Chapter 3: Faith and Practice
1. Three Proofs
The three proofs are three criteria for determining the correct teaching for leading people to absolute happiness. They demonstrate that the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin is the teaching that makes it possible for all people in the Latter Day of the Law to attain buddhahood in this lifetime.
The three proofs are documentary proof, theoretical proof, and actual proof.
Documentary proof means that a religion’s doctrines are based upon or in accord with its foundational scriptures.
Nichiren Daishonin writes, “One should accept what is clearly stated in the text of the sutras, but discard anything that cannot be supported by the text” (WND-1, 109). Doctrines not supported by documentary proof amount to no more than arbitrary interpretations or opinions. In the case of Buddhism, all doctrines must be supported by the sutras, or the teachings expounded by Shakyamuni. In the Soka Gakkai, the writings of Nichiren Daishonin, who practiced and embodied the essence of the Lotus Sutra, serve as documentary proof.
Theoretical proof, or proof of reason, means that a religion’s doctrines and assertions are compatible with reason and logic. The Daishonin writes, “Buddhism is reason” (WND-1, 839). Buddhism respects and values reason. One should not, therefore, accept irrational arguments or interpretations.
Actual proof means that belief and practice of a religion’s doctrines produce positive results in one’s life and daily affairs and in society.
Religion is not just an abstraction; it exerts a powerful influence on people’s lives. We can judge the merits of a religion by examining this actual impact on people and society.
The Daishonin writes: “In judging the relative merit of Buddhist doctrines, I, Nichiren, believe that the best standards are those of reason and documentary proof. And even more valuable than reason and documentary proof is the proof of actual fact” (WND-1, 599). As is clear from this statement, the Daishonin valued actual proof above all other forms of proof. This is because the original aim of Buddhism is to help people become happy.
A religion is not truly credible if it lacks any of these three forms of proof—documentary proof; reason, or theoretical proof; and actual proof. To use an analogy, to be deemed safe and effective, any medicine must have a list of ingredients and their effects (documentary proof), be supported by a logical explanation for being effective (theoretical proof), and when taken, show real results in relieving the ailment it is intended to treat (actual proof).
Nichiren Buddhism has a basis that is objective and universally acceptable in terms of both theory and practical results.
2. Faith, Practice, and Study
The purpose of Nichiren Buddhism is to enable us to transform our lives. There are three basic elements in applying its teachings: faith, practice, and study.
Faith means belief in the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin—the correct teaching of the Latter Day of the Law—and in the Gohonzon, its ultimate expression. The central ingredient of Buddhist practice is faith.
Practice refers to concrete efforts to transform and develop our lives.
Study means learning and inquiring into the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism. It provides us with guiding principles for proper faith and practice, helping us strengthen our practice and deepen our faith.
Correct practice of Nichiren Buddhism must include all three of these elements.
In “The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” the Daishonin says:
“Believe in the Gohonzon, the supreme object of devotion in all of Jambudvipa [the entire world]. Be sure to strengthen your faith, and receive the protection of Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the buddhas of the ten directions. Exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism. You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others. Both practice and study arise from faith. Teach others to the best of your ability, even if it is only a single sentence or phrase.”(WND-1, 386)
Faith is belief and acceptance—believing in and accepting a buddha’s teaching. Such faith is the foundation for attaining the life state of buddhahood.
In the Lotus Sutra, it is taught that even Shariputra, who was known as foremost in wisdom among Shakyamuni’s disciples, could only grasp the essence of the sutra’s teaching through faith. In the “Simile and Parable” (3rd) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, we find the passage “Even you, Shariputra, in the case of this sutra were able to gain entrance through faith alone” (LSOC, 109–10). This is the principle of gaining entrance through faith alone.
Only through faith can we attain the same great wisdom and life state as the buddha. When we believe in and accept a buddha’s teaching, we can understand for the first time the correctness of the Buddhist philosophy of life.
Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, inscribed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the fundamental Law of the universe to which he had awakened, in the form of the Gohonzon. In other words, in the Gohonzon, he revealed his enlightened life state of buddhahood for the sake of all people in the Latter Day of the Law.
Therefore, the most important thing in practicing Nichiren Buddhism is having deep faith in the Gohonzon as the object of devotion for attaining the life state of buddhahood. When we have faith in the Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can tap the power of the Mystic Law in our lives and firmly establish the life state of buddhahood within us.
Practice is the concrete actions we engage in based on faith in the Gohonzon.
Nichiren Buddhism teaches that buddhahood, a life state of boundless wisdom and compassion, is inherent within our own lives.
The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to manifest our innate buddhahood and attain a state of absolute happiness. To tap this latent potential and bring it to function in our lives, concrete efforts to transform and develop ourselves are essential. If we are to reveal our buddhahood, we need to continue making efforts that accord with reason and correct Buddhist principles. This is what is referred to as practice.
Practice has two aspects—practice for ourselves and practice for others. These are compared to the two wheels of a cart: our practice must have both of these aspects to advance properly.
Practice for ourselves means striving to gain personal benefit from practicing Nichiren Buddhism. Practice for others is teaching others about Buddhism so that they may also receive benefit.
The Daishonin states: “Now, however, we have entered the Latter Day of the Law, and the daimoku that I, Nichiren, chant is different from that of earlier ages. This Nam-myoho-renge-kyo encompasses both practice for oneself and the teaching of others” (WND-2, 986).
In the Latter Day of the Law, both our practice for ourselves—seeking personal enlightenment—and our practice for others—sharing Buddhism with others so that they may also attain enlightenment—are based on practicing the fundamental teaching for attaining buddhahood, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Therefore, correct practice in Nichiren Buddhism encompasses both these forms of practice. It consists of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon while also teaching others about the benefit of faith in the Gohonzon and encouraging them to practice as well.
Specifically, practice for ourselves means doing gongyo (reciting excerpts of the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo), and practice for others means sharing and spreading the teachings of Buddhism. In addition, the various activities we carry out as Soka Gakkai members for the sake of kosen-rufu also constitute practice for others.
The Daily Practice of Gongyo and Efforts to Spread the Teachings
Gongyo refers to reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo before the Gohonzon. This is the first of the two aspects of the practice for transforming our lives.
Comparing the practice of gongyo to polishing a mirror, the Daishonin writes:
“This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”(WND-1, 4)
As this metaphor indicates, the mirror itself doesn’t change, but when it is polished, the way that it functions changes. Similarly, through our continuous daily practice of gongyo, we can polish and strengthen our lives and positively transform the way they function.
Referring to the importance of spreading the correct teaching of Buddhism, the Daishonin states in “The True Aspect of All Phenomena”: “You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others. . . . Teach others to the best of your ability, even if it is only a single sentence or phrase” (WND-1, 386). And in “Letter to Jakunichi-bo” he says, “Those who become Nichiren’s disciples and lay believers should realize the profound karmic relationship they share with him and spread the Lotus Sutra as he does” (WND-1, 994).
It is important that we seek not only to transform our own state of life through our daily practice of gongyo, but to share the teachings of Buddhism with others, even if only a single word, aiming for the happiness of both ourselves and others.
Such efforts help deepen our own faith and practice as well as activate the altruistic life states of bodhisattva and buddhahood within us—motivating us to work for the happiness and well-being of others. They enable us to become genuine disciples of Nichiren Daishonin. Along with doing gongyo, efforts to spread the teachings of Buddhism are also a powerful force for transforming our lives.
The Lotus Sutra states:
“If one of these good men or good women in the time after I have passed into extinction is able to secretly expound the Lotus Sutra to one person, even one phrase of it, then you should know that he or she is the envoy of the Thus Come One [the Buddha]. He has been dispatched by the Thus Come One and carries out the Thus Come One’s work.” (LSOC, 200–01)
Based on this passage, the Daishonin declares, “One who recites even one word or phrase of the Lotus Sutra and who speaks about it to another person is the emissary of Shakyamuni Buddha, lord of the teachings” (WND-1, 331).
In other words, the efforts we make in our practice for others’ happiness are truly noble: they constitute the behavior and practice of the buddha, which we carry out as the buddha’s emissaries.
Primary Practice and Supporting Practice
Our morning and evening practice of gongyo is a central pillar of our efforts to transform our lives.
In gongyo, we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon and recite excerpts portions of the Lotus Sutra—an extract from the “Expedient Means” (2nd) chapter and the verse section of the “Life Span” (16th) chapter.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon is fundamental; it is therefore called the “primary practice.”
Reciting the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters helps bring forth the benefit of the primary practice; it is therefore called the supporting practice.
The reason we recite the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters is that these are the two most important chapters of the Lotus Sutra, which opens the way to enlightenment for all people. The “Expedient Means” chapter explains the true aspect of all phenomena, the central doctrine of the theoretical teaching, or first fourteen chapters, of the Lotus Sutra. The “Life Span” chapter reveals the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment in the remote past, the central doctrine of the essential teaching, or latter fourteen chapters, of the sutra. The Daishonin writes, “If you recite the ‘Life Span’ and ‘Expedient Means’ chapters, then the remaining chapters will naturally be included even though you do not recite them” (WND-1, 71).
Explaining the relationship between the primary practice and supporting practice, Nichikan1, compared them to food and seasoning, respectively. He compared it to how, when eating rice or noodles, the primary source of nourishment, seasonings such as salt or vinegar are used to enhance, or supplement, the flavor. In similar fashion, reciting the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters, he said, helps bring forth the profound benefit of the primary practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is why it is called the supporting practice.2
In reciting the “Expedient Means” and “Life Span” chapters, then, we praise and enhance the beneficial power of the Gohonzon.
Study is the study of the Buddhist teachings, primarily reading the writings of Nichiren Daishonin and studying the correct principles and doctrines of Nichiren Buddhism. Through such study, we can develop a deeper, more solid faith, and also ensure that we practice correctly.
Without Buddhist study we are at risk of lapsing into our own personal interpretations of Buddhism and may easily be deceived by those presenting erroneous teachings.
As the Daishonin affirms when he writes, “Both practice and study arise from faith” (WND-1, 386), faith is the foundation of study.
President Toda said: “Faith seeks understanding, and understanding deepens faith.”3 The purpose of studying and deepening our understanding of Buddhism, as he notes, is to deepen our faith.
The Daishonin urges his disciples to study his writings over and over. He writes, for instance, “Have him read this letter again and again, and listen attentively” (WND-1, 1031). In addition, he praises the seeking spirit of disciples who asked him questions about the Buddhist teachings.
Nikko Shonin, the Daishonin’s direct disciple and successor, stated: “Followers of this school should engrave the writings of the Daishonin in their lives” (GZ, 1618)4 and “Those of insufficient Buddhist learning who are bent on obtaining fame and fortune are not qualified to call themselves my followers” (GZ, 1618).5 In this way, he encourages us to study the Daishonin’s writings.
3. Faith for Overcoming Obstacles
Life is invariably accompanied by difficulties. And in our struggles for kosen-rufu, we are sure to encounter hardships and obstacles. In this section, we explore the various kinds of obstacles and hindrances that will arise in the process of carrying out our Buddhist practice and affirm the significance of faith for overcoming obstacles.
Because our aim is to attain buddhahood in this lifetime, it is important that we maintain our Buddhist faith and practice throughout our lives. However, Buddhism teaches that as we continue to persevere in our practice, obstacles and difficulties will arise without fail to obstruct us. It is crucial, then, that we be prepared for these and strive to establish faith that cannot be compromised by any problem or adversity.
Why is it, then, that a person who upholds the correct teaching encounters obstacles?
First, it is because to believe in and practice the correct teaching with the aim of developing the life state of buddhahood means transforming one’s life at the deepest level. And while any change or reformation will be met with some resistance, Buddhist practice in particular arouses strong opposition to change from within our own lives or our relationships with others. This may be compared to the way the resistance of the water on the hull of a moving boat produces waves.
The hindrances that arise as we practice Buddhism for the purpose of attaining enlightenment are often categorized as the three obstacles and four devils. In addition to these, the Lotus Sutra teaches that a votary of the Lotus Sutra, a person who correctly practices and endeavors to spread its teaching in the evil and impure age of the Latter Day of the Law, will encounter opposition by forces known as the three powerful enemies.
These represent the persecutions that occur wherever there are those who, in the evil age after the passing of Shakyamuni Buddha, actively practice the Lotus Sutra and work to spread it widely with the wish of enabling all people to attain buddhahood. Persecution by the three powerful enemies can be proof that one is a genuine votary or practitioner of the Lotus Sutra.
1) The Three Obstacles and Four Devils
In his work “Letter to the Brothers,” Nichiren Daishonin writes:
“One passage from the same volume [the fifth volume of Tiantai’s Great Concentration and Insight] reads: ‘As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere. . . . One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching.’ This statement not only applies to me, but also is a guide for my followers. Reverently make this teaching your own, and transmit it as an axiom of faith for future generations.” (WND-1, 501)
As this passage teaches, when we believe in and practice the correct Buddhist teaching and advance in our Buddhist practice while deepening our faith, functions will arise to obstruct our progress. These are known as the three obstacles and four devils.
In the same work, the Daishonin explains the elements of the three obstacles and four devils in some detail as follows:
“The three obstacles in this passage are the obstacle of earthly desires, the obstacle of karma, and the obstacle of retribution. The obstacle of earthly desires is the impediments to one’s practice that arise from greed, anger, foolishness, and the like; the obstacle of karma is the hindrances presented by one’s wife or children; and the obstacle of retribution is the hindrances caused by one’s sovereign or parents. Of the four devils, the workings of the devil king of the sixth heaven are of this last kind.” (WND-1, 501)
The Three Obstacles
First, in the “three obstacles,” the word obstacles indicates functions that hinder us in our faith and practice. These are categorized as the obstacle of earthly desires, the obstacle of karma, and the obstacle of retribution.
The obstacle of earthly desires indicates when earthly desires, or impulses and afflictions such as greed, anger, and foolishness (called the three poisons), prevent us from progressing in Buddhist faith and practice.
The obstacle of karma refers to hindrances to our faith and practice that result from our evil acts in this life. In this passage from “Letter to the Brothers,” opposition from those close to one, such as one’s spouse or children, is cited as a specific example.
The obstacle of retribution describes impediments to our Buddhist practice that are due to the difficult circumstances into which we are born or have come to live. These are considered adverse rewards or reckoning that stem from bad karma formed in past lifetimes. In “Letter to the Brothers,” the Daishonin associates these with opposition coming from people whose wishes one is bound to follow, such as the sovereign of one’s nation and one’s parents.
The Four Devils
Next, the word devil of the “four devils” refers to workings that deprive those who believe in and practice Buddhism of the brilliance in their lives that is an embodiment of the Mystic Law. The four devils are (1) the hindrance of the five components,6 (2) the hindrance of earthly desires, (3) the hindrance of death, and (4) the hindrance of the devil king.
The hindrance of the five components arises from disharmony among the workings of the body and mind, or the five components, of those who carry out faith and practice.
The hindrance of earthly desires means the emergence within one’s life of afflictions such as greed, anger, and foolishness that function to destroy one’s faith.
The hindrance of death comes when a person’s Buddhist practice is cut short due to his or her death. Also, it can be said that one has been defeated by the hindrance or devil of death when the death of another practitioner, or of anyone close, causes one to doubt one’s Buddhist faith.
Finally, there is the hindrance of the devil king. Devil king is an abbreviation of the Devil King of the Heaven of Freely Enjoying Things Conjured by Others—the king who makes free use of the fruits of others’ efforts for his own pleasure. Also known as the devil king of the sixth heaven, this is the most fundamental kind of devilish function described in Buddhism.
Nichiren Daishonin says that “the fundamental darkness manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven” (WND-1, 1113). He means that this devilish function is something that emerges from the fundamental delusion innate in life itself. It reveals itself in different forms and utilizes various means to persecute and oppress those who are practicing Buddhism correctly. Most typically, it appears in the lives of those in power or who have strong influence over practitioners.
“The Wise Will Rejoice While the Foolish Will Retreat”
It is clear, then, that as we endeavor to carry out our Buddhist practice, obstacles and hardships will emerge to hinder our progress. However, it is important to be aware that earthly desires such as greed, anger, and foolishness, spouses and partners, children, parents, our own body and mind, or even death do not in themselves constitute obstacles and devils. Rather, what causes them to function as the three obstacles and four devils is the weakness of our own life force that allows us to be influenced negatively by them.
Even Shakyamuni was able to attain enlightenment through clearly recognizing that the various illusions arising within his own mind were devilish functions trying to prevent him from achieving his goal. For us, the key to defeating devilish functions is to develop faith that is strong enough to remain unshaken by anything.
In this regard, Nichiren Daishonin states:
“There is definitely something extraordinary in the ebb and flow of the tide, the rising and setting of the moon, and the way in which summer, autumn, winter, and spring give way to each other. Something uncommon also occurs when an ordinary person attains buddhahood. At such a time, the three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.” (WND-1, 637)
When the three obstacles and four devils appear, it is crucial to have the conviction that this is the very time for us to make great progress toward attaining buddhahood and as wise people who rejoice at such challenges, persevere in our faith and overcome them.
2) The Three Powerful Enemies
The “Encouraging Devotion” (13th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra describes in its twenty-line verse section the three kinds of powerful opponents who will persecute those who strive to spread the sutra’s teachings in the Latter Day of the Law. Known as the three powerful enemies, they are defined as (1) arrogant laypeople, (2) arrogant monks, and (3) arrogant false sages.
All are described as arrogant because they display various kinds of haughtiness and conceit, believing themselves superior to or greater than other people.
(1) Arrogant laypeople are those ignorant of Buddhism who persecute practitioners of the Lotus Sutra. The sutra explains that they will subject the sutra’s practitioners to slander, cursing and speaking ill of them, or even attacking them with weapons such as swords and staves.
(2) Arrogant monks are Buddhist clergy who slander the Lotus Sutra’s practitioners. Because their understanding is flawed and their hearts crooked, they fail to understand the truth of the Buddhist teachings. And yet, attached to their own ways of thinking and believing themselves superior to others, they harass and persecute those who uphold the correct teaching.
(3) Arrogant false sages are seemingly respectworthy monks or priests whom people regard as sages. Typically, they reside in places removed from society. Consumed with greed and the desire for profit, they harbor ill will and contrive to undermine or deceive practitioners of the Lotus Sutra. Their usual tactic is to approach the ruler, senior officials, or others in authority and make false claims about the practitioners, such as declaring them to be persons of mistaken views, in an attempt to motivate those in power to oppress them.
The Lotus Sutra describes the condition in which a person’s heart or mind falls under the influence of such evil with the statement “Evil demons will take possession of others” (LSOC, 233). It teaches that in the Latter Day of the Law, those who practice the sutra will be repeatedly assailed and driven off by those who have succumbed to evil impulses.
Of these three powerful enemies, it is said that though one may be able to endure the first and the second, the third is the most formidable and pernicious. The reason is that it is quite difficult to perceive and recognize the true nature of such esteemed religious figures of high status—arrogant false sages.
In the Latter Day of the Law, whenever there are those who spread the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, these three powerful enemies will appear and attempt to interfere and obstruct such efforts. Because of his efforts to spread the Lotus Sutra, Nichiren Daishonin faced persecutions brought about by these three powerful enemies just as the sutra predicts, thus proving that he was the votary of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day.
4. Changing One’s Karma
Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching that enables people to transform their lives at the deepest level, break through the limitations of karma, or destiny, and open a way forward. It is a teaching for changing one’s karma for the better and securing a truly happy state of life today that will endure long into the future. In this section, we will examine the concept of changing one’s karma, as well as the value of regarding our karma as our mission in this life.
1) Changing One’s Karma
Life involves all kinds of problems and suffering, some of which are clearly the results of actions and choices we have made in this lifetime. But we also face problems for which we cannot identify the cause. At such times we may think, “I haven’t done anything wrong. Why should I have to suffer like this?”
From the perspective of Buddhism, we can regard this latter kind of suffering as a result in this present life of negative actions we have taken in past existences. This is explained as the principle of karma.
The term “karma” originates from a Sanskrit word meaning action. Our actions in past lifetimes that have the power to influence whether we are happy or unhappy in this life constitute our karma from past lifetimes, or destiny. Though this karma may be either good or bad, most often it refers to bad karma—the accumulation of negative causes from past lives resulting in suffering in the present.
Buddhism expounds the three existences of life and cause and effect spanning the three existences. That is, it views life as not limited to the present existence but as a continuum extending from past lives to the present and on to future lives. Actions made in past existences form causes, which appear as effects, or results, in the present existence; and actions taken in the present create causes that will bring about effects in future existences.
If one has created bad causes in a past life, then one will experience the results of those causes in this life as suffering; whereas if one has formed good causes in past lives, these will bring about pleasant effects in this life, such as good fortune, peace, and happiness. This is the general description of causality found in Buddhism, which underlies the concept of karma.
According to this view, however, even if we should become aware of the causes of our present suffering, we could do little to resolve it in this lifetime. As long as the causes from past lifetimes remain, we will experience suffering. Moreover, these causes will be cleared up only after they produce effects. In that case, all we can do is wait for one bad cause and then another to produce its effect until all bad causes are exhausted, while taking care not to produce any more bad causes. But this would take innumerable lifetimes. As such, this perspective on karma inspires little hope for improving our lives, and worse, it may lead us to simply resign ourselves to our fate.
Nichiren Daishonin shows us how to change our karma, or destiny, in this lifetime. In his “Letter from Sado,” the Daishonin states that the great persecutions he has been facing cannot be attributed to the general explanation of cause and effect found in Buddhism but rather to the fact that in past existences he has slandered the Lotus Sutra and its practitioners. He writes:
“My sufferings, however, are not ascribable to this causal law. In the past I despised the votaries of the Lotus Sutra. I also ridiculed the sutra itself, sometimes with exaggerated praise and other times with contempt.” (WND-1, 305)
In the above passage, the Daishonin suggests that slandering or disparaging the Lotus Sutra—that is, committing slander of the correct teaching—is the most fundamental negative cause a person can make. The Lotus Sutra embodies the ultimate Buddhist principles that all people can attain buddhahood, that all people should be respected, and that one must strive to achieve happiness both for oneself and for others. For that reason, slandering the Lotus Sutra means disparaging or denying the true potential and dignity of human beings and represents the ultimate form of evil, giving rise to all kinds of bad causes.
The Daishonin tells us that we can achieve a truly happy state of life in this world if we stop committing the ultimate evil of disbelieving and slandering the correct teaching and instead carry out the ultimate good of believing, protecting, and spreading it. That is, by replacing the most evil cause with the greatest good cause, the corresponding result will also be transformed into good. Core to this transformation is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
The Daishonin quotes the Universal Worthy Sutra,7 considered the epilogue to the Lotus Sutra, where it states, “The host of sins, like frost or dew, can be wiped out by the sun of wisdom” (LSOC, 390), saying:
“The ‘host of sins’ are karmic impediments . . . and these are like frost or dew. Thus, although they exist, they can be wiped out by the sun of wisdom. The ‘sun of wisdom’ is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” (OTT, 205)
By believing in the Gohonzon and striving to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for our own and others’ happiness, we bring the sun of buddhahood to rise within our lives, causing the negative karma from our many past lifetimes to vanish like frost or dew in the sunlight.
2) Lessening One’s Karmic Retribution
Though we are striving in our Buddhist practice, we will never be completely free of life’s hardships. Obstacles and hindrances will arise as well in the course of our struggles for kosen-rufu. Nichiren Daishonin teaches that encountering such hardships and being able thereby to change our karma is actually a benefit of Buddhist practice called lessening one’s karmic retribution.
The concept of lessening one’s karmic retribution is explained as follows. Heavy karma accruing from serious offenses in previous lifetimes will bring about major suffering, not only in the present life but in future lifetimes as well. The beneficial power of our Buddhist practice, however—of believing in and striving to spread the correct teaching—enables us to receive the effects of such offenses in this single lifetime and in a much-diminished form. Not only that, we can also extinguish all of our negative karma from the unperceivable past.
Concerning this principle of lessening one’s karmic retribution, the Daishonin states, “The sufferings of hell will vanish instantly” (WND-1, 199). The moment our evil karma is eliminated, we become free from the worst kind of suffering in this and future existences.
Hardships become important opportunities to rid ourselves of past negative karma and to forge our lives. In this regard, the Daishonin writes:
“Iron, when heated in the flames and pounded, becomes a fine sword. Worthies and sages are tested by abuse. My present exile is not because of any secular crime. It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime my past grave offenses and be freed in the next from the three evil paths [the realms of hell, hungry spirts, and animals].” (WND-1, 303)
3) Voluntarily Assuming the Appropriate Karma
Those who persevere in faith even in the face of hardships, and through doing so transform their karma, will experience a great change in the meaning they derive from living.
In this regard, the Lotus Sutra explains the principle of voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma [to fulfill one’s vow]. Living beings are born in particular times and places because of two different kinds of causes—that is, they are born either according to their wishes and vows or as a result of their karma.
In general, Buddhism explains that bodhisattvas are born into this world out of a wish to fulfill their vow, while ordinary people are born into their present circumstances as a result of their past karma.
On the other hand, the Lotus Sutra teaches that bodhisattvas who have accumulated great good fortune through their Buddhist practice in past lives voluntarily relinquish the rewards due them for their pure deeds and choose instead to be born into this impure world that is filled with evil. They do so because they feel compassion for living beings and wish to save them from suffering. As a result, these bodhisattvas, just like those ordinary people who are born into this evil world due to their bad karma, also experience suffering.
Taking this view, we can find new meaning in adversity. As people who overcome problems through faith, we can regard living in this evil world and enduring suffering not simply as a result of our bad karma but as an opportunity to fulfill our vow as bodhisattvas to lead people to happiness. While sharing people’s suffering as our own, we can serve as models for others of how to overcome such suffering.
Regarding those who base their way of living on this principle of voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma [to fulfill one’s vow], President Ikeda has observed:
“We all have our own karma or destiny. But when we look it square in the face and grasp its true significance, then any hardship can help us lead richer and more profound lives. And our actions in battling our destiny set an example for and inspire countless others.
In other words, when we change our karma into mission, we transform our destiny from playing a negative role to a positive one. Anyone who changes their karma into their mission is a person who has voluntarily assumed the appropriate karma. Therefore, those who keep advancing, while regarding everything as part of their mission, proceed toward the goal of transforming their destiny.”8
5. Faith Equals Daily Life
Nichiren Buddhism is a religion that enables people to build an indestructible state of happiness amid the realities of living. To that end, it is very important to engage fully in the challenges and responsibilities of daily life while persevering in Buddhist faith and practice. Faith is the process of developing and improving one’s life at the deepest level.
In this sense, Nichiren Buddhism is a religion that teaches us that true victory for human beings is to develop our humanity to the fullest. For that reason, it is important that we embody in our behavior the wisdom and life force we cultivate through our Buddhist practice, thereby winning the trust of others. In this section we will delve into concepts that are core to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. These include the causality of benefit and loss, heavenly gods and benevolent deities, the unity of many in body, one in mind, faith equals daily life, and the importance of one’s behavior as a human being.
1) The Causality of Benefit and Loss
If we correctly believe in and uphold Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the ultimate Law of life and the universe, then we will consistently enjoy the limitless benefit inherent in that Law.
And the ultimate benefit we derive from the Mystic Law is the attainment of buddhahood; that is, the establishment of an imperturbable state of happiness. Once we believe in and begin to practice the Mystic Law, we have embarked on a course that leads to the life condition of absolute happiness called buddhahood. By basing our lives on the Mystic Law, we naturally come to live correctly and to develop such genuine happiness.
Regarding the element ku in the word kudoku, or benefit, Nichiren Daishonin says it “refers to the merit achieved by wiping out evil, while the element toku or doku refers to the virtue one acquires by bringing about good” (OTT, 148). When we strive in our Buddhist practice, we can wipe away negative or evil functions that shroud our inner life, such as deluded desires and impulses, suffering, and apprehension, and bring forth good and positive qualities, such as wisdom, serenity, and joy.
Just prior to this it states:
“The word ‘benefits’ means the reward that is represented by the purification of the six sense organs. In general we may say that now Nichiren and his followers, who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, are carrying out the purification of the six sense organs.” (OTT, 147–48)
Purification of the six sense organs means purification of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind—that is, every aspect of one’s life—so they may fully perform the positive functions they inherently possess. As a result, one will remain unshaken and unswayed when confronting any kind of difficulty and will unlock and reveal from within the powerful state of buddhahood. Our Buddhist practice enables us to tap and manifest our buddha nature, and clear proof of this will appear as benefit in our everyday affairs and over the course of our lives. We will be able to live each day filled with happiness and good fortune without fail.
In this regard, the Daishonin states:
“Believe in this mandala [Gohonzon] with all your heart. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?
It is written that those who embrace the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] will be protected by Mother of Demon Children and by the ten demon daughters. Such persons will enjoy the happiness of Wisdom King Craving-Filled and the good fortune of Heavenly King Vaishravana. Wherever your daughter may frolic or play, no harm will come to her; she will move about without fear like the lion king.” (WND-1, 412)
This means that through the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we will also be protected by the heavenly gods and benevolent deities, overcome the various problems and difficulties we face in life, and enjoy happiness and fortune. Wherever we are, we will possess a state of life comparable to a lion king that knows no fear.
And as the Daishonin’s words “Those who now believe in the Lotus Sutra will gather fortune from ten thousand miles away” (WND-1, 1137) tell us, a person who practices the Mystic Law will derive good fortune and happiness from any situation or circumstance.
He further stated, “Fortune comes from one’s heart and makes one worthy of respect” and “[The believers in the Lotus Sutra] are like the sandalwood with its fragrance” (WND-1, 1137). This last passage tells us that just as the sandalwood tree emits its special fragrance, those who uphold and practice the Mystic Law will exude from within the fragrance of happiness and virtue, will be loved and trusted by others, and will be protected and supported in their daily endeavors and throughout their lives.
In contrast, those who slander or disparage the correct teaching of Buddhism and go against the principles of cause and effect will engrave bad causes in the depths of their beings. At the same time, they will experience actual loss in the context of their daily lives.9 It might be said that such loss is actual proof of error that can serve as a warning one is falling into a course or pattern that will lead to unhappiness. By becoming aware of one’s errors, reflecting on them, and seeking to correct one’s attitude in faith or way of living, one can summon the resolve to practice the Mystic Law more deeply and sincerely.
Seen from a different perspective, the fact that those who act counter to the Mystic Law experience loss is one of the wonderful qualities of that Law in that it can function to lead them to the correct path and allow them to reclaim the benefit of their Buddhist practice. In this way, Nichiren Buddhism offers a clear explanation of the benefit accruing to those who believe in and uphold the Mystic Law and the loss experienced by those who disparage the Law.
2) Heavenly Gods and Benevolent Deities
Heavenly gods and benevolent deities refers to the various workings or functions that serve to protect a person who practices the correct Buddhist teaching. Forces that serve in this way are personified in Buddhist literature as gods or deities that protect and support those who uphold and practice the teaching and guard the land in which they live.
Heavenly gods are beings who inhabit the realm of heaven, and benevolent deities refers to those which support and protect human beings. Buddhism employed the image of gods to make it readily acceptable to the people in lands where it spread, but they can be thought of as representing protective functions in the environment.
The Heavenly Gods Protect Those with Strong Faith
If we practice the correct Buddhist teaching and do good to others, then our environment and the people around us will begin to work to protect and support us—that is, they will function as heavenly gods and benevolent deities on our behalf. Buddhist scriptures describe the correct teaching as the source of power for such gods and deities, calling it the flavor, or nourishment, of the Law.
The Daishonin states, “The protection of the gods depends on the strength of one’s faith” (WND-1, 953). The strength of the protection we receive depends on the strength of our faith and practice as we uphold and protect the Mystic Law.
3) Many in Body, One in Mind
Many in body, one in mind is a most essential principle and guideline for forming unity based on faith for the purpose of advancing kosen-rufu. Many in body (also, different in body) means that our appearance, nature, qualities and talents, social position, and circumstances differ from one another. One in mind means that we share the same intention and purpose.
The fundamental goal of our Buddhist practice, and the great wish of the Buddha, is kosen-rufu—broadly teaching and spreading the Mystic Law to realize peace and happiness for all people. Mind of “one in mind” indicates faith, and one in mind means to join our hearts and minds in sharing the great wish and vow to achieve kosen-rufu.
In other words, while each of us gives free and full play to our individuality and distinctive qualities, displaying our unique potential to the highest degree, we aim together for the lofty goal of kosen-rufu. This is the meaning of many in body, one in mind.
In contrast, though everyone might be compelled to look and act the same, if each person possesses a different intent or goal, then a state of disorder will ensue. Such a condition is called one in body, different in mind.
In this regard, the Daishonin says:
“If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people, they will achieve all their goals, whereas if one in body but different in mind, they can achieve nothing remarkable. . . . In contrast, although Nichiren and his followers are few, because they are different in body, but united in mind, they will definitely accomplish their great mission of widely propagating the Lotus Sutra.” (WND-1, 618)
If we advance while challenging and overcoming various problems and hardships through unity in faith, the Daishonin assures us, then Buddhism will spread without fail.
President Ikeda has said:
“In modern terms, many in body, one in mind means an organization. Many in body means that each person is different—that people differ in their appearances, standing in society, circumstances, and individual missions. But as for their hearts—their hearts should be one; each person should be one in mind, united in faith.
On the other hand, if one has a situation of many in body, many in mind, there will be no unity of purpose. In addition, the concept of one in body, one in mind means that people are coerced into uniformity, made to think, look, and act alike. This is akin to fascism, where people have no freedom; it ultimately only leads to a condition of one in body, many in mind, where people give the appearance of being united and committed to the same goal on the surface, but in reality don’t go along with that goal in their hearts….
Many in body means to allow each individual to give full play to his or her unique potential and individuality. One in mind means that everyone works together based on faith, sharing the same goal and purpose. This is true unity.”10
With the unity of many in body, one in mind as our guide and standard, each of us can fully display our unique power and ability as we advance together in realizing the Daishonin’s will for the accomplishment of kosen-rufu.
4) Faith Equals Daily Life
While religion holds a special place in people’s spiritual lives, it is often seen as having little to do with the challenges of living or with real-world concerns. In Nichiren Buddhism, however, faith and daily life are not regarded as separate. The Daishonin wrote, “Regard your service to your lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 905). “Service to your lord” in this passage would be comparable in today’s terms to any responsibility or obligation we might have in business, at work, or in society in general.
This passage teaches that daily life is the venue for Buddhist practice. It is the context in which we demonstrate how we live as individuals with faith as our basis. Our regular conduct is none other than an expression of the workings of our inner life. And faith is the power that enables us to transform and fulfill our lives at the deepest level.
We face many issues and problems in the course of living, but when we continue making earnest efforts to deal with them based on chanting daimoku with faith in the Gohonzon, those very real struggles become the impetus for us to bring forth our innate buddha nature. In this way, our mundane challenges become the stage upon which we enact the drama of transforming our life at its essence.
In addition, when we make the vital energy and rich life state we cultivate through our Buddhist practice the basis for conducting our affairs and fulfilling our responsibilities, then our life circumstances will also naturally change for the better.
If we compare our faith to the roots of a tree, our daily lives can be compared to the tree’s trunk and its branches that bear flowers and fruit. On the other hand, a life that lacks a foundation of faith will be like a rootless plant, easily carried away by whatever is happening in our environment. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the deeper our roots of faith, the more stable and secure our personal life.
In this way, Nichiren Buddhism views faith and the way we live as one and inseparable. For that reason, the guidance of the Soka Gakkai includes the principle that faith equals daily life, which explains that one’s daily life is an expression of one’s Buddhist faith. It teaches that a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism should strive to be trusted by people in society and to win in all aspects of living.
5) One’s Behavior as a Human Being
Buddhism is a religion that teaches how to develop one’s humanity to the fullest. For human beings, this is the meaning of true victory.
As the Daishonin states, “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being” (WND-1, 852). Shakyamuni appeared in this world and expounded the Buddhist teachings. His purpose in doing so (the purpose of his advent) was nothing mysterious or special. It was simply to show people the best way to live as human beings.
In other words, we show proof of the power of our faith by consistently acting with good sense amid human society and by being people of fine character who are trusted and respected at work, in our communities, and by all those around us.
The noblest kind of human behavior is that which demonstrates respect for people. Specifically, these are actions that recognize the buddha nature innate in the lives of all people, deeply cherish that buddha nature, and show respect for everyone. Fundamental to this is living with a wish and vow to enable all people to manifest that nature, that is, attain buddhahood. This is expressed in our actions to cherish and care for the person right in front of us.
The Lotus Sutra describes the practice of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, which consists of respecting the potential for buddhahood inherent in all people and for that reason venerating every person he meets. Even those unaware of the realm of buddhahood within their own lives are still endowed with the buddha nature and are capable of tapping that potential and bringing it forth. It is the spirit of Buddhism, therefore, to cherish all people as children of the Buddha, regarding each person’s life with the highest respect and viewing all people as equal.
If that spirit prevails, then no violence or action will emerge that tramples on the well-being of others. Striving to bring about social change through dialogue grounded in the principle of respect for all people is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism.
In this evil age of the Latter Day of the Law, people’s confusion grows stronger. The kind of thinking that leads to abuse and discrimination against others or to turning people into tools to serve one’s selfish aims has become prevalent. There is no other way to transform society’s tendency toward corruption and raise people’s state of life than to spread the practice that embodies behavior that respects others, cherishes life, and upholds human dignity.
In addition, in order to improve society we must strongly challenge the kind of thinking that holds people in contempt and encourages their misconceptions. For that reason, behavior that spreads goodness and admonishes evil constitutes the core practice of Buddhism and produces clear proof of victory in life for us as Buddhists and as human beings.
- *1Nichikan (1665–1726) was a scholar priest who lived during the Edo period (1603–1868) of Japan. He systematized and placed fresh emphasis on the Buddhist principles of Nichiren Daishonin as inherited and transmitted by his closest disciple and immediate successor, Nikko Shonin.Nichikan.
- *2Paraphrased from Japanese. Nichikan, “Toryu gyoji sho” [The practice of this school], Rokkansho [The six-volume writings], (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1960).
- *3Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu [Complete writings of Josei Toda], vol. 4, (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1989), 18.
- *4Translated from Japanese. “Nikko yuikai okibumi” [The twenty-six admonitions of Nikko], article 11.
- *5Ibid., article 8.
- *6The five components: The constituent elements of form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness that unite temporarily to form an individual living being.
- *7The full title is the Sutra on How to Practice Meditation on Bodhisattva Universal Worthy.
- *8Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Gosho no sekai [The world of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings], vol. 2 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 2004), 324–25.
- *9Buddhism expounds the principle of cause and effect. One receives either positive or negative results depending on whether one’s actions have been good or bad. In Buddhism there is no transcendental being, such as a god or gods, who bestows rewards or inflicts retribution. One incurs retribution, or negative results, as the natural outcome of one’s offenses.
- *10Translated from Japanese. Daisaku Ikeda, Seishun taiwa [Discussions on youth], vol. 1, (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 2006), 364.