Repaying Gratitude

Rice FlowersGrass and trees cannot grow without soil. The ‘soil’ that fosters our growth includes our parents, teachers, seniors, our mentor, community and company. In any case, everyone has some special place where they grew up, or someone who nurtured them.

Human beings grow as a result of this nurturing ‘soil’, in which they express their ability and make the flowers of their lives blossom, just as the spirit of the rice plant returns to the soil and the stem sprouts to flower and bear grain once again.

We should repay our debts of gratitude to this ‘soil’ in which we developed. This cycle of repaying gratitude will envelop our whole existence. Our true humanity will never blossom if we seek only to develop ourselves.

Practice Makes Perfect Days

SunshineSome days are fantastic aren’t they? When there are potential problems, when you have doubts about how things might go with an important meeting, there is one certain cure.

The first thing to do is to pray. From the moment we begin to pray, things start moving. The darker the night, the nearer the dawn. From the moment we chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with a deep and powerful resolve, the sun begins to rise in our hearts.

Hope, prayer is the sun of hope. To chant each time we face a problem, overcoming it and elevating our life-state as a result, this is the path of changing earthly desires into enlightenment.

Today was just such a day, and chanting helped it all turn out perfectly.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Keep On Keeping On

Determination and FaithLife has it’s ups and downs, the ups are easy, the downs are not, and that’s where we need to be strong and persevere in our quest for happiness.

What was the secret of Thomas Edison’s success? He explained that it was to never give up before he succeeded in what he was trying to do.

Not giving up, that’s the only way. Once we give up we are defeated.

This is equally true in respect of faith. Quitting is not faith.

We must keep chanting until our prayers are answered and our goals are achieved.

This is the correct way of practice.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Be Constant And Be Strong

Strength When times are easy and things go our way, it is easy to stick to the plan. It is when things go wrong, problems arise or we are distracted from our Practice that we need to summon up our inner strength.

Practicing Nichiren Buddhism is rewarding and fulfilling. Chanting and praying before the Gohonzon becomes part of the everyday routine, and wavering makes us feel that we are letting ourselves and our mentor down.

But we have to remember that being constant takes effort and that allowing ourselves to back slide can be the easiest of things. Nichiren Daishonin wrote to Shinjo Kingo on this very topic way back in 1275 ad, so it’s not a new problem.

This is in regard to the passage “This sutra is hard to uphold.” According to Acharya Ben, you said to him: “I have been practicing the Lotus Sutra correctly since last year, when you told me that those who embrace this sutra will ‘enjoy peace and security in their present existence and good circumstances in future existences.’ Instead, however, great hardships have showered down on me like rain.” Is this true, or did he give me a false report? In either case, I will take advantage of this opportunity to resolve any doubts you may have.

A passage from the Lotus Sutra reads that it is “the most difficult to believe and the most difficult to understand.” Many hear about and accept this sutra, but when great obstacles arise, just as they were told would happen, few remember it and bear it firmly in mind. To accept is easy; to continue is difficult. But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith. Those who uphold this sutra should be prepared to meet difficulties. It is certain, however, that they will “quickly attain the unsurpassed Buddha way.” To “continue” means to cherish Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the most important principle for all the Buddhas of the three existences. The

sutra reads, “We will protect and uphold what the Buddha has entrusted to us.” The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai stated, “One accepts because of one’s power of faith and continues because of one’s power of constant thought.” Another part of the sutra reads, “This sutra is hard to uphold; if one can uphold it even for a short while I will surely rejoice and so will the other Buddhas.”

A fire burns higher when logs are added, and a strong wind makes a kalakula grow larger. The pine tree lives for ten thousand years, and therefore its boughs become bent and twisted. The votary of the Lotus Sutra is like the fire and the kalakula, while his persecutions are like the logs and the wind. The votary of the Lotus Sutra is the Thus Come One whose life span is immeasurable; no wonder his practice is hindered, just as the pine tree’s branches are bent or broken. From now on, always remember the words “This sutra is hard to uphold.”

With my deep respect,

So when times get tough, or distractions occur, be strong and maintain a strong practice. It will help you through the bad times and being constant will help sustain your faith.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

A Sad Truth

The Grim ReaperHaving my Mom stay for a few days is great. It means that we have time to chat and catch up, but more enjoyable than that, the chance to relive old memories.

Sadly, as Mom relates many of the incidents of my youth or family recollections, all too often the final line has been ‘they are in care’ or worse ‘they are no longer with us’.

Of course it’s only one of the facts of life, we all age and die, but I find this inspirational Daisaku Ikeda writing helps put it all in perspective.

“How painful and frightening is the prospect of death for human beings. No matter how wealthy or powerful we may be, all is vanity before death. Everything is empty, like a dream or an illusion. But people do not face this fact.

Nichiren Buddhism teaches us that we can transform our karma and attain a supremely peaceful death that is the start of a journey to our next life.”

Death is the final stage in the Wheel of Life, the stage that precedes our re-birth. There is nothing to fear, we have all been through it time and time again.

A Birthday Party To Remember

Happy Birthday CharlotteWhat a lovely day, the weather was kind to us, it didn’t rain, the sun did shine for a while and it was a lovely party for my eldest daughter today.

Now turning 30 is not generally a particularly happy day for people. These landmark birthdays simply serve to remind us that time stops for nobody. But in the current circumstances, with Charlotte recovering from cancer, reaching another birthday is something to celebrate with gusto.

Within weeks Charlotte will also give birth to our fourth grandchild, another reason for celebration. All positive, all going in the right direction and Charlotte has been amazing throughout. Happy birthday Charlotte, we all love you so very much.

Of course, birthdays have always been a reason for celebration, here is a letter from Nichiren Daishonin written in 1271 …

The Birth of Tsukimaro

I UNDERSTAND that your baby has been born. Congratulations! In particular, today is the eighth day of the month. Not only have you had your baby, but on such an auspicious day! The fulfilment of your wish is now complete, just like the tide at the high watermark or the blossoming of flowers in a spring meadow. Thus, I have wasted no time in giving her a name. Please call her Tsukimaro.

What is more, Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, the sovereign deity of this country, was born on the eighth day of the fourth month. Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings in this saha world, was also born on the eighth day of the fourth month. Though the month is different, your baby girl was also born on the eighth day. She could well be the reincarnation of Shakyamuni Buddha or Hachiman. Since I am an ordinary man, I have no way of knowing for certain, but I am convinced that the reason for this auspicious birth is that I gave you the protective agent. How happy you, her parents, must be! In celebration, you have kindly sent me rice cakes, sake, and one thousand coins. I have also reported this to the object of devotion and the ten demon daughters.

When the Buddha was born in this world, there were thirty-two auspicious phenomena, as is recorded in a work called The Record of Wonders in the Book of Chou. Immediately following his birth, Shakyamuni Buddha took seven steps, opened his mouth, and uttered the words, expressed in sixteen characters, “Throughout heaven and earth, I alone am worthy of respect. The three- fold world is a place of suffering from which I will save all living beings.” Tsukimaro must have chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with her very first cry at birth. The Lotus Sutra speaks of “the true aspect of all phenomena.” T’ien-t’ai said, “Voices do the Buddha’s work.” This is also what I think. The deaf cannot hear the thunder, and the blind cannot see the light of the sun and moon. But I am quite certain that the ten demon daughters must be together side by side, giving the baby her first bath and watching over her growth.

Let me heartily congratulate you. I can imagine your joy. I have respectfully reported this to the ten demon daughters and to the Sun Goddess. I am too excited to write any more. I will be writing you again.


The Gohonzon Explained

What is the Gohonzon?

The Butsudan At Taplow Court - SGI-UK HeadquartersThe Gohonzon is the prime point of faith, practice and study in Nichiren Buddhism. It provides us with a correct model or standard of faith and practice for our time. It usually takes the form of a paper scroll, with Chinese and Sanskrit characters printed on it in black ink. It is kept in a protective box, or butsudan. The area around the Gohonzon often has offerings of light (in the form of candles), evergreen, incense, water, and fruit. You may also see other offerings, and items like a bell around the butsudan.

In Reply to Kyo’o the Daishonin writes,

“I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart.”

Although the Gohonzon takes the form of a paper scroll, it is vital that when we are chanting to it, it is not seen as outside one’s life. It is through our chanting to the ‘external’ Gohonzon in the butsudan, that we activate all the forces and functions within our own lives.

Nichiren Daishonin began to inscribe the Gohonzon for his followers around the time of his exile to Sado in 1271. He wanted to establish an object of fundamental respect which would enable anyone chanting to it to awaken the Buddhahood in their lives, and to experience the same life state as he did. Nichiren Daishonin provided us with the means to draw out the state of Buddhahood inherent in life.

The word ‘Gohonzon’ is translated into English as ‘object of fundamental respect’. ‘Go’ is an honorific prefix, and ‘honzon’ means what it is that we base our lives on.

Nichiren Daishonin was aware of the difficulty people had in believing that the life state of the Buddha could exist in their lives, and then how hard it is to manifest it. His writing The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind [WND p354] is in the form of a dialogue which strives to persuade the listener that if all the other nine worlds can be perceived in one’s life, then Buddhahood must be too. He inscribed the Gohonzon for individuals so that they would have a constant reminder of the eternal law, the cause for this life state, and which would serve as a focus for their daily practice, as well as functioning as the external cause for drawing out Buddhahood and revealing their greater self.

It is not necessary to be able to read or understand the characters on the Gohonzon in order to experience benefit from chanting to it. The Daishonin used script or calligraphy for the Gohonzon because he wanted the Gohonzon to be a universal mirror, free of the connotations of race and gender inherent in pictures or images.

The Calligraphy on the Gohonzon

The Gohonzon is sometimes described as a ‘mandala’, a word used in the East to describe an object in which Buddhas and bodhisattvas are depicted or on which a philosophical doctrine is expressed. Originally it meant a circle drawn in the earth around the place where a religious ceremony was to take place. The circle embraced all the people who participated in the ceremony, and was believed to protect them from negative influences. The word mandala was rendered in Chinese as ‘perfectly endowed’ or ‘cluster of blessings’.

Using Chinese calligraphy, Nichiren Daishonin put the characters Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren boldly down the centre of the Gohonzon. This represents the oneness of the Person and the Law. In other words, the ordinary person is the Buddha, and the Mystic Law is inherent in each living being. He then surrounded these characters with the names of people referred to in the Lotus Sutra, such as Shakyamuni Buddha and Many Treasures and others. All the characters represent an aspect of life, whether as a protective function, or as a representative of the ten worlds, and all are illuminated by the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In the writing The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon Nichiren Daishonin explains why he placed the particular characters where he did. The blueprint for the Gohonzon was the description in the Lotus Sutra of the Ceremony in the Air, when a great jewelled Treasure Tower emerged out of the earth, and many Buddhas and bodhisattvas gathered to hear the Buddha Taho (or Many Treasures) confirm the truth that Shakyamuni had taught – that we all have the potential to reveal our Buddha nature in our daily life, as we are. This story in the Lotus Sutra represented the emergence of the state of Buddhahood in countless peoples’ lives, called Bodhisattvas of the Earth (the people who promised to propagate Nam-myoho-renge-kyo at the time we now live).

Shakyamuni described the dramatic events of the Tower emerging from out of the ground and reaching high into the sky. It was encrusted with precious gems and was intended to represent life with all its mystic and wonderful qualities. As it halted, floating in the air, the doors of the Tower opened and the Buddha Many Treasures was seen sitting inside. This Buddha invited Shakyamuni to enter and sit in the place of honour on Many Treasures’ right hand side. As we look at the Gohonzon, then, it is as if Shakyamuni and Many Treasures are in the Tower looking out at us and all the other characters on the Gohonzon. Then the Buddhas lifted the tower and the assembled company into the air, in what is known as the Ceremony in the Air, an event not limited to any particular time or place. When we look at the Gohonzon in this way, we realize that we are among the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Through chanting to the Gohonzon, we are participating in the Ceremony in the Air, just as described in the Lotus Sutra.

The Gohonzon is said to contain all aspects of life, so it includes not just the positive and value creating qualities of life represented by the Buddha’s good disciples, but also examples of evil and destruction. For instance the representative of fundamental darkness, the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven is also included on it, although he too is bathed in the transforming power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and revealing his enlightened rather than his negative aspects.

The four corners of the Gohonzon each contain a Heavenly King, a character that represents the protective forces of the universe. Between these, in the middle of each side, and written in Sanskrit calligraphy are the characters Aizen (or Craving Filled) on the left as we look at the Gohonzon and Fudo (or Immovable) on the right, who represent the principles that `earthly desires are enlightenment` and `the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana`, respectively. Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings enable us to transform our desires and our sufferings into enlightenment, rather than having to deny them.

Practising with the Gohonzon

Nichiren Daishonin teaches that the Gohonzon enables us to see the ten worlds in our lives, in other words, that we have Buddhahood, and can use it. It is easy to see the lower life states, and to have the illusion that we can never be like the Buddha. The Gohonzon is described as a clear mirror which shows the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and all its manifestations in the different life states, revealing their enlightened qualities.

The way to practise is to have the attitude while we are chanting that we are in no way different or separate from the eternal Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or the Buddhas who are enlightened to that Law. The key is to praise one’s inherent Buddhahood and then go out into the world and practise as a bodhisattva, treasuring others, encouraging them to experience their Buddhahood too.

Through studying Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and awakening the wisdom we have within our lives, we become alive with the qualities of the Buddha state that are embodied in the Gohonzon. At the same time, we develop a natural desire to change our lives so that we bring out more and more consistently the condition of Buddha revealed by the Gohonzon. The more we practise with this desire to change, the more our lives and Nichiren Daishonin’s life-state embodied in the Gohonzon become as one.

This is a gradual process. When we practise to the Gohonzon, Nichiren Daishonin said we are simultaneously in the state of Buddhahood or enlightenment, but we cannot easily discern that life condition with our minds; therefore we do not always act accordingly. However, through our constant relationship with the Gohonzon, we gradually challenge and overcome the influence of negativity arising from our karma. As we open up our hearts we can begin to experience all those qualities of Buddhahood working naturally and vibrantly inside us and affecting everything that we think and say and do.

President Ikeda has recently described the process as this:

“When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo while practising for ourselves and others, with the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo manifested by the Buddha as our clear mirror, and with deep confidence in the Gohonzon existing in our own lives, Myoho-renge-kyo within us resonates with the Myoho-renge-kyo outside us, and the world of Buddhahood emerges within us.”

[World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings Part 12]

Unity in Buddhism

Nichiren DaishoninTo start the process of Human Revolution you must meet the right teaching. The best and easiest way to do this is to have a mentor. Nichiren Daishonin was the ultimate in mentors and his successors, right through to Daisaku Ikeda have followed his teachings, been his disciples and, in turn, become amazing mentors in their own right. Find the right mentor and follow the right teaching.

‘Many in Body – One in Mind’ and the ‘Oneness of Mentor and Disciple’

In many of Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, the principle of unity is stressed again and again. Unity starts with the individual. He writes: ‘Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure.’ (1)

We all know what it is like to be ‘at cross purposes’ – those feelings of indecision, confusion or vagueness. Maybe we have also experienced the opposite feeling when we are focused on a goal and confident that we will not deviate from our path towards it, and ready for any problem that may appear to try to hinder us.

Truly fulfilling our potential, however, is dependent on more than not being ‘at cross purposes’ with our self. Although practising Nichiren Buddhism brings happiness to each of us as individuals, this alone is not enough. As Nichiren Daishonin explains:

All disciples and lay supporters of Nichiren should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the spirit of many in body but one in mind, transcending all differences among themselves to become as inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim. This spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate Law of life and death. Herein lies the true goal of Nichiren’s propagation. When you are so united, even the great desire for widespread propagation can be fulfilled. But if any of Nichiren’s disciples disrupt the unity of many in body but one in mind, they would be like warriors who destroy their own castle from within. (2)

Many in Body, One in Mind

When we look at our neighbours, our colleagues, even members of our family, we can see that while there are clearly similarities between some groups of people, there are also enormous differences. Around the world, cultural and language differences can appear insurmountable.

Nichiren Daishonin accepts that we are all very different; in fact we are each unique. He asks us to learn to respect other people’s unique characteristics and differences. This becomes much easier to do when we look beneath the surface and recall that everyone has the qualities of a Buddha deep in their lives, even if it is not yet apparent.

Although we are all different (‘many in body’), it is possible for us to share a common goal, or ‘one mind’. This does not mean that we all have to ‘think the same’, as past experience of totalitarian regimes may indicate. Indeed, it is essential for us to develop our own unique qualities to the full. As Nichiren Daishonin pointed out, different sorts of fruit are perfect in themselves. A pear, for example, should not try to be, or to taste like, a plum. All of our own individual talents and characteristics are necessary for us to realise our goal of a harmonious peaceful world. The essence of ‘many in body – one in mind’ (Japanese. itai doshin) is for us to learn how to transcend the differences between us; to develop respect for each person in our environment.

The concept of many in body, one in mind is based on the vow of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is contained in the Lotus Sutra, ‘to make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.’ (3) Therefore true enlightenment only comes from helping others to achieve the same state of life. This vow is at the heart of Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

Consequently, those who chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo share the same ideal of basing their actions on the qualities of courage, compassion and wisdom, which is in fact ‘attaining Buddhahood’. When we see a positive change in our self, we naturally want to encourage others to reveal their potential in the same way. This leads to a desire for the widespread propagation of Buddhist philosophy throughout the world so that society becomes based on fundamental respect for life, rather than on greed, anger or foolishness.

This leads to another important principle – that of the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’, or as it is sometimes referred to – ‘the mentor and disciple relationship’.

The Oneness of Mentor and Disciple

The ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’ is a principle which has profound significance in Buddhism. Nichiren Daishonin re-confirmed Shakyamuni’s plea to his followers to: ‘Rely on the Law and not upon persons’(4). Therefore, we do not worship or pray to statues of the Daishonin or Shakyamuni. Rather we have an object of devotion – the Gohonzon – which is a representation of Nichiren Daishonin’s enlightened life state. However, the Daishonin also stated that we should ‘seek out the votary of the Lotus Sutra and make him our teacher.’ (5)

There are many examples in society of the relationship between a teacher and student, or a master and apprentice. Generally this relationship occurs when a mentor or teacher has some knowledge or skill which they want to pass on to someone else. In the case of Nichiren Buddhism it is the essence of the teachings that the mentor is communicating. Both mentor and disciple are therefore equal and united in their desire to become enlightened. A true mentor desires that the disciples will eventually surpass them in understanding whilst a true disciple shares the same sense of responsibility and commitment to the Law as the mentor.

We may come to a time when we think we understand everything about Nichiren Buddhism. At this point we can stop making as much effort in our practice as we previously did. Then, without being aware of it, start to stagnate in faith and stop seeing positive changes in our life. In order to continue developing our self and speaking with sincerity to others about the teachings, it is vital for us to remain close to the heart of Nichiren Buddhism so that we are able to maintain a strong life state.

We consider that Nichiren Daishonin is our mentor because he provided us with a profound teaching. He first expounded Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and inscribed his enlightened life-condition in the Gohonzon, which enables us to reveal our own inherent Buddha nature. His life is an inspiring example of the potential an ordinary human being has to single-mindedly achieve all their goals. We are able to read about his extraordinary life in the many letters of encouragement he wrote to his followers. Consequently, Nichiren Daishonin has been called the ‘mentor of life’ (6).

Daisaku Ikeda was born in 1928 and began practising this Buddhism just after the Second World War, when he was 19 years old. He became the third President of the Soka Gakkai in 1960. His example has shown us how to practise and spread Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings in twenty-first century. Therefore, he has been described as the ‘mentor for kosen-rufu [widespread propagation]’ (7). SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance and activities are thoroughly based on his profound understanding of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin.

Studying any of Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance we can see how he has continually applied the principles of Nichiren Buddhism in order to achieve wonderful victories in all areas of his life. Yet he does not proclaim himself to be our ‘mentor’. His great pride is to be the disciple of his predecessor second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900 – 1958), who in turn was the disciple of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871 -1944).

The mentor-disciple relationship in Nichiren Buddhism depends upon the disciple or how the disciple responds. We choose the mentor, not the other way round. If we look at this from another angle, we can see that it is the activities and achievements of the disciple that validates the mentor. This concept is very different from a traditional understanding of the function of religious leaders, such as guru’s, saviours or saints, to give security and reassurance to their disciples.

President Ikeda clarifies this as follows:

“The Daishonin urges his followers to practise ‘just as Nichiren’ and to ‘spread the Lotus Sutra as he does’. Disciples who wait for the mentor to do something for them are disciples of the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings. True disciples of the Lotus Sutra are those who struggle just as the mentor does.”(8)

The oneness of mentor and disciple in Nichiren Buddhism is not a passive relationship, where the disciple waits for instructions from the mentor. It is an active two-way process based on a vow or pledge that both disciple and mentor make to continuously develop their characters for the sake of the happiness of other people.

President Ikeda has likened the concepts of ‘many in body, one in mind’ and the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’ to the process of making a beautiful cloth or carpet:

The warp represents the bond of mentor and disciple, and the weft to the bond of fellow members. When these are interlaced, a splendid brocade of kosen-rufu is created. (9)

The mentor-disciple relationship provides the vertical ‘structure’ and the members are like the individual multi-coloured strands of thread that bonded together form the ‘pattern or design’. This principle applies to people chanting together in small local groups as well as to the world wide organisation.

If we wish to see a change in the core values of our society, then learning how to work in harmonious co-operation with our fellow human beings is crucial. Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings are rooted in a humanistic belief that each person is deeply worthy of respect. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo gives each person the ability to reveal their highest life condition. President Ikeda’s guidance and actions for peace becomes a model for us to transform our society.

  1. Nichiren Daishonin, ‘Many in Body, One in Mind’ (WND p. 618).
  2. Nichiren Daishonin, ‘The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life’ (WND p. 217).
  3. Burton Watson, The Lotus Sutra (Columbia University Press, 1993) p. 36.
  4. Nirvana Sutra
  5. Nichiren Daishonin, ‘The Opening of the Eyes’ (WND p. 278).
  6. See Suzanne Pritchard’s article ‘The Oneness of Mentor and Disciple’ in the Art of Living, September 2004.
  7. ibid
  8. Daisaku Ikeda, The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings (SGI-Malaysia, 2004) Vol. 1, pp. 164-165. See also ‘The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings’ No. 8 (SGI Newsletter No. 5290, 2 October 2002).
  9. Daisaku Ikeda, The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings (SGI-Malaysia, 2004) Vol. 1, p. 135. See also ‘The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings’ No. 7 (SGI Newsletter No. 5251 22 August 2002).

Oneness of Life and Its Environment

Colours Of LifeJoey Wilson’s comment about us having never met, and yet we feel like we are friends, about how the darkness of life can be lifted by Buddhist Practice, even after a lifetime of wandering in the wilderness, got me thinking of the ultimate truth. When we change, everything around us changes too. When we embrace dedicated Practice, there is nothing out there that can defeat us. Everything comes from within, even defeat comes from within ourselves. When we are resolute, when we decide to win, we will win. This is not an egotistical view, it is based purely on the fact that, ultimately we can control our own Karma and with that control we take control of our surroundings. This is called The Oneness of Life and its Environment and importantly, nothing that has gone before affects what will be in the future if we make the changes in ourselves.

Historically, human societies worked in co-operation with and felt a profound physical and spiritual connection with their natural environment. Arguably, the by-product of scientific advance has been the loss of this reverence, for example, the creation of industrial cities at the expense of vast tracts of land. This has led to an increasing need to dominate and exploit natural phenomena for profit.

These days we know that the environment has an immense effect on people, for example, turn on the television and we may well find a programme trying to unravel whether our path in life is shaped through ‘nurture’ (one’s upbringing) or through ‘nature’ (genetic inheritance). Plus the lack of green space in our cities has been blamed for the rise in asthma-related illnesses in children.

However, whilst our environment can influence us either positively or negatively, it also works the other way round: we can influence and change our environment. This is because human beings and their environment are inextricably connected. In his writings Nichiren Daishonin likens human beings to the body and the environment to a shadow cast by the body and stated that when the body bends the shadow bends too. We may already see this theory at work through, for example, a person whose extraordinary presence can ‘light up a room’ when they enter it!

Nichiren Buddhism, however, goes beyond this superficial level. The ‘shadow’ is cast out far beyond human life, it also encompasses the natural environment, space and the entire cosmos. This belief is rooted in an incredibly profound theory known as the oneness of life and its environment (Japanese. esho funi), which firmly places human life as an integral part of the vast physical universe. However, it is not merely a passive statement that we are all ‘part of nature’, rather it should be used as an active tool to overcome problems in our own life and the world.

At a fundamental level there is no separation between our internal life and our immediate circumstances. Therefore, the causes we make through our thought, word and action manifest in our external surroundings. Once we acknowledge that we shape our environment, both constructively and destructively, we become more confident to tackle issues, that cause us suffering.

This is further clarified by examining the doctrine of three realms: the realm of the self, the realm of living beings (society) and the realm of the land (natural environment).

Realm of the Self

Life consists of the five components: form, perception, conception, volition and consciousness. Form is the physical aspect: i.e. male or female, tall or short. It also includes our five sense organs, eyes, ears, tongue, nose and skin. The other four components are the mental aspects of an individual life. Perception is the function of receiving information through the senses. Conception is the function of analysing the received information and forming a coherent mental picture. Volition is the desire to take action based on this information. Consciousness unites all these thought processes.

One of the immediate benefits of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is that our perception changes and our sense organs become purified. Thus we begin to see ourselves and our environment in a different light. This may result in us no longer seeing our circumstances as hellish or in our perceiving that we have the power to change them in a positive way.

Realm of Living Beings (Society)

This indicates the collective body of individuals who interact with one another. Each individual is born into a social environment with its own unique set of cultural or hereditary rules. A person is a product of this and equally contributes to and modifies it.

This also encompasses other life forms. For example, walking through a forest we can encounter a large amount of life forms, from birds above our heads to tiny organisms in the ground beneath our feet, all occupying their own unique environment and cycle of existence. Yet each one is joined to us and each other by a thread of life. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda explains:

Nature is one vast organic movement directed by a single life-force and operated by means of a single gigantic nervous system, a majestic and harmonious order in which countless living organisms coexist and cooperate, but also devour each other to keep the system alive.

Realm of the Land (Natural Environment)

This is the place or land where people live and carry out their day-to-day activities. The state of the land is a reflection of the state of life of the people living on it. As Nichiren Daishonin points out:

“…if the minds of living beings are impure, their land is also impure, but if their minds are pure, so is their land. There are not two lands, pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds.”

What can we do?

Once we fully grasp the implications of the oneness of life and its environment we realise that in order to create a truly harmonious, peaceful world we must learn how to respect the inherent dignity and greatness of life. This includes not only the beauty and majesty of nature but also of other human beings. The process starts in the realm of the self. As we develop respect for our own life we also establish respect for others. However this process is not one way. Indeed, it is the very act of striving to respect others that at the same time develops our own inner confidence. Learning to respect ourselves and others creates a change in our fundamental life-condition.

It doesn’t mean that in order to achieve this kind of attitude we have to physically cut ourselves off from modern society and retreat to a forest to contemplate or worship nature! Transforming deep-rooted tendencies which have caused us to disrespect ourselves or others is not a matter of will power or finding a way to control our mind. As we continue to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we naturally begin to be in harmony with the universal life force or thread of life that connects us to all living beings. The principle of the ten worlds becomes clearer when we understand this connection.

Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we can alter the core condition of our lives. Thus our negative perception of our situation can change to a positive one, the starting point for us to make an actual change in our situation or environment. We gradually move towards a life where our Buddha nature, a state where we feel hopeful, stronger and more confident, is increasingly dominant. Thus we develop the qualities of courage, compassion and wisdom and we can start to overcome our negative and destructive tendencies, which previously we may not even have been able to see.

Nichiren Daishonin also teaches that when we transform ourselves at a profound level we not only resolve our immediate problems, but also make a powerful cause to change issues in the global environment. In other words, when people change, society changes. This may sound like a slow and ineffectual process, especially when we are confronted with an increasing amount of global catastrophes both natural and man-made. It could be argued that urgent action is needed to resolve these, rather than working on our own self awareness. But attempts to solve issues, like global warming for example, often illustrate how unclear we are about our own contribution to these problems. It is easy to feel powerless or even apathetic about what is happening in a world seemingly beyond our control.

Yet we can easily see the impact our own negativity, anger or greed has on our environment, for example, after a bad day at work we could succumb to an attack of road rage and then, arriving home full of anger, take it out on our nearest and dearest. It’s just a small jump to see the collective results of greed, anger and ignorance on an international or global level. War, famine and environmental destruction are examples of man-made catastrophes in the realm of living beings (society), which have had a devastating effect on the natural environment (realm of the land).

Making the concept of oneness of self and environment a core principle in our life gives us courage and hope because as we chant and see our own potential to overcome negativity, we realise that we have the power to alter the progress of our society. As we become more hopeful, so our desire to change things around us grows and a ripple of positive thoughts and actions, starting from us, spreads out to other people in our immediate environment and further still, eventually affecting all humanity. This means that the collective causes made by human beings start to reflect a more positive life-state, one in which the dignity of all life is more important than satisfying a never-ending demand for profit. In this scenario societies will learn how to develop a harmonious relationship with the natural world, taking only what they need to survive.

As President Ikeda concludes:

“At the core of the human spirit, there is a potential love for other human beings and for nature. There is also an irresistible urge to challenge the riddles of life and the universe, an impulse to search for the aesthetic beauty and scientific truth. Love, the longing for beauty, the thirst for religion, the yearning for truth: these are all eminently human energies, and through the expression and manifestation of these energies great changes are brought about in the human environment.”

Overcoming Obstacles

My Dark Passenger - Our Fundamental DarknessFollowing on from yesterday’s post about Human Revolution, today’s lesson from the SGI-UK website is all about overcoming the everyday problems that life throws at us. Having the confidence to tackle them head on, given to us through the process of Human Revolution, enables us to stay positive, to turn poison into medicine, to solve those problems and ultimately to live a happy and fulfilled life.

Overcoming Obstacles

This negative aspect is often referred to as the ‘three obstacles and four devils’ (in Japanese, sansho shima). Obstacles refer to things which appear to be outside of ourselves (but which ultimately have their origins in our lives) and the devils, or negative elements, are ‘internal’. What makes these obstacles and devils serious is that if we are influenced by them we may stop practising Buddhism. They confront us at a specific point in time – usually when we are about to grow in our lives and move forward. The fact that at a difficult moment we may think that we should stop practising is a sign that it is an attack of one of the three obstacles and four devils. From a positive point of view these hindrances enable us to see a weakness in our lives so that we can chant and become stronger in that area.

The first is the obstacle of earthly desires. Buddhism teaches that our earthly desires may be transformed into enlightenment. Second is the obstacle of karma, which includes the influence of those who are close to us such as a spouse, partner or children. Third is the obstacle of retribution, which means opposition from those with power over us, such as our superiors, parents or people in authority.

The devils come from within our own lives. We create our own negativity, our own doubt, uncertainty and confusion. The first devil arises from our earthly desires. It can include egoism, craving for personal fame and riches, laziness or being dominated by force of habit. It can also arise from the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity.

Second is the devil of weakness that can arise in our own bodies, such as an illness which will hold us back and reduce our capacity. Third is the devil which manifests as the hindrance of death. Unless we are confident that death is not ‘the end’, but rather another phase in the cycle of life and death – then another person’s death can trigger a sense of doubt and can considerably weaken our will to practise Buddhism, even though Buddhism is intended to relieve us from the sufferings of birth and death.

Finally the fourth devil is known as the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven who, in Buddhist mythology, works to obstruct Buddhist practice and drain our life force. This is the manifestation of fundamental darkness inherent in life. And because of this can be seen as the most challenging aspect of negativity to conquer. When influential people persuade or threaten us to stop practising this could be said to be the workings of the Devil of the Sixth Heaven.

Whatever form they take, the Daishonin advises us to take these obstacles and devils as confirmation that we are properly practising the true Law through which ordinary people become Buddhas. They offer us insight into aspects of our human revolution, ways to strengthen our lives and assurance that we are on the verge of achieving this, so long as we are neither influenced nor frightened by them. Human revolution includes experiencing this process and transforming some aspect of ourselves. It indicates the real experience of finding we have to confront something. It also includes our need to gain the inner conviction that we can win over the obstacle in question.

In Buddhism, the term ‘fundamental darkness’ is used to describe the ignorance and delusion inherent in human life. This is the ignorance of the fact that we all have the state of Buddhahood in our lives, at all times, latent and ready to be revealed. The aim of our great struggle for kosen-rufu, our movement of human revolution, is to transform that innate darkness into light. Our goal is to vanquish the destructive tendencies within human life that give rise to mutual distrust and hate, violence and fear. The three obstacles and four devils become an indispensable means for doing this. That is why we should rejoice when they appear.

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