Staying On Course

Staying On CourseDealing with the ever changing aspects of life is a little like sailing a yacht in a squally breeze.

There are external influences that push and pull on the direction of our path.

Our role as skipper of our own craft, is to deal with the challenges that those influences bring, whilst trying to steer in the direction we want our lives to go.

The similarity to sailing is most evident when you compare the way a yacht has to sail across the wind, in a direction as close to, but rarely directly towards, the desired goal. So there has to be a degree of compromise in order to make progress towards that goal.

Life is exactly the same. It is pretty rare to find, that the influences on our lives, push or pull us directly towards our goals. The old adage of ‘two steps forward and one step back’ is often very accurate. A little progress in the right direction is often followed by a period of consolidation, during which we may even find that we have slipped back a little.

It is good to remember that, as illustrated in The Buddha, Geoff and Me, resistance is not only inevitable, and a measure of our progress, but is essential for some processes to work at all.

On Making Decisions

Fork In The RoadLife is a journey full of possibilities, for which we have to make decisions, and for which in turn, we are all accountable.

Wouldn’t it be marvellous if there was a What-If machine, which you could use to play out each possible choice, see which one worked out best, and then make your decision based on that outcome?

Sadly there isn’t, nor will there ever be. So it is left up to us to make the best decision at the time, and then live with the consequences.

Of course, many of the decisions we make are of little consequence, tea or coffee, red or white wine, vote or abstain etc. none or these will, in all probability, change your life. But there are some decisions that, whichever way you decide, change the course of your life irrevocably. Not only that, but whatever you decide, you will never, ever know how things would have turned out had you made the opposite choice.

When I find myself faced with such a conundrum I chant, and chant and chant, until the possible outcomes are clear in my head, as well as all the reasons for why I might make each of the choices available, that I have identified all the pros and cons, I make the choice, and it is made with wisdom, courage and compassion. Once it’s made, there should be no going back. There is nothing worse than flip-flopping between decisions. It does no good, and can do a lot of harm, so stick to your guns.

When Angry, You Must Roar

Remember, a lion is a lion because he roars

There are times when our anger can be used productively, providing it is used correctly.

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.

Just Seek Within

Nichiren DaishoninThere 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.

As Nichiren reminds us:

“It is the heart that is important.”

It is in the heart of faith that Buddhahood resides and boundless and immeasurable happiness shines forth. Happiness is not something located far away.

We must realise that it exists within our own lives. Nichiren Buddhism teaches this and shows us how to attain indestructible happiness.

~ Daisaku Ikeda

So What If? …

Cancer Cells DividingSo what if there was a way to stop you, your children, your family, your friends from developing cancer? What if, having already been diagnosed with cancer, there was a way to stop the tumour from developing further?

What if you knew that both of these have been known since the 80’s, but nothing has been done about it? Wouldn’t you want to know more, so you could use the information?

Well the answers to these and many, many other questions are in the book The China Study and I would urge everyone to read it. I write this having read about how the diet also prevents and reverses coronary heart disease, but the revelations just keep coming. Reading the book made me sad, happy, angry and above all, determined to help more people find out the truth about what they are eating, and what it is doing to them.

There is an old saying, ‘you are what you eat’ and nothing could be closer to the truth. Sadly the saying, ‘you are what you think you are eating’ does not come close to the same truth. We are all told that fat is bad for us, that we should limit the amount we eat. Nobody ever told me, or you I imagine, that it’s not just fat that can harm us, but the animal protein that often accompanies it, in steaks, burgers, chicken, bacon, the list goes on and on.

The book covers many, many studies, experiments and surveys carried out all around the world. One of them, however, makes you really sit up and listen. Experiments on rats, carried out in India had found that animals exposed to a potent carcinogen aflatoxin, a mould found on peanuts, developed liver cancer in the same way humans exposed to the same chemical do.

So what, I hear you say, but there’s an amazing twist. The rats were split into two groups. Half were fed on a diet containing 20% protein, the other half 5% protein. The first group all developed liver cancer, but of the second group NOT ONE developed cancer. When allied to a survey undertaken in the Philippines, where aflatoxin is common, which found that the children of the wealthiest families were far more prone to liver cancer for exactly the same reason, because they consumed more protein, because their families could afford meat.

So again, I urge you to at least investigate this for yourself. There are many reasons for becoming a vegan, but I cannot think of a single one that can be more important than protecting yourself, and those you love, from a potentially life threatening illness like cancer.

Life, What’s That All About?

Man's Search For Meaning - Viktor FranklWe have all asked ourselves this question, maybe once or twice, maybe a thousand times, but the answer to the question turns out to be so simple, so eloquent, so meaningful, when it is asked from a position of total hopelessness.

Taken from Man’s Search For Meaning (p.113), by the late Dr Viktor E. Frankl, this is the most sensible and acceptable explanation of the age old question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ I have ever read. It is a question we should all ask ourselves on a regular basis, for as you will see, there is no one single answer.

”I doubt whether a doctor [we] can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

To put the question in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent.

The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfilment.

Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

This short explanation, taking less than a page in the book, encapsulates an answer to which I can relate.

The book itself covers Dr Frankl’s own struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. It has tragic as well as surprisingly humorous passages, but reading it will leave you forever changed and, I believe, better for the experience.

Capital P For Practice

Capital P For PracticeAs you know, my Buddhist Practice is a way of life. A routine that I go through every day, Gongyo, Daimoku, even writing this blog. But routine is also another word for boring, mundane or even hum-drum, so it’s important to keep in mind why we Practice.

We Practice for several reasons …

  • To raise our life-energy levels …
  • To chant for certain outcomes …
  • To move us along the road to Buddhahood …
  • To give a stable anchor in our lives …

and there are many others, often different for every individual.

As a novice, I find that I can learn a little more each day Let’s face it, Buddhism has been around for well over two thousand years, so there’s plenty to learn about.. I can improve or seek to perfect my Practice and to maintain a more focussed attention to the subject of my chanting.

I look forward to the feeling I get during and after Gongyo. I often find that I am quite warm when I finish chanting and in a really good mood, despite any problems I am facing.

I never cease to be amazed by the effectiveness of chanting either. To start with, the word coincidence came into my mind when I saw results, but not any more. But I do get surprised by the way the Universe solves the problems with which I have asked it to help. Not always the way I expected, and often in better, more subtle ways than I could have imagined.

So my Practice is a pleasure, not a chore. It’s something I enjoy and never something I feel I have to do.

As Nichiren Daishonin said, ‘If you practice something, you must test it’s validity with the results you see’. In other words, if it doesn’t work, stop doing it.

For me, it’s working wonders and I think the World would be a better place if more people were to discover those wonders.

On Anger In Buddhism

Become A Lion KingI think all of us are still angry about the current injustices in our society. It appears, on the face of it, that the banking community plunged the world into a state of turmoil, and the continuing fines being dished out to RBS, Barclays and the like show that there is still huge room for improvement.

Nichiren Daishonin was never afraid to confront injustice. He spent a large part of his life in prison and exile because he was unafraid to voice his feelings about it and had this to say:

Each of you should summon up the courage of a lion king and never succumb to threats from anyone. The lion king fears no other beast, nor do it’s cubs. Slanderers are like barking foxes, but Nichiren’s followers are like roaring lion kings.

So summon up your courage and roar at the injustice we are seeing right before our very eyes. We all understand that we will have to make sacrifices, but those sacrifices have to be borne by every individual according to the ability to survive having made them.

None of us want to reside in the lower world of anger, but turning that poison into medicine is the route to, not only solving the injustices in the world, but also the financial situation in which we find ourselves.

Life Sure Is Tricky

Life Sure Is TrickySorting out our life can be a bit like solving a Rubik’s cube, each part is like one of the faces, separate but all connected.

We work to get one face, let’s say Blue sorted out.

On it’s own that task is pretty easy and we complete it quite quickly. So we move on to to the Red face, again it’s pretty easy, in isolation, so we get it sorted and we feel a satisfaction in that.

But then we turn the cube back to the Blue side, and it’s all messed up again, because it is connected to the Red side.

Life is like that. Every aspect of life is connected, to our family, our friends, our work, every other aspect. Just like Rubik’s cube, unless you know the rules for arranging the sides, it can be pretty impossible. The only way to get our lives sorted, is to learn the rules governing how they fit together. I say rules, but there’s nothing written down anywhere that will teach you. So it’s a case of trial and error, to some degree. Hopefully our parents teach us the ground rules, but every situation is different, so it’s necessary to modify or adapt the rules so they fit.

There are two big differences between life and Rubik’s cube. The first is that unlike the cube, life is no game, obviously, and second, life is nowhere as simple as getting six coloured faces sorted out. So whether you are playing with a Rubik’s cube, or trying to sort your life out, I wish you good fortune. Wisdom, courage and compassion in huge and equal measure will go a long way in many respects. From my point of view, the news is mixed. I’m getting better, but still learning to do both.

On Wiping The Slate Clean

Wiping The Slate CleanSometimes we need to wipe the slate clean, take a deep breath, and start anew. With my impending change of career, this might just be the perfect time to do so. Having new goals, new horizons and renewed vigour is just the ticket.

I know that some people fear change, are loath to relinquish all the effort put into a particular path, even if that path may be taking them in the wrong direction. I am not one of those people, I embrace change and actually find it rather exciting.

Setting sail on a new career in teaching or writing, I intend to make the most of each and every day, and when that change does arrive, I will enjoy the excitement of being reborn into a new and exciting experience.

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