In SGI, we have several activity groups based on age. These include the young women and men’s groupings as well as the women and men’s groupings. A few months ago, I graduated from the young women’s group into the women’s group. I was then given an opportunity to join Sophia which is a gathering of women with the purpose of studying Soka Gakkai publications and other Nichiren Buddhist study materials. We decided on The Wisdom Of The Lotus Sutra: Volume I”. This book is a discussion between SGI President, Daisaku Ikeda, and Study Department leaders Katsuji Saito, Takanori Endo, and Haruo Suda. Although it is fairly thin, the contents are thick requiring deep thought and reflection. Below is my written preparation of study that I presented to the group during our May gathering. The topic of discussion for this particular meeting covered chapter three.
A Scripture That Calls Out to All People
In chapter three on page 43 I learn that the Lotus Sutra makes frequent use of the phrase “good men and good women”. Elaborating on this expression, President Ikeda states, “Returning to the expression ‘good men and good women,’ I think it is used in the Lotus Sutra not to make a distinction between lay practitioners and priests but instead to transcend that division. I believe these men and women are referred to as ‘good’ not because they come from good families, but because they have made the commitment to follow the path to Buddhahood set forth by Shakyamuni—in other words, the path to true independence as human beings and victory in life. ‘Good’ here refers not to lineage but to goodness of intent.” Saito then replies in agreement stating, “Unless they are truly committed people, whether lay practitioners or priests, they cannot carry out the difficult tasks of upholding and propagating the Lotus Sutra after Shakyamuni’s passing.” (pg. 44)
What makes a practitioner of our practice a truly committed person? For me, the answer to this question is an ongoing journey of continual learning whereby I focus on gaining a deeper understanding and awareness. I liken my faith and practice to something of an onion. Each year offers another opportunity to peel back another layer. When I first began, my perspective of a committed practitioner was one who chanted daimoku everyday and performed gongyo. Life, being as busy as it was, often times included evening gongyo alone. The mornings were simply too rushed. I quickly realized a notable difference between the days when morning and evening gongyo were realized in place of just the one. As daily struggles became my focus to overcome, I understood that there was more to my practice. Attendance and participation in monthly meetings as well as stepping into a leadership role offered another layer of commitment toward making positive changes happen in my life. The passing of a third year brought additional insight. This time I learned the importance of member care and the different ways I might assist others in their practice. Yet, I am sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg for me.
On page 45, President Ikeda speaks of Nichiren’s Buddhist faith and practice. He says, “Nichiren Daishonin read the Lotus Sutra with his life”. Nichiren revealed the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and demonstrated how each person could realize their own happiness. On page 46, Sudas says, “Only a heartless Buddha would fail to care about the fate of those living after him and refuse to teach them the path to happiness.” The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people whether they be rich, poor, male, female, of high or low status, all possess an innate Buddha nature and all have the capacity to bring it forth with absolute happiness. Shakyamuni’s intention was to share this teaching with all people and so he chose to speak using the language of the everyday people rather than using the language only the wealthy and educated would understand. This is an important point. Propagating a teaching that can assist ALL people to realize their fullest potential is clearly important. SGI is actualizing this goal by translating the teachings of the Lotus Sutra into a diversity of languages around the world.
President Ikeda is very clear about the difference between knowing what your mentor has taught and putting the teachings into practice, demonstrating the power of the teaching with your own life and sharing the teaching with others so they too can transform the suffering of their own lives. He says, “It is no outstanding distinction to simply know what your teacher has taught; what matters most is the reason or purpose for which you know those teachings. Anyone can say, ‘My mentor’s teaching are wonderful!’ But, for example, Nikko Shonin took the next step: ‘Since they’re so wonderful, I must share them with others no matter what!” On the other hand, five senior priests during Nikko’s time thought themselves great simply because they knew Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. Since the teachings are so powerful and transformative both for society and the individual, it would be selfish to keep them a secret or to gain benefit alone. An important step in one’s practice is to share the teachings with others because there is always someone somewhere seeking peace and happiness within their life.
President Ikeda best summarizes an absolute amazing truth about Mayhayana Buddhism, and these compelling reasons are, in part, why I love this practice. He says, “Mayhayana Buddhism does not subscribe to a complicated list of rules of behavior or discipline with which to bind people. It respects the freedom and autonomy of the individual. However, when we hold the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism up before the mirror of the people, they offer an extremely demanding model of leadership. This is because irresponsibility is not permitted” (pg. 49). And so, with the passing of another year, comes yet the peeling back of another layer. The wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, as indicated at the end of this chapter, is that my life is the greatest gift, worthy of the utmost respect. That is my Buddha nature. It is clear to me now that the best thing I can do is to spread that message, share it with others, demonstrate the power of my faith through the transformation of my own life, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo no matter what!