Skip to main content

Applying the Philosophy

How to Make Things Work

IWAT1929 / Getty Images

The American author Pearl S. Buck said that finding joy in work “is to discover the fountain of youth.” To be sure, we spend the majority of our waking day—and waking life—at work. According to one study, that adds up to an average of 90,000 hours, or a third of our lives, at work.[1]

Even if we enjoy what we do, no work environment is problem-free. (A year ago, we could not have envisioned the profound shifts that have occurred in our workplaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic.) How much more so is this true for those of us still struggling to find a career path?

Nichiren Daishonin encourages one of his disciples to view work as part of his Buddhist practice, stating, “No worldly affairs of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality.”[2] If Buddhism finds expression in daily life, how can we use our practice to tackle various aspects of this central aspect? How can we make things work?

Beauty, Benefit and Good

Some of us know from a young age what we want to do when we grow up. In such cases, we can pursue our path with purpose, never giving up in the process of achieving our goal. But what about when we aren’t clear about our path?

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda offered this timeless benchmark to youth, gleaned from his mentor, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi:

There are three criteria for selecting a job—beauty, benefit and good. Everyone’s ideal is to get a job they like (beauty), that is financially secure (benefit) and where they can contribute to society (good).[3]

While it may seem ideal to acquire the job of our dreams from the beginning—a job that meets the criteria of beauty, benefit and good—this is scarcely the reality. It is quite natural for us to have jobs that we don’t particularly like or never expected we would do. And while we may be overwhelmed at first by the gap between our reality and our dreams, when we gradually master the basics, we create the foundation for future success.

Ikeda Sensei shares that it’s perfectly fine not to get your dream job from the start. Instead of waiting until you find your dream job, he suggests: “Why not start with a job you can get easily, something you are familiar with? That way you can gain practical experience and find out what you’re good at.”[4] By doing so, we can explore the depths of our potential and may even discover hidden talents that we didn’t know we possessed. The important thing is not the job you get, but how you use the job to refine your life and your character as a human being. Eventually, this spirit to challenge ourselves where we are will lead to an ideal job and career where we can use our unique talents and skills for the greater good.

President Toda shares how adopting this spirit of challenge informs the future, saying:

Just put all your energy into your present job and become an indispensable person there. By chanting earnestly to the Gohonzon and continuing to strive your hardest, not letting disagreeable tasks or assignments deter you, you will eventually find a job that you enjoy, offers financial security and produces good for society. This is the benefit of faith.

And that’s not all. When you look back at your less than satisfactory jobs, you’ll find that none of your hard work was wasted; rather, you’ll find it has all become a valuable asset for you. You’ll come to understand that everything had meaning. I can assure you of this from my own experience. Our faith is expressed in our lives and in society. That is the power of Buddhism.[5]

Become Indispensable

A workplace is a community all on its own. For that reason, it represents a rich training ground for learning how to create harmonious relationships with co-workers and superiors based on the wisdom derived from Buddhist practice.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi went so far as to describe three types of people in this world: “Those you want to have around, those whose presence or absence doesn’t make a difference and those whose presence causes problems.”[6] When we apply the wisdom we derive from Buddhist practice at work, we can become skilled in the art of bringing people together.

How do we do this? Nichiren Daishonin encourages two brothers experiencing severe family difficulties “to become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you.”[7] Sensei shares that these words confirm the path of Buddhists:

To be “the master of your mind” means to make the principles of Buddhism our guide, and we achieve this through study. Study is also a measure to indicate whether our behavior and way of life as Buddhist practitioners is correct or not. It is a mirror that shows us who we are.[8]

This is not easy. The society we live in is filled with endless contradictions and can be unbearably harsh at times, but we practice so we don’t allow those contradictions to get the better of us. If we allow our work environment or society to sway us, we will be defeated. And “defeat is defeat,”[9] no matter how you slice it.

In one of his writings, Nichiren wrote to his disciple Shijo Kingo, who was facing various obstacles: “Live so that all the people of Kamakura will say in your praise that Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo [Shijo Kingo] is diligent in the service of his lord, in the service of Buddhism, and in his concern for other people.”[10] The power of faith allows us to become people on whom others can depend. To become this kind of person is, in itself, brilliant proof of our human revolution.

Let’s delve deeper into what this looks like in real life based on the guidance that Sensei gives to a young man struggling at work.

Winning at Work

In volume 22 of The New Human Revolution, Sensei approaches a young man who quit his job to help prepare for an SGI convention. This young man had this to say about his work situation, justifying the reason why he had quit:

“The pay wasn’t very good, and they didn’t recognize my abilities. My bosses said I had a bad work attitude and complained about me all the time. I’m convinced that I will be able to find a better job through the benefits gained from chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo very hard and doing my best here at the convention.”

Sensei clarifies that this type of attitude does not reflect true faith.

“Nichiren Buddhism is a philosophy of human revolution, and it provides a practice for forging and polishing our lives so that we can be strong and wise, so that we may rise to every challenge that life presents and triumph over it.

“Maybe you had good reasons to quit your job, but your attitude is wrong. Of course, it’s important to chant and do your best in Soka Gakkai activities. But if you only focus on your Buddhist practice without making an honest effort at your workplace, you’re just escaping from reality. So long as you have that attitude, the results will be the same, no matter where you work.

“Mr. Toda used to say, ‘In faith, do the work of one; in your job, do the work of three.’ That’s the way of life for Soka Gakkai members. And Nichiren Daishonin writes, ‘Regard your service to your lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra’ (“Reply to a Believer,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 905). In other words, regard your work as your practice of the Lotus Sutra and throw yourself into it wholeheartedly. When you strive to become the best person in your workplace and win the trust of your employer and fellow employees, while at the same time making an earnest effort to practice Buddhism, you’ll grow as a person. … Faith and prayer enable us to bring forth a strong life force and the necessary wisdom to succeed in that endeavor. Every job demands not only hard work but also presents a variety of other challenges, such as difficulties with relationships. But your job is a place where you can polish and perfect yourself as a person. …

“Each morning, you should pray with determination to do your best at your job that day, become a victor in your workplace and demonstrate the power of your Buddhist faith. That’s the key to fully manifesting your greatest strength and wisdom. When you find a new job, please adopt that attitude, do your best and become a victor in the workplace. That’s the Soka Gakkai spirit.”[11]

To reiterate this point, Sensei says, “Remember that your victory or defeat in work and life doesn’t depend upon the size of the company or organization you work for, or the situation at your workplace. It all depends on you. It depends on your determination, your attitude.”[12]

By adopting this spirit toward work, we can transform any challenge at work into one of value and benefit for our lives.

Patience and Perseverance

There may be times when we are faced with a setback in our career, but everything in our lives has meaning from the eyes of faith. In his writing “The Reconstruction of Hachiman Shrine,” the Daishonin encourages the Ikegami brothers, who had lost an important work contract due to the scheming of colleagues. Far from letting the brothers wallow in self-pity, Nichiren assures them that their setback was “the design of the heavens.”[13] He further advises them to “avoid any appearance of ill will or resentment [because of not obtaining the construction job]. … Be sure to carry your saw and hammer in your hands or hook them at your waist, and always wear a smile.”[14]

When things don’t go as we hoped, it is important not to give in to despair. Sensei says, in these circumstances, here is the best thing to do:

Be patient and persevere, putting down solid roots and creating the cause for more fortunate circumstances to present themselves in the future. Faith is about putting down solid roots of happiness in the soil of our present reality. Eventually sprouts will appear and flowers will begin to bloom in beautiful profusion signaling the arrival of a spring of victory and success.[15]

Our Buddhist practice allows us to make progress in our lives regardless of how bleak the circumstances look. In fact, the tougher the situation, the greater actual proof we can show through the power of faith that can encourage many others.

Working for World Peace

Does fulfilling our mission for kosen-rufu require us to choose certain career paths related to the peace and welfare of society? Sensei reassures us that this is not the case when he states:

Aspiring to devote oneself to a humanistic cause, to upholding human rights and spreading the ideals of Buddhism out of a desire to work for the people’s happiness and welfare, is a truly laudable ambition.

That does not mean, however, that you cannot contribute to peace unless you are in some special profession. … While I highly commend anyone who wishes to work for the United Nations or become a volunteer worker overseas, there are many people striving for peace in their own, humble specialties.[16]

World peace will be achieved when capable individuals uphold the dignity of life in all fields. Therefore, the most important thing is that we excel in whatever field we find ourselves in, confident in our mission and the unique value we bring to the world.


Six Points on Our Attitude at Work

Guidance from Ikeda Sensei and second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda on a winning attitude at work.

1) Exerting Ourselves

“It is a great mistake to just assume you’re going to succeed because of the benefit you receive from your Buddhist practice, without working harder than anyone at your job.” (President Toda, September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43)

2) Value Our Work

“You should deeply value your work, thinking hard and making every effort to succeed in it. For those of you who work for a company or some other organization, it’s important to bring a sense of enjoyment to what you’re doing and keep making efforts to improve at your job, as well as to be determined to fulfill your responsibilities.” (President Toda, September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43)

3) Faith Equals Daily Life

“As a Soka Gakkai member, you should regard your job as you would the Gohonzon, cherishing and deeply respecting it. Those who can do that are in accord with the intent of Nichiren Daishonin. Such people can be said to have forged deep faith.” (President Toda, September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43)

4) Transform Your Environment

“Josei Toda said: ‘Don’t let your work control you; you should control your work.’ Rather than be ruled by your environment, transform it. Be like Mount Fuji, which stands impervious to the buffeting winds, and forge an invincible self.” (Sensei, August 31, 2012, World Tribune, p. 5)

5) Win in the Morning

“Morning is decisive; it is the key to a successful day.

“Mr. Toda used to say: ‘A person who arrives at work late and is scolded by the boss will never amount to anything. New employees, especially, in the interest of earning trust and credibility in the workplace, should come into work earlier than anyone else.’

“Morning gongyo and daimoku [chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] awakens our life so that we can win in the day ahead.” (Sensei, August 31, 2012, World Tribune, p. 5)

6) Be Proactive

“Wherever you work, don’t be passive, but strive with the spirit that you are a person with an active role and responsibility in your workplace. If you do so, it will be challenging, but it will also be very rewarding. Moreover, nothing is more enjoyable than improving and developing yourself through your work. Regarding your workplace simply as a place where you earn your living is such a waste.” (Sensei, August 31, 2012, World Tribune, p. 5)

References

  1. https://www.gettysburg.edu/ news/stories?id=79db7b34-630c-4f49-ad32-4ab9ea48e72b <accessed on January 22, 2021>. ↩︎
  2. “Reply to a Believer,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 905. ↩︎
  3. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, p. 275. ↩︎
  4. Discussions on Youth, p. 74. ↩︎
  5. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, p. 276. ↩︎
  6. Discussions on Youth, p. 81. ↩︎
  7. “Reply to the Lay Priest Soya,” WND-1, 486. ↩︎
  8. The New Human Revolution, vol. 24, p. 140. ↩︎
  9. Discussions on Youth, p. 81. ↩︎
  10. “The Three Kinds of Treasure,” WND-1, 851. ↩︎
  11. The New Human Revolution, vol. 22, pp. 101–04. ↩︎
  12. August 17, 2012, World Tribune, p. 5. ↩︎
  13. WND-2, 950. ↩︎
  14. Ibid. ↩︎
  15. Youth and the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 33. ↩︎
  16. Discussions on Youth, p. 81. ↩︎

Read more