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Buddhist Study

Finding Hope Amid Adversity

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This series highlights how Buddhism can enhance daily living. As Nichiren Daishonin says: “When the skies are clear, the ground is illuminated. Similarly, when one knows the Lotus Sutra, one understands the meaning of all worldly affairs.” [1]

What is the key to leading strong, free and happy lives? Developing resilience, self-reliance and hope.

“We should all bear in mind that the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall,”[2] said Nelson Mandela, who faced intense oppression in his struggle to end apartheid, the system of segregation that denied Black and other South Africans equal rights. 

Mr. Mandela remained resilient amid the grimmest situations by generating hope rooted in his unyielding desire to create a society of equality and respect for the people of South Africa. 

Hope Amid the Darkest Times 

As a young man, Mr. Mandela tried to overturn South African apartheid policies that prevented Black people from voting, getting a decent education or job, living in the same communities as white people and much more. 

As a leader in the African National Congress (ANC), he was arrested in 1962 for sabotage and attempting to overturn the state. During his trial, he passionately expressed his ideal of freedom, democracy and equality:

It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.[3]

At age 46, he began his life sentence, suffering discrimination, freezing winter nights, the suffocating summer heat, intense labor and poor meals. He missed the funerals of his mother and son and wasn’t allowed to see his daughter for 16 years. 

Yet, he endured. 

When his daughter, Zenani Dlamini, could finally visit him in prison, she introduced him to her newborn daughter, whom he named Zaziwe, meaning “hope.” Holding the tiny newborn, he envisioned her living in a time when apartheid would be a distant memory, and she and her friends could bask in the sun of freedom and equality.

By the 1980s, growing international support and government sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime led to his release in April 1990, after 27 years of imprisonment. 

Once freed, he negotiated the formation of a multi-racial democracy and, in April 1994, was elected president in South Africa’s first democratic election.

While in prison, Mr. Mandela had read about Ikeda Sensei. The two joyfully met for the first time in October 1990, during Mr. Mandela’s visit to Japan. Following his election victory in 1994, they met again in July 1995. 

Sensei observed:

No one can better teach us the deepest meaning of freedom than this man who spent half his adult life imprisoned. The essence of freedom is found in immovable conviction. Only those who live true to their convictions, whose inner faith enables them to rise above the fetters of any situation, are truly free. As President Mandela has said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”[4]

Creating Hope

While Mr. Mandela remains an inspiring source of hope, as Nichiren Buddhists, we, too, can generate hope by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Nichiren Buddhism and readily taking on challenges as we strive to build a better world.

As Nichiren Daishonin states, “Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring.”[5] Willingly facing the trials of winter and overcoming them with our Buddhist faith and practice, we can tap our enlightened potential and savor the joys of spring. Sensei says: 

If we cannot feel hope, it is time to create some. We can do this by digging deeper within, searching for even a small glimmer of light, for the possibility of a way to begin to break through the impasse before us.

And our capacity for hope can actually be expanded and strengthened by difficult circumstances. Hope that has not been tested is nothing more than a fragile dream. Hope begins from this challenge, this effort to strive toward an ideal, however distant it may seem.[6]

Sometimes, our goals may seem out of reach, we may stumble trying to achieve them or we might struggle to overcome a huge obstacle. But when we remember that our challenges are what help us grow and better understand how to support others, we can strengthen our “inner faith” that helps us “rise above the fetters of any situation.” And we can create the hope necessary to lead robust, happy lives and change the world for the better—starting with ourselves, right here, right now.

Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

October 6, 2023, World Tribune, p. 11


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376. ↩︎
  2. Nelson Mandela, Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (New York: Atria Books, 2012), p. 93. ↩︎
  3. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (New York: Back Bay Books, 1995), p. 368. ↩︎
  4. Daisaku Ikeda, “Nelson Mandela—Lion of Freedom,” <accessed Sept. 26, 2023>. ↩︎
  5. “Winter Always Turns to Spring,” WND-1, 535. ↩︎
  6. Daisaku Ikeda, Hope Is a Decision, p. 6. ↩︎

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