Oct 21, 2009

The Practice of Buddhism

 From the sgibuddhism.org site

Each of us possesses the potential for a winning life. Within us is the ability to live with courage, to have fulfilling relationships, to enjoy good health and prosperity, to feel and show true compassion for others, and the power to face and surmount our deepest problems.Crucial to living a winning life is to undergo an inner transformation that will enable us to bring out our highest human qualities and change our circumstances. This process is a revolution of our own character, an individual human revolution.

Consider the following scenario:

Perhaps you feel under-appreciated at work. Maybe your boss is belligerent or ignores you. After a while you develop a chip on your shoulder. Though you may be an expert at hiding negativity, every once in a while it rears its ugly head. Perhaps your co-workers or boss perceive you in turn as not being entirely committed to the success of your job, or that you have a bad attitude. Of course there are myriad reasons for your attitude and all of them "valid." But whatever the reasons, you miss opportunities for advancement because of the poor relationship. This is a common scenario in today's working environment.But suppose you start coming to work with a new attitude that is not just a mental adjustment but an outlook bolstered by a deep sense of vitality, confidence and compassion, and based upon serious self-reflection. Your compassion leads you to have empathy for your boss's situation. Armed with a new understanding, you treat your boss differently, offering support and finding yourself less and less discouraged by any negativity he or she may display toward you.

Your boss begins to see you in a new light. Opportunities present themselves.This is obviously a very simple example and many of us would say this is a natural thing to do, but to live this way every day requires a basic change in our hearts and character. Once the change is made, like a never-ending domino effect, we can have continual impact on the people around us.
The practice of Buddhism as taught by Nichiren Daishonin is a catalyst for experiencing this inner revolution. It provides us with immediate access to the unlimited potential inherent in our lives by which we can live a winning life.
It is the promise of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism that we can attain a state of freedom and unshakable happiness for ourselves while creating harmony with others.
Buddhism is a way of life that — on the most fundamental level — makes no distinction between the individual human being and the environment in which that person lives. Like a fish in water, the two are not only inseparable, but each serves as a catalyst for the other. Thus, to a Buddhist, self-improvement and enhancement of our circumstances go hand in hand. The two are actually so interlocked that it is incorrect to consider them separate entities. In treating the sufferings and delusions of human beings, there is the accompanying benefit of better social conditions, since the one is the source of the other Ö for better or worse.

While the word Buddha may conjure up images of a specific person from history or world religions courses we have taken, it is also a description of the highest state of life each of us can achieve. Buddha actually means "awakened one," and the historical Buddha (known as Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama) discovered that all humans have a potential for enlightenment - or "Buddhahood" in the depths of their lives. This could be likened to a rosebush in winter; the flowers are dormant even though we know that the bush contains the potential to bloom. Similarly, by tapping into our potential, we can find unlimited wisdom, courage, hope, confidence, compassion, vitality and endurance. Instead of avoiding or fearing our problems, we learn to confront them with joyful vigor, confident in our ability to surmount whatever life throws in our path.

Buddhism also shows us the most satisfying way to live among others. It explains that when we help others overcome their problems, our own lives are expanded. When our capacity increases and our character is strengthened, the source of our problems comes under our control. Because we make an internal change, our relationship with our problems changes as well, wresting positive resolutions in any number of astounding yet tangible ways.Through this process of inner reformation, we can also fulfill our dreams and desires. Rather than calling for the eradication of desires, Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism recognizes that to be human means to have desires and that as we proceed in our human revolution, we elevate our state of life, "magnetizing" our lives to attract that which will further our happiness.

Not only do we fulfill our desires as we change ourselves through Buddhist practice, but the very pursuit of those desires through our practice is like rocket fuel propelling us toward our enlightenment. Life is ever-changing, moment-to-moment. The only constant in life is change. Our minds are constantly in flux, and while one minute we may have the courage to conquer the world, the next minute we can be overwhelmed by even the simplest occurrences. But through our steady, daily practice, we continually strengthen our resolve and ability to live a winning life. Winning in life, however, is not the absence or avoidance of problems. Being human, almost by definition, means we will constantly meet up with challenges. True happiness or victory in life is having the tools to take on each hurdle, overcome it, and become stronger and wiser in the process. Inside each human being is a storehouse of all the necessary traits to tackle every problem that confronts us. Buddhism is the practice that allows us access to this storehouse and unleashes our inherent power to take on all of life's challenges and win.

Section Two

The Practice

There are three basics in applying Buddhism: faith, practice and study. They are the primary ingredients in the recipe for developing our innate enlightened condition, or Buddhahood. All three are essential. With this recipe, we will experience actual proof of our transformation in the forms of both conspicuous and inconspicuous benefit. The recipe is universal. These basics are the same in every country where this Buddhism is practiced.

Faith --Traditionally, religion has asked its believers to have faith in its tenets before accepting the religion, without any proof of the religion's assertions. But how can we have faith in something with which we have no experience? Unless a religion can provide benefit to the believers' daily lives and help them overcome their struggles, they cannot become happy by practicing it. Today, many religions lack the ability to truly empower people to change.

 In Buddhism, faith is based on experience. Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism emphasizes obtaining "actual proof" of the teaching's power. Faith begins as an expectation or hope that something will happen. At the start of our journey, if we are willing to try the practice and anticipate some result, we will then develop our faith brick by brick as examples of actual proof accrue.

Practice -- To develop faith, we must take action. We strengthen our wisdom and vital life force by actualizing our Buddhahood each day in a very concrete way. Practice in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism consists of two parts: practice for ourselves and practice for others. Practice for ourselves is primarily the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Each morning and evening, believers participate in a ritual that, along with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, includes recitation from two significant chapters of the Lotus Sutra chapters which explain that each individual holds the potential for enlightenment and that life itself is eternal. This ritual has been traditionally referred to as gongyo (literally, "assiduous practice").
Practice for others consists of action based on compassion to help give others the means to make fundamental improvements in their lives, similar to what we are undergoing through our own engagement with Nichiren Daishonin's teachings. The development of our compassion through such practice for others is also a direct benefit to us.

Study -- To gain confidence that this practice is valid, and to understand why your efforts will bring about a result, it is essential to study the tenets of this Buddhism. The basis of study comes from the founder himself, Nichiren Daishonin. More than 700 years ago, he instructed followers in the correct way to practice; and his writings, which have been preserved and translated into English, give us valuable insight into how this practice will benefit us today.

The Soka Gakkai International (SGI) was formed to support practitioners of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism and help them teach others about it on a global scale. Today, there are some 12 million members in 156 countries, and the American branch is called SGI-USA (for more information, please see Section Four).
The SGI has prepared numerous study materials that offer deeper looks at Buddhist theory, as well as practical applications through members' testimonies. There are also English translations of the original teachings of Buddhism, such as the Lotus Sutra. By helping to build understanding and confidence, the study material provides vital encouragement for us especially at crucial moments.

The basic prayer or chant is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

This is the name of the Mystic Law that governs life eternally throughout the universe. Nichiren Daishonin revealed this law as the underlying principle contained in Buddhism's highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. All life is an expression or manifestation of this law. Thus when we chant this Mystic Law, we attune our lives to the perfect rhythm of the universe. The result is increased vital life force, wisdom, compassion and good fortune to face the challenges in front of us.

The translation of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is as follows:

Nam -- Devotion. By devoting our lives to this law through our faith, practice and study, we will awaken the life-condition of Buddha, or enlightenment, inside ourselves.

Myoho -- Mystic Law. As the Daishonin explained in one of his writings: "What then does myo signify? It is simply the mysterious nature of our life from moment to moment, which the mind cannot comprehend or words express. When we look into our own mind at any moment, we perceive neither color nor form to verify that it exists. Yet we still cannot say it does not exist, for many differing thoughts continually occur. The mind cannot be considered either to exist or not to exist. Life is indeed an elusive reality that transcends both the words and concepts of existence and nonexistence. It is neither existence nor non-existence, yet exhibits the qualities of both. It is the mystic entity of the Middle Way that is the ultimate reality. Myo is the name given to the mystic nature of life, and ho, to its manifestations" (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 4; see "Suggested Readings").

Renge -- Literally, the "lotus flower," which seeds and blooms at the same time. This represents the simultaneity of cause and effect. We create causes through thoughts, words and actions. With each cause made, an effect is registered simultaneously in the depths of life, and those effects are manifested when we meet the right environmental circumstances. Life itself is an endless series of causes and simultaneous effects. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the deepest cause we can make in order to produce our desired effect.

Kyo -- Sound or teaching. This is how the Buddha has traditionally instructed Ö through the spoken word, which is heard.

Myoho-renge-kyo is the Lotus Sutra's title and contains its essential meaning. Nichiren Daishonin added namu (contracted to nam), which comes from Sanskrit. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the ultimate invocation of life, often referred to as the language of the Buddha.
There are no prerequisites or rules as to what to chant for. We simply make the decision to begin chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And by chanting, we experience the energy and wisdom to make our lives fulfilled. In the sixty years since this Buddhism has been widely accessible through the efforts of the Soka Gakkai worldwide, millions have chanted about every conceivable problem and goal, from the most dire health and financial crises to the most urgent matters of the heart. Unlike in most Western religions, when we chant we are not praying to an external deity invested with human qualities like judgment. Our prayers are communicated into the depths of our being when we invoke the sound of the Mystic Law. This universal Law is impartial, and no prayer is more or less worthy than another. The only issue is whether we can create value in our lives and help others do the same. As the Daishonin teaches, we attain enlightenment through a continual transformation that takes place in the depths of our existence as we seek to fulfill our desires and resolve our conflicts. It is important to understand that our prayers are realized because we bring forth from within ourselves the highest life-condition and the wisdom to take correct action.

Once people begin experiencing the benefits of chanting, they may decide to make a deeper commitment and begin a more complete Buddhist practice. The first milestone after beginning one's practice is to receive the Gohonzon, the object of devotion for Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. The Daishonin inscribed his enlightenment in the form of a mandala called the Gohonzon, and believers chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to a scroll form of the Gohonzon enshrined in their own homes. (For information on how to receive the Gohonzon, please ask your sponsor or contact the SGI organization in your area.

In the Gohonzon, the Daishonin graphically depicted his enlightenment, or Buddhahood, which is the enlightened life-condition of the universe. The important point here is that the same potential for enlightenment exists within each of us. And when we fuse our lives with the Gohonzon by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to it, we tap into that enlightened life-condition, our own Buddhahood.

This is why the Daishonin calls the Gohonzon a mirror for the inner self. It is a way to see inside, to begin changing what we don't like and strengthening what we do like. We have the potential of many life-conditions, which appear when we come in contact with various external stimuli. For instance, someone may be rather mild-mannered and quiet, but another person might say something that sparks a show of temper. This temper or anger was dormant inside until provoked by the environment. To bring out our highest potential condition of life, our Buddhahood, we also need a stimulus. As our conviction develops, we will come to see that the Gohonzon is the most positive external stimulus, and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to it is the internal cause that will activate the latent state of Buddhahood in our lives.

The scroll of the Gohonzon is kept on an altar in the practitioner's home where it can be protected from the daily routine of the household.

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