The Effects Of Causes Made

Tipping The ScalesSo all this exercise and watching what I eat is having an effect. How could it not, in all truth? I’ve been burning more calories than I’ve been consuming, every day, well nearly every day, for two months. The result of all this effort, a loss of 10.5kg, excellent.

Now all I need to do is keep the pressure on, and before I know it, I’ll have reached my goal. Then all I have to do is to stay there. It all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it? Very much like the constant effort to change my life through my Buddhist practice.

When you start changing things through practice, your life-state, your life-energy, you may well encounter a reaction. Every action has an opposite reaction and they can be totally unexpected in nature. As we try to improve ourselves, we change the way we react with the world. Sometimes the world isn’t quite ready for that change and it can make for uncomfortable situations.

The main thing to remember is, that if you change, your environment must change. They fit each other exactly, like a hand in a glove. So even though the ride might get a little bumpy at times, use those times as confirmation that the changes in you are happening and be resolute.

Just remember to add a little compassion and wisdom into the mix too, and the odd multivit won’t hurt either.

Passing It On

Postman PatA parcel arrived in the post this morning, the contents of which will offer someone a little inspiration every day.

In the parcel was a copy of Daisaku Ikeda’s Buddhism Day by Day. Like a diary, it offers a different thought provoking passage for every day of the year.

Although it is primarily a compilation of Sensei’s thoughts, with an obvious Buddhist slant, I believe it would be an inspiration for anyone, irrespective of their religion or beliefs.

Here are a few of examples …

February 17

“True individuality never comes to full flower without hard work. Therefore you’re making a big mistake if you think that who you are right now represents all you are capable of being.”

March 25

“The significance of Buddhism lies both in the discovery of the Buddha nature in all beings and in the establishment of a practical method for bringing it out, so that human beings can derive maximum meaning from their lives. This reformation of the inner human world – what we in the Soka Gakkai call ‘human revolution’ – is especially relevant to modern civilisation, which has long been trapped in a sort of spiritual quicksand. We can escape the quicksand by calling forth the supreme human potential available to each of us.”

July 31

“What is the purpose of life? It is happiness. But there are two kinds of happiness: relative and absolute. Relative happiness comes in a wide variety of forms. The purpose of Buddhism is to attain Buddhahood. In modern terms, this could be explained as realising absolute happiness – a state of happiness that can never be destroyed or defeated.”

I think a little snippet of Sensei’s wisdom, each morning, would set us all up for the day.

Keep On, Keepin’ On

Keep On, Keepin' OnBuddhist Practice is rather like a dog, for life, and not just for Christmas, and must be part of your very being.

Now I’m not suggesting that I have been back sliding, because I haven’t, but I know there is still more I can do towards achieving my goal. The difficulty is getting the balance right, treading a fine line between strenuous regular practice and learning, and forming an obsession with the new way of life. Given the fact that the whole point of adopting Buddhism as a way of life is to gain a happier existence for me and those around me, I need to get this right.

Those of you who know me, know that I have an addictive nature and throw myself into new ventures wholeheartedly. The problem, in the past, has been keeping that going. I have been, I admit openly, in the World of Hunger, for most of my life, always looking for the next new thing. I am certain that I am managing that and have already made some headway, but self criticism is healthy in this respect.

One reason for keeping this blog, and we’re past the 1000 post mark now,  is to prove to myself that I have changed, and that I have the drive and desire to keep my practice strong. You have my permission to tell me, if you see any cracks appearing.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

From Sickness Arises The Mind That Seeks The Way

Harry PotterAs we discussed in previous posts, we can use our problems to make us stronger, by turning the poison of challenges into the medicine of learning and success.

Nichiren Daishonin said that ‘from sickness arises the mind that seeks the way’ meaning that when we are in Hell, we are in exactly the right place to find our way out of the situation that is causing our grief. The darker the Hell, the greater the motivation can be to take action to improve the situation.

We can all relate to this in one way or another. Imagine a situation or problem, that you allowed to go from bad to worse before you took action to put it right.

Let’s use a perfect example of this. J.K. Rowling, of whom I am sure you have heard, the author of the Harry Potter books, was almost destitute when she started to write the first book, and maybe it was that dire position that gave her the life-force she needed to make a start. Her success took her from being on welfare to being a millionaire within five years.

By chanting, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, we can raise our life-energy and that changes our life-state, making us feel better and more able to think rationally about the problems we need to solve.

So next time you are down, so down there is no way up, remember that you are in the perfect place to completely transform your life.

Limited Visibility

Thick FogLiving on the coast, it can get very foggy at times, to the point where you can’t see your hand in front of your face. The fog horn blares out all night, you can’t sleep, and your surroundings take on a surreal air.

That’s what life can be like at times. All the landmarks, the points of reference seem have gone and we can feel lost. The very things we took for granted have disappeared, maybe because we took them for granted.

So we try to get life back into perspective but have nothing to guide us, unless we are fortunate enough to have our Honzon, our anchor, our Practice. Using chanting to clear the mind, to allow us to see things the way they really are, instead of how we remembered or wished they were. Chanting, long and hard, will shine a new clarity on the situation.

Like a driver who has invested in a powerful set of fog lamps, we start to see things more clearly, we become better able to manage our life-state, and more able to navigate through the challenges that life continuously throws at us.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Sticks And Stones

Sticks and StonesNone of us like to be the subject of gossip, rumour or criticism, but there are times in life when it may be unavoidable. If you deviate from the well trodden path, the route that the many take, or have taken, you will open yourself up to closer, and often hostile, attention.

But when you totally devote yourself to achieving a goal, you will not be bothered by shallow criticism. Nothing important can be accomplished if you allow yourself to be swayed by some trifling matter, always looking over your shoulder and wondering what others are saying or thinking.

The key to achievement is to move forward along your chosen path with firm determination. Let others scoff if they will, but your goal must be your prime focus if you are to emerge from the journey as a victor. So set off with determination in your heart, be strong, and remember that sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you.

Let’s Start A Revolution

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).

The Beauty Of Nature

The Blue Pool, near Wareham in DorsetAn afternoon of tranquillity, surrounded by the beauty of nature is good for calming the mind and lifting the life-state. The Blue Pool, near Wareham in Dorset, is a disused clay pit which has been transformed since the time of Elizabeth The First, into a magical place of woods and water, sights and sounds.

The pit provided the clay for many things over the years, but there is an interesting collection of clay pipes in the small museum adjoining the tea rooms. The Pool  constantly varies in colour. Very fine clay in suspension in the water diffracts light in different ways, producing a spectrum of colour sometimes green sometimes turquoise. The air is full of the scent of pine and the sounds of the local wildlife.

2013-06-23-902Set in a deep clay bowl, steps lead down to the waters edge or up to views of the Purbecks. The Pool is surrounded by heath and gorse with sandy paths  that take you to another world. The pines are interspersed with beautiful rhododendrons, which were looking their best after the recent rains.

A wonderful way to spend the afternoon, and a quiet topic for my one thousandth blog post.

Scream If You Want To Go Faster

The Roller Coaster Of LifeWhoever said that life was supposed to be a bowl of cherries? Our journey from birth to death, whichever lap we happen to be on at any one time, is a series of lows and highs, the rough and the smooth, the not-so-happy and the happy, the bad and the good.

So by assuming that, even though things may be going along smoothly just now, we should prepare ourselves for the next pot hole, the unexpected hairpin or that most untimely puncture that will most certainly come along, to make that journey even more satisfying. Being prepared, as all boy scouts know, is the trick to reducing the effect that these unforeseen circumstances will have on our progress.

We have often talked about turning poison into medicine, using the difficulties in life as our way of making ourselves stronger, and seeing obstacles as challenges rather than problems. The old adage of ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ is exactly right, if we approach these things in the right manner. Being doggedly determined not to be beaten, to meet the challenges head on and win through, come hell or high water, is a great start and a great way to move on.

Imagine how disappointed we would all be, if the latest ride at Alton Towers was a perfectly straight, perfectly level piece of track, that started slowly, trundled along at walking pace, and gradually slowed to a genteel halt five minutes later. Who in their right mind would queue for something so predictable, so comfortable, so boring? Nobody I know.

The most popular rides, the ones that have the longest queues, and the ones that we want to get back on, time after time, are the ones that scare us witless, the ones that actually make us wonder if we will live to tell the tale. And that is how life can be if we prepare ourselves for the turns, the plunges, the unexpected. The greatest books, films and life stories are all about facing almost impossible adversity, battling against the odds, getting the odd knock along the way, but coming out as the victor in the end.

So face up to the rigours of life, meet those challenges head on, stay strong, be brave and make your life the subject of the greatest story Hollywood has ever told.

Head Down, Pressing On

Branksome Chine BeachThose of you who know me personally will be aware that I am on a bit of a quest to lose some excess weight and get my poor old body back into shape. The same people will also know that I can get a bit addicted to challenges like this, with charts and spread sheets and training plans, the full Monty.

I find it easier to focus on a goal when I know the details of exactly what is required to achieve it, so I decided to do a little maths to work out where I am along this path to a slimmer me.

There are roughly 6618 kcal in each kg of body fat. Assuming that all the weight I want to lose is body fat, that’s another 106,500 kcals I have to burn, over and above that my body uses just to function.

Now I am currently burning around 35 kcal per kilometre, whilst cycling, which means that I will have to cycle another 2960 kilometres (at least) to reach my goal. That’s Land’s End to John O’Groats and back or there about, which is enough to focus anyone’s mind on the task.

So where’s the Buddhism in all this? Well it’s about self-improvement and self-awareness, it needs determination and a degree of courage, tempered by a great deal of acquired wisdom, so as not to injure or make myself ill in the process.

It’s also about the level of focus needed. Being aware, every waking minute of every day, of the effects of all your actions, be that eating, walking, drinking, sitting, cycling, you name it. For every cause, there is an effect, so when the desired effect is known, it is all about making more causes to foster that effect than those that deter the effect from happening.

So far so good, and interesting how well Nam Myoho Renge Kyo fits my breathing pattern when I’m head down, pressing on.

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