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Life Lessons from Nichiren

I feel so restricted by the pandemic. What can I do?

Answer: By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can always find a way forward.

Philadelphia. Photo by Jonathan Wilson

As we strive to make a fresh start this year, some people may be wondering how to progress in life when there are so many restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic.

Let’s learn how Nichiren Daishonin encouraged the lay nun[1] Sennichi, one of his leading disciples living on Sado Island, who boldly supported her mentor despite many limitations.

Gaining Conviction Is the Greatest Benefit

The lay nun Sennichi is thought to have been a native of Sado Island who converted with her husband, Abutsu-bo, to Nichiren’s teachings while he was exiled there from 1271 to 1274.

As an elderly woman, most likely of humble origins, she probably didn’t enjoy many privileges in feudal Japan. The Buddhist teachings prevalent at the time maintained that women could not attain Buddhahood, diminishing their standing in society.

In addition, most of Sado’s inhabitants believed in the Pure Land school, and many despised Nichiren for his severe criticisms of its teachings. So expressing support for Nichiren would have been very unpopular and even dangerous.

Despite such restrictions, Sennichi and her husband fully supported Nichiren—spreading his teachings on the hostile island, supporting fellow practitioners and risking their lives to bring him provisions under cover of night.

Local authorities tried to hinder the elderly couple’s efforts, confiscating their home and driving them from their land. Yet Sennichi and Abutsu-bo remained steadfast in their faith.

In 1274, after being pardoned from exile, Nichiren moved from Sado to Mount Minobu. Despite the great distance that now separated her from Nichiren, Sennichi continued encouraging her fellow practitioners on Sado. She also sent her husband on the arduous 20-day journey to deliver necessities to the Daishonin when few visited him due to ongoing epidemics.

In his letters to her, Nichiren affirms that her unwavering efforts and sincere offerings to support the spread of the Lotus Sutra will bring great benefits.

In “The Drum at the Gate of Thunder,” he encourages her, saying:

A woman who embraces the lion king of the Lotus Sutra never fears any of the beasts of hell or of the realms of hungry spirits and animals. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 949)

Commenting on this letter, Ikeda Sensei says:

The benefit of making offerings to the Lotus Sutra is boundless. Through that benefit, we can triumph over any obstacle and devilish function. And nothing is stronger than a person whose life is instilled with this confidence. (Learning From the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 4)

The greatest benefit we receive from striving in faith is gaining the confidence and conviction that we have the power to overcome any hardship or limitation—that we can always find a way forward.

Awakening to the Immeasurable Power of the Mystic Law

Nichiren impressed upon Sennichi the immeasurable power of the Mystic Law. He writes:

All the offenses committed by a woman in her lifetime are like dry grass, and the single character myo of the Lotus Sutra is like a small spark. When a small spark is set to a large expanse of grass, not only the grass but also the big trees and large stones will all be consumed. Such is the power of the fire of wisdom in the single character myo. Not only will all offenses vanish, but they will become sources of benefit. (“The Drum at the Gate of Thunder,” WND-1, 949)

As long as we earnestly challenge ourselves to chant and teach others about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can win over any “offenses”—the problems and sufferings we encounter in life.

Sensei says, “All our worries, anxieties and mistakes will be burned away in the fire of wisdom in the same way that flames from a small spark can consume whole stretches of dry grass” (The Hope-Filled Teachings, p. 10).

Nichiren arms Sennichi with conviction in the immeasurable power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. By chanting, we not only rid ourselves of the “big trees and large stones” of our deep-rooted negative karma but can turn everything into “sources of benefit.” Our past or current circumstances do not bind or restrict us when we practice the Mystic Law. Our persistent actions today based on faith determine our future.

“The power of belief,” Sensei says, “leads to a state of mind free of fear or doubt, which is the very essence of what it means to have faith. No devilish function can possibly defeat a woman who has attained such a state of mind” (The Hope-Filled Teachings, p. 8).

Although we may find our situations or problems stifling at times, let’s follow the example of Sennichi, who, as a courageous ordinary woman, did not allow anything to block her unceasing efforts to advance in life and faith with her mentor.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

This study series focuses on the challenges faced by Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples, the encouragement they received from their mentor and how we, too, can apply this guidance to dynamically transform our lives today.

References

  1. Lay nun: A female believer of Buddhism who has shaven her head in the manner of a Buddhist nun, but continues to live in society as a layperson.

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