The answer to this question, when people first start chanting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, is, very often, ‘not a lot’ or maybe even ‘nothing’. Because the truth is, you don’t need to adopt any new beliefs or lifestyle to give Nichiren Buddhism a go. Most people come to the practice looking to change a situation in their life and are encouraged to give try it out for 100 days or so and see what happens.
Others stumble across Buddhism because they want to make the world a more joyful, peaceful and fairer place, but don’t quite know where to start… Others (like me) start chanting to prove that it does not work… Incidentally I don’t think many people start chanting just because of a book or a blog like this, it nearly always begins from a heart to heart connection with someone they trust who’s already practising Buddhism.
The other day I sat down to try and make a list of what it means to believe in Nichiren Buddhist teachings. The result is a list of 10 beliefs that I feel I hold most strongly after 28 years as a member of the Soka Gakkai (SGI) Buddhist movement. I make no claim that this is a complete and definitive list. It is just my personal interpretation, but I hope it may be useful to you and / or provide food for thought.
- First of all, Life itself is precious. Its essence, its energy. My life, your life, all life. And, on a level that even our subconscious cannot perceive, it is interconnected. A Buddha is one who perceives this truth and loves the fact of just being alive.
- ‘Buddha’ simply means someone who is ‘awakened’ so at its most basic level, Nichiren Buddhism gives you the tools to create a happy life. How to get the most from it. How to give your all to it. How to create value in society. How to find the Buddha in me and the Buddha in you.
- Revealing the joy, life force, wisdom, courage and compassion needed for a meaningful life requires great effort and gritty determination. It means defeating what a life coach would call our ‘gremlins’ and what Nichiren Buddhists call your ‘Fundamental Darkness’. It means going deeper than the limits of your conscious and subconscious mind and trusting the original enlightened core of your being. We do this by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
- Unlike earlier forms of Buddhism, there are no rules designed to make you suppress your desires. Instead Nichiren encourages believers to harness and transform them, often using the analogy of turning “poison into medicine”.
- Buddhahood is not some superhuman or divine state, but something very real and practical that is attainable by all of us, in this lifetime. It is the respect in your voice and the warmth in your heart. It includes profound feelings of joy, wisdom, courage, compassion, gratitude and optimism that produce a sparkle in your eye and a dance in your smile and both of these and more besides in other people too.
- You and everyone else can become enlightened: the sports star, the soldier, the postman, the newsagent, the tramp, the supermodel, the noisy neighbour and you.
- All the answers you’ll ever need are inside you, none of them require prayers of supplication to an external god. Neither do you need a guru or a priest or a master to act as a middle-man between you and your own enlightenment. (For more see: ‘Why Buddhists don’t believe in God‘.)
- There is no heaven. There is no hell. Neither is a physical place that you go to. Both exist in your heart. Your heart counts most of all.
- Through the Universal Law of cause and effect and your dominant life condition, you create your own destiny or ‘karma’ with every thought, word and action. You are totally free. You are totally responsible.
- Finally, there is no finally… life is eternal. You get to come back over and over again :-), with some periods in between to enjoy a refreshing nap. (This is known by most of us as ‘death’ and to some people the word has negative connotations).
There is of course, an invisible thread, a shared spirit and a mystical connection running through all of this. Because Buddhist teachings have only been passed on for thousands of years thanks to the heart of a disciple seeking a mentor and the mentor encouraging the disciple to surpass their own achievements.
And then of course, there is also the deepening faith that comes from seeing the practice work in your own and others’ lives. Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “Whether or not your prayer is answered will depend on your faith… When water is clear, the moon is reflected. When the wind blows, the trees shake. Our minds are like the water. Faith that is weak is like muddy water, while faith that is brave is like clear water.”