Awareness of Merits
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
A Person Who Can Be Grateful
Some people say the Lotus Sutra almost sounds like an
ad for patent medicine, since in this scripture the Buddha
harps on the many merits of believing in and practicing his
The Lotus Sutra certainly does contain many descriptions
of merits, as in chapter 17, “Discrimination of
Merits”; chapter 18, “The Merits of Joyful Acceptance”;
and chapter 19, “The Merits of the Teacher.”
What, then, are the merits of faith?
According to legend, when the Chinese emperor Wu of
Liang (464-549) asked the great master Bodhidharma, an
Indian Buddhist monk, known as the founder of the Zen
School, about the merits of the Buddhist faith, he flatly
replied, “There are no merits.” Emperor Wu probably
asked this because he was thinking, in a very ordinary
manner, that by seriously taking refuge in Buddhism,
many of his wishes would be granted, and that such were
Buddhism’s merits. That is why Bodhidharma replied in
the negative and said Buddhism had no merits.
It seems that many people think of merits as Emperor
Wu did, so Bodhidharma’s reply has a profound meaning.
It is certainly not the case, of course, that Buddhism is
without merits. But Bodhidharma teaches us that what
matters most is what we take to be the merit of embracing
the Buddha’s teachings.
When I heard my senior teachers in Rissho Kosei-kai
say, “I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful,” I would wonder, “What are they so grateful for, anyway?”
Now, however, I realize that they knew from experience
that the greatest merit of faith is grateful acceptance
of all that happens around us, whatever it is. In sum, the
merit of faith is capacity for gratitude.
Surrounded by Benefits
With faith in the Buddha’s teachings, we no longer
complain that things are not fair or good enough, and do
not speak ill of others. Once we become aware of the many
things around us that should make us happy and grateful,
we can feel grateful for anything and everything. This is
called the merit of faith.
Yet, we cannot say that Emperor Wu would have been
wrong to wonder whether the merits of Buddhism would
include the granting of his wishes. Even if some people
accept Buddhism only to have their wishes granted, their initial encounter with the Buddha is a good beginning, and
if their experience of Buddhism does not stop there, they
will certainly learn to be grateful.
Of course, most people who have some painful or
unpleasant experience cannot accept it gratefully. But it is
also true that people who have no painful experience lack
the opportunity to realize the significance of pain through
faith, joy and gratitude. It is only by experiencing suffering
that we can be aware of its meaning. If we are aware,
then, when similar suffering happens, we can be grateful
for it and finally grow spiritually enough to accept suffering
as a merit.
We benefit not only from the merits of Buddhism, but
from the Buddha’s divine providence. Although the merits
of Buddhism can be different things, they are all given to
us by the Buddha. Since the events happening before our
eyes all accord with the workings of the Dharma, they can
be called divine providence, or the blessings, protection,
and invisible arrangements of the Buddha, all of which are
permeated with the Dharma. When we realize this, we see
that we are always surrounded by merits for which we
should be grateful.
As the Buddha says in the Lotus Sutra, “I am always
abiding here, teaching the Dharma.” Likewise, our acceptance
of every event of every day as a message from the
Buddha will make all of them merits for which we are
grateful. By realizing this, let us aim together to become
people who are grateful for everything that happens in
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.