As some of you likely know, Soka Gakkai has, for several years, been pushing the Mentor and Disciple as the essence of not only the Lotus Sutra, but all of Buddhism. In recent guidance, it was suggested that a lack of this element was the common factor of all the misleading Buddhist Sects. For the past few years, I have been trying to research the historical role of the Master and Disciple Relationship in Buddhism. I have accumulated a lot of information that still needs to be unpacked and sorted out.

For now, I have a few thoughts. To begin with, the concept Soka Gakkai points to is 師弟不二 {shidi buer /shitei funi}. Oddly, their own on line dictionary has no entry for this. There is not even an entry for disciple. The concept of oneness, not two, or non-duality; advaya 無二 {muni} or advaita 不二 {funi} is significant in Buddhism. I have found many expressions of non-duality. There is, for example, the list of 十不二門 {Shiber ermen /jippu nimon} or Ten Non-dualities, assembled by Tiantai Patriarch 妙楽 Miao-lo (711-782) in The Annotations on The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra. However, 師弟不二 {shidi buer /shitei funi} is not among those ten.

The only sources I can find for 師弟不二 {shidi buer /shitei funi} are Soka Gakkai and Nichiren Shoshu. My best guess right now is that the concept of non-duality of master and disciple was invented by a Nichiren Shoshu Taisekiji Chief Minister named 日寛 聖人 Nichikan Shonin (1665–1726). It originally referred to a special relationship between the founder 日蓮聖者 Nichiren (1222–1282) and 日興聖人 Nikko Shonin (1246–1333), who was the founding Chief Minister of Taisekji Temple. By extension, the successive Chief Ministers of Taisekiji are alleged to speak with the same authority as the founding master, Nichiren. Master or 師 {shi}, in this sense, carries several shades of meaning; including that of propriety / ownership. BTW, I shall attempt to cover the nuances of the term master in a future post.

In Soka Gakkai, President Daisaku Ikeda (1928-?)is, of course, the living Master. The Gakkai presently prefers to use the trendy term Mentor. This carries more of a connotation of role model; which fits. However, the concept of a mentor also implies hands on, face to face, teaching and coaching. Few of Ikeda’s proteges have had the good fortune of even minimal contact with their mentor. My view is that Ikeda is largely pitched as heroic figure, a concept that is not at all foreign to Buddhism. One of the laudatory terms for Shakyamuni Buddha is Mahavira 世英 {seyo} or 世雄 {seo}. That is another concept I’d like to explore more in a future entry.

That said, Mr. Ikeda is very much the proprietor and doctrinal authority in Soka Gakkai. That is just something SGI prefers to dance around. In SGI, the non-duality or oneness of the hero and his followers is expressed differently; as it appears to primarily apply to the relationship between President Ikeda and the members of SGI. This is very egalitarian in word. However, in practice, the non-duality is almost literal. The members are not expected to take any personal executive initiative; that is discouraged rather forcefully. It is the task of leaders and members to promote the mentor-in-chief. It looks to me like Ikeda is trying to replicate himself through others; a concept one finds in corporate and direct sales leadership manuals; and a way of using other people’s time and money to one’s own advantage.

The underlying concept appears to be Ikeda’s relationship with his own mentor, Josei Toda (1900); as well as that between Toda and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944). There are some logical gaps here. Who was Makiguchi’s Mentor? There is is also an implication that Ikeda would transfer the lineage to an individual. However, they are presently floating the concept of Three Eternal Presidents, implying that this specific lineage ends with Ikeda.

Finally, the concept of Master and Disciple does have a place in Buddhism. It starts out as a kind of spiritual friendship; a collegial situation in which the teacher and aspirant are implicitly equal, even though the term advaya or non-duality is not explicitly employed
to define the relationship. After the Buddha’s passing, a seniority system developed. Over time, we see all the nuances of meaning of master and disciple made manifest.  A master can be an expert, a mentor / personal coach, a hero, a preceptor, or a proprietor / boss. The disciple can be candidate for expertise — like an apprentice, or a protogee,  a client, a devoted follower, a subject / parishioner, or a servant / property. I hope to explore this more in the near to intermediate future.

  • Guru: Guide; from darkness to light.
  • Thera: 長老 {choro} or 先生 {sensei} senior, elder.
  • Bhante: Venerable.
  • Acharya: 阿闍梨 {ajari} teacher by example.
  • Shastri: 師 {shi} expert.
  • Pati: 波帝 {bodi/hata} proprietor; ruler or lord.
  • Upadhyaya: 烏波儞也 {? /ubadai}  Preceptor.
  • Mahavira: 世英 {seyo} or 世雄 {seo} Hero of the World.
  • Lokanatha: 世尊 {seson} World-honored One.
  • Bhagavan : 世尊 {seson} Blessed one.