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Gosho Study

I was just diagnosed with a serious illness. What should I do?

Answer: Decide: ‘This will not defeat me!’ And make it an opportunity to transform your life.

Photo by 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.

Yes! Another challenge! I will fight back!—How often is this our first thought when facing illness? If not as often as we’d like, then we’re fortunate to practice Nichiren Buddhism. Through Buddhist practice we develop the spirit to face illness with courage, taking it as an opportunity to strengthen and change ourselves for the better. 

Let’s learn the Buddhist perspective of illness from Nichiren Daishonin’s encouragement to the lay nun Myoshin, who was caring for her ailing husband.

Illness Helps Us Understand the Profundity of Life

Not much is known about Myoshin, but research suggests that her husband was the lay priest Takahashi Rokuro Hyoe and that she was the aunt of Nikko Shonin—Nichiren’s direct successor. 

In a letter known as “The Good Medicine for All Ills,” the Daishonin urges her to remain undefeated and addresses her worries: 

Could not this illness of your husband’s be the Buddha’s design, because the Vimalakirti and Nirvana sutras both teach that sick people will surely attain Buddhahood? Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 937)

Nichiren tells the lay nun that illness can have profound meaning when we view it as an opportunity to strengthen our life condition. He references the Vimalakirti and Nirvana sutras, which affirm that illness is a natural and inevitable part of life.

Regarding the line “Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way,” Ikeda Sensei explains: 

Falling ill leads us to reflect upon ourselves, become aware of our negative life tendencies or karma, and sincerely seek the correct teaching of Buddhism with all our hearts. …

Those who have used their faith to battle illness have learned of life’s profundity and the infinite potential of human beings. They have come to know appreciation and the joy of living. A great many of them even feel that illness enabled them to recognize their true mission. In other words, when people are motivated by illness to earnestly seek the Buddha way, their conception of illness is transformed. (Teachings for Victory, vol. 3, pp. 87–88)

No matter what we face, when we put chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo first and face illness with the resolve to overcome it as proof of the power of our faith, we are “attaining the way” of genuine happiness and fulfillment. 

True Health Means Remaining Undefeated in Life

What are the most severe illnesses? Buddhism describes them as those that negate our goodness and promote evil and destructive tendencies. [1]

So, what is true health? Having the strength of heart to refuse to be defeated by anything that attempts to destroy our goodness. This strength of heart includes respect for ourselves and others, the ability to create harmony and the resolve to pursue the best way to live. 

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is genuinely the “medicine for all ills.” Rather than simply enduring, ignoring or trying to escape our problems, through Buddhist faith and practice we raise our life state and tap into the wisdom we need to change problems into opportunities. Chanting strengthens our life force, which is key to overcoming illness. Through such deep inner transformation, we demonstrate how to win over illness and be truly happy. 

A Wonderful Example of a Healthy Mindset 

Throughout her Buddhist practice, SGI-USA member Mitzi Gunter challenged and overcame one obstacle after another while contributing to the growth of her local SGI organization. 

She describes her reaction when, about eight years ago, she was diagnosed with colon cancer: 

I was quiet, and my doctor thought I hadn’t heard. What I was thinking was Yes! Another challenge! I will fight back! I was in such high spirits, even my kids doubted the diagnosis. Chanting, I thought, Cancer, either you win, or I win, but if I die, you die too! I knew I still had a mission and was not shaken at all. 

Now, look at that—I’ve beaten that cancer! (Oct. 8, 2021, World Tribune, p. 5)

How did she muster this powerful attitude? Through, as she describes, “fighting for something bigger than myself”—spreading the ideals of Buddhism to transform society—always striving to practice Buddhism correctly and seeking her mentor’s guidance.

While the process we each go through in challenging illness and difficulties looks different, the key to winning is to “resolve to attain the way” by strengthening our Buddhist practice and helping others do the same. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department


  1. To study more about this point, see The Teachings for Victory, vol. 3, pp. 89–90. ↩︎

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