SGI-USA Men's Division Monthly Meetings
Suggested study material for June 2005
The material below is excerpted from SGI President Ikeda’s lecture series, Lectures on “The Opening of the Eyes,” published in the April, 2005 issue of Living Buddhism. In this installment, he discusses what it means to make a vow, and the effect on one’s life of making a vow in Buddhist practice.
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A vow in Buddhism can be likened to the power with which to sever the chains of karma, to free oneself from the fetters of the past, and to forge a self that can look with hope to a new future. In other words, the power of a vow enables us to develop ourselves through the Buddha’s teachings, to take charge of our own future direction based on a solid sense of self, and to keep on making efforts toward that end.
Making a vow, then, is the fundamental principle of change. While it naturally entails trying to change oneself, it is also the impetus for transforming the lives of all people, as seen in the Buddha’s vow in the “Medicinal Herbs” chapter.
In fulfilling the vow for the enlightenment of all people in the Latter Day, the Daishonin above all emphasizes the power of faith.
Believing in the boundless potential of human beings as entities of the Mystic Law may be considered the essence of the Lotus Sutra. Not only is this an expression of deep faith in the Mystic Law but also of profound trust and respect for human beings.
Bodhisattva Never Disparaging who is described in the Lotus Sutra and serves as a model for propagation in the Latter Day, was motivated by the same spirit. Although repeatedly attacked with “sticks of wood or tiles and stones” by the four kinds of believers — monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen — he persevered in the practice of venerating others. Sometimes he would retreat to a safe distance and shout words to the effect: “Even so, I respect you. You will all become Buddhas.” He continued to venerate even those who showered him with criticism or who physically assaulted him. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s practice is based on the philosophy that all human beings without exception possess the Buddha nature. Above all, he himself appears to have had an unwavering belief in the existence of the Buddha nature within the lives of all people.
In dramatic contrast, there is the case of Shariputra who, in a past life, allowed himself to be defeated over his ordeal with the eye-begging Brahman and as a result returned to the Hinayana teachings. When his good intentions were literally trampled on, Shariputra reflexively cried out: “This person is impossible to save!” Ultimately, he lost faith in the existence of the Buddha nature in all people.
The Brahman in this story was the devil king of the sixth heaven in disguise. It is the essential character of devils to strive to prevent one and all from manifesting their inherent Buddha nature. At heart, these dark functions seek to destroy people’s belief in the tenet that all people are Buddhas.
Understandably, we might feel upset at being hated and attacked by the very individuals we are trying to lead to happiness. But, remaining true to one’s profound conviction, like Bodhisattva Never Disparaging who continued to declare, “Even so, I respect you,” is the hallmark of genuine Buddhist practitioners in the Latter Day of the Law. In a sense, the power of the vow or commitment to lead all people to enlightenment sustains an unswerving belief in the innate goodness of human beings as well as the deep optimism that arises from that belief.
Nichiren Daishonin, through his profound vow, boldly stood up alone as the votary of the Lotus Sutra. He steadfastly persevered out of a desire to save all people who were being led by evil influences to commit slander of the Law. Consequently, as the Daishonin himself foresaw, he incurred the hatred of people throughout the land and brought a great storm of persecution upon himself.
Nevertheless, with the spirit, “I rejoiced, saying that I had long expected it to come to this” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND, 764), he struggled on with the resolute spirit expressed by the lines: “But still I am not discouraged” (“The Essentials for Attaining Buddhahood,” WND, 748), “I have never once thought of retreating” (GZ, 1224), and “So the battle goes on even today” (“On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings,” WND, 392).
We can take it that the sole driving force that sustained the Daishonin’s momentous lifelong struggle was the power of his vow. His example teaches us how, by maintaining our own vow, we can become one with the heart of the Buddha and bring forth the limitless power of Buddhahood from our lives.
In a defiled age, it is only through the power of a vow for the enlightenment of all people that we can defeat the evil functions that seek to incite distrust and doubt.
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Suggested discussion questions:
1. Probably everyone taking responsibility for members at times has shared the feeling described in the story of Shariputra: “This person can’t be saved!” Have you experienced that feeling and been able to challenge it to help other people in their practice of Nichiren Buddhism? What enabled you to overcome your feeling of wanting to give up on someone and assist him in his practice?
2. President Ikeda writes that Nichiren’s vow for the enlightenment of all people was the driving force behind his lifelong struggle, and that making a vow is “the fundamental principle of change.” In your own life, how can making a vow become a source of courage to challenge and change yourself?
3. This month, Men’s Division organizations across the U.S. are kicking off our campaign to have victorious general meetings in August. As we make efforts to introduce new friends and to reconnect with others, how can we apply the spirit President Ikeda writes about here to our faith and practice as the foundation for our campaign? What determination or vow can you make, and how will you carry it out?