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Buddhist Study

Conspicuous and Inconspicuous Benefits

The old Bodhi tree is in the time of changing leaves in winter when the sun shines through the tree to welcome the new day in the highlands of Vietnam.

Every aspect of our Buddhist practice—faith, practice and study—creates causes that give rise to happiness, benefit and fortune in our lives.

In Nichiren Buddhism, any positive outcome or gain that results from our practice is called a benefit (kudoku in Japanese), which can also be translated as “blessing,” “merit” or “virtue.” Fundamentally, benefits in Buddhism refer to the virtues or excellent qualities we develop in our lives through our faith and practice.

Benefits gained through Buddhist practice can be described in many ways, but Buddhism defines two general categories: conspicuous benefits and inconspicuous benefits.

Conspicuous benefits are often tangible and immediately noticeable. They can range from financial gain to overcoming an illness to finding the ideal job.

Inconspicuous benefits, on the other hand, are not immediately recognized and accrue over a longer time as a result of steadily persevering in Buddhist practice. In Nichiren Buddhism, accumulating inconspicuous benefit is most important, as this type of benefit becomes the foundation for lasting happiness.

Revealing Our Buddhahood Is the Greatest Benefit

Nichiren Daishonin offers this description:

When in one’s heart one takes faith in Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the heart becomes a dwelling and Shakyamuni Buddha takes up residence there . . . At first one is not aware of this, but gradually, as the months go by, the Buddha in the heart begins to appear as in a dream, and one’s heart becomes bit by bit ever more joyful. (“The Buddha Resides in a Pure Heart,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 885)

When you plant a tree sapling, it is nearly impossible to notice its growth from day to day. But in 5, 10 and 20 years, you will clearly see the transformation of the sapling into a strong and tall tree.

Similarly, when we consistently practice Buddhism for 5, 10 or 20 years, we grow stronger and our capacity expands, enabling us to take on even greater challenges and view all things, even our harshest obstacles, as sources of joy and fulfillment. We call this process of inner transformation human revolution.

As we progress in our human revolution, we amass both conspicuous and inconspicuous benefits. Regarding how the two are related, SGI President Ikeda explains that “there is not the slightest doubt that we possess this all-important inconspicuous benefit, which at a crucial moment manifests as conspicuous benefit” (translated from the Jan. 23, 2015, Seikyo Shimbun, p. 1).

The story of Chieko Yamashita (see sidebar) wonderfully demonstrates this idea. As a result of deepening her determination, amassing inconspicuous benefits and engaging in her human revolution, she transformed her marriage, finances and life.

When we determine to change our state of life and persevere in our Buddhist practice, we can bring forth our Buddhahood, revolutionize our lives inside and out, and brim with immeasurable benefit and happiness.

A Story of True Benefit

The following is a summary of Chieko Yamashita’s experience featured in The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, pp. 182–86.

The inspiring story of Soka Gakkai member Chieko Yamashita wonderfully demonstrates the idea that inconspicuous benefit at a crucial moment manifests as conspicuous benefit.

After her husband’s business failed, he began drinking heavily and gambling, causing the couple and their two children to fall into poverty and even homelessness. Despite both of them joining the Soka Gakkai, he vehemently opposed her faith, criticized her practice and physically abused her.

Just in one day, her husband gambled away the roughly $35,000 that she had diligently been saving up to buy a house. That’s when a senior in faith urged her to take full responsibility for her own happiness. Mrs. Yamashita recalled:

When I heard this, I made up my mind to not give up. [Nichiren] Daishonin says: “Buddhism is like the body, and society like the shadow. When the body bends, so does the shadow” (“A Comparison of the Lotus and Other Sutras,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1039). I determined to stop swinging between joy and sorrow because of the chaos in my life and to stop complaining about what my husband was or wasn’t doing . . . it was not about anyone else; everything depended on my life condition.

With this determination, she strove wholeheartedly in Soka Gakkai activities. As a result, after her seventh year of practice, she was offered the opportunity to manage a plot of land.

And rather than focusing on her husband’s faults, she began appreciating him for helping her deepen her faith.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “As soon as my resentment toward my husband turned into appreciation, he suddenly lost his infatuation with gambling. And he began to pray to the Gohonzon.”

When her husband was later diagnosed with cancer, her prayer to the Gohonzon was: “Please take half of my life and give it to my husband. Let us fight for kosen-rufu together.”

His illness brought them closer, and he developed an insatiable desire to learn all he could about Buddhism.

“Through all the negative and positive experiences,” she said, “my husband taught me about faith. He was truly a good friend in faith. I have now grown into a person who can feel incredible appreciation, knowing that I owe everything to the terrible hardship I experienced.”

Over the years, Mrs. Yamashita developed the plot of land that she was asked to manage, later becoming the president of a company that operates a 36,000 square-foot bicycle parking lot. She gained enough financial fortune to build a personal community center, which was named Yamashita Glory Community Center by President Ikeda.

She is a great example of how accruing inconspicuous benefits, such as developing an unbending determination and genuine appreciation for even our greatest challenges, can help transform our life into one that abounds with great conspicuous benefits, joy and happiness.

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