The Essentials for Attaining Buddhahood - Transforming Poison into Beneficial Medicine

To hope to attain Buddhahood without speaking out against slander is as futile as trying to find water in the midst of fire or fire in the midst of water… just as a single crab leg will ruin a thousand pots of lacquer. This is the meaning of the passage in the sutra, “Because the poison has penetrated deeply and their minds no longer function as before”.

(The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Vol 1, p747)

Written in August 1276 at Mount Minobu, this letter was thought to have been addressed to a follower known as the lay priest Soya.

Lay priest Soya was a samurai and began practicing faith after directly listening to Nichiren Daishonin’s preaching. He was financially sound and rendered precious assistance to the Daishonin in many aspects.

In summary, the Daishonin revealed in this Gosho that “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is the teaching that will enable all people to attain Buddhahood and that the teacher of the Latter Day of the Law who propagated this teaching was none other than Nichiren Daishonin himself.


First, let us understand what constitutes slander.

From the perspective of Nichiren Buddhism, slander is the act of going against the life-affirming philosophy of the Mystic Law, which teaches that every person has the Buddha nature. The teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Lotus Sutra expound the vital principle that every person has the Buddha nature and therefore, everyone can become a Buddha.

This principle not only highlights the immense dignity of all lives but also clarifies the way to achieve peace and happiness for all people, that is, by enabling every person to awaken to and manifest their Buddha nature.

However, existing within all human lives is our fundamental darkness, which seeks to create human sufferings by blinding, deluding and causing people to disbelieve the Buddha nature within their lives.

For example, fundamental darkness can manifest as the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity, which make people disbelieve that the Buddha nature exist within their own lives and the lives of other people.

Overwhelmed by the three poisons, people are unable to bring forth the virtues and strength of their Buddha nature – wisdom, courage and compassion – to overcome their sufferings and evil tendencies.

Instead, under the control of the three poisons, people commit evil acts that kill, maim, hurt and cause sufferings to one and others. Such evil acts constitute acts of slander.

Teachings that go against the principle of inherent dignity and Buddha nature within human lives expounded in Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra are therefore considered as slanderous teachings.

The passage we are studying this month is the portion whereby the principle of “refuting the erroneous and revealing the true” is explained.

Lacquer is a traditional varnish that is used as a solvent that gives a finishing shine on wooden furniture. It is said that if a crab is placed inside lacquer, the lacquer will be contaminated and can no longer be used.

To use another analogy, faith can be likened to pure water. Just like a bowl of pure water, even one single drop of poison will contaminate it.

This is precisely why one who teaches Buddhism must also teach the frightful nature of the poison of slander.

Let’s say for instance, there are two bottles of liquid – one is poison, the other is medicine. It is not sufficient to inform others which bottle is the medicine. Merely stating that “this bottle is the medicine” will not prevent others from consuming the poison by mistake. We must clearly say, “This bottle contains poisons, please do not consume it.” Without stating this clearly, there will still be a possibility that someone may mistakenly consume the poison.

It is for this reason that the Daishonin taught here that clearly teaching others about the poison is being uncompassionate.

Likewise, the phrase “speaking out against slander” means to “teach others about the frightfulness of poison”.

“Speaking out against slander” is equivalent to teaching others about the frightfulness of poison and therefore, such acts are based on the spirit of compassion. With genuine compassion, one will be able to attain Buddhahood.

The same principle applies for the practice of propagation. Why is it important that we introduce Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism to others?

The practice of propagation entails two aspects. One aspect is to teach others about the beneficial power of medicine (through teaching them the correct teachings of Nichiren Buddhism) and the other aspect is to teach them not to consume the poison (erroneous thoughts) at the same time.

By speaking to others about these two aspects, one is at the same time eradicating the “poison” of erroneous thoughts and negativities that exist in one’s life.

In other words, while convincing others about the correct teachings of Daishonin’s Buddhism, one is engraving these teachings in one’s life, thereby bringing forth one’s Buddha nature as a result.

This is why by carrying out the practice of propagation, one can transform the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity into medicine and thereby change one’s karma as a result.

SGI President Ikeda said, “As long as Buddhism is a philosophy that teaches the inherent dignity of human life, it is crucial that its practitioners strive resolutely against those tendencies that promote disrespect for human life, discrimination, and the destruction of life. Unless we put a stop to evil, we cannot achieve genuine, lasting good. Likewise, unless we take a firm stand against slander and error in terms of Buddhism, we will not be able to attain Buddhahood.”

In this way, our movement for kosen-rufu (peace and happiness for all people) seeks to spread the philosophy that teaches the inherent dignity of human life while transforming the tendencies that promote disrespect for human life in oneself and others.