Fifty years ago, in 1952, the Soka Gakkai published the Nichiren Daishonin gosho zenshū (The Complete Works of Nichiren Daishonin). The publication project was initiated and supervised by Jōsei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai. On the fiftieth anniversary of that important event, it is my pleasure to witness the publication of a new English dictionary of Buddhist terms, The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism.
Since the publication of the Soka Gakkai edition of Nichiren’s writings, their translation into various languages has been progressing steadily. In the fall of 1999, the Soka Gakkai published The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, which contains English translations of fully half the writings in the Japanese edition, and those translations have been enthusiastically welcomed by persons interested in Nichiren Buddhism.
The members of the Soka Gakkai practice Nichiren Buddhism, which is based on the Lotus Sutra, a text embodying the essence of Mahayana Buddhism. Nichiren Buddhism has inherited the idea expressed in the sutra that all people are capable of achieving Buddhahood, and the great vow of the Buddha to enable all people to do so. The aim of Nichiren Buddhism is to realize that great vow in our present age, the Latter Day of the Law.
This new dictionary focuses largely on Nichiren Buddhism. But it is my conviction that by studying Nichiren Buddhism, one can familiarize oneself with the core of Mahayana Buddhist thought, which expresses the central teaching of the Buddha aimed at enabling everyone to attain enlightenment.
The Buddhist idea that everyone possesses the Buddha nature, or the potential for enlightenment, expresses a spirit of profound respect for human beings and leads naturally to a philosophy that deeply treasures life. This in turn can provide a spiritual and philosophical basis for dealing with such modern global issues as the protection of human rights, the preservation of the environment, and the attainment of world peace. In this sense, I believe it is extremely important to understand such Buddhist concepts and consider them in terms of their modern significance.
Mahayana Buddhism originated in India, and in the long process of its transmission to new lands with different cultures, it has evolved into a world religion. We are able to discern the beginnings of Mahayana within the Buddhism of India, but it began to flower and bear fruit in earnest as it encountered and spread among different cultures.
Within this universal religion called Mahayana Buddhism there are some ideas that appear to be contrasting or contradictory. The Lotus Sutra, however, sets forth principles that resolve and integrate those apparent contradictions. In addition, it contains a living system of thought and a spiritual tradition that clearly transmit the essence of Buddhism.
For example, regarding the method or way to achieve enlightenment, Buddhist tradition speaks of two contrasting approaches: the power of self and the power of another. The school of Buddhism known as Pure Land attributes salvation to the power of another, that is, to the saving grace of Amida Buddha, while Zen Buddhism advocates salvation through the power of self, or the discipline of seated meditation.
Each of those views offers a partial perspective and, taken by itself, may be considered biased or one-sided. Through the unifying principle expressed in the Lotus Sutra, however, those contrasting views are integrated and resolved, giving rise to the concept of the fusion of self and other. In short, salvation or enlightenment in Buddhism is best achieved by bringing forth the powers of the Buddha and the Law (the power of another) through the power of one’s own faith and practice (the power of self).
In another example, from a psychological perspective, earthly desires, which Buddhism regards as the cause of suffering, stand in stark contrast to bodhi, or the enlightenment of the Buddha. That is why early Buddhism taught that enlightenment can only be gained by extinguishing earthly desires.
Mahayana Buddhism, however, ultimately views enlightenment and desire as inseparable, in a relationship described as “two but not two.” It treats them as mutually inclusive aspects of the same reality. Though one may speak of desires and illusions, they originate from the essential nature of life itself, or the Dharma nature, and in that sense are no different from enlightenment.
The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai, in his work Great Concentration and Insight, states: “The foolish illusions of ignorance originate in the essential nature of phenomena. Because of the influence of delusions, the essential nature of phenomena changes into ignorance.” This expresses the principle of non-duality described in the phrase “earthly desires are none other than enlightenment.” The meaning of this principle is that, though one does not extinguish one’s desires and illusions, by developing the wisdom of enlightenment, one is no longer tormented by them; that is, desires and illusions cease to function as negative influences in one’s life.
The resolution of contending viewpoints in the above examples also suggests that, when we view things from the perspective of Buddhist wisdom, it is possible to transform the division and contention of today’s world into harmony and cooperation.
Naturally, human beings themselves are essential to this process. This is because the various contradictions we see in society and the world ultimately boil down to contradictions within the human being. Buddhism aims to shed light on and thoroughly examine the complex inner realm of the human being and thereby provide a broad and comprehensive overview of life itself.
When we assess things from this holistic perspective, it becomes evident that even life and death are actually “not two”; that is, they are one in their essential nature.
How do we keep ourselves at peace with and transcend the problem of death, our unavoidable destiny as human beings? In a speech I delivered in 1993 at Harvard University, I spoke of the Mahayana Buddhist view of life and death, and its aim “to enable us to know a deep and abiding joy in death as well as life.”
Once we are born into the world, none of us can escape death. To address and resolve the problems and suffering associated with life and death, living and dying, is perhaps the most important problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century.
Buddhism elucidates the essential equality present on the level of life itself. It enables people to make the most of their unique natures and qualities, just as “cherry, plum, peach, and apricot” blossoms, to cite a familiar Buddhist metaphor, each display unique color and fragrance. The aim of Buddhism is to enable people to bring forth and display the innate and enduring power of life itself, to remain unbent and unbowed by any hardship or opposition, and to fully enjoy a condition of absolute happiness—enduring happiness that emerges from within and is not dependent on externals. It is a philosophy of life reformation by which one can completely transform tragedy, even death, into profound joy based on an eternal view of life.
Buddhism places strong emphasis on the human heart and mind. We can summarize its message as follows: If people’s hearts and minds change, everything changes. It is the perspective of Buddhism that both conflict and peace arise from the human mind. Mind, however, is not limited to mere process of thought.
An early Buddhist text known as the Dhammapada reads: “Hard it is to train the mind, which goes where it likes and does what it wants. But a trained mind brings health and happiness.” And the same text states: “For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law” (Dhammapada, 3.35 and 1.5, trans. by Eknath Easwaran, Penguin Books, 1987).
The famous opening line of the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution reads, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” In other words, only when human beings achieve real peace of mind can world peace be possible.
The fundamental goal of Buddhism is to enable people to build a “fortress of peace and happiness” within their hearts and minds. It is from here that the real path to world peace begins.
Buddhism enables everyone to achieve inner peace, which is inseparable from world peace, through a transformation of life, that most fundamental of changes that occurs through Buddhist practice. Global peace will, therefore, be realized if this principle and its practical application are shared among people.
A Buddhist writing states, “The Law does not spread by itself. Because the people spread it, both the people and the Law are respectworthy” (Gosho zenshū, p. 856).
If the Buddha, having awakened to the Dharma, or Law of life, had not endeavored to teach it to others, his enlightenment would have been incomplete. Moreover, even though the Buddha himself expounded this Law, without others to spread it, it would not have benefited the people.
We of the Soka Gakkai earnestly hope our publication of English works, such as the translation of Nichiren’s writings and this dictionary, may serve to make the wisdom of Buddhism accessible to more people, enabling them to find a way to true happiness and thereby contributing to the realization of a peaceful world. If, by encountering this dictionary, many people are able to deepen their understanding of and appreciation for Buddhist philosophy, I will be deeply gratified.
Finally, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to those who have assisted with the preparation and editing of this dictionary.
President, Soka Gakkai International