The courageous Buddhist

I was about to write about today about how courage comes into play in the Buddhist practice. Then I stumbled across this article on the Soka Gakkai International website, and felt it discussed this far more eloquently than I ever could. I hope you enjoy it.

“What may to one person seem a simple problem may be experienced by another as overwhelming and insurmountable. But the process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge.”

Developing the quality of courage is essential to achieving anything in our lives. Courage is required before we can take action in any endeavor, and it is courageous people in every field who tend to achieve their goals and realize their dreams.

Courage, however, is not always heroic action in a time of danger–it can consist of the persistent, unglamorous effort to do what we feel is right.

In Buddhism, courage, or fearlessness, is highly valued. In one of his letters, Nichiren, the 13th-century founder of the Buddhism practiced by members of the SGI, urged his followers: “You should not have the slightest fear in your heart. It is lack of courage that prevents one from attaining Buddhahood. . .”

Buddhism originated in the teachings of Shakyamuni some 2,500 years ago, and it is the principles of the Lotus Sutra specifically that underlie the teachings of Nichiren. The Lotus Sutra teaches that every single person has infinite potential, and that, through sincere practice, each person can bring forth that potential, allowing their abundant creativity to blossom and enabling them to contribute to the enrichment of society.

Although we may know intellectually that we have great potential, unless we muster the courage to act on that knowledge, the potential will remain unfulfilled. Buddhism also teaches that our efforts to expand and develop our lives will inevitably be met by resistance, often severe, from both within and without. It is by persevering in the face of these obstacles and triumphing over them that we are able to unlock the rich possibilities of our lives and manifest our inherent enlightenment.

This process naturally requires courage, but it also requires faith. Buddhist practice is the ongoing exercise of faith–faith, ultimately, in ourselves–in the midst of the often harsh realities of life. Moreover, it is rooted in an understanding that the positive transformation of our own lives will bring about a corresponding transformation in the greater web of life in which we exist.

Buddhist teachings place great emphasis on wisdom, and it is easy to see how a simple lack of wisdom is the cause of many of the problems that beset human society, globally as well as locally. Often, though, it is a more fundamental lack of courage that prevents people, notably leaders, from acting on what they know to be right; thus it is a lack of courage that is at the root of much of the suffering that confronts us individually and as societies.

Closely linked to the exercise of courage is conviction–conviction in the right and possibility of oneself and others to be happy, free and fulfilled. Such conviction is the basis of social justice and is the core vision on which Buddhism is founded. It is a fierce, unyielding commitment to such a vision that endows the Buddha with the quality of fearlessness.

Buddhism thus views courage as a vital element of compassionate action to help others–as well as key to our ability to change our own lives.

Many people live their lives locked in a paralysis of fear, seemingly unable to take a step forward to resolve a deadlock or reveal their true potential. These challenges differ for every individual, both in their nature and their scale. What may to one person seem a simple problem may be experienced by another as overwhelming and insurmountable. But the process of summoning up the courage required to take action is always the same regardless of how seemingly big or small the challenge.

Further, to the extent that we draw on this resource of courage in our daily lives, fearlessly rising to the challenges that face us in the immediate here and now, we are positively transforming not only our own lives but also the world around us.

The transformative possibilities of courage exist around and within us at every moment. As SGI President Ikeda has said, “Small things matter. What may look like a small act of courage is courage nevertheless. The important thing is to be willing to take a step forward.”

[Courtesy January 2011 SGI Quarterly]

May you be well, happy and peaceful.

6 comments for “The courageous Buddhist

  1. DianeBrodson
    Monday, August 22, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Courage in my job means talking to people who are angry about a title in the library that they think should be taken off the shelves. Luckily, I don’t get many of these phone calls – but two or three times a year, I have to talk to a patron who thinks I am irresponsible – that I don’t care about the safety of children – that I must have no sense of decency – that I have an agenda to spread pornography in the community. They cannot see how my hand shakes as I hold the phone. They don’t know that I took several deep breaths before dialing their phone number – that I repeated my mantram over and over before lifting the handset. Trying to reason with someone who refuses to understand the purpose of a public library can be futile. The public library can’t always be a safe place for people, but it has to be a safe place for ideas. I tell myself I am defending the last bastion of a democracy: the public library…. where people can have access to information or entertainment of their choosing. What is entertainment or information to one person can be seen as outrageous, stupid or pornographic to another.

    There is a different kind of “courage” in my daily life. On a daily basis – I struggle to make myself get up and exercise before meditating and going to work. Day in, day out. Don’t think about it; just do it. In many respects, it takes more courage (determination?) to exercise every morning. Why is it so difficult to do what I know is healthy for me to do? Why do I struggle with this? It isn’t scary the way talking to an irate patron is scary. But it is scary that I can’t make my mind do what I want it to do: I want my mind to stop fighting me about exercise in the morning.

  2. WHPDave
    Monday, August 22, 2011 at 10:45 am

    @DianeBrodson What a wonderful story and exposure of the self diane brodson . Thank you so much for sharing it. I know that we all have our difficulties that require patience and determination, but I try to remember what bhante sujatha always says; “There is no struggle in Buddhism”.

    These are things that we create in our mind, and it sounds like you are being very mindful in your practice every day. With time, I think these seeming “struggles” will disappear. This is the same path we are all on, and further demonstrates the blessing of the Sangha and our spiritual friendships.

    Keep up the great work, and thank you again for your post!

  3. DianeBrodson
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 6:36 am

    @WHPDavediane brodsonbhante sujatha

    I wonder. I have “struggled” with the concept that “there is no struggle in Buddhism”. I know the struggle is in the mind – training or cultivating the mind is what I believed Buddhism to be about. I know what is good for me; my mind knows it is good to exercise – at least thirty or forty minutes a day. Why does my mind resist? There is a little demon in my mind that whispers: You’ve been so good – it’s OK to stay in bed today.

  4. WHPDave
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 7:00 am

    @DianeBrodsondiane brodson Read this, this morning Diane, and thought it was really appropriate to what we’re discussing.

    “Buddhist discipline involves gradual practice and gradual attainment. It does not burst into completeness at a stroke, but like a tree or any other living organism, it unfolds organically, as a sequence of stages in which each stage rests upon its predecessor as its indispensable foundation and gives rise to its successor as its natural consequent.”

  5. Tamara A Rhodes
    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Needed to hear this today. Thank you!

  6. Well Happy Peaceful
    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I am so glad Tamara! Thanks for reading and responding!

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