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Buddhist Study

Voluntarily Assuming the Appropriate Karma


Many SGI members begin practicing Nichiren Buddhism hoping to change something in their lives or to find a deeper sense of fulfillment and happiness. We meet many people in the SGI who have transformed long-term despair into lasting hope, experiencing a great change in the meaning they derive from living. From the standpoint of faith, they have come to see every problem as an opportunity and as a source of growth, strength and valuable experience for encouraging others.

“Voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma” is one of several Buddhist concepts that aim to inspire us to approach difficulties from a fresh and hopeful perspective. These include principles such as “changing poison into medicine” and “earthly desires are enlightenment,” the latter meaning that through Buddhist practice we transform human weaknesses and afflictions into the fuel for growth and happiness.

The Lotus Sutra illustrates this through the principle of “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma.” Although this may sound a little daunting, hopefully it is not difficult to grasp and apply.

In the sutra’s 10th chapter, “Teacher of the Law,” Shakyamuni Buddha describes the great virtues of those who strive to teach people the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after his passing, declaring:

You should understand that these people are great bodhisattvas who have succeeded in attaining supreme perfect enlightenment. Pitying living beings, they have vowed to be born among them where they may broadly expound . . . the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law . . . These people voluntarily relinquish the reward due them for their pure deeds and, in the time after I have passed into extinction, because they pity living beings, they are born in this evil world so they may broadly expound this sutra. (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 200)

Buddhism generally attributes a person’s birth in a particular time and land to one of two different kinds of causes: one is the result of their own wishes or vows; the other is the result of their karma—the actions or causes they have made in past lives.

Ordinary people were thought to be born into this world due to their karma, while bodhisattvas were said to be born as a result of their own desire and vow to spread the teachings and lead others to enlightenment.

Based on the Lotus Sutra, however, Nichiren Buddhism sees no distinction between ordinary people and bodhisattvas. Rather, bodhisattvas are ordinary people who have made a great vow to lead many people to happiness. They hold in the depths of their lives the great wish to spread the Mystic Law for that purpose, while striving to overcome the negative aspects of their own karma as a means to encourage others.

By identifying with these bodhisattvas and praying powerfully to the Gohonzon, we can come to regard adversity in a whole new light. On one level, our sufferings arise from our past karma. But on another, by challenging our problems, we transform them into opportunities to fulfill our vow to lead others to happiness.

Nichiren Daishonin himself saw hardships and opposition in this light, often making statements, such as “Because I view things this way, I feel immeasurable delight even though I am now an exile” (“The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 386).

When we view obstacles from the Buddhist perspective, we can resolve to prove the power of our practice by supporting others amid the tumult of society while winning over our problems without fail.

Regarding people’s suffering as our own, we can serve as models of how to win in every aspect of life and change problems into sources of joy. Our karmic suffering then serves to assist us in fulfilling our mission as Bodhisattvas of the Earth in this life.

SGI President Ikeda has proposed that, in modern terms, this principle of “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma” can be stated as “changing karma into mission.” With this perspective, he states:

Our lives will brim with the wisdom, courage, strength, hope and joy to overcome every hardship and daunting obstacle that arises. As we bravely triumph over the onslaughts of karma, we demonstrate the validity of the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism and the tremendous benefit of our Buddhist practice, and further advance kosen-rufu. In fact, we have willingly taken on these hardships and sufferings in order to do just that.

Karma and mission are two sides of the same coin, and our karma directly becomes our unique and noble mission. That is why, when we dedicate our lives to kosen-rufu, there is no destiny that we cannot change. (March 2019 Living Buddhism, pp. 16–17)

When troubles arise, there is no need to wonder, “Why me?” Rather, we can be assured that it is the very opportunity we need to prove our real strength and lead a purposeful and fulfilling life.

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s Mentor

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