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Q: What is the Buddhist approach to asking people to chant for me?

Photo by Smileus / Getty Images.

Our fundamental Buddhist practice consists of developing oneself while supporting others. Practicing for oneself indicates chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Buddhism and participating in and supporting our SGI activities. 

Practicing for others includes sharing Buddhism with those around us and supporting our fellow members. 

SGI-USA members find great joy in extending their care, support and encouragement to fellow members, family and friends. Especially when facing difficulties, knowing we have people who support us gives us comfort and strength. 

There is a difference, however, between being dependent on others’ prayers for us and having self-reliant faith. Nichiren Daishonin teaches it is crucial to understand that our own faith, prayer and Buddhist practice are what enable us to win in any situation.

What Is Self-Reliant Faith?

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that how we deal with the challenges and sufferings we experience reflects what’s happening inside us. That’s why we chant to transform our inner state of life. When we elevate our state of life, things that once made us suffer become the exact fuel we need to ignite our confidence, courage, respect, wisdom, compassion and more. 

When we blame our circumstances for our misery or expect others to behave in ways that suit us, we not only cloud our hearts with negativity but also bring those around us down. 

And while it’s important to be grateful for the goodwill and prayers of others, there’s a big difference between feeling supported because you know that others pray for you and taking ownership and overcoming your problems yourself. 

Ikeda Sensei writes: 

Our faith isn’t the kind in which you look to others for help. No, each of us has to carry out our own human revolution. We have to stand up on our own two feet and win through our own efforts. If you depend on others, you’re sure to lose. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 6, revised edition, p. 249)

What matters more than others chanting for us is summoning our resolve, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and challenging ourselves with every ounce of our energy. 

The Ringelmann Effect

Being part of a group has many benefits. We are social animals after all. But group dynamics can be tricky. In the 19th century, a French engineer named Max Ringelmann (1861–1931) noticed a connection between groups and productivity: the larger a group, the less productive each individual was—the Ringelmann Effect, or social loafing. Later experiments proved that the larger the group, the lower each person’s sense of responsibility. 

Nichiren Buddhism, however, teaches that to reach our full potential for happiness, we must take full responsibility for ourselves and watch for any tendency to take it easier knowing that others are chanting for us.

Sensei says: 

So long as you are overly reliant on others, you won’t be able to manifest your maximum strength. And the only way to win in this challenging world of ours is to exert yourself fully. (Embracing Compassion, vol. 3, p. 49)

Nichiren’s Resolute Conviction

Nichiren Daishonin exemplifies such self-reliant faith. 

He refused to give in to obstacles or threats to him or his disciples. He repeatedly overcame life-or-death persecutions and privations, spurred on by his vow to show all people how to attain enlightenment. And he urged his followers to uphold the same vow. 

He often wrote to his followers that no matter how hard he might chant for them, it’s up to their faith whether they will win. 

For instance, he writes to the lay nun Nichigon: 

Whether or not your prayer is answered will depend on your faith; [if it is not] I will in no way be to blame. (“Reply to the Lay Nun Nichigon,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1079)

It’s not that he isn’t concerned for her. Rather, he explains that faith in Nichiren Buddhism is not passive, not dependent on some external power or the prayers of others. Our faith, our conviction, affects everything else. 

Likewise, to Shijo Kingo, another battle-tested disciple, Nichiren writes: 

No matter how earnestly Nichiren prays for you, if you lack faith, it will be like trying to set fire to wet tinder. Spur yourself to muster the power of faith. Regard your survival as wondrous. Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other. (“The Strategy of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1000–01)

Employing the strategy of the Lotus Sutra means confronting our predicaments with the belief that we will overcome them because we embody the Mystic Law. Nichiren writes: 

Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching. … Attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime is then impossible. Therefore, when you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself. (“On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” WND-1, 3)

None of this, of course, means we should not chant wholeheartedly for the happiness of others. Nichiren never stopped praying resolutely for the happiness of his disciples and for all people. And the Soka Gakkai is founded on that tradition.

As we joyfully engage in our practice for self and others, let’s strive to develop self-reliant faith, exert ourselves to the fullest and continue to win with the invincible power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. 

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

April 7, 2023, World Tribune, p. 9

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