Everyone has desires of some sort, and may even have many desires. What a person yearns for the most, and how strongly he or she struggles to obtain it, says a lot about that person’s approach to life.
No matter how strong the spirit to seek, as long as what is sought is confined to things like wealth, power, acclaim, position, health and the like (in other words, as long as the desires are for “treasures of the storehouse” or “treasures of the body”) it has no relation to what is known in Buddhism as a “seeking mind.” A yearning cannot be called a “seeking mind” unless what you are seeking is at least to improve your character, achieve growth as a human being, or aim for a more elevated way of life.
In Buddhism, needless to say, a seeking mind means the spirit to ardently and single‑mindedly seek the Way so as to attain the enlightenment of the Buddha. It could also be called “the spirit to seek the Way of Buddhism.” Therefore, an approach to Buddhism oriented only toward fulfilling desires for “treasures of the storehouse” or “treasures of the body” is not a true “seeking mind,” no matter how robust a person’s faith may appear to be. As has been emphasized in this column over and over again, to make “treasures of the heart” your ardent desire and to strive to achieve their fulfillment is the fundamental, original path of Buddhism.
“Seeking mind” means to want to draw closer to the state of life of the Buddha, even if only by a little. It means the desire to correct your faith, to deepen your faith, and to make your faith stronger for this purpose, and making valiant efforts toward that end. Seeking mind means to summon a deep desire to part with shallow whims and attain the supreme enlightenment, to deepen your spirit to seek the Way and follow the path of faith, because you have been able to embrace faith in the Three Great Secret Laws. This is expressed as one of the Four Universal Vows of the bodhisattva—the vow to attain the supreme enlightenment.
“The True Entity of Life” contains the famous passage:
Exert yourself in the two ways of practice and study. Without practice and
study, there can be no Buddhism.
(Gosho, p. 668; MW-1, p. 95)
What we need to note about this passage is that Nichiren Daishonin adds study to practice and teaches that there are the two ways of practice and study that we need to devote ourselves to. This is truly strict
‑there is no Buddhism if we do not pursue both these paths. Furthermore, the next line states, “Both practice and study arise from faith.” Practice and study originate in faith, and at the same time, exerting ourselves in practice and study is a natural consequence of believing. In short, faith is put into practice when you devote yourself steadfastly to practice and study.
“Practice,” of course, means the practice of doing Gongyo and chanting Daimoku morning and evening, and also the practice of teaching others about Buddhism—that is, doing shakubuku. “Study,” of course, means to study the teachings of Buddhism. When the topic of study comes up, unfortunately some believers have the idea, “I’m no good at study. But since a person of faith without knowledge can attain Buddhahood, as long as I believe in the Gohonzon, that’s enough.” This idea is a big mistake for two reasons.
The first reason is that as Nichiren Daishonin’s words show, study is inseparable from faith. Thus, the need to study has nothing to do with whether you are good at it or bad at it. Thinking, “I’m bad at study so I don’t feel like doing it,” is just as mistaken as thinking, “I’m bad at doing Gongyo so I don’t want to do it.” We should all make an effort to study Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, regardless of whether we are good at it or not.
The second reason is that this is a grave misinterpretation of the concept that a person of “faith without knowledge” can attain Buddhahood. The true meaning of this is, “Even if one does not understand the doctrines, one can definitely attain Buddhahood if one has faith. But there can be no attainment of Buddhahood if faith is lacking, even with a superior understanding of doctrine.” The concept of “faith without knowledge” is a guideline that emphasizes the importance of faith in the practice of Buddhism. It by no means implies that there is no need to make any effort to understand the teachings. Please do not have this misunderstanding.
Then, for us, what
is the real purpose of study? Needless to say, it means to study the teachings of the Buddha. It means to learn the fundamentals of Buddhism and the correct path of Buddhist practice—to learn about how great the Gohonzon is, how venerable the True Buddha is, and how wonderful the benefits of embracing the True Law are. It means to learn about the real meaning of happiness, the source of unhappiness, and about how dangerous it is to follow incorrect teachings. More than anything else, study is for the sake of correcting your own faith.
The strength of faith is not all that matters. Even if your faith is terribly strong, it will not benefit you if it is off base, and may even harm you. It should be obvious that fanaticism and distorted faith can be a terrible thing, judging from the state of the members of certain extreme religious groups. The purpose of study is to constantly check your own faith to see if you are making any mistakes, and to make sure you are not committing any slanders. Study is for the sake of carrying out faith properly. It is important to study in order to deepen and elevate your faith. If you study with the aim of understanding the teachings of Buddhism better and thereby deepen your understanding just a little, it will make your faith stronger and happier and give you more energy to practice Buddhism. This is what a “seeking mind” is all about.
To change the subject, if you slack off in study, isn’t that the same thing as not really wanting to deepen your faith and make sure it is correct? This corresponds to several of the Fourteen Slanders—lack of seeking spirit, slander and negligence.
What needs to be added here is that study of Buddhism does not just mean sitting down at a desk, opening up the Gosho or other study materials, and spending hours and hours reading. Of course, regularly reading the Gosho is the foundation, but sparing even five or ten minutes of your valuable time to read a passage of the Gosho is also an excellent form of study. Other good ways to study are to read Nichiren Shoshu periodicals, to attend the Oko to listen to the Chief Priest talk about Buddhism, and to attend meetings and ask questions about the teachings. For people who have difficulty reading, it can mean to ask someone to read them the Gosho.
Study in Buddhism is not a matter of the method or how much time is spent. Intently studying the Buddha’s teachings with a seeking mind, because you want to have truer, deeper faith, is a praiseworthy spirit. The practice of doing this is vital, and brings about great benefit.
Next, truly alarming consequences may arise from not having a correct understanding of Buddhism when we go out and teach others about Buddhism, whether in doing shakubuku or in helping new believers. The need for study is all the more important, taking this into consideration. Both for our own sakes and for others, there is much to be said about the importance of study.
Now and then, we may come across people who study zealously, but don’t really have the valiant spirit of faith. They lack an interest in sharing what they have learned, although they study for themselves. At times, such people may even look down on others who do not have a lot of ability in study. That approach to study arises merely from intellectual curiosity, and should be clearly distinguished from correct Buddhist study, which arises from an actual spirit to seek the true path. To study with a seeking mind that arises from faith always deepens your own faith and leads to actions like teaching others and doing shakubuku. There are hazards in studying the teachings of Buddhism without a seeking mind based on faith.
The famous story of Sessen Doji is really instructive about the spirit of a seeking mind. Sessen Doji searched and searched for Buddhism. In the end, he offered his own life in order to hear a doctrine of only half a verse from an ugly demon. This is the true model of a believer with a seeking mind. The Gosho, “The Fourteen Slanders,” contains the following passage:
It would appear that there are very few who ask about the meaning of the sutra in an effort to resolve their doubts and thus believe in it wholeheartedly. No matter how humble a person may be, if his wisdom is in the least bit greater than yours, you should ask him about the meaning of the sutra.
(Gosho, p. 1047; MW-3, p. 209)
In “Letter to Niike,” the Daishonin also states:
If a person has the wisdom to know the spirit of the Lotus Sutra, no matter how lowly he may appear, worship him and serve him as though he were a living Buddha.
(Gosho, p. 1458; MW-1, p. 257)
These passages instruct us how to have a seeking mind. We should humbly lend our ears to each other, regardless of who the other person is, whether priest or layman, to learn even a little bit, as long as it has anything to do with Buddhism. This attitude toward learning itself is vital. If you have that attitude, you will be able to take in great quantities of nourishment in faith from each and every situation and achieve tremendous growth.
If you lose your spirit to seek, you will definitely fall prey to arrogance or inertia, and your faith will crumble. But if you hold fast to your seeking mind, your faith will progress and develop, and your life will shine with benefit.
(Nichiren Shoshu Monthly, October 2007)