Skip to main content

Buddhist Study

Overcoming Difficulties Opens Up a World of Possibilities

Illustration by RickyHardi / Fiverr.

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]

Helen Keller (1880–1968) didn’t let being blind, deaf and speech-impaired hinder her from leading a full life. When asked what she most enjoyed in life, she simply replied, “Overcoming difficulties.”[2]

She overcame countless barriers to become a global icon advocating for a more equitable and peaceful world. 

Her story is well-known. At 19 months old, a severe fever left her unable to see or hear. She often cried and screamed out of frustration from not being able to communicate.

At age 6, her encounter with Anne Sullivan (1866–1936) dramatically changed her life. 

Her parents hired Ms. Sullivan to teach Helen, and she did so with great patience. Trying to teach her that objects have names, she repeatedly traced the spelling of familiar things on Helen’s hand with little success at first. Weeks passed until one day Ms. Sullivan kept spelling out “w-a-t-e-r” in one of Helen’s palms as she held the other under a stream of cold water. Suddenly, Helen got it! “W-a-t-e-r” was what was flowing over her hand! 

“That living word,” she later wrote, “awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”[3]

That day, she learned the meaning of mother, father, sister, teacher and dozens of other words. Her teacher’s persistent efforts sparked Helen’s enthusiasm to master language and connect with the rest of the world. Looking back, Helen said:

Once I knew only darkness and stillness. … My life was without past or future … but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.[4]

Later, she became the first deaf-blind person to receive a bachelor’s degree, going on to travel the world as an author, advocate and spokesperson for humanitarian causes. 

Ikeda Sensei drew inspiration from her, writing in his diary in 1960: 

Let me fight more battles tomorrow with hope. Helen Keller said hope is the faith that leads people to success. She also said that without hope nothing can be accomplished.[5]

Developing Our ‘Buddha Eye’

Worse than being blind is being able to see but having no vision, Ms. Keller is credited with saying. 

Buddhism talks about five types of vision, the fifth, or “Buddha eye,” being the deepest kind of insight human beings possess. It signifies the wisdom to understand the truth of life—the ability to perceive the rich treasure residing in each person’s life. 

Despite her deaf-blindness, Ms. Keller perceived how overcoming her challenges could open the way for many others. Sensei says:

[Helen Keller] wrote, “[Our] more enduring joys are born of an unselfish purpose to serve others and create new life in the world.”[6] We are working for the good of society, to bring hope and inspiration to others and to accomplish our personal missions in life. We are certain, therefore, to lead lives of joy and fulfillment.[7]

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sharing it with others, we learn how to open our Buddha eye to our own and others’ possibilities, find joy in overcoming difficulties and lead lives of fulfillment. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

September 1, 2023, World Tribune, p. 10


  1. “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 376. ↩︎
  2. Joseph P. Lash, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1998), p. 523. ↩︎
  3. Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, John Albert Macy, The Story of My Life (New York: Modern Library, 2004), p. 20. ↩︎
  4. Helen Keller, The World I Live In and Optimism: A Collection of Essays (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2012) p. 88. ↩︎
  5. A Youthful Diary, p. 480. ↩︎
  6. Helen Keller, My Religion (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, Inc., 1953), p. 173. ↩︎
  7. Embracing Compassion, vol. 1, p. 86. ↩︎

Introductory Exam

Each District One Precious Youth