What Does Your Future Hold?

Smart Phones Getting SmarterWith technology becoming smarter, at an ever increasing rate, it is difficult to see where it will take us in the coming decade or two. Who would have imagined, even forty years ago, that we could all carry a smart device that can connect us with other people and places, anywhere on the planet?

In Buddhist terms, the causes we make today, will shape our future life and lives, as Sensei points out:

What will the future be like? No one knows the answer to that question. All we know is that the effects that will appear in the future are all contained in the causes that are made in the present.

The important thing, therefore, is that we stand up and take action to achieve great objectives without allowing ourselves to be distracted or discouraged by immediate difficulties.

Be aware of your own responsibilities. You create the causes for the effects you see in your own life. Make strides to ensure that these causes will produce the effects you desire.

Happy Birthday Dad

Happy Birthday DadToday would have been my Dad’s 88th birthday.

This photograph of him hangs on the wall next to my desk at home, and I look at it often and remember him with great fondness and love.

He wasn’t a religious man, only going to church for weddings and the like, though he always supported my Mom in her church activities.

As a boy, I remember him as always being at work. Back then, it was quite common for people to work on Saturdays too, and as a printer, he was always busy.

My Mom was definitely his Honzon. If ever she went away for the day, she would leave him a packed lunch, an apple cut into quarters and maybe a cheese sandwich, just to make sure he ate something. He was a bit lost whenever she wasn’t around.

His one big love in life, apart from his family, was printing. Our house was always full of books and paper and print samples, and if he was ever given a book as a present, he was far more interested in who had printed it than what it was about.

In later years, he had a passion for free pistol shooting, he kept meticulous sets of figures of his scores, and used to compile the tables of scores for the club to which he belonged. He was very angry when the Government brought in stricter gun laws, and he was unable to keep his much cherished guns. He always felt that they were punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty.

Sadly he spent the last couple of years of his life in the World of Tranquillity. He had a heart condition that meant he didn’t have the life-energy to get out and do very much. He still read quite a lot and watched sport on TV, but he slept a lot more.

You were a great Dad, and, in your own quiet way, a great man. You were Wise, Courageous and Compassionate in so many ways, though maybe I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. I pray for you every morning and evening during Gongyo, and although I know you are back here with us somewhere, I miss you a great deal.

Happy Birthday Dad.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

Less Is Surely More

Less Is Surely MoreSo many of the ills in modern society are driven, if not caused, by our insatiable desire to earn, to own, to use, more and more.

Companies spend millions creating adverts to reach our deepest psyche and flick on the basest of urges, often I suspect, without us even realising the manipulation we are undergoing.

Aside from our own mental suffering, our cravings are having disastrous consequences in third world countries, the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh being an indirect result of our need to ever cheaper garments.

Nichiren spoke of earthly desires being used as fuel for the flame of Wisdom.

Buddhism teaches the converting of personal ambitions and desires, even base ones, into good traits like Wisdom, through altruistic living. A Buddhist doctrine that earthly desires are enlightenment, indicates that greed, anger through violence, and egocentricity can be transformed into altruistic traits such as compassion, trust and nonviolence.

The underlying delusions that drive our desires, including the desire for the development of science and civilisations, can be essentially transformed in a way that changes selfishness into altruism, violence into nonviolence and suspicion into trust.

The Western exploitation of emerging countries, for cheap labour and materials, simply to satisfy an ever growing market is totally unsustainable and must change. Until we can stop enriching certain groups at the expense of others, and concentrate on enriching all people by our actions, there will never be a sustainable peace, economy or even happiness in the world.

Meeting Challenges Head On

Challenges NOT ProblemsWe have discussed the difference between problems and challenges before, 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.

One Step Closer

Stepping StonesLooking forward, not back, is a good way to get to where you are going.

Making progress, seeing that progress, and building upon it will take you from where you are today, to where you want to be tomorrow.

As Sensei says:

“It is not how you compare to others that is important, but rather how you compare to who you were yesterday. If you’ve advanced even one step, then you’ve achieved something great.”

How ever you measure that progress, and whether anyone else notices, or not, you are one step closer to where, or who, you want to be in the future.

Have A Lion’s Courage

Like A Charging LionNichiren wrote:

“None of you who declare yourselves to be my disciples should ever give way to cowardice”

When the crucial moment comes, it is crucial to battle through it with the ferocity of a charging lion.

This is the key to creating a record of lasting brilliance. As the ancient Greek poet and playwright Euripides inscribed:

“Courage is very powerful against misfortune.”

The more courageous you can become, the less the possibility you will be overcome by misfortune.

Wonderful Nature

New Forest Pony and FoalThe weather finally relented today, and the grand tour was on once again. I set off towards Christchurch about 7:00 this morning and although there was a chill in the air, the fluffy white clouds were few and far between in a beautiful blue sky.

The trip up to Ringwood is very familiar, from all the times I’ve ridden the route to work. There was quite a lot of standing water on the roads, but the traffic was light so it was easy to ride around the puddles left by the rain of the last couple of days.

Just before reaching Ringwood town centre, I took the right turn for Crow and headed off towards Burley. The back roads in The Forest are wonderful. Narrow, winding, lined with ancient woodland, and round every corner, the possibility of seeing some of the ponies that roam the woods.

As Spring comes to an end, the mares are busy looking after their foals. They are wonderful little works of nature, perfectly formed with legs that seem to be being steered by committee. Their mothers all seemed to be set on getting their fill of the fresh grass, but the foals had better things to do prancing around like nutcases.

The ride went rather well, though the increasing breeze did make it a bit tough towards the end. Still a little determination coupled with a bag of Nákd Cocoa Delights got me over the finish line. My legs are reminding me that I’ve ridden further today than ever before, but I’m sure they’ll be fine in the morning.

Two And Not Two, Too

Shikishin-FuniWe must never underestimate the power the mind has over our bodies. If we can remain positive, with high life-energy and in one of the higher worlds, our bodies will respond positively. If we allow negativity to creep in, the battle will be all the harder.

The Nichiren phrase for this connection between our body and mind is Shikishin-Funi. Two, but not two, not two, but two, meaning that they are separate, but cannot function alone.

Not exactly easy to understand, but essential for us to prosper in difficult times. By being positive, we give out positive energy to those around us. Whether we are in a difficult situation in our life, looking for a job, trying to make ends meet financially, battling against illness or just trying to grin and bear it in the face of seemingly unending bad news, staying positive is the only way to win through.

[色心不二] (Jpn shikishin-funi )

Also, non-duality of body and mind. The principle that the two seemingly distinct phenomena of body, or the physical aspect of life, and mind, or its spiritual aspect, are essentially non-dual, being two integral phases of a single reality. One of the ten onenesses formulated by Miao-lo (711-782) in his Annotations on “The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra.” In the Japanese term shikishin-funi, shiki means that which has form and colour, or physical existence, while shin means that which has neither form nor colour, or spiritual existence, such as the mind, heart, and soul. Funi is an abbreviation of nini-funi, which indicates “two (in phenomena) but not two (in essence).” This means that the material and the spiritual are two separate classes of phenomena, but non-dual and indivisible in essence, because they are both aspects of the same reality. In the above annotations, Miao-lo states that, from the viewpoints of the whole and its components, life at a single moment is the whole, while body and mind are its components. Neither body nor mind is a separate entity; there is not one without the other. They are inseparable components of life. In the Lotus Sutra, the principle of the ten factors of life represents the oneness of body and mind. The ten factors are listed in the “Expedient Means” (second) chapter of the sutra, where it states that the true aspect of all phenomena consists of “appearance, nature, entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation, latent effect, manifest effect, and their consistency from beginning to end.” On “The Profound Meaning” states: “Appearance exists only in what is material; nature exists only in what is spiritual. Entity, power, influence, and relation in principle combine both the material and the spiritual. Internal cause and latent effect are purely spiritual; manifest effect exists only in what is material.” The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings reads, “[Concerning the term dedication of one’s life ] ‘dedication’ refers to the element of physical form as it pertains to us, while ‘life’ refers to the element of mind as it pertains to us. But the ultimate teaching tells us that form and mind are not two.” – Taken from the SGI Dictionary of Buddhism

A Slight Postponement

Bad WeatherI have been planning to complete the Strava Gran Fondo 5 challenge so I had booked today off from work, planned my route, a trip of just over 200km, taking in all the best bits of The New Forest. I had all the nutrition organised, my bike had been serviced and was ready to go … then the weather changed.

It’s been a really miserable day, wet, very wet and really windy, not the kind of conditions you want for a serious ride. So I have had to postpone to trip until a more clement day. But let’s think about this in a wider context.

In the UK, this weekend is the Spring Bank holiday. Children are on holiday, all manner of events have been planned and organised for months, just for this weekend. So many events, the Bournemouth Wheels festival, the Bournemouth Rugby Sevens, even the Sky Nightglow Ride on Monday evening, rely to a degree on the weather.

I really hope that the weather improves over the next few days. Partly because I would really like to complete the challenge Strava have set, but mainly because of all the hard work and effort that have gone into the events of this weekend.

No matter how events, such as the weather, affect your plans in life, always take a moment to look at the bigger picture. Doing so can really put things into perspective and help you see how things really are.

Happiness Through Others

HappinessI think I’m a pretty happy sort of chap, always joking around and generally enjoying life.

But there are times when that just isn’t appropriate and the last couple of weeks have been such a time.

Being happy is actually a frame of mind. It is also a choice that we can all make, by seeing the glass as half full, rather than half empty.

But the happiness of others can, and often does, have a very uplifting effect. I got a snippet of good news this afternoon, and it seems that my work situation may be a little more stable than I had imagined. I’m pleased about that, and so is my boss, who has been working hard to make a case for my continued presence in Ringwood.

So my happiness tonight is more than partly down to his happiness. The happiness of others is important and is something we should try our best to promote. Using our wisdom, courage and compassion will go a long way to achieving that goal.

So next time, during diamoku, concentrate on praying for the happiness of someone you know who needs a bit of cheering up. Fill your lungs, chant your heart out and you too will feel your spirits lifted.

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

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