Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 5:
Transforming Suffering into Joy [5.10]
5.10 The Principle of “Lessening Karmic Retribution”
The principle of lessening karmic retribution represents a radical rethinking of the concept of karma, enabling us to engage positively with adversity through strong faith.
Nichiren Daishonin offered the following encouragement to the Ikegami brothers, Munenaka and Munenaga, who were in the midst of a struggle against serious obstacles: “The blessings gained by practicing the correct teaching [the Mystic Law], however, are so great that by meeting minor sufferings in this life we can change the karma that destines us to suffer terribly in the future” (WND-1, 497).
Through “the blessings gained by practicing the correct teaching”—that is, “the blessings obtained by protecting the Law”1—the grave negative effects of karma that we would otherwise have experienced in the future are transformed and received as minor effects in the present. We need to be deeply convinced of this principle, called “lessening karmic retribution.”2 And, to a degree that accords with the depth of our faith, we can experience its reality in our own lives.
For instance, suppose you meet with an accident, but it is very minor and not a disaster that involves many people. This could be an instance of receiving the effects of negative karma in a lessened form. You can probably think of many similar examples.
In this way, we can clearly see the significance of hardships from the perspective of the eternity of life across the three existences of past, present, and future. In other words, by undergoing hardships, we can transform in this lifetime the cycle of negative causes and effects in our lives and magnificently reveal within us the brilliant, vibrant state of Buddhahood.
The Daishonin discussed these principles of “lessening karmic retribution” and “the blessings obtained by protecting the Law” in terms of his own life in works such as “The Opening of the Eyes” and “Letter from Sado,” which he composed while in exile on Sado Island. Though the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, the Daishonin strove as an ordinary person to demonstrate, for the sake of his followers into the eternal future of the Latter Day, the reason why we encounter difficulties. He also taught us the essence of “faith for overcoming hardships.” This is a crucial guideline both for our personal lives and for the realm of kosen-rufu.
Three years ago [in October 1985], I was hospitalized for the first time in my life, for 10 days. Objectively speaking, I could have collapsed at any moment. After all, I had been working relentlessly for 40 years since joining the Soka Gakkai, and for nearly 30 years since I had inherited the mantle of our organization’s leadership from Mr. Toda. I had been pushing myself to the limit, even though when I was younger the doctors had said I probably wouldn’t live to see the age of 30. I was constantly on the go. I was always fighting against adversity.
The media made a big fuss about my hospitalization. There were also many unfounded speculations, and some people moved to act against me motivated by self-interest and calculation. But I understood exactly what was going on. Personally, I felt that my illness was a gift arising from the Buddha’s great compassion. I was convinced it was teaching me that the time had come to stand up again on my own and start in earnest on completing my work for kosen-rufu.
Now, I thought, is the time to speak the full truth. Now is the time to offer, from every angle, thoroughgoing guidance for the sake of future generations. I resolved that I must convey the Soka Gakkai’s true greatness and its profound significance and spirit.
Until then, I thought I had done my utmost to build a solid organization and teach all that had been necessary. But now, with my illness, I pledged to teach 10 or 20 times more and to work 10 or 20 times harder. And I began, and continue, to do so.
What I am saying is that you are bound to encounter obstacles and difficulties in life of one degree or another. But please know that they all derive from the Buddha’s compassion, aimed at helping you become strong, like tall, sturdy trees.
With that conviction, please forge ahead as champions of faith, overcoming all challenges and opening the way forward in your lives and for kosen-rufu with ever greater strength, resilience, and joy with each obstacle you face.
From a speech at a nationwide youth division leaders meeting, Tokyo, April 29, 1988.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1“The blessings obtained by protecting the Law”: This phrase from the Parinirvana Sutra is quoted in “Letter to the Brothers” (WND-1, 497).
- *2Lessening karmic retribution: This term, which literally means, “transforming the heavy and receiving it lightly,” appears in the Nirvana Sutra. “Heavy” indicates negative karma accumulated over countless lifetimes in the past. As a benefit of protecting the correct teaching of Buddhism, we can experience relatively light karmic retribution in this lifetime, thereby expiating heavy karma that ordinarily would adversely affect us not only in this lifetime, but over many lifetimes to come.