Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
The phrase “Buddhism is win or lose” may not sit easily with popular images of a “peaceful” Buddhist approach to life. It may even sound like an invitation to stir up conflict.
However, what this phrase describes is not confrontation between antagonistic individuals, but rather the internal spiritual struggle which is the reality of our lives. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says: “The universe, this world and our own lives are the stage for a ceaseless struggle between hatred and compassion, the destructive and constructive aspects of life.” Our challenge, moment by moment, is to continue striving to create maximum value and to never be defeated or give up, regardless of the obstacles we may encounter.
The struggles we face might range from the apparently mundane (summoning the energy to take out the trash or write a letter to an aging relative) to the vast (campaigning to ban nuclear weapons), but the essential challenge is the same. It is to overcome our own weakness, fear or inertia in a given moment and take action for the sake of the happiness of ourselves and others.
So where does Buddhism play a role in such daily battles?
Ideally there is no separation between daily life and Buddhism. Buddhism does not exist in the realm of theory, and as Nichiren wrote: “The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being.”
Nichiren also stressed that it is victory as a human being—including both tangible achievements and moral or spiritual victories which may be invisible to others—that matters, rather than recognition in the form of promotion or reward in society. In 13th-century Japan, people’s lives were utterly dependent on the decisions of their rulers or local lords, so to set one’s own internal standards for success required great courage.
He wrote: “Buddhism primarily concerns itself with victory or defeat, while secular authority is based on the principle of reward and punishment. For this reason, a Buddha is looked up to as the Hero of the World...”
It is only when we push ourselves beyond our limits that our success becomes meaningful to ourselves and respected by others.
The value of our victory also depends on the scale of the challenge we tackle. For a champion bodybuilder to lift a heavy suitcase scarcely counts as a victory. It is only when we push ourselves beyond our limits that our success becomes meaningful to ourselves and respected by others. Living a “safe” existence in which we merely abide by society’s rules is to shirk the bigger challenges involved in living in a way which both maximizes our positive, creative influence and actively tackles those forces which cause suffering and abuse.
Whether we are striving for promotion at work or encouraging a friend battling depression, in order to succeed we need courage, perseverance and the spiritual strength to withstand hardship and moments of hopelessness. Nichiren stresses that if we are fainthearted we will surely fail, and we each know how miserable it feels to be defeated by our own weakness or cowardice.
Nichiren’s own life provides an example of supreme courage in the face of opposition and persecution, and the Buddhist practice he established can help us clarify our goals and also provide tools with which to reach them.
related article Courage What may to one person seem a simple problem may be experienced by another as overwhelming and insurmountable. But the process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge. For Nichiren Buddhists, the greatest good toward which one can strive is spreading a deeper understanding of the limitless potential for courage, wisdom and compassion which exists in every individual’s life—the hidden treasures collectively described as Buddhahood.
Through chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” which activates this potential, we can deepen our resolve to achieve our goals and develop the strength necessary to win over any obstacles, internal and external, which might hinder our progress. And as we see evidence of the efficacy of the combination of this strong prayer, determination and action in concrete positive results in our lives, we dare to take on bigger, broader challenges and also inspire others to tackle their problems with renewed hope of success.
In the words of SGI President Ikeda: “Buddhism concerns itself with winning. When we battle a powerful enemy, either we will triumph or we will be defeated—there is no middle ground. Battling against life’s negative functions is an integral part of Buddhism. It is through victory in this struggle that we become Buddhas.”
[Courtesy July 2006 SGI Quarterly]