Mar 29, 2011

Challenging our Weakness

Challenging our weakness is the key to believing in ourselves
By Linda C. Johnson, SGI-USA Vice General Director, Los Angeles (from Living Buddhism, January 2003) 

“I had to ask myself whether I truly believed in the power of my prayer to break through my own fears and insecurities.”

I want to unconditionally love myself. I want to embrace every part of me. I want to believe, without reservation, that my life is Nam-myohorenge-kyo itself. My challenge is to believe these things amidst the realities of my daily life. It is a struggle, I believe, all of us face every day.

As I prepared to write this article, my deepest insecurities and fears emerged. I wondered: “What could I say that will inspire someone?” I bathed in those feelings; they enveloped me. As a consequence, I could not write a single word. I turned to prayer, chanting to be able to write an article that would encourage others and help them break through the deadlocks in their lives. But my doubts lingered. I fought them continuously, during the day whenever they arose, as well as when I sat chanting in front of the Gohonzon. In spite of how I was feeling, I poured my entire life into encouraging others during meetings and guidance sessions. I told them that, with faith, they had the power to do anything. In the meantime, I remained stuck.

It was as a result of my fervent prayer that I realized I would never be able to write anything as long as I permitted myself to hold on to the doubt in my ability to write an article that would encourage others. I turned to “Reply to Kyo’o,” one of my favorite writings by Nichiren Daishonin. In it, the Daishonin tells us: “Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myohorenge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 412).

I had to ask myself whether I truly believed in the power of my prayer to break through my own fears and insecurities. I prayed sincerely to trust what Nichiren Daishonin was telling me. I also prayed to have unshakeable confidence that, with prayer as my foundation, I could overcome my doubts and write an inspiring article. My doubt, however, did not disappear instantly. There were times while I was chanting that it felt as if every cell in my body wanted to run away. The television was calling me. The telephone was ringing. I had chores to do. I returned to “Reply to Kyo’o”: “A sword is useless in the hands of a coward. The mighty sword of the Lotus Sutra must be wielded by one courageous in faith. Then one will be as strong as a demon armed with an iron staff. I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart” (WND, 412).

This was my answer. I had to muster the courage to confront my fear. No matter how painful my current situation, I could not back down. For days, I continued to challenge my insecurity with prayer while immersing myself in activities to help others overcome their problems. Then, the day before I was scheduled to submit my article, I had my breakthrough. I had finally understood why I had been going through so much agony. The issue wasn’t the article. I needed to confront my own doubt, my own lack of belief in my inherent power to challenge and win over my fears and insecurities.

Whether we are writing an article, facing illness, being terminated from a job or looking for our soul mate, the process is the same. We must transform our weaknesses into strengths. We must face our suffering and triumph over it. This experience became the catalyst for me to explain how one uses faith to transform challenging daily life situations into an uncompromising opportunity for growth. This, I believe, is the essence of the concept of the oneness of good and evil.

Nichiren Buddhism makes it clear that everything and everyone in life has both a good and an evil side. I know that some people have an immediate negative response to the word evil. Evil also is synonymous with the words selfishness and self-centeredness. Life at every moment is a battle between these two opposing forces of good and evil. In other words, when we manifest our Buddhahood, it does not mean that our self-centeredness goes away. Instead, our ability to continue to uncover more of our potential is directly related to our ability to create value using the self-centered side, rather than allowing it to affect us negatively. In other words, the impact that our own self-centeredness or that of others will have on us is based on our response to it.

In Webster’s New World Dictionary, one of the definitions of respond is “to have a positive or favorable reaction.” This definition accords with Nichiren Buddhism, the Buddhism of true cause. We cannot change the past. In this moment, however, with our thoughts, words, and actions, we are creating our future. In this moment, through our actions, we have the opportunity to change anything and everything. Isn’t that the meaning of true cause? We affect change by how we respond to our circumstances. For example, rather than an automatic negative response to difficult circumstances, we must, like the definition, “have a positive or favorable reaction” in order to create the outcome we are seeking.

Many of us think that if we don’t do anything the problem will just go away on its own. This is not the case. Even if it seemingly goes away temporarily, it comes back bigger and stronger.

President Ikeda explains: “The strength of our mind of faith changes suffering into joy, into a tailwind to propel our further advance. This is what the ‘Devadatta’ chapter teaches. Nichiren Daishonin says: ‘Devadatta was the foremost good friend to the Thus Come One Shakyamuni. In this age as well, it is not one’s allies but one’s powerful enemies who assist one’s progress’ (WND, 770). 

To attain Buddhahood, we have to thoroughly conquer our own inner evil. The concrete means for doing so is struggling against and defeating external evil. Struggling to defeat evil enables us to polish and purify our lives and attain Buddhahood. Because we strive against the ultimate evil, we attain the ultimate good” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. III, p. 84).

In other words, the oneness of good and evil means that where evil exists, there is the potential for good, and where good exists, there is the potential for evil. Whether evil is transformed into something good is totally dependent upon our reaction to evil. Do we use our circumstances as a justification for our failure, or do we use our circumstances as an opportunity to develop our strength? When we challenge evil with the spirit that we will create something of value out of it, then evil functions to propel us forward. It becomes the catalyst for our growth. “If evil functions to reveal good, then evil in its entirety becomes good. This is truly the oneness of good and evil. But if evil is simply allowed to run its course, then it does not become good. Only when evil is thoroughly challenged and conquered does it become an entity of the oneness of good and evil” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. III, p. 83).

Art by Seleus

In addition to our individual lives, this principle also applies to the situation we are facing with Nichiren Shoshu. We live during a historic time, a time when we have the opportunity to prove the correctness of Nichiren Buddhism by the way we respond. Nikken is changing Nichiren’s teachings by proclaiming, for example, that people can only attain enlightenment by going through him. Are we going to permit Nikken to change the teachings, or are we, through our efforts, going to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to practice Buddhism correctly as taught by Nichiren? Are we going to prove that Nikken is wrong by showing the undeniable growth of the lives of SGI members throughout the world?

Happiness, from the perspective of Nichiren Buddhism, is not a state of life in which there are no problems. Instead, happiness is to be found in challenging and winning over our problems. I believe that the happiness we seek is the feeling that occurs whenever we cross that finish line, in spite of the fact that our heart is pounding, our feet hurt, and our lungs feel as if they are about to explode. That feeling of triumph against all odds is a state of pure joy that no one can give us, no matter how much they might love us. It is a state that we can achieve only through our own efforts.

This state of happiness is also greatly enhanced through our efforts to help others. I continually find that whenever I do my best to encourage another person in faith, no matter how I am feeling, my life-condition is positively transformed. Giving to others expands our own lives in wonderful, sometimes unimaginable ways.
We must, therefore, perfect our practice for ourselves and for others. Both aspects are essential parts of our practice. Not only must we challenge our own weaknesses, we must use our lives to help others win. For example, do we take the responsibility to help our friends in faith have a victory? Do we pray to make this happen? Maximum growth requires that we perfect both parts of our practice.

In this regard, I must mention that I have recently met many members who are stuck in what I call a maintenance practice. They are comfortable, even if it means being comfortable with being uncomfortable. They have lost their seeking spirit, the will to seek out challenges. They have no personal goals. This is a dangerous condition because, from my own experience, it robs us of our passion and enthusiasm for life. We are not even aware of what is happening at first. By the time we are conscious that our lives are missing something, our apathy has become highly developed, and it seems almost impossible to change.

There is no neutral gear in life. We are either going forward or backward at every moment. We need goals. They make us alive and deepen our understanding of this Buddhism. After all, how can we see change if there is no standard by which to measure growth? Challenging and achieving goals are the means we use to prove to ourselves as well as to others the power of the Mystic Law.

I believe that the challenge facing every human being is the ability to truly love and believe in oneself. What I have learned as a result of facing my insecurities and fears during the process of writing this article is that I do not
need to rid myself of weakness. Instead, I must train myself to learn how to use it as my motivation to create positive change in my life. The power to make this possible is sincere prayer based on a powerful determination. Prayer makes what we normally would consider impossible into something possible.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Negativity self-centered-ness and obstacles can be the wind beneath our wings that propels us to soar even higher. Viewing challenges this way may require rethinking the way we live our lives. I am convinced, however, that living this way is the key to experiencing a joyflul, fulfilled existence; one in which we will come to know and believe that Nam myoho-renge-kyo is life itself.

Success is triumphing over challenges. We must challenge ourselves to do everything we think we cannot do. Only then will we truly come to know that we have nothing to fear because, with the Mystic Law as our foundation, we can transform any weakness into strength. That being so, I think you and I are perfect just the way we are.


Бобан said...

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chance said...

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Circles said...

Thank you for sharing this!!!

Verno said...

I couldn't make it through your article because I disagree fundamentally with your problem. Your problem was that you were attached to writing an article that was good, useful, etc. You had doubt because you were attached.