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Buddhist Study

Inspired by Motherly Compassion

Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / Getty Images.

This new 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]

A mother’s love and care can profoundly impact her children. 

In the new book Rainbow of Hope, Ikeda Sensei writes about Charlie Chaplin, one of the 20th-century’s iconic entertainers, who once said of his mother, “If I have amounted to anything, or ever do amount to anything, it will be due to her.”[2]

Hannah Chaplin supported her family as a singer until she damaged her voice. Despite harsh times, she’d dance or pantomime to bring the family joy no matter the circumstances. “It was through watching her,” Charlie Chaplin says, “that I learned not only how to express emotions with my hands and face but also how to observe and study people.”[3]

Even after rising to international stardom, his appreciation for his mother spurred him to strive to create a better world for his fellow human beings. 

His critically acclaimed political satire The Great Dictator, filmed in 1939 as World War II began, condemns rising dictatorships; in its climactic monologue, Chaplin cries for peace:

Do not despair. … You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then—in the name of democracy—let us use that power—let us all unite!

His character urges the film’s heroine, Hannah—named after his mother—to “look up” with hope for a brighter future.

The Starting Point of Nichiren’s Teaching

Nichiren Daishonin writes: 

In order to repay my debt to my mother, I have vowed to enable all women to chant the daimoku of this sutra.[4]

His gratitude for his mother spurred him to spread his teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and open the way for all people to attain enlightenment. 

Ikeda Sensei writes:

To repay our debt of gratitude to our mothers, who gave birth to us, raised us and protected us, is an important principle of Buddhism. It could be said that, in a sense, Buddhism seeks to teach us to emulate this spirit of motherly compassion in our interactions with others.[5]

Pay It Forward by Spreading Buddhism

Our Buddhist practice primarily aims to help us develop our character, lead fulfilling lives of integrity and strength, and inspire others to do so too. Cultivating a life of gratitude is core to that process. 

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda defined “true greatness” as never forgetting what others have done for you and responding through grateful action. Those who do, he says, “radiate integrity, depth of character, bigheartedness and charm.”[6]

What if we struggle to feel appreciation? How do we express our gratitude? The key, Sensei affirms, lies in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and developing our faith and practice:

As we each deepen our faith in the Mystic Law, break through our fundamental [ignorance] and live true to our greater self, we will come to feel boundless appreciation for all those around us and for all who have nurtured and helped us become who we are.[7]

With our Buddhist practice and a grateful heart, as Chaplin declares, we have the power to “make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Photo by Dusan Stankovic / Getty Images.

Words of Wisdom: The Power of Gratitude

The old fox never forgets the hillock where he was born; the white turtle repaid the kindness he had received from Mao Pao.[8] If even lowly creatures know enough to do this, then how much more should human beings! … What can we say, then, of persons who are devoting themselves to Buddhism? Surely they should not forget the debts of gratitude they owe. 

—Nichiren Daishonin, “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 690

When we speak or hear the words thank you, the armor falls from our hearts and we communicate on a deep level. “Thank you” is the essence of nonviolence. It contains respect for the other person, humility and a profound affirmation of life. It possesses a positive, upbeat optimism. It has strength. A person who can sincerely say thank you has a healthy, vital spirit; each time we say those words, our hearts sparkle and life force wells up within us. 

—Ikeda Sensei, The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, revised edition, p. 66

August 11, 2023, World Tribune, p. 9


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376. ↩︎
  2. Harry C. Carr, “Charlie Chaplin’s Story: As Narrated by Mr. Chaplin Himself,” Photoplay Magazine, July 1915. ↩︎
  3. David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), p. 18. ↩︎
  4. “The Sutra of True Requital,” WND-1, 931. ↩︎
  5. The Teachings for Victory, vol. 2, p. 108. ↩︎
  6. Nov. 25, 2005, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  7. The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 222. ↩︎
  8. Mao Pao was a Chinese warrior who, according to legend, once saved the life of a white turtle. When he was driven to the banks of the Yangtze River in battle, the same turtle appeared and carried him to safety. ↩︎

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