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Q: What is the meaning of my struggles?

Woman hiking in the Dolomites, South Tyrol, Italy
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Many of us may have experienced listening to someone share how they achieved something wonderful, only to be left thinking, How great for them, but I could never do something that amazing.

Regarding the tendency to think less of ourselves, American philosopher Walt Whitman writes:

Why what have you thought of yourself ?
Is it you then that thought yourself less?
Is it you that thought the President greater than you?
Or the rich better off than you? Or the educated wiser than you?
We consider bibles and religions
divine—I do not say they are not divine,
I say they have all grown out of you,
and may grow out of you still,
It is not they who give the life, it is you who give the life.[1]

Similarly, Nichiren Buddhism teaches the greatness of each person’s life, and that each of us has a unique and valuable mission to contribute to this world.

To answer the question—our struggles exist to help us see what we’re made of. From the Buddhist perspective, we each have the supreme life state of Buddhahood within—that’s “what we’re made of.” The only way to bring out our Buddhahood is to challenge ourselves to positively transform the “poison” of all our trials and suffering into the greatest “medicine” for leading the most fulfilling life.

If we give in to negativity and defeat, we can’t bring forth our true strength and power. But if we face each obstacle with determination and perseverance, we can develop our lives to the highest degree.

We can do this by chanting and tapping the limitless power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Buddhism to understand the correct attitude with which to face our struggles and encouraging others along the way. By overcoming our unique hardships and challenges, we not only inspire those around us but also open the way to hope and victory for all people.

As Nichiren Daishonin writes:

“Could there ever be a more wonderful story than your own?” (“Letter to the Brothers,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 499)

The Ikegami Brothers’ “Wonderful Story”

Nichiren wrote the letter containing the above passage in 1275 to the Ikegami brothers, Munenaka and Munenaga. By this time, both brothers had been practicing the Daishonin’s teachings for almost two decades.

However, one of their greatest challenges had just been thrust upon them. Their father, who had long opposed their faith, had disowned the older brother, Munenaka, which in feudal Japanese society meant losing the right of succession, social standing and financial support. And it also meant that Munenaga stood to gain everything his older brother lost. This was a cunning move meant to drive a wedge between the brothers and force one, if not both, of them to recant their faith.

In this letter, using historical examples and tales of fathers and sons, Nichiren encourages the brothers and their wives to unite and persevere based on faith.

In fact, because their father was not successful the first time, he disowned Munenaka again in 1277. Because of the brothers’ resolute faith and dedication to carry out Nichiren’s guidance, however, they led their father to take faith in 1278.

The Ikegami brothers’ struggle and victory highlight crucial elements of Buddhist practice, such as never giving up in faith, the power of unity and how to create a harmonious family.

Just as Nichiren said, their “wonderful story” continues to inspire so many of us in 2021!

Theirs is a “wonderful story” of standing up as Nichiren’s disciples and winning over devilish functions that attempted to halt their progress in faith. While their story may sound to some like a distant fairy tale, Ikeda Sensei says, “There is no need to try and capture distant stars from the sky, for the source of all victory lies within” (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 92).

Each of us today, whether we are dealing with issues surrounding self-esteem, trauma, relationships, finances, work or anything else, has the power to change our struggles into the fuel for creating the happiest, most fulfilling lives!

Sensei also says:

There is no negative karma that cannot be transformed through the power of faith in the Mystic Law. I hope each of you will write your own triumphant story of human revolution that will continue to be told for endless generations to come. (Jan. 1, 2011, World Tribune, p. 2)

3 Interesting Things to Know About the Ikegami Brothers

1. The Ikegami brothers are thought to have been among Nichiren Daishonin’s first disciples. While the timing of when they began their practice is not clearly known, it is thought to have been around 1256.

2. The Ikegami family worked in construction. Their father, Ikegami Saemon no Tayu Yasumitsu, held an important post in the Office of Construction and Repairs of the Kamakura shogunate.

3. Nichiren spent his very last days at the residence of Ikegami Munenaka (in present-day Tokyo). He passed away there in October 1282.

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  1. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (New York: Pocket Books, 2006), p. 239 and p. 243. ↩︎

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