Nichiren Buddhist Association of America

Nichiren Buddhist Association of America
Discovering the unknown within through a revolution in religious thinking

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The Three Proofs
Chapter 7

It’s one thing to say that something works and yet another thing to have proof on a consistent basis that it does. Nichiren devised a method for evaluating any religion or philosophy. It uses a very Asian-oriented way of thinking, but nonetheless it is a valid method. Most religions of the West, no matter where they came from, have evolved into religions that require a great deal of blind faith from their adherents. That is, they may use some elements of reason within their tenets, but the real proof is only what happens to one’s “soul” after death. They think it absolutely absurd to even talk about the proof of a religion or philosophy.

But before you skip over this section, we encourage you to use reason about this matter too. Given your new view of life condition and life itself that we’ve explained so far, doesn’t it follow that this thing called life is subjected to influences both within this present lifetime as well as after death? Isn’t your physical self and your spiritual self (or “soul”) inextricably connected? So if a religion isn’t powerful enough to completely alter your current life or life condition, then how can anyone expect it to be able to do so after your death? This is a serious and fundamental question that Buddhists must ask themselves as well in order to determine if they are still on the “right path” to enlightenment.

The first of the three proofs is Documentary Proof. All major world religions have some writings upon which they base their religion. The use of Documentary Proof asks you to determine the validity of the current practice of a religion when comparing it to the practice described in the writings of the religion. In other words, do the believers in the religion have a reference to which they can go to determine the correct practice? As an absurd example, a book on baking pastries would probably not hold up to the scrutiny of Documentary Proof if the intent was to find out the correct practice of bartending. In order to use Documentary Proof, then, one must be able to determine the intent of the religion. If we can assume that all religions have as their intent the happiness of the individual, even after death, then we can compare them in order to determine the extent of Documentary Proof that they possess.

The next of the three proofs is Theoretical Proof. As it sounds, this proof relies on reason and uses the basic tenets of a religion to evaluate whether or not those tenets hold up to reason. There are some things that we know about life. If the religion either ignores or goes against reason, then we can say it lacks Theoretical Proof. For example, some religions may embrace suffering as a basic element of life. They teach that suffering must be endured in this life but that adherents to the religion will surely be happy after death. Using reason, our life is our life – now and later. If a religion causes suffering now, it is reasonable to think that it will cause suffering later, so it therefore lacks Theoretical Proof. Using another absurd example, someone teaching bartending who insists on their students only using solids rather than liquids is said to be completely going against reason. That person’s philosophy of bartending does not hold up at all to Theoretical Proof.

The third proof is Actual Proof. This is the most valuable proof of all. Do the Documentary Proof and the Theoretical Proof work together to provide a provable result? Is this result found by all who use the Documentary and Theoretical proofs in the same way? The measure of this proof is its medium and long range effects, though. For example, in the philosophy of weight lifting, you may actually weaken physical strength at first in the process of eventually increasing physical strength. If you lifted weights for twenty years, however, and never saw the positive result from your efforts, it would be reasonable to abandon weight lifting or at least determine a more correct practice of weight lifting (such as could be found with correct Documentary Proof). Religion may be more difficult to evaluate according to the principle of Actual Proof than weight lifting, but it’s still very useful to do so. It’s easy to find people who have practiced according to the Documentary and Theoretical tenets of their religion for twenty years or more but still have not discovered anything at all to make them believe that they have Actual Proof of their religion on a consistent basis.

For Nichiren Buddhists, the Documentary Proof is found in the Writings of Nichiren. These writings were written by Nichiren himself and clearly describe the correct method of practice for the time period in which we are now living. In terms of Theoretical Proof, Buddhism really excels. By studying Buddhism, you will not only find out more about life in general, but you will also learn specifically about your own life. And because Buddhism possesses Theoretical Proof, you will invariably find that certain elements of your former religion are correct when viewed from the broader perspective of Buddhism. However, there is absolutely no other religion that we have found that will answer each and every question about life the way Nichiren Buddhism does. Theoretical Proof is not a once only evaluation, either. As you continue to practice Buddhism, you will invariably “test” the religion to see if it can offer an explanation to you so that you will have some level of hope to overcome each new problem or difficult and/or painful situation. Questions such as: Will the practice of Buddhism make it so that I don’t suffer anymore at work? With my spouse? With my health? All must be answered by the Buddhist with courage and honesty. If our experience serves us well, though, this element of Buddhist practice will be very difficult for most to master. We can only speculate why people so strongly resist putting their beliefs “on the line” to see if they actually work. Without doing so, though, your faith will remain on shaky theoretical grounds and will easily crumble with the first sign of negativity from your environment.

A basic element of the Lotus Sutra is the prediction that people will “enjoy themselves at ease” because of their strong life condition of Buddhahood. So there is nothing that cannot be overcome by the practice of Buddhism if one will only try. Can Buddhism produce the actual result of making you a happier person? Can you overcome the negative aspects of your karma by practicing Buddhism? Will Buddhism work the same for everyone, or do you have to be a special person who has already attained a level of goodness and wisdom that is above that of the masses? Do the answers to each and every question that we described above actually result in Actual Proof? No matter how good an answer sounds, if it does not work, it’s not really an answer at all. Nichiren Buddhism encourages that you demand proof of your religion. It’s so common to just accept that life is painful and never try to change your life condition. Nichiren wrote that those who stay in an outhouse for long don’t notice the stench. This relates to our lives. People often don’t believe that their lives can change, so they just get used to having lives that reek like an outhouse. Buddhism would not possess Actual Proof if it allowed even one correct practitioner to remain in a state of suffering. So, in effect, you can even attempt to disprove the Actual Proof of Buddhism, if you are inclined to do so. It will continue to produce Actual Proof anyway, and you will be a changed person for your efforts.

If there is a strong believer of another religion readin this book, we strongly encourage you to use the three proofs to test your own religion as well. As a world seeking answers, all of us, even those without religious conviction, should continuously test everything they come across with the test of the three proofs. Even some people who take up the practice of Nichiren Buddhism right away tend to shy away from using the three proofs. That’s no good at all. If we are going to search out the truth, we need a methodology to test it, otherwise we become strongly prone to believing in useless dogma. Let’s not be victims of incorrect philosophies that tie us to our suffering. Let’s challenge everything we learn head-on with bold courage.


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