Buddhist optimism is not the escapist optimism of those who throw up their hands and say, “Somehow or other things will work out.” Rather it means clearly recognizing evil as evil and suffering as suffering and resolutely fighting to overcome it. It means believing in one’s ability and strength to struggle against any evil or any obstacle. It is to possess a fighting optimism.
– SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, “The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra: Volume V.”
I believe this statement epitomizes one of the major differences between the Buddhism that I practice, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, and the other sects of Buddhism in the world today. For most people, especially in the West, Buddhism is seen as a laid-back, meditative, easy-going spiritual practice that has more to do with bringing about the practioner’s own peace of mind than world peace. The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin specifically emphasizes that as believers, we need to not only pray and take action to improve our own lives, but we also need to pray and take action to improve the lives of others. It is not a passive, contemplative Buddhism, but rather an active, positive, and fighting for justice Buddhism.
This is why I like this quote. “Buddhist optimism…is a fighting optimism.” We are not meant to retreat into the mountaintops and seclude ourselves in quiet meditation. Instead we must take an active role in society in order to improve our own lives and the lives of others. For me this is a real challenge. Given a choice, I would choose to keep quietly to myself, reading books and spending my spare time with my husband and dog. I would interact as little as possible with other people and keep primarily to myself. This is one of my biggest weaknesses, but Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism has helped me to open up my life and learn how to care about other people. I’ve developed compassion for my own family members, close friends, my Buddhist companions and even strangers on other continents thousands of miles away.
Without compassion and concern for other people, we do not get very far in life, nor will we get very far as a diverse, multi-racial and multi-lingual society.