We discussed the importance of the mentor and disciple relationship in our previous article. Not sufficient certainly. There is a lot more to this topic. Having a clear understanding of this issue, we firmly believe, is something we cannot do without if we are to practice correctly the Daishonin’s Buddhism. Of course, this is just our views. Feel free to disagree.
Why the mentor and disciple spirit so important again?
Going back 3000 years. Sakyamuni introduced Buddhism in India and propagated it. Not only practicing and assisting those who were in pain, he also established a Sangha, a Buddhist Order. This organization fostered leaders in propagating Buddhism. These leaders were subsequently sent to various parts of India for propagation.
However, after the passing of Sakyamuni, Buddhism slowly died in India. Today, Buddhist principles and philosophies are not embedded in the Indian society, despite being the birthplace of Buddhism.
Dr Radhakrishnan, Director of the Gandhi Institute, explained that the chief reason is because Sakyamuni was deify by his disciples after his passing. Treating Sakyamuni as a ‘super being’ and seeking salvation from him, an external source, made Buddhism loses its power to bring happiness to the people. In other words, instead of following the Law, they followed the Person.
To be fair, there was a group of disciples, the Theravada School, felt very strongly about the importance to record and pass down the Buddha’s teachings correctly. Thus, they dedicated their entire lives, for several generations, to record, to make copies (no photocopy machine then) and to maintain the thousands of sutras.
Among the major world religions, Buddhism can claim that it has the most complete record of the founder’s teachings, despite being the oldest among them. This can be attributed to the strong spirit of mentor and disciple in Buddhism. Without this spirit, we will not be practicing and Buddhism would have been lost entirely. We owe the Theravada School. Big time.
More than 50 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi led an uprising against the British Empire. A small figure, soft spoken, using a stick and wearing round rim glasses, it is hard to imagine that this man can wrest independence for India from the formidable British colonial master, the empire where the sun never sets. He succeeded and when the first piece of a domino falls, the rest is history.
What was the chief weapon that Gandhi employ? Ahimsha – Non-violence. This is a philosophy that absolutely respect the humanity of each person and upholds the highest dignity of life, even those who oppose them. In this case, the British and the brutal police who often physically abused the demonstrators, leaving serious injury and sometimes death. Ahimsa led to the victory of the independent movement and provided a sound alternative to resolve conflicts in a humane way.
Yet, the philosophy of non-violence is not part of Indian society today. Violence is still the preferred means to resolve conflicts or settle scores. Why?
In both cases, it is because the spirit of the mentor, Sakyamuni and Gandhi, were not inherited by the disciples. In Sakyamuni’s case, it was deification of Sakyamuni. Gandhi, he was assassinated and his life cut short, making him unable to foster strong disciples. The followers do not share the spirit nor the fervor as the mentor. Thus, Buddhism and non-violence failed to flourish in their birthplace.
This is the reason why the spirit of mentor and disciple is given so much coverage and emphasis in Soka Gakkai. Ikeda Sensei is a charismatic leader. No doubt about it. His achievements phenomenal. Inimitable. So, the concern arises – Will Ikeda Sensei be deify and we start worshipping him? This is a real question. Very disturbing one too,
How do we ensure that this does not happen? By having a strong understanding of the spirit of mentor and disciple. By seriously studying and understanding what it means and how we can practice this Buddhism correctly, and not simply parroting Sensei’s guidance and using Sensei’s name as an empty slogan.
What about shouting Sensei’s name like in MLM (multi-level marketing) events? Is it right?
We can only say that this is often a natural expression of the members who were very moved by the actions of Mr Ikeda. We can’t say it is wrong. We should respect their way of demonstrating their feelings. Many members went through really difficult times, suicidal thoughts, stuck in a rut, in the abyss of hopelessness. But they came across a piece of guidance or being encouraged by a fellow practitioner using Sensei’s guidance. It moved them profoundly and enabled them to rise and renew their fighting spirit.
Triumphing over their difficulties, transforming their karma and becoming happy. The feelings that these individuals, millions of them, what they experienced and their relationship with the mentor cannot be easily understood or explained to new friends. Thus, to some, they see this as fanatic and equate their actions with MLM or even cult behaviour. It is very uncomfortable.
To make matters worse, we (SGM) also have large photos of Sensei in our Culture Centres in Malaysia. Perak and Selangor centers, where larger than life sizes photos are prominently displayed in the main prayer hall, like the celebrity photos on highway advertising boards. I am not kidding, go see for yourselves. To a new friend coming into such photos, it is difficult not to conclude that this is hero worship. But to many SGM members, there is nothing wrong. In fact, some leaders felt that the presence of the photo somehow make the spirit of mentor and disciple stronger among those who come into the hall. We know. Absolute rubbish.
They have, perhaps, forgotten the teachings that ‘The Law does not spread by itself. It is the people who spread the Law. Thus, both the Law and the people are respectworthy.’ Here, they are trying to spread the Law with photos. You ever notice, when a religion starts to construct grand buildings and use large photos/statues, it is the starting of the decay of the religion. Not just in Buddhism. Grand and stunning churches in Europe today are mostly tourist spots.
What we should do, instead, is to internalize the teachings and the spirit of the mentor, making it our own, manifest it in our daily lives, our work place, our family and among friends. Gaining trust through our character and showing actual proof. Our behavior and our human revolution. This is the gist of human revolution. And with the trust and confidence gain, we can spread the Law.
Why do we discuss so much about the mentor and disciple spirit here? The reason is because we want to share our point of view on the meaning of this spirit and what it is not. And most importantly, we are very concern that this very important spirit is being abused by some top leaders in SGM to force obedient, to create fear and to stop rational people from asking legitimate questions about governance.