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Applying the Philosophy

Sustainable Happiness

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Looking for a podcast to boost your health and wellness in the new year? Among the 250 top-rated shows on iTunes, you can find ones to tame anxiety, listen to your inner child, listen to your gut, relax with white noise and green-drink your way to wellness.

Add to that the plethora of like-minded books, programs, diets and regimens, and the universal search for happiness in all its forms has blossomed into a $3.3 billion industry.[1]

In Nichiren Buddhism, the happiness we seek is termed “absolute happiness,” a state of life in which living itself is joy. Whereas relative happiness is a feeling stimulated by external factors (see: a new car, job, significant other), we cultivate absolute happiness from within.

Without this deeper view of happiness—a sustainable happiness—the search for meaning and self-fulfillment can lead us barreling down a path of false expectations and disappointments (read: I would be so much happier if my partner would just change). But when we embrace a sound view of happiness, one rooted in faith in the Mystic Law, we can steer our lives in the direction of genuine fulfillment and joy. Ultimately, our happiness is determined by the extent to which we develop our spiritual core through Buddhist faith and practice—a solid sense of self that nothing can destroy.

In June 1996, at the 21st SGI General Meeting in Florida, Ikeda Sensei spoke extensively about the Buddhist view of happiness, outlining six conditions that broaden our understanding of this timeless search for meaning.

So, let’s review these qualities of happiness and how we can work at cultivating them.

Condition 1: Fulfillment

The first condition for happiness is fulfillment.

Fulfillment is characterized by a deep sense of inner satisfaction, of tasks achieved, of meaning and purpose, even if our days are extremely busy. At times, it may be easy to compare ourselves to others who have achieved more than us. But as Sensei explains:

Some people live in truly splendid houses yet do nothing but fight in them. Some people work for famous companies and enjoy a prestige that many envy yet are always being shouted at by their superiors, left exhausted from heavy workloads and rendered sick and weary of life. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in our lives.[2]

The best judge of our inner fulfillment is ourselves. Only we have the answer to the question: Am I leading a fulfilling life?

A crucial element of fulfillment is our ability to persevere regardless of the obstacles we face—a quality we cultivate through building the core pillars of Buddhist faith, practice and study. As we do so, we’ll find that the more difficult the challenges, the greater fulfillment we can achieve.

Consider the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven’s 30-year odyssey to create his iconic Ninth Symphony, which includes “Ode to Joy.” During that time, Beethoven lost his hearing, experienced unrequited love, fought a seven-year custody battle over his nephew, and the list goes on. Beethoven, however, never retreated, fueled by his passion to share with the world the depth of fulfillment he experienced through music. Sensei explains:

By … experiencing many times the hardship of others, we can lead lives that are many times richer, filled with tremendous vitality and inner strength in our final chapter. …

The diamond of happiness can only be found by making our way into the deep mountain recesses of life with great effort and exertion.[3]

Beethoven certainly embodied the spirit to develop a life of complete fulfillment, turning his suffering into a personal ode to joy that endures still today.

Condition 2: Profound Philosophy

The second condition is to possess a profound philosophy.

When we embrace a profound philosophy, it gives us a perspective that extends beyond the fleeting joys and sorrows of life. We’re able to develop a long-term vision while enjoying the present.

When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a vow to transform our situation for the benefit of ourselves and others, not only can we move our life in a positive direction, we can understand the deeper meaning of the struggles we’ve experienced, using them as fuel to advance with great courage and hope, while helping others do the same.

Sensei writes about the power of this philosophy:

The English poet John Milton wrote: “The mind is its own place, and in itself ‘Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.’” This statement … resonates with the Buddhist teaching of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.” …

The same circumstances may be perceived as utter bliss by one person and unbearable misfortune by another. And while some people may love the place where they live, thinking it’s the best place ever, others may hate it and constantly seek to find happiness somewhere else.

Nichiren Buddhism is a teaching that enables us to elevate our inner state of life, realizing genuinely happy lives for ourselves as well as the prosperity of society.[4]

Condition 3: Conviction

The third condition is conviction.

When faced with a major hardship, it can be difficult to have confidence that we can turn our situation around. But Nichiren Daishonin references this simple formula:

If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.”[5]

When viewed through the Buddhist law of cause and effect, we can challenge our karma head-on with conviction that our present causes for kosen-rufu are the key to future victory.

Sensei explains the source of this conviction:

What is faith? It is having absolute conviction that all things are part of your own life and being, that you embody the Mystic Law and are a Buddha. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “You must never think that any of the eighty thousand sacred teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime or any of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions and three existences are outside yourself.”[6]

Believe that the boundless life state of Buddhahood resides within you, earnestly chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and polish your life—this, the Daishonin teaches, is the only way to free ourselves from suffering and delusion. You are all originally Buddhas. Believe in yourself. There’s no need to compare yourself to others and let that determine your happiness.[7]

The conviction that we can win over each challenge is rooted in how strongly we believe that we are Buddhas and that our lives are entities of the Mystic Law. It cannot be given to us. We deepen our sense of self each time we refuse to be defeated, taking our sufferings and desires to the Gohonzon one more time, and always once more beyond that. Through this process, we develop into individuals with conviction of steel, who can take on any challenge and come out victorious.

Condition 4: Live Cheerfully and Vibrantly

The fourth condition is to live cheerfully and vibrantly.

This by no means implies skipping through life, but rather developing the eyes to see the positive aspect of any situation and the ability to pull out that potential. As we practice Buddhism, we grasp an inner optimism based on unshakable conviction in the Gohonzon. Sensei says:

Those who possess good cheer can view even a scolding by a loved one, such as a spouse or partner, as sweet music to their ears; or they can greet a child’s poor report card as a sign that there is great potential for gradual improvement in the future. Viewing events and situations in this kind of positive light is important. The strength, wisdom and cheerfulness that accompany such an attitude lead to happiness.[8]

To possess cheer and vibrancy in the face of severe hardship is a quality shared by those who have transformed the world. In 1901, the Russian author and humanitarian Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church. The act was designed to defame and humiliate the celebrated writer, but to their dismay, he responded with, “Rejoice, rejoice!” Sensei writes about this episode:

Tolstoy’s life was not untroubled. He struggled with his writing, family discord and illness. But his spirit always and everywhere sought out and created joy. …

Nichiren Daishonin declared: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys.”[9] A life dedicated to kosen-rufu is a life of supreme joy. …

When hardships occur, the Daishonin taught, “The wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.”[10] The more challenges we face, the more joyfully we should move forward and the more determinedly we should tackle them—this is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism and the most valuable way to lead our lives.[11]

Condition 5: Courage

The fifth condition is courage.

For us to develop each of the conditions above requires courageous action. If we are to build sustainable happiness, we must have the courage to face reality, no matter how frightening it may seem in the moment. Sensei conveys to us that “courageous people can overcome anything.”[12]

A critical aspect of courage is what we do in the most trying times. Sensei explains:

The crucial thing is how we challenge ourselves and how meaningfully we spend our time during life’s winters. What matters is how deeply we live with the conviction that spring will definitely arrive.[13]

When we face a major challenge, we can chant about it, share the practice with others and participate in SGI activities, with the goal of overcoming our obstacle. Both our SGI activities and propagating Buddhism can be viewed as the weights that enable us to develop our muscle of courage that empowers us to be victorious.

Condition 6: Tolerance

The sixth condition is tolerance.

This implies having a broadminded spirit, with which we can embrace and appreciate all people, regardless of our perceived differences. When we maintain a rigid view of how others should be, we will continually find ourselves overwhelmed with frustration and anger. Sensei has said that those who are tolerant “have a warm approachability that makes people feel relaxed and comfortable.”[14]

The essence of tolerance is the Buddhist spirit of compassion, with which we empower people to learn about their own Buddha nature. Sensei encouraged members about this, saying:

Buddhist compassion and tolerance are based on an absolute respect for the dignity of life, and represent a philosophy that recognizes that nothing is more precious than life, which deserves our highest and ultimate reverence.[15]

The greatest form of respect and tolerance for others is to acknowledge their Buddha nature by awakening them to the Mystic Law. Planting the seed of Buddhahood in others directly correlates to manifesting our own Buddhahood. Sensei writes:

What gives someone the strength to go on living? It seems to me that it is human bonds—the desire to live for the sake of others. As long as we are wrapped up in ourselves, there is no happiness. When we courageously take action for others, the wellspring of our own life is replenished.[16]

Through encouraging others, we elevate our life condition and broaden our reach to embrace more people. Nichiren exemplified the spirit of tolerance by striving to lead even those who persecuted him to Buddhahood. He wrote, “I pray that before anything else I can guide and lead the ruler and those others who persecuted me.”[17] Sensei refers to this passage, writing:

[Nichiren] wished to guide to Buddhahood … the nation’s leaders and priests who persecuted him. This exemplifies the way of life of a genuine practitioner of Buddhism, one overflowing with compassion and tolerance.

The spirit of wishing to relieve people of suffering and help them become happy is the basis of all our actions as SGI members.[18]

Nichiren’s compassion extended to every living being. This is the spirit with which SGI members propagate Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—for as many individuals as possible to awaken to their Buddha nature so we can create a peaceful and harmonious society where each person enjoys true fulfillment.

Faith for Achieving Happiness

All people possess the unique and precious jewel of Buddhahood within, which means that everyone’s life is limitlessly valuable and irreplaceable. Unfortunately, as we go through life, we tend to experience events that shake our ability to believe in ourselves.

But by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every morning and evening, we can strengthen our enlightened nature to the extent that we can become people who strive for the happiness of all humanity. Sensei writes about faith for achieving happiness, saying:

We were born into this world to enjoy life. The Lotus Sutra teaches that this world is a place “where living beings enjoy themselves at ease.”[19] But in this saha world filled with suffering, we cannot enjoy ourselves if our life force is weak. That’s why we need to exert ourselves in Buddhist practice to bring forth our inner Buddhahood and strengthen our life force. With a strong life force, we can calmly and enjoyably ascend the hilly path of life. The countless hardships and challenges we experience will be transformed into something that adds to our joy in life, like a pinch of salt that enhances the flavor of sweets.[20]

The philosophy that absolute happiness is cultivated from within means that we must resist the tendency to allow other people or our environment to determine whether we become happy. Nichiren Buddhism empowers us to take on all of life’s challenges and transform them into fuel for limitless growth, where living itself becomes the greatest joy.


  1. “Health and Wellness Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2021–26” <accessed on January 18, 2022>. ↩︎
  2. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 478–79. ↩︎
  3. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, revised edition, pp. 10–11. ↩︎
  4. Ibid., 35–36. ↩︎
  5. “The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 279. ↩︎
  6. “On Attaining Buddhahood,” WND-1, 3. ↩︎
  7. WCHP-1, 50. ↩︎
  8. MDFA, 481. ↩︎
  9. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 212. ↩︎
  10. “The Three Obstacles and Four Devils,” WND-1, 637. ↩︎
  11. WCHP-1, 178–79. ↩︎
  12. Ibid., 24. ↩︎
  13. Ibid., 192. ↩︎
  14. MDFA, 482. ↩︎
  15. The New Human Revolution, vol. 22, p. 158. ↩︎
  16. WCHP-1, 230. ↩︎
  17. “On the Buddha’s Prophecy,” WND-1, 402. ↩︎
  18. NHR-30, 796. ↩︎
  19. The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 272. ↩︎
  20. The Five Eternal Guidelines of the Soka Gakkai, p. 20. ↩︎

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