Academic Division

SGI-USA Culture Department

Seeking / strengthening the relationship of mentor and disciple


In many fields–academia, the arts, craftsmanship, etc.–the importance of a great mentor is well-understood. Most scholars are who they are because of the inspiration and care given by their mentors. Buddhism casts light on the relationship of mentor and disciple. Both mentor and disciple share the same vow to work for the happiness of the people.

From this perspective, a fundamental aspect for our self-development or bringing forth our capability is to recognize the importance of the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple and to strive to firmly establish it in our lives.

In his lecture, President Ikeda has shared his response to a question about the oneness/unit of mentor and disciple: “It means to have a mentor in your heart while standing on your own two feet. President Toda resides in my heart. This is not something you speak out loud; it’s a matter of the heart. This is because unity is something that exists inside you.’ At all times, no matter where I am, I feel as if I am constantly engaging in dialogue with President Toda as I go about my activities. Our unity exists within me. This unity of mentor and disciple transcends distance and time. The heart of mentor and disciple compose an eternal history of united struggle (for kosen-rufu.)” LB 07/2008 p63

The following excerpts are selected, so that we can further deepen our relationship with our mentor and to establish a firm foundation of the oneness of mentor and disciple.

The following citations are from President Ikeda’s lecture on the Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life, Living Buddhism, Jan 08 – pages 47 thru 62.

Buddhism is a teaching conveyed through the mentor-disciple relationship. The oneness, or shared commitment, of mentor and disciple forms the essence of Buddhist practice. If we forget the mentor-disciple relationship, we cannot attain Buddhahood. Nor can we achieve eternal happiness or realize kosen-rufu. It is through the bond of mentor and disciple that the Law is transmitted. Buddhism is the Law of life; and the Law of life cannot be transmitted through words or concepts alone.

The heritage of the ultimate Law of life and death flows in the lives of those who strive for kosen-rufu based on the path of mentor and disciple. Please remember that without the mentor-disciple relationship, the flow of this heritage will be cut off. LB 01/2008, p47

The Lotus Sutra is permeated by the Buddha’s great vow to enable all people to attain Buddhahood. Shakyamuni teaches that a person who inherits and carries on this vow is a genuine bodhisattva and true disciple of the Buddha. … Accordingly, the great vow of the Buddha and the wish of the mentor, for the enlightenment of all people and the happiness of self and others, are none other than the great vow, or wish, for kosen-rufu itself. LB 01/2008, p48

This passage describes the eternal relationship of mentor and disciple who strive together to realize the most profound aspiration of human beings and of all life: the enlightenment and happiness of both self and others. A true mentor in Buddhism is one who enables us to remember this aspiration. True disciples, meanwhile, are ones who follow the mentor’s teaching, who never forget that this most profound aspiration is in fact their own, and who—convinced from the bottom of their hearts that this is so—launch into action in accord with the mentor’s instructions. LB Jan 08, p54

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda once said: “In your vast and boundless compassion, you let me accompany you even to prison. As a result, I could read with my entire being the passage from the Lotus Sutra,. . . The benefit of this was coming to know my former existence as a Bodhisattva of the Earth and to absorb with my very life even a small degree of the sutra’s meaning. Could there be any greater happiness than this?” This captures the essence of the mentor-disciple relationship in Buddhism. This lofty mentor-disciple relationship is the vital spirit of the Soka Gakkai. If this spirit lives on, our movement will continue to develop eternally. The mentor-disciple spirit of the first three presidents is key to securing the foundations of the kosen-rufu movement for the future.

Mentor and disciple share karmic ties that extend over past, present and future. When we strive with all our might for kosen-rufu we can sense this profound connection. It is the first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai who have revived in the present age an active and engaged mentor-disciple spirit—the essence of Nichiren Buddhism. It would be no exaggeration to say that were it not for the appearance of the Soka Gakkai, the spirit of mentor and disciple of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Buddhism would have all but disappeared.

So why is the mentor-disciple relationship valued so highly in Buddhism? Let me reconfirm the Buddhist significance of this relationship. In general terms, a mentor is someone who teaches one enhanced skills or technical expertise, deeper knowledge, a loftier way of life, a more fulfilling state of mind and so forth. People look up to someone as a mentor when that person helps them in some way to improve or develop themselves.

In the Buddhist teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, based on his awakening to the Law, strove together with his disciples to enable them to achieve their highest potential as human beings. This Law was none other than the Mystic Law, which the Buddha’s disciples could not perceive on their own. Their awareness was clouded by fundamental darkness, and they had no conception of the Law. Therefore, even if they were given theoretical explanations of the Law or told to practice to overcome sufferings, the life-state of Buddhahood could not be conveyed to them through such words alone. Rather, it was through being inspired by coming into contact with the Buddha’s character, along with these words of instruction, that they awakened to the Law within their lives. This is how the Law was communicated to them. And this is why the mentor-disciple relationship holds so much importance in Buddhism. The Law is conveyed through the life-to-life bonds of the mentor-disciple relationship. Based on this Law, it is possible for us to achieve our human revolution.

It follows that Buddhism does not set forth the mentor as a mystical or transcendent superhuman being. Nichiren states, “Outside of the attainment of Buddhahood, there is no ‘secret’ and no ‘transcendental powers'” … Moreover, the secret and transcendental powers for attaining Buddhahood are something that can be manifested in the lives of all people.

The sutra teaches that the core of Shakyamuni’s being is nothing other than the “vow of the Buddha.” Shakyamuni explains, “At the start I took a vow, / hoping to make all persons / equal to me, without any distinction between us” (LS, 36). That is, the vow to enable all people to attain the same state of enlightenment as he had. In addition, the essential teaching clarifies that the bodhisattvas who share the mentor’s commitment— those who after the Buddha’s passing pledge to carry on the Buddha’s vow and devote themselves to the Buddha’s work of leading all living beings to happiness—are the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.

The Lotus Sutra from beginning to end teaches the oneness, or shared commitment, of mentor and disciple. Looking over the history of Buddhism, the deification of Shakyamuni began when his disciples forgot to strive with the same commitment he had. If Shakyamuni is turned into a transcendent, superhuman being, then the mentor-disciple relationship cannot function. And if the Buddha’s disciples fail to emulate his spirit and conduct, the Buddha merely becomes an object of veneration or worship. The Buddha therefore can no longer serve as a model for others’ human revolution.

The Lotus Sutra reveals that a vow lies at the core of Shakyamuni Buddha’s character. It further clarifies that the Law is transmitted to disciples who make that vow their own and strive in the same spirit. This paves the way for conveying the life-state of the Buddha to living beings even in the age after his passing.

Especially important in achieving the great vow for kosen-rufu is the willingness to take action without begrudging one’s life. The “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra says that even after his passing, Shakyamuni will appear where there are practitioners striving in faith with the spirit of “single-mindedly desiring to see the Buddha, not hesitating even if it costs them their lives” (LS, 230). Even after Shakyamuni’s death, the life-state of the Buddha can be conveyed to those who take action based on the great vow for kosen-rufu and the spirit of selfless dedication, which constitute the core of the Buddha’s life.

Nichiren set forth Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as the means for manifesting our innate Buddhahood. He revealed that the great vow for kosen-rufu and selfless dedication are the keys to Buddhist practice in the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law. By doing so, he secured the transmission of the heritage for attaining Buddhahood.

Everything rests on the fundamental power inherent in the mentor-disciple relationship. Nichiren’s true disciple and direct successor, Nikko Shonin, says: “In the teaching of Nichiren, one attains Buddhahood by correctly following the path of mentor and disciple. If one veers from the path of mentor and disciple, then even if one upholds the Lotus Sutra, one will fall into the hell of incessant suffering.”

In the present age, it is the first three Soka Gakkai presidents who awakened to the great vow for kosen-rufu, the vow of the Buddha, and have striven with the spirit of not begrudging their lives. … Through the actions of its first three presidents, the Soka Gakkai has forged the path of shared commitment of mentor and disciple, the essence of Buddhism. Because the mentors and disciples of Soka have been victorious, we have made worldwide kosen-rufu, the decree of the Lotus Sutra and the wish of Nichiren, a reality.

“If teacher and disciple are of different minds,” writes Nichiren, “they will never accomplish anything” (WND-1, 909). But when mentor and disciple are united, they can achieve even the loftiest goals. The mentor-disciple bond is an unparalleled force for victory. LB Jan 08

The following citations are from President Ikeda’s lecture on the Opening of the Eyes.

Nichiren Buddhism is the “Buddhism of oneness of mentor and disciple.” Through his own life, Nichiren established the path by which ordinary people of the Latter Day could attain Buddhahood in their present form, and he taught that path to his disciples. He says: “Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. “Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when the crucial moment comes” (WND, 283).

The implication here is that the path of oneness of mentor and disciple of Nichiren and his followers comes into being when both have faith that is free of doubt and infused with the spirit of not begrudging one’s life. Faith as conceived by Nichiren precludes doubt [toward the power of the Mystic Law]. Therefore, it is only natural that our Buddhist practice includes actively battling the devilish nature inherent in life as well as external obstacles and devilish functions that act as negative influences.

And he assures us that if we join him in this struggle, we will realize the fruit, or effect, of attaining Buddhahood without fail. This is because anyone can become one with the Daishonin in terms of his “practices and the virtues he consequently attained” (see “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” WND, 365) — that is, the cause and effect of his enlightenment. This means that the call to “Open your eyes to Nichiren,” which runs throughout this writing, is in fact based on a foundation of deep confidence in and respect for human beings. LB Nov 04, p 30

Ultimately, unless we undertake the same resolve as our mentor in faith, we will be defeated by devilish functions. This is why the Daishonin called his disciples to rise into action with a vow equal to his. …The Daishonin, risked his life to fight for kosen-rufu, triumphed over all obstacles and displayed an indomitable spiritual state. He proved there is nothing to fear, not even amid the most terrible persecution or hardship caused by devilish functions.

The spirit to battle powerful enemies is the heart of the lion king. As long as we possess the readiness and courage to confront these negative forces, we can manifest our inherent Buddhahood and bring forth the necessary fighting spirit, wisdom and life force to achieve victory. “There is nothing to be frightened about” expresses the heart of the Daishonin (the lion king) and his disciples (the lion king’s cubs) who fight alongside him with the same selfless spirit. . . . LB Oct 05, p 36

Although we speak of the Buddhist Law, the Law itself is invisible. The beneficent Law manifests in the conduct of the votary of the Lotus Sutra. It is extremely rare, however, to encounter a votary who struggles against and triumphs over the three powerful enemies. It is difficult to encounter a genuine leader of Buddhism. Therefore, Nichiren writes: “Let us seek him out and make him our teacher. … The mentor–disciple relationship only comes into existence through the disciple’s steadfast efforts to seek the mentor. Such efforts allow us to deeply sense the greatness of the mentor’s struggles. We can read “The Opening of the Eyes” as a call for us to awaken to the true votary of the Lotus Sutra who battles fundamental darkness … and join him in fighting unceasingly against life’s inherent devilish nature. LB Nov 05, p 39

Ready to brave all consequences, Nichiren declares his resolve: “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, 280). Then, with an indomitable lion’s roar, he makes the powerful pledge: “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!” (WND, 280–81). Here, he reveals the core of his own spirit. While these passages constitute declarations of his personal resolve and commitment, he is also underscoring the importance of cultivating faith that responds to the spirit of the mentor. It is as if he were saying: “Follow my example! Cast aside your doubts and laments as befits cubs of the lion king! Don’t foolishly discard your faith at the crucial moment!”

The Daishonin indicates that his true disciples are those who, sharing his resolve, stand up to struggle alongside him and work energetically for kosen-rufu. All who become genuine “disciples of Nichiren” by making his spirit and commitment their own — no matter who they are — have in fact already opened wide the path to attaining Buddhahood. And, as long as they follow this path to the end, they will attain Buddhahood “as a matter of course” (WND, 283). LB Mar 06, p 72

The essence of this ultimate teaching of the Buddhas is to help everyone actualize the same great enlightenment that they have achieved. That is why Buddhism is at all times concerned with raising disciples who will exert themselves in faith and practice with the same spirit as the mentor. Buddhism is none other than a philosophy of mentor and disciple. And the spirit of this philosophy of mentor and disciple truly comes to life only when the disciples’ hearts blaze with the same bright spiritual flame evinced by Nichiren, who proclaimed: “Let the gods forsake me. Let all persecutions assail me. Still I will give my life for the sake of the Law” (WND, 280). In that sense, the Daishonin’s focus on “I and my disciples” in this passage can also be read as a call for the emergence of ranks of capable successors who will continue his struggle. LB Mar 06, p 76

From the Lotus Sutra, Chapter 2, Expedient Means

Shariputra, you should know that at the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us, and what I long ago hoped for has now been fulfilled. I have converted all living beings and caused them all to enter the Buddha way. . . . . . [however]

I see the living beings in the six paths, how poor and distressed they are, without merit or wisdom, … blinding themselves with greed and infatuation, their vision so impaired they can see nothing. They do not seek the Buddha, with his great might, or the Law that can end their sufferings, … For the sake of these living beings I summon up a mind of great compassion. … But living beings, dull incapacity, are addicted to pleasure and blinded by stupidity. With persons such as this, what can I say, how can I save them? … If I merely praised the Buddha vehicle, then the living beings, sunk in their suffering, would be incapable of believing in this Law. And because they rejected the Law and failed to believe it, they would fall into the three evil paths. …

Then my thoughts turned to the Buddhas of the past and the power of expedient means they had employed, and I thought that the way I had now attained should likewise be preached as three vehicles. … the Buddhas of the ten directions all appeared and … and instructed me. “Well done, Shakyamuni!” they said. “Foremost leader and teacher, you have attained the unsurpassed Law. But following the example of all other Buddhas, you will employ the power of expedient means. . . . … Then I thought; I have come into this impure and evil world, and as these Buddhas have preached, I too must follow that example in my actions. … Following in the same fashion that the Buddhas of the three existences employ in preaching the Law, I now will do likewise, preaching a Law that is without distinctions.


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