There are three fundamentals in Buddhist practice. These are faith, practice and study. Each supports the other two. Faith grows as a result of practice and study. Let’s see how this would work.
How Does Faith Develop?
When you first are introduced to Nichiren Buddhism, you are not asked to believe anything. You are taught you have a Buddha nature that is eternal and universal and through activating it and bringing it out into everyday life, you will be able to actualize your life as you wish it. Practitioners know through experience that in the first stages of practice it takes time to build faith and to come to believe you have this universal connection. No one believes it at the beginning.
Chant and See What Happens
How do you go about building faith? Faith is built through taking on the challenges of everyday life through your Buddhist practice.
First you do an experiment. Get someone to teach you how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and then plan to chant for ninety days for a goal that is a reasonable stretch. In this way you will see whether the practice works as practitioners say it will. You’ll have questions so make sure you have someone more experienced who can answer them for you.
If you are consistent and chant daily, you can expect to achieve your goal or something better. We call this receiving a benefit. By setting one goal after another, chanting and taking action to reach each one, you can overcome any deadlocks to take charge of your life and move it in the direction you want.
Some of these benefits are easy to see. They are conspicuous benefits. You might try chanting for a relationship or you might chant for a raise. With concrete goals like these you’ll know when you receive them.
As the weeks, months and years pass, you may discover that you have received benefits which are not obvious like the conspicuous benefits just discussed. They are called inconspicuous benefits. An inconspicuous benefit is one which grows gradually like the rings on a tree. You are not necessarily aware that it is happening.
For one practitioner this mean’t that over a period of years, her whole life shifted into the work which gave her life the most meaning and where she could use all her strengths. Her life felt unified and focused, no longer split. She had slipped into the perfect place to make her unique contribution in the world but it was only after everything was in place that she recognized what had happened.
An unexpected benefit might include receiving something your life needs, whether or not you have specifically chanted for it. These benefits can be a surprise. You might have been chanting for a certain goal when the perfect support for your endeavor unexpectedly arrives.
One practitioner was getting ready to publish a book. She knew that she would need to market it. Since she didn’t know anything about marketing she had chanted for ideas. One day she went to the library to support a talk given by another writer. She walked into the perfect room for a presentation on her topic. When she talked to the person who scheduled the talks, she discovered to her delight that the room would be free. Best of all since the library liked her topic, they would do the publicity. Perfect support for her first marketing endeavor! Surprise!
Benefits That Lead to Awakening
Some kinds of benefits lead to an awakening. For example one early practitioner in the 1960’s chanted for marijuna. She received it and when the practitioner smoked it, she realized it brought the quality of her life down. With that realization, she stopped smoking marijuna as she wanted to raise her quality of life.
Faith Grows Step by Step
When you chant then receive one benefit after another over weeks and months, your faith grows along with the repeated experiences. After a number of these experiences you know that you can count on chanting and that through activating your Buddha nature your life will move in a positive direction. With that realization you can relax deep inside. You have learned you can trust your internal connection with the universe to provide for your needs.
Study, the Second Leg of Practice
This growth in faith through using the practice is the first of the three legs of practice. The second is study. Studying the works of Nichiren Daishonin and the commentaries of President Ikeda not only gives you confirmation of your experience but also teaches you the heart of the Buddhist way of life. Study is important to understand the true nature of things in life. As President Ikeda says,
“In the clear mirror of the Gosho, ( The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin) the true nature of all things becomes apparent. That is why it is important to hone our wisdom through Buddhist study.” Faith into Action, p. 167
Both your developing faith and study provide you with the knowledge and experience to put into practice what you have learned from the writings of Nichiren Daishonin to help others to become happy. Practice means putting the teachings of the Gosho into action, to live them in your life.
The synergy between the three legs of faith, practice and study will develop your faith step by step.