Feb 28, 2010

My 3rd Year

Today, I celebrate my Gohonzon Birthday. Its been 3 years now since I became a Nichiren Buddhist and oh what a wonderful ride its been so far. It is true when they say that it is easy to begin but harder to continue. My Gohonzon was presented to me by the wonderful late Tim Dennis at the White Plains cultural center. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was so ready. I felt it in my bones. I felt like I was shot into the sun. I was beaming. I anxiously awaited the for the day to enshrine my Gohonzon. I was excited and went out and bought everything for my Butsudan. I could feel myself glowing. A new beginning, life, way, tools, friends, family, understanding and awareness. 

Thank you- Seleus Blelis

Birds flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
Reeds driftin' on by
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

Feb 26, 2010

Happy SGI Women’s Day

"Live the Vow" 

Lovely video made by Gladys from my district (Fordham Hill)

I Am Woman

Gigi | MySpace Video

Our Present Sufferings

Feb 22, 2010

Feb 18, 2010

Shakin' & Bouncin' the Blues Away

I absolutely love musicals. And during these long sometimes dark winters, there is nothing like curling up and watching a great musical. I especially love Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films. When I'm feeling blue, I just watch them dance and it instantly puts a smile on my face. I also wanted to add the sublime Ann Miller to the mix with her wonderful version of  Shakin' the Blues Away from one of my fave musicals "Easter Parade". So please watch and smile. I dare ya!

Feb 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Nichiren Daishonin

Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282) was born on February 16, 1222 , a Japanese monk and the son of a poor fisherman, Nichiren became a monk in the Tendai school. 

He was born in Kominato, which today lies in the Japanese prefecture of Chiba. He began his formal Buddhist study at the Seichoji Temple at eleven, where he eventually became a priest. It was at the Seichoji Temple that he first came to believe in the pre-eminence of the Lotus Sutra. On April 28, 1253, he declared his intention to preach the Lotus Sutra and Nam Myoho Renge Kyo as the true Buddhism. At the same time he changed his name from Rencho to Nichi-ren. "Nichi" means "sun", and "ren" means "Lotus".

Nichiren's independent studies led him to conclude that the Lotus Sutra contained the only true way to salvation and that chanting the phrase namu myoho renge kyo ("salutation to the Lotus Sutra") is the way to attain enlightenment. Nichiren also taught that his time, characterized by political unrest, was the period of degeneration (or age of "latter dharma," known as mappo) that was predicted in the Lotus Sutra. During this time, it was believed that only bodhisattvas could ensure the purity of Buddhist doctrine, and Nichiren identified himself as the incarnation of a bodhisattva whose mission was to spread the true teachings of the Lotus Sutra in Japan.

Nichiren sharply criticized other forms of Buddhism and taught that natural disasters and invasions would result if Japan did not turn to the Lotus Sutra. He sharply criticized Shingon, Pure Land, and Zen Buddhism, leading to two exiles and near execution. Nichiren and his followers believe he was saved from execution by miraculous intervention. Nichiren's personal communications and writings to his followers (called "Honorable Writings", or "Gosho") detail his view of the correct form of practice for the "Latter Day of the Law" (mappo), and many are preserved to this day.


Feb 12, 2010

What Love is Not

"Love is not love..." As Shakespeare once wrote (Sonnet 116), what seems to be love sometimes may not be love at all. As much as the subject of love occupies many people's minds (and perhaps much of their time and money), their greatest concern seems usually confined to finding love or becoming lovable in the eyes of others, rather than the meaning of love or the capacity for loving. The underlying assumption of such an attitude may be that love is a feeling of pleasure and comfort only to be stimulated by an external object. The usual remedy for life without love, therefore, is to find that object—someone new and better. Erich Fromm, a noted psychologist and social philosopher, considers love as an "art" that "requires knowledge and effort"; he defines love as "the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love" (The Art of Loving, pp. 1, 25). If love is one's capacity to wish and act for the happiness and freedom of another person, a fundamental solution to the suffering of love must be sought not outward, but in the development of the character and inner strength that make us capable of loving more genuinely and powerfully.

To master the art of loving is to overcome the desire for control and dependency

One of the greatest obstacles to the joy of loving is our desire for control. We sometimes mistake our wish to control others for our loving concern. We may think of ourselves as affectionate, yet our "love" may be a disguised desire to manipulate others for our personal gain. In his writings, Nichiren Daishonin often uses a mythic Buddhist creature called the "devil king of the sixth heaven" as a metaphor for the deep-seated human desire to control others. Indeed, another name for this devil king literally means the "heavenly being who makes free use of others" (Jpn takejizaiten). Through his lively descriptions of this "devil," the Daishonin seems to indicate the importance of becoming aware and vigilant of our desire to use others as a means to our selfish ends. Since dependency is essential to control, the devil king uses various schemes to make people dependent on him. One of his main tools to encourage dependency is manipulation through feigned affection. Despite the general perception of the devil king as a fierce monster, he is adept at appearing affectionate. To lure people and keep them under his control, the devil king is said to make himself look like a Buddha or parent. For example, the Daishonin states, "The devil king of the sixth heaven is endowed with the Buddha's thirty-two features and manifests the Buddha's body" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 114). The Daishonin also quotes from a Buddhist commentary, which states, "So long as a person does not try to depart from the sufferings of birth and death and aspire to the Buddha vehicle, the devil will watch over him like a parent" (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 770). In fact, there is even a type of devil in the Buddhist tradition called "the devil of compassion" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 526). Those who are eager to control others often appear affectionate—"taking care of them" or "being nice to them"—with the aim of keeping them dependent materially or emotionally. In Ibsen's play A Doll's House, the seemingly affectionate yet controlling husband Torvald Helmer reminds his wife, Nora, of his "love" expressed in the form of financial support: "My pretty little pet is very sweet, but it runs away with an awful lot of money. It's incredible how expensive it is for a man to keep such a pet" (Act 1, trans. by James McFarlane and Jens Arup).

The truth of love is found in our sincerity to act for the happiness and freedom of others

It is easy to mistake control and dependency for love. The appearance of selfish love, however, like that of the devil king's, is only deceptive, for it is conditional to submission. As the Daishonin points out, the devil king is affectionate "so long as a person does not try to depart from" his control (WND, 770). Some people may give anything to their "loved ones" only to keep them dependent. Those obsessed with control, however, usually find it difficult to wish for the genuine happiness and independence of others. Instead, they would hope to see others deprived in one way or another in order to maintain their sense of superiority. The test of our love, in this sense, lies in our sincerity to encourage and work for the self-reliance and freedom of our loved ones. As the Daishonin states, "The nature of this devil king is to rejoice at those who create the karma of the three evil paths and to grieve at those who form the karma of the three good paths" (WND, 42). Those who thrive on domination may easily show pity for others in suffering, while inwardly delighting at the sight. For the misery of others affords those in control yet another opportunity to show their superiority and thereby remind those suffering of their need for dependency. 

At the core of a relationship built on domination and submission lies a profound sense of insecurity and powerlessness on both sides. Those who like to dominate cannot verify the meaning of their existence on their own, so they must derive a sense of power from the subjugation of others. Similarly, those who easily submit to an external authority cannot see their self-worth. So they feel impelled to become part of someone "better" and "stronger" by abandoning their identity and integrity. To such submissive people, control means protection against their own insecurity. Those submissive to an external authority do not see their lives as worthwhile to live for, but they cannot endure the emptiness of having nobody to live for either. So they must seek an external object with which to merge their identity so that they may not face the weakness and emptiness of their own lives. This symbiotic relationship between the dominant and the submissive is disturbed when the submissive party uncovers his or her self-worth and develops the inner strength to become independent. Then the dominant party's insecurity will surface as frustration and anger. 

The Daishonin's following descriptions of the devil king illustrate his intense fear and anxiety in this regard: "When we thus draw near to achieving Buddhahood…the devil king of the sixth heaven, lord of the threefold world, reasons: 'If these persons should become Buddhas, I will suffer loss on two counts. First of all, if they free themselves from the threefold world, they will escape my control. Second, if they become Buddhas, their parents and siblings will also depart from the saha world. How can I stop this from happening?'" (WND, 1094). "When an ordinary person of the latter age is ready to attain Buddhahood…this devil is greatly surprised. He says to himself, 'This is most vexing. If I allow this person to remain in my domain, he not only will free himself from the sufferings of birth and death, but will lead others to enlightenment as well. Moreover, he will take over my realm and change it into a pure land. What shall I do?'" (WND, 894).

To love truly, we must free ourselves from the fundamental darkness within

The devil king does not want anyone to attain enlightenment and become free since that would be a painful reminder of his own powerlessness and dependency. The paradox of this devil king, who "dwells at the summit of the world of desire and rules over the threefold world" (WND, 508), is that he is controlled by his own desire to control. The devil king is a ruler who cannot rule himself. The more control he has, the more of it he needs. He is perpetually driven by his inner weakness and insecurity, never feeling satisfied. He is a prisoner of the prison he himself creates. Although he is said to make "free use of others," he is never free in the innermost reality of his life. The devil king, therefore, is incapable of loving. The devil king is said to dwell in the sixth and highest heaven of the world of desire, but his "love," if it could be so called at all, results only in profound unfulfillment and suffering beneath its heavenly pleasure. 

As William Blake knew, such selfish "Love seeketh only Self to please, / To bind another to Its delight: / Joys in another's loss of ease, / And builds a Hell in Heavens despite" ("The Clod & the Pebble," ed. David V. Erdman). To love truly, we must be free. To be free, then, we must discover our innate self-worth. In the same sonnet quoted earlier, Shakespeare also wrote, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments." One of the greatest impediments to our ability to love is a delusion about the truth of our inner life—Buddhahood. Such delusion leads to powerlessness and dependency. The mythic devil king is symbolic of this delusion as the Daishonin says, "The fundamental darkness manifests itself as the devil king of the sixth heaven" (WND, 1113). To shed light on this inner "fundamental darkness" through strengthening our confidence in Buddhahood within our lives, then, is an essential practice for the art of loving.

(Originally published in the World Tribune, Dec. 7, 2001)

Feb 11, 2010

Chanting for Love

I am sure many members have already seen this video from 2007, but I just wanted to share it again. Its a humorous skit made by the Knoxville, Tennessee Youth Division. It was the first time that I saw that we can also infuse our practice with a sense of humor.

Chanting for Love is about a young man Brock, who is introduced to the practice and his journey to chant, understand and take action to find love- with mini commercials like Kosen-rufu Door to Door Service and Shakabuku'd! (hey check out the guy talking about being shakabuku'd in front of a Wonder Woman wall picture...nice).

A Buddhist view of Relationships Pt 2

by Eddy Canfor-Dumas

Of course, the length of a relationship is by no means the only criterion by which it should be judged – it can be long and miserable. But even modern relationship counselors stress the importance of first making a conscious commitment – such as marriage – for it to succeed. This is in line with the Buddhist teaching of cause and effect: a person who drifts into a relationship with no conscious commitment is actually making the cause (by, in effect, sub-consciously leaving the door open) to bale out at some point in the future when his needs are no longer satisfied by his partner – with all the suffering that this will inevitably entail. Even truly good sex depends on the mutual trust, respect and relaxation that comes from an enduring, secure relationship.

Second, we have to ask ourselves whether we really do learn from failed, short-term relationships. Or do we actually just reinforce our karmic tendencies and strengthen our expectations of failure next time around? Certainly, to judge by the number of times many of us fail, we seem to learn very slowly, if ever. After all, few people would advocate learning to drive by continually crashing the car.

This is why chanting is so vital. It doesn’t guarantee we won’t make mistakes – even Buddhists get divorced – but it can shorten the odds considerably, both in allowing us to be open to the right person, and also in helping us over the hurdles that are present in any relationship, through an ability to turn ‘poisons’ into ‘medicine’.

What’s gone wrong?
Once in a relationship, then, it follows that we must chant seriously about all of the problems that it will inevitably throw up, however minor they might seem at the time – for, in Everett’s words, ‘Tall oaks from little acorns grow.’

Buddhism teaches that however passionate two people are at the start of their relationship, over the course of time the intensity of that feeling will fade and change. This is because romantic love is all too often a manifestation of the world of Rapture, which is, by definition, short-lived. The passing of the rapturous phase does not necessarily mean that the couple will have stopped loving each other – although some people think this is what has happened and can get very worried – but that other aspects of the Ten Worlds have come to the fore. 

For example, through the rose-tinted spectacles of Rapture, Ms A is beguiled by Mr B’s easy-going charm. But as Rapture fades, as it must, she’s increasingly irritated by what she now sees as his laziness and refusal ever to take a stand on anything. In other words, the Tranquility that attracted her has begun to repel her.

It is in this confrontation with the reality of two people living their daily life together that the wisdom of Buddhism once again reveals itself. Buddhism recognizes the full force of the negative side of life in relationships and consciously seeks to use it in a positive way, as the words of guidance given at the SGI-UK wedding service show:

Through their united resolve before the Gohonzon to create a wonderfully harmonious yet essentially progressive unit of society, founded on the rock of their deep respect for each others lives, [husband and wife] draw out from each other the three poisons of anger, greed and stupidity which might otherwise afflict their family life with misery for their lifetime.

In other words, by committing ourselves to a life of close intimacy with another person, the three poisons are drawn to the surface of our lives so that we can see them clearly and then, by taking them to the Gohonzon, chant about and eventually transform them. The wedding guidance continues:

At the same time, through their victory in this struggle, they are able to send out waves of peace and friendship, not only to the community which immediately surrounds them, but the whole country and the whole world. 

This, too is an important point, for while it is necessary for two people to confront and overcome the problems they have between them, a healthy relationship is not one which is forever turned in on itself in self-absorption. Rather, by looking outwards to the contribution it can make as a unit to society, it is forever being stimulated, fed and refreshed.

In these two aspects of relationships – working out our joint problems and engaging with our wider society – honest communications between the couple is vital. In the words of SGI-UK General Director Richard Causton, ‘We change from day to day; so does our environment. Without communication, any relationship must become sterile and out of date, losing its sensitivity and direction. Truly, there is wisdom in the old suggestion: “Let’s have a talk about it over a cup of tea”. A day should never pass without husband and wife exchanging thoughts and feelings, as well as news and information, over a cuppa – or something stronger’ (Marriage and Relationships’, UK Express No 222, December 1989).

Final thoughts
To sum up a Buddhist approach to relationships, then: first, it is important not to rely on a relationship for our happiness. Rather, we should aim to become happy, strong and independent through our practice, and then found a relationship on that basis.

Second, if we have suffered a pattern of unhappy relationships, we can chant to discover what it is in us that is attracting the wrong sort of person, and then struggle to change it by revealing and increasingly strengthening our Buddha nature.

Third, it is always advisable to chant a lot before becoming intimately involved with anyone, and act on the Buddha wisdom that our chanting draws up. 

Fourth, our relationship is a prime opportunity for us to further our ‘human revolution’ by accepting full responsibility for every aspect of the relationship. We do this by taking every problem we have to the Gohonzon, and sharing our thoughts and feelings honestly with our partner, without fear.

Fifth, our relationship will definitely be strengthened if we look outwards as a couple, to the world around us, and work together to create value for others in our society.

And finally, perhaps we could bear in mind the following words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. They refer to husband and wife, but are equally applicable to any couple who have made a deep and lasting commitment to each other:

‘Since a husband and wife must continue to share joys and sorrows throughout their lives, it is vital that they share not only love but also a way of thought and philosophy, especially religion, as a foundation of life. It is a wonderful life if you can advance together with the same goals based on this foundation.

‘A variety of problems naturally arise in the course of life. The important thing is for the married couple to strive to understand each other with mutual love, based on a determination to live together throughout their lives.

‘Two people who love each other should be full of vitality, guided by the Mystic Law. They should pursue the kind of love that will win the admiration of others. They should not have the kind of relationship which prevents their advancement in faith or impedes their self-reformation or makes them stand out like two birds frolicking in the darkness….

‘I have heard that there are many cases in which discord between husband and wife ends up in divorce. This seems to be a global trend. However, I am convinced that if one of the two is staunch enough to make a deep determination to work towards reconciliation, they can definitely overcome the problem existing between them. Basing yourself on unshakable faith is of the utmost significance (Buddhism in Action, Vol. 1, pp.116-8).

A great relationship is full of joy, challenge and growth, offering opportunities for giving and receiving love and responsibility found in few other situations. A bad relationship is hell. With Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, anyone can achieve the first – if he or she wishes.

(Art and Photography by Deviantart & Niagara)

Feb 8, 2010

A Buddhist view of Relationships Pt 1

by Eddy Canfor-Dumas

1990 was a bad year for divorce in Britain. Or rather, it was a good year for divorce, but not such a good year for marriage. 153,386 of them broke down ‘irretrievably’, the sole grounds for divorce in English law. Currently, that figure (the most up-to-date available) represents forty-six per cent – almost a half – of all new marriages in England and Wales (331,150).

It’s a sobering thought. Yet for many people the sorry wreckage of so many marriages in our society has not proved a deterrent to splicing the knot. In love, it seems, hope truly does spring eternal.

To many others, though, the number of failed marriages they can see has put them off the idea of matrimony, but not, it seems, the idea of living together in a marriage-type relationship. Even here, though, there is no guarantee that such a relationship is any more likely to succeed than a ‘formal’ marriage. In fact, if the number of marriage-type relationships that broke down could be counted, the overall proportion of ‘divorces’ to enduring relationships might be even higher.

And this is just counting heterosexual relationships. Add in the number of homosexual partnerships that fail and one might wonder how it is that any two people ever manage to stay together and build a successful relationship through their lives.

There have been many reasons put forward as to why so many relationships fail today – amongst others, the decline of the influence of the Church, the advent of the Pill, the growing financial-independence of women and a rise of intolerance generally between people. But whatever the reasons, two conclusions at least can be drawn from the present state of affairs.

First, our judgement as to who would make a good partner is not, on present statistics, all that reliable. And second, even if we do manage to meet and marry (or live with) Mr or Miss Right, our ability to sustain and develop that relationship is frequently tested to breaking point.

Given that, for many people, an enduring and emotionally satisfying (and almost certainly monogamous) relationship with another person is a goal most devoutly to be wished, what does Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism have to offer on these two fundamental problems. – finding the right partner and then working at the relationship so it grows and flourishes, ‘till death do us part’?

Before answering those questions, it is important to understand that, for those practising Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, the most fundamental relationship he or she can have is with the Gohonzon, not with another person. This is because the purpose of Buddhist practice is to establish absolute and unshakeable happiness within one’s own life, and to teach others how to do the same. Essentially this is achieved through chanting Nam myoho renge kyo to the Gohonzon. As Nichiren Daishonin states:

A woman who devotes herself to the Gohonzon invites happiness in this life; and in the next, the Gohonzon will be with her and protect her always (Major Writings, Vol.1, p.213).

He is even more direct in the Gosho Happiness in this World:

There is no greater happiness for human beings than chanting Nam myoho renge kyo… There is no greater happiness than having faith in the Lotus Sutra [Gohonzon] (Major Writings, Vol.1, p.161).

This is a difficult lesson to learn, however, living as we do in a society which places romantic love alongside wealth, fame and beauty as perhaps the most desirable of all goals. One might actually say that the real struggle in practising Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism lies in truly accepting the reality that happiness lies within your own life; in developing and revealing your Buddha nature more and more; in discovering your own unique mission in this world; and should not rely on external – and ultimately unreliable – factors like your relationship with your lover or spouse.

In fact, Buddhism has traditionally viewed romantic love with ambivalence, if not downright negativity. This is because desire – including romantic desire – is intimately and inevitably bound up with suffering. . (see ‘Basics of Buddhism, pp31-2) Only the altruistic ‘love’ for others – comparable to the compassionate love of parents for their children – is seen in a positive light. This love – called jihi in Buddhism – is best exemplified in traditional Buddhist teachings by the merciful actions of Shakyamuni Buddha, based on his desire to remove suffering and five happiness to all living beings.

All very well, you might think, but what has this got to do with the real world, where we often find it difficult to get on with our nearest and dearest, let alone feel any stirrings of compassion for ‘all living beings’? Where we fancy each other, fall in love, have affairs and one-night stands? Where we fight and scream, then kiss and make up – or break up?

The answer touches on the basic difference between the ‘traditional’ Buddhism associated with Shakyamuni and the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin. Whereas traditional Buddhist teachings stress the necessity of trying to eliminate desire to avoid suffering, Nichiren Daishonin teaches that desire is an unavoidable and fundamental aspect of human life. Quite simply, if we had no desires we would never do anything. Even to live, for example, we have to want to go on living.

So instead of suppressing our earthly desires, Nichiren Daishonin taught that through chanting for them we can attain enlightened happiness. As he states:

When one chants Nam myoho renge kyo even during the sexual union of man and woman, then earthly desires are enlightenment and the sufferings of life and death are nirvana (Major Writings, Vol 2, p.229).

In short, what this means in the context of relationships is that, through chanting Nam myoho renge kyo to find the right partner or to improve our relationship with our existing partner, we reveal our Buddhahood. And it is this process of revealing and strengthening our Buddhahood, with its characteristic qualities of wisdom, courage, compassion and life force, which puts us on the right path towards a happy and fulfilling relationship; a relationship based on mutual respect and a deep spiritual bond, and one in which we share the same dreams, goals and aspirations as our partner. So how does this work in practice?

Why a relationship?
A good starting-point in answering this question might be to ask why one wants ‘a relationship’ – put in apostrophes, thus, because often we seem to regard this intimate connection with another human being almost as a commodity; a ‘thing’ to be desired and possessed and then, as with a car whose performance doesn’t quite match our expectations, discarded or exchanged for another. (Perhaps we should add the dominance of the values of materialism to the list of why so many relationships fail these days.)

Of course, there are many reasons why one should want a close relationship with another person: for company; for sex; for a family; for status; security, money; to be ‘grown-up’ or to escape from one’s family; for vanity – the kudos of ‘catching’ someone generally admired or desired; or the impulse to mother or lord it over another person. And then there’s the intoxicating rapture of simply falling head over heels in love – the true ‘magic’ of romantic love, where reason flies out of the window and we are borne along on a tide of passion.

More prosaically, though, our motives are usually mixed together into a vague, generalized longing for ‘a relationship’, which often seems to proceed meeting anyone ‘special’. Rather, we simply look for someone to fit the template of the ideal partner we have constructed in our minds.

One thing these motives have in common, however, is that they are directed outwards. They are based on the assumption that the other person will make us happy by filling some kind of void in our lives. This, Buddhism teaches, is a mistake.

A relationship with another person might provide many of the things listed above – stimulating companionship, a fulfilling sexual relationship and a happy, healthy family life are among the basic joys of human existence. But to base one’s happiness on it is to fail to recognize the essential instability of the situation. A lifelong companion, however wonderful, will eventually die. Even the best sexual relationship can suffer if other factors alter. And as one’s children grow and mature, their attitude towards their parents can often change for the worse.

So one of the main purposes of chanting about our attitude to relationships is to understand what lies at its root. Is it fear of loneliness? The desire to be loved because, in our heart of hearts, we are so unsure of our true worth? Or simply a restless sexual energy?

Why him? Why her?
In fact, as we chant and study the life-philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin, we can go even deeper into ourselves and begin to see and understand the pattern of our attraction to certain people. For, as Nichiren Daishonin teaches, two people who have chosen to live in a close relationship fit each other perfectly, in all their strengths and weaknesses. Describing the relationship of husband and wife in thirteenth century Japan, he says:

When a husband is happy, his wife will be fulfilled. If a husband is a thief, his wife will become one, too. This is not a matter of this life alone. A man and wife are as close as a body and shadow, flowers and fruit, or roots and leaves, in every existence of life (Major writings, Vol.1, p.146).

This observation is based on the Buddhist principle of the Ten Worlds. Buddhism teaches that all people share ten basic life conditions – Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquility, Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood, all of which have certain characteristics.

Hell is the world of suffering; Hunger is the world of insatiable desire; Animality is the world of the instinct. Anger is dominated by the ego, Tranquility (Humanity) by calmness, Rapture by momentary pleasure, Learning is characterized by the desire to learn from the teachings of others, Realization by the desire to improve oneself through one’s own efforts, and Bodhisattva by the exercise of compassion. Buddhahood, which is revealed through chanting Nam myoho renge kyo, acts as a kind of positive filter which brings out all of the beneficial, value-creating aspects of the other nine worlds.

Everyone tends to live predominantly in one or two of these life conditions, which, although they are displayed according to the personality of each individual, retain their basic characteristics. Thus, one person might be brash and boastful and another quietly superior, but both are exhibiting aspects of the world of Anger, the ego.

The important thing about this, as far as relationships go, is that we tend to be attracted to those people who share the same basic life condition as ourselves.

A person in the grip of Animality, for instance, will take every opportunity to indulge in instinctive pleasures – sex, food, drink, sleep – usually with little thought for the consequences of his actions. He will tend to be attracted to someone who is also in the grip of Animality, even though the object of his attentions might not exhibit all the same aspects of the life condition. For instance, both might share an appetite for sex and alcohol, but one might consistently defer to the wishes of the other in all other matters – as Nichiren Daishonin says of Animality, ‘It is the nature of beasts to threaten the weak and fear the strong’ (Major Writings, Vol.1, p.34).

Exactly how the Ten Worlds operate in individuals can be extremely subtle, and there is no space here to analyse all their various nuances. And they are by no means all bad. Each of the Ten Worlds has both negative and positive aspects (except Buddhahood, which is wholly positive), so if we are fortunate enough to be dominated by, say, the positive aspects of the world of Tranquility (or Humanity) – clear, reasoned judgement – our chances of forging a successful relationship will be much higher than if we are in the clutches of Hell, whether or not we chant Nam myoho renge kyo.

Even so, as we chant about our present and past relationships, we begin to identify which of the Ten Worlds have been dominant in them. Almost invariably, we see that we have been attracted to the same type of person, ‘chosen’ by our own dominant life state.

This pattern Buddhism calls our ‘karma’, habitual behaviour which we are bound to repeat. Take the couple described above. If the man begins to despise his partner’s weakness and continual deference – one of the very things that attracts him in the first place – he might eventually end the relationship. Being dominated by Animality, however, he is only attracted to those who share characteristics similar to the person he has just left. They might appear in a different form –this time, for instance, he might play the subservient role – but essentially he will find himself in the same kind of relationship.

Breaking the pattern.
It is to break out of the pattern imposed on us by our karma that we chant. As we do so and reflect on our actions, we begin to see our motives more clearly. And after a time (it varies from person to person), if we conclude that our attitude is based on the negative aspects of one of the Ten Worlds – especially the ‘lower worlds’ of Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquility or Rapture – we determine to challenge and change it, for the happiness of both ourselves and our partner (present or future).

At the same time we struggle to base our relationships increasingly on the world of Buddhahood, with its deep respect for the inherent dignity of life and for the fundamental equality of all people. For ultimately, Buddhism teaches, it is a relationship based on shared goals, respect and equality that stands more chance of enduring and growing than one based on passion, romance or unrealistic expectations of our partner’s ability to make us happy. As Nichiren Daishonin states:

Explain all this to your wife, and work together like the sun and the moon, a pair of eyes, or the two winds of a bird. With the sun and the moon, how can you fall into the path of darkness? With a pair of eyes, how can you fail to behold the faces of Shakyamuni, Taho and all the other Buddhas of the universe? With a pair of wings, you will surely be able to fly in an instant to the Buddha land of eternal happiness (Major Writings, Vol.2, p.231).

What does this mean in practical terms? First, if we are not involved with anyone at present but wish to be, it means making a strong determination to meet the right person for our happiness – which also means the right person for kosen-rufu – and then, effectively, forgetting about it. Lodged deep in our lives, the desire to meet the right person, coupled with a strong daily practice, will eventually draw that person to us when the time is right.

In the meantime, instead of being obsessed with having ‘a relationship’ and feeling sorry for ourselves that we are alone, we can concentrate on creating value in our society and growing as strong and independent individuals – who are, anyway, generally more attractive to others than those who are always desperately seeking someone.

‘The right partner for kosen-rufu’ does not mean, however, that there will only ever be one person ‘out there’ with whom we can possibly build a happy relationship, whom we somehow hunt out with our chanting; neither does it mean that he or she should necessarily be a Buddhist.

There may, in fact, be more than one person with whom we forge successful, creative relationships on the path of our human revolution towards finding our partner for life. They may or may not be Buddhists (although this would be hard with someone vehemently and consistently opposed to our practice). And even if our partner never chants, if we do our utmost to respect and support him or her in the fulfillment of his or her unique purpose in this life, he or she will respect and support us in turn, and help us fulfil our unique purpose, too.

In this context, chanting is a means of developing sufficient good fortune, through our thoughts, words and deeds based on Buddhahood, to be in the right position to meet the right person at the right time. Chanting also helps us develop enough wisdom to recognize the potential that exists in that other person (and any existing relationship we might have), and then to decide whether to act or not.

So, secondly, once we meet someone to whom we are attracted, we should chant seriously before we become romantically (or sexually) involved with him or her. We need the wisdom (and courage) of our Buddhahood to look clearly and honestly at the nature of our attraction. And if our wisdom counsels against involvement, we must listen to it – or face the inevitable consequences. Our karma to be drawn to a certain type of person may be very strong, but if we have suffered from it in the past, it is only by not succumbing to it now that we can hope to change our pattern of unhappy relationships.

Sex and ‘the learning curve’
But isn’t all this chanting before falling into someone’s arms (or bed) just frankly unrealistic? What about passion? Excitement? Romance? Does Buddhism really advocate sex only within the bounds of marriage or a life-long commitment? If we don’t become involved in the first place, how can we ever know whether or not we want to commit ourselves to this other person? And surely people learn from experience and even ‘failed’ relationships can teach us something?

These are all good questions. In addressing them, it might be useful to bear a couple of points in mind.

First, attitudes to relationships, particularly sexual relationships, vary according to the age and the culture of any society. Broadly speaking, in this country, we have alternated between eras of sexual repression and sexual permissiveness, often running the two in parallel – historically (and hypocritically), for example, there have been different standards of sexual behavior for men and women. Currently, we are going through a stage of sexual permissiveness, where many people feel that it is perfectly natural – indeed, even healthy – to have a number of different sexual partners before settling down with ‘the chosen one’, supposedly for life.

The important question – certainly in terms of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism – is not one of morality but pragmatism. Quite simply, have our current fashions led to greater happiness? To longer, stronger relationships? The answer can hardly be an unqualified ‘yes’.

Take ‘trial marriages’ – living together before deciding to make a legal commitment. A recent study by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys came to the startling conclusion that, of couples who married for the first time in the early 1980’s, those who had previously lived together were fifty per cent more likely to have divorced after five years of marriage – and sixty per cent more likely to have divorced after eight years of marriage – than similar couples who had not lived together.

(Photos by deviantart,photobucket)

Feb 5, 2010

Feb 3, 2010

Heart or Mind


Feb 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

"When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."- Phil Connors

That is a line from the funny 1993 Harold Ramis film "Groundhog Day. It stars Bill Murray as a egotistical and cynical weatherman Phil Connor who is sent to Punxatawney, Penn., to cover Groundhog Day. He rather be anywhere than near that darn groundhog. He's accompanied on this trip by Rita (Andie McDowell), the segment producer. Because of a snowstorm, they are forced to stay another day. When he wakes up the next morning at 6am (with Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe" on the clock radio), he discovers that it's Groundhog Day all over again. Everyone and everything is the same except for him. And it keeps happening over and over, day after day after day.

Just like my review of the film "Harold & Maude", this film also has a Buddhist theme. According to Buddhist critic Tom Armstrong, its "the greatest Buddhist movie ever made". 
I really enjoy this film and upon re-watching this past weekend, you yourself will feel like your stuck in a time loop and want to catch the next greyhound bus out of town for good. But more importantly, you can see that change is possible. The kind of change that affects you, your environment and your karma. 

You leave the film thinking, man Phil is one enlightened guy! Phil is not a god. He never says he is but believes he's like a god. But he's an ordinary person like all of us. We may see what he was able to accomplished as extraordinary (like having super powers or something, which I will address in a upcoming post), but its fact is not. Phil perfectly depicts what a Bodhisattva is. 

So we know that Phil relives the same day over and over again. The same events happen, day in and day out. But how is he like a Bodhisattva? As witness his journey into the Ten Worlds (some say his character is in a time loop for about 8.5 years or more) ,he begins to realize that in order to break this cycle he needs to change himself. Here is what we know about Phil and a general sequence of events that happen to him:

  • He's not a nice guy, arrogant, insincere, egocentric.
  • He cannot believe the day is repeating itself, aggravated.
  • He tests how far he can go without ever paying for any consequences for his actions (punching out a man, overeating, robbing money),  "I don't worry about anything anymore".
  • He has fun getting information to use the following day to take advantage of people, testing his memory of events.
  • He uses the same tactics on the segment producer Rita so he can woo her. 
  • She repeatedly slaps and rebuffs his advances.
  • He looks terrible, tired and defeated, and figures he has to stop the groundhog so Winter could end 
PHIL (sarcastic, to camera) Well, that's it.  Sorry you couldn't be here in person to share the electric moment.  This is one event where television really fails to capture the excitement of thousands of people gathered to watch a large squirrel predict the weather, and I for one am deeply grateful to have been a part of it. Reporting for Channel 9, this is Phil Connors. 
RITA You want to try one that's a little sweeter? 
PHIL That's as sweet as I get.  I'm outa here.

  • He drives off a cliff (with the groundhog in tow) to his suppose death
  • He survives that so begins his quest find other ways to off himself (stabbed, poisoned, hanged, frozen, jumps off a building, burned, electrocuted.
  • He thinks he's a god because he survived all of those attempts and tries to convince Rita by telling her all the things he knows about her, Punxatawney and its people.
After spending the day with Rita, she realizes this is not the same jerk she once knew. He is being honest, opened, and there is this kind of realization that sets in for him. But not the realization you think. He's close to it though. He thought he had the power to control everyone and everything. He wasted his days for selfish reasons, but once that idea got tired. He tried to kill himself to escape his suffering, but that didn't work- he thought okay now what? I thought that even though he was experiencing the same day over and over again, he was creating new experiences. The more you learn about what works and what doesn't work, you begin to expand and grow as a person. He was discovering parts of himself that maybe he never knew existed or was possible.

RITA I'm just amazed. And I'm not easily amazed.
PHIL About what?? 
RITA How you can start a day with one kind of expectation and end up so completely different.

In other words, change you, change your environment. 

To me the turning points happens when he's with Rita flipping cards in a hat and he says that its always the same day, February 2nd and there is nothing I can do about it. Rita tells him:

"I don't know, Phil. Maybe it's not a curse. It just depends on how you look at it."

Later when she falls asleep, he speaks from his heart to Rita and says:  "It doesn't matter what happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life. I'm happy now."

  • Now he wakes up with a different more positive attitude.
  • Learns how to play the piano, ice sculpt, speak french, attempts to save man' life who once before he completely ignored.
  • Saves a kid falling out of a tree, fixes a flat tire for a bunch of elderly women, helps a choking man, shows his piano playing abilities at the groundhog banquet..slowly but surely impressing Rita.
  • He unveils his ice sculpture of Rita and says "I'm happy now because I love you no matter what happens. 
  • He wakes up again, next to Rita...its a brand new day, February 3rd

"Groundhog Day" really illustrates the Buddhist concept of samsara, the continuing cycle of birth and death that ordinary people undergo in the the world of illusion and suffering. Buddhists regard this suffering one must escape. This rebirth is referred to as "transmigration in the six paths." The six paths are the realms of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, and heavenly beings. Unenlightened beings are born into one of the six paths in accordance with their actions in their previous existence; when the present life is over,they are reborn in the same or another of the six paths, REPEATING this process so long as they fail to free themselves from it. Sound familiar? Freeing oneself from transmigration is our goal. The causes for such transmigration are regarded as ignorance of the true nature of life and selfish craving. In order to free yourself from this, you must awaken to the truth of your life and eliminate selfish craving, which leads to attaining nirvana.

The film also illustrates the Buddhist concept of attachment. Because of our attachment to ignorance, hatred, greed or things outside ourselves, we are never satisfied. And the more attach we become, the more we experience misery, complaints and doubt.

Phil awakened to the truth which is why he would be considered a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is one who aspires to attain enlightenment or Buddhahood and carries altruistic practice. Phil displays this in many forms when he begins to give back, save lives and more importantly shows compassion for the citizens of Punxsutawney. In Nichiren Buddhism, one can attain Buddhahood in your present form and completed in a single lifetime. Phil goes through the lower ten worlds over and over and in the end, finds happiness and satisfaction in devoting himself to relieving the suffering of others. His early selfish actions (bad causes), did not yield good results (effects) for him either. When he began to embrace his life, his existence- he changed the people around him. They were magnetized to him or as we say attracted to his high life condition. And as a result, finds a genuine love relationship with Rita.

Many may wonder how he gets there. One could say because he really heard what Rita said and changed his perceptions when he stopped trying and began to care or when he stopped making bad causes and surrendered to the truth of his heart. I like to think its because he had a omamori with him (traveling case that holds your Gohonzon) in his room or somewhere, he was shakabukued. And after every failed day, he chanted to find clarity and wisdom. It was trial and error each time but he finally found the key to unlock his suffering. Here the eightfold path is evident. He had the self-awareness, optimism and courage to change his life. We all do. Its about acknowledging that the mistakes we make, can be improved upon and by making one small or big change, you can significantly achieve whatever it is you want. In other words, you are ultimately responsible for your own happiness.

According to Dean Sluyter, the author of Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies, the film repeat parts of the same day forty-two times, or six weeks, exactly the time we will wait for winter to end if the groundhog sees his shadow. “In other words,” he said, “we are the groundhog and we are afraid of our own shadow, a shadow created by light. That light is truth, reality. Ultimate truth, then, is not a bummer. It’s nothing.”

But that can't be done if you stay in your groundhog shadow because you will never see the Spring. He saw Winter has an opportunity, a challenge to change himself and his environment. And as we learned from our Buddhist practice Winter never fails to turn into Spring.

By Seleus Blelis