Great News, For Now

Minke Whales - Safe For NowThe ruling today, from the International Court of Justice, that Japan must cease its whaling in the Antarctic is great news for the whales. The fly in the ointment, isn’t there always one, is that the ban is temporary.

The ban will be seen as a victory for the Sea Shepherd organisation, who have been a constant thorn in the side of the Japanese whaling fleet. Only earlier this month, there was a collision between Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker and the Yushin Maru No. 3. There were no injuries, but both ships sustained damage.

Though the ruling is cause for celebration, only time will tell whether the Japanese will comply with the decision of the court long term. It is also only a very small step towards the observation of the right of all living things to be allowed to live free and peaceful lives. The wholesale slaughter of cows, pigs, chickens and a multitude of other innocent animals continues unchecked.

Beauty And Buddhahood

Hengistbury HeadI’ve been out cycling this weekend, surrounded by beautiful nature and in the soft spring sunshine, just wonderful.

All thoughts fade away, as you lose yourself in the surroundings, so here is a snippet of wisdom from Nichiren Daishonin, about letting go of worldly desires…

Now, if you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra. Worldly fame and profit are mere baubles of your present existence, and arrogance and prejudice are ties that will fetter you in a next one.

~ Nichiren Daishonin

Prayer Beads

Click for a larger imageIn the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, we hold juzu beads in our hands while reciting Gongyo and chanting Diamoku.

There are 108 beads in the main body, signifying the 108 Earthly Desires.

The 4 smaller beads in the main body represent the 4 Great Bodhisattvas of the Earth … Jogyo, Muhengyo, Jyogyo, and Anryugyo.

The 2 large beads at each end of the main body, are the “parent” beads.  The “mother” bead, representing “mystic” is on the side with 3 dangles, and is placed over the middle finger of the right hand.  The “father” bead, representing “law” is on the side with 2 dangles, and is placed on the middle finger of the left hand.

We cross the beads in the middle, which shows our oneness with THE LAW.  Also, we cross the beads so our benefits do not fall through our hands and lives.  By placing the beads on our hands this way, we are accepting the reality that Buddhahood exists within our lives.

When we press our hands together while we hold our juzu beads, our 10 fingers represent the 10 Worlds which fuse together simultaneously in the life of a Buddha, our lives.  Our life is now one with the Mystic Law!

The one small bead that sits below the “father” bead, represents Absolute Truth.

Prior to Nichiren Buddhism, there were only 2 dangles on each end of juzu beads.  The third dangle, consisting of 10 beads and a “Kosen-Rufu” bead, on the side of the “mother” was added, actually tied on, to signify Nichiren Buddhism and distinguish it from other Buddhist sects.

On the remaining 4 dangles, there is a differently shaped bead part way down each string.  This bead is called the “jar” bead and holds the benefits of our practice.

The 5 larger beads at the bottom of each dangle are the “Kosen-Rufu” beads, and represent our desire to spread Nichiren Buddhism,  Kosen-Rufu, throughout the World.

My huge thanks are due to my lovely friend Lily Rose of Myoho Beads for researching the meanings of the individual beads and for allowing me to use her explanation.

As Lily Rose says on her site, be careful buying juzu beads on line.  Use this description or the juzu purchased in SGI bookstores as a guide.  Make sure the beads you purchase have been created in an ethical and politically correct manner. Sorry to say, but many are not.

If you would like to learn more about chanting, this link will take you to a very informative video produced by SGI.

On The Fiddle?

On The Fiddle?In case you were wondering, my CELTA course is going rather well, all things considered. Apart from the fact that I am really enjoying the whole experience, it’s a bit like Chinese water torture, the lesson preparation and assignments just keep coming.

Last night was a little milestone on our collective path, half way through the sixteen weeks of study and a brand new gaggle of victims, or more properly, teaching practice students. A lovely group of people, all very keen to learn and very willing to be subjected to our formative teaching skills.

As well as being a new set of faces, these students are still taking their first steps in learning English, as opposed to our previous charges, who were really quite fluent. So the challenges, on both sides of the classroom, were slightly different. There was more emphasis on keeping things simpler and checking that individual students understood what was being taught.

The evening went really well. We were teaching them new vocabulary in the context of music, and they worked really hard. The highlight of the evening, for me, was talking to the oldest student, an 83 year old Middle Eastern gentleman, who was keen to tell me that he has been playing the violin since he was 7. He had the callouses on his fingers to prove it.

It’s so interesting, meeting new people. People who have incredible stories to tell. None of this would have happened had I not made the causes. Karma is a wonderful thing.

Nichiren Buddhism – Buddhahood In This Lifetime

Nichiren Buddhism - Buddhahood In This LifetimeNichiren Buddhists, I am told, consider their faith to be the purest of all the Buddhist sects. Although this did stir a vague memory, and an explanation about Nichiren Buddhism being based on The Lotus Sutra and not having any gods, demons and hungry ghosts, such as are part of the New Kadampa Tradition, I thought I should investigate further.

Nichiren Shonin, as he was known in the early years, gave his first sermon to commemorate the completion of his studies to his master and fellow monks. In this sermon he shocked his audience by criticising the then popular form of Buddhism known as Pure Land. The Pure Land movement taught that Buddhahood could only be attained, after death in a heavenly pure land, by chanting the name of the Buddha of Infinite Light.

In place of this practice, Nichiren taught the practice of chanting the “Great Title” (daimoku) of the Lotus Sutra, which is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. He taught the chanting of daimoku as a practical and accessible way in which all people can realise the deepest truths of Buddhism.

He argued that, just as the name of a country can bring to mind all the characteristics of that country, so the title of the Lotus Sutra embodies all the merits and virtues of the Buddha expounded in the sutra. Nichiren taught that by chanting the daimoku, we can directly receive the ultimate truth of the Lotus Sutra from Shakyamuni Buddha and attain Buddhahood within our lifetime.

So maybe the claim about Nichiren Buddhists having the purest of faiths stems from the manner in which Nichiren stripped away all the embellishments of the other sects, to get back to Shakyamuni Buddha’s original teachings. This is not to say that these embellishments are without worth, but more that the simpler (purer) practice was accessible to many more people of lower status.

Thinking of our practice as purer, truer, better even, is not a very Buddhist way of looking at things. We should look at all aspects of all matters from all angles and without bias or preconceived ideas, in an enlightened manner you might say.

To use a modern idiom, we might say that Nichiren Buddhism is Buddhism Lite. It has all the core beliefs and the fundamentals of the philosophy without the adornments, the bells and whistles, that others sects have incorporated into their practice.

Before any argument or criticism ensues, I am not putting this idea forward as any form of value judgement, just my thoughts and ideas, from my mostly unenlightened view point. I have seen other sects from inside and out, I simply prefer the atheistic approach and the simple and accessible practice.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Why A Nichiren Buddhist?

Nam Myoho Renge KyoIf you research Buddhism, you will find, as with Christianity, that there are many schools or sects, believing much the same basic principles, but with their own embellishments or focus.

When I first became a Buddhist, I was rather naive about the different schools and followed the Kadampa tradition practiced at the Shantideva Buddhist centre in Maidenhead, later moving to Reading.

Kadampa Buddhism focuses on the teachings of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the centre of the practice is concentrated on clearing the mind through meditation. The cause of much unhappiness and suffering is due to desirous attachment to property, people or situations, according to Kelsang Gyatso. The way to remove suffering is therefore to break the links of desirous attachment and accept the principle of impermanence.

This is all very well in an eastern third world country, where possessions are few, life is lived at a different pace and everyone, or at least the majority, hold the same beliefs. Here in the west, where Judaeo Christianity is the predominant religion, Kadampa Buddhism only works if you can remove yourself from the mainstream society and immerse yourself in study within one of their centres.

I also felt that the worship of gods within the temple was wrong. Shakyamuni was a man, he never proclaimed to be, or to be connected with, any deity. So where did all these gods spring from. I believe they are the manifestation of the metaphorical gods of The Lotus Sutra, made real by man’s need for a focus of worship. Not for me, this went against my atheist beliefs and lost the focus of the practice in my eyes.

Over time I drifted away from the practice, and it was only when I was suffering because of the breakdown of my marriage, that I sought Buddhism once again. This time, I was lucky, or fortunate as we would say in Buddhism (not such thing as luck), to find Jason Jarrett’s podcasts, and through that, William Woollard’s Reluctant Buddhist.

Immediately, the sense that my own life would be put back in my own hands, that belief was in the self and one’s ability to achieve Buddhahood in this lifetime, struck a chord. At last, a Practice that worked with real life, that answered questions instead of posing several more. A Practice that has helped me more over the best part of a year, than any other practice has done in the past fifty years.

I wish I was like Ken, Jayne, William, Eddy and many, many others, who found Nichiren Buddhism ten, fifteen, twenty or more years ago. My life would have been completely transformed, and I believe, entirely for the better. There is a letter from Nichiren Daishonin to the wife of the late Matsuno, which describes how unlikely, and difficult it is to meet the Practice in a lifetime, it is well worth reading and explains just how lucky I have been to find my faith at last.

Sharing the Love

Sharing the LoveThat makes me sound like a ‘60s flower child, doesn’t it? I was a bit too young to really take part in the Swinging Sixties, with their free love, flower power and peace signs. It must have been a very exciting time, so much was happening, in so many ways.

That’s how I feel about my experiences through chanting. The world is a much brighter, more enjoyable place to be and I really want everyone to share in those experiences.

Of course, trying to explain in detail how Nichiren Buddhism can transform your life is not something you can do on the tube or in your local, uninvited. At least not without clearing the carriage, or the snug of the Red Lion, at one fell swoop.

So with my slowly increasing self-awareness and understanding of karma and Buddhist principles, I am chanting more for others than for myself, for their health, wealth and happiness, and am always willing to discuss my practice if people want to hear more.

I like the way this new world of Bodhisattva, well largely new to me, makes me feel, and I have this increasing urge to do things for others, rather than for me. What a wonderful world we would live in, if we all felt the same way.

Spring Has Sprung

Spring LambsDespite the drop in temperature over the weekend, it is so heartwarming to see the green shoots of Spring. I’ve been driving past fields of bouncy lambs for a few days now and it lifts the spirits to see them.

It is a pity that they are only being raised to furnish the dinner tables of people who conveniently forget where meat comes from.

But I digress. 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. In fact the clocks go forward this weekend (in the UK), so we can look forward to the nice long evenings again.

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

Names Will Never Hurt You

Names will never hurt youNone 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.

Ideas & Ideals

BuddhahoodI can think of several people who would do well to listen to the following advice …

If you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra.

Worldly fame and profit are mere baubles of your present existence, and arrogance and prejudice are ties that will fetter you in a next one.

~ Nichiren Daishonin

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