Youth from across North America and Oceania come together to study Nichiren Daishonin’s The Opening of the Eyes

WESTON, Fla., Feb. 3–6—Amid the ever-deepening darkness of modern society, how do we build a century that treasures the human being and protects the dignity of life? How do we open the eyes of the people to their innate and limitless potential?

The significance of “opening one’s eyes” and the vow of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth served as the unifying themes of the North America and Oceania Study Conference, held Feb. 3–6 at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in Weston, Florida. Some 200 SGI youth members from Canada, New Zealand and the United States attended the conference, led by SGI Vice Study Leader Hidetoshi Fukuda.

Making a vow is the fundamental driving force for spreading hope and courage throughout society.

In a message to the conference, SGI President Ikeda expressed his deepest appreciation to the youth—“my young luminaries of Soka”—for their great seeking spirit in attending the conference, and to the men’s and women’s division members, who have been supporting the youth “as if they are seated beside you and studying together with you as eternal youth.”

President Ikeda continued: “To the extent that the times grow more deeply chaotic and confused, the light of Buddhism will shine all the more brightly. I am counting on you, whom I trust most of all, to strengthen your united network of practice and study all the more so that it may shine its light of happiness and peace throughout society . . .

“At the assembly of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha called on the bodhisattvas gathered, saying, ‘It is proper you should make a great vow’ (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 218). And to a young disciple, Nichiren Daishonin says, ‘My wish is that all my disciples make a great vow’ (‘The Dragon Gate,’ The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1003)…

“It is this great vow that paves the way for a life undefeated by the evils of this world, and serves as the fundamental driving force for spreading hope and courage throughout our confused society.”

Ikeda Wisdom Academy launches its Second Class.

The conference served as the launching point for the Second Class of the SGI-USA Youth Division’s Ikeda Wisdom Academy, the movement to engage youth leaders in advanced study.

Starting in May, the Academy will begin studying The Opening of the Eyes: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series. In September 2016, President Ikeda announced three new mottoes for the youth of the world, based on Nichiren Daishonin’s writing “The Opening of the Eyes”:

1. Be the pillar of peace for all the world’s peoples!
2. Be the eyes of respect for the dignity of life!
3. Be the great ship of hope for the triumph of humanity!

SGI-USA Youth Leader David Witkowski said that toward the SGI-USA’s gathering of 50,000 young Bodhisattvas of the Earth in 2018, the youth will deeply study this significant writing “to engrave in our lives Nichiren’s resolve to lead all people to happiness.”

“This will be our driving force for carrying out compassionate propagation for the peace and happiness of our society,” he said, “as we create an unprecedented history with our mentor.”


Photo: Mary D'Elia.
Photo: Mary D’Elia.

“The Opening of the Eyes”

Why is it important to prevail over fundamental darkness? And how does exploring this question give us deeper appreciation for Nichiren Daishonin’s “casting off the transient and revealing the true” and for his writing “The Opening of the Eyes”?

In the first of three lectures, SGI Vice Study Leader Hidetoshi Fukuda asked the participants to ponder these questions, as he lectured on the introduction to The Opening of the Eyes: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series (see pp. 3–13).

Mr. Fukuda said that in reading President Ikeda’s lecture on “The Opening of the Eyes,” one couldn’t help but notice that the phrase “fundamental darkness” appears repeatedly throughout.

What, then, is fundamental darkness? It is ignorance of the dignity of life. “Put simply, it is the inability to believe in the dignity of one’s life and the dignity of the lives of others,” Mr. Fukuda said.

In a society, it is of course important to pass laws and create systems that protect human dignity. But, Mr. Fukuda said, regardless of how much one adjusts the framework of society, if the philosophies and lives of human beings don’t change at a deep level, then the fundamental solution to society’s ills will remain elusive.

So how does one go about overcoming fundamental darkness? Nichiren states:

The single word “belief ” is the sharp sword with which one confronts and overcomes fundamental darkness or ignorance. (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 120)

In other words, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with strong faith in the Gohonzon is the driving force for destroying the fundamental darkness inherent in life.

Nichiren Daishonin opened the path of enlightenment to all people by “casting off the transient and revealing the true.”

Nichiren Daishonin wrote “The Opening of the Eyes” in February 1272, while exiled on Sado Island for challenging government authorities for their continued dependence on erroneous teachings that led people to suffering.

He entrusted his two-volume work to Shijo Kingo, the central figure among his disciples in Kamakura, so that his other followers could study it together.

In “The Opening of the Eyes,” the Daishonin reveals his identity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, who possesses the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent, and who takes on the shared sufferings of all people as his own.

During his lecture, Mr. Fukuda touched on the events that led to Nichiren’s writing. The September before, government authorities had attempted to execute Nichiren at Tatsunokuchi on the western outskirts of Kamakura. Having survived the ordeal, the Daishonin “cast off ” his transient aspect as an unenlightened, ordinary person and revealed his true identity as a Buddha possessing in nite wisdom and compassion.

President Ikeda writes of this event’s deep significance:

As a result of the Daishonin casting off the transient and revealing the true, the path to attaining enlightenment in one’s present form—whereby we can manifest Buddhahood in our ordinary mortal lives, just as we are—was opened to all people. (The Opening of the Eyes, p. 7)

“It is because Nichiren Daishonin cast off his transient aspect and revealed his true self, and inscribed the Gohonzon that we also can cast off our transient aspects and reveal our true selves,” Mr. Fukuda said. “We’re able to face the Gohonzon, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and let the life condition of Buddhahood emerge within our lives on a daily basis.”

“This is my vow, and I will never forsake it!”

Following the government authorities’ failed execution, they exiled Nichiren to Sado, where the extreme winter and shortage of basic provisions, especially food, all but guaranteed he would not return alive.

Amid these harsh conditions, Nichiren wrote this seminal work, whose central theme can be summed up as: “Open your eyes!”

President Ikeda elaborates:

“Opening the eyes” means exactly that: “to open the eyes.” It can also be read as the Daishonin’s call: “Open your eyes!”

How can we open the closed eyes of people’s hearts? With what light can we illuminate the darkness of ignorance? It is Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, who opened a path to answer these questions. (The Opening of the Eyes, p. 3)

In the first half of “The Opening of the Eyes” the Daishonin clarifies the correct teaching, hidden in the depths of the Lotus Sutra, as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In the latter half of the writing, Nichiren clarifies his role as the votary of the Lotus Sutra, the true teacher of the Latter Day of the Law, who enables all people to reveal their Buddhahood.

At the same time, he demonstrates the fundamental significance of making a “great vow” to prevail over every obstacle in order to spread the Mystic Law, proclaiming with a lion’s roar:

This I will state. Let the gods forsake me. Let all persecutions assail me. Still I will give my life for the sake of the Law . . .

Here I will make a great vow. Though I might be offered the rulership of Japan if I would only abandon the Lotus Sutra, accept the teachings of the Meditation Sutra, and look forward to rebirth in the Pure Land, though I might be told that my father and mother will have their heads cut off if I do not recite the Nembutsu—whatever obstacles I might encounter, so long as persons of wisdom do not prove my teachings to be false, I will never yield! All other troubles are no more to me than dust before the wind.

I will be the pillar of Japan. I will be the eyes of Japan. I will be the great ship of Japan. This is my vow, and I will never forsake it! (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 280–81)

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with strong faith, we can transform fundamental darkness into fundamental enlightenment.

Only a person who is able to battle and prevail over fundamental darkness can be considered the teacher of the Latter Day of the Law, Mr. Fukuda said.

And the Daishonin describes how fundamental darkness “manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven” (“The Treatment of Illness,” WND-1, 1113).

What is its function? The devil king of the sixth heaven is also known by the name Freely Enjoying Things Conjured by Others, and its qualities include manipulating others and exploiting them to satisfy one’s own desires.

“I think it can be said that everyone—no matter who they are—has this impulse to some degree,” Mr. Fukuda said. “Humans tend to impulsively place highest priority on satisfying their personal wants. However, when this impulse reaches extreme levels, it can cause significant problems.”

Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with strong faith in the Gohonzon, we can transform fundamental darkness into fundamental enlightenment, and reveal the great life state of Buddhahood within our lives.

President Ikeda elaborates:

The only way to liberate the people of the Latter Day of the Law from fundamental suffering is to firmly establish the means by which the Buddha nature inherent in all human beings can be manifested in each individual’s life and in society. This great path can be opened only by those who are able to establish the deep, strong faith necessary to defeat the fundamental darkness inherent in human life. That is because all obstacles and devilish functions are in essence manifestations of fundamental darkness. A teaching that does not indicate the importance of battling fundamental darkness cannot be called the correct teaching for the Latter Day of the Law, nor can a person espousing such a teaching be regarded as the teacher of the Latter Day of the Law. (The Opening of the Eyes, pp. 9–10)

Nichiren instills in his disciples the fighting spirit to make the Buddha’s vow their own.

If Nichiren Daishonin is the votary of the Lotus Sutra, then why did he face such severe persecutions? Addressing these doubts, especially to his followers who were also being persecuted by authorities, lies at the heart of this writing.

What gradually becomes clear is that his own conduct and the persecutions he faces perfectly match the Lotus Sutra’s description of the votary’s conduct in propagating the teaching and the persecutions he will encounter.

The Daishonin expresses his vow with the grand declaration: “This I will state. Let the gods forsake me. Let all persecutions assail me. Still I will give my life for the sake of the Law” (WND-1, 280).

President Ikeda has described how this passage reverberated deeply in his heart on May 3, 1960, the day when he became the third president of the Soka Gakkai. He writes:

In this passage, the Daishonin reveals his immense state of life, rising high above the doubts and criticisms held by the general populace, as well as his followers. It shows his profound inner commitment as the votary of the Lotus Sutra, transcending the mundane desire for divine protection or freedom from difficulties. As far as Nichiren is concerned, there is something more important than whether we receive the protection of the heavenly deities—something we must risk our lives to accomplish, no matter how daunting the obstacles. And that is the attainment of Buddhahood by all people, the highest good, which is the great vow Shakyamuni proclaimed in the Lotus Sutra. In other words, it is kosen-rufu, the actualization of that vow. (The Opening of the Eyes, pp. 125–26)

Nichiren sought to instill in his disciples the fighting spirit to make the Buddha’s vow their own, and to strive to fulfill it amid all manner of obstacles. How do we uphold our vow? President Ikeda writes:

The most important thing in faith is a spirit of non-regression. One must not regress in deed, word or thought. Refusing to cease our struggle for as long as we live—this is the spirit of Nichiren Buddhism and the heart of the Soka Gakkai. (The Opening of the Eyes, p. 126)

Mr. Fukuda said that it’s important to expand our “network of solidarity” for “casting off the transient and revealing the true,” which will produce the fundamental power necessary to fuel the transformation of our communities, societies, countries and the world.

The important thing, he said, is to advance in life together with our good friends in the SGI—those who help us practice the correct teaching and attain enlightenment.

“The genuine path that leads to the life state of the Buddha lies in making a vow and a determination, and taking action,” Mr. Fukuda said. “It lies in chanting, talking with our friends about Buddhism and encouraging fellow SGI members.

“Kosen-rufu is possible through the struggles of disciples who live for their vow.”