What do Buddhists believe in? What is "enlightenment"?

Buddhists believe that each individual has limitless positive potential and the power to change his or her life for the better. Through their practice people can become more fulfilled and happier and also able to contribute more to the world. Buddhism teaches that a universal Law (dharma) underlies everything in the universe, and that all life is interconnected. It also holds that we are all ultimately responsible for determining the direction of our own lives. A change in our mind or heart can lead to a change in our external circumstances and affect those around us. Nichiren, a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist priest, formulated the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a practice through which anyone can bring their life into harmony with the dharma or the greater life of the universe, thereby experiencing greater wisdom, courage, life force and compassion. Enlightenment conjures the image of people practicing austerities in the quest for extraordinary powers beyond the reach of ordinary people. However, Nichiren taught that enlightenment is the fusion of our subjective wisdom with objective reality--a full understanding of the realities of this world. Enlightenment is not a fixed point we someday finally reach. Enlightenment means constant, daily challenge and the renewal of our determination to grow and positively impact the lives of those around us.

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How does chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo work?

SGI members often speak about the positive impact that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has on their lives. This is hard to comprehend and is something that can only be experienced on an individual basis. Often people trying the practice are encouraged to try chanting even a small amount regularly for a while, in order to see the effect it has. The 13th-century priest Nichiren established the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He concluded that the Lotus Sutra contains the full truth of Buddhism: that everyone without exception has the potential to attain Buddhahood. The title of the Lotus Sutra in its Japanese translation is Myoho-renge-kyo. By chanting "Nam," or devotion to the essential message of the Lotus Sutra, we activate the state of Buddhahood in our lives. Rather than being a prayer to an external being, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is an expression of the determination of the human spirit, seeking to come into rhythm with the reality of the universe. Through continuing in this practice of determined intention we bring forth our highest potential from within our lives.

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How do SGI Buddhists view desires?

Desires are integral to who we are and who we seek to become. Were we to completely rid ourselves of desire, we would undermine our individual and collective will to live. The teachings of Nichiren stress the transformation, rather than the elimination, of desire. Desires and attachments are seen as fueling the quest for enlightenment. For people living in the midst of ever-changing, stressful realities, those challenges are an effective spur to committed Buddhist practice. Through continuing in Buddhist practice, one's life naturally develops and desires transform from those that only benefit oneself, and which will only bring transient happiness, to desires that benefit both oneself and others and even the world at large.

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Why does SGI describe itself as a lay Buddhist organization?

SGI does not have priests and temples, but rather lay leaders and community centers. Daily practice is carried out at home and discussion meetings are usually held on a local level in people's houses. SGI members live and work in society and integrate their practice into the daily routine of their lives. Soka Gakkai and SGI were previously affiliated with the Nichiren Shoshu (orthodox) school but now feel that Nichiren's intention of enabling all people to reveal their Buddha nature is best served through a community-based grassroots lay organization.

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I find it hard to empty my mind. Can I still be a Buddhist?

Yes. To have many things on our minds, even during our Buddhist practice, is human. The goal of practice in the SGI is to strengthen our positive qualities and create value in life. Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we naturally develop the ability to focus and to see ourselves and our own minds more clearly. We are then better able to direct them in the most constructive direction. Nichiren speaks of the need to "Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you." Calming the mind may come as one benefit from chanting but it is not a prerequisite and it is not the goal of the practice. The aim is to tap the vitality, wisdom and compassion innate within us, and apply those qualities to how we live. The goal of Buddhism is to win in life and contribute to the happiness of others--both pursuits needing constructive thought and action.

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