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Buddhist Study

Creating Lives of Absolute Freedom


When obstacles and hardships arise in our lives, how do we respond?

Some people may try to avoid struggles. Others get stopped in their tracks, not knowing how to proceed. There are various responses, of course.

As Buddhists, we strive to courageously face hardships head-on. Nichiren Daishonin teaches that in the course of revealing our Buddhahood, obstacles will invariably arise, and when they do, “the wise will rejoice, while the foolish will retreat” (“The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 637).

Essential to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism is the spirit of challenge—to utilize all that we experience, whether good or bad, as a source of personal growth and benefit.

In fact, the Buddhist principle of “changing poison into medicine” teaches that by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can transform all our afflictions and suffering into benefits. The greatest benefit is attaining Buddhahood and developing an inner state of indestructible happiness.

Breaking the Cycle of Suffering

This principle of “changing poison into medicine” can be found in the writings of Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna.[1] He likened the Lotus Sutra to a skilled physician who could transform the poison of suffering into the medicine of enlightenment.

Buddhist sutras prior to the Lotus Sutra taught that the people of the two vehicles[2] could not attain Buddhahood, because of their negative karma. The Lotus Sutra, however, refutes these provisional teachings with its declaration that all people without exception can transform their negative tendencies and attain Buddhahood.

In this idea of “changing poison into medicine,” poison refers to the three paths: earthly desires, karma and suffering.[3] Through the power of the Mystic Law, these three paths can be transformed into the medicine of the Buddha’s three virtues: the Dharma body (the Buddha’s enlightenment), wisdom (knowing how to reveal enlightenment) and emancipation (freedom from suffering).[4]

When we are deluded and unable to understand the value of our own lives as well as the lives of others, our earthly desires, karma and suffering lead to actions that bring about further illusion and torment. From the place of suffering, the cycle starts again, making us a prisoner to our own misery.

But as soon as we begin chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and carrying out correct Buddhist practice, we awaken to the true potential of our lives, find the wisdom to take the most effective actions, and advance freely and joyfully toward the lives we envision.

This is how we break the negative cycle of suffering and delusion, and enter a new positive trajectory of happiness. The Mystic Law not only has the power to change the direction of our lives, but also sets us on an infinite upward climb toward a life of genuine happiness, limitless wisdom and absolute freedom.

The Key to Transforming Our Lives

So, how do we change all the poison in our lives into the greatest medicine?

The key is to decide to be courageous in the face of all obstacles, vow to win, pray powerfully to the Gohonzon and help others do the same.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi wrote:

To live one’s life based on the Mystic Law is to “change poison into medicine.” As long as we live in society, there will be times when we encounter accidents or natural disasters or experience setbacks such as business failures. Such painful and unfortunate events could be described as “poison” . . . But no matter what situation we face, if we base our lives on faith, on the Mystic Law, and exert ourselves in our Buddhist practice without doubting the power of the Gohonzon, we can definitely turn poison into medicine. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 2, p. 61)

Simply lamenting or worrying about a situation will not solve anything. It will only lead to further suffering. As President Makiguchi states above, because we are bound to face hardships as long as we are alive, our only path is to become strong.

Through the power of the Mystic Law, we can bring forth the greatest good from even the greatest evil. As Buddhism teaches, obstacles are a necessary means for attaining Buddhahood and developing indestructible fortune.

Knowing we will undoubtedly face problems, isn’t it better to simply appreciate them as opportunities to grow, and use them to transform our karma and gain even more benefit? By deciding to positively and powerfully confront all hurdles based on faith as they arise, we are guaranteed to lead the most fulfilling lives.

This principle of changing poison into medicine is a beacon of hope that helps us live with the greatest optimism. And as each of us transforms our own destiny, we are opening the way for a transformation in the destiny of all humanity.


  1. Nagarjuna (n.d.): A Mahayana scholar of southern India, thought to have lived between the years 150 and 250. He wrote many important treatises and organized the theoretical foundation of Mahayana thought. ↩︎
  2. Persons of the two vehicles: Voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones who are described as those who are content with their enlightenment and do not seek true Buddhahood. In Mahayana scriptures, they are often compared to rotten seeds that will never sprout, implying that they are incapable of attaining Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra overturns this idea, ensuring Buddhahood for all people. ↩︎
  3. Three paths—earthly desires, karma and suffering: They are called paths because one leads to the other. Earthly desires, which include greed, anger, foolishness, arrogance and doubt, give rise to actions that create evil karma. The effect of this evil karma then manifests itself as suffering. Suffering aggravates earthly desires, leading to further misguided action, which in turn brings on more evil karma and suffering. In this way, the three paths function to prevent a person from attaining Buddhahood. ↩︎
  4. Three virtues—the Dharma body, wisdom and emancipation: Three attributes of a Buddha. The Dharma body means the truth that the Buddha has realized, or the true aspect of all phenomena; wisdom is the capacity to realize this truth; and emancipation means the state of being free from the sufferings of birth and death. ↩︎

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An Expression of Care