SGI-USA Men's Division Monthly Meetings
Suggested study material for January 2006
The suggested material below is excerpted from the fourteenth installment of SGI President Ikeda’s lecture series, Lectures on “The Opening of the Eyes,” published in the Jan/Feb, 2006 issue of Living Buddhism. In this excerpt, President Ikeda discusses non-regression as the essence of faith in Nichiren Buddhism. Suggested discussion questions follow the excerpt.
Non-Regression Is the Essence of Faith (Living Buddhism, Jan/Feb, 2006, p. 70- 72)
Today, we carry out our Buddhist practice in this impure realm of the saha world “in a muddied kalpa, in an evil age” (The Lotus Sutra, 194). We live in a world rife with “evil companions,” or negative influences, that promote slander of the Law. We are forced to wage battle with the three obstacles and four devils and the three powerful enemies. To show actual proof of faith under such circumstances, it is vital that we develop the inner strength and fortitude with which to constantly fight and win over our own inherent negativity or fundamental darkness.
Unless we forge the spiritual strength and purity not to be swayed by anything, to stay true to our vow without faltering, the flame of our Buddhist practice will be quickly extinguished by the winds of dark, insidious forces. The will to cultivate that inner strength is the spirit of non-regression. Without a profound commitment and resolve, we cannot defeat the obstacles caused by negative influences.
To highlight the fearfulness of negative influences, the Daishonin cites the examples of Shariputra discarding his Mahayana practice and of two other groups of people who abandoned the way: those who received the seeds of Buddhahood in the remote past, and those who received the seeds of Buddhahood from the sons of Buddha Great Universal Wisdom Excellence.
In Shariputra’s case, the Brahman who begged for his eye (and then threw it down and stomped on it) was in fact a demon who deliberately intended to cause him to abandon faith. Here, Shariputra was defeated not by the Brahman’s reprehensible behavior but rather by his own mind or inner weakness. The negativity or fundamental darkness that filled Shariputra’s heart after the Brahman stomped on his eye was fueled by the thought: Such people are too difficult to be guided toward enlightenment. As a result, Shariputra abandoned the Mahayana bodhisattva way and regressed to being a Hinayana practitioner focused solely on personal salvation.
Of course, this is an episode from when Shariputra was practicing the pre-Lotus Sutra Mahayana teaching of carrying out bodhisattva austerities over innumerable kalpas. In that respect, there’s no need to directly consider his example. Nichiren teaches after all that Buddhist practice “should follow the time” (WND, 287). From one standpoint, however, it could be said that we of the Soka Gakkai regularly undergo spiritual trials just as trying, or even more so, in the course of our propagation activities in this evil latter age. The heart of the bodhisattva’s supremely noble practice lies in continuing exertion for others’ welfare. This is carried out with altruistic dedication, despite hostility and rejection, and despite slander and abuse originating from the ignorance, malice and perversity of people in society.
No matter what happens, we of the SGI chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly before the Gohonzon with a “mind that is gentle and forbearing” (LS, 166). We sincerely chant, thinking, This person also has the Buddha nature. I will send Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the pure reservoir of Buddhahood in his or her life, and heroically continue engaging in dialogue and taking action for others’ happiness. As a result, we can greatly expand our own state of life.
Ultimately, what Shariputra was lacking when he abandoned his faith was the spirit of the Lotus Sutra. If he had firmly believed that all people possess the Buddha nature, then he could certainly have remained impervious to the Brahman’s insults. Shariputra should have been an indomitable champion of the human spirit, while the Brahman should have been pitied for his lack of faith in human goodness. At a crucial moment, however, Shariputra’s fundamental problem was revealed — he could not maintain his belief in the teaching of universal enlightenment that liberates all people from their inner darkness and delusion.
We can also surmise that the two other groups of people who abandoned the way and fell into the hell of incessant suffering for immeasurable kalpas were defeated by negative influences, which caused them to doubt the Lotus Sutra’s teachings.
The genuine teachings of Shakyamuni and Nichiren Buddhism are based on the Lotus Sutra principle that all people can attain Buddhahood. At the opposite extreme of this truth is fundamental darkness, a bleak, benighted condition in which one cannot recognize that all people equally possess the supremely noble state of Buddhahood. Turning against the Lotus Sutra leads inexorably to the abyss of darkness. Therefore, Nichiren writes: “If one casts aside the Lotus Sutra, one destines oneself for hell” (WND, 280).
The Lotus Sutra recognizes the dignity of all people’s lives. It is a teaching that enables us to bring forth our Dharma nature, or inherent enlightenment. It is also a teaching of value creation.
As the Lotus Sutra spreads, negative influences or evil companions appear without fail in order to thwart its progress and topple its practitioners from the elevated state they have attained. Negative influences try to pull us into darkness and negativity and bring us under the influence of oppressive forces. Not only mustn’t we be swayed by their workings, it is imperative that we wholeheartedly combat the evil of slander of the Law, which is an enemy of the true teaching.
A fighting spirit is a non-regressing spirit. If we do not fight continually and energetically, we cannot prevail over the magnetic force of negative influences. Please remember this vital principle for victory in life.
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Suggested discussion questions:
President Ikeda explains that Shariputra was defeated, not by the reprehensible behavior of the Brahman who begged for his eye and then stomped on it, but by his own inner weakness, giving up on practice for others and reverting to practice solely for his own benefit. What does this mean to you in your own practice?
In view of the story of Shariputra’s inability to continue believing in the Buddha nature of the Brahman, and subsequent regression to practice solely for himself, how can our determination and actions to introduce others to Buddhism help us to develop the “spirit of non-regression?”
President Ikeda states that at opposite extremes in our lives are the belief in the Lotus Sutra’s core teaching that all people can attain Buddhahood (if we share Buddhism with them) and the benighted condition of fundamental darkness, which cannot recognize that all people equally possess the potential for Buddhahood. While we may intellectually accept the Lotus Sutra’s teaching, how we can win our internal battle between these opposing impulses, and put it into actual practice?