Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.15]
3.15 Change Starts from Prayer
Referring to the Daishonin’s writings, President Ikeda discusses the profound significance of prayer in Nichiren Buddhism.
Nichiren Daishonin writes:
“The prayers offered by a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra will be answered just as an echo answers a sound, as a shadow follows a form, as the reflection of the moon appears in clear water, as a mirror collects dewdrops,1 as a magnet attracts iron, as amber attracts particles of dust, or as a clear mirror reflects the color of an object.” (WND-1, 340)
In this passage, the Daishonin states that the prayers of the votary of the Lotus Sutra are always answered. His use of natural principles and phenomena as analogies demonstrates his strong confidence in what he is saying.
Wherever practitioners of the Lotus Sutra chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, just as an echo answers a sound and a shadow follows a form, their prayers will unfailingly produce positive results there. The Daishonin teaches that our lives are transformed—both spiritually and physically—by prayer, which in turn exerts a positive influence on our environment.
Prayer is not something abstract. Many today may regard the intangible, unseen realm of life as nothing more than a product of the imagination. But if we were to view things only from a material perspective, then our relationships with people and things would largely appear to arise solely from the chaos of randomness. The penetrating insight of Buddhism, however, discerns the Law of life in the depths of chaos and apprehends it as the force that supports and activates all phenomena from within.
The Daishonin writes: “As life does not go beyond the moment, the Buddha expounded the blessings that come from a single moment of rejoicing [on hearing the Lotus Sutra]” (WND-1, 62). Because “life does not go beyond the moment,” as he says, our focus should be on the power that emerges from within us at each moment to support us and give fundamental direction to our lives. Prayer—namely, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—is the only way for us to confront on this fundamental level the delusions inherent in life.
It thus follows that prayer is the driving force for maintaining a correct practice and tenacious action. Nothing is as insubstantial as action without prayer. For those who neglect prayer, things may appear to go quite smoothly for a while. They may even seem very upbeat. But once faced with adversity, they tend to fall into despair, their lives as fragile as a withered tree. Lacking self-mastery, they are tossed about like leaves on the turbulent waters of society.
The path up the hill of life doesn’t follow a straight line. There are successes and mistakes. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. With each step on our way, with every curve and corner we navigate, we grow a little bit more. In this process, prayer functions as a powerful force preventing us from becoming arrogant in victory or devastated by defeat.
That’s why none are stronger than those who base themselves on prayer. Our strong, focused prayer manifests as the power of faith and practice, which in turn activates the power of the Buddha and the Law. The main player in this drama is always the human being—it is we ourselves.
Prayer produces a change within our hearts, within the depths of our lives. This profound, intangible inner change does not end with us alone [but inspires a similar change in others]. Likewise, when one community changes, it will not be limited to that community alone. Just as a single wave gives rise to countless others, change in one community will create a ripple effect of change in other communities as well.
I wish to assert that the first step toward such social change is a change in the heart of a single individual.
This is also, I believe, where the deep significance of the Daishonin’s statement that “Buddhism is reason” (WND-1, 839) lies.
To return to the passage from “On Prayer” that we are studying, “sound,” “form,” and “clear water” correspond to our attitude in prayer, while “echo,” “shadow,” and “reflection of the moon” correspond to the natural way in which prayers are answered. Just as these three analogies refer to phenomena that arise in accord with natural principles, the prayers of a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra will also be definitely answered in accord with the inexorable Law of life and in accord with reason.
Prayer in Nichiren Buddhism is free of all arrogance and conceit. The very act of sitting before the Gohonzon and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo pulses with the humble spirit to transcend attachment to one’s own shallow wisdom and limited experience to become one with the Law of life and the fundamental rhythm of nature and the universe, which were revealed through the Buddha’s enlightened wisdom. Without being self-abasing, we concentrate all our actions into a single life moment—into our determined prayer—while recharging our lives to prepare for boundless, vibrant growth. That is the healthiest and most fulfilling state of life.
Let us chant to the Gohonzon about all of our problems in life and challenge them.
Prayer is essential. Let’s never forget that everything starts from prayer. If we lose sight of prayer and fail to transform our lives in actuality, then even the most eloquent speeches and high-minded arguments will all be just empty theory, pipe dreams, and illusions. Faith and the Soka Gakkai spirit, too, arise from praying strongly and deeply about our actual situations and realities.
In the Daishonin’s Buddhism, prayer by itself isn’t enough. Just as an arrow flying toward its target contains the full power and strength of the archer who shot it, our prayer contains all of our efforts and actions. Prayer without action is just wishful thinking, and action without prayer will be unproductive.
I therefore would like to point out that lofty prayer arises from a lofty sense of responsibility. Serious prayer will not arise from an irresponsible or careless attitude toward work, daily living, and life itself. Those who take responsibility for every part of their lives and give their all in every endeavor will make a habit of prayer.
From a lecture on Nichiren Daishonin’s writing “On Prayer,” published in the Seikyo Shimbun, October 22, 1977.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Vapor condenses on a mirror placed outside at night. It was said that the mirror drew this water down from the moon.