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