Filed in Nichiren, Chanting

Faith in Revolution

Wisdom Collection

To access the content within the Wisdom Collection,
join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

This article is part of an online special section about Nichiren Buddhism. We hope that by gathering these articles in one place and making them freely available, our Buddhist conversation will be broadened and that we can, all of us, more fully know ourselves in knowing one another. Read the other articles here.


DAISAKU IKEDA is President of the Soka Gakkai International, the world’s largest Buddhist lay group and America’s most diverse. In a rare interview, Ikeda speaks to contributing editor Clark Strand about his organization’s remarkable history, its oft-misunderstood practice, and what its members are really chanting for.

Daisaku Ikeda President of Soka Gakkai International From Hollywood celebrities to renowned jazz musicians to everyday practitioners around the world, Soka Gakkai Buddhists are best known for their familiar chant, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. What they are chanting is the Japanese title of the Lotus Sutra, which posits that all of us—without exception—can attain enlightenment through faith in its teachings.

The Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society) was founded in 1930 by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi [1871–1944], a Japanese educator whose theories were strongly influenced by the teachings of Nichiren, a 13th-century Buddhist priest who sought to reform Japanese society by bringing its leadership in line with the Lotus Sutra’s teachings. Makiguchi was arrested under the Peace Preservation Act in 1943 by the Japanese government for refusing to consolidate with other Buddhist sects under the banner of State Shinto, effectively challenging the authority of the military government. He died in prison a year later. After the war his disciple Josei Toda [1900–1958] turned the Soka Gakkai into a national phenomenon, increasing its membership dramatically and establishing it as a grassroots social movement that championed peace and the rights of ordinary people. At Toda’s death in 1958, the task of spreading the Soka Gakkai’s Nichiren Buddhist teachings to the international community fell to Toda’s disciple Daisaku Ikeda [b. 1928], who founded the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) on the island of Guam in 1975.

With 12 million members in 192 countries, SGI is the world’s largest Buddhist lay group and the largest, most ethnically diverse Buddhist school in America, where its members gather in 2,600 neighborhood discussion groups and nearly 100 community centers nationwide.

Among Western convert Buddhists, there has always been a sharp division between members of SGI and meditation-oriented students of traditions like Zen, Vipassana, and Vajrayana. Students of the meditation approaches tend to know little, if anything, of SGI. So what is the practice of SGI? What are its teachings, and how do they account for its rapid spread to so many different cultures around the world?

This interview with SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, the first granted to any American magazine, was conducted this summer via email by Tricycle contributing editor Clark Strand and translated by Andrew Gebert. It is the culmination of a two-year-long conversation with SGI’s top leadership on the future of Buddhism as it relates to interreligious dialogue and issues of pressing global concern.


Most Americans know little about Nichiren Buddhism, except that its followers chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra. Could you help our readers to understand the role of this core practice in Nichiren Buddhism? Nichiren used the following analogy to explain the daimoku, or “Great Title,” and how it works: “When a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our Buddha-nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge.”

To chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to call out the name of the Buddha-nature within us and in all living beings. It is an act of faith in this universal Buddhanature, an act of breaking through the fundamental darkness of life—our inability to acknowledge our true enlightened nature. It is this fundamental darkness, or ignorance, that causes us to experience the cycles of birth and death as suffering. When we call forth and base ourselves on the magnificent enlightened life that exists within each of us without exception, however, even the most fundamental, inescapable sufferings of life and death need not be experienced as pain. Rather, they can be transformed into a life embodying the virtues of eternity, joy, true self, and purity.

On its surface, this seems just like the other single-practice teachings that came out of Kamakura Japan— like Dogen’s practice of just sitting or Honen’s chanting of the nembutsu. As you note, there are apparent similarities between these practices and Nichiren’s practice of chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra. These can, I believe, be attributed to a shared response, conscious or unconscious, to the particular conditions and challenges of the Kamakura era, a conflict-torn age when Japan was transitioning to a samurai-centered political system.

The Zen practice of just sitting is representative of the kind of jiriki, or “self-power,” practice that makes no appeal to any kind of absolute truth or being beyond oneself. On the other hand, the chanting of nembutsu, relying on and seeking salvation in Amida Buddha, is representative of the tariki, or “otherpower,” approach. Drawing upon the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren declared that it was wiser to avoid leaning too much on either the self-power or the other-power approach. Nichiren’s practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo leads us to discover a power and wisdom that exists within us and at the same time transcends us. It embraces aspects of both the self- and other-power practices.

In a sense, then, you seem to suggest that it represents the best of both worlds.
Yes, and because Nichiren’s approach is both so accessible and so practical, it enables ordinary people to cultivate the vast sources of energy and wisdom they already possess within. It empowers us to live courageously and victoriously amidst the terrible realities of this era of conflict and strife. As such I am confident that it can play a vital role in illuminating the path forward for humanity.

Nichiren Buddhists chant the daimoku to get what they want—a successful career, better health, a good marriage, even world peace. Nevertheless, from a purely traditional point of view, it would seem a violation of basic Buddhist doctrine to chant for the satisfaction of earthly desires rather than striving to overcome them. Isn’t this a contradiction? If you think that the purpose of religion is happiness, there really is no contradiction. The ideal of Mahayana Buddhism is the realization of happiness for oneself and for others. Nowhere is this more completely set out than in the Lotus Sutra, which recognizes the Buddha-nature in all people—women and men, those with formal education and those without. It declares that all people, without regard to their class, origin, personal, cultural, or social background, can attain enlightenment. Our recitation of the title of the Lotus Sutra is a way of renewing our vow to live in accord with this ideal.

Even so, the Buddhist tradition—even the Mahayana tradition—has tended to focus on a monastic approach to enlightenment. Do you see in the Lotus Sutra the suggestion of some kind of populist reform?
The Lotus Sutra does not deny the validity of monastic practice, of people dedicating themselves to their practice in a setting conducive to overcoming deluded impulses and attaining a peaceful state of mind. The problem arises when the practice comes to be seen as an end in itself, rather than a means of entering into the path of wisdom. Nichiren was the first to make the attainment of wisdom through faith a possibility for all people. By following his teachings, it becomes possible to use every occurrence in life—pleasant or painful—as an opportunity for the further development of our innate wisdom. When Nichiren declares that earthly desires lead to enlightenment, he is describing a process by which even ordinary people living in the midst of deluded impulses and earthly desires can manifest their highest wisdom.

I still think a lot of non-Nichiren Buddhists will have a hard time understanding how chanting for earthly desires leads to enlightenment.
Well, to begin with, I think it is important for all Buddhists—even members of the SGI—to understand that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is not some kind of magic formula to be recited to fulfill desires. It is a practice that expresses our faith in the truth and brings our lives into rhythm with that truth. It is a path for overcoming the so-called lesser self that is attached to desires and tormented by deluded impulses. It is a process of training and transforming our lives to be able to manifest our greater self, to bring forth our Buddha-wisdom and the compassionate capacity to realize happiness for ourselves and other people.

In its early days, the Soka Gakkai was despised and laughed at in Japanese society as a gathering of the sick and poor. Josei Toda, my life mentor, took this as a point of pride, however, and declared with confidence: “The true mission of religion is to bring relief to the sick and the poor. That is the purpose of Buddhism. The Soka Gakkai is the ally and friend of the common people, a friend to the unhappy. However much we may be looked down on, we will continue to fight for the sake of such people.” Faced with the devastation of postwar Japan, Toda was convinced that, in the eyes of the Buddha, this was the most noble action.

Moreover, the Lotus Sutra doesn’t deny the value of worldly benefit. By allowing people to start to practice in expectation of such benefit, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra establish a way of life based on faith, and through this faith—developed step by step, starting from wherever we happen to find ourselves in life when we come to the Buddhist path, and with whatever natural human worries or concerns happen to have us in their grip at the time—we enter the path of wisdom. By believing in this sutra that teaches universal enlightenment and by purifying our mind, we are then able to bring our daily actions into harmony with the core spirit of Buddhism. In the Lotus Sutra and the teachings of Nichiren, there is no essential dichotomy between enlightenment and the lives of ordinary beings.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
alexwifi's picture

I understand your question that this info is too for a readership that takes its first serious look at Nichiren Buddhism. I really enjoyed this Interview as I push myself to read the special interviews given by special people like DAISAKU IKEDA. Thanks for the share.
Regards,
purearganoilhair.wordpress.com

Usman's picture

Disregarding its negative effects, the French Revolution couldn't smear Christianity as the blood of saints turned into the seeds of the congregation. Be that as it may, Revisor Stockholm the contemporary church ought to figure out how a common occasion could improve its predetermination or overall. In abuse, individuals could adapt as a consequence of their confidence and duty to Christian beliefs.

owais93's picture

I might also note that many of the honorary degrees come from Chinese universities. It is not possible that such degrees could be awarded Revision Skellefteå without the full knowledge and approval of the Chinese government, hardly the most supportive of religious and other freedoms on this beleaguered planet.

dhruvthukral's picture

Thank you so much for this wonderful sharing
by http://lifeofnichiren.com/

ardian106's picture

nice article and great

Dominic Gomez's picture

In that earthly desires leading to enlightenment is a way ordinary people manifest their highest wisdom, a more accurate heading would be "Revolution in Faith".
Regards,
Dominic

victorb4s's picture

With the rise of the military government free thought was restricted and members of secret police attended Soka Kyoiku Gakkai’s group meetings. Makiguchi published “Kachi Sozo” (Creating value) monthly magazine, however the military government “did not approve of the material printed in kachi sozo and the publication was suspended in 1942”
Regards, Victor
equipos de perforacion

danas's picture

The Soka Gakkai was founded as the Soka Kyoiku Gakkaion 18 November 1930, by Tsunesaburō Makiguchi and his colleague Josei Toda, as a society of reformist educators. Makiguchi defined the term ‘Value Creation’ in his major work Soka Kyoiku Taikei :” ‘so’ which means creation, and ‘ka’ which means value – form a key concept. Creation of Value is part and parcel of what it means to be a human being...The highest object of life is happiness which is creation of value”.

Dana
opciones binarias

marie130's picture

SGI is perceived as a movement for peace and human rights by institutes promoting non-violence. Various universities perceive SGI as a partner through student exchange programs and provide lectures by visiting professors.

-Marie.
Digitale Optionen

tapn2it2win's picture

What Daisaku Ikeda explained about Nichiren is truly amazing & remarkable for a "revolutionary" in 13th century feudalistic Japan. When Nichiren encouraged his followers,there was no discrimination in terms of class or gender - he emphasized that Buddhahood exists in ALL human beings. He opened the eyes of his disciples to their own empowerment, and really pissed off the Government officials by doing so. He taught them that women who devoted themselves to this essence of the Lotus Sutra,or the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, would definitely attain enlightenment! What a radical departure from the ignorance of that time period in Japan!

He was considered a "subversive" and a threat to the status quo and was constantly in danger of being beheaded and exiled. Exiled he was.... and on the way to being beheaded at Tatsunokuchi Beach, a luminous object (comet?) streaked across the night sky, terrifying the soldiers to the point that they were so badly shaken they could not carry out the execution.

He was chanting the Daimoku at that time and his entire being was completely in rhythm with the protective forces of the Universe at that precise moment! Not superstition... just his enlightened life condition eliciting protection from the natural laws of the universe with perfect timing. This historical incident is a perfect example of Nichiren's teaching of the "oneness of person and environment" (two but not two) that the environment responds to our life condition and the contents of our mind. Nichiren was a living example of "Boddhisattva Never Disparaging".

When Daisaku Ikeda was giving some examples of "human revolution", the revolution within takes place in people as they go out into the "saha" world where the three poisons of Greed, Anger, and Ignorance bombard us at almost every turn in society and in the workplace. When these "poisons" are turned into medicine" as a result of a sincere, consistent practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo for ourselves AND for OTHERS, which is the Boddhisattva WAY, the gradual process of "human revolution" blossoms like a Lotus Flower in the Murky Swamp. The Lotus Flower cannot bloom in clean, clear water- and neither can we! A beautiful metaphor of Buddhist Practice!

"Awakening to the Dignity Inherent in Life" a personal experience of an abused & violent young man with no respect for himself or others, is one of the most powerful examples of "human revolution" I have read thus far. I think of Mr. Ikeda's example of the singing caged bird.

He states in his experience, "I felt a sense of harmony with everything around me, like I had tapped into my Buddha Nature and that my true self was compassion and love. My life itself was Nam Myoho Renge Kyo". The article appeared in Living Buddhism , page 6 of July 2012 issue. There is an amazing photo of this tatooed man sitting in front of a colorful painting he created with the "light" of hope and compassion and lovingkindness emanating from his eyes! Check it out! It is a lesson to us all that no person is a lost cause or a hopeless case... that we ALL possess the Buddha Nature within us. It is the compassion we cultivate within our own "inner" lives that will without fail, help us fulfill our purpose of removing suffering as a Boddhisattva of the earth.

mykie83's picture

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful insights.

walterbagehot's picture

I much enjoyed this interview.Thank you for sharing this and increasing my understanding of Soka Gakkai.
I understand your question that this info is too for a readership that takes its first serious look at Nichiren Buddhism. Your interview covered many wonderful things that most if not all practitioners of Nichiren can accept and appreciate.

jay7z's picture

That's touching....I think that buddhists should promote their religion more

daradough's picture

brilliant man

dorar12's picture

thanks. like the post.

lea234's picture

great article.

Sharihotsu's picture

Certainly all the SGI members are adulatory ... as usual ... but I agree heartily with Azure and others who wonder where the "other than soft-ball" questions were: like, what ABOUT the money, sensei? And "If you're so peaceful and enlightened, how come you can't get along with the priesthood that has vouchsafed the Gohonzon for 750 years and from whom you yourself received the teachings and heritage of NamMyohoRengeKyo?" What about the counterfeit honzons? Where do you get your membership numbers? (After all, they were debunked publicly many YEARS ago). What about the guns fired at the priests and innocents at Taisekiji Temple? And the mini-vans with loudspeakers blaring in order to disturb and disrupt peaceful aspirants? This interviewer needs to get some lessons in journalism. The so-called interview was little more than a set-piece. Now the fawning SGI sycophants can all petition for another phony degree for "sensei."

azure's picture

Nichiren) claims that the repeated recitation of the title of the Lotus Sutra as a mantra not only produces enlightenment in this life, but that it is a method superior to all others. Therefore I might ask: Is there any objective proof of those assertions and is Mr Ikeda enlightened or does he claim to have reached that 

 

http://www.ayakkab.in

braves's picture

However, several questions that were not - but in my opinion should have been - in the interview remain in my mind. SGI (through the cited words of Ikeda and Nichiren) claims that the repeated recitation of the title of the Lotus Sutra as a mantra not only produces enlightenment in this life, but that it is a method superior to all others. Therefore I might ask: Is there any objective proof of those assertions and is Mr Ikeda enlightened or does he claim to have reached that state?Fragman

pr0xymAn1ac's picture

Since no money or political favors are needed or accepted, each of these awards is a sincere appreciation by universities, cities, government agencies worldwide in response to activities of President Ikeda and the people of SGI is struggling for world peace through cultural and educational efforts and exchanges.And i want to say that is excellent article thanks for sharing with us thank you !

Web Tasarım

pedrolastorgas's picture

I think meditation should be taught in schools for free man.
We urgently need a more spiritual world.
Being able to turn the head off for a while should be everybody´s skill.
It surely makes you happy.

Pedro from mago

Dominic Gomez's picture

Back in the 60's I used to "turn (the head) off" by turning on.
;-)

ilahiler's picture

I much enjoyed the interview, I am a member of Soka Gakkai in Brazil since 1982, when I entered the age of 16. In 27 years I have been inspired by the tireless guidance of the Daisaku Ikeda. I could create an environment of peace and much happiness in my family, courage and energy to help make our world better, always seeking to restore and rejuvenate our relations with others through a real dialogue, which turns on conflicting views in bridges that unite us. I am very happy for the publication of this interview. I will certainly share this interview with other people here in Brazil

http://www.ilahilerimiz.net

romankates's picture

However, several questions that were not - but in my opinion should have been - in the interview remain in my mind. SGI (through the cited words of Ikeda and Nichiren) claims that the repeated recitation of the title of the Lotus Sutra as a mantra not only produces enlightenment in this life, but that it is a method superior to all others. Therefore I might ask: Is there any objective proof of those assertions and is Mr Ikeda enlightened or does he claim to have reached that state?

romankates's picture

This is a great way to help me focus more on my practice that was sadly falling off. Now if I can manage to stay awake when I sit and keep the little monkeys passive.

michelnader750's picture

I much enjoyed the interview, I am a member of Soka Gakkai in Brazil since 1982, when I entered the age of 16. In 27 years I have been inspired by the tireless guidance of the Daisaku Ikeda. I could create an environment of peace and much happiness in my family, courage and energy to help make our world better, always seeking to restore and rejuvenate our relations with others through a real dialogue, which turns on conflicting views in bridges that unite us. I am very happy for the publication of this interview. I will certainly share this interview with other people here in Brazil. I would propose to people who want to know more about the Soka Gakkai and Daisaku Ikeda written by himself, reading the novel the New Human Revolution.

Congratulations to the whole team working for the publication of this interview.

Sincerely,

Michel Nader
Brazil, Sao Paulo

billklein's picture

I am a 35 year member of SGI-USA. I was very happy with Clark Strand's interview with Daisaku Ikeda. I also enjoyed and appreciated Mr. Strand's article about SGI-USA in the Winter 2004 Tricycle. Regarding Sterling's comments about honorary awards, I would like to emphasize that each award that President Ikeda receives is the result of SGI members initiating and petitioning an institution or civic entity with information and writings of Mr. Ikeda. Most important is that those members are working and active members or supporters of the institution being approached. I have had the pleasure of participating in the efforts to obtain one of these. SGI-USA Members in San Mateo requested a recognition of SGI and President Ikeda from the City of San Mateo in conjunction with a culture festival we put on to support the San Mateo City Library. Because the mayor knew each of us personally through activities we had done for the city either as professionals or volunteers, she readily accepted the information about President Ikeda and SGI, read and discussed the information and gladly had a certificate made which was presented to SGI-USA the the Library Culture Festival on July 3, 2004. President Ikeda responded by having Mayor Clair Mack's photo and an article on the front page of the Sikyo Shimbun which goes out to 10 million members throughout Japan and the world.
Since no money or political favors are needed or accepted, each of these awards is a sincere appreciation by universities, cities, government agencies worldwide in response to activities of President Ikeda and the people of SGI is struggling for world peace through cultural and educational efforts and exchanges.
One very important consideration President Ikeda has in meeting with "members of the world's power elite" (Sterling's words) is to present the SGI to these world leaders so that members of those countries will be able to practice this Buddhism freely and will be able to contribute more freely to the culture and education of each country and locality. Many of these dialogues are available in published works available in bookstores and online sites.
As a long time member of SGI-USA I am constantly gratified by the efforts of ordinary members striving to live the goals and dreams of our Mentor, Daisaku Ikeda. It is not easy. But we strive to be citizens of our community who unite with others to accomplish humanistic and cultural goals leading toward a vibrant society dedicated to peace for all.

Bill Klein

Sterling's picture

I thank you for providing this excellent interview. Over the years I have heard many contradictory opinions about SGI and it's current leader and this is the most encouraging explanation of the organization that I have yet encountered.

However, several questions that were not - but in my opinion should have been - in the interview remain in my mind. SGI (through the cited words of Ikeda and Nichiren) claims that the repeated recitation of the title of the Lotus Sutra as a mantra not only produces enlightenment in this life, but that it is a method superior to all others. Therefore I might ask: Is there any objective proof of those assertions and is Mr Ikeda enlightened or does he claim to have reached that state?

In Nichiren's teachings, the danger of association and identification with the rich and powerful is often cited, yet in virtually everything I read about Mr Ikeda, his hobnobbing with the rich and powerful is prominently featured, usually accompanied by photo of him with various members of the world's power elite. Moreover, much is made of all the honorary degrees (over 200) and honorary citizenships (over 500) he has been "awarded". What is the real value and importance of such awards?

I might also note that many of the honorary degrees come from Chinese universities. It is not possible that such degrees could be awarded without the full knowledge and approval of the Chinese government, hardly the most supportive of religious and other freedoms on this beleaguered planet.

Finally comes the question of wealth. Although one of the original purposes of Soka Gakkai was to help the impoverished people of Japan, there have been many allegations raised about the accumulation of excessive wealth by SGI members, including Mr Ikeda. Such questions could be partially clarified with answers to two simple questions: 1) What is Mr Ikeda's net worth and effective salary? and: 2) On his many voyages does he fly economy, business or first?

gabrielle.tao's picture

Thanks for this interview and introducing the SGI and President Ikeda, in his own words, to American readers.

frankalan's picture

While I understand there are some controversial aspects to SGI etc, this is a good article putting forward the views from the organization itself.

Anyway, lets face it. If we all agreed on everything, it would be a pretty boring life and an un-eventful spiritual journey!

Regards,

Frank
Stop Smoking Weed Blog