What is the purpose of Buddhist study?
A: While there are many reasons to study Buddhism, Ikeda Sensei in an essay points to three. (see February 2020 Living Buddhism, p. 60).
1. Buddhist study helps us deepen our faith.
Someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, may think: I’m sincerely practicing Buddhism. Why did this happen to me?
In such critical times, studying Buddhism helps us quickly transform our doubts and despair into determination and hope.
For instance, Nichiren Daishonin states: “Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way” (“The Good Medicine for All Ills,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 937); and “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” “Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412).
Illness, he teaches, does not equal defeat. Rather, we can turn illness—a suffering that all people are bound to face—into an opportunity to transform our karma, deepen our appreciation for life and further seek enlightenment.
Similarly, in each challenge and struggle we face, we can emerge victorious by studying and applying Nichiren’s writings. Ikeda Sensei says: “We can only be said to have truly studied Nichiren Buddhism when we take action in accord with his writings. There is no genuine Buddhist study without practice. And when we put the teachings into practice, limitless courage wells forth in our lives and we can display boundless ability and strength” (February 2020 Living Buddhism, p. 60).
2. Buddhist study drives our efforts for kosen-rufu.
Nichiren teaches us to clearly discern the causes of suffering and victory in our own lives as well as in the lives of others.
For instance, in his treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” he writes: “When a nation becomes disordered, it is the spirits that first show signs of rampancy. Because the spirits become rampant, all the people of the nation become disordered” (WND-1, 24).
Ultimately, all the injustices and suffering we see in society can be traced back to what is in people’s hearts. Nichiren refuted the erroneous teachings of his day, not because they did not line up with his philosophy, but because he witnessed how they caused people to suffer.
This desire to relieve people’s suffering is the driving force behind Nichiren’s unremitting struggle to spread and establish the ideals of Buddhism in society.
3. Buddhist study opens the way for a new humanism.
The prime teaching of Buddhism is that each person is equal and worthy of utmost respect.
Sensei says: “‘Valuing each individual’—those simple words encapsulate the philosophy and ideals of Nichiren Buddhism, which teaches respect for the dignity of life. Putting these words into practice will lead to the creation of a new solidarity of people that will open the way to a brighter future” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 26, p. 231).
By striving to apply Buddhist study to every aspect of our lives, we can become shining exemplars of “living” Buddhism.
—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department