An understanding of shakubuku is critical to the correct
practice of Nichiren Buddhism. It is one of the two basic ways of
propagating Buddhism: the process of leading a person to the correct
teaching by refuting his/her attachment to erroneous beliefs. (The
second method is shoju - teaching without pointing
out mistaken beliefs). Shakubuku involves a second element
as well: conquering the mistaken views in one's own mind
and bringing out the Buddha wisdom within. It is important to understand
both points, for we must first shakubuku ourselves
- confront our own doubts and misconceptions - before we
can successfully shakubuku another.
Unfortunately, the practice of shakubuku is often misunderstood.
Few seem to recognize that it is first and foremost an act of compassion.
Shakubuku is an expression of our belief in the Buddha wisdom
inherent in all things, in people's ability to tap that wisdom and,
by so doing, to overcome suffering in their lives.
Shakubuku is neither aggressive nor abusive - but because
it challenges people's beliefs - is often viewed as "threatening."
And not just by the person being shakubukued, but by the
person doing the refuting as well. For one thing, too many of us
lack the faith to put our own beliefs on the line by pointing out
the errors in someone else's. For another, we think it impolite
or "politically incorrect" to question or challenge something
(anything?) someone else says or believes. But that kind of thinking
leaves us all in a muddle. What if Galileo had been afraid to say
that the earth is NOT the center of the universe? Or if Darwin had
lacked the courage to publish his theory of evolution?
When a scientist puts forth a new hypothesis, it is treated with
healthy skepticism. Others poke and prod and turn it upside down.
Numerous minds examine the hypothesis from all angles to see if
it makes sense and actually works. If it passes the test of scrutiny,
eventually it becomes accepted. Then all new hypotheses must
fit in with it, too, or present evidence that this new piece
of the puzzle actually changes the entire picture.
Nichiren believed religion, too, should be verifiable. He sought
to eliminate both the "blind faith" approach and the "I
like it therefore it must be true" approach to religious belief.
To that end, he devised the three proofs and encouraged people
to apply them to their own religious convictions. (First is documentary
proof - or a written record of correct practice. Second is theoretical
proof - is it consistent? Does it make sense? And finally and most
important - actual proof: does it work?)
But Nichiren didn't stop there. He used his own life to
test the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra. If you read The Writings
of Nichiren Daishonin you will see that his life was a grand
experiment, an expression of his beliefs, and a test of their validity.
You will see, too, that - like all of us - he had moments of self-doubt.
But always - always his life validated his belief in the
Lotus Sutra: his high life condition and abiding wisdom. His overwhelming
compassion - even for those who would harm him. His persecution
- as predicted in the Lotus Sutra. The timely meteor that halted
his beheading. The fulfillment of his prediction of the foreign
invasion of Japan. His survival and eventual pardon from two exiles.
Each incident strengthened his faith; each furthered his Buddhahood.
But how do we know what worked for Nichiren will work for us? The
only way, of course, is by trying it. Indeed, the only way to prove
that Nichiren Buddhism actually works for anybody and everybody
who practices exactly according to the Lotus Sutra is to have everybody
and anybody practice exactly according to the Lotus Sutra. Obvious?
Then why do so many refuse to even try shakubuku? Why have
some sects gone so far as to deny not only the necessity and but
even the significance of shakubuku? Are they afraid of success?
Or of failure? Regardless, if we give in to fear, how can we truly
be a part of Nichiren's grand experiment? How can we lift religion
from the darkness of unprovable dogma into the critical light of
Not convinced? Still feel more comfortable in telling yourself
shakubuku is not necessary to teach Buddhism, that all you
need is shoju? Know this. Nichiren is exceedingly clear
on the point that in the Latter Day of the Law, confronting false
doctrines and challenging slander are critical elements in our journey
to Buddhahood. If you lack the courage and compassion to practice
shakubuku, you will never attain enlightenment. Period. If
you read Nichiren - and I mean all of Nichiren - not just
a few isolated sentences or paragraphs or goshos; if you
read Nichiren - you can't help but see the importance he
attaches to the practice of shakubuku nor, I believe, understand
why he believes it so critical. Read Nichiren, dear reader,
and see for yourself.
Is Nichiren's understanding of correct practice 100% on target?
I don't know. Not yet. But I do know this - so far, so good.
Not only has chanting improved my life condition, but - once I got
up the courage to practice shakubuku - the direction and
scope of my entire life began to change. I saw beyond my
imagined limits, beyond the fears and frustrations of the lower
worlds. The closer I follow in Nichiren's footsteps, the stronger
I become, the more manifest my Buddha wisdom, the more rewarding
my life. Which is why I have the faith to keep going, to follow
this path that Nichiren so lovingly laid out.
Again, dear reader, don't just take my word for it. For without
action, it's all meaningless. Without action, it's no more than
an interesting philosophical debate. Have the courage to follow
your faith, to point out the errors in others' beliefs when confronted
with them (such as their dependence on a supreme being), and see
how quickly your own life grows and blossoms. Dare to follow
in the footsteps of Nichiren. You won't be disappointed.
But until you have sufficient faith that the wisdom of Shakyamuni
and Nichiren is also in you and in everyone you teach,
you won't have the courage to question faulty teachings. You won't
have the courage to stand up for Nichiren Buddhism as more than
just "another religion," but as one that actually works
to end suffering. More than once I have been told, "there are
many truths" as an excuse for not practicing shakubuku.
But what does this saying really mean? That everything is
true? That contradictory beliefs (such as our present circumstances
are the result of divine whim rather than cause and effect)
can be true? If that were the case, wouldn't "truth" then
In the final analysis, then, shakubuku is simply an act
of truth finding. It's about recognizing that we come to truth from
a myriad of directions and with our own circus carts of karmic hindrances.
Many of us think we have a handle on the important truths of life,
and to some degree, many of us probably do. But our understanding
is like that of Shakyamuni's five blind men "seeing" their
first elephant. One feels the tail, and says an elephant is like
a snake. Another touches a leg and compares it to a stout pillar.
A third grabs the tusk, and likens it to a plow
. Each, of
course, thinks only he has it right and that the others are deluded.
I like this analogy a great deal. For it not only points out the
difficulty in not being able to see the entire picture, but it also
shows that partial truths can be more dangerous than outright fallacies.
For, like the blind men, we all know what we felt/saw/heard
so why bother with anything else? Especially if it contradicts what
we have already accepted. (How incredibly naïve and complacent
we are in our beliefs - even if they don't work. Even if they don't
make sense. Even if the world is crumbling around us because of
The more I chant and study Nichiren - the more insight I gain into
the Lotus Sutra - the more clearly the puzzle pieces of my life,
of all life, fit together. Little by little the outline of an elephant
emerges - a huge, incredible elephant - as preposterous as such
an animal might sometimes seem.
But, you may say
what if, by putting our Buddhist beliefs
on the line, we find out some of them are wrong? Well
if we do? If they are, isn't that important to know? How else can
we check and, if necessary, correct our path? We must have
the courage to ask the tough questions - not just of our friends
and those we teach, but of ourselves; the courage to challenge accepted
"truth" - including our own; the courage to be willing
to use our very lives as a verification of Buddhahood and as a tool
for kosen rufu.
Look at the world today, my friends, and consider. Dare we not
confront false beliefs? Dare we not use our lives as vehicles
to end human suffering? Dare we not have the faith to follow
what we claim to be our convictions? If we lack the courage and
compassion to act today, dare we even think what tomorrow