Friday, August 19, 2016

Regarding “the difficulty of sustaining faith”


If we reach a point in our spiritual journey where it feels too hard or not right because of the challenges we’re facing, that’s actually the point at which it’s the most important to keep going. There’s even a gosho for this: Nichiren Daishonin wrote a letter to his disciple Shijo Kingo about “The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith.” While this letter was written in response to a specific circumstance over 700 years ago, it is equally apropos for encouraging modern-day SGI Nichiren Buddhists who are feeling discouraged by the obstacles they’re facing, or who are feeling disenchanted because the karmic results of their Buddhist practice aren’t as quick as or in the form that they’d hoped.

A common belief is that if something that appears negative happens after we start on a new path, it must be a sign we made a wrong turn somewhere, or are even practicing the wrong religion altogether. When it comes to achieving progress through our spiritual practice, the opposite is often true. SGI president Daisaku Ikeda makes the point that the fact we face some obstructive challenge (or “wall”) in what we’re trying to achieve means that we are moving forward and making progress—otherwise we wouldn’t have encountered anything new.

For this very reason, I took a few months to become absolutely certain I wanted to “officially” become a Buddhist, because I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be spooked into ceasing my practice by the very hardships I started chanting to overcome.

This year for me has contained a few of the types of challenges that have caused some people to stop practicing Buddhism. As difficult as it’s been, and despite some days where my courage and my fighting-spirit went on strike, I have never doubted I should keep doing this practice.

A lot of the credit for this goes to the people who’ve trained me for persevering through this, including Tony, Kyle, Allyson, Deborah, Kari, Joseph, Jason, Steve, Chris, Keiko, Gumbo, and Nalini. I also credit Nidhi for helping me develop stamina in my chanting: After becoming able to chant 40 minutes straight, I can at least focus enough for a few minutes to chant when the temptation is very high to just skip it for the day.

If I accepted diagnostic labels for my life-condition, the label “depression” would undoubtedly be used. I could even see my recent mood fluctuations, periods of unmotivated agitation, and being easily overwhelmed these past few weeks following a frustrating few-month-long illness as resembling certain characteristics of PTSD. Since I’m not in alignment with the conventional therapy options for helping with my lows, nor am I inclined to take any pharmaceutical products for them, there’s no value for me in accepting or using such labels. Instead, I choose to use my recent experience to empathize with people who actually do stop practicing Buddhism for similar circumstances.

The predominant factor for why people abandon Nichiren Buddhism is fatigue from the challenge of it, which is sometimes combined with certain expectations they had for the practice that they hoped Nichiren Buddhism would meet for them and which it did not (particularly it not fitting the model of what people have come to associate with the more well-known forms of Buddhism such as Zen and Tibetan).

Nichiren says in “The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith” that “To accept is easy, to continue is difficult. ... Those who uphold this [Lotus] sutra should be prepared to meet difficulties” (WND-1, pg. 471).

It’s painful watching people we made a point to welcome into the community and support in their Buddhist practice express disinterest in continuing it, but it’s important to see that their decisions regarding their karma are not ours to manage.

In such cases, I choose to follow the admirable example set by my Bahá’í friends when I told them I am now Buddhist, by not conditioning my friendships with people on our shared religion, and continue to love them independently of their religious choices. I resonated with them before they ever became SGI Buddhists, so their accepting and maintaining the Gohonzon has never been a condition of our friendship.

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Image: “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with names” by Karla Joy Huber, 2015; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, Sharpie pen, gel pen, ball point pen

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