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Life Lessons from Nichiren

How can I recover from a serious setback?

Answer: You can transform any situation by persisting in chanting, studying and taking action.

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.

In life, we are bound to suffer setbacks so significant that we are left wondering how to climb out of the figurative hole we’ve fallen into. Sometimes, all we can do is stew in our emotions, bemoan our fate and search for escape routes. 

But there’s always a way forward when we use our practice of Nichiren Buddhism to bolster ourselves, find hope and persevere. 

Shijo Kingo, a samurai, physician and devoted disciple of Nichiren Daishonin, often found himself in that proverbial hole. He faced numerous problems, today’s equivalents to having an unfair boss, nasty coworkers and fraught relations with family and some fellow practitioners. 

But by seeking Nichiren’s guidance and striving to overcome his limitations through his Buddhist practice, Kingo triumphed—first and foremost over himself and then in transforming his predicament. Let’s learn from his example.

A Stern Warning From a Caring Teacher

Shijo Kingo introduced his feudal lord, Ema Mitsutoki, to Nichiren’s teachings around 1274 out of concern for Ema’s safety as tensions mounted over threats of a Mongol invasion. But Ema was a follower of the powerful priest Ryokan, who viewed Nichiren as an enemy. After failing to convert Ema, Kingo fell out of his favor. 

Several other factors added to Kingo’s growing troubles. 

His samurai colleagues, who envied the trust Ema had long placed in him, spread false rumors about Kingo, and some even tried to kill him. What’s more, Kingo’s rash temper sullied his relationships with his brothers and some of his fellow practitioners. 

He sought the guidance of Nichiren, who instructed Kingo to rein in his temper:

Many people have plotted to undo you, but you have avoided their intrigues and emerged victorious. Should you lose your composure now and fall into their trap, you will be, as people say, like a boatman who rows his boat with all his might only to have it capsize just before he reaches the shore. (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 849)

By curbing his temper and cultivating better relations with his brothers and fellow believers who served as guards, he could deter attacks by his enemies. If he strove this way until the very end, he could be sure to achieve victory. 

We, too, can overcome our challenges by striving to rein in our negativity. By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, sharing Buddhism with others, uniting with fellow practitioners and seeking the guidance of our mentor, we can continue to win over ourselves and advance with vigor, hope and joy.

‘Strive to Accumulate the Treasures of the Heart!’

Things escalated for Kingo in 1277, when fellow samurai falsely accused him of interrupting a religious debate in which Nichiren’s disciple defeated a priest who sided with Ryokan. Hearing this, Ema threatened to confiscate Kingo’s estates unless he pledged to abandon his faith in the Daishonin’s teachings. Losing his land would be equivalent today to being jobless and powerless.

Yet Kingo reported to Nichiren that he would submit no such pledge.

Praising his stance, Nichiren urged him to stay close by his lord and continue serving him. He assured Kingo that facing opposition in spreading Buddhism proves he was practicing Buddhism correctly. Faith, he taught, is more important than material possessions and social standing:

More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are the treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all. From the time you read this letter on, strive to accumulate the treasures of the heart! (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 851)

“Treasures of the storehouse” are material possessions, while “treasures of the body” indicate health, skills or social status, and “treasures of the heart” refer to our inner richness, which at the deepest level means the brilliance of our Buddha nature polished through faith.

Kingo overcame all his struggles by following Nichiren’s guidance, deepening his faith and persistently working on himself. Ikeda Sensei observes: 

To achieve unshakable victory, we need to challenge ourselves in earnest to change our karma. This is also the practice of human revolution, in which we strive to break through our inner darkness or ignorance. Carelessness is the greatest enemy. If we allow ourselves to grow complacent and lose our fighting spirit, then the shortcomings or negative tendencies that arise from our fundamental darkness will resurface. For that reason, the Daishonin consistently emphasizes the point that faith is life’s ultimate treasure. (The Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 192)

In the summer of 1277, when Lord Ema fell gravely ill, he called on Kingo, a skilled physician, who cured Ema’s illness. Through this turn of events, Kingo fully regained Ema’s trust. And the following year, he was granted an estate three times larger than the one he had held. 

“Carelessness is the greatest enemy.”

By faithfully applying his mentor’s instructions, Shijo Kingo transformed what appeared to be a severe setback into an impressive victory. 

We can apply Kingo’s example to our own setbacks by consistently returning to the central point of chanting to the Gohonzon, studying Nichiren’s writings and Sensei’s guidance, and taking action. This is the surefire way to recover and thrive! 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Expanding Our Hope-Filled Movement of Respect for the Dignity of Life