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A Buddhist Guide to Happiness
By Stephen L. Klick
“Misfortune comes from one’s mouth and ruins one, but fortune comes from one’s heart and makes one worthy of respect.”
-New Years Gosho
I dedicate this book to my wife, Heidi. My very special thanks to Bartholomew and the ‘gang’ at Swag Research for all the popcorn!
Other Books by Stephen Klick: “Day By Day” “Inside The Lotus Sutra” “A House On Fire” (Out this Year)
Stephen Klick is the Director and co-founder of Buddhist Information Of North America (BIONA). BIONA offers free study material to Buddhist students all over North America and also provides information on the locations and phone numbers of Dharma Centers. BIONA is also becoming involved with teaching inmates in jails and prisons around the U.S. For more information please call: (913) 722-0900 in the Kansas City area and (800) 576-9212 for the rest of North America. Visit the BIONA web site at www.buddhistinformation.com or e-mail Mr. Klick at Svark@kc.rr.com
Everybody wants to be happy. Nobody wants to live a life filled with problems and heartache. None of us start out with the intention of ending up miserable, yet so many of us grow to be that way that we have come to accept this condition as normal. Living without pain and suffering is a skill, like any other you can think of. If you don’t put effort into your job, you will soon be unemployed. If you don’t work at your marriage or relationship, you will find yourself alone. The same is true of living well. If you don’t train your mind you will have ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ depending on what happens around you. It’s possible to spend your entire life just reacting and responding to the things that happen to you. Many people float through life this way but very few of them achieve happiness. If you control your mind it does not matter what is occurring in the surrounding environment, you will be happy and content. If you have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days your environment is in control and you will frequently experience unnecessary suffering. Once you realize that it is possible to be happy under any circumstances it’s not difficult to train your mind. Any one can follow the simple directions found in this teaching and acquire mental peace if they make the effort. It doesn’t matter what circumstances you are in, some of my students are in prison or jail, and the others come from an incredibly wide assortment of occupations. What these people have in common is the desire to improve their lives. They have discovered that mind training greatly reduces and then completely eliminates suffering. This training consists of practice and study. It will take approximately one hour every day depending upon how you organize your schedule. The Buddhas gave these techniques to us. Anyone can become a Buddha just by learning to see the world as it really is. The term ‘Buddha’ means “someone who is awake to the true nature of reality.” If you decide to develop your mind with Buddhist training begin by doubting everything. Don’t believe anything you are taught until you try it yourself and find out that it works for you. If something is real you can prove it. Faith, in Buddhist thinking, is never blind trust. After a year or two of testing and doubting you will come to realize that this practice really does eliminate suffering. When you are absolutely certain that you can rely on these teachings then you are beginning to develop Buddhist faith. Before we examine this training let’s begin by learning a little of what is known about the first teacher, a man named Siddhartha Gotama. He later earned the title “Shakyamuni,” which means “wise man of the Shaka tribe” He was also known as the Buddha.
The Life of the Buddha
More than 2,500 years ago Siddhartha Gotama was born as a prince of the Shakya tribe. The exact area has never been identified but was probably in the southern hill area of present day Nepal. Very little is known about his life before he became a religious teacher and leader. The Indians of his era lived in an oral culture; important teachings were memorized and thus passed on to the next generation. Paper was not in use at that time so nobody could keep written records. It might seem odd to us that a person of great importance would not have the details of his life recorded but Shakyamuni stressed that the teachings were what was important, not the teacher. Most of what is known about the early life of the Buddha was written hundreds of years later and cannot be considered factual. We also have no idea what the first Buddha looked like because the racial group he belonged to is unknown. The first sculptures of Shakyamuni were created when the Indian culture encountered the Greeks, who produced some of the most beautiful statuary in the ancient world. Since the man had already been dead for hundreds of years, the statues you see of Shakyamuni Buddha are based on the ideals of the people commissioning the work. Legend tells us that Siddhartha was protected from all unpleasantness because, before he was born, a wise man told his father, King Shuddhodana, that his son would either become a world conquering King or a fully enlightened Buddha. The Shaka tribe was a minor military power that was surrounded by larger groups who wanted to expand into their territory, so it was natural that King Shuddhodana hoped his son would lead his people to safety. It may even be true that someone predicted that Siddhartha would be a great man; after all, his father was a King. Can you imagine telling any father that his beloved first-born son isn’t special, especially when that father could have you killed if he didn’t like the sound of your prediction? The folklore surrounding the Buddha is similar in nature to the fairy-tales told about every religious founder. Shakyamuni’s mother did not have sex to become impregnated. Instead, she had a dream about a white elephant and “knew” that she would deliver a male child. Her pregnancy was totally painless because the child never passed through the birth cannel. He sprang from his mother’s right side, immediately walked seven steps, and then announced, “I am the leader and guide to the entire world.” People who wanted everyone to understand the greatness of the Buddhas teaching wrote this kind of nonsense. It is human nature to want the founder of the spiritual tradition you have found helpful to be well regarded by everybody. If Buddhism dealt with gods, or if Shakyamuni was supposed to be semi-divine this kind of fable would make sense; thinking such things would help you generate reverence, which would support your practice of morality. Siddhartha Gotama was, however, a human being just like you and I. He faced the same problems we all do, and he was frightened by the idea 5
that he would have to die. He said, ‘what good is being a prince or a King if I still have to get sick, grow old and then die?’ Most of the ‘information’ we have about the Buddhas early life is legendary material that grew with the passing of time. We do know that he was born a prince in the minor kingdom of the Shakas, and that he lived the life of a spoiled aristocrat. We can also be sure that it was the problem of death that caused him to leave his palace and seek for truth. These few facts are based on autobiographical statements made by the Buddha while he was teaching. Shakyamuni’s early life was devoted to the pursuit of pleasure but he was disturbed by the common human troubles of suffering, sickness, old age, and death. To him it seemed foolish to spend your life pretending that these things only happened to others. From a very early age it was clear that he would leave home searching for answers to the problems that continually upset his mind. It was common for people of this era to satisfy their religious hunger by leaving the cares of society and focusing on spiritual growth. Once they reached a level of understanding that satisfied them they would return to their society and teach others what they had learned. His royal father could see that Siddhartha was restless so he quickly arranged a marriage knowing that the additional responsibility would keep him home for a few more years. Prince Siddhartha married his cousin, Yashodhara, when he was sixteen years old. They had one child, a son named Rahula. It was important for King Shuddhodana to have an heir, but once Rahula was born Siddhartha was free to renounce his royal status. At age nineteen the young man left home and began to practice with the religious teachers of his time. He studied with two famous meditation teachers, first Arada of the Kalama clan, then Rudraka Ramaputra. Although he mastered both of their systems and was asked by both men to become a teacher of their techniques, he was not satisfied because he had not yet attained enlightenment. He decided that teachers had no more to offer him so he left to practice by himself. He would not be content until the questions that plagued him were resolved. For the next six years Siddhartha lived the life of a religious ascetic. It was commonly believed that a controlled form of starvation would purify the practitioner and allow him to attain a state of high realization or even enlightenment. After nearly starving to death Siddhartha understood that this path led only to suffering. A life devoted to pleasure also did not alleviate mental suffering so he began to think about the middle way between these two extremes. He ate a healthy meal and then sat down under a pipal tree; determined to remain in that spot until he attained enlightenment. All through the night he sat in meditation and in the early morning hours Siddhartha became Shakyamuni, a fully enlightened Buddha. He spent the rest of his life teaching others the path that leads to the end of suffering.
What the Buddha Taught
The Buddha was a unique spiritual teacher. Every other religious instructor that I have encountered taught one method and expressed himself one way. If you understand the message and if the way it was expressed to you made sense then you would embrace that teaching and benefit from it. If it didn’t somehow appeal to you then you would gain 6
nothing. Shakyamuni wanted to benefit all people and was not willing to leave anyone out. He taught so many methods that Buddhism came to be called the ten thousand teachings. Everything he taught leads to mental peace and happiness, and he was quite willing to start from wherever the student was in his or her mental development. Introductory Buddhist teachings often seem to contradict each other. This led to some confusion after Shakyamuni’s death. The Buddhist world is today divided into schools that beginning students believe are actual divisions of Buddhist thought. If you meet a practitioner who tells you “I am a Zen Buddhist,” or “I am Tibetan Buddhist,” then you know this person has not advanced far enough to realize that such things are not real.
Early Monastic Teachings
For example, the Buddha taught his monastic followers the four noble truths and the eightfold path in various sutras that he preached. Sutra is a word that means ‘book’ or ‘organized writing’. The four noble truths are an analytical way of looking at reality: The first of these truths state that the world is filled with suffering. There is nothing in our world system that is not suffering. Anything you can think of can be analyzed as suffering. People new to this philosophy often assert that this is not so. “Eating isn’t suffering,” they argue, “and what about sex?” Of course, you must eat to stay alive and sex has a certain fascination, especially when your body is bursting with hormones. I like both of these things, and I’m very fond of reading, but if you look closely you will see the suffering. If reading or sex were inherently pleasurable, then the more of these activities you engaged in, the better it would be. In other words, an hour of sex would be good, a week of sex would be great, and a month filled with unending sex would be bliss. It doesn’t work that way, does it? Spend some time thinking about the things you believe to be pleasure and you will find that they are just another form of suffering. The second truth is to understand the origin of suffering, which is ignorance. This lack of knowledge is the cause of all human suffering because it leads us to view the world in a distorted manner. Ignorance is my enemy and it is yours as well. To remove this obstacle requires a bit of thought and introspection. It is not necessary for you to be Buddhist to understand that everything is based on cause and effect, modern western science teaches the same thing. When you make a cause you always get an effect and you never see an effect without a corresponding cause. A person sees good people in bad situations and bad people living in very good circumstances and then feels that life is unfair. They are failing to take into account the eternity of life. You are composed of energy, and energy can change forms in various ways but energy never ‘dies’. The bad person in good circumstances is still reaping the rewards of past good behavior, when that energy is used up you will clearly see them harvest the fruit of their bad actions. This is a very practical teaching. If you recognize that everything occurs according to the law of cause and effect then you eliminate a lot of unnecessary suffering from your life. If you truly understand that everything happening to you is a direct result of causes you have made in the past then you will not become angry with other people when they do things that are unpleasant. If you had not made the cause, you could never get the effect. Realizing this truth is the first step to becoming a mature human being. 7
The third truth is the happy fact that there is a way that leads to the end of suffering. That ‘way’ is the fourth truth, the path leading to the end of suffering. This path to freedom is based on your behavior in the future. If you want to end suffering in your life begin by developing right intention. If you have the intention to become a good person, if you are resolved to stop the needless suffering in your life and to help others who want to do the same then you have made the first step along the path to freedom. Determine in your mind that you will continue without faltering and you have an excellent start on right effort. To develop right speech means that you do not use your mouth to hurt other people, no matter what the provocation. Right action is concerned with how you live in the world. Make certain that none of your actions or activities harms anyone; that you live wherever you are with the intention of bringing assistance to all beings around you and that is right view. We also want to bring benefit to people with whatever occupation supports our lifestyle; do no harm during your workday and that is right livelihood. It is very important to expand your mental abilities so that you can, eventually, wake up and see things the way they really are. Right mindfulness means that we keep these good concepts in our mind so that we can live by them, not just talk about them. It also means that we stay in the present moment, this will allow you to do your best when you’re working or playing, and it also stops needless suffering. So much of our mental suffering is based on things that happened in the past: “why did she say that to me,” or “why did he do that”? This kind of dredging up of past episodes from your life is futile; it is always needless suffering. Whatever happened in the past is over; you can’t change it so constantly dwelling on these episodes only results in bringing yourself needless pain. The same is true of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. If your child is an hour late coming home you could fill that hour with worry and fear: “He dead! I know he’s dead!” However, filling your mind with all the horrible things that could happen is not real. It’s mindless suffering. The parent who worries in this way has suffered some of the grief a parent feels when they loose a child even though nothing has happened. How pitiful to suffer so intensely when your child is merely a little thoughtless. Bring your mind back to the present moment and stop all of this mindless suffering. The goal of this type of practice is to eliminate avoidable suffering. Remember: if it happened in the past then there is nothing you can do about it. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make them again. If it might happen in the future, it hasn’t happened yet, so don’t worry about it! Plan wisely but do not obsessively worry about things that probably won’t happen at all. Finally, you cannot practice right mindfulness without right concentration. Good concentration helps you pay attention; it makes your mind sharper so that you can acquire enough insight to see reality the way a Buddha does. These teachings were directed at the kind of people who wished to devote themselves only to spreading the Dharma (or teachings of the Buddha) and who felt they needed a mild form of asceticism to become happy. In the first years of his teaching career Shakyamuni let his monastic followers believe that they could earn their way out of the world they now realized was filled with suffering. He let them believe that they could enter a state of bliss called ‘nirvana’ and stay there forever, free of sufferings and problems. As their capacity to understand grew through the training provided by their teacher a more realistic view of life and it’s meaning emerged.
The Beginning Teachings for Lay People
Most of the Buddhist world is now, and always has been, composed of lay people. The Buddha taught lay people something completely different because they did not have the option to spend all day in quiet contemplation. They not only had to sustain themselves and their extended family, they were also the sole support of the monasteries, which served as centers of learning. More importantly, Buddhist monastics seek happiness through mild forms of asceticism. They need a plain, stark environment to feel comfortable and they believe that this is the best way to become enlightened. Lay people are just the opposite; we seek happiness by pursuing pleasure. Shakyamuni tried both of these extremes and found that they only lead to suffering. This is why Buddhism is called the Middle Way. Instead of teaching lay people to long for nirvana, Shakyamuni taught most of his followers to pray for re-birth in a Buddhist Pure Land. A Pure Land was the same sort of non-existent ‘heaven’ realm that the monastic students wanted to find when they attempted to attain nirvana. The message was really the same, practice correct morality, don’t cause harm to anyone and try to benefit as many people as possible. If you do this you could then expect to be re-born in an otherworldly kingdom free from problems where you would dwell in peace and safety. The idea behind nirvana and a Buddhist Pure Land was to reduce the attachment to this life, which is all most students are aware of when they begin their practice. There is nothing wrong with having possessions or various kinds of material wealth, it is the attachment to these things that causes the problems. If you are driven to acquire vast sums of money: that’s all right, just remember to slow down and enjoy life. Money is only a problem when you make it your entire purpose for living. We all know cases of rich misers who live miserable lives because they can’t bear to spend money on anything. This kind of suffering is not any better then extreme poverty. Money is a great mechanism for helping others, just keep in mind that is a tool, and don’t get overly attached. Shakyamuni did not distinguish between the two groups of students; lay people and monastics were equal in his mind. The difference between the two was what they needed to make them happy. When he was predicting enlightenment for his followers lay people and monks were considered equal. If you read the “Vimalakirti Sutra” you will discover that the layman, Vimalakirti, had the highest realizations of all the followers of the Buddha. Laypeople often develop faster because they have many more opportunities to help people since they function in the real world, not in a controlled environment. It was hundreds of years later that monastics decided that they were superior to lay people. As they created rituals and uniform clothing it became clear that the message of humility, and individual responsibility taught by Shakyamuni was being distorted. Sadly, this led to further divisions in the Buddhist community.
The Wisdom Teachings
Both of these sets of introductory teachings were intended to be starting places for more advanced instructions, which the Buddha gave to his disciples when they were ready to comprehend them and put them into practice. The techniques we’ve talked 9
about will reduce suffering but we don’t want any suffering at all, not even the very mildest form. The perception of emptiness is, of course, true reality but more then that it must be the greatest tool ever fashioned for human peace of mind. This concept of emptiness or void is subtle and it will take you years to totally realize it. The effort is worth it, though, and you will begin to benefit almost immediately when you understand even a little bit. You can’t just comprehend with your intellect; however, you must realize from your own experience, it has to become part of you. If you’re a good typist, for example, you don’t have to think about what keys you’re hitting when you type, you just do it. A good example of a wisdom teaching is “The Heart Sutra,” surely one of the most concise sermons in Buddhist literature, or the somewhat longer “Diamond Sutra.” These sutras are called ‘wisdom’ teachings because they both deal with emptiness, one of the most difficult topics for new students to comprehend. Everything in the universe is empty because it is dependent on causes to exist; therefore nothing exists inherently by itself. The classic example comes from the text of the “Diamond Sutra”; ‘a rose is not a real rose, which is how we know that it is a rose’. That sounds more complicated than it really is. The rose is not ‘real’ because it is dependent on causes to exist. It does not spring into existence from nothing. This flower is dependent on a seed, soil to grow in, sunlight, water, and someone to care for it. If you take any of these elements away from the rose you have nothing. The rose would no longer exist, that is how we know that it is a rose and not some fantasy flower. We label things and then believe that we understand them but this is not real. A psychologist labels a person neurotic or psychotic and we think we understand what that means but do we really? The psychologist cannot predict human behavior based on this label, he wouldn’t even try! We are always putting people into categories because it’s easier for us. One of the first questions a person will ask when you meet them is ‘what do you do for a living?’ What category you are placed in at that time depends on the nature of your answer but this way of grouping people really tells us nothing about the person or his potential as a human being. We label the rose as ‘flower’ but have you seen the real rose? If we take that flower apart looking for the essence of ‘rose’ all you will find is a small pile of parts, a stem, some leaves and beautifully aromatic petals. Rose is just a name we invented for that flower but ultimately it is not real. The same thing is true for us as human beings. We are empty because we are dependent on causes. Part of what composes ‘you’ as a human being is eternal; think of yourself as a ball of energy that has always existed. There could not be a beginning to this energy because you must have a cause to get an effect. There will never be an ending because energy is never used up; it merely changes its form. This means that birth and death is an illusion, but notice that I said only part of what you are is eternal. The rest of what you are in this life is created by the causes you have made in the past. The name I was given in this life is Steve, and I have certain characteristics, my body looks a certain way, my personality and all the things that go to form my mental makeup are recognizable but this part of what is me in this lifetime is totally dependent on causes I made in the past. The eternal part of me is pure and will remain that way no matter what actions I engage in. This is called “Buddha nature” and everybody has it. It is a source of wisdom that anyone can learn to access. When Christians or Hindus tell you that they talk to ‘god’ this is the power they are tapping into, and they aren’t wrong 10
when they describe it as a ‘higher power’. If you need the answer to something that is troubling you this Buddha nature will always provide the solution and then you will wonder why you didn’t see the way out of your difficulty sooner. Now that you understand a little about the nature of your ‘self’ somwhat better let’s apply this knowledge to the way you think about the things that happen to you. Since you are empty of inherent existence there is no reason to be affected by negative things in your environment. Did someone try to insult you? No problem, you’re empty, how can you be offended? We also know that if someone is trying to hurt us it’s because of causes we’ve made in the past. If you don’t make the cause, you can’t possibly get the effect. For example, one of the worst offences you can commit in the Buddhist tradition is to injure or draw blood from an enlightened being. It is not even a minor sin to kill a Buddha because you can’t do it. A Buddha has long since stopped making violent causes so he can’t be murdered. When you learn to see things properly you will understand that the person trying to offend you is doing you a favor! The reason we begin to practice Buddhism is to purify our lives and make them better. This person is burning up negative energy that we created our self sometime in the past. If we do not respond to this person with hatred or any form of disapproval then this causal chain is broken and that piece of negativity is gone from your life forever. This person is really your good friend! People are very kind, so is the world, really, but we often fail to see it. Shakyamuni taught us that all of our happiness and all of our problems come from our own mind. A ‘problem’ only becomes a difficulty because we choose to label it that way in our mind. If you learn to think about things differently then the suffering you feel when you encounter something you have labeled ‘problem’ will never appear to disturb your thinking. Eventually you want to rid your mind of categories and labels because they keep you from seeing the world the way it really is. Good and bad, sin and blessedness all come from your own incorrect thinking. What is good? It’s relative to the environment you live in isn’t it? A person who kills his enemies and eats him, or who keeps human body parts in his freezer is a monster in our society. However, if you move this same person to a society that values this kind of conduct he becomes a hero, a social lion that everybody wants to meet and get to know. This being the case why did the Buddha teach us to practice morality, why should we do no harm and work to benefit others? The Buddha taught us, first of all, to eliminate suffering from our lives. He knew that societies would change over time and so would their value systems, but cause and effect do not change. If you want to be happy then you must first make the causes to be happy. It is not enough to be born in a human shape. If you eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, and seek pleasure when you are bored then you are living the same life that any animal does. Your goals must be higher if you want to attain actual human status. When you grow up, train your mind, and become a human being then you learn to see things the way they really are.
The Highest Teachings of The Buddha
Shakyamuni taught forty years. He raised the level of his students understanding by degrees until he saw that they were ready to comprehend the entirety of what he had realized sitting under the pipal (or bodhi) tree. At that time he preached what came to be 11
called “The Threefold Lotus Sutra.” We know that this was the Buddhas highest teaching because he said it was. “The Lotus Sutra” brings together all the other teachings into one coherent, unified statement of truth. When you understand this teaching all of the other sutras become like chapters in a book, they are all really one giant sutra. If you don’t view Shakyamuni’s teachings through the prism of “The Lotus Sutra” then you are left with a pile of teachings that often contradict one another. Schools that don’t include this sutra simply pick out the sermons that they want to use and ignore the rest of the Buddhas’ teachings. It is as if they did not exist. This is an introductory book and “The Lotus Sutra” is a complex work, which is hundreds of pages long, so we cannot examine it in great detail at this time. The average student spends years working to master this text. In brief, this sutra teaches us that all students are equal in the sense that everyone is capable of attaining ultimate enlightenment. Shakyamuni’s students roughly classified themselves into three groups and thought that only some of those in the highest category could attain Buddhahood, so this was good news. “The Lotus Sutra” is the only teaching that tells us women can attain enlightenment; they are not inferior to men and don’t have to wait until they are reborn male. The Buddha also revealed that he had already attained enlightenment in the far distant past and during that vast amount of time he had taught an enormous number of students who would spread his principle teaching everywhere when the era was right. Shakyamuni told us that the universe is filled with inhabited worlds; he also taught that the concepts revealed in this sutra were universal truths that applied to all beings everywhere. “The Lotus Sutra” also explains that ‘nirvana’ or any Buddhist ‘Pure Land’ can only be found within the mind of the student who seeks them. Nirvana (or a Pure Land) is not a heaven-like realm that you are re-born into; when you attain nirvana this actually means that you stop suffering while living in the world. It does not mean that things do not happen to you, but it does mean that you have trained your mind to the point that you don’t suffer. Shakyamuni predicted that the final period, called “the latter day of the Law” would last for at least ten thousand years. During that period the individuals in our species will develop into actual human beings and this world we live in will become a Buddhist Pure Land. This does not mean that everyone will become Buddhist, but it does mean that people will be concerned about spiritual growth. The Buddha did not want you to change your spiritual teachers or beliefs. His goal was to lead people to freedom from suffering. If you have been raised to fear some divine being who will cast you into hell, by all means continue to worship him. Rather than make monetary offerings to Buddhist teachers give the money to the temple or church that supports this god. Buddhist teachers don’t need your money! We’ve operated Buddhist Information of North America for five years and never taken outside donations from anybody. Nor do we sell goods or services. As a teacher my goal is to lead any one who is interested to a happier state of life. If you live in a state of supernatural dread you can never be happy and free from suffering. Since there are no gods as higher powers in the Buddhist system many people have incorporated whatever local god or goddess they worship directly into their practice. If it helps support your spiritual growth and maturity then how could this worship be a bad thing? The last eight years of his life the Buddha taught nothing but “The Lotus Sutra,” until the day that he died. The last sermon he preached, just before his death was called 12
“The Nirvana Sutra,” and that work also states that “The Lotus Sutra” was his highest teaching. He took great pains to make this clear because all of his teachings are very practical; they all work to make your life better, and even during his lifetime students were improperly attached to different stages of his teaching. He intended for everyone to reach the same state that he had attained but they couldn’t do that if they clung to earlier teachings. Shakyamuni told us that the sutras were like rafts, which are meant to carry you across to the shore where all suffering ends. If you use a raft to cross a river you don’t pick the raft up and carry it with you! Sadly, many Buddhists practice in separate groups or schools and exclude those who are using different practices from the same Teacher. The Buddha knew that this would happen. He told us that the life of a Buddha’s teachings had three distinct periods; the first period would last approximately five hundred years. The middle period would see another enlightened teacher who would show the people of his era the path to liberation. This was necessary because, quiet improperly, ‘schools of thought’ would develop that became mutually exclusive. The development of these separate schools was what defined the period known as the middle day of the law.
May I develop the wisdom of Shakyamuni so that I find the solutions to the issues that trouble me in life. May I grow to become an asset to my family, friends, and community. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-RengeKyo, may I benefit all beings everywhere.
The Buddha of The Middle Day of The Law
Chih-i of T’ien-tai mountain monastery was born somewhere around the year 538 C.E. (C.E. refers to common era, which corresponds with the Christian A.D.) He was the son of a highly placed government official and we can deduce from the quality of his scholarship that he received an excellent education. Legend tells us that at age six he heard a group of monks reciting Chapter twenty-five of “The Lotus Sutra” and immediately memorized the entire text from that single hearing. Whether or not this is true, he had an amazing mind. He lived in an era of political unrest. When the dynasty his father served collapsed his family lost almost everything. A short time later his parents died, and at age seventeen Chih-i entered the Buddhist order and trained for the priesthood. He was twenty-two years old, and already convinced of the superiority of “The Lotus Sutra” when he made a risky journey to the monastery at Mount Ta-su in search of the famous teacher Hui-ssu, detouring to avoid warring factions. Hui-ssu had been publicly teaching the supremacy of “The Lotus Sutra” for some time and this was not a popular view. Chih-i became Hui-ssu’s student in 560 and stayed with his teacher until 567. It was during this period that Chih-i became a fully enlightened Buddha. There were numerous sects in existence; they made various claims about what teaching and practice a student should follow to attain enlightenment. Chih-i devoted the rest of his life to teaching the principles and doctrines of Buddhism, winning many people over to his point of view. He analyzed all of the sutras by content and demonstrated their logical progression, which culminated in “The Lotus Sutra.” His efforts helped make “The Lotus Sutra” the most widely read, studied, and practiced Buddhist teaching of all time. His three major works all deal with “The Threefold Lotus Sutra”: “The Profound Meaning of The Lotus Sutra,” “Words and Phrases of The Lotus Sutra,” and “Great Concentration and Insight.” These works are brilliant and very intimidating to beginning students because of their subtle complexity. Chih-i died in 597 at the age of 59. In the Fourteen hundred years since his death, nobody has yet equaled his level of scholarship and comprehension of “The Lotus Sutra,” and this knowledge was sorely needed in a period filled with dissention and confusion in the Buddhist community. There is no doubt that his writings dramatically changed the Buddhist world and insured that these teachings are available for the people of our era.
Teachings of Chih-i
Chih-i taught that any students’ spiritual practice must be balanced between practice and study. Development of one without the other led to the perfection of deviation, not wisdom. Many of the people he criticized treated Buddhism as a philosophy, not a religion. To these misguided persons the teachings were intellectually pleasing, but they saw no reason to make the attempt to live by them. Another wellknown group went to the other extreme and dispensed with the Buddhas teaching, focusing strictly on practice. They claimed the sutras were like a finger pointed at the 14
moon. Once you see the moon in the sky, you don’t need the finger anymore. Ironically, this group, which still exists in various forms, has published more texts, books, and instructions than any other Buddhist assemblage in the world. They teach their meditative practices using words and paradoxically, their teachers have written their own works, which they call ‘sutras’.
The Concept of The Ten Worlds
Chih-i made the complexities of “The Lotus Sutra” available to anyone with the desire to understand. The perception of Ichinen Sanzen within this intricate work must be considered his greatest achievement and contribution to the Buddhist world. The term Ichinen Sanzen can be translated as ‘three thousand worlds in a single moment of life’. To begin with, this means that not only is the entire universe contained within every moment of life but also that each life moment spreads through the entire universe. Remember that we said you are ultimately composed of energy. This energy extends out as a field that exists everywhere. Any individual being has a lot more impact on their surroundings then they realize. Ichinen Sanzen is the reason you can change your environment into a Pure Land, and if enough people achieve that state of mental clarity all beings will be positively affected. To say that the universe is contained within every life moment means that what we are is the very substance that the universe is composed of. We are alive and so is the universe. Everything operates according to a collection of laws and principles; we perceive that one great law runs the universe and that all other natural laws are merely subsets of it. If Buddhists have anything like a god, this is it. The purpose of any advanced practice is to get your life in harmony with this great law because everything changes for the better when you do. Let’s take a look at a single moment of life according to the teaching of Chih-i. In any one moment of your life there are ten basic states, or worlds that you can experience. They are presented to you in the form of a list but you can experience any one of them from one moment to the next. 1) Hell is the lowest world and it is a state of intense suffering and misery. 2) Hunger is the state of wanting something very badly, it might be food, but it could be anything. 3) Animality is a state where the gratification of basic animal needs is your highest goal. 4) Anger is a state we are all familiar with but it can also be subtler than that, a person can seem quite cheerful but their life might still be driven by anger. 5) Humanity is a state of calmness it is often called tranquility. 6) Rapture is the state we experience when we acquire something we wanted very badly. These six lower worlds are the common states people experience every day of their lives unless they discover some sort of practice that allows them to elevate their life condition. It is more complex, however, because all of the ten life conditions contain the same ten life states or worlds. This means that you might be sitting around in a mixture of anger, because you were just fired, and hell because the landlord is coming by for the rent and you no longer have a job.
All of us have a base world that we return to unless we are responding to something in our environment. An inmate on death row, waiting to be executed probably spends enough time in the state of hell to call that his home base. An inmate sentenced to a few years in prison often hungers for freedom. These are simple examples; you will find many others as you begin to examine your own life. Ask yourself, what world do I most frequently inhabit? If you don’t like the answer, you are no longer ignorant. You don’t have to suffer. From the time you finish this book right up until the moment you die you have the option to end suffering. If you continue to live a life filled with pain it is because you choose to do it. One final thing we should notice is the dependent nature of these six life states. Living in the six lower worlds means that you have “good” days when pleasant things make us feel ‘up’ and “bad” days when troubles seem to pour down on us like rain. If you have saved for years to pay for a certain car the joy you experience is dependent on the removal of the hunger you had for that object. Now you have the car you desired, so you experience a state of rapture. You drive it down the street to show your friends and the car is rammed by a bus and destroyed. Of course, it’s not insured. The rapture you felt in the last moment has been replaced by a complex mixture of anger, because your new car is gone, and a state of hell because you will be forced to go back to riding the bus. If you experience daily ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ then you are not in control of your life. When the mind is well trained this kind of suffering does not occur. The upper four worlds are available to all people; they are natural conditions that anyone can reach occasionally. This is where we want to spend our time because when we live in these states we are in control of our mind and our emotions. The common result of Buddhist spiritual practice is to elevate your life into these four worlds and then stay in them all day long. The four higher worlds are also known as the four noble worlds: 7) Learning in this case means learning about the nature of reality from hearing, reading, or somehow studying the teachings that lead to liberation. If we ever wish to experience freedom we must spend time in this world but we do not want to make this our base world. People who live in the world of learning tend to look down on other people and this is one of the worst causes any practitioner of the Dharma can make. People living in this world are often charming, dedicated people who devote their life to some righteous cause, like medical practice. 8) Realization is the state of understanding some aspect of the Buddhas teaching through your own experience. It is a state of partial enlightenment. The purpose of learning is to allow us to put together as many realizations as possible; this is how we grow into enlightened beings. Realization is another state that we do not wish to live in. People born in this life state intuitively understand the eternity of life by observing the world around them. It is not a very happy state, although you are almost always an intellectual, you also tend to lead a solitary life because you have few friends. People in this life condition are never popular because they are difficult to like. 9) Bodhisattva is a state of intense compassion. A person living in the world of bodhisattva wants to benefit as many beings as possible because that is the way to be truly happy. This is a wonderful world to live in.
10) Buddhahood is the world of enlightenment where you see things exactly the way they are. Buddhist practice is designed to help us learn to bring out this natural state of wisdom on a regular basis. The life condition of Buddhahood is impossible to explain in words. It really must be experienced and there are practices that you will learn in this book that will teach you to manifest this highest possible human state. If you live in the world of Buddhahood then you are an enlightened, happy being. People born into the world of Buddhahood still mutually possess the ten worlds, but they live in the world of enlightenment and have access to the lower nine. Those still seeking to become enlightened possess the nine worlds and have limited access to the world of Buddhahood. A Buddha is a human being who has a much higher life condition then the normal person, but everyone has the potential to become enlightened because everyone shares ten factors in common with any Buddha. No matter which of the worlds, or combination of the ten worlds that you are in from moment to moment, these ten factors are always present. These factors are the building blocks or components that make up any living being. The first of these factors is appearance, which is simply the physical form of your body in this life. Nature is your personality. Entity is the eternal part of you that will exist forever; Christians would call this your soul. Power is the life force you have available to you in this incarnation. The amount of power an individual possesses is reflected by their ability to achieve a chosen task, or effect some change in the environment they live in. Influence is what results when power is applied to a situation. The two are closely connected but they are often not at all equal. Sometimes great power is used but the resulting effect or response is minimal. The reverse can be true as well. If I finish writing this book then it’s obvious that I have sufficient power to get the job done. If only fifteen people read it then I am lacking influence. The next factor is internal cause or the latent stored energy (called Karma) that any being acquires when they perform an action, good or bad. We often think of them as tendencies. External cause is anything in our surroundings that causes us to react by taking action. When we perform any action it is stored in us as Latent effect and this energy will be produced when the circumstances correspond to the cause. This is called Manifest effect. Finally, their consistency from beginning to end means that all of these things work together logically, in a harmonious way. If you are living in the upper worlds your mind will not be upset. If you are in a state of hell, you will be miserable. The person in the state of enlightenment does not long for hell, and the being in hell wants to get out! Any cause you ever make will always bring about an equivalent effect. Western science teaches that you make a cause and then, sometime later get the effect. Buddhism teaches that when you make a cause the effect is instantly stored within you as energy. It might take one second for that energy to be released but it could also be kept in storage for billions of years. It doesn’t matter how long the energy stays with you, when the circumstances you are in match the cause you made in the past it is released and an effect is produced. To understand where this karmic energy is stored we must understand the levels of human consciousness the way Chih-i taught them. Any human being has 17
nine levels of consciousness or awareness. The first five are the senses; sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, which allow us to communicate with and understand the world around us. The sixth level is the regulator that decides what information is sent to your brain. Modern science also acknowledges this level of mind and has demonstrated that everything that is encountered by your senses is not always reported to your mind. This sixth level decides what to report and what to ignore and this is necessary to keep our senses from overwhelming the brain with trivia. It can also lead to long searches for some object right in front of us that cannot be seen because this level of consciousness is not reporting it to our brain. The seventh level or mano consciousness is the home of rational thought. This is your conscience mind; many people identify the mano consciousness as ‘self’. The eighth level is where karmic causes are stored in the form of energy; it is called Alaya consciousness and is often referred to as ‘the storehouse consciousness’. The ninth level is Buddha nature. This is the source of unlimited wisdom we all possess. If you understand that this is true then the problem is to find a way to unlock this limitless potential, especially in situations that call for as much wisdom as we can muster. Shakyamuni taught various techniques to help his followers tap into their Buddha nature; these ranged from quiet sitting meditation for monastic followers, to various chanting techniques designed to increase your mental focus and awareness. Chih-I changed these practices for his students because their needs were different but every practice he taught led to, or was based on “The Lotus Sutra.” New followers were taught about a Pure Land in the west run by a Buddha named Amida. They were taught a chanting technique which they used to develop their mental focus, called samadhi in Buddhist terms. When they had become less attached to the world they were then taught to practice “The Lotus Sutra” by reciting certain parts of the text. This was done as a means of purification as taught in the concluding text of “The Threefold Lotus Sutra.” This practice was the only one taught by the Buddha that can remove the stain left by commission of the five cardinal sins. The five cardinal sins are: killing your father, killing your mother, killing a saint, injuring a Buddha, and causing disunity in the Buddhist community. There was also an incredibly complex set of instructions for quiet, sitting meditation. The goal of these practices is to learn how to bring out your Buddha nature. If you do this enough to make Buddhahood your base world then you are an enlightened being. We are almost finished with our discussion of Ichinen Sanzen. We have learned that there are ten world states that we live in. These ten worlds contain the ten worlds bringing the total up to one hundred possible world states or conditions. The way you are presented to the world is determined by the ten factors, which brings the total up to one thousand. The final part of this equation is the three realms that we exist in. We’ve talked about the individual human by our examination of the nine consciousnesses. The other two parts are society and the planet we live on. Since you are ultimately an energy field connected to everything else that exists what you do and how you behave has a definite impact on society and your 18
surroundings. It also has a great deal to do with how you perceive your environment. A person in a hellish state sees a much different universe then someone living in one of the four noble worlds If we keep seeing other beings as enemies, building weapon systems and fighting among ourselves, then we will live in a hellish world. If we start thinking about growing up and becoming human beings that love and respect one another then we will live in a Pure Land where people work to attain the highest happiness, not just for themselves but for others as well. This is a brief explanation of Chih-i’s concept of Ichinen Sanzen. His analysis of life was brilliant and the practices he devised helped the spiritual seekers of the middle period of the law attain enlightenment. Many of his conceptions are used in ‘modern’ schools of Buddhism as well. His work was of such importance, it loomed over the thinking of other teachers to such an extent that he began to be called the great teacher T’ien T’ai, which was the name of the mountain he lived and taught on for so many years.
May I develop the insight of Chih-i, and may I use this newfound wisdom to bring peace to myself and then to the entire world. May I always be known as a peacemaker and may I aid numerous others to also walk in peace. Nam-MyohoRenge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may all beings live as brothers.
The Latter Day of The Law
As the middle period of the law drew to a close people living in Buddhist countries began to be worry because they knew that the practices of the former and middle period would become ineffective. Nobody knew what the exact date of the change over would be but by any calculation it had to be before the year 1200C.E. The latter day of the law was supposed to be distinguished by disputes among the followers of the Buddha and, by the year 1200, this was certainly the case all throughout the Buddhist world. The followers who practiced the beginning teachings claimed that they were the only real followers of the Buddha. All other students were dismissed as ‘non-Buddhist’. Every group seemed to be determined to disparage anyone who did not agree with their interpretation of the Dharma. Some monks even began to carry swords and other weapons to defend the property of the monastery they lived in. A large number of teachings were now distorted. One group discarded the Buddhas writings and replaced them with texts written by their own teachers. In spite of this development, they not only insisted that they were Buddhist, they also asserted that the only way to attain enlightenment was to follow their teachings. Others discarded Shakyamuni as a central figure and replaced him with various (mythical) Buddhas who had appeared in a variety of sutras, usually to illustrate some point. The Buddha Amida, for example, was believed to live in a Pure Land somewhere in the west. Many people feared that attaining enlightenment was now impossible for them because the Buddha taught that people born in the latter day of the law had especially heavy negative karma. Amida swore an oath to rescue anyone at the time of death that called upon his name, as long as they did not commit the five cardinal sins or slander the true law. As we have seen, this introductory teaching was intended to reduce attachment to this life, but now Priests were appearing who claimed that this was the only teaching that could benefit a practitioner. All other forms of practice were to be abandoned and all other Buddhas were unimportant. If you simply chanted the name of Amida Buddha then you would be rescued at death and reborn in the western Pure Land. The purpose of Shakyamuni’s teaching was to develop each individual persons potential to the highest possible condition so these Pure Land teachings are the opposite of what he intended. The Pure Land practice was extremely easy to learn, and since it required very little effort it became popular with a large number of people throughout the Buddhist countries of the world. One of these countries is of especial interest to us and it is to the tiny island nation of Japan that we must now turn our attention.
Nichiren: The Buddha of The Latter Day of The Law
In the year 1222C.E. Nichiren, (Knee-Cha-ren) the man who was later recognized as the Buddha of the latter day of the law was born. His parents named him Zennichimaro. Zennichi means ‘splendid son’ and ‘maro’ was attached to his name in order to show that he was a small boy. 20
The two previous Buddhas were born into the upper classes of their society but we would consider the Buddha of the latter day lower middle class. Various biographies paint him as a member of the lowest possible class, they often state that Zennichi was the son of a fisherman but the historical record shows that his father was a low level manager in charge of fishing rights for a large privately owned property. Zennichi was born into the lower classes because his job as the Buddha of the latter day was different. He had to reach all people who seek for enlightenment during a period that was supposed to last at least ten thousand years and he could not have done that as well had he been born a prince. His being born into this lower stratum of society shows that social position has no relation to your value as a human being. Almost nothing is known about his early life as a child. In 1233 the young man was sent to the closest temple, called Seicho-ji, in order to receive an education. Temples were centers of learning that also ran programs similar to the elementary schools of our era. Students learned reading, writing, and received a basic education. At age sixteen his fundamental education was concluded and he was considered to be an adult. He could have returned home but he chose to enter religious life instead. Although various factions were represented to some degree at Seicho-ji, Nichiren chose to study with the Tendai sect. He became a Tendai priest on October 8, 1237. Tendai is a Japanese mispronunciation of the Chinese T’ien T’ai, so this school was founded on the practices and teachings of Chih-i,’ the Buddha of the middle period of the law. The Tendai sect teaches that all sutras taught by the Buddha are true, they all fit into the system Shakyamuni devised to reduce and eliminate suffering. These sutras come together to form a single teaching for the student when they begin to understand “The Threefold Lotus Sutra.” The Tendai sect has Pure Land teachings; in fact the Pure Land schools in Japan were offshoots of the Tendai sect, however, it also taught esoteric as well as exoteric teachings. Shakyamuni Buddha openly taught exoteric teachings to the world; they are available for study now as preserved texts called ‘sutras’. Esoteric teachings are secret; they are passed down from teacher to student. They are never written down. Esoteric teachings have many different sources but none of them came from Shakyamuni, who made it clear in his final teaching, “The Nirvana Sutra,” that he had openly revealed the truth to everyone. Nichiren was obviously a good student because he was driven by the need to understand the Buddhas teaching. He studied with a teacher named Dozen-bo at Seichoji temple and the two men became lifelong friends. Nichiren quickly mastered the contents of the library at this rural temple so he traveled to the city of Kamakura to continue his studies. Kamakura was reasonably close and the Shogun had his headquarters there, so many temples were to be found in the area. Nichiren was troubled by the lack of unity in the Buddhist community. Some of this was, no doubt, because of his early Tendai training but Nichiren was a brilliant scholar who would devote years to hunting down and studying the written teachings of Shakyamuni in order to understand what the Buddha had really taught. The Kamakura region was predominately controlled by the Zen and Pure Land sects so this gave him an opportunity to study the texts that these groups based their teachings on. He spent several years devouring the content of the libraries in the area. Now in his twenties, Nichiren left Kamakura and traveled to Nara and Kyoto, both long time Buddhist centers of learning in medieval Japan. The seven schools of 21
Nara are impossibly romanticized today, but they taught the original forms of Buddhism practiced in Japan. They were never fiercely competitive, like modern schools in the latter day, which probably explains why they no longer exist. By Nichiren’s time these schools had subtle differences but all agreed that esoteric practice was the path that led to enlightenment. Esoteric Buddhism is sometimes called tantra, or tantric Buddhism. We’ve already noted that these secret practices are handed down to a student whenever the teacher feels the student is adequately prepared. Nara had many teachers who were well known but they would never accept as a student some poor, unknown priest from the provinces. Although Nichiren wrote beautifully, he spoke with an accent that marked him as an outsider. One of the reasons he became so knowledgeable about the sutras was because he had to read and study them on his own. Other students attended lectures, Nichiren read. North and a little east of Kyoto, the Tendai sect had established their headquarters at a temple atop a small mountain called Hiei. It was here that Nichiren studied with a well-known scholar of Buddhism named Nansho-bo Shumpan. He also visited the numerous locations in the area where Buddhist teachings could be studied. For example, we know that he visited Mount Koya, which was the headquarters of the Shingon sect. Nichiren continued to study until he was certain that he had discovered and realized the truth taught by the Buddha in “The Lotus Sutra.” With that kind of knowledge comes responsibility, for it is clearly the intent of the Buddhas highest teaching that this wisdom be spread by anyone who understands it. At age thirty-two, Nichiren returned ‘home’ to Seicho-ji temple to begin his public teaching career. On April 28, 1253C.E. Nichiren addressed a small group made up of priests, monks, and students from the temple and assorted lay people from the nearby town. He talked about the things he had learned since he had left Seicho-ji, and he announced that the correct practice for people in this period must be based on “The Lotus Sutra.” His studies led him to conclude that the esoteric practice of chanting the mantra “Nam-Myoho-RengeKyo,” (which is the essence of “The Lotus Sutra”) when blended with the exoteric concepts taught in the same sutra and backed by daily study of the Buddhas teaching would lead anyone directly to enlightenment. This began a lifelong struggle to lead people back to the truth taught by Shakyamuni. The organized sects resented this upstart priest and used money, power, and influence to try to suppress his teaching. He was banished twice and returned both times more determined then ever to benefit the people who wanted to practice correctly in the latter day of the law. All people start out unsure when they first begin to practice these teachings, but in a very few years they realize that these practices are based on truth and will definitely change your life for the better. This is what happened with the people Nichiren taught. After testing this practice and developing enough realizations to observe the truth revealed in their own life there were too many people who would rather die then stop practicing. The government at one point arrested a group of Nichiren’s followers and ordered them to give up their practice. They refused and three farmers were abruptly selected and beheaded. There were numerous persecutions but they did not stop the spread of Nichiren’s teachings. When Nichiren saw that people were firm in their faith he inscribed the great Mandala, called the Dai-Gohonzon, and gave it to the world for the benefit of all sentient beings. When he died on October 13, 1282 he left behind him 22
organized teachings and people who were dedicated to spreading these teachings even if it cost them their lives. Nichiren wrote that if he were the Buddha of the latter day of the law, his compassion would be great enough for these teachings to spread throughout the entire world. At this point in time, early in the twenty-first century, more people practice this form of Buddhism than any other by a huge margin and the numbers grow larger with each passing year. In every country of the world people chant in front of a copy of the Mandala he created at least twice every day. Shakyamuni taught us the path that leads to liberation and showed us by example that this freedom could be attained in one human lifetime. Chih-i analyzed the teachings so that anybody could understand them; he was one of the most brilliant minds in recorded human history but his method of practice was extraordinarily complex. Nichiren taught a practical method that anybody can learn soundly based on the concepts taught by the two previous Buddhas. His ability to practice and teach compassion in the face of hostility and aggression set an example we should all follow. After his death he came to be called Daishonin, which means ‘great sage’ or ‘great wise man.’
The Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin
Nichiren was not the first person to ever chant ‘Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.’ This mantra was recorded in several different esoteric documents Nichiren was known to have used. There is recorded usage of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo hundreds of years before Nichiren was born. What the Daishonin did was to make available to every person esoteric teachings that were skillfully blended with exoteric principles taught by Chih-i, and Shakyamuni, into a Buddhist practice that is remarkably effective. Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the title of “The Lotus Sutra” as translated from Sanskrit into Chinese Characters. (Sanskrit is the language of the intellectual in the East, in the same way that Latin was at one time in the West.) The Japanese use Chinese characters to express their own spoken language. In Chinese the title of “The Lotus Sutra” is ‘Miao-fa Lien-hua Ching’ but the Japanese pronounce this as Myoho-Renge-Kyo. ‘Nam’ or ‘Namu’ is a Sanskrit word that means ‘devotion’. So chanting ‘Nam-Myoho-RengeKyo’ is in essence saying “I offer devotion to the Sutra of The Lotus Flower of The Wonderful Law.” This Law runs everything in the universe so when we say that we offer devotion, we mean dedication to discovering what the Law actually is and then committing ourselves to living in harmony with it. You begin this process by deciding to test the practice taught by the Buddha of the latter day of the law. This practice is chanting the mantra “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo,” performing the Gongyo ceremony twice a day, and constant, daily study. Chanting a mantra is an old technique that is used by every school of Buddhism I’ve ever studied. From the “Book of Protection, “ based on the teachings of the elders, to “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” the idea that ‘sound is a special kind of energy that can pacify negative states’ is common to all groups of teachings. Chanting mantra reaches you on a different level of consciousness, it leads to mental awareness that is difficult to reach with other practices. When you chant “Nam Myoho-Renge-Kyo,” you are using the most powerful mantra possible. You could dispense with the rest of everything else in the way of 23
practice and you would still dramatically change your life and make a connection that will lead you to eventual enlightenment. Please do not take my word for this, find out for yourself. It doesn’t matter what your problems are, if you chant this mantra, they will change. I don’t mean that they will vanish overnight, it took you a long time to get yourself into the situation you are in, and it will take some time to come out the other side, but you will come out, and you will be happy and smiling! When you first begin to chant everything begins to change. The average person will begin to see proof within a few months, usually two, or three. After you continue to practice daily for a year, other people will start to notice a change, and often they want to know what you are doing, so they can do it too. The fascinating thing about all this is you don’t have to make any kind of effort to change problem behavior, if you continue to chant you will find yourself behaving differently without having to think about it at all. This happens because your behavior is really a reflection of where you are in the ten world states. Daily chanting does more then pacify your mind, it raises your base or home state within the ten worlds. If this is true, why do we need a Mandala and why bother to learn the Gongyo ceremony? Why should I spend time in daily study? The Mandala Nichiren left us (called ‘The Gohonzon’) is a tool that speeds up the process of elevating your life through the ten world states. You don’t have to have one, not all of Nichiren’s followers received one. Many of the people who study with me do not have a Gohonzon, and yet the practice works for them. I encourage everyone to get a Mandala for their home because the benefits are wonderful. Still, the decision is a personal one, and people do choose to wait or decide for whatever reason that they do not want the responsibility. The Gongyo ceremony is designed to help with the actions that we took in the past. Chanting ‘Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo’ will raise your life condition but we still have the beginningless past to deal with. While it is doubtless true that you made numerous good causes in the past, it is also true that many negative actions are just waiting for the proper time to appear in your life. “The Lotus Sutra” is the teaching that instructs us that the way to remove negative energy states is to recite parts of the text. The concluding sutra tells us that this is truly the path of repentance. The reason this works is because you are replacing stored negative energy with positive forces. It takes effort but the result is so good that you will never want to stop. If you do stop you cannot help but notice that your life promptly falls to pieces. Those people who start and stop their daily practice often act as if they were crazy. They are not just ‘acting crazy,’ they really are in a state of insanity! The history of the people, who practice as Nichiren taught, is full of people who are either incredible saints or almost unbelievable nasty monsters. So chanting the mantra taught by Nichiren will raise your life condition, daily Gongyo practice will help you purify the mess you have made in this and previous lives, and having access to the Mandala the Buddha created will speed up this process. Therefore we are left with understanding why study is necessary for growth. My experience has taught me that what you put into your mind makes an important difference because what your mind produces is directly related to what that mind is filled with. It should shock no one that a person who fills his or her head with violence on a daily basis will inevitably come to see violence as a suitable response to provocation.
It is so much easier to practice proper behavior when you have daily exposure to the teachings fresh in your mind. The causes you make mark your mind, so constant anger makes it very easy to express anger again in a similar circumstance. The same is true of healthy thinking. It is much more difficult to have realizations on the Dharma without daily study, so choosing not to learn Dharma is deliberately retarding your human growth. Perhaps the best reason to study every day, however, has to do with assisting the people around you who need help. The correct, most direct path that leads to the end of suffering and the production of joy and peace can only be walked by those who want to benefit others as much as they want to help themselves. To help others end unnecessary suffering you must be able to teach them the same way you were taught. To answer another’s question and help him learn to pacify his mind is the greatest gift that you can give to another living being. Without a course of study that allows you to grow in wisdom you cannot practice proper compassion. The teachings of Nichiren Daishonin include all the truths taught by both previous Buddhas. All three teachers relied on the truths revealed in “The Lotus Sutra” to lead their followers to enlightenment. While the details of the practices they designed were different all of them were based on the universal truth that Buddhas become enlightened to. The writings of the Daishonin were preserved in a collection that is called “The Gosho.” Gosho means ‘honorable writings’ and these collected teachings are widely available to students in North America. Some of these works are complex philosophical texts that were sent to advanced students but many others were written to simple laypeople that were dealing with the problems of life and death. It isn’t possible to read very much of “The Gosho” without becoming aware of Nichiren’s deep compassion for his followers. This compassion was also expressed by his concern that anyone seeking to follow the Buddha not be misled into accepting some lesser teaching. We all look for value when we shop; no one goes into a store looking for the worst example of the item you need. Even in simple things we look for the highest quality at the best price because that is simple common sense. The Daishonin did not want you to pick up lard believing it to be high quality butter or cream. If you are going to invest time in a spiritual practice then you might as well make a karmic connection with the highest teaching of the Buddha. Also, Nichiren knew that whatever form of Buddhist practice you engage in it is mandatory to show respect to Shakyamuni Buddha because he was the teacher and spiritual father of us all. Many people were reluctant to be born in the latter day of the law because they feared that it would horrible. Several famous wise men that lived in the middle period of the law regretted very much that were not to be reborn in the latter day because they would not get to meet the Buddha of that period and benefit from his teachings. If you remember we said that Shakyamuni revealed that he had been a Buddha for a long time in the distant past and that he had trained many disciples in previous lives. These beings are mentioned in “The Lotus Sutra” where they are called “the bodhisattvas of the earth” because they spring out of the earth seemingly from nowhere. The bodhisattvas of the earth vow to appear in the latter day of the law and spread “The Lotus Sutra” everywhere on the planet. Students of this teaching have been reading that promise for more than two thousand years but it is in our lifetime that we are beginning to see the prediction 25
fulfilled. This linage we have been examining has always been a fairly small group. In the years following World War Two all of that began to change. The bodhisattvas of the earth began to appear and spread these teachings, just as they vowed to do so long ago. There are now more people doing this kind of Buddhist practice then any other in the world, and the number grows larger every year. The three enlightened teachers that we have briefly examined all shared the same goal. They wanted to rescue as many beings as they possibly could. No Buddha can save you, you must do that yourself. You have the freedom to live your live the way you choose but this liberty also means that you alone are responsible for your actions. If you are ever to live as a free human being you must choose to stop living the life of an animal. The next few chapters will explore some of the teachings these three enlightened beings gave to the world for that purpose.
May I also become a master who can understand complex teachings and make them practical for all who seek the way. May I grow to have the vast compassion of Nichiren and may I develop his patience and tolerance. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may I help as many people as possible.
We all know that life is impermanent. The person who is reading these words will grow older every day until eventually, they become sick and die. This is common knowledge, but what do we do about it? This society makes it so simple to just drift along, working to make money, and constantly entertaining ourselves the rest of the time so that we don’t have to sit around and think about our lives. Death is sterilized as much as possible and it’s kept away from those who aren’t touched by it. In the hospitals of this country when someone dies they close all the patient doors on that floor so that the sight of the body being wheeled by won’t upset you. Hospitals do this because a lot of people would be upset at the sight. This country is going through a spiritual crisis because traditional Christian values are eroding and so far, nothing has taken its place. So few people really believe in the principle teachings of these churches anymore, yet at the same time people recognize that religion is good because we need morality to be common if we’re going to have any kind of decent society. Most people in the West, however, can’t really swallow the entire ‘god’ explanation. They don’t seem to honestly believe that they will awaken into some heaven realm after death. So, at the moment, our society seems to be determined to pretend that death does not exist. If you don’t take time to do some thinking about this now then you can only delay thinking about it until later. But be careful! You may not have many tomorrows left. Young people die every day, however there is no tragedy involved in dieing young if you have lived well. If you are spending your time doing good things then dieing at any time is hardly a calamity. You should be living your life knowing that every day could be your last day. This is not just a philosophy it is reality. We start this study of basic Buddhist concepts with an examination of death because that is where the Buddha told us to begin. No matter who you are or what position you occupy in life this is one thing all beings have in common. It is vital that you think about this so that the process of realization can be set in motion. The first thing to realize is that all things are impermanent; change is the only constant factor in a universe that never remains static. It is foolish to become improperly attached to anything because everything will inevitably change with time. It is fine to want things because we live in a material world, but if acquiring these objects becomes the reason you do everything then suffering will become your constant companion. No matter how simple or complex your life is attachment is the first hurdle you must pass if you want to become free. Monks drastically simplify their lives in an attempt to make this process easier, but all followers of the Buddha must learn the same lesson. A monk can still have problems with this because they become attached to their robes, position, and reputation. A lot of monastics seem to want to remove desire completely from their lives but this was never the intent of the Buddha. It is not possible to wholly eliminate desire nor is there any reason to want to do so. Just having the desire to not want things is a form of 27
desire! Wanting things is natural because to survive in a material universe you must have certain things, like food, clothing, and shelter. Every monastery I’ve lived in or visited had an enormous amount of books, which, quite rightly, they valued highly. They also had the desire to obtain more of these books as they became available. So, it becomes clear that we can never eliminate desire from our minds. To eliminate attachment is a process that will take time and effort on your part. You have spent all the time you have been alive up until now improperly training your mind. Since you are reading a book of this nature it is obvious that you are looking for a better way to live. You can begin right now to eradicate the suffering caused by improper attachment by understanding that all the things you have will one day disappear. No matter how much wealth you gather in this life it will all belong to someone else the moment you are dead. Enjoy what you have when you use it but always remember that every object is impermanent. Think of possessions as being borrowed and it won’t bother you when they vanish. We choose to live this way because it is quite natural to be happy when your mind is not disturbed. If you live a happy, fulfilled life than there will be no fear or panic when you face the moment of death. It is important to die well because how you die has an enormous impact on your next rebirth. If you die badly then that is the state you will exist in and experience until you have sufficient energy to be reborn. It is not what happens to you but how you respond mentally that matters. I have seen Buddhists die of terminal cancer but they were bright and happy right up to the end. It was a very positive experience. In fact, Buddhist funerals are always upbeat and people leave feeling happy. The real reason people in our society fear death is because they do not understand what happens to them when they change from one condition to another. Most of the people I talk to are far more afraid of experiencing a great deal of pain when they die, then they are of the actual fact that they are dieing. If we remember that pain is transient like everything else, then that fear is controllable. No matter what situation you are in, it is only temporary. As someone who has dealt with chronic pain for years I can tell you that the fear is far worse then the pain. Pain is manageable and anyone can learn to deal with it. When your body dies the energy that is ‘you’ changes into a latent state that will experience whatever life condition you normally manifest. At this point you have no ability to change anything so the time to make changes for the better is while you are still alive. After death, you exist in a state we call ku. Ku is best explained by thinking about the music that exists on a CD. When you buy a CD with music on it that music exists in a latent state, to hear the music you must have a CD player with some kind of power source. The player must have speakers and many other conditions must be met before you can hear the music. The same is true of a person in Ku. You stay in Ku gathering energy until you have sufficient life force to be reborn. At that time, when the karmic conditions are met you are reborn into whatever circumstances you deserve. Ideally, Ku should be a time of blissful reward and great happiness but of course, it could also be a hellish pit of suffering that seems to last forever. The human time sense is relative, time seems to speed by when we’re having fun but it also seems to come to a standstill when we’re in a state of misery. The higher your life condition was when your body died, the more energy you have when you arrive in the state of Ku.
Young people who make causes that produce an early death in childhood usually bounce back to the world in a very short time because they have used very little of the energy they stored up in Ku. Buddhas are also filled with this energy and can be reborn as soon as they want in whatever situation they desire. Since enlightened beings are motivated to help as many people as possible they choose to be born where they can do the most good. Bodhisattvas are born in the area that will allow them to continue their mission. I have devoted my life to making connections with people who want to study or teach the Dharma. I have made connections to every teacher that I’ve encountered because I want to be reborn among those beings in my next life. The way to do this is to take every opportunity to read or hear dharma talks from those teachers. When you can, meet them in person and hear them teach, or listen to recordings of their lectures. While I spend most of my time running Buddhist Information of North America what I concern myself with is teaching the people who want to learn. I don’t have to worry much about paperwork or managing money because all that is done for me. I do have to make every tape that goes out of here, and I also write most of the lectures. This is a huge job that often takes up my entire day but I do this happily because I know that it is an investment in the future happiness of all of us. I hope that my teaching helps you now, in this lifetime and I’ve seen evidence that this is the case for some people, so some of my effort has not been wasted. However, I am not at all satisfied with this outcome. In point of fact, if I reach hundreds of people with my current ministry, well, thousands would be much better. If I reach thousands of people before I die then millions would be better yet. Of course, it isn’t ‘me’ who will experience this future anymore then it was ‘me’ who experienced innumerable past lives. What we identify as ‘self’ is not real and it certainly isn’t eternal. The schools of Tibetan Buddhism have elaborate methods of testing for returning spiritual practitioners, someone who has been identified as a re-born teacher is called a Rinpoche. A Rinpoche remembers his past life when he is still young but they report that the memories fade away as they grow older. They very much insist on be seen as their own person, they do not want to bound by things that happened in the past. This kind of breaking away from the past is important so that we have the chance to start fresh with each new existence. The amount of milk that you have consumed, nursing from all the mothers you have had since the beginningless past would overflow the oceans, and the bodies you have left behind on planets around the universe would stack up higher then any mountain. When you begin to understand the eternity of life petty considerations are seen for what they really are. So this ambition of mine has nothing to do with fame because fame is pointless. Being well known has never saved anyone from suffering or death. It has nothing to do with money because religion and money have no inherent connection. We do not accept donations from anyone and we charge no fees for our services. If you are anything like me you have plenty of things to spend money on, you don’t need to support some preacher, let him get a job to support himself and if he still wants to preach we’ll be certain that he is sincere. As a follower of the bodhisattvas of the earth my mission is to spread the Buddhas teachings to anyone who wants to end suffering. I do this because these kind of activities lead directly to happiness, not only for me but for the people who study with me. If you 29
discover somebody trapped in a pit the human thing to do is help that person escape. If you don’t do this then you may be many things but human is not one of them. As soon as you acquire even a little knowledge you become responsible for helping the people who know nothing. This is not an honor or privilege, it is a duty. My goal is to be reborn in a condition that allows me to reach people all over the world. By making these kind of karmic connections now with Dharma teachers, I know that I will be very well educated. By establishing connections with people who are looking for answers to the problems they encounter in life I am certain to have many sincere students. If you have ever called Buddhist Information you are karmically connected to me and you’ve gone onto a prayer list that resides in my alter. I pray for these people every day, which strengthens the connection even more. If you have asked for and received an information packet then the relationship is even stronger because you’ve read and listened to my teaching. If you have actually began to study with me then you are bound to be reborn near me and to become my closest friends. My goal is to take every one of you with me into the state of enlightenment. If you are reading this book may you find this path that leads to peace and happiness. May you become karmically connected to me and through me to all of the enlightened beings that are my teachers. May we be reborn together and may we proceed together to the place of practice where we will be certain to attain enlightenment. This is my prayer for you; please strengthen this karmic tie by making the same kind of prayer. We’ve been talking about impermanence and death, which is something I do a lot when I’m speaking to new students. Some of them say to me that this is a very depressing subject that they don’t want to hear about anymore, and this tells me that they have not yet understood. Death is part of life, why are you so happy when a new child is born? From the moment he draws his first breath he has begun the process that leads directly to death. If you must cry, then do it when the child is born. When he dies this same being is soon ready to start over again so what is there to be upset about? There is a certain amount of grief when you part from a loved one but if you actually understand the nature of reality you won’t suffer long. They haven’t truly gone anywhere and if you were really close you will inevitably see that person again. There is no beginning and there is no end to these kinds of relationships, so sorrow is only appropriate for a short time. Instead of mindless grief, pour that energy into practice for that persons benefit while they are in the state of Ku. Nichiren taught that chanting ‘Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” is energy which can reach and influence an individual while they are in the state of Ku, so it is common for his followers to chant for the recent dead. It is wrong to think of death and impermanence as being anything but very kind. If we were stuck in one body for all time that would truly be suffering! If circumstances did not change what unthinkable horrors could exist in the universe! This system is the best possible arrangement because we are always getting the opportunity of a fresh start. The good and bad qualities you cultivate stay with you but as we work to eliminate bad mental traits the good that we have developed begins to dominate our mental formation. Nichiren taught Buddhists tend to die with smiles on their face, and they make statements of determination to return and struggle to establish a society where peace and happiness are the right of every being born on the planet. That is the goal we all strive to achieve and I believe it to be quite practical.
May I learn to understand the universe and may I discover my place in it. May I understand this teaching so that my foolish fear of death is overcome. May I also bring this same relief to others who are suffering needlessly. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may all beings live in comfort and be free from fear.
The goal of our practice is to grow into an actual human being and to do that we must learn to express appreciation to the people who help us. This is much more then simple good manners, it is part of what defines you as a human person. Of course, manners are very important. They are the lubricant that keeps society functioning with a minimum of violence. Manners show that we respect one another. If our present society is to survive then the people in it must rediscover a reason to practice manners. It is churlish to take help from someone and not express some form of acceptable gratitude, this is what upset Nichiren when he criticized Dharma teachers who led people into practices that did not make Shakyamuni the central focus of their devotion. Shakyamuni is the spiritual father of anyone who practices any form of Buddhism and if we do not express appreciation our behavior is deplorable. If you are demonstrating this level of immaturity how can you expect to attain adult wisdom? The debt we owe out teachers is enormous. I’m not just talking about Dharma instructors, any person that taught you anything in this lifetime is at least partially responsible for you now having the opportunity to practice and study the Holy Dharma, which will lead you to the highest possible human condition. Teachers are special people who teach for the love of helping and guiding others. Teachers are notoriously underpaid so very few, if any of the people engaged in teaching others does so with the intention of accumulating vast sums of money. Dharma teachers deserve our respect because they are the people who directly lead us to higher states of wisdom that we would never attain without their guidance and support. We should look up to these people, never judge them, and always consider them to be enlightened. We should demonstrate reverence to these beings because they are our spiritual older brothers and sisters who want only good thing to happen to us. This does not mean that we should support them financially! There is no reason to support people that are perfectly capable of earning a living in some fashion. “Buddhist Teacher” is not a job that should ever pay anything because Dharma instructor is not an occupation it is an obligation. Religion should not be considered an honorable business. Religion shouldn’t be a business at all. While I can’t speak for religions that have deities in them I can unequivocally state that the Buddha’s we’ve learned about do not need or want your money. One reason so many people are cynical about religious teachers is because they live so well. Their houses are too big and they own too many luxury automobiles. It is absurd for middle class citizens to be carrying the heaviest tax burden in this country when churches pile up wealth that goes untaxed. Is there some reason that churches are exempt from supporting the society they exist in? If you walk into a religious center and they insist on receiving money from you before they will teach or help you, then you are dealing with a business, and the name they choose to call themselves is really unimportant. You owe a debt of gratitude to the 32
teacher who charges you money for Dharma instruction but the fee they charge already pays much of the debt. These teachers are cheating themselves and their students. Of course, it is good to practice generosity and if you feel that donating to this teacher will be helpful to him (her) and if the teacher will accept the money for some worthwhile project then everybody benefits. This money should not ever be for the teacher’s material support. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our present parents that is very difficult to repay. They have cared for us since infancy and given up many things so that we did not have to do without. If it were not for these parents you would not now have access to the Buddha Dharma, and you might continue in a meaningless sequence lifetime after lifetime, endlessly cycling through the six lower worlds and never making any significant spiritual progress. Giving material things to your parents is important but you will never come close to repaying your debt to them merely by helping them in this life. If you do not attain a higher state then you have not only wasted a wonderful opportunity but you have also failed to repay the debt to your parents. The people that are your parents in this life are obviously closely connected to you. You will see these people again in lifetime after lifetime although the relationship will no doubt change. If you make a connection to the highest teaching of the Buddha you are guaranteed to attain enlightenment at some point in the future. If you become enlightened so will your parents. The Buddha assured us of this. There are so many people in the history of these teachings that we owe gratitude to and countless numbers of them will never be known to us by name. The first person on the list of people that we do know about must be Nagarjuna, a teacher who demonstrated that everything is relative; many of the theories concerning emptiness came from his mind. When the teachings of Shakyamuni left India they were transmitted to the surrounding countries with comparative ease. As Dharma students resolved to propagate the Buddhas wisdom further afield, however, the hazards quickly escalated. The world was a dangerous place and many of these teachers/explorers vanished without a trace. Transmitting the Dharma from India to China doesn’t really sound like such a big deal but it cost many lives before it was accomplished. The first Buddhist texts arrived somewhere around the year 67 C.E. The translation of texts into Chinese would continue for more then a thousand years and we should keep these many special practitioners in mind because they directly benefited everyone who uses the teachings found in this book. One person particularly stands out from this heroic group, his name was Kumarajiva, and his translations of Buddhist sutras have become standard all over the world. He was born in 384 C.E. and died in 414. His life would make a great historical novel, but it was the beauty and total accuracy of his rendering of “The Lotus Sutra” and many other major texts that make him especially worthy of our gratitude. His translation work was based on the teachings of Nagarjuna. The great teacher Dengyo transmitted these teachings to Japan. He was born in 767C.E. and traveled to China in 804 to study the teachings of Chih-i, also known as T’ien T’ai. When he returned to Japan he founded the Tendai School. He died in 822 but without his efforts we would not be receiving this Dharma instruction. In more modern times three men particularly are deserving of our gratitude. In 1871 Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was born. His name seems dreadfully foreign but he was a warm human being with a brilliant mind. He was an educator who taught that students should experience happiness in school and that this must be a major goal of the school 33
system. He further argued that school should be pertinent and directly applicable to the life of the student involved. Contrast these ideas with the current state of American schools. They are built to look like prisons, and just like prison, violence can occur at any moment. Not much learning takes place in these schools as is demonstrated by the continually dismal national testing results. Until our country puts considerable additional resources into the education system it will remain maimed and ineffective. Mr. Makiguchi was introduced to the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin in 1928C.E. and, in 1930 founded a study group that led to the development of the Buddhist Lay movement called Soka Gakkai, which was the parent organization of Soka Gakkai International or SGI. The SGI will be discussed later in the chapter. When World War Two began the Japanese government ordered all Buddhist temples in the country to situate Shinto shrines in places of worship because the Shinto religion teaches that the Emperor of Japan was directly descended from the god of the sun. This made him divine and gave him the power of life and death over every person in Japan By this time Mr. Makiguchi was the President of a fairly large group of lay Buddhists who practiced the teachings of Nichiren. Mr. Makiguchi would not agree with this edict, which was slander of the Buddhas teaching, and civil authorities arrested him on July 6, 1943. He was placed in Sugamo Prison and died of malnutrition on November 18, 1944. He was seventy-three years old. Mr. Makiguchi died to keep this Buddhism from being corrupted and he is the man I admire more then anyone else in the world. Mr. Makiguchi was not alone in prison, eighteen other people considered leaders in this movement were also arrested and imprisoned. One of them was Josei Toda who became the second President of Soka Gakkai. Josei Toda was born on February 11, 1900. He became a schoolteacher and converted to the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin at the same time as his mentor, Mr. Makiguchi, in 1928. Professor Toda came out of prison on July 3; 1945 to find the lay organization almost non-existent. He vowed to rebuild the Soka Gakkai even larger then before and under his guidance the organization grew at a fantastic rate. Professor Toda deserves our great respect because his propagation efforts spread this teaching all over Japan and made what had been one of the smaller Buddhist sects into a social phenomenon. Once it reached this point it was inevitable that the third President, a man named Daisaku Ikeda, would spread these teachings all over the world. Daisaku Ikeda was born in 1928 and joined the Soka Gakkai at age nineteen. In 1960 he became the third president of the Soka Gakkai and in 1975 he created the Soka Gakkai International or SGI, a Buddhist movement composed of lay people dedicated to spreading the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin to anyone who was interested. These brief sketches of important figures in the history of Buddhism are a good place to start your education. There are books by or about all of these people and if you only read one book about each of them you will still be much better informed. We owe a special debt to these men and we should remember to pay it daily. Place their names on a list, along with the names of the three Buddhas and thank them every day while you are practicing. It takes very little effort to express gratitude, however, if you follow these directions that little effort will greatly benefit your mind. 34
The SGI is the organization that has done more to spread these teachings than any group in the world. They produce a monthly magazine and a weekly newspaper; in large cities there are SGI meetings somewhere every night of the week. Some meetings are for study, some are discussion meetings, and sometimes they just chant for an hour or two. SGI is really about developing your self-potential through Buddhist practice. The SGI people I know are dedicated, loving people who want to benefit as many people as possible. Everyday you should express gratitude to the SGI and pray for their development as an organization because it is due to their great kindness that you are reading about these teachings. We should spend time thinking about the kindness of all the beings that provide the things around us. We have stores to shop in, food to buy, new E-books to read, anything of this nature that you can think of is provided by the great kindness of the beings around us. Even the money we work for and use to buy things is provided by the kindness of the people around us. You feel that you work to earn these things but even our employment is provided by the kindness of others! It is easy to complain about the problems in our society but it is due to the kindness of others that we have any society at all. To become a mature human being means that we have learned to see the world the way it really is. When we truly understand the universe we live in then we will quite naturally express gratitude. Sometimes it is difficult for people to understand this at first so all I ask is that you think about it a little every now and then.
May I learn humility and may I discover within myself the wisdom to be grateful to my family, friends, society, and all the beings that have ever helped me. Nam-MyohoRenge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may all beings learn to be grateful.
When you make a cause you always get a corresponding effect. That’s so simple, isn’t it? When you understand this truth then a lot of mental suffering melts away. Everything that happens to you is the result of causes you have made in the past. If you don’t make violent causes then you cannot get violent effects. For example, Buddhas have lived so long without practicing physical violence that you cannot kill a Buddha, it is not even a minor sin in the Buddhist faith to kill an enlightened being. If you look back to the list of the five cardinal sins you will notice that injuring a Buddha is a serious offence but nowhere will you find a passage that tells you not to kill an enlightened teacher because you simply cannot do it. If you understand cause and effect then you will never blame others for the things that happen to you, and as this sinks into your mind you learn to start taking responsibility for your own karma. When someone attacks you it is only possible for him or her to do so because of you’re past actions. You are connected to any person that appears in your environment, that’s why it is this particular person and not one of the other innumerable being that inhabit the universe. If they are responding to you in a negative way then it is because you created this kind of energy at some point in the past. If you are attacked and struck with a club, you do not become angry with the club because you understand that the club is just a tool. When you understand the nature of cause and effect you come to realize that the man with the club is also just a tool and that you’re past actions are impelling him in the same way as the club. The club is not the problem, nor is the man wielding it. The problem is the numerous negative causes we have created in the past. What you are right now is the direct effect of many complex causes that you have made in the past. You are your own creator and you are responsible for everything that has happened to you in the past and that will happen to you in the future. Your present actions will determine what happens to you in the future, there is nothing mysterious about this. Whether you are aware of it or not, you are designing your own future by the actions you engage in now. If you want to be beautiful in your next life then fill your present life with beautiful actions and the result is a forgone conclusion. If you want to be wise then spend your time acquiring the kind of knowledge that will lead you to develop wisdom in this life and you will find that as you mature in the next life this wisdom will become available to you again. If you want to be popular or well liked then you must learn to really like others and the same is true of love. If you cannot find love in your present life then it is because you do not love others. Spend your time learning to care for others and many of these social problems just vanish. Even if you do not think that there will be another life after this one, you will find that following this advice will make you far happier now. So many of the people who study with Buddhist Information begin to do so because of problems they are experiencing in their lives. If a person is in a state of severe distress it is usually not a good idea to point out to them that they are the cause of their own problem, even though this is always true. The first thing to do is to get them to stop 36
beating themselves up. In the bottomless depths of that inner mind possessed by of all of us there exists the fantasy that we are somehow different and inferior. However, our deepest human secrets are common to the human animal, you are no different then anyone else. I have heard so many people say “I must have the worst karma in the world!” that I now believe that this is a common human delusion. This is why Chapter four of “The Lotus Sutra” tells the parable about the wandering son. He left the home of his father at an early age and wandered for almost fifty years. He never settled in one place, he went where circumstances sent him but he never prospered. At the time of this story he was very poor, his last job was over and he wandered in search of some means to find food and clothing. Without realizing it, he approached and entered his native country. Meanwhile, the father searched for his son for many years. He had prospered and was rich beyond belief. His treasure rooms were filled to overflowing with gold, silver, and gems of wonderful qualities. He owned many elephants, and possessed vast herds of sheep and cattle. He had countless horses to ride and horses to pull the many jewelencrusted carriages he rode about in. His granaries were always stuffed and his investments extended into all the many countries around him. This father cherished his son in his heart but he spoke of the matter to no one. Although he was rich the father was unhappy because he knew that eventually he would die and the fruits of all his labor would be lost and scattered because he had no one to leave his wealth to. This was the state of affairs when the son wandered up to the great house looking for some kind of work. The son did not recognize the house because he had never seen it before; the father had moved and built this mansion long after the son had left home. As the son approaches he becomes very nervous because he can see this great personage sitting under a golden canopy, surrounded by his many retainers. He thinks, “This person must be a King or someone of great importance. He will not want to hire me for menial labor; I’d better go to some small village or hamlet where there will be work for such as me. Also, if I linger here, I might be forced into slavery or made to do work for no pay!” As these thought are going through his mind the father looks up and sees the (somewhat dirty) face of his beloved son! Immediately he dispatches two of his followers to chase after his son and bring him back. Now, the son believes that his worst fears are being realized when he is seized. He loudly protests his innocence but the rich mans servants will not release him and they begin to drag him back. The son is now convinced that he will be imprisoned or even killed so he faints dead away on the ground. The rich man sees this from a distance and orders the release of his son. He has told no one that this is his child and he can see that his son is intimidated by his social position so he tells his servants to wake the man and tell him he is free, and that he was mistaken for someone else. When the son awakens he is delighted and quickly flees to a small village to look for work. The father summons two seedy looking servitors, who obviously do menial labor and instructs them to approach the man in the village and tell him that there is work for him on the estate that will pay him double wages. When he asks what he will be doing tell him that he will be removing animal waste and that you will work with him. The son is delighted and begins to work removing waste. The father does not want to lose his son again so he removes his jewels, puts on a coarse, dirty garment, and 37
walks out into the yard. He berates the other workers, telling them “don’t be lazy! Get to work!” but when he approaches the son he praises his effort. He tells him, “Don’t go anywhere else, stay here. You are an honest man. From now on I will double your wages and give you whatever food and supplies you need to live in comfort. I have an old shack you can live in and an old servant who will tend to your needs. From this day on you will be as a son to me.” The son greatly rejoices in his good fortune but still thinks of himself as a lowly person. For many years he remains employed at the same task until he becomes comfortable and relaxed around the estate. The father has become ill and knows that he will shortly die so he sends for his son and tells him, “I want you to become familiar with all of the contents of my treasure rooms, in fact, learn to manage all of my affairs. I trust you to see that there is no waste.” The son begins his new task but does not expect to gain anything from his different position and he continues to live in the same place. As the son continues with his new responsibilities his view of himself also changes. When the father sees this he called all the people around him, including many important personages. He said to them, “When I was younger, I lived in a certain city, my name was ------- and I had a son who was called ---------. He was truly my son but he left home and I did not find him until he returned here to me. I leave all that I possess to this man, who is my real son.” At hearing this, the son greatly rejoiced because he had attained to a state that he thought to be far above him. The purpose of this story is to remind us that it is a common human failing to think we are inferior. This is never the case. We all want happiness and do not want any kind of suffering. We are all empty because we are all dependent on causes and we are all the same because we are all composed of whatever cosmic energy it is that causes us and the universe to live. When two people make the same cause it does not necessarily follow that they will automatically get the same or even similar effects. Each person is unique in their karmic development so that you can’t really compare them to each other. Someone who has an ocean of positive merit will only be slightly affected by a single negative cause while the very same act will seriously hammer someone who has a lot of bad karma. We must rid ourselves of delusion and learn to see things exactly the way they are if we are even to become an adult, let alone a Buddha. The way to begin is to remove categories and labels from our thinking. An object is merely what it is and nothing more. It is not good or bad or any other mistaken label that your mind can think to employ. The same is true of any event that occurs. When you see a person, he should also be viewed in this way, but you should also realize that this person is very precious because he has the potential to become a Buddha and benefit many beings. Every one of us has the potential to become an enlightened human being; if you have a low opinion of yourself it is because you have not engaged in what you understand to be correct behavior all the time and now you are judging yourself harshly. You are bound to make errors and sometimes behave badly because we’re still learning to become human beings. It does not matter how many times you fail, you must start again from wherever you are, learn from the mistake, and always press forward. Even if you fail one million times you only have to succeed once.
Karma is a subject that Buddhists struggle with for years. I’ve had people tell me “I practice everyday. I study; I’m doing everything right! Why am I still having problems?” It usually is true that they’ve spent a few months practicing and studying but they spent thirty or forty years before that making a mess in their mind and their environment. This does not take into account everything that happened before that led you to have the tendencies and habits that now trouble you. Practicing Buddhism does not mean that you will never experience adverse conditions but it does mean that you will not mislabel these conditions as ‘problems.’ It might seem simple but if you don’t look at a situation and think “Oh, what a problem! What am I going to do?” your mind perceives the situation in a completely different way. If your mental response is something like, “this is a challenge! It’s an opportunity to grow,” then the cycle of suffering in your brain is not engaged and you do not suffer. You trained you mind to respond the way it does to the things that happen to you and the end result has been suffering. It is just as possible to train your mind in a way that does not cause suffering if you have the desire to do it. You should realize that you have made causes in the past that will lead to negative consequences in the future. This is your responsibility and not the fault of any other person. If you are practicing Buddhism then you are engaged in purifying your life every day, not only with the daily water offerings we make but also with the Gongyo ceremony. When adverse conditions arise, overcome them, and be happy because you will never have to see that kind of effect again. Instead of believing this situation to be a problem realize that this is a very fortunate thing to happen to you because it gave you an opportunity to disperse negative energy and it also allowed you to profit from the experience by increasing your knowledge and wisdom through direct personal experience. By now you will have noticed that Buddhism is a very practical religion that is not based on any kind of god worship. The development of gods in the early history of mankind is easy enough to comprehend, people are often afraid of what they don’t understand and even a contrived explanation is better then nothing. However, the human race discovered that thunder is not the result of an angry god; it is part of the normal weather pattern. The sun god turned out to be a medium sized star. Volcanoes, and earthquakes are natural disasters that cannot be controlled by the slaughter or sacrifice of anything. Deity faiths argue that their gods or goddesses are real because when you pray to them your prayers are answered. I am a practicing Buddhist and never pray to any god but my prayers are always answered. The prayers that are included at the end of every chapter are good for you, they will benefit your mind greatly, but never once is any deity mentioned because it is just not necessary. Prayer is good for you and this kind of positive energy has even been shown to be effective in helping people recover from illness and other problems. However, since it does work for people who do not acknowledge any god at all then it seems clear that the ‘god part’ of the prayer process is not necessary. All of the gods ever invented by the human race have turned out to be hollow shams, if one of these beings existed anywhere by now we would unquestioningly know it. The holy books of the religions that teach about gods and their behavior are full of contradictions. The god of the Christian Bible teaches people not to kill early in the text but then slaughters uncountable numbers of beings because he’s angry. That is a terrible 39
message. If our human morality can be higher then these ‘divine beings’ then how are these gods superior to us? If the gods have ever helped anyone, anywhere, then they are morally obligated to do the same for everyone. If the god of the Jews helped them escape from slavery in Egypt then he is a monster for letting six million of them disappear into German ovens. If the gods have the power to save you and they don’t do it then their morality is more then merely suspect it is non-existent. The same is true of holy men and priests who claim to have the power to purify you. If they have the power to save people and they don’t do it then they are responsible for countless peoples suffering and they must be considered monsters. The Buddha taught that you are responsible for yourself. You are the only person who can purify yourself and change your own behavior. If you want to be saved then you will have to do it yourself. Karma is the fruit of your own action. It is not difficult to understand that Karma is based on intention. No matter how many purification practices you perform you will never make any real progress unless you determine to stop making bad causes and change the way you live.
May I learn to recognize and take responsibility for the causes I have made in the past and may I stop blaming others for things that are my fault. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may all beings benefit from my newly developed wisdom.
If we know what true love is then it is our greatest blessing, our highest joy. If we are mired in attachment then what we call love is really a kind of madness. This imitation of love can quickly become hatred if the expectations of one of the partners are not met. We see examples of this every day around the country in divorce court. Love with improper attachment is one of the principal causes of human misery. This attachment causes you to experience a great many emotions but none of them are love. Jealousy, for example, is not love and has no connection to it. Jealousy has no place in a heart that is filled with love. If you are in a relationship and jealousy is present in your mind then you are not ‘in love’ with that person in any real sense. To love someone, you should have warm feelings for them but more importantly you should emotionally support that person and want what is best for them even if that entails some kind of sacrifice on your part. If you are in a relationship with someone and believe that your life would fall apart or not be worth living without him or her then what you have is a case of attachment. It is not love. Love is never about grasping or controlling. Love is truly self-less, it is the noblest emotion we are capable of, and it is incredibly rare. Love is positive energy that supports life. People who have pets that they care for live longer lives then those who don’t because it is actually good for your health to express love. We all need love and when we don’t have it we sorely feel the lack of it. The Buddha taught love from the very first teaching he gave. From the moment of his enlightenment up until the day of his death he lived a life dedicated to service to others. The Buddha reveals why he came to this world in Chapter sixteen of “The Lotus Sutra.” This is one of the most important chapters in the most essential teaching ever given by Shakyamuni. The final words of the Buddha in this chapter are ‘how can I cause others to speedily enter the way and quickly become enlightened?’ This is a practical example of love, and we should all follow this same pattern if we want live the life of a bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva works day and night for the benefit of all the beings he can reach. He does this without pay and without any expectation of gratitude. Bodhisattvas behave this way because this is the path that leads to enlightenment. It’s also a lot of fun. It’s important to have fun because it means that we are enjoying the work that we do. What kind of a job do you do when you hate your work? It’s seldom your best, is it? How can you feel good about yourself if you’re not doing the best that you can? You will never be happy if you hate what you do all day long. If you do hate your job then you have a very strange idea of success. No matter what kind of money you are paid it does not make up for the unhappiness you experience daily. There isn’t enough money in the world to make that kind of suffering worthwhile, if you are in a situation like this then be aware that you are seriously undervaluing your worth as a human being. To be a success in life you must become happy and fulfilled. If you replace that standard with the amount of money you make in a year you are making a serious error because the extra money cannot possibly make up for all the hours of daily misery you 41
must endure. If you are in an unhappy job environment ask yourself, ‘what is the amount of wretchedness I am willing to endure for extra money? Why am I selling myself out so cheaply?’ No matter what material objects you acquire with this money how will you be happy when at least one third of your day is dedicated to something you loathe doing. Before you are fit to love others you must be able to love yourself. You can begin to do that by treating yourself like a valuable human being because, no matter who you are, this is the case. To love yourself you must be able to respect yourself, you can fool a lot of people, but people who succeed in actually fooling themselves end up insane. You always know what your motivation is and you are your own harshest critic. If you don’t at least come close to living up to the moral code your subconscious mind believes to be correct in your daily behavior then your mind will punish itself by developing an illness in the body. This is an old teaching but medical people are just now realizing it as truth in the West. Many of the diseases we suffer from come from our mind. The idea of treating a symptom, instead of the entire patient was a mistake. How do you separate a patient from his symptom? The pain cannot be removed and examined; it’s part of the system of the patient, considering part of the person while ignoring the rest of him only leads to error and tragic mistakes. In the past the goal was to cover up the symptom of illness with drugs but that ignores the problem, and makes the trouble show up some other way. The problem is being caused by the human mind and the person can cure himself by dedicating himself to virtue and vowing to help all beings everywhere. ‘Miracle cures’ often work if the person honestly decides to change his life for the better. Take some time to be alone and think about the way you live your life. Are you a moral human being? Do you live up to your own ethical expectations? If the answer is no then you will never be happy, you will never be able to respect yourself or love yourself and you will never really love anyone else either. Don’t be too hard on yourself once you do decide to change, as long as you are sincere you will continue to make effort and that leads inevitably to growth. You are bound to make mistakes because we all do. It doesn’t matter how big or small the error was, learn from it so you don’t repeat the mistake and then forget about it. It does not help you to continually replay this scenario in your mind. It only brings unnecessary suffering to you. Once you develop self-respect you are ready to apply this same standard to others. If you can really treat others, as you deserve to be treated you will be extremely successful in your practice of the Buddhas dharma. Never judge other people no matter what you think you know about them. All human beings are precious and any of them can choose, from this minute on, to follow the path that leads to enlightenment. It is the way we judge others that keeps us from realizing Buddhahood in lifetime after lifetime. Slander of others is one of the very worst causes you can make, especially if that person is trying to straighten up his life by practicing the teachings of the Buddhas. Our job is to help others raise their life conditions, so we should always support other Dharma practitioners in any way we can. Slander is the very opposite of what we are supposed to do for others. In the Buddhist faith slander is any negative thing that is said about a person for any reason. It does not matter if the story is true or not. Truth is no excuse for
injuring other people; if you learn things or think you have learned things about someone you should never communicate this information to others. You should make the resolve to become a storehouse of other people’s confidences. Make certain that this storehouse only takes in knowledge and never gives it out. You must become someone that people can trust so from this moment on make the additional resolution to never gossip about others. Gossip is harsh speech no matter how cleverly it is worded. This kind of behavior is not good for you and it is not good for others. If you want to create value around you and in your society then you must become a positive asset to your community. Begin by deciding to become someone who is patient with everyone. When you meet someone for the first time and they are rude to you, first remind yourself that you created this energy, and are now seeing the consequences. Do not respond to anger with anger because this is an endless cycle that could haunt you for all eternity. Instead, realize that you have already injured this person in the past, which is why he is here and now wants to hurt you in the present. Not only have you hurt this person in the past, you have caused him to hurt himself further by making negative causes directed at you now. Surely we have hurt this person enough with our past behavior, it’s not necessary for us to add to the pain and suffering he will continue to experience because of his present activities. Some people are exceptionally difficult to like. At the time you are with a person like this we should remind ourselves of the debt we owe to all sentient beings. We owe all beings a great debt because life is eternal and every person has been your mother or father at some time in the past. Every one of these people has nurtured and cherished you at some point in time and they deserve great respect for that reason. You might as well realize now that it is far easier to love all of mankind abstractly, as a group then it is as individuals because many people do not know how to live skillfully. If all else fails you can keep your mouth closed. Keeping silent is always an option and sometimes it is the best one. It is a higher form of practice to transform these feelings of anger or hate into love and gratitude but it is occasionally necessary to merely remain silent. Whatever happens do not add to the cycle of violence, if you do not break it, this cycle will continue until one of you relent. If you are both hard and arrogant then this violence has the potential to continue for eternity. To break this cycle we must begin to clean up our own mess. To ‘clean up’ your mess stop making negative causes, replace them with carefully chosen good causes and practice the purification techniques taught by all three historical Buddhas. Take time to think about what your next life will be like. If you are practicing Dharma you don’t have to experience random rebirths because you now have some level of understanding about cause and effect. This literally allows you to custom design your future. Even if you don’t believe you will be reborn the good causes you choose to make will brighten up your daily existence and make this life far happier. People enjoy being around those who seriously practice the teachings of the Buddhas because they are always filled with positive energy. Our guests’ sit in the room we practice in every day and they are always remarking to me that they enjoy just being in the room because it makes them feel more alive and alert. Rid yourself of the negative energy that comes from hostile speech. Again and again think about what you’re going to say and decide if it is harmful before you speak. If there is hostile intent in your mind then remain silent and think about the training 43
you’re doing to become more then a mere animal, who will defend himself or his territory when attacked. It takes time to turn negative thinking and speech around completely so please decide now to become very patient with your self, if you fail, admit it cheerfully, and then renew the struggle, determined to more skillful in the future. We want to spend time every day generating a feeling of love for all beings everywhere because this is the mind-set we need to become a bodhisattva. The world of Bodhisattva is about compassion for all others without exception. You cannot leave any one out of your intention to benefit all beings. If you saw things correctly you would realize that the people you think of as enemies are really your best friends because they are burning off negative karma for you by their actions, which is really very kind. Their behavior further gives you the opportunity to practice patience and tolerance, which you have to do to improve spiritually. How can you view these people as enemies?
What they experience in sleep is not real but neither is what most people think they experience when they are awake.
When you understand this intellectually it becomes easier to remind yourself that what you are experiencing is not real because you are distorting reality by the way you view the world. The world is a very kind place, it is already a “Pure Land,” but you do not have the skill to see it. As you practice and begin to elevate your life condition you will also be purifying yourself with daily water offerings and by performance of the Gongyo ceremony. In a few months your life will begin to change in very dramatic ways and everything will start to look different to you. When you read the Dharma or books of this nature you are providing yourself with the raw material that will become transformed into realizations on the nature of reality. A Buddha is someone with a pure life condition who is wide-awake. He or she sees things exactly the way they are because he is always dwelling in the present moment. It is important to train yourself to be alert at all times. We call this mindfulness and what we mean is to always keep your mind in the present moment. If you keep your mind in the present moment all the suffering that comes from dwelling on the past and all the unnecessary worrying we do about things that haven’t happened are eliminated. You will also find that everything you do will be improved by your new focus and attention to detail. Buddhist training will dramatically improve your concentration and you will be shocked at what you miss when you’re not totally focused on ‘now’. Life happens in ‘now,’ the past and future are abstract concepts; you can’t make any kind of decision or choice that matters except in the present. This is where your concentration and focus should be if you really want to live skillfully without suffering. When you stay in the present moment you are also far less likely to slip up and injure somebody with your mouth because you weren’t paying attention. We focus on the future because we can imagine so many good things that could happen. This kind of thinking isn’t real, we don’t need more daydreams in our life, and almost everything we think and do is already the result of the fantasies we store in our mind. If we spend our time in the present moment we are much closer to reality.
What we are trying to achieve is a controlled mind. Uncontrolled mind is the cause of all the problems and suffering in your life and in the world. You have followed your uncontrolled mind for many lifetimes until you have finally arrived at this moment. From this moment, if you choose, your mind can move and begin to grow in a different direction. If you decide to begin the practice we have been discussing make sure that you learn from somebody who can teach you properly. It would not help you to chant NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo if you do not pronounce the words properly. We have teachers at Buddhist Information who will help you learn and also find connections to a local SGI organization so that you do not have to practice by yourself unless you choose to do so.
Mindfulness is very important in your personal relationship as well. To love somebody and really communicate with him or her is essential if you ever expect to have a durable relationship that works. The gender of sexual partners is unimportant, what really matters is that both partners have a desire to create a long-term relationship and also that both partners are willing to work at it without fail until it is successful. The prejudice against homosexuals in our current society is a very strange one. Nature produces a certain percentage of homosexuals in every generation of many warmblooded species. It’s a totally natural phenomenon so the bigotry is unexplainable. The Christian Bible teaches against homosexual behavior but this same book also urges people to kill witches and nobody seriously thinks about doing that anymore. The question of why nature produces homosexuals is a fascinating one. It doesn’t seem to make sense from an evolutionary perspective because homosexuals doubtlessly produce fewer offspring. Yet, homosexuals are undoubtedly valuable members of society and our world would be a bleaker place without them. It is disgraceful that any modern religion would single out people and seek to dehumanize them. Perhaps the Christian movement should consider producing a ‘G’ rated version of their holy book. The un-cut edition is filled with violence, inducements to kill or torment minority groups and every kind of vice and bad behavior. This is not a book that children should have unrestricted access to, especially when violence is at an all time high in schools. We need to eliminate books that preach any kind of brutality, no matter what the source. On the other hand, the parts of holy books that deal with love and tolerance should be disseminated widely. Hopefully the time will come when religions will no longer preach hate or intolerance. Love shared between any two people is beautiful and important, what they do in their own bedroom is nobody else’s business. Our society should nurture and protect long-term relationships with marriage laws that are equal and fair. Whatever the gender of your partner, when the two of you spend time together it will seriously help your relationship if you are both living mindfully in the present moment. If your head is buried in the morning paper at breakfast your partner is alone even though you are merely across the table. You should be listening closely and intensely concentrating on her words. Many times just listening to what is bothering her is all that is needed. Relationships take daily effort and if you seriously love this person and want a successful, happy marriage, you will make her needs as important as your own.
To really be fully present for your partner whenever you are together shows that you love and respect them but it is equally important that you do not use unkind speech when you speak to one another. If this habit has already been established in your marriage then begin to work on the removal of this behavior. One person can do this alone if necessary but things are always more successful when you work together with your life partner. If you are in a relationship where your spouse is verbally abusive begin to stop this behavior by not returning the violent language. Remind them when they are in a better mood that their language is much rougher now then it was previously, and that the kind of language they’ve been using is very unattractive. If you continue your efforts and have patience this concern can ultimately be eliminated provided that you remove the root cause of this behavior. The reason you are experiencing this difficulty is because you have created the karma to have a spouse who uses rough language. If you had not created this cause your partner could not behave in this way, it would be impossible. You should devote time to chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo in order to create the opposing energy you need to eliminate this problem behavior. You can change the conduct of others who are in a close relationship to you by changing your personal karma. If you do not have the karma to have an abusive husband or wife you cannot possibly have the experience of being mistreated by the person you have chosen to be your lifetime partner. This places the responsibility for what happens to you right back where it belongs, squarely on your own shoulders. You are directly responsible for what happens around you in your immediate surroundings because you are the only person who can control what occurs in your environment. If you live in an unpleasant atmosphere please make the determination to change yourself. If you change so will your situation. The same is true of a bad relationship, you must have the karma for this kind of suffering, or it cannot happen. If you keep dumping boyfriends because they all turn out to be “jerks” then the problem may not be your appalling taste in men. Numerous women conclude that immature men are the reason they can’t find a suitable mate but unless they become willing to change their karma they will always have this problem and they might even end up living alone. It is not good to live alone. Single people do not live as long as married people because single people so often fail to take proper care of them selves, and they face emotional problems because man is a social animal. However, too many women in this country still define being successful as ‘being married.’ If a woman is not married or in a long term relationship then they often consider themselves a failure as a human being. They are also exposed to an enormous amount of social pressure to ‘find Mr. Right.’ As important as it is to share your life with somebody you love it is even more important that this individual be the right person. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to relationships because each one of them is unique. It does not pay to go looking for a partner, this tactic never seems to work. The best thing to do is get on with your life, work to change your karma and relax. Go to new places, meet new people and stay out of bars! The list of possible things you can discover in a bar is varied but love is not usually one of them. We seek a partner in life because most of us are driven to seek companionship. It is better to live in partnership with somebody then to live alone because living with another person means that you learn to share with at least one person. We live in 46
dependence upon every other human being in our society even though most people do not recognize the importance of the fact. The world is now one big social environment so we are all of us dependent on the consideration of people from all around the planet. People are very kind and they are deserving of our care and respect. We should devote ourselves to the task of helping as many of them as want to be helped. This is the highest calling for any human being. If you wish to attain a state of perfect happiness then you must forget self and dedicate yourself to the service of others.
We must make a commitment to become a positive force in the community that we live in if our goal is to become personally happy. We cannot pretend that we are not part of the social structure or that what we do has no impact on others. The way to change things for the better is to take action and work to change the things that we see are wrong. Find someway to get involved in wholesome local projects that you think will matter. The actions of one person can often make an enormous difference and this will also enable you to meet the people who live your community. At the present time we live in isolation from one another and many of the ills that our society is experiencing is a direct result of this behavior. It is not natural for us to reside alone; historically we have always lived in extended families with three or even four generations all together in one home. If families weren’t all together under one roof they were usually close neighbors. This gave stability to the individual in the family because there was always someone around who cared about you and was willing to help. Now, families are scattered all over the country and we live among people that we never talk to. We know almost nothing about each other so when difficulties or even disasters occur within our family we’re alone. Instead of being surrounded with love and being supported by the people who care most about us we try to handle things on our own and when that fails we turn to some professional to council or guide us. American families began to break up when people started to put money ahead of everything else. If it was possible to make more money by moving elsewhere they did it because the goal was to get as much as you can and to climb as high as possible in the corporate hierarchy. We have pursued this course long enough to see some of the results. Was it worth it? It seems to me that we have traded off the very best, most important thing in the world for money and our society now has the scars to prove it. The time has come for us to choose to reverse this trend. As computers give us the freedom to work wherever we want to the opportunity of re-connecting families becomes simplified economically. However, even if you have to give up some money to keep extended families together it is worth it. Family is the most important thing and should replace money in our value system. We should care about our society because it is our real extended family. This is why it is so important to do something positive to support it. If we have duties as citizens then we should fulfill them. This means that we do the things that help preserve our way of life, so long as we are not hurting others. If we want to live in a pleasant society then we must realize that what we do, the actions we take are significant because we produce an effect on everyone around us. Driving is a good example. If you don’t want to live in a society full of hostile natives always drive in a compassionate manner. Let the other person go first, maybe 47
they’re in a hurry for an important reason! Let other drivers out when you see them waiting, don’t cut people off, focus on being courteous. After a time you will see this positive energy return to you in the good behavior of others. If you are elected to some office you should live a moral life because what you do has a tremendous impact on all the people you are supposed to serve. People who become politically powerful can create negative karma on a vast scale if they are not careful. The people who elect you to office expect you to be trustworthy and honorable and if you betray that trust you may be paying the karmic debt for thousands of years. For our part, we need to learn to regard the people who try to serve us with compassion. The way people in political life are reviled now is not healthy for us as a society and it certainly isn’t good for the people we elect to office. It seems clear that the current problem we have with dishonesty and corruption in political office is simply a reflection of what is taking place all over our society. People are outgrowing the religion of our ancestors but have yet to find anything to replace it with other than materialism. This country embraced materialism as the new modern scientific philosophy that would replace religion but many of the people who adopted it became unhappy in their later years and started to look for different answers because material things are cold comfort when you’re facing death. We need a religion that educated modern people can accept and will be willing to practice. This religion must be real so that people can see the benefit of practicing it. It must not postulate things that we know to be scientifically untrue. I feel that the Buddhism taught in this book admirably fits that description. Whether this culture collapses like the Soviet system or reinvents itself into something better depends on the activities of each one of us. It should be clear that this is a time of crisis in education. People are leaving our institutions with diplomas but no moral education at all. Our society depends on honest people to keep it running and we are failing to produce them. It is up to each individual to rectify that omission by embracing some kind of moral code and living up to it. Those who are pure in their intention to hurt no one and help all those who want to be helped are practicing that kind of moral code and these are the people who will discover and follow the path that leads to happiness.
May I possess love for all people and all beings everywhere. May I never disappoint anyone and may I never callously disregard the feelings of the numerous beings that live around me. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo, may all beings live supported by love.
Faith is a word I hate to use with new students because so many of them come from religions that preach a blind kind of belief but label it ‘faith’. In the Buddhist world faith means trust. The Dharma earns your trust because it is truth and as you practice this fact begins to become self evident to you. If you live long enough to become a mature follower of the Buddha you should directly realize every teaching, there is nothing taught by the Buddha that you have to take on blind faith. Shakyamuni was a man who realized these truths and you can do the same, you must do the same if you want to find peace and happiness in this world. Without faith there can be no enlightenment for us in the latter day of the Law. The first words spoken by Shakyamuni in “The Lotus Sutra” tell Shariputra that the wisdom of the Buddhas can only be grasped and comprehended by another enlightened being. Shariputra was the wisest of Shakyamuni’s students but even he could not understand, so it is not a mere matter of acquiring knowledge. (We will examine Shariputra’s life in chapter nine.) Shakyamuni tells us that we must develop faith if we wish to possess this wisdom and insight for ourselves. This means that we must begin to test the truth of his words and teachings as soon as we begin to practice the Dharma. Do not procrastinate on this point because doubt is essential to the development of faith. This faith, based on experience, is the only entry into the ultimate wisdom of the Buddhas. When you begin to practice chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-kyo your life will start to change. When you have continued to test this practice for a few months it will be possible for you to determine that this practice is actually what is causing these changes to occur. At this stage of your development you are not ready to realize anything tremendously profound but just seeing the effect that practicing this teaching has on your life in a few short months will astonish you because we are not used to a religion that actually does something! Buddhism is not an emotional bandage like some religions, what you are doing is real and the first time you really understand that you may very well find it frightening. “The Lotus Sutra” is a teaching that is primarily aimed at the people of the latter day of the law. It contains all of the Buddhas previous teachings but many of them are just mentioned because they were adequately taught in earlier sutras. To be a student of the “The Lotus Sutra” means that you must understand all of the Buddhas teaching and this is in harmony with the teaching that tells us that bodhisattvas must be familiar with all levels and types of Dharma instruction. To acquire faith you must understand the teachings. You cannot incorporate this wisdom into your life and then check the results if you do not have anything to test! This is the most important reason for daily study. The purpose of much of this book is help you see the design Shakyamuni followed when teaching so that you can begin the process of obtaining faith in the Buddha Dharma.
When you have grown in understanding of the Dharma you will recognize that teachings are all around us. Everywhere you go everything you see will be teaching you Dharma. The activities of your daily life can teach you Dharma wisdom when you know how to look. You can realize great truth just walking in the country and observing nature. When you can clearly distinguish that you are directly connected to nature and the life of the universe itself you are touching the face of reality. Shakyamuni’s followers considered him an extra-ordinary person in the sense that he was somehow special or different from the average human. While they never claimed he was divine, they did strongly feel that attaining the state of Buddhahood required eons of time and that only someone very special could possibly achieve this kind of life condition. Instead of enlightenment his students wanted to enter nirvana and remain there, convinced that their suffering would be ‘blown out’ like the flame on a candle. This was a common belief until the Buddha revealed the truth in “The Lotus Sutra” that all people irrespective of gender share the potential to become enlightened. There were three major categories of realization recognized in Shakyamuni’s Sangha. Sangha is a word that means ‘community of believers’. The first level of realization was called ‘voice-hearer’. A person in this level of development lived in the world of learning. He or she had realizations on death, impermanence, and the emptiness of all phenomena. The next level was called pratyekabuddha, this means that a person was self awakened to the true nature of cause and effect; they are also able to understand the eternity of life through direct observation of the natural world. A follower at this level lives in the world of realization. Both of these groups of students aimed at becoming arhats, or saints who would attain nirvana and then remain there for all of eternity. The third level were the Bodhisattvas, who want to benefit as many beings as possible. These students had greatly developed compassion and were believed to be able to become Buddhas themselves, albeit the process would take billions of years and endless devotion and self-sacrifice. They of course live in the world of bodhisattva but even these highly realized practitioners couldn’t understand the Buddha wisdom revealed in “The Lotus Sutra” because the world of bodhisattva is not any closer to perfect wisdom then is any other lesser state. In other words, any person in one of the lower nine states could manifest Buddha nature in the next life moment. The world of Bodhisattva is not inherently any closer then the other eight states. When the Buddhist world began to divide into different ‘schools’ a large group of voice hearers and pratyekabuddhas, formed a community based on the monastic rules developed during and right after the Buddhas lifetime. Voice hearer students followed the early monastic teachings discussed in chapter one. Pratyekabuddhas learned the same thing but also added the chain of dependent origination to their understanding. The Buddha taught several different versions of this teaching. With a person who had little understanding he taught that from misery comes karma, this karma causes suffering, and suffering causes misery. Another way to look at this same teaching is to say that desire leads to attachment, attachment leads to birth, and once you are born you must become older, eventually become ill, and then die. The version most Buddhists are used to seeing is a little more complete. The first two links in this chain belong to your previous life: Lack of knowledge causes you to create karma and this karma produces awareness. The next links belong to your current life: awareness causes you to be reborn which of course gives you a mind and body. 50
Because you now have this body you develop the six sense organs, which causes contact when you observe and react to things in your environment. This contact arouses feelings, which lead to craving for some object of desire. This craving is fulfilled and then clinging sets in. Clinging directly produces becoming, which leads us to the next life, because becoming causes birth and once you are born you will age, sicken and die. These teachings are from the early years of Shakyamuni’s preaching career. The students who stay at this level do so out of attachment. They are one of the few groups who argue that they alone are Buddhist. This is the smallest branch of Buddhism, called Theravada Buddhism, ‘the teachings of the elders’, or the Hinyaya School. Hinyaya means ‘lesser vehicle’ and is really a derogatory term that is not in use much anymore. Active laypeople together with other monastics organized the Mahayana Branch of Buddhism a short time later. Mahayana means ‘great vehicle’ and most of the Buddhist world practices some form of this kind of Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhists focus on the Bodhisattva ideal so the goal is to help as many people as you can while the Theravada school focuses on self development maintaining that it is not really possible for one person to help another on the path to enlightenment. Over a period of two thousand years numerous instructors have devised different approaches and methods for teaching Mahayana style Buddhism. If you find the Pure Land sutras appealing there are groups who teach and practice them. Zen focuses the emptiness teachings and stresses practice over everything else. This group decided that the sutras weren’t in harmony with their teachings so they wrote their own holy books. Another popular School in North America is Tibetan Buddhism. This branch of Buddhism puts itself into a separate classification, which they call Vajrayana. The rest of the Buddhist world ignores this and quite correctly identifies them as Mahayana. They are esoteric Buddhists; the advanced teachings they use are secretly handed down from teacher to student. It’s hard to say exactly what kind of practice new students end up doing because there are many different lineages and even students with the same instructor can end up using different practices. It really depends on what your teacher decides you can handle. The ‘secret’ advanced teachings are tantric practices and for Tibetans this means a combination of Hindu practices with Bon deities. Tantra was originally a Hindu practice but some sects took these ideas and put them into a Buddhist format. To practice “Buddhist” tantra as a Tibetan student you must imagine yourself to be one of the deities that were brought into this system from the native Bon religion that existed in Tibet before the Dharma was introduced. These deities are now ‘Dharma Protectors’ and just coincidentally look the same as they did when they were actual ‘gods’. The advanced student continually envisions himself as whatever Dharma protector they have been connected to through initiation. The idea is to behave as though you were already enlightened thus hastening the process of your spiritual growth. Tantra is only taught to advanced students so the person doing these practices has already received an extensive Buddhist education before they ever begin. This school is mostly early Mahayana because they focus on Amida Buddha but many of their teachings reach up into middle level Mahayana because of the heavy focus on love, compassion, and the emptiness of all phenomena. Advanced Mahayana always focuses on Shakyamuni because he was our spiritual father. The other characteristic of advanced Mahayana is teaching “The Lotus Sutra” because this is the teaching that contains the complete truth. None of the other sutras are 51
wrong, but if they are not regarded from the perspective of the highest teaching then they are distorted and certainly incomplete. I write these things out of compassion for you, because I want you to have the best and the highest possible happiness. If you are connected to these other teachings or they seem very attractive to you then please practice them for now. It may be that you do not have the ability or desire to practice the final teaching in this lifetime. Although this is very unusual in the latter day of the law it does happen. If this were not so then other sects of Buddhism would not exist. When the time comes that they produce no value they will be discarded as useless. People sometimes think of these sects as contradictory but this is not so. When I teach young people about literature I do not hand a young boy the complete works of Tolstoy or Charles Dickens. I give him “Treasure Island” or “The Call of the Wild” and books of this nature so that he can learn the joy of reading the works of good writers. The fact that I take the works of Dickens away from him at the beginning but hand it back to him a few years later is not a contradiction. The student is the same but his understanding is now much better. It might happen that you will start in one school and then move to another as your understanding grows, for example, I started as a student of Tibetan Buddhism and ended up practicing “The Lotus Sutra.” It might also happen that you will practice in one school and move up to a higher level in your next lifetime. This gives you a little better idea about what you will encounter as you venture out into the Buddhist world. Faith in this spiritual tradition has to do with the experiences you have when you correctly perform the teachings you choose to follow. All of these teachings are practical and they will all help you. Where you end up depends on the connections you made in the past. If this is the first Buddhist book you have ever read then it should be obvious that you are karmically connected to me and through me, to the highest teaching of the Buddha. You should therefore be practicing Nam-MyohoRenge Kyo. Even if this is not your first Buddhist volume, you are still connected to me because you bought and are reading this book. You are connected to any teacher you study with. The reason you choose one book title over another is this connection, there are many thousands of titles related to the subject of Buddhism, but this is the one you chose to read. You might argue that the advertisement for the book is what hooked you, you might claim that it was the cover that caught your eye, but this is just a different way of saying that you were karmically attracted to this title. The reason you are reading this directly relates to our having been together in the past and planting a seed that is just now coming to fruitation. All of the teachings found in this book are contained in “The Lotus Sutra.” To gain entrance to the wisdom of the Buddhas we must learn the Dharma and test the principles so that we can develop realizations through experience.
May I grow in faith and become a mature practitioner of the Law. May the knowledge I acquire lead me to continuously higher levels of realization. Nam-MyohoRenge-kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may I benefit at least one person every day
The Disciples of The Buddha
When you begin to read the sutras you will encounter a lot of different names. These names are from an ancient culture so they look strange to us but the people involved were not really very different from us. As you begin to study come back to this chapter again and again until you are familiar with the people who appeared in the Buddhas sutras. Also included are common Buddhist terms that you will frequently encounter in your reading. Prajapati was the aunt of Shakyamuni, when his mother died shortly after his birth; she wet-nursed him. She gave her own child to another woman to nurse and later, when Shakyamuni was older, she served as his governess. Prajapati was to become the best known of all the female followers of the Buddha and this is not really surprising considering her vivid personality. Indian society had very definite ideas about what constituted proper behavior for women but Prajapati lived by her own code After Shakyamuni attained enlightenment she joined him and would not be left behind even though there were no female students in the Sangha. Although she three times approached the Buddha and asked to become a nun he refused each request. Prajapati had almost one hundred and fifty female followers, when the Buddha and his disciples left to go on the road again she dressed them and herself in yellow robes, they shaved each other’s heads, and followed along behind for a long distance. The disciple called Ananda was well known to her because he was a cousin of Shakyamuni and also served as the Buddhas personal attendant. He intervened by asking the Buddha to allow these women to become members of the monastic community. The Buddha was not reluctant to have female followers, ultimately your gender makes no difference in the search for enlightenment, but monastic women were different. Monastic women would have to be protected, so they would have to be around the monks, but monks take a vow of celibacy and don’t want to think about women or sex. Sex is a potent force, if men are around women all of the time there will be attachment on both sides. This in fact, proved to be the case. The Buddha allowed the nuns to become members of the monastic order and in just a few short years there were problems with sexual misconduct. This was hardly Prajapati’s fault, she and her nuns excelled at their practice and in what came to be know to us as Chapter thirteen of “The Lotus Sutra” she and her followers were given a prediction of enlightenment. The chapter states that Prajapati is destined to become the Buddha “Gladly Seen By All Living Beings,” and the implication seems to be that this will occur on a different planet sometime in the future. Prajapati is often called Maha Prajapati (sometimes Mahaprajapati). Maha means ‘great’ so history has been kind to this outspoken woman who never really fit into traditional Indian society. While you can doubtless say that Prajapati demonstrated great strength of character by not bending to many of the sexist rules of her society, the famous lay follower Visaka displayed the same quality in quite a different way. She became an example of what the model wife could achieve by embracing these ideals so repugnant to Prajapati. 54
The ten rules a good wife should live by were old when Visaka learned them: 1) Do not take the troubles in your home outside of it. 2) Do not take outside troubles into your home. 3) Lend things only to those people you are certain will return them in good condition. 4) Never lend things to someone you are certain will not return them in any condition. 5) Always lend things to your relatives even if you are certain that they won’t return them. 6) This one is a little tricky. It reads something like, if you must sit, do it in a charming manner. Never sit in the presence of your husband or his family or guests. You should always stand; ready to serve anyone in your home. 7) Before you eat, make certain that your husband, his family, any guests, the children, and the servants have had their fill. 8) Before you retire to sleep, make certain the doors are secure, and ensure that all personal property is safe and accounted for. Check to make sure that all the work is done, both yours and the servants. Finally, be the last to go to bed, never go to sleep until your husband and guests have done so, and be the first person to arise. 9) Do not anger your husband, his family, his friends, or guests. 10) Always honor the family deities. This gives you some idea of what Indian culture was like for women and it makes Prajapati seem very sensible. Any woman who could handle this list on a daily basis would find being a Buddhist nun a vacation. That may seem flippant but I very much suspect that it was true. A woman in the Buddhas Sangha had more freedom then anywhere else in her society and she certainly got to sit down a lot more! Visaka never left home, she remained one of the main financial supports for the monks and nuns who followed the Buddha. She is often called the Chief patroness of the Buddha. We are told she ran an enormous house, this was not only because she was rich it was also because she produced and raised twenty children. In spite of this legend tells us that she lived to be over one hundred years old and looked youthful up until the day she died. Yashodhara was the wife of Shakyamuni and the mother of Rahula. She was converted to the teachings of the Buddha and became a nun. Chapter thirteen also has a prediction of enlightenment for her. She will become the Buddha “Endowed With A Thousand, Ten Thousand Glowing Marks.” Almost nothing else is known about her. *********************************************************************** * Once there was a woman called Kisagotami. Her real name was just Gotami but everyone called her Kisagotami because she always appeared fatigued. (‘Kisa’ meant haggard) When she married she became much happier and when she produced a male child her life became filled with joy. Imagine her horror when she awoke one day to discover the child lying still and cold in his crib! She could not conceive of what was wrong with the child but she knew that help must be found to cure his mysterious illness. She wandered the streets carrying 55
the child and stopping people to ask if they knew of some cure for his disease. She encountered a kind man who could see that she was mentally unbalanced because of the child’s death. Thinking quickly, the man told her that the Buddha was the only person he had ever heard of who could cure these kinds of afflictions. Back through the streets Kisagotami went, carrying her dead child and looking only for the Buddha. When she found him she rushed up and placed the child at his feet. “Please,” she begged him, “cure my child!” The Buddha sat and looked at her for a few moments. “There is but one treatment for this sickness,” he stated. “I have everything to make the medicine but one thing. You must find the remaining ingredient yourself or it will not work.” The Buddha’s monks and visitors were stunned at the words spoken by the Buddha because they did not yet understand what was in his mind. “What is this ingredient?” “Simple mustard seed.” The Buddha replied. “Find me a small amount of mustard seed from any house or dwelling where no one has ever died and I will cure your son’s illness.” Off the woman went, house-to-house all across the city but every house and family had experienced death and could not help her. She began to understand that everybody loses people they love to death so she sat down to think about it. Eventually, she realized that everyone who was born must ultimately die. She decided to return to her dead child so that she could bury the body. The Buddha asked her if she had found the mustard seed but she smiled sadly and told him that she had learned the mustard seed lesson and didn’t need to search further. After the funeral Kisagotami returned to the Buddha and became a nun. She appears in different sutras but look especially for “The Kisa Gotami Sutra,” it’s very short but it gives you a window into her later life. When she died it was in a state of high realization. Shariputra was the wisest monastic follower of the Buddha and he was the man that Shakyamuni wanted to lead the Sangha after his death. When Shariputra was young he made a lifetime friend named Maudgalyayana. From an early age they wondered about the meaning of life so it was not surprising that they became devout seekers and students when still quite young. There was a famous teacher named Sanjaya who had a large following of students so the two young men sought him out and began to learn his doctrines. They were both quickly able to master his teachings but remain unsatisfied because according to Sanjaya’s thinking many questions simply couldn’t be answered. Shariputra and Maudgalyana began to search for a teacher who could aid them in their quest for knowledge so every time a new teacher was heard of they listened to his teaching and then questioned him. They remained unsatisfied until Shariputra encountered one of the Buddha’s disciples who was wandering and teaching the Dharma. This disciple was named Assaji, and he was one of the original five followers of the Buddha. When Siddhartha Gotama began to practice severe asceticism he had five friends who trained with him and these are the men he returned to and taught after he attained enlightenment. Assaji met Shariputra early in the first year of Shakyamuni’s teaching career. Shariputra was delighted by his introduction to the Dharma and rushed to tell his closest friend that the teacher they were seeking had been found. Maudgalyana was
elated at the news and wanted to leave immediately so that they could meet the Buddha. Shariputra would not leave until he talked to Sanjaya because he respected his teacher. Sanjaya was disturbed at the news of their intended departure because the two young men were brilliant and popular. He offered to make them co-leaders of his school in an effort to keep them. He informed them of how much money they could expect to earn. He also promised that they would become well known and respected all over India. Shariputra urged his teacher to come with them to hear the Buddha preach, but Sanjaya had been a respected teacher for a long time and could not swallow his pride. The thought of becoming a student again was repugnant to him. When the two friends left to seek the Buddha some of Sanjaya’s students went with them. They soon mastered the early monastic teachings and began teaching others. Shariputra became known as the ‘foremost in wisdom,’ and Maudgalyana became equally well known as ‘foremost in mental powers.’ ‘Mental powers’ is a way of describing the level of intuition or insight any student develops as they continue to practice these techniques. Shariputra, then, was a singularly intelligent person who used his intellectual gifts to develop wisdom. Maudgalyana purified his life until his intuition and insight into reality was almost as refined as a Buddha. Shariputra appears in numerous sutras, you should see especially “The Heart Sutra,” “The Vimalakirti Sutra,” and of course, “The Lotus Sutra.” Shariputra received a prediction of enlightenment in chapter three of “The Lotus Sutra” where he is told that he will become the Buddha “Flower Glow” sometime in the future. Shariputra died quietly at home, while visiting his mother. Maudgalyana received a prediction of enlightenment in chapter six of “The Lotus Sutra” and, in ages to come he will become the Buddha who bears the title “Tamalapatra Sandalwood Fragrance.” Maudgalyana died a violent death. He was beaten to death by a band of criminals who were hired to assassinate him. A group of religious ascetics had lost much of their accustomed income because Maudgalyana converted many of their supporters. Enraged, these ‘religious’ men paid one thousand gold coins to the bandits who then murdered Maudgalyana. Sometimes new students feel that there is something ‘wrong’ or ‘odd’ about a person like Maudgalyana dieing a violent death. Here is a man who devoted his life to helping the Buddha teach people, he was a kind, gentle person who should have been ‘somehow’ protected because of the nature of his activities! However, there is no one above us ‘looking out’ for any of us. Karma is totally impersonal. When you make a cause you get a corresponding effect. Sometimes there is a gap in time but when the circumstances match closely enough the effect is always delivered. Maudgalyana practiced violence sometime in a past life so he inevitably received the effect. Since this was a debt that had to be paid Maudgalyana died violently. *********************************************************************** * In the days when the Buddha roamed the world teaching the path to liberation there lived a man who came to be called Angulimala. This odd nickname means ‘fingernecklace’ so of course that was not his real name. The name he was given at birth was 57
‘Ahimsaka,’ which ironically means ‘he who does no harm.’ He came to be called this because his parents had his horoscope cast when he was born, only to discover that their son had been born under an exceedingly bad star. The wise man that cast the horoscope frowned over the results of his work and then told the waiting father, “Take your son down to the river and drown him. If you do this, your are performing a noble act because this child will grow up to be a monster.” The shocked father took his little son home and consulted with his good wife. They decided to name the boy Ahimsaka to help guide him in life, they also spared no expense on the child’s education and took great pains over his moral training. The boy grew into manhood having lived an exemplary life. He excelled so much at his studies that his parents sent him to Takkasila, the most famous university in ancient India, where he was accepted by one of the leading teachers of his day. Ahimsaka worked so hard he was soon at the top of the class. At first his teacher was pleased to have such a student but after serious reflection he began to fear that the student might very well outshine the instructor. The teacher sat one evening in his room worrying and muttering to himself in low tones “He might even displace me, he’s clever, no doubt he is already wondering what he can do to get rid of me! I can’t kill him he’s far too big for that.” If you had lingered to listen to such infamy you would have heard “but not even he could kill so many.” The teachers candle burned late into the night and in his sleep the ‘educator’ continued to dream of ways to remove the intimidating student. The following day Ahimsaka was invited to dine with his teacher. This teacher looked like a wise man but he was truly evil. He convinced his pupil that he was far older then he looked. He managed to persuade Ahimsaka that he knew the secret to eternal life. More importantly, he was willing to share this secret with his favorite student. If Ahimsaka wanted to live forever all he needed was to bring his teacher a necklace made with one hundred human fingers. The finger had to be the little finger of the right hand. All of the people who added a finger to the necklace must be dead by Ahimsaka’s own hand. Many people would have fled from such a vile proposal but the teacher had shrewdly judged his man. Something dark inside Ahimsaka responded eagerly to the suggestion and the very next morning he left the city and went to live on high hillock deep in the forest where he could watch the road that ran beneath his perch. When Ahimsaka saw people passing by below he ambushed them, killing everyone he found and taking the proper finger from their bodies. He began to wear the finger necklace so as not to lose it and this is how he earned the name Angulimala. Angulimala’s activities did not go unnoticed and before long people would not go near his piece of road or even to that part of the forest to gather wood. He was forced to sneak around near the villages looking for victims. At times he crept into houses in the night killing all the occupants without mercy. Soon panic set in and people began to flee the district. This made it more difficult for Angulimala but eventually the time came when he had ninety-nine fingers and he was eagerly seeking his one hundredth victim. People had avoided him and his road for such a long time that he was astonished when he spotted a lone figure walking along looking so unconcerned. As Angulimala came nearer he was angry that the man showed no fear but then he began to be puzzled and a little afraid.
Angulimala stopped in front of the man and they began to speak to each other. Soon, Angulimala dropped his sword on the ground and trembled. He sank to his knees. Then he sprang up, cast the necklace away from him, and shook with fear. Then he walked around in circles and tore great patches from his hair, he seemed to be mad but the other man continued to talk in a quiet voice to him and when he was finished Angulimala knelt on the ground in silence. The Buddha turned to leave and looked back at Angulimala “Come Monk,” he said, extending his hand to the man on the ground. Angulimala reached up and took the Buddhas hand and that is how the great criminal became a holy man. Two hundred years after the death of Shakyamuni Buddha a young prince clawed his way into power by murdering the many male relatives who stood between him and the throne. His name was King Ashoka and when I tell you that his first act as King was to murder another five hundred ministers, you will understand why he was called ‘Ashoka The Tyrant.’ Now it happened that King Ashoka had an opportunity to make war on the neighboring country of Kalinga, which he did with great success. The conquest was all any military man could want, but the King did not enjoy the victory. Ashoka had never before gone to war and it sickened him. Two years before he had become a lay Buddhist, but he didn’t take the teachings very seriously until the horrors of the war he waged showed him how foolish and dangerous his behavior had become. Ashoka changed after that war. He became the Great King Ashoka who’s behavior was so different from any other Ruler that Western Historians dismissed him as a Buddhist Legend up until the early part of the twentieth century. When incontrovertible evidence demonstrated that he was genuine, this man who seemed to break all the ‘commonsense’ rules of the ‘real’ world began to enthralled scholars. First, he abolished war, eliminated his armies, and told all the countries around him that he wanted to live with them in peace. He eliminated capitol punishment and forbid animal sacrifice, which was common. He also established hospitals for humans and animals. Ashoka spent the rest of his life working to spread the Dharma but he also passed laws that protected other faiths and constantly urged mutual tolerance between religions. He ruled for thirty-seven years living in peace and spreading happiness. His career puts the lie to those who insist that we need armies and weapons for ‘protection’ from others. The greatest protection, the only real protection from violence comes from doing no harm to others. King Ashoka demonstrated that countries could live by the teachings of the Dharma and not only survive but prosper. The ‘real’ world of politics and international diplomacy is filled with hostility, hatred, and violence because we let it be that way. In the sixth century of the modern Common Era there lived a monk named Santideva. He was the son of King Kalyanavarman but when his father died he would not accept the throne. Instead he became a Buddhist monk and lived in the great monastery of Nalanda. He was a quiet man who spent most of his time alone in his cell. Nalanda was an enormous monastery and center of learning. The monks were proud of the their reputation and determined to keep it. After some months had passed these monks became troubled because Santideva seemed to them to do nothing to enhance the name of the monastery. They gathered together and said, “This monk does
nothing but eat, sleep and fill his chamber pot! We need to find a way to make him leave.” The monks decided to humiliate Santideva so they invited people from all the surrounding area to come and listen to a night of Dharma preaching. Hundreds of people showed up and when they had settled down expectantly the monks summoned Santideva from his room and asked him to teach. Santideva realized at once that he was the target of their animosity but he gave no sign that he understood as he sat and asked “Would you like a classic work from some famous teacher, or would you prefer something new?” “Oh, something new, by all means!” The monks were delighted because they were certain Santideva would fail and then leave the monastery humiliated. They had many teachers present who could rescue their good name after Santidevas humiliation was complete. The monks had badly underestimated their man, as people often do when they judge by surface appearances. Santideva began to speak and the next two hours just seemed to vanish. The monks were stunned at the beauty and depth of Santidevas impromptu Dharma talk and the guests agreed that this was the finest Dharma lecture they had ever heard. Santideva left Nalanda monastery the next day and never returned, even though the monks there repeatedly begged him to come back. He spent the rest of his life wandering and teaching the people he encountered. Santideva vanished from the pages of recorded history but he left us a priceless gift. The words Santideva spoke that night were recorded and have been deeply revered right up to the present day. If you have any interest in living the life of a Bodhisattva you must read or hear this teaching. It is available in numerous English translations and is usually called “A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way of Life,” “The Way of The Bodhisattva,” or “The Bodhicaryavatara.”
May I become a great disciple of the Buddha. May my practice grow stronger every day. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may I benefit all the beings that I come into contact with.
The basic practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is the chanting of NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo. This meditative technique is very easy to learn, I’ve taught fouryear-old children this practice in just a few minutes. It doesn’t take a child very long to realize that chanting is a way to stop their minds from hurting when they have what they perceive to be a problem. We’ve already said that “Myoho-Renge-Kyo” is the title of “The Lotus Sutra.” Nichiren realized that the title contains the entire essence of the teaching so using the phrase, ”Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” as a mantra would be particularly efficacious because it is based on truth. There is power in truth especially when it is expressed as sound. Let’s look at the meaning of each word so that you can begin to understand this truth for yourself. Nam: Nam means ‘devotion.’ To devote or dedicate you’re self to ‘MyohoRenge-Kyo’ means that you take action to serve the law of universal life by becoming a positive force for good in the world. Nam is the reason you perform any Dharma activity. Myoho: Myoho means ‘Mystic Law.’ This is the Law that runs the entire universe; all the natural laws we know of are sub sets of this one great universal law. ‘Myo’ is the mystic character or nature of living things and ‘ho’ is the way this character or nature is displayed. For example, you are composed of the same energy as the universe, itself. This energy is mystic because you cannot see it even though it clearly is present in you as mind. You can’t take your mind out and look at it but do you have any doubt that you have a mind? The way your mind is physically manifested in the world is called ‘ho.’ Renge: Renge means ‘Lotus Flower.’ The Lotus is a favorite image in Buddhist thought because it is a singularly beautiful flower that grows in nasty, mucky swamps. It arises from this filth but is untouched by it; its beauty is unaffected. The muck it grows out of actually helps produce this wonderful flower. It is easy to see that this imagery can be applied to human behavior and it is, in fact, what happens to us when we begin to practice Buddhism. We are taught to turn the muck in our own mind into fertilizer and then become beautiful lotus blossoms. The lotus is also the only plant that produces seeds and flowers at the same time so it is a wonderful symbol of the simultaneous nature of cause and effect. Kyo: Kyo means ‘sutra.’ Sutras were preserved and passed down through the use of sound until printing made books on a wide scale possible. Books are invaluable for preserving and spreading these teachings but we should remember that the power of these teachings is unleashed when they are read or chanted. When you chant or read aloud a sutra or mantra you are turning it into energy that can bring benefit to anyone.
You now understand the definition of the words a little better but ‘Nam-MyohoRenge-Kyo’ actually means that you can change your life. You are in control of your life when you practice as the Daishonin taught. No matter what human condition you start from, following this teaching will make things better. At this point you might want to go back and read again the teachings Chih-i gave us on the ten worlds in chapter two. The concept of Ichinen Sanzen clearly explains what occurs when we chant. Our character, however it is developed, leads us to spend more time in one of the ten worlds. When we chant Daimoku we temporarily elevate our life condition and move into a higher world, which will modify our behavior without any additional effort on our part. When we practice every day for a few weeks without interruption our base world will change to a higher state and remain there as long as we continue to chant. If we continue to practice in this way eventually we will enter the world of Buddhahood and remain there. This is the state of enlightenment. Chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is an expression of love and compassion as well as truth. One of the reasons your mind benefits is because it knows it is practicing virtue. All of these things together make this mantra the highest form of meditation practice available to anyone who lives in the latter day of the Law. Every school of Buddhism uses some form of chanting technique because it is a proven method of relaxing the mind, removing stress, and inducing a state of peaceful tranquility. This is good for your mind but the body also benefits from this internal harmony as well. Evil deeds are the result of bad thinking so it is possible to counteract these negative states by replacing this wrong thought pattern with something healthy. This means that you can change what is happening in your mind when it is occurring. If you feel yourself becoming angry, step away from the situation and chant for a moment, when you do that, suddenly, your mind changes and things look very different to you. You can also change what happens in your environment by chanting or performing the Gongyo ceremony. A situation that seems totally negative can be turned around using this method. Sometimes negativity comes at you in waves so strong that you can feel it as it is happening. Something dreadful happens and is immediately followed by something just as bad, but that isn’t the end of it. You can feel the negativity all around you and something terrible is going to happen, it may even be life altering. I’ve had this kind of experience on different occasions and I’ve learned to trust my instincts. As I was writing this book I realized how peaceful my life had become in the last few years. Hours after thinking that, seemingly out of nowhere, a string of negative things happened right on top of each other. I could feel the negativity all around me and I knew something worse was coming because I could feel it. I don’t make a habit of this kind of behavior but, as I said, I’ve learned to trust these kinds of feelings because every time I’ve ever had them they have been right. The phone rang and they were correct this time as well, but I didn’t wait for the situation to become any worse. I sat down with my son, Bart, and performed a sincere Gongyo ceremony and then chanted to change the energy of the situation. I felt better immediately, which was a big improvement all by itself. A short time later the phone rang and the situation had changed getting me off of the hook. I won’t try to tell you that the second phone call happened because of our Gongyo ceremony, maybe the same thing would have happen anyway, who can know? What I am
sure of is that it did remove the tension, stress, and anger of the moment. The negativity vanished when I opened the Butsudan and faced the Gohonzon and so did the suffering. When you begin this practice you must have a Butsudan, or Buddhist altar. If you do not have a lot of money your altar can be as simple as a box with a clean handywipe to drape over the front to ‘close’ it when you are done. If you have more financial resources available then a new Butsudan can cost anywhere from four hundred all the way up to fourteen thousand dollars, the best place in the United States to buy one is from Nakayama Butsudans. Their address: Nakayama Butsudans P.O. Box 82419 Portland, Or 97282-0419 Or 2444 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Portland, Or 97214 Their phone number is (503) 233-2200 they are open from 10:00 until 5:00 but remember that they are on Pacific Time. Chanting is a tool you can easily master and use anywhere. It is also important to offer water every morning using some small prayer like: “I offer water that I might be cleansed and purified, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may this purification benefit all beings.” The water cup sits on the Butsudan all day, along with candles and some kind of incense burner. To receive a Gohonzon you will have to attend SGI meetings for a few months to show that you are seriously interested. The final part of the practice is learning the Gongyo ceremony. The word Gongyo means ‘tireless practice.’ The Gongyo ceremony performed in the morning is the longer of the two and takes about thirty minutes, assuming that you chant for ten minutes at the end. The evening ceremony takes twentyfive minutes provided you again chant for ten minutes at the conclusion. It’s a good idea to chant as much as you can in between, or arrange to go to SGI meetings where they do nothing but chant for an hour or more. This kind of meeting is called a ‘Daimoku Toso.’ There are also discussion meetings, lectures, and once a month there is a special ceremony held to promote the cause of world peace called ‘Kosen Rufu Gongyo.’ The Gongyo ceremony is the path to repentance taught to us by the Buddha. It is wonderful that you want to develop your human potential in this life; you can achieve this by chanting and daily study. However, much of the practice you do will be directed at clearing up the mess left over from other lives. “The Sutra of Meditation On The Bodhisattva Universal Virtue,” which is the concluding text in “The Threefold Lotus Sutra,” is the part of Shakyamuni’s teaching that deals with this important issue. This sutra clearly teaches that the best method of repentance for us is the recitation of “The Lotus Sutra.” I believe that this is because when you memorize something you make it part of your mental make-up and this information then becomes a part of you in the sense that it influences your thinking. Nichiren told his students that the best way to recite the sutra is to concentrate on chapters two and sixteen because these chapters deal with the most important teachings. The Gongyo ceremony, therefore, consists of chanting and reading aloud selected pieces of chapter two and chapter sixteen. It would be a good idea for you to become familiar with the entire sutra sometime in the 63
near future. There are versions of this text presented in numerous places on the web so you can begin to study immediately. You will want a copy to keep in your library as well. At this time we will take a look at chapter two and sixteen so that you can understand the concepts dealt with in the Gongyo ceremony.
Chapter Two of “The Lotus Sutra”
Chapter Two is entitled “Expedient Means” in the Burton Watson Translation of “The Lotus Sutra,” and it is called “Tactfulness” in “The Threefold Lotus Sutra.” The Japanese version reads “Myoho Renge Kyo Hoben Bon” and is, perhaps, more helpful. “Myoho Renge Kyo is your ninth level of consciousness, and “Hoben Bon” represents your lower eight levels. In other words, this place of unsullied purity, also called the ninth level of consciousness or Buddha nature is not separate from the other eight levels, which are places of delusion. Keeping this in mind, we begin our brief examination of the third longest and one of the two most important chapters in “The Lotus Sutra”. There are no exact quotes from the sutras in this analysis because everything has been simplified for the benefit of the new student. At that time the Buddha, who has been sitting in meditation, now speaks for the first time, saying in essence to Shariputra, ‘The wisdom of the Buddhas is very profound, and could never be measured. It is difficult to realize this; no one with the understanding of a voice hearer or pratyekabuddha can ever comprehend it.’ This was not good news for Shariputra. The other students living in learning or realization must have felt even worse. If Shariputra, foremost among them in wisdom could not grasp this teaching, how could they hope to do so? The Buddha continues by explaining that he has purified his life over a long period of time and he has realized the one law that runs everything in the universe. He preaches this law to people using various methods so that they can use these teachings in practical ways to improve their lives. Yet, because his goal is to improve every student’s life, he teaches according to the capacity of the student and this can sometimes be difficult to understand. The Buddha now says ‘ I will say no more, because what the Buddha has achieved is the rarest and the most difficult to understand law.’ Buddhas are the only beings that can only understand the true nature of everything. Part of this reality is the ten factors that we discussed in chapter two. All beings live somewhere in the ten world states. A Buddha lives in Buddhahood, but has the other nine worlds present while we live in the nine worlds and have access to the world of Buddhahood when we practice. However, Buddhas and common mortals always possess the ten factors. We have already stated that the life of the universe is Myoho Renge Kyo. In other words, the universe is alive; it is a great cosmic life force, and all of life is a manifestation of that force. We look at life and only see the manifestations around us; the trees, the cities, people, animals and so on, but the Buddha perceived the underlying principles. You can never see ‘winter’, for example, but you do see the ice and snow, you do feel the cold, and so you know that is winter. That all people are the Buddha is a wonderful thing. You are the Buddha! This is why you should never seek the Gohonzon outside of yourself. I am Myoho Renge Kyo, 64
you are Myoho Renge Kyo, and so is every living thing. The entire universe pulses with Myoho Renge Kyo! The Buddha then repeats this all in verse form. In essence he states, ‘I have for a long while taught innumerable doctrines but the time has now come to reveal the truth. I have taught you three different vehicles (or practices) in order to pry you loose from worldly attachments and to allow you to gain release from suffering.’ At this point the people present do not understand why the Buddha is saying this and they ask him to resolve their doubts. The Buddha refuses to teach because the students present might doubt, and doubting, slander the law. Shariputra asks for the teaching two more times, which is an ancient formula used to show a students sincerity, and to mark the importance of the teaching that followed. The Buddha then says, you’ve asked me three times to teach, how can I refuse? As soon as he says this, according to the text, five thousand monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen get up from their seats, bow to the Buddha, and leave. However, when the Buddha gave this teaching on ‘Eagle Peak’ the number of people present numbered twenty or thirty at most, so how could five thousand people leave? Well, they couldn’t, of course. In fact, nobody left at all. Notice that all categories of students are listed, monastic and laypeople alike, it was not people who left it was the impurity of their five senses that left, and this purification worked for all classes of students equally. So the moment the Buddha began to preach this sutra the people who were hearing it became purified. Every Buddha in the universe preaches this law at certain times but that these times are rare, so hearing this teaching is a special opportunity. He explains, again, that he teaches students according to their capacity to understand. This makes sense. The same teaching cannot reach everybody, and the Buddha would never leave anybody outside the circle of his compassion. The sutra states that Buddhas appear in the world for one reason alone. What is this reason? The Buddhas want to open the door of Buddha wisdom to all living beings and to allow living beings to purify their lives. The Buddhas have only a single Buddha vehicle, which they use to teach the law to living beings. There is no second or third vehicle. This is one of the major themes of the Lotus Sutra. Voice hearers wanted to learn and master the four noble truths because they yearned to free themselves from illusion and desire. If they attained the realization of Arhat they believed that they would never be reborn into the word. They wanted to crawl into Nirvana and stay there, and thus avoid the sufferings of the world. This was the first vehicle. The more advanced of these students added the twelve link chain of dependant causation to their realization and became Pratyekabuddhas but still wanted out of the world system, because they feared to face suffering. This was considered to be the second vehicle. The third vehicle that was supposed to carry the practitioner to ‘the other shore’ of Nirvana (Enlightenment) was called the way of the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva’s practice was centered on compassion and he did not want to attain enlightenment until everyone else in the universe had stopped suffering. Bodhisattvas were thought to practice in this way for millions of years.
However, the Buddha is saying that none of these are the actual vehicle or teaching that he wants to impart. Buddhas come into the world to help everyone become enlightened and that is the one Buddha vehicle. The message is that everyone has this Buddha potential inherent in their life, and that is why the Buddha points out to us the ten factors that all beings, enlightened or not, share in common. The ten worlds exist in all living beings, and because the ten worlds all contain the ten worlds, a person in the ninth world, Bodhisattva, is no closer to enlightenment, than a person in hell. Either one of them could manifest their Buddha nature at the next moment, so anybody can attain enlightenment because everybody has the Buddha potential, or nature. The Buddha is the only teacher in history to teach this way. Other teachers with spiritual messages taught using only one method. Some people hear this message, are attracted by it, and benefit from it. Other people encounter the same teaching and sneer, considering it nonsense. The Buddha saw that there many ways to express truth and that it would be necessary to employ them to reach all the different types of people. These teachings may seem to have innumerable meanings, but actually, they all come from one great law. The Buddha is the only spiritual teacher that I have encountered who would not exclude anyone, even If they’ve practiced extreme forms of evil. Yet these various teachings must help people to improve their life conditions and grow into beings who could understand the Buddhas ultimate teaching. The Buddhas goal was to lead all beings to enlightenment, he did not want to offer this teaching to people who were not ready to understand them because this could lead them to terrible suffering. “The Lotus Sutra” is the unifying teaching of the Buddha. When you understand the meaning of this sutra all the puzzle pieces come together, and Buddhism is revealed as a single set of teachings with many beautiful facets. The Buddha tells us that any student who claims to have any level of realization must understand his teaching method and comprehend this law revealed in ”The Lotus Sutra.” If they do not have this understanding when they are persons of “Overbearing Arrogance.” The sutra also tells us that if a being makes any kind of sincere offering to the Buddha-- from ornate towers made of precious metals and Gems to mud pies—then that person is not far from enlightenment. They will pile up merit over a period of time, develop great compassion, bring benefit to many sentient beings, and then become Buddhas. Finally, let us again consider the title of this chapter, specifically, “Hoben,” or Means. This word can be understood to mean that all of Shakyamuni’s provisional teachings are intended to lead to the one vehicle of “The Lotus Sutra,” but it also indicates that the nine worlds are the means that lead to Buddhahood. When Chih-I of T’ien T’ai Monastery interpreted the chapter title “Hoben,” he said that there were three categories of it. The first is called “Hoyo Hoben” which means matching the teachings to the people’s ability to understand them. Teachings in this category emphasize non-attachment and the impermanence of all phenomena. These teachings are Theravada and Early Mahayana. The second category is called “Notsu Hoben.” This higher level Mahayana tells us not to be attached to the earlier teachings, and puts the Bodhisattva ideal in the place of the quest for some personal heaven like realm. The first two categories are meant to raise people’s ability to understand the truth without leaving anyone out. This truth is revealed in the third category, “Himyo Hoben” and this Hoben that we have been examining is the ultimate meaning of the chapters’ 66
title. The nine worlds are the means that lead to Buddhahood. The sufferings and problems we encounter every day are the fuel that powers our desire to practice. On a deeper level, however, it must be pointed out that Buddhahood cannot exist without the nine worlds. This chapter ends with the Buddha telling us that since we now understand, there will be no more doubts or confusion and our minds should be filled with great joy because we are now certain that we will attain Buddhahood.
Chapter Sixteen Of “The Lotus Sutra”
The chapter begins with the Buddha telling the assembled students to believe and understand the words of their teacher. He repeats this three times because belief leads to understanding, and you must understand to develop faith. Faith is the only entrance to this teaching. In chapter two the Buddha tells us that the true entity of all phenomena can only be shared and understood between Buddhas He also said that we must cultivate great faith in the Buddhas teaching of the Law. As I previously stated, repeating something three times is an ancient formula that shows how important the teaching that followed actually was and it demonstrated the sincerity of the student asking the question. Shakyamuni then tells the people present that it has been billions of kalpas since he attained enlightenment. Most scholars agree that a kalpa is approximately 16 million years, so the Buddha attained enlightenment so far back in the past that the number cannot be calculated. Ever since that time in the ancient pre-historical past, Shakyamuni has been in the Saha World, on this planet and others, preaching and teaching in various ways to benefit sentient beings. The 'saha world' means this universe, this reality that we live in. Provisional sutras refer to this world as ‘saha’, they call it the endurance realm, but then say that Buddha lands, or pure lands are found elsewhere. Shakyamuni is telling us that the pure lands are created by each one of us who live in the higher realms. There is no other realm to be born into; there is just this Universe. The theoretical half of "The Lotus Sutra" shows that all people have the potential to become Buddhas, they can attain enlightenment in theory; the essential teachings demonstrate that, even though Shakyamuni was already enlightened, he was born as a common mortal because Buddhahood can only be manifested in the nine worlds. This is the essential teaching because at this point the Buddha has discarded his provisional identity of Shakyamuni to reveal the eternal nature of enlightenment. This means that a provisional Buddha preached all of the previous teachings. His prior teachings show that millions of years of dedicated practice are necessary for you to make progress towards enlightenment. The Pre-Lotus teachings suggest that you gradually rid yourself of the nine worlds and eventually grow into a fully enlightened Buddha. However, the essential teachings clearly show that the nine worlds are all present in Buddhahood. The Buddha understands the true nature of the six lower realms that humans who do not practice inhabit. He knows there is no such thing as birth and death, you do not exist in this universe and then later not exist at all because this is scientifically impossible. This universe is dependant on causes and it is not what those who live in the six lower realms perceive it to be. All these things are seen clearly by the Buddha, there is no error in this perception.
Living beings have so many different natures and personalities! They have different desires, for what makes one person deliriously happy will drive another person completely crazy. It is because of these vastly different personalities, with their many needs and desires, that countless activities are carried out every day. There are so many different ways of thinking among these various people--how could one single doctrine satisfy them all? The Buddha wants to help all of these beings plant the roots of goodness in their lives. This is his work and he never neglects it. This work never fails or falters because of the Buddhas great compassion. Shakyamuni tells us that he is always here in the universe preaching and teaching. Shakyamuni then tells us that he allows people to believe he enters extinction as an expedient means that is meant to teach us to long for the Buddha. It is very difficult to meet an Enlightened Being. Some people are born again and again, over billions of years on numerous planets, and still do not see the face of a Buddha. To give you some idea of how difficult it is picture yourself climbing to the top of the highest mountain on our planet. When you reach the top place a needle in the rock so that the eye is sticking out, now, travel to another world and climb it’s highest peak and throw the thread from where you are to where the needle is and make certain to thread the needle! The sutras tell us that it is easier to complete this task then it is to meet a Buddha. You should, accordingly, hunger and thirst for the opportunity to meet and make connections to a Buddha. To do so you must fill your life with good causes, make as many connections to the Dharma as possible by studying all of the sutras that you can find. Make a karmic connection with as many Dharma teachers as possible by reading their works, studying with them, or meeting them in person. The sutra continues, stating that all of the Buddhas in the universe preach a law like this. Their actions are intended to save living beings, so what they do is always true, never false. The chapter concludes with the parable of the good physician. Once there was a brilliant physician who could cure whatever sickness you suffered from. He had almost one hundred children who loved him very much but because of his great skill he often had to travel when people were ill because there was a great demand for his services. The doctor had been away for a time when the children, quite unintentionally drank poison and thereupon they fell screaming and convulsing on to the floor. Fortunately the doctor returned shortly and realizing that his beloved children had consumed deadly poison he used various methods to compound a cure for them. When I tell you that this medicine looked beautiful, tasted wonderful, and smelled magnificent you will understand that this was truly unusual medicine. Best of all, the medicine worked! Those children who had only absorbed a little poison quickly took the good medicine and were immediately cured. The rest of the children were so sick that they were now out of their minds and refused to take the medicine compounded by their father. The physician was becoming greatly concerned, in spite of his best efforts the children would not take the medicine they needed to become well. Finally, he went to them and told them, “I am now old and sick, and probably will not live much longer. I must go away but I leave here for you this good medicine, you should take it and be cured.’ After that, he went away and then sent a messenger to his home to tell his children ‘Your father is dead.’ The subterfuge worked. The children began to weep and lament that they were now orphans and were thus shocked back into their right minds long 68
enough to take the medicine left for them by their beloved father. When the physician heard that his children had recovered, he returned home to them. We are the children in this parable. It is almost always because our lives are suddenly emerged in the 'ocean of disaster' that we start practicing Buddhism. We seem to need to suffer from the poison in our mind a long time before we are willing to take the medicine we need to cure us. Anger, envy, greed, lust, all of these things are anti-life, that is what makes them poison. When we begin to take the medicine of practice and study, when we advance to the point where we can embrace the law, we discover that Buddhahood has always been with us. This is like the father in the parable returning after the children take the medicine he left for them. The second half of "The Lotus Sutra" is directed towards us, the people of the latter day of the law who chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Shakyamuni would not allow the Bodhisattva's who had been trained by him in his current lifetime to make a vow to spread this teaching in the latter period because they had not formed a connection the law expressed by Myoho Renge Kyo. In chapter fifteen the Buddha stated ever since the distant past he has been teaching and converting the great multitudes of students who are seeking freedom. Part of that multitude is you. I am there as well and so are all of the people who have ever chanted Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. We have been students of the Buddha for a long time and we should remember that as we go about our daily life. Shakyamuni was not born an enlightened Buddha; he had to spend years of practice before he realized enlightenment in his lifetime. Why would it be different for you? When you begin this practice you become the living embodiment of an ancient lineage, so look beneath the surface garbage of your mind and see who you really are. Touch the reality of your own Buddha nature and discover the inherent wisdom buried within you. The chapter concludes with Shakyamuni declaring in essence: ‘Constantly I think to myself: how can I cause all people to gain entry into the Buddha way and quickly become enlightened beings?’ This brief outline gives you a good idea of the concepts dealt with in the Gongyo ceremony. The language we use to perform this ceremony is some form of Japanese. It takes effort to learn Gongyo but that struggle will be handsomely rewarded. The Gongyo ceremony is the foundation for all of my daily activities, I always think about my projects in front of the Gohonzon and this is where I make final decisions about the direction we take at Buddhist Information as well. When you create negative karma you must either experience the results or find a way to purify yourself. The effort you make on a daily basis to repeat the Gongyo ceremony is the kind of energy that Shakyamuni taught would purify you. Morning Gongyo has five repetitions of important excerpts from the two chapters of “The Lotus Sutra” we have discussed above. There is a prayer at the end of each repetition that guides you to express gratitude to the forces and people who help, teach, and support you in your effort to become a better human being. The first prayer is dedicated to the Shoten Zenjin, which are the forces that protect us when we practice. Any positive influence that assists us can be considered a Shoten Zenjin, they are not little invisible deities who watch over us and protect us from harm. The second prayer offers gratitude to the Dai-Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws, which was given as a gift to the world by Nichiren on October 12,1279 69
C.E. The Three Great Secret Laws are chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, the Gohonzon, and the altar where the Mandala is enshrined. The Dai-Gohonzon was made for the benefit of all people; the smaller Gohonzons we keep in our Butsudans are similar to the personal Mandalas Nichiren made for his followers to use in their homes. The third prayer is divided into three parts. The first section instructs us to offer respect and thanks to Nichiren Daishonin because he is the teacher who gave us this practice. We owe him a debt that can only be repaid by attaining enlightenment. The next section advises us to offer gratitude to Nikko Shonin because he is the man who preserved these teachings and made it possible for us to learn what Nichiren taught. The third section suggests that we offer gratitude to Nichimoku Shonin because his propagation efforts kept these teachings alive so that we could encounter them and benefit accordingly. I always add a prayer here at the end expressing gratitude to all of my teachers. The fourth prayer comes in two parts. The first section prays for Kosen Rufu to be established and the SGI to develop eternally. Kosen Rufu means that our planet will become a Buddhist Pure Land where people will be determined to advance spiritually. I also pray everyday that the SGI develop in all countries into an organization that will support the practice and growth of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. The second part of this prayer leads us to apologize for past bad behavior and also asks that our wishes be granted now and in the future. The final prayer for morning Gongyo is divided into three parts. The first segment offers gratitude to the first two Presidents of Soka Gakkai, Mr. Makiguchi, and Mr. Toda. Their remarkable efforts led to our having the opportunity to discover the path that leads to the end of suffering. The middle section is where we pray for those close to us who have recently died. We pray for our ancestors and relatives who are dead even though they have already been reborn because we are still concerned for them and this strengthens the karmic ties that bring us together again. We also send energy in the form of Daimoku to all beings in Ku. While it is true that an individual himself cannot effect any change in the state of Ku, a being in that state can be helped by our directing positive energy in the form of Daimoku. The final section instructs us to pray for peace everywhere in the world. It also suggests that we pray for all members of the human race to be happy but this is too limited. It is better to replace the last section with the wish that all beings, everywhere in the universe be happy. I also add, ‘may all beings find peace and happiness, may all beings find the path that leads directly to Nirvana’. Evening Gongyo is the same ceremony but we only use the second, third and fifth prayer. It is important to pray everyday for the benefit of others but do not forget to include yourself. If you do constantly focus on others then you should not be surprised that your own life has becomes a mess. It is imperative that we keep our own life in order because you can be of very little help to others if your own life is filled with suffering. When you are chanting because you are seeking some benefit for yourself or others this is called prayer. Prayer is important but it is equally important that we practice meditation on a daily basis. To meditate we must empty our mind and chant. Our focus must be only on the Gohonzon. If you do not have a Gohonzon, focus your concentration on some object, like the flame of a candle. When you begin, your mind will wander and you will find yourself thinking about many different things. This is perfectly normal; it takes time and 70
patience to meditate skillfully. When thoughts arise, just notice them, do not pursue them, or become ‘lost in thought.’ Notice that the thought arises, lingers briefly because we do not encourage it, and then vanishes. When distracting thoughts arise gently steer you mind back to its point of focus. Do not be rough or harsh with yourself and do not expect instant success. If you are patient with yourself your progress will be much faster. Relax don’t try to force anything to happen. The goal here is to Kyochi Myogo with the Gohonzon so that you can quickly manifest your Buddha nature. Kyochi Myogo means that you fuse your mind with the ultimate reality represented by the Gohonzon. As you chant your mind is at first filled with the mantra, then it becomes indistinguishable from the mantra, finally it becomes the mantra, and you are manifesting Buddhahood. When you are starting out you should chant for short periods of time with a lot of energy and then quit. Don’t sit so long that you start to become bored or impatient. Practice should be a joy! Get up quickly when you are new so that you are always happy to sit back down again and chant. Of course, the goal is to learn to extend our practice time to whatever we can manage or personally find desirable. If you are going to put any effort into Buddhist practice at all, please do it correctly so that you get the benefits you deserve. I can tell you from personal experience that you must do all of the practice or the results you get will not be entirely desirable. Wisdom comes from within. It develops because we have an experience which we analyze using our knowledge of the Dharma. You cannot do this if you lack dharma knowledge. It is absolutely necessary for us to make a water offering every day, chant daily, perform the Gongyo ceremony, and study. If you do not do this on a daily basis the results you will be perfecting will be a kind of deviation. To deviate from the Buddhas practice means that we are moving away from where he intended us to go. The results are not enlightenment. People who practice this way become unbalanced and often act in irrational ways. The history of the people who follow these teachings is filled with numerous tragic examples of people who have behaved as though they were insane. We must achieve a state of Itai Doshin within our own Sangha. Itai Doshin means ‘many in body but one in mind.’ You cannot have a successful community if all of the students do not practice properly. In a community the size of SGI this can be extremely difficult so patience is definitely necessary. The way we get the support we need in this kind of environment is to split up into smaller groups. The Sangha I take care of and concern myself about is composed of the people who study with Buddhist Information. I support the general SGI community and even send study material to some of the other members when they are interested but mostly I take care of the students in our study programs. Many of the people who study with us have not yet joined any Buddhist community but ours. We encourage all of the students who study with us to become a member of SGI because it is an ideal organization for the spread of this Buddhism. There is room for everybody in the SGI because there are so many different kinds of groups. If your needs are not being met, start one of your own. We are followers of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth so every one of us has some mission to fulfill in this lifetime and forming that group may be the job you came here to do.
People that leave SGI usually do so because somebody has behaved badly towards them, and sometimes this bad behavior has gone on for years, so they get fed up and quit. You hear them say ‘this isn’t how it’s supposed to be’, and then they quit. They’re right, often times they have been treated badly by somebody, and it shouldn’t be that way. People are not right to quit, however, because it wasn’t SGI that did anything to you, it was some individual member who misbehaved. Even if that person is a leader he still only represents himself. If you stop making causes to be treated badly then people cannot behave that way. It would be impossible. Blaming others leads only to suffering. Take responsibility for your own actions. Nowhere in the Buddha Dharma does it tell us that to practice these teachings means you will be loved! The Buddha taught us that to love all beings is the way to end suffering. He did not say that if you follow these teachings all people would like you or respect you. All of the Buddhas had people who disliked them. All three of the Buddhas we’ve looked at in this book had enemies who wanted to destroy their reputation or even end their lives. They responded with love because they were enlightened. They understood that to respond to hatred with dislike or intolerance leads only to suffering. The only sane response to hatred is love. Now that you have received this teaching you must move forward everyday. Staying in the same place is the same as going backwards. You must not fall back into the life that you led before because your mind will now be deeply dissatisfied if you do. A peaceful, happy life can be yours if you decide to make the effort. You fill your daily schedule with activities that produce value, which is why you receive a paycheck. Why do you fill your free time with mindless nonsense? To live well requires effort. However, since the only alternative is to continue living the life of an animal the choice seems obvious.
May I become a friend to the entire world. May the work I do and causes I make produce value for my family and my society. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge Kyo, May the practice I do benefit all beings everywhere.
Study The Sutras
Action can either bring us joy or sorrow. You are the author of your own actions. Are you going to live a life that is beneficial to yourself and others or are you just here taking up space? You are the only person who can decide how you spend the rest of your life. Our modern society makes it very easy to drift along just working and entertaining yourself until the moment you drop dead. This chasing after better material objects was presented to us as ‘The American Dream.’ Our goal as parents was to make sure that our children had a higher standard of living then we did. Doesn’t that goal seem a little shallow now? How much material wealth do we need to be happy? We are the generation of Americans who have learned that having too much is boring. It makes you fat, sloppy, mentally lazy and it does not lead to happiness. Not having essential material objects is suffering, but having too many material goods is also suffering. From this we can see that the same sort of middle path is desirable when it comes to material possessions as it is with everything else. If you are tired of being unhappy then you must learn to make the causes that create happiness. Nobody can do it for you and, really, no one else is responsible for your happiness. No one can ‘make’ you happy but yourself. If you start to live a life that produces value for others you will naturally become happy. Many people think that practicing some religion means your life will become boring but this is not true. Practicing the Dharma does not mean you stop having fun or enjoying life. If anything, you will have more fun and your life will be far better because you’ll be awake to actually see it. Your life will become peaceful because your mind will be under control and outside influences will not upset you. You do not have to get a strange haircut, wear unusual clothing, or donate any money to practice Buddhism. You do not have to eat certain foods, although some Buddhists do practice vegetarianism. They do this for health reasons and from a desire to practice compassion for animals. The Buddha did not practice or teach vegetarianism. He taught his monastic students to beg for food and told them that they must eat whatever they were given. The only rule monks or nuns had to follow concerning meat was that no animal should be slaughtered for their benefit. There are no rules concerning food for laypeople.
Sutras For Laypeople
One of the first teachings Shakyamuni preached for lay people, outside of the Pure Land sutras, is now known as “Advice to Lay People.” This teaching focuses on basic morality. The Buddha tells us that four things will bring us pain, grief, and suffering. These four things or actions therefore should be avoided if we want to end unnecessary suffering.
The first of these actions that we should avoid is killing. It is so easy to kill a human being. That is why we formed societies in the first place, to protect each other from being murdered. This prohibition of killing one another is the oldest social contract. If we don’t have this protection we do not have any kind of society at all. It is important that we treat one another with respect at least to the extent that we do not consider murder as a possible solution to any problem we have with a fellow human. If a person commits a murder he should be put into a controlled environment and kept away from the rest of society for the rest of his life. This should be a hard and inflexible rule. However, this same rule of law should also apply to the State or Federal Government. If it is wrong to commit murder then the killing or executing of citizens who are labeled as ‘criminals’ should also be strictly forbidden. It makes no sense to say ‘don’t kill because if you do we’ll kill you.’ That kind of reaction is irrational and worse then that, it doesn’t work. States that execute offenders have higher murder rates then states that don’t. Prison employees that legally murder inmates are making terrible causes that will lead to appalling suffering in the future. ‘Do not kill’ also applies to human children. Abortion is murder for convenience. The arguments that support it are based on faulty reasoning. If a woman kills her husband because he was an inconvenience to her we all cry murder, but if a baby is murdered that is called ‘abortion.’ You do not have the ‘right’ to kill a baby because he shows up at a bad time! No baby has ever been produced at the ‘wrong time’; children are the result of the sexual union between male and female, if you don’t want children don’t engage in unprotected sex. In fact, you should be very aware that any person you have sex with could be the father or mother of your child. If you can’t see the person you’re with in that role why are you having sex with them in the first place? Killing animals is not an acceptable way to make a living because it is not right livelihood. When you kill an animal in the wilderness to survive that is acceptable, but hunting for sport or as a hobby is never a good idea. Fishing is not a healthy form of recreation either because fish are like any other life form, they want happiness and do not want suffering. If you do not want violence to be practiced on you then you must stop making the causes that lead you to become the victim of violence. Most of us will never kill another human being so if we renounce the killing of animals and even insects then we can eliminate this cause of suffering from our lives completely. Verbal violence is the biggest problem most of us have. We must learn to control the ugly things that come out of our mouths. All of us are guilty of using harsh speech towards other beings but even worse is the gossip and slander of others when they are not around. Resolve to stop this kind of destructive behavior. You should say only good things about the people around you. If you look for good in the people you meet then you will find it. In the same way if you set out to look for bad things in a person you will find them as well. No matter what you think you see or observe in the behavior of others you should not resort to making negative statements about a person. If a person says bad things about you then you should respond by saying something positive about them. If the person considers himself/herself your enemy then you should find a way to directly help that person. As well as helping this being give them a gift.
Even though this person is mistakenly regarding himself as our enemy we know that he is really our best friend because he is helping us to rid ourselves of negative karma that otherwise would follow us and blight our lives sometime in the future where we might not be so prepared to handle it with Mahayana thought transformation. It might come at a time when we are sick or dieing and then we might fail to respond in a positive manner. If we do respond with violence to this kind of negativity then we are just making the situation worse for the next time we encounter that same person. If you do respond to someone’s hostility with negativity of your own you have just guaranteed that you will come across that person all over again in similar circumstances. Not only will you meet this person in a next life but also the negative energy will be much greater because you have added even more negative force with your hostility. The only way to defuse these kinds of situations is to let the person carry on and be as unpleasant as he likes while you do nothing to respond. Eventually this energy will be used up and you’ll never have to see this person under these circumstances again. This technique requires patience but it is the only method that actually works. The next negative action to be avoided is stealing. If you have ever taken something that was not yours then people will inevitably steal from you. If you end this kind of behavior then people will eventually stop stealing from you. This is so simple. A current social trend I’ve noticed is certain stores that treat all of their customers as if they are thieves. You walk into some of these places and everything is geared to prevent theft. When you buy certain items the clerk unlocks it and then carries it up to the check out line for you. The reality is, however, that a very small percentage of their customers actually steal from them. Instead of handling this in some intelligent manner they treat everybody as if they were thieves. I’ve stopped going to those kinds of places because I don’t like being treated that way very much. I’ve also stopped my family members from shopping there as well. Many retail stores are going to die in the next twenty years as more people do their shopping over the Internet, let’s make certain that the retail stores that do survive are not run like prisons. While most people would not steal from a store there are many kinds of theft. If you got paid for forty hours at your place of employment but you only worked twentyeight then you are guilty of theft. If you claim extra money on your expense account, you are guilty of theft. If you bring supplies or paper products home from the office you are also guilty. You will never respect yourself if you continue to behave this way, you will never be happy and people will always steal from you when they have the opportunity. Another negative action the Buddha warns us to avoid is sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct has nothing to do with the gender of your partner. If you are living in a gay relationship then you should be loyal to one partner. Monogamy is important for any long-term relationship. If you are cheating on your partner you might never be caught but you cannot deceive your own mind. You know that you are not worthy of trust so how will you develop self-respect? The final action we should avoid is lying speech. It is always better to tell the truth because telling lies becomes a habit, which inevitably gets you into trouble. It is so much easier to tell the truth, there are no details you need to keep straight in your mind, and you can just relax and be yourself. If you are behaving correctly it will never be necessary to cover up with lies. 75
When you realize how devastating the effects of bad behavior are you reach the point where you would rather die to create these kinds of energy. If you kill or practice violence you will certainly be treated violently and you may even be killed. If you steal people will rob you. If you do not practice monogamous behavior you will never find true love. If you are a frequent liar then nobody will believe your words and people will tell lies about you in return. Therefore, these actions must be abandoned if you do not want these sufferings. Instead of acquiring suffering, we could accumulate merit by performing positive acts. So, of course stop stealing but go beyond that and practice generosity. Being generous to others will make you feel better and this kind of energy is always returned to you when you need it. Don’t just stop engaging in physical and verbal violence, but practice lovingkindness as well. Loving-kindness is the medicine that cures hatred and animosity. Practicing patience will break the karmic attachment you have formed with a person when you exchange negative words but applying loving kindness will heal that wound and turn the connection into something positive. The next time you see this person he will be a friend or someone who wants to help you. Gratitude is an important human characteristic that many people in our current society do not possess. The Buddha taught us to respect and express gratitude to the people who have helped us the most. The first and most important of these people is your parents. “Advice to Lay People” is not the only sutra that talks about the great debt that we owe to our parents. “The Sutra of the Deep Kindness of Parents and the Difficulty of Repaying It” is concerned with nothing but this obligation. In this important text the Buddha reminds us of the tremendous kindness of our mothers. Our mother protects us and nourishes us while we are in the womb. Often she is sick in the morning for months while she carries us. Her back constantly aches from carrying our weight around and there are many activities that she must give up. She often craves strange food in large amounts and has to battle to lose weight after we are delivered. When it is time for us to be born we cause her great pain and suffering. Our mother can be in labor with us for many hours, sometimes even for days. The agony she experiences is even worse because she knows that some women die delivering babies. She suffers these things gladly for us so that we can enter into the world. When we are born she does not hate us for the distress we have caused her, she forgets all the physical pain and mental anguish and thinks of nothing but us. Our mother feeds us at her breast if she is able and she makes certain that we have enough nourishing food to eat so that we can grow up healthy. If it is necessary she will take what is bitter so that she can give what is sweet to us. If it were necessary our mother would go rather be hungry then see us do without food. Our father and mother give up many things so that we can have things we need or want. Our Father worked everyday to see that we had the comforts he was able to provide for us. Both parents make sacrifices to educate the child and they happily give up everything if they can cure us when we are sick. Mother and father give up much of their social life when we are young because we need a great deal of time and attention. Our parents bathe us and clean up our filth when we are infants. Our mother spends a great deal of her time cleaning up after us and feeding us until we are old enough to leave home. 76
Even when we do leave home our parents still care deeply about us and are always willing to help or advise us. Nobody in the world will ever be as devoted to your welfare as your mother and father. Friends can become enemies; wives and lovers can leave us but our mother and father will always ‘be there for us’ no matter what we do. It is difficult to repay this kind of debt, you could dedicate the rest of your life to supplying your parents with the very best material things, but that would not even begin to come close to ending the obligation. The Buddha taught that the only way to repay this kind of debt is to attain a higher state of spiritual understanding. We can then bring benefit to many people including the parents who brought us into the world. If we recall that all the beings around us have been our parents at some time in the past we see that the debt we owe to others is great while the merit we have accumulated is not. This should inspire us to make the necessary effort to practice even when we are tired or ill. Remember however, that Buddhism is reason and don’t over exert yourself if you are really unwell. If our society is to get well and we are to have a pleasant, safe environment to live in then we must also learn to respect our teachers. Teachers deserve our respect because they eliminate ignorance. Schoolteachers should be treated with honor and paid more money. They need to be encouraged to continue their own efforts to become educated. Getting a degree is not the end of your student days; you should remain a student to the day you die. People that continue to learn and grow do not grow old and they do not develop Alzheimer’s disease. Your mind is like a muscle, if you do not use it then it becomes flabby and weak. Pick up a book of some kind and start reading. It doesn’t matter what kind of book it is at first as long as you find it interesting. As your skills grow you will naturally gravitate towards deeper material and it doesn’t really matter where you start from as long as you do actually start. While schoolteachers should be paid more money religious teachers should be paid a whole lot less. It would be better if they were not paid at all. If they really believe the things they are teaching then they are already acquiring great merit so why should we have to give them money as well? If you take the money out of religion then you will eliminate most of the fraud. It’s true we should all practice generosity but that money should be directed to those in need, not to those who live off of the beliefs of others. A big part of the problem people have with the current crop of preachers running around is that they always have their hands out for money. From personal experience I can tell you that you can run a religious organization and never take a dime from people. You should have great reverence for your spiritual teacher. You will find it much easier to do that properly if you are not giving him money. If our society is going to become healthy we need to eliminate ‘spiritual teacher’ as an acceptable occupation. The next person we should experience gratitude towards is our wives or husbands. Your spouse or partner should be your best friend and the person you know that you can always depend upon. If this isn’t so then you are being seriously cheated. This kind of relationship is obviously necessary for us because single people do not live as long as married people, nor are they as happy. You deserve a relationship that is healthy and firmly based on love. From this day on resolve to become a person who is honest, loyal, and willing to work at having an adult relationship with someone who is also a sincere, mature human being. Right now 77
make the decision to learn to love and understand your self and you will then find it much easier to love someone else. Friends are really rare in this world, we often use the word ‘friend’ to describe people that we ‘like’ or who are companions of the moment but most people only have one or two real friends in their lifetime. To become a successful human being you should become a friend to the entire world. Everyone you meet should be treated as you would your dearest friend. You should always have a kind word for friends and also look after him or her when they are ill. You should treat people the way you wish to be treated; this is so simple if we just remember to do it. You must always keep your promises when you make them so don’t ever make promises lightly. When people tell you things in confidence you should never repeat what you have heard to anyone for any reason. If people cannot confide in you or trust you then you are not worthy of being anyone’s friend. You should also realize that repeating something you are told in confidence is one of the worst forms of slander. Any one who commits slander will have to undergo serious suffering when that Karma comes due. Give gifts to people as often as you can because it is good for you and them both. I like the attitude of our society around Christmas time but I find myself wondering why it only happens once a year. Buddhists celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, our family switches between what we call the twelve days of Christmas and a sort of Hanukkah theme. The twelve days of Christmas means that we give each other a gift every day for twelve days, with the last day being Christmas. The Hanukkah theme is my favorite because I like the blue wrapping paper! Also, Jewish symbols seem more peaceful to me because they aren’t centered on violent subject matter. Another category of people discussed in the sutra entitled “Advice to Lay People” is employers or employees. If somebody employs you then you should be dedicated to your work and always make the effort required to get the job done correctly and on time. You should take only what you are given and you should never say bad things about your employer. This last one is difficult for some people but it is not good for you to say bad things about the person who pays you. If you are unhappy then you should leave but even if you do it would not be good for you to say negative things about him or her even if they are true. If you are an employer then you should arrange people’s work according to their individual strength and skills. You should pay people fairly and not discriminate because of age, race, or gender. You should help your employees when they are sick, they shouldn’t have to worry about losing their job or doing without things. You should let them off work at the agreed upon time and not try to take unfair advantage of people who depend on you. The final category of people discussed in this sutra is the person who studies the Dharma. You should always be kind when you are speaking to them and never say anything bad about them, even if what you are saying is true. You should train your mind so that you do not even think bad things about people who practice Dharma. Your actions to them must always be based on gentleness and love even if they are unkind to you. Your home should always be open to them and they should always feel welcome there. These Dharma practitioners will in turn restrain you from acts that are evil and guide you into conduct that is profitable and wise. They will be compassionate to you and the sensible student will model himself after the behavior of the most advanced among them. They will also help you encounter Dharma teachings that you would not 78
have seen without their guidance. This sutra, “Advice to Lay People” is part of the early teachings, preached during ‘the Agama period.’ The morals taught here are every bit as important for us to follow now as they were the day they were preached over two thousand years ago. One of my favorite sutras from this same Agama period is called “All The Fermentations” or “All The Taints” depending on the translation you look at. This sutra was directed to the monastic followers of the Buddha but it will benefit anybody who wants to pacify his or her mind. It’s one of my favorites because it is so helpful that I go back to it over and over. It is a sutra that the people who study here become very familiar with. The fermentations referred to are the cause of mental ‘noise’ you will encounter when you begin to practice meditation. When you fist try to begin to develop concentration you will discover that the untrained mind is always rushing off in a thousand different directions. If you have ever seen any liquid ferment then you will agree that this is an excellent description of what it’s like inside your mind when you try to still your awareness by focusing on a single object. It doesn’t matter if you are chanting or using some form of quiet sitting when you first begin this process of quieting the mind you will be stunned at all the mental garbage that is constantly churned up by the average human consciousness. The way to end this disruptive stream is to learn to observe how your mind reacts to different situations. If you do not pay skillful attention to the kinds of things that cause these ‘fermentations’ to arise in your mind then they will increase. Also new poison or ‘taints’ will be developed. If you have trouble controlling lustful thoughts and desires, for example, you do not want to rush out and buy the latest pornographic magazine if your goal is to reduce this kind of thinking. If you do spend a few hours leafing through this type of material you will have not only strengthened the lust present in your mind you have also added new images and ideas that you did not have before. It should not surprise you that these images and ideas come to trouble your meditation if you devote time to these types of pursuits. If you have trouble with this kind of thinking avoid the things that bring lustful images to your mind. The more success you have avoiding this kind of thinking the less trouble you will have in the future when you practice. As you purify your life and avoid this kind of thinking the images that trouble you will be completely eliminated. We’ve been talking about lust but this kind of technique works for any negative state that distracts us from our practice. When we begin to observe our own behavior we can see that certain activities are not good for us because they cause us to become mentally disturbed. We become skillful practitioners when we learn to first avoid these activities and later to overcome their influence on us. When we have learned to refrain from actions that disturb our mind the Buddha tells us that we have severed craving and thrown off the chains that bind us to suffering and stress. One of the most widely quoted and often misused sutras is also one of the most valuable of the early teachings. It is called “The Kalama Sutra” or “The Instructions To The Kalamas.” In the early years of his ministry the Buddha was traveling in the country of Kosala when he arrived at the town of Kesaputta, which was the home of a people who called themselves ‘Kalamas.’ 79
The Kalamas were a sincere group of people who honestly wanted to make progress on some kind of spiritual path. They were also at the point where they hungered to find answers to the questions that troubled them. They were becoming extremely confused because several different teachers had visited Kesaputta and preached their doctrines. They did not stop at merely teaching, however, they also attacked, ridiculed, and belittled the words of the teachers who had been there before them. Now it happened that the good reputation of Shakyamuni Buddha had preceded him. The Kalamas went as a group to where the Buddha sat and after respectfully greeting him sought his guidance. They told him about the various teachers and how they had attacked each other’s words and teachings, and then they asked him which of them was correct. The Buddha responded by telling them that they were right to be doubtful since the teachers kept contradicting each other’s words. He said that you should not believe a teaching because you have heard it repeatedly from different people in different places. You should not believe because it is traditional or written in some sacred scripture. If this teaching is based on a proverb, ‘old saying,’ or fallacious reasoning you should not just blindly accept it. Do not embrace some instruction because the teacher is a man of great ability or simply because you have decided ‘this man is my teacher.’ What criteria should you use when seeking truth? People of Kesaputta, when you know yourself that something is bad or wrong, when it is clear to you that certain behavior leads to harm and misfortune then you should abandon it. Kalamas, when a man is absorbed by greed he will murder, steal, and often commit various offences, as well as incite others to do so as well. But if a man frees his mind of greed he will do none of these things and he will also prompt others to do the same. If a man’s mind is filled with hate or delusion he will lie, practice adultery, commit other offences, and instruct others to do so as well. But if his mind is free of hate and delusion he will not do these things and he will teach others to live the same way. Therefore I say O Kalamas do not believe a teaching because you have heard it repeatedly. Do not believe because of tradition or words that appear in some scripture. Do not believe because of a proverb or erroneous thinking and do not follow some teacher just because you feel he is a man of great ability or because you have decided ‘this man is my teacher.’ Instead, when you understand, through your own knowledge, that these acts are good, that they lead to benefit and happiness then you should embrace and endorse them. The followers of the Buddha are free of craving; they have malice in their hearts for no man or woman because they are not deluded. They clearly understand cause and effect and they live mindfully every moment of every day. They have outgrown hatred and dwell happily in the state of love and compassion for all beings. They are pure, free from any defilement and their minds are therefore tranquil. The disciples of the Buddha have four thoughts that bring them great comfort here and now. ‘If there is another realm that we live in after death then the merit of the good deeds I have done will cause me to be born in a heavenly realm where I will experience great happiness. If there is not a realm that we exist in after death then even so, here and now I live in peace and comfort because my mind is not cluttered with hate and malice.’ 80
‘Evil results come to those who practice wickedness but I do not even think of doing evil so how can such results come to me? Even if evil results do not come to someone who practices great evil I still dwell in happiness seeing myself as pure.’ The Kalamas clearly saw the wisdom of these instructions and the community became devoted lay followers of the Buddha. Various people and groups have used the passage that tells us to believe when we know and understand for our self to make claims that certainly can’t be supported by this sutra. The Buddha was speaking to a group of individuals who had already developed a moral code and who clearly knew right from wrong. This teaching was not intended to lead people to pick and choose the parts of moral conduct that they feel comfortable with. It is not a ‘ringing endorsement of anarchy’ or any of the other assorted nonsense some people spout when they quote this sutra. If you encounter an article or book that makes strange or exotic claims and uses “The Kalama Sutra” as it’s only source you can immediately dismiss it. For a long time I would not introduce new students to “The Kalama Sutra” until they had been practicing and studying for at least two years but it now seems a better idea to carefully instruct people in its meaning as soon as possible because it’s very easy to encounter this popular text especially on-line. The final sutra we will examine is called “The Metta Sutra.” ‘Metta’ means ‘loving kindness.’ If you want to become adept in the practice of goodness you must always walk the path of peace. You must be capable and honest, never devious in your dealings with others and always gentle in speech. You must become humble, not full of conceit and you should be content and easily satisfied. The duties that you undertake should be handled adroitly and they should never be thought of as a burden to you. You will become peaceful and calm as you continually practice Dharma and this will lead you to wisdom and skillful behavior. Your activities should be blameless, let there not be the slightest thing that a wise man would find harmful or wrong. This is the way your mind should reflect: may all beings be comfortable and may their minds be at ease. May all beings live in safety and dwell in a happy state. Whatever kinds of beings there are in the universe, weak or strong, short or tall, thin or fat, seen or unseen, omitting no one, those living near to us and incredibly far away, may all of these beings find peace and happiness and may their minds dwell in tranquility. Let no one betray any other or hate and despise any other being no matter what life condition they are in. Let no one be filled with anger or hatred so that they wish to hurt or destroy any being. Act towards all beings as a mother, who would defend her only child with her very life. This attitude you should have for all people that you meet in your daily life. Let this loving kindness grow in you so that it spreads all over the world and then out into the entire universe. To be free from hatred and all animosity and mindful in all of our activities is the very best way to live. By not having fixed views or putting people and things into categories practitioners who purify their lives will be free of impure sense desires and learn to see reality clearly. They will be born into a higher life condition in their next existence.
May the suffering in the world be lessened because of my activities. May I help to fill the universe with love and compassion and may my smile infect all people with joy. NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may I lead all beings to happiness.
Introduction To The Gosho
The Gosho in this chapter have all been paraphrased into simpler language. This was done because Nichiren wrote these letters in the Thirteenth Century and it is often difficult for new students to properly understand them. The writings of Nichiren Daishonin (or Shonin to other groups of Nichiren Buddhists) are composed of letters to his followers with the single exception of a document known as “On Establishing The Correct Teaching For The Peace Of The Land.” This single document is one of the major writings of Nichiren and has always been widely circulated and studied by students but it was originally written and sent to an important Japanese official. The official was Hojo Tokiyori, who was one of the most powerful men in the country at the time. This document, “On Establishing The Correct Teaching For The Peace Of The Land” was a radical departure in thought because until this time it was accepted that Buddhism was practiced for the benefit of the state. Nichiren taught that the state has the obligation to protect the Buddhas law so that people could live in peace and harmony. Japan was suffering through a time of continuous disasters and Nichiren was aware that the Buddhist sutras taught that these calamities would continue if the country did not stop slandering the Buddhist Law. In the document “On Establishing The Correct Teaching For The Peace Of The Land” Nichiren successfully predicted other national tragedies that would befall the country if the slander did not cease. Nichiren was an unknown Priest from the outer provinces so a man as important as Hojo Tokiyori did not bother to respond in any way to the document sent to him but many other people saw copies of it so when the things Nichiren predicted came to pass his reputation was greatly enhanced. The first Gosho that we will look at was composed during the time of awful famine that Japan was enduring. It is now called “No Safety In The Threefold World” The letter was written to a lay priest named Matsuno Rokuro Saemon who lived in Suruga Province. He had taken the trouble to send supplies to Nichiren who was living in the mountains. There was still snow on the ground so this required even more effort then usual. In recognition of this fact Nichiren praises his unusual sincerity. The Daishonin points out to Matsuno that life is very short, the person who is now alive may well be dead tomorrow. Yet, in spite of repeated warnings concerning the transitory nature of life the people of the world do not wake up for even a single instant. Nor do they focus their desire on attaining enlightenment. Instead, they decorate their bodies and spend time and effort acquiring large amounts of clothing. Yet, when these people die their bodies will quickly be stripped of flesh and nothing will be left of them but memories. In spite of this self-evident truth people waste time in the effort to amass wealth.
This teaching is not new, it has been known to the wise for thousands of years but the people of Japan have chosen to disregard this truth. Accordingly, the country has been struck with famine that has continued for several years so that now stocks of food, medicine, and other vital supplies have been completely depleted. On the farms the livestock has all been eaten and now monsters in human form have begun to sell the flesh of the dead or dying mixed with wild game to the starving people in the streets. To make matters worse, there have been epidemics spreading around the country again. In half of the households in Japan the entire family has been destroyed by disease. Those who have escaped sickness are undergoing extreme mental suffering so all the people in Japan are now victims. Many of the survivors have lost all those who were dearest to them so that it now seems to them that they have no reason for living. How can rational people not despise this world? We are all aware of the transient nature of life but the recent events we have been discussing seem to be exceptionally disastrous. I sent word to the ruler that the Buddha had predicted these events but he at first ignored me and later persecuted me so there is nothing else I can do for the present time. This country was already guilty of slandering the Law and now they have become enemies of “The Lotus Sutra” as well. This sutra states that in the future the dedicated teachers of the Law will be harassed, deprecated, and banished. I am a devoted teacher of “The Lotus Sutra” and these things have happened to me. I am convinced that because of this I will become a Buddha. Nichiren Another good introductory writing is called “Many In Body, One In Mind.” This letter was probably written to lay priest Takahashi sometime after the first Mongol invasion attempt in 1264. The second invasion did not happen until 1282, so the letter must have been written sometime between those two dates. Nichiren scholars put the date as anywhere between 1275 and 1280 but I believe that the latter date is probably accurate. If people develop the proper spirit then they will have many bodies but they will be united in mind by a desire to achieve a single goal and if this is the case then there is nothing that they cannot achieve. Without this unity you can achieve nothing extraordinary. History is full of examples of small groups who prevailed against overwhelming odds because they were united in mind. Even an individual who is undecided, being of two minds on a subject cannot succeed, yet a group of people can easily manage their task if they are single minded. Although they are greater in number the people of Japan will find it difficult to accomplish anything of great significance because they are divided in many ways. The followers of Nichiren, while much fewer will spread the teachings of “The Lotus Sutra” with great success because they are united by their purpose into one single mind. No matter how many evils there are in the world they cannot triumph over the single great truth that was taught by the Buddha. You have been a faithful student of the “The Lotus Sutra” for many years and you were steadfast during the times of persecution. This kind of behavior is always
rewarded. I would have replied to you earlier but there was no one to carry the message back to you until now. People continue to ask if the Mongols will return to attack us again but it seems clear to me that the attack could come at any time. While the destruction of Japan would be terrible, at the same time, if it does not occur then the people of this country will continue to slander “The Lotus Sutra” and thus inevitably fall into the lower hell realms. It’s true that the country would be distressed but this slander of the True Law would certainly stop almost completely. Think of this as a painful medical treatment that cures the disease thus bringing relief from pain and happiness to the recovering patient. Nichiren is a Teacher of “The Lotus Sutra,” which is the heart of Buddhism. The people of Japan have ignored this teaching until Buddhism has almost ceased to exist in this country. If the Japanese people change their ways they can become like King Ajatashatru, who at the beginning of his life practiced great evil but later became worthy of respect. With my deep regards, Nichiren The sixth day of the eighth month Nichiren wrote this letter shortly before his first exile to a man named Shiiji Shiro. In English it is known as “A Ship To Cross The Sea of Suffering.” So it has a natural place of honor in any book that deals with how to become happy. You must strive in faith with even greater determination if you are to receive the merit that comes from sincere practice of “The Lotus Sutra.” Increase your awareness by becoming more mindful of what you see and hear, this is the way to discover true reality. In the Latter Day of The Law a great Teacher of “The Lotus Sutra” will appear. This much is certain. The greater the difficulties that this Teacher encounters, the more elation he feels because of his deep and abiding faith. A fire only burns brighter when fuel is added. The Teacher of the Law does not eliminate this suffering because without it his faith would not be great enough. Please understand that it is because of past relationships that you can teach anyone even a single word or sentence of “The Lotus Sutra.” Many people in the latter day of the Law do not want to hear the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. The sutra tells us that anyone who teaches even a single person one phrase of this teaching in secret is a messenger of the Buddha and it does not matter if you are monastic or a lay follower. If you listen to even one sentence and practice it sincerely then you have boarded a ship that will carry you across the sea of suffering to the shore of Nirvana. Shakyamuni is the captain of this ship and it carries those who have gained passage through the door of faith. Those who board this ship in the latter day are the followers and lay supporters of Nichiren. Please believe this with all of your heart. With my deep respect, Nichiren The twenty-eighth day of the fourth month
Nichiren was banished for the first time in May of 1261 to the Izu Peninsula, which was a center of Pure Land teachings. Banishment in thirteenth century Japan was usually a sentence of death because outcasts were not given food or shelter. Nichiren survived this exile because a man named Funamori Yasaburo and his wife secretly fed and supported him in spite of the great danger to themselves. When the Daishonin had been living on the Izu Peninsula for approximately one month the Steward of the area he was living in heard of his presence and sent for him. This Steward was a man named Ito Sukemitsu and he was sick enough that he feared he would die. He asked Nichiren to pray for him to recover his health. Afterwards Sukemitsu recovered quickly and became a devoted follower of the Daishonin. Nichiren wrote the final passage we will look at to Funamori Yasaburo and his wife in a Gosho entitled ”The Izu Exile.” From time without beginning we have struggled in the ocean of suffering until now when we have encountered the sutra that will cause us to become teachers of the law. When we become teachers we realize that we have existed since the beginningless past and possess an unchanging nature. We awaken to reality and develop wisdom, which causes us to become enlightened. We understand that we are not any different then Shakyamuni and that we are the only person who can save us. The difference between the deluded view of a common person and reality is the mistaken way they see the world. You could say the grove of Sal trees Shakyamuni died in was a place of trees and shrubs or you could look closer and realize that it is also the land of tranquil peace and enlightenment. An average person is a Buddha and a Buddha is an average person. Nichiren This brief introduction to the writings of Nichiren is intended to show the newcomer something of the gentle wisdom of this remarkable Teacher. It would be a good idea to read these letters for yourself as you develop in your study. I usually start the people who study with me on the early sutras from the Agama period and then move up into the wisdom sutras to study the concept of emptiness. However, there are inevitably people who want to study and practice by themselves. If you are trying to do this on your own spend a year reading and studying the Pali canon, move on to “The Heart Sutra,” and “The Diamond Sutra,” which will prepare you to understand “The Vimalakirti Sutra.” At this point you should begin studying the Mahayana sutras, start with the Amida sutras, and then read “The Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra.” After you understand these texts you can begin to read “The Threefold Lotus Sutra,” which consists of “The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings,” “The Lotus Sutra,” and “The Sutra of Meditation On the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue.” You will find commentaries and lectures by various Dharma teachers to be helpful to your understanding as you study these various sutras. After you have achieved an adequate level of comprehension you should begin to read the Gosho. “The Opening of the Eyes” and “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind” are two of Nichiren’s major writings that you should study closely. Even if you study and practice by yourself it is still a good idea to belong to a community of believers because sometimes, especially in the early days, you need the 86
support of fellow practitioners. It’s also a good idea to have at least one person with more experience then you that you can go to when you have questions. If nothing else you need to have somebody in your Sangha who really bothers you, a person you just can’t stand. The way you react to that person will tell you how advanced you are in your practice. One person alone is weak; while even weak people who are united are strong this is the reason we are taught to take refuge in the Triple Gem. Itai Doshin is critically important to the success of your practice. If you only take refuge in the Buddha and the Dharma then you are not practicing according to the teachings. If you are not going to follow the directions of the teacher why do you call yourself Buddhist? As you read the writings of Nichiren you will discover that he was critical of many of the teachers of his era because they had drifted away from the central teachings of “The Lotus Sutra.” They also encouraged devotion to Buddhas other then Shakyamuni, which is not filial behavior. No matter how wonderful Amida Buddha or Dainichi Buddha may be they did not come here and teach us the path to liberation and we have no karmic connection to them or we wouldn’t be here. Nichiren often stated that some sutras are more important then others but he never said that any sutra was false or not the teaching of the Buddha. He was a true student of the Mahayana and clearly believed that Shakyamuni taught all the sutras recorded. Nichiren stated clearly that he was not the founder of a new school of Buddhism, nor was he a teacher for some other sect. Nichiren perceived that all schools of Buddhism are all really part of the same thing and that it is stupid and divisive to separate our selves into categories. Categories are not real. “The Lotus Sutra” is the unifying teaching of the Buddha and when we understand this fact then we embrace all the students of the Buddha with love. We see all Buddhists as members of our Sangha. There are differences in the outer forms of our various practices but nothing really very serious. I’ve practiced quiet sitting meditation techniques but I now chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo because it works better then anything else I’ve ever tried. Chanting is easy to learn and it will change your life dramatically in a short time. When you chant sit so that you are comfortable. It amazes me that people torment their bodies to such a great extent because they somehow think it is necessary to adopt certain postures when they are meditating. This self-torture is foolish and will not help you practice in any way. While it’s true that you can train the body to endure many unpleasant things meditation training is not supposed to be agonizing, it’s supposed to develop your focus and concentration so that you become alert to the way things really are. Meditation also leads to peace, tranquility, and wisdom.
Heart Advice On How To Be Happy
Happiness is the number one priority of every person on this planet. Since this is so obviously true isn’t it amazing that very few people do anything at all about achieving this goal? Developing your mind and human potential is the only important job that we have in this lifetime. All other human endeavors are like ice sculptures 87
melting in the hot sun. There is nothing that you can create or achieve that is not transitory; most of our accomplishments die with us. How foolish then to waste all of our time and resources on things that will soon fade away. Our mental and spiritual development is the only thing that has any lasting value. This is why Dharma practice is concerned with improving these qualities in us. To become a mature human being means to become an enlightened Buddha. As you grow and learn to care deeply about the well-being of all sentient beings you come to realize that loving others as you love yourself is the true path to lasting happiness. This can only be true, however if we actually do begin by loving ourselves. Learn to accept yourself just the way you are, right now. That is important at the beginning. Take responsibility for who you are and resolve to move forward from this moment. Determine in your mind right now that you want to become an enlightened human being. Buddhas come in all sizes, colors, and shapes. When you practice in front of the Gohonzon you are the Buddha! You are therefore worthy of great respect. Once you realize this great truth then you must recognize that all humans have the same potential. Teach yourself to see the Buddha in all the human faces around you. If you actually do the practice taught in this book your entire life will change. If you are poor you will soon start making more money. If you are fat you will become much thinner. It does not matter what problem or issue you pray about, the prayers of the people who practice “The Lotus Sutra” are always answered. I say these things to you because when you change your karma and start living in the higher worlds everything around you will change for the better. I know this to be true from my own experience. I also hear the same kind of things from the people who study with me. If you spend any time at SGI meetings you will hear numerous people tell the same kind of stories. You can end all of the suffering in your life and begin to build a life that is happy and productive by learning the practice I have taught to you in this book. Chant “Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo” in the manner we discussed in Chapter ten. Learn the Gongyo ceremony and study the Dharma every day. If you do these things you will inevitably become an enlightened Buddha at some point in the future. May all the people who read this book find peace and happiness, may all of you grasp the truth and awaken to your real nature and potential. May you all be reborn with me in a happy place where we can study the Dharma and live with all beings in harmony. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, may we bring joy to all people. Stephen L. Klick Kansas City, Kansas May 5, 2001
Common Buddhist Terms
Abhidharma: One of the three baskets of the Tripitaka
Agama Sutras: The teachings Shakyamuni taught that deal with the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and other introductory concepts. (See chapter One) Ajatashatru: King of the state of Magadha. He murdered his father (King Bimbisara) to ascend to the throne. He later repented of his evil ways and became a devoted follower of the Buddha. Amida: The Buddha who resides in the Western Pure Land. Anagamin/Anagami: A ‘non-Returner’ (the third stage of holiness in the Theravada tradition.) Anatta: ‘No self’ Anicca: Impermanence Anuttara-Samyak-Sambodhi: Supreme perfect enlightenment. Arahant: (Also called ‘Arhat’)“One who is worthy of respect,” the highest stage arrived at by Theravada practitioners. Asura: Angry demon or demigod. They were a kind of powerful Titan (or giant) who used powerful magic and often fought with the Devas. They appear in every Indian religion. They rejected truth and embraced falsehood. Avichi: The Hell of constant suffering, you must commit at least one of the five cardinal sins to arrive in this state. Bardo: (also called Ku) the state of in-between where you gather energy until life can be resumed. What you experience depends on the life condition you died in, for example, those in the world of hell will suffer anguish, and those in the world of Bodhisattva will experience bliss. Bhikkhu: Monk Bhikkhuni: Nun Bodhi: Enlightenment Bodhi Tree: Also called Pipal tree, the kind of tree Shakyamuni sat under attain to attain enlightenment. Bodhicitta: The mind of enlightenment. Bodhisattva: One who desires to attain the state of Buddhahood and lives in the world of compassion. Bodhisattvas of the Earth: The Bodhisattvas who appear in “The Lotus Sutra” and vow to propagate these teachings in the latter day of the Law. Any person who chants NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo is a Bodhisattva of the Earth but we usually refer to ourselves as followers of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth as an act of humility. Bon: The native religion of Tibet before the introduction of Buddhism. Brahma: a protective deity Brahma Practices: Religious practices that are done for the right reason. Buddha: A fully awakened being. Butsudan: (Japanese) A Buddhist Altar containing the Mandala called the ’Gohonzon.’ Chandala: the lowest class in Indian society, they were considered ‘untouchable’ because they were undertakers, butchers, or fishermen. Anything job that involved killing were left to this class. Chih-i: (also called the great teacher T’ien T’ai) The Buddha of the Middle Period of the Law. The Middle period is also called the ‘Counterfeit Period of the Law’. Chunda: A blacksmith who offered a meal to Shakyamuni. The meal proved to be his last because he died shortly after eating it. However, the meal was offered in sincerity,
there was nothing wrong with the food. Shakyamuni made it clear that Chunda did not poison him or serve him spoiled food. Circumambulation: A walking meditation around some holy object, usually a stupa or Buddhist statue. Daimoku: The title of “The Lotus Sutra.” To chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Dainichi: See Maha Vairochana Daishonin: Great Sage or wise man. Dakini: A female spirit who supports Dharma practitioners. Dana: a gift or offering freely given (charity) Dengyo: The great teacher Saicho was the founder of the T’ien T’ai sect in Japan, which came to be called the Tendai sect. Deva: There were hundreds of these Indian gods. They are said to have created the Asuras, who almost immediately revolted. According to Indian mythology, this set off a war that is still going on to this day. Devadatta: A cousin of Shakyamuni who at first was a follower but later became an enemy. He tried to kill Shakyamuni and also created a schism in the Sangha. In spite of this behavior, he had also served as a teacher of Shakyamuni in a past life, and in chapter twelve of “The Lotus Sutra” he received a prediction of enlightenment. He is destined to become the Buddha “Heavenly King.” Dhamma/Dharma: Dhamma to Theravadan practitioners, Dharma to the rest of us the word has numerous meanings. It means the Buddhas teaching, Law or truth. Dharmakaya: The mind of any Buddha. Dharani: a memorized phrase, sometimes a mantra, which is used to protect against negative forces. A student pronounces Dharanis every day in the Gongyo ceremony. Dozen Bo: The priest who first taught Nichiren when he was young. Dragon King’s daughter: The dragons supposedly live on the ocean floor. The dragon king’s daughter attained enlightenment in chapter twelve of “The Lotus Sutra.” A recent interesting theory suggests that she was a dolphin. Dukkha: usually translated as ‘suffering,’ it also means impermanence and that which is unsatisfactory. Eagle Peak: (Also called ‘vulture peak’) the mountain in India where Shakyamuni taught “The Lotus Sutra.” Esoteric Teachings: Secret teachings that are given to selected students only after they have been initiated. Essential Teachings: The final thirteen and one half chapters of “The Lotus Sutra.” Exoteric teachings: Teachings that are freely given to anyone who is interested. Five cardinal sins: The worst transgressions possible. They are: Killing your father, killing your mother, killing an Arhat (see above), injuring a Buddha, and bringing about disunity in the Sangha. Flower Garland Sutra: The first teaching of the Buddha, which he preached right after his enlightenment. Seeing that none of his followers understood what he was talking about, he preached what are called the Agama Sutras. Four noble truths: The first teachings from the Agama Sutras. They are explained in chapter one under the heading “monastic teachings.” Fourteen Slanders: Fourteen attitudes you should avoid as a Buddhist practitioner. They are: Shallow understanding, and I list this first because if you do not study you cannot grow in your understanding of the Dharma. Not growing is a serious form of 90
slander. Arrogance, negligence, wrong understanding of the concept of ‘self,’ improper attachment, ignorance, not having faith, scowling or ‘making faces’ at others, having unresolved doubts, slandering, despising, hating, envying and bearing grudges. Garuda: A giant Bird who eats dragons. Some Indian deities rode them. Gandharva: Part man, part horse, (similar to the Greek Centaur) they were adept in the use of musical instruments. Geshe: The equivalent of a Doctor of Philosophy in Tibetan Buddhism. Ghee: The highest grade of clarified butter. Ghee was often used as an example of something that was the finest or best it could possibly be. Gohonzon: The Mandala created by Nichiren and offered to the human race as the best means of manifesting your Buddha nature in the latter day of the law. Never seek this Gohonzon outside of yourself! You are the Buddha whose nature is manifested when you use this tool. Gosho: literally, ‘honored writings,’ this title is applied only to the writings of Nichiren. Great teacher: A title given to enlightened teachers in China and Japan, usually after their death. Grdhrakuta: A mountain in India also called “Eagle Peak” Guru: A Dharma teacher in the Tibetan tradition. Heart Sutra: An amazingly concise stating of the teachings known as ‘The Wisdom Sutras’ that deals with the emptiness of all phenomena. Himyo Hoben: The highest level of the Buddhas teaching. Hinyaya: The early teachings of the Buddha, which aims at achieving the state of arhat. The word literally means “lesser vehicle’ and is not often used because it is seen as derogatory. These teachings are usually called Theravada. Hoyo Hoben: To match teachings to the capacity of a student’s ability. These are the beginning teachings of the Buddha. Hungry Ghosts: People who live in the world of hunger. Early teachings were misunderstood and Shakyamuni’s students thought that the ten worlds were actually places you would be re-born into. Icchantika: A person possessed of incurable disbelief who has no desire to attain Buddhahood. Ichinen Sanzen: Three thousand-life conditions in one thought moment. (see Chapter two) Indra: A swashbuckling god, known for destroying demons and getting drunk. His chariot was the sun and his usual weapon of choice was the thunderbolt. He is also known as Shakra. Itai Doshin: (Japanese) To be many in body but one in mind. Any Sangha needs Itai Doshin to function properly. Jambudvipa: the entire human world. Kalpa: Approximately sixteen million years. Kalavinka: A bird with a beautiful voice. Karma/Kamma: (Kamma is Theravada) means action. The result you receive is based on your intention. Kimnara: A heavenly being with a beautiful voice that protects Dharma practitioners. Khandha: The component parts that make up sensory perception: Physical perception, feelings, concepts or labels, mental formations and sensory consciousness.
Kosen Rufu: Kosen Rufu means world peace but it also means that we want the world we live in to be a Buddhist Pure Land where all people are concerned with spiritual development. Ku: (Also called Bardo in Tibetan Buddhism) the state of in-between where you gather energy until life can be resumed. What you experience depends on the life condition you died in, for example, those in the world of hell will suffer anguish, and those in the world of Bodhisattva will experience bliss. Kumarajiva: (see chapter Five) a remarkable scholar who translated numerous sutras into Chinese. Kyochi Myogo: To fuse reality with wisdom. If you do not Kyochi Myogo with your mattress and pillow, for example, you cannot sleep at night. Latter Day of the Law: The last of the three periods that exist after a Buddha dies. Lama: A spiritual teacher in the Tibetan tradition. Lion throne: Any seat a Buddha uses to teach Dharma. Mahasattva: A great being. Maha Vairochana/Dainichi: A Buddha mentioned in several sutras, worshipped by esoteric practitioners. Mahayana: The greater vehicle teachings of the Buddha. Mahoraga: A deity with the head of a snake who protects Buddhists. Major writings: The five major works of Nichiren Daishonin. They are: “On Establishing The Correct Teaching For The Peace Of The land,” “The Opening Of The Eyes,” “The Object Of Devotion For Observing The Mind,” “The Selection Of The Time,” and “On Repaying debts Of Gratitude.” Mandarava flower: A legendary flower that only grows in the heaven realms. Maitreya: (Also called ‘Ajita’) He is the Bodhisattva that will take Shakyamuni’s place in this world as the next Buddha some five and a half million years from now. Mandala: An object of focus, which allows the practitioner to naturally produce a state of Buddhahood. Mano: The seventh level of consciousness that we incorrectly identify as ‘self.’ Mantra: a phrase that is repeated as a means of producing the state of samadhi. A mantra works because it is based on truth. Mara: This is the negative force present in all of us, which must be overcome if we are to advance in spiritual practice. Metta: Loving kindness Mudra: A mystic hand gestures used in esoteric Buddhism. Mystic Law: The ultimate Law that runs the universe expressed by Nichiren as NamMyoho-Renge-Kyo. Naga: A half man, half snake, this beast lives deep under water. Nayuta: An inexpressibly large number. Nembutsu: A Japanese form of Buddhism that focuses on Amida Buddha. Nirvana: The attainment of enlightenment. When you become enlightened you no longer suffer while living in the world and that is the real nirvana taught by the Buddha. Nirvana Sutra: The final teaching of the Buddha given on the day he died. Notsu Hoben: The middle level Mahayana teachings that emphasize Bodhisattva endeavors.
Paramita: These are practices performed by Bodhisattvas, they are usually listed as the six paramitas, but often the list is expanded to ten. They are: charity, keeping the precepts, forbearance, diligence in practice, meditation, wisdom, to be able to teach by the use of expedient means, keeping your vows, knowledge, and the development of spiritual power. Pratyekabuddha: One who understands cause and effect, also someone who understands the true nature of things by observing the natural environment. Preta: A hungry ghost (see hungry ghost) Pure Land: A land free from impurities. To live in a Buddhist Pure Land you must elevate your life condition and see things the way they really are. Rajagriha: The capitol city of the kingdom of Magadha. Rakshasa: An evil demon with up to twenty heads and one thousand arms. Rigpa: A Tibetan word that means perfect, pure awareness. Rupa: physical phenomena Saddharma-Pundarika Sutra: The title of “The Lotus Sutra” in Sanskrit. “The Lotus Sutra” is the most widely studied text in the Buddhist world. Saha world: The word means “endurance.” The Saha world is often called Samsara. The Saha world is the world we live in now. Sal Trees: A kind of tree that grows in India. Shakyamuni died in a grove of Sal trees. Samadhi: An intense state of concentration that generates first, a state of temporary bliss and then inner peace and tranquility. Samatha: serenity, peacefulness, this is a synonym for Samadhi. Sangha: All followers of the teachings of the Buddha. Sankhara: Mental formations. Sanna: Concepts or labels Seicho-ji Temple: A temple in Awa Province where Nichiren studied as a young man. Shakabuku: To strictly refute someone’s incorrect views concerning the teachings of the Buddha. Shoju: A method of gradually leading others away from incorrect views. Shoten Zenjin: The forces that protect Buddhist practitioners. Shramana: One who leaves worldly cares and becomes a monastic seeker of the way. Shravasti: The capitol city of Kosala in ancient India. Srotaapanna: A follower who has reached the level of ‘stream enterer.’ A ‘stream enterer’ is a person who will never regress back to the six lower worlds; he will continue to live in the upper worlds until he attains Buddhahood. Sumeru: (Also known as Mount Sumeru) According to Indian mythology, Mount Sumeru stands at the center of the world. Stupa: a container that holds the ashes of some highly realized being. Sutra: A teaching or book Tala Trees: A type of palm tree. Tathagata: An honorific title of a Buddha. Tantra: Secret teachings based on later Hindu practices. Tendai School: The T’ien T’ai sect founded in Japan by Dengyo. Ten Directions: The eight directions plus up and down. Theoretical teachings: The first fourteen and one half chapters of “The Lotus Sutra.” Thirty-three heavenly gods: The gods who live on the top of Mount Sumeru.
Three Great Secret Laws: The chanting of ‘Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo,’ the Gohonzon, and the place where the Mandala is enshrined. Three Treasures: (Also called The Triple Gem or The Three Jewels) The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Threefold Lotus Sutra: “The Sutra of Innumerable Meanings.” “The Lotus Sutra,” “The Sutra of Meditation on The Bodhisattva Universal Virtue.” Tripitaka: The three baskets (or groups) of Theravada teachings. They are also known as the Agama sutras. Thus come one: An honorific title of the Buddha. Tushita Heaven: This is the world Bodhisattvas are born into just before they are born into the life where they will attain Buddhahood. This is known as the heaven of satisfaction. Maitreya is said to be living in the Tushita heaven waiting to be born into the Saha world. Twelve link chain of causation: See Chapter one. Two Hundred and fifty precepts: The rules followed by monastic men. Udumbara: A mythical flower that is said to bloom once every three thousand years. Vaishali: One of the great cities of Ancient India that Shakyamuni often visited. Vajra: Wisdom that is unchanging, like a diamond. Vajrayana: The highest vehicle in Tibetan teachings. Varanasi: The capitol of Kashi, one of the states of ancient India. Shakyamuni often preached in Varanasi. Vedana: Feelings of pleasure, pain, or indifference. Vimalakirti: The ideal lay believer who appears in “The Vimalakirti Sutra.” This sutra is the second most popular Buddhist teaching in the world, which means that it is studied every day by millions of people. Vinnana: Sensory consciousness. Vipassana: Insight into the character of impermanence and the actual nature of the universe. Voice Hearer: One who encounters the four noble truths and strives to become an arhat. Votary of “The Lotus Sutra”: One who spreads the teachings of “The Lotus Sutra.” Wheel Turning King: An ideal ruler in Indian mythology who never practiced violence. Wish fulfilling jewel: A mythical gem that will give the bearer anything he wishes for. World Honored One: An honorific title of the Buddha. Yaksha: A type of demon who now protects Buddhism. Yama: (also called King Yama) the ruler of hell who judges people for their acts while alive. Yoga: A method of uniting body and mind into its ‘natural’ state. Yojana: A unit of measurement, which is supposedly based on how far the Indian royal army could march in one day.