What do Buddhists believe?

The answer to this question, when people first start chanting the mantra Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, is, very often, ‘not a lot’ or maybe even ‘nothing’. Because the truth is, you don’t need to adopt any new beliefs or lifestyle to give Nichiren Buddhism a go. Most people come to the practice looking to change a situation in their life and are encouraged to give try it out for 100 days or so and see what happens.


Others stumble across Buddhism because they want to make the world a more joyful, peaceful and fairer place, but don’t quite know where to start… Others (like me) start chanting to prove that it does not work… Incidentally I don’t think many people start chanting just because of a book or a blog like this, it nearly always begins from a heart to heart connection with someone they trust who’s already practising Buddhism.

The other day I sat down to try and make a list of what it means to believe in Nichiren Buddhist teachings. The result is a list of 10 beliefs that I feel I hold most strongly after 28 years as a member of the Soka Gakkai (SGI) Buddhist movement. I make no claim that this is a complete and definitive list. It is just my personal interpretation, but I hope it may be useful to you and / or provide food for thought.

  1. First of all, Life itself is precious. Its essence, its energy. My life, your life, all life. And, on a level that even our subconscious cannot perceive, it is interconnected. A Buddha is one who perceives this truth and loves the fact of just being alive.
  2. ‘Buddha’ simply means someone who is ‘awakened’ so at its most basic level, Nichiren Buddhism gives you the tools to create a happy life. How to get the most from it. How to give your all to it. How to create value in society. How to find the Buddha in me and the Buddha in you.
  3. Revealing the joy, life force, wisdom, courage and compassion needed for a meaningful life requires great effort and gritty determination. It means defeating what a life coach would call our ‘gremlins’ and what Nichiren Buddhists call your ‘Fundamental Darkness’. It means going deeper than the limits of your conscious and subconscious mind and trusting the original enlightened core of your being. We do this by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
  4. Unlike earlier forms of Buddhism, there are no rules designed to make you suppress your desires. Instead Nichiren encourages believers to harness and transform them, often using the analogy of turning “poison into medicine”.
  5. Buddhahood is not some superhuman or divine state, but something very real and practical that is attainable by all of us, in this lifetime. It is the respect in your voice and the warmth in your heart. It includes profound feelings of joy, wisdom, courage, compassion, gratitude and optimism that produce a sparkle in your eye and a dance in your smile and both of these and more besides in other people too.
  6. You and everyone else can become enlightened: the sports star, the soldier, the postman, the newsagent, the tramp, the supermodel, the noisy neighbour and you.
  7. All the answers you’ll ever need are inside you, none of them require prayers of supplication to an external god. Neither do you need a guru or a priest or a master to act as a middle-man between you and your own enlightenment. (For more see: ‘Why Buddhists don’t believe in God‘.)
  8. There is no heaven. There is no hell. Neither is a physical place that you go to. Both exist in your heart. Your heart counts most of all.
  9. Through the Universal Law of cause and effect and your dominant life condition, you create your own destiny or ‘karma’ with every thought, word and action. You are totally free. You are totally responsible.
  10. Finally, there is no finally… life is eternal. You get to come back over and over again :-), with some periods in between to enjoy a refreshing nap. (This is known by most of us as ‘death’ and to some people the word has negative connotations).

These are the empowering beliefs at the core of the coaching sessions I do with my clients. My fundamental starting point, whatever challenge you face, is that I believe wholeheartedly in your brilliance and that you have all the answers inside you.

There is of course, an invisible thread, a shared spirit and a mystical connection running through all of this. Because Buddhist teachings have only been passed on for thousands of years thanks to the heart of a disciple seeking a mentor and the mentor encouraging the disciple to surpass their own achievements.

orange lotus flower

And then of course, there is also the deepening faith that comes from seeing the practice work in your own and others’ lives. Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “Whether or not your prayer is answered will depend on your faith… When water is clear, the moon is reflected. When the wind blows, the trees shake. Our minds are like the water. Faith that is weak is like muddy water, while faith that is brave is like clear water.”


22 Replies to “What do Buddhists believe?”

  1. suekingtonsmith says:

    I’m passing this on to a shakabuku who ‘doesn’t get it’. I feel sure this will help – it’s a terrific explanation. Thank you David.

    1. Thank you Sue, hope it does make a difference to you friend :-). D

  2. graywills says:

    Wonderful and very helpful article. Thank you.

  3. enterprisingsidney says:

    Reblogged this on My Enterprising Life. and commented:
    ENGAGING IN UNDERSTANDING: An enlightening look into simple principles or beliefs of Nichiren Buddhism from a Soka Gakkai member. Nichiren Daishonin wrote: “Whether or not your prayer is answered will depend on your faith… When water is clear, the moon is reflected. When the wind blows, the trees shake. Our minds are like the water. Faith that is weak is like muddy water, while faith that is brave is like clear water.”

  4. MJ says:

    ” Nam Myoho Renge Kyo ” ….. PEACE to ALL

  5. Tom says:

    As a shakabuka, this has reaffirmed my desire to keep challenging myself with this practice. At times I can feel apathetic about it, but at other times it’s a true source of joy. I will win!

    1. Hi Tom
      I am pleased this post was useful to you. It is normal to feel apathetic sometimes – we are human beings after all. Though I feel that when you know in your heart how precious life is and when you take on a vow to do KR, energy and joy are never far away. I am sure you will indeed win!
      D 🙂

  6. graywills says:

    I think what is so pleasing about your article David is that it is so easy to read – it doesn’t get bogged down in wordiness. Perhaps that is Zen at work ?! Too many ‘teachers’ want to say too much.

    1. Thank you Gray. It is my goal to write a clear and simple blog and book about Nichiren Buddhism that appeals to people who normally buy personal development books. I feel that authors such as Eckhart Tolle, Joe Vitale and Byron Katie write in a more accessible way than many Buddhist authors. Having said that, Shin Yatomi’s book – Buddhism in a New Light – is a little gem of clarity and simplicity. Best, NMRK, David

  7. Nidhi says:

    Hi David your words are truly aspiring to me and encourages me . I started my practice nearly 6 weeks back doing my chanting , gongyo and kosen Rufu . I don’t go to my friends house because I did not tell them but prays for them at home. I don’t know when my prayers will be answered and it thus make me dull when nothing seems good in my life. I have full faith pls guide me. Thanks

    1. Hello Nidhi and thank you for your kind words. Congratulations on starting to chant. If you keep going, your prayers will definitely be answered, when the time is right for your life. Can you chant with other Buddhists? This would give you lots of support and encouragement, especially in these early days in faith. If you feel that ‘nothing seems good in your life’ it is really important to begin by appreciating and feeling grateful for the little things that go well every day. When you deeply treasure your life, it will shine brightly instead of seeming dull. Take care, NMRK, David

      1. Nidhi says:

        Thanks David for your reply . I live in edison new jersey I really don’t know any one There is no Buddhist where i can go and chant with them really don’t know where to go . This was introduced by my brothers wife . My kids doesn’t like to listen me at all one is 10 yrs and the other is 3 yrs 6 months old how do I tell them , how do they turn out to be nice and good listeners also when I got angry a bit they starts crying and throws a fit I sometimes get so frustrated . But still there is hope and faith in me .i do for 10 min each day and night pls tell is this enough or should I increase it more .

        1. Dear Nidhi, I have asked some friends in the USA to find out if there are other Buddhists you could connect with in Edison. I will let you know as soon as I hear.
          Keep nurturing your faith and your hope by chanting daimoku and you will definitely win. 20 minutes per day is fine – Nichiren said ‘chant to your heart’s content.’ So it is your heart that counts most of all, not the number of minutes. Take care, David

  8. Vatsala Khurana says:

    A beautiful summing up of what it means to be a Nichiren Buddhist. Thank you so much David for sharing the brilliant simplicity of your insights. Your guidance is always so inspiring. Just wanted to know when your book based on your blog will be available on kindle?

    1. Thank you so much for these kind comments, which I find very encouraging 🙂 The Kindle version of the book has been a bit delayed – I won’t bore you with the details, various sansho shima but am battling through! I will provide an update as soon as I can…

  9. Hi David,
    Buddhism today is quite diverse. It is roughly divisible into the two broad categories of Theravada (small vessel) and Mahayana (large vessel). Theravada is the monastic form which reserves ultimate enlightenment and nirvana for monks, while Mahayana Buddhism extends this goal of enlightenment to the laity as well, that is, to non-monks. Within these categories can be found numerous branches including Tendai, Vajrayana, Nichiren, Shingon, Pure Land, Zen, and Ryobu, among others. Therefore it is important for outsiders seeking to understand Buddhism not to presume to know all the details of a particular school of Buddhism when all they have studied is classical, historic Buddhism. Lama Surya Das guidance is always so inspiring. Read more – http://www.surya.org/buddha-is-as-buddha-does-2/

    1. Ah yes, you make a very good point, I should have included that in the original post & explained why Nichiren Buddhists don’t wear orange robes, talk about the Dalai Lama etc… Thank you very much for this heads-up and thanks also for the excellent Lama Surya Das link. D 🙂

  10. Roxanna Estrada says:

    Thank you David and most important… thanks to your Buddha nature that makes you write such amazing info in “a few and easy to read” lines, it helps indeed with the Kosen Rufu purpose as a follow-up information to deepen into the eager mind of a shakabuku spirit. From Aruba I wish you a sunny and bright week and if you ever consider to come here for a vacation just let me know and we can meet and chant with the Dushi Tera Group!

    1. Thank you Roxanna for your kind words which are much appreciated. I think you are my first reader from Aruba and I will definitely take you up on your kind invitation in the future! I also wish you a sunny & bright week, inspired by Sensei’s guidance, “when you shine with a radiant light, there can be no darkness in your life.” D 🙂

  11. Madhu says:

    Thank you David for sharing this article. You are brilliant in explaining things simply and make it so easy to understand. Your Buddhanature is always at its best while writing these blogs. I find your site very inspiring and love to read it. Would like to know if there is any book on your articles that has been published and available on kindle?

    1. davidhare3000 says:

      Hey Madhu, thank you so much for those warm words of encouragement and I am delighted that you find this blog useful. My book (of which around 15% is now on the blog) will be out in Feb 2016 and yes, it will include a Kindle version. Also hardback, depending on the country, where do you live, India? More here: http://davidhare.com/the-book/
      Best, NMRK, David

  12. Secretly says:

    Nam myoho renge kyo I start it only 10 days ago using an you tube and it make me feel more relax i just get confused if it’s ok as of now do the daimoku by you tube and I’m very impressed on what you right here but I’m looking forward to see the member here in my place … Thanks

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