How can I explain my Buddhist practice to my family and friends?

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

Minneapolis Photo: Cathy Allen.

Q: How can I explain my Buddhist practice to my family and friends who don’t seem to understand why I’m doing this?

A: Your decision to practice Nichiren Buddhism may bring about various reactions from your family and friends. We can’t expect everyone to understand what we are doing from the outset, especially when they see it as something entirely new, different and unfamiliar.

Please patiently explain as best you can the principles of Buddhist philosophy and why you chose to undertake it. But more persuasive than any explanation will be the positive changes they see in your life.

The real value of a philosophy or religion can be seen in the way its practitioners live, and how they treat and interact with others. Nichiren Buddhism encourages us to develop a life condition in which we can embrace all those around us with genuine respect and compassion, while continuing to polish our own character.

Nichiren Daishonin says: “The heart of the Buddha’s lifetime of teachings is the Lotus Sutra, and the heart of the practice of the Lotus Sutra is found in the ‘Never Disparaging’ chapter. What does Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s profound respect for people signify? The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 851–52).

Nichiren teaches that the essential practice of the Lotus Sutra is found in the behavior of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging, who was severely persecuted yet, believing in the Buddha nature of all people, bowed in reverence to everyone, including his persecutors. For Nichiren Buddhists today, this means showing utmost respect to each person with whom we interact.

The practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is powerful. And when we chant and resolve to work for our own happiness and the happiness of those around us, its power becomes truly apparent. We then begin to feel real joy, and can positively influence the lives of our loved ones—even those who do not practice—toward lasting happiness.

The important thing is to continue striving along this path of faith that you have chosen. SGI President Ikeda often encourages those who are the only ones in their families who practice Buddhism to become like the sun, warmly illuminating their entire family. He also says:

In many cases, other family members are not practicing Nichiren Buddhism. There is no need to worry or grow anxious about this. That is because, if we ourselves stand up earnestly and confidently in faith, we can lead all of our family and relatives in the direction of happiness and hope. We are like a solitary lighthouse on a dark night, enabling numerous ships to safely sail the seas. (February 2016 Living Buddhism, pp. 51–52)

As you strive to live in this way, you will naturally build and strengthen relationships of mutual care and trust with your family and friends. The human revolution of one person opens the way for the happiness of all.

For more on this topic, please see pp. 50–59 (Chapter 20: Be Good Citizens!).

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