Mar 31, 2011

Positive Thinking Vs Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

By Kathy Aitken from UKE January 1998

Look in any bookshop, anywhere, and the chances are you'll find a section devoted to 'self-help' titles. These shelves are the domains of the 'positive thinking' manuals - modern day guides to the business of living. Some of them are bestsellers. Each of these offerings has a slightly different slant, but closer examination will reveal common themes: how to develop self-esteem; how to cast off pessimism and start thinking 'big'; how to set goals and then achieve them; how to improve your relationships. The basic message running throughout is: change your thinking and you change your life. It's a laudable theory, but how far does it go?

In Buddhism, the workings of the mind are elucidated by the doctrine called the nine consciousnesses. The first five comprise 'the senses' - sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. It is through these that we have awareness of the world around us. The sixth is the conscious mind which processes the perceptions made by the five senses and translates them into judgements about the external world: "That is an orange." The seventh consciousness, sometimes called the mano-consciousness, equates to the unconscious mind of modern psychology, by dint of which we are able to ponder and reflect: "Because this is an orange it must be full of vitamin C and therefore be good for me."

The eighth level of consciousness is known as the karma storehouse, or alaya consciousness. It is here that the sum total of all our actions - the effects of causes made by thought, word and deed - is stored. This in turn gives rise to the blueprint of our individual lives, or karma, which carries within it the propensity for our own particular ways of thinking, speaking and doing to become ever more defined. 

Beyond this is the ninth consciousness, the Buddha state - the highest consciousness attainable and a boundless source of wisdom, compassion and courage. This state forms the basis of all spiritual functions and is also known as the amala-consciousness - amala meaning pure and undefiled -, which remains forever free from any karmic impurities. Nichiren Daishonin explains that we express this state by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
As can often be seen from the above explanation, all conscious thought - be it positive or negative - takes place at the sixth and seventh levels of consciousness. It follows, therefore, that even the most valiant of mental efforts to upgrade the quality of one's thinking will still be limited by the constraints imposed by one's karma. We cannot reach the deepest level of our inner selves by conscious thought. Although 'positive thinking' no doubt helps in developing various skills in life, we cannot change karma, the eighth consciousness, with our thoughts. 

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon enables us to draw on the amala-consciousness, or as we more commonly call it, Buddhahood. 

When we do this, we are no longer at the mercy of the many distorted views, which are part and parcel of our karma; instead, we can see everything from a much broader perspective than has hitherto been possible. As Nichiren Daishonin so graphically expresses it:
"Fire can be produced by a stone taken from the bottom of a river, and a candle can light up a place that has been dark for billions of years. If even the most ordinary things of this world are such wonders, then how much more wondrous is the power of the Mystic Law." (MW, Vol.1, p. 223)

The fundamental purpose of practicing Buddhism is to reveal Buddhahood and to relieve the sufferings of others by sharing the Buddha's wisdom with them. It is not simply a means to achieve an improvement in one's personal circumstances. Buddhism concerns itself with the fundamental dynamic between ourselves and the rest of the universe, and maximizing the potential for creating happy, fulfilling lives within that dynamic. 

When we truly understand this, we gain sight of the bigger picture and are able to avoid the pitfall of becoming obsessed by our wishes and wants. Instead, we live in the knowledge that 'actual proof' in our circumstances will show itself as a natural result of our profound inner change.

In short, with the wisdom of the Buddha, we can see what actions needs to be taken and when to take it; with the courage of the Buddha we will take that action; and with the compassion of the Buddha, that action will encompass the greatest good for everybody and everything concerned.

True freedom is ours only when we act from a perspective free from karmic influences. By making this our prerogative through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, we begin to establish an inner core of unshakable happiness. Furthermore, we gain the conviction that we will, in this lifetime, overcome our negative karma, develop the attributes of the Buddha, and achieve the fulfillment of all our prayers.

Mar 29, 2011

Challenging our Weakness

Challenging our weakness is the key to believing in ourselves
By Linda C. Johnson, SGI-USA Vice General Director, Los Angeles (from Living Buddhism, January 2003) 

“I had to ask myself whether I truly believed in the power of my prayer to break through my own fears and insecurities.”

I want to unconditionally love myself. I want to embrace every part of me. I want to believe, without reservation, that my life is Nam-myohorenge-kyo itself. My challenge is to believe these things amidst the realities of my daily life. It is a struggle, I believe, all of us face every day.

As I prepared to write this article, my deepest insecurities and fears emerged. I wondered: “What could I say that will inspire someone?” I bathed in those feelings; they enveloped me. As a consequence, I could not write a single word. I turned to prayer, chanting to be able to write an article that would encourage others and help them break through the deadlocks in their lives. But my doubts lingered. I fought them continuously, during the day whenever they arose, as well as when I sat chanting in front of the Gohonzon. In spite of how I was feeling, I poured my entire life into encouraging others during meetings and guidance sessions. I told them that, with faith, they had the power to do anything. In the meantime, I remained stuck.

It was as a result of my fervent prayer that I realized I would never be able to write anything as long as I permitted myself to hold on to the doubt in my ability to write an article that would encourage others. I turned to “Reply to Kyo’o,” one of my favorite writings by Nichiren Daishonin. In it, the Daishonin tells us: “Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myohorenge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 412).

I had to ask myself whether I truly believed in the power of my prayer to break through my own fears and insecurities. I prayed sincerely to trust what Nichiren Daishonin was telling me. I also prayed to have unshakeable confidence that, with prayer as my foundation, I could overcome my doubts and write an inspiring article. My doubt, however, did not disappear instantly. There were times while I was chanting that it felt as if every cell in my body wanted to run away. The television was calling me. The telephone was ringing. I had chores to do. I returned to “Reply to Kyo’o”: “A sword is useless in the hands of a coward. The mighty sword of the Lotus Sutra must be wielded by one courageous in faith. Then one will be as strong as a demon armed with an iron staff. I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart” (WND, 412).

This was my answer. I had to muster the courage to confront my fear. No matter how painful my current situation, I could not back down. For days, I continued to challenge my insecurity with prayer while immersing myself in activities to help others overcome their problems. Then, the day before I was scheduled to submit my article, I had my breakthrough. I had finally understood why I had been going through so much agony. The issue wasn’t the article. I needed to confront my own doubt, my own lack of belief in my inherent power to challenge and win over my fears and insecurities.

Whether we are writing an article, facing illness, being terminated from a job or looking for our soul mate, the process is the same. We must transform our weaknesses into strengths. We must face our suffering and triumph over it. This experience became the catalyst for me to explain how one uses faith to transform challenging daily life situations into an uncompromising opportunity for growth. This, I believe, is the essence of the concept of the oneness of good and evil.

Nichiren Buddhism makes it clear that everything and everyone in life has both a good and an evil side. I know that some people have an immediate negative response to the word evil. Evil also is synonymous with the words selfishness and self-centeredness. Life at every moment is a battle between these two opposing forces of good and evil. In other words, when we manifest our Buddhahood, it does not mean that our self-centeredness goes away. Instead, our ability to continue to uncover more of our potential is directly related to our ability to create value using the self-centered side, rather than allowing it to affect us negatively. In other words, the impact that our own self-centeredness or that of others will have on us is based on our response to it.

In Webster’s New World Dictionary, one of the definitions of respond is “to have a positive or favorable reaction.” This definition accords with Nichiren Buddhism, the Buddhism of true cause. We cannot change the past. In this moment, however, with our thoughts, words, and actions, we are creating our future. In this moment, through our actions, we have the opportunity to change anything and everything. Isn’t that the meaning of true cause? We affect change by how we respond to our circumstances. For example, rather than an automatic negative response to difficult circumstances, we must, like the definition, “have a positive or favorable reaction” in order to create the outcome we are seeking.

Many of us think that if we don’t do anything the problem will just go away on its own. This is not the case. Even if it seemingly goes away temporarily, it comes back bigger and stronger.

President Ikeda explains: “The strength of our mind of faith changes suffering into joy, into a tailwind to propel our further advance. This is what the ‘Devadatta’ chapter teaches. Nichiren Daishonin says: ‘Devadatta was the foremost good friend to the Thus Come One Shakyamuni. In this age as well, it is not one’s allies but one’s powerful enemies who assist one’s progress’ (WND, 770). 

To attain Buddhahood, we have to thoroughly conquer our own inner evil. The concrete means for doing so is struggling against and defeating external evil. Struggling to defeat evil enables us to polish and purify our lives and attain Buddhahood. Because we strive against the ultimate evil, we attain the ultimate good” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. III, p. 84).

In other words, the oneness of good and evil means that where evil exists, there is the potential for good, and where good exists, there is the potential for evil. Whether evil is transformed into something good is totally dependent upon our reaction to evil. Do we use our circumstances as a justification for our failure, or do we use our circumstances as an opportunity to develop our strength? When we challenge evil with the spirit that we will create something of value out of it, then evil functions to propel us forward. It becomes the catalyst for our growth. “If evil functions to reveal good, then evil in its entirety becomes good. This is truly the oneness of good and evil. But if evil is simply allowed to run its course, then it does not become good. Only when evil is thoroughly challenged and conquered does it become an entity of the oneness of good and evil” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. III, p. 83).

Art by Seleus

In addition to our individual lives, this principle also applies to the situation we are facing with Nichiren Shoshu. We live during a historic time, a time when we have the opportunity to prove the correctness of Nichiren Buddhism by the way we respond. Nikken is changing Nichiren’s teachings by proclaiming, for example, that people can only attain enlightenment by going through him. Are we going to permit Nikken to change the teachings, or are we, through our efforts, going to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to practice Buddhism correctly as taught by Nichiren? Are we going to prove that Nikken is wrong by showing the undeniable growth of the lives of SGI members throughout the world?

Happiness, from the perspective of Nichiren Buddhism, is not a state of life in which there are no problems. Instead, happiness is to be found in challenging and winning over our problems. I believe that the happiness we seek is the feeling that occurs whenever we cross that finish line, in spite of the fact that our heart is pounding, our feet hurt, and our lungs feel as if they are about to explode. That feeling of triumph against all odds is a state of pure joy that no one can give us, no matter how much they might love us. It is a state that we can achieve only through our own efforts.

This state of happiness is also greatly enhanced through our efforts to help others. I continually find that whenever I do my best to encourage another person in faith, no matter how I am feeling, my life-condition is positively transformed. Giving to others expands our own lives in wonderful, sometimes unimaginable ways.
We must, therefore, perfect our practice for ourselves and for others. Both aspects are essential parts of our practice. Not only must we challenge our own weaknesses, we must use our lives to help others win. For example, do we take the responsibility to help our friends in faith have a victory? Do we pray to make this happen? Maximum growth requires that we perfect both parts of our practice.

In this regard, I must mention that I have recently met many members who are stuck in what I call a maintenance practice. They are comfortable, even if it means being comfortable with being uncomfortable. They have lost their seeking spirit, the will to seek out challenges. They have no personal goals. This is a dangerous condition because, from my own experience, it robs us of our passion and enthusiasm for life. We are not even aware of what is happening at first. By the time we are conscious that our lives are missing something, our apathy has become highly developed, and it seems almost impossible to change.

There is no neutral gear in life. We are either going forward or backward at every moment. We need goals. They make us alive and deepen our understanding of this Buddhism. After all, how can we see change if there is no standard by which to measure growth? Challenging and achieving goals are the means we use to prove to ourselves as well as to others the power of the Mystic Law.

I believe that the challenge facing every human being is the ability to truly love and believe in oneself. What I have learned as a result of facing my insecurities and fears during the process of writing this article is that I do not
need to rid myself of weakness. Instead, I must train myself to learn how to use it as my motivation to create positive change in my life. The power to make this possible is sincere prayer based on a powerful determination. Prayer makes what we normally would consider impossible into something possible.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the song “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Negativity self-centered-ness and obstacles can be the wind beneath our wings that propels us to soar even higher. Viewing challenges this way may require rethinking the way we live our lives. I am convinced, however, that living this way is the key to experiencing a joyflul, fulfilled existence; one in which we will come to know and believe that Nam myoho-renge-kyo is life itself.

Success is triumphing over challenges. We must challenge ourselves to do everything we think we cannot do. Only then will we truly come to know that we have nothing to fear because, with the Mystic Law as our foundation, we can transform any weakness into strength. That being so, I think you and I are perfect just the way we are.

Mar 27, 2011

Faith and Attitude

Written by By SGI-UK Advisor Mitsuhiro Kaneda, UK Express March 2000 

Today I’d like to talk to you about how to make your prayers as effective as possible.
Firstly, it is very important to set clear goals. If you are sick, your goal will be to get better as quickly as possible; if you have problems with human relationships, you will want to get over these as soon as possible; and if you have financial difficulties, then of course you should be setting goals accordingly.

Once you have decided on the goal, the most important thing to do next is make a strong determination: ‘Whatever happens, I absolutely will attain that goal’. A firm determination like this is very important. The next stage, of course, is prayer. And after chanting daimoku, the next step necessary is to take action in order to realize your goal. Of course, after we’ve done all that, we know what the effect will be: actual proof. If we do not achieve the goal we have set then, in certain cases, we may need to review the determination, set a new goal, and once again strive to achieve it.

Why we need to pray
There are three reasons why we should pray. Firstly, so we can have the same wisdom as the Buddha. Secondly, so that we can have life-force, in other words the energy, the courage, to take action. Thirdly, so that we can benefit from the protection of the shoten zenjin, the Buddhist ‘gods’, the protective functions within the universe.

One point I’d like to make sure that you really understand, is that the shoten zenjin only start to take action and protect us when we ourselves undertake action. So, in order for us to achieve a goal, we need to act. We need to move. We need to make efforts. And it is important that our actions and our efforts are the best we can possibly undertake. To ensure that our actions and efforts are efficient, we need wisdom. Furthermore, if we are to attain the goal we have set ourselves, we need to make constant efforts – and we also need courage.

So we pray to the Gohonzon to have the wisdom to take the best, most efficient action possible; to have the life-force to make constant efforts; and to attract the protection of the shoten zenjin when we take an action. However, even if we chant ever so hard, it will be very difficult to boil that pot of spaghetti unless we take action. And to make sure that we not only boil the spaghetti, but that it is al dente, we need wisdom and we need experience.

Quality of prayer
The quality of our prayer is also extremely important. For example, someone who is sick may simply pray to overcome their illness. Or they may pray to regain their health in order to fight for kosen rufu. There is a very big difference between these two types of prayer.

To take another example, suppose there’s a couple who have been unable to have children, despite trying for a long time. While they may be chanting to have a child as soon as possible, what are their reasons for wanting a child? Are their reasons purely personal, because it would make them happy, because they want to have children? Or are they chanting to have a child do that they can bring this child up to become someone who will be a capable person for kosen rufu? There is a huge difference between these two in terms of quality of prayer.

The reason it is very important for us to focus on the quality of our prayer is that President Ikeda has said that true and sincere prayers for kosen rufu (not prayers aimed dimply at justifying our own point of view) will be answered without fail.

Taking action
Very often, however, members chant a lot of daimoku but do not take any action. Some people don’t take action because they are afraid of the results they might see. They are afraid that they won’t see the result they want, so they don’t take any action. For example, a salaried employee with a fixed income might want to become self-employed, or start his or her own business, but might not take any action for fear of accumulating a lot of debt.

Another common example is found amongst young people who want to get married. Because they’re not sure that the marriage will work out, and that they will live happily ever after, they are full of anxiety. So, before they get married, they think, “Well, maybe we should live together.” Some end up not getting married as a result of having lived together.

So, even when people chant a lot of daimoku, other factors such as personality and human character come into play and prevent people from taking action, even if they are praying.
Of course, taking action also includes Soka Gakkai activities. When you participate in Soka Gakkai activities, you are encouraging others. So you are actually working as a messenger of the Buddha. Inevitably, therefore, all those who participate in Gakkai activities will accumulate good fortune. And because these people accumulate good fortune, they will be able to achieve their goals and show actual proof.

I know that all of us have very different circumstances and situations – some of us may not have that much free time. Nevertheless, I really want to encourage all of you to participate in Gakkai activities because this will allow not only you, but your whole family, to be bathed in good fortune. So in order to achieve our goals, not only do we need to take concrete action, we also need good fortune. That is why Soka Gakkai activities are crucial.

Make up your mind
In Italy, we have a couple who have been living together for fourteen years. Once they came to me because they wanted to receive guidance. I said to them, “You’ve been trying out your relationship by living together for fourteen years now. The fact that it has continued this long, is this not a sign that it is working?

Even though their relationship had been successful and they still wanted to live together, they still weren’t sure whether they should get married. Of course I gave them all kinds of encouragement, but there is one particular point that I would like to share with you. I asked them, “In order to make a firm determination, how much time do you need?” To make a determination requires less than one second. So I asked, “How many seconds there have been in fourteen years?”

You may laugh at this story but please, reflect on your own life.
To sum up, to put Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism into practice, we need to decide, chant and take action.


Clarify the goal and make a determination
If you have a problem,
Chant one million daimoku
Make maximum effort;
strive to resolve the problem
Accumulating experiences deepens one’s faith
Theories without experiences are
no more than pure idealism
Show actual proof DON’T DOUBT
Faith means having no doubts

Mar 24, 2011

Mar 16, 2011

‘Never Be Defeated! Have Courage! Have Hope!’

‘Never Be Defeated! Have Courage! Have Hope!’

The following is SGI President Ikeda’s message to those affected by the March
11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. The message originally
appeared in the March 16 edition of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily

I offer my sincerest condolences to those of you who have been affected by the
devastating earthquake and tsunamis that struck northeastern Japan five days ago
(March 11) and have left many people still missing and unaccounted for. I can
only imagine the fatigue and exhaustion you must be suffering. My wife and I,
along with the members throughout Japan and the world, are sending daimoku
[Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] to you with all our hearts, earnestly praying for your
health and well-being, and that all Buddhas and bodhisattvas—the positive forces
of the universe—will rigorously protect you. I wish to deeply thank those of you who are selflessly devoting yourselves to the rescue and relief efforts in the stricken areas. I also truly appreciate those of you who are supporting your communities as solid and reliable pillars during this difficult time. 

Takuboku Ishikawa, a renowned, youthful poet who hailed from Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan, declared: “Helping one person is a far greater achievement than becoming the ruler of a country.” I, therefore, express
my deepest respect and gratitude to all of you.

Nichiren Daishonin writes that even if we should meet with disasters and
calamities, they cannot destroy our hearts (see The Writings of Nichiren
Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 135). Nothing can destroy the treasures of the heart. Every
adversity is but a trial for us to overcome so that we can attain eternal happiness.
Nichiren Buddhism, our practice of faith in the Mystic Law, enables us to
transform all poison into medicine without fail. I am offering solemn prayers for all your loved ones—family members and friends—who have lost their lives. This disaster is truly heartbreaking. 

Life, however, is eternal, and through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can
transcend life and death to connect with the lives of those who have passed away.
Your deceased loved ones and friends, who through you share a profound
connection with the Mystic Law, will definitely be enfolded in the embrace of the
heavenly deities, attain Buddhahood and be reborn quickly somewhere close to
you. This is an essential teaching of Nichiren Buddhism. During the Daishonin’s lifetime as well, what was known as the great earthquake of the Shoka era (August 1257) caused unprecedented damage.

Grieved by the pain and suffering of the people and amid great persecutions, the
Daishonin embarked on writing his treatise, “On Establishing the Correct
Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” thereby raising the banner of peace and justice for all humankind. He assures us: “When great evil occurs, great good
follows” (WND-1, 1119).

Today, March 16, is the day that my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president
Josei Toda, entrusted his youthful successors with carrying on the work of kosen-
rufu in order to eradicate misery from the face of the earth. Now, let us
triumphantly overcome this great disaster by further strengthening our vow for
kosen-rufu while wholeheartedly supporting and encouraging each other.
I am fervently praying and calling out to each of you: “Never be defeated! Have
courage! Have hope!”