…on mentor & disciple

In the first part of the three lecture installments by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda on Nichiren Daishonin’s gosho, “On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings,” we have several concepts that are familiar & also worth reviewing again. There is the tradition of ‘shakabuku’ (refuting the erroneous to reveal the true), connected to this is the emphasis on practicing the correct way as taught by Nichiren Daishonin, while differentiating from provisional teachings, among other ideas Ikeda examines.  For this short paper we’ll be looking at the concept of mentor & disciple.

From the opening of Ikeda’s lecture,* he tells us that the title of Nichiren’s gosho: “On Practicing as the Buddha Teaches” can have an alternate reading of: “on practicing as the Buddha expounds.” (LB 53) This title easily becomes a basic expression of the mentor/disciple relationship. “For us of modern times, practicing as the Buddha teaches means practicing in accord with the teachings of Nichiren.” (LB 53) Tsunesaburo Makaguchi is then quoted “As the Daishonin writes: the Lotus Sutra is the teaching of shakabuku, the refutation of the provisional teachings.” (LB 53) This statement is in turn not only from Nichiren’s writings, but it’s referencing T’ien T’ai’s ancient work: “The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra.” (LB 64) Ikeda notes too that his teacher Josei Toda had this gosho highlighted in his copy of Nichiren’s writings, to indicate it as a key teaching.

So, here we have an identifiable method to be observed in President Ikeda’s lecture where he leads us with Shakyamuni Buddha’s words (i.e. through the Lotus Sutra), then moves on to Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, on through Makaguchi’s wisdom & then to his mentor in life Toda, in all we observe the mentor/disciple relationship as practiced by Ikeda himself. It is Interesting that in the way this lecture is presented, it has this series of relationships given & laid out—right away. This takes deliberate attention to see. Let us see that this is a simple & primary observation about the way the mentor/disciple relationship works & that this simplicity need not be thought of as trivial or without profound learning potential within our lives.  

The terms mentor & disciple can be easily thought of as teacher & student. This is good to remember, because in secular American culture we are not used to thinking that we we need to follow a ‘mentor’, let alone that we should become a ‘disciple’. These terms sound old-fashioned to our ears, because we like the American ethos of ‘every man/woman for him or herself’. However, this can be taken too far, creating a common unrealistic individualism that ignores those who have come before, or those who have something to teach. This has implications for secular culture looking to religious practice, because the habit is to casually treat the ‘mentor’ cynically & he who can be mocked for his/her faith. A problem with this kind of thinking happens when the individual becomes overly self-satisfied & learning is at a stand-still, not only from a secular standpoint, but from a spiritual context as well. This kind of tendency overlooks higher learning & the acquisition of knowledge as it is a fundamental exchange that takes place in the mentor/disciple relationship. Outside a religious context, individualism still needs to be tempered with learning. True learning has to look to a teacher to move ahead in any way. In a simple educational scenario it becomes crucial to pay close attention to the goal of understanding a particular subject & to have respect for the knowledge one seeks. Yes, rebellion & contradiction is an easy refuge, yet true learning has to look to a teacher if one is to move ahead in the world. One has to be attentive to what has come before, what has been explored, invented, developed, postulated, tested &c…  If this is ignored, learning doesn’t happen & self satisfied arrogance move in quickly. In a secular world & a religious world, we need our teachers, our mentors.

From a religious expression, namely our practice of Buddhism this notion is of supreme value, as Ikeda’s says in this lecture: “In other words, the grand vision of Nichiren’s Buddhism of the people, a teaching for the enlightenment of all humanity can only be realized when there are genuine disciples who strive for kosen rufu ‘like Nichiren’ or with ‘the same mind as Nichiren’.” (LB 56) If it is not clear already it’ll be repeated, that this is why we study the goshos & President Ikeda’s lectures, to see how to refute our own erroneous views that manifest without a proper direction (let’s dare to call it an internalized shakabuku, a self questioning). How else can learning happen without reference & a solid background in the teachings? How are we to become experts in enlightenment if we cannot see what has been clarified & what might remain obscured?

Our quest for wisdom & enlightenment will not always be met with ease & agreement. We are taught by Ikeda that sometimes those who appear to be teachers are deluded & have illusions to teach. We have to learn how to tell the difference. We have to have faith that we’ll know the difference when that time comes. Ikeda sees Toda, his teacher for many years, with inspirational respect by saying that: “I was the disciple of Mr. Toda, a great leader of Kosen Rufu who had gone to prison for his beliefs & had waged a heroic spiritual struggle. I knew that casting my lot with such a mentor would most certainly mean facing persecutions on the road ahead. I fervently vowed that I would remain fearless at such times.” (LB 57)

In closing, let us ask of ourselves a few questions that arise with the ideas put forth. How does learning happen in my life? Who do I turn to for answers to certain problems? Do I respect learning & religious practice (ours, as well as the religious practice of other faiths & beliefs)? What kind of work am I willing to do to seek such wisdom? Where do I as an individual follow the mentor’s guidance, without merely mimicking his/her every move? How can we seek the understanding of the mentor’s true heart? How do we become ourselves while at the same time becoming less self-satisfied? How do we properly help & mentor others to do the same without arrogance? How do we become enlightened?

―Aurelio Madrid

* Ikeda, Daisaku (lecture for) “On Practicing the Buddha’s Teachings” part 1, Living Buddhism magazine, November-December 2010, pp. 50-65.

aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit


…from the MVA-Exchange is a small ‘zine’ titled “Aliquid Quo Nihil Maius Cogitari Possit” which is a partial Latin quote translated into English as: “A something, a greater than which cannot be conceived.” This medieval quotation is from St. Anselm of Canterbury’s “The Proslogian” (ca. 1070 CE). [God is the] ‘something, a greater than which cannot be conceived.’ This is said to be St. Anselm’s ontological proof of God. Let it be noted again that the title is without any reference to god, so we have the ontological proof without god, without a deity, then the proof can be said to be godless.  This god omission cannot be overlooked without a nod to Nietzsche’s famous ‘God is dead,’ declaration. With this said, it is unlikely that this god topic is what Grant Leuning & Eric Carlson’s zine, booklet, chap-book &/or pamphlet is entirely about, although there is an oblique reference by Carlson about a “…middle-ages [sic] Christian monk occurring in the contemporary…” The booklet is actually a tripartite artifact. Overall the dimensions are 7 ½” x 5” with a smaller 6” x 5” over-booklet. The larger interior booklet is a reprint of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Time-Atom Theory: Zeitatomenlehre, Nachgelassene Fragmente, early 1873”

The smaller outer booklet is divided in half (holding, protecting & enveloping the Nietzsche) with Leuning’s writing featured in the first third & Carlson finishes the booklet’s last third. The publication also contains illustrations/graphical signs as with: ▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆▆ on one unnumbered page in the Leuning text, & two ●● (each separated by a ‘frontispiece’ & the ‘Time Atom Theory’ title page), this also includes Nietzsche’s original & elegant ‘Timeline’ running towards the end of the fragment:


& in another part of the fragment, a series of punctuation-like dots that appear to represent ‘time-points’ that are also considered ‘interrupted timelines’:

:                     :
:                     :
.                     :
.                     :

The inside of the back cover on the smaller booklet has a reproduction of a well known “redacted torture file” from the CIA file on water-boarding of Iraqi detainees/prisoners of war:

waterboard torture redacted page

It should be noted that “[…] these enhanced techniques include […] WATERBOARD […]” from the CIA file have been removed from the Leuning/Carlson page. Instead we now have a double redaction. Leuning &/or Carlson have signed the 100 editions under these redaction/s. Finally, the outside of the back cover has “hl x hl” for Hardland / Heartland followed by “Problem When Humans / MMX.”

All cynicism aside, the whole product makes for a micro/macro reverential/referential artifact. The size of the object is small, whereas the expansiveness of the ideas in the book are universal as with the Luening/Carlson’s prose/poetry included with Nietzsche’s fragmentary notes on time & space. Leuning’s writing is characteristically aphoristic, recondite & notational. Re-imagine his odd line: “Thinking is the problem when humans.” We’ll chose to read this thought as: ‘Thinking is the problem when humans ▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁▁.’ Later in a section of ‘aphorisms’ Leuning has: “7. What it is about thinking is ― nothing more.” More notions & propositions of subtraction, omissions & indeed other redactions, meaning implied from something that is not t/here.

Leuning/Carlson simultainously evoke Nietzsche’s text exampled with Leuning’s “…only like a body & not like a spirit…” & Carlsen’s “Human consciousness is only the relation of relations happening in meat, the body occurring in the necessary spot to plug the string on consciousness.” Compare these thoughts to Nietzsche’s line in the fragment: “We cannot think anything that is not sensation & representation.” & “I cannot represent non-being.” which might have a clear reference to the mind, in the body that experiences the world spatially & temporally enough to think of our relationship to past, present & future. We are thinking beings that experience time not as separate moments, rather as Nietzsche writes:

1. An effect of a sequence of time-moments is impossible: for two such time-moments would coincide. thus every effort is actio in distans [action at a distance], i.e. through jumping.” 

Keith A. Pearson wrote a paper on “Nietzsche’s Brave New World Force” on the “Time Atom Theory” fragment, with the suggestion that these ‘notes’ are closely related to Nietzsche’s interest & study of Roger Boscovich (1711-1787) a Dalmatian scientist/mathematician (Nietzsche of-course was looking to others, including Arthur Schopenhauer, Spinoza &c.).  The fragment is said to have special importance with Nietzsche’s key (then incipient) concepts of ‘the will to power’ & “eternal recurrence.’ This was  Nietzsche turning to science to find ‘proofs’ for his more elaborate philosophical theories.  Pearson writes on the significance & questions of the fragment:

“In the 1873 fragment Nietzsche is working through one of the most
important problems that have characterized all modern thinking on time
and which continue to characterize thinking today. This problem comes to
the fore in his treatment of sensation and imagination/representation in
relation to the problem of time. The question which continues to bedevil
thinking can be expressed as follows: is duration, involving the
prolongation of the past into the present and the virtual movement of time,
a subjective phenomenon of consciousness? Or can we also say that
external things endure too, in other words, that duration is a phenomenon
of the material universe itself?”

This “Zeitatomenlehre-Time Atom Theory” booklet is undoubtedly cryptic & is included within the Leuning/Carlson text without any word on its inclusion. We might posit that it is a simple homage to the expansive scientific & philosophical limits of Nietzsche’s thought. Overall, the “Aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit”  booklet is at its core an exploration of art with philosophy & physics. A sui generis micro-specter of honorific expression/s.

Aurelio Madrid