Revealing Buddhahood by example

The limits of my Buddhist wisdom was demonstrated profoundly to me recently when I learned that my grand-daughter had been born with a large cyst in her brain. It wasn’t clear if she was going to suffer from hydrocephalus, but she had a cyst that was approaching the size of a tennis ball in the right of her brain, and my daughter, who had worked for many years in a healthcare, demonstrating compassion and patience on a daily basis, now faced what seemed an incredible injustice.

Like many nurses, she had occasionally joked about her work. Nothing defamatory, and certainly not slanderous – but a sort of gallows humour I suppose that people in certain professions share sometimes to diffuse darker situations. Clearly searching for a reason for her baby’s condition, and knowing that I practiced, she asked, “is this my karma for having joked about my work”?

I might have mumbled something along the lines of “don’t be so silly, of course not”. To be honest, the only memory I have of the conversation is a lingering sense of inadequacy.

Despite having read several books on Nichiren Buddhism, including the first volume of Nichiren’s writings, and this year’s study exam material, I could offer no meaningful words of comfort. There I stood, caught like a rabbit in the headlights of my daughter’s real life crisis. My knowledge of Buddhism far surpassed my wisdom, and I felt powerless to give a meaningful answer.

If we are to propagate the Buddha’s teachings and ease the sufferings of others, then we must develop our ability to engage with people in a way that encourages them to realise their own potential.

In “The Treatment of illness”, the Daishonin writes:

In the final analysis, unless we succeed in demonstrating that this teaching is supreme, these disasters will continue unabated.

Note, that the Daishonin uses the word demonstrating. He does not use words like, debating, arguing, persuading or any other term that might restrict us to some form of verbal intercourse.

We can only prove to our family and friends that this teaching is supreme by demonstrating it in our daily lives, through not just our words, but through our thoughts and deeds.

As followers of the Lotus Sutra and as disciples of Nichiren Daishonin our most compassionate act is to open the doors of enlightenment to others, allowing them to achieve true happiness.

Through our daily practice, our mission is to help others realise their potential and build indestructible towers of courage, compassion, and wisdom – to show they, too, possess the wish granting jewel sewn into the fabric of their lives.

If we are unable to communicate effectively, then how can we achieve this goal? If we are unable to truly connect with the hearts of others, then how can we achieve Kosen Rufu?

Kosen Rufu has been defined by the SGI as meaning “world peace through individual happiness”. Unfortunately, many people have an idea of “individual happiness” that can never lead to world peace. In the west, and increasingly the world over, individual happiness is confused with material wealth and a life free of challenges or problems.

It is fair to say there is more hatred, intolerance and suffering today than at any other time in human history. This is the effect of people being so blinded by hunger, animality and anger that they have lost sight of that which is eternal – the dignity and wonder of having been born a human being.

Whether in relation to individuals, communities, ethnic groups, or entire countries, the pursuit of material wealth always results in someone having to suffer to make allowances for another’s consumption. This isn’t a communist or socialist ideal, it’s a fact we see in the news every day.

Even the seemingly harmless desire to enjoy an ice cold Soda Pop has lead to entire villages in the third world being unable to irrigate their crops as the water table is slowly sucked dry by the local Soda Pop factory. To desire things (to have attachments), is what makes us human. But how often do we stop to consider the suffering caused as a consequence?

For some people, happiness means a quiet life – free of problems and challenges. Although seductive, this kind of existence generally creates social barriers and when taken to the extreme, gives rise to things like gated communities or aparthied – this can only foster the further entrenchment of prejudices that lead to social breakdown.

Many times people have come into great material fortune, and after they have purchased a large house, expensive clothes, cars, a yacht perhaps, they become quite bored and unhappy, turning to alcohol, gambling or drugs. Like a stationary stone that gathers moss, a life without challenges becomes dull and tarnished.

Today, the need for a correct kind of indestructible happiness is pressing. This need is only matched by the difficult task of spreading this Buddhism in the latter day of the law. As Shakyamuni told in the fourth chapter of the Lotus Sutra:

Since hatred and jealousy [toward this sutra] abound even when the Thus Come One is in the world, how much more will this be so after his passing?

In his day, Shakyamuni was reviled for daring to preach that everyone was equally able to achieve enlightenment – and not only this, he taught that Buddhahood could be achieved in this lifetime.

Over 2000 years later, after T’ien t’ai and Dengyo had studied and written about teachings of the Lotus Sutra, the Daishonin re-lit the torch and began teaching the essential practice of chanting the daimoku of the Lotus Sutra – the essential practice for realising true happiness in this lifetime – the teaching that embrases the Three Thousand Realms and the simultaneity of cause and effect.

Unlike Shakyamuni Buddha or the Daishonin, we live in an age dominated by people of incorrigible disbelief. These are people who aren’t simply devoid of spiritual nourishment – these are people who actively turn away from it.

Most people simply aren’t interested in Buddhism, or any other spiritual teaching for that matter. In the eyes of western society religion itself has become outmoded, irrelevant, destructive and negative – “hokey”, even. So how do we go about spreading this Buddhism?

The Daishonin writes in The Three Kinds of Treasure:

The heart of the Buddha’s lifetime of teachings is the Lotus Sutra, and the heart of the practice of the Lotus Sutra is found in the “Never Disparaging” chapter. What does Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s profound respect for people signify? The purpose of the appearance in this world of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, lies in his behavior as a human being.

When I really think about this paragraph, it could probably be the subject of an entire essay. There are two primary points I want to make. The first, and most obvious, is that our purpose as votaries of the Lotus Sutra is best demonstrated through our interactions with others. Not necessarily through preaching to others about the various merits of Buddhism, but through taking action to improve the life state of those we touch in our daily lives.

A further look at this paragraph also reveals that our purpose, as Buddhas, is signified by Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s profound respect for people. It was only through Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s determination to bow in reverence to everyone he met and to praise their inherent Buddha nature that the people who initially berated and persecuted him were ultimately moved to become his disciples and set themselves on the path to attaining Buddhahood.

Later in the Never Disparaging chapter Shakyamuni reveals that he himself was Bodhisavtta Never Disparaging in the remote past. Shakyamuni’s behavior as Never Disparaging is by implication an original cause for Shakyamuni’s later enlightenment.

So, what does this mean for us?

When we talk about Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s “profound respect for people”, what do we mean? Respect is a very loaded word, and very mis-used today.

Respecting someone should not always mean obeying or agreeing with them. I’m sure we’ve all seen aggressive rap videos with gang members demanding respect by pointing a gun at the camera. This is nothing more than demanding submission.

Another word which can cause some confusion is Obeisance. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging’s show of obeisance to others simply meant that he bowed respectfully. It had nothing to do with obeying them, and it did not imply that he agreed with whatever they were doing at the time.

So exactly what did Bodhisattva Never Disparaging respect? When he bowed in obeisance to others, he praised their inherent Buddha nature. He respected the fact that each person he met was a potential Buddha and continued to praise their potential for enlightenment even when their deeply held negative view of life often led them to despise him.

Lets suppose for a moment, you have a friend who’s relationship has just ended. You’re helping this person clear his stuff out of his girlfiend’s home. Probably, the last thing you should do is pipe up “You just need to stop behaving like a slob, and she might take you back”. Of course, you may well attempt to sugar coat your observations, but the recipient will instantly taste the bitterness of their own fundamental darkness, and they will usually react badly.

Although we can often firmly believe we are correct, our advice can at best form an expedient means for temporary relief – at it’s worst it could precipitate damage to your own friendship, making it harder to connect on a deeper level in future.

This is often what results when we try to offer advice or act based on our own limited karma. When we do this, we are making causes based on the lower life states, the effects of which can never manifest buddhahood.

The Diashonin writes,

The Venerable Shariputra attempted to instruct a blacksmith by teaching him to meditate on the vileness of the body, and to instruct a washerman by teaching him to conduct breath-counting meditation. Even though these disciples spent over ninety days in their respective meditations, they did not gain the slightest understanding of the Buddha’s teachings. On the contrary, they took on erroneous views and ended by becoming icchantikas, or persons of incorrigible disbelief.

Later, Shakyamuni revealed that if the washerman was to meditate upon the vileness of the body, and the blacksmith was taught the breath-counting meditation to help with his hammering and pumping of the bellows, then they would both have benefited greatly.

The Daishonin also writes:

For example, if a farmer were to plant his fields in autumn and winter, then, even though the seed and the land and the farmer’s efforts were the same as ever, this planting would not result in the slightest gain but rather would end in loss.

So, without the wisdom to appreciate the correct teaching, the person’s capacity, and the correct time, then even the most skilled at verbal communication can find themselves doing more harm than good. Poor old Shariputra!

These lessons teach us that when we truly wish to help someone, and lead them to realising their own Buddhahood, we must approach the issue as Buddha’s – not as our karma-laden manifest selves, but from our highest life-state, our Buddha state.

Last year I had to help my son move his stuff out of the home he had shared with the mother of his newborn child. Their relationship had failed. My son had also lost his job. I was pretty frustrated at the time, as I was sure his situation could have been predicted if he had looked more carefully at his behaviour.

However, I knew that the most compassionate act at the time was to simply help him move his stuff. If I had opened my mouth at that time, I would have almost certainly offered the wrong advice – advice based on the overwhelming sense of frustration and irritation I felt – advice based on my karma, and not on my Buddha state.

I wasn’t going to join in slandering his ex-partner, or telling him where I think he went wrong. I simply offering the help that was needed at the time, and encouraged him to retain a positive outlook.

Daisaku Ikeda, in his New Human Revolution, compares our life state to a kite:

Kites rise up when they encounter a strong breeze. You must remember, too, that when you experience hard or painful things in your life, they are your strong wind, your chance to grow and fly high.

Our faith, practice and study is like the kite’s strong straight cord anchoring us to our indestructible buddhahood. With this strong cord, the wind of life’s challenges elevate our life condition ever higher.

Without firm conviction in our faith, like a kite without a cord, we are swept along the dusty ground and fail to see the potential in our lives – or in others – unable to change anything for the better.

As you make these great causes for happiness, how can you fail to succeed in realising victory in your own life and the lives of those around you?

The mystic expedient

People who are in the state of hell and hunger often ask for direct short term handouts rather than long term help. However, very often it is the physical expedient of providing immediate aid that actually saves lives.

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day – teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

How many of us I wonder, when in the depths of hunger (physically or metaphorically), would choose the fishing rod (the correct teaching) over a steaming portion of fish and chips (an expedient)?

The real beauty of the mystic law is that when we earnestly chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and summon forth the wisdom of the Buddha, we see that the fishing rod and the portion of fish and chips can be the same thing.

When we are truly in tune with the Buddha’s intent, then our compassionate words and deeds act not only as the expedient meal of fish and chips, but also act as the cause, or seeds of enlightenment that become planted in the heart of who we are helping. Later, these seeds germinate and produce the wisdom, and courage to learn to use the fishing rod.

As long as we live our lives in accordance with our karmic tendencies, developing this kind of wisdom is impossible. Likewise, when we try to help and advise people based on our karmic knowledge (i.e. from our own subjective experiences), then by trying to help we may make the situation worse (like Shariputra).

This is because our personal experience of life will differ from that of the person we are trying to help. You must have come across people who have lost weight, and boast to their fat friends how they achieved their goal, or wealthy people boasting about how anybody can get rich by reading the book they just wrote about their own success? This sort of advice is about as useful as a lottery winner sharing his winning numbers after the draw has already been made. The people who dish this sort of advice out are more connected to the sound of their own voice than to helping others achieve true happiness.

My karma is unique. It is the result of my distant past. It isn’t the same as yours, and so when I try to offer help from my own limited bag of knowledge, I am bound to fail. Only when I can summon my Buddhahood and connect with yours can advancement occur. Unlike our differing karma, everyone’s Buddhastate is in tune with the mystic law – here is where true connections of the heart take place.

Prior to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra, manifesting the wisdom of the Buddha was believed to have taken countless lifetimes of strict practices. Luckily for us, Shakyamuni expounded the essential teaching for attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime in the form of the Lotus Sutra. Luckier still, Nichiren Daishonin encapsulated the essence of this teaching in the five characters of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

As persons living in the latter day of the law, it is our practice of this Buddhism, by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and by engaging with the challenges of every day life that we can be sure to connect with others on a profound level. The Daishonin writes:

If even Shariputra, the foremost in wisdom among the disciples of the Buddha, failed to understand people’s capacity, then how much more difficult must it be for ordinary teachers today, in the Latter Day of the Law, to have such an understanding! Ordinary teachers who lack an understanding of people’s capacity should teach only the Lotus Sutra to those who are under their instruction.

When someone realises that you are Buddhist, they naturally observe your words and deeds. So, by helping my son clear his flat with an earnest determination to connect with his heart through encouraging him to build an even better future, I can be sure to plant the seeds of Buddhism in his life.

The world is awash with people who can “talk the talk” – we see them on television every day – we vote them into power – we go to war in their name. What a rare thing indeed is the person who truly “walks the talk” without begrudging their life in the cause of peace and human happiness.

The way we should teach the Lotus Sutra to others in the latter day of the Law is by example. By living lives full of value, and demonstrating courage, compassion and wisdom, we will naturally attract people’s attention and admiration. When we are practising correctly, we won’t need to evangelise.

Do not berate yourself when you are unable to conjure eloquent words to explain a point of Buddhist theory. The skill of dialogue will grow with your understanding of this Buddhism.

As long as you let others know your genuine respect for their human potential and demonstrate your sincere determination to help them become happy, then a connection will be made. Practice the Daimoku of life with strong faith and you will naturally illuminate the potential for Buddhahood in others without having to utter a single word.

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