One of the questions I get most often from readers is this: Should I chant to change other people? The short and simple answer is ‘No. Change your own karma first.’ But before exploring this in more detail, here are the kinds of comments people send me:
Q: When you know that the other person is wrong and ill-treating you, why should I change? Shouldn’t they change instead?
Q: I am chanting for my husband to stop being so lazy. When will he?
Of course these situations can be difficult and cause deep suffering. And often our desire for the other person to change is based on compassion, for example because they are deeply disrespecting their own life. It can be especially hard when your own children are involved. But would you want other people to chant for you to change? No, I didn’t think so. You would prefer that they chant to respect you unconditionally, right?
And Nichiren Buddhism is very strict on this point. A very wise SGI leader called Roy Marshall once explained to me that when we try to change someone else’s behaviour, it is like ‘shouting at the shadow’ in effect screaming at the other person: “You change! You must change!” When of course, for a shadow to move, you need to move first.
For example, I have seen many people suffer for years and years in the futile hope that their partner will change – in effect they are putting the Gohonzon outside themselves by saying: “I’ll be happy when… my husband/wife is more this or more that or more whatever…”
Shouting at the shadow is a function of our lesser self (ego) or arrogance and means we are trying to make others more like us. This is a route to temporarily higher self-esteem, whether in the home, in the office or when invading a foreign country. If you do find yourself ‘shouting at the shadow’, chant to understand with your whole life the Buddhist principle of ‘esho funi’, or the ‘oneness of your life and the environment’. Chant also to see the other person as a ‘spoon’ stirring up the karmic sediment of your own life so that you can transform it. Chant as well for the other person’s absolute happiness (perhaps through gritted teeth at first) and I promise that you will discover benefits you never imagined were possible with your rational mind. Actually, don’t just chant for their happiness, chant to unconditionally revere the eternal core of their lives, the pure ninth consciousness that they share with everyone, including you. It really is very liberating to chant in this way.
If the situation involves your own children, remember that they are not on this planet to follow the script that we, as parents, often want to write for them. They arrive with their own karma, their own mission and their own human revolution to do. Even if our intentions are positive, our own definition of what is ‘best’ for our kids will probably be different to theirs. And I love this reminder from Khalil Gibran: “Your children are not your own children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.”
In short, this whole question reminds us that we, not other people, are totally responsible for how we feel and act, as Daisaku Ikeda points out: “If someone hits you and you hit him back, the first blow is the stimulus leading to the second, but it is not the ultimate cause. You can maintain that you hit the person because he hit you, but in fact you hit him because you are you.”