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What is the function of prayer in Nichiren Buddhism? How are prayers answered, and why do some prayers seemingly go unanswered? These are a few of the questions examined by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda in this excerpt.
In Nichiren Buddhism, it is said that no prayer goes unanswered. But this is very different from having every wish instantly gratified, as if by magic. If you chant to win in the lottery tomorrow, or to score 100 percent on a test tomorrow without having studied, the odds are very small that it will happen.
Nonetheless, viewed from a deeper, longer-term perspective, all your prayers will have served to propel you in the direction of happiness.
Sometimes our immediate prayers are realized, and sometimes they aren’t. When we look back later, however, we’ll be able to say with absolute conviction that everything turned out the way it did for the very best.
Buddhism accords with reason. Our faith is reflected in our daily life, in our actual circumstances. Our prayers cannot be answered if we fail to make efforts appropriate to our situation.
Furthermore, it takes a great deal of time and effort to overcome sufferings of a karmic nature, whose roots lie deep in causes made in the past. There is a big difference, for example, in the time it takes for a scratch to heal and that required to recover from a serious internal disease. Some illnesses can be treated with medication, while others require surgery. The same applies to changing our karma through faith and practice.
In addition, each person’s level of faith and individual karma differ. Through chanting daimoku, however, we can definitely bring forth from within a powerful sense of hope, and move our lives in a positive, beneficial direction.
It is unrealistic to think that we can achieve everything overnight. If we were to have every prayer answered instantly, it would lead to our ruin. We’d all grow very lazy and self-complacent.
related article Gongyo and Daimoku SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses the practice of Gongyo (reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra) and Daimoku (chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo). Suppose you spent all your money playing rather than working, and are now destitute. Do you think someone giving you a large sum of money would contribute to your happiness in the long run? It would be like making superficial repairs to a crumbling building, without addressing the problem at its root. Only by first rebuilding the foundation can you begin to build something solid upon it.
Faith enables us to transform not only our day-to-day problems, but our lives at their very foundation. Through our Buddhist practice, we can develop a strong inner core and a solid and inexhaustible reservoir of good fortune.
There are two kinds of benefit that derive from faith in the Gohonzon: conspicuous and inconspicuous. Conspicuous benefit is the obvious, visible benefit of being clearly protected or quickly able to surmount a particular problem when it arises—be it an illness or a conflict in our personal relationships. Inconspicuous benefit, on the other hand, is less tangible. It is good fortune accumulated slowly but steadily, like the growth of a tree or the rising of the tide, which results in the forging of a rich and expansive state of life. We might not discern any change from day to day, but as the years pass, it will be clear that over time we’ve become happy, that we’ve grown as individuals. This is inconspicuous benefit.
When you chant daimoku, you will definitely gain the best result for you, regardless of whether that benefit is conspicuous or inconspicuous.
No matter what happens, the important thing is to continue chanting. If you do so, you’ll definitely become happy. Even if things are not solved in the way you had initially hoped or imagined, when you look back later, you’ll understand on a much more profound level that it was the best possible result. This in itself is tremendous inconspicuous benefit.
The true benefits of Nichiren Buddhism are not so much of a momentary and conspicuous nature, but those of a lasting and inconspicuous nature that accrue in the depths of our lives. Conspicuous benefit, for instance, might allow you to eat your fill today but still leave you worrying about where your next meal will come from. Inconspicuous benefit, on the other hand, more resembles a situation where, though you may only be able to eat a meager meal today, you will steadily develop your life to the point where you will never have to worry about having enough to eat. The latter is surely a far more attractive prospect.
The more we exert ourselves in faith, the greater the benefit we experience.
Of course, it’s possible to get by in life without practicing the Daishonin’s Buddhism. But sometimes we are confronted by karma over which we seem to have no control, or are buffeted about because of our own inner weakness. What a tragic loss it would be if we could never change ourselves, if we could never exclaim confidently at the end of our days what a wonderful life we’ve led. That is precisely why a solid guiding philosophy in life is so essential.
My mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, said:
“For what reason have we been born? As the Lotus Sutra passage ‘living beings enjoy themselves at ease’ states, we have been born in order to enjoy ourselves. How dull it would be then, if we did not do so! When we believe in the Gohonzon with all of our heart, we will savor a state of being in which life itself, and everything we do, is a source of joy.”
President Toda used the term “absolute happiness” to describe the state of mind in which we can feel that life itself is a joy. If you persevere in faith, you will definitely come to experience this.
Our Buddhist practice boosts the power of our “engine,” strengthens our life force so that we can always declare, “I’m ready for anything!” When our engine is weak, even a small slope will leave us gasping and struggling painfully as we attempt to surmount it.
When you get right down to it, does material wealth assure happiness? Does fame? Does living in a big house? The answer is an emphatic “no.” All the time we see people embroiled in bitter battles over money; people plunged into misery when onetime fame and popularity disappears; people ruining their own lives when they let fame and power go to their heads; and people living in large luxurious homes where family members cannot stand one another and a cold and hostile atmosphere pervades.
Such things as money, fame and material possessions offer a fleeting, transitory kind of satisfaction, something which can be called “relative happiness.” However, when we transform our lives internally, when we develop within ourselves a brilliant inner palace, then we can be said to have established “absolute happiness.” If we develop a state of mind as vast and resplendent as a magnificent palace, then nothing—no matter where we go or what we may encounter in life—can undermine or destroy our happiness.
The wonderful thing about Nichiren Buddhism is that through chanting daimoku, the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death can be transformed into four castle walls or ramparts that fortify the palace of your life. Though it might be difficult to appreciate at first, the “mud” of our suffering provides the building material from which we can erect a solid bulwark for our palace of happiness within. The deeper the mire of suffering, the more indomitable a palace we can establish.
If you establish a solid foundation now, there is no limit to the size of the structure you can build upon it later. Many things contribute to building that foundation. Diligent application to one’s studies helps build that foundation, as does exercising to develop physical fitness and stamina.
But our inner state of life lies at the core of our mental and physical well-being. Buddhist practice is the only means by which we can strengthen, purify and develop our inner life. We have to exercise our minds through study. We have to exercise our bodies through physical activity and sports. We also have to exercise our internal life condition through daimoku. When our inner condition of life changes, our minds and bodies also change. They will be refreshed and revitalized.
Daimoku charges our batteries. If we take care to regularly charge our batteries, then we’ll always be full of energy and vitality. If we fail to keep our batteries charged, we won’t have energy when we need it most and as a result may be defeated by our environment.
Those who saturate their lives with daimoku and learn to keep their batteries charged while they’re young are building a foundation for lifelong happiness.
Since our Buddhist practice takes place in the midst of our daily lives, it is all too easy for us to grow lazy and neglect it. So in that respect, there is perhaps no more difficult practice when it comes to continuing. Nonetheless, if we challenge ourselves to keep up a little bit each day, before we realize it we will have built a path to happiness in the depths of our own lives.
Excerpted from Discussions on Youth (SGI-USA, 1998).