February 2004 Study Material

SGI-USA Men's Division Monthly Meetings
Suggested study material for February 2004

Opening a Powerful Path to Peace from Within:
Changing Karma into Mission

The suggested material for the men's meetings in February is the following excerpt from The Wisdom of The Lotus Sutra (Volume 1, chapter 5, pages 96-98). You might also want to read pages 91-95 as a background to this material. In this section, SGI President Ikeda, Mr. Saito and Mr. Endo discuss the subject known as the "three ceremonies in two places," the movement in the Lotus Sutra from Eagle Peak to the Ceremony in the Air and back to Eagle Peak.

Ikeda:

Yes, the progression from the assembly at Eagle Peak to the Ceremony in the Air and then back to Eagle Peak parallels the movement from reality to the state of enlightenment and then back to reality. Or, more accurately, it flows from reality prior to enlightenment to the state of enlightenment and then to reality after enlightenment.

We must strive to cut ourselves free from the chains of time and space, earthly desires and the sufferings of birth and death that keep us confined to the earth of reality and to reach the air or lofty skies of enlightenment from which we can gaze serenely upon all things. From that magnificent height, we can see all our sufferings, problems and passing emotions as nothing but the most insignificant and fleeting events unfolding in a world as tiny as a piece of flotsam in the vast ocean.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: "Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law?" (WND, 681)

This is the perspective from the air--the perspective of Buddhism and the perspective of faith. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the practice that enables us to achieve this perspective.

The Daishonin also declares: "The ‘place' where Nichiren and his followers chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and dwell in faith corresponds to the passage ‘reside in the air.' In other words, they reside in the Ceremony in the Air" (GZ, 740).

By exerting ourselves in faith, chanting daimoku and performing gongyo before the Gohonzon, we immediately become a part of the assembly in the air. Nothing could be more wonderful than this. Mr. Toda often said, "In the daily lives of us ordinary people, there is no place as sacred as the place where we practice gongyo and chant daimoku."

To "rise into the air" means to elevate our state of life through our determined and unwavering faith. This is the significance of the sutra's progression from the first assembly on Eagle Peak to the Ceremony in the Air.

Saito:

Then the subsequent progression from the Ceremony in the Air back to Eagle Peak represents returning to the reality of daily life and society and facing its challenges based on the life force of Buddhahood we have tapped through gongyo and daimoku.

Ikeda:

Yes. Daily life equals faith, and faith equals daily life. The Lotus Sutra is never divorced from reality. That is its greatness.

Once we have dwelt in the Ceremony in the Air, the reality of daily life, however contemptible it may have formerly seemed, becomes a means for demonstrating our Buddhahood to others. Sufferings and problems enable us to deepen our faith and, by overcoming them, to show actual proof of the benefit of faith. This is the meaning of the Buddhist principles ‘earthly desires are enlightenment' and ‘changing poison into medicine.'

The defiled realm of the nine worlds is transformed into the world of Buddahood. This is what Nichiren Daishonin means when he writes "...the nine worlds have the potential for Buddhahood" (WND, 539).The progression in the Lotus Sutra from the first assembly on Eagle Peak to the Ceremony in the Air illustrates this principle. Meanwhile, the progression from the Ceremony in the Air back to Eagle Peak indicates that "Buddhahood retains the nine worlds" (WND, 539). In other words, when we willingly return from the world of Buddhahood into the nine worlds to courageously guide others to enlightenment, the impure land of the nine worlds is illuminated by the world of Buddhahood and transformed into the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, a shining Buddha land. Here we see the principle that ‘the impure land is the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light' at work.

At that moment, this world of impermanence, suffering, non-self and impurity becomes a world of eternity, happiness, true self and purity. The Daishonin writes, "Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess" (WND, 832). All of the nine worlds, as symbolized by the various beings who gather to hear the Lotus Sutra in the "Introduction" chapter, are illuminated by the Mystic Law. Ordinary people, just as they are, can reveal their true and most supremely noble selves and in turn illuminate society with their radiance.

From real life to the Ceremony in the Air and them back to real life -- this continuous back-and-forth process is the path of human revolution, the path of transforming our state of life from one motivated by the ‘lesser self' to one inspired by the ‘greater self.' In life, we must not permit ourselves to be totally absorbed with only immediate realities. We must have ideals and strive to achieve them, thereby transcending present realities. On the other hand, we must not allow ourselves to become estranged from reality. We can change nothing unless our feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Many people and also many religions tend to choose one of two paths. Either they compromise with the realities of society and lose their identity or, seeking to evade these realities, they remove themselves entirely from society and try to create their own separate world. Both approaches are mistaken.

The essence of the Lotus Sutra lies in neither of those approaches. The Lotus Sutra teaches a way of life in which we gaze serenely at reality from in elevated state of life -- high in the air, as it were -- and yet, at the same time, actively involve ourselves in those realities as reformers. I think this overall structure of the three assemblies in two places is brilliantly expressed in the Lotus Sutra's characteristic as a reformist religious teaching.

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Suggested questions for discussion

1. If the Ceremony in the Air depicts our enlightenment, why does the location of the Lotus Sutra return to the mundane world afterwards? What does this mean to you?

2. Think about some challenge in daily life that you are currently facing, or have faced in the past. Based on the view of "the three assemblies in two places," how does President Ikeda suggest we understand and deal with that challenge?

3. The realities of today's society are harsh in many ways. What is the key, based on this concept, to our human revolution and the transformation of society?