near the Teradomari harbour, where he would set sail for Sado Island.  It took more than a week before the sea was calm enough to cross, but it was still a dangerous journey.  In the picture below you can see Nichiren calming the sea by chanting daimoku.

Nichiren was nearly fifty when he was exiled to Sado Island and on the 1st November 1271, three days after arriving on the island, Nichiren was taken to an abandoned field that was used as a graveyard and given a small dilapidated hut.  He writes:

“The chances are one in ten thousand that I will survive the year or even the month.”  (WND-1. P402)

“Among those sent to Sado, most die; few live. And after I had finally managed to reach my place of exile, I was looked upon as someone who had committed a crime worse than murder or treason.”(WND1, p519)   

“The hearts of the people are like those of birds and beasts; they recognize neither sovereign, teacher, nor parent. Even less do they distinguish between correct and incorrect in Buddhism, or good and evil in their teachers.”  (WND1, p213)

“There, true to the nature of that northern land, I found the wind particularly strong in winter, the snows deep, the clothing thin, and the food scarce.”  (WND1, p519)

“I lived in a graveyard called Tsukahara, at a place between the meadows and the mountains that was far removed from human habitation. I lived in a small hut [Sammai-dō] built with four posts. The roof boards did not shut out the sky, and the walls were crumbling. Rain came in as though there were no roof at all, and the snow piled up inside.”  (WND2, p773-774)

“[T]he walls did not keep out the wind. Day and night the only sound reaching my ears was the sighing of the wind by my pillow; each morning the sight that met my eyes was the snow that buried the roads far and near. I felt as though I had passed through the realm of hungry spirits and fallen alive into one of the cold hells.    (WND1, p519)

“There was no image of the Buddha, and no trace of matting or other floor covering. But I set up the figure of Shakyamuni, the lord of teachings, that I have carried with me from times past, and held the Lotus Sutra in my hand, and with a straw coat around me and a straw hat on my head, I managed to live there.”  (WND2, p774)

“I am sending back some of the young priests. You can ask them what this province is like and about the circumstances in which I live. It is impossible to describe these matters in writing.”  (WND1, p214)

“Please tell the young priests that they should not neglect their studies. You absolutely must not lament over my exile.”   (WND1, p214)

Nichiren always stressed to his followers that “from the very day you listen to [and take faith in] this sutra, you should be fully prepared to face the great persecutions of the three types of enemies" (WND1.p391) but wrote “although my disciples had already heard this, when both great and small persecutions confronted us, some were so astounded and terrified that they even forsook their faith. (ibid.)  

Even worse though, were that some disciples tried to persuade other followers to reject the Daishonin:  “When persecutions befell me, [Shō-bō, Noto-bō, and the lay nun of Nagoe] took advantage of these to convince many of my followers to drop out.”  (WND1, p800)

Nichiren also wrote about the journey from Kamakura to Sado Island being “more than a thousand ri  [450km / 280 miles]  over treacherous mountains and raging seas. There are sudden onslaughts of wind and rain, bandits lurk in the mountains, and pirates lie in wait on the sea. The people at every stage and every post town are as bestial as dogs or tigers” (WND1, p325)

This is the route that his closest disciples would have had to follow to deliver food, paper and religious texts to him, and then they would return back the same way with his letters of encouragement and guidance for other disciples.  This really shows the depth of commitment that Nichiren Daishonin and his early disciples had to ensure the continued flow of Nichiren Buddhism. 

In this modern age of e-mails it can be difficult enough to reflect on the good old days of writing letters, buying stamps and finding a post-box, let alone the physical and emotional hardships of delivering food and communication between the capital city and an inhospitable island via a dangerous and demanding trip over “treacherous mountains and raging seas”.