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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Moving Forward through Suffering and Hardship

Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai

RKINA Pres. Nichiko NiwanoSuffering Is a Valuable Experience

No one wants to endure suffering or hardships. However, no matter how happy people may appear to be, though there may be some difference of degree, surely they have one or two worries.

I have often heard of cases in which someone has gone through many sufferings and hardships that later on became great spiritual assets. Founder Nikkyo Niwano, the anniversary of whose entrance into nirvana we will observe on the fourth of this month, became connected to religion through his worrying about a child’s sickness, which led him to the Lotus Sutra, which would greatly transform his life. In this way of thinking, precisely because we suffer, we seek out various teachings and seriously consider what is most important in our lives. Frankly speaking, the more we suffer, the more we can grow, and, therefore, suffering is a valuable experience for human beings.

Even so, however, our human nature is to want to avoid suffering. Moreover, many people honestly feel that it is impossible to imagine saying such things as they are grateful for suffering.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. The Zen phrase reidan jichi (Cold or warm, you know for yourself) means that you will find out for yourself whether the water is cold or warm when you actually take a drink. As this phrase implies, it is only after first having had various experiences that we can begin to accept suffering and hardship as valuable experiences for which we should be grateful and see for ourselves that “Truly, it is only because there is suffering that there is joy.”

Someone Who Has Seen the World

Shakyamuni teaches us that “All phenomena are characterized by suffering,” which means that we find suffering in everything in this world. And Founder Niwano proclaimed that “The most important thing is that we look squarely at this truth and accept it with firm resolve,” and “When we do so, we come to understand that suffering is no longer something out of the ordinary; it is a completely normal part of life,” and that “Precisely because we think about suffering as something unusual, we only feel more pain and by anticipating it, we feel frightened and uneasy.”

However, even though we understand that there is nothing we can do to avoid life’s suffering, we still worry and anguish not a little over what to do about it and pass our days in mental agony.

Yusai Sakai (1926-2013), a great teacher (dai ajari) of the Tendai Buddhist denomination, said about such times that “Instead of constantly using your head to think about things, it is better to intensely use your body to get something done.”

In a time of suffering, when we are constantly using our heads and worrying about something, our minds are in disarray and vexed and we feel as if a problem is stagnating in our minds, going round and round in circles. On the other hand, when we use our bodies to get something done, we may experience bone-breaking fatigue from working, but it includes the action that moves us one step forward in solving the problem. Is this not another example of hard-to-get experience, like “cold or warm, you know for yourself,” which I mentioned earlier?

The Japanese word kuronin means a person who has seen the world, that is, someone who has suffered many reverses, who is conversant in the conditions of society and able to turn those experiences into the nutrients of spiritual growth, and who is recognized as having achieved the greatness of the expanse and depth of the human heart. Shakyamuni, who was determined to bring liberation to all people and made great strides to disseminate the teaching, was a great exemplar of a man who has seen the world.

In this sense as well, when you are facing some suffering or hardship, why not put your body to work “getting something done?” Then, your mental distress will be transformed into sweat that achieves something. And such experiences will make your thinking more profound, broaden your perspective, make your mind more flexible, and deepen your consideration for others, all of which will give you greater human appeal.

In Rissho Kosei-kai, we often say that when you are worried about something, you should listen to someone who has the same kind of worry. That is because being active and working for the sake of others is the key to turning “stagnation” into “action.” Furthermore, this leads to gratitude.


October 2017
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing

Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.

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