The ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’ is a principle which has profound significance in Buddhism. Nichiren Daishonin reconfirmed Shakyamuni’s plea to his followers to: ‘Rely on the Law and not upon persons’. Therefore, we do not worship or pray to statues of the Daishonin or Shakyamuni. Rather we have an object of devotion – the Gohonzon – which is a representation of Nichiren Daishonin’s enlightened life state. However, the Daishonin also stated that we should ‘seek out the votary of the Lotus Sutra and make him our teacher.’
There are many examples in society of the relationship between a teacher and student, or a master and apprentice. Generally this relationship occurs when a mentor or teacher has some knowledge or skill which they want to pass on to someone else. In the case of Nichiren Buddhism it is the essence of the teachings that the mentor is communicating. Both mentor and disciple are therefore equal and united in their desire to become enlightened. A true mentor desires that the disciples will eventually surpass them in understanding whilst a true disciple shares the same sense of responsibility and commitment to the Law as the mentor.
We may come to a time when we think we understand everything about Nichiren Buddhism. At this point we can stop making as much effort in our practice as we previously did. Then, without being aware of it, start to stagnate in faith and stop seeing positive changes in our life. In order to continue developing our self and speaking with sincerity to others about the teachings, it is vital for us to remain close to the heart of Nichiren Buddhism so that we are able to maintain a strong life state.
We consider that Nichiren Daishonin is our mentor because he provided us with a profound teaching. He first expounded Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and inscribed his enlightened life condition in the Gohonzon, which enables us to reveal our own inherent Buddha nature. His life is an inspiring example of the potential an ordinary human being has to single-mindedly achieve all their goals. We are able to read about his extraordinary life in the many letters of encouragement he wrote to his followers. Consequently, Nichiren Daishonin has been called the ‘mentor of life’.
Daisaku Ikeda was born in 1928 and began practising this Buddhism just after the Second World War, when he was 19 years old. He became the third President of the Soka Gakkai in 1960. His example has shown us how to practise and spread Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings in the twenty-first century. Therefore, he has been described as the ‘mentor for kosen-rufu [widespread propagation]’. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance and activities are thoroughly based on his profound understanding of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin.
Studying any of Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance we can see how he has continually applied the principles of Nichiren Buddhism in order to achieve wonderful victories in all areas of his life. Yet he does not proclaim himself to be our ‘mentor’. His great pride is to be the disciple of his predecessor second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900 – 1958), who in turn was the disciple of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944).
The mentor-disciple relationship in Nichiren Buddhism depends upon the disciple or how the disciple responds. We choose the mentor, not the other way round. If we look at this from another angle, we can see that it is the activities and achievements of the disciple that validates the mentor. This concept is very different from a traditional understanding of the function of religious leaders, such as gurus, saviours or saints, to give security and reassurance to their disciples.
President Ikeda clarifies this as follows:
The Daishonin urges his followers to practise ‘just as Nichiren’ and to ‘spread the Lotus Sutra as he does’. Disciples who wait for the mentor to do something for them are disciples of the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. True disciples of the Lotus Sutra are those who struggle just as the mentor does.
The oneness of mentor and disciple in Nichiren Buddhism is not a passive relationship, where the disciple waits for instructions from the mentor. It is an active two-way process based on a vow or pledge that both disciple and mentor make to continuously develop their characters for the sake of the happiness of other people.
President Ikeda has likened the concepts of ‘many in body, one in mind’ and the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’ to the process of making a beautiful cloth or carpet:
The warp represents the bond of mentor and disciple, and the weft the bond of fellow members. When these are interlaced, a splendid brocade of kosen-rufu is created.
The mentor-disciple relationship provides the vertical ‘structure’ and the members are like the individual multi-coloured strands of thread that bonded together form the ‘pattern or design’. This principle applies to people chanting together in small local groups as well as to the world-wide organisation.
If we wish to see a change in the core values of our society, then learning how to work in harmonious co-operation with our fellow human beings is crucial. Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings are rooted in a humanistic belief that each person is deeply worthy of respect. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo gives each person the ability to reveal their highest life condition. President Ikeda’s guidance and actions for peace become a model for us to transform our society.