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Buddhist Study

Constructing a Resolute Self

Photo by Jan Kohl

The following is excerpted from On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, pp. 31–33

Practicing Nichiren Buddhism means not being swayed this way and that; it means constructing a self that is solid and resolute like towering Mount Fuji. But if we neglect this task and focus our energies somewhere else, before we’re even aware of it, we can end up veering onto the path of externally seeking the Law.

For example, if we chant to the Gohonzon but always blame other people or our environment for our circumstances, we are avoiding the challenge of tackling our inner darkness or ignorance. By doing so, we are seeking enlightenment outside of us. By changing ourselves on a more profound level, we can begin to improve our situation. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the driving force for that change.

It is also important that we don’t fall into the trap of practicing “dependent faith,” where we pin our hopes on having our prayers answered through the divine or transcendent powers of gods or Buddhas. This is a typical example of viewing the Law as outside oneself. The provisional Buddhas of the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings readily lend themselves to this kind of faith, the essence of which is escapism.

Even when they’re obviously suffering, people of dependent faith avoid looking at their problems. They don’t have the courage or make any actual effort to challenge their situation. In such cases, quite frankly, faith is simply something people hide behind as they avoid dealing with reality. Without a struggle, however, we cannot directly engage the gears of our human revolution.

To use the analogy of mountain climbing, if we just walk around the base of the mountain and never actually attempt to ascend its slopes, we’ll never reach the summit, no matter how much time passes. If we avoid challenging our own issues, we can never strengthen and develop ourselves, and we won’t be able to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime.

In addition, it is important that we try to rid our lives of ambiguous, elusive doubt and disbelief as well as grumbling and complaining. The erroneous belief that Myoho-renge-kyo (the Mystic Law) exists outside of our lives has at its core an inability to believe that all people—ourselves and others—possess the Buddha nature. And this disbelief stems from fundamental darkness.

In terms of attitude in faith, this tendency to skeptically regard the Buddha nature as “a nice ideal but one that doesn’t really change reality” will manifest itself as prayer that is vague and lacking in conviction. If our efforts in faith are halfhearted, we cannot change our attitude or fundamentally transform our lives.

As Nichiren indicates in this writing when he says, “You must summon up deep faith” (WND-1, 3), if we hope to make our inherent Buddha nature the basis of our lives—or as Nichiren terms it, to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime—we must continue striving to deepen our faith, our conviction in chanting Nam-myoho-rengekyo. And as our faith deepens, it will manifest as confident and concrete prayer.

Because our practice of faith is aimed at attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime, it is essential that we have a solidly focused attitude when chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It is like trying to shoot an arrow: without a clear target, we won’t draw the bow with any real force or determination. In the same way, when we replace vague yearnings with concrete determinations and confident prayer, we can definitely accomplish what we hope to achieve.

Grumbling and complaining are the principal gateways to ambiguous, elusive doubt and disbelief. Even if we know it is wrong, we may find ourselves grumbling and complaining in spite of ourselves. Should such behavior become habitual, it will act as a constant brake on our growth and cause us to forget about advancing and improving ourselves. We will then effectively close off our own potential, falling into the path of seeking the Law outside of us. While it might be a real challenge to stop grumbling and complaining, we can derive from the Mystic Law the wisdom to control these tendencies and use them as a springboard for positive growth and development.

Let’s also strictly guard against slandering our fellow members. Slandering and harboring resentment and jealousy toward others results in denying their Buddha nature. The inability to believe in others’ Buddha nature—just like not believing in our own—causes us to stray off course and seek the Law externally. Our Buddha nature is what fundamentally spurs us to realize happiness for ourselves and others. Not to believe in the Buddha nature is to deny the spirit of the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people have the potential for Buddhahood. Consequently, Nichiren sternly warns that if we go against the spirit of the sutra, not only won’t we accomplish our desire to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, but we will end up committing slander of the Law.

Also, unless we practice together united in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind,” the great desire for kosen-rufu cannot be fulfilled. Let us confirm once again that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the happiness of ourselves and others is the true means for attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime. Each person has the potential to become a Buddha.

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