What is Enlightenment?

The word enlightenment calls to mind those who practice austerities and thereby gain extraordinary powers beyond the reach of common mortals. Nichiren Daishonin, however, taught that enlightenment, or Buddhahood, is a condition of life accessible to everyone, under any circumstances, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

It is only our inability to believe this—what we call our fundamental darkness or delusion—that prevents us from calling forth our Buddhahood.

Nichiren explains: "When deluded, one is called an ordinary being, but when enlightened, one is called a Buddha. This is similar to a tarnished mirror that will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena and the true aspect of reality. Arouse deep faith, and diligently polish your mirror day and night.How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-rengekyo" ("On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime," The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 4).

We "arouse deep faith" by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with the firm conviction that we already possess Buddhahood. This conviction overrides our habits and preconceived attitudes, enabling us to call forth the Buddha's courage, compassion and wisdom, which we can apply to any circumstance. Even the daily challenges we face head-on become the means by which we can live fulfilled, happy lives.

Using the analogy of a lion, Nichiren describes how this powerful animal unleashes the same force "whether he traps a tiny ant or attacks a fierce animal" ("Reply to Kyo'o," WND-1, 412). Our inherent Buddhahood is the source of limitless power and wisdom that enables us to tackle any situation, however big or small, and guides us toward the best course of action.

Enlightenment is not a fixed state we someday achieve. Rather, it is a lifelong process of challenge and renewal—a vigilant championing of the inherent dignity of life through thought, word and deed.