A speech Tim gave recently in Japan.Posted on December 2, 2010
By Tim Janakos
The religion, Buddhism originated from the desire of one person to understand why people were suffering and how they could overcome their sufferings and create value in their lives. The historical Buddha was a prince in India, who left his kingdom, giving up his father’s wish for him to become king. He made this decision during his youth, when he discovered that people all around his kingdom were suffering, from things such as sickness, old age and death. He searched everywhere for answers to why people suffered and how he could help them overcome those sufferings. What he discovered after many years is that all the answers to all of life’s problems come from within a person’s own life.
In the 1200s in Japan, Nichiren Daishonin, at a very young age, was also deeply troubled by why there were so many people suffering in Japan. He wanted to know why there were so many problems occurring all over the country. It was this desire to solve the problems people faced that led him to study at many temples in Japan, to see if he could find the solution in the teachings of Buddhism. What he found by studying the Buddhist sutras is that all of the problems he was witnessing in Japan, where exactly as predicted in the Buddhist sutras. He found that because people were unaware of the truth about Buddhist teachings, they were actually causing all of the problems that were occurring. Nichiren set out, after many years of study, to correct the problems of Japanese society, so that people could overcome their own sufferings.
In a writing of protest he sent to the Kamakura government entitled, Risho On Koku Ron, Nichiren outlined, based on the teachings of Buddhism, why each problem had occurred in Japanese society. He demonstrated that it was what Buddhism called the 3 poisons (Greed, Hostility and Ignorance) that were at the root of all environmental problems (such as droughts and earthquakes), social problems (such as in-family fighting and wars between different people) and internal problems (such as sickness and suffering). He said that only by ridding people of these poisons, by practicing the highest teachings of Buddhism, would Japanese society be cured of its many problems. In order to teach people the truth, it was also important that Nichiren also pointed out the many falsehoods that had been perpetrated in the name of Buddhism by priests that were not interesting in helping people become happy, but were only interested in Buddhism to gain social and political power.
Nichiren found, when he tried to teach people about the truth, that many people in power resented him for educating others, and they wielded their powers to try to stop him. For his selfless desire to save all people from their sufferings, he was first exiled from the capital of Kamakura to the Izu Peninsula, and later taken to Tatsunokuchi Beach to have his head cut off. However, when the government’s executioners failed to kill him at Tatsunokuchi, they instead exiled him to Sado Island, off of Niigata, hoping he would either die there or be killed by the many people living there who were opposed to his teachings. Despite all of these challenges, Nichiren realized, at the very place of his failed execution and during his exiles, that a person who is awakened to the fundamental law of life, which Buddhism teaches, is unstoppable, and that person can never fail to be victorious in life. No matter what challenges they face, they will become happy and help others become happy.
On Sado Island, Nichiren only grew stronger in his conviction to be the only hope for the Japanese people, at a time in Japan’s history of unprecedented famine, drought, natural disasters and soon an invasion of Japan by Mongol Forces. Because the government finally came to accept the fact that what Nichiren was teaching was true, and his many predictions, based on the Sutras, were actually manifesting, they finally pardoned him and allowed him to establish his own school of Buddhism. Shortly after this, the Mongol Forces that were invading Japan were almost all wiped out by storm waves and the rest fled.
Almost 700 years later, shortly before World War II, two educators were trying to reform the educational establishment in Japan, to make it a cause for the happiness of students, rather than using students as instruments of the state authorities. These two educators came upon the Buddhist philosophy of Nichiren and decided that this philosophy was the only hope at saving the people of Japan, who were being forced to take part as pawns in a war machine, which was threatening to invade many other countries. Like Nichiren, these two educators Mr. Makiguchi and Toda were persecuted harshly by the military government of Japan and were sent to prison as thought criminals for their opposition to the war. Though the first president of the Soka Gakkai, Mr. Makiguchi died in prison, and the second president, Mr. Toda’s health was severely damaged in prison, after the war ended, Toda was released from prison, and he vowed to create of movement of self-empowered people who would change Japan’s history through the practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. He thus reconstructed the Soka Gakkai that Makiguchi had first established and decided that it would be a religious society open to all people.
When Daisaku Ikeda, at the age of 19 was invited to a lecture by the 2nd president of the Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda, he was searching desperately (like Shakyamuni, Nichiren, Makiguchi and Toda had previously done) for the answers to why life was so full of suffering and what he could do to change it. At this time, young Daisaku was suffering from childhood tuberculosis and his older brother had been killed in the war. The whole country was devastated by war. He found, through following the advise of his mentor, Mr. Toda, that like Shakyamuni and Nichiren had taught, the source of all solutions to life’s problems comes from within one’s own life. He learned that the title of the final sutra of Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra, contained a secret formula that was shared by all Buddhas in history and it was the source of all Buddhas’ enlightenment. It was a source of light that could lighten any darkness.
Like the 5 part formula, “E equals M C Squared,” which was utilized to split an atom and unleash an extremely powerful energy, unknown to people throughout history, this 5 part formula, “Nam Myo-ho Ren-ge Kyo” was able to unleash an even more powerful energy that existed in the consciousness of all people. Daisaku Ikeda has dedicated his life to fulfilling his mentor’s wish, and shortly after Toda passed away, Daisaku Ikeda, as the 3rd president of the Soka Gakkai began traveling the world to spread the wisdom of Nichiren Buddhism, which he learned from his mentor, Toda, to people all over the world.
My mother first heard about this Nichiren Buddhism, though the Soka Gakkai when she was only 21 years old and I was almost a year old. Like many young people in the US at the time, she and my father were very disgusted with the US government’s war against the people of Vietnam and they were searching for the answers to why there were so many suffering people in the world. Like many hippies in the late 60s and early 70s, my father was sure he had found the answer to life’s problems in drugs and in a hippy life style of disassociating with normal American society.
My mother on the other hand was not satisfied with that life style and she searched for happiness in many different religions, until she eventually found the Soka Gakkai. She had grown up in a Catholic family, but she did not see any solution in the Christian faith to her parent’s constant fighting. As she began practicing this Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai in Orange County, Southern California, in the early 70s, she saw that her father’s abusiveness toward her mother was a form of family karma that she too shared with her husband, my father. The more she tried to become happy by practicing Buddhism, the more abusive my father became. Like the Kamakura government who tried to stop Nichiren from becoming happy and from teaching others to become happy, and like the militarist government of the early 1930s that came down upon Makiguchi and Toda, and like the government of Japan that falsely imprisoned President Ikeda in the summer of 1957, my father came down hard on my mother, beating her and even ripping up her first Gohonzon and destroying her first Butsudan. Luckily, however, after my mom was so desperate, she had the police arrest my father for drug dealing and she was able to finally escape his abuse.
She ran away, with my older brother and I, to another part of Southern California, and she changed our names, so my father couldn’t find us for over 30 years. Despite having to work a few jobs to keep my brother and I alive, my mother managed to survive for almost 6 years as a single parent, raising two very wild boys. Luckily, she found a new husband in the Soka Gakkai, who was willing to help her raise my older brother and I. She was able with his help and her Buddhist practice with the SGI to have 3 more children and to raise a happy and healthy family.
Although I was raised in the Soka Gakkai, I didn’t really start practicing Buddhism strongly, until I realized that it could help me accomplish my dreams, and with it, I could change the world. I was an angry child who fought a lot with my stepfather. He being from a military upbringing with strict rules, and I being raised by a hippy mother, who didn’t have any rules, it was inevitable that our opposing values would clash. We both had a lot of anger that we were able to expiate on each other, and this time my mom was saved. I also had a lot of anger for US society, US culture and the US government, which I felt was very unfair and corrupt. I was a very poor child raised in a somewhat rich community. However, I always lived in the poorest part of that community, with mostly immigrant families that didn’t speak English, so along with being mad at the inequalities of society, I was also picked on for being one of the only Caucasian kids in my apartments. I also had an older brother who was, like I, a punk rocker, who with his friends used to love beating me up. By getting in many fights with the Mexican children in my neighborhood, I learned only the bad words of Spanish. However, I never became racist, and although I fought with them, I also had many Spanish-speaking friends, and I felt they were victims just like I was for being different and for being poor.
I, like many poor kids in my neighborhood, got involved in many bad things, like shoplifting, drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, throughout my junior high school days. Even though I never listened to my teachers at school or my stepfather, for some reason I always liked reading the guidance of Daisaku Ikeda and listening to my youth leaders in the Soka Gakkai. It was through one of Daisaku Ikeda’s writings, which I read many times during my junior high school days that I was able to drastically change my life. In this writing, President Ikeda wrote, “…modern music is slowly deteriorating. It has lost the spirit of humanism and no longer has the power to inspire vitality and hope for the future. How unfortunate that the level of modern music has led youth on the path to delinquency. When music plays such a role, its function must be called evil.”
I really loved music, and even though I listened to a lot of very angry and anti-socially, punk rock music, I also still loved the music my mom raised me on, much of which was music from the 60s and 70s about love and peace. I was forced through this writing by President Ikeda to look at my life and at the influences that were effecting my actions. Through learning about the law of cause and effect, I realized that I had to reform my own actions. I couldn’t just chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo to improve my karma and hope for positive results, if I also continued shoplifting and doing many other bad things. One positive action would simply be cancelled out by another negative action. I also realized that being involved in drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana wouldn’t help me escape the suffering of my life. Over time, I realized that in fact it was actually intensified my own suffering.
I realized at this very young age that I wanted to be a singer, a songwriter, and a writer of books. I decided to tap into my own unique potential and channel my anger and sadness into learning how to play music and eventually learning how to write my own music. Also from reading President Ikeda’s writings, I realized that if I wanted to be a great writer, I had to read many great books and I had to study many things about the world. Therefore, I made a concerted effort to do better in school and to studied many subjects. I also started chanting that my parents would move out of our very rundown apartment and into a house, which after a few years, they did. This move also allowed me to disassociate with many of the bad kids I had previously hung around with.
Though early forms of Buddhism teach that karma is a negative thing people have to endure, because they made many bad causes in past existences, the final teachings of Buddhism, which are contained in the Lotus Sutra, teach that in fact, Bodhisattvas of the Earth, (those people who were prophesied in the Lotus Sutra to be born during the present day, to transform this world into a peaceful place) chose their respective karma out of compassion to save people on Earth from their sufferings. Therefore, I believe I chose in my past existences to be born poor and to be born in such an environment that would allow me to see through many of the lies of our current world and to have empathy for those who are suffering from injustice and inequality.
I realized that the story of my life could be a lesson for many young rebellious kids, to help them learn a way out of their delinquency. With this realization, I decided I needed to write about the story of my life. I decided to write the story of my life as a novel, because many of the things I was involved in during my junior high school days were things that many people would be too shocked to believe really occurred in a junior high school kid’s life. I also decided to place the characters in my novel in high school, because for many people, it would seem more realistic. Though my novel isn’t 100% autobiographical, it does cover the story of many stages of my life all compacted into the first year of a high school student’s life.
Along with writing this book and others, I have also learned through my practice of Buddhism to tap into my innate ability to write music, and I have thus far written over 30 original songs and I have recorded about 20 of those songs, some of which have been played on radio stations in Sendai and in my home town of Orange County, California. Though my success in writing and music is still very limited, and I have to instead teach English in junior high schools, for the time being to make a living, I know that through the practice of this Buddhism with the Soka Gakkai that all of my dreams will eventually be accomplished.
Though I still have a lot of anger, especially for the many injustices in the world, I have seen that my song writing over the years has drastically changed, so has my writing of books and poems. I was a very lonely person growing up and many of the first songs I wrote were very sad and dark songs. Now however, along with writing songs and books about many problems in the world, I have also written many very happy songs that express my hope for humanity. In fact, my wife often tells me that I am “too positive.” Her parents were actually really worried about her marrying me at first, because no matter what troubles I faced, I always smiled and said “daijoubu (Japanese for ‘no problem’).” This is because my practice of Buddhism over the years has shown me that every problem that comes my way is actually a benefit in disguise. Every obstacle is really an opportunity for me to grow more and to strengthen my own life. Though my problems have been varied and many, I have still not been exile or been sent to a beach to have my head cut off, like Nichiren Daishonin. And even though I did go to jail once, unlike President Toda and President Makiguchi, my life wasn’t greatly threatened there, and I unlike the 3 presidents of the Soka Gakkai, who were all falsely imprisoned, I was put in jail due to my own negligence.
I think the greatest thing I have learned from Buddhism over the years is a quote that president Ikeda often quotes from the Lotus Sutra. I also used this quote in my novel. In this quote the historical Buddha of India, Shakyamuni said to one of his top disciples, “Shariputra, you should know that at the start I took a vow, hoping to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.” The reason why I chose at a very young age to make Daisaku Ikeda my mentor in life is because he teaches that all people are equal, and through his tremendous actions and his seemingly impossible victories, he shows me that my own potential as a human being is also unlimited.
I hope that you will all learn from the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Makiguchi, Toda and Ikeda that you too all have infinite potential to realize all your dreams and to overcome all of your problems and sufferings. I hope that you discover that through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, that you can uses your own unique personality and your unique circumstances as an opportunity to transform your life and eventually transform the world. I would like to end with a quote from President Ikeda’s novel, the Human Revolution.
“A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation, and further, can even enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.” - Daisaku Ikeda