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Buddhist Study

Transforming Evil Into the Highest Good

Concept #18: Oneness of Good and Evil

SGI-USA members chanting
Photo by Allen Zaki

In thinking about Buddhism, many imagine a person of serenity, someone who spends time in a tranquil setting with a satisfied, knowing smile.

Nichiren Buddhist practice certainly helps us to maintain our composure and find peace and tranquility within. But rather than needing a tranquil setting, Buddhism teaches that to become such a person requires an ongoing and rigorous struggle, a willingness to challenge and overcome both internal and external evils.

The word evil may conjure various images and ideas. But Buddhism describes evil as that which essentially harms self and others[1] and is rooted in egoism, thinking only about one’s personal interests.[2] It points to our fundamental ignorance, our innate delusion that causes us to doubt our potential for Buddhahood and to devalue ourselves and others.

In contrast, Buddhism describes good as that which benefits self and others. It is based on our fundamental nature of enlightenment, the genuine desire to lead all people to absolute happiness, or enlightenment.

The principle of the “oneness of good and evil” in Buddhism teaches that all phenomena possesses the potential for good and evil. While good and evil on their own have no substance, the oneness[3] of good and evil is only expressed when evil functions to reveal good. If evil is simply allowed to persist in exerting its influence, it remains evil.

Good Comes From Vanquishing Evil

People are neither intrinsically good nor evil. Whether good or evil emerges from our lives depends on our life condition and intent. Anger, for instance, can function as good when directed toward evil actions such as oppression, cruelty or violence. But if we lash out unfairly at others due to a bruised ego or pride, such anger functions as evil.

Ikeda Sensei explains the importance of basing ourselves on faith (devotion to the happiness of self and others) rather than ambition (devotion to self). He states:

A person of faith seeks self-mastery; a person of ambition or power seeks to control others. A person of faith takes action, works hard and struggles to overcome his or her inner weakness; a person driven by a desire for power forces others to work for his own selfish purpose, never reflecting upon himself.[4]

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “One who is thoroughly awakened to the nature of good and evil from their roots to their branches and leaves is called a Buddha.”[5] No matter our state of life, the evil of fundamental ignorance will constantly challenge us, internally and externally. When we know this, we can be ready to take on any situation, determined to transform everything into the greatest good.

Sensei says:

If we perceive our inner evil but neglect efforts to conquer it, then our lives are instantaneously stained with evil. In that sense, a good person is someone who struggles against evil. It is by fighting the evil around us that we eradicate evil within our lives and so purify them. That is the path of human revolution.[6]

Nichiren teaches that “the single word ‘belief’ is the sharp sword” that we can use to cut through fundamental ignorance.[7] Recognizing fundamental ignorance and challenging it with faith—chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with determination and refusing to let difficulties defeat us—is the key to elevating our life state and transforming everything into the greatest good.

Refusing to be Defeated

Examples of transforming evil into great good can be found throughout Buddhism’s history.

Devadatta, Shakyamuni’s cousin and disciple, fell victim to jealousy and ambition. He allied himself with a king in a plot to do away with the Buddha and create disunity in the Buddhist order. The True Word priest Ryokan repeatedly colluded with leaders in the Kamakura shogunate to persecute Nichiren and his disciples.

But both Shakyamuni and Nichiren transformed tumult into fuel for showing their true strength, revealing their Buddhahood and further spreading the correct practice of Buddhism.

Sensei says:

The Buddha’s state of life is such that no power or scheme can harm him. Devadatta’s failed attempts to do away with Shakyamuni eloquently attest to this. We see the same in the case of Nichiren Daishonin. Even with the immense power of the ruling Kamakura shogunate at their disposal, the Daishonin’s enemies could not make good on their schemes.[8]

More recently, the Soka Gakkai faced similar challenges in dealing with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. The priesthood distorted Nichiren’s teachings for their own self-serving interests and persecuted Sensei and Soka Gakkai members.

Similar to Shakyamuni and Nichiren, the Soka Gakkai transformed this intense challenge into a catalyst to clarify correct Buddhist practice in modern times. (Read more about the Soka Gakkai’s spiritual liberation from the priesthood on pp. 6–8.)

In each era, genuine practitioners of the Mystic Law have faced evil while uniting and working for the highest good—to help all people reveal their Buddhahood. Continuing this noble effort, we are enacting the dynamic principle of the oneness of good and evil, in which even evil, when thoroughly confronted and overcome, can serve to strengthen and solidify the path to peace, tranquility and happiness for all humanity.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. See “oneness of good and evil,” The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, <accessed on Nov. 10, 2021>. ↩︎
  2. See The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 80. ↩︎
  3. For more on “Oneness,” see concept #16 in this series, published in the Nov. 5, 2021, World Tribune, p. 9. ↩︎
  4. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 72. ↩︎
  5. “The Kalpa of Decrease,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1121. ↩︎
  6. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 76. ↩︎
  7. See The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 119–20. ↩︎
  8. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, pp. 73–74. ↩︎

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