Jul 21, 2013

Animated Children's Stories by Ikeda

Daisaku Ikeda is the author of a number of children’s stories, some of which have been illustrated by the celebrated children’s book illustrator Brian Wildsmith and translated into several languages. The stories convey the importance of courage, hope, friendship and peace through the vivid adventures of children in different parts of the world. Twelve of the stories have been adapted and animated for television and broadcast in 25 countries. 

Three friends climb a treacherous mountain to find out what is glittering at its summit. Faced with unexpected challenges, they learn the power of creativity and imagination, which will help them in their quest. 

The unhappy Sachiko can’t stand the sight of food and is becoming more and more frail and ill. The Moon, who watches over all the world’s children, sends a magical rabbit to intervene. 

The haughty young prince of Jambe learns from a humble village boy what a true prince is. 

A story about the friendship between a lonely boy and a magical deer he saves from hunters. 

In devastated postwar Japan, hope and courage are found in unsuspected places. Amidst burnt out buildings and blackened fields, a young boy discovers an aged man tending an old, apparently dead cherry tree. A story about the power of hope. 

A princess and her animal companions venture into the formidable desert in search of a water source to save their ailing kingdom. In the course of their difficult journey, they discover the key to reviving their land.

Source: http://www.daisakuikeda.org/

Jul 10, 2013

5 Buddhist Thoughts on Bringing Out Your Best Self


by Jihii Jolly

Almost half a year ago many of us made resolutions for the new year.  Perhaps we resolved to do more or less of something, depending on if we were in a glass half full or empty kind of mood. For most, resolutions are born of the desire improve the quality of our lives and kick the habits that prevent us from being healthy, productive, and enjoying great relationships.
But to sustain these resolutions is no small feat; we may not even remember what our resolutions were. Bringing out your best self can be terribly challenging when faced with the daily grind of work, or school, topped with the endless cycle of negative media about tragedy, corruption, and war.
Can Buddhism help? Nichiren Buddhism is centered on the lifelong practice of human revolution or bringing forth our inner reserves of courage, wisdom, and compassion to all of our daily actions and interactions.

Here are five Buddhist resolutions (for any time of year!) on bringing out your best self in a very fundamental way, as explained by philosopher Daisaku Ikeda.

1. Find the strength in your weaknesses.
We often lament our weaknesses. Every day we go over our laundry lists of things we’d like to change about ourselves: “I’m too quiet, slow, careless,” etc. What we don’t realize is that each of these shortcomings are actually also indicative of our strengths. “For example,” explains Ikeda, “a person’s shyness can be transformed into valuable qualities such as prudence and discretion, while someone’s impatience might be transformed into a knack for getting things done quickly and efficiently.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 97) What’s most important is that we don’t begrudge ourselves (or anyone around us) for seemingly undesirable characteristics, but instead, focus our energy and intention on making the best use of those characteristics.

2. Face the things that make you unhappy or uncomfortable.
Running away from the things that make us unhappy is actually what causes suffering. We have to “look unflinchingly at the people and things in our lives that are making us unhappy,” writes Ikeda (Discussions on Youth pg. 100). Anxiety, for example, often comes from uncertainty about our future. If we don’t look squarely at what is making us feel this way, our anxiety only grows. Looking at the source of our fears, which are often smaller and more manageable than we think, makes them easier to conquer.

3. Take the first step now, even if it’s a small one.
Buddhism is a philosophy of action. Getting into the habit of immediately taking the first step toward our goals or tasks, even if it’s uncomfortable, propels us toward the next one, and the next one after that. “Life is a struggle with ourselves,” writes Ikeda. “It is a tug-of-war between moving forward and regressing, between happiness and unhappiness.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 98) He encourages young people to try challenging some task--anything at all--and keep at it until they are certain they have done their best. This helps develop the habit of taking action, which is strengthened by the belief we gain in our capacity to actually get things done.

4. See people and situations for what they really are.
According to Buddhism, every person is endowed with the same limitless potential for enlightenment and happiness no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Their worth isn’t determined by social status, success or wealth. If we strive to view people in this manner, we free ourselves from the delusions of hate or jealousy, because we don’t evaluate the people around us as better as or worse than us based on superficial criteria. “[Buddhism] teaches us to look at a person through the eyes of the Law and the eyes of the Buddha,” writes Ikeda. “In other words, to focus on a person’s life, state of being and what is inside, just as it is, free of external embellishments... Truly respectable are those who based their lives on the truth--on the reality of things.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 30)

5. Courage is the key to developing compassion.
What we typically think of as an act of compassion- simply feeling bad for someone or writing a check to a favorite charity-appear not to require courage.  However, everyday forms of compassion such as checking in on a friend who hasn’t seemed like themselves lately or speaking out when you see someone being manipulated or used, require tremendous courage. As Ikeda shares, “Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Compassion without courage is not genuine. You may have a compassionate thought or impulse, but if you don’t do or say anything, it’s not real compassion.” By mustering the courage to take action to relieve the sufferings of others, we manifest true compassion. In this way, Ikeda explains, “if we act with courage, we find that our compassion for others grows deeper.” (Discussions on Youth pg. 336)

Jul 1, 2013

Mistaking Arrogance for Confidence Part One

Nichiren Daishonin was often condemned by his contemporaries as “an extremely arrogant priest”.

Nichiren Daishonin was often condemned by his contemporaries as “an extremely arrogant priest” for his confidence as a votary of the Lotus Sutra to “fulfill the Buddha’s predictions and reveal the truth of his words” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 400–01). Just as the Daishonin’s confidence was misconstrued as arrogance, we may be inclined to mistake our arrogance for confidence and others’ confidence for arrogance. One of the five delusive inclinations, arrogance is considered in the Buddhist tradition both as a hindrance to enlightenment and as a cause for suffering. For this reason, mistaking arrogance for confidence is likely to set off the downward spiral of delusion and suffering. The fine line between arrogance and confidence, therefore, must be redrawn more clearly to distinguish happiness from delusion.

Arrogance is to judge one’s self-worth by comparison with others

The first of the seven types of arrogance, which are enumerated in some Buddhist scriptures, points to the essential quality of arrogance—“to think that one is superior to those inferior to oneself and that one is equal to one’s equals” (The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 579). Why is this arrogance? Isn’t it just telling it like it is? What is implied here is that arrogance is essentially our inclination to judge our self-worth by comparing ourselves with others.

Certain comparisons between oneself and others may be objectively true—such as income, IQ or physical appearance. But if we constantly judge our self-worth through comparison with others in whatever standards chosen, we are becoming arrogant. Of course, this is not to deny some merits that comparison and competition bring to our lives—such as motivation for improvement and an opportunity for self-reflection.

Moreover, the correct assessment of our circumstances through comparison is essential to improving our lives. In fact, those living in isolation or unwilling to learn from others are arrogant. Comparison with others becomes a cause for our concern when it becomes a sole measure for judging our existence. Put simply, if we start thinking of our lives as happy or unhappy, meaningful or meaningless, solely based on comparison with others, we may as well consider ourselves as arrogant.

Arrogant people feel good about themselves only through affirming their superiority to others. Our sense of superiority is always relative to whom we are compared with and never constant because of our own changing circumstances. False confidence based on superiority, therefore, easily turns into a feeling of inferiority and self-disparagement, like a millionaire feeling poor among billionaires, a Ph.D. feeling foolish among Nobel laureates or a healthy person feeling overweight among supermodels. This is why false humility or self-disparagement is considered as arrogance in Buddhism. (See the nine types of arrogance in The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 457.) Put another way, arrogance and self-disparagement are two sides of the same coin; we cannot have one without the potential for the other.

Genuinely confident people, on the other hand, feel great about themselves without comparing themselves with others. Such people are aware of some intrinsic personal strength or merit worthy of praise and respect. Confident people can put into perspective their ups and downs of life in this society driven by comparison and competition. Their missed promotion or lost love does not spell out their failure as a human being. Their financial success or academic achievement does not make them superior to their peers. So long as they continue to be aware of their innate positive quality and strive to cultivate it, people will remain confident regardless of their external circumstances. And Buddhism teaches that the most reliable source of confidence is our innate Buddha nature.

Arrogance is egotism; confidence is altruism

What clearly distinguishes the arrogant from the confident is whether or not they desire and act for others’ happiness greater than their own. Arrogant people are keenly aware that their self-esteem depends upon their superiority to others. So they often take delight in pitying the less fortunate since they can reaffirm their superior status by doing so.

The “kindness” of the arrogant, however, extends only so far as it supports their self-importance; it continues as long as the less fortunate remain less fortunate. Precisely for this reason, the arrogant cannot will and act for the supreme happiness of others because they fear it would only diminish their own happiness. This explains why it is often easier to feel ambiguous pity for our underpaid coworkers than to share their joy over their sudden promotion. One’s loss must be another’s gain—this is the basic assumption of life held by the arrogant who cannot stop comparing their fortune with that of others.

Confidence, on the other hand, makes genuine altruism possible. Since confident people’s self-worth does not depend upon others, they are free to care for others and fight for their happiness with the hope that it exceeds even their own. In fact, the confident see their contribution to others’ happiness as proof of their expanding humanity and as a source of great joy.

Confidence is to appreciate oneself even in the worst possible state.
In the late winter of 1272, Nichiren Daishonin wrote with his numbing hand: “I, Nichiren, am the richest man in all of present-day Japan. I have dedicated my life to the Lotus Sutra, and my name will be handed down in ages to come” (WND, 268). A reformer who had challenged the corrupt religious authority of his day, the Daishonin was exiled, after the failed execution, to a remote northern island of Japan, expected to die naturally or to be murdered. Destitute, he was living in a hut in a field scattered with abandoned corpses, and everything pointed to his approaching death into oblivion.

These words, however, clearly express the Daishonin’s confidence that he gave his life to the spread of the essential teaching of Buddhism, that is, the universality of Buddhahood. His life meant something for him, although it seemed to have come to nothing. When he lost everything, he gained one thing that mattered most—indomitable confidence that all people, no matter how miserable they may appear, have the supreme potential of Buddhahood.

Through his own example, Nichiren Daishonin demonstrated that confidence need not depend on possession or circumstances. Genuine confidence is to love and praise ourselves even in the worst possible state, not for how we appear to others, but for what we are in the innermost of life.

(Originally published in the World Tribune, March 7, 2003)

Mistaking Arrogance for Confidence Part Two

Arrogance is insecurity; confidence is peace of mind
The difference between arrogance and confidence also shows in our emotional state. Arrogance makes us insecure whereas confidence gives us peace of mind. The more arrogant we become, the more keenly we feel the dependence of our happiness upon the misfortune and weakness of others. This ironic dependence makes the seeming confidence of the arrogant increasingly insecure. The more they bolster this false self-confidence on the outside, the less secure they become inside; so the ‘happiness’ of the arrogant is self-consuming.

Arrogance is needy; confidence is free

As mentioned earlier, confident people are deeply aware that they derive their confidence from strengthening their innate qualities and need not depend on others. So the more confident people are, the more peaceful they will be with both themselves and others. Even in disagreement or when pointing out the errors of others, confident people can remain calm and open-minded. Since they need not defend their self-worth by ‘winning’ in the argument, confident people can stay focused on the merits of different views and opinions without becoming hurtful toward others.

Nichiren Daishonin, for example, wrote from exile, “Whatever obstacles I might encounter, so long as persons of wisdom do not prove my teachings to be false, I will never yield!” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 280). His vow to be steadfast in his belief comes with the condition—“so long as persons of wisdom do not prove my teachings to be false.” This was an expression of the unruffled openness of the confident, not of the blind obstinacy of the arrogant.

Think about how people behave at work. Unlike an arrogant manager who takes any suggestion as a personal criticism and everyone in the office as a potential threat, a confident manager takes even personal criticism as an opportunity for self-reflection and further improvement. The inner state of an arrogant person is constantly agitated, waiting for any opportunity to assert a sense of superiority. But the inner state of a confident person absorbs even an untoward event like a pebble tossed into a bathtub, as opposed to a wineglass.

As it is clear now, arrogance is not “too much” confidence. The essential difference between arrogance and confidence is not one of quantity or degree, but of quality and origin. Arrogance is needy and dependent on others, derived from comparison with the external. Confidence is free and independent of others, found and cultivated in the self.

‘Absolute superiority’ is a dangerous illusion

Mistaking arrogance for confidence distorts our view of humanity—the way we relate to others and ourselves. Such misconception spells out only tragic suffering for individuals and society. Long before his rise to power, Adolf Hitler wrote: “Self-confidence must be inculcated in the young national comrade from childhood on. His whole education and training must be so ordered as to give him the conviction that he is absolutely superior to others” (Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim, p. 411).

The epitome of arrogance, Hitler mistook the illusion of “absolute superiority” as supreme confidence. He debased education, turning it from a vehicle of equality and happiness into a cogwheel in the evil machinery of discrimination and destruction. Education must teach confidence, not arrogance. Likewise, Buddhist learning is to strengthen our faith in the inherent Buddha nature of others and ourselves, not to promote elitism among believers.

Nichiren Daishonin was well aware of the danger of judging one’s self-worth through comparison with others. The Daishonin, therefore, admonished his disciples: “When you look at those of superior capacity, do not disparage yourself. The Buddha’s true intention was that no one, even those of inferior capacity, be denied enlightenment. Conversely, when you compare yourself with persons of inferior capacity, do not be arrogant and overproud. Even persons of superior capacity may be excluded from enlightenment if they do not devote themselves wholeheartedly” (WND, 62).

Here the Daishonin explains that one’s potential for enlightenment is in no way diminished by one’s capacity to understand Buddhism since all people are equally endowed with supreme Buddhahood. What is most important for our happiness is to believe in this intrinsic potential shared by all people. Our tendency to compare our capacity with that of others will only lead us astray from genuine happiness.

Nichiren Daishonin, therefore, urges us to win over our arrogance in order to enjoy authentic happiness: “Now, if you wish to attain Buddhahood, you have only to lower the banner of your arrogance, cast aside the staff of your anger, and devote yourself exclusively to the one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra” (WND, 58–59). Here the Daishonin indicates the close relationship between arrogance and anger. T’ien-t’ai, a 6th-century Chinese Buddhist scholar, described those in the state of anger as “always desiring to be superior to others” (Gosho Zenshu, p. 430). Anger is akin to arrogance; it may be described as frustrated arrogance.

As the Daishonin suggests here, we can overcome our deep-seated arrogance and anger through our devotion to the “one vehicle of the Lotus Sutra”—that is, the teaching of the universality of Buddhahood and its essential practice as chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. As we deepen our confidence in our own Buddhahood and this selfsame potential of others, the need to compare ourselves with others will diminish, and we will be free to appreciate and enjoy lives of our own making.

(Originally published in the World Tribune, March 14, 2003)