Bodhisattva Superior Practices, President Ikeda, & Me

I originally wrote this in response to someone who felt it was wrong to consider President Ikeda to be Bodhisattva Superior Practices. He was upset with the way certain SGI-USA leaders had responded to him and had decided to join Nichiren Shoshu, feeling that President Ikeda had led him astray. 

 

My response to him includes my understanding of an "AHA!" revelation I had last year regarding the mentor and disciple relationship as it's portrayed in the Lotus Sutra. Here's what I wrote:

I don't know you personally. Bear with me here. I'm sure you already know the gist of what I'm writing about below. But I'm elaborating for people who might land on this page without having background knowledge about Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai International (SGI).


From what I read here, you seem to be interpreting metaphors as if they were literal. Specifically, you seem to think Bodhisattva Superior Practices (Jogyo) was meant to represent a single person only, namely Nichiren.

However, I think it’s more to the point to view Bodhisattva Superior Practices as anyone who takes the lead in propagating the Mystic Law (the ultimate truth of life) in the Latter Day of the Law of a particular Buddha.

And the Latter Day of the Law is not a single occurrence. Because life is eternal, the Former, Middle and Latter days of the Law arrive eternally throughout time and space. The Latter Day is the final time of a Buddha’s teaching, the time when the teaching for attaining Buddhahood (enlightenment) is on the verge of perishing. At this time the direct cause for attaining enlightenment can be spread in an unprecedented way by those who practice it and they can lead many people to enlightenment.

And because a Buddha is simply an enlightened living being—a being who is able to seek enlightenment (as opposed to an animal who does not consciously seek enlightenment, even though animals possess the Buddha nature)— Buddhas have appeared throughout the universe and will continue to do so eternally. We reiterate this truth each day when we recite the Lotus Sutra.

On our planet and in our Latter Day of the Law (of Shakyamuni Buddha) Nichiren was the first to take up of the cause of spreading the Law, the direct cause for attaining Buddhahod in a single lifetime (i.e. chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo). So he was the first person on Earth to function as Bodhisattva Superior practices, and he is the original Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law on Planet Earth

However, Nichiren is NOT the original Buddha of all time. Or, more precisely, ALL living beings are the original Buddha. This is what Nichiren taught in Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, in his letter “On the Treasure Tower” and in other writings. This is what Shakyamuni meant in the Life Span chapter of the Lotus Sutra when he said “I am always here, preaching the Law.”

Because Daisaku Ikeda—and the first two Soka Gakkai Presidents before him—took the lead in propagating the Law in a manner unprecedented since Nichiren’s death, their ACTIONS qualify them to be identified as Bodhisattva Superior Practices.

However, we must each assume the same level of responsibility as they did if the Law is to endure into the future. We can’t keep waiting for Bodhisattva Superior Practices to show up and lead us. Nichiren did that already and the first three Soka Gakkai Presidents totally lived up to his legacy. Now we must do the same. If we do, Bodhisattva Superior Practices is still functioning. If we do not, Buddhism, and its ultimate purpose of leading all people to absolute happiness, will decline and perish until another Buddha comes along to revive it, which could take zillions of years.

President Ikeda’s insightful lectures on Nichiren’s writings run each month in Living Buddhism magazine. And the dialog series he held on the Lotus Sutra (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra) is timeless. So I don’t see how you can say he doesn’t speak on the foundational teachings of our faith. 

I think his regard for President Toda is genuine. To him, President Toda led him to the greatest teaching and showed him how to live as a human being. It is natural for him to feel lasting gratitude for this person. 

However, President Ikeda did not invent the mentor and disciple relationship. It’s in the Lotus Sutra. When Shakyamuni hands the banner of propagation to Bodhisattva Superior Practice, the leader of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who were simultaneously his disciples from the eternal past and those who would practice in the future Latter Day, that allegorical ceremony was an expression of the mentor and disciple relationship. The mentor, or teacher, of the Law, that is, Shakymuni, or more precisely the eternal Law itself,* and the disciples, that is, Superior Practices and all the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, (i. e. all living beings) are the leading players in that scene. 

The point of this scene, and of the mentor and disciple relationship, is that the Law cannot spread by itself.

Sure, one or two people can become enlightened to it by themselves and for themselves. But in order for many people to benefit from the Law, you need people to spread it. The Law (the original mentor)* and the people who practice and spread it (the original disciples) are eternally one. When people are united in the cause of spreading this principle, the Law flourishes and society prospers. In “Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life” Nichiren said such unity was the goal of his actions. This unity, unity based on respect for all, which is how Bodhisattva Never Disparaging expressed the Law, is the basis of world peace.

The mentor and disciple relationship as allegorically portrayed in the Lotus Sutra is an eternal relationship. Nichren repeatedly stressed it in his writings and in the Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings. He said that you need three things in order to attain enlightenment: A good teacher, a good disciple, and a good teaching. That statement is all about the mentor and disciple relationship.

To live up to our full potential, we must each cultivate within ourselves the virtues of being good disciples as well as good mentors of the highest teaching. This is our eternal mission.

For my part, I know of no other organization that strives to propagate the Law to the same degree that the SGI does. Certainly Nichiren Shoshu does not qualify as such an organization. The historical record shows that they have not taken the lead in practice and propagation the way our mentor Nichiren or the three Soka Gakkai presidents did.

And they teach a false doctrine. 

No where did Nichiren ever put special emphasis on attaining enlightenment through one’s relationship with the high priest like Nichiren Shoshu doctrine does. I once sat in on a temple meeting in which a priest told us listeners that the high priest alone has inherited the same faith as Nichiren. He said this faith was “poured” into the life of each successive high priest since Nichiren’s death so the only way for everyone else to attain enlightenment was to revere the current high priest.

This teaching turns everything Nichiren taught on its head. In “Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life” he said the heritage of the Law can only be accessed by faith. In “On Attaining Buddhahood,” "The True Aspect of the Gohonzon," and other writings, he clarifies what it is that we have faith in: our own Buddha nature, in the reality that we ourselves are the Law and so is everyone else. No one “pours” faith into anybody. According to Nichiren, we ourselves must cultivate faith in our inherent Buddhahood. How? By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Buddhism and teaching others to do the same. There is no special person who can skip these steps because they received faith by way of having it “poured” into them.

The behavior of Nichiren Shoshu priests perfectly fits that of the evil priests who would appear in the Latter Day that are described in the Lotus and other sutras, and about whom Nichiren constantly warned. The sutras and Nichiren said these priests would distort the true teaching (the universality of the Buddha nature). Nichiren Shoshu does that.

So I think a person would be better off not practicing Buddhism at all, or practicing alone, than practicing with Nichiren Shoshu, a group that directly opposes the efforts of the one community of believers that, more than any other, strives to fulfill the will of our faith’s founder and mentor, Nichiren, and spread the Law as he did.

You might think SGI members revere President Ikeda in the same way that Nichiren Shoshu reveres the high priest. The critical difference, however, is that, while President Ikeda has led the spread of the Law worldwide in a way unmatched by any other person who has ever lived on this planet, the priesthood has come nowhere close to taking the same kind of action. 

In Buddhism, one should learn from, and emulate, a teacher who practices correctly, someone who gives her or his life to spread the Law. Nichiren was such a teacher. All three Soka Gakkai presidents were too. 

If you or I trace the various people whose actions led us to practice Buddhism in this lifetime, we would find President Ikeda. When he first left Japan to encourage overseas members in 1960, he laid the foundation for you and me to discover Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And all he really wants is for us to follow his example of wholly dedicating our lives to chanting, winning and teaching others to do the same. 

His ACTIONS, not anything else, qualify him to be considered our mentor in faith or Bodhisattva Superior Practicing or whatever you choose to call him. Like Nichiren says, it all comes down to behavior as a human being. And President Ikeda has used his life to show us all how an enlightened human being—a Buddha—behaves. We SGI members worldwide stand as a testament to his lifetime of work in this regard.


I think it would be our great loss if we failed to realize how fortunate we have been to learn from him during his lifetime.


However, I realize the SGI could easily be overcome by incorrect views. Top organizational leaders are especially prone to do so because they are essentially modern age priests (highly respected religious leaders) and can therefore fall prey to arrogance more easily than people who hold no such positions of authority.

But all of us mess up sometimes, sometimes we mess up ginormously. Our organization’s flaws are created by us, the people who make up the organization. So we each have to take responsibility for creating the change we want to see in it. This is Buddhism 101, but it’s also the easiest thing to forget—at least for me it is.

I just think the only way to ensure that we remain true to the spirit and intent of Buddhism, which is to practice and widely spread the Law for the sake of everyone’s happiness, is for each one of us to continually self-reflect, self-reform and strive to improve the community of believers that is fulfilling the mission of Buddhism more than any other community has ever done on this planet. That would be the SGI that Daisaku Ikeda built.

So flaws and all, I’m sticking with it and striving to live up to his hopes for us, his hopes for all humanity.

With Respect.

LaVora

***

*"The Lotus Sutra is the eye of all the Buddhas. It is the original teacher of Shakyamuni Buddha himself, the lord of teachings." -Nichiren in "Letter to the Brothers," The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol 1, p. 494
http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=494

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Comment by M. LaVora Perry on April 4, 2011 at 10:17am

Hi Mary,

 

Nichiren called his followers Bodhisattvas of the Earth. He never said we were "followers" of them. He also called us "true" and "original" Buddhas.

He wrote: "There should be no discrimination among those who propagate the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo in the Latter Day of the Law, be they men or women. Were they not Bodhisattvas of the Earth, they could not chant the daimoku" (The True Aspect of All Phenonmena" http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=385).

Also, in the "True Entity of Life" he said "A common mortal is an entity of the three bodies, and a true Buddha" (http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=384).

And in Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings he said:

"You should understand that the ultimate meaning of this ['Life Span]' chapter is that ordinary mortals, just as they are, in their original state of being, are Buddhas

"And if you ask what is the action or practice carried out by the Buddha eternally endowed with the three bodies, it is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." pp. 124-125

As far as Superior Practices goes, as I indicated in my essay, I don't believe he/she is a single person. I think we can tell who is acting this role by that person's behavior. Nichiren for certain is the original or first Superior Practices of the Latter Day of the Law on Earth because he was the first to expend his entire life to widely propagate the Law, or the Lotus Sutra, at this time.

In light of President Ikeda's actions, I have no problem viewing him as someone who is fulfilling the role of Superior Practices today.

I don't think reading something (like my essay) can, in and of itself, be the source of confusion. Or rather, I don't think that such confusion is inherently bad. Actually, questioning can be a very good thing. I think problems arise when, if one feels confused or has doubts and questions, one lacks the seeking spirit to find our for her or himself what is true or false. As Nichiren said in "Letter to Niike":

 

"If you do not question and resolve your doubts, you cannot dispel the dark clouds of illusion, any more than you could travel a thousand miles without legs" (http://www.sgilibrary.org/view.php?page=1031).

 

As Nichiren's Buddhists, our standard for resolving our doubts about Buddhism (i.e. life), and the fundamental source of answers to our questions about the same, is Nichiren's writings. So we must read them for ourselves, not simply rely on other people's interpretation of them. We should not even solely rely on President Ikeda's interpretation of the Gosho. He himself constantly encourages us to read Nichiren's writings ourselves. Nichiren was the same way. He constantly encouraged people to read the sutras themselves, not just take his word for what they said.


When I read Nichiren's Shoshu's falsehoods I'm not confused because I know what the Gosho says; so I know Nichiren Shoshu's teachings contradict what Nichiren taught.

By reading the Gosho firsthand we can judge, in light of them, what is incorrect or correct. So I hope my essay encourages people to read the Gosho. If it does, then even if my views are wrong, in Nichiren's writings, people will find out for themselves what is true or false.

All the best.

LaVora

Comment by Mary D'Amore on April 3, 2011 at 9:36pm

I think this is not a correct view - but I am no theorist. I have never heard this explained this way.

We are followers - bohisattvas of the earth - Nichiren is the original buddha. We can still develop the same life condition - I have yet to see it in any of my peers - Pres Ikeda is an good example of demonstrating the lifecondition - but that does not make him Superior Practices.

 

Not sure what the point is here except to say that these references were examples for us. Unfortunately they get interpreted ... possibly with a slant and it causes confusion.

Comment by M. LaVora Perry on April 2, 2011 at 9:59am
Thanks, Minerva!
Comment by Minerva Balaguer on April 2, 2011 at 8:11am
Brilliant! Thank you for sharing!

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