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We Are Responsible for Our Own Suffering

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoThe Causes of All Sufferings

When we experience a personal setback or other disappointment, we tend to feel deep concern and suffer mentally as a result. In many cases at such times we suppose that the cause is something outside of ourselves, and our anxiety and suffering only become worse. While we are blaming others, thinking “It is so-and-so’s fault that things turned out this way” or “Everything would have been fine if it were not for such-and-such,” we lose sight of the real cause of our suffering.

In the first verse of the Dhammapada, Shakyamuni clearly states: “Things have their beginning in the mind, have the mind as their master, and are produced through the mind. A person who speaks and acts from an impure mind will be followed by suffering.”

Making comparisons with other people and things, we form such judgments about them as important or inconsequential, valuable or worthless, lasting or temporary, and so forth, and see things from a self-centered point of view—this is what Shakyamuni means by “an impure mind” and he is telling us that it gives birth to our suffering.

What, then, is the source of such self-centeredness, the true nature of the impure mind that gives birth to suffering and worry?

The Lotus Sutra unequivocally explains: “The causes of all sufferings have their origin in greed and desire.” That is, wanting more than we need of anything is the cause of suffering. And the Sutra of Bequeathed Teachings tells us quite plainly: “Because people with many desires seek much profit, they also have much suffering and anxiety.” Therefore, suffering and trouble are not brought on us by others, but are in fact born from within ourselves.

We Also Create Our Own Joy

When we are suffering in our minds, it is because we have many desires and attachments. That is the basic response of Buddhism. Therefore, all Buddhists should already know what to do in order to relieve such suffering and worries.

The Sutra of Bequeathed Teachings that I mentioned above also says, “If you want to be free of suffering and worry, then you should contemplate the meaning of knowing what is sufficient.” This sutra goes on to say that “having few desires is none other than nirvana.” Therefore, by knowing what is sufficient and by making only a little effort to keep in check our self-centered desires, we can greatly reduce our suffering and worry.

That said, even though we know this, conscientiously doing so is difficult for most people. When some trouble occurs, before we turn our eyes on ourselves and reflect on how our own selfishness brought it about and acknowledge that our greed or vanity has been at work, we are at first apt to become obsessed with the results or the occurrences and become angry or depressed. The unlimited possibility to act and change, as well as the power to move on and further develop, derive from the intrinsic nature of the human being, which can be considered a small universe in itself and thus should not be casually dismissed. That said, we can hardly be called wise if our desires throw suffering and worry back upon us.

To paraphrase the famous poem “The Rule of Life” by the German poet Goethe: “In order to live a life of contentment, have no regrets for the past, do not even rarely become angry, enjoy the present moment, and above all else, hold no hatred to other people, and leave the future to God.”

In Buddhism we have a phrase that shares a similar perspective: “Leave everything to the Buddha.” Never forgetting to be grateful, keeping desire in check, being free of obsessions and fixations—these are the requisites for living joyfully both in body and in mind. At the same time, we need to be aware that we are responsible for ensuring our own happiness.

“Things have their beginning in the mind, have the mind as their master, and are produced through the mind. A person who speaks and acts from a pure mind will be followed by blessings and joy.”

This is the antithetical verse to the quotation from Shakyamuni that I cited at the outset. It does not merely mean that good actions will result in blessings and joy; it teaches us that if we are able to accept things as they are, then even harsh reality can contain the seeds of joy. Such a change in our point of view allows us to experience, at any time, the happiness that is.


October 2013
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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