“Conviction” is a frequently used word, but what does it really mean? This essay reflects upon the true meaning of conviction from five different standpoints.
First, as it is often used, the word conviction is close in meaning to “self‑confidence.” To say “have conviction and try your best” to someone facing some kind of challenge means the same thing as telling the person to “have confidence.” Usually, using the word conviction or confidence doesn’t matter one way or the other. But when it comes to accepting and, most of all, upholding faith in the Gohonzon, a clear distinction needs to be made between conviction and confidence.
Self‑confidence means just what it says: to believe in yourself. In other words, it means to believe in your own ability, power and worth. Naturally, then, the more ability and other kinds of strengths people possess, the more confidence they have in themselves. Everyone needs to have some degree of self‑confidence. After all, a person who loses all self‑confidence will have no hope for tomorrow and will be paralyzed by doubt and bewilderment. In that sense, a proper amount of confidence in oneself is indispensable to go on living as a human being.
An excess of self‑confidence, however, can cause terrible failure or tragedy, and in that sense, confidence in oneself can be a tricky thing. In short, having too much self‑confidence is arrogant and turns into conceit. This inevitably leads to self‑righteousness and prejudice, and as a result, people’s judgment goes awry.
In contrast, true Buddhism teaches that “conviction” means to make faith in the Gohonzon one’s foundation; that is, to believe in the power of the Buddha and the power of the Law possessed by the Gohonzon. In the “True Object of Worship,” Nichiren Daishonin states:
Shakyamuni’s practices and the virtues he consequently attained are all contained within the single phrase Myoho‑Renge-Kyo. If we believe in that phrase, we shall naturally be granted the same benefits as he was.
(Gosho, p. 653; MW-1, p. 64)
He also states:
People who honestly discard the provisional teachings, believe only in the Lotus Sutra, and chant Nam‑Myoho‑Renge‑Kyo will transform the three paths of earthly desires, karma, and suffering into the three virtues of the Law, wisdom, and emancipation. For them, the threefold contemplation and the three truths will be actualized in a single mind. The place where these people dwell is the land of eternally tranquil light.
(Gosho, p. 694)
There is not enough room here to even begin to list all the passages in the Gosho about the merits of the Gohonzon. However, the following passage of praise about the Gohonzon by Twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin perhaps says it all:
This, in short, is where all Buddhas and all sutras return. It is the source for the advent of all Buddhas and all sutras. For this reason, the merits of the Buddhas of the ten directions and three existences, which are as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges river, and the merits of the sutras of the ten directions and three existences, which number as many as the minutest particles throughout the world, one and all, without exception, return to the Object of Worship of the Buddhism of Sowing hidden in the depths of the Life Span (Juryo; sixteenth) chapter. As an analogy, it is like hundreds of branches and thousands of leaves all returning to the same root. Thus, the merit of this Object of Worship is infinite and boundless; its unfathomable, wondrous functions are all encompassing and profound. Therefore, if even for a short moment one believes in this Object of Worship and chants Nam-Myoho‑Renge‑Kyo, no prayer will fail to be answered, no sin will fail to be expiated, no fortune will fail to come, and no truth will fail to become evident.
(Mondan Shu, p. 443)
The factor that determines the strength or weakness of our conviction is how much we believe in this power of the Gohonzon, which is beyond the comprehension of common mortals. Put differently, the depth of our faith in the Gohonzon is in itself one’s true level of conviction.
Secondly, whether your conviction is strong or weak becomes evident at the time you directly face tribulations. Various problems will come up, whether small or large, as long as a person is alive. But if you can resolve these matters with your own powers, they do not really deserve to be called “tribulations.” Tribulations (sufferings and hardship
s) are circumstances that you can’t readily overcome even though you try hard to do so. In such situations, the conviction (or self‑confidence ) that a person had until then, is shaken and becomes battered down. When this happens, people lose their judgment, their ability to surmount situations melts away, and they fall into the three evil paths of Hell, Hunger, and Animality. This is what leads to defeat in life. Mere self‑confidence is a fragile thing.
The key point to being able to live your life to the fullest in a worthy manner is to have the conviction that you can overcome anything and solve everything, no matter what tribulation you may face. Here is where there is an unmistakable difference between conviction based on faith in the Gohonzon and the conviction based on the self-confidence of people who do not believe in the Gohonzon.
The powers of the Buddha and the Law of the Gohonzon are infinite and boundless, vast and profound. Therefore, conviction based on faith will never be destroyed. This is the resolute conviction that there is no tribulation you cannot overcome with faith in this great Gohonzon. With this conviction you need not flinch, no matter how difficult or trying the hardship you confront becomes. Conviction is what drives you to muster stronger faith than ever before and to draw out the strength and courage to tackle that difficulty head on. Then you will receive the protection of the Guardian Deities (shoten zenjin) and be able to overcome the problem completely.
Third, we who embrace faith in the Gohonzon have the ultimate method for solving problems at our fingertips. This method is to completely fill ourselves
with treasures of the heart by chanting powerful Daimoku to the Gohonzon and to exert ourselves to the utmost with all the wisdom and strength we have. Coupled with the protection we receive from the guardian deities (shoten zenjin), this leads us to a solution. In short, this is the method of “employing the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other.”
Think about the experiences of other believers you know. The more they fill their lives with the treasures of the heart by chanting Daimoku with fusion to the Gohonzon, the more wonderful the results that they attain. Yet that is not all. They do not simply overcome their own problems for themselves; the merit they receive is also distributed to the people around them. There is nothing as wonderful as the mysterious benefit received owing to the power of the Buddha and the power of the Law.
Therefore, the more firmly one’s faith is based on putting the treasures of the heart first, the stronger one’s conviction will be. This conviction becomes increasingly unmovable and solid in proportion to the faith one accumulates.
On the other hand, people who just pursue treasures of the storehouse and body will in the end have weak and shallow conviction, even if they are believers. As long as their life produces few and minor obstacles, they appear as if they have conviction. That conviction, however, falls apart easily when their affairs do not progress smoothly and circumstances become difficult. At such times, they may even lose faith in the Gohonzon. Such people actually have an extremely fragile foundation for life.
Fourth, as mentioned above, self‑confidence that is based on one’s own abilities is liable to turn into conceit and arrogance. With conviction founded in faith in the Gohonzon, there should never be any danger of this happening. Conviction is born within the process of mustering strong and deep faith. This is the path to feeling the greatness of the Gohonzon and to deepening one’s wisdom about life. This is why it naturally leads to humility at the same time, by fostering the spirit of self‑improvement, the capacity to reflect on oneself, and the spirit to seek the Way.
If a person should happen to fall into a state of arrogance or conceit, it means that his or her faith has caved in or that he or she has somehow departed from genuine faith in the Gohonzon. In this sense, arrogance is nothing but a cover for a loss of true conviction.
True conviction is not conceit, arrogance, or haughtiness. It is neither mere stubbornness nor superficial optimism. It is a pure state of life built by strong faith. It is a wealth of humanity and an indomitable, unyielding life force.
Finally, remember the passage from “The Opening of the Eyes”:
Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubt in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because Heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life.
(Gosho, p. 574; MW-2, p. 205)
Due to slander of the true Law in your past or present existences, or because of causality related to your bad karma, you may be buffeted by one suffering after another. When you are in the depths of pain, as a common mortal you may doubt and want to cry out, “Why is this happening to me, even though I have such sincere faith?”
When you can’t help but grieve, when it seems impossible not to doubt, those harsh circumstances are a golden opportunity to read this passage with your life. At such times true conviction shows its real worth. In other words, a person who shakes off sorrow, breaks through doubt and sits down solemnly before the Gohonzon to chant resounding Daimoku at such a time is a person with true conviction. Because of that faith, this person will eliminate the bad karma and receive the protection of the guardian deities, and the day when that tribulation will be overcome by clear actual proof will never fail to arrive.
People who hold fast to absolute belief in the Gohonzon and, conquering all their problems, boldly live out their lives in this world with dignity, are people who establish true conviction.
(Nichiren Shoshu Monthly, September 2007)