Life of Tatsuko Sugiyama: The Challenge of a Female Practitioner of the Lotus Sutra in the Saha World.
By Yoshitaka Hoyo Sugisaki
*This speech was delivered at the
International Conclave on Buddhism and Spiritual Tourism in New Delhi on Feb. 17,
Namu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo (three times)
Introduction of Daijokyo
Venerable Bhikku Maha Sangha,
Honorable Minister for Tourism and Culture, Government of India,
Distinguished Guests, Learned Delegates, Brothers, Sisters and Friends:
I am extremely delighted to have this opportunity to exchange with you our views on Buddhism and World Peace, representing Daijokyo both in India and Japan.
At the beginning I chanted ‘Namu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo’ three times. Literally, ‘Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo’ means the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra, a close translation of the Sanskrit title Saddharma-pundarika-sutra. The word ‘Namu’ or ‘Nama’ literally means devotion. This word is placed at the beginning of the title of the Lotus Sutra, meaning – ‘I devote my life to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.’
Daijokyo is a lay-Buddhist organization founded 90 years ago in Japan by the late Reverend Tatsuko Sugiyama. We deeply believe in Sakyamuni Buddha, the Saddharma-pundarika-sutra or the Lotus Sutra, and the words of Founder Sugiyama, who is thought to undertake the important tasks of the Supratisthitacaritra bodhisattva which are described in Chapter 15 of the Sutra.
The Theme: Buddhism and World Peace
The theme of this session, “Buddhism and World Peace,” is very important and at the same time very difficult to discuss.
But since I have been asked to comment on this theme within 10 minutes, perhaps I had better mention what Reverend Sugiyama did in her lifetime, since all her efforts were focused on actually making Sakyamuni-Buddha’s teachings in the Lotus Sutra meaningful in the social context of early twentieth-century Japan.
Establishment of Daijokyo
Reverend Sugiyama spent 30 years of her bodhisattva-career applying the teachings of the Buddha to social problems through acts of Dana, or deeds based on her understanding of Compassion (Jihi), Right Conduct (Makoto) and Patience (Kannin). For instance:
- She established several institutions for the needy and orphaned.
- She regularly gave lectures on Buddhism for headmasters of local elementary schools, in the firm conviction that religious education at an early age is vital for the wholesome development of children.
- She organized an ‘ashram’ for young adolescents who had troubles in their families, giving them important experience in agriculture and Buddhist study.
- With her first disciple, Dr. Itsuki Murakami of Aichi Medical College, she built private hospitals for leprosy patients.
- She provided huge quantities of food and medicine for people suffering in the aftermath of disaster, including the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, which destroyed the Tokyo metropolitan area and killed about 100,000 people.
While giving religious instruction to her followers, Reverend Sugiyama carried out these social activities, in fact naming her organization for carrying out the salvation of people in suffering “Daijo” or the Mahayana. By thus establishing Daijokyo, Reverend Sugiyama sought to embody her belief that Buddhism must always be a guiding principle for those living in present-day society.
Role of Bodhisattvas: To Make Buddhism Relevant to Our World
The Lotus Sutra says,
It is hard to preserve the True Dharma in the age of degenerate Dharma.
If anyone preserves it even for a single moment,
The Buddha shall truly rejoice…. – Chapter 11
Though it is needless to quote these words, sometimes it is very difficult for us to preserve the True Dharma because of social problems, including prejudice, discrimination and war. Anyone who practices teachings of the Buddha exactly as the Lotus Sutra says encounters obstacles and troubles. Reverend Sugiyama was no exception.
Perhaps she experienced more troubles than monks who were her contemporaries, because she was a woman and a lay-practitioner of Mahayana Buddhism. Perhaps she spent much more time explaining how irrational and unjust it is to discriminate against leprosy patients than she did actually taking care of them with Dr. Murakami in their hospitals.
At the age of 65, Reverend Tatsuko Sugiyama passed away, without fulfilling her lifetime dream of building a Great Buddha Statue for world peace. Her followers who succeeded to her organization built a Buddha Statue 18 feet tall, in tribute to her and in prayer for world peace. The Statue was completely destroyed by the then-military government in 1944. In the following year two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.
Now, 70 years after her entry to nirvana, the late Reverend Sugiyama is considered one of the pioneers in blending the teachings of the Buddha uniquely with social welfare programmes in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, although she did not consider herself a social activist and was always a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra. Some of the tasks that she did well simply fit the present notion of “social welfare” and “volunteer activities.” Beyond time and space, her dream of erecting a Great Buddha Statue finally came true as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the 14TH of Tibet, in 1989 inaugurated the eighty-feet-tall Great Buddha Statue in Bodh Gaya, the holiest of holies for all Buddhists.
In conclusion, Daijokyo plays a major role in propagating Buddhism in Japan as well as in India,
by establishing temples and vocational centers,
helping suffering people with proper medicines
and constructing the eighty-feet-tall Great Buddha Statue in Bodh Gaya, India.
We pray and hope this Great Buddha Statue, as a symbol of world peace and happiness, will inspire people in the world to follow the teachings of the Buddha for centuries to come.
May all beings be happy
May peace prevail in the world.
I am extremely grateful and thankful to the Government of India for giving me this honour for a noble cause. Thank you.
Namu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo (three times)