How Not to Be Overwhelmed By Debt

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Debt is painful. Few things crush our soul more than looking at our credit card statement or student loan balance and feeling we have no future. Even though most of us have some kind of debt, we may still feel ashamed and hesitate to open up to others about it.

According to a CNBC report, the average American has over $90,000 in debt, with millennials averaging $78,000.

Debt is disheartening and can feel impossible to get rid of, but Buddhism can help.

Nothing is Impossible

Buddhism teaches that just because some situations feel impossible, it doesn’t mean they are so. In fact, Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes,

Especially for those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and continue to make efforts, nothing is impossible.

Discussions on Youth, p. 73

One reason we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is to win the war between despair and hope that happens within our heart each day. We chant and develop the courage to face our problem head on. Why is it possible to get out of debt? Because we each have Buddhability within. Once we start chanting, we realize our deepest problem is that we’ve decided our situation is impossible before we’ve taken steps to overcome it.

It’s also important to remember that Buddhism is based on reason, so we should take practical action. We can research the best steps to take to pay down our debt and chanting will give us the courage to keep following through.

Once we start chanting, we realize our deepest problem is that we’ve decided our situation is impossible before we’ve taken steps to overcome it.

Make up our minds that we will get out of debt

Barbie Trainer, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, shares how her Buddhist practice inspired her to overcome debt.

My husband sold his dry-cleaning business at a price beyond our imagination. And while we were celebrating this news, we learned that we owed the IRS nearly $60,000! With my humble income, the figure seemed overwhelming, and we were on the precipice of being completely broken financially. I chanted, studied Nichiren Daishonin’s writings… One passage from Nichiren shook me to the core: ‘You must be firmly resolved. Do not begrudge your fief… And do not depend on others. You must simply make up your mind. Look at the world this year as a mirror… This will determine whether you win honor or disgrace your name. This is what is meant when it is said that it is difficult to be born as a human being, and that it is difficult to believe in the Lotus Sutra. You should pray intently that Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the Buddhas of the ten directions will all gather and take possession of your body to assist you.’ (“Reply to Yasaburo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 829) I felt as if Nichiren were telling me: It’s up to you to be victorious! Decide now to win no matter what!

Once she started chanting with the belief that she could turn her situation around, she and her husband both received substantial raises. Within two years, they erased all of their debt. The best part is that she changed her sense of being unworthy and undeserving of financial stability and happiness. When we make up our mind and set a concrete goal, then we’re already halfway there.

Take one step forward each day

Instead of being overwhelmed by paying off our debt over the long term, it’s better to focus on doing our best to make small improvements each day. Daisaku Ikeda discusses the importance of putting in an extra 5 minutes of work when facing a large task:

It’s also important to get in the habit of pushing yourselves an extra five minutes. When you think, “I cannot do anymore; I want to go out and have some fun,” that is the time to challenge yourselves to keep at it another five minutes. Those who persevere for an extra five minutes are truly admirable. Victory is theirs. This is one of life’s truths.

Discussions on Youth, p. 71

We can push ourselves just to do a little bit more to pay off our debts in the short term, for example cutting down on our expenses or using extra savings toward our credit card bill. When we achieve these small victories month after month, year after year, we’ll find we achieved our goal of being debt-free faster than we could have ever imagined.

Don’t let your debt convince you that you’re a failure or a bad person. Instead chant each day that you’ll turn the situation around and take consistent action. You’ll find that debt is no match for your Buddhability.

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