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Developing the quality of courage is essential to achieving anything in our lives. Courage is required before we can take action in any endeavor, and it is courageous people in every field who tend to achieve their goals and realize their dreams.
Courage, however, is not always heroic action in a time of danger—it can consist of the persistent, unglamorous effort to do what we feel is right.
In Buddhism, courage, or fearlessness, is highly valued. In one of his letters, Nichiren, the 13th-century founder of the Buddhism practiced by members of the SGI, urged his followers: “You should not have the slightest fear in your heart. It is lack of courage that prevents one from attaining Buddhahood. . .”
Buddhism originated in the teachings of Shakyamuni some 2,500 years ago, and it is the principles of the Lotus Sutra specifically that underlie the teachings of Nichiren. The Lotus Sutra teaches that every single person has infinite potential, and that, through sincere practice, each person can bring forth that potential, allowing their abundant creativity to blossom and enabling them to contribute to the enrichment of society.
related article The Treasure Tower “In a letter to a follower, Nichiren explains where the ultimate reality exists. It is in the depths of the lives of all people. He writes, ‘No treasure tower exists other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra.’” Although we may know intellectually that we have great potential, unless we muster the courage to act on that knowledge, the potential will remain unfulfilled. Buddhism also teaches that our efforts to expand and develop our lives will inevitably be met by resistance, often severe, from both within and without. It is by persevering in the face of these obstacles and triumphing over them that we are able to unlock the rich possibilities of our lives and manifest our inherent enlightenment.
This process naturally requires courage, but it also requires faith. Buddhist practice is the ongoing exercise of faith—faith, ultimately, in ourselves—in the midst of the often harsh realities of life. Moreover, it is rooted in an understanding that the positive transformation of our own lives will bring about a corresponding transformation in the greater web of life in which we exist.
Buddhist teachings place great emphasis on wisdom, and it is easy to see how a simple lack of wisdom is the cause of many of the problems that beset human society, globally as well as locally. Often, though, it is a more fundamental lack of courage that prevents people, notably leaders, from acting on what they know to be right; thus it is a lack of courage that is at the root of much of the suffering that confronts us individually and as societies.
Closely linked to the exercise of courage is conviction—conviction in the right and possibility of oneself and others to be happy, free and fulfilled. Such conviction is the basis of social justice and is the core vision on which Buddhism is founded. It is a fierce, unyielding commitment to such a vision that endows the Buddha with the quality of fearlessness.
Buddhism thus views courage as a vital element of compassionate action to help others—as well as key to our ability to change our own lives.
The process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge.
Many people live their lives locked in a paralysis of fear, seemingly unable to take a step forward to resolve a deadlock or reveal their true potential. These challenges differ for every individual, both in their nature and their scale. 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.
Further, to the extent that we draw on this resource of courage in our daily lives, fearlessly rising to the challenges that face us in the immediate here and now, we are positively transforming not only our own lives but also the world around us. The transformative possibilities of courage exist around and within us at every moment. As SGI President Ikeda has said, “Small things matter. What may look like a small act of courage is courage nevertheless. The important thing is to be willing to take a step forward.”
Courtesy January 2011 issue of the SGI Quarterly.