Oct 26, 2010

Obstacles and Devils (Sansho Shima)

UKE March 1997 by Catherine Cinnnamon 

The three obstacles and four devils is a literal translation of the Japanese term sansho shima. This is a traditional classification of the types of difficulties and obstacles we encounter when we practise Buddhism.

Obstacles usually refers to external problems we may meet, whereas devils refers not to scary demonic spirits, which do not really exist, but rather to our own innermost negative tendencies, or the workings of life's innate deluded nature. We could say that obstacles are anything that functions to obstruct our practice of faith, whereas devils are self-destructive and destroy the quality of life itself.

The two best-known letters in which Nichiren Daishonin explains these obstacles and devils were both written to the Ikegami brothers, whose father threatening to disinherit them because of their refusal to give up their faith. This was a serious matter in those days. In the first of these, 'Letter to the Brothers', Nichiren Daishonin warns:
As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge, vying with one another to interfere (MW-V1 p.145, WND p.501)
Once we start practicing we soon realize that constant effort is necessary to maintain a consistent practice; the same is true of attaining the supreme life-condition of Buddhahood. Even the difficulty of believing we can manifest this condition, or that everyone has it, can in itself be an obstacle.

In 'Letter to Misawa', Nichiren Daishonin writes, "Even if you should manage to overcome the first six (of the three obstacles and four devils), if you are defeated by the seventh, you will not be able to become a Buddha".
(MW-V3 p.252, WND p.894)

It is important, therefore, to recognize sansho shima and overcome it. The support of people who are more experienced in practicing Buddhism is often very helpful in enabling us to identify and overcome this negativity, as President Ikeda points out:
The human mind wavers and changes from moment to moment. Over time, one experiences confusion even regarding things that one has previously decided on. This is an unchanging aspect of life. For precisely this reason, guidance and encouragement in the correct practice of faith are very important.
(Buddhism in Action, Vol.6, p.8)

He also says:
During the past forty years, I have been the target of unjustifiable criticism and faced raging waves of persecution again and again. However I have never been defeated in my struggles for kosen rufu… Time and again, I have transcended the raging waves of the three powerful enemies and the three obstacles and four devils. Each time, I did my utmost to carry out my faith exactly as the Daishonin taught. (ibid., Vol.6, p.360-1)
Nichiren Daishonin wrote: "Where it not for these (obstacles), there would be no way of knowing that this is the true teaching" (MW-V1, p.145, WND p.501).

It is precisely because the Mystic Law is a great positive force that the negativity inherent within us and our environment resists our attempts to strengthen it through our practice. If chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo had no power to change karma or draw out our Buddha nature, no one would experience any difficulty in practising it!

It is at a crucial time that obstacles or devils are most likely to appear. That is why the Daishonin emphasizes that we should neither fear them nor give in to them. In the second of his letters to the Ikegami brothers, 'The Three Obstacles and Four Devils', he says:
There is definitely something extraordinary in the ebb and flow of the tide, the rising and setting of the moon, and the way in which summer, autumn, winter and spring give way to each other. Something uncommon also occurs when an ordinary person attains Buddhahood. At such times, the three obstacles and four devils will invariably appear, and the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat. (MW-V2 p.288, WND p.637)

The important thing is to realize that when difficulties appear, they present an opportunity to make renewed efforts in our practice so that we are able to grow further and show proof of the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Obstacles and devils are a natural function of our practice and we should not be afraid of them - as our practice and faith deepens, we come to recognize the form our own particular demons take, tailor-made for each of us, so that we can continue to challenge ourselves in our quest to become really great human beings.

The three obstacles are:
 1. Earthly desires (bonno-sho), or obstacles arising from the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity.
2. Karma (go-sho), or obstacles due to karma created by committing any of the five cardinal sins or ten evil acts (this category is also interpreted as opposition from one's partner or children).
3. Retribution (ho-sho), or obstacles due to painful retribution for actions in the three evil paths (Hell, Hunger and Animality). This category also indicates obstacles caused by one's sovereign, parents or other persons who carry some sort of secular authority.

The four devils are the hindrance of:
1. The five components (on-ma), that is, those hindrances caused by one's physical and mental functions.
2. Earthly desires (bonno-ma), or illusions arising from the three poisons.
3. Death (shima), because the fear and suffering that death entails, whether our own or someone else's can shake our faith and obstruct our practice of Buddhism, especially if death seems untimely.
4. The Devil of the Sixth Heaven (tenji-ma). This is regarded as the most serious hindrance; in Indian cosmology this king of devils represents the fundamental darkness inherent in life itself. This can assume any number of forms to obstruct believers and is often said to take the form of persecution by those in power. It is the most powerful of all the negative forces, and takes the form most likely to trouble us or cause us to suffer from doubt or illusion.

Oct 23, 2010

Be in the Moment


Oct 21, 2010

My Blog's 1st Year Anniversary

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. 
 William Arthur Ward

I cannot begin to express my heartfelt gratitude to all my followers. I created this blog as a home for everyone to experience the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. I started practicing 3 years ago and I wanted to, at the time, use my myspace page in a positive way to spread Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. From there, it moved to the SGI site. I got so much joy out of creating all the graphics that you've seen on this blog that eventually I was asked to give 2 cultural presentations featuring all my artwork and animations. Then in October of last year, I finally moved it to its new home here on blogspot. 

Over the past year, I've received numerous letters of encouragement, thank yous, personal stories and most of all- Inspiration. I've connected with so many members and even non-members from all over the globe. I want to from the bottom of my heart, thank you all. You've all made this first year an experience I will never forget. This blog is for all of you and I didn't expect to get such warm reactions back. That is the GIFT you've all have given to me. I want to say a special thank you those who've helped me along the way and contributed their own experiences. 

With much love and appreciation,

Oct 20, 2010

Winning Over Yourself

Author unknown 

The expressions "triumph" and "victory" are words that are part of a vocabulary that is often used in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism as well in SGI activities and in our own vocabulary as practitioners. In general, in society at present we are constantly confronted with these concepts related to a policy of consumerism. To name just a few examples, phrases like "the woman 10", "Bio Bodies", cars, houses, cigarettes, positions at work and even clothes are associated with success in one's life.

However, quoting President Ikeda, the period of "El Senorito Satisfecho" that worried Ortega and Gasset more than 60 years ago, refers exactly to our days. The truth is that although the average person of a modern industrialized country carries on a life that not even the kings and aristocrats from the past would have dreamed of, in relation to material progress, this has not been enough, of course, to determine "triumph" or "victory" in life.

Even practicing Buddhism we can confuse are idea of "actual proof" with fantasy. We shouldn't expect the triumph over ourselves, for example, to be so striking as to leave everybody shocked and hallucinated. In daily life, even when our basic needs to live are satisfied or when the idea of success is measured by our material satisfaction, whether or not imposed by the environment, it is extremely hard to relate it to a true sense of 'triumph". The victory over oneself in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is related to winning over the fundamental darkness, inherent in human beings themselves.

This fundamental darkness has two aspects: on the one hand it can manifest itself as a feeling of resignation, a low opinion of oneself that leads to seeking happiness in an external power. On the other hand, it manifests itself as a perverse pleasure in controlling others and exerting power over others. This last aspect is what Buddhism calls "the devil of the sixth heaven" 

The Devil of the Sixth Heaven - explains Daisaku Ikeda - can be viewed as lives fundamental tendency to use everything and everybody to attain one's own goals. In a way, this is a natural tendency, common to all human beings, whereas developing our compassion, love for human kind, the spirit of serving others and of improving the environment are great qualities, that are extremely difficult to develop. Whatever the reality of our lives might be at this very moment, as long as we chant Nam-myoho-rengue-kyo in order to find solutions to our problems, we get stronger and are able to see how our own map of the world is.

Little by little we turn the prism and that, which seemed heavy and difficult at the beginning, because we made it dependent on the external world, starts transforming through our own change, into an opportunity to grow in our own life and to create value in our environment. Fundamental darkness is when we do not deeply understand the "inseparability of oneself and the universe". Because of this ignorance about the real nature of life, people try to use any thing and any being in the universe, as a simple tool. This is the function of the "devil of the sixth heaven" of the evil nature of power.

The "me" lacking identification with the "other" is not sensitive to the pain, anguish and suffering of others. In this life state there is a tendency to confine him/herself to his/her own world either by feeling threatened by the smallest provocation and developing violent behavior or by trying to get through situations without taking responsibility or thinking of others. The Lotus Sutra teaches that the "me" equals the universe and its concrete practice is to show compassion, and to respect and honor everybody as if they were the treasure tower, and to make others happy because "me" and the "others" are the same thing.

In the same way that Buddhahood is not a goal but refers to the continuous and daily effort to make our enlightened nature emerge, we should never have a relaxed attitude towards our practice, thinking that we have won definitively over our fundamental darkness because of having many years of practice.

In the final analysis, victory over oneself is to win every day in one's circumstances and in the place where one is and over one's fundamental darkness, one's own negative tendency. The accumulation of each daily victory is what finally will become victory in life, the victory over oneself. 

Gosho Phrase
You must never seek any of Shakyamuni's teachings or the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the universe outside yourself. Your mastery of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of mortal sufferings in the least unless you perceive the nature of your own life. If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, any discipline or good deed will be meaningless. (On attaining Buddhahood. Main Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, Page 4 )
The accumulation of each daily victory is what finally will represent the victory in life, the victory over oneself. 

The victory over oneself is to win everyday in one's circumstances in the place where I am and to win over my own fundamental darkness

Oct 17, 2010

Stepping Forward with Gratitude

Oct 11, 2010

The Looking-Outside-Oneself Delusion

From "The Buddha in Your Mirror", Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin and Ted Morino 

Hell in relationships comes from trying to change the behavior of anyone other than yourself. When we exercise self-control, beginning with becoming happy within ourselves, we have the ability to move the hearts of others. It is only when we stop trying to control others that we gain the power to actually influence them. For example, have you ever found yourself saying "You're making me angry – stop doing that" to people whose behavior disturbs or frustrates you? The implication of that statement, "You're making me angry", is that somehow you don't have control of your anger, they do. And since you have ceded them the control and power, it is their behavior that must change if your anger is to be eliminated. But, of course, you don't control their behavior, so the more you try to do so, the angrier you get.

Not that all anger is bad. There are, of course, real situations of injustice in which anger is appropriate. Even in such cases, however, self-control is the key to influencing change. Buddhism teaches us that in response to any situation, depending on the choices we make, we find ourselves in one of the Ten Worlds: Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquility, Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva or Buddhahood. Recognizing that we are choosing and taking responsibility for those choices empowers us to choose our life state, It give us our control back.

The Downside of Expectations

Expectations are important. Research indicates that children develop only as far as the expectations of the adults around them. But expectations can also destroy good relationships. We have expectations of other people. We expect them to be good husbands, good wives, good children, good friends, good bosses and so on. These expectations are sometimes higher than our expectations of ourselves.

While every situations is unique, there is at least one common but subtle delusion at work here, a delusion that is a challenge to all of us in our relationships with significant others, family, friends. The problem is that although we are motivated by the best intentions, the other person often hears from us a steady stream of criticism and disappointment. This is not encouraging, and in spite of the love in our hearts, the other person becomes unresponsive, even rebellious. The problem here is that although the heart is in the right place, we lack wisdom. Motivated by love but lacking wisdom, we get a response to our efforts that is the opposite of what we expected. Once this downward trend begins, unfortunately, it is difficult to reverse.

People do not respond well to criticism and negativity. Does that mean we simply have to settle for something less? No, it means, once again, that we're trying to change the wrong person. If we want people to do more, we need to praise and appreciate what they are already doing for us. Pay attention to the positives, and not what you feel is missing. People love appreciation and will try very hard to get it. Making these two the basis of all your relationships can have a powerful and encouraging influence. For the gardener of relationships, they are like sunlight and water. People will strive and thrive when they are praised and appreciated. 

Criticism and disappointment create a dark environment, a garden where relationships cannot thrive. It is a major delusion to think that others will be motivated by criticism. Nichiren wrote: "When praised, one does not consider his personal risk, and when criticized, he can recklessly cause his own ruin. Such is the way of common mortals."

In any relationship, we must keep our power, developing a strong self-identity and the ability to be happy on the inside. Standing alone upon the firm foundation of our own happiness, we can then seek out and nurture contributive, sharing relationships, relationships in which we give our love freely without attachments and expectations. We are not needy of the other. Nor are we addicted to the other. A relationship between two such people brings a deep and abiding love.

Before going out to look for a contributive partner, we must first strive to develop that ability within ourselves. Only then will it be possible to draw forth and nurture the same quality in others.

Happiness is not something that someone else can give us.

Oct 7, 2010

Live a Happy Life

                                  Art by Lotus Flower

Oct 1, 2010

Depression and Buddhism Part 2

October is National Depression Awareness Month

Video Created by Loflo 

By Lee Wolfson
World Tribune 02/09/01 n.3332 p.8 WT010209p08

If we recognize that depression is a serious and debilitating illness, then it is only natural
to ask what causes this kind of depression? Common sense tells us that depression is
most often brought on by life events; i.e., death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce,
etc. Life has a way of providing us with an unending supply of difficulties. It is only
natural to think of depression as a reaction to stressful life events, and in many cases,
this is true. If this were the entire story, then one might assume that depression only
afflicts people with “weak character,” or a “low life-condition.” However, there have
been many people of outstanding character and courage who struggled with depression,
such as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

So what is the rest of the story? We know that there are numerous risk factors for
predicting who might be more susceptible to depression. Depression can run in families.
Evidence from studies of twins supports the existence of a genetic component. Across six
studies, the average concordance rate in identical twins (40 percent) for unipolar
depression is more than twice the concordance rate in fraternal twins (17 percent). The
rate of depression in women (12 percent) is twice that of men (7 percent). There are
numerous theories about this gender difference, but there is no consensus in the scientific
community about the underlying cause.

Early life experiences also make people more vulnerable to depression. If one of your
parents died when you were a child, or if you are the victim of childhood abuse you have
a higher vulnerability to depression. Chronic medical conditions as well as life-threatening
medical events like stroke and heart attack can also lead to depression.

Medical research has shown that depression may be related to a chemical imbalance of
serotonin, one of the substances called neurotransmitters that transport signals between
nerve cells in the brain. This has led to the introduction of Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and
Celexa. These serotonin specific uptake inhibitors have proved effective in treating
depression with minimal side effects but have not come without controversy. Some people worry that the widespread marketing and availability of these medications may be
anesthetizing large segments of our society to the healthy travails of life. This may or may
not be the case, but for those like Jen who have suffered with the torment of a major
depression, these new medications have been a blessing.

Another helpful way of understanding depression is to view it as a spectrum disorder.
In other words, the milder manifestations of depression that we all experience have some
of the same root causes as the more severe forms of clinical depression. Martin Seligman,
Ph.D., in his book What You Can Change and What You Can’t presents a compelling
argument for viewing depression this way: “Mild depression is usually caused by
pessimistic habits of thinking. The pessimist sees the causes of failure and rejection as
permanent (It’s going to last forever), pervasive (It’s going to ruin my everything), and
personal (It’s my fault). These habitual beliefs are just that, mere beliefs. They are often
false, and they are often inaccurate catastrophizing” (p. 115).

Dr. Seligman goes on to argue that optimistic thinking may be a powerful antidote to
pessimism and depression. Contained within the worldview of Nichiren Daishonin’s
Buddhism is a profound capacity to look at the totality of life with all of its travails and
suffering and still find hope and fundamental goodness at the core. In October 1992, I
wrote an essay for the Seikyo Times (now Living Buddhism) in which I demonstrated the
inherent psychological strength of the Daishonin’s Buddhism as reflected in his views of
the self, the world and the future. The purposes of this article do not permit me to
reintroduce the evidence for this. Let me just say that in all three areas, we find robust
examples of the Daishonin encouraging and exhorting his disciples to embrace Buddhism
with optimism and hope, despite the dire social, economic and personal circumstances of
13th-century Japan.

It had been several years since Jen last saw a psychiatrist, and she was not looking forward to seeing one again. The last time was before she began her Buddhist practice, and it had never been a satisfying experience. He prescribed a variety of antidepressant medications,which were only moderately successful, but he never seemed to have time to talk. She eventually stopped the medication and stopped seeing the psychiatrist.
Several months later, an old friend introduced Jen to Buddhism. Jen was drawn to her
friend’s explanation of Buddhist theories and felt that she was hearing a wonderful
explication of her own view of life. However, she was skeptical that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo would somehow change her life. Nevertheless, she sat down with her friend a few days later and tried chanting.

In the short period of 15 minutes, she sensed something shifting in her life, and when
they finished, she felt more relaxed and open than she had in years. Her friend connected
her with the local SGI-USA organization and she began attending meetings. All the
smiling people she encountered initially put her off, that is, until she listened to their
experiences. She came to realize that their smiles were born of great struggles to overcomemany of the same problems she was facing.

She bought a copy of For Today and Tomorrow by SGI President Ikeda, and the words
practically leapt off the page at her. Reading his guidance was like finding an oasis in the
desert. In spite of the many years of having no hope for the future, she found herself
becoming more optimistic and cheerful. Each Nam-myoho-renge-kyo she chanted felt like
a powerful challenge to her deeply held feelings of worthlessness. And her interactions
with other Buddhists reinforced her determination to take responsibility cheerfully for her
own life. The dark curtain of depression had finally begun to lift.

Jen sailed along majestically in her life, thinking that since she had become a Buddhist,
she was impervious to problems. But when her husband became ill, she felt like the world
had come to a crashing halt. She could not understand how this could happen to someone
who practiced sincerely. Rather than resolve her doubts, however, she gradually
succumbed to the darkness of her depression once again.  
Jen’s husband continued to gently, but firmly encourage her in any way that he could.
Mostly, he just chanted with her every chance that he had.
Several weeks went by before she got the courage to call a psychiatrist. She hoped her
Buddhist practice would provide a foundation for a more rapid and full recovery, but she
felt anxious and a little embarrassed when she walked into her new psychiatrist’s office for the first time. Before she knew it, she was crying. The story of her husband’s illness
poured out of her.

After she finished telling her story, her psychiatrist carefully reviewed her symptoms
and their duration. It came as no surprise to her when he told her she was in another
episode of depression, but it was strangely comforting to give this darkness that had
become her constant companion a name. He then explained to her that in the years since
she was last treated for depression, there was important new research on the treatment
of depression. He told her that combining medication with weekly psychotherapy would give her the best chance at a quick and robust recovery.

Jen left the office with a prescription for one of the new antidepressants, and a referral
to see a therapist. When she arrived home, there was a message on her answering machine from her district leader reminding her about the district discussion meeting. She had not taken any calls from her leaders in faith and had not been to a district meeting in months. She began taking her new medication that night. She experienced no immediate
response to the medication, but she realized it might take weeks for the medication to
begin working.

A few days later she went to her first appointment with her therapist, who specialized
in treating depression. Over the next few weeks, Jen explored her interpersonal
relationships with her therapist. He proposed that they focus on her feelings about her
husband’s poor health. He suggested to her that in addition to her genetic predisposition
to depression, this current episode might be about her grieving over the life she would
never have with her husband due to his poor health. His attempts at helping her to find her strengths in the midst of a very difficult situation felt very compatible with her beliefs as a Buddhist.

She also told him about her Buddhist practice and her involvement with the local
community of SGI-USA members. He was keenly interested in her perceptions of how the
practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was helpful to her and about how she got
along with her friends in the organization. Jen appreciated his open-mindedness and was
surprised when he actually encouraged her to be consistent in her practice. He told her that maintaining consistent daily social rhythms would be helpful to her recovery. Even thought he was referring to sleep, diet, exercise, etc., she immediately associated this with a consistent daily Buddhist practice.

When it came time for her next district meeting, Jen decided she was well enough to
attend. Much to her delight, they warmly welcomed her back to the meeting. It was as if
she had never left. The discussion that night was about turning poison into medicine.
Before she knew it, she was sharing her experience of struggling with depression. Jen told
the group that in spite of their encouragement, she still could not see how she could turn
her depression from poison into medicine.
One of the members looked at her very intensely and said softly, “Perhaps your
willingness to share and encourage us through your experience is part of the process of
transforming the poison of your depression into medicine?”

Jen’s favorite part of the meeting was always the lively discussions that ensued “on the
way out the door.” She had a lot of catching up to do. The last person she spoke to was her district leader, Sarah. She apologized for her long absence. She told Sarah that as a
Buddhist, she knows she isn’t supposed to feel guilty, but these feelings of guilt were what kept her from returning to the meetings. She felt like a failure as a Buddhist because she saw her depression as an inability to manifest “actual proof.”

Jen was surprised when Sarah apologized to her. Sarah told her that she felt like she had
let Jen down because she had not realized how much Jen was suffering. “When you
stopped coming to meetings and wouldn’t return my phone calls, I was at a loss,” Sarah
said. “I should have tried harder to reach you. Now that you’re back, I don’t want you to
disappear again. Let’s keep chanting together to overcome your illness.” They hugged and
made plans for Sarah to come over.

A few days later, Sarah came over to chant with Jen. They decided to chant for an hour.
Jen wondered if she had the stamina to sit for that long, but she was determined to do her best. Over the course of the hour, she went from tears of grief to a deep sense of
appreciation. In those precious moments of complete concentration, with her heart fully
open and her voice deep and sonorous, the chattering of her mind quieted and true wisdom appeared. She understood, more with her heart than with her mind, that by embracing this wonderful law, she was severing the roots of her suffering. She knew that finding the right medication and a therapist she could trust and talk to was a benefit from her Buddhist practice.

How swiftly the days passed. The first signs of improvement from the medication were
improved sleep and appetite. Jen felt her therapy was going very well. She noticed that
when she chanted more, her daily life continued to improve and she had better therapy
sessions. She also noticed that the more honestly and openly she engaged in her therapy,
the more motivated she was to return to the Gohonzon and ponder the issues before her.
She was also discovering new and better ways of communicating with her husband. Her
feelings of resentment and grief were giving way to a renewed determination to embrace
her husband and their shared life.

Jen returned to see her psychiatrist several months after her initial visit. She was feeling
much better. So she asked him how long she would need to keep taking the medication.
He told her that she needed to stay on her medication for at least four months if not six
months from the point in time when she really began to feel better because she would be
at significant risk for a relapse if she discontinued her medication sooner. Jen agreed to
meet again in four months and decide then what to do about the medication.

Jen’s depression is now in complete remission. She has decreased the frequency of her
therapy sessions, but has decided to keep seeing her therapist for a few more monthly
sessions to solidify the gains she has made in her interpersonal life. While she would
rather never see the dark cloud of depression in her life ever again, she is appreciative of
the gifts her suffering brought her: a more committed relationship with her husband, a
fresh start with her Buddhist practice, and a deeper and more authentic connection with
the members in her district.

There are many SGI-USA members who have found the optimism, hope and life force
they needed to overcome depression through the practice of Buddhism alone. There are
also members like Jen who may need the help of compassionate professionals, support
from their families and fellow members, and a strong daily practice to return to a healthy

Lee Wolfson is a psychologist at Western Psychiatric Clinic and Institute (WPIC), a
division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. WPIC is an international leader
in the research and treatment of mood disorders. For the past 11 years, Lee has worked
on several landmark studies in the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder. He has
published several papers on psychotherapy and regularly presents symposia at
professional meetings. He is also a founding member of the International Society of
Interpersonal Psychotherapy. He has practiced Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism with the
SGI since 1972.

Depression and Buddhism Part 1

October is National Depression Awareness Month

Video Created by Loflo

By Lee Wolfson
World Tribune 02/09/01 n.3332 p.8 WT010209p08
The following personal history is a composite of many different SGI-USA members who
have been kind enough to share their struggles and triumphs in overcoming depression.
This article is focused on unipolar depression, a mood disorder that is characterized by a
pervasive sad or dysphoric mood, as opposed to bipolar disorder, or manic/depression, a
mood disorder that includes depression and mania (euphoria).

A Jan. 9 Reuters News Service release from Geneva, Switzerland, stated: “The United
Nations health agency, WHO [World Health Organization], predicted that by 2020,
depression would jump to the second greatest cause of death and disability worldwide,
following ischemic heart disease. WHO officials spoke at a news briefing to launch
WHO’s 2001 campaign aimed at removing myths and stigmas linked to such disorders.”

Jen sat at her desk at the end of another very long day. She had successfully managed to
move the pile of papers, also known as next year’s budget, from one side of the desk to the other without ever actually doing anything constructive. She wasn’t sure where the day had gone. She was just grateful that her new position provided an office with a door that could be closed. The last thing she felt like doing was engaging in the friendly banter with her co-workers. At her worst moments, she felt paralyzed with indecision and worried that someone would notice her recent lack of productivity.

As she sat in traffic on the way home, her thoughts turned to her husband, Jeffery. 
His chronic illness had flared up again, and she grew anxious about her capacity to take care of him. When she arrived home, Jeffery was sleeping soundly. Jen sank into her chair, not bothering to turn on the lights. Jeffery found her sitting in the same place several hours later. When he invited her to do evening prayers, she snapped at him and then was hit with a wave of guilt when she saw the hurt look in his eyes. She mechanically followed him to the altar. Reciting the sutra was an ordeal. She could not concentrate and was unable to sit up straight or look at the Gohonzon. She was restless and fidgety and after less than a minute of chanting, she simply got up and went back to her chair. “What is the point of chanting when I can’t formulate a single coherent thought?” Jen said to herself.

When her husband finished, he asked her what was wrong. At that moment an
overwhelming feeling of fatigue and melancholy washed over her and she was close to
tears. She just looked at him, unable to find the words to describe what she was
experiencing. He gently took her hand and held it for a time. Jeffery looked at her and
again gently asked what was wrong. The tears began to trickle down her cheeks, and Jen
began to describe her problems at work, but then cut the discussion short because she
really didn’t want to burden him.
Jen went to bed that night at her usual time, although she knew it was quite futile. Sleep
did not come easy these days, and when it did, it was fitful at best. These long night hours were the worst. The demons she thought she had vanquished when she first began her Buddhist practice returned with a vengeance. In the early morning hours when she could not return to sleep, she would find herself ruminating about all her past mistakes, real or imagined.

When the alarm finally sounded, she dragged herself from the bed, a feeling of fatigue
her constant companion. She sat with her cup of coffee, her appetite gone. Darkness had
descended once again into Jen’s life, and even though she had successfully defeated it
numerous times in the past, she had no confidence that she would be successful this time.
Jeff came into the kitchen and sat down next to her and said, “I am worried that you are
getting depressed again.”
“What makes you say that?” Jen said softly.
“I know you, Jen. I see all the warning signs. I think you should do something about
“And just what would you suggest?” It was not easy for Jen to accept advice from her

Jeffery measured his words carefully, but they came directly from his heart. “Do you
remember when I first found out about my medical condition? I was devastated and felt
so hopeless. You were the one who told me not to give up. You were the one who gave me that quote from For Today and Tomorrow: ‘Everyone at some time suffers from illness in one form or another. The power of the Mystic Law enables us to bring forth strength to
overcome the pain and suffering of sickness with courage and determination’(p. 16). And
from The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin: ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a
lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle!’(p. 412). You not only encouraged me
to chant, you dragged me in front of the Gohonzon every day and chanted with me. You
have to know that I am prepared to do the same.”

His confidence and compassion for her momentarily moved Jen’s heart. How could she
forget the fierce battle that she and her husband fought against his illness?
“You are probably right,” she said. “I guess I didn’t want to admit what was really
happening. Sometimes I think it would be far easier to battle against a medical illness,
instead of a mental illness.”

“Why is this so different? When I got sick, we chanted together to find the best doctors,
find the right medication, and to change poison into medicine. We can do the same thing
now. How many times did you tell me the importance of faith and a strong determination?”
By now, Jeff was warmly smiling at Jen, and in spite of herself, Jen was meekly smiling
“Jeff, you’re right. Let’s do gongyo, and when we’re done, I am going to find a good

Jen is not alone. In any given one-year period, 9.5 percent of the population, or about 18.8 million American adults, suffer from a depressive illness. Most people think that
depression is much more widespread. Because we have all felt depressed or discouraged
at some time in our lives, we assume that this temporary low mood is the same thing as a
major depression. As illustrated by Jen’s experience, we can see that major depression is
a far more debilitating condition than a simple case of the blues. Depressive illnesses often interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder, but also to those who care about them. Serious depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the ill person.

Even though we have come to understand unipolar depression as an illness, there are no
blood tests, brain scans or other technologies available to help us make a diagnosis of
major depression. The diagnosis of depression is made by carefully looking at symptoms
as reported by the person and their family. According to the DSM-IV, otherwise known as
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition), five or more
of the following symptoms must be present for two weeks or longer: 

Depressed mood 
•Pervasive loss of interest or inability to enjoy pleasurable activities.
•Appetite disturbance including loss of appetite or increased appetite.
• Sleep disturbance.
•A pervasive feeling of fatigue or low energy.
• Psychomotor retardation (a physical slowness) or psychomotor agitation (restless
and fidgety).
•Feelings of worthlessness and/or excessive guilt.
• Diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions.
•Preoccupation with thoughts of death including suicidal thinking.

To Be Continued......