Q: I read somewhere that Buddhism teaches that desires cause suffering. Yet in the SGI, I’ve been encouraged to chant for my desires. Is this OK?
A: Experience tells us that desires can cause suffering and that resisting desires can bring good results. So we could conclude that eliminating all desire yields the best result: enlightenment. The trouble is, it is not humanly possible to eliminate all desires.
Buddhist sutras preached prior to the Lotus Sutra taught that people had to eliminate earthly desires in order to attain enlightenment. The thought was: A Buddha is one who is free of desire, free of suffering and hence, enlightened.
In contrast, Nichiren Buddhism, based on the Lotus Sutra, teaches that both earthly desires and enlightenment are expressions of the fundamental Law of life.
The point is not ridding ourselves of desire, but rather, whether our desires are rooted in our enlightened nature or in our deluded nature. When our desires and resulting actions stem from delusion or ignorance, they create negative results, or bad karma, which in turn leads to more suffering, giving rise to more negative desires and impulses.
Rather than letting go of them, we can use our desires and their attendant sufferings as our greatest motivators for chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. Hence, earthy desires, instead of causing suffering, become the fuel for our Buddhist practice, which produces the “flame” of enlightenment (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 11). By resolving to make our desires and hardships opportunities to strengthen our Buddhist faith and practice we “change poison into medicine.”
Nichiren Daishonin states: “What is the poison? It is the three paths of earthly desires, karma, and suffering that are our lot. What is the medicine? It is the Dharma body, wisdom, and emancipation. And what does it mean to change poison into medicine? It means to transform the three paths into the three virtues” (“What It Means to Hear the Buddha Vehicle,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 743).
He teaches that inherent within our ever-present earthly desires are in fact the three virtues of the Buddha. The Dharma body means the truth that the Buddha has realized, or the true aspect of all phenomena. Wisdom is the capacity to realize this truth. And emancipation means the state of being free from the sufferings of birth and death.
Commenting on the above passage, SGI President Ikeda says: “The supreme power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to transform any deluded impulse, any karma and any suffering into Buddhahood, wisdom and benefit. There is no negative karma that we cannot change. This is a brilliant source of hope. As a result, we need not lament or despair” (April 9, 2010, World Tribune, p. 1).
The key to stemming the negative cycle of suffering and establishing lives grounded in wisdom and true freedom lies in powerfully chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, making the truth and wisdom of the Mystic Law, not the sufferings of earthly desires, our foundation. Through such prayer, our earthly desires not only cease to cause suffering, but become an impetus for bringing forth immense wisdom and absolute happiness.