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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Awareness of Merits

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

A Person Who Can Be Grateful
President Nichiko Niwano
Some people say the Lotus Sutra almost sounds like an
ad for patent medicine, since in this scripture the Buddha
harps on the many merits of believing in and practicing his

The Lotus Sutra certainly does contain many descriptions
of merits, as in chapter 17, “Discrimination of Merits”; chapter 18, “The Merits of Joyful Acceptance”; and chapter 19, “The Merits of the Teacher.”

What, then, are the merits of faith?

According to legend, when the Chinese emperor Wu of Liang (464-549) asked the great master Bodhidharma, an
Indian Buddhist monk, known as the founder of the Zen
School, about the merits of the Buddhist faith, he flatly replied, “There are no merits.” Emperor Wu probably asked this because he was thinking, in a very ordinary manner, that by seriously taking refuge in Buddhism, many of his wishes would be granted, and that such were Buddhism’s merits. That is why Bodhidharma replied in the negative and said Buddhism had no merits.

It seems that many people think of merits as Emperor Wu did, so Bodhidharma’s reply has a profound meaning.

It is certainly not the case, of course, that Buddhism is without merits. But Bodhidharma teaches us that what matters most is what we take to be the merit of embracing the Buddha’s teachings.

When I heard my senior teachers in Rissho Kosei-kai say, “I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful,” I would wonder, “What are they so grateful for, anyway?”

Now, however, I realize that they knew from experience that the greatest merit of faith is grateful acceptance of all that happens around us, whatever it is. In sum, the merit of faith is capacity for gratitude.

Surrounded by Benefits

With faith in the Buddha’s teachings, we no longer complain that things are not fair or good enough, and do not speak ill of others. Once we become aware of the many things around us that should make us happy and grateful, we can feel grateful for anything and everything. This is called the merit of faith.

Yet, we cannot say that Emperor Wu would have been wrong to wonder whether the merits of Buddhism would include the granting of his wishes. Even if some people accept Buddhism only to have their wishes granted, their initial encounter with the Buddha is a good beginning, and
if their experience of Buddhism does not stop there, they will certainly learn to be grateful.

Of course, most people who have some painful or unpleasant experience cannot accept it gratefully. But it is also true that people who have no painful experience lack the opportunity to realize the significance of pain through faith, joy and gratitude. It is only by experiencing suffering that we can be aware of its meaning. If we are aware, then, when similar suffering happens, we can be grateful for it and finally grow spiritually enough to accept suffering as a merit.

We benefit not only from the merits of Buddhism, but from the Buddha’s divine providence. Although the merits of Buddhism can be different things, they are all given to us by the Buddha. Since the events happening before our eyes all accord with the workings of the Dharma, they can be called divine providence, or the blessings, protection, and invisible arrangements of the Buddha, all of which are permeated with the Dharma. When we realize this, we see that we are always surrounded by merits for which we should be grateful.

As the Buddha says in the Lotus Sutra, “I am always abiding here, teaching the Dharma.” Likewise, our acceptance of every event of every day as a message from the Buddha will make all of them merits for which we are grateful. By realizing this, let us aim together to become people who are grateful for everything that happens in daily life.

November 2009
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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