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Buddhist Study

Winning Over Arrogance

In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist has a portrait painted of himself to preserve his good looks. Years pass and Dorian remains conceited and youthful while the portrait turns ugly and lusterless. He dies when he tries to destroy the portrait, which was evidence of his wicked ways. Photo by AF ARCHIVE / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi once said: “Do we make our lives dwellings of the Buddha, which lead us to happiness, or do we instead make them abodes of devilish functions, which lead us to unhappiness? We have to choose either one or the other. Actively driving devilish functions out and defeating them will lead to happiness and kosen-rufu” (Learning From Nichiren’s Writings: The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 98).

The only way to establish unshakable and lasting happiness in our lives and to ensure the flow of kosen-rufu into the future is to recognize and battle the devilish functions that arise both within our own lives, within the SGI as well as in the people and circumstances around us.

Nichiren Daishonin admonishes: “As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere … One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them” (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 501).

Therefore, we must vow to fight against such devilish functions and be prepared for them to arise as we advance in our Buddhist practice.

Signs of Arrogance

Arrogance is a dangerous attitude that can quickly bring one to become an “abode of devilish functions,” as Mr. Makiguchi noted above. Buddhism teaches that arrogance is inherent in our tendency to perceive our own value based on comparisons with others. It is a reflection of a very shallow and limited view of oneself.

In discussing arrogance, SGI President Ikeda explains: “This is manifested in someone who has a high opinion of themselves and looks down on others. When a person grows arrogant, they stop listening to others, and they become lax about doing Soka Gakkai activities and sincerely studying Nichiren Buddhism. Their arrogance will alienate others, leaving them without anyone to point out their errors. The higher a person’s social standing, the more likely they are to fall victim to this devilish function.

“Members who manifest this tendency will take part in activities as long as their efforts are applauded and praised by everyone, but when no one is there to make them feel important, they will neglect their practice. As a result, they won’t be able to change their karma or elevate their life state, and their good fortune will run out. They will find themselves all alone and end up sad and miserable” (February 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 52).

Over the years, there have been a number of cases in which Soka Gakkai leaders and members have succumbed to such arrogant tendencies and led other members astray, at times to great detriment.

Some common tendencies among such leaders:

  • believing in their own superiority over others—whether in having more experience in Buddhist practice, higher leadership positions, more knowledge in Buddhist study or more direct experiences with President Ikeda;
  • losing their seeking spirit in faith;
  • separating themselves from frontline SGI activities, such as no longer attending discussion meetings;
  • and failing to maintain the basics of Buddhist practice, such as doing gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every day, and propagating Buddhism.

Though it may be easy to clearly list such qualities, those who are driven by arrogance are consumed by self-centeredness and self-preservation, and often take on seemingly noble personas to get their way and to manipulate those around them to serve their own needs. This is why such tendencies can “emerge in confusing form” and are not so easy to detect.

How to Win Over Arrogance

Based on this understanding of the nature of devilish functions that arise in the form of arrogance, the most important point is how to win over such tendencies.

All devilish functions seek to cause doubt, confusion and division, especially among those who are striving to correctly practice Buddhism.

Therefore, we must strive to create beautiful and powerful unity based on the basics of faith, practice and study, and the oneness of mentor and disciple.
The following two excerpts from The New Human Revolution can help us in battling arrogance:

The greatest offense in Buddhism is to disrupt or destroy from within the unity of “many in body, one in mind” directed toward realizing kosen-rufu. It would be as if, while waging an intense battle for kosen-rufu, our comrades-in-arms set fire to the castle we share and turned their swords against us. Those who undermine this unity, no matter how they may try to justify it, are doing the work of the devil king of the sixth heaven. (March 1, 2019, World Tribune, special insert, p. 5)

• • •

Especially, in the realm of faith, those who neglect the basics, who are consumed by a desire for fame and fortune, and who try to get by with the least amount of effort always stumble in the end. But don’t forget that though they may fool others, no one can escape the strict Buddhist law of cause and effect.

I hope that you will diligently practice the basics in every area, remain unswayed by circumstances, give sincere, serious and wholehearted attention to dealing with each challenge you face, and triumph over all. As you repeat that process, your life will begin to shine brightly. I’d like you to have confidence in this. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 30, “Great Mountain” Booklet, p. 23)

Always staying grounded in the basics of Buddhist practice, let’s “employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other” (“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1001), abundantly chanting to protect and expand our movement for kosen-rufu. By always wholeheartedly engaging in faith, we can develop lives of absolute happiness, wisdom, compassion and courage, and help all those around us establish these same qualities in their lives.

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Q: Is there a faster way to achieve kosen-rufu than reaching person by person?