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Buddhist Study

What Is True Benefit?

Photo by Dave Goodman

People begin practicing Buddhism for many reasons. Some come to Buddhism hoping to overcome a problem. Others are attracted to it because of its philosophy. And others find solace, clarity or energy from the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. No matter what drew them to it, many attest to experiencing benefits from their Buddhist practice.

So what is benefit from the Buddhist perspective?

There are various ways to answer this question, and a key explanation is based on the idea of conspicuous and nconspicuous benefit.

Many times we get what we chant for, while other times it feels like no matter how much we chant, things don’t seem to happen as we had hoped. Nichiren Daishonin explains the relationship between our prayers and the responses to our prayers, writing:

Concerning prayer, there are conspicuous prayer and conspicuous response, conspicuous prayer and inconspicuous response, inconspicuous prayer and inconspicuous response, and inconspicuous prayer and conspicuous response. But the only essential point is that, if you believe in this sutra, all your desires will be fulfilled in both the present and the future. (“Letter to the Lay Priest Domyo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 750)

In other words, there are times when we pray for something and that prayer manifests (conspicuous prayer, conspicuous response). Other times, our prayer may not lead to immediate results, but as we challenge ourselves, we develop qualities, like patience, perseverance, hope and determination (conspicuous prayer, inconspicuous response). Still in other cases, because of our consistent practice, our life is naturally enhanced, and we enter the path of genuine fulfillment (inconspicuous prayer, inconspicuous response). Finally, through our continued practice, our latent benefits appear at a crucial moment to protect us (inconspicuous prayer, conspicuous response).

Nichiren says the essential point is that by practicing Buddhism consistently, we are guaranteed to develop a life of complete happiness and fulfillment.

There’s no need, then, to be discouraged when we don’t see an immediate response to our prayers. It just means that we need to keep forging on and strengthening our lives.

Nichiren Buddhism focuses on inconspicuous benefit, because that is what brings true happiness. Ikeda Sensei says:

There are cases in which a person’s illness is cured soon after taking faith, but true benefit does not appear in this manner—nor is it anything like beginning to practice and coming into a large sum of money. If the real benefits of faith came in the form of unexpected windfalls without any effort on our part, we’d become lazy and spoiled.

So what is inconspicuous benefit? It can be likened to the growth of a tree. You can spend day after day watching a tree, and nothing will seem to change. But if you observe it after five, 10, 20 years have passed, you will see that it has grown large and tall. In the same way, if you keep practicing this faith for five, 10, or 20 years, your negative karma will disappear, and you will change your destiny, accumulate good fortune and gain tremendous benefit. This is what is meant by inconspicuous benefit, and it is the true benefit of Nichiren Buddhism. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 8, pp. 66–67)

The aim of Nichiren Buddhism is to create a groundswell of one person after another developing a strong life force, the spirit to never give up, the wisdom to take on obstacles as growth opportunities and the ability to lead joyful, fulfilling lives no matter what. As each person develops such empowered lives of inner transformation and unshakable happiness, that in turn will greatly contribute to creating a happier, more compassionate and peaceful world.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

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