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Daily Life

Mindfulness and Buddhism

On how the popular practice corresponds to the Buddhist ideal of the greater self.


Mindfulness practices are being used more frequently in businesses, schools and other arenas to help people better recognize their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Those promoting mindfulness claim benefits such as stress-relief, and improved clarity and self-awareness.

So, how does mindfulness connect with Nichiren Buddhism’s approach to leading a happy, fulfilled life?

Being more self-aware can contribute to our happiness and well-being. And while mindfulness practices focus on being aware of one’s physical and internal state from one moment to the next, some vital questions to ask are: What is meant by the “self”? Can we change our karma or destiny? What is the most important thing to focus on?

Greater Self and Lesser Self

One way that Buddhism views “self” is through the idea of the “lesser self” and the “greater self.”

The “lesser self” is dominated by egoism and is easily influenced by circumstances and desires, which lead to suffering. In contrast, the “greater self” is awakened to the interconnectedness of life and all that sustains us, and it is grounded in compassion for others.

From the Buddhist perspective, simply observing the lesser self is not enough, nor is the goal to get rid of it. Rather, Buddhist practice aims to help us win over our lesser selves just as a well-known sutra passage states, “Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you” (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 502).

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can elevate our lives, win over our weaknesses and bring forth our strengths. We become adept at tapping into the greater self, or what we call our Buddhahood, which is an eternal and abiding state that both exists in the depths of our lives and pervades the entire universe.

SGI President Ikeda says: “If we base ourselves on our own fickle, ever-changing hearts, we cannot make our way up steep ridges buffeted by the fierce winds of devilish functions. We must set our sights on the solid and unshakable summit of attaining Buddhahood and continually seek to master our minds” (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 107).

We can master our minds by engaging in “bodhisattva practice,” which is driven by the genuine desire to help others overcome suffering while also striving to establish the unshakable life state of Buddhahood in our lives. This is how we powerfully transform all our desires and problems into the fuel for benefitting others, the community and society.

This inner transformation—from being centered on the lesser self to basing one’s life on the greater self—is a vital aspect of our Buddhist practice that we call human revolution.

What might this human revolution look like? A child who suffers from illness chants and decides to become a doctor to help those facing similar health challenges. A person who tends to blame their parents for their unhappiness uses their Buddhist practice to transform into a person who strives to create a better life for their family, desiring to express appreciation to them. Such transformations embody the purpose of Nichiren Buddhist practice and the SGI.

President Ikeda writes:

[On Jan. 26, 1975,] I appealed to members of the newly formed SGI, saying, “Rather than seeking after your own praise or glory, I hope that you will dedicate your noble lives to sowing the seeds of peace of the Mystic Law throughout the entire world” . . . My appeal was a cry from the depths of my heart that we should live the bodhisattva way of life: overcoming the small self of the ego, developing an extended, more inclusive, “greater self”—seeing ourselves in others and feeling others to be part of ourselves. (January 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 59)

A Practice That Leads to Fundamental Change

No matter how we progress and grow, difficulties and stress remain an inevitable part of life. If our actions and decisions are all based on how we feel at a given moment or how our circumstances appear on the surface (our lesser self), we are like rootless plants drifting through life without any solid footing.

Mindfulness practices may help, but Buddhism ofters a sound philosophy that serves as a guide and compass for overcoming life’s challenges and a practice for fundamentally transforming our karma, our deep-seated tendencies.

The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people inherently possess Buddhahood and that, as bodhisattvas, we have an important mission to use our painful trials to develop into outstanding people who can help free many others from their suffering.

Implementing what is taught in this sutra, Nichiren Daishonin triumphed over intense persecutions, creating a means for leading all people to transform their karma and attain absolute happiness by establishing the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon.

President Ikeda explains:

The purpose of the Gohonzon is to enable us to “observe our mind,” that is, to see and awaken to the Buddhahood within our own life. But being able to see the true nature of our mind, or attain enlightenment, is not something achieved through conceptual thought or meditative practice; faith is the foundation. That is why Nichiren writes, “This Gohonzon also is found only in the two characters for faith.” (September 2012 Living Buddhism, p. 31)

By chanting with faith to the Gohonzon, we can face our circumstances head-on and spur ourselves to action based on a deeper sense of purpose and mission. And by using each challenge as an opportunity to pray, make a determination and take action for the sake of kosen-rufu, we can fundamentally transform our deepest karma and suffering into our greatest victory and joy.

Single-Minded Determination

The essence of Buddhism, then, is not to seek a tranquil existence but to establish a towering and indestructible state of life imbued with the spirit to positively and joyfully take on all challenges.

Rather than seeking his own peace and comfort, Nichiren realized that our ichinen (一念), or “single-minded determination,” to lead all people to enlightenment is the key to revealing our boundless Buddha nature—the infinite power source within life.

The idea of “mindfulness” can be traced back to the Sanskrit word smrti (in Pali, sati), which was translated into the Chinese character nen (念), in ichinen, which points to the state of our life at this present moment. Buddhism teaches that our state of life is always in flux based on various causes and conditions.

The constant in life, then, is our ability to make a determination in this moment. President Ikeda explains:

When your determination changes, everything else will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think, “This is never going to work out,” then, at that instant, every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight, and everything then really will move in the direction of failure. (July 11, 1997, World Tribune, p. 14)

Ultimately, by chanting to the Gohonzon with the deep-seated resolve to transcend our “lesser self,” create the utmost value in each moment and help those around us, we can transform the very foundation of our lives. By resolving to fight for our own happiness in order to pave the way for a better society, we can create the life and world we truly desire.

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