An Elitist Race

The Boat RaceThe Boat Race was won this afternoon by Oxford. It was a very close race, with both sides giving their all for the cause, but there was a strange air of pointless strife as we watched the Cambridge president, in his last ever race, being interviewed as a loser.

The whole event, the crews, the boats, even the bridges were smothered in BNY Mellon advertising, the sponsors. How apt, that an elite race, between two elite universities, crewed by elite oarsmen is sponsored by an investment company. A company, whose sole aim is to make money for those who already have more than is good for them.

Whilst the endeavour of the crew members, the months of early morning training, the sacrifices made for the joint cause, must be acknowledged, it is rather difficult to see what difference all the effort really makes to a world of poverty, pain and unhappiness.

Capital Gains?

Money Can’t Buy Me LoveAs the Beatles song from the Sixties said, ‘I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love. Sadly, in our capitalist western society, too many are driven and judged by the money they own, but at what cost?

Sensei was speaking of exactly this issue when he said …

Even if you are born into the most affluent of circumstances or enjoy a spectacular marriage that is the envy of others, there is no guarantee that you will be happy.

Happiness does not depend on wealth or personal appearance, nor does it hinge on fame or recognition. If your heart is empty, you cannot build genuine happiness.

There is an expansive life-state of profound, secure happiness that transcends any material or social advantage. It is called faith; it is called the life-state of Buddhahood.

Of course, money may allow a greater degree of choice in the decisions we take in life, but be assured, it cannot guarantee the happiness that the faith in Buddhahood provides.

Change And Things Will Change Around You

The Italian CoastlineI spent an hour or so on the phone today to Cindy, a lady I have known for over four years, and although we have never met, we are friends. She sometimes rings me when things are going well, or more often when things are going badly, but rarely when things are just going. She’s been trying, though not too hard in hindsight, to move down here to Dorset, but ‘things’ have conspired to get in the way, and now she thinks she might go back to her native Italy to escape the trials and tribulations that life have thrown at her recently.

That got me thinking about how the darkness of life can be lifted by Buddhist Practice, even after a lifetime of wandering in the wilderness, and 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.”

How NMRK Works

The Ibuprofen MoleculePeople have often asked me, how chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo actually works, how it raises my life-energy and puts me in a higher life-state, helps me win, irrespective of the circumstances.

So how can chanting the title of The Lotus Sutra, without the need for reading or studying it, help me enhance the everyday contact with my Buddha nature?

Well chanting, whilst keeping a problem or question in mind, brings forth a certain clarity of thought, which has, on occasion, provided solutions or at least peace of mind.

So why don’t we need to understand The Lotus Sutra, chapter and verse, in order to benefit from it’s wisdom? Well, leaving aside the fact that we do study the major principles that it encompasses, there are a fair number of similarities with complex things in life.

I imagine you have taken painkillers like ibuprofen, a highly complex molecule that took many years to perfect, test and approve. Unless you are a pharmacist or a pharmaceutical chemist, I doubt that you have the slightest idea of how the shape of the molecule blocks the pain receptors in your nervous system. But the tablets work, whether you know, or whether you don’t.

Another good example is the humble motor car. You can drive from Land’s End to John O’Groats without having any knowledge of how an internal combustion engine works or how the friction linings of the brake pads slow the car by turning kinetic energy into heat in the brake disks.

My point is, that some very clever people have spent many, many years developing complicated medicines or machines. Being able to benefit from them is easy, simply because they are so well thought out. So it is with The Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. Shakyamuni Buddha and Nichiren Daishonin spent many, many years perfecting the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Buddhism.

The benefit of chanting is ours simply by chanting the title, studying the Lotus Sutra is not necessary, but is certainly enlightening.

A Yearning For Learning

A Yearning For LearningFollowing on from yesterdays looks at books, the rhymes just keep coming. As we all strive for Buddhahood, the life-state of Learning is a wonderful place to be. I love reading and listening to instructional podcasts and devote as much time as I can to these every day.

Understanding the principles behind our practice is so important. If understanding is missing, chanting and working towards enlightenment is a largely futile exercise. But help is at hand. So much is available on the internet that you can always find the information you need to take your knowledge to the next level.

To make the most of every minute of every day, I often download podcasts from Karen and Jason Jarrett’s website, A Buddhist Podcast. There are dozens of topics covered, as you would imagine, they have been online since 2005, though there has been a slight lull since they moved to Canada.

There are also podcast versions of The Reluctant Buddhist and Buddhism and the Science of Happiness, both read by William Woollard himself, and The Buddha, Geoff and Me, all of which are hugely inspirational.

Learning is not just the way forward, it is the insurance against going back to where we have come. If we stop learning, we stop living, at least living to the full.

Essential Reading

Essential ReadingDaisaku Ikeda, in his Buddhism Day By Day, says this about the act of reading:

‘Reading is dialogue with oneself; it is self-reflection, which cultivates profound humanity. Reading is therefore essential to our development.

It expands and enriches the personality like a seed that germinates after a long time and sends forth many blossom-laden branches.

People who can say of a book ‘this changed my life’ truly understand the meaning of happiness. Reading that sparks inner revolution is desperately needed to escape drowning in the rapidly advancing information society.

Reading is more than intellectual ornamentation; it is a battle for the establishment of the self, a ceaseless challenge that keeps us young and vigorous.’

We all know which book ‘changed my life’, and I can confirm that I understand the meaning of the happiness that this encompasses. Books transformed civilisation in the broadest sense when they became widely available via the printing presses of William Caxton and all those who have followed.

The advent of the world wide web and the internet has simply taken that process to the Nth level. The dissemination of information, and the written word has never been so widespread. Although there are associated dangers and we must be circumspect about the source of the information we consume, there has never been an easier time to read.

Unending Possibilities

Omega Centauri from the Hubble Space Telescope - click to view the full imageWhen we are open and engaged, we experience the greater self. When we are closed off, we are exhibiting our lesser self. The lesser self is a deluded condition, whilst our greater self is synonymous with our Buddha nature.

To live for the greater self means to recognise the universal principle behind all things and, being awaked in this way, rise above the suffering caused by the awareness of impermanence. A belief in something eternal is needed to enhance our quality of life.

By believing that this world is the be-all and end-all of existence, we will miss out, we will not live a truly profound life. When our viewpoint expands beyond the boundaries of our present existence to include the entire, eternal universe, we can finally live deeply fulfilling lives.

It Works For Me

God And Man - Not For Me Thank YouSo many World Religions base their beliefs on a God, a Supreme Being, a Creator or an Entity whose existence is the focus of the religion’s belief. That God, or the followers of him (it’s usually a male god) have set down the laws or rules to tell the followers how to live their lives. The God is almost always the only true god, whose word is law and whose actions and will are unquestionable.

As a confirmed Atheist, that focus never sat comfortably in my psyche. I don’t think anyone really believes in a white haired old man sitting in the clouds these days, but there are millions of people who base their faith on a Being whose existence cannot be proven. In fact, many religions actively seek to dissuade followers from even trying to prove that existence.

I was schooled in the Sciences, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology as well as Psychology, and those sciences demand proof for each and every hypothesis. So when I stumbled, and that is the right way to describe it, upon Nichiren Buddhism, I was overjoyed to find that there was no supreme being and that every part of Practice demands we examine the results of that Practice as proof of it’s validity.

Nichiren Daishonin said that we should seek proof of the effectiveness of our Practice in the results it brings. He also says that if the results do not support the practice, that we should desist.

I don’t want anyone to think that I am putting Nichiren Buddhism above or before any other religion, I am only saying that, for me, it fits my thinking and for me, it works. I have been practicing a little while now, but I’m still learning new things every day, and the results have been amazing so the proof is there for me, and others to see.

The Jewel Of Life

The Jewel Of LifeAs you meet various trials and difficulties, thus polishing all the many facets of the jewel which is life, you will learn to walk that supreme pathway of humanity.

Of this, I am confident, and I am confident too that those who embrace life’s native creativity now stand and will continue to stand in the vanguard of history.

Bringing the creativity of life to its fullest flowering is the work of human revolution. Carrying out this kind of human revolution is your mission now as it will be throughout your lives.

~ Daisaku Ikeda

Say Something Nice

More Bad WeatherWe’re all reeling under the onslaught of the latest surge of bad weather to hit Great Britain. The sheer volume of rain and snow, combined with the strong winds shows us how powerful nature can be, and with at least one person missing, just how fragile our existence on this Earth really is.

It may strike you as a rather strange thought, but something kept playing on my mind all day. I wonder how many people who might lose loved ones in the storms and floods, took the time to tell their partner, child, friend or neighbour, that they loved them this morning.

They will never get that chance again, and may forever wish that they had taken those extra few precious seconds to express their feelings.

We all take life, and the immediate future for granted. Sometimes days, weeks, months or even years go by, without us taking time to make contact with someone for whom we care, but our lives are just too busy or complicated for us to make that call, write that email or even take that trip to reconnect.

Impermanence is key to Buddhist philosophy, nothing is forever. So before it is too late, before the chance has slipped from your grasp, make that contact and tell the person just how much you care.

When you leave the house in the morning, or part company with any other person, let the last thing you say to them, be full of Wisdom, Courage and Compassion, not something you might regret saying for the rest of your life.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: