The First Step: Practicing for Yourself
As Nichiren Buddhists we all start practice for ourselves as individuals to improve our lives. Through the twice daily practice of gongyo you’ve all had the experience of aligning yourself in rhythm with the universe, so your days work better and life takes on a flow. And, you’ve all had the experience of converting sufferings into happiness and turning poison into medicine. You’ve learned how to use the practice to achieve goals and overcome obstacles and watched your life take a progressive path.
A Believer Versus a Practitioner
President Makiguchi, the first SGI President, said that at this point in the spiritual journey you are a believer and that we need to understand the difference between believers and practitioners. “While there is no dispute about the fact that someone who believes (in the Mystic Law) will have their prayers answered and realize benefit, this alone does not constitute bodhisattva practice. There is no such thing as a self-centered Buddha who simply accumulates personal benefit and does not work for the well-being of others. Unless we carry out bodhisattva practice, we cannot attain Buddhahood.” (Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life, 107).
In our 2011 Essentials Study Guide is the following paragraph. “Without a practice for others, we cannot accomplish our human revolution, even if we engage in practice for ourselves. Our practice for others powers our inner transformation and is a source of limitless benefit.” ( 2011 Essentials of Nichiren Buddhism Exam, Study Guide, p.12).
President Ikeda adds, “ President Makaguichi understood that bodhisattva practice is the heart of Nichiren Buddhism.”
The Second Step, Practicing for Other People
Bodhisattva practice has two aspects, both chanting for oneself and supporting others. These are like using two legs to walk, each enhancing the other. As President Ikeda says “Practice for oneself and others should not be considered two distinct practices but rather two aspects of a bodhisattva’s complete practice.” (The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life, P.115),
At some point you might have had someone more experienced invite you to chant for the resolution of a challenge faced by another person, or to come on a home visit with them so the two of you can encourage another person in their practice. You may have been encouraged to teach a principle at a meeting, lead gongyo, share an experience, or introduce someone new to Buddhism.
You may have thought that these were activities that were for more experienced people, that they didn’t really apply to you. But what the more experienced person is inviting you to do is to take the first steps on the path of bodhisattva practice. You are being given the means to step onto the fast track to expand your life beyond what you can do by chanting alone.
Remember when you first started to chant, you were challenged to do the ninety-day challenge to prove to yourself that chanting worked? You had to begin to chant on faith, hoping that your sponsor was telling you the truth. And you decided to try the challenge. After chanting for a while you discovered that your sponsor had guided you well, that your life was growing and you were surmounting barriers which had held you back.
Taking the next step happens the same way. When you are initially invited you might feel that supporting other people sounds like a duty. But if you take what the more experienced person is telling you on faith and try it, you will find that you will receive great benefit just as you did when you started to chant. As President Ikeda says, “When we look after and care for others–that is help others draw forth the strength to live– our own strength to live increases. When we help people expand their state of life, our lives also expand. This is the marvel of the bodhisattva path, actions to benefit others cannot be separated from actions to benefit oneself.” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, p.181)
Expand Your Life
When you are asked, join your fellow practitioner in walking the bodhisattva path. You will find great expansion and growth develop in your life
The Bodhisattva Way, © Margaret Blaine, The Practical Buddhist