It is said that, if a teacher has a good disciple, both will gain the fruit of Buddhahood, but if a teacher fosters a bad disciple, both will fall into hell. If teacher and disciple are of different minds, they will never accomplish anything. I will elaborate on this point later.
Nichiren Daishonin sent this message from Minobu in the fourth month of 1278 for the second memorial service for Dōzen-bō. Dōzen-bō had been a senior priest at Seichō-ji temple, where the Daishonin entered the priesthood. The Daishonin studied under him from the age of twelve. The letter was addressed to his former seniors at Seichō-ji, Jōken-bō and Gijō-bō.
Although Nichiren Daishonin’s teacher, Dozen-bo, had attempted to return to his faith in the Lotus Sutra after Nichiren had rebuked his slander of the Law, he died without completely giving up his attachment to the Nembutsu practice. But if a disciple such as the Daishonin were to attain Buddhahood through practicing the correct teaching, then through that benefit, it would also be possible for Dozen-bo to attain enlightenment, as well. This is what Nichiren is describing when he writes, “If a teacher has a good disciple, both will gain the fruit of Buddhahood.”
By the same token, however, a “bad disciple,” one who has been led astray by erroneous teachings, will not be able to attain Buddhahood, nor lead the teacher to enlightenment. As a result, as the Daishonin writes, both the disciple and the teacher “will fall into hell” .
In another writing, he also states, “If lay believers and their teacher pray with differing minds, their prayers will be as futile as trying to kindle a fire on water” (“The Eight Winds,”). The unchanging rule for victory in Nichiren Buddhism is for mentor and disciple to unite in spirit and align in purpose, like two interlocking gears. Above all, Nichiren followed the path of a genuine disciple, of a “good disciple” who was also able to guide his teacher to Buddhahood. The victory of the disciple is the victory of the teacher. The disciple is critical in determining the result. In the writing “Flowering and Bearing Grain,” the Daishonin not only describes his own spirit as a disciple, but also seeks to encourage his seniors Joken-bo and Gijo-bo, who shared Dozen-bo as their teacher, to also be good disciples able to lead their teacher to Buddhahood.
As long as he lived, Josei Toda remained a true disciple of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. When he spoke of Mr. Makiguchi, a grave expression came over Mr. Toda’s face. “Disciples have to follow the path of disciples,” he said, stressing that disciples need to put their mentor’s teachings into action in their own lives. He was also uncompromising toward those who tried to destroy this infinitely precious realm of mentor and disciple in Buddhism. He strictly emphasized that we must never allow anyone to harm the pure realm of faith of those dedicated to kosen-rufu. It was his solemn injunction that we protect the realm of mentor and disciple.
The mentor-disciple relationship is the core foundation of Nichiren Buddhism. This is because the profound, powerful and beautiful life-to-life interaction that takes place within the mentor-disciple relationship enables us to break free from our attachments to our small lesser selves and realize a state of life based on our boundless greater selves. When mentor and disciple are united, they can achieve anything and always be victorious. The path of mentor and disciple is the great path for absolute victory.
The Buddha is a teacher who has realized a profound inner transformation. In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says, “At the start I took a vow, / hoping to make all persons / equal to me, without any distinction between us”. This, in other words, is the great vow to enable all people to attain Buddhahood. The unfolding drama of disciples standing up to realize this vow of the Buddha is indeed the central theme of the Lotus Sutra. The widespread propagation of the Law—the movement for kosen-rufu—is an unceasing, momentous struggle to elevate all humanity to the same life state as the Buddha.
Throughout his writings, Nichiren Daishonin frequently uses the expressions “Nichiren’s disciples” or “my disciples.” The path of kosen-rufu entails standing up with a profound sense of mission as a disciple of the Daishonin. It is the noble spiritual struggle to bring about an inner transformation in the lives of all humanity through the process of human revolution in an age steeped in the three poisons, and racked by endless conflict and tragedy. This struggle will eventually bring about a change in the life state of humanity as a whole and, with it, also a change in the destiny of the world.