Karma, A Matter Of Life And Death

Karma, the Buddhist name for the laws of cause and effect, are graphically demonstrated in this BBC documentary about the results of poor standards of driving in a large proportion of young UK drivers.

The BBC describe the program thus …

Karma, A Matter Of Life And DeathAfter her own accident left her unable to walk, Sophie Morgan wants to know why traffic collisions are the single biggest killer of young people – and how that can be stopped. With exclusive access and insight into a number of high profile cases from the moment of the crash through to resolution in the courts, she meets people who, like her, have seen their lives changed forever in a single instant – whether they were injured or they were driving the car.

As she follows the progress of families like the Singhs, devastated by an accident caused by a footballer from one of the country’s biggest clubs, she hears emotional stories of regret and recovery, finds out what it means to be responsible for a death on the roads and discovers one way that the rate of accidents involving young drivers could be brought down.

Sophie also encounters drivers who race illegally on public roads with no thought for anyone’s safety and, after a reunion with the passengers she could have killed, is forced to think again about her actions – and her driving – back on the night that she crashed.

Watch it here …

Watching is not for the feint hearted, scenes of death and life changing injury follow one after another. But for any young person reading this, or indeed one of their parents or guardians, I urge you to have the courage to stick with it.

It’s All In Your Head

Challenges NOT ProblemsWe are all aware of what we mean by problems and challenges, and we know that there is no difference, other than in our head. Problems are things we worry we cannot overcome, challenges are things we believe that we can. Having the confidence and determination to tackle things head on enables us to stay positive, to turn poison into medicine, to take on those challenges (we don’t do problems here) and ultimately to live a happy and fulfilled life. But if we let our mind magnify the challenge, our Fundamental Darkness takes control, and these obstacles grow and grow.

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.

Perfect Kindling For Faith

Click here for detailsI know, I’m always going on about this brilliant book, but The Buddha, Geoff and Me will be available in Kindle format from May 3rd and not before time.

An amazing, invigorating and enlightening story about a young man’s friendship with a Nichiren Buddhist, who teaches him the principles of the religion and a lot more about the lessons of life.

For anyone interested in Buddhism (particularly Nichiren Buddhism) its teachings and practices, in the most readable style, the book is a must read.

This book will transform your thinking, help you to control your mood (life states) and lead you toward a more meaningful life. Buy it here in book form or in Kindle format here.

I don’t think it is overstating the case, when I say that this book changed the course of my life forever. It lead me to Nichiren Buddhism, and that in turn has transformed the way I think, speak and act, each and every day of my life.

It relates Nichiren Buddhism to everyday life so well, and in such an understandable form, it should be required reading for all students, it would change the world.

You Decide

HonestyWhen you find yourself in a situation where you have to decide what happens next, you must be completely honest with everyone concerned, including yourself. When that decision is possibly not what others expect or want, you must show a lot of compassion when you announce it.

Of course you can hurt others if when your decision is contrary to theirs, but you will hurt them more by delaying or by going along with them, just to go with the flow. Eventually, your feelings will show and the result will only be more angst for all.

We all have a responsibility for the decisions we make in life. As we know, karma is the collection of causes and effects that our decisions amass. So when you feel that you have to make a decision that will be difficult for others to accept, make it quickly, announce it gently but firmly, and reduce the pain, to you and those affected, to the minimum.

Here We Go Again?

Syria Uses Sarin?Reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria have raised the possibility of Western intervention in the on-going civil war. However, much like Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the evidence of the use of such weapons is flimsy to say the least, with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel using phrases such as ‘some degree of varying confidence’ that they have been deployed.

Images in the morning press, purporting to be of victims of a sarin gas attack, look like people with shaving foam spread around their mouths and with people treating them apparently wearing no protection whatsoever. All very emotive, but rather unconvincing.

There is even a great deal of confusion regarding who used the weapon, with each side accusing the other of the atrocity. Suggestions are, that a single shell has been fired, by persons unknown, at a very innocuous target, begging the question why? It has also been suggested that it may have been done in error. All less than convincing evidence in so many ways.

If, and it is a big if, this is a Western ploy to gain a UN mandate to allow us to go into Syria, it is not only a desperately cynical act, but also may involve us in yet another Middle-Eastern conflict, with all the repercussions, costs and lost lives that will incur.

Whilst there is clearly a need for humanitarian intervention in the situation in Syria, let us please take a step back from getting involved in yet another half baked military exercise. Surely two sorties into Iraq, followed by a continuing campaign in Afghanistan have shown that we, the West, are not qualified to go around solving other countries issues.

Let the United Nations gather what little there seems to be, and then, and only then, if there is overwhelming evidence to show that chemical weapons have been used, take appropriate action as an organisation. Whatever is done, it must be in the name of Peace and not in the name of another futile War.

Badgering The Scientists

Badgering The ScientistsSometimes, being caught up in traffic can be a good thing. For example, had I sailed through to the office this morning, I might well have missed the latest round of debate on the forthcoming, and in my opinion, ill conceived badger cull, taking place in Somerset and Gloucestershire this coming summer.

A meeting will take place today at the Royal Society in London, to further examine the science behind the cull. Two of the protagonists, speaking on Radio 4’s Today program, made it clear that there is anything but consensus amongst scientists when it comes to the best way to eradicate, or even reduce, the incidence of bovine TB in the UK.

Professor Ian Boyd, for the action, said the badger cull was part of a wider set of solutions needed to combat the disease. He added: “TB is a complex and potentially quite dangerous disease. I think it would be very unfortunate if, as a result of protester activity, we lost the option in future of being able to use culling as a method in specific circumstances to control tuberculosis.”

But in contrast, Cambridge University zoologist Professor  Sir Patrick Bateson told the programme the proposed badger cull was ill thought out, difficult to monitor and evaluate. He pointed out that the number of badgers was unknown, so the proposed 70% cull is impossible to evaluate. He also revealed that both cats and rats carry the bovine TB disease.

Professor Boyd said he has some sympathy for the arguments against the cull, but also stated that badgers are the major carrier ‘as far as we know’, further admitting that the science behind the action is still imperfect at best. He proposes to ‘test the system’ to see whether it is effective, but once the badgers are dead, it’s a little late for them.

I feel that we are approaching the problem from the wrong end. Although I have sympathy for the cattle farmers or this country, I would prefer to see a campaign of cattle inoculation before we let the hunters loose on the population of one of our most iconic indigenous wild animals. At the very least, we must be certain that killing these animals will have the desired effect. There is much evidence to suggest the opposite.

Is It Finally Here?

Spring LambsDespite the recent gloomy weather it is so heart warming to see the green shoots of Spring finally starting to appear. It was beautiful in Ringwood yesterday, temperatures of over 20°C and lovely warm sunshine. And not before time, farmers all around the country are warning of late starts to their crops, with the ground temperature being kept low by the cold east winds.

Of course, in Buddhist terms, Spring is the first chapter in the year’s Wheel of Life. The reincarnation of nature, following the apparent demise of trees, flowers and shrubs over the Winter months.

As sure as day will follow night and Spring will follow Winter, our rebirth follows the death of our earthly bodies. Exactly the same way that plants use Winter to build their reserves for the Spring, we use death to recharge our souls ready for rebirth.

It is a time of lengthening days, warmer sunshine and the emergence of banks of daffodils  and other Spring flowers. With the recent change to British Summer Time, we can but hope for a better summer than last year and to being able to make the most of the nice long evenings again.

The Wheel of Life continues to turn, today, tomorrow and for Eternity.

Shame On You

ShameEvery day, online, in the press, on radio and TV, we hear reports of people in positions of power or authority, abusing those positions in order to gain yet more wealth or power. It is said that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It seems, with the ever growing gap between rich and poor, that responsibility and being held to account, are fast fading traits from a bygone age.

As Daisaku Ikeda says, “We must establish the correct standard of value upon the foundation of the dignity of life. Leaders of society, including politicians and schoolteachers, should teach children the distinction between good and evil and lead society in the direction of goodness. Today, however, the higher the status that people achieve, the more wrongdoings they tend to commit. Those in high status think only of their selfish interests while exploiting ordinary people. The “me first” attitude prevails. Looking at those adults, children cannot possibly grow upright. Such social trends, in a sense, are destroying our children. Adults must first reflect on their own way of life. Without self-reflection, adults are not qualified to scold children.”

History shows us, that given sufficient provocation, citizens who feel a total lack of power or hope for their future, will take matters into their own hands, often with catastrophic consequences. Remember the French and Russian revolutions, bloody events where the citizens of the country took back control.

How long will it be before we begin to see, that our leaders, and those with wealth and power, are heeding the lessons of history, and using wisdom, courage and compassion to reverse the ugly trend towards increasing greed, selfishness and elitism?

Burmese Anger

Myanmar Buddhist MonksWith more reports emanating from Myanmar, Burma, regarding the violence between Buddhist and Muslin groups, it is difficult to see how any good can come from actions fuelled by anger or hatred.

But Nichiren wrote that wrath can be both good and bad. Self-centred anger generates evil, but wrath at social injustice becomes the driving force for reform. Strong language that censures and combats a great evil often attracts adverse reactions from society, but this must not intimidate or deter those who believe they are right.

Remember, a lion is a lion because he roars. Having said that, the roar should be one of strength rather than anger.

Anger that is misdirected or caused by illusion or misconception is a wholly bad thing and can be very damaging. So before you vent such anger on an unsuspecting victim, take stock and let that anger fade. Compassion is far more positive and will achieve far more in the long run.

With the sanctions imposed on Burma by the United Nations being set to be lifted this week, let us hope and pray that wisdom, courage and compassion hold sway and that the violence between people of the same nation will stop before any more death and destruction are caused.

Breaking The Karmic Cycle

Breaking The Karmic CycleGoing back over our mistakes, asking ourselves painful questions and giving honest answers is a difficult, but enlightening experience.

We’ve all made mistakes in life, some more serious than others, but talking them through, trying to explain why you made this decision at that point in time, makes you re-examine your own values.

Our history is set in stone, we cannot go back and make those decisions anew. But we can try to make amends, apologise for any hurt we have caused, and, above all, be honest with ourselves and others.

We can also learn from mistakes, to do anything else would be considered foolish, but sometimes those mistakes are not as obvious as we might think. If you find yourself in a repeating cycle of events over time, it is definitely worth taking a long hard look at why that appears to be happening.

Karma, the law of cause and effect, will be behind the cycle somewhere, so we need to examine the causes and change them if we are to break the merry-go-round of sadness, and move onto pastures new.

Some people fear change, but if life is just not working the way we want it to, then we have to make changes. Embrace the opportunity to make life better, examine the causes that need to change and make those changes whole-heartedly, you will not regret it once the effects, and the happiness, start coming through.

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