Saturday, 13 July 2019

Mentor-Disciple Dialogue #6

This is the last in series of dialogues about the mentor-disciple relationship between A MEMBER (AM) who represents the doubts and concerns I’ve had about the mentor-disciple relationship over the years, and a DISTRICT LEADER (DL) who represents my understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship today.

AM:     So have you benefitted from the mentor-disciple relationship?

DL:       Definitely, It’s really helped me to connect with my mission as a votary of the Lotus Sutra, and Sensei’s words and example in faith, have given me both the confidence to carry out my human revolution, support other members and share this Buddhism with co-workers and friends, as well as the motivation to stand up and take responsibility for myself and my district.

AM:     So how can I make the mentor’s vision shine in my life and district?

DL:       Basically, by continuing to deepen your understanding of Nichiren Buddhism, by chanting, and by using the wisdom of your daimoku to stand up and take action imbued with the mentor-disciple spirit for the happiness of ourselves and others.

In “The New Human Revolution – Vol. 17”, President Ikeda writes “The mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism starts with the compassion of Shakyamuni Buddha to teach his followers the path to enlightenment on the one hand, and the seeking spirit of his followers to grasp the Law on the other. In short, it is a unity of spirit that is only possible through the disciple’s voluntary act of will” (p9-10). 

AM:     Okay, so what Sensei is saying here is that this is a two-way relationship.  The mentor teaches the Law and embodies the Law in his daily life, and the seeking spirit of the disciple deepens their understanding of the Law which they embody in their life and actions.

DL:       That’s right, but it’s also important to remember that while Sensei models the attitude and behaviour of someone who has made the Mystic Law their standard, Nichiren reminds us that people who “forget the original teacher who had brought [us] the water of wisdom from the great ocean of the Lotus Sutra and instead follow another would surely cause [us] to sink into the endless sufferings of birth and death.” (WND-1, 747)

AM:     So, while we may credit President Ikeda as someone who has inspired us in our practice, we don’t need to put him on a pedestal, or sit around talking about how great he is, we just need to stand up and share with others how great the Mystic Law is.

DL:       Exactly.  The vow of Shakyamuni’s disciples in the Lotus Sutra is to “roar the lion’s roar” (Watson, LSOC, p232) and President Ikeda encourages us to 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.” (April 2014 Newsletter 8982)

If we want to follow the path of mentor and disciple, and practice with the oneness of mentor and disciple, we just need to put into action the “essence of the Soka Gakkai spirit ... [which 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”  (Josei Toda’s words at the May 3, 1954 Soka Gakkai General Meeting repeated by Daisaku Ikeda at the Soka Gakkai HQ Leaders Meeting in April 2014 - Newsletter 8982) 

AM:     Wow.  Thank you so much for coming today.  I was nervous that I still wouldn’t understand the mentor-disciple relationship after last week’s Chapter Study, but you’ve really opened my eyes today and shown me that this oneness of mentor and disciple is not just about our connection with President Ikeda, but also about deepening our connection with the spirit of Nichiren Daishonin, deepening our understanding of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Lotus Sutra and taking action to share our hope-filled practice and the wonderful benefits of embracing the Mystic Law with others.  

Mentor-Disciple Dialogue #5

This is the penultimate part of this series of dialogues about the mentor-disciple relationship between A MEMBER (AM) who represents the doubts and concerns I’ve had about the mentor-disciple relationship over the years, and a DISTRICT LEADER (DL) who represents my understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship today.

The previous four parts of this dialogue can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4


AM:     But what about the other Nichiren Buddhism schools in Japan?  They’ve continued to spread their teachings, haven’t they?

DL:       Kosen-rufu specifically refers to Shakyamuni’s intention in the Lotus Sutra to “single-mindedly propagate this Law abroad, causing its benefits to spread far and wide.” (Watson, LSOC, p319), but these benefits are only possible when you have a mentor that lives his life “with the Lotus Sutra in his hand” (WND-1, p263). 

AM:     But don’t the Nichiren Shoshu high priest and the SGI mentor both have the same spirit of kosen-rufu with the Lotus Sutra in hand?

DL:       You would think so, but many of the official “schools” of Nichiren Buddhism didn’t require, or encourage, followers to perform gongyo or daimoku, but offered these as services you could pay the priesthood to do for you.  The priests’ focus was on bringing in money through services rather than sharing the Law with others. 

Within the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (the first President) embraced Nichiren Buddhism and wanted members to learn gongyo and regularly do their own prayers and chanting.  Through this, members started to actually feel the change within them and the power of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo coursing through their lives, giving rise to their stand-alone spirit and selfless dedication to kosen-rufu.  

The Buddhist schools that encouraged their followers to let the priests do their gongyo and daimoku in exchange for money, may have gained financially, but their followers were prone to inactivity and only saw their practice as rituals or ceremonies, rather than an essential part of their daily life.

AM:     You explained to me once before that Nichiren talks about “the lion’s roar” being the preaching of the Lotus Sutra and the preaching of the Mystic Law, and President Ikeda said a disciple that “fails to roar the lion’s roar is not a true disciple.” (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings: Volume 1, p301)   So were the followers of these other schools not sharing their faith with others?

DL:       It’s difficult to know exactly, but according to statistics taken from Kiyoaki Murata’s “Japan’s New Buddhism”, in 1939, Nichiren Shoshu only had 45,332 members and 52 priests supported by 75 temples, compared to the other Nichiren schools in Japan, which had 2,074,530 members, 4,451 priests and 4,962 temples (p71). 

So it would appear that Nichiren Shoshu’s efforts for kosen-rufu were not uppermost in their teachings, especially when compared to many of the other Nichiren Buddhist schools at that time.   Where was Nichiren’s spirit?   Where were Shakyamuni’s bodhisattvas?   What were the Nichiren Shoshu priests actually doing during these 650 years after the death of Nichiren?

AM:     Those are interesting questions, but how does it relate to the mentor-disciple relationship?  Haven’t we gone off topic by talking about kosen-rufu?

DL:       Not really.  If we compare the growth of Nichiren Shoshu with the growth of the Soka Gakkai, we can see that each president has build on their predecessor’s efforts to ensure that an organisation of a handful of members in 1945 became over 750,000 members thirteen years later, and is over 12 million members worldwide today. 

THIS is the power of the oneness of the mentor-disciple relationship.   President Ikeda explains “An army of a hundred sheep led by a lion will defeat an army of a hundred lions led by a sheep” (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings: Volume 1, p287) and these statistics show that with weak leaders and no shared commitment, the mentor (in this case the Nichiren Shoshu high priest) becomes nothing more than an object of respect or a figurehead for a dying practice – an army of a hundred sheep led by a sheep. 

This confirms President Ikeda’s belief that “The mentor-disciple relationship is necessary in order to correctly practise the Law and ensure its transmission. … Towards that end, a teacher who correctly practices the Law is vital.”  (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings: Volume 1, p225)

Mentor-Disciple Dialogue #4

Throughout this short series of dialogues, A MEMBER (AM) represents the doubts and concerns I’ve had about the mentor-disciple relationship over the years, and the DISTRICT LEADER (DL) represents my understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship today.


AM:     At this month’s Chapter Study, the lecturer encouraged us to seek Sensei’s heart, why do I need to seek his heart and what is the oneness of mentor and disciple?

DL:       If you want to get to know more about President Ikeda and his contribution to the flow of kosen rufu, his diary, autobiographical novels and the HQ videos are all good sources, but the best way to seek Sensei’s heart – or to experience the oneness of mentor and disciple - is to actually live the practice and feel it yourself.

AM:     Live the practice?

DL:       Yeah.  Nichiren Buddhism is about action.  In “Letter to Jakunichi-bo”, Nichiren tells us to “spread the Lotus Sutra as he does” (WND-1, p994) It’s not about looking up to mentors, putting them on pedestals, or sucking up to them, it’s about facing the future WITH THEM and striving for kosen-rufu with the SAME selfless dedication. 

It’s the spirit of never begrudging our lives, like the Atsuhara farmers in 1278, who despite persecutions, beheadings and threats of exile refused to give up their faith even if it cost them their lives.  President Ikeda says “True disciples of the Lotus Sutra are those who struggle just as the mentor does.” (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings: Volume 1, p274)

In other writings, President Ikeda has shared his view that this mentor-disciple relationship is “like the relationship between centrifugal (outward) and centripetal (inward) forces in rotational movement.  Developing a movement that widely spreads the ideals of Buddhism into society is like a centrifugal, or outward, force.  The stronger this centrifugal force becomes, the more important it is to have a powerful centripetal, or inward, force directed towards the teachings of Buddhism.  And the source of that ‘centripetal force’ is the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple.”  (“Art of Living” - July 2019, p23)

In my own practice, when I became a district leader I vowed to make sure that everyone in my district would be supported and feel the profound power of Nichiren Buddhism in their lives.  Since then home visits, study activities, dedicated toso and just being there to support members has become a large part of my practice.

AM:     And when we do all this we can feel the spirit of the mentor?

DL:       That’s right.  A few years ago, I made a determination to send out a daily e-mail for a whole year, based on my reflections on quotes from the Human Revolution series, to members in my HQ that wanted to receive it.  This was a monumental task which involved a great deal of daimoku and study, and it really opened my eyes to the tireless dedication of Nichiren Daishonin to encourage his followers in the midst of his struggles, and the daily commitment of President Ikeda in his words of encouragement, articles, books and lectures.  At that time I felt a closer oneness with Nichiren Daishonin, President Ikeda and Shakyamuni Buddha than ever before and I realised that TAKING ACTION is everything when it comes to the mentor-disciple relationship, and especially the oneness of the mentor-disciple relationship. 

AM:     So I don’t need to seek Sensei’s heart?

DL:       Seeking sensei’s heart is basically embracing the spirit that flows through Shakymuni’s Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Buddhism and the SGI.  Let me give you another example. 

A few months ago, my wife and I had some time off work and at the end of the week, we were reflecting on all the home visits, study sessions, supporting other members, and the discussion meeting we had just attended.  I said to her “If we had time to sit around seeking Sensei’s heart, we wouldn’t be seeking Sensei’s heart.  We just need to stand up, support others and work for kosen-rufu”.

If I want to be a great hairdresser, I wouldn’t sit around talking about how great a famous stylist was or seeking their heart, I would study hairdressing and start to cut hair.  If I wanted to be a great doctor, I wouldn’t sit around talking about a great doctor or seeking their heart, I would study and start to practice medicine.  If you want to be a Bodhisattva of the Earth, you can learn from a great teacher, but ultimately YOU have to study and then DO IT YOURSELF.

AM:     So the mentor encourages and inspires us, we stand up and take responsibility, and then we connect even more with the spirit of the mentor and the heart of the teachings?

DL:       That’s right.  Nichiren Buddhism is not empty concepts, rituals or routines, it’s doing stuff that works.  We chant because it works.  We tell others about Buddhism because it works.  We study because it works.  The mentor-disciple relationship is the same.  It’s not a display of allegiance to the SGI or President Ikeda.  It’s an active part of our practice that keeps us on track and helps us to grow.  Put simply, it works. 

In his “Lectures on the Opening of the Eyes”, President Ikeda said “All who become genuine “disciples of Nichiren” (WND-1, p385) by making the Daishonin’s spirit and commitment their own… have in fact already opened wide the path to attaining Buddhahood.” (p253)

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Mentor-Disciple Dialogue #3

Here is the next instalment of the mentor-disciple dialogue.  Check out part one (here) and part two (here)


AM:     But do we need a mentor to show us the way?  I have my Gohonzon, the Gosho and the Mystic Law, isn’t that enough?

DL:       Yes and no.  We could practice without a mentor, but our fundamental darkness could cloud our minds, and Shakyamuni encourages us that if we stay “close to the teachers of the Law, one will speedily gain the bodhisattva way” (Burton Watson, The Lotus Sutra and Opening and Closing Sutras, p208).  

I remember a few years ago at Taplow Court I wanted to visit the Mentor-Disciple Room, but when I got to the main entrance, the others had already gone to the room, so I asked the receptionist for directions.  Unfortunately, I hit a dead-end, but bumping into another member that had also got lost we retraced our steps comparing the instructions we had been given and came across another office. 

With a new set of directions, we again ended up in an area where we could see the room we wanted, but couldn’t get to it, and then another member that was passing, took us directly to the Mentor-Disciple Room. 

The room and its exhibits were interesting, but the real benefit of this experience was that I finally got it.   The journey to find the Mentor-Disciple room showed me how President Ikeda supports us in our journey of faith.  I have the Lotus Sutra and the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin and I know my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, but without someone to guide us, it’s easy for us (and the teaching) to get lost.  President Ikeda, through his writings, speeches, encouragement and example in faith, shows us the clearest path to attaining Buddhahood and achieving kosen-rufu. 

Even Nikko Shonin, the founder of the Nichiren Shoshu Temple, said “In the teaching of the Daishonin, one attains Buddhahood by correctly following the path of mentor and disciple. If one errs even slightly in the path of mentor and disciple, then though one may uphold the Lotus Sutra, one will fall into the hell of incessant suffering.” (Translated from Japanese. Nikko, “Sado no Kuni no Hokkekoshu no Gohenji” (Reply to Believers in Sado Province), in “Documents of the Kamakura Period”, compiled and edited by Rizo Takeuchi (Tokyo: Tokyodo Shuppan, 1988), vol. 37, p. 25.)

AM:     Hmmm!  I do respect President Ikeda, but how can I choose a 91 year old Japanese man I’ve never met as a mentor?  

DL:       The first SGI book I read said “[The mentor and disciple] do not necessarily have to live together in the same time and place.  Their relationship goes beyond the limitations of time and space” (Yasuji Kirimura, Fundamentals of Buddhism (NSIC, 1984), p 179)   

From this, and Nichiren’s encouragement that “Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbour doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood” (WND – 1, p283), I understood that while my experiences of life are different, and my struggles, persecutions, challenges and difficulties aren’t the same as Nichiren Daishonin or President Ikeda, I can maintain a steadfast faith in the practice, the Gohonzon and my Buddhahood with the same courage and determination as they have done.  

Former SGI-UK General Director, Robert Samuels, shared his thoughts on this, writing “Each of us expresses the [Mystic] Law in our own way.  What the mentor teaches is the spirit and the single mind for the happiness of people through our propagation of the Law.  We don’t try to copy anyone or be a particular way, but aspire to the same spirit of selfless devotion to the happiness of even one person.” (“Art of Living” Nov. 2004, p22). 

AM:     So, the “Mentor-Disciple” relationship isn’t about imitating a 91 year old Japanese man, fawning over him or being attached to him as a person, but it is about learning from his example in faith, and embodying his determination and dedication in our practice as it relates to our own unique lives and personalities.

DL:       Exactly.  That’s basically all the mentor-disciple relationship is in a nutshell.
(Part 4 coming soon)

Mentor-Disciple Dialogue #2

Sorry for the three year delay for those of you waiting for the rest of this series, but finally hear is part two ...

As before, throughout this short series of dialogues, A MEMBER (AM)  represents the doubts and concerns I’ve had about the mentor-disciple relationship over the years, and the DISTRICT LEADER (DL) represents my understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship today.


AM:     So how does Nichiren see the role of the mentor?

DL:       Using Shakyamuni’s example that those who embrace the Lotus Sutra “will stroll about without fear like the lion king.” (Burton Watson, The Lotus Sutra and Opening and Closing Sutras, p249), Nichiren talked about the lion king and its cubs.  I sometime visualise this as a wildlife documentary with David Attenborough narrating:  “Here we see the Lion King in his natural habitat, the Saha world.  He spends his days nurturing and raising his cubs and teaching them how to protect the Law and overcome any persecutions, obstacles and challenges as they one day ascend to the throne and become lion kings in their own right.”

AM:     Is that what the Lion King does?

DL:       Absolutely. This analogy really gets to the heart of the nurturing spirit of the mentor-disciple relationship.  It’s a relationship totally devoid of arrogance, power, or subservience.  The lion king doesn’t try to manipulate his pride, but relies on wisdom, courage and compassion to protect the Law and nurture EVERY cub.  There are no runts in the lion king’s family – each and every one of us, regardless of age, race, sex, status or intelligence, is worthy of respect, protection, and encouragement, and all of us have the potential within us to be lion kings and support others. 

AM:     Cool.  Am I lion cub or a lion king?

DL:       As we grow in faith, deepen our understanding of the practice and challenge every obstacle and persecution, we bring forth the “expansive state of life of a lion king” (Daisaku Ikeda, The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings: Volume 1, p278) and it’s this quiet confidence and majestic nature that touches other people’s hearts revealing the true benefits of Nichiren Buddhism.  In the past I have sometimes sat back, not bothered with meetings and let others get on with kosen-rufu, but through President Ikeda’s words, daimoku and study, I have been emboldened to reawakened the lion king in me and to stand up not only for my own happiness, but to protect and nurture others.  This is the power of the mentor’s encouragement.     

AM:     This sounds good, but Nichiren frequently quotes Shakyamuni’s warning in the Nirvana Sutra to “Rely on the Law and not upon persons”?  Isn’t he saying we don’t need a mentor?  Or we should make the Law our mentor?

  DL:     I used to think so, and the Law is the ultimate truth of the universe, but through study, I also learnt that people are “constantly reborn in company with their teachers”(Burton Watson, The Lotus Sutra and Opening and Closing Sutras, p178) and in “The Opening of the Eyes”, Nichiren explained “’Not relying upon persons’ means …if they do not preach with the [Lotus] sutra in hand, then they are not to be accepted.”(WND-1, p263). 

This is important because there are so many potential teachers or mentors that could lead us astray, and sometimes even our own minds can work against us.  President Ikeda clarifies the Buddha’s warning, saying “We need to make the Law our master, and take a correct practitioner of the Law as our standard.” (The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings: Volume 1, p289)

AM:     So how can we choose the right mentor?

DL:       Excellent question.  The responsibility for choosing a mentor is down to us, and our practice will only develop to the extent that we choose the correct mentor, embrace the correct teaching and receive the correct support and encouragement. 

Nichiren said “It is hard to encounter a master like [me]” (WND-2, p1062) and I believe that it’s ultimately up to us to chant daimoku, awaken our Buddha wisdom and clearly “see” the true nature of potential teachers, so that we can find someone who truly embodies the Law.  In “The Human Revolution - Vol. 12”, President Ikeda explains that he embraced Josei Toda as his mentor because he was convinced “there was no other leader genuinely committed to realizing kosen-rufu or who embodied Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism” (p423-424).

Also, in an experience by a female member from SGI-Slovenia (a country with a history of dictators and communism), she explains how she overcome her reluctance to “worship” someone because she realised “the disciple chooses the mentor…so [she] was in complete control of this… heart-to-heart level, Buddha to Buddha.” relationship (“Art of Living” – Sept. 2002, p31).

This is so important because we are NOT being forced to accept an authoritarian leader, but to choose an authoritative leader who knows how to make “the ‘Law’ not the ‘person’the proper standard in all things.” (Daisaku Ikeda, “Faith Into Action”, p233) 

Neither Shakyamuni, Nichiren nor President Ikeda have told us there is something only they can do, but not us, or expected us to do anything, that they aren’t doing themselves.  This all sounds reasonable, but some Lotus Sutra schools of Buddhism – including some Nichiren Buddhist schooIs – teach that we are unable to attain some of the things their founders or high priests attain, or they expect us to do things, which they are not doing. 

I know without daimoku, I wouldn’t have overcome my own cynicism or arrogance, and clearly seen the truth of the importance of the mentor-disciple relationship and the reality of President Ikeda’s example of a 21st century Buddhist.