What Is Soka Spirit?
First an explanation:
Soka Spirit is the very basis of Buddhist thought. It is the spirit of the bodhisattva, the spirit of the founder of this Buddhism, Nichiren Daishonin. It is the single directive proclaimed by Shakyamuni Buddha at the end of the Juryo Chapter in the Lotus Sutra:
"Mai ji sa ze ninWhich means:
"At all times I think to myself:We recite that everyday when we do gongyo; so everyday, we vow that we will constantly think about causing other people to become Buddhas. Yet, in my own life, I know that that was usually the furthest thing from my mind!
Tell me if it sounds familiar: The alarm goes off a few times. Get ready for work, do a quick gongyo, five minutes daimoku, and out the door. Race for the Metro, get to work, then work, work, work. Lunch. More work. Head home, get in the door exhausted. Do a quick gongyo, eat, relax ... and then to bed.
Talk to members? Please don't bother me tonight -- I'm exhausted. Get out the district schedule? Can't I just send an email? My leader on the phone? What does that guy want? Compassion for others? Who has the energy?
If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this: We've forgotten that the bodhisattva spirit itself is refreshing and energizing. Some of you old-timers may remember the era when we did bodhisattva activities 24/7 — didn't we get great benefits? When we think about those times, we think "I had the energy of youth!" What you really had was the energy of the bodhisattva!
Here's a story of how important this compassion for others can be: A group of people, ten or so, escaped from a Siberian prison camp. There were all different — healthy strong men, young people, older folks, etc. In the brutal environment, all died except two: A young mother and her baby. Why did they make it? The mother survived because she had to, for the sake of the baby. The baby survived because of the mother. THAT is how powerful caring for other people can be. It can be the strongest thing in Nature.
Look at it this way. Nichiren Daishonin began chanting Nam Myoho-Renge-kyo in 1253. He had studied the Buddhist texts for many years and, when he realized that this phrase was the essence of those teachings, HIS FIRST ACT was to go back to his home temple and convince his family, friends, and fellow monks of this great new practice. He could have gone to a mountaintop or cave or remote temple somewhere and happily chanted for the rest of his life. But he knew an essential part of this practice is telling others about it.
As his life went on, Nichiren Daishonin got in lots of trouble because of this practice. He upset the status quo. The priests who ran the other Buddhist sects did not appreciate their followers leaving them and they lobbied the government to punish him. Nichiren Daishonin could have just replied "Live and let live. I won't bother your followers, if you don't bother mine." He could have said "It's free country — people can believe whatever they want. No skin off my nose." But he didn't.
He never stopped debating other priests, refuting other sects, and remonstrating with the government about its support for these other sects. He was offered a fine temple if he would lay off the other sects — he refused. He was sent into exile — twice — and they tried to behead him, but couldn't — all because Nichiren Daishonin would not, could not compromise his spirit of compassion — the spirit of the bodhisattva.
All this is recorded in the Daishonin's writings. Again and again, he persuades, cajoles, and argues, all for the sake of spreading this form of Buddhism to people everywhere. He told his followers: "Teach others to the best of your ability, even if only a word or phrase."
After the Daishonin's death, this spirit wavered, flickered, and nearly went out. During the next seven centuries, this Buddhism was layered over with ceremonies, customs, and traditions. But in the Twentieth Century, a Japanese educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism and immediately saw benefit through his sincere practice. Grasping the spirit of the bodhisattva, Mr. Makiguchi began propagating this Buddhism to everyone he knew. Soon, he and his friend Josei Toda had a vigorous lay organization practicing this Buddhism.
Then the restrictions of the Japanese military mentality began to be enforced — every Japanese citizen had to practice Shinto, the state religion. They had to accept and enshrine the Shinto talisman. Even though the priests of their own sect demanded that they accept the talisman, Makiguchi and Toda refused, because they could never compromise this Buddhism no matter what the inducement. This was exactly the spirit of Nichiren Daishonin.
Toda and Makiguchi were banned from the head temple and then arrested by the authorities. The 70-year-old Makiguchi died in prison and Toda emerged with his health damaged, but his spirit unbroken. Imbued with the spirit of compassion for others, he determined to rebuild the lay organization.
Today, our organization is the result of these selfless efforts. But in Buddhism, we can never be satisfied with our efforts so far — we have to be always building for the future or else there won't be one. We must never lose the fundamental spirit on which our organization is based.
How can we start to rekindle Gakkai spirit — this soka spirit — in our lives again? Well, it's just basic practice, but with a different attitude. It begins with chanting for others. For me personally, this was a difficult thing to do. I always have so many things in my own life to chant about. It was as if I was closed up in the little box of my own life and couldn't be concerned about anything outside it. Anyway, what difference could it make?
I found out that it makes a BIG difference. The mindset you have when you chant makes a powerful difference in your results. For example, many sects chant Nam Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Some chant it to gohonzons similar to ours. So why are the benefits different? The mind one has makes all the difference.
It says in the Gosho that "If you are of the same mind as Nichiren, then you must be a bodhisattva of the Earth." The mind of Nichiren is "mai ji sa za nin" — opening your heart to others. So, beginning with daimoku, we are starting to do just that. You can start out by chanting for those you are already close to: family, friends, coworkers, neighbours, other members (the ones you see all the time and the ones you don't), members who have been gone for six months, those who have been gone for six years. And then add in those members, those brothers and sisters of ours, who are being deluded at the temple — Soka Spirit in the Mid-Atlantic Zone is organizing networks of people chanting for temple members' happiness. Nichiren Daishonin would do the same.
Today, in the Year 2000, we can no longer say that we are unaffected by the actions of the Temple. Due to current technology, information — and MISinformation — is readily available on the Internet. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that SGI members' friends, relatives, neighbours, coworkers have become negative about our organization because of some lies they read on the Internet.
In addition, we in Washington DC have the distinction of being home to one of the six U.S. temples. Many of us will pass by it during our everyday activities. I'm not here to talk about how wrong the Temple is, but to ask for compassion — the spirit of the bodhisattva — toward the temple members. They have been deceived into a practice that lacks the spirit I spoke of today. They are deluded and suffering. Let's send sincere prayer for their swift awakening.
And let's refresh our own practices
and awaken our own hearts to live the lives of bodhisattva heros. Let's
resolve to take action, as Nichiren Daishonin did, in reaching out to our
members and friends, practicing for ourselves and especially for others.
Copyright Kathy Ruby 2002. May not be quoted without written permission.
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.