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Life Lessons from Nichiren

Can my family members become happy even though they don’t practice Buddhism?

Answer: Yes. As you grow stronger and more generous, gain fortune and become the pillar of happiness in your family, they will also feel more assured and happy.

Thomas Barwick/ Getty Images.

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

When Ikeda Sensei was younger, he also had the same question. He started practicing Nichiren Buddhism at age 19, and while his mother eventually joined the Soka Gakkai, his father hadn’t. 

His mentor, Josei Toda, sensing Sensei’s wish for his father to practice, offered this guidance:

The important thing is that you stand up with strong faith. A big, magnificent umbrella can shelter many people all at once. In the same way, if one family member starts striving in faith, that person can protect the entire family. The benefit and good fortune you obtain through the wholehearted efforts you are making in your Buddhist practice will also be transmitted to your father. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 7, p. 39)

Now, after decades of Buddhist practice, Sensei assures us that just one person in a family sincerely chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and practicing Buddhism can bring happiness to their family members, deceased loved ones and even to those who may oppose one’s Buddhist practice. 

Nichiren Daishonin’s disciple Soya Kyoshin also thought about this very issue as it related to his deceased father, who had not taken faith in the Lotus Sutra. In “Letter to Horen,” the Daishonin assures Kyoshin that his father is sure to attain Buddhahood thanks to his son’s dedicated faith and efforts. Let’s learn more from their exchange. 

 ‘A Secret Means for Leading All Living Beings to Buddhahood’

A feudal lord of Soya Village in Shimosa Province, Kyoshin is thought to have served as a retainer to Lord Chiba, the military governor of Shimosa. Kyoshin remained steadfast in his faith in Nichiren’s teachings even amid the most trying times of the Tatsunokuchi Persecution and Sado Exile. When he became a lay priest,  Nichiren gave him the Buddhist name Horen Nichirai. 

In 1275, reporting to Nichiren about offering prayers for his deceased father, Kyoshin wrote: “From the morning when my compassionate father closed his eyes to the thirteenth anniversary of his passing, I have recited the verse section of the ‘Life Span’ chapter before Shakyamuni Thus Come One and have transferred the merits to the departed” (“Letter to Horen,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 513).

The Daishonin commended Kyoshin for offering prayers for his deceased father each year since his passing. He emphasized that faith in the Lotus Sutra is the greatest way to repay our gratitude to our parents because it teaches that all people can attain enlightenment. He writes: 

The Lotus Sutra offers a secret means for leading all living beings to Buddhahood. It leads one person in the realm of hell, one person in the realm of hungry spirits, and thus one person in each of the nine realms of existence to Buddhahood, and thereby the way is opened for all living beings to attain Buddhahood. (“Letter to Horen,” WND-1, 512)

In this passage, he refers to people in the worlds of hell and hunger—which, among the Ten Worlds,[1] are the realms most filled with suffering. Because all nine worlds, from hell to bodhisattva, contain the world of Buddhahood, no matter what state of life we may be experiencing at the moment, we can bring forth Buddhahood in an instant by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. 

In other words, if those who are suffering the most can reveal their enlightenment, so can all others. 

Thus, no matter what hardship or problem we face, by practicing Buddhism and supporting others, we can tap our Buddhahood—our infinite potential and optimism—and bring forth the passion, perseverance, hope and courage to transform our lives for the better. 

When We Change, Everything Changes

When we change, our environment and the world change. As Buddhists, the basic premise of how we transform our families, our communities and the world lies in the inner transformation of one person.

French author André Maurois (1885–1967) wrote: “The most profound revolutions are spiritual. They transform people who, in turn, transform the world.”[2] The transformation of one person can inspire others to action. 

On a deeper level, the Daishonin also states in “Letter to Horen” that all women and men were our parents at some point in our past existences (see WND-1, 512), underscoring the interconnectedness of life and the idea that one person attaining Buddhahood opens the way for all others to do so. 

Deepening our genuine wish for the happiness of our parents, family members and loved ones connects to the greater desire for the happiness of all people. As Sensei says, “The human revolution of a single individual opens the way to a breakthrough for the happiness and victory of all” (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 7, p. 39). 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

References

  1. Ten Worlds: A classification of ten distinct life states that form the foundation for the Buddhist view of life. They are the worlds of: 1) hell, 2) hungry spirits, 3) animals, 4) asuras, 5) human beings, 6) heavenly beings, 7) voice-hearers, 8) cause-awakened ones, 9) bodhisattvas and 10) Buddhas. ↩︎
  2. Translated from French. André Maurois, Au commencement était l’action (In the beginning was action) (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1966), 93. ↩︎

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