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Mentor Disciple Relationship

This letter is written to JC from Cocoa Beach, FL in response to questions he asked us about the importance of a mentor in Buddhist practice. His questions are here, followed by our answers.

Written February 21, 2005
From: David Heimburg
To: JC from Cocoa Beach, FL


Hi David &Shannon,

[The following comments are referring to our web site. (This bracketed part is not part of the original letter.)] Yes a really great composition. All the nuts & bolts of the broad spectrum of Buddhism, plus the pure distinction between all other sects and the LOTUS SUTRA,and many other insights w/regards to shoju & shakubuku.

Now would it not follow that THE DAISHONIN was himself a great scholar,as well as the Buddha for the latter day, and isn't it a bit ironic that, MASTERS MAKAGUCHI, TODA, & IKEDA, ALL fall into the category of educational teachers????? and all very fit to be called BODHISATTVAS OF THE EARTH, IN A LEADERS ROLE !!!!!! I myself don't doubt their display's of actual proof and especially the works of DAISAKU IKEDA, which speak for themselves. He has more than delivered on HIS vows to his master, and to the world wide propagation of THE ONE VEHICLE, and I think that this is un-debatable. Being a bodhisattva myself of the (see'er variety) I have to put him in a peerless position in Japan, and also on the world stage.

Now let me ask you about faith, i.e.. can a beginner's faith be as strong and/or mature as a master's or some one who is learned in the scriptures???? How can an immature follower know if he or she is practicing correctly without an overseer or a guide???? Strange how N.D. paid reverent respect to his mentor DOZEN-BO, even though he didn't convert him to the true teachings, and knowing that his teacher was wrong ????? It is easy to be misled and/or to mislead oneself, as did the five senior priests!!!!!!! (no humble gratitude here huh????) The 4 debts of gratitude (me thinks) should be uppermost in ones mind while performing gongyo. WHAT SAY YOU!!!!!!!!??

Hi J,

Here are some questions that I think, when you answer them, will clarify the answer to your questions:
Is the correct practice of Buddhism based on finding the correct mentor to follow?
Is there a difference between the person who first teaches you Buddhism and a mentor to whom you owe allegiance and continually return for guidance throughout your life? Which kind of relationship did Nichiren have with Dozen-Bo?
Is it possible for a person to just follow the Law by themselves? That is, can you just practice and propagate Myoho-Renge-Kyo with compassion and thereby attain enlightenment, or does the Mystic Law need some help from a mentor? (Careful, this one is a slander trap.)
Who was Shakyamuni's mentor? Nichiren's mentor? (knowing that he did not go to Dozen-Bo for guidance or to learn about the correct practice of Buddhism)
What do you think Nichiren meant when he wrote repeatedly the admonition to "rely on the Law and not upon persons"? Did he mean to develop a mentor/disciple relationship?

I have never heard of anyone, not Shakyamuni, not Nichiren, no one who ever became a Buddha by following a mentor. Unless, of course, you twist the definition of mentor to mean the Law is your mentor. Then, I would have to agree ...the Law itself is the ONLY mentor you can ever use if you are to attain enlightenment. Why do you suppose all the scriptures describe how difficult it is to attain Buddhahood in the Latter Day? In the very act of following someone, you give up responsibility for your own enlightenment and at the same time slander the Buddha within. It's like saying "without someone else, someone wiser than me, I cannot attain enlightenment". Do you realize how this is slander of the Buddha within when people say or think that?

So for President Ikeda or anyone for that matter to say or even imply that you can't attain enlightenment without a mentor or without an organization is slanderous of Myoho-Renge-Kyo. It's saying, yes, Myoho-Renge-Kyo is powerful, but not powerful enough without someone to keep you on track. Both Nichiren and Shakyamuni revealed their own enlightenment as a process, a process that was difficult and uncertain throughout their lives. Yes, uncertain. They learned "on the job" so to speak. And so must we. As we perform the function of a Buddha, we become a Buddha. What is the function of a Buddha? It is to make all others Buddhas. That's it. That's all a Buddha does or is. We too discover our own Buddhahood by teaching others the Law and how to follow it instead of us! Let me make this perfectly clear, J, You do NOT need anything or anyone else for YOU, JC to attain enlightenment. You can speed your way on the path to enlightenment by developing your compassion and your seeking mind to discover how to lead all others to enlightenment. This is not static information, J. I mean by that that it is a continual challenge to wrack YOUR brain to discover how to get through to others about how they can become Buddhas. And as you do this, you naturally find the Buddha within your own life. You cannot be a part of this process if you follow a person. Not Nichiren, not Shakyamuni...not Ikeda, not Nikken, not David Heimburg, no one! You must attain enlightenment by yourself. There's no easy way, no shortcuts. Your mission of discovery starts with a great vow...the vow of the Buddha attain Buddhahood and lead all others to do the same. Without that serious vow, how can you muster the resolve to ever accomplish this task?

Just so I'm perfectly clear about this, J, I am not saying that you or I shouldn't (or don't) appreciate our teachers. But if a teacher insists that you must continue to follow (them or an organization for instance) that is a clear sign that you must leave and stand on your own two feet! Nichiren was concerned for his teacher Dozen-Bo and wrote letters in that regard. We, too, are concerned for Daisaku Ikeda, our teacher, and have written letters to him about it. These are posted on our website. You should read them if you have not already. And also please read my poem My Mentor. I wrote it about President Ikeda. The Buddha Myoho-Renge-Kyo that shows through Ikeda words of the past or present are a part of the Law...the other words actually slander the Law. My mentor is the right side of the poem...the Law revealed by Ikeda. It is up to us to bring benefit to him by discerning the difference: what will lead us to enlightenment and what will not...and follow only those teachings that are based entirely upon Myoho-Renge-Kyo. And this goes for the Gohonzon as well. If we look upon the Gohonzon as the Person to if it's not within our own lives...we thereby slander Myoho-Renge-Kyo within ourselves. We then are no better than the other deity-based religions out there. Yet people do it all the time. Go to a meeting and bring up that people shouldn't look at the Gohonzon as an external power and see what kind of response you get. They know this point theoretically, yet they cannot apply it to their own practice.

About you asked: the only way to truly repay one's debt of gratitude to the Buddhas that ever have or ever will exist is by your own actions as a Buddha. What does that mean? Please read Nichiren about this to understand the point...more deeply. Nichiren says, "Those who make offerings to the Lotus Sutra will receive the same benefit as they would by making offerings to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in the ten directions, because all the Buddhas of the ten directions originate from the single character myo." (WND 949) and "Concerning the debt owed to the Law, the Law is the teacher of all Buddhas. It is because of the Law that the Buddhas are worthy of respect. Therefore, those who wish to repay their debt to the Buddha must first repay the debt they owe to the Law." (WND pg 44) Simply put we can only repay our gratitude for attaining enlightenment by vowing, then fulfilling that vow, to make all others Buddhas. No offerings, no false humility, no organizational achievements...just person by person having the courage to confront people who continually belittle and slander their own Buddha Nature (and thereby slander Myoho-Renge-Kyo) by looking outside themselves for the answer. This is the practice of courage, the practice of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, and we must find our own way to do it. We must become Teachers of the Law. We must become Buddhas who teach others to follow ONLY the Law of Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Within your life you have the wisdom, Buddha Wisdom, to attain enlightenment by leading others to attain Buddhahood. How do you bring it out? By first of all vowing to do it, then throwing your whole self into the task...halfway measures won't do. Daimoku with purpose, the purpose of bringing another person to enlightenment, is the most powerful thing a human can do with their life. It's also the most difficult. And it's the only way for that person to attain enlightenment themselves. So if you want to repay your debt of gratitude to Daisaku Ikeda, George Williams, or anyone else the only way to do it is to become a Buddha...nothing short of that. And then you will be able to repay all Buddhas at the same time and even lead those lives you feel indebted to to Buddhahood.

Another thing, the common understanding of faith equals daily life goes something like this: You should live your life so that others respect you and thereby cause them to listen to you and follow your example of faith. Is that your definition too? My understanding of faith equals daily life goes slightly differently: Your actions to lead others to attain enlightenment reveal your faith in Myoho-Renge-Kyo within yourself...and they do this within the present moment. So what does that mean in reality? Well, lets see, in the Life Span Chapter of the Lotus Sutra Shakyamuni tells the parable of the Excellent Physician who told his sons he was dead in order to get them to take the medicine. So lying is ok if it leads others to enlightenment? What about other acts of social misconduct? Are they allowed too? While we're at it, what are the relevant commandments we Buddhists should honor? Do you recall the Diamond Precept? So what I'm saying, J is that Bodhisattvas of the Earth in their true identity are majestic, but as viewed by non-enlightened beings are crude, and socially unacceptable. Nichiren himself, to this very day, is referred to as a renegade priest by all others than us Nichiren Buddhists. In fact Nichiren himself said that he was: " gold is wrapped in a filthy bag." (WND pg303) I maintain that a Buddha's daily life is difficult to discern without yourself having a Buddha-Eye to see the gold inside clearly. And the trap set up by negligent discernment is that people who follow mentors, leaders, organizations, or anything or anyone other than the Law itself, will find fault with you no matter what you do in your daily life and then use that perception to slander the power of Myoho-Renge-Kyo within themselves and you. We must teach people to look for and at the gold within their own lives, not to us as examples. We need to encourage them to have a powerful seeking mind to see the Buddha within.

About your question about a new person's faith and whether or not they need a teacher: Of course we teach others to practice Buddhism. I have proof that the very act of trying to teach Buddhism causes you to thereby learn how to practice yourself. Learn by teaching. It's a true principle. But not if you don't teach with compassion and try your very best to teach the other person to follow the Law and not you. Over and over again those who fail to follow Nichiren's admonition to follow the Law and not the Person wind up slandering Myoho-Renge-Kyo. They praise it with their mouths but slander it with their intent. They themselves just don't believe that chanting Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and teaching others can do it, can make Buddhas. They have lost faith in Myoho-Renge-Kyo, in reality. We have already seen what happens to people we teach to follow the Law instead of us or any other Person. They immediately grow in faith so fast that WE'RE encouraged just to see them. And they can be a brand new person to Buddhism, too. In less than one year's practice we've seen people be able to stand alone in faith and practice Buddhism correctly. So J, yes teach...become a become a correct teacher who never knowingly leads others to follow you, but instead constantly teaches others to only use the Law as their compass and their guidance in faith. And yes, even new people can get guidance from chanting and studying and teaching. You can understand this when you realize that guidance in Buddhism is ONLY and ALWAYS guidance in FAITH. Guidance in faith answers the question, "How can I become a Buddha and How can I lead this other person to become a Buddha?" All other matters evaporate like dew on the grass in the morning sun. They are no longer obstacles. Do you understand what I'm saying here? The ONE VEHICLE is not, and never could ever be, Ikeda, Nichiren or Shakyamuni. It always has been and always will be ONLY the Law itself (the one within your life) and both you and brand new believers have equal access to that Law. Equal access. Once again, I refer you to read what Nichiren says about the difference between when a sage chants the daimoku and when an ignorant person chants it. "But how great is the difference between the blessings received when a sage chants the daimoku and the blessings received when we chant it? To reply, one is in no way superior to the other." (WND pg 756)

Now, J, let me broach another subject with you that you briefly touched on in your letter to me. Gongyo. Let me ask you this: Is it effective to recite gongyo in your native language? Did Nichiren's disciples understand gongyo in their own language? Is there proof of this? You know where I'm leading with this so I'll just tell you: we do gongyo in English. And guess what? It works! It is an effective auxiliary practice to chanting daimoku, just the way Nichiren said it should be. And guess what else? Understanding gongyo by reciting it in English reveals "Ah-Ha" after "Ah-Ha" of recognition and encouragement in faith...and it does it in a way that over twenty years of reciting it in the Sanskrit/Chinese/Japanese version never did. It is not "forbidden" for you to do, is it? Then I highly recommend it. But remember, it's an auxiliary practice to chanting daimoku.

Well, I've gone on and on here in this letter. I hope I've encouraged your courageous faith and to stand alone in the midst of all others...and teach the Law to the best of your ability. J, the practice of Buddhism I'm talking about in this letter is not the same practice as when we knew each other in Florida. A single day's practice in this way is worth a lifetime of the practice of following organizations or leaders.

With deep respect for the Buddha JC,

David Heimburg


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