All disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the spirit of many in body but one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves10 to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate Law of life and death. Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren’s propagation. When you are so united, even the great desire for widespread propagation can be fulfilled. But if any of Nichiren’s disciples disrupt the unity of many in body but one in mind, they would be like warriors who destroy their own castle from within.
Nichiren has been trying to awaken all the people of Japan to faith in the Lotus Sutra so that they too can share the heritage and attainBuddhahood. But instead they have persecuted me in various ways and finally had me banished to this island. You have followed Nichiren, however, and met with suffering as a result. It pains me deeply to thinkof your anguish. Gold can be neither burned by fire nor corroded or swept away by water, but iron is vulnerable to both. A worthy person is like gold, a fool like iron. You are like pure gold because you embrace the“gold” of the Lotus Sutra. The sutra states, “Just as among all themountains, Mount Sumeru is foremost, so this Lotus Sutra is likewise.”11It also states, “The good fortune you gain thereby… cannot be burned by fire or washed away by water.”12
It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined youto become my disciple at a time like this. Shakyamuni and Many Treasures certainly realized this truth. The sutra’s statement, “Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers,”13cannot be false in any way.
This letter, dated the eleventh day of the second month in 1272, was sent by Nichiren Daishonin to Sairen-bō Nichijō, a former Tendai priest who, for reasons that are unclear, was also living in exile on Sado Island. The Daishonin stresses on the importance of the oneness of mentor and disciple and many in body one in mind in this letter. Unity starts with the individual. He writes ‘Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure.’1
Truly fulfilling our potential, however, is dependent on more than not being ‘at cross purposes’ with our self. Although practising Nichiren Buddhism brings happiness to each of us as individuals, this alone is not enough. As Nichiren Daishonin explains that his disciple “transcending all differences among themselves”, without any thought of self or other, this or that. This is not a denial of individuality, but rather urges the bridging of the gaps between people that arise from self-centeredness.
When we look at our neighbours, our colleagues, even members of our family, we can see that while there are clearly similarities between some groups of people, there are also enormous differences. Around the world, cultural and language differences can appear insurmountable.
Nichiren Daishonin accepts that we are all very different; in fact we are each unique. He asks us to learn to respect other people’s unique characteristics and differences. This becomes much easier to do when we look beneath the surface and recall that everyone has the qualities of a Buddha deep in their lives, even if it is not yet apparent.
Although we are all different (‘many in body’), it is possible for us to share a common goal, or ‘one mind’. This does not mean that we all have to ‘think the same’, as past experience of totalitarian regimes may indicate. Indeed, it is essential for us to develop our own unique qualities to the full. As Nichiren Daishonin pointed out, different sorts of fruit are perfect in themselves. A pear, for example, should not try to be, or to taste like, a plum. All of our own individual talents and characteristics are necessary for us to realise our goal of a harmonious peaceful world. The essence of ‘many in body – one in mind’ (Jp. itai doshin) is for us to learn how to transcend the differences between us; to develop respect for each person in our environment.
The concept of many in body, one in mind is based on the vow of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is contained in the Lotus Sutra, ‘to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.’ Therefore true enlightenment only comes from helping others to achieve the same state of life. This vow is at the heart of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.
Consequently, those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo share the same ideal of basing their actions on the qualities of courage, compassion and wisdom, which is in fact ‘attaining Buddhahood’. When we see a positive change in our self, we naturally want to encourage others to reveal their potential in the same way. This leads to a desire for the widespread propagation of Buddhist philosophy throughout the world so that society becomes based on fundamental respect for life, rather than on greed, anger or foolishness.
This leads to another important principle – that of the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’, or as it is sometimes referred to – ‘the mentor and disciple relationship’.
The ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’ is a principle which has profound significance in Buddhism. Nichiren Daishonin reconfirmed Shakyamuni’s plea to his followers to: ‘Rely on the Law and not upon persons’. Therefore, we do not worship or pray to statues of the Daishonin or Shakyamuni. Rather we have an object of devotion – the Gohonzon – which is a representation of Nichiren Daishonin’s enlightened life state. However, the Daishonin also stated that we should ‘seek out the votary of the Lotus Sutra and make him our teacher.’ There are many examples in society of the relationship between a teacher and student, or a master and apprentice. Generally this relationship occurs when a mentor or teacher has some knowledge or skill which they want to pass on to someone else. In the case of Nichiren Buddhism it is the essence of the teachings that the mentor is communicating. Both mentor and disciple are therefore equal and united in their desire to become enlightened. A true mentor desires that the disciples will eventually surpass them in understanding whilst a true disciple shares the same sense of responsibility and commitment to the Law as the mentor. We may come to a time when we think we understand everything about Nichiren Buddhism. At this point we can stop making as much effort in our practice as we previously did. Then, without being aware of it, start to stagnate in faith and stop seeing positive changes in our life. In order to continue developing our self and speaking with sincerity to others about the teachings, it is vital for us to remain close to the heart of Nichiren Buddhism so that we are able to maintain a strong life state. We consider that Nichiren Daishonin is our mentor because he provided us with a profound teaching. He first expounded Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and inscribed his enlightened life condition in the Gohonzon, which enables us to reveal our own inherent Buddha nature. His life is an inspiring example of the potential an ordinary human being has to single-mindedly achieve all their goals. We are able to read about his extraordinary life in the many letters of encouragement he wrote to his followers. Consequently, Nichiren Daishonin has been called the ‘mentor of life’.
The mentor-disciple relationship in Nichiren Buddhism depends upon the disciple or how the disciple responds. We choose the mentor, not the other way round. If we look at this from another angle, we can see that it is the activities and achievements of the disciple that validates the mentor. This concept is very different from a traditional understanding of the function of religious leaders, such as gurus, saviours or saints, to give security and reassurance to their disciples.
President Ikeda clarifies this as follows:
The Daishonin urges his followers to practise ‘just as Nichiren’ and to ‘spread the Lotus Sutra as he does’. Disciples who wait for the mentor to do something for them are disciples of the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. True disciples of the Lotus Sutra are those who struggle just as the mentor does.
The oneness of mentor and disciple in Nichiren Buddhism is not a passive relationship, where the disciple waits for instructions from the mentor. It is an active two-way process based on a vow or pledge that both disciple and mentor make to continuously develop their characters for the sake of the happiness of other people.
President Ikeda has likened the concepts of ‘many in body, one in mind’ and the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’ to the process of making a beautiful cloth or carpet:
The warp represents the bond of mentor and disciple, and the weft the bond of fellow members. When these are interlaced, a splendid brocade of kosen-rufu is created.
The mentor-disciple relationship provides the vertical ‘structure’ and the members are like the individual multi-coloured strands of thread that bonded together form the ‘pattern or design’. This principle applies to people chanting together in small local groups as well as to the world-wide organisation.
If we wish to see a change in the core values of our society, then learning how to work in harmonious co-operation with our fellow human beings is crucial. Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings are rooted in a humanistic belief that each person is deeply worthy of respect. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo gives each person the ability to reveal their highest life condition. President Ikeda’s guidance and actions for peace become a model for us to transform our society.