SGI-USA Men's Division Monthly Meetings
Suggested study material for January 2004
Opening a Powerful Path to Peace from Within:
Changing Karma into Mission
The World of Nichiren Daishonin's Writings
This excerpt from the dialog SGI President Ikeda has been conducting with leaders of the Soka Gakkai study department (this time, Mr. Katsuji Saito and Mr. Masaaki Morinaka) is central to the Men's Division theme for 2004. It was published in the August 2003 issue of Living Buddhism, on pages 49 and 50. Some possible discussion questions follow the text below.
"Voluntarily Assuming the Appropriate Karma"
Ikeda: At the heart of the Buddhist view of changing karma lies the concept of "voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma."
Morinaka: Yes, the "Teacher of the Law" (tenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra presents the picture of great bodhisattvas who have accumulated immense good fortune and benefit appearing in an evil world and spreading the Mystic Law because of their wish to save those who are suffering.
Saito: The Great Teacher Miao-lo of China refers to this as "voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma." Although fundamentally they do not have the karma to be born in an evil world, these bodhisattvas are nonetheless born into such a realm and undergo the trials and tribulations of an evil age because of their desire to save people from suffering.
Ikeda: This describes Nichiren Daishonin's state of life. In "The Opening of the Eyes," the Daishonin says that encountering persecution by the three powerful enemies as a result of his efforts to widely propagate the Mystic Law matches the Lotus Sutra's description of its votary in the Latter Day. He declares that he feels still greater joy in having been sentenced to exile on Sado.
Saito: I find the closing lines of "The Opening of the Eyes" incredibly moving. The Daishonin proclaims: "I have been condemned to exile, but it is a small suffering to undergo in this present life and not one worth lamenting. In future lives I will enjoy immense happiness, a thought that gives me great joy" (WND, 287).
Ikeda: The Daishonin fully understood that the great persecutions he was experiencing constituted hardships that he had wished for out of his desire to accomplish his mission. Because he was undergoing these difficulties in order to lead all people to enlightenment, he declared, they were a source of great joy.
He could only help the suffering people by actually sharing their trials and pains and then showing them as a fellow human being how to overcome those sufferings. Because the Daishonin waged such a monumental struggle, we regard him as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
It is also here that we find the significance of the mentor-and-disciple relationship in Buddhism. The mentor in Buddhism is always someone who takes exemplary action and who leads a life of immense mission. The disciples earnestly learn from and strive to emulate the way of life of the mentor. It is by carrying out this practice in accord with the Buddha's teaching that we come to grasp the Law with our lives. The mentor-and-disciple relationship is therefore the very heart of Buddhism.
In the midst of the great persecution of the Sado Exile, the Daishonin, through his conduct, set an example of changing karma for his disciples and for the people of later ages. It is a great spiritual achievement that beckons us to do the same. Through his struggles as one human being, the Daishonin taught us, the ordinary people of this evil age, the path for transforming our destiny. He revealed that even those who seem impossibly trapped in the chains of fate, from this standpoint, are actually leading lives for which they have "voluntarily assumed the appropriate karma."
Saito: This is the way of life of changing karma into mission that you have so often described.
Ikeda: That's right. We all have our own karma or destiny, but when we look it square in the face and grasp its true significance, then any hardship can serve to help us lead richer and more profound lives. Our actions in challenging our destiny become examples and inspirations for countless others.
In other words, when we change our karma into mission, we transform our destiny from playing a negative role to a positive one. Those who change their karma into their mission have "voluntarily assumed the appropriate karma." Therefore, those who keep advancing, while regarding everything as part of their mission, proceed toward the goal of transforming their destiny.
Morinaka: Simply trying to eliminate, avoid or run away from one's karma or destiny will ultimately only postpone the whole process of changing it.
Ikeda: Our challenge now is to see whether we can effect a change in the karma or destiny of humankind.
Saito: In that connection, I understand that the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once asked you about the teaching of karma in Buddhism. Specifically, he wanted to know whether people could change karma accumulated from past existences.
Ikeda: That's right. I remember it clearly. He wore the gentle smile of someone who had experienced both glory and hardship in life, and his eyes shone with the light of intellect. It was an incisive question.
I answered him plainly: "Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, based on the principle of the simultaneity of cause and effect, teaches that we can change our karma and, further, that by doing so we can also change society." I also expressed my view that this will be the key to changing the world and humanity for the better in the twenty-first century.
Listening to my words, he nodded in agreement.
As I promised Dr. Toynbee all those years ago, I have wholeheartedly acted to change the karma of humankind. I have not a single regret. And I have all the confidence that many young people will follow in my footsteps.
Suggested discussion questions:
1. Do you feel, or have you ever felt "impossibly trapped in the chains of fate?"
2. In your own experience, does viewing your karma as part of your mission change how you live your life? How does it change?
3. Can you explain in your own words and/or experience the significance of the mentor-and-disciple relationship as President Ikeda describes it here? How does it relate to the concept of "changing karma into mission?"