Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Nail That Stands Up

In Japan, there’s a famous phrase - “deru kui wa utareru” - which means “the nail that stands up gets hammered down”. Japan is a country that typically prides itself on conformity, and sees anyone who is outspoken and holds different views to popular opinion as a potential threat to the rest of the group.  This lone voice must be knocked back into line.  It doesn’t even matter if the difference is the teaching of a great philosophy or something that can be harmful to society, as long as you are different from the mainstream, you must be put in your place.

Throughout most of Japan’s history, religions in Japan generally avoided any kind of persecution, keeping to themselves.  They didn’t really make efforts to expand their membership (which had been illegal from the 1600s onwards!) and they were happy to live in harmony alongside other Buddhist temples.  If Religion A didn’t “steal” members away from Religion B, Religion B wouldn’t steal members from Religion A.  Each temple earned enough to support their priests from the voluntary contributions of their followers and from the different services and rituals you could pay for.  Even the Nichiren Shoshu Temple seemed happy to ignore their mission of kosen-rufu and to follow the status quo and the orders of the military government.

After the war, it became possible to propagate your faith and, while a lot of the temples continued to “play by the rules” and enjoy a peaceful coexistence with other Buddhist schools and sects, some new religions emerged and tried to sell their brand of religion to the poor, sick and hungry.  They might have irritated the established temples, but they weren’t really that successful, so were seen as a nuisance rather than a threat.  But, the Soka Gakkai, under President Toda started to become more and more popular.   Members were energised by the practice and were seeing results and gaining hope in their lives.  In Osaka, around 9,000 households joined the Soka Gakkai in April 1956, which meant 9,000 households had left other Buddhist sects.  Understandably, the priests of those temples weren’t happy and knew that the Soka Gakkai had to be hammered down to protect their livelihoods.  Some tried malicious lies to discredit the organisation, some tried unsuccessfully to engage in debate and prove the supremacy of their teachings and some tried to involve the media in their deceptions.  None of these proved successful, but at the same time, the authorities weren’t really that bothered.  They may have been curious about the Soka Gakkai, but the problem belonged to the world of religion and didn’t really have an impact on the running of the country or day to day issues in society.

However, once the Soka Gakkai became involved in politics with their Clean Government Political League (Komei) and they started to get candidates voted into local and national government, the authorities became more concerned.  The temples may have tried to hammer down the Soka Gakkai with light taps, but once the government and police became involved the power of the hammer was significantly increased and the Soka Gakkai started to feel the full force of persecution for the first time since the war.

Toda knew that the situation would only get worse as more and more people felt their lives being affected by the enthusiasm and determination of the Soka Gakkai members and wrote this poem on 9 July 1956:
            An even steeper mountain path
            We are now entering
            Proceed with great care.
            On the journey of kosen-rufu
(The Human Revolution: Volume 10, p256)

Throughout its history the Soka Gakkai has continued to be persecuted and the split with the Nichiren Shoshu Temple in the early 1990s was a source of much speculation and scandalous gossip in the tabloids.  When I was first introduced to the practice in Japan towards the end of the 1990s, the tabloid newspapers were constantly full of tales of President Ikeda’s “crimes”, all of which were proved in court to be unfounded, unsubstantiated and untrue.

In recent years though, the media seems to have focussed less and less on the organisation, and, based on voting figures, there are certainly more people voting for Komeito Party politicians than there are Soka Gakkai members.  Maybe the public have got bored of reading dishonest “news” or maybe the tide is starting to turn as more and more people embrace the humanistic philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin and see the valuable contribution the Soka Gakkai is making in Japan.

President Toda knew that these powerful obstacles, devils and enemies would emerge, but he also knew that as votaries of the Lotus Sutra we are the ones to lead our communities and our countries to victory.   We are not a passive religion that sits in solitude and contemplates the wonders of the universe, but an active presence in society that wants to share the joys of our daily practice with others and bring happiness to the lives of people throughout the world.

For more information on the Komeito Party, see my previous post Soka Gakkai and Politics

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sansho Shima

(Taken from SGI Quarterly: April 2010:

The Three Obstacles and Four Devils

Changing ourselves can be hard work. Anyone who has tried to stick to a New Year's resolution knows that a decision to change even a simple aspect of their behavior for the better usually entails a determined struggle. Our lives seem to contain an innate resistance to change that is at least as strong as our desire to improve ourselves.

In Buddhism, such resistance is characterized as "obstacles" and "devilish functions," which are a natural part of the dynamic workings of our lives.

The most profound positive transformation that human beings can undertake is encapsulated by the idea of "attaining Buddhahood." This could be described as the process of expanding one's capacity for compassion and making concern for the happiness of all people the core of one's life--a challenge in terms of action as well as intention and awareness. The difficulties that confront a person progressing in this effort are described in the Nirvana Sutra as "the three obstacles and four devils." The description of these obstacles and devils includes such things as karma and obstructions arising from greed, anger and foolishness. More broadly, they are the various kinds of difficulties that accompany any effort to bring about transformation.

In his writings, Nichiren (1222-82) quotes the great Chinese Buddhist scholar T'ien-t'ai (538-97) who developed a system of meditation, described in his work Great Concentration and Insight, to enable practitioners to perceive the true essence of life and attain Buddhahood. T'ien-t'ai writes, "As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere . . . one should be neither influenced nor frightened by them."

For T'ien-t'ai, these obstacles and devils were internal obstructions and distractions arising in the mind of practitioners as their Buddhist practice developed. For Nichiren, whose adult life was a continuous series of persecutions and confrontations with the repressive social structures of his time, these obstructions were concretely manifest in the very real opposition he and his disciples experienced on account of their beliefs.

Whether they appear externally or internally, these obstacles arise from the same source, what in Buddhism is termed "fundamental darkness." This is a fundamental ignorance of the true enlightened nature of our lives, and is the source of all illusion and misery in the lives of human beings. It can manifest as dark, destructive impulses in ourselves or others or as an insidious pull toward feelings of complacency, discouragement, temptation or intimidation.

Nichiren, however, takes a positive view of the obstacles and devils, saying that when they appear, "the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat." This is because it is precisely by squarely confronting and triumphing over such negative functions that we are able to develop our lives, polish our character and ultimately manifest our enlightenment.

Life, in this sense, could be thought of as an ongoing process of striving for development, overcoming resistance and experiencing growth. Two qualities that are vital to this process are wisdom and courage--wisdom both to self-reflect and to recognize negative functions for what they are and not be influenced by them; courage to confront and not be defeated by these influences.

"There is no easy path to the realization of good," writes SGI President Ikeda in his 2010 Peace Proposal. "We have no choice but to root ourselves firmly in reality, deliberately taking on difficult challenges, ceaselessly training and forging ourselves in the smelting furnace of the soul." In this process of overcoming obstacles and devilish functions, we become, as he describes elsewhere, "protagonists of a 'story' of inner victory forged in the depths of [our] lives." This is a goal at the very heart of Buddhism.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Oneness of Mentor / Disciple

It is quite easy for a disciple to follow the master’s intention subserviently, but rarely does a disciple attain that state of mind in which he grasps the source of the master’s intention and shares that source.  However, the oneness of master and disciple totally depends on the accomplishment of this difficult process. (The Human Revolution: Volume 10, p95-96)
I originally wrote about the Mentor/Disciple relationship on 3 July 2012 ( and then again in August (part iv of this blog -

Today I wanted to look at the ONENESS of the mentor/disciple relationship as this is the heart of this spiritual relationship, but first I’ll briefly summarise the key points so far:

1.      The mentor-disciple relationship has its basis in the Emerging from the Earth chapter of the Lotus Sutra when the Bodhisattvas of the Earth (the disciples) rise up and vow to Shakyamuni (the mentor) to spread the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.

2.      According to Nichiren Daishonin it’s our ties of karma that have destined us to become his disciple and according to the Lotus Sutra we will constantly be reborn in company with our teachers.  (The Ultimate Law of Life, WND-1, p217)

3.      Chanting allows us to awaken our Buddha wisdom and open our karmic ties to truly “see” the true nature of potential teachers and find someone who is following the Law (practising Nichiren Buddhism correctly) in their own lives.  

4.      President Ikeda is not our God or an object of worship, but a lay believer of Nichiren Buddhism and a Bodhisattva of the Earth.  Many SGI members have a deep respect and admiration for him and feel a deep gratitude towards him, based on his role as a spiritual advisor and as an inspirational role-model in faith.

So, coming back to the ONENESS of mentor and disciple, the Lotus Sutra doesn’t teach us to follow our mentor and do what we are told like good children.  WE are in control of our lives and responsible for the decisions we make.  If our intention was to blindly follow leaders, Nichiren would still be a disciple of the Nembutsu school.  But, Nichiren recognized his mentor was following an inferior teaching and, out of a debt of gratitude, tried to correct his practise when awakened to the wisdom and profundity of the Lotus Sutra.   

The ONENESS of mentor and disciple is not about doing what we are told, but making decisions in our lives and practising Buddhism with the same intent, determination and purpose as our mentor.  Some people may think to themselves “What would Ikeda do?” but you could also think to yourself “What would Nichiren, or Shakyamuni do?” or, the one I use myself, “What would I do if I was using all of my Buddha wisdom in this moment?” 

In the quote above it mentions "grasping the source" of the mentor and sharing that source. For me that "source" is the Lotus Sutra and the Gosho. it is the Mystic Law and the Gohonzon. It is President Ikeda and it is me. The ONENESS of the mentor/disciple can never be about idolising President Ikeda and putting him on a pedestal.  How can there be a ONENESS if you are creating such a wide distance between you in faith?  Personally, It is about me recognizing in President Ikeda (and other great role models I have within our organisation - from Shakyamuni, Nichiren Daishonin, senior leaders and district members) the qualities and behaviour that I want to achieve for myself as a Nichiren Buddhist, and then making those qualities and behaviours my own by fully appreciating my Buddhahood and my potential as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.  It is always basing my life on our shared faith in Nichiren Buddhism and our commitment to kosen rufu.

For more on the oneness of Shakyamuni and his disciples, go to Mentor-Disciple Origins: Shakyamuni

Monday, 7 January 2013

Guidelines For Propagation

In “Nembutsu Practitioners Destined For Hell”, Nichiren writes “… those who hope to spread the teachings of the Buddha must take into consideration certain factors, namely, the teaching to be spread, the capacity of the people, the time, the country, and the sequence in which the teachings are propagated.”  (WND-2, p297)

These five factors are also referred to as the five guides and explain the things we need to think about when telling others about Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra.

The first consideration is the correctness of the teachings, and the fact that according to Shakyamuni himself, he waited until the people were ready to hear his complete and supreme understanding of the realities of life and death in the Lotus Sutra.  Even in the Lotus Sutra he explains that it is a difficult teaching to hear, but until that time he led people to approximate understandings of this wisdom in the best way he could based on their capabilities.

This brings us to the second guideline we need to consider which is people’s ability to understand the teachings and, like Shakyamuni, we need to think about how we can best lead people to understand the wisdom of The Lotus Sutra.  Fortunately, along with studying the Lotus Sutra and the Gosho, Nichiren revealed that the way to achieve happiness in this lifetime was to chant "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo".  This is often our starting point when introducing people to the practice, but some people may be more open to the logical aspect of Nichiren Buddhism, such as the concepts of cause and effect, the ten worlds, etc.

The third factor is the time and recognizing that what had been taught in the past (the provisional teachings) has been replaced, or updated, by the eternal (the true teachings).  i.e. the Lotus Sutra surpassed and replaced the earlier teachings.  The earlier teachings may still be of interest from a historic point of view which allows us to see the progression in the Shakyamuni's teachings, and it may still give comfort to the followers who still practice such a way, but it is the true teachings detailing the philosophy and practice of the Lotus Sutra, which we should be propagating today.

In “Nembutsu and the Hell of Incessant Suffering”, Nichiren mentions that “The four volumes that make up [the Pure Land’s] three sutras do not in any way represent the true intention of Shakyamuni Buddha, nor do they represent the true reason for which the Buddhas of the three existences of past, present, and future make their appearance in the world. … They are, for example, like the scaffold that one erects when one is building a tower.  The Nembutsu is the scaffold, while the Lotus Sutra is the treasure tower. … Those who persistently cling to the Nembutsu after the Lotus Sutra has been preached are thus like persons who, after the tower has been erected, cling to the scaffold and make no use of the tower.  How could they fail to be guilty of going against the builder’s wishes?”  (WND-2, p25)

The fourth factor recognizes the historical and cultural situation that exists in the country where you are propagating, such as freedom of religion laws and other legislation which may affect shakubuku. 

And the fifth is an understanding of the kind of things that have already been propagated within the country so far, i.e. what is the current state of religion in that country?  What schools of Buddhism are people familiar with?  Do we need to radically change people’s idea of Buddhism as a contemplative solitary pursuit for enlightenment and show them that it can be a relevant philosophy and practise for the 21st century and beyond?  Do we need to logically correct people’s attachments to an earlier Buddhist teaching and lead them to the Lotus Sutra?  Do we live in a country that is typically cynical of religion or one that embraces any and all religions?
When we propagate Nichiren Buddhism, we are like doctors prescribing the best medicine to enable people to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime with the glorious side effect of ensuring the peace of the land (and the world).  Concerning this point, Nichiren writes, “It is the rule in propagating Buddhism that one must always learn the nature of the teachings that have already spread.  To illustrate, when giving medicine to a sick person, one should know what kind of medicine was administered before.”  (Encouragement To A Sick Person, WND-1, p80)

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year Resolutions

Persevering in our goals, working towards our dreams and resisting temptation until we achieve victory can be challenging. 
The best way to stay on track is to truly connect with your goal and to wholeheartedly want to make it a reality.  Ask yourself “Why EXACTLY do I want to achieve [whatever it is]?”, “How EXACTLY will my life, or the lives of others, improve when I achieve this goal?” and “How EXACTLY will I feel, when I’ve achieved it?”   

If you can become emotionally connected to these benefits and positive feelings it will be easier to keep steadily advancing towards your goal when you are tempted by short-term gains or immediate gratifications.  It may also be worthwhile breaking a very long-term goal into smaller steps, so that you can advance and track your progress as the weeks, months and, in some cases, years go by.  Even Shakyamuni knew he had to lead people to the supreme teaching of the Lotus Sutra by breaking the journey down into smaller more manageable steps that his followers could cope with.
By breaking bigger goals into smaller steps, emotionally connecting with the outcome, chanting and taking action based on our Buddha wisdom we should be able to overcome all temptations and realize that the hardships we face during this journey are a small price to pay for the great benefit of seeing actual proof in our lives.

If you do start to slide, or lose sight of your goal, though, don’t beat yourself up over it, but refocus your thoughts and try again.  Take heart from this recent encouragement from President Ikeda:
Some of you may have experienced setting yourself a target, but not being able to stick to it for long. I also understand this feeling well.
But even if you only manage to stick to something for a few days, that’s fine. When you challenge something even for three days, you’ll achieve three days’ worth of growth. You should feel good about yourself for having persevered in something for three days. There’s no need to feel bad about stopping after a few days; just keep starting over again. If you repeat that pattern 10 times, that makes a whole month!
Those who can keep refreshing their determination and trying again are most admirable. They are winners. The important thing is to continue challenging yourself with perseverance.  (from newsletter

See also:

"The Same As Last Year" (from 1st January 2014)

"Happy New Year 2015"  (from 1st January 2015)

"Ready, Willing & Able"  (from May 2012)