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Applying the Philosophy

Taking It All On

Photo by MHJ / Getty Images.

It’s 6 a.m. Your alarm goes off. Your first thought is a fleeting hope that you accidentally set your alarm for 3 and still have more time to sleep. Wishful thinking. It’s time to rise and shine!

You have your district study meeting at 7 p.m., but not before you pick up your child from day care at 6. And that’s after a full day of work meetings, not to mention a business proposal you need to write from scratch in between. Oh, and don’t forget about dinner! You mutter beneath the covers, Ugh, how can I do it all?

Countless self-help strategies exist for this age-old question. Some offer ways to balance our commitments, cutting out anything that upsets the precarious seesaw that is life. Others encourage us to take on opportunities no matter how overloaded our life appears.

So, what does Buddhism have to say about “taking it all on”?

Daily Life Is the Fuel for Becoming Unshakably Happy

Let’s start with the conclusion: Our Buddhist practice exists so that we can lead happy, fulfilling lives and help many others do the same.

While many in society tend to view Buddhism as a reclusive practice of contemplation, the notion of denying or escaping the realities of society does not accord with the genuine spirit of Nichiren Buddhism.

Enlightenment, in this sense, is an all-encompassing condition that includes an enduring sense of fulfillment and joy, and permeates every aspect of our lives, enabling us to live in the most valuable and contributive way. This idea is expressed in the SGI through the principle that “faith equals daily life.”

Nichiren Daishonin approached this idea from many angles in his writings, often citing the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai’s statement that “no worldly affairs of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality.”[1]

When, through our Buddhist practice, our inner condition becomes strong and healthy—when we bring forth the “true reality” of our innate Buddha nature—we can act with energy and wisdom to excel at school or work and contribute to the well-being of our families and communities and transform our inner lives at the deepest level.

Ikeda Sensei explains:

As long as we are alive, we will have problems of one kind or another. That’s only natural. But it’s ridiculous to be constantly reeling back and forth between feelings of elation and dejection every time something comes up.

We need to earnestly and steadfastly challenge ourselves to achieve goals. Resolving to overcome all obstacles, we must open a path forward. When we look back later, we will see that these moments, while perhaps trying, were in fact the most fulfilling and rewarding times of our lives. They will be a treasury of golden memories, great scenes in the eternal drama of our lives throughout the past, present and future.[2]

When we apply our Buddhist practice to the issues and problems we encounter in daily life, those challenges become the fuel for manifesting Buddhahood. Our daily lives become the stage upon which we carry out a drama of transforming our lives at the deepest level.

Deciding Is Everything

Once, Ikeda Sensei had an informal Q&A session with youth who supported an event behind the scenes. One young man, looking rather tired, asked how he could find a way to do SGI activities when he was often overworked.

It was a problem that Sensei himself had given a lot of thought to as the leader of a global grassroots movement. He responded:

To get right to the point, it boils down to making a decision to do your best in everything and then having the determination not to retreat a single step. In severe circumstances, people tend to give up all too easily. They are convinced that the situation is hopeless before even considering what concrete actions they could take. In their hearts, they have already conceded defeat without even putting up a fight. That, in fact, is the cause of all failure.[3]

Sensei went on to offer other important points, which we could summarize as follows.

• Determine to do your best at work and in SGI activities.

• Find time to seriously pray about your situation. This will bring out your life force, and enable you to exercise your ingenuity.

• The power source for taking it all on is striving to achieve our goals based on our vow for kosen-rufu.

A hundred people will come up with a hundred different creative ways to resolve their dilemma, but the basic principle is the same. What does this look like? Sensei explained that a leader who travels frequently for work, for instance, can write to the members when they’re on the road. Or someone who works late on the weekdays can determine to do a week’s worth of activities in a single day on the weekend. When we’re young, especially, devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to work, studies and SGI activities will become the foundation for our lives.

While we may think that pruning back parts of our life would make things less complicated, our Buddhist practice is not a plant to be pruned but rather the soil that nurtures every area of our life. Thus, Sensei says:

If we feel that our lives are painful or agonizing, then let’s find a spare moment and pray about our situation. If we pray, then the energy to challenge our circumstances will emerge, and we will definitely find a way to break through. Eventually we will attain a life state where we can do activities and devote ourselves to kosen-rufu to our heart’s content, free of all hindrances.[4]

The Power Source for Never-ending Advancement

Even when we’re challenging ourselves to do it all, we may get stuck on the “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle. So, what do we do when our determination weakens and we lose motivation? Sensei addresses this question frankly to a pioneering member in France whose dream is to buy a home. He says:

You should make a pledge to carry out kosen-rufu for the sake of the happiness and prosperity of the people of France and chant wholeheartedly for that. For example, you can pray, “I will dedicate my life to achieving kosen-rufu in France. Therefore, I need a house so that I may gain trust in the community and be able to provide members with a place to meet. Please give me a nice, big house for that purpose.”

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo based on a vow and wish to achieve kosen-rufu by showing people the way to attain absolute happiness is the same type of prayer shared by all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Earth. When you pray like this, the Buddha nature within your own life will open up and raise your life condition to such a degree that you can even move the universe. When that happens, you will be able to realize your wish to buy a house without fail.

On the other hand, if you’re just praying for a big, fancy house because you want one for yourself, your life state won’t expand much, and it may take a long time for you to see your wish fulfilled. For us, the foundation of prayer is always kosen-rufu.[5]

When we resolve to achieve our goals in life to advance kosen-rufu—to use our Buddhist practice to transform our lives and help others do the same and, thereby, elevate the life state of humanity—we can summon unbeatable strength, strength that “can even move the universe”!

Let’s review the elements for how to do it all:

1) Determine to do your best.

2) Chant earnestly for wisdom.

3) Live based on a vow for kosen-rufu.

4) Never retreat.

It’s 6 a.m. again, and our alarm goes off. But this time, with a fresh determination and spirit of challenge, we are no longer being crushed by the waves of life, we are riding them.

Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff.


  1. “Reply to a Believer,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 905. ↩︎
  2. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 2, p. 147. ↩︎
  3. The New Human Revolution, vol. 4, revised edition, pp. 149–50. ↩︎
  4. Ibid., pp. 152–53. ↩︎
  5. The New Human Revolution, vol. 21, p. 250. ↩︎

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