If people are hardworking and self-reliant, why do they need religion?

This Q&A series addresses frequently asked questions by those who are interested in Nichiren Buddhism.

Riverside, California. Photo: Nick Barba.

Q: I think religion is a crutch for the weak. If people are hardworking and self-reliant, why do they need religion?

A: Many people today shy away from religion for a variety of reasons. Some religions downplay the capacity of human beings to effect change in the world and encourage leaving such things to providence.

But every person believes in something. The question is: Do your beliefs help you transform your life on a fundamental level? You, for example, believe that a person should work hard and be selfreliant. We could say that, in a sense, is part of your “religion,” your belief system.

From where does religion originate? Religion came into being in response to the desire for fulfillment and happiness, says SGI President Ikeda. “Religion is proof of our humanity,” he says. “For instance, people instinctively wish for protection for themselves and their loved ones when faced with a sudden natural disaster or threat and at the most desperate and dire of times. When such a wish is powerfully focused, it becomes a prayer. It lies beyond the realm of logic or intellect” (Discussions on Youth, new edition, p. 212).

Many people in the world work very hard yet still experience suffering. And despite our own best efforts, many things are beyond our control. War, conflict, poverty, environmental damage, hunger, thirst and disease continue to plague humanity, despite the intentions of the most able among us.

Nichiren Buddhism addresses these issues from the perspective of the eternal nature of life: Our personal and collective circumstances result from karma that we ourselves created through our past actions over repeated lifetimes. Fortunately, it also shows us the way to positively change the course of that destiny and help those around us do the same, erasing the negative effects of past causes and transforming them into positive results. And it provides the means for developing that power to the fullest extent.

Self-reliance and personal effort are important, but alone they are not enough. From the perspective that we are part of a collective called humanity, we can see that genuine happiness cannot be found in isolation.

If you play a sport, you are certainly the one responsible for practicing and improving your skills. But only by working with an experienced coach and supportive teammates will you achieve new levels of excellence.

If you attend an SGI discussion meeting, you’ll find many strong, self-reliant people who will share with you how their lives have become even more fulfilled through Buddhist practice. They will also convey their deep joy and satisfaction in being able to help others achieve similar results. This is why practice for self and others is a vital aspect of Nichiren Buddhism.

The purpose of Nichiren Buddhist practice is to help you enhance the effectiveness of your efforts in whatever you do, and to improve your strengths and overcome your weaknesses at the deepest level. It enables you to bring forth deep self-confidence and the limitless potential and worth in others, and provides a sure way to fully utilize that potential, creating a ripple effect that can even change society and create a foundation for peace. Even if you feel you don’t need it, you cannot fail to benefit from it.