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Sincerely Helping Others Benefits Us

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When one lights a torch for someone at night, one brings light not only to another person but to oneself as well. Likewise, when one livens other people’s complexions, one livens one’s own too, when one gives them strength, one gives oneself strength too, when one prolongs their lives, one prolongs one’s own life as well. 

“On Clothing and Food,”
The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin
, vol. 2, p. 1066

In facing challenges, it might seem like the best thing to do is to focus exclusively on ourselves while scaling back our efforts to support others. 

However, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that there is no separation between ourselves and others. And because we are all inextricably linked at the most fundamental level, when we reach out to help another person, we are also helping ourselves. 

Nichiren Daishonin illustrates this point in his letter “On Clothing and Food,” in which he expresses his appreciation to a lay nun for her offering of 1,000 coins. He describes the boundless benefit of making offerings to the Lotus Sutra using the analogy that lighting a torch for another also illuminates one’s own way. He also gives other examples of the simple yet profound principle that all our efforts to support others benefit us too. 

In his “Buddhism of the Sun” lecture in the October 2022 Living Buddhism, excerpted below, Ikeda Sensei discusses how this passage expresses the bodhisattva spirit and recounts how he applied this passage to his own life. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department 

Ikeda Sensei’s Encouragement

Finding Fresh Hope and Inspiration

I can attest to [the meaning of the above passage] from my personal experience. I had a weak constitution and contracted tuberculosis, which often left me very tired and feverish.

My dearest wish and prayer from the time of my youth was to have robust health. My wife was also very worried about me.

Nevertheless, I spent my days traveling throughout Japan and the world to encourage our members waiting for me to visit. It was exhausting, of course. Wondrously, though, the harder I exerted myself, the more strength sprang from within me, and I was revitalized. The leaders accompanying me often asked where I found all my energy.

I refused to succumb to illness and was determined to carry out my mission and fulfill my responsibilities. I also knew that the more you strive in Soka Gakkai activities, the more it energizes you. Earnest efforts to encourage and inspire others enable you to bring forth courage and strength, while seeing others revitalized gives you fresh hope and inspiration.

From my youth, I gave myself completely to supporting and assisting [my mentor, Josei] Toda. I worked my hardest each day, determined to do my utmost so that I would have not a single regret. I am here today because of the benefits I gained from those efforts, and I am convinced that it is thanks to Mr. Toda that I’ve been able to demonstrate the Buddhist principle of “prolonging one’s life through faith.”[1]

The Daishonin’s declaration that “when one gives them strength, one gives oneself strength too” (“On Clothing and Food,” WND-2, 1066) brilliantly describes how benefiting oneself and benefiting others are one and the same. With these simple words, he illustrates for us the unrivaled way of life in which benefiting oneself and benefiting others are seamlessly and naturally merged.

Here we find no egoism concerned solely with one’s own welfare while disregarding others; no narrow, self-absorbed mindset that places rigid boundaries between self and others. Duty or social propriety are not the motivators. It is a way of life that embodies compassion, the spontaneous desire to help others.

A one-sided focus on benefiting or helping others, however, can easily turn into condescension or self-sacrifice. Precisely because acting for the benefit of others also benefits ourselves, it brings us appreciation and joy. 

Without seeking to escape from this suffering-filled saha world, those who strive with sincerity and wisdom, just as they are, for the welfare and happiness of others as well as themselves are living as genuine bodhisattvas. (October 2022 Living Buddhism, pp. 59–60)

References

  1. Prolonging one’s life through faith: This is based on the passage in “The Life Span of the Thus Come One,” the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, which reads, “We beg you to cure us and let us live out our lives!” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 269). This section includes the parable of the outstanding physician, who gives “good medicine” to his children who have “drunk poison” (that is, succumbed to delusion), and who implore him to cure their illness. Through taking this good medicine (that is, embracing faith in the wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra), they are cured and able to enjoy many more years of life. ↩︎

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