Q: Is there something wrong with me? Why doesn't this practice seem to be working for me?
Answered by Ted Morino, SGI-USA Study Department Chief
A: We tend to view ourselves as either good or bad, right or wrong. We have a tendency to be judgmental in this regard. But this is not the primary approach Buddhism takes in how we look at ourselves. The Buddhist view, recognizing that we all have both innate good and bad in us, focuses on strengthening our good points and challenging our weaknesses.
Buddhism doesn't tell us that we're essentially good people or bad people - it says we can always become better and stronger. In "The Treatment of Illness," the Daishonin states: The heart of the Hokke sect is the principle of Ichinen Sanzen, which reveals that both good and evil are inherent even in those at the highest stage, that of myogaku or enlightenment. The fundamental nature of enlightenment manifests itself as Bonten and Taishaku, whereas the fundamental darkness manifests itself as the Devil of the Sixth Heaven. (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 3, p. 279)
In this passage, he teaches that human life has the potential to exhibit either good or bad according to where we are coming from within. In other words, are we coming from Buddhahood or from our fundamental darkness? That's a vital question in Buddhism. Most important is whether we can consistently come from Buddhahood in our practice.
When we feel that there's something wrong with us that the practice isn't working because of this, it may actually be that we are waiting passively for results - thinking there's something wrong becomes an excuse! Or we are becoming overly impatient. The problem in these cases is our attitude in faith, not that we're bad people.
The overall goal of Buddhism, we should remember, is to achieve an unshakably happy state of life. This is a life strong and enjoyable even in the face of problems and obstacles, a life that seeks profound rather than shallow happiness.
In the beginning, we may assume that practicing means no problems - that if we have lots of problems there's something wrong with us - but that's not so. Life is a series of problems, whether we practice or not.
Happiness is the confidence and power to solve each one. The power of the Law is such that we can change the source of our problems and, deep within our lives, our weaknesses into strengths. Therefore, in the final analysis, Buddhism is primarily concerned with winning. Always thinking there's something wrong with us can become a serious hindrance to our practice. Ultimately, it flies against the teaching that each of us is potentially a Buddha. In "Letter to Gijo-bo," Nichiren Daishonin explains that the phrase "Single-mindedly yearning to see the Buddha" (isshin yok ken butsu), which is part of the sutra that we recite during Gongyo, means "to see the Buddha in one's own mind, to concentrate one's mind on seeing the Buddha, and that to see one's own mind is to see the Buddha" (MW-2 [2nd ed.], p. 205). There are no good or bad Buddhas - rather, all Buddhas are continually striving to better themselves as Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
How do I become happy ? If you lived in a palace where you could enjoy everything - beauty, health, money and power - would you consider leaving behind such a 'happy' life? I probably would not.
But one man did more than two millennia ago in his quest for genuine happiness. Shakyamuni's story still encourages millions around the globe to seek the meaning of suffering beyond pain and the meaning of happiness beyond pleasure.
Shakyamuni's quest for genuine happiness paved the way for Nichiren Daishonin to reveal the essential law of life as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Based on this truth, Nichiren Buddhism explains some key attitudes for building true happiness. The following five points - though by no means complete - provide us with an outline from which each person may begin painting a clearer picture of authentic happiness.
The First Key: Happiness begins with a vow. Do you have a despotic boss who is unhappy no matter what you do? The reason why most tyrants are unhappy is that they are waiting for someone else to please them while they themselves do nothing but make demands. Happiness served on a silver platter turns sour after a few bites. Nichiren Buddhism explains that we begin and continue the quest for happiness of oneself and others by making a personal vow and renewing it every day. Each person must create his or her own happiness. Waiting for happiness is a formula for unhappiness. Happiness is born of action.
The Second Key: Happiness is overcoming unhappiness. Happiness is not an absence of problems, and the presence of problems does not mean unhappiness. Nichiren Buddhism explains that genuine happiness lies in overcoming difficulties. The important thing is to learn how to face our problems, not how to avoid them. Through the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, we can transform meaningless sufferings into meaningful challenges.
The Third Key: The solution to your problem lies within. It is always tempting to blame our environment for our suffering through our delusions and that we can overcome our suffering by manifesting our innate Buddha nature. It is a common myth that we will become happy when we acquire pleasurable things or meet someone wonderful. But the truth is that when we are happy, we can truly enjoy the niceties of life or good companionship. This is a Copernican change in our view of happiness. Put simply, we are the cause and the solution to our problems, and genuine happiness must be created from within. To realize this is to free ourselves from being a victim of circumstances. Being a victim is easy, but it doesn't make us happy.
The Fourth Key: Don't compare yourself with others. We are trained by society to compare ourselves with others, to see our lives through the eyes of others. Over the years, we've learned to feel superior to the less fortunate and disparage ourselves when we are with the more fortunate - restlessly vacillating between arrogance and self-disparagement depending on our circumstances. Nichiren Buddhism, however, teaches us how to build a stronger self that need not seek the reference of its worth outside. Nichiren Buddhism encourages us to bring forth our unique quality that cannot be compared with anything else. Each person has a unique set of karmic circumstances and - by challenging them - can make unique contributions to the world. Our karmic suffering can be transformed into our precious mission in life. With this awareness, we can change arrogance into appreciation, self-disparagement into true confidence.
The Fifth Key: Be in the here and now. We sometimes dwell in resentment and regret about our past: 'Because that horrible thing happened to me, I cannot be happy.' At other times, we are preoccupied with worries about our future: 'What if my relationship doesn't work out?' Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the present moment contains all the past and the future. In other words, by challenging our present state of existence, we can transform resentment and regret into appreciation for our past. Of course, we cannot undo our past, but - by developing a strong state of life Now - we can change the meaning our past holds for us and change worries into hopes.
Nichiren Buddhism also teaches that we cannot create happiness simply by moving from one place to another. What's most important is to change our inner state of being where we are. Put simply, Nichiren Buddhism shows us how to create happiness in the past (appreciation), in the present (fulfillment) and in the future (hope) by challenging our lives in the here and now.
Nichiren over and over says in the Gosho that it is not the fault of the Law if we do not receive benefits. It is our responsibility to have strong faith.
I'm not saying that your faith is not strong, but in my experience, when my prayers are not answered, it's because I'm not confident in my prayer, in the Law or myself as apart of the Law. It's because I have doubt.
The great thing is that even though my specific prayer may not be answered, I ALWAYS have an inconspicuous benefit. I learn something of great value in my life. Something that helps me to encourage others later on.
Your prayers will be answered, exactly when they are supposed to be. Please continue to have strong faith!
Gosho (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol 1) Quotes:
A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering
"The greater the hardships befalling him, the greater the delight he feels, because of his strong faith."
[No.3, Page 33, col 1, paragraph 2, Content]
The Royal Palace
"As for your wife’s prayers, even though she does not doubt the Lotus Sutra, I suspect that her faith may be weak. I have found that even those who appear to believe just as the sutra teaches may not actually have strong faith at all, as you are already well aware. Moreover, a woman’s mind is harder to understand than it is to tie up the wind. The fact that her prayers have gone unanswered is like a strong bow with a weak bowstring, or a fine sword in the hands of a coward. It is in no sense the fault of the Lotus Sutra."
Q: From The Gosho: What Can Bring Happiness In This World?
From Learning from the Gosho: The Eternal Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin by SGI President Ikeda — Lecture 20 - Happiness in This World We Practice Faith To Become Truly Happy
We practice faith to fully enjoy life, to lead the happiest possible existence. The Gosho we will study this time, "Happiness in This World,"[ref. 1] explains the "secret teaching" that makes this possible. It is a short letter, but it offers a complete exposition of the ultimate principles of faith. When we deeply understand this Gosho, we have internalized the secret of faith and of life.
* * * * There is no greater happiness for human beings than chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The sutra says, "The people there [in my land] are happy and at ease."[ref. 2] "Happy and at ease" here means the joy derived from the Law. You are obviously included among the "people," and "there" indicates the entire world, which includes Japan. "Happy and at ease" means to know that our lives — both our bodies and minds, ourselves and our surroundings — are the entities of ichinen sanzen and the Buddha of absolute freedom. There is no greater happiness than having faith in the Lotus Sutra. It promises us "peace and security in this life and good circumstances in the next."[ref. 3] Never let life 's hardships disturb you. After all, no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages. Just chant Nam Myoho-renge-kyo, and when you drink sake, stay at home with your wife. Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam Myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. Then you will experience boundless joy from the Law. Strengthen your faith more than ever. With my deep respect, Nichiren The twenty-seventh day of the sixth month in the second year of Kenji (1276) (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 161-62) * * * * Chanting Nam Myoho-renge-kyo — the Greatest Happiness
There is no greater happiness for human beings than chanting Nam Myoho-renge-kyo.
"Human beings" at the outset carries great significance. This means all humankind; the Daishonin's teaching can benefit all people without exception.
Buddhism is a teaching that exists for all human beings. It is not only for the Japanese or the people of one particular country or ethnic group. Nichiren Daishonin declares that, ultimately, for all people — whether poor or wealthy, famous or unknown, powerful individuals or ordinary citizens, artists or scientists — apart from chanting Nam Myoho-renge-kyo, there is no true happiness, no true joy or fulfillment in life. That's because when we chant daimoku, our lives become one with the life of the Buddha, enabling us to draw forth the inexhaustible strength to carry out our human revolution and to help others do the same.
Fame, wealth and social status alone do not guarantee happiness. Many wealthy individuals suffer terribly within their mansions. Some people may be so bound up in vanity that they can find no peace of mind. Many famous people feel miserable the moment they slip from the limelight.
Let's say there are two people who work in the same company, perform identical jobs and have equivalent material resources and social standing; yet one feels happy while the other feels nothing but despair. It is not at all uncommon to find such disparities among people whose lives are otherwise quite similar. The disparities arise due to differences in people's inner states, differences in their hearts.
Nor can it be said that the advance of science or economics necessarily brings happiness. In every case, whether we feel happy or unhappy ultimately depends on us. Without changing our state of life, we can find no true happiness. But when we do change our inner state, our entire world is trans-formed. The ultimate means for effecting such change is chanting daimoku.
The sutra says, "The people there [in my land] are happy and at ease." This sutra passage is from the jigage section of the "Life Span of the Thus Come One" (16th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra. It means that in this world people ought to live in happiness and ease. We recite this passage every morning and evening in gongyo.
We are born in this world to enjoy life. We are not born to suffer. This is the basic premise of the Lotus Sutra on the nature of human existence. To live happy and at ease in this world means to enjoy our work and family life, to enjoy helping others through Buddhist activities. If we have a truly high state of life, then even when unpleasant things happen we view them as making life all the more interesting, just as a pinch of salt can actually improve the flavor of a sweet dish. We feel true delight in life, whatever happens.
This sutra passage assures us that we can definitely develop such a great life force. And it urges us to exert ourselves in Buddhist practice toward that end.
"Happy and at ease" here means the joy derived from the Law. To experience the "joy derived from the Law" means to fully savor the eternally unchanging Mystic Law and the power and wisdom that derive from it. In contrast to this joy, there is the "joy derived from desires" — the enjoyment that comes from fulfilling desires of various kinds. While it might seem like genuine happiness, such joy is only temporary and superficial. It does not arise from the depths of our lives and it soon gives way to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Faith enables us to receive the eternal joy derived from the Law. So let us engrave in our hearts this point: We ourselves receive this joy. Because we receive it ourselves, our happiness does not depend on others. No one else can make us happy. Only by our own efforts can we become happy.
Therefore, there is no need to feel envious of others. There is no need to bear a grudge against someone or depend on another person for our happiness. Everything comes down to our state of life. It is within our power to take our lives in any direction we wish.
To be dragged around by other people or the environment is not the way of life the Lotus Sutra teaches. True happiness is not feeling happiness one moment and misery the next. Rather, overcoming the tendency to blame our sufferings on others or on the environment enables us to greatly expand our state of life.
Also, at the most fundamental level, faith is for our sake, not for anyone else's. While we of course practice for ourselves and others and to realize kosen-rufu, ultimately we are the prime beneficiaries of all our efforts in faith. Everything is for our growth; everything contributes to the development of our state of life and the establishment of Buddhahood in our lives. When we practice with this determination, all complaints vanish. The world of Buddhahood that had been covered by the dust of complaints begins to shine, and we can freely and fully savor the joy deriving from the Law.
True 'Peace and Security' Is Having Courage to Overcome Hardships You are obviously included among the "people," and "there" indicates the entire world, which includes Japan. "Happy and at ease" means to know that our lives — both our bodies and minds, ourselves and our surroundings — are the entities of ichinen sanzen and the Buddha of absolute freedom.
The Daishonin says that this passage, "The people there [in my land] are happy and at ease," is about you. The sad thing is that no matter how much we read the sutra or study the Gosho, we still have the tendency to think, "That might be true for others, but my situation is different." Particularly, when we are assailed by storms of adversity, when it seems as though our hearts will burst with woe, we may think, "My sufferings alone are beyond help." But in this passage the Daishonin is telling us that this definitely is not the case.
When this letter was written, Shijo Kingo, its recipient, had been libelously accused of various wrongs by his colleagues and had fallen from favor with his lord as a result. This was all due to envy. Kingo had enjoyed the deep trust of his lord, but he also had the straightforwardness to speak out when he felt it necessary. As a result, he had made many enemies.
People have the tendency to become envious over the slightest thing, which is perhaps human nature. They may try to undercut someone of whom they feel envious and then delight at the person's misfortune. We must not be defeated by this pitiful tendency. To allow ourselves to become caught up in or swayed by such whirlpools of emotion, going from elation one moment to dejection the next, is pointless.
As indicated by the phrase "[receiving oneself] the joy derived from the Law," the key is to develop such inner strength that we can look upon everything from the world of Buddhahood, the condition of supreme happiness. And, as the Daishonin says, steadfastly chanting daimoku enables us to do this.
Also, as the Daishonin indicates where he speaks of "both our bodies and minds, ourselves and our surroundings," Buddhism is not abstract theory involving only the mind. Nor is it about changing our subjective outlook irrespective of other people and our surroundings.
The good fortune and benefit we accumulate in the depths of our lives become manifest on the material plane, as well as in our environment. In our bodies and minds, ourselves and our surround-ings, it is our mind of faith, which is invisible, which moves everything with enormous power and strength in the best possible direction — toward happiness, toward the fulfillment of all our wishes.
Someone who puts this principle into practice is a "Buddha of absolute freedom." Leaving aside a doctrinal discussion of this term, the Buddha of absolute freedom is a Buddha who, while remaining an ordinary person, freely receives and uses limitless joy derived from the Law.
Specifically, the Buddha of absolute freedom is Nichiren Daishonin. In a general sense, the term also refers to those striving to achieve kosen-rufu who have a direct connection in faith to the Daishonin.
"Absolute freedom" is interpreted by the Daishonin as meaning "the property to freely receive and use." In one place he says, "The 'property to freely receive and use' is the principle of a single life-moment possessing 3,000 realms " (Gosho Zenshu, p. 759).
Josei Toda, the second Soka Gakkai president, explained that the Gohonzon is an inexhaustible store of benefit. And Nichikan Shonin declared, "[If only you take faith in this Gohonzon and chant Nam Myoho-renge-kyo even for a while,] no prayer will go unanswered, no offense will remain unforgiven, all good fortune will be bestowed and all righteousness proven."[ref. 4]
The extent to which we can receive and use the vast, profound joy derived from the Law depends entirely on our faith. Will we take only a small cup of water from the ocean, or will we fill up a large swimming pool? Can we freely receive and use still more? This is determined entirely by faith.
If somewhere in your heart you have decided, "I alone am incapable of becoming happy," "Only I cannot become a capable person" or, "Only my sufferings will forever remain unresolved," then that one factor of your mind or determination will obstruct your benefit.
In this passage, therefore, the Daishonin's intention is to tell Shijo Kingo, who was experiencing great hardship, "You, too, can definitely become happy just as the sutra states." The Daishonin expresses his immense compassion here.
There is no greater happiness than having faith in the Lotus Sutra. It promises us "peace and security in this life and good circumstances in the next." There is a saying, "A small heart gets used to misery and becomes docile, while a great heart towers above misfortune." True happiness is not the absence of suffering; you cannot have day after day of clear skies. True happiness lies in building a self that stands dignified and indomitable like a great palace — on all days, even when it is raining, snowing or stormy.
Attaining "peace and security in this life" doesn't mean having a life free from all difficulties, but that whatever difficulties. arise, without being shaken in the least, you can summon up the unflinching courage and conviction to fight against and overcome them. This is the state of life of "peace and security in this life."
And, as indicated by the dictum, "If you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present,"[ref. 5] establishing a great state of happiness and security in this life is proof that in the future you will experience good circumstances; being born into a place conducive to your further growth.
Some religions teach that people will become happy after death even if their present lives are filled with misery. But this is not the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, which explains that we can thoroughly enjoy both the present and the future. That is the essence of Buddhism.
Toward establishing such an existence, we need to develop a strong life force by chanting daimoku and thoroughly challenging the realities of our lives. It is through such efforts that we realize true "peace and security in this life" and "good circumstances in the next."
Regard Both Suffering and Joy as Facts of Life Never let life's hardships disturb you. After all, no one can avoid problems, not even saints or sages.
Not even saints and sages, the Daishonin says, can avoid difficulties. In society, people tend to suppose that if someone is vilified and persecuted, the person must be somehow bad or evil. But from the stand-point of Buddhism, it is possible that people may be verbally attacked and undergo difficulties even though they are without guilt or blame. People may label or write about a good person as though evil, asserting that lies are true and depicting the truth as a lie. This is a fact of human society.
Shijo Kingo, too, suffered on account of calumny. But the Daishonin told him, "Never let life's hardships disturb you." Those who resort to libelous accusations are defeated as human beings; nothing is more lowly and base. We should not be swayed in the least by such despicable actions. Just as you do not put garbage into your mouth, you must not permit such rubbish into your heart. The Daishonin in effect encouraged Shijo Kingo to shut the cowardly behavior of his accusers out of his mind. The Roman philosopher Seneca (4 B.C.E.-C.E. 65) says that the arrows of slander cannot pierce a person of wisdom's heart.[ref. 6]
Much human misery arises from people despairing over things that despairing cannot help. We should not worry about things that no amount of worrying will resolve. The important thing is to build a golden palace of joy in our hearts that nothing can disturb — a state of life like a clear blue sky above the storm, an oasis in the desert, a fortress looking down on high waves.
What matters most is that we fight thoroughly against injustice with a lofty, dauntless spirit. While waging a determined struggle against evil that nearly cost him his life, Nichiren Daishonin cried out [to Shijo Kingo, as they were being led to the execution grounds at Tatsunokuchi], "You should be delighted at this great fortune" (MW-1, 181). And he wholeheartedly anticipated that his disciples would "form their ranks and follow him" (MW-1, 176).
Even a tiny speck of evil that causes people to be unhappy should not be tolerated. Attaining "peace and security in this life and good circumstances in the next" lies precisely in carrying out such a struggle with the faith of indomitable courage.
“Just chant Nam Myoho-renge-kyo, and when you drink sake, stay at home with your wife.” The moment he set foot outside his home, Shijo Kingo was in danger of being attacked by enemies. The Daishonin cautioned him not to act with imprudence, but to stay at home and chant daimoku. And he advised that Shijo Kingo and his wife encourage one another. He taught his follower, in other words, the importance of faith for building a happy, harmonious family.
The Daishonin urged Shijo Kingo to live happily in the present, without brooding on events of the past or needlessly troubling himself over what might happen in the future. Happiness does not lie far off in the distance. It is to be found in the here and now.
Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam Myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. Then you will experience boundless joy from the Law.
In times of suffering, chant daimoku. In times of joy, chant daimoku. Chanting daimoku is itself happi-ness. In life, there are both times of suffering and of joy. These are all irreplaceable scenes in life's drama. Without suffering, we could not appreciate joy. Without tasting the flavors of both suffering and joy, we could not savor life's profundity.
"Suffer what there is to suffer," the Daishonin says. Suffering is inevitable in life. Therefore, we need to be prepared for hardship and to have the inner fortitude to rise above our worries and anxieties. We have to cause the "serene light of the moon of enlightenment" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1262) — the world of Buddhahood-to shine in our lives. Then earthly desires are transformed into enlightenment and we can use everything that happens to fuel our happiness.
To "enjoy what there is to enjoy" means to cause the "mystic lotus of the heart" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 978) to brightly blossom with a sense of appreciation and joy. Someone who can find joy, who can feel appreciation, experiences a snowballing exhilaration and joy in life. Such is the heart's function.
The ocean, even when waves are crashing on its surface, is calm and unchanging in its depths. There is both suffering and joy in life — the point is to develop a profound, indomitable self not influenced by these waves. A person who does so receives the joy derived from the Law.
In the journey of kosen-rufu things will not always proceed smoothly. But we are eternal comrades. People who come together in good times but desert one another when the going gets rough are not comrades. Turning a blind eye to the sufferings of others, using the rationale that "it has nothing to do with me," is not the spirit of comrades. True comrades share both suffering and joy.
We suffer together, rejoice together and bring our lives to fruition together. We regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam Myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. To maintain this comradeship, this single-minded commitment to faith, is our eternal guideline in advancing toward kosen-rufu. Let us ever advance with the strong unity of faith!
Strengthen your faith more than ever. When Nichiren Daishonin was taken to be executed at Tatsunokuchi, Shijo Kingo ran straight to his side. Clutching the reins of the horse on which the Daishonin rode, he resolutely stood at his side, vowing to kill himself and join him in death. He was a person of immensely strong faith who boldly ran forward along the path of mentor and disciple.
Even to Shijo Kingo, who possessed such strong faith, the Daishonin says, "Strengthen your faith more than ever." It's not a matter of what we've done in the past — it's what we do from now on that counts. Strength of faith is what everything comes down to. Faith is strength. It is the greatest power people have.
We receive the power of the Buddha and power of the Law embodied in the Gohonzon in accordance with the power of our faith and practice. Faith is the secret art for thoroughly infusing our daily lives with the inherent power of the universe.
Shijo Kingo exerted himself in faith just as the Daishonin instructed. After his difficulties passed, he showed actual proof by regaining the firm trust of his lord and having the size of his lands doubled. Those colleagues who harassed him suffered pitiful consequences.
To practice just as the Daishonin instructs is the fundamental spirit of the SGI. We are advancing in strict accord with the Gosho's teachings. As long as we remember this point, we can definitely achieve great victory in life and our efforts for kosen-rufu.
The Gosho is truly an eternal teaching, which we should be most grateful to have. Thanks to our having encountered this teaching, we can lead wonderful lives of eternal victory.