Aug 29, 2013

The Art of Listening with the Eyes of the Buddha

I think the ability to hear ourselves, and the ability to see everything from the viewpoint of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, means to be able to view all of life from the standpoint of the law of causality.

I find that so many people still chant to the Gohonzon as if it were some God or some force outside of themselves. The attitude with which we chant, and the attitude with which we view the Gohonzon is most important, because if we have a distorted view, we will have a distorted practice, and it is that distorted practice and view, that we will teach to others.

We know from study that the characters on the Gohonzon represent the two sides of life and all of the positive/negative attributes that exist within life, including that fundamental darkness that coexists within every human life. Nichiren Daishonin says that there is no life that has one without the other. The characters representing both aspects of life are written on the Gohonzon. For me what is exciting is to know, that even without my being able to read it, Nichiren Daishonin wrote all of these characters on the Gohonzon, which represent every aspect of life, in such a way that every character is looking at the centre just like you and me. Every character is looking at Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Think about the Ceremony in the Air. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the axis of the universe and we're forming a circle around that axis.

All of us are looking at Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. It is the centre that every character is looking at. Why? It is because Nichiren Daishonin is giving us a continual message every time we look at the Gohonzon. The message is that we must base our life on the Law and never on the person. It is the mystic law that has enabled every Buddha throughout eternity to be able to manifest their fullest potential, and that it is the key, which is the centre, for everything. We have to make Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo the center of our life and we have to base our life on Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. It means being able to see and to hear ourselves. It means that whenever we are facing a problem, we don't just try to use our brain to figure it out, or strategise how to fix it. Many members still do this, and after they have racked their brain as to what to do in order to get from Point A to Point B or to fix the problem, they then chant the solution to the Gohonzon to make it work! (laughter). I think that this is practicing incorrectly. Let me tell you why.

When we talk about the nine levels of consciousness, the first five are our senses. Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste and Touch. The sixth level is the conscious mind. The seventh is the unconscious mind. The eighth level is what we call the karma storage area, which is that area in our life that has accumulated every cause we have ever made throughout all existences. Below that is the ninth level of consciousness, which Buddhism says, is the one pure, unchanging reality of our life.

Every single one of us has fortune and lack of fortune in our life. In the areas in which we have fortune, we can do the same things we see other people do and we can achieve our goals but in the areas of your life where you lack fortune, you can do the identical thing you see your neighbour doing, but the object of your desire seems to move further and further away (laughter), right?

When we are dealing with problems in our lives, they have a causal connection to us. Many times they come from that place in our life where we lack fortune. And so, if we use our brain to strategize how to fix things, our brain can only go to the eighth level of consciousness, which is the karma storage. That is the area which stores up and accumulates all of the causes we have ever made, and it's seems to be the place in which; WE DO NOT SEEM TO HAVE FORTUNE (laughter). Our brain then devises a solution based on lack of fortune. By following this "mental" solution, we will keep reinforcing the same pattern of karmic tendencies over and over in our lives.
But what Nichiren teaches is that by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo you can pierce through the eighth level of karma storage. Pierce through it, be unaffected by it, and you can reach the pure unchanging reality and infinite wisdom of your life that is unaffected by karma storage. That answer is the correct answer for your life. It's not affected by your karma in the area in which you lack fortune. And this is why I believe Nichiren Daishonin says we must become the master of our mind rather than allowing our mind to master us.

My point is this; when we pray, we need to start from a determination such as: "I will accomplish X," (whatever X is). We also have to understand from Buddhism that we create our life every moment through our thoughts, our words, and our behavior.

Prayer in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is profoundly different from prayer in other religions. We are not praying to something outside of ourselves to bestow something on us. Instead, our prayer here is the determination that; "I will create the object or thing that I am praying for through my causes of thought, words, and actions. I am the creator of my life and I will take the responsibility to create the thing that I am praying for, and that after I have chanted this kind of determined daimoku, I will accomplish X." I then must come to a realization... "How in the world am I going to do this? That answer only exists inside of my life. I can tap my wisdom for the answer when I have the belief and conviction, that the answer exists inside of me." And I start chanting with the determination to pull that wisdom up from within my life to clearly see what it is that I need to do in order to create the thing that I'm praying for. That is why 
President Ikeda says:

"Benefit comes from you. Nobody gives you benefit."

Source: THE ART OF LISTENING WITH THE EYES OF THE BUDDHA - By Linda Johnson, SGI-USA WD Leader, Nov 2003 (Abridged), Edited by Adrian Mollica April 6th 2004

Aug 22, 2013

What Happens When We Die

By Akemi Baynes

We live and then we die. Many think of death as something dark, like ‘THE END’. Buddhism asserts that whilst all physical manifestations of life must decline and disintegrate, life itself cannot be destroyed. Death is the unseen state of life. It is the time when a person’s entity gathers energy to take on a new visible form. This continual rhythm of physical appearance, followed by death, is the very rhythm of life itself. Indeed the characters Myo-ho (of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo or Mystic Law) mean just this. How does Buddhism view death? One starting point in answering this question lies in recent evidence in medical research.

Professor Raymond Moody, an American philosopher and psychologist, has run a clinic for ten years. During this time more than 200 people who in clinical terms have died, have started to breathe again and returned to life. His book ‘Life After Life’, includes many of these experiences. Some can be classed as hallucinations but many of the stories seem to be true. With the numerous examples there are many similar factors. Firstly, at death, life leaves the physical body and floats above it and, regardless of the condition of the body, there is still consciousness, sight and hearing. There, as if on a screen in front of you, you see what you did, what you felt, and what you thought throughout the whole of your life. All this happens very fast and as you see it, you are able to feel joy for the good things and deep suffering for the things you want to hide. Thirdly, in this place, you feel you meet other people who have died. However, there exists some line between this world and the unknown world and before you cross over, you can sometimes, according to the experiences, be pulled back.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross originally did not believe in life after death. She made a special study based on the experiences of the dying and her conclusions are similar to Raymond Moody’s. She mentions particularly the part where the dead person sees everything that they did during their life time. She concludes that there is no such thing as a god to judge you; you judge yourself. She is convinced that death is only leaving matter and that life continues.

There are of course theories about ‘this thing’ that leaves the body at the time of death, which can see, hear and feel. Professor Okabe, a Japanese scientist, thinks that life after death is a form of energy, because energy is never destroyed:
“I think the main part of being is this particular energy and the physical body is a secondary factor. All physical matter changes in each person completely over seven years. If you think that it is the body that is the primary factor of life, then you are completely different person to the one you were seven years ago. But this ‘energy’ is constant, therefore everyone knows that they are the same person as when they were a child. This energy is able to function only because of the physical body. Death is only changing the form of energy. When you are alive, the energy is very active but when you die it becomes passive. It continues in a cycle between the two states forever.”

Okabe’s idea is very close to Buddhist thought. Buddhism says quite simply that this energy is life itself. Being alive or being dead are just different manifestations of life itself. This not only applies to human beings, but to everything throughout the universe.

The body, alive or dead, is also a part of universal life. It is like the rain that we see falling, which then disappears into the earth. The water drains underground, eventually flowing into a river and onwards to the sea. When this water evaporates from the surface of the sea it loses its physical form, until it again forms clouds and then rain. Because of our knowledge of science we know that the water itself does not change, only its physical form. From this example you could say that water as a liquid is like visible life and that the evaporated water is like death. The liquid and the evaporated water are just two cycles of the same substance. Similarly, life itself does not change, but it shows itself in two different forms, life and death, and just like the water, it will move in the cycle continually.

Despite the experiences of people who have died and then returned to life, it is impossible to know where life went to. This question is in the realm of philosophy and religion. It is something you cannot physically or scientifically prove. A famous Buddhist teaching by Vasubandhu (approximately 5th Century AD) describes the experience of death and birth:
“At death, the body is separated in two, the seen body and the unseen body. This unseen body is called sai-shin which means ‘very small body’ that cannot be seen by the physical eye. It is so small that it can move through any physical matter. The eyes, ears, nose and tongue keep perfect sense, not as a body, but as ability. This small body is able to float and fly any distance instantly. Every life in this condition has the potential to be born again, but it cannot be born when and where it likes, it is decided by what the person did while he was alive. He is born in a situation or place which is most suitable for the causes he made. At the moment when the female egg is fertilized by the male, if it is suitable for someone’s new life, this ‘very small body’ arrives there instantly, and a new physical form starts. When the physical body dies, it is impossible to change either the good or bad effects contained within its life. There is also no fixed time when it will be born again. For some it will be a very long time. It is all decided by what that person did during his life.”
This teaching very clearly describes karma.

Buddhism goes deeper than psychology in asserting nine consciousnesses. The ability to hear, see, feel, smell and taste are the first five. The sixth consciousness is our conscious mind. The seventh is active both when we are awake and sleeping. This is the realm of abstract thought and judgment. All the latent feelings or the six consciousnesses appear in our dreams through this seventh consciousness. Near to death, the six consciousnesses become latent and the seventh consciousness appears very strongly. Within this seventh consciousness is the deep desire to live. At death, the eighth consciousness becomes the strongest, with the first seven consciousnesses becoming latent. At the time of death all the seven consciousnesses, though latent, still exist or are stored within the eighth. The eighth level is where karma is stored during life. When life separates from the physical body, these seven consciousnesses continue to exist dormantly. The desire to live life again is still contained within the seventh consciousness. This will be the force to return to life again, but this will only be achieved in accord with the karma created by the causes made during the previous life through these seven consciousnesses, now stored in the eighth. When physical life starts once more, the seven consciousnesses again become strong, and the eighth level becomes latent.

Karma is every function of our lives, our thoughts, words and deeds (i.e. the workings of the seven consciousnesses) which are then carved into our lives. Our thoughts, words and deeds, whether good or bad, are not judged in the end by morals or the laws of society. Those based on the protection and development of life will be stored as good karma and those causing destruction, hurt or harm to life, as bad karma. This karma created within the seven consciousnesses is stored at the eighth level. Therefore, when you die, your life will be latent in the universe exactly as it was at the point of death and, since the seven consciousnesses are latent, they are unable to react to any environmental influence to change your life state.

We might imagine that life after death will be peaceful and a time of resting, but just as you can have a happy or unhappy dream, after death you can also feel joy or suffering. It is important, therefore, to look at one’s present life very strictly. The Buddhist theory of the nine consciousnesses is concerned with how we can be sure to build up good and valuable causes with our seven consciousnesses so that there are plenty in store at the eighth level at the point of death. In this respect the importance of the ninth consciousness becomes clear. The ninth consciousness is described as the essence of universal and eternal life (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo), which can, if we choose to make the effort, permeate all the other eight consciousnesses.

The process of dying brings to the fore the main tendency of our lives. As one approaches the moment of death, one’s life centers on one of the ten states, the one which relates most strongly to his karma. After physical death we will remain in this state, latent in the universe, exactly as we were at the point of death.

If our lives are inclined towards suffering in the six lower worlds then we can expect to experience these in the latent state. The aim of Buddhism is to enable us to change the fixed direction which we have built up over many lifetimes. Buddhism is concerned with allowing us to bring forth the ninth consciousness, which is unaffected by this karma. Having done this in life, the ninth consciousness will remain predominant while dead. What happens when we die depends on what we do now to reveal the Buddha state.
Source: The Buddhism of the Sun (Pg. 42 – 45) 


Aug 16, 2013

Buddhism and a Healthy Life

Health is a universal desire of human beings. No matter how wealthy or powerful one is, health, after all, is the most precious thing. 

Buddhism recognizes illness as one of the most basic sufferings that human beings experience--as we can see from its inclusion in the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. In seeking to free people from this suffering, both Buddhism and medicine share a common goal.
The links between the mind and disease, the mind and health, are points where Buddhism and medicine converge.

Buddhism is not simply a kind of spiritualism or an abstract theory. Buddhists throughout the ages have focused squarely on the reality of physical and mental illnesses and sought to relieve the suffering of illness from the dual perspective of Buddhism and medicine.

Still, it is only natural that Buddhism concern itself primarily with the role of the mind. And as stress-related illnesses increase in the future, the relationship between the mind and health in general will be spotlighted all the more.

Health is not simply a matter of absence of illness. Health means constant challenge. Constant creativity. A prolific life always moving forward, opening up fresh new vistas--that is a life of true health. An unbeatable spirit is what supplies the power to keep pressing ahead.

Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda once said that there are two fundamental problems with people today. One is the confusion of knowledge with wisdom, and the other is the confusion of sickness with death.

Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. There is much that can be said about the relationship between the two. With regard to Buddhism and medical science, we can say, very generally, that medicine fights illness with scientific knowledge. Buddhism, on the other hand, develops human wisdom, so that we may find our own rhythm and strengthen our life force. This assists the efficacy of medical treatment and also helps us conquer illness through our own natural healing powers.
But it is foolish to ignore or deny the contribution of medicine. Otherwise faith descends into fanaticism. We must use medical resources wisely in fighting illness. Buddhism gives us the wisdom to use medicine properly.

Wisdom is the basic ingredient to health, to long life, and to happiness. 

Sickness does not necessarily lead to death. Sickness can force us to examine ourselves, our existence and our lives. It can be a very important and precious motivator. Someone has said that a person who has never been ill only understands half of life.

The Swiss philosopher Carl Hilty (1833-1909) writes: "Just as the flooding river stirs the soil and enriches the fields, sickness stirs and enriches all people's hearts. One who truly understands illness and endures it is made deeper, stronger and greater, and grasps ideas and beliefs that were incomprehensible before."

The struggle with illness leads us to understand human life fully and forges in us an indomitable spirit. I myself suffered from a weak constitution from the time I was a child. I had tuberculosis and, for that and other reasons, I was not expected to live past 30.
But that experience helped me understand others who are ill. And that is why every single moment is so valuable to me, why I have determined to accomplish what I can while I am alive without wasting a minute, and why I have lived full-out all these years.
There are many whose bodies are healthy but whose inner being is ill. And there are also those who suffer some physical disease but whose inner life force is very healthy. All of us will experience some sickness during our lives. That is why it is important to acquire the wisdom to deal with illness properly.

Though it may seem contradictory, from the Buddhist perspective health and illness are not separate. Nor are life and death. They are part of a single whole. For that reason, the Buddhist perspective on health is not limited to this single life. Its basic focus is a healthy life throughout the three existences of past, present and future.

Source: Daisaku Ikeda- A New Century of Health: Buddhism and the Art of Medicine originally carried in the Soka Gakkai's Seikyo Shimbun newspaper in 1996 

Aug 8, 2013

The Simultaneity of Cause and Effect

Buddhism teaches that the law of cause and effect underlies the workings of all phenomena. Positive thoughts, words and actions create positive effects in the lives of individuals, leading to happiness. Negative thoughts, words and actions on the other hand--those that in some way undermine the dignity of life--lead to unhappiness. This is the general principle of karma.

In Buddhist teachings other than the Lotus Sutra, Buddhist practice is understood as a gradual journey of transformation. This is a process in which, over the course of many lifetimes, the essentially flawed and imperfect common mortal gradually molds and transforms him- or herself into a state of perfection--Buddhahood--through painstaking efforts to accumulate positive causes while avoiding negative ones. 

In Nichiren Buddhism, however, the attainment of Buddhahood is governed by a more profound principle of causality revealed in the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra offers a radically different view of the human being and of the attainment of Buddhahood. In the perspective of the Lotus Sutra, delusion and enlightenment--the common mortal and the Buddha--are the two equally inherent aspects of life, which itself is neutral. While the "default" condition of humanity may be that of delusion, manifesting our Buddhahood does not require a fundamental change in our nature. In fact, the idea that Buddhahood is somehow remote from our ordinary reality is itself a delusion.

This difference between the pre-Lotus Sutra and Lotus Sutra views of enlightenment can also be explained with reference to the concept of the Ten Worlds. This concept describes our inner state of life at any moment in terms of ten "worlds," from hell to Buddhahood, that we move between constantly depending on how we direct our life and respond to our environment. In the pre-Lotus Sutra view, common mortals carry out Buddhist practice in the nine worlds (cause) and eventually attain Buddhahood (effect). The nine worlds disappear, replaced by the world of Buddhahood. The Lotus Sutra, on the other hand, clarifies that Buddhahood and the other nine worlds are both eternally inherent possibilities of life at each moment, and that the world of Buddhahood is brought forth by faith and practice. 

The difference between these two views of Buddhahood could be described using the analogy of a video game. The conventional view of the process of enlightenment is like a game character who gradually accumulates various powers and useful tools while successfully passing through to the advanced stages of the game. In the Lotus Sutra's view of enlightenment, the game character is from the beginning already in possession of all the full powers possible, and only requires a means to unlock them.

The practice of Nichiren Buddhism is one of manifesting the potential of Buddhahood here and now. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in one's inherent Buddhahood could be compared to activating the "code" that unlocks this potential. 

Bringing forth one's enlightened nature--characterized by courage, wisdom, compassion and life force--one is then equipped to engage fully with the problems of life, change reality for the better and make enlightenment an actuality. 

Problems and challenges, in this sense, serve as a means for us to demonstrate the strength and reality of our enlightened nature and to inspire others to do the same. Buddhism is about living confidently and expansively here and now. The key component in this is faith in our inherently enlightened nature.

This revolutionary perspective on "attaining" Buddhahood is expressed in the concept of the simultaneity of cause and effect. The nine worlds, representing cause, and the world of Buddhahood, representing effect, exist simultaneously in our lives. This is symbolized by the lotus plant, which bears flowers (symbolizing the common mortal) and fruit (symbolizing Buddhahood) at the same time. 

When we have full confidence in our Buddha nature and our ability to transform and triumph over any kind of suffering, problems become challenges to be welcomed rather than avoided. This sustained sense of confidence and determination in the face of difficulties is itself a manifestation of our Buddha nature and, in accordance with the principle of the simultaneity of cause and effect, assures our success in life.

Source: SGI Quarterly April 2013

Aug 3, 2013

Learning from the Gosho - The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra

Question: Is it possible, without understanding the meaning of the Lotus Sutra, but merely by chanting the five or seven characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo once a day, once a month, or simply once a year, once a decade, or once in a lifetime, to avoid being drawn into trivial or serious acts of evil, to escape falling into the four evil paths, and instead to eventually reach the stage of non-regression?

Answer: Yes, it is.

Question: You may talk about fire, but unless you put your hand in a flame, you will never burn yourself. You may say “water, water!” but unless you actually drink it, you will never satisfy your thirst. Then how, just by chanting the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo without understanding what it means, can you escape from the evil paths of existence?

Answer: They say that, if you play a koto strung with a lion’s sinews, then all the other kinds of strings will snap. And if you so much as hear the words “pickled plum,” your mouth will begin to water. Even in everyday life there are such wonders, so how much greater are the wonders of the Lotus Sutra!

We are told that parrots, simply by twittering the four noble truths of the Hinayana teachings, were able to be reborn in heaven, and that men, simply by respecting the three treasures, were able to escape being swallowed by a huge fish. How much more effective, then, is the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra, which is the very heart of all the eighty thousand sacred teachings of Buddhism and the eye of all the Buddhas! How can you doubt that by chanting it you can escape from the four evil paths?

The Lotus Sutra, wherein the Buddha honestly discarded expedient means, says that one can “gain entrance through faith alone.” And the Nirvana Sutra, which the Buddha preached in the grove of sal trees on the last day of his life, states, “Although there are innumerable practices that lead to enlightenment, if one teaches faith, then that includes all those practices.”

Thus faith is the basic requirement for entering the way of the Buddha. In the fifty-two stages of bodhisattva practice, the first ten stages, dealing with faith, are basic, and the first of these ten stages is that of arousing pure faith. Though lacking in knowledge of Buddhism, a person of faith, even if dull witted, is to be reckoned as a person of correct views. But even though one has some knowledge of Buddhism, if one is without faith, then one is to be Nichiren, follower of the Great Teacher Kompon [Dengyo] considered a slanderer and an icchantika, or person of incorrigible disbelief.

Source: Writings of Nichiren Daishonin - I (Pg. 141 - 142)