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Gosho Study

I’m doing all I can to achieve my goals, so why am I facing so many setbacks?

Answer: Especially when working hard toward something, an obstacle is often a sign of progress. Keep going, taking every setback as a chance to become stronger and wiser.

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images.

This study series focuses on Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples, who faced challenges that we can still relate to today, and his enduring encouragement to them that we can apply to dynamically transform our lives.

We probably all have succumbed to blaming others for our misery, having a low sense of self-worth or giving up too easily on a goal. Such negative tendencies can be hard to shake, especially when we’re facing problems. 

Our Buddhist practice helps us recognize and break through such limiting tendencies and fortify our inner strength to keep moving onward and upward.

By way of encouraging his disciple Misawa, Nichiren Daishonin expresses his resolve to overcome every obstacle and open the way for all people to attain enlightenment. 

Obstacles Will Inevitably Arise 

In 1278, Nichiren wrote a letter to Misawa, a lord who held a fief in Misawa in the Fuji District of Suruga Province. It seems that Misawa had lost touch with the Daishonin for some time. The reason for this is unclear. But the Hojo clan, hostile toward Nichiren and his disciples, controlled much of the land in the Fuji District. To make matters worse, that same year, in Fuji District’s Atsuhara Village, authorities intensified their oppression of Nichiren’s disciples, leading some to face execution. 

Thus, Nichiren encouraged Misawa to exercise caution and be resolved, teaching that serious obstacles will try to hinder us when we strive to attain enlightenment. He writes: 

Even though one may encounter a wise teacher and the true sutra and thereby embrace the correct teaching, when one resolves to break free from the sufferings of birth and death and attain Buddhahood, one will inevitably encounter seven grave matters known as the three obstacles and four devils, just as surely as a shadow follows the body and clouds accompany rain. (“Letter to Misawa,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, 894)

Each time we “resolve to break free of suffering,” we make a cause to overcome the deep-seated negative functions that hinder us from reavealing our enlightened potential. 

In other words, facing adversity, whether internal or external, is a good sign that we are progressing toward establishing a stronger, happier self.

The Devil King and His Ten Troops

Nichiren also explains that when we are “ready to attain Buddhahood,” the most powerful function, called the devil king of the sixth heaven, opposes our advancement (see “Letter to Misawa,” WND-1, 894). This devil king personifies the negative workings within us that devalue people’s lives. He directly opposes practitioners of the Lotus Sutra, who seek to reveal the limitless potential, or Buddhahood, in all people. 

When we’re about to experience a significant breakthrough, we can expect this devil king to appear with his “ten kinds of troops,” our inherent negative tendencies. They are: 1) greed, 2) care and worry, 3) hunger and thirst, 4) love of pleasure (also craving),
5) drowsiness and languor, 6) fear, 7) doubt and regret, 8) anger, 9) preoccupation with wealth and fame, and 10) arrogance and contempt for others. 

These troops can sway us in varied and subtle ways, dampening our will to chant or participate in SGI activities, and thus block our way to happiness. 

Ikeda Sensei says in his lecture on this letter that devilish functions aim to “deprive people of their benefit and even their lives” (Learning From the Writings: The Hope-Filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 167). 

How to Vanquish Devilish Functions 

Step 1: Develop the wisdom to be ready for and recognize devilish functions, which inevitably arise to keep us from progressing in faith. 

Devilish functions are elusive because they “emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 281). But by chanting, studying Nichiren’s writings and sharing Buddhism with others, we find the wisdom to recognize them. Reading Sensei’s encouragement and seeking advice from seniors in faith can also help us recognize both limitations and strengths that can be hard to see on our own. 

Step 2: Continue working for the happiness of others while developing our inner fortitude. 

Nichiren’s desire for the happiness of all people gave him the power to triumph over one great persecution after another. “I promised that, no matter what might befall me, I would maintain my faith without regressing, and if I became a Buddha, I would lead all of you to enlightenment” (“Letter to Misawa,” WND-1, 895), he says. 

The millions of Soka Gakkai members today chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and building happy lives are proof that he fulfilled his promise. 

By connecting with the same desire as Nichiren, we can find the power to weather any adversity and emerge triumphant. 

Each moment is decisive. Our resolve determines everything, and chanting enables us to keep our life force and resolve strong. Rather than succumbing to our negative tendencies when things get tough, Sensei instructs us to “grit our teeth, hold our ground and refuse to be defeated. Standing firm until the power of the devil king is exhausted constitutes the first step for our future progress” (The Hope-Filled Teachings, p. 177). 

As we repeat this process and win over our weaknesses more and more, we will find limitless happiness for ourselves and open the path for countless others to do the same. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

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