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Q: I’m interested in Buddhism, but shouldn’t I know more before starting my own practice?

Washington, D.C., August. Photo by RAH’MAD HAWKIN.

It’s wonderful that you would like to study more about Buddhism, and it’s very natural to want to learn as much as you can about something before deciding to incorporate it into your life.

We approach many things in life in a similar way. For example, when scoping out a new restaurant, we might read some online reviews and then go try out the food. Or to improve our health, we may review a highly recommended exercise regimen and then see if it works for us.

Often when trying out something new, we need to follow instructions or recommendations of those who have gained the utmost benefits from it. Similarly, many people begin their Buddhist practice using their desire to transform something and testing it out to see if it works for them. One cannot expect, however, to experience the full benefits of Buddhism by simply gaining knowledge and information about it.

Explaining the best way to develop a solid understanding of how Buddhism works, Nichiren Daishonin states: “Exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomenon,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 386).

So only by giving Buddhist practice a try can you truly experience the full beneficial rewards of Buddhism.

The Connection Between Buddhist Study and Practice

Studying Buddhism serves to support our Buddhist practice and our development into becoming better, happier people. By studying Buddhism, we can bring forth the courage and hope to encourage ourselves when we’ve reached an impasse. We also learn the correct way to carry out Buddhist practice.

In terms of Buddhist practice, there are two key aspects: practice for oneself and practice for others.

Practice for oneself entails chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the 2nd and 16th chapters of the Lotus Sutra every morning and evening. Chanting helps us raise our life condition and find better ways to approach the problems and circumstances we face each day.

Practice for others consists of sharing Buddhism with those around us and supporting fellow Buddhists in advancing their practice. As Nichiren states, “You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomenon,” WND-1, 386).

By engaging in our Buddhist practice for self and others, we develop our own lives, gain a broader view of our own abilities, expand our compassion and transform our own sufferings.

Experiencing the Effectiveness of Buddhism With Your Life

Vastly different from having blind faith, Nichiren Buddhism encourages us to forge our faith by applying Buddhist study to our practice and daily lives.

SGI President Ikeda offers a clear explanation, stating:

Naturally, deepening your understanding of Buddhist doctrine is also important, as it can serve as a motivating force for making efforts in your Buddhist practice. But theory alone is not enough. To know something intellectually is different from knowing it with your life.

In sports such as kendo and judo, just learning the rules and moves doesn’t make you proficient. You actually have to practice and engage in many bouts, learning with your body, with your life, how to win and what to do in different situations. That’s how you hone your ability and technique.

The same is true of faith. Experiencing the power of faith is the direct path to developing conviction. (December 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 47)

If we wait to try Buddhist practice until we feel we have intellectually grasped all of its teachings, the benefits of faith will remain theoretical. Only by practicing Buddhism can you evaluate its true worth.

Nichiren set forth three standards for judging the validity of a given teaching: 1) documentary proof (is in accord with the Buddha’s highest scripture, the Lotus Sutra); 2) theoretical proof (is compatible with reason and logic); and 3) actual proof (actual results or benefits when put into practice). The Daishonin writes: “In judging the relative merit of Buddhist doctrines, I, Nichiren, believe that the best standards are those of reason and documentary proof. And even more valuable than reason and documentary proof is the proof of actual fact” (“Three Tripitaka Masters Pray for Rain,” WND-1, 599).

This is why, in addition to Buddhist study, we encourage you to test this Buddhist practice. You can start by receiving the Gohonzon and enshrining it in your own home. By consistently chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon each morning and evening, you have access to an invaluable tool that enables us to freely and powerfully bring forth courage, wisdom and compassion.

In addition, by attending SGI activities, you can further develop your faith, learn the joys of practicing for oneself and others, and receive wonderful support and encouragement from fellow members.

When we base our lives on the profound philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism, the possibilities that open up before us are limitless. But don’t just take our word for it, try it and see for yourself!

With consistent Buddhist practice, you will undoubtedly deepen your understanding of and appreciation for life, and transform all your circumstances into priceless sources of happiness and benefit.

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