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Gosho Study

A Buddhist Practice That Benefits All

Los Angeles. Photo by Allen Zaki.

“If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way.” (“On The Three Virtues of Food,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 1060)

In the letter “On the Three Virtues of Food,” Nichiren Daishonin expresses his sincere gratitude to a disciple who had sent him needed provisions. He explains that food has three positive aspects: sustaining life, enlivening complexion and nourishing strength. Nichiren says that when one offers food to another, both the giver and receiver attain these benefits. In this way, he teaches that the sincere actions we take to benefit others will, in turn, come back to benefit us.

Nichiren Buddhism equally stresses the importance of Buddhist practice both for the benefit of ourselves and for others. Nichiren writes: “Without practice and study, there can be no Buddhism. You must not only persevere yourself; you must also teach others. Both practice and study arise from faith. Teach others to the best of your ability” (The True Aspect of All Phenomena,” WND-1, 386).

Practice for ourselves means to engage in Buddhist practice so that we can attain a state of absolute happiness, or enlightenment. Practice for others means to teach others to do the same and support them in their efforts. It is not a pair of distinct practices but rather two aspects of a complete practice.

It may be difficult to find the time or desire to practice for the sake of others. But efforts to rise to this challenge will bring joy, benefit and fulfillment. Ikeda Sensei states, “Developing the compassionate commitment to work for the happiness of all people is the first step along the path of attaining Buddhahood” (August 2004 Living Buddhism, p. 34).

Without practice for others, we can easily become or remain self-centered. If, on the other hand, we solely concern ourselves with others and overlook our own growth and goals, we may lose confidence in ourselves and the power of Buddhism. As Nichiren’s letter suggests, we should be confident that our efforts for others’ happiness directly benefit ourselves, and also that winning in our own lives through our Buddhist practice encourages and benefits others. Sensei states:

In addition to striving in faith ourselves . . . we must also help others do the same. Basically, it is by working for kosen-rufu out of our desire for the happiness of others that we ourselves become truly happy. This is the fusion of practice for self and practice for others. Our own sufferings become the driving force for the ultimate bodhisattva practice that is kosen-rufu.

As we do our best for the welfare of others, we break out of our narrow lesser self focused only on personal concerns and gradually expand and elevate our life-state. The commitment to others’ well-being propels us to transform our own life-condition and carry out our human revolution. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 19, p. 62)

According to Buddhism, we cannot awaken to the true nature of our own lives without realizing the profound connections we share with others. Our own wellbeing and that of others is intrinsically connected.

From this perspective, practicing to benefit oneself and others is a natural expression of the human desire for happiness that benefits all. Ikeda Sensei also states: “When we fully integrate both the practice for ourselves and the practice for others, we get in sync with the rhythm of the universe. These two ways of practice are like the two planetary motions of rotation and revolution. The more we advance in the practice for oneself, the more our practice for others develops. And as our practice for others advances, our practice for oneself deepens” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 5, p. 252).

Just as Nichiren describes in the passage we are studying, the same light we offer others lights our own way. The confidence, compassion and wisdom we awaken within us to encourage others enriches us, as well.

All the causes and efforts we make by participating in SGI activities and contributing to others’ happiness come back to benefit us. Our activities provide many opportunities to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together, study and share with one another the benefits of our Buddhist practice. In this way, we hold up the flame of faith and practice while lighting the way for others and ourselves.

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