This study series focuses on Nichiren Daishonin’s disciples who faced challenges that we can still relate to today and his enduring encouragement that we can apply to dynamically transform our lives.
It’s January 2022, and we’re approaching year three of the coronavirus pandemic. It seems that conditions get better, and then, just as we are seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, things take a turn for the worse. We’re learning to adjust while hoping and waiting for an end to the pandemic. What’s the best way to navigate the uncertainty and anxiety many of us are feeling?
Although composed centuries ago, Nichiren Daishonin’s writings are a time-tested guide to overcoming today’s challenges.
For example, in 1278, a 20-year-old Nanjo Tokimitsu lived in a society overrun with turmoil. Nichiren taught him the key to surmounting it: Develop an immovable self through unceasing, ever-strengthening Buddhist practice.
Let’s learn what Nichiren taught his embattled disciple so we can apply it to our lives today.
Combat Anxiety by Taking Concrete Actions in Faith
After his father and elder brother died, Nanjo Tokimitsu became the head of his family and a leader of his village as a teenager. At the time, epidemics and famine plagued the country, and the people feared an impending Mongol invasion. On top of that, the ruling Hojo clan, which maintained a strong presence in Tokimitsu’s area, was hostile toward Nichiren and his followers. Due to Tokimitsu’s faith in the Daishonin’s teaching, they heavily taxed him, making survival challenging for him and his family.
Despite these conditions, Tokimitsu unhesitatingly used his resources to protect his fellow practitioners and support the Daishonin with money and other offerings.
In response to his steadfast sincerity, Nichiren wrote the following to him:
Today there are people who have faith in the Lotus Sutra. The belief of some is like fire while that of others is like water. When the former listen to the teachings, their passion flares up like fire, but as time goes on, they tend to discard their faith. To have faith like water means to believe continuously without ever regressing.
He introduces two kinds of faith: faith like ephemeral fire and faith like ever-flowing water. “Faith like fire” describes a Buddhist practice that is swayed by external influences. For example, some people chant and strive hard in faith when things are difficult, but their enthusiasm wanes when things get better or with time. Such people, Nichiren says, “tend to discard their faith.”
On the other hand, “faith like water” corresponds to an inner-generated desire to practice Buddhism that continues without regression. Nichiren encourages Tokimitsu to have faith like flowing water.
Rather than being consumed by adverse outcomes or possibilities, Tokimitsu always took concrete actions to protect and support his mentor and fellow practitioners. Because of his efforts, we continue to practice Nichiren Buddhism today.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon enables us to tap into the unlimited life force of the universe in our everyday lives. The key to surmounting life’s difficulties is to never regress in faith, taking on every challenge with the power of the Mystic Law.
How to Maintain ‘Faith Like Water’
Never regressing in faith is easier said than done. Ikeda Sensei offers critical points for maintaining “faith like water.” He writes:
Even when the “ship” of our lives is sailing smoothly, we must keep our eyes on our compass, courageously take the helm and vigilantly steer our course. We must continually renew our determination in faith, challenge ourselves and win over every obstacle, continuing to grow and move forward. This is faith like water.
Through our practice of morning and evening gongyo, studying and applying Nichiren’s teachings and sharing Buddhism with others, we can strengthen our faith daily.
While a cornerstone of “faith like water” is self-motivation, we need to also surround ourselves with “good friends” who hold us accountable to maintain such faith. Sensei elaborates:
It is very important to have a supportive group of fellow members with whom we can study the teachings of our mentor, remind one another of our starting point in faith and work together to deepen our faith through our daily activities for kosen-rufu.
Because kosen-rufu “is an unprecedented struggle to transform the karma of humankind,” he suggests that “faith like boiling water” is the ideal—unceasing like flowing water, yet burning with passion.
This year, no matter the uncertainties or circumstances, let us blaze new trails in our lives, refreshing our determination each day, arm-in-arm with our good friends in faith.
—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department
- According to some Asian traditions, a person is counted as 1 year old on the day of their birth.
- “The Two Kinds of Faith,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 899.
- Ibid., p. 37.
- August 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 36.