How To Experience A Breakthrough Practice
3 Keys to breaking through stagnation.
Q: Why do even good Buddhists sometimes reach an impasse in their practice?
A: Nichiren Daishonin explains in “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime”:
Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 3)
This means that it is possible for a person to carry out their Buddhist practice, but with no more of an impact than an inferior teaching. In fact, Nichiren describes the prayers of such people as “no different from those of non-Buddhists” (WND-1, 3).
Nichiren explains in the same writing that it means to believe that the Mystic Law (and, thus, the solutions to our problems) lies outside ourselves. He elaborates:
Your practice of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of the sufferings of birth and death in the least unless you perceive the true nature of your life. If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, then your performing even ten thousand practices and ten thousand good deeds will be in vain. It is like the case of a poor man who spends night and day counting his neighbor’s wealth but gains not even half a coin . . . unless one perceives the nature of one’s life, one’s practice will become an endless, painful austerity. (WND-1, 3–4)
So what are keys to breaking through stagnation? We find answers in Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement.
1. PRAYER BASED ON A VOW
A breakthrough practice begins with prayer based on a vow for kosen-rufu. During his first overseas trip in October 1960, President Ikeda spoke with a Brazilian farmer whose crops had failed, putting him into debt without a solution in sight. He urged the farmer to exercise his ingenuity and make twice as much effort as anyone else, while basing his prayer on a pledge.
When the farmer expressed surprise by the idea of prayer being a pledge, President Ikeda explained:
Prayer in Nichiren Buddhism means to chant daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] based on a pledge or vow. At its very core, this vow is to attain kosen-rufu. It means chanting resolutely with the determination: “I will realize kosen-rufu in Brazil. Therefore, I will show magnificent actual proof in my work. Please enable me to somehow bring forth my greatest potential.” This is what our prayer should be like. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 1, p. 244)
In his November 2013 message marking the completion of the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu, President Ikeda writes of the great vow for kosen-rufu: “The heart of the great vow for kosen-rufu and the life state of Buddhahood are one and the same. Therefore, when we dedicate our lives to this vow, we can bring forth the supreme nobility, strength and greatness of our lives. When we remain true to this vow, the limitless courage, wisdom and compassion of the Buddha flow forth from within us. When we wholeheartedly strive to realize this vow, the ‘poison’ of even the most difficult challenge can be transformed into ‘medicine,’ and karma transformed into mission” (January 2014 Living Buddhism, p. 8).
Ultimately, our vow is a determination to fight the same battle as the mentor. What battle is the mentor fighting now? It is to eternalize the foundation of kosen-rufu, which ultimately means to raise successors. In his poem “Creating a Torrent of Capable People,” President Ikeda shares:
The heart of the great vow for kosen-rufu and the life state of Buddhahood are one and the same. Therefore, when we dedicate our lives to this vow, we can bring forth the supreme nobility, strength and greatness of our lives.
2. CHANGE BEGINS WITHIN
When we reach a deadlock, it’s easy to look for answers outside ourselves, but our prayers diminish in power when we do so. President Ikeda explains why:
To seek the Mystic Law somewhere outside of us essentially amounts to evading responsibility for our own lives. Practicing Nichiren Buddhism means not being swayed this way or that; it means constructing a self that is solid and resolute like towering Mount Fuji. But if we neglect this task and focus our energies somewhere else, before we’re even aware of it, we can end up veering onto the path of externally seeking the Law. (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 31) President Ikeda points out some of the warning signs that our practice is veering off the path of correct faith:
“If we chant to the Gohonzon but always blame other people or our environment for our circumstances, we are avoiding the challenge of tackling our inner darkness or ignorance. By doing so, we are seeking enlightenment outside of us. By changing ourselves on a more profound level, we can begin to improve our situation. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the driving force for that change.” (p. 31)
“It is also important that we don’t fall into the trap of practicing ‘dependent’ faith, where we pin our hopes on having our prayers answered through the divine or transcendental powers of gods or Buddhas . . . people of dependent faith avoid looking at their problems. They don’t have the courage or make any actual effort to challenge their situation. In such cases, quite frankly, faith is simply something people hide behind as they avoid dealing with reality. Without a struggle, however, we cannot directly engage the gears of our human revolution.” (pp. 31–32)
“In addition, it is important that we try to rid our lives of ambiguous, elusive doubt and disbelief as well as grumbling and complaining. The erroneous belief that Myoho-renge-kyo (the Mystic Law) exists outside of our lives has at its core an inability to believe that all people—ourselves and others— possess the Buddha nature. And this disbelief stems from fundamental darkness . . . Grumbling and complaining are the principal gateways to ambiguous, elusive doubt and disbelief . . . Should such behavior become habitual, it will act as a constant brake on our growth and cause us to forget about advancing and improving ourselves. We will then effectively close off our own potential, falling into the path of seeking the Law outside of us.” (p. 32)
3. EXERT ALL-OUT EFFORT
Nichiren teaches us about the strength of determination it takes to win—to construct the foundations of absolute happiness within—when he states, “If in a single moment of life we exhaust the pains and trials of millions of kalpas, then instant after instant there will arise in us the three Buddha bodies with which we are eternally endowed” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 214).
To avoid the kind of outwardly seeking, half-hearted prayer that leads us to deadlock, it’s important to strenuously exert ourselves to chant the daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] of a Bodhisattva of the Earth, full of responsibility, determination and mission for the sake of kosen-rufu and the happiness of others, while “praying as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” (“Rebuking Slander of the Law,” WND-1, 444).
To that end, President Ikeda states:
When facing any challenge, it is important to attack it with all our might. Focusing all our efforts on this challenge is the way to victory. The basic strategy in any struggle is to tackle it with all-out effort . . . Let’s also advance with the determination to actively take on all challenges and experience the joy of achieving one exhilarating victory after another. (June 2, 2017, World Tribune, p. 3)
With this kind of stand-alone prayer as the foundation, we can develop the best strategy, and employ it with courage and perseverance.
Our happiness is worth the effort.