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What Does It Mean to Have “Faith for Overcoming Obstacles”?

"Since life is a series of ongoing challenges, how we respond to unexpected events is crucial."


Since life is a series of ongoing challenges, how we respond to unexpected events is crucial. Do we accept such events as misfortune and give up? Do we try to avoid problems and wait for time to resolve them? Do we resent our struggles and blame them on others or on our environment? Or do we confront obstacles head-on and transform them as opportunities for further growth?

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that there is utmost value in the latter response. Our faith in and practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to take on all hardships and challenges as the fuel for strengthening our resolve and abilities. This is why developing “faith for overcoming obstacles” is one of the five eternal guidelines of the Soka Gakkai.1

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda presented the first three eternal guidelines in December 1957, after the Soka Gakkai achieved the long-cherished membership goal of 750,000 households. He wanted everyone to be clear why we practice and to not lose sight of the fundamental purpose of faith. In so doing, he wanted to ensure that everyone, without exception, would be able to establish the means for revealing their Buddhahood and becoming absolutely happy.

The purpose of our faith is to enable us to face and overcome all difficulties and challenges in life—whether problems in daily life or challenges in the realm of faith. The word obstacles in the phrase “faith for overcoming obstacles” indicates anything that prevents us from advancing in our Buddhist practice and revealing our Buddhahood.

Buddhism often discusses the “three obstacles and four devils,”2 which arise when we strive to reveal and develop our Buddha nature. The Lotus Sutra also teaches that a person who correctly practices and strives to spread its teaching widely in the Latter Day of the Law will meet persecutions by the “three powerful enemies.”3 Since Buddhist practice involves efforts to create our personal happiness as well as to change society and the world, we are bound to encounter obstacles not only on a personal level but also on a larger scale as our movement for peace expands throughout the world.

What, then, is the key to overcoming obstacles?

The key is to create a winning state of life. This requires us to bring forth our strength, perseverance, wisdom, courage, conviction, composure and to take action. It comes down to developing the life condition to see obstacles as opportunities, as turning points, for developing our best qualities as human beings and deepening our faith. As we strive with this mindset, we can develop the abilities to remain unshaken and to keep fighting. Ultimately, winning means to never give up no matter the circumstances. From this perspective, “faith for overcoming obstacles” has two aspects: 1) persevering and winning over each difficulty; and 2) growing and becoming a person of outstanding character.

In addition, overcoming obstacles doesn’t simply mean having everything turn out the way we planned. In Buddhism, it means challenging those things that make us suffer or sway us in faith, and transforming them into sources that propel us more quickly toward our happiness and enlightenment.

SGI President Ikeda explains, “It is by drawing out into the open, battling and defeating the three obstacles and four devils that we ourselves can become Buddhas” (An Introduction to Buddhism, p. 48).

The more we develop in our Buddhist practice, the more we come to see that obstacles enable us to deepen our faith and transform our karmic tendencies. And as we near the attainment of Buddhahood, Nichiren Daishonin states, “The three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat” (“The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 637).

In the face of obstacles, let’s strive to become “the wise who rejoice,” rising to each challenge with the conviction that we are becoming stronger, forging an indestructible foundation of happiness and revealing our Buddhahood. When we live in this way, we are able to inspire all those around us to strive in the same way, creating waves of hope that help advance our wonderful kosen-rufu movement. WT

SGI President Ikeda’s Guidance

A life without struggle and challenge, a life free from hardship and difficulty, might seem pleasant and easy, but just as a child who is never exposed to the outside air grows up to be weak and frail, a life, a spirit, that is never tested or tempered cannot attain true happiness. Happiness can exist only in the heart of a person with a strong, solid self that is able to confidently overcome anything. In that sense, being able to train and forge ourselves by facing repeated difficulties is in itself a source of happiness. And more than anything, our Buddhist practice dedicated to the realization of kosen-rufu hones us into people of diamond-like happiness (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace: Part 2, p. 174).

1. Five eternal guidelines of the Soka Gakkai are: 1) faith for a harmonious family; 2) faith for achieving happiness; 3) faith for overcoming obstacles; 4) faith for health and long life; and 5) faith for absolute victory.

2. Three obstacles and four devils: various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism.

3. Three powerful enemies: three types of arrogant people who persecute those who propagate the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after Shakyamuni Buddha’s death.