When we look at our neighbours, our colleagues, even members of our family, we can see that while there are clearly similarities between some groups of people, there are also enormous differences. Around the world, cultural and language differences can appear insurmountable.
Nichiren Daishonin accepts that we are all very different; in fact we are each unique. He asks us to learn to respect other people’s unique characteristics and differences. This becomes much easier to do when we look beneath the surface and recall that everyone has the qualities of a Buddha deep in their lives, even if it is not yet apparent.
Although we are all different (‘many in body’), it is possible for us to share a common goal, or ‘one mind’. This does not mean that we all have to ‘think the same’, as past experience of totalitarian regimes may indicate. Indeed, it is essential for us to develop our own unique qualities to the full.
As Nichiren Daishonin pointed out, different sorts of fruit are perfect in themselves. A pear, for example, should not try to be, or to taste like, a plum. All of our own individual talents and characteristics are necessary for us to realise our goal of a harmonious peaceful world. The essence of ‘many in body – one in mind’ (Jp. itai doshin) is for us to learn how to transcend the differences between us; to develop respect for each person in our environment.
The concept of many in body, one in mind is based on the vow of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is contained in the Lotus Sutra, ‘to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.’ (3) Therefore true enlightenment only comes from helping others to achieve the same state of life. This vow is at the heart of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.
Consequently, those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo share the same ideal of basing their actions on the qualities of courage, compassion and wisdom, which is in fact ‘attaining Buddhahood’. When we see a positive change in our self, we naturally want to encourage others to reveal their potential in the same way. This leads to a desire for the widespread propagation of Buddhist philosophy throughout the world so that society becomes based on fundamental respect for life, rather than on greed, anger or foolishness.
This leads to another important principle – that of the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’, or as it is sometimes referred to – ‘the mentor and disciple relationship’.